There was a time when they smiled together, lived and loved together, ran side by side through the dusty streets and felt the pulse of the city thrumming beneath their sun-bronzed feet. There was a time when they were happy, the three of them, and they would share secret glances and hesitant touches, making promises they did not yet understand.

There was a time when she held their hands in her own, fingers entwined like threads of fate, and sent her hopes soaring into the forever sky.

"Someday," he had said. "Someday we'll see the world."

Now, people lie dying in the streets.

Now, the air is thick with the cloying stench of death, and hunger twists her stomach into knots, and the sun beats down upon them, cracking their skin like old pottery.

And there are no more smiles, and no more promises.

(Because who knows? They might be dead tomorrow.)

.

.

Her parents' bodies are never found.

She'd told them not to go. Money's not important right now, she'd pleaded. You'll get caught in the middle of the fighting! Please, just… stay home. Stay with us.

But her father had smiled sadly.

Money's always important, Penelo. Even in wartime. You kids will starve if we don't sell our wares. And no one here in Rabanastre has any money to spare… We have to go to Nabudis.

We'll be careful, her mother had said, catching her in a tight embrace. We'll come home as soon as we can.

We love you, they'd said, and walked out the door.

Three days turns into four, and four into seven, and seven into fifteen. And it is on the sixteenth day of her parents' absence, when she looks out the window and sees nothing but dust, that Penelo realizes the sad truth: they are never coming home.

They lied to her. They betrayed her trust. They are out there somewhere, under a Nabradian sky choked with smoke and gunfire, their lifeless eyes closed for all eternity, and they will never walk through the door again. She will never again hear their voices scolding Vaan's reckless behavior. She will never again see their smiles as they gather around the dinner table, their makeshift family brought together by loss.

Anger courses through her. They said they'd always be there; they said they'd never leave her behind, like those sad-eyed children abandoned in the gutters, scrounging for scraps and mercy. She hates them for breaking their promise. She hates them for going away, ignoring her childish pleas to please, please stay.

And it is not until she stands in front of their graves – crude headstones fashioned from old planks, nailed together by Vaan's trembling hands – that this anger finally leaves her. In its place, there is emptiness, a wide, jagged chasm within her heart.

"I'm going to join the army," Reks says quietly. He is kneeling, arranging the galbana lilies just so, so that the winds of the Westersand don't blow them away. "I can't… I can't just stand by and do nothing. Whoever did this to them… I can't forgive it."

"No," Vaan breathes. "Y-you'll die, Brother! You can't… You can't go…"

"I think you should," Penelo says.

He smiles at her, grateful, though his bright blue eyes are brimming with sorrow. "Thank you," he says, and tucks a galbana lily behind her ear. Its petals brush her cheek gently, like the fingers of a ghost.

Penelo wishes she could fight. She wishes she could take up a sword and strike down the ones who did this to her parents, because that at least would fill the aching emptiness inside her. But she is a girl – fragile and rosy-cheeked, fourteen years old with a dancer's frame – and all she can do is stand aside and watch Reks walk away.

His shoulders are broad now, and his gait is that of a man, not a boy, but she cannot help but think how small he looks underneath the desert sky.

.

.

I think you should.

Penelo lifts her hands and lets the winds of the Westersand carry her regrets away, red petals on the breeze.