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Rydia and Edge Part 3
by Weiila

Back to part 2

Part 3 With a little help from the friends

At the brink of morning, as soon as the first rays of the sun touched the world, a small airship landed on the beach. From it, a big group of worried friends hurried. By then Edge's fever had gotten better, so Rosa concluded that they without any problems could bring him on board the airship and take him to Baron castle. Cecil and Yang carried the stretcher, and Rydia walked beside it every single step.
She stayed by Edge all the time on the trip, not noticing the warm glances that her friends exchanged.
They brought the king of Eblan downstairs, to the castle's healing quarters. Rosa and the nurses then pushed the many anxious friends out of the room. Rydia could stay, though. Nobody dreamed about asking her to leave.
Lying in a proper bed, Edge's body seemed to give a sigh and managed to fall into a healthy sleep without nightmares.
"You should rest a little too," Rosa kindly said, "there's nothing more anyone can do for him."
"I want to be there when he awakes," Rydia explained, stubbornly.
Rosa just smiled and shrugged her shoulders. The caller turned to Edge again, holding his hand between her smaller palms. She was so relieved that he was recovering now, that it finally was obvious that he would survive...
Half an hour later she fell asleep after eating some soup, still sitting on the chair. Rosa had left, knowing she wasn't needed and unwilling to disturb. Instead a couple of the nurses carefully moved Rydia over to the bed closest to Edge's.
Two hours later the king of Eblan awoke.
"How are you, Majesty?" one of the nurses kindly asked as soon as she noticed that his eyes looked around, slightly confused, "You are in Baron castle."
Another one of the women in white clothes hurried up the stairs to tell the good news.
"I'm pretty fine," Edge concluded after carefully sitting up in the bed, "just a little shaky..."
He turned his head and looked at Rydia, frowning.
"Fell asleep, the poor, stubborn thing," the nurse kindly explained, "I heard she kept awake through the whole night, watching you, Your Majesty."
"She did?"
Edge tried to remember what had happened. The poison, the fever... Rydia... the nightmares... she had stayed with him all the time?
She looked so calm now, but he recalled her anxiety. A tidal wave of tenderness built up inside of Edge as he watched her. He wanted to get out of the bed, walk over to her, awake her, thank her for all that she had done as he had been helpless. But to break her peace... no, he could wait. It was worth it. She deserved to rest now, and waiting a while would only make the thanking sweeter and give him some time to think of what he could say. And this time, he wouldn't allow his tongue to slip and betray him.
"Do you want to eat a little, Your Majesty?"
A nurse offered him a soup plate. Edge smiled, grateful. He noticed that his hands shook a little as he took the plate. Now as he thought about it, he hadn't eaten in a whole day and night. The antidote didn't count. No wonder he felt weakened...
"Has she eaten anything?" he asked, nodding at Rydia.
"Yes, Your Majesty. Nothing to worry about."
Edge nodded and then began to eat the soup, forcing himself to do it slowly.
He remembered that he had asked her to take care of Eblan. It had startled her, for sure. But he had felt forced to do so, somebody had to do it if he wasn't there anymore to do it himself. And she was really the only one he trusted to compete with the hard work and had the same kind of strong will as him. His poor country did certainly not need a war over the throne.
All the soup was gone. Edge placed the plate on the table beside the bed and then laid down again, his eyes resting upon Rydia.
It had been long ago that he had watched her sleep. During the journeys a few weeks earlier, everyone had been sleeping beside each other since there seldom had been much space to spare. Edge smiled as he recalled all the times Rydia had warned him to try something, and then calmly laid down to sleep just beside him...
She had embraced him to keep him warm.
Edge's eyebrows twitched.
Rydia had embraced him. Laid beside him and held him tightly to protect him against the shivers.
Oh, gods...
How he had dreamed of such a thing... and the fever had made him so absent that he hardly had noticed it. Even if it only had been to save his life and not true emotions...
He watched Rydia.
I love you.
"Powers of healing, I bid of thee to lend me thy powers," a voice suddenly chanted, softly, "send deep, calm sleep..."
Warmly purple threads danced above Rydia's head for a moment, before disappearing as suddenly as they had come. She mumbled something and kept sleeping. The nurses nodded at their king and left the room as he kindly pointed at the door.
"Hello, Cecil," Edge said, not allowing any sign of irritation to show.
The king of Baron had interrupted the king of Eblan's thoughts and viewing of Rydia, but he had done so as a worried friend.
"Just thought you wanted some privacy," Cecil said and nodded at Rydia, "or rather, I wanted it to be so."
Edge's eyebrows went up.
"Feeling any better?" Cecil asked and sat down on a chair between the beds.
"Yes, thank you."
Cecil smiled.
"Everyone wanted to rush down and see you," he said, "but I waved most violently with my sword, so here I am."
They grinned at each other. Then Cecil cleared his throat.
"Say, Edge," he carefully said, "want to talk about Rydia?"
"What about her?" Edge innocently said, "she's a good friend, just like you and Rosa."
"Oh, cut it out," Cecil sighed, "everybody knows that you two love each other."
