Rydia: Daughter of Mist

Update: 4/16/13: This series is now available in eBook format at Smashwords.com, FREE.

Author's Note: Edge and Rydia's relationship in Final Fantasy II (IV) always intrigued me. Here was this couple who ditched dirt and attitude at each other, and yet we knew that Edge had been instantly overcome by Rydia's beauty and spunk. She was the perfect match for his rebellious attitude. These are a couple of very zealous young people, and I reasoned that their relationship with each other would encompass all they were and all they experienced.

Enjoy!

Rydia stared off into the distance.

She watched the sun sink beneath its ocean bed as she sat with legs outstretched upon the lush grass of the hillside. Her hands were positioned just behind her and tickled the lush greenery. Another day without her mother's gentle voice had come and gone. Rydia sighed and lowered her eyes. The time with the summoned monsters had made the loneliness easier to bear. They had also helped her realize she was special. Rydia could help the world her mother had loved. That in turn had helped Rydia remember who her mother had wanted her to become.

Rydia closed her eyes, making believe the slight breeze tickling the hair at her temples was the whisper of her mother's voice. I'm okay, mama. I miss you, but I'm okay. I've got friends. Good ones. I've got a home with laughter and love. And I haven't forgotten what you taught me. Rydia brushed away a tear. I miss you, mama, but I'm okay.

A sense of a familiar presence made Rydia open her eyes. A smile tickled her lips as she lowered her gaze. "Hello, Edge." She tilted her head to glance up at him. Edge stared down at her from the branch of the tree beside her. "I thought you were supposed to be in Baron with Rosa and Cecil."

Edge, the handsome Prince of Eblan, dangled his leg as he nonchalantly examined at the nails of his long fingers. "They didn't say it was important. I figured it could wait a day or two."

Rydia smiled and changed her gaze back to the sun as it disappeared the remaining way into the ocean. She leaned backward onto her elbows. "Oh. Last time I knew, a request from the king was pretty important. At least, that's what my mother always told me. You, being a prince, should know better."

"Is that why you're here, Dee? Thinking about your mother again?"

Rydia smiled. Edge was the only one allowed to use the nickname. "Yeah. What about you?" She looked over at him again. His silver-blue hair waved in the slight breeze as his crisp and clear eyes stared out at the sunset. "Lately, you're out here as much as I am."

"I get to thinking about how it could have been different."

Rydia nodded and moved her gaze to the ocean. "I know the feeling. A lot of things could have been different, couldn't they? I'd have my friends and family. I'd have my home. I'd have a lot of things." She sighed. "Yeah. A lot of things could have been different. But..." Rydia moved her gaze back to Edge. Like usual, he watched her. She smiled. "But then I wouldn't have met you, or Rosa, or Cecil, or anyone else. I wouldn't have found out what it meant to really be a part of something. That's what keeps me going. I don't want to give up my new friends for anything."

Edge moved slightly, dropping gracefully from the tree. He always walked with such languid grace. It was hard to imagine he used deadly force in combination with that quick fluidity. Just like it was hard to imagine he could kill her with a single move. Edge had always been... almost gentle.

He sat beside her, stretching out his long form. "I know the feeling."

Rydia cast him a sidelong glance. Edge was seldom quiet. And he usually always had a smile for her. She nudged his shoulder. "Edge, why the long face? Are you okay?"

Edge shrugged, still staring down at the toes of his soft gray shoes. "Just feel like being quiet."

Rydia examined his face a little longer before scooting closer to wrap her arm around him. She rested her head on Edge's shoulder. "You can be as quiet as you like."

He took in a deep breath, holding it a moment before slowly releasing it. "Dee, you ever thought of getting married?"

Rydia chuckled. "Are you joking?"

"Nope."

Edge's statement caught her by surprise. "Really?" He didn't meet her gaze. Rydia sat up and looked over at him. "Wow. I never thought I would hear you say that."

Edge finally examined her face. "You think I should?"

Rydia looked out at the horizon. "Of course, if that's what you want to do. I'm sure she'll be more than willing to help out with rebuilding Eblan. Maybe that's just the help you need."

Edge looked away to the slowly disappearing colors of the sunset. A moment later, he stood. "Thanks. I'll talk to you later. I've got to go to Baron."

Rydia watched him go. The smile slowly faded from her face, and she turned away. She supposed she should have told him that her friendship for him had turned to something else, but she'd wanted to wait. To learn more about the mysterious Prince of Eblan who became an orphan just like her. The rebel who had fought the evil that had taken his family. Their light-hearted bantering had been fun. In fact, his flirting had helped her feel better about herself. And their long talks about the past, present, and future had made her notice a change in her feelings. She really and truly believed that she'd fallen in love with him.

Edge had changed after the battle with Zeromus. He would get all serious and somber as he talked about his future plans for Eblan. He would tell her how he wanted to get it ready for his future generations. Edge never mentioned anything about who he wanted to have involved, or about his plans for their friendship. And Rydia hadn't wanted to bring it up, either. To be honest, she hadn't known how. Now he's going to marry some girl I've never met?

Rydia changed her eyes to the light fabric of her green and yellow gown. She pressed her lips together and scrambled to her feet, picking up the front of her gown as she hurried after him. Since when have you giving up anything without a fight?

Her heart fluttered between determination and nervousness. "Edge! Wait!"

Edge turned to watch her approach. "What?"

Rydia stopped in front of him to look up at his serious expression with a smile. "Can I come?"

"To Baron?"

"Of course 'to Baron'. I haven't seen Cecil and Rosa in a little while. It's not very far from here, and I'd love the walk."

Edge rubbed the back of his neck. "It's at least 3 or 4 days, Dee."

She wrinkled her nose at him. "Come on. That's nothing to a pair of war-hardened veterans like us." Rydia flexed her arm with a smile as she pointed at her slight rise of bicep. "See? I've got big muscles."

Edge shook his head, laughing as his well-balanced frame shifted from one foot to the other. "All right. You can come, but don't expect me to fall over myself to wrestle with you."

"Why not? Afraid you'd lose?"

"Afraid I'd enjoy it too much."

Rydia laughed and gave him a push as they turned to walk down the path that led toward Baron. "So, any idea what the king wants?"

Edge shook his head. "Not a clue. Probably wants to know how things are going with Eblan."

Rydia clasped her hands behind her back as she stared down at the grass. It began to wet the tips of her soft-soled shoes. "How are things going?"

"We have a lot of the materials gathered. Now we're waiting for more workers to show up. The few we've got have already started doing what they can, but progress has been slow." His tone brightened, as did his expression.

Rydia's smile tickled the corners of her lips. "At least you're making progress. Right?"

Edge gave a brusque nod. "Right."

Rydia creased her forehead in thought. "Maybe Cecil wants to give you some workers from Baron?"

Edge nodded. "That would be nice, but I'm not going to ask."

She sent him a sidelong glance. "Why not?"

