Because there really was no closure for what happened at Zaude, unless you count Estelle glomping Yuri. (Which is one of my favorite scenes in-game, btw.) And since I'm a Yurita shipper, I thought at least she would have something to say about it, lol. If her character's a little off, I'm sorry; I'm trying to make her seem like she misses him, but she hates admitting it so she kinda just drowns herself in a sea of denial. XD I love the girl to death, but she's an eense bit hard to write in emotional situations. So.

Light Yurita hints, but nothing too sketchy. I mean, come on, she IS only fifteen.

Disclaimer- I WISH I owned ToV...


The sound of the broken, feminine voice sounding behind the brunette didn't help in assuaging the latter's fears. She could only keep staring over the edge of the platform, into the depths of the ocean below, eyes focused staunchly on the raging waters below the top of Zaude, as though by force of will she could pull the leader of their group to his feet. As the sound of the princess' sobs became audible to her ears, the younger slowly turned away, hating the feelings of sadness that rose up within her.

Not just for her friend, who had cared so much about the eternally-sarcastic man who had just fallen over the edge - but for herself as well.

Rita still doesn't know why she kept gawking like a moron at the churning waves of the ocean beneath Zaude (it's just an ocean, anyway; what's so interesting about that?). She knows that even if her own will had been enough to make Yuri come out of the sea, it was doubtful that he had survived the fall in the first place.

For some completely stupid reason, as the thought of the more logical outcome crosses her mind, the young mage feels a surge of that damnable sadness within her again.

Honestly, she tells herself firmly, pull yourself together, Rita. You have to stay strong... for Estelle, if nothing else.

Estelle. Oh, dear, sweet god, Estelle. The pink-haired princess' response to the whole incident had been the most poignant of all: seeing the bastard who had enslaved her and tried to misuse her power and then seeing the bastard who had done everything he could to save her (and succeeded, at that) plunge over the side of Zaude - both these things had taken their toll on Estelle. Rita couldn't count how many times she had dared to glance back at her friend and seen a head of pink hair lowered to the ground, that normally naive and eager smile replaced by a mask of grief.

Unconsciously, Rita's fist clenches. On the off-chance that Yuri did survive, she's going to give him a piece of her mind - and the fist that the old man is so familiar with - when she sees him.

But - that's the problem, isn't it? Rita knows she should stop even considering the illogical possibilities (should stop letting what existed of her optimism take over her thoughts; that's Estelle's job, after all) - has known this since she had departed from Zaude that day with dry eyes and a heavy heart - yet moronically, randomly, those possibilities won't stop running through her mind. Last night she'd even had a dream that when they had reached the bottom of Zaude, where they'd left the Fiertia waiting, the long-haired jerk was leaning against the boat's side, with a blithe grin on his countenance and a sardonic inquiry already ready on his lips. C'mon, guys - you know me: just a little drop from a few hundred feet? Give me a little more credit than that.

And the dog had barked in fierce happiness and wove his way around his master's legs, and the old man grinned and put his arms behind his head, and the kid had started bawling all over again, and Judith had given a tiny, subdued grin and shaken her head almost reprovingly, and the head knight that was Yuri's best friend had breathlessly rebuked Yuri for scaring them all like that, and Estelle - oh Estelle - had charged forward and buried her face into his chest -

And then Rita had woken up, and had had even more difficulty dragging herself out of bed that morning because of the dream's happy mood lingering almost mockingly in her mind.

Or that could've just been because of the pile of discarded formulas right next to her bed on the floor. Either worked.

Still, Rita doesn't really like thinking it's the former.

She needs to distract herself, she thinks irritably, as she rips the goggles off her head with a furious huff.

Earlier today, she'd nearly lost herself in her own contemplations, for whatever reason, and had decided to maybe work on some of those formulas that had piled themselves up near the edge of her haphazardly-made bed (yes, they've piled themselves up). Now, she thinks, maybe that wasn't such a good idea.

Because, now that she remembers more properly, she'd thrown those stupid things on her floor (Rita-hut-code for trash can) for a reason, dammit.

But really, the way she sees it, she'd thought maybe immersing herself in the work that had been her life, her very being before Yuri had barged into her house (she can still hear his deep voice ringing throughout the house, uh, hello? We're coming in followed by Estelle's indignant admonishment of his rudeness) would distract her from that jerk long enough for her to figure out these feelings that made no sense.

Nope. No such luck.

If anything, all it's doing is making her headache worse.

Rita has another dream that night. Much to her frustration, it stars Yuri again; but this time her subconscious chooses not to torture her with the effects of her thoughts about his possible survival of the fall from Zaude (doubtful, very doubtful).

This time, her dream takes the form of a memory with the group she's become so familiar with over the past few months or so, and that memory takes the form of a day that's pretty far back: the night they had first arrived in Capua Nor in the pouring rain and had decided to bring back the Rhybgaro's horn to make that damn Ragou listen to what they had to say. Ironically, now Rita knows they shouldn't even have bothered - the psycho would have taken a severed human head over the horn of that monster.

Aversion to unfit magistrates aside, the memory, though it plays out in all the flickering dark-surrounded manner of a dream, is quite vivid in her mind's eye, although it lasts only a few seconds. It consists of Yuri nonchalantly tossing the golden horn down at Teagle and his wife's feet and then turning away, with almost a dismissive tone to his voice even as the others - Rita included, she admits, because that was supposed to be their free ticket to see the magistrate, dammit! - gape at him in shock. The quality of his voice is so lucid as well that Rita, controlled by the dream in a way that she would never allow if she were conscious, clenches the old, dark red blanket more tightly around her in her sleep.

Sorry for stealing your thunder back at the inn, Yuri says. Hopefully this'll make it up to you.

As the young couple gasps in pleased surprise and drops to their knees in front of the Rhybgaro horn with dual cries of thanks, Yuri begins making his way over to the entrance of the inn. Back then, Rita couldn't see his true expression very well, and so she can't now due to her memory controlling her mind's eye - but she does remember the slightest trace of a serene smile showing up on his countenance.

Then she wakes up.

She barely remembers the dream in the morning, even as she works her way up to getting out of bed and throwing together some kind of breakfast (a rather trivial action; she's worked without food before and she can do it now, but it gives her something to do and distracts her from thinking about the reason why she's been thinking so much about that long-haired jerk lately). Carefully, she gathers the ingredients together, heats them with a murmured incantation of her Fireball spell, and steps back to admire her work.

