I'm back! A LOT sooner than I expected. But this time, I'm coming at you with Final Fantasy XII story about my favorite could've been couple from that game. Been trying to write this one for a long a time and so I finished and here is the end result. I hope you guys enjoy.

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.


Love, Duty & Promises

When can a soldier walk away from his duty? When it is complete? How can he be so sure that it is? And what, for the most devoted of soldiers bound to duty and promises made, is worth walking away for?

The new Archadian flagship, the colossal airship Postremo, flew through the sky on its way to the Royal City of Rabanastre, the capital of Dalmasca. Judge Gabranth, Basch fon Ronsenberg still masquerading as his brother, stood looking out of the window from the control area of the ship, staring down at the city as they closer approached it. He was gazing upon the royal city, which was still a distance away, being both overjoyed and greatly pained to be returning. His full armor somewhat obstructed his vision of clearly seeing the Palace but he stared nonetheless.

"Judge Gabranth!" a young man in Judge Magister armor with a dragon's head-themed helmet approached him.

Basch's eyes never left their focus on his former home. "Yes, Xulin?"

"We are preparing to land in Rabanastre."

He stiffened up. He wanted to go back but being so close meant having to deal with things he didn't particularly care to. "How much longer?"

"20 minutes, sir."

"Very well."

"His Excellency wishes to speak with you, sir."

Basch turned around. "Where is he?"

"In his personal quarters, sir."

Basch looked up toward the staircase, which lead to other rooms on the gigantic airship and Emperor Larsa's personal quarters. He could only imagine what Larsa wished his presence; actually, he knew the exact reason. He just didn't want to go and have the conversation they were bound to have. But, he was summoned, so it was call he must answer. Basch proceeded to his Emperor's quarters, followed closely by Xulin, his apprentice. They entered the lavish office of the Emperor as he sat looking up at the sky, his chair turned to face the window opposite the two Judges with his large brown desk between them. Larsa spun his chair around and faced both of his Judges.

They both stood at attention, "Your Excellency!"

Larsa nodded, showing his respect to the men. He leaned on his desk, clasping his hands together. "Xulin, would you mind excusing us for a moment?"

"Of course, Your Excellency." Xulin bowed and exited to office, closing the door behind him.

Larsa stared at Basch, his protector and friend, as he stood tall… forlorn and distant.

The Emperor turned his chair sideways and leaned back. "I can see you thinking, my friend. I could feel you contemplating as we got closer to the city."

"You know me too well."

"Of course. Which is why I wished to speak with you."

Basch remembered his role as a soldier and subject to his Emperor. "Forgive me. Yes, Your Excellency?"

"Please. No need for that. Even when Xulin was here, this air you keep about you when it comes to me you do not need."

"Very well."

"So, do a friend a favor and please remove the helmet."

"As you wish." Basch removed the helmet of his brother's armor, tucking it under his arm. He still stood as stoic as always.

Larsa shook his head, 'Ever the soldier.' "Are you ready to face her?"

"This will not be the first time."

"My query remains the same."

Basch sighed. It was a hard question to answer. He just reverted back to what he knew. "I will do as I ever have, Your Excellency. Stand fast and be ready."

Larsa chuckled. "I'm sure you will, my friend. I'm sure you will." He looked him over. "Leave the helmet here."

The Postremo landed in Rabanastre and Emperor Larsa and his two most trusted Judges, Judge Gabranth and Judge Xulin, disembarked to find a welcome party waiting, which included Queen Ashelia herself. Basch glanced at Larsa with a look only the two of them could immediately identify: frustration with Larsa for tricking him. The Emperor knew all along that the Queen was going to meet them but failed to notify Basch of this. Larsa only smiled. They both looked straight ahead as Ashelia approached. The former Dalmascan was thankful for his ability to remain steadfast but it was almost impossible in front of her since she was the most absolutely beautiful woman he'd ever seen. And it was getting harder and harder to not gaze at her gorgeous face.

"Emperor Larsa, it's so good to see you again," Ashe greeted.

"And you, as well, Your Majesty," Larsa replied.

She looked up Basch. She smiled at him. He almost melted.

Ashe nodded, "Judge Gabranth."

"Your Majesty," Basch nodded. It took everything he had to stay strong. If only she wasn't so absolutely beautiful.

She looked back at Larsa. "Your airship is new, Your Excellency."