Edge startled.
"Edge, for all the gods' sake..." Cecil said, rolling his eyes, "it's only the two of you who refuses to see it."
Edge shook his head.
"No, that's not true," he slowly said, "I know I love her. But I doubt that Rydia feels the same."
He was pushed into a corner. Anyhow, he had longed for telling someone the truth. He felt much better as his wishes and doubts had been partly released, even though it wasn't that much.
"I don't," Cecil said.
He leaned back.
"You know, I know Rosa since fifteen years. About ten of those she used to tell me she loved me. But it seemed like I never understood what she was saying before Golbez kidnapped her. It's a wonder that Kain never caved my thick head in for my own good."
"I wonder where he is now," Edge hurriedly said.
Cecil shook his head.
"No changing subjects, my friend," he said, "what I'm saying is the truth. It's obvious."
"No, it's not," Edge said, "I might be in love, but I'm certain that Rydia is left in friendship."
"Now you listen to me," the king of Baron said, frowning, "I and all the others want you two to be happy. But this might be the only chance you've got to finally admit what you feel for each other. Are you aware that Rydia very well might return to the land of Espers permanently if nobody doesn't tie her to our world?"
Edge stared at his friend.
"What!? But the time flow..." he choked.
Cecil nodded, gravely.
"Yes, I know. It's her decision, but... she don't have any real strong bonds in this world, you know. We are her friends, but she grew up among the espers."
The king of Baron was crossing his fingers, holding the hand on the other side of his legs where Edge couldn't see it. Cecil was well aware that Leviathan could change the time stream for Rydia's sake, but lying to the ninja king might be the only way to make him think clearly.
Edge sighed.
"Well, I can't force her," he said.
"Look, it's not like I'm her babysitter. She's an adult and have the right to decide herself, I don't want to push her into something. I wouldn't do that to her."
Cecil sighed, imitating his friend.
"Edge, listen..."
"No, I'm not going to press her, even though I don't want her to leave," Edge resolutely said.
"Well, I guess I can't make it through to you," Cecil said and stood up, "but I believe that you're the only one who can ask her to stay. You should at least think about it."
Cecil walked out of the room and up the stairs, leaving Edge to his new troubled thoughts.
Everyone living in the castle waited in the throne room. Cecil knew it, so he went there to leave his report. The crowd split into two to allow him to reach the thrones, where everyone could see him.
Rosa stood up there already.
"Well?" she worriedly said, speaking everyone's thoughts.
Cecil sighed and shook his head.
"The fool is afraid to lure her into a hasty decision. I could have strangled him..."
There was a lot of sighing in the room. Rosa finished her depressed breathing and then looked at Cecil.
"I'm sure it'll be alright," she said, "I doubt he can compete with the risk of loosing her 'forever'."
"Yeah, I guess..." Cecil said, but he wasn't very sure about it.
Edge was such a stubborn idiot at times...
The guards, servants, kings and others in the room fell into concerned silence.
'They want to be together,' Cecil thought, frowning, 'what does it take for them to see that? What should I do...?'
"Why is there a crowd here, Cecil?" a voice suddenly called.
A lot of heads snapped up, and many people spun around. Everyone stared. Especially the one who had been called.
"K-k-k-k..." Cecil stupidly stuttered.
"Kain!" Rosa exclaimed.
"Missed the wedding, didn't we?" the dragoon said with an excusing smile, "I'm sorry about that. We traveled here as fast as possible..."
He wore his armor, as always. But he smiled, and that was unlike him. Behind him stood a figure in a brown robe, with a hood that hid the person's face.
Cecil rushed down the room and grabbed his friend's armored shoulders.
"You're back!" the king said with a broad smile.
"Seems so, doesn't it?" Kain replied and thumped Cecil's back, "and you're the king now, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am," Cecil nodded, "and Rosa's the queen."
"Go figure..."
Kain smiled and dropped his helmet on the floor.
His eyes were slightly different than Cecil remembered. They were still the same, but... there had always been a small bitterness hiding deep inside before. Now that was completely gone.
Rosa hurried over to the dragoon and hugged him despite his armor.
"We've missed to have you around," she smiled.
"I'm sorry about that."
She took a closer look.
"You look... happy, Kain," she said.
"I do?" he smiled.
"Yeah, where have you dropped your depression?" Cid grinned, approaching with Yang just one step behind.
"I buried it somewhere..." Kain said with a chuckle, "with a little help."
His friends finally caught up with a detail.
"'We traveled here'?" Cecil said, puzzled.
He turned his head.
"Oh, who's your friend?"
Kain turned around with a warm smile and held up a hand. The robed figure put a fine hand in his gloved palm, stepping closer to him.
"This might surprise you," Kain softly said, "but this is the woman I love."
Several slightly surprised "congratulations" got stuck in several throats as the hood was pushed backwards, revealing a beautiful face and a stream of thick, blond hair.
"What the..." Cecil gasped.
"... Heck?" Yang ended the sentence, most uncharacteristically.
"Hello," the woman carefully said, as if ready to run.
"Don't even think about it," Kain warned, stepping in between his company and the surprised people.