Only when the light of the flames is flickering over her face does she realize what she's chosen to make for breakfast out of the meager ingredients she does possess.

Croquettes - the one recipe she'd bothered learning to master on the journey with Brave Vesperia.

Quickly, she grabs the ball of mashed potatoes and takes a ferocious bite out of it, glaring at the messy piles on the floor to avoid having to look at the meal she's just made. Stupid as it is, the sight of the dish she's made serves only to reinforce the thought of Yuri in her mind.

Almost against her own will, she finds herself delving even further into reminiscence, about that day in the rain. Karol had demanded why exactly Yuri had just given away their way of admission to the magistrate, and Rita had had to agree; having gone through the trouble to get such a rare object didn't do a damn bit of good unless, oh, they actually had it with them when they walked through the door. She had fully gotten an entire angry tirade ready and everything. A tirade that came to a screeching, unceremonious halt in her mind at Yuri's calm response to Karol's inquiry.

It's a small price to pay if it saves their child's life.

And then Rita had faltered, simply spewed out some obligatory question as to what they were going to do now that Yuri had just about thrown away their gift to Ragou (which he wouldn't have taken over an easy snack for his creepy little pets, she remembers with a shudder), her normal fiery words and ready scorn quelled considerably by her pounding heart.

Because, she'd tried to justify her feelings back then, she knew the difference between what Yuri did and what she would have done were so palpable it was almost painful. The mage probably would've just scoffed and walked away, thinking some crap along the lines of not my problem, don't care.

Now that she's letting herself think back on it, though, that little alibi sounds half-hearted and asinine even to her. And she's supposed to be the stubborn one.

Gah. Stupid thoughts. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The thought that she needs distraction from thinking about Yuri - and she needs it now - runs through her mind again, and she half-wants to scream well no crap, but what the hell am I supposed to do?

In the end she settles for writing a letter to Estelle. Rita hasn't written the princess since Zau - since Yuri - since they had fought Alexei (yes, that'll work; it's not a total lie after all, the group had successfully taken him down - and she doesn't dare think of who really struck the final blow). She figures even though it's been only a few days, Estelle has to feel more than a little restless at returning to her old life of isolation and excessive reading; the taste of the outside world has to have yielded that much.

That, and there's also the slight little complication that Flynn is tearing every continent apart seeing if his friend somehow survived the fall and is hiding out somewhere just to piss them all off; Judith is off somewhere being Judith; even the old man and the brat are trying to make a difference with the guild conflict in Dahngrest; and Rita, forced to wallow in her own thoughts of a guy she'd barely cared about before (or so she deludes herself), can absorb herself in her blastia research. Estelle's pretty much stuck in Zaphias Castle while the knights kill each other over who will be Alexei's successor.

Personally, Rita could care less about the idiocy of the empire - it's one thing she and Yuri actually had in common - but the mage knows how Estelle feels (felt) about the dark swordsman, and knows that the princess could probably use a friend's contact more than anything else.

Wow, Rita thinks wryly, as she stares down at the paper in front of her. I must be getting softer than I thought.

Nonetheless, she positions the ink quill over the paper, ready to write - and hesitates. It occurs to her, now, that she had charged into this task with only the intent of taking her mind off - that guy, and now she has no idea what she wanted to say.

She shakes her head with an audibly irritated huff and began to write, deliberately trying to keep her handwriting neater than usual; the only time she ever really writes is to scribble something down on a formula sheet, and even then only she can read her own notes.

(She's tested that little theory with Yuri and Judith once before, showed the two of them her notes; only the latter could get even close to reading what the former called "the genius mage's chicken scratch".

She tries to laugh at the memory. It gets stuck in her throat.)

Dear Estelle,

Immediately she scribbles it out with an annoyed growl. Too formal, yes, too formal; she can almost hear the pink-haired girl's voice in the back of her mind saying Rita, it's okay, we're friends, remember?

That and the mage had unconsciously capitalized the whole thing. Dammit.

Mildly vexed, she tries again.


Hope things have been going okay in the castle. I doubt it, because

Scribble, scribble, scribble. Wipe the ink off her hands with a groan. This isn't going very well at all. She wants to make the princess happy with her contact, not antagonize the knights who've protected her for so long.

At the third attempt, unconsciously, the question that has been plaguing her mind for the past few days, the question that brings back the image of her dream of Yuri's possible return, oozes its way out of her mind onto the paper.


How's it going? Has Flynn found anything about the whereabouts of

She ends up crumpling the paper into a ball and incinerating it in her hand.

This would be much easier if Yuri were enough of a bastard for Rita to hate him. Really, that's all there is to it.

She'd come damn close to that hatred the day they had first met, when she had first heard the baritone voice downstairs hesitantly declaring his and his companions' presence. She had nearly barbecued Karol alive in her desire to protect her own belongings - Rita has to smirk at the memory of the little squirt's stuttering, blustering pleas for his life and the look on his face - and then, for whatever reason, she'd decided to join them on their way to the Shaikos Ruins. Research, she had told herself, research. You can ditch these losers as soon as you get there.

From the beginning, though, Yuri had seemed to sense Rita's intent. He hadn't taken his eyes off her since he'd accused her of being the blastia thief he was searching for - it was kind of unnerving, really, and she'd come pretty close to demanding as to why he kept staring at her plenty of times on the way to the ruins - and when they'd arrived there, the hard onyx chips of his eyes staunchly fixed on her had kept her from straying too far from his party. She'd been irritated, she remembers that much (what does he think, that I'm gonna lead them all into a trap or something?). At the time, the combination of the events of her day (being accused of stealing blastia, three people she didn't even know and only one of whom she even vaguely liked barging into her house unannounced, not being able to carry out her research, even the pancakes she had succeeded in burning that morning) had piled in on top of her like a powerful ocean wave, and she had gotten pretty damn close to throwing a tantrum right in the middle of the ruins at everyone who had pissed her off that day.

Which, in her mind, equated to Yuri.

But hatred soon became far from her feelings about the swordsman as time went on. Soon, as she accompanied him across continents and shared in his passivity about letting Estelle drag them around to whoever needed the princess' help, Rita found the icy animosity she felt toward him - toward all of them, in fact - slowly melting away, to be replaced by a feeling of almost-maybe friendship. Hell, she had even become close to Estelle, and, if she really wanted to be honest with herself (which was hardly ever, but she digressed), she had a grudging degree of respect toward Judith as well.

