Author's Notes: People had asked me to expand on Squall and Rinoa's reunion in the rain; so, I thought I'd sit down and see how it went. This is a standalone one-shot from After the Fall but you do not need to know the story - it's recapped and the focus is on a particular scene where they make love. Most of it is completely new as only some of the original content remains. I tried to keep the feel of the After the Fall with the opening and closing lines (oops, spoiler there!) along with a small summation in the beginning.

This is the edited version of "Until I Fall Away." The unedited one found at Archive of Our Own. The link to that is both under my master fic list at LJ, in my Ashbear bio, or found under the Ashbear name at A03.

As always, thanks to Emerald_Latias, Carie Valentine, and Niqsta for their help and all of my readers for the last ten years of support.

-o-o Until I Fall Away o-o-

I. Shock

Everyone wants tell you what you're supposed to be feeling, what's normal and what isn't.

What's a dream and what's reality?

It's those thoughts you hold onto right before your mind drifts into sleep; it's those same memories that plague your dreams. It's what your heart twists them into being – molding them like clay to form the perfect image.

…But that image is only an illusion of the past.

It's never quite a lie, never quite a truth.

Its fragments are what shape your hopes. Its shattered pieces are yesterday's expectations.

And then you wake up from that dream, expecting to look into nothing but shadows, but this time you find you're not alone. You're no longer thinking about the would've beens or could've beens of your life – you're thinking about simply what is.

You're living in the moment and while the past will always be just that – the past – you realize now that some things are better left behind. You realize that some desires grow stronger and some feelings never fade. In that moment, you know the truth – you've walked down a path that has no return. Even if your mind refused to believe, your heart always knew it would end this way; it knew from that first second your eyes met in the rain.


II. Pain

Five years ago they met and everyone believed that a storybook romance had been born, a tale of sorceress and knight. Two years later, a hard lesson was learned – life never ended with the words 'happily ever after.' In the real world, when the last paged turned and the book's cover closed, time marched forward. Back then, they were still teenagers and in the naivety of youth, they thought they could take on the entire world.

…And they did, once.

But after the battle came the peace and with the peace came the realization. Oaths that had been easily promised gave way to the demands of work. Their feelings were always genuine, but the building resentment slowly started to take its toll.

In hindsight, maybe it was easy to see - the broken promises of dinner dates, the complaints about spending more time together, the favors asked, the fights, the insecurities, and a whole lot in between. It was everything typical in the most atypical situation. A situation that neither was comfortable in – she began to feel increasingly useless and he increasingly pressured.

It was sorceress and knight, commander and civilian, boyfriend and girlfriend… In the end, it was the perfect mixture for a Molotov cocktail. Something was bound to break.

…And it did.

During a mission, he crossed a line that never should have been. It didn't matter who had lit the cocktail, but it had ignited into an explosion that had been a long time coming.

When the fires burned out and nothing but ashes remained… they were simply Squall and Rinoa.

Two different people. Two different lives. And in the aftermath, she thought the best way to help him was to not only leave Garden, but to also leave him. So she left, but even then, she promised that she would never talk about the mission.

Three years later, she had built a life in Timber, while he had rebuilt his at Garden. Yet, they were actors in their personal lives, both too proud and too stubborn, to admit the truth. In those years, they grew professionally, but their feelings for one another never faded. The absence had given them clarity and the distance gave them certainty, but most of all, time had given them understanding. They learned not just about each other, but about themselves. And just like three years earlier, something was building to a head, but neither could predict the future…

In a split-second, a bullet changed everything and as he lay bleeding on the pavement, there was only one person on his mind - one regret that consumed him. Rinoa had seen him in those hours; a ghost in the mirror that tried to reach out before his final breath. Edea had explained it was a lingering effect of their former connection as sorceress and knight. Their bond might bend, but it was never broken, because neither truly said goodbye. And when he died, he had finally released her – at least she was led to believe.

Without the world's knowledge, Squall had recovered and to catch a killer, his funeral was used as bait.

The world believed Garden's lie and so did she.

But when he saw her pain, he knew that he couldn't be the one to hurt her anymore. SeeD be damned. For once, he wanted to live his own life. So he did. In the middle of the night, he found his way back to Timber, more importantly, back to her.

The night was warm, the rain was heavy, but none of that mattered because as he saw her through the glass it was perfect; she was perfect. He needed to be asked forgiveness for his words; he needed her to know that his feelings towards her never stopped.

In the end, he simply wanted her.


III. Anger

The wind picked up, knocking something over in her atrium. Rinoa grimaced, looking out at the rain - that would be another mess to deal with tomorrow. Great. Through the downpour, she could barely make out the outline of things on her patio - furniture, flower pots, shrubbery, and for a brief second, she honestly believed the silhouette of a person.

That was never a good sign. She truly was losing it, wasn't she?

Since Squall's funeral almost a week ago, she had hardly slept and it seemed her days and nights had blurred together. She was tired, she was weak, and her legs felt as if they could give out from under her. It was all she could do to stand, so she used the wall as a crutch to support most of her weight.

Rubbing her temples, she let out a tired sigh before glancing back outside. Now there was no question that her eyes were back to their old tricks. Not only had the silhouette become more defined, it had moved closer. Maybe it was because she was so tired and her mind wasn't processing the situation rationally, but the fact that it could be a 'real person' never crossed her mind. Honestly, she had been seeing too many hallucinations to even entertain the idea.

Finding the strength, she pushed herself away and headed towards her patio doors. She blinked a few times, trying desperately to find focus.

"S-Sq-Squall?" It felt as if her voice wasn't her own. She had avoiding saying that name for so long that it felt completely foreign as it left her mouth.

Another thing that bothered her was that even though she asked it as question, hesitating slightly while do so, her mind had already accepted it with absolute certainty. Worse yet, the figure seemed to nod as if answering. She had to admit this was new as her hallucinations didn't usually nod a response.

Shaking those thoughts, she needed to prove to herself it was just all in her head. She had no idea why she was so hell-bent on proving this particular delusion was just a figment of her imagination, but for some reason, she just had to. Without thought, she opened the patio door and stepped out into the pouring rain. Again, she mumbled something about 'losing it' as she slid the door behind her.

When she was younger, she was often told that she had an overactive imagination and Rinoa Heartilly was pushing that theory to its limits right now. Her hands ran up and down her shoulders trying to get warm as she looked at the mirage before her.

"You're dead." She reasoned like it was as simple as that. But after she realized she was trying to use logic with an illusion, there was nothing left to do but simply laugh.

It was from a mixture of both fear and exhaustion, knowing she had lost all touch with reality. Her mind was improving with this game, conjuring up some very detailed hallucinations. He looked tired and even his hair was wet. Hell, she even managed to conjure up clothes that she'd never seen him wear before, that took skill.

She wanted to wonder how she would survive this, but she honestly wanted to believe in the fantasy at this point. This Squall was here; he was a clear and vivid illusion. For a while, she just wanted to take comfort in her delusions.

Of course, this was the first time one of her delusions actually spoke to her.

"I'm here."

Briefly, her face showed the slightest bit of recognition before it returned to its previous state.

"Yeah, okay. You're here," she tersely replied, taking a few steps closer. With an edge of sarcasm to her voice, she continued, "So sorry... where's my hospitality? Hungry?"

