Last Beginnings

Blood spilled over the streets of Shuigang. In a dark, empty corner where there lurked only those who were looking for trouble, unconscious bodies scattered the road. They were hurt, but breathing. Beyond them lay another, just a child, whose blood pooled beneath him and painted the concrete crimson. Small footsteps rushed over at the sound of his pained groans, and a short figure stood over him.

“Hey, mister! Are you okay?”

He clenched his teeth and painfully opened a single eye in the hope of getting a look at the person who had addressed him, but his vision was blurred, and his head ached. “Do I look okay to you?” he growled.

“No… No, that looks bad.” The person reached out to him, and spoke in a high voice, “Here, let me help you…”

He swatted their hand away. “No. I don’t need your help.” He tried to sit up, clutching his gut and bloodying his hand. Ultimately he just ended up flopping onto his back again. “I don’t… I… don’t…”

A moment later, he was supported into a sitting position. “Yes, you do.”

He paused for a moment to steady his breathing. Something was being tied around his wound, slowing the blood loss. His vision corrected itself, and he was able to see the group of bodies on the street. “What… What happened to…?”

“I saw them hurting you, so I came to help.”

His brow furrowed in confusion. “What…? So you’re the one who… who took all of them out?”

“Yeah, that was me.”

“But how? You’re just… you’re just a…” He looked to the person supporting him, and he cut himself off. She was a girl, smaller than him, with two little horns sticking out of her head and a pair of long tendrils dangling behind her. She looked concerned. “…a dragon. You’re a dragon.” He rested his palm against his forehead. “Sure, why not? Ugh…”

“I’m going to take you to the hospital,” the girl said insistently, attempting to lift him into her arms.

“No!” He pushed her away, and she stared at him in confusion. “No hospitals!”

“Well I’m not just going to leave you here!” she exclaimed.

He sighed. He looked down at his torso to see what she had used to tie around his wound, which was inevitably her own jacket. “No… No, I guess you’re not. Come here.” She knelt down beside him again. “Listen. I need you to take me somewhere else. I can point the way.”

“I’ll do it,” she said determinedly, and she began to lift him into her arms until he grunted and scolded her.

“No, put me down.” She did as she was told. “I can walk just… fine. I only need you to support me.”

“Oh. Okay.” She lifted him to his feet and helped to hold him up. Carefully, they took a couple of steps forward. He was unsteady, but she had him. “By the way… My name is Sash. What’s yours?”

“My name is—” His answer was cut short by a fit of coughing, during which she stopped and gripped his shoulders. He wiped his mouth and huffed, then looked up. His eyes met hers. He paused for a moment before trying again.

“My name is…”

“Spade?”

Spade snaps out of his thoughts. He shakes his head, then glances back at the mercenary who had addressed him. “Yes? What is it?” The mercenary indicates the truck behind him, running and ready to go. Spade nods. “Right. Get into your position and wait for the signal.”

As the mercenary leaves, Spade mentally kicks himself. He knows that he has to stay focused on this mission. It’s important for the leader to be in top form. After all, if he isn’t, how can he expect anyone else to be?

As the truck crashes through the gates, the mission is on. Spade leads the second party inside and takes out the guards. There are no alarms, which means the first party was successful in the infiltration. Everything is going according to plan.

Yet he can’t shake this feeling. The mercenaries have scattered to all ends of the building to carry out the robbery, and he’s been left alone. Everything seems to be going so right…

So why does it feel like something is wrong?

In a dark, dusty, and downright abandoned corner of Shuigang, there was a tall, decrepit concrete building where few dared to step foot. Near the top of this building, though it was an effort to climb to it, there was a hollowed out opening in the wall. Inside of this opening was a small room, in which sat the bare necessities that justify a home; several boxes and blankets were strewn about, a folding table, an ice box, radio, and a small two-seat sofa. It wasn’t much (and frankly the musty odor made it nearly unlivable), but to Spade, it was his home away from home.