"Do you like it? It's called the Postremo."

"The Postremo?"

"Yes. I found it among my brother's old projects. I had all of the weapons removed and renamed it myself. It is now a symbol of change and the future. The future for all of Archadia, to show that we are not the nation we were and to reveal the nation we will become."

"All ideals that I more than support."

They proceeded back to the palace to talk business. As they walked through the city, Basch and Larsa found it to be as busy as ever and, actually, a lot busier. It was so teeming with life it almost seemed like an entirely new city. Basch couldn't help but admire the new life Ashe's efforts had breathed back into this royal city. They walked to Ashelia's throne room where she showed them a map of Ivalice. Business was simple and quick; Larsa had returned to see for himself all of the changes made to the borders of Dalmasca, which now included the former nation of Nabradia. All was well and Dalmasca had Ashe to thank for it all.

Hours later, as twilight was falling over the Royal City, Larsa and Basch walked through the palace. They were outside on a bridge, looking out over Rabanastre.

"It's amazing all that she has done," Larsa pointed it out. "Keeping the nation together and establishing Nabradia as part of Dalmasca. Very impressive."

"Indeed," Basch agreed. "Quite the accomplishments, she's made."

Larsa figured now was as good a time as any to strike, wanting to deal with the key issue he dubbed the most important for their trip. "She is quite remarkable. I can see why you still long for her."

Basch was caught off guard by the sudden comment but remained steadfast and calm. "Remarkable, yes. But I do not long for her."

Larsa looked up at his guardian and chuckled. "Your eyes betray your words, my friend."

Basch didn't look at the young emperor. He was afraid the young man was right. He really wished he had his helmet. "They do not."

"Indeed, they do." He stared at him, realizing the Judge Magister was avoiding looking back. "You want to stay here."

That was true, no matter how much the former Dalmascan captain denied it. "I cannot."

"Why? What is holding you to me?"

In what seemed like forever, he finally had a question asked to him with an easy answer. "My promise."

"A promise I'm sure your brother would release you from would he know your heart's true destination."

"I believe you mean 'desire,' my lord."

"I mean both. Your hearts desires to be in a specific destination. Here."

All of this was true. It was only on this subject where Basch found it to his disadvantage that Larsa knew him so well. Larsa's sharp mind was of no help to him in the matter, either. "Regardless… I cannot."

Larsa became incensed. "Why?"

"I have my duty as well, my lord."

It was an argument they had several times before… and Larsa was tired of it. "You have trained several new, honorable judges; established the Honor Guard, comprised of warriors we handpicked; you have more than fulfilled your oath to your brother, and Archadia. And there is Xulin. He is ready."

In the case of Xulin, he was another, alleged, war criminal from Archadia's attack on Rabanastre and Nabradia. He is a young man, no older than Vaan's brother, Reks, would have been at this time had he survived the war. Falsely accused of betrayal and murder of his comrades in his unit and his subsequent jailing, he caught the ear of Basch after learning there was a prisoner who spoke highly of the new Emperor of Archadia, despite having not been released from prison. Basch had him secretly put through a number of tests to test his heart and sincerity… and he passed all with flying colors. In a lot of ways, Xulin reminded Basch of Reks… and Vaan. The man was honorable, noble, and just as loyal as Basch was. Xulin would, and does, protect Larsa as fiercely as Basch does. Whenever Basch thought about it, Xulin was full ready and capable to take his place some time ago.

It was in this that Basch realized Larsa had a very good point.

He just wouldn't admit it.

After all, he had no idea if he still had a place in Rabanastre and he had real purpose in Archades. He couldn't risk losing that… or face Ashe's rejection. As painful as it was to stay in his current position, this wasn't a terrible place in his life just was not what he wanted, it was comfortable, familiar, and where he was bound to stay.

His prolonged silence was again starting to put mental strain on his Emperor. Larsa, while more than grateful for everything Basch had done for him, did not want to see this man, who had already been through unholy torment for so long, live out the rest of life on a promise he made and a duty, which was forced upon him, he was more than free to walk away from and find his own way.

Larsa came to a stop.

Basch ceased walking and looked at him. "My lord?"

"This is ridiculous. You feel so strongly for her, it physically pains you. It even has you arguing with me. Which, by the way, is the only time this ever happens."

"Lord Larsa…"

"Please, Basch, I beg of you, listen."