Almost bitterly, she laughed at her insincere words. When she had managed to sleep, her thoughts would always drift back to him. Sadly, it came as no surprise when her illusions had transitioned into waking hours. Of course, this Squall said about as much as the ones in her dreams.

"Still not talkative I see."

He stood in disbelief. She seemed so delicate, so beautiful, and so… lost? It had never occurred to him that her own sense of reality could be skewed. This was far beyond anything he had seen in her.

Still in silence, she blinked away droplets of rain that had rested on her eyelashes. No matter how much she wanted to turn away, she found herself staring at him, memorizing every detail she never knew. It was all she could do to look him in the eyes. They were so filled with life; the very thing the real Squall had been denied a few weeks ago. Even if he was imaginary, he was so damn beautiful. In that one moment, she needed to believe.

So with acceptance in her madness, she ran forward, crashing into his chest. Part of her thinking she would continue through the image, but his body was undeniably corporal. The two entities met under a torrent of rain, producing as much electricity as the lightning that would flash through the sky.

Squall had not expected this response either nor did he understand her change in demeanor. Yet just to hold her one more time was the only thing he could think about when he was dying. Even if this moment was stolen to some degree, he wouldn't allow this opportunity slip through his fingers.

His arms closed protectively around her in an almost involuntary response.

He didn't want to think, just accept.

To feel her weight against his body was like having his breath returned. His fingers combed though her wet hair as he listened to the sound of her hurried breathing. Before either knew what was happening, their lips met and years of repressed passion was set free at once. Over a million centuries, Squall would never imagine this reaction. It almost brought them back to living that perfect storybook tale and therein laid the problem - it was too perfect.

Never in his life had anything been handed to him so easily. He had to talk to her, really talk to her. The laughing, the humor, the kissing – it was all too surreal. And as much as he hated himself for what he was about to do, it was the only choice his mind allowed. Though, goddamn it, his body wanted something entirely different.

"Rinoa, stop." He breathed in between hurried kisses, "Please, I can't…"

She pulled away, yet he refused to let go of her completely. Not now. So held he kept his arms loosely around her, allowing space between them.

"I'm sorry. I just can't." He repeated, hoping she'd believe his sincerity.

"Of course you can't, Squall. I can't even do this right. Fine, go ahead and tell me," she said, waving her hand dismissively.

"What? Rinoa, what do you want me to tell you?"

"God, do I have to spell everything out!" Rinoa yelled vehemently. Forcefully, she pushed his arms away to completely free herself from his hold. "You're supposed to tell me things like: 'I need to let you go' or 'I'll be fine by myself because I always have been.' Oh, yeah, and let's not forget the old tried-and-true 'everything works out for a reason.' You know, everybody and their brother have been giving me these lines for a week. Seems to me that my own damn hallucination would at least have something unique to say."

Squall was too stunned to speak, which only upset her more. Throwing her hands up in exasperation, she continued, "I don't know, maybe you could try something like: 'you're free from our whole sorceress/knight bond' or 'even though I'm gone, my only wish is that I you to be happy.' Not that I believe any of this shit, but it's the thought that counts right?"

He drew in a deep breath. He understood everything now. She wasn't kissing him; she really was kissing a ghost. His body was numb. This, this is what he had done to her.

"Rinoa, look at me," he spoke firmly, placing one hand on either shoulder. "Listen to me and think about my words carefully… I didn't die, it was all staged. This whole thing was a big fucking lie. One of Garden's less brilliant ideas… Rinoa, I can't even begin-"

"You weren't really shot?" she interrupted.

He was unable to decipher any emotion, resentment or otherwise.

"No, I didn't mean that part. Yes, being shot was very, very real. After I woke up from surgery, Cid informed me of Garden's plan. It was already in motion, I had no choice."

It felt like the fog she had been living under was slowly starting to lift. However, if that fact was for the better, she didn't know. All the pain of the years came flooding back as she saw clearly for the first time today. They weren't meant to be her first real words, but anger was the first emotion she could articulate.

She pounded her hands into his chest. "I hate you! I hate you." She repeated the mantra, each time the tone of her words decreasing until voice finally trailed into silence.

"I hate you..."

She didn't hate him; she never could. It was a defensive response borne out of fear.

"I know, Rinoa, I know."

He didn't seem fazed by her words. In truth, he preferred this to the first two reactions - this was a genuine. Somewhere in the middle of her tirade, he managed to pull her back to his chest, wrapping his arms around her. She didn't resist, falling into his embrace.

"Oh God," she sobbed between ragged breaths, "I-I don't want to wake up... please don't wake me."

"You're not asleep. I promise."

"I almost didn't want to live... it was our bond, it just ripped me up inside... Edea explained it was never broken, even if we were." She had no idea why she had made that confession.

"Rinoa, you want to live." His tone remained calm, although her words scared the hell out of him.

"I never stopped loving you. I still need you." His heart was pleading with him to say the words, but all he could do was mutter some hollow apology.

"I'm sorry, for everything."

"I-I can't… this is…" Rinoa began, suddenly losing all ability to speak, "this… this is so… I need to sit."

"Rinoa, you're soaked. You need to get inside. We can talk in there."

"No," she shot back firmly.

She couldn't let him inside, not yet. That was a step she wasn't sure she was ready to make. She couldn't help but believe there was some finality in the action, if he went inside to her home there would be no turning back. She wasn't ready to forget so easily. She wanted to; but she had to protect herself… at least right now. It was safer in the rain.

It took all of her physical strength just to make her way to a nearby chair. This was a dream. This was a nightmare. And as of this moment, it was very much real.

Squall Leonhart was alive.

"Why?" she rasped out, her tone suggesting that it wasn't so much of a question, but a plea.

"It was Garden's idea. They thought if-"

"-No, that's not what I meant." Her words cut him off sharply. With a deep pause, she found her voice and repeated the question, "Why?"

"I ask myself that every day. I wish I could give you an answer that makes everything better, but I can't… And honestly, I'm not sure I ever can."

She shook her head in agreement. He couldn't answer that. She knew. So she focused on what he could answer – how had he made it from a coffin to her doorstep?

"So, you said it was all staged?"

"Basically, the funeral at least." He stood beside her, trying to answer what he could.

Her mouth dried as she tried to find her voice. "Who knows you're here?"

"Knows…? Ah, very few know I'm not dead: Cid, Zell, Dr. Kadowaki, and a small number of medical staff in Dollet, though I'm sure that Garden's already pulled the reigns in on them."

"So the lie really was to everybody?" Rinoa wondered if she was relieved or mad, honestly it felt like a mixture of both. She was thankful her friends hadn't lied to her, but upset if she was now put in the position of having to lie to them.

"Yes, it was… it is." He pushed the bangs from his face. The rain water was becoming more of an annoyance than a discomfort.

"You paused," she whispered, trying to understand. There was an underlying meaning in his answer and she needed to know.


"A second ago, you paused when I asked who knew you were here. Why?"

Even after all this time, he couldn't hide from her. He wanted to smile, but it wasn't the time for that. Then again, he had never been known for sense of timing. It was rather inappropriate and possibly more a sign of relief, but the thinnest of smiles formed on his lips.

"Because Rinoa, I don't know who knows I'm here."

