She was picking up the pieces. Some of them were jagged and angry, attempting to breach the toughened skin of her fingers, each piece all that remained of a beautiful dream. But she wouldn't cry. Life had taught her long ago that crying wouldn't change anything. The world would still be mess. Her life, or what still remained, would be just one string in that tangled knot. She'd pull it back together. She always had.

She reached down to the metal decking and picked up a large plank of wood that had been painted green on one side, running her thumb along the smooth, almost unworn, veneer. She sighed and cocked her arm, letting it fly into deep sky with a practiced ease.

"I'm sorry."

It was him. It was always him. Aika didn't turn to look, sure that if she did all the cracks in the skin of her would finally burst open. And that would not do. Not in front of him, he who needed her strength right now.

She reached down, lifted another piece of wood, and chucked it overboard.

"For what? Saving my life?" the mirth was enough, fading the pain into a dull ache. She turned and fixed him with a wan smile. "It wasn't your fault that I got shot down. I wouldn't be here at all if you hadn't tried that suicide dive and caught the Goldrunner."

Vyse looked at her for a moment, as if measuring her then stared down at the deck, kicking idly at a chunk of what used to be Aika's ship.

"You know that's not what I meant."

Aika shrugged her shoulders and punted a large pile of rubble, sending boards and dust flying through the air. It hurt her foot to do it, but the pain was worth it. This was a pain that would pass. There were worse things than a bruised foot.

"No, Vyse, I really don't." Aika said, spying the top of a broken barrel and sitting down on it gingerly. "There are a lot of things you could be apologizing to me for and I'd prefer it if you were specific."

Vyse inhaled deeply through his nose, running a hand through his messy brown hair. He moved closer to her, sitting down in front of her perch atop the half-barrel, his knees folded up to his chest. Aika quite liked this vantage, slightly above him. That petty satisfaction lasted only the moment before he turned his amber eyes on her. The pain that swam beneath them was unmistakable... and she melted inside.

"I'm... sorry being an idiot," he said, his eyes mercifully shifting away, staring out at the blankness that surrounded them. "I know I've put you through a lot. I know you left because of me and... you're right. I need to be honest. I've put off saying something - anything - for far too long and..."

Vyse seemed flustered. It was a rare state for the man whose confidence and charisma had united the world at only seventeen. And as Aika watched him fumble for words her heart broke. This was the moment she had been waiting for. The moment... she had also been dreading. As Vyse fumbled over words, Aika steeled herself and interrupted him.

"Vyse... it's ok."

"It's... what?" Vyse's brow furrowed as he cocked an eyebrow. "Aika, I... I just don't know how to say this... I..."

Aika stood up, now fully three feet above his head and plastered on a sad smile. "Really, Vyse. It's ok. Who wouldn't love her? I'll be fine."

She patted him on the shoulder as she walked past him toward the door, eager to get inside where no one could see her, somewhere she wouldn't have to wear this... this mask. She had made it halfway across the deck when a hand clamped around her wrist, refusing to let her go any further.

"Aika... please, just... let me finish." Vyse's eyes were harder now, strengthening in resolve. "I do love Fina. She's one of my closest friends. But... I fell apart when you left. I felt like a piece of me had been ripped off. I... I need you. I didn't realize that before then, but I do. I need you, Aika. And I love you. More than anyone."

With those words, Vyse gave her a shy smile, chuckled, then kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"It's always been you, Aika."

He let go of her wrist and started to walk toward the door, leaving her as she had left him three years ago. Aika, however, was not Vyse. He didn't make it two steps before she whirled him around and kissed him fully on the mouth. It took him a moment to kiss her back... but he got the hang of it soon enough.