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A Petal Among Thorns

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It wasn't that the Emperor welcomed other Chaos warriors into Pandaemonium, but he didn't mind if the occasional warrior passed through. To plan, to pass information - or even just to chat, if the mood struck him.

Then again, after thinking harder into it, he supposed that depended on the warrior.

"Have you ever though about Exdeath's helmet? I mean really thought about it."

"Kefka, if you don't close that cavernous hole you call a mouth, I will step down from this throne and close it myself."

Of all the warriors that could have wandered into Pandaemonium. Of course they had to be Kefka.

"Luck does not favor me this cycle," he thought to himself. Perhaps now was a bad time to launch his revenge plot. Then again, if all went as he planned, he wouldn't actually be the one carrying out the revenge. Maybe that would help his odds.

"Why? Are you brooding?"

"Planning."

"As if there's a difference with you," he grumbled.

Every word frayed the Emperor's nerves. He could feel them unraveling one-by-one. His fists clenched so hard, his nails cut into his palms. "Do you want to be a part of this, or not?"

"I. don't. know," Kefka enunciated slowly, pointing each word in the air. "You. haven't. told. me. what. we're. doing."

"I'm trying to formulate the plan, but you find it convenient to distract me!"

Kefka crossed his arms and turned away, sticking his hooked nose in the air. "Well maybe if you concentrated better, I wouldn't bother you." He continued to grumble under his breath, and the Emperor figured that was the best he was going to get.

"From the beginning, then," he thought, taking a deep breath. "I send Ultimecia, Exdeath, and Kefka after Rosa. Simple. Kefka and Exdeath will agree on principle of Chaos warriors destroying Cosmos warriors, but I need to offer Ultimecia a reward for her services to ensure she agrees. What could I offer that would maintain her interest?"

A small prize, or a large prize? He supposed he had enough wiggle room in his plan that he could offer her a large prize from his larger scheme. His long-term one, to lord over the gods and over the cycle itself. Could that work? A piece of Time Compression in the world after this one?

He could suggest both. Suggest a small reward, perhaps a treasure. A Tome, or a relic of the Eidolons. If that didn't work, he could offer the large prize as a bargaining chip. Did the Emperor have a relic he was willing to give up from his collection?

"But Exdeath! Do you think he even has a face under there?"

He did have a swatch-

"I betcha five Gil he doesn't."

-of Shiva's veil-

"How much do you want to bet? Do you have a guess?"

"Kefka."

"Hmmmm?" he sang, raising the pitch to a level that rang in the Emperor's ears. He winced against it and rubbed the headache that just started in his temples.

He was looking for a reaction. He was looking for the Emperor to lose his sanity, to stoop to his level. He wouldn't oblige. "I know that you've set this special time aside to utterly ruin my entire day, but if you could perhaps . . . refrain for five minutes, then maybe I won't rip your mouth from your face."

"But Emperorrrr," he purred, "you know I'm impatient." Like the Emperor was trying to tease him. Ugh.

Fine. If he couldn't get Kefka to shut up, then perhaps he could send Kefka out. " . . . Do you want me to tell you . . . faster?" The improper sentence rolled awkwardly off his tongue but Kefka understood him anyway, perking up like a puppy offered a treat. He nodded enthusiastically. "I need Ultimecia and Exdeath here as well. Go and fetch them, and the moment all three of you are here, I will indulge you."

"Yes! Aye-aye, cap-i-tan!" he said, saluting the Emperor before hopping up into the air and disappearing.

Gods, finally.


"What is it that you see in Rosa?" Warrior asked Cosmos.

"What do you mean?"

"I know you favor her, but why?"

"Warrior, can you not feel her power? She is incredibly strong, physically and magically."

Warrior frowned, looking away from Cosmos to stare at Rosa, chatting softly with Firion. "Hm. I can, but she is clumsy and inexperienced.

"So were you, until you gained your bearings in this world," Cosmos reminded him. She smiled fondly, at what Warrior could only guess was the memory of him awakening in this world next to her throne. "When she regains a bit of her memory, she will be a force to reckon with. On Baron she was formidable, both as a warrior at Cecil's side, and as a beautiful woman on his arm."