To his bafflement, Sash was quite taken with the place from the moment she set foot in it. The way her eyes lit up when she stepped inside almost reminded him of his brother. Though Sash was much smaller than Dail, and didn’t have the weight of a kingdom resting on her shoulders.

“What is this place?” she asked in wonderment.

“It’s my… ‘secret hideout,'” he answered, acutely aware that the hideout wasn’t very secret anymore. “It’s where I go when I need to… get away from things.”

Sash led Spade to the couch, where he sat down and began removing the jacket from around his injury. “There are Red Petals in the box over there.” He instructed, “Bring a couple to me.” Sash did as she was told and retrieved the petals for him. As he began to apply the leaves to the gash, Sash sat down on the floor in front of him, and he observed the way she tilted her head at him in confusion. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Oh, I just…” she responded, scratching her cheek nervously. “I thought you were supposed to eat them.”

Spade raised an eyebrow. Then he felt the corners of his mouth turn up slightly, and he chuckled. Sash frowned and blushed slightly, turning her face away in embarrassment. “No, no, it’s okay!” he assured her. He held up an unused petal and explained, “You only eat the petals if the problem is inside of you, like if you catch the flu or something. But if the problem is on the outside, like this is, you use it on the problem directly. See?” He placed the petal on his wound along with the others.

“Oh!” She blinked in understanding. “I guess that makes sense.”

He nodded, and he smiled at her. “So…” He inquired, “Which part of the city do you live in? Once this is fixed up, we’re going to have to get you home.”

Sash lowered her head shamefully, and Spade immediately understood.

That’s when he knew what he had to do.

And he knows what he has to do now, as he faces her in the darkness here. Why does she always have to come and ruin everything? Her expression is stern, while he’s glaring right through her. What can he do except glare? The mere sight of her causes hatred to boil in his veins. How can she be so calm after everything she’s put him through? Yes, he knows exactly what he has to do. Or at least, some part of him does, not quite in the forefront of his mind, because all the forefront wants him to do is move at her.

“Sash,” he growls.

“Lilac,” she corrects.

No. She would never be Lilac to him.

“We don’t have to do this, Spade.”

It’s like she can’t even hear the words coming out of her mouth. Frankly, he can barely hear it either. He just hears the part that makes it hurt.

“No, we don’t have to do this,” he responds through gritted teeth, “but we’re going to anyway.”

For a moment, and just barely a moment, he can see the hesitation in her stance.

He doesn’t care.

He speeds toward her, all at once ramming his entire weight into her body. They fly across the grim battlefield. She lands on her back, but catches herself. She’s immediately knocked back down when the cards he tosses connect.

“Still training, Sash?”

“Lilac,” she spits.

She dashes at him, slamming herself into him head first. He’s thrown into the wall. He pushes her off of him, and he slips away before she can hit him again. She catches him when he throws himself at her, and smacks him so hard he’s nearly thrown into the ceiling. He’s not going to make that mistake again. Taking advantage of the extra air, he fires a barrage down at her. Somehow, none of the cards hit. He’s lost sight of her. He sticks his landing, scanning the area for her. Then she hurdles into him again. He grabs her by her horns and throws her back.

He spits on the ground. “Lucky shot.”

“You just don’t want to admit that I’ve improved,” she accuses.

“Please,” he scoffs. “If you’d improved, I would know. I’m the one who taught you in the first place, Sash.”

“Stop calling me that.”

He snarls. “Why wouldn’t I call you by your name?”

“That is not my name!!”

“Yes, it is!!”

They charge and begin straight-up pounding each other, no holds barred, both fueled by the strength of their fury. He’s so caught up in the fire in her eyes that he fails to block a punch that lands directly on his nose. He steps back, grabbing his face and gritting his teeth. He shakes the blood off of his hands. She’s glaring through him.

“Still just a lucky shot?” she challenges.