"Squall," she softly said, closing her eyes. She understood what he meant - he had disobeyed orders to see her. That also meant they were on borrowed time; whoever he left behind would surely come looking for him.

"I had to..." he started to explain, but simply couldn't. He never finished his statement.

The adrenaline that had brought him here was replaced with reality. He wanted a genuine reaction from her and now he was getting it. It was the same one that he had feared every night over the last three years. A few minutes ago, he still had hope, now he had the truth. Giving into the tiredness, he collapsed under his own weight. As his knees rested on the ground, he ignored the wet pavement, the soreness, and the overall uncomfortable sensations tearing at his body.

"You need to go. Squall, I'm not part of your life anymore. Believe me, I so glad you're alive… but we can't… we're still two different people." She steadied herself as she stood from the chair. "I'm going inside. I am sorry that it all turned out like this. I really am."

IV. Reflection

Squall remained on the ground for what had to be a few minutes. He watched the tiny drops of rain as the hit the pavement before being swept into larger puddles. He knew how those raindrops felt, he had lost his identity long before. He didn't even know who he was or who he was supposed to be anymore. They all wanted something from him; to fight battles that weren't really his. He had come all this way to fight for the impossible, but maybe his destiny really was to command at Garden.

As he contemplated his next move, the obvious hit him – she was still there. He honestly hadn't expected her to stay, but she had. She stayed. Then he realized what he was doing, he was still letting someone else dictate what battles he fought, even if it was her. Maybe, just maybe, she was afraid of this as he was – maybe the impossible was still within reach.

She didn't know why she stayed, but the fact it took strength she hadn't mustered to walk away. But when he stood, the thought of looking him in the eyes was all it took. With new resolve, she started to walk away. No matter how much her heart was calling her back, she just couldn't put herself through the pain again.

"No. I'm not leaving." His answer was firm.

She stopped mid-step, before hesitation on whether to turn around. Damn him for picking now to fight for her. Damn him. Remaining strong, she again began walking towards her house.

"Not yet," he said with the same determination.

Reaching for her wrist, he spun her so they were facing one another. Trying to back away, she found herself close enough to the patio door to lean on it for support. Nervously, she swallowed at the realization that she caught between the wet glass and the man that spent the last five years invading her thoughts.

"Rinoa, look me in the eyes and tell me that you still don't love me, tell me we're really over... and then I'll go."

"Why, why are you doing this to me?" She couldn't help the tears that began to fall. Luckily, they were camouflaged in the rain. "Please, just stop all of this. Just… why are you here? Squall, tell me what you want."

"When I was dying, there was only one thing on my mind. That's what I want to fix my mistakes before it really is too late. I want us. Rinoa, I want you. Just you."

She wanted to scream, tell him he was making a mistake. The only problem was... she wanted him too.

…And in that moment, all but that fact was forgotten.

Their lips met in a fiery passion, something unbridled, something once known. It was time to cast away doubts of the past, living only in the present. The storm outside continued on, but the two had become oblivious to everything but their desires.

She involuntarily gasped as his hands pulled her closer and every centimeter of her body was crushed against his.

To have his arms around her, to feel their bodies pressed together. Rinoa had these sensations neglected for so long. Everything about his touch brought about a heightened sense of euphoria. As her hands found their way under his soaked t-shirt, her fingers forcefully traced the path of his spine. When they reached his neck, they spread outward and instinctively dug into the skin on his shoulder blades. The intent wasn't malicious but still painful enough to elicit a harsh moan from him. Their fervor was a mix of love and lust, a need greater than either could ever fathom.

As her long strands of wayward hair clung to both of their faces, one of his hands began combing dampened locks through his fingertips. His motions hadn't been completely gentle either, but there was an underlying forcefulness within each move. The pounding rain intensifying an almost primal heat between them as their mouths continued in a dance all their own.

And in that one moment, she felt everything.

After years of letting her needs lay dormant, the desires of her body had suddenly come to life; every sensation had become an exercise in ecstasy, every touch left her yearning for another. Even her surroundings amplified her desires; the pleasure of the cool glass as it pressed against her back, the material of her clothes adding a level of friction, but most of all, it was the rain acting like a metronome to her needs. The falling raindrops felt like a thousand gentle fingertips embracing her all at once.

She had never felt so needed, so wanted, so damn alive.

Squall continued to act as the aggressor, a role that he had truly never embraced outside of the battlefield. In the past, his love making had been reserved, bordering on timid at times. That was years ago, a teenager trying to find his place in this world. It was easy to doubt others, when you constantly found doubt in yourself. Now all traces of that man had gone it might have taken time, but he knew what his heart wanted. Her. With his hand still entangled in her hair, he guided her head back exposing the sensitive skin between her jaw and her collarbone. His lips broke from hers as he trailed firm kisses on the newly exposed skin.

To her it was a sensation almost bordering on nirvana; it was indescribable, brilliant. She crushed her eyes closed as her head turned to the sky; the raindrops pelted her face as his mouth continued to assault the most responsive part of her neck. As his advances progressed, she found herself gripping his shoulders just to remain balanced.

His name escaped her lips - it would have been so cliché if it hadn't been so true.

Although Rinoa still felt as if her legs would fall from under her, she decided that the risk was worth this reward. Her hands once again began to descend, working and kneading their way down his back. They seemingly stopped on their own accord as she felt the bottom hem of his t-shirt. All sense of doubt had already been forgotten as she used both hands, eagerly pulling the wet shirt over his head. They separated only long enough for the item to be tossed hastily to the side.

As their bodies crashed together again, they continued to draw parallels to the storm. Each of their actions, no matter how small or minute, added to the dynamic current flowing between them; it was invisible to the naked eye, yet the static charge bathed them like an aura. Their bodies had become conduits of the electricity built between them; the only thing they could ground themselves in was each other.

Just like Rinoa, Squall had become captivated with the simplest feels. Things that he would normally take for granted exploded like fireworks to his senses. The way the material of her shirt pressed up to his bare chest; the small plastic buttons that barely scratched his skin. The wetness that normally would have agitated him became a needed part of their encounter.

Few things in Squall Leonhart's life were perfect – this moment was among them.

His hands roamed freely, no longer a stranger to her shirt-clad body. Through torrid kisses, he glanced down to look at what only his hands had the opportunity to explore. The way the wet shirt clung to her amplified every contour to her sensuality. Although he couldn't deny how amazingly sexy she looked now, he wanted to do nothing more than see her undressed. Thus began one his less graceful moments, as his dexterity was surprisingly put to the test.

…This moment was still perfect, just a tad inconvenient.

Shifting his balance slightly, he brought his right hand forward to remove her top. Unfortunately, it became an almost pathetic attempt at unfastening it, his unlikely nemesis had been the combination of slippery fingers and delicate plastic-coated buttons. In between fumbled attempts, he vaguely had to wonder if this was something she wore often now; it certainly wasn't the style of clothes he recalled from her days at Garden. It made her seem older and gave off a more professional edge but, given her job in Timber, the change in wardrobe made sense…

Then it hit him… why in the hell was he thinking about this right now?

As if to demonstrate his increasing frustration, he gripped her shirt on either side below the collar and, in one swift motion, he undid it by ripping it a part. He was a SeeD and being resourceful was second nature, although he was damn sure that 'most time-efficient way for removing clothes before making love' hadn't made the final cut of the SeeD manual. Then again, if Irvine had a hand in the editing – it just might be in there.