"Because..." Edge sent Rydia a quick look, catching her eyes for a moment before looking away. "Because I want to do this myself. As much as possible, anyway."

"I guess I can understand that, but if your friends want to help... You're not going to keep them from doing that, are you?"

He glanced down at her again. "No."

"Good." Rydia bit her lower lip. "Edge, is there anything I could do? I've been afraid to ask because I thought you'd say I'd just get in the way."

Edge stopped and looked down at her with an almost anxious expression. "I wouldn't say that," he protested.

Rydia smiled as she met his eyes. "Sure you would. Just to give me a hard time. Remember?"

His eyes twinkled with a slowly creeping smile. "You did your fair share."

"Of course. If you can't take it, don't dish it. I can take it, so I dished it with the best of them."

"I still wouldn't say it."

Rydia's smile softened, and she pulled at his arm to get him moving. "Okay, so you wouldn't say it. Now I'm asking for something to do."

"Well, what do you want to do?"

She laughed. "Get my hands dirty!"

"Oh, there'll be plenty of that." Edge looked over at her with a crooked smile. "But come on, Dee. You've got to give me a little more to go on than that."

Rydia focused her gaze on the trail in front of them. "I just want to help. I don't care what it is. I could use my magic to break down walls or burn away rubble or something. I could cook food for the workers. I could watch the kids. Just tell me what to do."

Edge stayed quiet for a long time. Then, much to Rydia's surprise and secret pleasure, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders to give her a squeeze as his hand rubbed her upper arm. "We'll think of something."

She glanced over at him with a smile. "Thanks."

"You know that's why I've been out here so much in the first place, don't you? I just hadn't figured out how to get you duped into volunteering."

Rydia sent him a crooked smile. "Why do you think I was being so difficult? I liked having you around so much." She grinned up at him. "I'm crazy about you, dontcha know?"

Edge looked away with a weird smile. "Likewise, Dee."

Her eyes twinkled. Just wait, Edge. You'll find out. One way or the other.

*

Edge watched Rydia as she slept. She's just as pretty now as when I first met her. How long has it been since Rubicant beat the crap out of me? Three years? Two? He shook his head. It doesn't matter. She's just as plucky. Just as smart. Just as perfect for me now as then.

Edge looked down at his hands with a deep breath. Am I going to have the nerve to propose when I'm done in Baron? Or am I going to put it off until after Eblan's finished? Or am I going to listen to Rosa and at least tell Rydia how I feel?

Edge looked up at the twinkling stars, releasing a long breath. Then he stood to move just out of sight of the campfire. If he didn't propose, he knew he had to at least tell her how he felt. He'd never been a patient kid, and he didn't want to wait any longer. They had fun together, just like they always had. She took his teasing in stride - like no other person ever had - and then shot it right back at him. No, I'm not going to wait.

They were friends. Couldn't they be more than that?

Edge released a deep breath before returning to the log. When he looked over at Rydia, her eyes were open. She watched him with a strange expression.

"You okay?" Rydia's voice was warm with concern.

Edge's ears flamed, making him glad of the concealing darkness. "Just thinking about some stuff," he told her. She sat up, wrapped her arms around her legs, and then tilted her head at him - as she had a tendency of doing. He dropped his gaze to his hands. "Go back to sleep."

"You sure you don't need to talk about something?"

"Not right now." Edge heard Rydia sigh as she laid back down. He could tell she was still watching him. He lifted his eyes to send her a smile. "I'm okay, Dee. Really. Go to sleep."

"I will. Eventually," she said with a smirk. "All your moving around makes it hard."

He chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Good night, Edge," she told him softly. She closed her eyes and drifted off. The smile still tickled her lips.

Edge watched her for a while after that. Why does green have to look so damn good on her? He shook his head and stood with a stretch as he ran a hand through his hair. He moved to his bedding beside her and sat. Just staring at Rydia's face did crazy things to him. You're pathetic, man. Just pathetic. Edge stared down at her for another moment before lying on his side and closing his eyes to go to sleep.

*

Rydia rose first.

She padded around the camp barefoot for a little while, her arms around herself as she desperately tried to plan what to say that .. and the next... and then the next until the duo arrived at Baron. I want everything to be perfect. And that was what drove her nuts. Edge had such a long history of flirting, she was afraid that's all it was. So, how do I tell him I'm crazy about him? She had absolutely no idea.

Rydia released a slow breath, sitting on the log across from the long-since-dead embers of the fire. Edge was still sleeping. She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees, settling her chin on her hands as she watched him. He looked so much younger when he slept. And when his silver-blue hair got tousled like that it made him look as adorable as ever. It shimmered in the growing sunlight, beckoning Rydia to touch it and see how soft it was... Just once. Come on. You know you want to.

Rydia sighed again and then covered her face with her hands. It shouldn't be this hard. Should it? Shouldn't I just be able to tell him that I really, really care about him? That I'm nuts about everything he's involved in? That I love the way he's dedicated his life to rebuilding his family's legacy? She just didn't know if it was okay. I should talk to Rosa. She and Cecil would know.

Edge stirred and rolled over onto his side, smacking his lips together with a funny frown. Rydia parted her fingers as they covered her face and watched him with a smile. Her eyes twinkled. He's such a kick. Such a true friend. Such a man of deep, heart-wrenching insight... He was perfect for her, and she wanted to be perfect for him. We're friends. Can't that grow to be something more? Sometimes she felt as if they were already a couple. The way they stood by each other. The way they helped each other through decisions by being a venting board. The way they were true to each other at all times. I guess it's time to be true on a different level.

Rydia dropped her hands from her face. She loved watching each emotion that flickered across his expression. Her heart stirred as her eyes crinkled with another smile. She would really love to feel Edge's lips touch hers, just once. To have him take her hand in his and give it a good old squeeze, while knowing that he did it as more than a friend. To have him touch her face like she'd seen Cecil touch Rosa's when he didn't know how to show her how much she meant to him. She wanted all that, and she couldn't see herself doing that with anyone but Edge.

My reluctant knight... or ninja, rather.

A chocobo cooed somewhere in the distance. Rydia stood, brushing some travel dust from her long green gown before slipping into her shoes. Leotards and leggings had been fine and dandy during their travels on moon and earth, but she'd wanted something a little more feminine after the war. Something a little warmer and sophisticated. Rosa had mentioned that gowns made ladies look slimmer, taller, and more delicate. Rydia had wanted to give it a shot. Besides, Edge said I looked pretty.

Rydia sighed and reluctantly moved to Edge's side to wake him. They had a long way to go, and she was eager to get moving. Rydia knelt down beside him, reaching out a hand to nudge him awake... But she hesitated, tilting her head to examine his face. Tentatively, she stretched out toward Edge's tousled hair. Again, she hesitated scant inches from his curls. Rydia took in a deep breath and held it. Then, with a whisper of an exhaled sigh, she tenderly brushed the hairs from his forehead.

As soft as silk...

