Title: The Letter
Characters: Raine, Genis, Regal, Lloyd
Genre: Drama, Friendship
Words: 2,330
Notes: This is MixedBreedMaiya's fault, of course. There is some measure of headcanon in here, but nothing too out-there. I try to wrap up the loose end from the game, where Lloyd promises Raine he'll help look for her mother…but then goes on an Exsphere journey, and Virginia is never really mentioned again. I'm pretty rusty; this is my first time writing for this fandom in...a while. So any critique/comments are beyond welcome! Thanks!

At first glance, it looked like any other letter Lloyd Irving had sent her. On the outside, in his horrendous chicken-scratch, was her name—Professor Sage—and the town the letter had been sent from. It was sealed with a tiny strip of tape.

Something told her it was different than the others. Maybe it was the slanted writing, written in a particular hurry, the way Lloyd often did when he began to run out of time on an exam, or maybe it was the weight of it, just a single page, when he normally could not shut up about his latest adventure.

She balanced her staff across her knees and used her thumb to break the seal as she worried her lower lip between her teeth.

Inside, there was a single sentence:

Found Virginia, please come right away.

The staff, so carefully placed upon her lap, fell forgotten to the grass as she stood. "Genis!" she called, unable to control the urgency in her voice. "Genis, now!"

Raine thought about her mother as she and Genis hurried to the city Lloyd had posted the letter from. With a rheaird, it might have taken them half a day, but without, it took almost a week. She had time to think. Perhaps too much of it.

"Are you all right?" Genis asked one night as he set up the camp. She found herself snapping to attention, and cocked her head to the side.

"I'm fine," she said.

But Genis didn't buy it. Perhaps he knew her almost as well as she knew herself. "You always look deep in thought when there's something wrong," he said, almost off-handedly. "Care to share, or do you want to be an iceberg for the rest of your long life?"

"You're getting too cheeky in your old age," she said warily, and then sighed. "I'm only thinking. There is no harm in that, now, is there?"

"I don't know." He paused his work and scratched his cheek. "No offense, Sis, but when it comes to you…sometimes, you think too much."

She knew what he really meant. She had been something of a pessimist for most of her life, and anybody who knew her knew that about her. When she gave something thought, she always looked at the worst possible outcome, not so much to be negative, but because surprises had become something absolutely detestable to her.

Her mother's abandonment of her had been one such surprise. She hadn't seen it coming. Virginia hadn't said a thing beforehand. She had been eleven years old, and she was dumped on an island, her newborn brother shoved into her arms. She couldn't remember when the Gate had shifted, when she had finally been sucked through to Sylvarant, but she remembered the abandonment well.

Even knowing her mother's semi-positive motives for doing it did not curb the roiling mix of hatred and despair that she felt.

Regal had tried, once, with his calm diplomacy, to explain to her the necessities of forgiveness, because anger could drive a person to insanity. To say she snapped at him would be an understatement, but she had always had a fiery temper, and maintained even in her later apology that she had reacted purely on instinct.

His comment still bothered her, on some level. Rather, one particular part of it did: his use of the word insanity. Regal was clever with words, but had that been intentional? Had he meant to imply that she would end up a shadow of herself, just like her mother, cold and alone and crazy besides?

Genis's hand on her shoulder startled her. His face was strangely solemn, and she forced a smile for his benefit.

"Whatever you're thinking," he said. "Don't."

Lloyd's face told her everything at once. Genis was slower to catch on. When their wandering-swordsman friend led them out of the city gate and into a quiet grove of trees, Raine's suspicions were confirmed, and Genis seemed to want to be in denial of the simple wooden stake in the ground.

"Thank you, Lloyd," Raine said, softly, while Genis shook his head, eyes wide.

"But you said you'd found her," he managed to say, his expression nothing short of bewildered.

Lloyd hung his head, his brown eyes gazing deep into the imaginary souls of the blades of grass at his feet. "Well…" he began, "I… I mean… Colette and I found her. She didn't live long."

"How long?" she asked, both dreading and waiting with bated breath for the answer.

Shaking his head, Lloyd gave a little shrug. "Professor," he said. "You would never have made it on time, even if you'd flown here straight away."

After a few minutes, Lloyd returned to Colette, and Raine stared down at her mother's grave marker with mixed feelings.

Genis broke the silence.

"I didn't even get to know her," he whispered.

But Raine did not respond. Her thoughts whirled and rushed about her like a tornado, picking up thoughts and dropping them back down with startling force.

She had raised Genis, almost since birth, but somewhere, deep in the back of her mind, she had always hoped her parents would return for the two of them. When he was two, he had tried to call her "Mama," and it had broken her heart. "No no no," she'd said, fervently, "Sister. Sister."

She had known her mother as well as any eleven-year-old could know a parent, but what good had it done her? There was just enough of a personal attachment there to hurt—to make a comment like Regal's hurt—but not enough of one to do anything positive. She hadn't been able to admit, to anyone, that as an adult she was still so hurt by something that happened so very long ago.

She wanted to turn to her brother and say, Be glad, but that was needlessly cruel and selfish, even for her. Genis had seen Virginia Sage at her worst. The woman had been holding a raggedy old doll, one Raine herself had carried around as a young girl, and her hand had been over her belly. She had called the doll Raine, and her belly Genis, and Raine had wanted nothing more than to weep at the sight, for the mother she had known, and the mother she had imagined from eleven years old until that day, had been nothing like that.

She had expected a woman to look at her with disgust, or hatred, or any number of things, but she had not, in her wildest imagination, thought that her mother would see her and not even know her.