Yet she never knew exactly what to feel about Yuri. One moment she would want to beat him to a pulp for something stupid he had said or done, and the next she would want to talk to him as a friend.

Even if the latter had occurred more than once in a blue moon, though, Yuri never seemed to notice. In fact, the way Rita sees it, he'd opened up to just about everyone in the group but her: the mutt was a given; Judith's mischievous gestures were dismissed as jokes; the kid was affectionately known as "Captain Karol" or "the boss"; even the old man got a taste of Yuri's friendship now and then.

And Estelle - oh, Estelle. Rita knows that for the princess, Yuri must have seemed like one of the knights in her vast repertoire of fantasy novels, albeit a dark knight: he'd even come and helped her escape the castle that "held her hostage," a classic trait of the knights in the beloved old tales. So it was only natural that Estelle should feel something more than friendship for Yuri.

For some reason, the sight of Estelle's bright eyes and ready enthusiasm in Yuri's presence had served only to irritate Rita rather than make her feel happy for her friend. It had felt vaguely like somebody was ruffling her hair the wrong way, which had only caused more frustration for Rita. She knows she's not exactly the most renowned for her social skills (in fact, before all this started, she was probably collectively known in Aspio as "that weird angry girl who likes to cast Fireball"), but even she knows that one should not feel jealous toward one's friend for said friend's choice of crush.

And that's the most difficult part to figure out of all (and it's ridiculous that she thinks it's difficult in the first place; she's a genius when it comes to blastia and yet when it comes to people she completely draws a blank?): because she's not even sure that what she feels about Yuri and Estelle's easy friendship and closeness can take the name of jealousy in the first place.

The sound of something on the door, coming from outside, stirs Rita from a blessedly Yuri-free sleep. She raises her head, blinking sleepy eyes, and angles her head down toward the door a story below. Probably just a bunch of little kids playing knock-knock-ditch, she thinks groggily, and lowers her head back down to the warm, comfortable, lovely pillow beneath her. The little snots, children of the older mages in town, are extremely fond of playing that little prank - running up, rapping their disgusting little knuckles against the doorframe, and then fleeing, giggling like the greatest joke in Terca Lumereis had just been told, and screaming as Rita spews obscenities and casts Fireball after Fireball after them. Really, she's never understood the amusement in that; then again, she has been the recipient of said pranks over the years.

But the knocking doesn't stop (hell, it takes her sleep-slowed brain a few moments to even register the light, barely-audible noise as a knock at all), frustratingly enough. Rita makes a noise that the kid would probably claim proves his theory that she's an eggbear in disguise, and, with some effort, pushes herself up so she's sitting on the side of the bed.

The knocking grows ever so slightly more insistent, and Rita huffs out a sigh. Damn, those kids are getting more persistent than ever.

Focusing the incantation for Fireball into a steady mantra in her mind, she makes her way down the stairs and almost trips over the last step in her lack of awareness of the world around her. Hissing obscenities under her breath, she grabs the doorknob and practically rips the door off its hinges.

"O flickering blaze - Judith?" Rita cuts herself off as the sight of the blue-haired Krityan pushes her into full wakefulness and her eyes widen.

Judith gives a half-smile and waves the hand that she doesn't have behind her back. "Good morning!" she chirps.

Rita casts a rudimentary glance at the sky visible beyond the canyon encasing this part of Aspio. The slightest hint of light is barely visible above the lowest visible peak. "More like 'good evening,' if you ask me," she grumbles, scratching her head.

Judith shrugs. "Well, you know - early to bed, early to rise and all that."

Rita narrows her eyes. "I didn't even know somebody was at the door at first; I could barely hear you knocking."

The Krityan's wine-colored eyes widen. "Really?" Judith asks innocently, casting a look down at her hand. "I could've sworn I was knocking louder..."

The mage huffs, folding her arms. "Whatever. There has to be some reason you're here bothering me this early. Now spit it out."

This time, Judith's delicate blue eyebrows rise almost to her hairline. "My, my, so impatient," she remarks, putting a hand to her chest in a mock-offended manner. At least, Rita thinks it's feigned; she can never tell with Judith, who other than her little violent tendencies is like her kind in every other way, cryptic behavior especially. "Ba'ul and I just got here, after all; you could stand to give us a proper welcome."

Rita raises one eyebrow. "'Us'? Where's Ba'ul, hiding out in the library or something?" She shakes her head as Judith opens her mouth to respond. "Look, whatever. Why did you fly all the way out here anyway?"

"Honestly, I can't pay a visit to my friend?" However, Judith grows serious at the almost-animalistic expression of annoyance on Rita's countenance. "I wanted to go back to Zaude," she confesses.

At the mention of that place, Rita instinctively stiffens. The horrifying memory of what had transpired at the top of Zaude plays in her mind's eye again: the blastia of Zaude crashing down onto the ground and effectively separating Yuri from the others; Estelle's desperate voice crying out Yuri's name; Rita's stomach immediately plummeting with him as she spotted the swordsman's dark-clad body falling down, down, down into the harsh, unforgiving ocean below...

Judith clearly notices she's stricken a chord in the mage, but wisely chooses not to mention it. "I figured you would want to give the place a more thorough once-over, since we didn't exactly have time the last time we were there."

Rita realizes Judith has a point. The numerous techniques that Zaude had employed - the water system, the immense power contained in the now-fallen blastia at the top, everything - had fascinated the mage during Brave Vesperia's time there, but time had been short due to, oh, fighting off robots, gigantic mutant lobsters, and imperial knights. And that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the enemies they'd had to take down.

So of course her natural researcher's curiosity takes over, and Rita hears herself saying "Yeah, I guess I could spare some time to go back."

Only after these words escape her mouth, and Judith gives her trademark subdued smile and says she'll tell Ba'ul of Rita's decision, does it hit the brunette that returning to Zaude would only give her more false hope of his survival.

By the time Ba'ul touches down in the shallow pool of salty water surrounding Zaude's entrance, the sky's concealed in a blanket of storm-gray clouds, and a mist of light, icy rain hangs upon the air. Rita rubs her sleeve-clad, yet still freezing arms and doesn't bother trying to hide her growl. Dammit, but she hates being cold.