Edge opened his eyes to meet her gaze. Rydia smiled and dropped her hand to her lap. Her cheeks flamed, but she kept her voice calm. "Good morning, sleepy head," she said, smiling.

Edge smiled briefly as he sat up. He cleared his throat and stretched, and then he rubbed his hands across his scalp. "Morning."

"Did you sleep okay?"

Edge nodded and moved to roll up his bedding, noticing that hers was already neatly rolled away. "Been up long?"

"Not very."

Edge sent her a glance, but she couldn't tell what he was thinking from the quick look. "You okay?"

Tears jumped to the surface - she couldn't understand why - and she swallowed them back. "I'm okay." Her voice sounded a little watery, though.

"Sure?"

Rydia stood with a tight smile and moved to grab her bedroll. "No, but it's still early. I'm not a morning person."

"Dee?"

Rydia looked over at him. Her hands tightened on the strap of her bedroll. "Yeah?"

"You need to talk about something?"

"Yes and no."

Like usual, Edge understood. "You just let me know when you're ready."

Rydia nodded as she kicked some dirt over the much-dead coals of the fire. She also picked up her whip from where it rested on the log. "I will. Promise."

Edge was still a moment longer. Then, he stood and put his bedroll over his shoulder before checking his gear. That done, he stepped closer to rest his hand gently on her shoulder. She looked up in mild surprise, returning his smile after a slight hesitation.

"Come on," Edge said softly. "Let's go."

Rydia nodded and fell into step beside him. She could still feel the warmth of his touch through the fabric of her dress long after he'd dropped his hand to his side. Has he done that before? No, he hadn't. Does it mean anything? Sure. Why not? Edge isn't one to do something like that without meaning anything by it... is he? Then again, what about all the flirtation he did on a regular basis? Maybe it all meant something, then. Rydia took in a calming breath as she adjusted her grip on the coiled whip.

"You expecting trouble?"

Rydia glanced over at Edge in surprise. "What?"

He gestured to her white knuckled clasp on the whip. "You look like you're getting ready to fight someone. I hope I didn't do something. It's a little early for that."

Rydia flushed. "Sorry." She tied the whip to the belt of her gown. "Just a little tense this morning."

"I noticed."

"Lots of stuff to think about."

Edge nodded. "I noticed that too."

"You've been noticing a lot of things this morning." Rydia sent him a quick glance to try and gauge his reaction. Like usual, she couldn't tell what he was thinking or what he was feeling. Drat. "Congratulations."

He chuckled. "Nah. Don't bother. I'm just not as dense this morning, is all. I slept great."

You certainly did... "That's good. It's always nice when we can have a restful night's sleep."

His smile faded as he looked over at her. "Didn't you?" Edge's question was laced with concern. She caught his gaze and smiled. He returned her smile before looking back down the trail. "Just checking," he said.

"I always sleep good when you're around," she said, giggling. It was the truth, too.

Edge raised an eyebrow but didn't look over at her. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

"Just what I said."

"Hmm."

Rydia pushed at him with her shoulder. Laughter tickled the air. "Oh stop it, you big goof ball."

Edge pushed back, and his hand lingered on her arm. "I'm not a goof ball," he protested with laughter in his eyes. "Just misunderstood."

Her expression changed to warm seriousness. "I understand you, Edge."

One side of Edge's lips tilted upward as he gently nudged Rydia arm with his elbow. "I know, Dee, and I like that about us."

Rydia took in a deep breath to give herself courage and wrapped her arms around his. She'd seen Rosa do it once... "So do I."

"You think that will change? Ever?" Edge's voice was quiet and thoughtful. A moment later, he brought his hand across to gently stroke hers as they rest within the crook of his elbow.

Rydia shook her head, dropping her gaze to the path at her feet. "I hope not." Edge nodded in silent agreement. Rydia tightened her arms around his. "I want us to be close forever. I like being able to talk to you. I like how we can be honest and... and real around each other. I like how we understand each other."

Rydia glanced up at him, meeting his gaze. She stopped walking. "I guess I've never told you that, Edge. I really treasure your friendship. You know? Every hard thing you've ever said which got me to admit something to myself. Every silent night you spent listening to me vent about something that bothered me. Every time you seemed to know when to say something and when to just be quiet. You've been more of a friend to me than anyone I've ever known. I just want to say 'thank you'."

Rydia gazed up at him, examining his face and eyes while wishing he'd somehow let her know what he thought about her. Hoping against hope that he'd give her some clue as to whether she had a single chance of being an important part of his life. But he didn't say a word. He just stared down at her, examining her face as closely as she did his. Finally, she gave him a hesitant smile and stood on tiptoes to give him a soft kiss on the cheek.

Edge's cheeks flushed slightly after she'd pulled away. "Thanks, Dee. And, well, you're welcome." He regarded her with an odd and guarded expression. "Nobody's ever said anything like that to me before. Not like that. I don't know what to say... Actually, yes I do."

"You do?"

"Yeah." Edge smirked. "Believe it or not, I didn't ever have a lot of friends while growing up. They said I had a bad attitude."

"I remember," she said quietly.

Edge turned away, looping his thumbs on his belt as he looked down at the ground. "I guess I do have an attitude, but..." He looked over at her. "But you never let it get to you. You accepted it, like everyone else. I learned a lot about life from you and the others, but I learned what it meant to be friends from you." Rydia flushed as he continued. "I got through my parents' death because you understood what I went through. I guess the others did too, but not like you. You seemed to know what to say and when to say it. Idiot that I am, I never said thank you."

"Well, we were kind of busy."

Edge chuckled. "Yeah. I guess we were." His smile wavered, and his expression became oddly serious. "But you were never too busy to be there. You were never too busy to make sure I was all right with everything." Rydia lowered her eyes, kicking at a pebble as Edge went on. "Thanks, Dee. For everything. Don't change. Okay?"

Rydia raised her eyes to send him her most charming smile. "Okay."

The tips of Edge's ears flushed. He took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Come on. Let's get going."

Rydia was so afraid to lose the moment that she almost said 'no'. But when they turned and began walking toward Baron again, Edge kept holding her hand. He even gave it another squeeze every once and a while, as if he needed to prove it was still there. In his grasp. Rydia gnawed on her lower lip as she stared at the lush grass and fragrant flowers that tickled her ankles. What step am I supposed to take now?

Rydia had no idea.

*

Edge didn't know what to do or say. For the first time in his life he was at a loss for words. He knew that whatever he did say wouldn't be taken the wrong way because she wasn't like that. If Rydia didn't understand what he meant, she'd ask. Point blank. If she thought he'd gone too far in his teasing, she'd tell him. Straight out. She was feisty. She always had been.

Edge felt the warmth in his right hand increase and squeezed. Oh yeah. I still have her hand. Should I let go? But he didn't want to. He liked how it felt. Liked how it made him feel to have it. He couldn't explain it. Didn't even want to try. What if she wants it back? He cleared his throat, but didn't risk a glance. He figured that if she wanted it back she'd take it. Hadn't he just told himself that was the type of girl she was?

