When the darkness fell, they would stop their day's toil long enough to put up a tent and build a fire, and Eiko and Quina would typically work together (far too enthusiastically for Amarant's tastes) to make them a quick supper before sleep.
Zidane would be the first out—after his belly was full, he took no time to chat at length, immediately splaying out and shutting his eyes. The young ones might converse for a short time before they, too, were asleep, and one by one they all grew still and silent.
The only ones not reasonably close to the fire or to each other were always himself and Freya, and he generally thought nothing of it. She would sit propped against a tree, swathed in half-darkness, her eyes closed as if she were meditating, and he knew she was not asleep until she eventually decided to lay on her side and join the others in rest. He, shortly thereafter, would succumb himself.
But he found himself wondering more and more what kept her at bay. He knew why he kept his distance from the others—he was less than a team player, and certainly not an amiable conversationalist. But Freya was both of these things, and still she kept away, displaced from her friends for the night for reasons he couldn't place. Rarely did anyone approach her—not even Vivi, who was usually the first to check on someone, which Amarant infinitely preferred compared to the loudmouth girl.
This night, on a whim, he decided to join her, and when he pressed his back against the tree next to her, he expected some sort of acknowledgement.
The silence he received was less than inviting; she might have turned her face away by just a fraction.
It bothered him.
He grunted as a means of greeting, but she remained silent. This bothered him more. He wasn't the best at talking, but she almost always found a way to bridge the gap between them. In fact, she was typically the only one that ever did.
He looked at her, and for a split second he thought he might have seen firelight glinting off a trail of wetness down her cheek.
"Crescent," he said, more out of surprise than concern. She was crying? He had never seen her shed a tear—rarely did he see her upset at all. Crying simply didn't suit her, and he would never approve of it. Things like that were better left to someone like the princess.
Amarant could swear he heard her hum—a low, murky sound that he supposed was her means of reply. He disliked this greeting even more than the silence, because this seemed as if she were only half-assedly ignoring him, and he hated half-assing more than genuinely being ignored. He would have snapped at her then had the picture of tears on her face not been fresh in his mind.
"I haven't been very forthcoming with you," she said, and he was thrown off-guard by the sound of her voice. It was raw; it was as if she had been crying for a long time.
"But the truth is, I've lost everything." He could tell the effort of speaking was more than she let on—these kinds of words would never leave her lips lightly. "My home, destroyed. My people, nearly decimated. My . . ." she paused long enough to swallow. "The man I loved and searched for for three years has forgotten me. Forgotten everything."
The truth behind every night of solitude fell into place, and he couldn't help but feel wrong for never seeing it. Time and time again he had watched her sit alone, never knowing that she tormented herself in the quiet and the dark, never knowing that he could have easily stopped her—saved her.
Save her? When did that ever become his priority? When did it become a notion at all? Freya had never needed any saving—if either of them did, it was himself, though was loathe to admit it. It was just that she had already saved him in her own way, and something in him felt bitter for never realizing he could have returned the favor. Reciprocation—equal ground. No debts or burdens. He did not like owing anything to anyone.
But his only instinct to want to tell her to get over it. Amarant was not a man of sympathies, and his form of comfort was only toughening. It was how he had survived, and it was all he knew. But he managed to bite his tongue—what good would more suffering do her now? She had suffered plenty, and it was more evident now than ever. To speak out of that instinct would be to potentially destroy the bridge between them that she again had built, and this time it stood on fragile ground. She was fragile, and his harsh words could break her.
He remained in suffocating silence.
"I am alone," she uttered at last, the quiet misery in her voice frightening him in a way that made him want to run, to abandon her to this all-too-familiar emotion that he wanted nothing to do with.
But against all likelihood he did a strange thing drawn from some stranger instinct he did not know he possessed—he placed his hand on hers, and suddenly he found his voice.