Once his decision had been made, G'raha Tia had fully expected Farin to react with a smile and to meet his gaze with eyes full of understanding - after all, was this not of the same brand of heroism written about in the tales? Those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of others, who would then rise to ever more illustrious heights... That he could count himself among their number had his heart swelling with pride, drowning out the fear of the unknown future he would face on waking.
And Farin herself... Surely she must understand, having made countless sacrifices of her own. Surely she would see that he must respond to the hopes and dreams of his forebears, no matter the cost. And no matter how his heart ached at the thought of never seeing her again, the sacrifice had to be made.
There was no doubt.
And when he said it - when he expressed his intent - she did smile. Her eyes were bright with understanding. Perhaps a little too bright - but then, he allowed himself the fancy that she might miss him, at least a little.
Only at the last - with a glance over his shoulder as the door shut - did he see her turn her face away, mouth twisting and eyes brimming with anguish. It was an expression that reverberated through his own soul in response, wrenching painfully at him.
Perhaps... Perhaps there was one doubt. One regret.
But it was too late for second thoughts. Or so he'd assumed, once the doors boomed shut between the two of them.
When he slept, memories crept in as fragments of a lengthy dream. Memories belonging to others. Memories of ages past. Even memories of his family, his colleagues, and his friends.
Among them, there were memories of her.
Farin wasn't one for grace or subtlety, despite her delicate-seeming appearance. She announced her presence by simply flopping to a seat beside him and casually bumping her shoulder into his. "Hey."
G'raha couldn't help a smile in return, trying to ignore the pinpricks of excitement at the close contact. In the days and weeks - and now months - of their expedition, he'd found his eyes drawn to her. There was the pure physical side of it: watching the strands of short blonde hair catch at the nape of her neck, or tracing the details of the white scales that gleamed in contrast to her sun-browned skin... More than that, though, he found the single-minded determination, stubbornness and unflappable optimism that lit her face when she was truly focused to be something close to mesmerizing.
There was something about her that just seemed to click in his heart, and he couldn't put his finger on quite what it was.
Well... It was normal to have a crush on a hero - and a very pretty one at that - wasn't it? This would pass. Surely. Setting down the book he'd not managed to fully engage in anyway, he turned to face her. "Hey yourself. Need something?"
"Nah." She grinned in return, violet eyes alight with a hearty warmth that he'd noted as another particular characteristic of hers. Once again, he had to ignore the way his heart fluttered in response, and hoped it didn't reflect on his face. "Well," she added after a beat, with a tiny shrug and a sheepish upturn of her lips, "Okay, maybe one thing."
"Oh?" Honestly, he hadn't expected that. Attention piqued, he tilted his head. "Go on."
"Your name..." Farin frowned a bit, letting that trail off as if looking for the right words. After another beat or two, she tried again. "The 'G' and the 'Tia', those are part of your tribe identity, right?"
He blinked. "Well... I..." It wasn't a question he'd anticipated - yet again, Farin seemed to excel at surprising him. And mesmerizing him. Clamping down hard on that last thought, he recovered with, "Yes, I suppose you could say that. It's a bit more complicated than you put it, though."
"Yeah, yeah, leadership and all that - I know." She shook her head. "That's not the point." When she met his gaze again, there was an earnest sort of determination in her eyes. "Basically, the only part of your name that's really yours is 'Raha', isn't it?"
Something about the way the childhood name rang off her tongue had him feeling a bit flustered. G'raha flicked his ears, trying to shake off the nervousness. "Ah... well... yes. I mean, my family called me that. Some close friends have also - "
"Then," Farin interrupted him, leaning in and staring intently at his face, still with that determined look, "could I call you that, too?"
You would want to call me that? The thought passed through his head, bringing warmth rising to his face along with it. The idea of this kind of closeness... It wasn't unpleasant, but there was something heady about it that stirred the fluttering in his stomach all the more. G'raha cleared his throat, deliberately willing all of this to remain internal and not give him away. "If you insist, I don't see why I could refuse," he managed to get out as lightly as he could.
Farin nodded with all of that same earnestness. "I definitely insist," she responded, and then added, with a deliberate thoughtfulness that suggested she was tasting the name on her tongue, "Raha."