“Yes. That was my fault, not your accomplishment.”

She smacks him across the face with her tendril. His nose bleeds harder.

“How about now?”

He wipes the blood away. “…Yes.”

The longer they fight, the more tiresome it becomes, the more frustrated he grows. Why won’t she just give up? Why can’t she just let him win? He’s been working for this. He deserves it more than she does. He deserves to finally defeat the person who ruined his life.

“Why can’t you just stay out of my way?!” he screams. “This was never supposed to be about you, Sash!”

“My name is LILAC!!”

“No, it’s NOT!!”

Caught up in his rage, he slashes one of his edged cards down at a dangerous angle.

A scream cuts the air between them.

The card drops to the ground.

Spade stumbles back slightly, the breath catching in his throat. He doesn’t look down at the liquid pooling around his shoes. He can only stare at the sight in front of him. He can’t bring himself to move. He can only gape.

She’s bent over on the ground, clutching the gash in her stomach and bloodying her hand. Her agonizing screams pierce him like a thousand tiny needles. He slowly looks down, heart quickening, and eyes the palms of his hands. He stares past them, to the blood staining the floor. In the far distance, he hears a call. It only registers with him enough to remember the last time he heard it.

“Lilac!!”

“Carol!!” she shrieked.

“Sash, wait!” He grabbed her by the wrist, preventing her from impulsively leaping off of the vehicle. “There’s too many of them! We need to get out of here!”

“Not without Carol!”

“They’ll catch us if we wait anymore!!”

Her eyes met his, and hers were filled with emotion. He was never very good at identifying emotions. He could only see that she was upset, and the knit in her brow indicated she was upset with him in particular. His grip loosened only slightly. That was enough for her to escape.

“Sash?! Sash! No!!”

She’s gone.

SMACK.

Spade is on the ground. He doesn’t know how he got there. He doesn’t get the chance to find out before a powerful kick is slammed into his gut. Soon after, his chest is being violently pounded. He lays there, eyes wide with shock, taking the beating without fighting back. Fists are pounded into him in a seemingly endless loop. Again. And again. His body screams for it to stop, for him to fight back, to subdue the attacker before his lungs collapse on him. But he just lays there limply and takes the beating like a near-dead fish.

The eventual slash across his cheek is enough for him to gather who the attacker is.

Though his vision is blurry, he’s able to make out a figure of green standing over him, and his ringing ears pick up the sound of heavy breathing.

In the distance, he hears a call, a painfully familiar voice that makes him gasp for air. He forgets momentarily where he is or what he’s doing, how he got on the ground or that he even was on the ground. His vision fades in and out, but all of his senses are focused in on that voice. A voice so beautiful and melodic that it can carry him away even in its most desperate of tones.

Sash’s voice.

As her beautiful voice leaves his ears, he turns his head weakly to the side. He sees the green one retreat to Sash’s side and help her to her feet. As he feels himself being lifted by his mercenaries, his eyes remain affixed to her. She becomes but a purple speck in the distance, and not long after, she’s gone. As he’s carried away, his head is light, filled with only one thought.

What was he thinking?

“What were you thinking?!”

Lilac sighs, clutching the bandaged gash in her stomach. She averts her gaze as Carol continues to berate her. “I don’t know, I just—”

“There were four of us there! If you hadn’t gone after him alone, we wouldn’t be here right now! And—”

“—And Spade wasn’t even that important,” Lilac cuts her off. “We should have focused on the central party and taken care of him when he came after us.”

Carol slumps over. “What is with you and him?” she questions. “I thought you’d know by now that he’s bad news.”

“Don’t be so hard on him…”

“Don’t be so hard on him?! Lilac! He’s Spade!!” Carol presses her palm against her forehead. “Did you forget everything that he’s done?”

“Of course I haven’t,” Lilac responds moderately.