"That's right," he mumbled. "They are married." Warrior paused, then said, "I assume you believe her to be pivotal in breaking the cycle. Otherwise, the talents you so value are lost here." Cosmos blinked, lowering her eyes to the water in front of her, and Warrior received his response. "You did not think of that," he said to her. Not a question.

"I did consider it, but I need her magic. She has to stay alive here. You know that those who fall in the cycle are doomed to Purification. I need someone - a powerful White Mage - to keep our ranks healed and fighting within and between cycles. If we fall less, and are given multiple opportunities within a cycle, we can switch to the offensive, and I can begin to amass power again."

So Cosmos acknowledged what he'd been noticing for many cycles, now: she was only defending while Chaos' warriors attacked again and again. Warrior would never presume to know more than Cosmos regarding strategy in this world, but within his reason it was wasteful to only call warriors for damage control, rather than switching to the offensive.

If Chaos' warriors continued with their normal ferocity, this Rosa would be gone long before she ever had the chance to do the job Cosmos called her to do.

"Why do you not tell her of her role here?"

"I'd rather her grow comfortable first before I press knowledge of the cycle on her. And the pressure," she added, "of being the only White Mage charged with keeping all of her companions alive. Any failure after that would be a morale blow to the ranks and a personal blow to Rosa."

Warrior looked down at Cosmos, and he saw immense sadness in her eyes, and a heaviness that seemed to deaden his own limbs as well. She was thinking of the worst case scenario - Rosa dying, and Cosmos' only hope of changing tactics dying with her. How could she not think of it, Warrior thought, if to win this cycle she needed blind luck, and blind faith that the person she gambled upon paid off?

Warrior vowed to keep his heart neutral, just as he did for all these past cycles. He had one duty, to Cosmos. Nothing more. Win or lose, Cosmos or Chaos, Rosa or no, he would protect her as well as he could until his dying breath.


So Zidane was alive. Zidane was alive, and what she saw was a manikin - a copy.

Rosa couldn't believe it. Of course she wanted to, desperately. She didn't want to think that Zidane, or any warrior in Cosmos' ranks, was dead. She even tried to repeat it over and over to herself to assuage her panic and dread. Unfortunately, it refused to take. The image of the dead crystal manikin was so vivid in her mind, and her worry was so potent, she knew that until the real Zidane walked through Sanctuary's barrier, she wouldn't be able to believe he was alive and well. The shreds of her doubt were too strong to ignore.

He was on patrol. When would he be back? After Rosa left Cosmos' throne, she asked Firion.

"Hello," she greeted him. He opened his mouth to reply but Rosa didn't give him the chance. "How long has Zidane been patrolling? When will he be back?" She didn't have the patience to idly chat.

"He left, ummm . . . " Firion trailed off. "Hey, Laguna, when did Zidane leave?"

The warrior with the blue jacket and brown pants turned towards them. "I don't know, like, a half hour ago? Probably." He shrugged. "Sorry, I wasn't watching when he left."

"No, it's fine," Rosa said. "The manikin encounter scared me. I'm anxious to know he's alright," she told them honestly. No reason to hide it. If they had any sort of similar encounter when they arrived here, they would understand.

Firion nodded quickly. "I get it. Then he'll be back soon. It takes anywhere between twenty and forty minutes to patrol the Isles depending on whether or not you encounter any trouble. Considering how many of us he took with him, even if he encounters trouble he'll be fine."

"Yeah," Laguna added. "Cosmos said he was okay, right?"

"She did," Rosa told him, "but I'd still like to see him." Verbal reassurance, from Cosmos and whoever else, wouldn't equate to seeing Zidane. They just didn't understand. "How often do we patrol?"

"There really isn't a 'night' time here in these worlds," Firion explained. "So we mark time by Sanctuary's shadow on the world below us. We send a patrol out every quarter-shadow, whether or not the first patrol returned. We don't send out more than two groups before one of them returns."