She couldn't help but let out a small laugh at his impatience. "That was… new."

"Bill me."

"No, I mean you being this… passionate."

"Problem?" The commandeer replied coolly, raising his brow as he waited for her response. To continue his prolonged teasing, his hand slowly traced its way up, finally resting on her cheek.

She smiled devilishly, knowing his question had been rhetorical, but leave it to her to find a way to answer. "One. I'm still wearing my bra."

She leaned into the palm that cradled her, bringing her hand up to join his. As the rain fell, she turned slightly, kissing his fingers. He watched in fascination as something so beautiful could touch something so stained with blood.

Pushing the thoughts away, his mind rested on how she hadn't been holding back either. Rinoa had equaled his passionate at every turn. It seemed that all their insecurities no longer hindered them; time truly had changed some things for the better. In the past, their intimacy often followed a predictable pattern. Although their encounter had been relatively short, this night was easily the most liberating night either could recall in their lives.

They were free.

V. Adjustment

He watched intently, as discovered that he had newfound fascination with her lips. The way they looked, the way the felt, and even the way they tasted. He strained not to breakdown; there was nothing he wanted more than to devour the objects of his momentary obsession. It took all he had just to accept her gifts without reciprocating. This had become about both control and restraint. Her warm breath was like a wisp of heaven over his fingertips; such a simple motion could bring him to his knees…

…And unlike so many times in his life, he wanted to fall.

Her lips continued their feathery assault down the length of fingers and, in some alternate universe, he decided that it was her delicate touch that saved him. It was like an electrical current that gave his body life. He had been dead for so long, she would never know that she had saved him yet again.

Rinoa paused as he leaned in closer, but didn't seem to touch her. She wasn't too surprised when she from the corner of her eye, she saw his hand slide up the glass door. The only sounds in the air were their tattered breathes mixed with the falling rain. He leaned in as if to kiss her, but purposely held his lips centimeters from hers. His arm rested on the glass door, supporting his weight, as she continued to lean against it. Their eyes remained locked, saying all those words both had been afraid to speak out loud over the years.

They stayed in silence – ten, twenty, thirty seconds, however long it was, neither of them knew. His lips pursed into the thinnest hint of a smile, it seemed their stalemate had ended. Slowly, the hand he had been leaning with slid down, snaking itself between flesh and glass. Unlike her shirt, he managed to unfasten the bra's clasp on his first attempt. His fingers purposely lingered on the center of her back, placing firm, direct pressure on her spine that somehow felt was quite sensual.

A hard gasp escaped her lips as she was pulled forward, crashing forcefully against his chest. It caught her off guard and the fact he was still holding the bra in place, made the intent behind the move calculated. She had seen him like this only in battle - so confident, so sure, so in charge – he knew exactly what he was doing. It had taken years to admit, but she often felt jealousy towards his position at Garden; she wanted him to be as sure about their relationship as he was about work. He could commit to a title, but never her.

But in that moment, the balance of power all changed.

In the inner most part of her being, her subconscious realized that fact. It would not only define tonight, but every day afterwards. It would take her conscious mind longer to figure it out. It simply wasn't as forgiving, but somewhere this fact registered.

He wanted her more than work; he needed her more than Garden. The same amount of zealousness he displayed on the battlefield had now been directed at her.

"Look me in the eyes and tell me that you still don't love me."

She still loved him. God, did she love him. She wanted to scream the answer at the top of her lungs. She had at least admitted to herself, but fear kept her from admitting it – fear of being hurt again, fear that somehow it would break the spell on tonight.

Instead, she looked him in the eyes, silently begging for him to continue this beautiful dance of wills. Next time, she knew better to jokingly state wearing it was 'problem.' He had skillfully used her own words against her, taking some morose pleasure in her suffering. Every second his hand held her bra in place seemed to intensify her need for him.

She opened her mouth to say something, but her words were cut off before uttering the first syllable. He went for the kill like a lion who had been stalking its prey from afar. Leaning in, his lips softly brushed against hers. At first, his actions were tentative and deliberate, eliciting the wanted response, but as she encouraged him his response changed.

Each kiss held an underlying meaning. This encounter wasn't only physical, but a spiritual connection between sorceress and knight. Soft and gentle, firm and rough, every time his lips descended to meet hers, she had no idea what to expect. This time, he bit lightly at her lower lip, again sending her mind into a tailspin.

She had lost all reason and no matter if this turned out to be the biggest mistake she would ever make, she was willing to risk it. In truth, her heart wasn't the only part of her body screaming this was right. The closer she pressed into him, the more the once familiar sensations washed over her body. As her palms ran across his chest, her hands stopped when they landed on foreign texture. It dawned on her that this was the physical trace of his gunshot wound. The skin differed from the rest of his torso. She wanted to ask him about it, wanted to make sure she wasn't hurting him and the combination of surgery and high-level magic had healed it sufficiently. Even after everything, she never wanted to hurt him.

He pulled back, making sure that she was all right. Smiling, she gave him a nod as she started to lean back in to his lips, but again he seemed to be following his own agenda. His mouth working downward, he began tracing a line of kisses from her neck to her collarbone, skillfully keeping her bra in place. She wanted to urge him to let it go, as it only started to serve as an uncomfortable distraction. Finally, as his tongue retraced the earlier path, she gave in to carnal needs. Placing her hands on either side of his hips, she surprised him by pressing them strategically against her. Without thought, their lower bodies began simulating the act both desperately craved.

"Impatient, aren't we?"

"You have no idea."

A flash of lightning reflected in his eyes giving him an otherworldly appearance. He then became stone like as if he had been hit by a Petrify, much to her protest. With the hand not behind her back, he gently turned her face away from him. Leaning over, he whispered softly in her ear.


The single word made her entire body tingle; his warm breath making her putty in his hands. He stayed there for a second, paying some much-needed attention to her sensitive ear. His tongue and lips taking their respective turns, before they teasingly worked their way around the entire lobe. As his teeth nipped the skin, she knew he was teaching her another lesson. He had made it abundantly clear that things would move at his pace. She loved every damn second of it, plus payback truly would be hell.

This bout of torture ended as he guided her to look at him again, softly, kissing the corners of her mouth. She knew he was still putting his SeeD skills to work, calculating each move until he held complete control over the situation. Making her wait was only kindling the fire at this point. She couldn't deny there was an immense amount of pleasure from this torture and there was no doubt he was enjoying it too...

…And he was, but the pleasure to him wasn't only physical, it was about watching the way she reacted beneath his touch. To some extent, he couldn't care less about his needs, although it was a nice added benefit, but this was simply about her.

When their eyes locked, he knew that he had to move this forward, for her sake at least. Still, he took a second to watch the rainwater make its own natural path down her body and when he could no longer bear to just watch, his lips gently mirrored its course. First, he began at her collarbone, continuing on to the top of her chest. Finally, his lips had followed as the water curved at the valley of her breasts to where the water disappeared at the center of her bra.

Slowly, teasingly, he then worked his way back up, following the right strap up to her shoulder. She moaned loudly as she felt him take the thin material in his mouth. He carefully worked it down her arm his teeth lightly scraping the skin on his way down.