“Then why do you always—” Carol stops, tossing her arms into the air defeatedly. “Oh, forget it. Forget it! I’m not arguing with you anymore. This is stupid. It’s so stupid! I wish you would just stop getting yourself hurt.”

Carol turns away and folds her arms, and Lilac frowns. “Carol.” Carol adamantly refuses to respond. “Carol…” Carol’s ears flatten against her head. She glances back, eyes soft. Lilac pats the spot beside her on the bed. After giving a small grumble, Carol shuffles over and sits down beside Lilac. Lilac smiles.

“There’s good in him, Carol,” she insists. “I can see it.”

“Yeah, well, it’s buried pretty deep.”

“That’s not true,” Lilac says. She stares absently down at the covers for a moment. “That’s not true.” She’s unsure whether or not it’s really Carol she’s saying this to. “I guess I just can’t help but think that, maybe…” She tries to think back to the time that she and Spade spent together before she left the Scarves. Somehow, it’s all blurred together, like it was some sort of dream. It’s hard to picture, but she can see it somewhere in there… She and him, unconditional friends. “…maybe I could help bring that good in him to the surface.”

Carol goes silent for a moment, glaring at nothing in particular. “Maybe you’re right,” she mutters eventually, “but that doesn’t mean you can just keep throwing yourself at him.”

Lilac glances aside. “Maybe you’re right,” she admits. “Maybe… But I don’t want to just give up on him.”

Carol gives an empty chuckle. “Of course you don’t. You’re you.” She shakes her head. “Lilac, can you promise me you won’t go after him?”

Lilac lowers her head. “No,” she answers resignedly. “No, I can’t promise that.” Carol falls quiet again. “I’m sorry…”

“Look,” says Carol pointedly, hiding her face, “whatever you end up doing, I know I can’t stop you.” She turns slightly, though she doesn’t look at Lilac. The sparkle in her eyes betrays the harshness of her tone. “Just… try not to get yourself hurt, okay?”

Lilac nods. “I promise.”

“Pinky swear?”

Lilac entwines her pinky with Carol’s, and Carol looks up. Lilac smiles gently. “Pinky swear.”

Carol lowers her head again, eyes scanning the bedsheets as if searching for something. “Alright.” She stands, and Lilac’s gaze follows her to the door. Carol’s voice shakes as she says, “Don’t break it.”

“I won’t,” Lilac assures her. The door has already closed.

She lays back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Spade was out there somewhere, brooding, no doubt. What would happen if she confronted him? Would he want to fight? Would he be tired of fighting? Would it even be possible just to sit down and have a conversation with him? She couldn’t know for certain. He was never so predictable.

But where could he be lurking? Would he have just gone back to the Scarves’ hideout, or is there somewhere else he might be? She closes her eyes and thinks back. If there’s anywhere he used to go to get away from things, she didn’t know about it.

Or did she?

She could see it, somewhere in the back of her memory, swirled together with all the thoughts she had tried so long to repress. A place that meant the world to him, that once was her entire world as well. She couldn’t picture it exactly, but she knew her legs could carry her there.

As she opened the window and gauged whether she could fit through it, Carol’s words echoed in her mind. She wouldn’t get hurt, she promised, and she promised not to break that promise, and she couldn’t be certain that she could keep those promises if she went through with this.

Still, she hurls herself out into the great beyond.

What is she thinking?

“What were you thinking?!”

“What was thinking? What were you thinking?!” She glared at him as she spat, “You saw her fall, and you didn’t do anything! Then I had to go back, and—”

“You broke protocol and jeopardized the mission!” he returned. “Our load could have been twice as heavy if you hadn’t done that. Twice! That many crystals would have supported the Scarves for another three months!”

“Carol would have died if I hadn’t gone back for her! And you have the audacity to stand there and blame me for saving her life just because we didn’t make off with as much money as we could have?!”