"Val... Valvalis?!" Cecil, Rosa, Yang and Cid choked.
Kain opened his mouth to speak, but Valvalis moved past him and faced her former enemies.
"Yes, it's me," she said, "but I am no longer the fiend of Air. I was purified on mount Ordeals, just as you once were, king Cecil."
"She was used by Zemus," Kain grimly said, "he deceived her mind like mine and Golbez'."
"But... but... but... err?" Cid stupidly said.
"You were rather dying last time I saw you," Cecil said, disbelieving.
"I was," Valvalis nodded, "but Rubicant saved me by teleporting me out of the giant of Bab-Il. That fooled you to believe that I dissolved like a dying monster do."
Kain draped his arm around her shoulders, careful since he still wore the armor.
"You don't know her like I do, that's all," he said, "if you did, you'd trust her."
He smiled.
"Look at me," he said, "I've been together with her for two months, ever since I met her on mount Ordeals after I left you in Mysidia. And I'm feeling better than ever before, certainly not because she's used some magic to turn my head around again."
Valvalis stepped backwards so that her back touched Kain's chest plate. Not too wrongfully she felt that the dragoon's friends definitely didn't trust her to have left his mind alone.
Kain frowned and wrapped his arms around her, protecting.
"Wait, calm down," Rosa said.
She walked closer and reached out a hand. Her fingertips touched Kain's forehead.
"Holy powers of the world, I bid of thee to send me thy blessings," she chanted, "if there is darkness within, then drive it out of this man..."
Kain didn't even blink as a ray of light left Rosa's hand and went straight through his head without leaving a scratch. The queen turned to Valvalis. The holy force could not harm her either.
"They are telling the truth," Rosa said and smiled carefully, "I'm sorry I didn't believe you at first."
"I understand why," Valvalis said.
"Actually I was prepared for that you wouldn't accept her, and then we would have left again," Kain said and smiled at Cecil, "but if you do, well... I'm at your service, my friend and liege."
Cecil reached out and put his hand on Kain's shoulder.
"Hey, don't call me your liege, it gives me the creeps," the king smiled, "welcome back, my friend. And you are also welcome, Valvalis."
"Thank you so much..." the old fiend of Air mumbled.
Kain kissed her hair, and she smiled warmly at him.
"We'll get you an armor soon enough, love," Kain said.
She chuckled.
"You see," she said to the others in the room, "before I was captured by Milon and brought to Zemus, I was a dragon warrior; nowadays it's called a dragoon. Do you have any room in the castle for another one?"
"Of course," Cecil smiled.
"Well then, back to my question," Kain said, "what's going on here?"
"We are assembling for pondering a problem together," Yang sighed.
"So it is," Edward said, "we have without luck sought a way to combine the hearts of fair Rydia and king Edge. So far there have been flowers exchanged, as well as poison and high fever at work. However the fear to hurt and stubbornness within still manage to fight back the two doves' love for each other."
"String the harp, bro," Palom grinned, "that'll be a nice song."
And for once his sister didn't hit him for opening his mouth.
"Edge didn't want to listen," Cecil sighed, "he thought that he shouldn't try to fret Rydia in any way. "
Kain and Valvalis exchanged glances, smiling.
"They don't get it, is that the problem?" Kain submitted.
"Exactly," his friends nodded with deep sighs.
"Have you tried locking them up in a room in the middle of the night, all alone with each other?" Valvalis said with a laugh.
Suddenly, Cecil began to grin.
"Valvalis," he said, "you are a genius!"
"Actually, it was a joke..." she said, eyebrows rising.
"Not anymore!"
"Would not that be a bit cruel?" Yang said, but his grin gave away that Cecil had his full support.
"I'm ready to try anything by now," the king of Baron said.
"Just because you bet a trading contract to Edge's chancellor that you'd get the king married?" Rosa said and rolled her eyes, laughing.
"Not only that," Cid grinned before Cecil had time to answer, "he told me that if he didn't succeed, he'd name his first son after me!"
"Cecil!" Rosa gasped.
But then she laughed. So did everyone else in the room. Edge and Rydia were happily unaware what was planned behind their backs, still down in the healing quarters.

Rydia yawned and stretched her whole body. Then she opened her eyes.
"Welcome back, sweetness," Edge said with a careful smile.
She blinked, all memories rushing back to her.
"Edge, are you alright?"
She more or less fell out of the bed and leaped over to his side. He gave a short laugh.
"As you're acting, one could believe that you really was worried..."
"Don't be silly, of course I was!" she said, almost furious, "I thought you were going to die..."
The mockery glistening in Edge's eyes disappeared immediately.
"Hey, don't attack me," he said with an unusually soft voice, "I know you were."
Rydia's frustration melted away, and she smiled carefully back. Then suddenly she froze, and her face became a little darker than it usually was.
"Say Edge," she hesitantly said, "do you remember anything?"
The embrace...
Edge understood, and pretended as if he didn't notice her blush.
"Not much," he lied, "my memory is just a black hole where what happened after the antidote should be."
