The group had split up to explore Vellweb, and Rose was standing on a tower walkway, looking out over the crumbling city, and trying to hold back a torrent of memories. The footsteps that rang on the stone behind her were a welcome distraction.

Dart tossed her a small loop of metal, with two strange protrusions. "I thought that looked like something you could use."

"Close your eyes."

"Zieg..." Rose frowned at the grinning man, who was holding something behind his back and looking far more mischeivious than she was comfortable with. While normally a serious, driven, brilliant leader, Zieg had a boyish streak that only seemed to surface around her. It was endearing, but Rose was never quite sure where she stood with that Zieg, and being off-balance was not something she enjoyed.

Zieg raised his eyebrows and schooled his face to impassivity, save for the eagerness in his eyes. "That's an order, soldier."

Rose sighed and closed her eyes, a very small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

Deprived of sight, Rose could feel Zieg circle around in front of her, as if she were being orbited by a small sun. The comparison vaguely irritated her – those thoughts were better left to lovestruck young girls, which she most certainly was not.

His hands pulled away the simple black band that held her hair out of her eyes. Rose cracked open one eye and peeked up at Zieg through her bangs. "What are you doing?"

He was holding a strange, tiara-like headpiece, with horns on either side. "I asked the smiths to make you something a little more functional, since you refuse to wear a helmet. They designed it to look like your headpiece in Dragoon form, and the Minitos enchanted it to protect against death magic."

Rose took the headband and, with some difficulty and help from Zieg, got it settled properly under her hair. "Whose death magic is it supposed to protect against? The Winglies'...or mine? You aren't still afraid that I'm going to be sucked into my own Demon's Gate, are you?"

Zieg rubbed his palms on his trousers and glanced away. "I don't like it. I don't know where you go when it's open. And you nearly fell out of the sky after the first time you used it. So, yeah, maybe a little."

Her expression softened a little. It was true, opening the Demon's Gate was difficult, painful, and left her feeling exhausted afterwards. But it was beyond useful in the war effort, clearing the skies of minor threats so they could focus on the major ones. As her commander, Zieg knew that she had to keep using it, but as her friend, he worried about her.

"Thank you for the thoughtful gift, Zieg. I won't take it off, I promise." She stood on tip-toe and brushed her lips against his cheek.

Rose's hands clenched on the dusty, long-abandoned headband. She had taken it off – flung it into a corner of Vellweb's too-empty towers after catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror. She couldn't bear to wear something that he'd given to protect her, when she had been so unable to protect him.

After a moment, a cough and the sound of leather armor creaking brought her out of her reverie. Dart still stood beside her, staring in a way that she knew meant he was trying to figure out what in Soa's name was wrong with her. Dart gave her those looks a lot, though not quite so much as Albert or Meru.

To avoid meeting his eyes, Rose turned the headband over in her hands, examining it for flaws. There were none – the Minito magic in it had preserved it, even over milennia. Finally confident that her voice would emerge level and calm, she nodded in Dart's direction. "Thank you."

The young blond man just shrugged and grinned sheepishly, one hand moving to scratch the back of his head. "No problem."