Girl.

Girl?

Edge shook his head, immediately noticed Rydia's glance, and clenched his jaw. No. She's no girl. She's a beautiful young woman who makes me feel like a real person. He'd tell her, when the moment was right. He'd kiss her, too. He'd always wanted to, but the moment had never been... never been right. He didn't want her to slap his face. But she just kissed me... Didn't she?

He squeezed her hand again, without really meaning to, and felt a little better when her little hand squeezed back. She could probably tell that he was thinking about something, hard. She'd always been like that. Seemed to read his mind sometimes. It's unnerving, but... but I like it. It made her easier to talk to. Of course, from the first moment he'd seen her he'd seemed to trip over his tongue to have a reason to speak to her. Always saying stupid things to get her to smile. Or plucking at her temper so that he could have those flashing eyes aimed at him and that cute mouth lashing him with so many words...

Edge felt the heat rising to his ears and cleared his throat. Cool it. You're going to make an ass of yourself. But he didn't really care. He'd made a fool of himself plenty of times, always in front of her and those eyes that didn't miss a thing. He was damned lucky to have her there, and he didn't want to lose that. I'll propose in Baron. I'll have Cecil be best man. Rosa can help Rydia... well, help her do whatever she'll need help with.

"Ouch."

Edge gave a startled twitch and then looked over at Rydia. She rubbed at the hand he'd finally released. His face flamed. "Did I hurt you? Here, let me see." He took her hand in both of his and gently touched the red sections where he'd squeezed too hard. His throat tightened as his stomach fell to the soles of his feet. "Man, Dee. I'm sorry."

Rydia smiled hesitantly, rubbing at his arm with her free hand. "Hey, it's all right. No blood. No broken bones." Rydia examined her hand still clasped in his. "Makes me wonder what you were thinking about, though."

Rydia peeked at him out of the corner of her eyes, but Edge couldn't meet her gaze. All he could do was stare down at her little hand, at all the red marks he'd given her, and wonder what in the world he was doing there with her. A little spark of panic scorched his insides as he continued to stare at the marks. It was the first time he'd hurt her. He didn't like how it felt. What if I do it again? I never want to do that.

Edge dropped her hand suddenly and turned away, striding toward Baron. He could feel Rydia's shocked gaze, and moments later heard her call out "Edge? Edge, wait." He did without even thinking about it. Edge clenched his jaw and balled his fists. She'll ask. You know she will. She'll ask what's wrong. She'll look at you with those big eyes, stare right into who you are, and ask what's going on. Then she'll see it. She'll see that you're afraid you'll hurt her again. Maybe she would even see how much he cared.

Edge felt her hand on his arm and tensed. She noticed that too. Somehow he could tell.

"Edge, what's going on?"

Edge took in several deep breaths before answering. "Sorry, Dee. I panicked. I've never done anything like that before. It kind of freaked me out."

"Never done what before? Hurt me?" Rydia turned him around, and her hands continued to hold his arms as she looked up at him. "Edge, it was an accident. I know that."

She examined his face a moment, and then - much to his surprise - reached a hand up to cup his jaw and caress his cheek with her thumb, her smile as soft as anything he'd seen.

"It's all right," she said in a gentle voice. She lowered her hand. "Really."

Edge clenched and unclenched his hands as he stared down at her. Her lips were tilted upward in that caress of a smile and all he could do was focus on her lips, glistening in the sunlight. Soft. Slightly pink... Edge blinked and cleared his throat as he turned his head away. "Yeah. Okay. Sure."

Rydia turned him back to the trail toward Baron, wrapping an arm around his waist to give him a squeeze as they began walking. "I've been hurt worse, Edge. Besides, I didn't mind so much. You seemed to feel better after you gave it a squeeze. It felt nice."

Edge released a slow breath as she let himself drape an arm around her shoulders. Why don't I just tell her and get it over with? Why don't I just kiss her and let the chocobo feathers hit the fan? But something kept telling him it wasn't the right time. Something assured him that the trip was important. That they were both taking steps toward something that would make sense soon enough. He needed to be patient a little longer.

*

Somehow - Rydia still didn't know how - she got Edge to relax and start to laugh. Rydia almost gave an audible sigh of relief when the panicked expression had faded from Edge's eyes and the tension had left his body. She'd never seen him like that before. Of course, he'd never accidentally hurt her, either. Rydia had been hurt worse, close to death a couple of times, so the pain hadn't really been a problem. The feel of his hand holding hers, though, and the weird things it did to her insides had been all she'd focused on. I didn't mean to say 'ouch'.

Now, as they laughed and joked about the memories of their shared pasts, Rydia began to wonder if their relationship was changing even more. It seemed obvious, but she didn't want to get her hopes up. Then again, what was life without hope? She smiled slightly, enjoying the feel of him beside her, especially when Edge touched her arm with a lingering stroke as he told her something he'd heard about someone they knew.

Over the past two weeks Rydia had hoped they were both changing. That they were both walking toward one another. Looking at each other in different ways. Looking at the future and seeing something different than what they'd seen just the month before. Now Rydia thought that maybe it was more than a hope. She didn't know how she knew. It was just something she felt. Maybe it was the way Edge looked at her. Maybe it was the way she looked at him. Maybe it was how they seemed to take more of an interest in the little things than they had before. Everything seemed to matter. Isn't love like that?

"This looks like a good place to set camp."

Edge's voice broke in on her mind like a gentle whisper of a cooling spring breeze. Goosebumps rose on her arms as she looked around them with eyes that seemed to view their surroundings for the first time. "You're right."

"You hungry?" Edge set their bedrolls down and looked around them. "I think I remember seeing some tracks leading off in that direction."

"You want me to go with you?" Rydia knew he'd say no.

He smiled. "Nah. You stay here and set up the fire. I'll be back in a few minutes with some dinner."

She nodded and sent Edge a smile. "Okay. Be careful."

He grinned. "I'm always careful."

Edge turned and strode away, whistling some melody he'd heard somewhere. Rydia watched him go. Then she sighed and started gathering wood for the fire. So what hurdle am I going to climb over this evening? She had no idea. She'd kissed him - true, it had only been on the cheek, but it was better than nothing. She'd held his hand. She'd been honest about how she enjoyed his company and his friendship... The only thing left was... what? Again, she had no idea. She could only follow her instincts.

Rydia cleared her throat and made her way back to the campsite. She set up the stone circle and then set up the small pile of twigs and moss before casting a low-level Fire spell to ignite it. It smoked to life immediately. She coaxed it to a stronger flame by placing gradually larger pieces of wood on it as it grew. Once she thought it was strong enough to take care of itself, she sat back and crossed her arms.

She blinked. Could she coax Edge the same way? She shivered and rubbed her arms, looking away from the ground toward the area she'd seen him last. Do I want to do that? Yes, she did. Yet, she didn't. After all, I don't know what to expect. I know what I want, but I'm scared of it at the same time. This was all so new and different from the friendship she'd grown comfortable with. Yet, it was the obvious step forward. One that, after all was said and done, she wanted to take.