If she wanted to go to the espers, he wouldn't be a spider web that captured her own wishes. He had to tell himself that pretty roughly now that he heard her voice and looked into her eyes again.
Her blush ceased, relieved.
'Good that he doesn't remember...' she thought, 'I wouldn't like to explain why I held him like that... of course it was to help him, but what if he had... I don't know...'
'I'm getting sick and tired of you,' the hidden part of her sighed.
'Oh, pipe down.'
'If it was only to help him, why would you blush like that? Didn't you feel anything more?'
"They told me you kept awake all through the night just because you wanted to check on me," Edge said, and his fingers touched her hand, "I wanted to thank you." Rydia looked down at his brief touch and couldn't stop her hand from wrapping itself around his.
"You're welcome," she mumbled, "of course I watched you. You got into that whole thing because of me."
"It was worth it," Edge gravely said, "and I'd do it again."
His other hand placed itself over their held hands. Then it suddenly moved back again, as if he didn't want or dare to touch her too much.
'No, keep away,' he told himself, 'it's not like she belongs to me. She's got her own life...'
It felt as if he was pushing a dagger into his own chest. But it was true. Asking Rydia to follow not her own heart, but someone else's? No...
Haven't you ever heard of suggestions?
She's got no other bonds than friends here, the espers are... well, they took care of her!
I said suggest, you moron!
Rydia has the right to decide alone!
"I'm glad you're alright," Rydia said with a smile.
Edge carefully smiled back. Then a nurse came in between.
"You seem fully restored, Your Majesty," she kindly said, "I think that you can get out of the bed now."
Just as Edge stood up, Cecil and Rosa came down the stair.
"Better?" the queen asked with a smile.
"Yes," Edge said, avoiding looking at Cecil, "I actually feel as if nothing happened."
"Good to hear. Oh, and we've got great news; Kain has returned."
"He has?" Rydia and Edge said simultaneously.
Cecil nodded, smiling. He turned his head and waved with a hand. With his armor making a terrible noise, Kain came down the stair.
"Hi, you two," he smiled.
"Kain! I was worried about you!" Rydia grinned and gave him a quick hug.
"What, don't you think I can take care of myself?" he chuckled.
Rydia only smiled at that.
She moved aside, and Edge watched the dragoon. Kain calmly looked back.
Ever since the event in the Sealed cave, when the dragoon had followed Golbez' command, Edge didn't really trust him. For a moment nobody moved.
"Come on, Edge," Rydia finally said, "don't be so stubborn."
"Well... I guess you're right," Edge sighed and held forth a hand, "good to see you again, Kain."
"And the same to you."
The dragoon took Edge's hand after taking off his metallic glove.
"So, what have you been doing after running away and leaving us in Mysidia back there?" the king of Eblan said, making it absolutely clear that he was determined to follow Rydia's advice.
"I've got myself a fiancée," Kain said with a smile.
"You never said you were engaged," Cecil pointed out, raising his eyebrows.
"Well, I'm actually just believing we are," the dragoon smiled and turned around, looking up the stair, "love, are we engaged?"
"Do you really have to ask me that, Kain?" Valvalis warmly said, entering the room still dressed in the robe.
Edge and Rydia certainly didn't act different than the others had done. The four people who knew the story hurriedly explained everything before something was thrown or Bahamut was bothered unnecessarily.
"But you still haven't told us how it came to love between you two," Cecil said to Kain and Valvalis as Rydia and Edge had calmed down.
"Let's talk over dinner," Kain said and winked with one eye, chuckling, "it's a terribly long story."
So they ended up eating together, all of the friends from the journeys. From Cecil to Edward and everything in between. Kain and Valvalis told their story about how they slowly and staggering had grown to love each other as the dragoon had suffered Golbez' tries to control him. It was a fascinating story, but Rydia only listened with a half ear.
She thought about Edge and herself. Soon, in only two days, he would leave to head back to Eblan. And she? It was time to decide now. Espers or humans? It wasn't easy, even though she knew where she had a home.
She didn't know what to do...
And there was something else. The thought of Edge getting married made her stomach freeze. No matter how much she tried to push the thought away, it kept coming back.
She risked a quick glance at him. He was idly pushing a piece of tomato around on his plate, using his fork. Rydia wondered what he thought about.
Edge thought about her, even though he tried not to.
What if they'd never see each other again? If she went back to the espers... no, she couldn't disappear like that, she just couldn't do it! Yet... she could. It made him feel sick. But it wasn't his business. He might wish like mad it had been, but it wasn't.

As he was back in his room, alone, the thoughts kept troubling him.
A pencil in his absentminded grip went knocking like a woodpecker at the table.
To never see Rydia again... the mere thought made him want to scream. Of course it wasn't certain, but... what if that was how it would be? The pencil snapped in two between his fingers. Edge growled and threw the pieces out of the open window. Then he sighed.
He was frustrated to the border of madness. If he lost Rydia, he felt it would be very, very hard to go on. Eblan didn't seem important to him anymore. He only cared for that green-haired caller.
