By Margaret Rennie
Characters and Places based on Squaresoft's Final Fantasy 6
The ship cut through the blackness like a whisper, smooth and quiet. Most of its occupants were up on deck, enjoying the stars and the soft night breeze that had warmed as they progressed south. She felt grateful for the lack of vibration and turbulence that could sometimes accompany such a journey. She was only now beginning to relax a bit, and she still could not bring herself to join the others atop, in the open air. At night, she would not be able to see the ground. But still she would know how high she was, and she did not think that she could stand it.
It had not always been so. She remembered a time when no speed was too fast, no height too great, no risk too reckless. But, that was then and this was now. And now, she preferred the ground to the stars.
She sat quietly in the darkness of his private chamber, her head bowed and her hands folded in her lap. She told herself that she had come because it was easier to be in a place without any windows, but in her heart she knew why she was really there, why she had chosen this place. It was to be near him.
It settled her to be near his things, the softness of his bedding, the scent of his clothes. She had once thought that such things would give her pain, but she'd found instead that they gave her peace. She ran her bandaged hands slowly over his pillow. She could no longer actually feel it, but the memory of its softness against her cheek remained undamaged by the accident. She bent; the smell of his hair was unmistakable, and a flood of pictures ran through her mind.
She saw the two of them, standing together on their hill, the wind whipping his coat open, and carrying his silver hair out behind him. She saw him, tuning and repairing the Blackjack's engines, and herself, laughing at the streak of grease on his nose that he did not realize was there. She remembered them lying in one another's arms on gentle nights like this, making love, and talking quietly until the sun came up. She recalled watching a smile spread slowly across his face in response to her teasing, and she had no sooner thought the words, you're beautiful, than he had said them to her.
He had often done that, read her mind. She would think, I'm hungry, and he would say to her, I'm starving. Let's eat. She had once thought it odd, disconcerting, the way he would give voice to her thoughts. She used to wonder if he could actually hear what she was thinking. Now, this memory filled her with yearning, for he could not hear her any longer.
She felt a tightness in her chest, the pain returning with the memories. She rose and moved to his dressing table.
She fingered a silver hairbrush. He had always had a taste for the finer things. It had sometimes made her feel insecure, and they had fought about it.
The finer things, yes. He loved to surround himself with luxury. Expensive clothes, comfortable furnishings, exotic foods, the best of everything. Especially beauty. Of that, he was a connoisseur. Leggy, long-haired blondes were his weakness. He couldn't resist looking at them, and she had always let that hurt her. She herself had been quite pretty then, but she'd been rather a tomboy, and had never had a stellar figure.
They would be dining out together, or taking a train trip, or be seated at a card table in a casino, and his eyes would wander around the room sometimes, and stop. She never needed to turn around to know that she would be greeted with the sight of a tall, fair-haired beauty. His eyes would slowly slip over the stranger, and she would feel hot, humiliated tears gather just under the surface of her determined smile.
One time, she'd been unable to stop them, and they'd rolled down her cheeks, and dripped on the linen tablecloth in front of her. He had stared at her, his mouth open, uncertain of what had happened, what he had done. Pale and shaken, he'd grasped her elbow, lifted her from her chair, and steered her outside.
They had walked for what seemed like hours, and he had finally spoken.
"That meant nothing back there, you know. Nothing. There is no one, has never been anyone for me, except you." She had been stunned then, by the only instance she could recall, when he had not understood her.
"It meant everything," she had said quietly. "It meant everything to me." Then fresh tears spilled out onto her face, and he had been devastated. He'd taken her in his arms and held her, and she had been deeply moved to find that he too, was crying.
He had never again looked that way at strange women. That was how she knew, finally and for a certainty, that he really did love her.
There was such a woman among his party now, exactly the kind who would once have drawn his eyes away from her. He never looked at her though, not in the way he used to look at women of her type. This girl had eyes only for another of their party, the thief; perhaps that was why. But, she liked to think that maybe, it was her memory that stopped him, that he missed her.
She gazed in the mirror at the odd creature looking back. It was dark in the room; she was grateful for that. Her badly scarred face was covered, but one could nonetheless see the damage around her eyes, even with the coverings. It still pained her to see herself this way. She didn't think she would ever get used to it.
Oh, Setzer, her heart cried. The peace she had felt being near the things that were his had been destroyed by the fresh memories they had evoked, and now her sense of loss was getting the best of her. She too had once been his, she thought, as she put down the hairbrush. She would never be so again. He did not even know who she was.
She sadly accepted that touching his sheets, or his hairbrush, could never satisfy her need to touch him, and she turned to go, when the door opened. She quickly stepped behind a tapestry.
He whistled softly as he approached the dressing table where she had been standing.
"Hello," he said to his image, as he leaned toward the mirror and straightened his cravat.
Hello, she mouthed silently, mimicking him, taking the opportunity to speak to him as best she could, for she no longer had words or deeds of her own. She was naught but an echo.
"You handsome devil," he joked, and her heart ached at his display of humor. This was his essential self, and she felt a well of love for him equal to any she had ever felt during their time together.
You handsome devil! She smiled fondly as the words played on her lips. She heard him shuffling things about on his dresser top.
"Where are you, tobacco pouch? I can't live without you!"
Can't live without you, she repeated plaintively. She stood quiet and still, listening to the sound of drawers opening and closing.
"Aha," he announced, victorious, "here you are! And my flask too!" She heard a loud smack, as he kissed the silver bottle of his favorite whiskey. "Mm, I love you!"
She was struck through the heart.
"I love you," she whispered in her raspy, fire-ravaged voice. "I love you!" She clumsily pawed at the tapestry, trying to draw it away, to make her presence known, but by the time she did, he had already gone.
She hung her head, and sat down on the bed again, trying to still the memories, to regain the numbness that had filled her these many years, stranded and alone in her cave. She reached out and lay her hand on his pillow, grateful that she couldn't actually feel it, and listened to the soft whisper that her ship made as it hurtled through the night.
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