Rydia cleared her throat again, startled and a little afraid of the feelings welling up within her young heart. They were strong, new, and more real than anything she'd known. She wanted to protect them. Stay true to them. She didn't want to betray them, just as she didn't want to betray Edge's friendship. Rydia brushed a stray hair from her face and stood to move just out of the firelight. No. That's one thing I won't do.

"Hey there, you. Where you going?"

Rydia smiled as Edge came into view. "Nowhere. Just walking around a bit. I've got a nice fire going."

"Looks like it." He gave her a wink, and his smile twinkled in his clear eyes. "Cheated, didn't you?"

"Of course. I don't rub sticks together." Rydia presented her hands. "I use what I have."

Edge chuckled as Rydia fell into step beside him. "I guess you've got a point. Don't blame you, anyway. It takes too long to do it the old-fashioned way."

"My point exactly." Rydia noticed that he gave her an odd look. Uh-oh. It isn't that obvious what I was thinking about, is it? She had to keep herself from giving a sigh of relief when he didn't say anything. "So, how many more days until Baron?"

"One or two, more than likely. Unless we catch a chocobo."

"Is there a chocobo forest around here?"

Edge gestured to the forest west of their position. "There. It's not exactly in our planned route, but if we caught one we'd make up the difference in no time."

Do I want to lose a day with him all to myself? "Oh."

Edge looked at her with a smile. "I'm not too crazy about the idea myself."

Rydia changed her eyes to Edge's profile. "What?"

His eyes twinkled. "Catching a chocobo is hard work. Catching two? I don't know if it's worth the trouble. We've been making pretty good time, and it's been fun."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Rydia smiled back at him. "It has, hasn't it? So, you don't mind if we just keep walking?"

Edge shook his head. "Nah. Good exercise. Oh yeah. Speaking of exercise." Edge looked over at her with a smile still twinkling in his eyes. "I noticed a pond a little ways from here. I thought you might like to take a swim while we wait for dinner to cook."

Rydia enthusiastically nodded as Edge worked on setting 'dinner' to cook. "That would be wonderful. I feel as if I have a second skin."

Edge laughed. "All right. Well give me a moment... all done. I'll take you over there now."

Rydia stood with an eager smile. Her eyes glowed. "Let's go."

Edge reached out and took her hand. "Come on. It's this way."

They hurried through the high grass separating the well-traveled trail from the rest of the wilderness to enter a wooded grove. Birds cooed and called, greeting the duo with beautiful songs of welcome and happiness. Rydia looked around her with a content smile as Edge gently pulled her along . After a couple more minutes, they entered a slight clearing with a pond in the center.

"Here it is."

"It's gorgeous," she exclaimed. Rydia rushed to the rim of the pond, slipping off her shoes to step in a little way. She shivered and looked back at Edge with a smile. Her eyes twinkled with laughter. "It's perfect." Rydia stepped back from the rim and started unfastening her dress. "This is going to feel so good."

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going in," she told him without turning. Rydia stripped down to her full-body slip, carefully set her dress and shoes where they wouldn't get wet, and then turned to look over her shoulder at Edge. He had a strange expression on his face. "What's the matter? Aren't you coming?"

"In a minute," he mumbled.

Edge's ears seemed a little pink, but Rydia shrugged it off. I haven't had a swim in ages! "Well don't wait too long." She hurried into the water to give a shriek. "Brrr! It's freezing."

Rydia dived under the glass-like surface of the water, enjoying the crisp feel of it against her skin. It was refreshing, waking every single part of her. It felt glorious! After a few moments of swimming as deep as she could, she bobbed to the surface to find Edge sitting at the rim of the pond watching her with a slight smile.

"You look like a mermaid."

"Don't they have scales?" Rydia asked, laughing. She pushed onto her back and floated around. "And a tail?"

"I don't think it's called a tail."

"Close enough." Rydia rolled over and swam toward him, hovering just far enough out that her feet couldn't touch the floor of the pond. "I thought you wanted to swim?"

"I do, but you..." Edge cleared his throat. "You said it was cold."

Rydia giggled. "Oh brother. You knew it was going to be cold. That's the whole point!" She splashed some water toward him. "Come on. It feels great!"

Edge cleared his throat again as he stood, slowly pulling his shirt over the top of his head to place it on top of her dress and shoes. "Okay. If you insist."

Rydia's eyes widened, and then she took in a quick breath, diving under water when he began untying the belt at his waist. She'd never seen him out of his clothes before... Well you wanted him to go swimming. How did you expect him to do it? Didn't you strip down to your almost-nothings? Didn't you know he was going to do the same thing? She supposed she hadn't really thought about it. Now that she knew, what was she going to do? I have to relax, that's what I have to do. I know he feels uncomfortable as it is. Why else would he try and talk himself out of it?

Rydia pushed toward the surface, careful to keep her gaze from shore, and floated onto her back. Edge was her friend. She could trust him. She was his friend. He could trust her. To do what? You're not making sense! And she knew it. She just felt so strange all of a sudden. And she knew why.

"Criminy! It is cold," Edge yelped.

Rydia couldn't help but laugh. "Just swim around a bit. You'll get used to it."

Rydia heard the splash as he dove beneath the surface. She took in a slow breath as she guided herself around the small pond. This could be fun if I can just calm down and let myself enjoy it. What happens, happens. She closed her eyes and smiled. Yeah. I can do that. I've done it so far. Right--

Hands grabbed her ankles. Rydia squealed, taking in a quick breath before being pulled under. Rydia kicked as she tried to pull herself back to the surface. The hands wouldn't release her. Instead, they drew her deeper down. She finally gave up the fight, turning toward Edge with a playful frown as he grinned up at her. Rydia doubled over and pulled at his hair. Bubbles escaped his mouth and his hands released her ankles. She immediately pushed away to pull toward the surface and get a quick breath of air.

Edge cleared the surface of the water with a gasp. Then he sounded a maniacal chuckle, hands enclosing her waist and pushing her downward. Rydia gripped them and tried to focus enough to cast a Fire spell, but all she could feel was the firm pressure and growing warmth of his hands through her slip. Rydia wriggled, but his grip was too secure. He dove deeper, closer and closer to the floor of the pond as he held her tight against him.

Rydia clenched her jaw, forcing her mind to focus. A moment later, his hands left her waist and she once again swam toward the surface. This time she aimed more for the shore.

Rydia bobbed to the surface. A moment later she heard Edge pulling at the water just behind her.

"I'm gonna get you," he called with a mock evil laugh.

Rydia's eyes twinkled as she laughed. "Not if I can help it!"

Her feet touched the pond floor and she lunged forward, fighting against the resistance of the water as she hurried for shore. Almost there. Almost there. Rydia's feet touched the shoreline, but before she could hit full speed, she felt an arm encircle her waist and pull her off balance.