Painstakingly, he repeated the same pattern on the left side. Finally, both straps now taunted him, hanging seductively off of her body and even he couldn't take it any longer. Squall didn't even know how long he had held the bra in his hands, but it was time to satisfy at least this want. Releasing his tight hold on the material, the garment slipped even further down and rubbed against his torso.

…And that was when the dam broke.

His restraint broke and one fluid motion he pulled the bra off, tossed it somewhere behind them, and in a lust-filled moment, he lifted her up, pinning her against the glass. Rinoa was more than willing to accept his advances, her legs wrapped around his waist as their tongues darted in an out of each other's mouths. Unlike at Garden, she didn't give a damn about being quiet. As flesh pressed against flesh, each remembered the passion from before, but it wasn't like this – it was never like this.

There was a heat growing between them, one that was a stark contrast to the coolness of the glass. Their tongues continued the exotic dance they had started earlier, but every part of their bodies joined in this time. Urging him on with her lascivious cries, Rinoa shuddered in his grasp as he began to move his hips.

Their passion, their mutual heat building, their wants and desires… he needed her, but not like this or not just like this (because this was pretty damn good) but he needed to be inside her. He had thought about making love to her for so long, it wasn't just about the act, but about bearing your entire self to someone else. The commander had learned that meaningless sex was just that, meaningless. For some people, it brought immense satisfaction, but he wasn't one of those people. He would never judge others, but he would judge himself. He hated who he had become.

This is the person he wanted to be. She was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life getting to know. They would find a way – it had always been destiny.

VI. Reconstruction

In a moment of clarity, Squall realized the unlikely situation they had found themselves in. As much as he wanted to make love to her in the rain, in which the word 'wanted' was truthfully the world's largest understatement, he knew that it wasn't the most rational of decisions. She was tired and worn down; in this weakened state, she could easily become ill.

It took all his willpower, but he had to stop this before it was too late… He never had wanted her so much and it wasn't just out of lust, but out of love, but tonight wasn't just about his needs no matter how much they called out to him.

"Rinoa, this isn't why I came here. I needed to see you but… I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking. You need to get out of the rain… this can't be good for you."

"Like hell. It is good for me."

He was trying to do the noble thing, but leave it to Squall Leonhart to have the worst timing in the entire world. It was a humorous picture to her - legs still wrapped around him, breast firmly against his torso, and her half-naked body pushed firmly against a glass door… and yet he still managed to worry about her health.

His ragged breath became a cadence edging her words on. "Squall, I don't want to go inside. I want this. I want… no, I need to feel alive again. Don't worry about what is best for me, just know that this is… This is a fantasy I never knew I had, but right now, I don't think I could live without knowing it. If I get sick tomorrow, you can bring me soup."

Squall's heart raced with her words, it too was a fantasy he had never known, but one he now desperately sought. But, most importantly, she said 'tomorrow.' To others, the comment might not have meant anything, but to him, it meant everything. For the first time in years, he thought they honestly could have a tomorrow. It was exactly the words he needed; he didn't believe it was humanly possible to want another person more.

The commander couldn't help the wry smile. "In that case, I think you're right where you need to be, well… almost."

She was confused as pulled her away from the door. Remaining in that position, he began to take a step but, after the physical trauma his body went through, she knew that was the last thing he should do. Okay, maybe he shouldn't be doing anything they were about to do, but...

Without explanation she unwrapped her legs from around his waist. He was going to protest, but decided that she had been right. Reaching down, he gently took her hand and led her to a rather large and (thankfully) sturdy looking lounge chair. Following his lead they both sat on the edge. In silence, they sat taking a few minutes to study each other. For the longest time, he held her gaze. Often she would become nervous and shy away, but that too had changed with the passage of time. Again, no words were exchanged as somehow the quietness became another catalyst for their desires.

Never in his life had not speaking made Squall Leonhart nervous, but that was before today.

She smiled.

Such a simple gesture. It was something that he hadn't seen directed towards him in years – a beautiful and genuine smile. That's all it took. He may have been in control of their earlier game, but she held all the power in this one.

He wanted her.

He reached out, his fingers pushing back the hair from her face, tucking strands behind her ears. As his hand remained just behind her ear, he looked back to her. Again, no words were spoken as her eyes granted him the permission that his heart gravely needed. With the hand that rested in her hair, he used a single finger slowly trailing it down her neck and over her clavicle. Even in the shadowed lights, he could see the thousands of tiny goose bumps that covered her skin and could hear her breath deepen.

With his finger, he touched the skin that he had yet to explore. Her breath hitched as he followed the curves of her chest around; still, he hadn't ventured further. In contrast to their earlier fervid encounter, his finger gingerly touched the bare skin. Squall's eyes remained transfixed on the trail his finger was blazing. Seeing her partially naked was an image he had seen yet before; reality surely beat out his memory in this case.

Still, only a single fingertip caressed her skin as he began small circles inward. The pattern continued excruciating slow until he reached its destination. Involuntarily, Rinoa let out the first sound exchanged between them in minutes, a loud throaty moan filled the air, but she couldn't help it, she had fallen under the spell of a single digit.

As the weather still followed its own agenda, they were now going to be following theirs.

Desires and wants were slowly replacing restraint; there was something about hearing Rinoa expressing her pleasure that brought out his primal instincts. He wanted to discover what his finger had taken the time to re-explore.

As he urged her backwards, she stretched out fully in the lounger. She had to ignore how truly uncomfortable the soggy fabric felt on her bare skin, but thankfully Squall would soon make her all but forget that fact. As he looked down at her, waiting for him, he found it impossible to practice more restraint. Their eyes met for one brief second and just like that, the earlier electricity was back. Without hesitation, he leaned down, focusing all his attention on her breast.

She no longer even tried to hide her cries. He had been so worried before, but now it was a sign that signified their freedom. Almost roughly, his lips would work from one to the other, doing his best to give them equal time. However, that stopped when she reached forward, guiding his head toward the right side.

It had always been slightly more sensitive and before, she had been too afraid to lead him – unsure how he would take direction. She used to feel the need to walk on eggshells, but tonight they had stomping on them together – leaving a trail of shattered pieces in their wake. But not even annihilating metaphorical eggshells compared to what she was feeling now…

Her soft cries continued to become his addiction, each one encouraging him further. He swirled his tongue over her skin, tasting the faintest combination of rainwater and perfume. It wasn't overpowering, just enough to imprint everything into memory; he never wanted to forget this.

And as the intoxicating aroma bombarded his senses, Squall found himself unable to hold back, he no longer wanted to be chained to his burdens, but freed from his own mind. In one sweeping motion, he reached up and grabbed both of her wrists, making her virtual immobile. She was his captive by all accounts, but was more than willing to play the part. He took in all he could of her more sensitive breast in his mouth as her cries easily equaled his fervor.

"Please," Rinoa softly begged, when she could no longer hold back. Her tone a stark contrast to the pleasure her body was receiving. "I need you."

With those words, he felt disarmed; it wasn't something said out of lust, but out of an inner need. He knew that need; he had been without it for so long. As pulled back, looking at her, their eyes locked and although her features were still veiled by the night, for once he saw everything clearly - it was past memories that drove him, the present that gave him hope, and a future that was his to define. She smiled as their bodies were still intertwined and she again urged him to continue, arching her body to meet his. From her position, this was the only recourse her mind could process… although rational thought was nearly impossible.