Judith, who seems unaffected by the cold (it was like this in the Weasam of Cados too, all drippy and cold and generally nasty, and even though Judith had the least amount of clothing of all of them she still wasn't shivering at all; it's annoying, really), clearly notices Rita's discomfort, because she eyes the mage before speaking. "We don't have to stay outside very long. Most of what we're looking for is inside the shrine, anyway."

Rita doesn't have to be the little blastia genius she is to know that Judith is tacitly reminding her she doesn't have to go up to the place where Yuri fell. Rather than soothing her worries, like the remark is obviously meant to do, Judith's words only succeed in pissing her off. Rita doesn't need to be babied, for god's sake.

Huffing indignantly, she leaps down off the Fiertia, without even waiting for the ramp that Brave Vesperia had previously used to depart. The impact of the landing sends a tiny shockwave up her legs and she stumbles, but it's so brief she barely even notices, and immediately sets off at a steady stomp toward the gate. She thinks, oddly, that if she avoids the air grate where the group had had to enter before (another nuisance caused by the empire), no memories, no stupid illogical feelings will assail her. No such luck, naturally: as she passes up the steps she can almost hear the conversation that went on in front of this grand stairway in her mind.

There aren't that many. We could blow 'em away before they knew what hit them.

Easy. We're not here to get noticed. Let's see if there's another way in.

As she stops in front of the double doors, Rita becomes aware of a much lighter step behind her, and knows that Judith has followed her. What she isn't prepared for is the hand that descends unflinchingly onto her shoulder.

The Krityan must notice the tangible stiffening of the mage's entire body, but in lieu of a response, she merely narrows her eyes in sympathy. "It's alright to believe Yuri's still alive, you know," she murmurs.

The soft gasp that tears itself out of Rita's throat gives her away. Judith always was too damn perceptive. And blunt about the observations produced by that perceptiveness.

She opens her mouth - to do what, she wonders suddenly (for her wit hasn't quite caught up to her body's instinctive actions just yet); deliver a sharp retort coated thickly with denial and leave it at that? - but then Judith releases her and gives her a gentle order to go on inside.

Stupid as it is, Rita knows Judith's words ring true: Flynn has that conviction, at least, if the way he's been tearing the planet apart searching for his missing friend is any indication. So, really, it should be all right to share the knight's belief; it should be okay, if Rita's not the only "weak" one.

(Is weakness really the right word for the desperate hope she feels when she thinks about Yuri's possible survival, though?)

The sky above Aspio, in stark contrast to the rain clouds hanging above Zaude, is almost infuriatingly clear (because at least around Zaude the weather had reflected Rita's emotions and made her feel just the tiniest bit better - but not by much) as Ba'ul lights down in the canyon, close to the hut that Rita calls home. She touches down on the almost-island-like piece of land considerably more carefully than at Zaude and, for the briefest of moments, turns around to face Judith, who has taken up her customary spot on the Entelexeia's back. Brings back memories, the mage thinks with a wry wrinkle of her nose. All Judith needs now is the freaky white armor and the old spear that, Judith's told her, broke at Ghasfarost, and it'll be like the early days of the journey all over again.

Agh. Journey. Yuri. Bastard. Distraction. Need it. Now.

Somewhat flustered, Rita settles for a barked out query. "And just where are you going now?" she demands.

Unruffled, Judith raises and lowers one shoulder. "Oh... you know. Where the wind takes me and all that."

A low rumbling fills the gorge, and it takes Rita a panicked moment of trying to catch her balance to realize the rumbling's coming from Ba'ul. Is... is he laughing?

Her unspoken hypothesis is confirmed when Judith casts a playfully reprimanding look down at her longtime friend. "Isn't it true, though?"

As she watches the two of them - Krityan and Entelexeia, talking and laughing together (albeit in an unorthodox way) - Rita gradually becomes aware of a strange feeling working its way through her stomach and upper chest and leaving a cold emptiness in its wake. She can't explain it, but for some reason it reminds her of what she feels whenever she thinks of Yuri's fall from Zaude and his possible recovery from it.

She doesn't even have time to feel triumphant (for at last, at long last she's getting closer to the reason why she's been deluding herself these past few days) before a flicker of movement draws her eye; she looks up and just misses Judith's half-subdued wave before Ba'ul lifts off with a tremendous surge of his immense body and they're off again to god only knows where.

Looking on, craning her neck to watch the massive silhouette disappearing against the fading sun and narrowing her eyes at the discomfort it causes, Rita suddenly realizes what the emotion is that was within her earlier. That emotion is only reinforced at the thought of its name. And as Rita, struck by another realization, casts a look down at the canyon beneath her - cold, empty, impassive as it surrounds her - she knows that that emotion has been her companion all her life. Knowing its name doesn't help, though, moronic as it sounds.


Once, back in the "good ole days" (as Yuri had once sarcastically termed the time of Rita's life before he and Karol and Estelle had come and effectively screwed it up; her response had been a scoff and a muttered "amen"), Rita had gotten sick.

One would think, her being a blastia genius and all, she could just find a formula within her filing cabinets of memory, whip it out, and cure herself. Simple.

Unfortunately, things hadn't been that easy. Rita had been thirteen, the tender young age when everybody thinks they're invincible and can stand anything, an era that usually lasts until about twenty and occasionally never fades. Back then, she'd barely touched upon the Rizomata formula - knew about it, of course, and occasionally pored over the concept during a few sleepless nights, but had never really bothered to learn more about it - and even if she had known as much about it as she does now, merely going through all the crap she never bothered throwing away would take hours upon hours. Only later would Rita hear of the magical invention known as the dresser drawer, and even then, disorganization (visibly, at least) still took the name of Rita Mordio.

Looking back on it now, Rita wants to make a rip in the space-time continuum, go back to that day, and deliver her famous punch to the side of her thirteen-year-old self's head. Because really, what kind of idiot willingly stays out in the pouring rain with only her trusty sash and piles of paper to take notes on for cover?

Yes, she'd gone down to the Shaikos Ruins that day: by herself, of course; none of the other mages were willing to spend time with a girl who was barely into her teens and still thought herself the greatest thing since blastia's conception. The mountain air around the broken white marble of the ruins had had an especially icy bite to it that day, but the wind was still somewhat pleasant to her: not blowing too hard to dislodge her notes from her iron grasp, but not so stagnant as to cause discomfort. And the sun was out, which was an altogether rare addition to the weather.