"That makes sense."

"Yeah. Though, once you've been here a while you tend to develop the 'feeling' of time in this place. I haven't checked the time in a while, but I can already tell we'll send out another group in ten minutes."

"Wow. You must have been here a long time."

"Me, I've been here . . . " he trailed off. His eyes circled around the air above her, clearly thinking it through. "Hmm . . . Not sure exactly," he finally settled on.

Rosa huffed out a breath. "Can anyone give me a definitive answer? Who's been here the longest?" she asked Firion.

"That, I don't know either. But if I had to guess, probably Warrior. Maybe you should ask Cosmos."

Rosa shook her head. "Cosmos doesn't seem too willing to answer questions right now. She sent me to speak to the rest of you. Which somewhat upsets me, but . . . I don't want to think about it."

"Maybe Cosmos thinks we'd be able to answer more specific questions. About the fighting," Firion suggested. Which made sense to Rosa, but still made her angry. Cosmos would know those specific things as well if she fought the battles every once in a while, and if Rosa had to guess, she probably didn't. Not with how weak she was.

"Maybe," Rosa mumbled, hoping to end the conversation. She stayed close to Firion but turned away from him, and stared out at the other warriors lounging around. Sanctuary was rather boring, she decided. Not much to do but sit around, or spar. She figured that patrols would be her saving grace for a while, since they were excuses to venture out and simply explore. With companions, this time, so she wouldn't have a repeat encounter with the Emperor or someone like him. She wasn't bored enough of Sanctuary yet to try another little adventure by herself. Not for a long while. Thinking back on it, the way he approached her and the way he spoke to her before he attacked . . . Rosa almost shuddered at the memory of it. With nothing else to do at the moment, and unwilling to speak to anyone else until Zidane arrived, Rosa decided to pass the time by looking at all the warriors and seeing how many names she remembered.

"Warrior," she thought, when her eyes roved over him. The horns on his helmet were incredibly identifying. His blue armor, and his physical imposition were as well. Plus, Rosa noticed, he never seemed to venture very far from Cosmos unless she asked him. He was beside her now, softly holding a conversation with her.

Of course she knew Firion. He favored roses as part of his dream. Plus, that bandana and odd hairstyle underneath made him incredibly memorable. Not including the fact that he was a one-man armory. Laguna, she had forgotten, but luckily Firion had said his name. She'd have to find some identifying feature to memorize about him to commit his name to memory.

He had a necklace on, that looked like two metal bars. They clinked together when he moved suddenly. Perhaps she could use that.

Tifa was easy to remember from her introductions. Rosa liked her upon meeting her. She had long, beautiful black hair tied only at the bottom, and a pleasantly smiling face. Rosa found her behind Cosmos' throne, talking animatedly to the man with striking blue eyes and alarmingly blond hair. What was his name . . . ? She couldn't recall.

Tifa was trying to corral another woman into the conversation, too. The one with curly blond hair who Rosa thought looked ready to burst into tears at any given moment. Terra. The women were easy to remember, since there were so few of them. Yuna was the summoner, with one blue eye and one green eye. Tidus had the kind of personality that demanded to be remembered, so of course Rosa could recall his name and face. Plus, he had one pant leg that was longer than the other and Rosa thought that was odd. One of the last warriors, off all by herself towards the edge of Sanctuary, was the pink-haired woman named Lightning.

"Ah! Cloud!" Rosa thought suddenly. "The spike-haired man's name is Cloud." There was a woman named Lightning, and a man named Cloud.

Rosa spun around slowly. Who else was there, besides Kain, not even in Sanctuary, and-

"Hi, Cecil," Firion said.

Rosa turned, and there he was. In his white and purple Paladin armor that seemed to glow with Sanctuary's light. Back just as straight and chin just as elevated as when he officially introduced himself to her.

"Firion," he said, nodding to him. "Rosa." He offered her his hand, pressing a swift kiss to her knuckles. Never breaking eye contact. "I don't mean to interrupt, but I was hoping to have a moment alone with Lady Rosa. Do you mind, Firion?"