“People die, Sash!” Spade shouted. He faltered at the expression that she gave him. “People die,” he repeated, weakness damaging his tone. “Sometimes people you like die. It happens. Especially to people like us.”

“What kind of people are we, Spade?” Sash challenged. He opened his mouth to give a retort, but she continued without him. “Because if we’re the kind of people who sit back and let our friends be murdered just so we can support ourselves…” She shook her head. “…then I don’t want to be this kind of person anymore.”

“Sash—”

“No.” She held her hand up in front of him, her gaze drilling into his. “No, Spade. I’m sorry. I’m… I’m done.”

As she swung around and stomped away to where Carol was seated on the ground, bleeding into the dirt, Spade felt his stomach suddenly become very heavy. And yet somehow, at the same time, his chest felt unbearably empty. Something was bubbling in the pit in his stomach, twisting and churning so horribly that he might have thrown up if he didn’t have the self-control to prevent it. And as he saw his best friend kneel down beside Carol, remove the petals from her mouth and apply them to her injuries, it boiled over.

“Fine! I don’t need you anyway!” Spade roared, and he roared it with everything he had. He didn’t even wait to see her response, he just turned and ran, and ran, and ran. “I don’t need you!”

“I don’t need you!”

But he did need her. He always needed her. And he hates to admit it even to himself, but he still needs her. He needs her so much. It hurts to think about her; it hurts even more to see her. The memory of her smiling at him hurts, because she’ll never smile at him again. And she always had such a bright smile… But he screwed everything up. He screwed everything up so horribly, and now he can’t stand to even think about her.

So what is he doing here?

Of all the places he could go, why would he come back here?

He can’t answer that question, though he wishes he could. His feet just led him here. He doesn’t really need an answer, though. He doesn’t really care. He’s fine to just revel in the nostalgia of this place.

It’s kind of funny. It’s still here, though he was certain his father or brother would have had the building torn down by now. Everything is right where he left it. The blankets, the radio, the icebox, the sofa. The only difference is that it’s all dusty and covered in mold now, and there might be a family of possums nesting in the couch. It was older, a bit worn down, but so was he. After all this time, it was still here, just as they had left it.

The place where he and Sash had spent countless days together in their childhood.

He missed Sash.

He knew that Lilac didn’t.

But why should he care what Lilac thinks? Lilac doesn’t matter to him. Lilac isn’t Sash. Even if she has her body and her mind, she isn’t Sash. Sash would never betray him like Lilac did. Sash is dead.

Lilac killed Sash.

He could never forgive her for that. For killing his best friend. One of the only people he ever cared about, he ever loved, was dead because of Lilac. He could never forgive her for that. He could never forgive her for looking just like her, for having her voice, for having her smile. For not giving that smile to him. He could never forgive her.

Never.

NEVER.

“I figured I’d find you here.”

Spade snaps to attention, eyes wide as he swings around. Standing just in the entrance of this place (his place) is Lilac.

Lilac the Dragon Girl.

Lilac the Best Friend Murderer.

And yet, all he can bring himself to do is stare at her. Stare at her, and the bandages wrapped around her stomach. A pang of some sort falls across him, though he can’t properly identify it.

Her eyes fall to the floor and she brushes a hair away from her face. “You never liked to admit that you were the sentimental type… but you didn’t do a very good job of hiding it.” She walks around the room, arms folded behind her back, taking in the scenery. “Wow. I never thought I’d see this place again. I figured they would have taken it down by now, or maybe it would have just collapsed. But it’s still here.”

Spade looks down, clenching a fist at his side. “Yeah,” he responds, though it comes out as a mutter. “Crazy.”

She stops just to the left of him so that he can see her boot in front of him no matter how hard he lowers his gaze. With an unconscious grumble, he closes his eyes.

“I’m not going to ask you why you do it, Spade,” she says gently, the soft breeze carrying her voice to him like light petals on an early spring morning. “I know. And I know that I hurt you, and I’m sorry for that.” He looks up to find that she’s now the one with her eyes closed. “I never meant to leave you. Not when you needed me.” She pauses momentarily. “I guess I just couldn’t see it for what it was.”