And so she had made the mistake of closing her eyes and taking in the clean mountain air, had slacked from notes just long enough to err on the side of lazy... Rita cringes just at the memory.

This repose had lasted until she'd felt the first fat droplets land on her head.

Okay, she had thought, so it's raining. Whatever. I'll just stay out here until I get the information I need, and then I'll head back.

As it turned out, that had to be the most moronic thing she could have done. Now, she wonders why the hell she hadn't just had the common sense to head down into the ruins' catacombs to shelter from the rain until it let up enough for her to head back. Of course, that's the choice she would have made now, now that she can take out the monsters in the Shaikos caverns with a single well-aimed Meteor Storm; now that she's fifteen as opposed to her previous thirteen and would actually bother fighting said monsters. At thirteen, the only good spell in Rita's mental repertoire had been Fireball, which worked wonders on dissuading little brats from approaching her door, but as far as she'd known couldn't hold monsters off for long.

That and she'd just been nervous at the thought of escaping the familiarity, which in the Shaikos Ruins' case was the destruction around the entrance to its caves.

So the little idiot had stayed out in the rain, despite the rumbling thunder making itself known to her through the vibrations in her feet. And soon her papers had gotten soaked through, and any note she'd tried to previously take had all but vanished.

Frustrated and thoroughly soaked, she had fairly stomped the whole way home in a way that effectively rivaled the storm raging around her. That night, she'd been shocked to find her entire body engulfed in uncontrollable shivers and shudders, a cold that not even the envelopment of her body in her trusty blanket and casting of Fireball had evaporated. The cold had eventually ushered in a distinctive discomfort, a discomfort spawned of the inability to breathe through her nose, one that she was altogether unused to.

And soon, the genius mage Rita Mordio, the self-made social pariah of Aspio, had developed a rather nasty head cold, one that kept her up at night tossing and turning trying to find a comfortable position that didn't agitate her drainage too much.

The discomfort from back then has now returned with a vengeance, it seems. Except now this discomfort isn't born of illness.

It's more because of the new revelations from Zaude swirling in her mind, the thoughts of what being able to reexamine the mechanics and techniques used inside the shrine has yielded to her. The thought of everything she's learned just from those few hours of examination weighs down on her and keeps her awake, staring into the darkness, thinking furiously.

(Not because of the other little revelation, the one she'd had as she'd watched Judith communicate with Ba'ul. Or even the sadness within her as she'd watched Yuri plummet off the top of Zaude. Really. It's not.)

Before she knows it, the cogs in her mind are turning furiously. And then she's jerking up out of bed, pushing the blanket aside, bounding over to her desk to light a candle, ready to begin work on the idea that's taken form in her mind.

And no matter how half-baked it seems (and mentally she steps back and notes how much it is), it's still an idea, dammit. It's still a distraction.


Scribble, scribble, scribble. Lean back, ruminate on writings for a little bit, lean forward again and start to write more.

It's a dance she's done before, but now... now it seems like this little routine born of new ideas scurrying around in her brain has more importance to it. Something that can help.

Really, it's the least she can do, after the wallowing she's been doing in the past few days.

A sound draws her attention for the briefest of moments (almost like the door's opening - but really, it's probably just her own sleepless mind playing tricks on her) before the candle before her flickers and she returns her eyes to it with a frown. Time to relight it, she notes absently, and murmurs the incantation to herself almost perfunctorily before directing the very small fireball generated as a result to the wax candle inside the glass container. Thankfully, her aim is true (she can't count the number of times before where she's accidentally nearly lit the glass on fire) and the lighting improves substantially.

She turns back to the bookshelves before her, where she's been using the somewhat limited space between the books and the wall as a surface to take down her notes. Unconsciously, she begins muttering under her breath, thoughts floating out into the slightly cold air of her hut in spoken form. "Hmm... we should be able to calculate the force field stability coefficient. So..."

More noises reach her ears, but they're all but lost in the fog that's wreathed around her mind and kicked the gears in her brain into full motion. Turning away from the shelf as a sudden thought strikes her, she paces over to the books against the opposite wall, continuing to mutter to herself. Yes, it'll work, she'll make it work. "We could make a key formula," she murmurs, her eyes widening a little. "Efficiency is okay. Making a stable, non-dispersing piece should be..."

She thinks she catches her name, barked out in a disturbingly familiar voice, but really, she's got no time to wonder why Yuri of all people just randomly decided to visit -


Lean back, blink a couple of times, frown in confusion, turn toward the offending distraction without even realizing she's holding her breath -

She hears herself snarl out a reflexive don't bother me! before reality finally catches up to her and shock and - what is that, relief? Get ahold of yourself, Rita, you knew he was coming back anyway, what's the big deal? - cause her ensuing words to trip and stumble over each other.

And, not taking his eyes off her, looking totally unharmed and completely not like he'd just gone through a few hundred-foot fall, Yuri Lowell smiles blithely and just says, "Hi."

Almost the instant they're outside, Rita falls back to walk with Estelle and Judith, letting Yuri go on ahead; she's so monumentally pissed right now she couldn't bring herself to talk to him even if she tried. She glowers at the ground as though her frustration can manifest itself through her glare, as though without speaking she can cast an Aqua Edge at the bridge beneath them and vent that way.

Seriously, she doesn't know whether to be relieved or angry at Yuri's miraculous return. In the back of her mind the annoying little thirteen-year-old researcher is nodding and saying see, you were right all along, he's okay (of course she's only allowing herself to acknowledge that hope after the fact, and wonders what that says about her eternal sense of denial).

Controlling the aer, she tells herself; that's the only thing worthy of expending her concentration on right now. Not the reason why she's feeling so conflicted about some idiot who decided to fall off a half-crushed platform.

If he was okay, the least he could've done was let us know, she thinks with an irritated snarl, and can't resist the unspoken jab of That idiot.

Of course, she doesn't realize she's spoken aloud until Judith expresses her agreement. "If we'd known he was okay, we wouldn't have wasted all this time looking for him."

"But we wouldn't have known he was all right if we hadn't looked," Estelle points out.

Rita resists the mighty urge to ask we? who's we? Last I checked Judith was the only one of us who bothered to search for him. The thought of all the frustration and wrestling with her own emotions she's gone through in the past few days - not entirely unwillingly, either - crosses her mind, and she damn near cringes right then and there at the memory.

