"All I'm saying is that I think homeschooling would be better for us."

Noctis was sprawled out over Cloud's couch, arm over his eyes, lamenting another miserable day of senior high.

"And all I'm saying is that you need to stop looking for ways out of your responsibilities."

Cloud stood from her desk, piling school books on top of each other and turning towards her friend of twelve years.

"You get your own way far too often. It's bad enough that you got the school to move me up a year just because you were lonely."

"I was not!" Noctis sat up indignantly, tie askew. "You were complaining the work wasn't hard enough, it made sense to move you up."

"Mmm."

Cloud went to join Noctis on the sofa, leaning against him and sighing.

"What's the real reason behind this?" She murmured. "I know you well enough to realise that there's an ulterior motive behind this sudden desire to go back to the days of having a governess."

Noctis reached his arm round to twist a strand of her hair, now reaching well past her waist, around his finger.

"I don't know. I guess when we were kids I took it for granted that I got to see you all day every day. I know that when we graduate it's just gonna be work, work, work to try and get this treaty signed. And that's before we even start thinking about the wedding."

Cloud stiffened.

"The King hasn't said anything about that either way-"

"Oh come on, Cloud. You know as well as I do that the council's been planning this since we were kids." Noctis snapped.

Silence hung in the room for a long moment. Cloud took the time to notice Noctis' school bag: the worn fabric looking more and more faded these days against the picture of the two of them he'd stuck on the front when they were just fourteen. Many times his father had insisted on replacing it, and each time he'd staunchly refused.

Her focus broke when Noctis sighed and leaned against her head.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make it sound like that. I'm glad it's you - I wouldn't want to face this with anyone else."

Cloud smiled.

"Not even Ignis?"

"Right, that's it." Came the response from behind her. Before Cloud could register what was happening, Noctis had flipped her onto her back and was tickling her sides incessantly.

"No!" She tried to splutter, but soon realised she was overpowered.

"Do you concede?" Noctis asked from above her.

"Fine!" She choked out. "You win!" Noctis rolled off her and smirked triumphantly.

"You bastard." She managed, still trying to regain her breath. "If it had been the sword, I'd have beaten you."

"Yeah, well. Who uses swords these days anyway?" He laughed, nudging her side playfully.

~ "Your sword is your lifeline, Cloud, but it's not what makes you a SOLDIER. One day I'll tell you what that is." ~

The memory flashed through her mind, quick as a flash. That was how they always came these days: short, sharp stabs that left her struggling to stand. Masking her distress, Cloud looked up, glancing at the clock on the wall.

"You ought to be going. Ignis will be wondering where you are."

This remark prompted a cursory glance around the apartment on Noctis' part.

"Wonder why her never shows his face around here."

"Probably because I can actually be bothered to clean every once in a while. Besides, your dad knows if you spend all your time hanging around with me you won't get any work done."

Cloud stodd from the couch, walking towards the window that took up half of her living area.

"Someone has to babysit you."

"Says the one who's a year younger than me."

Cloud turned to face him.

"Me too."

"Huh?" The look on Noctis' face mirrored his tone.

"What you said earlier... there's no-one I'd rather face this with either."

A look of understanding crossed Noctis' face. He stood, going to embrace Cloud.

"We're gonna be OK, you and me. We always are. We always look after each other."

~ "I'm always gonna take care of you. I promise that." ~

'It won't be like last time.' Cloud thought. 'I won't let history repeat itself.'

No matter how much Sephitoth may want it to.

"Your majesty, the time is now."

King Regis stood before his council for the third time that week, attempting to quell the anger that seemed to be infecting every corner of the room.

"The prince and princess must marry before the year is out. We have no time to wait for the Oracle, we must put the plan into motion as soon as possible."

"Councillor, please." The King reasoned, "The princess isn't even eighteen yet. If our reports are correct, we still have some time left before anything concrete must be done. It will appear as a great insult if we reject the Oracle's request to bless their union."

The room broke out in shouts and protestations, the volume rising with each passing second.

"The King is a fool!"

"This is madness!"

"What will we do when they kick down our doors?"

"Enough!" Cried the head councillor. "The King is worried for the safety of his son and his ward. We are worried for the safety of our kingdom. We must now reach a compromise. Within a year, the prince and princess will have finished their schooling. Immediately afterwards, we should have them marry before the Oracle. This should give us time to make the necessary preparations and ensure that the future of the monarchy is secure. In the mean time, we must mobilise our forces and be ready in case things take a turn for the worst. Your majesty, we understand your reservations, but it was you who decided that the princess should one day become queen. The time has come to let her fulfill that role."

The King was silent for a moment.

"Gentlemen, fear will be our enemy. For twelve years we have carefully groomed them to one day lead, but now we must let them find themselves and each other. I know that they will do what is right, if we will only give them the chance to prove it to us. I agree with the Head Councillor: if we rush this process, we may risk the future of Insomnia. Give them until Cloud's eighteenth birthday to lead their own lives. They are, after all, still young. That is all."

The meeting adjourned with a sour feeling hanging in the air. As the room emptied, Regis approached the Head Councillor.

"This won't be easy, your majesty."

"I have always known that." The King sighed.

"Perhaps. But the hardest part, I think, will be to let them go."