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Secrets

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   Alexstrasza Ysera spread her bedroll out before her onto the frozen ground then placed a blanket that has been folded in half on top of it, trying to cut the chill of the snow beneath. She lowered herself and sat cross-legged then pulled another blanket from her bag wrapping it around her small shoulders as the Coerthas Central Highlands are bitterly cold. The clime of Coerthas normally does not bother her for she has grown accustomed to it from all the time she has spent here and in Ishgard, however she knows she will spend the day here with him as she has so many times before and he would be highly upset were she to allow herself to freeze to death. A sad, wistful sigh escapes her lips as she carefully withdraws a bouquet of flowers from her backpack that she had recently picked in Yanxia not even a half hour ago before teleporting directly to Providence Point.
 

   “Hello my love. I miss you," She whispers softly as she places the bouquet in front of the memorial stone to the left of her beloved’s broken shield. “I thought you would like these. They remind me of your eyes." The delicate petals were the bright, brilliant shade of blue as the ocean, the same hue as his eyes, Haurchefant’s eyes. Tears clouded her vision as she thought of the last time she had seen those beautiful eyes she loved so much. It had been three years this very day following the Vault, three years since her love had sacrificed his life to save her own and Gods how she missed him, his laugh, his smile, his touch. She missed everything.

    She shifted her position and leaned forward to rest her cheek upon his memorial stone as the tears had begun to flow freely now. Although she was committed to a kind, generous, loving man, her heart still yearned for Haurchefant and it always would for he was more than her betrothed, he was her entire world. As he took his final breath and his ocean blue eyes drifted shut for the last time her world shattered into a million pieces and came crashing down upon her dragging her into an abyss filled with so much anguish that she truly thought she would die for never in her life had she felt such intense pain before, twas almost unbearable. However, the pain had dulled considerably over the past three years mostly by virtue of a dear friend who she had fallen deeply in love with for it was Aymeric’s endless compassion, kindness and love that had healed her broken heart and ’twas also him who had labored so tirelessly beside her with inhuman patience as he helped put the pieces of her fractured existence back together.
    

   Aymeric had become one of her most loyal friends after she had defeated Shiva and since then had stood fast beside her, never wavering, through it all. From the accusations of regicide against her in Ul’Dah to the tragic death of Haurchefant and the aftermath, he had been there for her, whether it be an ear to listen or just his presence in the same room if she did not wish to be alone. He would always make time for her even if he were swamped with work as was the norm and as a consequence many days and evenings were spent in his office at Congregation as he played catch up with the paperwork piled on his desk and her just sitting quietly on the sofa by the fireplace reading or writing in her journal. She was, in fact, such a common fixture in his office that whenever she came home to Ishgard and when it came time to bring Aymeric his tea or his lunch, or sometimes even dinner, the tray was always set for two thanks to an ever observant Lucia.
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     ’Twas on a cold and snowy evening six months after Haurchefant’s death that found her in Aymeric’s office yet again seeking comfort in his presence and solace in the silence. She sat on the sofa by the fire with her legs curled next to her and a book in her hands. A book long forgotten as she stared into the flames, her flicking tail a telltale sign that she was lost in thought and no longer in the present but somewhere months or years ago. The memories of the people she had failed to save, their faces returning to torment her, with her Haurchefant always being first and foremost in her mind. She saw his beloved face so clearly, his eyes and his smile, ’twas as if he were standing before her, however as the image in her mind suddenly changed, it painfully reminded her that he was not and ’twould never be again. A strangled cry tore from her throat as she stared in horror as she saw the memory that was going to haunt her until the day she died for Haurchefant's beautiful, smiling face had been replaced with him lying on the landing with a gaping hole in his upper abdomen, coughing and gasping for air as Aymeric held his head, blood trickling from his mouth-
   

   Her thoughts were interrupted as gentle hands pried the book she was twisting and clenching, rather painfully now, from her hands which caused her to jump. “Pray forgive my startling you so, my friend,"  Aymeric’s soft, smooth voice pulled her back to the present. She looked up and met his sky blue eyes which were filled with concern, understanding and something else she could not quite put her finger on before it vanished to be replaced with humor. “I could not, in good conscience, just stand idly by and watch my dear friend commit murder right before mine own eyes, now could I?” His tone was light and teasing as he arched a perfect eyebrow and cocked his head slightly as he questioned, “Pray tell, what did that book ever do to you?”
  

