In all honesty, Edge had been looking forward to a good night's sleep- The first one, or so it felt, that he'd had in a long time. To add to that, Master Blaire had decided that - having saved the world and all - Edge could finally sleep in his own bed again, if only for the night. And so, following a long hot bath and what was probably Orin's best home-cooked dinner ever, Edge fell onto the familiarly-springy mattress and felt himself go limp as the tension seeped from his bones. Now that everything was said and done, Edge couldn't think of anything he wanted more at the moment than the simple pleasure of a dreamless sleep.
So of course, just as he was nodding off, the faint sound of tiny pebbles clattered like rainfall against his windowpane.
For a moment Edge debated falling asleep anyway, but he was already shrugging back into his shirt even as he bid a fond farewell to his mattress and blankets and still-cool pillow. The window slid open with that barely-noticeable sticking-point, but Edge had dealt with it for years now - because Master Blaire was less strenuous on upkeep than he was about smithing - and there was no sound to disrupt his roommate's sleep. Edge cast a quick, fond glance over his shoulder as he slid his first leg over the sill; Dinah was sleeping soundly on the recently-installed second bed, aqua hair soft and pale in the moonlight, and Edge nodded wordlessly at the slumbering spirit before easing the rest of him out of the window and down to the soft sod below.
Ryouga was there as he'd always been, waiting idly just within the fence that ringed the cliff's sheer drop, and for a moment Edge could have sworn that the past week had been nothing but a bad dream: Gouren, Goura, the truth about Lynn and Ryouga, the truth about Edge himself. For a moment Edge forgot the glittering sword wrapped reverently beneath his bed and the demon-angel Guardian Beast who shared his room- For the span of a single breath, all was right in the world.
Then Edge gestured for silence before Ryouga could utter his usual whispered greeting, a finger across his lips and a nod up at the window; Ryouga, of course, caught the meaning immediately and returned Edge's nod; Dinah had exceptional hearing, when she wanted to, and she still didn't care much for Ryouga.
They walked in companionable silence down the wooden steps, instinctively avoiding the creaking places out of long habit, and passed through a town that was deep in slumber. Cliff Village at night was drastically different from Cliff Village during the day, colors muted and cooled by the moonlight, and the only sounds were the chirping of cicadas and the distant roar of the waterfall. Their boots were muffled on the tamped-down dirt of the main road, which they'd walked (and run) for years before, but somehow it felt as though they'd never done so before.
Edge didn't think too far ahead, for better or for worse; his modus operandi had not changed, nor was it likely to do so. Edge didn't contemplate Ryouga's oddly tense silence, or the half-sad half-smile on his lips, or the rucksack slung over his shoulder. Edge just looked up at the moon and the stars and thought that it was a beautiful night to be outdoors with his best friend.
Ryouga's dark eyes roamed over the silent streets and moon-dappled buildings as if he wanted to burn the sight into his heart, but his gaze kept returning to the oblivious boy who walked beside him. Edge's eyes, Ryouga noted, were turned heavenward, but the stars were not able to compete with the way that the moonlight turned blonde hair pale gold, or brought out in blue eyes a sharper, clearer, softer blue.
Forcing his gaze to the path in front of them, to the winding cliffside bridge that had so often proven Edge's near-doom, Ryouga only tightened his grip on the rucksack over his shoulder and tried not to wonder what would happen to Edge if Ryouga wasn't there to catch his fall. Edge had gone beyond the boy he'd been only ten days ago, past the boy who needed his Master and his sister and brother and his best friend to make sure he didn't trip over his own irrepressible ways. And Edge had Dinah now, and even Ryouga couldn't fault the Guardian Beast's devotion.
A Craftknight and their Guardian Beast were supposed to know each other's hearts, weren't they? With a Guardian Beast of his own, with both sides of that pretty, unpredictable Summon Spirit bent wholeheartedly to his happiness, Edge probably didn't need anyone else anymore.
Inhaling, exhaling, feeling the sharp air of midnight bite into his throat and lungs, Ryouga forced himself to focus and compelled his eyes to look straight ahead. He didn't need to burn Edge's image into his heart; it had already been there for a very long time.
They stopped at the cliffside, and Edge smiled down at the hard-packed earth as he ran a fond hand over the weathered fence; Ryouga echoed that smile, before he spoke, drawing Edge's attention to himself.
"Hey, after Lynn and I first moved to the village... This is where we first met, right?"