Breaking stuff in the room wouldn't help. Neither would just sitting there with the head filled with bitter thoughts. But he didn't know what to do. He didn't want to press Rydia, but he definitely didn't want her to leave the human world forever. Leave him.
It was getting dark outside. This was the second last night he'd stay in Baron. After tomorrow night he'd leave for Eblan on an airship. Leave for Eblan and all pressure. Pressure about finding a wife.
His hands turned into shaking fists.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door.
"Yes?" he called, trying to relax a little not to let his voice give away his concerned mind.
One of the guards of the castle opened the door.
"Excuse me, Your Majesty, but caller Rydia wishes to speak with you," he said.
Edge could have jumped through the roof, but he pulled himself together.
"Then let her in," he said.
"Alright, Your Majesty," the guard nodded, "I'll tell her she can come."
He closed the door, chewing on his lower lip to keep from laughing.
"Calm down!" the other man by the door hissed.
"Yes, Your Majesty," the real guard mumbled, "but this is hideous!"
"Hurry!" Cecil smiled and pushed the helmet downwards so that it would hide his eyes better.
If Rydia should recognize him the whole thing would be devasted, but Cecil just had to handle it by himself. He didn't dare to give anyone else the responsibility.
The guard rushed down the hall, watching the floor. He feared that if he looked up and exchanged glances with any of his fellow guards, he wouldn't be able to keep from laughing. The other men in the corridor had the same problem to keep calm.

Rydia had just changed to her deeply green nightgown when there was a knock on the door. She hurriedly put on the cream colored dressing gown that she had got with the room. Then she rushed to open the door.
It was a guard, his uniform gave it away. (Poor guards and servants... they play an important role in so many stories, but what do they get? The right to remain anonymous whether they like it or not... or get snapped at, killed or saves the princess... well, let's not get caught in such things. Now, where were we...?)
"Good evening, miss," the guard said, "excuse me for bothering you, but His Majesty of Eblan wishes to see you."
"Edge?" Rydia blankly said.
"Yes, miss."
"I'm coming."
She didn't even think about changing clothes, just hurried out of her room and down the corridor. There were not that many steps that brought her to Edge's door, but she had time to think a lot in that time.
She wondered what he could want, and by this time of the day. Well, it wasn't that late, but anyhow...
And her thoughts drifted away to that thing that had bothered her ever since he had told her about it. His wife. Rydia didn't want to think about that.
As long as there wasn't anyone that would protest, she could find an excuse for visiting him. Leviathan would gladly bring her to the human world and anywhere she wanted to go fast enough. But... the woman that eventually would stand by Edge's side...
She fought back a shudder and looked at the door that a guard politely had opened for her as she had approached. With her head spinning with thoughts, Rydia didn't bother to look at the man. Which was lucky.
Everyone in the corridor held their breath as she stepped inside of the room. The guard that had fetched her nearly stumbled and fell into the door, so concentrated on the young woman that he almost forgot how to walk.
"You wanted to see me?" two voices said in unison, and after a heartbeat continued, blankly; "what, you?"
Cecil slammed the door shut and turned the key.
"Hey! What are you doing!?" Edge and Rydia shouted on the other side of the wood.
"Oh dear!" the fetching guard (oh, let's just call him Thomas) gasped, managing to sound really shocked considering the circumstances, "the lock went shut by itself again! Don't worry, Majesty and miss, I'll get the key immediately! Now who's got it again? Damn..."
Cecil grinned and closed his fist around the key, almost causing the whole corridor's population to break down laughing.
Two fists hit the door from the inside.
"Cecil!" Edge roared, "I know it's you! Open this door or I'll break it!"
"No, no, Your Majesty!" Thomas gasped, "don't panic, I'll get the key..."
"I'm not panicking, I'm going berserk!"
"Please keep calm, it'll only be a few minutes..."
"Ha!" Edge growled, "Cecil, I swear that I will kill you for this!"
"But His Majesty isn't present, Your Majesty," Thomas assured, somehow able to sound really helpless.
"I'll be damned if he isn't!"
"Edge, calm down!" Rydia snapped, "would Cecil really pull such a stunt?"
"In the name of Rubicant he would, trust me!" Edge snarled.
"I'll get the key right away," Thomas said, crossing his fingers, "please make His Majesty calm down, miss."
Then Thomas hurried off, at least pretending to leave for the key. But at the end of the corridor he stopped and buried his face in his hands to silence the laughter as much as possible. Cecil had to step away from the door and chew on a finger to keep calm. Those of the guards that knew they wouldn't be able to keep it quiet sneaked away from the corridor to laugh. They had to, or they would explode.
Inside of the room Rydia was moving in between the door and Edge to stop him from doing anything hasty.
"Look, Edge," she said, "I don't think that Cecil would..."
"Oh yeah?" he interrupted, "then who would have planned this stupid joke? Don't tell me you weren't fooled to come here."
Rydia frowned.
"Well, I was told that you wanted to see me," she gave in, "but if it was Cecil, why would he do such a thing?"
"Haven't he spoken with you?" Edge asked, "or Rosa?"
"No, about what?" Rydia wondered, frowning.
Edge opened his mouth, but closed it again. What could he say?