Insanity, she pondered as Genis knelt next to the grave.

If only it were that easy for her, to lose herself and forget about everything that had ever hurt her.

Maybe that was what Regal had meant by his comment so long ago. For some, it was easy to get lost in grief and anguish and self-loathing; Regal knew that better than anyone.

"I feel a little sad," Genis admitted, tearing her from her thoughts. "Though I never knew her. I wonder why that is."

"It's because you recognize her as your mother." Raine moved to place her hand on Genis's shoulder.

"I guess that makes sense. Lloyd was always protective of his mother, even though he couldn't remember her."

Silence enveloped them for a long moment, but Raine did not allow her thoughts to wander. Instead, she gave her brother's shoulder a squeeze and turned to leave the area.

It wasn't long before he caught up, his expression serious. "Did you ever forgive her?" he carefully ventured.

She found that she had to think of how to answer this question, and so she paused, lips pursed and eyes closed in thought. "It's difficult," she admitted at last. She opened her eyes and locked onto Genis, refusing to let herself look away. He deserved some kind of explanation, after all.

"I remember…birthday celebrations, good food, nice clothing. I remember a…kitten that Mother took in one day and bottle-fed until it regained its strength. I remember hugs and bedtime stories and…" Her voice faltered, and it took her a moment to find it again. "And then I remember you being shoved into my arms, told to stay put, and…" She swallowed, thickly.

"And they never came back," he finished, looking solemn.

"Yes. You not being able to remember her…might be something of a blessing."

"But," he argued, arms gesturing in typical dramatic teenage fashion, "at least you have something to remember her by. At least you do have positive memories."

She wanted to refute it with a sharp, You can have the memories, then. I don't want them.

But she didn't. She wondered if maybe thinking like that was the path Virginia Sage took. If she had cared even a whit about her children, she must have worried. She must have cried herself to sleep, must have regretted her decision somewhere along the way, because sometimes knowing the worst was better than not knowing anything at all.

She struggled for the right words.

"I need more time," she finally said. "Some time to think."

She returned quite some time later, alone, to the gravesite, and saw that the marker Lloyd had made was covered over in wildflowers and ivy. It seemed sort of fitting, in a way.

"It's not been easy," she said aloud to the quiet air. "I thought I hated you all these years, hated what you did to me—and to Genis. Do you know…" She sighed, and took a deep breath. "Mother, do you know how hard it was for me to find food? Work? There were times when I didn't think I would make it, times I resented having to take care of Genis, because he was another mouth to feed and food was hard to come by. Prejudice existed on Sylvarant, too, Mother. But…"

She refused to let herself cry even the smallest bit, not now, not when she had spent the majority of her life pushing back tears.

"I think you made the right choice."

It wasn't exactly forgiveness, but acceptance was close enough.

She didn't know Kate very well, but she knew enough; Kate could just as easily have been her, and though Sylvarant hadn't been truly free, it had been a veritable liberation compared to what her life might otherwise have been.

Reaching that conclusion had been hard. She had believed, for a time, that Sybak fed its half-elves, at least. They didn't have to worry about each meal, about a place to sleep, about keeping a newborn baby alive. For too long, she felt that she would have preferred that life over the one she had been forced to live.

But her anger gradually abated. She loved her freedom, the choice to give a snappy, surly reply to anyone who said something against her, and that was something she never would have been granted at Sybak.

"My anger was…misdirected."

Indeed, she had been so busy directing all of her fear and anger and hurt at her mother that she hadn't realized most of those feelings rightfully should have been directed at herself—or perhaps no one at all.

"We made it. It's okay." She wasn't sure if the last part was directed at Virginia Sage or at herself, but it felt good to say. A part of her sighed in relief to hear those words finally spoken.

Despite the fear and the worry and the scars—despite the hardships—it was okay. She had made it. And so had Genis. "I forgive you," she murmured. "And I forgive…myself, too, I suppose."

Nothing happened, nothing magical, at least. The air continued to be calm, the birds continued their haphazard songs, but Raine felt something she hadn't felt in recent memory: freedom, or maybe just contentment, soft and gentle and comforting.

"I wonder if this is what Regal was talking about," she said, partially to herself.

At first glance, it looked like any other letter Raine Sage had sent him. On the outside, in her careful but still untidy scrawl, was his name—Duke Regal Bryant—and the town the letter had been sent from. It was sealed with a tiny strip of tape.

Something told him it was different than the others. Maybe it was the careful way the letters were printed, so unlike Raine, for most of her letters were penned in an excited hurry and were only barely legible, or maybe it was the weight of it, just a single page, when she normally wrote tangent after tangent concerning the things she had seen.

Concerned, Regal leaned forward in his desk chair and slipped his thumb between the folds, breaking the seal on the letter.

Inside, there was a single sentence:

Thank you.

Confused, he shook his head and opened his mouth. "For what?" he wondered aloud, imagining that it could be for the money he had put into rebuilding Palmacosta's prestigious academy, or the bridge whose plans were in motion to connect a few of the continents, which would allow for the choice of travel by land or sea.

Never once did it cross his mind that it could have been an offhand comment made quite a long time ago in a small attempt to help another person move beyond a past that plagued them.

He flipped the letter over and glanced at the city the letter had been sent from: Iselia. Did that mean Raine had returned home? Perhaps a visit was in order. There was a chance—however small—that he could get her to tell him why she was thanking him, because he honestly did not know the reason, though his curiously was certainly piqued.

"George!" he called, pulling on his suit jacket. "I'm going on a quick trip. I will be back in three days at the most; hold all of my mail until I return."