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When you'd first met Alisaie...well, you suppose you first met her when you were waking up from Louisoix's teleportation. You'd barely even acknowledged her then, between your confusion and memory loss. You'd had other things on your mind.

But the second times (for you count the various speeches of the city-states as one meeting), she'd been...impetuous and, dare you say it, bratty. Honestly, she and Alphinaud both had been. But her impetuous nature stood out so strongly in contrast to Alphinaud's diplomatic spirit.

After that, in truth, you'd all-but forgotten about her. You'd (re)joined the Scions (though "rejoined" perhaps means something different to you now), faced Primals, seen your new friends slaughtered, met Cid once more, and re-met Alphinaud - as an ally this time, rather than the running commentary in the back of a theatre.

Then you'd descended the Coils.

You met Alisaie again, and got to know her at least a little.

Straightforward, you'd thought, and stubborn to boot. Those were the best words to describe her. A girl sharply contrasting with Alphinaud's level head and steady planning. She was driven by her emotions - her dedication to finding the truth of her grandfather.

You respected it.

You respected her dedication to those she cared for, stepping deep into the gates of the hells themselves to try and drag Louisoix out. You respected her dedication to the good of Eorzea, even if it cost her that which she had travelled for. And, at the end of your journey together with the twins, you respected her drive to carve her own path.

And, for a long while, that was the end of it.

You thought of her as you and Alphinaud fled the bloody banquet, of course. You sent a silent prayer her way for her prescience and distant style of care as she provided a wagon to retrieve you from the nest of serpents you had found yourselves in.

But then...then there had been the long wait, and the colds of Coerthas.

New friends, and old friends, and death. Betrayal and war and so, so much hellish fighting. Pulling Y'shtola from the lifestream, and finding Thancred as the bitter man he had turned into in your absence. The fall, and rise, and fall of Estinien. And the moment you and Alphinaud dragged him back.

And that was the end of it, you'd believed.

But then you'd met the Warriors of Darkness (it makes a certain twisted sense, in retrospect - how the First had been the reason you'd reunited with her, and was, later, the reason you and she were torn apart). And Alisaie had stepped back into your life with all the subtlety of Leviathan's storms. Bold and confident and self-assured.

Kind, you'd thought, in La Noscea, after fighting Titan. Gentle, you'd thought, as the two of you sat before a starlit sky and spoke of her grandfather and of the people she had fought with in her travels away. Elegant, you'd thought, as she summoned an aetherial blade to strike down her enemies.

(And if your eyes lingered on her thighs a moment longer than they should have, you forgave yourself - she had become a confident young woman in her time away, and despite much rumour to the contrary, you are only mortal.)

Then you had journeyed together to Gyr Abania, and to the Far East.

Clever, you'd thought, as she joked about Alphinaud's lack of swimming talent. Endearing, you'd thought, as Lyse hugged and flustered her. And still, in amongst all of that, she was so, so driven. Her strong words against foolish heroic sacrifices had stuck with you - even to this day, they seemed to be the mantra of the Scions.

(Part of you wonders how much that is for her benefit, and how much of it is for yours. No sacrifices. No pointless heroics. No more blood to sully your hands. No more. No more, please, gods, no more.)

You don't know when her feelings for you shifted. You might have the Echo, but that's only useful for visions. And it's never shown you a vision of her admiring your physique in battle in the Ruby Sea, or anything so simple as that. No, you're left with guesswork and the slow shifting of her words and deeds over time.

That, and a tea date. Just the girls. No Alphinaud, no Thancred, no Estinien. You'd arrived late, delayed on one errand or another. And as you sat down, Lyse hadn't hesitated to throw Alisaie beneath a carriage.

"We were just talking about all of the things you do in your spare time," she'd said, a grin on her lips even as Alisaie's expression shifted into one of panic. "Alisaie seems to be very devoted to keeping track of all your heroics, you know? I think you've got a fan."

She'd grinned and taken a bite from her pastry, and you'd seen Alisaie's flushed cheeks before Y'shtola had stepped in. "Oh, come now. Be kind to the girl, Lyse. She was simply showing her appreciation for our mutual friend."

That had just made Alisaie blush harder.

You'd given her a comforting pat to the shoulder, ordered yourself more tea, and shifted the topic swiftly onwards towards Lyse's own love life. You'd bumped shoulders with Alisaie, and she'd smiled at you thankfully.

Sweet, you'd thought. But you knew her feelings would pass, in time. And it was flattering, in a way! But it was certainly not something you'd ever enable or encourage. A teenage crush - nothing more.

And everything was fine.

Everything was fine as you watched Fordola wrestle with her false echo, and watched a primal be summoned in the throne room of Ala Mhigo. Everything was fine as you saw the return of Yotsuyu. Everything was fine as her brother betrayed her and turned her into a weapon of war. Everything was fine as you watched Tsuyu die. All with Alisaie at your side.

Until suddenly, nothing was fine.

Alphinaud went missing on his mission to Garlemald. You tracked him to the Burn, and you saw Alisaie desperate in a way you'd never seen before - a way you would learn to know all too well in the days to come.

Scared, you'd thought.

Thancred was Called, and nothing was fine.

Then Y'shtola and Urianger, and you saw her desperation again.

Then Alphinaud, too, and you saw her raw and exposed and hurting.