Good grief, was she only wearing a evening gown and a morning coat over that? Her usual clothing was much more enticing, but there was something even...
For heaven's sake, pull yourself together!
Edge tried to assemble his thoughts and come up with something to say.
"How can Cecil do this?" he finally grumbled and went over to an armchair.
He heavily sat down. Rydia took the armchair which stood beside his, still frowning.
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
Edge figured that he had no escape.
'Damn you, Cecil...'
"He is... they are..."
Edge looked at Rydia, and the dam of troubles broke as he watched her questioning, worried eyes. He didn't want to talk about it, but he could no longer keep the pain from flooding over.
"Are you going back to the espers?" he asked, much harsher than he'd ever planned.
His rough tone startled her, and Edge immediately regretted opening his mouth.
"The espers?" Rydia said after a moment, "I haven't decided yet..."
"Look, I didn't mean to be that harsh," Edge hurriedly said, feeling like an idiot, "it's just that... Cecil spoke with me and... we understand that you feel like home there, but... we feel that we would all miss you terribly."
He felt even more like an idiot. And a rude one, too. Rydia watched him carefully, understandably slightly confused about his reaction.
"That's... nice of you," she finally said.
They watched each other.
'Don't be such a fool!' something inside of Edge screamed, 'don't you see that she'll be lost forever if you don't use this single opportunity? Will you live with that loss for the rest of your life?'
He bit his lower lip. Rydia had never seen him do something like that. He had never shown worries in such a manner. But something was really tormenting him, a blind could see that. And she didn't like to see him troubled. If Edge was troubled, then she wanted to help him. What kind of friend would she be if she didn't?
'Friiieeend...!' that irritating part of her moaned.
She ignored it.
"Hey Edge," she warily said, "what's bothering you?"
He looked at her, and his eyes were filled with a twister of troubled emotions wrestling each other. Suddenly his fingers touched her hand, which laid on the armchair's elbow rest. Both his and Rydia's eyes went to the hands.
"Look, I..."
Edge fell silent, and she looked up to met his eyes. He looked away and then tried again.
"I was wondering if... if you don't feel like you have a home anywhere in this world, won't you... come to Eblan?"
Rydia stared at him, suddenly feeling as if she could fly.
"To... to Eblan?" she finally managed to say, with a growing smile.
Edge still didn't dare to look at her.
"Yeah, I... I..."
He forced himself to turn his head.
"I'm sure you really could help out and... and I'd really be glad to have you around."
Rydia's hand closed around his fingers, and she was smiling warmly, straight into his soul. Edge felt his own lips move into a warm smile. His heart felt as if it could grow wings and flutter away.
"You would?" she softly said.
"I really would," Edge warmly nodded.
Rydia looked at him, smiling. But then a cold, rough thought sent a dagger through her heart, and the smile on her lips faded. Edge was alarmed immediately.
"Rydia, what's the matter?" he asked.
'If I stay with him,' Rydia thought, 'what if I become so fond of him that it'll hurt even more when he... he... damn, I don't want him to get married!'
But she couldn't say such a thing, of course.
When she didn't answer, Edge rose from his armchair and stood in front of her, bowing down so that their faces were at the same level.
"Rydia, whatever it is, you can tell me," he gravely said, "we're friends, aren't we?"
She looked into those deep, grey-blue eyes and saw his worries for her. It hurt to see, she didn't want to make him even more troubled...
"Yes, we are..."
Gods, those eyes... she couldn't hide anything for him, he deserved the truth...
"We're friends, Edge," she said, hoping that she didn't shock him to much with what she had to say, "and I love that! But when you get married, what will happen to our friendship then?"
He just stared at her. His mind had turned completely blank, but Rydia couldn't know that. She stood up and rushed past him, trying to hide the pain in her eyes.
"I'd only be a problem in the end, and I'd have to leave for your sake," she muttered, "it's better that I don't even come..."
"Now just a darn minute!"
Edge walked around her and resolutely faced Rydia.
"You'd never ever be a problem to me," he said, a bit hoarse, "you're the only one who can understand me like only you can do!"
He figured that hadn't made sense at all, but at least the message was clear.
They stared at each other.
"Edge," Rydia finally bitterly said, "you know what I mean. You need a queen, you told me that yourself. Eblan needs that. And we don't have the kind of friendship that would be acce..."
"To the hell with Eblan and all that!" Edge said and put his hands on her shoulders, "nothing of it would mean anything at all to me if I couldn't hear you snapping and teasing once in a while, Rydia!"
She stared into his eyes, jaw dropped. Edge felt just as shocked, surprised over that his mind had decided that it couldn't carry the unspoken troubles anymore.
'He'll get married,' some devilish part of her shouted, 'you'll be in their way!'
'Shut up!' the hidden part growled.
'He'll have an Eblanian woman!' the shouting inside of her snapped, 'he's born to marry a noble woman of his own people! What do you think you are trying to make up here?'
She looked away.
"Edge, I... can't do that to you."
It was rubbish, but it was the best she could come up with.