She turns away and covers her face with her hand. He sees that she’s trying to hold her breath. He looks away from her, not wanting to fixate on such a sight. Instead, he stares out over the rooftops of the city where he had grown up. Where he and Sash had grown up. Together.

“I know you hate me.”

He looks back at her. She looks back at him. Her stance is refined, hands held properly at her sides. Though they show signs of sadness and exhaustion, her eyes are thick with maturity, as though she could handle any situation with the levelest of heads, much unlike himself.

“I don’t blame you.” Her voice is clear. “I’ll never blame you for that.”

Spade feels a knot in his stomach.

“I just don’t want to leave you again.”

All of a sudden, there’s a connection, like a piece was fit in that had too long been missing. All this time, all he could feel was anger, anger at the one who ran away and took his best friend with her. Anger, but no perspective.

She’s filled with nothing but perspective. It seems she has more than enough to go around.

Sash.

The girl who rescued him off the streets of Shuigang all those years ago.

Lilac.

The woman who stood facing him now.

It’s true that they were different (and oh, how different they were), but in their heart, they’re still the same. Lilac had come for him in his time of need, the time he didn’t even know he needed, just as Sash had so many times. Sash was always there to keep him in line, just like Lilac always tried to.

He loved Sash.

But Sash and Lilac are the same person.

And even Spade can’t bring himself to hate the person he loves.

There’s that pang again. What was it? Oh, of course. He knows this feeling.

Guilt.

Guilt for the hatred he’s felt all this time. Guilt for feeling this hatred for the person he loves. Guilt for not taking her hand any one of the of times that she reached out to him.

And all that time, it was about her. Everything was always about her. It was always about his pain over Sash, his hatred for Lilac. It had driven him to be somebody he wasn’t. Somebody terrible. He wasn’t the same boy who Sash had rescued off the streets, who had taken pity on her upon hearing she had nowhere else to go. He was a man. A horrible man who killed people and ruined lives and never thought of anything but himself and finally giving Lilac what she deserved.

Meanwhile, Sash had grown. Sash had grown into Lilac, a woman who always put others ahead of herself, who wanted nothing but to see everyone around her smile.

He had never given Lilac his smile.

She wasn’t the one who betrayed him.

He was the one who betrayed her.

And she stands here in front of him, head hung low, blaming herself for what he’s become. But it wasn’t her fault. It was never her fault. It was always his. His fault for not listening to her. His fault for letting her go. His fault for letting himself go.

Maybe he knew this all along.

Maybe he was just tired of not admitting it.

He sat down on the edge of the building overlooking the city, and Lilac glanced to him, both remaining silent. After a moment, she sat down beside him. They stared out at the lights that so brightly pierced the dark of night.

“Lilac.”

She blinked at him. He turned his head away. His eyes scanned the floor tentatively. Then he faced forward again.

“Do you remember… when we first met?”

Lilac nods slowly. “Of course I do.” She smiles lightly. “Not all of the details, but… I remember that I saved your tail from a bunch of thugs.”

Spade grumbles. “Well, that wasn’t exactly my finest hour…” Lilac giggles. Spade scoffs, “But don’t be too cocky, you weren’t so hot yourself back then. Remember when we were first training in the Scarves?”

“Yeah, I kept falling off of the bike. I think I still have marks from all the times I scraped my knees.”

“Yeah, and I was a natural,” he brags.

“Pffft. Carol was better.”

“Well. I guess I can’t argue with that… Carol was better than both of us in a lot of ways. She didn’t grow into it as well as you did, though.”

“I’m flattered.” She tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I remember when you two used to hang out, back when she and I were still tournament rivals… I guess you were just sort of drawn to her since she was so talented. She could actually ride the bike without breaking her face.” She chuckles, though there’s no joy behind her smile. “You always did like Carol more than you liked me.”