Then Garlemald prepared for its assault on Ala Mhigo.

And nothing was fine.

And, on the eve of battle, you admitted to yourself that her feelings weren't simply a teenage crush.

As she hugged you close and made you swear that you wouldn't leave her alone, you admitted that she cared more for you than you could ever truly describe. And, scared and vulnerable, you hugged her and held her and, you told yourself, indulged her crush. Just this once. You promised her. You swore.

But you didn't make her swear the same to you.

You should've.

Because when that voice split your head open and you staggered to your knees, your only concern was for her. For your promise to her. For the pain she was suffering.

Your only thought was that if you could reach out just a little further, you'd take her hand and you'd both, somehow, be okay.

And when you awoke from your pain, hand empty...you knew she was gone, too.

And nothing was fine.

And nothing would be fine ever again, unless you found her.

As you sat outside the chirurgeon's quarters, arms crossed, you allowed yourself to feel all the things you'd been burying.

Impetuous.

Stubborn.

Bold.

Kind.

Gentle.

Clever.

Endearing.

Sweet.

Elegant.

Loved.

You let your head fall back against the wall, and you cried.

You don't remember the last time you cried. You didn't cry at Carteneau. You didn't cry after the Bloody Banquet, or when Haurchefant or Ysayle sacrificed themselves for you. You didn't cry when you suffered pain again and again and again until your body felt like one huge scar and your heart felt worse than that.

But you cried, now. For the woman you'd realised you love. Realised too late.

Always too late.

Lyse had sat with you, and stroked your hair, as Eorzea's great hero, Eorzea's great Warrior of Light, sobbed for a girl she had lost.

"They're all gone," you'd rasped out, voice breaking. "...She's gone."

Your fists tightened.

"I promised her I wouldn't leave her alone. And now she's gone, too. I failed her."

Lyse had just held you.

Hien had tried to keep the other soldiers away from where you were - his own style of care, you supposed.

Lyse told you, gently, that you'd find an answer. That if there was any mortal explanation in this world or any other, you'd find it. That she and the other Scions (remaining Scions, you hear unspoken in her words) wouldn't rest until they found out what had happened to your friends.

That you'd save her.

You think that she'd understood what you'd been feeling. The pain of things unspoken.

Eventually, Alisaie had been cleared to be moved back to the Rising Stones, and you'd travelled with her. You'd clutched her hand the whole carriage journey.

Your way of apologising - for failing her on the battlefield.

Tataru had hugged you as soon as she saw you, and the other Scions had offered what comforts they could. They could all see the look in your eyes. The emptiness.

You fought, and you fought, and you fought, and still it wasn't enough. You won. And in your moment of victory, that damnable fucking voice split your mind in two again.

It almost got you killed. As Elidibus's blade swung towards your head, all you could think was I made a promise.

You awakened in Ishgard, and it all felt like a dream. You'd spoken to a hooded man with an arm of crystal.

And then...you'd found his token. His route of passage from the Source to the First.

To her.

You'd awoken in a land of perpetual sunlight - and found your way to the Crystarium. You'd met the mysterious hooded man - the Crystal Exarch, he called himself. You wanted to call him a bastard and punch him in his smug face.

"Do you know what you've done?" you wanted to shout, loud enough to shake his precious crystal fucking tower. "Do you have any godsdamned clue?"

But you held yourself in check. You played the hero, as you always have. You ignored the anger in your mind, the rage at being someone else's plaything to be used to save yet another world from yet another doom, and you listened to his words. He told you things about where you came from, and where you were, and why he'd brought you here. But you only really cared about one thing he told you.

Amh Araeng.

You left as soon as you could. An amaro to the frigid desert.

And then, almost as soon as you arrived, you met Tesleen.

She saw you, and she knew who you were immediately. She recognised you. She recognised Alisaie's stories of you.

"You know Alisaie?" you ask, in a rush. All decorum forgotten. Polite requests were for those who had time on their side. "Can you take me to her?"

Her eyes had flashed with something, and she'd nodded.

She'd told you about the camp - about the sickness of the Sin Eaters. But all that was in your mind was she's not here, where is she, where is she now, I need to find her.

On patrol, Tesleen said.

Determined, you think.

You'd raced out of the Inn at Journey's Head, all reckless energy and desperation.

You'd followed her footsteps, tracking her across the desert. And then...

And then you see her.

Your breath leaves your lungs as you spot her leaping from the top of the ruins, chasing after a winged sin eater.

She puts the beast down like it's nothing. Like it's barely worth her time.

Strong, you think.

She doesn't turn around as you approach.

"I knew you'd turn up sooner or later. But I had been hoping for sooner." After weeks for you, and a year for her, that's how she greets you. Because of course it is. What else could she say? How else could she act than like herself?

And she still doesn't turn around.

She still doesn't face you.

"Alisaie..." you say.

She turns.

She looks into your eyes.

Beautiful, you think.

"You know, I was very angry at the Exarch for tearing me away from you so soon after I made you promise not to abandon me." she says, lightly. Too lightly. Like she's burying feelings that threaten to bubble to the surface. "My apologies for that, by the--"

You kiss her.

Her lips curl into a smile against you, and her arms tangle around your waist. She pulls you closer.

And for the first time, you think you've met her the right way.

"...Well. Hello to you too, hero."