Even if her movement was confined, the way her body writhed beneath him made him weak. And when the feelings became too much to bear, he lost himself in her again. It was a continuous onslaught of aggression as he worked his way back to her mouth and she was helpless to his touch.

He noticed how her skin glistened from the rainwater. As if on cue, a flash of lightning ripped through the sky, magnifying her velvety skin and like a Siren's song, it beckoned to him. Without thought, he bit into her flesh, not too hard, but enough to momentarily blur the lines between pleasure and pain.

For a second he was afraid of her response, but the question was quickly answered as she reveled in the pain. Three years ago, this would not have been them… and honestly, they both understood that part of this was a onetime deal. Tonight was about feeling alive; celebrating life. It was about opening up, exploring, and breaking boundaries, it was about accepting pleasure as much as pain. She knew that they had already been walking a fine line of carnal aggression but, both had felt emptiness for so long that he needed to take this chance.

No matter what happened tomorrow, tonight he was no longer afraid of holding back nor was she afraid of accepting.

Still, Squall felt that he needed to step back, at least figuratively, from the road he had found themselves traveling down. Letting go of her wrists go, he used his elbow to prop himself up, keeping a majority of his weight off her. It also allowed a small space to maneuver between them. It was then that he assigned his hands a mission of their own…

She shivered from the long-forgotten desires as his fingers grabbed a hold of the waistline of her pants. As their tongues again collided into one another, she attempted to mirror his hand's action, but with a small difference - she hadn't been as gentle as he was. She was allowed the smallest amount of payback as her fingernails left a trail down his back, as he openly moaned his agreement when she reached his pants.

Managing to get to the button of his jeans first, Rinoa enjoyed the momentary role-reversal at being the aggressor. As she snaked her hand between their rain-soaked bodies, she purposely overshot the fastener. Now it truly was her turn to get some twisted pleasure out of making him squirm.

Her hand teasingly ran over the coarse material, strategically changing the amount pressure as she reached the center of his pants. Squall's arousal was more than evident and it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up to continue her bid for payback. In one fluid motion, she undid the clasp. Instead of accepting the victory, she decided to continue her earlier endeavors.

"Damn," he moaned almost incoherently as he closed his eyes and looked away; jagged breaths became even more uneven.

She pursed her lips together, trying to hold back a wicked grin; she was taking too much pleasure from her small victory.

He needed to move this along; he forgot how her touch made his body react, but god, he was glad to be reminded. She would be the only one to ever have this effect on him, it was never just physical - their connection was found made on much deeper plane… but at this moment, the physical aspect was truly impossible to ignore.

Taking a deep breath, he turned back still relishing in the building sensations as their eyes remained open. Their mouths were mere centimeters apart, yet neither bridged the gap. There was something undeniably sensual about staring into the others' eyes. It was like baring your soul; no hiding, no barriers, no time for insecurities - it was just raw emotion.

Amid the distractions, his hands had managed to successfully complete their assigned mission. Compared to the earlier debacle of her shirt, he had managed to undo her pants with relative ease – and without any casualties to her clothes.

Letting out whimpered cry, his fingers started at her navel before venturing lower. At his urging, she bent a knee giving him more room. Rinoa was forced to close her eyes, but only for a brief second as her mind reeled at the intrusion. After blinking away the raindrops like tears, she managed to open her eyes again. She found it difficult to do anything but concentrate on what he was doing, her own hand slowed. Apparently, Squall still had his knack for multitasking, but he seemed more than content focusing on her.

There was something so exhilarating about touching her like this, and never once could he recall not doing it in the dark, hidden from himself. Now she was looking at him, their eyes remained locked and it was truly unbridled, raw. To him, it was a good thing she had eased up, or this easily could have sent him over the edge. He watched her breathe; the way her mouth opened slightly and small ragged breathes she tried to take. He watched her as his fingers continued their gentle assault.

She had forgotten what it felt to be touched so intensely by another, how skillful his actions were. Her free hand went to his back, as she soon found herself clutching him as a lifeline. His fingers had become strong, rhythmic pistons. He was never forceful, but soon she found herself unable to hold back.

A sharp intake of breath was all he needed to know she was close, but her eyes showed a hint of fear; as if he would be upset with her for giving in too soon, as if he expected more. That was the furthest thing from the truth.

A sad smile crossed his lips; he hoped that he had been wrong about that. Never had he been more entranced her, never had she been so beautiful for him. Just him. He nodded as if giving her permission, permission she never needed.

And truthfully, maybe she didn't need his permission, but she wanted it. She couldn't explain, but after all the passion that brought her to this moment, she wished she had more self-control. She smiled in return, accepting the permission she was granted.

She had wanted to keep her eyes open, but after three years abstaining from physical contact, with someone so skilled, but most importantly, without him – she simply couldn't.

"Please." It was a single word from him that sent him over the edge. Somehow, she realized he needed this as much as she did.

She crushed her eyes closed, as high-pitched whimpers escaped her lips. This was one of the most deep and intimate moments in anyone's life, and he needed to be the one to do this for her; it was the essence of life, and after facing death, he needed to witness it. And he felt it all; every beautiful second was something that would be a cherished moment shared only between them.

"Thank you," she whispered as she came down from her fleeting high, her body still feeling the after effects, but still she craved more. This wasn't just about her physical pleasure, no matter how badly he wanted to believe.

Their eyes met one last time, before he bent down gently kissing her. As he readjusted, she remembered that one of her hands was still down his pants. It was almost ridiculous if she thought about it, not something that one would normally forget, but she had been… distracted. She even had to stifle a laugh as her hand tried to continue what it had been doing before. She realized though how much he cared, how much she met to him. He had given everything to be here. She really did love him.

Pulling away slightly, she was now the one who would make the demands. It was a simple request, one that he would be more than willing to do.

"Make love to me." Then as to reiterate their exchange from earlier, she added. "Please."

There was no more holding back now, he needed to be with her tonight, like he needed food to eat and air to breathe. He wasn't one for using such drastic comparisons, and no, he couldn't guarantee forever, but in order for him to heal, he needed this. This was forgiveness, this was right.

She continued to touch him, this time not letting anything sidetrack her. His hands started to remove her pants, but to both of their dismays, but it seemed that removing the rest of their garments took a little more dexterity than normal. In truth, it wouldn't be easy or simple the rain had made it a little more awkward than expected – unbuttoning (or in one case, ripping the buttons off) was one thing, removing quite another.

Squall was trying to get through the rest of this with some expert level of grace, but between the weighted down clothing and Rinoa's new bout of assertiveness, keeping up that façade became impossible. He knew they would have to sit up so he carefully started to guide her into a sitting position; she followed suit, but seemed hell-bent on making this difficult. As the pressure of her touch increased, the acute sensations further fueled his need to curse soaked skin-tight jeans. Their kisses had become short and chaste, but neither seemed willing to break away this time.

"You're making this, ahhhh…" Thanks to her newfound determination, Squall couldn't even manage a complete sentence.