“That’s not true.”

She turns to him, brow raised curiously, and is surprised to see the look of genuine confusion and seriousness on his face.

“I never liked anybody more than I liked you.”

She pauses momentarily, mouth gaping somewhat slightly as she takes this in. The sincerity in his tone had caught her off guard; she hadn’t heard him speak that way in ages. Not just that sincerity, but the fact that the truest words she had ever heard him speak were that he liked her. Genuinely, at least at some point, he liked her. This fact probed at her brain, and suddenly she could remember. There was a time when she and Spade had genuinely liked each other for who they were. There was a time when there was no animosity between them. After all this time, it almost felt like a dream, a dream that she had long pushed away from her memory, but she remembered now. It was real. And it was all right here, in this place.

She smiles, and his already baffled expression becomes all the more baffled.

“Really? So you liked me more than you liked Dail?”

Spade’s cheeks flush slightly in embarrassment, and he turns his head away from her. “Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration…”

Lilac laughs. Not mockingly, but simply for the joy of it. She sits back and brushes the hair away from her face for a better view of the stars. She lets out a contented sigh.

“If only we could start over.”

Spade blinks at her. “What?”

“You and I,” she elaborates. “Try again. If everything reset to the way things were before we met each other, before everything happened between us, then maybe things wouldn’t have to be this way. If we played our cards right… maybe we could have stayed friends.”

Spade stares at her for a moment, his eyes fixated on hers, hers fixated on the sky. It’s tempting, the idea that they could have all of the good moments, all of the time that they spent together and more, and none of the time they spent so far apart. But that’s nothing but a dream. He shakes his head. “Well, we can’t,” he responds matter-of-factly, or at least that’s the tone he’s trying to give off; he comes across almost saddened by his own words. But they put no damper on Lilac.

“But what if we could?”

There’s a note of hope in the way that she speaks, and it’s a hope that Spade could never dream of producing. His eyes look to hers, and hers back at his, and she smiles. She’s smiling at him. It feels so strange for him to see again, like those memories of her smile were all just some fabricated dream that he had clung to for all this time. But it was real. And it was here. And it was now.

“What if we could?” he inquires, and he truly wants to know.

Lilac closes her eyes for a moment, lowering her head. He stares at her patiently, taking in her every detail. The perfections in her face. The disruptions in her hair, no doubt from running across two entire kingdoms in a single night. When she looks up, her eyes, the glimmer in them, their lovely shade of reddish-purple. Her smile.

“My name is Lilac. What’s yours?”

The breath catches in his throat. He meets her gaze steadily, the gaze of this woman who might have been a stranger if he didn’t know her so well. He might have forgotten the answer to her question for a moment, and just a moment. That was all he needed.

“Spade,” he answers clearly. “My name is Spade.”

She smiles and nods, and extends her hand to him. The hand that she’s been extending to him. He might finally be ready to take it. “It’s nice to meet you, Spade.”

He shakes her hand. “It’s nice to meet you too, Lilac.”

In the cold night air in that musty little shelter in a far corner of Shuigang, the winds shift. It’s different, and yet somehow, it’s very much the same. The wind rippled through his hair, and once it passed, he was smiling. And he smiled like he had never smiled before. They held their hands there, and they kept their eyes there, here in this place.

And there was no other place like it, because this one was theirs. It was their place. In another time, perhaps it might have been the place where they got to know each other, where they talked to each other and taught each other their own ways of life. Perhaps, in a time that may have existed at some point, but not anymore, it may have been the place where things began to fall apart.

But here and now, their place is just that: theirs. It’s theirs to be in alone together, to sit in together under the starlight gleaming down and touching them each in such a way that shows them they’re the only things that matter right now.

And as they lean into each other under the moonlight, it’s here where they truly meet for the very first time.

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