    Alex had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at the expression on his face as she decided to join him in his silly game for, bless him, he was trying to distract her from her thoughts. “Pray forgive my carelessness Lord Commander and for placing you in such an awkward situation. ’Twas not my intention therefore I shall endeavor to be on my best behavior."
    

    “As you should be Alexstrasza," his silky voice was stern and his handsome face full of disapproval. He sat beside her on the sofa and she shifted her position to see his face. He turned to her then his bright blue eyes sparkling with merriment, his full lips twitching as he kept the charade going. “I do not believe you understand the severity of the situation your reckless actions almost placed me in." His lips twitched even more now. “Not only are you the Guardian of Eorzea and the vaunted Warrior of Light," he took her hand then, his touch warm and gentle. “You are my very dear friend," he paused again to let out the soft chuckle he had been holding back. “ ’Twould cause me considerable pain and suffering to have to arrest you."
   

   Unbidden an image of her, shackles on her wrists, being led into a room by Aymeric popped into her mind and it rocked her to her very core as she realized with a start that it was not just any room, it was Aymeric's bed chamber. She flushed hotly as she pushed, nay she shoved the unwanted picture from her thoughts and told herself adamantly that it only appeared because she is exhausted and overworked. Her and Aymeric? Ridiculous. He was just a friend, a dear friend and she knew without a doubt that he felt the same towards her as well.
  

    "Well then, I cannot allow that to happen now can I?" She met his gaze as she tried to ignore the fact that her heart was thumping wildly in her chest. "You have my word that I shall not cause you any trouble, Ser Aymeric."
   

    "Very good." His silky voice was soft and gentle as his mouth curved into a tender smile, his shockingly blue eyes filled with kindness, compassion and that fleeting emotion she could not name before it disappeared. 'Twas as if Aymeric was purposely hiding something from her which she found rather odd. "Full well you know it is Aymeric. You have not called me "Ser" in well over a year and I am not about to let you start that again, Alexstrasza."
   

    "As you wish, Aymeric. However, you must call me Alex then."  As she gently squeezed his hand she noticed that elusive, unknown something in his eyes once more and although she recognized it immediately now as it lingered a few moments longer than previously and she became certain she was in fact mistaken for it made no sense to her at all. Why on Eorzea would Aymeric de Borel, Lord Commander of the Temple Knights, be in love with her? No reason whatsoever she concluded as she found the notion preposterous, absurd... ridiculous even.                                                                                                                                           

      "Of course," he smiled as he raised her hand and brushed his lips softly against her knuckles. " 'Twould not only be an honor, but my pleasure as well, Alex."
                                                                                                            
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    "How you can stand to be out here in this cold is beyond me," a soft masculine voice brought her out of her memories as its owner knelt beside her and encircled her shoulders with his arm. Ever so gently, as if she were fragile, he eased her away from her hard, stone pillow and helped her into a more comfortable position, his arm never leaving her shoulders. He turned her face to his and as he studied it worry creased his brow for her cheeks and the tip of her nose were both bright red from the bitter temperature in the Central Highlands which had also caused her tears to freeze not only on her eyelashes but as they slid down her cheeks as well. "How long have you been out here this time?" He asked as he frowned and gently brushed the frozen teardrops from her face.

      Alex exhaled a long and shaky breath as she peered at Alphinaud who had went from an annoying, bossy nuisance to someone she could tolerate and finally to one of her best friends in the span of a little over year. Granted he was young, yes and still irritating at times, but he had been by her side through everything, the wonderful moments as well as all the trials and tribulations wearing the mantle Warrior of Light brought. She thought about the instances she was near death or that the boy assumed she was and 'twas always Alphinaud that kept constant vigil by her bedside as he refused to leave until she had awakened. "Not long."