Basch quieted down. "Very well, Your Excellency."

"To begin, we are not separated by rank or position. Not right now. We shall speak as the men who fought together to free the world from my brother's and Venat's mad plots." He sighed. "I know where your heart truly wants to take you… but I also know where that same heart believes where you should be because you don't want to let Gabranth down or feel as though you betrayed by following your own desires."

There was so much truth in Larsa's words it scared the former captain.

"I have never and will never question your loyalty and duty nor would I ever call into question holding your promise to Gabranth. But you must know that your brother asked those things of you to keep the peace. Look around you."

They both looked at the royal palace, out over the city, their eyes going to the Dalmascan sands. The city had not seen another major crisis to its walls of that nature since then. Their minds went to the political standoffs that took place over the past couple of years since Vayne's defeat. When other politicians tried to argue Dalmasca's weakness, Ashe fought back with a ferocity that sent them all running. There was one threat of invasion from a Rozzaria radical but Ashe's display of strength along with Larsa's support kept that from ever becoming a reality. The two men considered all this then looked back at each other.

"It is kept."

Basch was still at a loss. He walked toward the wall of the bridge, "But what shall I do?"

"What you want to. Tell her you love her."

Larsa knew. Of course, he did. Basch made it almost impossible for him not to know it. He sighed and bowed his head, leaning on the wall. "If I only could…"

"You can."

It wasn't as though he hadn't considered it. He wanted to. Longed to, even. But he couldn't. How could ask a Queen, someone so young, so beautiful, to love him? To even tell her he loved her? He was a soldier. A nobody. A failure. It was a ridiculous thought. But only when he thought about it too much. Most times… he was more disappointed with himself for not admitting to her sooner. After a minute of thinking, Basch sighed. "How do you I know she feels the same?"

Larsa scoffed and smiled. "It's been two years. She has not married again, though I heard she's had more than a few callers. Even, if only, for political reasons. I believe there is a reason for it."

The teenaged Emperor walked on while Basch stood, listless, trying to figure out his next course of action and if he should even take one.

That night, Basch sat in the garden of the palace, looking up at the starry sky. He contemplated everything he and Larsa spoke about and whether or not he should honestly do anything about it. Even if he wanted to talk to her, the problem was having the opportunity to. It would seem odd from him to go to her room, despite them both being friends. He didn't want rumors or whispers behind Ashe's back. No, going to her room was totally out of the question. But maybe that was his sign to let this go. Or not. It was driving him crazy trying to figure out what to do.

Fate, it seemed, made the decision for him.

"Basch?"

He turned around and found Ashe standing behind him. He quickly rose to his feet. "Your Majesty."

"What are you doing out here?"

He stared at her, hoping he wasn't doing that for too long. "Enjoying the Rabanastre sky. It's… been far too long."

"Yes… it has." She walked closer. "Do you mind if I sit with you?"

His heart skipped a beat. "Not at all."

They both sat in silence, looking up at the sky. Nights in Rabanastre were always beautiful; the stars were so easy to see, as if one was out in the forest or the sands, due to the low lights of the Royal City, despite it being a metropolis. It was very different from Archades in that way. Even with the palace being so close to the sky, the stars were nowhere near as easy to see there as they were in Rabanastre. It didn't hurt that his present company was much better than when he would stare at the sky alone. Usually, when he stared at the sky, he would stare toward Dalmasca, always picturing the woman who was now inches from him.

"It is good to see you," Ashe spoke up. "I wasn't sure you'd be here, at first. This being just a diplomatic visit with no official matters taking place."

"My position is to guard Emperor Larsa," Basch stated. "Even if the threat of danger is not present, one cannot be too careful."

"Indeed. With that in mind, who is the other Judge that has accompanied you both?"

"Judge Magister Xulin. He's, what you might call, my apprentice but a Judge Magister, nonetheless. He's young and a brash." He chuckled. "And trustworthy to a fault."

"He sounds like Vaan."

"You'd be amazed at how accurate you are." He smirked. "Just… minus the arrogance."

They both laughed. They sat smiling looking at the sky again.

Basch looked over at her. "It's a blessing to see all that you have done for our country."

Ashe looked back at him, smiling. "Thank you. None of it was easy."

"I'm sure."