"Yeah." It was a small word, a simple one, but Edge's eyes were on Ryouga now and Ryouga knew that Edge could only ever give his full attention to one thing at a time. Edge was remembering that day, a long time ago it seemed, when two restless little boys had met the person who'd change their lives.
A part of Ryouga, however petty it might be, was gratified to know that Edge was remembering their meeting and not their meeting with Dinah. Maybe Ryouga had been a little short with her that day, but it had irritated him - for some reason - that someone else could have such a meeting in the place they'd considered their own.
There was a long silence, and - uncomfortably aware of Edge's eyes - Ryouga cracked a grin and said "And you were crying, I think. Because you missed your father?"
Edge was indignant as he retorted "I was not crying! I've told you a hundred times!"
"Right, right." Ryouga could smile a little more naturally now, because baiting Edge was always fun. And honestly, he'd kind of liked that Edge had been crying, because Ryouga had made him feel better and that had been enough to make him Edge's friend. A part of him had thought that, if Edge had stayed a crybaby, even just around him, then Ryouga would always have a place in Edge's life.
Looking back on it, Ryouga realized it for only one of the ways he'd tried to keep Edge weak. Weak people, after all, need strong people to protect them, and Ryouga was perfectly fine with living for Edge's sake.
Struggling to keep his mind on the task at hand, Ryouga finally said "But Edge, I- I really have to thank you. Even though I-" Ryouga cleared his throat, and Edge looked uncomfortable at the reminders of their brief time as enemies, but Ryouga took a breath and soldiered on.
"Even at the worst of times, no matter what I did, you believed in me. Whatever happened, and even though you resolved to defeat me..." And Ryouga had been so proud of Edge, of how he'd grown and how well he stood unwavering on his own two feet, even as that selfish part of Ryouga had felt somehow betrayed that Edge could ever be willing to leave him behind. "... You never stopped trying to talk things through. You never gave up on me. So... Thanks."
Edge grinned, a faint red glow spreading across his cheeks; he'd never been able to handle praise well and he knew it. Rubbing vaguely at the back of his neck, Edge shrugged.
"You don't have to thank me, Ryouga; we're friends. I mean, we were then and we are now- I never stopped thinking of you as my best friend, and the Ryouga I know is not a bad guy."
A faint follow-up shrug and a bright smile accompanied those words, and Ryouga tried not to look as moved as he felt; Edge still didn't understand just how he could affect someone with his honest, uncomplicated feelings articulated in honest, straightforward words. Ryouga had spent most of his life in hiding, one way or another, and he was relieved to see that what he'd done - what he and Lynn and Guren had done - hadn't been enough to taint Edge's pure heart.
"Besides," added Edge, "I should really be thanking you. All of that..." Edge gestured noncommittally with one hand. "... was for me, right?" And Ryouga felt his face heat up like a bonfire. "You could have just gone through with it and saved Lynn, but you wanted to help me too. Because I was your friend?"
"W-What?" Ryouga wasn't proud of that stammer, but Edge seemed only to laugh with his eyes and really, he couldn't be that oblivious, could he?
"I'm not hearing a no…" sing-songed Edge, and Ryouga could swear that he was luminescent.
"It's just... I mean," tried Ryouga, "isn't that kind of... embarrassing? To say it out loud?"
Edge shook his head. "Not at all," he replied, scuffing the dirt with the toe of a boot. "It's the truth, right? And I'm thankful for it.
"I'm really grateful to have a friend like you."
Ryouga had never been sure if Spirits could feel things the way that humans did, but if he had anything like a human heart he could feel it breaking just a little, just around the edges. Edge's voice was a little teasing but his eyes were sincere, and this was only going to make things harder when Ryouga stopped being such a coward and just said what he had to say.
"Well, I'm also really glad to have… had… a friend like you."
But Ryouga had to say that first, because it was possibly the truest thing he'd ever said. To know Edge was—
Clearing his throat again, just to have something to do, Ryouga turned towards the vast world spread beneath the mountain, barely feeling the icy wind as it caught in his hair and pulled tangles through the long locks. Finding his voice, Ryouga began "Hey, Edge… ? Lynn sent you something, by the way." Producing a white envelope from somewhere within his crimson tunic, Ryouga released it into the wind and watched it fall neatly into Edge's hands; Edge, for his part, looked over at Ryouga in confusion and Ryouga had to grin.