"…Hard?" Rinoa replied quickly between kisses. She immediately giggled at the bad pun. It hadn't been her intention, but after she realized the double meaning, she couldn't help but laugh. So much for the illusion of maturity; she felt like a sixteen-year-old seeing a picture of a naked man for the first time.

To her surprise, even he managed an uncharacteristic laugh, although under the circumstances it came out more as guttural snort. He bit back another moan as he pulled back to look at her. He reached up, taking a single finger and softly ran it over her swollen lips. She kissed it, tasting the mixture of his cologne and her sensual desires.

It was the silent approval they both had been seeking. Squall stood first, hair disheveled, barefoot, and his pants halfway down his waist. He didn't care how he looked; to everyone else he was some superhuman deity that could never do wrong – especially when he did. She was one of the few who could see him for his flaws, knew his sins, and still wanted him and not the ideal.

Remaining seated, her hands reached out to either side of his pants. Together, they helped him remove the rest of his clothing. Their movement was slow and deliberate and when they were done, he stood naked and raw – exposed in more ways than one. His pants fell to the ground adding to the sodden mass of clothing already strewn about the patio.

As the wind began to pick up, he saw her body shiver – here she was soaked and half naked and yet she never looked more beautiful. He offered his hand down to her and she accepted without hesitation. Logically, it would have been better to go inside, but that wasn't what tonight was about. It wasn't about being safe or falling back into predicable patterns; it was about letting go and simply living.

Stepping forward, one hand went to the back of her neck, pressing their mouths together. It wasn't with the same fervor as the others, but it was slow and tender, an unspoken romantic commitment, witnessed only by the streetlamps and clouds. His other hand found her pants and with her help, he managed to slide them down. Finally, they joined his ending up in the same unceremonious wet heap at their feet.

Their slow, needful kisses continued as both stood completely naked in the rain. The fact that they couldn't be seen by neighbors never occurred to them, but again, they were the only two people living in this world they had created, everyone else be dammed.

His arm snaked around her waist, while the other still held her neck. He pulled her close; her body pressed hard against his chest in a mix of painful pleasure as she could feel the desperateness of his need.

There was something almost poetic about their actions tonight. Like their relationship, it had started off with disbelief, followed closely by passion and exhilaration. But now, now it had settled into its own tempo, finding the perfect stride between acceptance and understanding.

This is what built futures. This was would inevitably give them a second chance.

His fingers gingerly combed through her hair, holding it back. He wanted to see into her eyes, unhindered by unruly strands. The rain continued to fall, but both had become oblivious to its presence, lost in rediscovering each other.

Reaching up, she traced the outline of his pendant. As her fingertip first made contact with the platinum, Rinoa found herself inwardly smiling at the memoires. She had forgotten… how could she let herself forget?

Now, like so many things tonight, it all came flooding back. The first time she saw him wearing it - she wondered what, if anything, it symbolized. She hadn't made the connection with his ring, she hadn't seen until he took off his gloves.

She also remembered how fascinated she had been with it the first time they made love. At one point, her body felt uncomfortable. The last thing she wanted was for him to think he had hurt her, so she tried to hide it from him. In pain, she had closed her eyes, but when she opened them again - that's when the dangling chain had caught her eye. She focused all her attention onto Griever, taking comfort in its hypnotic motion as it swung. After that, anytime they made love, she always took a second to admire it. It was a habit that only she knew she had and carried over into their everyday lives. It didn't matter if it was during training, or easting in the cafeteria, if he was in his office, or even during fights, seeing it brought her a sense of comfort. She loved the way it looked against his chest then, and five years after their first meeting, she loved it even more.

Surprising herself, she broke away from him and bent down to place butterfly kisses on the pendant. He was shocked, but too fascinated by her to question her motives; not that he would have anyhow. Moving outward, she placed the same gentle kisses over the broad part of his chest and then once more back to Griever. Intently, he watched as her lips followed the platinum chain upwards. She made sure to pay attention to his neck and jawbone, before her interlude ended with a single, tender kiss to his lips.

And when she and Griever were done with their silent reunion, she looked back up to him with a smile.

He didn't know what possessed him to let her go easily before, but no matter what, fate had given him another chance. He looked to her, giving her the rare gift of his smile.

"I need you." The words had been nothing more than murmur, but she heard.

"…I need you too."

VII. Acceptance and Hope

She nodded her understanding. Gently, taking her hand, he helped her back onto the chair. When she lay back down, it was the first time that he could see her clearly. His mind exploded with the all his fears from years ago. He tried to avoid both being undressed and seeing her undressed in the light. He felt ashamed as if he was doing something wrong. He felt weak and honestly convinced himself that it was because of her – she made him weak.

And yet, as the lights shown on her skin, giving it an almost alabaster tint, he thought that there could be nothing else more beautiful in the world, nothing more sensual, or nothing else more right. He wanted to explore every last centimeter - by touch and taste, by sounds and sight.

She never made him weak; she gave him support and believed him - she loved him unconditionally. Yet, he did not see it that way; he did not see her that way. He had believed and lived for the will of others. In the end, he was the one who had made himself weak.

He moved on top of her, taking in a deep breath as he lay down. It took every ounce of willpower to hold himself back. He was close; she was so close. With a few actions it would be so easy to fulfill their desires…

He made himself weak.

That thought repeated in his head. Was it that weakness that brought him here tonight? He wanted her, but he had to make sure there were no reservations between them. It might have been a little late, but it wasn't too. It might have been a difference based on semantics, but he knew she would understand.

He wouldn't hurt her again; there could be no doubts if they were truly going to move forward. His needs were desperate, but so were his doubts and his voice never betrayed that truth.

"No regrets," he whispered softly against the rain. "Rinoa, I don't want the only reason that this happens is because you're caught up in the moment. I've had a little longer to think about what I want… and yes, that's to be with you."

He took a shaky breath. "I know after everything that's already happened tonight this seems out-of-the blue. It's really not. Earlier you asked me to leave point blank. I didn't. Maybe I should have if that's what you really wanted. Three years ago, I thought of you as the weak one, but you weren't. Not at all. You were strong enough to leave back then…. I wasn't even strong enough to leave your patio."

Every part of him ached for this, but the implications would be far greater than one night. This wasn't just about making love; this union would serve as a prelude to her acceptance. His hand softly caressed her cheek and he nearly choked out his words.

"I know what it's like to have regret consume you. So, are you sure?"

Truthfully, she had her fears, her doubts, her… hesitations. How could she not after how he disregarded her so easily years ago? The viciousness in his voice? He used her greatest fear to blame her for his mistakes. When she was younger she thought betrayal was always physical act – infidelity, adultery, seduction - but that was just the naivety of youth; sometimes words truly were the cruelest weapons.

…But now, as she looked up into his eyes, she saw no trace of maliciousness behind them. These had been the same eyes that watched her most intimate act minutes before. The only thing reflected in them was his need for her - and not just physically. Squall Leonhart genuinely cared; this was the real him – that man three years ago was a mere doppelganger. He did not have Squall's soul, or love, he was the product of what others' made him.

They had both been guilty and innocent in the past, nobody was beyond blame. They had been young with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Still, under it all, they were also part of something magical; something that they had been told was akin to a storybook romance between sorceress and knight...

How could she not try to reclaim that again? The world could keep its fairytales; she didn't want them – she only wanted Squall and Rinoa. That's where the real magic was, but even with all that on their side, she couldn't lie.