"Some in Rozzaria were determined to take the land in Nabradia for themselves… saying the Nechrol held so many secrets that would be useful." She stared at him. "I heard from many whispers the reason Rozzaria didn't press further for the land was because of Lord Larsa."

"He firmly believes in everything you're…"

"And you."

She caught him off guard. Basch scoffed. "I imagine I do, as well."

"You only imagine you have faith in me?"

He looked startled and came as close to panicking as Basch could get. "No, no! That isn't what I meant. I…"

Ashe laughed. "Basch, I was joking."

Basch sighed in relief. He chuckled. "Well… you should know… I have nothing but faith in you."

She smiled wider. She looked down as she started to blush. "That means more to me than you know."

He tried to stop himself but he couldn't help it. "May I ask why?"

"It is quite the list."

"I have the time."

"You've always been strong, smart, capable, and have the kingdom's best interests at heart. Your heart has always been here. To these people, their safety and freedom, and their prosperity. Despite even being called a traitor or a deserter, you never quit or left the nation to be ruled unjustly without putting up a struggle to stop it. You have fought hard to protect Dalmasca. Always."

He felt more honored to hear that from her than anyone, even Larsa could not give him praise to make him feel more like a patriot. "I just hope I've never let anyone down."

She slowly shook her head. "Never. And anyone who says otherwise, does not know the real you. Not the real Basch, not like myself and the others got to know."

They both sat back.

Ashe looked at Basch, shyly, "Do you…" She looked down at the ground.

Basch became concerned. "What is it?"

"Do you think… Raslar would have done a better job?"

He wasn't surprised. The way he died… how fast he was taken from her. It came as no shock that she still thought about him. "There is nothing wrong with what you have done now. You cannot compare yourself to him or what he would have done. You must do things the best way you see fit… which you have."

"I suppose a better question to ask would be… do you think he'd be proud of me?"

Basch smiled. "I'm sure he smiles on you every day."

"And… and my father?"

"He was always proud of you… no matter what. His love, faith, and pride in you could only grow. I can't imagine how proud of you he would be right now."

Ashe smiled back. "Thank you."

He nodded. He was silent for a while. His next admission just came out. He almost didn't realize he was talking, "I miss being here."

She looked at him. "I can imagine. But you do such good work in Archadia."

He chuckled. "You are too kind. But… I hardly contribute anything. Lord Larsa does all the work, flawlessly." He wasn't being humble. He really did not imagine he had done that much.

Ashe knew better. "You underestimate your influence. You've done so much to change the guard of Archadia. Word from Archades is the citizens have never felt safer and the Archadian military has never felt more pride in themselves."

"They deserve to feel such. I am just doing my part."

"You've done that and then some."

All this talking, all of these accomplishments, and, most of all, all the praise coming from this woman who dreamed about more than anything… it was driving Basch mad. He didn't want to talk anymore. He wanted to hold her close. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to love her. He wanted her to know he loved her.

And, in spite of himself… he had to risk the latter idea. He said a quick, silent prayer, 'Forgive me…' He looked at her. "Ashelia…"

She looked at him. "Yes?"

"May I… speak freely?"

She giggled, "Of course." It seemed absurd for Basch to ask such a thing.

"There is… another reason I wish to return to Rabanastre."

"Oh. What is that?"

He stopped. If wasn't for those incredibly captivating eyes of hers, he could've spoken right away but… she had him hypnotized without even knowing she could.

"Basch?"

He looked down at the ground.

"Basch, what is it?"

He looked up at her. He was approaching the point of no return. "I… I want to come back…" No turning back now. "…for you…"

She gasped. "For… for me?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean?"

He'd gone this far. No reason not to see this through to the end. "Because… just as your heart has always been here with these people… mine… has been here… with you."

Ashe looked at him stunned. She was absolutely shell-shocked.

"Not a day has gone by in these two years that I have not… thought about coming here… back to you." He sighed. "But… through the turmoil of not knowing if you even want me here… my promise to Noah… my duty to Larsa… and if I'm even welcome here… always kept me from thinking about it more. But… I can honestly say… there's nothing I want more than to… be here… with you." He closed his eyes. "Because…" He looked into her eyes. "…I love you…"

Ashe was beyond stunned. The revelation of how the Occuria were manipulating her almost came with less shock. She always had her suspicions about Basch's interests in her but to have it confirmed… to this level, was very overwhelming… and frightening.