In the end, she settles for speaking her thoughts aloud again. "Which is why he should've let us know in the first place!" she growls. "I mean, we looked all over!"

Well, it is rather difficult to tell your friends you're alive when you've barely survived a few hundred-foot fall into the ocean... thirteen-year-old Rita reminds her. Present Rita chooses to ignore her, merely thinking she must be more affected by all this than she'd thought if now she's hearing voices.

She barely catches Judith's voice while she's contemplating her own stupidity in succumbing to emotions, but Estelle's next comment reaches her loud and clear. "You were really worried, weren't you, Rita?"

"Huh?" Rita stutters out intelligently, suddenly flustered. For the first time she allows herself to look Estelle directly in the eye, and sees the princess eyeing her with an amused expression on her face.

"It's good he made it back safe and sound," Judith agrees, her lips curling upward very slightly in a grin of - triumph? Annoyance flares within Rita at that. Why the hell should Judith feel so pleased at seeing Rita so abruptly nervous, anyway?

"Yes, I know. And just look how happy Rita is!" Estelle chirps, immediately grabbing said mage's arm and smiling like an idiot down at her. Dimly Rita thinks that if the pink-haired girl thinks this is Rita's happy expression, then she has to be making things up, because Rita's almost never this flustered.

"Happy?" she blusters, trying to break free from Estelle's grip and follow after Yuri at the same time. It's pretty damn hard, even for the self-proclaimed mistress of multitasking.

"Are you happy?" Judith asks almost teasingly.

Maybe I am, but you'll never know. Despite her previous irritation toward herself, Rita can't help but blink in confusion at the thought she's deliberately leaving unspoken.

Because in that little unintentional, albeit mental retort, she feels as though she's hit on the reason behind why she's so torn at having Yuri back in the first place.

She doesn't get much time to think about it for the rest of the day. Between the realization that they must use the apatheia to convert the aer to mana, the true emergence of the Adephagos, the malfunctioning of Zaude, and the fight with the monsters spawned by the aforementioned Adephagos, there's barely any room to get another thought in edgewise.

(The thought of her emotions still remains though, somewhere, in the part of her mind that's not totally occupied on solving the group's dilemma, in the part of her mind that's not totally stuck on the fact that they just might be the only ones who can save this world. And she's aware of the nagging reminder that she does have to deal with the reason why she feels such a confusing maelstrom of emotions whenever she thinks of Yuri's return, just that morning. Was it really this morning? She still doesn't understand how time can pack so much into one day.)

The most surprising thing, though, is how the solution to this whole "huge monster getting ready to consume the world and everything in it" issue comes about. More importantly, the puzzling thing lies in exactly who had had the honor of beating Rita to the answer to the problem (and inwardly she cringes at the thought of that; she's not the genius mage she is for nothing, after all).

She supposes she shouldn't feel too surprised. Yuri has to have some degree of intelligence to garner such respect from what she's seen of the lower quarter, as well as to have eluded the knights' attempts to arrest him for so long. Hell, the latter has grown so easy for him over the years it almost seems like he thinks of it as just a game: smirking, mouth running sarcastically as ever as he dances away from the knights' pursuit, much to said knights' frustration. Time and again, Rita has caught herself admiring this kind of bravado and daring recklessness that, really, borders on stupidity - caught herself admiring stupidity, really.

(Not that she admires Yuri at all. Seriously.)

That stupidity, ironically, is what brings Yuri to the most plausible, yet most jarring possibility on how to solve this problem. As the group stands there on the dock in Nordopolica, having just left the coliseum after the obligatory congrats for taking out the Adephagos' minions, Yuri's deep voice rings out and makes everyone turn to him; Rita's eyes in particular widen in surprise at his proposal.

The premise is simple enough: if they could transform all the apatheia in the world's blastia into summon spirits, like with Undine's rebirth from Belius' apatheia, then they could possibly take out the Adephagos with said spirits.

Unfortunately, the complications lie in the simplicity, as Rita so graciously (more flustered than anything, actually, almost trying to find a way to refute Yuri's theory in her surprise and attempting, without success, to ignore the heat rushing to her face at the thought of his having spoken what she's too much of a coward to propose) points out: people have lived with blastia for eons; blastia facilitate every little thing; how do they expect Terca Lumereis to cope without blastia?

Shockingly, the reason Rita is protesting this decision is only partly due to blastia being her only company for so long before Yuri and Estelle's arrival into her life. The god-forsaken emotional part of her (the part that makes her human, as she's infuriatingly reminded every single day) is even now crying out at the thought of an end to this journey. As much as she hates to admit it, these people have become almost like her family in the past few months they've spent together.

(And Yuri? the emotional part of her asks, very seriously. Is he really like your family?

She chooses to leave that question unanswered.)

Rest finally, finally comes in the form of a night's rest at Capua Nor (which, if she thinks about it, is the place where her emotions about Yuri and the others first began to change; the irony is so palpable she doesn't know whether to laugh or scream). It's agreed that they'll start for Relewiese Hollow in the morning.

As the moon ascends higher in the sky and casts a shaky, silver reflection across Nor Harbor's placid waves, the perfunctory routine of a night's stay at an inn follows that little decision: the group splits up, some leaving for other parts of town in groups, and finally, Rita gets to be blessedly, blessedly alone, if only for a few minutes before exhaustion from the day collapses on her head and she has to go back to her room.

That exhaustion is threatening to overwhelm her now as she stands at the bridge leading to the magistrate's building, her eyes closed, letting the wind comb through her hair; she has to lean against the edge of the wall closing the bridge off from the sea, the fatigue is so strong. And yet (stubborn as she is) she can't bring herself to go inside just yet.

(And stubborn as she is, she can't bring herself to think of the reason why she doesn't want to go inside; the furthest she gets is Yuri and jerk and then she stops.)

The memories of the whole day - getting up early to go over her findings from Zaude; the jarring discovery of Yuri's having survived that nasty fall; finding the solution to the Adephagos - run through her mind in an endless loop. Almost unconsciously, she opens her eyes and stares at the ugly, violet-pink tubes undulating and warping in the once-pristine sky. An almost-irrational surge of hatred fills her, both for herself and this situation, and she suddenly has to rein in the urge to bash her head against the wall in her frustration.

That's probably when the tiny pinpricks of light draw her eye and make her raise her head to glower at the source. She's got the incantation for Fireball half ready on her tongue (for who dared interrupt Rita Mordio when she was in a good snit? No intelligent being, that's for sure) when she finally pinpoints the sources of light, and then she's so overwhelmed by surprise and wonder all she can do is gasp.