"It's a letter, moron. Of thanks. After all, what you did for us… for her…" Ryouga's grin seemed to dim slightly despite Edge's sudden flush of realization, and only Edge's ducked head as he tucked the prize away missed the change in Ryouga's expression."
"But you know, not everyone's as forgiving. You're really something else, you know?"
"Yeah?" Edge's tone was half irate, half curious, as if he weren't quite sure if he should take offense. "In a good way or a bad way?"
"Good way." Ryouga chuckled, trying to keep his tone light. "But most people aren't, it's a fact, and my sister and I have caused a lot of trouble for Cliff Village. Even though only a few people know, it'll probably get out sooner or later, and...
"Well, it's probably best if Lynn and I disappear before then. Just in case."
From behind Ryouga came only dead silence, and into that silence he continued. "I need to get going; Lynn is waiting for me. I just wanted to, you know... Make sure you knew."
Because as painful as this was, Ryouga preferred it to the possibility that Edge find them gone and hold himself responsible.
At last, unable to help himself, Ryouga turned and was momentarily struck dumb at the sight of Edge furiously scrubbing insistent tears from his eyes. Feeling his heart twist as it had done that first time before Goura's Seal, as it had after that duel in the Hot Springs, Ryouga hesitated for a fraction of a second too long. Was it all right to react as he'd done when they were children? He'd been among humans for so long but Ryouga still didn't know everything to know about them, about one human in particular...
Edge, fully preoccupied with glaring at the rocky ground and ignoring the hot pinpricks behind his eyes, didn't look up until he felt the familiar hand settle atop his head; blinking in surprise at a gesture that hadn't occurred since they were children, Edge's gaze focused and he saw that Ryouga was smiling—That same half-teasing, half-reassuring smile that Edge had been convinced was gone forever.
"It's not like we'll never see each other again, right? It's just for a little while… so don't worry about it so much. And don't cry," Ryouga added, almost as an afterthought, and ruffled Edge's hair before Edge swatted at his hand.
"It's not funny," scowled Edge, doing his best not to flush in embarrassment, tears forgotten in his pique as Ryouga tried and failed to stifle a laugh. "And I wasn't crying! It's just the wind up here is pretty strong, that's all!"
"Sure, sure. The wind."
But the moment of fragility, of razor-edge emotion, had passed; and both were relieved for it, because despite everything they were still a pair of teenage boys and neither wanted to undergo and more soul-baring revelations than had already happened. So after Ryouga's laughter had spent itself and Edge's expression of irritation had smoothed to just the slightest shading of disapproval, it wasn't surprising when Edge finally grinned instead, white smile flashing in the pale light.
"So, even though you and Lynn are leaving… We'll definitely meet again." The confidence in Edge's voice spoke volumes as he added "I know it— So consider it a promise!"
"And a Craftknight's promise," echoed Ryouga, "is stronger than steel."
"Got that right!" grinned Edge, taking Ryouga's outstretched hand; the grip was firm and strangely reassuring, and Ryouga could bring himself to smile with genuine peace as they let each other go.
Yeah, it would be all right. Edge would be fine, and Ryouga himself…
Well, he and Lynn had their own paths to follow. But at the least, mused Ryouga… as he adjusted the weight of the pack on his shoulders (no problem really, for a Summon Spirit) and nodded goodbye… at the very least, Ryouga knew this: Their paths would most definitely cross again, someday.
Author's Notes: Although there may be scenes which could be viewed as shounen-ai, I promise that wasn't the intention. However, I do see Edge/Aera as the type of person to compulsively and unconsciously attract others, particularly Summon Spirits, who seem to be drawn to the 'glow' or 'nice scent' that Nina and Gabriel describe, above and beyond his Edge Fencer ability. So Ryouga and Lynn, being Summon Spirits who were first made welcome by a young Edge, would be attracted to Edge in the incredibly strong but genuinely 'platonic' way that Guardian Beasts seem to be bound to their Masters, at least if their Masters are player characters. See: Any bond between Edge/Aera or Pratty/Cleru and their respective Guardian Beasts.
Incidentally, I was meaning to add in the contents of Lynn's letter; I always thought her ending, while adorable, didn't make much sense. Weren't they fleeing likely-enraged townsfolk? Why would Lynn risk coming back to see Edge? And where was Ryouga during that time? So I figured a farewell letter would be nice, but then I couldn't find anywhere to fit in its contents. Maybe I'll include it as a super-short 'Chapter Two?'