But Edge was an intelligent man, no matter what names she had surpassed him during their playful argues. His hand came to her cheek, carefully forcing her to turn her head at him.
There was pain in his eyes now. Like back then, in the Sealed cave. Of loss, and fear of more loss. Those eyes that were like a thousand tiny crystals, which should be shining of joy and kind mischief... like a boy, but yet controlled like a grown man. Those eyes that should glisten with laughter and thoughtful mocking as he tried to think of a quick answer. Those eyes that belonged to Edge, and Edge only.
You didn't die. You kept your promise.
If only I dared to love you.
You didn't leave me. I don't want to leave you either.
How could I ever think of doing that to you?
'Finally...' the hidden part of her mind mumbled.
"Rydia," Edge said, and his voice a bit strangely thick, "why do you turn away? What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid," she whispered, hardly able to speak at all.
Then suddenly she could hardly breathe, because his arms were around her waist, pressing her smaller body against his. He didn't utter a single word, just held her tightly for a moment that didn't last longer than a heartbeat. Then he let go as sudden as he had caught her in the embrace, and turned away. Like she just had done. Like he had done in the throne-room an eternity ago.
"I'm sorry, Rydia," he bitterly muttered, "I don't know what came over me."
Her heart was about to break through her chest, and it definitely wasn't only because of the surprise. That feeling of being that close to Edge, to even feel his heart beat, his warm arms... she couldn't explain what she felt. Only that she wanted to be back there again, that near him.
Seeing his back hurt her eyes.
'Is that so...?' she slowly thought, almost shivering, 'I do... love him?'
The hidden part of her only smiled warmly.
But he was... he wasn't going to... he wouldn't...
Oh, cut that silly hesitating out, you idiotic girl!
'She'll hate me for that,' Edge bitterly thought, 'too hasty again. I blew it. Again and again and again... but holding her... she looked so vulnerable...'
One thing that Rydia certainly wasn't was delicate. That was one of the many things that put her aside from other women, that made her so special. So seeing her unsure like that had made him panic slightly for a second too long. He had driven her to that, he had known it. So he had the responsibility for hurting her, and he could not bear that. If he only could have reacted differently.
He'd give anything to embrace her again, to feel her chest against his, her warmth. But not like that, not attacking! Idiot!
A hand on his shoulder. Edge was afraid, the feeling could not carry another name. But he forced himself to face Rydia.
She was frowning, yes, but not angry.
"Why would..."
Her voiced trailed off; she didn't know what to ask or to tell him.
He wanted to explain, to tell her that he wished that she would want him to hold her carefully. But he couldn't, afraid to break even more.
"I don't know..." he said, of all stupid things, "I'm sorry, I couldn't stop myself. I don't know what..."
His voice faded away, and he just looked at her with that strangling sadness in his eyes.
Rydia moved around him. She took the few steps needed for standing before him and then carefully, slowly, raised her arms and placed them around his neck. Edge stared down at her, the slightly confused, searching sparkle in her eyes reflected in his own gaze.
"Like... like this?" Rydia mumbled, warily.
"I suppose..." Edge whispered, stuttering of the surprise.
His arms moved by themselves, one placing itself around her waist, the other around her shoulders. He hardly knew how to handle this situation, and she definitely didn't either. They looked at each other again, unsure what to do about it. Edge was well aware what he wanted to say, the words were burning inside of his mind. But he still wasn't sure if he dared. He was weary of the sparkling in Rydia's eyes, she looked away and then at him again over and over. It wasn't hard to tell that she wasn't certain about what she was doing there.
I love you, Rydia.
Would those words make her even more unconfident, even scare her? But he wanted to speak them out so dearly...
'Why does he have to marry someone else?' Rydia thought as she looked away again, 'can't he just... have... me?'
It was as if a rock tumbled out of her as she finally managed to put that secret, subconscious wish into words.
It hurt, though. He could never...
She turned her head away, not only the eyes. Couldn't bear to look at him.
"Rydia," he said in such a soft voice that it tickled her ears but only made her want to move away to escape the unreachable, "what are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid," she muttered once more.
She tried to let go of him, but then his grip only tightened. She looked up at him.
Don't move away, his eyes pleaded, please don't do that to me.
"You are afraid," he said, "is it me?"
She bit her lower lip, but couldn't hold back anymore.
"I dread the woman you will love, Edge! Don't you see that? The woman who will bring you away from me!"
She stared at him, waiting for him to snort and say that she was out of her mind. But...
Why was he smiling like that? And what was his hands doing at the back of her head?
"My compassion, sweetcheeks," he whispered, "because then you fear yourself, and that is one weird situation."
"Wh-what?" she stuttered.
'He loves... me?!'
"You're the one I love, Rydia, nobody else," Edge said in a low, soft voice, "even though I must be forced to admit it."
'I said it? I did? Good gods, I said it!' he thought, nervously awaiting her reaction.
Rydia just stared at him for a moment. Then she more or less jumped, securing her grip around his neck and almost desperately pressing her lips against his. For half a second he was stunned by the surprise, then his arms around her tightened their grip, carrying her.