Fireflies - hordes of them, wavering and dancing over the surface of the water in a stunning combination of moon and sun.

"Pretty, aren't they?"

The deep voice sounding behind her jolts Rita, and she whirls around, that incantation from earlier still fresh on her tongue. Her hackles flatten only slightly when she's faced with Yuri (only, of course, to rise up again when it hits her, wait, this is Yuri, the guy who made us all worry our heads off over nothing). "Don't scare me like that!" she growls, turning back to the sight before her.

She can't see him, but she swears he raises his hands in a surrendering gesture behind her. "Hey, don't bite my head off or anything. Geez."

A rustle of clothing, the sound of footsteps, and then Rita stiffens instinctively when she realizes Yuri is now standing beside her, his arms folded against the top of the wall closing off the bridge.

And his presence, so close, damn near pushes her over the edge of the lowly simmering anger she's felt within her since this morning, when he'd popped up, unwanted, in her house (just like always) and shattered her perceptions about his state and stirred up such unwelcome feelings of loneliness and relief within her - that anger toward him nearly explodes from its composed boundaries and nearly makes her shake him by the shoulders and shout at him and demand why the hell do you make me feel like this -

But then Yuri speaks. "We had these little guys come by sometimes, in the lower quarter," he murmurs. As Rita looks on, almost breathless from the force of her contained emotions, the swordsman extends one arm toward the firefly brigade, and to her immense surprise, a few fireflies land on his outstretched fingers.

"They didn't show up that often, because the people in the royal quarter kept most of 'em in jars," he continues, with a tiny smirk. Whether it's at the fireflies or the thought of those silly rich men in the capital, Rita doesn't quite know. "So when we did see them, it was... pretty nice." The wry way in which he says 'pretty nice' makes it seem like he is grossly understating the lower quarter's reaction.

Yuri lowers his arm, and in response to that silent command, the fireflies scatter to rejoin their brethren. Rita opens her mouth, closes it, filled with indecision. It should be easy to rebuke him, thirteen-year-old Rita reminds her mentally; she's done it enough times to the old man in the past.

(And yet to someone she actually genuinely respects the anger becomes more and more difficult to summon forth, and that scares her most of all.)

In the end, though, Yuri saves her from her internal conflict by turning to her and giving a wry smile. "What a day, huh?"

All her traitorous mouth can produce as a response is a half-muffled grunt.

Yuri blinks in an unusual show of confusion. "Wow, for once our genius mage is at a loss for words." His face darkens almost imperceptibly. "You know we're gonna need you now, more than ever. Right?"

The knee-jerk response to his comment comes in the form of heat rushing to her cheeks and her eyes grow wide in shock (because she's possibly the only one in the group he has yet to talk to like that) before it hits her that he only means she knows the most about converting the aer. Idiot, she admonishes herself inwardly.

Trying to cover up her embarrassing display, she shrugs, not taking her eyes off the reflections of the fireflies' light on the water. "Well, I figure if we're going to change the world, we'll all have to be prepared, right? It's not just me."

Yuri only lets out a "hn" in response and follows her gaze to watch the fireflies. She thinks she hears him mutter something like "that's what I'm worried about" under his breath.

Well, it's nothing compared to the crap you made us go through. The bitter thought escapes into her mind before her common sense and pride can reel it back in, and she immediately wishes she could take it back, even though it was just a mental utterance. It strays a little too close for comfort to the twister of emotions she's felt for the past few days - the worry and the desperate hope and the anger and the confusion.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Rita turns to him, startled into meeting his eyes. "Huh?" she asks intelligently.

For some reason, Yuri looks confused, his head tilted slightly to the side. But a shadow flits over his face as he speaks. The expression, Rita thinks, is almost akin a response to a question he was pretending he didn't know the answer to...


She just spoke aloud without meaning to, again.

Didn't she?

"The 'crap I made you go through'...?" Yuri prompts, one eyebrow slowly rising over hooded dark eyes.

Rita's not sure, but she thinks that, that's the moment the dam inside her breaks, the moment she sees that still-darkened gaze focus staunchly on her and hears that stupidly deep voice feign confusion (like he's babying her, dammit, she may only be fifteen years old as opposed to his twenty-one but she's not a goddamn baby) and that sardonic demeanor falter, that mask slip, the slightest chink appearing in his well-crafted armor -

And suddenly it all explodes out of her at once.

"You know damn well what!" she snarls. "You scared the living crap out of all of us, just up and vanishing like that, falling over a freaking cliff like an idiot, when you're supposed to be the big badass vigilante-gone-hero - what the hell's up with that anyway, one moment you'll be making fun of the old man and teasing that brat and flirting with Judith and then the next you'll swing around on us, pull something stupid like kill a magistrate or a captain of the knights without even thinking about the damn consequences, like you never do, and so you - you go and you fall off a stupid platform into the middle of the ocean, right when we were all freaking out at this - this massive freaking monster in the sky, and we're all trying to figure out what the hell's going on, and then - and then Estelle goes 'Where's Yuri?' and then we all start freaking out even more because - because - because no one knew, no one knew where the hell you were, and then we look over and we see this dark shape falling into the water, and no one - nobody even recognizes that it's you until your knight friend's little fan-girl comes over and tells us you fell, and we're all scared, Yuri! Dammit, Yuri, we're all so scared, because we think you're dead, we're terrified for you!

"And Estelle starts crying, and that knight guy doesn't say anything but he goes off by himself for a little bit and when he comes back he - he tries to hide it but I can see how red his eyes are, and just - just - you scared the crap out of us, you scared the crap out of me!

"And the days go by, and I keep trying to stop thinking about it, but I keep - I keep remembering seeing you, I know it's you now, I keep seeing your body go over the top of Zaude and I remember thinking it was just some stupid bird who'd lost its will to fly, and I - I - I go and make myself food, but dammit, I keep making croquettes, and I can't stop making croquettes, and I can't stop missing everything about this group and this journey and - and your stupid nicknames for everybody, like you can't just freaking call Estelle Estellise or Judith anything but Judy or demote Karol to being anything less than Captain, and I try to write letters to Estelle but all I end up asking her is if they've found anything about you, and - and - I can't hear myself think because all I can think of is the past few months, and I realize, oh, hey, Rita, you might actually give a damn about something besides blastia, but it doesn't suck at all, what's up with that?