"Oh! No, not at all! I'll leave you two alone. Sorry I couldn't be of more help, Rosa," he said, backing away from the two of them. Oh, gods. What could he possibly have to talk about, except to try and unintentionally pressure her into some sort of familiarity that just wasn't there? Rosa resolved right then and there that she would not feel pressured by him. She would not let him make her uncomfortable.

"You know," Rosa blurted out before he could speak. Assert herself. Get the first, firm word in. "I find your gravitation towards me somewhat . . . " Gods, now she couldn't find the word. Uncomfortable? No. But generally bold? Assuming? Brazen, invasive, considering he knew so much about her but she knew nothing about him?

He glued his eyes to the ground. "I . . . I know. I'm sorry. It is not my intention to make you uncomfortable."

"Well, you are," she wanted to say, but he already looked so downtrodden. She knew she couldn't destroy him like that when he wasn't doing it intentionally. "Could be worse," she thought to herself, already trying to rationalize it. "Hm," she snorted, adding, "better you than Kain, I suppose."

He looked up sharply. "What do you mean?" he asked, blinking his surprise and confusion at her.

"Before I left earlier, I had a memory return to me, remember? Kain was in it. I was bound, and I was lying on a metal floor. Golbez stood before me, and Kain bent down over me and smiled at me. But it was cruel," she said quickly. "It was the most empty and soulless smile I've ever seen. It scared me. Did Kain ever betray us?"

"Yes, but not of his own volition. I don't really . . . think it's for me to say," Cecil said carefully. His eyes flicked around, clearly thinking through his point and choosing his words carefully. "He went through many trials, so if you'd like to know, I would ask him. I'd rather him tell you himself than me say something poorly and potentially damage his honor and credibility. Kain is a man of honor, though, and I wouldn't hesitate to trust him with my life."

"But did he kidnap me?" Rosa wasn't in the mood to mince words. Not when something as significant to her as this occurred sometime in her life on Baron. Not when Kain was pretending that nothing was wrong here in this world - and, if she pegged Kain to be as malicious as she thought - taking advantage of the fact that she forgot.

"It was Golbez!" Cecil protested. "Rosa, I understand your wariness, but I promise you, whatever you think happened is not the whole story. He is self-conscious and very embarrassed of what happened. I don't want anyone blaming him more than he already blames himself, and making him feel worse. He is very dear to me, and I will not allow anyone to slander him."

Wow. Rosa didn't realize how much Cecil trusted Kain. She quickly relented, backing away from the conversation. "No, I'm sorry," Rosa said. "What I said was unfair. I didn't know it was Kain, but I made a terrible assumption."

"That's alright. Let's discuss something else," Cecil said, and his shifting eyes told Rosa how uncomfortable the conversation made him as well. "But anyway, I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable, at all, I just . . . I knew you, from before. I knew you from when we were in Baron together. We spent- a lot of time together." He hesitated on the last sentence, and Rosa looked up into his face, to try and read any sort of emotion there. She could see sadness - but it was always there, deeply buried in the back of his eyes every time he looked at her. Sadness, but also the softness of innocence and amiability. A small, soft smile. The way his eyes crinkled in genuine emotion at even the slightest show of it.

She'd seen that smile before.

"We were best friends," he added, and instantly, she was transported back to Baron, to her childhood:

CLANG.

The sound above them startled Rosa out of her concentration. She lifted her eyes from the book and glanced curiously at the stairs. "Archmagus, what was that?" she asked her teacher.

TCHINK!

"Just some sparring, probably. Pay no attention, Lady Rosa. You must be able to keep your concentration if you hope to-"

"Argh!"

"Stop! Please!"

Two mens' voices. Shouting and grunting. A clash so loud it set Rosa's ears ringing echoed through the halls of Baron Castle, down into the White Mages' training room.  "That sounds like real fighting!" Rosa said, hopping from her stool. The white and red skirts she wore as a White Mage in-training pooled around her legs, and Rosa had to gather fistfulls of them to haul them over her feet.