      "Are you actually trying to lie to me, my friend?" Alphinaud arched an eyebrow at her and huffed indignantly. "As if you could. Full well you know I would see right through it." He smirked then. "Besides your involuntary shivering and chattering teeth betray you."

      "I am fine," she protested. "I am not leaving yet."

      He stared at his best friend intently and opened his mouth to speak then closed it as he sighed in resignation. He stood and looked down at her huddled form. "Have it your way this time, Alex, however we are going to have a fire. I shall gather wood and you can ignite it with your magicks." He winked at her as he added, "I cannot let the Warrior of Light freeze to death, now can I?"

      "Nay, 'twould not do at all," Alex called after him as he had begun to walk away. "You must needs take care of your weapon, Alphinaud."

      He halted mid stride then spun around on his heel and marched back to where she still sat then knelt beside her. Although he saw the teasing look on her face and sparkle in her cat-shaped apple green eyes, her words still felt like salt on an open wound for they rang true. "You are not a weapon Alex, mine nor anyone else's for that matter," Alphinaud's spoke fiercely as his eyes shone with unshed tears, guilt and shame. "Pray forgive me for ever causing you to feel that way. 'Twas never my intention to do so and would that I could turn back the hands of time to change not only my words and behavior but to erase all the pain you have had to endure. Unfortunately 'tis naught I can do to alter the past as I am so oft reminded of by a friend who has told me many times what is done is done, it cannot be undone." Alphinaud gave her a tremulous smile then took her hands. A tear trickled down his cheek but he cared not for she needed to hear his words as much as he needed to say them. Although she knew how he felt he had never actually said it until now as he was terrible at expressing his feelings and could never find the right words however the fact that she had been defeated in battle by Lord Zenos yae Galvus twice now had shaken him to his core, full well knowing 'twas by the grace of said lord that she was here now as the man had shown mercy and spared her life twice. Alphinaud was no fool and there was no doubt in his mind that Lord Zenos would not spare it a third. Alex was the Warrior of Light after all and there were no certainties in her line of work which meant the possibility of her not returning from a mission on her own accord was not only terrifying but quite real. 'Twas this reason he had to tell her for he did could not live with himself if she died without ever have heard him say how much she truly meant to him nor could he live with the guilt and regret that he had never told her while he had the chance. "I hold you close to my heart, Alex and there you shall remain until I leave this world for you are my best friend and I love you."

      "Oh Alphinaud, I love you as well." Alex put her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder as he returned her embrace. "Full well you know that you and Thancred are my best friends for the two of you are the only ones strong enough to put up with my stubbornness, I am afraid."

      "Well, I can say the same of you, Alex. You are the only one who has the patience to endure my arrogant and bossy ways which, I suspect, is why you got stuck with me in the first place." He teased.
 

      "I am happy to be stuck with you, Alphinaud," She smiled against his shoulder.

      "And I with you, Alex," Alphinaud spoke quietly and his arms tightened around her small frame as he took comfort in the fact she was with him now, still alive and standing strong after all she had endured. Silently he thanked the Twelve for it as most of what she had been through should have, by all logic, killed her and yet it had not. Only one time had he seen Alex break and it had terrified him like naught else before for 'twas not even an enemy that had laid her low. Nay, instead 'twas by the very source of whence her power and strength came...love. When Haurchefant fell protecting his beloved Alex, Alphinaud truly thought the sheer amount of pain she was in was going to be the death of her for he had never seen a person in so much agony before and that Alexstrasza Ysera, the renowned Warrior of Light, would die of a broken heart. He shuddered inwardly as he thought of what could have been had Estinien not had the speed and reflexes of a coeurl and Ser Aymeric the selflessness and patience of a saint for it took both men to restrain her as Alex was well beyond caring about aught at that point. Although both the Azure Dragoon and the Lord Commander helped, 'twas only the latter she finally listened to and would allow near her after they released her. 'Twas Ser Aymeric who led her out of the Vault that day as they both leaned on the other for support and 'twas what drove Alphinaud to seek her out today, that memory etched into his mind for eternity and he did not want her to be alone. His best friend, a woman with endless love and courage who was magnificent yet terrifying on the battlefield and a true force to be reckoned as she wielded her magicks, had almost died three years ago today.