Edge was a veteran flirter, of course. He had kissed women before. But they hadn't meant this much to him, nothing like what Rydia meant. She hadn't ever kissed anyone before him, but her first try was so wonderful that he didn't even notice.
"Edge, you moron..." Rydia whispered against his lips, "you scared me so terribly! With the poison, the fever, the mere idea of you finding a queen most of all!"
"I'm sorry about that," he mumbled, "but you scared me too. The thought of you disappearing into the world of Espers... don't do that, Rydia, don't leave me alone again."
"I won't, I won't, I promise..."
He had longed to firmly hold her for so long that it was very hard for him to keep from trying to get even closer to Rydia. He wanted her so terribly, but this was a bit too early yet... she had just got to know his feeling and given her answers, and he knew well that being too hasty could destroy what they both just had found. No, he wouldn't be so foolish that he risked that.
Rydia's feet touched the floor again. They just held each other tightly in warm silence for a moment.
Edge's breath tickled her hair, she could feel his strong heart beat against her chest. This was where she wanted to be, and nowhere else. As she looked up his lips covered hers again, as she had wished that they would.
"I love you, Edge," she mumbled, and felt his lips move into a soft smile.
"And you feared I'd find a queen in Eblan?" he whispered, "when the one I wanted was right here before me all along, and I just didn't dare to reach out for you? Yes, you're right, I am a moron."
They removed their lips from each other and just smiled warmly. Edge suddenly chuckled.
"Wait," he said, "I can do better than that."
He released her and took a step backwards, sitting down on one knee.
"Will you marry me, fair Rydia?"
She almost made him fall as she threw her arms around him.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'," he smiled and kissed her again.
"You bet it was!" she said, even though it was hard to hear what she said as her lips were occupied against his mouth.
There was a clinking sound, followed by the moaning of an opening door.
"We've found the key, Your Majesty and miss Rydia," a voice softly said.
"Go and feed it to an imp, Cecil," Edge said without turning around.
"As you wish, my friend..."
"And check your bedding carefully before you go to sleep from now on. I'm only warning you because you're such a good friend."
Cecil chuckled and closed the door.
"You wouldn't put something in his bed for real, would you?" Rydia smiled.
"One can never know when it comes to me," Edge grinned, "especially not after this stunt."
Rydia laughed. She touched his nose with the tip of her finger.
"Now, now, don't be so hard on him. It was for a good purpose."
"Making me almost crack down of nervous tension?" Edge grimaced.
Then he laughed.
"Well, I guess I could spare him if you ask me really nicely," he said and winked with one eye.
As he bent down a little and kissed her neck Rydia felt a warm stream of desire begin its flow inside of her, still only a small pouring, but for every single touch of Edge's lips the surge increased. She shivered a little and tightened her grip of him.
How she had longed for him, not daring to even understand what it really was about! Asura had known; everybody had known... but Rydia just hadn't been able to face it.
Edge, this teasing, hot-headed ninja that she loved so much...
No, wait. There's a time for everything, and this wasn't the right moment. Not yet. That flame inside of her would have to cease and rest for a little while longer.
Rydia freed an arm from her own grip of Edge's neck and moved in a finger against his lips. He moved his head backwards and nodded with a smile.
"I know," he softly said, "time turns gold into diamond."
"Interesting saying," Rydia smiled, "is it Eblanian?"
"No, it's Edganian," he explained, making both of them laugh.
They stood up. Edge kept an arm over Rydia's shoulders as they walked to the door; her arm rested around his waist.
"Good night, sweetcheeks," Edge smiled and kissed the tip of her nose, playful.
It was hard enough not to kiss her mouth again and go even further; he knew Rydia would have as hard as him fighting back the same emotions that only wished to break free inside of him. But all that had its own, special moment, and he had to keep his emotions down a little longer no matter how hard it felt as Rydia looked up at him with those warm, green eyes...
He suddenly realized it would take at least two weeks to get Eblan ready for a royal wedding, and could hardly stop a groan from leaving his chest. He would have to start as soon as possible, and kick some of his advisors in the back if they didn't work fast enough. They were actually good at what they did, but they were also professional arguers and could start a fight with their companions before one had time to blink.
Well, on the other hand the whole country had held its breath waiting for him to pick his queen. Maybe the banners were sewed, the cakes baked, the speeches written and the confetti ready to be thrown already... he'd know soon enough.
"Sweet dreams, love," Rydia softly smiled.
"That won't be any problem at all, if I only can get to sleep," he grinned.
She opened the door and stepped out, giving him one last smile for the evening before she was gone behind the wood.
Edge smiled broadly as he heard her voice again.
"Cecil, I should really fry you, but I won't."
"You're welcome," the king of Baron grinned, "well, finally I can go back to Rosa. Oh, right."
The door opened again.
"Hey Edge, I've given orders that an airship shall be ready for departure to Eblan tomorrow after lunch," Cecil said with a broad smile, "you'll both have time to pack. Do you want a ticket?"
"Why you slippery..." Edge grinned.
"I figured you wanted to get home as soon as possible."
Cecil winked with one eye and closed the door.

Part 4

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