Basch sat back, surprised he was not further alarmed. "I know I have no right to ask this but… I would like to hear your stance on this."

Ash looked at him, in total shock. Hear her stance on this? How could he ask this? How could he expect her to react to that? Especially right now? "What do you wish said?"

It was a good question. "I don't know."

She scoffed. "You don't know? You don't know?" She stood up. "You tell me something like that and you don't know?"

Basch couldn't look at her. "No. That was not my purpose for coming here."

"Then at one point did you decide to declare your love for me?"

He looked at her. "Two years ago. I just never could… until now."

"Why? You tell me what is different!"

He was silent. "...I… I… I just wanted…" He sighed. "I just wanted you to know."

Ashe was at a loss for words. "I can't say anything to that."

Unfortunately, he knew that. "I know."

She sighed. It was too much. Far too much. "I believe we should say good night."

"As you wish."

Ashe left in a hurry without another word.

Basch sat a while longer, looking down at the ground and the fixtures around the palace garden. Strangely, he didn't feel ashamed. While he was sad nothing was said, he did feel relieved that the stress of silence was no longer on his shoulders. He did, naturally, want it to end another way. But, unfortunately, he was used to his life not turning out completely in his favor at any turn. The curse of being a soldier. And of just being him, it seemed. After another minute of sitting, he got up and headed for the quarters prepared for him. He was almost to his room when Larsa walked out of his own and found his Judge.

"Gabranth!" Larsa said.

Basch looked up at him. "Your Excellency."

He had the most pained eyes Larsa had ever seen on him, second only to when Noah died after the final battle on the Bahamut. "Are you alright?"

Basch nodded. "I will be."

Larsa was vexed by his phrase at first. Until he realized what might have caused his mood. "You talked to her…"

"Aye."

He sighed in depression. "And… things must not have gone as you would've liked."

"No. They did not."

An anchor's worth of guilt came over the young emperor. The whole idea for Basch to speak with Ashelia was on his insistence. He was more than positive it would end in favor of Basch. He had no idea he'd be wrong. "My friend, I'm… I'm so sorry."

Much too both their surprise, Basch smiled. "Please. Make no apologies." He turned to face the young man. "But there is something I need to say. Thank you, Larsa."

The sole Solidor heir was confused. "What, on earth, for?"

"For advising me to speak with her. Maybe it did not go the way I wished but… at least… the burden of not knowing what she would say is off of me now." He started to walk away.

Larsa shook his head. "But it was not the answer you were seeking."

Basch stopped. He struggled to form the words at first. "No." He turned his head slightly toward Larsa. "But… nevertheless… it was… an answer." He went into his room. Larsa stood silent, disappointed with himself and saddened by tonight's events.

In her bedroom, Ashelia could do all but sleep. She stood on the balcony connected to her bedroom and looked out over the city. She couldn't rest, she couldn't even lie down. Basch's admission was playing over and over again in her mind. She stayed up all night, not getting any bit of slumber, thinking about it over and over again.

As much as she wanted to be upset with him for saying such things to her, his admission to her was not was keeping her up. Well, it was but her real reason for restlessness was how she reacted to it.

She agonized over her decision to leave him alone like she did. But it was the only thing she could do. He wanted a response but she honestly could not think of one. What could she say to his admission? What could she admit? These questions and other played on a seemingly infinite loop inside of her mind well past the sun rising.

It was about mid-morning when one of Ashelia's sentries came to her door. After she permitted him entry, he walked in, bowed, and rose. "Your Majesty, Emperor Larsa wished to let you know that he is departing for the Postremo."

"Oh! Already?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. He just wishes to be on his way to Archades."

"Oh…" She looked outside, very distant. "Did… he say why?"

"Just to make sure no further complications arise back home, Your Majesty. He wished to let you know he sincerely apologizes for the abrupt departure and says he will be in contact very soon."

Ashelia wasn't fooled. Larsa was being a good friend. He was going back to spare Basch from any further pain or embarrassment that would come, personally, to the Judge by staying.

Pain…

And embarrassment…

That was when she realized what it took for the former Dalmascan knight to do what he did.

Basch poured his heart out to her as much as he possible could without being overly dramatic or ridiculous, maintaining his honor and composure. He was honest with her and she walked away with no response.

No response.

How could she do that to him?

She couldn't believe it.