"Regret…?" she began slowly trying to find her voice. "Honestly, I don't know. But the truth is… Yes, I might end up regretting it if we do this… But on the other hand, I know I'll end up regretting it if we don't. I want to take this chance. I need to take it."

She didn't have to elaborate further. She was scared and had every damn right to be. For years, she had been afraid of falling again and now she stood with him upon the precipice.

He thought no less of her for her hesitations; in fact, it made him only realize how fragile her trust in him truly was. They both knew this union was going to be more than something physical; it would be reuniting a spiritual connection – one bonding two broken souls. Maybe hers wasn't the answer he had hoped for, nor spoken with the clarity he wished, but it was the truth and that was the strongest foundation for building the future.

Mirroring his concern, she moved her hand up to his jawbone, making small circles with her thumb.

"What about you, are sure? I mean… can you do this?"

"Are you asking me on a physical or emotional level?" He would admit that he was facing some physical discomfort, but nothing would tear him from this path.

"Both…" She smiled faintly.

To him, it would always remain one of the most breathtaking sights in the world. In the rain, in the shadows, and most importantly in his arms - she smiled just for him.

"Yes, I can do this," his voice was even, "for everything we've ever been, I'm sure on both accounts."

And when their eyes met, that was all it had taken. The final barrier had been broken.

Tenderly, their kisses expressed the feelings they were sharing. Her hands wrapped around his back, at least for now, holding him tightly half-afraid that he would fade back into nothingness. He had placed all his weight on one shoulder as his right hand had worked its way down her side, finally reaching its destination.

As he positioned himself above her, he too was afraid that he'd wake up from this beautiful dream. It was that thought that made him continue with newfound resolve, he also needed to know she was real. With one single movement, he crossed that final barrier, catching her slightly off guard. She gasped loudly, as her body struggled to remember the sensations – the amazing, intimate sensation.

Desperate fingers found their way to each other, as they interlocked, she squeezed his hands forcefully. Rinoa was the one urging him further, pushing her body to meet his movements. She was afraid he believed he had hurt her, he hadn't. It reminded her of… She quickly looked towards his chest, her eyes catching sight of the platinum chain. Every so often, it would drag across her chest. The pendant's cool, metallic point trailed in the valley of chest, sending the most sensual shivers throughout her entire body.

Somewhere along the line, he found himself able to free himself of his inhibitions again. Where in the past, he would keep his pleasure to himself, he found now that he wasn't afraid. She too had found herself unafraid of holding back, allowing herself to express her enjoyment. It was easy to see they were fueling each other's actions, indulging themselves in the sounds of the other's pleasure. Her hands were no longer on his back; they were holding his hips, urging him on.

Her body devoured everything he had to give, everything he was so willing to give.

Two bodies entangled in the rain, arms holding onto the sanity they found with one another. It was familiar and it was new. It was a thousand emotions breaking free from their inner prisons. Their bodies mixed of sweat and rain, of perfume and cologne, of lust and love... Each taste bringing them closer and each touch reclaiming a lost memory.

He couldn't help the cliché as he spoke her name softly, strengthening their unearthly bond. It barely registered with her as she moaned helplessly. Rinoa was drowning in him and again she begged her conscious not to be saved.

It was the ebb and flow, the moon and gravity, it was everything that ever was... or ever will be... As his pace quickened she could no longer hold back, they had stopped kissing. In truth, it became difficult, they were already winded and all their energy was being focused elsewhere. He had buried his head in the crook of her neck, his needful moans echoed in her ears. He had always been so reserved, but with him holding nothing back, his cries became like ambrosia that she greedily consumed. He left her teetering on the brink as her hands dared to venture from his hips.

To his surprise, her fingers moved to his back, digging in with force. With the added sensation of her fingernails pressing into taut skin, the way she met his hips, and the gasps and whimpers he heard resonating her throat, he no longer could hold back. Hell, he didn't want to; he knew his peak was inventible as he could feel his body finally give into its release

She continued to press against him as his guttural cry brought her into her own frenzy. Rinoa couldn't recall a time that he had climaxed before her and something about him exposing his emotions was greater than any manmade aphrodisiac. His determination never wavered as he continued his actions with the same vigor, but just feeling him give into her was all that it took. Tossing her head back, her eyes closed tightly as a second leg now wrapped around him. She could feel the raindrops softly assaulting her skin as she managed to let out a few tattered breaths; she felt the once-familiar sensation as it spread like wildfire to reach every nerve ending. Uncharacteristic of their past encounters, she needed to let out a scream, unable to contain her emotions. As soon as he had felt her on the edge, he had gone back to assaulting swollen lips and thankfully her errant screams of passion were muffled by his kisses.

It could have lasted minutes or it could have lasted hours, neither wanted time to move. Inwardly, maybe they were afraid that when they broke apart, there would be nothing left to do but to move forward. There were still so many questions between them, and maybe when the silence came, they would find answers – and maybe not all those answers would be easy to hear. Honestly, some would be impossible.

As their bodies recovered, their minds both reached the same painful conclusion - this could be the end. No matter how fleeting, they had been like a star that shone brightly one last time – but stars, like dreams, are destined to fade. In the end, it was bittersweet and beautiful.

He had moved, somehow managing to trade positions with her. He didn't care about the rain, or about the uncomfortable plastic-covered fabric, he didn't care about anything but what was beside him. She was on her side, half propped up on her elbow, the other part resting on him. She tried not to think how this would end; she knew it would soon. She never liked goodbyes; she never even said it to him until his funeral… She decided right there and then that she wouldn't ever say it to him again even when he did leave.

She closed her eyes as his lips would still trail butterfly kisses between her shoulder and collarbone; if this could just last a few minutes longer.

If it just could….

If neither of the spoke questions would never be asked; goodbyes would never be said.

Heartbeats had had slowed and their breathing had returned to normal. It was as if neither wanted to be the first to speak; the one to shatter this illusion. It had been a few minutes of listening to the falling rain, reflecting on everything and nothing.

Wet hair wildly clung to his chest as she listened to his heart. The soft tapping that she had taken for granted – even when they were apart- now was a radiant melody. It was a miracle he was alive. If tonight was all they had, she wouldn't regret it. She could have given him a definite answer to her earlier question, but she didn't want to break their trance. No matter what happened after tonight, no matter who he loved, no matter what he did with his life – he had a life to live – a rare second chance to make amends. She didn't know if they really had a future, but she would take this night for granted.

Neither would take this for granted.


VIII: A Second Chance

Some say there are five stages of grief, some say there are seven, not even the experts can agree, but that doesn't matter. The truth is - when it comes to grief, each of us is an expert; we all have to write our own stages to cope. There may be five stages, there may be five hundred. No one can tell you that you're wrong, because the outline is all your own – in both good and bad times, you are the author of your own life.

We're all weak; we're all strong.

But in the end, it isn't about stages, it's about survival. Until you can close your eyes and fall away from your fears, it's all right to add another stage… and another, and another….

I don't know how far I would have written if fate had not intervened. For me, this time, I made it to number eight. Somehow, I think eight will always be our favorite number. We both know that we'll never have this chance again and after finally talking, we both know we need to take it.

It may be a long road ahead, but like everything else in our lives – this is our journey to travel.