"Lady Rosa, do not interfere-" her Archmagus tried to yell.

"They could hurt each other! We have to do something!" she yelled, running past the Archmagus and tripping up the stairs. Open and friendly combat was common among the men of Baron Castle - even encouraged. Disputes were normal, after all, and the King always insisted on settling them 'Ye Olde Fashioned Way', as he called it, but this fight sounded too vicious to be in fun. Weapons didn't clash so forcefully when the parties weren't aiming to harm.

As a future White Mage, she had a duty to ensure that neither man ended up in her care.

When Rosa reached the top of the stairs, she expected to see two men, fully grown and clad in armor, trading blow after experienced blow in the hopes of landing the fatal hit. Instead, when she hefted her skirts above the landing and raised her eyes, all she saw were two boys. Not much older than she was at ten, one boy with bright blond hair and the other with soft silver hair. She recognized the silver-haired boy; he was the King's ward. Orphaned as a baby and taken in by His Majesty as a favor to his mother.

The two of them rushed each other again, but it was clumsy and almost comical. The blond boy hefted a too-long, too-heavy spear behind him while the King's ward sported a short sword that he had to wield with both hands. They slammed their weapons together, and they bounced off each other and hit the ground with another harsh metal sound. The two paused, panting awfully, so Rosa took her chance. She ran forward and placed herself between them.

"Hey! That's enough! What are you two doing?!"

The King's ward immediately relented, stepping away from the other boy and lowering his sword to the ground. She turned towards him, and he blinked in surprise at her. "S-sorry," he stammered. "Sorry, Lady Rosa." He bowed awkwardly to her.

He knew her name. Rosa's own surprise forced her back a step. "You know me, but I do not know you, except that you are the King's ward. Who are you?"

He glanced into her eyes. Smiled that smile. A smile that crinkled his eyes, and seemed to brighten up the room around him with its genuineness. It lifted spirits - she could feel it in his energy and in his politeness. He completely disarmed her and stripped her of her anger, and she could only smile back, staring into his royal blue eyes. Silver hair. Cute face.

"Cecil Harvey, Lady Rosa."

"Woah!" Rosa said. The memory seemed to strike her mind so hard, she felt the beginnings of a headache creep into her temples. "I just remembered something!" she blurted out, gently touching her hand to her head.

Cecil gasped. "What?" he asked, turning towards her. He lurched forward and grabbed her hands on impulse, overexcited for her. She almost pulled away, but realized that the motion didn't feel as unintentionally threatening as before. As though the memory brought with it a basic level of trust in Cecil she hadn't remembered before. He was so excited he even squeezed her hands.

"We were childhood friends! Right?" she said, asking him for confirmation. A wide smile split his cheeks, and he nodded so forcefully she thought his head would tumble from his neck. Joy and relief swept over Rosa, lifting enough weight off her shoulders that she felt lighter. Thank the gods. She remembered something about herself. A small piece about herself, but it was enough for her. A laugh bubbled up in her chest and tumbled out, and she grasped Cecil's hands in return. "We met when you were fighting with another boy-"

"With Kain!" Cecil said, practically vibrating with excitement. "We grew up together in the castle-"

Rosa tilted her head back and closed her eyes, letting the little sunspots that poked between the canopy of leaves warm tiny spots on her face. Was right then the best time to ask Cecil? Maybe she should save it for another time. Another day under the tree - tomorrow, when they would  no doubt be there again, perhaps? Any other day when the afternoon sun wasn't the perfect temperature and the breeze wasn't so refreshing and there were more clouds in the sky.

No. She had to ask him, today. She had to open up the dialogue. "Cecil, may I ask you something?"

"Of course."

She dropped her head, but did not look at him. She didn't want to see what his reaction would be to her question. "Do you even like training to be a Dark Knight? Do you even want to be one?"

"Yes, of course!" Cecil answered immediately. But Rosa knew him better than that. She knew after five years when his tone was genuine and when it wasn't. She could hear the uncharacteristic flatness that never bled into his normal, positive speech.