She walked away from one of the few people in the world who had always supported her, fought with her, for her, and protected her. For what? For him telling the truth?

He didn't beg her to say it back.

He just wanted to response.

And how hard would it have been for her to say she loves him?

Ashelia's whole thought process came to a screeching halt.

She loves him.

She knew it all along. She just could never say it. She couldn't ignore the irony. She could face down legions of monsters, scores of dread airships, and, most frightening of all, dozens of politicians and lawmakers. But the one thing she couldn't do… was admit she was in love again.

When Raslar died, it scared her to know end at the prospect of being in love again. To hear Basch's admission, just brought back the fear. And there was the difference. War separated her and Raslar; she had no control over that. But her own fear was keeping her from the man she loved this time; she would lose out on love all over again.

But, unlike when Raslar died, there was still time to get back the man she loved.

"Your Majesty?" the knight asked.

Ashe looked at him. She must've been in deep thought longer than she realized.

"Are you alright?"

"Take me to the Postremo. Now."

At the airstation, Larsa stood at the window, looking at the sky, while Basch and Xulin stood by. Basch had his back to the others, his eyes closed as he silently dealt with the fallout from last night; Xulin standing next to the Emperor, gazing at the sky as well. They were alone in an upper area of the station as the Postremo was being prepped for takeoff. As they keep no secrets from him, Xulin had been informed of the situation and understood the silence of his mentor and Emperor. No words were exchanged between the men for good reason: Basch knew he had no place in Rabanastre anymore and Larsa and Xulin had no way to comfort him. Words of comfort were meaningless at this point. But, as discouraging as it was, they all knew that this was the only moment they could let it affect them. Time and duty, they knew, does not wait for one's melancholy to end; both move forward and so would they…

…once the Postremo was ready. Since the great airship was still docked, the state could remain concurrent.

Larsa and Xulin heard someone approach, finding it surprising since no one had been on the upper level since they had been there. They looked and were even more surprised by who it was.

"Basch!" It was Ashe.

Basch's eyes widened at the sound of her voice. He turned around surprised. "Ashe… Your Majesty…"

She walked up to him, out of breath from running to catch him before he left.

He put his hand on her arm as she seemed unsteady. "What-what are you doing here?"

She caught her breath and straightened up; he removed his hand. "What I finally have the courage to do."

His eyes widened even bigger. "Courage?"

"Yes." She stopped, staring into his eyes… which she'd never notice were so amazingly beautiful until now. "Courage to admit that… I've thought about you… every day since the Bahamut was destroyed. That… I've missed you every day since you became a Judge for Archadia. And… always wished you'd come back home. Back to me."

"Wow…" Xulin whispered as he and Larsa looked on, shocked.

"And… I've loved you… since… since I realized… the only way… I made it back to my throne… back to myself… was because of you."

Basch was overwhelmed. "Your… your Majesty…"

"No. You don't call me that. You don't ever have to do that. You call me Ashe. You earned that… I gave it to you… a long time ago." She put her hand on the side of his face, "Please… call me Ashe…"

Basch was at such a loss for words. There was only one thing he could do:

He moved forward, with enthusiasm and passion, and kissed Ashelia.

Larsa quietly chuckled while Xulin stood amazed.

After their kiss, they both stood with their hands on each other's faces as they stared into each other's eyes.

"Ashe…" Basch breathed out.

"Basch… I love you… please… tell me I haven't lost you. I'm so sorry I almost drove you away. But… I will do anything it takes to make it up to you. Just please… please say you'll stay."

He opened his mouth to speak, almost choking from his own words. "I-I want to…"

"And you will," Larsa walked up. "No excuses or delays."

"Your Excellency…"

"Basch, as the Emperor of Archadia, I hereby declare that you have fulfilled your oaths to me, Archadia, and its people. And, even more importantly… as your friend, I hold that you've more than kept your word to your brother."

The Judge Magister stared at his Emperor. He was being given the freedom to follow his heart. It was almost unreal.

"You have no reason not to do this. And every reason to pursue it. You are home. And here you shall stay."

While this is what he wants, Basch has never been one to give up his responsibilities so easily and did his best to make sure this is alright. "Are you certain?"

Larsa nodded.

Basch looked back at Ashe, "Are you certain?"

She kissed him again. "More than certain."