"And then you do the one thing I don't need, you come back. You waltz right back into my life like you've only been gone to go check out that back alley over there or something, and I'm trying to get myself back on track because now I can, because Zaude's given me more things to think about, and then you walk in without knocking - again - and I can't think of anything to say even though I - I want to scream at you and beat you up and hug you and kiss you all at once, because you're back and now everything's going to go back to somewhat normal, and - and - that's it, okay? That's the crap you put us through, the fear and the worry and the oh-so-fun little slice of emotional torment and - it's stupid because before now, before all this, I don't think I looked at you sideways, because you were always so busy with Estelle and everything else, but then you go off and nearly kill yourself and I don't know what to do with myself anymore!"

By the end of her little impromptu speech, Rita is panting so hard she can barely breathe, since she'd just practically spewed all that out in one breath. Only when the need to breathe intensifies does it hit her, the significance of that stupid, stupid lump in her throat and the reason why Yuri's wide eyes and half-opened mouth have become so blurry in her vision.

She blinks furiously, as though that action will push those irrational tears back behind their ducts (where they belong, dammit), and glowers at Yuri, mentally asking him whether or not he understood now. He'd opened his mouth and made as if to interrupt her more than once, but she had pushed on, and now that her emotions are lying naked in the open, he seems to be unable to close his mouth. The shocked, caught-off-guard look - the raised brows, the way his jaw hangs just slightly ajar, the wide eyes - is so unusual, so incongruous on Yuri's countenance that it would be almost funny, given a different situation.

And the silence weighs down on her so much that, despite her true feelings having flowed forth from her like rainwater off a leaf, Rita has to speak again. "Say something, dammit!" she spits, her voice half choked around the stupid closed-off space in her throat; and why is she still crying, stop it, why is she getting so choked-up and teary over nothing -

Of all the responses that could've gotten, of all the possibilities forming themselves in her mind, Yuri moving forward and hugging her tightly to him wasn't very high on the list.

But no, as she sits there dumbly and stiffly with his arms wrapped firmly around her shoulders, she blinks and the odd, really odd reality of her situation comes back to her as she blinks and her eyelashes brush against the bare skin of his chest (and normally she'd be cursing the fact that eyelash level for her is pectoral level on him, because dammit, he's tall, but the incongruity of Yuri and hugging Rita in the same situation won't let go of her brain long enough for her to register anything else). The reality enforces itself even more in her bemused mind when the contact she's unaccustomed to causes heat to rise to her cheeks (she thinks, vaguely, that she should be pulling back and demanding as to what the hell he thinks he's doing, but he's got such a tight grip on her. Yes, that's it, that's all it is), and she inhales a bit too sharply in accordance with her suddenly-churning stomach and pounding hearts and draws in just the slightest tang of cinnamon (that's so weird, why would Yuri smell like cinnamon?).

And yet, she thinks - isn't this a just compensation, for everything he's put her through in the past few days (past few months, really, due to the way his arrival unbalanced her formerly solitary life of blastia and research and little kids playing pranks on her)? Isn't this the reason why she felt even the sarcastic admission of her relief at seeing him alive brought her one step closer to knowing why she'd fallen apart over his disappearance in the first place? Isn't this what she needed, more than just seeing him and hearing his voice and feeling the familiar edge of ire at his uncanny tendency to beat her to brash decisions?

The surface beneath her cheek vibrates then, and it takes her a moment to realize he's speaking. Yuri's response contrasts so sharply to her spilling of her sentiments it makes her want to cry all over again; it's terse and rather abrupt and yet the quality of his voice suggests that, like her (rambling, thirteen-year-old Rita chortles), he's had this bottled up inside for the whole day. It consists of only one word, a word that breaks the other dam inside her, the one behind her eyes. The one whose restraints were already partially ripped apart as she'd made her speech.

And as his deep voice reverberates throughout her whole body, Rita squeezes her eyes shut and tries to keep from pounding her fists against his chest because all she can think is thank you, you stupid bastard.

That word, as it turns out, is sorry.

A few minutes pass and Rita finally comes to her senses long enough to bring her hands up and push herself away from him. Her tear-puffy eyes lock with his, and she has to tilt her head back to meet his gaze, but strangely it doesn't annoy her as much as it should. Totally crying yourself out, she reflects dryly, can do that.

Yuri eyes her for a few seconds, a few seconds that feel heavy and long. She's only just exposed the shameful, more emotional, not-fiery side of her, and she can feel the embarrassment at the thought rippling on her spine in hot waves. He's just held her through the worst of the storm, but with Yuri Lowell, one never knows if blackmail will be forthcoming.

As a result of this awkwardness, Rita gets pretty close to shouting at him to say something before abruptly, suddenly, he opens his mouth and speaks.

"So," he drawls, folding his arms across his chest, "any chance the genius mage can find a way to relay that little message to the others?"

Rita rolls her eyes and glowers up at him. "Do you really want me to hug the old man while he cries all over me?"

Yuri's laughter rumbles up from deep within him, and he grins. "Touché," he comments.

Despite his action earlier, the act that totally defied Rita's expectations and should have left her prepared for anything from him, it still comes as an immense shock when Yuri suddenly places his hand, however lightly, on her shoulder.

"That's our Rita," he murmurs, very quietly. "Keep it up." He moves away, leaving her staring after him like a moron and not even caring about how stupid she looks.

Then he turns. "Hey, you coming? I'm not gonna be responsible for you if you collapse from exhaustion tomorrow from staying up late."

Hastily, Rita snaps her jaw shut. "Whatever," she shouts after him. "I've had much later nights than this."

But she's smiling as she says it, because with the sense of annoyance toward Yuri for remaining Yuri even after his little fall, with the powerful desire to roll her eyes at his sarcasm and sardonic remarks, she can also feel relief. Just a little. Just enough to warm her from the inside (however cheesy it may be, it's also true). With that relief comes a sense of freedom, at having exposed that side of herself to him, at having received the closure she'd so desperately needed.

And okay, so sobbing her heart out all over him hadn't exactly been the least humiliating way to do it. But it's a start.

It's enough to make her feel like everything is, in fact, going to be okay.

See? You knew they weren't going to do anything too risque. -shot dead-


...why do all the fics I write for this fandom end up disturbingly long?