"Edge," Rydia squealed, "stop it!" The next thing she knew, she was on top of him and he was looking up at her.

Edge cleared his throat and sent her a slight, quirky smile. "Gotcha," he said.

"Yes, you do," Rydia whispered.

She stared down at him, watching the droplets of water twinkle lazy trails down the sides of his face. She was strangely enraptured by his wet hair and eyelashes. Captivated by the crisp expression in his eyes. Rydia swallowed hard and found herself brushing the wet hair from his forehead.

"I guess I should give you a reward," she said softly.

Edge's gaze focused on Rydia's lips before slowly making the trip back to her eyes. "I guess so..."

The world seemed to slow and then stop as she lowered her head. Edge stopped breathing. Rydia stopped doubting what she felt or what she wanted. She belonged there. Close to him... Her lips brushed against his for the briefest moment. Rydia closed her eyes at the softness and touched them again. It felt wonderful.

When Rydia's lips left his, she didn't want to open her eyes for fear the dream would fade. She loved the warmth of his arms around her, protecting her. The nearness of him, accepting her. The tickle of his breath in her face-- Rydia's thoughts scattered when Edge's lips touched hers again, so gently that tears sprung to her closed eyes.

Then they left. "Dee, I need to get up." Edge cleared his throat. "Dinner..."

Rydia opened her eyes to look into his. "Edge," she whispered. "I..." But she didn't know how to say what she wanted to say. Rydia finally nodded. "You're right," she said quietly. "Sorry."

The smile returned to Edge's face, and he caressed her cheek. "Nothing to be sorry for."

Rydia flushed and carefully got up.

"You better go check the fire," Edge said in a quiet voice as he stood. "Go get yourself dried and wrapped up in a blanket. I'll bring your stuff."

Rydia slightly nodded, her eyes occasionally glancing his direction. She fiddled with her slip a moment before moving toward camp. That wasn't a flirting kiss, she told herself. And she wasn't going to wait much longer to tell him that neither was hers. I just need to say it. No beating around the bush. I know I love him, and I think I deserve to know exactly what he feels for me.

Rydia gave a firm nod.

*

Edge released a deep breath as he laid there on the cold ground, staring up at the evening sky. He lightly pounded the ground with the backs of his fist. Damn, she felt good. Edge closed his eyes, releasing yet another breath. Now what? You don't really think you should wait until you get to Baron to tell her how you feel, do you? Not after that, man.

Edge brought a hand up to his face. A step was taken that he hadn't been ready for. A step that he hadn't planned on taking until he'd known for sure how she felt. Maybe not even then. Now he didn't know what to do. She probably didn't either. Why did I have to take her swimming? Edge had known that the adventure would make her happy. Why he didn't realize she'd have to strip down to her under-things was beyond him. Maybe I wanted her to. Maybe I wanted to see if she'd actually do something like that in front of me.

Edge pressed his lips together and sat up. Then he released a quick breath, stood, and made his way to the pond's rim to take up his clothes and get dressed. Then he picked up her dress and shoes and headed for camp. I have to tell her how I feel. Maybe tomorrow morning? Edge rubbed at his scalp, cursing his stupid idea of taking her swimming.

When Edge got to camp, Rydia had set herself up in front of the fire, wrapped in a blanket as requested, and had rescued the barbecued - but not burnt - dinner from the fire. Edge's chest tightened at the slight frown on her face. Then she heard him approaching and looked up to give him a smile. Edge smiled back, nearly floating with relief.

"All dry?" he asked.

Rydia nodded, taking her dress and shoes from him with a smile. "Nice and cozy."

Edge was a little surprised when Rydia gestured for him to sit close beside her, but he did. Then they talked about how good it was going to be to see Cecil and Rosa again as they prepared their meal. They ate it in content silence while occasionally catching the other's gaze and giving a smile. Then Edge cleaned up as Rydia dressed. After that, she helped him bury the garbage so it wouldn't attract scavengers. Then they both set up their bedrolls.

Rydia set hers up first, and then she let him know she was going to gather more wood for the fire.

Edge stared down at her unrolled bedding. Well, do I set up mine beside hers like I did before? He hadn't thought about it the night before. After all, he'd been used to having everyone gathered around the fire and sleeping next to whoever had a space free. Was it such a good idea now? Edge frowned suddenly and set up his bedroll. You're thinking too much. Chill, man.

Edge laid down, putting his arms behind his head as he stared up at the stars. They shimmered down at him just as intently as he stared at them. It was as if they were waiting for his next decision. Edge closed his eyes and put an arm over them with a deep breath.

"You okay?" Rydia's voice sounded mildly concerned as she stacked the wood at the foot of Edge's bedroll.

"Just tired, I guess. It's been a long couple of days."

"But it's been fun," she said as she stretched out on the mat beside him. Rydia covered herself with her blanket. "I don't mind the long days."

Edge smiled. At that particular moment he didn't want to meet her gaze. It was bad enough he could smell her and feel the warmth of her right there... "Tell me if you get too cold. I'll let you use my blanket."

"Thanks, Edge. I'm sure I'll be fine."

After awhile Rydia's breathing deepened. Edge lowered his arm from his face and turned to watch her. Rydia rolled onto her side. She wrinkled her nose as she slept, and a slight frown lowered her eyebrows. Edge smiled. Her hand rested a few inches from him, and he changed his gaze to stare at her delicate fingers. How in the world do such dainty things manifest the power I've seen her use? It was her natural gift. A gift she knew how to use wisely.

Edge cleared his throat and much to his surprise followed an urge that welled up within him. He reached out and tenderly caressed her palm with a single finger. Rydia's fingers twitched and closed moments before pulling her hand back toward her. His eyes twinkled as he rested his temple against his fist.

Edge examined Rydia's face. Her lips were slightly parted and a lock of hair rested on her lower lip. He carefully stretched out a hand and tucked it behind her ear as he'd so often seen her do. Much to his surprise, his touch didn't wake her. Did I want it to? Edge pressed his lips together and lie back to stare up at the stars. They blinked back at him. What would I have done had she opened her eyes? Do I believe we're ready for that step? He released a deep breath. No. She doesn't know how I feel. When she knows that... Maybe. Probably?

Edge closed his eyes for a moment, and then he turned onto his side once more to watch her. Edge liked watching her. Always have. Always will. There was something dramatic about her. Something innocent yet sophisticated. Rydia was fragile, yet she had a tough spirit that didn't shirk responsibility. She was gorgeous, yet seemingly oblivious to the fact. Rydia was intriguing inside and out. That was what he'd always felt about her. Probably always will.

Rydia adjusted her position, again stretching her hand out in front of her. Edge's gaze drifted to it and he hesitantly reached out and took it in a gentle grasp. Her fingers tightened around his hand, but she didn't pull away. Neither did she open her eyes or give any hint that she knew what happened. Her frown lessened and her lips tilted upward slightly, but her breathing remained deep and steady.

