Rinoa turns slightly, raising the blade up to eye level. On first glance it looks like it's carved from dark, smoky glass, she thinks, a deep grey-black that's just slightly translucent. On the other hand, she can see just below the surface something faintly shining, a movement like the slow procession of galaxies, a shimmer like the formation of new stars. It feels warm in her hands, but slick as ice when she runs a finger along the blade.

I was hoping for a simple sword, but I guess this will do, she thinks, brows rising as she gives it a few slow sweeps through the air. It feels like it meets resistance, as if the atmosphere is dense enough to cut.

Squall is watching her now that he's finally let go of her arm, brow furrowed as he studies her hands and the motion of the sword. There's confusion, and... yeah, that's a tiny bit of envy there, a stumble in the harmony of their knighting, because Lionheart gleams blue, but her sword is made of star stuff.

(Does she feel any sort of remorse about the wave of pride that she sends back along the bond between them? No. Not really. She is pleased with herself, after all.)

"Can I hold it?" he asks finally, when he can no longer contain the urge- SeeDs and their toys, Rinoa thinks. It earns her a wry grin from Squall, even as he stretches out his hand to take it.

"Took you long enough to ask," Rinoa laughs, and holds the blade out hilt-first for his fingers to wrap around. Squall's form is lightyears better than hers, practiced so often it is as easy as breathing; it is her turn to be slightly envious as she watches him cycle through a few motions a safe couple of feet away.

"It's so light- feels like I could just throw it if I'm not careful... Where'd you find this? In there?"

"I made it out of magic."

It is easier to replay the brief memory than it is to try to explain herself, and Squall's eyes widen a little, his expression impressed, as he returns the sword to her. She feels better with it in her hand, magic in an easily controlled form feeling more and more like an extension of her arm as she holds it.

"You think you could make any-"

He cuts off suddenly, turning to one side with widening eyes. She sees it too- a faint distortion in the air, like the shimmer of heat rising from asphalt on a summer day, and a delicate sound in the air like a faraway whisper on a breeze. Squall steps deliberately in front of her, putting himself and Lionheart between Rinoa and whatever is forming before them. She takes a deep breath, lifts her blade into something that resembles a ready posture, and-

And nearly drops the sword when the shimmer in the air in front of them coalesces into Edea and Seifer.

Whole, unharmed, not covered in blood- alive. The relief is like an ocean wave washing over her, flooding her, strong as a riptide. She exhales in a ragged rush, stows her weapon, and takes a step forward, fully intending to bury her face in his chest and not move until she can convince herself he's real.

Squall, however, beats her to it.

She stops short, blinking and tilting her head to make sure she's seeing things right- no, she really did just see Squall Leonhart walk up to Seifer Almasy and give him the biggest, tightest bear hug, which Seifer then returned. She's not sure what entirely is going on- only that of all the things she expected to happen, she hadn't thought of that. She looks briefly over to Edea, and is moderately comforted by the fact that the usually unflappable woman looks almost as startled as Rinoa feels. It only lasts for a moment, though, and she watches both men freeze in startled realization of what they're doing for an extra second before abruptly pulling apart.

"You reckless- careless- god damn it, Seifer, you absolute clown," Squall sputters, shoving the other man back slightly, "what in hell were you thinking going in like that?"

"Oh geez, maybe I was thinking 'oh look, there's a big scary monster-shaped thing, making big scary monster-shaped moves, maybe we should stop it before it kills us all'?" Seifer spits back, heavily sarcastic as he raises an eyebrow. Behind him, Edea sighs and leans her forehead against one hand, shaking her head slightly.

"Eighteen seconds might be a new record for you two- Rinoa, dear, what do you think?"

"Hard to see how they beat it," she responds wryly, then walks forward the six steps it takes to close the distance between her and Seifer. She wraps her arms around his waist, tucks her forehead against his shoulder, and just… breathes . He folds around her, pulls her close and leans his cheek against her hair, and she feels the tension and worry seep out of her like water.

Didn't fail this time, you damned demon, she thinks to herself. She hears Edea ask Squall… something, but she's not really paying attention. She's too busy concentrating on Seifer's hand between her shoulder blades, the way his breath stirs her hair, the comforting warmth of him wrapped around her.

"You're alright," she breathes after a long moment, not quite a statement and not quite a question.