Basch stared into her eyes. She meant it. She wanted him to stay. Larsa had just absolved him, vindicated him of the oath that he was assured that he kept. All roads were clear, all debts paid… and all sins forgiven. "Xulin…"

"Sir!" Xulin stood at attention.

He looked at his soon to be former apprentice. "No longer have I anything to teach you. I leave the protection of the Emperor in your hands. Always guard him. Make me proud."

"On my life, I will, sir. You have my word."

He looked back at Ashe.

She had tears in her eyes, "Welcome home."

He pulled her into an embrace.

Later, on the board the Postremo, Larsa stood on the bridge looking at earth pass underneath, a smile on his face. While saddened a little that his friend was now gone, he couldn't be happier by the reason for his departure.

Xulin approached him. "Your Excellency?"

"Yes?"

"If it pleases you, milord, may I speak, plainly?"

Larsa turned to face him. "Of course."

"Thank you." He unlatched his helmet and removed it, tucking it under his arm, revealing a scar over his right eye and short black hair and deep emerald green eyes. "What will happen to Lord Gabranth now? Everyone will know the truth of who he is."

Larsa was no fool. He knew what Xulin was referring to but he decided to give him one final test. "That was bound to happen. Should our enemies come to our door, they will find us very capable. We are ready for that contingency."

Naturally, Xulin didn't pick up on Larsa's ruse. "With all due respect, milord, my concern is more for Basch. He still has many enemies. Many believe that he was responsible for so much death during the war, even to the downfall of Dalmasca. His identity being made known will, surely, put him in quite a bit of danger. Danger that we will not be able to protect him from."

"And you have no concern for Archadia? Or me?"

Xulin's eyes grew wide. "Uh… no, milord! By no means is that the case! I… just worry for my teacher. I would not be here had it not been for him. My concern lies with his well-being as well as yours! A-And Archadia's!"

Larsa looked at him. Xulin passed his last test with flying colors. Larsa smiled. "Such honor and devotion is still rare in this world. Basch was right to choose you to succeed him."

Xulin was surprised by the high praise from his Emperor.

Larsa looked back at the sky. "Basch's enemies… will become Ashe's enemies. And they will stand strong against them all together. I know them both well to know that much. There is no measuring their strength without each other. One can only imagine how much stronger they will be together. Even if they can't stand against all of their enemies, heed my words when I say, they have others who will always stand by their side and fight. To the very end, if they have to." He paused and nodded his head, "But… if they ever need help… more help… we will be there. As he is to you, Basch is my friend, as well. And… in the new world that we will build… that we are building… bonds of true friendship are not so easily broken by something as trivial as distance, nationality, rank, or duty." He faced Xulin again. "I do hope that answers your question… my friend."

Xulin smiled. "More so than I thought possible… Your Excellency."

Larsa nodded. "Let us go home, Judge Magister. And let's leave Basch to his."

The young Judge nodded, "Yes, milord."

In Rabanstre that night, Basch stood alone on the balcony of Ashe's bedroom. He lightly placed his hands on the banister. He couldn't believe he was standing there. His mouth was slightly ajar as he looked out over the kingdom. He was back. He was home. And the reason he was back… walked up behind him and placed her hands on his back.

Ashe leaned her head on his back, smiling. "You're home."

This all still felt like a dream to him, especially with Ashe being so close. "I… I am… aren't I?"

"Yes."

He turned around and looked at her. "And… this is all… alright?"

She kissed him on the cheek. "It is what I am most sure of in my life."

His mind was made up. "Then… I can be sure of this…" He slowly got down to one knee…

…much to Ashe's surprise, evidenced by her eyes growing wide.

"Ashe… Queen of Dalmasca… I love you with everything that I am and ever will be. Please… let me have the honor… of your hand in marriage…"

She stood with her mouth still agape.

Basch stared into her eyes. He whispered, "Please…"

Tears were falling now. She couldn't help it. She sniffed and nodded her head, "Yes."

Basch stood and kissed her with all the passion he had and she gave just as much back. They kissed for so long and just held each other.

Ashelia had tears flowing from her eyes. "I love you, Basch."

"I love you, Ashe."

For two heroes who had been through the darkest parts of hell, neither of them had truly felt like the victories they earned were complete…

…until now.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a hopeless romantic. Hope you guys enjoyed it. Please review! Until next time, folks! Be blessed!