Edge sighed and caressed the back of that hand with his thumb. He felt guilty stealing snatches of touches like this and kisses like before, especially when she didn't realize how he felt. It was just so hard to resist. It was hard enough not to wrap her up in his arms and hold her close. Now that he knew how it felt to hold her, Edge was proud of the fact all he held was her hand.

Cecil had warned Edge about this. Edge had believed him, too. Maybe that's why he wasn't shocked or terrified of what he did. Of what he planned to do. He'd spoken to Cecil about it almost a month before. Asked his advice. Asked for suggestions. Asked for things to say that wouldn't give her the wrong idea. Cecil, like usual, had been understanding and eager to help.

Now, as he felt her beside him and could smell the fresh scent of innocence that seemed to follow her everywhere she went... The next couple of days would be a challenge. A challenge to keep his distance while stepping closer when the time was right. It was happening. He could feel it. Their friendship was growing. Blossoming into something he wanted more than a rebirth of Eblan. He wanted her.

Her grip on his hand tightened as she took in a quick breath before softly whispering "Edge..."

Edge's smile widened. "Shh," he whispered back. "I'm right here, Dee."

Rydia's lips smiled, and her face glowed. Edge watched it with quiet amazement. Then he released a slow breath and closed his eyes. Her hand in his calmed him to sleep.

*

Rydia opened her eyes with a yawn and turned onto her back to stretch as long as she could.

"Good morning, sleeping beauty. You awake enough for breakfast?"

Rydia rolled over onto her side to give Edge a sleepy smile. He was finishing up the duty of cooking breakfast. "Good morning."

"Sleep okay?" Edge asked.

Rydia smiled as she stretched under the blanket again. "Yes. Thank you." Of course I slept well. I dreamt about you from the moment my eyes closed. "What about you?" Rydia looked toward Edge and noticed a silly half-smile.

"Oh yeah," he said.

Rydia arched an eyebrow. "What's the silly smile for?"

He chuckled as he tested their breakfast. "Silly smile? Me?"

"Yes, you."

Edge shook his head. "It wasn't a silly smile, Dee. It was a content one. I slept great."

"Hmm."

Edge laughed, and Rydia smiled. She liked his laugh. Always had. It was deep and genuine, bubbling up from inside him as if it came straight from his heart. It tickled her insides with affection and twinkled in her eyes. Yes. She liked his laugh. It was genuinely contagious. "I'm glad you slept good."

Edge kept smiling. "Come on. You need to get up and eat your breakfast."

"Give me another couple of minutes."

Edge glanced at her. "Why? What are you going to do?"

"Just lie here," she told him with another yawn.

"Sorry. Not acceptable. You've got to get up and get the blood flowing." Edge stood and came to stand over her, offering her a hand to help her stand. "Come on. I'll help."

Rydia smiled and put off the blanket before reaching up and taking his hand. Edge pulled her up without a problem and vigorously rubbed her upper arms. Rydia giggled and Edge chuckled, pulling her into a tight hug.

Rydia closed her eyes and adjusted her arms around him, pressing her cheek against his chest. The embrace felt glorious, comforting, peaceful and a million other things. To put it simply, she felt safe. Rydia had always felt that when with Cecil, and later also with Rosa and Yang. Edge had been a different kind of safe. One that she really liked.

Edge rested his cheek on the crown of her head as his arms slightly loosened. Rydia snuggled closer with a content sigh, repeated by Edge. The sigh made Rydia do something she never though she would. Rydia opened her eyes, pulled from Edge enough to look up at him - the crisp eyes she loved so much - and then stood on tiptoes to place a kiss on his lips.

It wasn't a sisterly kiss, or a timid kiss, or a friendly kiss. Rydia kissed Edge so that he wouldn't have a shadow of a doubt how she felt about him. The kiss showed how much she cared. She kissed him with all of her, so that he would ask the question that led to the confession she wanted to make.

When Edge responded, Rydia's heart soared.

But then Edge sounded a heart-breaking groan and pulled his lips away, pushing back to hold her at arms length. Rydia watched his face with wide eyes, but he wouldn't look at her.

"Dee..." Edge cleared his throat, still staring at the ground as he gave a brief shake of his head. "No. We can't do this."

Rydia examined his face, that handsome face that could be so expressive and serious and innocent and infuriating, and then brought her hands up to hold it. Edge closed his eyes.

"Why not?" she whispered.

"Dee, please..."

Rydia moved closer, caressing his face with her thumbs, watching his expression with wide eyes, trying to understand why he couldn't love her. "Edge," she whispered, "why not?"

Edge's hands on her arms tightened slightly as he opened his eyes to meet hers. "You're my best and closest friend--"

Rydia touched his lips with hers. After a moment, Edge responded as he had before, encouraging Rydia's hope that he didn't want to just be friends.

Then he pushed away again. "Oh gods. I can't. I can't do this, Dee." And he released her arms to turn away.

"Edge, wait," she called in a choked voice. Rydia stepped forward to take hold of his arm when he tried to move further away from her. Edge gazed down at her with a pained expression, his body tense and ready to run. "Edge, please don't go."

Edge backed away, his hand trying to free his arm from her grasp. "I have to. It's not fair to you. I..."

Tears ran freely down Rydia's face. "You're the best thing that's happened to me, Edge. Do you think I'm going to give that up?"

"I'm not asking you to give anything up," Edge pleaded. "Just let me walk away. I need to cool off." He gripped her arms suddenly, giving her a slight shake. Her eyes widened as she took in a quick breath. "Dammit, Rydia, if I don't back off, I'll do something I might regret! You deserve more than that."

Rydia violently loosed herself from his grasp to take hold of his face. Edge's hands enfolded her wrists, but they didn't pull her touch away. "I don't care what you think I deserve."

Edge closed his eyes. "Dee..."

Rydia choked back a sob as she again shook her head. "Edge, I want you." She sniffed. "I love you."

Edge blinked, staring down at her with wide eyes-- His hands cupped her face and he kissed her. Rydia moved closer, her arms tightening around him as she choked out a sob. "I can't believe this is happening," he mumbled against her lips. "You love me. You love me." Edge pulled Rydia so close that his warmth seemed to radiate clear through her. "I'm an idiot, Dee. I'm sorry." He kissed her trembling lips, and then he kissed her again and again.

Rydia burst into tears against his lips. "I love you so much, Edge. Don't marry anyone else but me! Please don't leave me alone! I don't want to lose my friend."

Edge wrapped his arms around her, caressing her neck with his kisses. "You won't lose me, Dee. Ever. This is where I want to be," he whispered. "Baron can wait. Eblan will still be there in the morning. For right now, I want to be here. With you. Everything else just doesn't matter." Her sobs deepened, shaking her shoulders and wetting his shirt as she pressed her face against him. "Shh. Shh. Please don't cry." Edge tenderly stroked Rydia's back.

Rydia's sobs slowly softened to only the occasional sniff as she adjusted her arms around him.