"Mostly," he says just as quietly, and she squeezes him a little tighter.

"Just for the record, you are a reckless idiot," she tells him, "but you're my reckless idiot."

"That mean you're finally gonna marry me?"

She can feel his laugh echo down from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, her favorite song.

"It means you're going to have to ask me at least once more," Rinoa informs him, but it's more relief than tease. She inhales the smoky warm scent of him, like a low campfire by the sea, and lets herself relax. Just for now. Just for a minute.

It'll have to be enough.

xx

The nightmare lingers into the next day, which dawns sunny, clear, perfect. Every child's summer fantasy- the perfect weather to set off on an adventure.

She carries a little brown basket, filled with fresh biscuits and bacon, sliced oranges and juice boxes- Squall had tried to carry it, but kept putting it down every few feet to fend off invisible enemies that he claimed were in the shadows. She doesn't blame him for wanting to protect her.

He's going to grow up to be a brave man, Ellone knows, as they turn down the path that skirts the woods and heads toward the meadow. She sticks to the farthest edge, away from the trees that feel like they've got claws that could reach out and catch her even now, during daylight when she isn't supposed to be afraid.

"No monsters up here!" Squall shouts from the top of the nearest rise; the wind ruffles his short, choppy hair as he turns around, a tiny version of his monster-hunter father, and Ellone smiles as she walks up the slope to join him.

When she gets there, though, she finds him bent down near the ground, studying something underneath the grass. "What'd you find?"

"A string made outta sky," he says, and Ellone is confused for a second before he reaches down and lifts up what appears to be a thin, light-blue string. It doesn't seem to be anchored to anything- just a strand of warm blue that stretches off into the distance in two directions. One goes toward the town, and the other, off into the hills. "Wanna see where it goes?"

She hesitates for a moment, but then nods. Maybe what she needs to clear her head after last night is a nice adventure in the sunshine with her brother.

"Sure thing. Let's go!"

xx

It takes an extra minute- or two, or five, she's not keeping track- for her to convince herself that Seifer's really here, and really unharmed. When she feels like she can let him go and not immediately start to panic, she takes a step back. He's wearing one of her favorite sweaters, she notices- the ivory one with the complex cable pattern in the knit, well-worn and soft against her hands- his eyes are bright and fond and warm, set against the permanent tan of years spent on the Centran shore, and she breathes a little easier as she lets him go.

She notices it then- something's different. It's like there's a new vibration in the air, new notes added onto a chord she's been hearing for days now. She squeezes her eyes shut, brows furrowed as she tries to listen closer for it.

Anger sounds like a faraway blare of brass, muted, buried, but vivid where it pokes through. Guilt is a piccolo trill, piercing its way into the foreground when least expected. Loyalty reminds her of a warm, deep cello line, a solid foundation on which everything else could rest. And suffusing all of it is the rich, shimmering bell-tone of a love so deep and strong that it almost makes her gasp.

When Rinoa opens her eyes, she sees it- a slender, burning-white thread linking Seifer and Edea- and the realization of what that means takes her breath away.

"You…" She can't even put words to it- the knowledge of what it must have taken, how desperate they must have been, for both of them to agree to this -

"You never miss it?" she'd asked once, over steaming mugs on her kitchen table (imported Esthari coffee for him, jasmine tea with lemon for her). The light through the window was the color of honey, warm and soothing, and she liked the way it made his eyes glow.

"Nope." He shook his head before draining half the mug, staring into the dark liquid for a moment after setting it down. "...Too damn high a price," he said quietly, "no matter what it could have promised me."

She'd never asked a second time.

She looks between Seifer and Edea, words sticking in her throat- I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, only she's not sure who's she's more sorry for- and Edea's eyes are solemn, almost sorrowful, pale green as the sage in Rinoa's windowbox herb garden. She knows the price she asks of her son for this, the price of saving his life, and Rinoa knows it has to tear at her heart.

"Hey," Seifer says very softly, one hand lifting to cup her cheek. "It's… don't worry about it, okay? It'll be fine." She covers his hand with her own, turning her head slightly to press her lips against the heel of his hand.

"Okay." She lets their hands drop, looking up at him again. "I'll try, but… no promises." He nods, and his smile comes out a little lopsided as he does.

She'll try, and she thinks it'll be enough for now.