She threw the grass she was picking to the side and rolled towards him, resting her elbow on the ground and propping her head up with her hand. The hillside where they were laying was perfect for it. Outside of the Castle walls, where they could talk unheard, and uninterrupted. "Do you?"

It was Cecil's turn to look away. " . . . There's nothing else I'd rather be doing with my time, or my skills," he said distantly,  choosing his wording carefully. Rosa could tell that he meant what he said, but it upset her that he had to think of it in such a way. Having to word it exactly correctly so it wasn't false. That, to her, spoke volumes. "Plus, I owe a debt to His Majesty. He's never held it over me, not once. But I still feel I owe him something for taking me in the way that he did. Giving me the privileged life he has given me. If he wants me to be a Dark Knight, then I will be a Dark Knight. If he had asked me to be a Dragoon like Kain, then I would've been a Dragoon." He paused, and Rosa could see him thinking the entire situation through behind his blue eyes. "I think of His Majesty as my father, and he's treated me like a son. If he wants me to be a Dark Knight, who am I to question his judgment?"

I'm not saying that because of His Majesty, as though he made the wrong choice. I'm just wondering if it's what you want. I don't want you to feel . . . " Rosa couldn't think of the right words. "Pressured," she decided on. Or, no, that was the wrong word. "No, not 'pressured', but obligated. I don't want you to feel obligated to do something you don't want to do-"

"Rosa," he started, but she continued talking. She had to say what she was thinking.

"You're almost fifteen, so you'll be going to war soon under the Red Wings. I just want to make sure that you're doing what you want, because you could die. Do you understand that? I'm scared for you-" Cecil was already shaking his head. "-and I care too much about you to see you throw your life away over something you don't want to do. His Majesty would understand if you chose another path-"

"Rosa, I'm not choosing another path! Death is the risk that any man takes. I'm nearly at the top of the ranks already, after only training for four years - about to be promoted to Captain! I truly am happy training as a Dark Knight. It is what I want to do. I'm extremely good at it, and I want to make His Majesty proud. I know you're scared. War is a scary thing. But my training and my skill will carry me through."

"You're my best friend. I don't want you to go."

"Don't worry. You're my best friend, too, Rose, and I wouldn't ever leave you. The Red Wings' campaigns are only weeks long now, instead of months. We'll see each other soon." He sat up, inching closer to her, and  put his arm around her in a soft hug.

Rosa blinked, and Cecil was in front of her again. Not beside her. Not wide-eyed and small, but a confident man, holding her hands. Face bright with excitement. He'd grown up. A lot. She remembered that tree, the familiarity of that place and the feeling of the shade and the sun. She remembered the first time he took her there. "We always used to sit under a tree and talk. Just the two of us."

"That's right! But that wasn't the only secret spot we had. Do you remember the other one? The one that we shared with Kain?"

"Kain, wait!" Rosa called. "Slow down!"

"You have to hurry, or we'll miss it!" Kain insisted. He did slow his pace, but his long legs, even though he was only twelve, still gave him an edge over Rosa. Together the two of them ran through the Baron town, so fast that the air made Rosa's eyes water, stinging against her face. Past the Inn and Item Shop, past Rosa's mother's home, and behind the armory. They came to a halt at what looked to be a solid wall of hedges. It blocked their view of what lay beyond, but Rosa could tell that it was the stream. She could hear the gentle babble of water.

"What are we doing back here? It's a dead end," Rosa said.

Kain just shook his head, and walked over to the wall of shrubs and hedges. He grabbed a section of them, and to her surprise they came away easily, opening up like a makeshift door. Behind it lay an old, broken and decrepit stone bridge that traveled across the stream. Kain grabbed her hand and led her a few steps across, but when a brick wobbled under her feet, she froze in panic.