Edge kissed her forehead. "We're both not very bright, are we? We should have just told each other months ago, instead of dancing around the issue like a bunch of moogles."

Rydia's arms tightened around him. "I didn't know how. I didn't want to make you think that you had to feel the same way."

"Rydia..." Edge pulled back, caressing the tears from her cheeks as he cupped her face. "Dee, didn't you know I'd been wild about you from the first? Why else would I say all those things? Did you see me like that with anyone else? Ever?"

Rydia covered his hands with hers. "I didn't know what to think about anything. I'd been raised by summon monsters, Edge. What did I know about men and what they did when they liked someone?"

Edge gazed down at her with a smile. "I guess I should have known that." He kissed her again, twice. "We better eat breakfast," he whispered as he pressed his lips against her cheek.

Rydia caressed his face. "I want to stay here. Like this. Please."

Edge released a slow breath, enfolding her in his arms again. "We need to talk about some things, Dee. I'd rather do it on a full stomach on our way to Baron. That way we can both focus better."

Rydia nodded against him. "All right," she whispered.

They separated, albeit reluctantly, and sat opposite each other across from the fire. Between each bite that they couldn't taste, their gazes would meet and they would smile. Then either Rydia or Edge would release a sigh and change their gaze back to their breakfast. Finally, they finished their breakfast and cleaned up. Edge rolled up her bedroll as well as his, and then helped her into the strap that allowed her to carry it comfortably. Rydia watched him with a constant smile, and then her eyes crinkled at the corners when he met her gaze.

Edge took hold of her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze as they headed toward Baron again.

"Rydia."

Rydia glanced toward him, still smiling with a silly expression of happiness, and gave his hand a squeeze. "Yes?" If it was possible, her voice held a caress.

Edge's lips twitched. "When I was done talking to Cecil in Baron, I was going to ask you to marry me."

Rydia gasped and halted to throw her arms around him with an ecstatic "Oh, Edge!"

Edge chuckled. Then, when she made a motion to kiss him, he kept her at arms length. "No, Dee," he told her gently. "Not yet."

"But--"

"I know, but let me finish." Edge hesitantly released his hands from her shoulders. Then he again took her hand and headed for Baron. "I... I don't know if I should wait or not."

"Wait? Why? For what?"

"For Eblan to be built. Right now it's just a bunch of ruined rooms that's barely recognizable as a castle. It wouldn't be right to have a new bride there." Edge looked toward her again. His eyes seemed to beg her to understand. "I guess I know you wouldn't care one way or the other because you'd let me know right between the eyes if you did. But I'd care. Eblan isn't fit to be the home I want it to be for you. When I take you home, I want it to actually be home for you and for me."

Rydia lowered her gaze, absently tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "Anywhere you are would be enough, Edge. You know that."

"Yes, I do."

"I want to help you fix it. You know that too."

Edge nodded as he looked at the trees in the far distance. "Yep."

"What you probably don't know is that I haven't had a home since I was a child. Understandably, that makes me want yours no matter what it looks like." Rydia met Edge's gaze. "The last home I had was Mist. I haven't been back since it was destroyed. It might have been fixed up, but I don't want to find out. The memory of my mother being killed there is too much."

Edge's face darkened with pain as she continued. "I want to help you build your home again, Edge, because I want it to be mine too. But... Can't I do that as your wife? Please? Building a home is going to be hard because you're going to have to face death. You're going to have to face good memories and bad memories. I don't want you to do that alone. I want to be there each night for you to hold. I want to be there to give you strength for another day of facing memories."

Edge halted, smiling down at her for a long silent moment before reaching out to hold her face. "When you say it like that..."

Rydia covered his hands with hers. "I want to get married in Eblan, Edge. In the little chapel. Just you and me and Cecil and Rosa. Please? I've always dreamed that's where it'd happen."

"For you?" Edge pulled her into a tight embrace. "For you, anything."

Rydia snuggled deeper into his arms. "Can we have lots of kids?"

Edge chuckled, pressing his lips against her hair. "How many do you want?"

"As many as you want." Rydia closed her eyes with a deep sigh. "Four? Six? I don't care."

Edge caressed her arm. "For you? Anything."

Rydia released another deep sigh. "I love you, Edge. I don't know when it started, but I know it'll never stop."

Edge pushed slightly back. When Rydia looked up to meet his gaze, tears glistened in their crisp depths. "We're forever, Dee. All right? No matter what happens, we'll be forever."

Rydia mutely nodded, a tear escaping her own eyes. "I promise."

Edge's lips lifted in a wavering smile as he touched her lips with his. "I love you, Dee."

*

Epilogue

Edge and Rydia had written their own vows.

It wasn't done very often, sometimes frowned upon by the church, but they had been adamant. They had specific things which needed to be said, and who better to say it then them? So, the small group of 4 had gathered in the church amidst the scaffolds and tarps, waiting in front of the cleric who'd been chosen to perform the ceremony as he reiterated the blessings of marriage.

Rydia wore a simple gown of the palest green - her favorite color, after all. Ivory and green ribbons and intricately woven garlands of pale flowers decorated her hair and matched the decorations woven into the hem and cuffs of her dress. Edge was dressed in full Eblan regalia. Pale gray with red and dark-blue highlights with tassels hanging from the end of his sheathed weapons.

The couple, as they stood so silent and awe-struck, was beautiful. Cecil and Rosa held tightly onto the other's hand as they watched their friends' blossomed feelings come full-circle.

Edge recited his vows first.

"When I first saw you, you were standing just behind Rosa's shoulder. You looked a little scared. Concerned, more than anything else. That grabbed my attention more than the fact that you were so pretty. Later, after I got to know you a little better, I noticed something else about you. You were real. You listened. You heard. You were compassionate. Yet you were open about what you thought, especially when I was out of line."

He paused, taking in a deep breath as he looked down at her hands in his. "It made me feel special. It made me care about something besides revenge. I wanted to protect you. I'd never felt that about anyone before." Edge raised his gaze from her hands and looked into her eyes. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life: I love you. I want to take care of you."

The cleric smiled in approval and then changed his gaze to Rydia. Silence was her only response to Edge's vows. She simply gazed up at him in amazement and wonder as an occasional tear escaped the corner of her eyes. After another silent moment, the cleric cleared his throat and pulled a kerchief from the sleeve of his tunic. He handed it to her with an understanding smile. Rydia looked over at the cleric with a sudden glance of realization and took the kerchief with a hesitant reach.

She dabbed at the corner of her eyes and then looked back toward Edge. She reached up to caress his cheek. "I love you so much..." Her voice drifted.

There they stood. Silence carrying their vows one to the other. Promises spoken soul to soul. The cleric watched their expressions for a moment and then placed his hand on each of their shoulders. They blinked as one and changed their eyes to him.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Edge pulled her tenderly into his arms. His lips touched first one cheek, and then the other. Then their eyes met and they shared a caress of a smile.

(The End)


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