"Here. Hold on to me," Kain said, looping her arm in his. He carefully led her across the rest of the way, tapping each brick to ensure his footing as well as hers. When they were finally across he kept her arm locked in his, and led her down a dirt path, and up a set of stone steps. Rosa looked around the small stone enclosure they were in, and realized they were at the top of the reservoir. The three waterfalls that pooled into the stream spilled in front of her, and the water's roar echoed off the stone.

"Oh, wow! This place is beautiful!" Rosa said, squinting and shielding her eyes against the glare of the sunset.

"Wait. That's not the best part." Kain let go of her and dropped to the ground, lying on his back and facing the water. "If you lay like this, the sun makes colors in the water."

Rosa followed suit, and sure enough, as soon as she was level with the water, she caught the glints of an entire rainbow arcing over the foam and steam of the waterfalls. It was magnificent, a beautiful pool of color, and Rosa sighed in awe.

"Wow. This is amazing," she said. She looked over, and caught Kain staring at her.

"So are you," he muttered under his breath, but while looking at her. As though he didn't want her to hear it, but wanted her to know he was the one that said it. He offered her his hand, but she didn't want to take it. He dropped hints like that constantly, but she was already entertaining courtship from Cecil. She didn't enjoy his advances, subtle though they were. Caught in the middle of not knowing what to do, she started to shake her head before footsteps entered their enclosure.

"Hello!" Cecil said. "I see you showed Rosa the spot!"

Relieved for the timely distraction, Rosa quickly stood and went over to Cecil, dragging him over next to her. "Come sit beside me and look at this!"

Rosa returned to the present, and saw rainbow reflections in the water, just like in her memory. She gasped, believing for a split second that she was back home. Back near the waterfalls with Cecil right in front of her, holding her hands. But when she looked around in surprise, she realized it was Sanctuary's water, not the water of the Baron reservoir.

"Do you remember?" Cecil asked again. She almost forgot the question. Where they used to meet.

"The waterfalls! The three of us always used to go there and spend time together after we were finished with training for the day." They were only a few full conversations that she saw, but in her mind, there all of a sudden as if they had been there all along, were small snippets of other conversations. Hundreds and thousands of childish conversations. About new spells they made up, about what creatures could be on the moons, about anything and everything. Even a few fights that Rosa broke up between the two of them. Dragoons vs. Red Wings nonsense. When they got older, conversations about deeper subjects.

"Yes! The waterfalls! Rosa, I'm so happy!" he said, pulling her in. His arms wrapped around her shoulders, his warmth encircled her, and Rosa relaxed into his now familiar touch. He no longer felt foreign. He no longer felt like a complete stranger trying to win her trust. Instead, he felt like an old friend now. Already, she felt more complete. The holes in her heart were starting to fill, and she couldn't have been more happy. She lifted her own arms and curled them around him.

And just for a moment, everything felt right.

Cecil gasped like an exuberant child and pulled away, holding her at arm's length. "We need to spar with each other, too!"

"Spar? Why?"

"It may bring back some more memories!"

"But Cosmos said that doing battle with an adversary would bring back memories."

Cecil nodded quickly. "That is true, and battling Golbez probably would bring back the most memories," he said, "but doing battle in general can help as well. Especially if it's with someone you are familiar with. Would you like to try?"

If it meant bringing back more memories, she was ready to try anything. She wanted to know more about herself. She wanted to know more about Baron and about him and about Kain. She wanted to fill in every gap at once, and just be Rosa Joanna Farrell.

"Absolutely-" Wait. In Rosa's excitement, she very nearly forgot what was making her so anxious before. She still needed to see Zidane. Back from patrols in less than ten minutes. The nerves she felt before didn't compare to her happiness now. She almost thought about abandoning her search for the real Zidane, unwilling to return to that scary and dark moment.

Ten minutes. Talk to Zidane, and then spar with Cecil. She could wait, she decided.

"Oh. Umm," she said. "Wait. I still want to see Zidane. Can we wait for him?"

"Of course," Cecil said.

"I just want to talk to him for a moment or two. It won't take long at all."

"It's fine! Just let me know as soon as you're ready."

"I have . . . a lot of questions in the meantime."