"Ah... yes." He could feel his ears flick again in automatic response to the squirming mass of gladness rising within him, and hoped she wouldn't notice. In a bid for distraction, he tried banter. "But it doesn't really feel fair if you get to call me that and there isn't a nickname of some sort I could use with you, is there?"
Fortunately, one could normally count on blissful obliviousness with Farin. "Yeah! My family used to call me Rin." Her answering smile was brilliant. "You could call me that too."
There was no helping the responding smile that spread on his lips - nor the joy swelling in his breast. "All right, Rin it is."
It wasn't until he was woken by the survivors of the Eighth Umbral Calamity and found that she had died not long after they'd parted that he felt he fully understood how Farin had felt in that moment when the doors shut between them.
The sense of grief and loss really was as piercing as it had looked to be by her expression. And if all went according to plan - and it would, he would see to it - he was going to face many years of it before he could let it rest.
If rest it could.
The years in between were long, and so much changed that he could no longer keep track of it all. Which was likely for the best in most cases.
For one thing, there was no calling her 'Rin' once he'd welcomed her to the Crystarium as the Crystal Exarch. It helped that he felt as if he'd become an entirely different person in the lifetimes he'd aged since they'd parted. A person with a sense of duty that left no room for simple slips of the tongue or awkward fumbling around identity.
But all the same, the youth he'd once been stirred to life at the sight of her; the sense of attraction - of kinship - was just as strong as it had ever been.
At least this time, there was no wondering if she'd catch it on his face.
Her face, on the other hand, was more subdued than he'd remembered - many moons' worth of toil and sacrifice and grief etched in the lines of it. A sudden sense of yearning came over him as he looked upon it. If only - if only - he could have been there with her. Not purely to share in the adventure, but also in the hardship and to split the grief that came with it. But despite everything, when she met his gaze, her eyes were still as straightforward and determined as he remembered.
"Just like that?" was the first question she asked, when he'd concluded his much-rehearsed explanation of the Crystal Tower's placement and significance. "Then... R - G'raha Tia is...?"
There was such hope writ on her face as she fumbled with the name that he felt his heart squeeze in his breast. Answering blandly in the negative was almost painful. "... I am not familiar with that name. Is there something I should know?"
Even more painful was watching her eyes grow dull as the light of that hope extinguished. She shut them for a brief moment, mouth tightening, and then offered a heavy nod and raised her gaze to begin relaying the tale he already knew from firsthand experience. Even her voice seemed to be lackluster, and the painful grimace as she finished spoke volumes of how she felt about it.
Farin always had worn her heart on her sleeve.
Several lifetimes' worth of hiding his emotions, and still he was grateful for the cloak that shielded him as he dashed whatever was left of her hopes. "An extraordinary tale." Ironically, being even a small part of such a tale had been his expectation - and hope. There was no further time for such fancies, however. "But I'm afraid I found no such individual residing in the tower when it passed to my care." Technically true, despite its omissions. "Mayhap we can revisit the mystery at another time. For now, I think it best that we focus on the present."
Turning before her eyes could dim even further, he stepped away with the full intention of retreating - back to the safety of the Ocular. Where she didn't have a chance to catch any hint of emotion in his reaction.
"The present," she repeated slowly behind him, and he very nearly faltered. Her voice was so low that his ears only just barely caught the rest. "I guess you're right."
There was no turning back - literally or metaphorically. Considering what the past held for her, the present was the better choice. And G'raha Tia was best put aside entirely; Farin would have to know him as the Crystal Exarch until the end.
... The end turned out to be a far cry from what he had envisioned.
Honestly, he wasn't sure what he had envisioned, precisely, but somehow it wasn't Farin on her knees, face twisted in a grimace of pain that had his heart similarly twisting with responding anguish. It wasn't his hood flying off from the force of primordial light whirling about as his focus was diverted entirely into draining her of that which sought to consume her.
And it certainly wasn't her looking up, recognition dawning in her widened eyes as she looked on his face for the first time since he'd greeted her as the Crystal Exarch.
"Raha!" she cried out, voice cracking with desperation and terror that he could see reflected in her eyes as she reached towards him with a violently trembling hand.
For once, that hand was powerless to act - to save. And just this once, it was better that way... It was...
Still, the sound of his name on her lips and that look of utter despair on her face cracked the mask he'd so carefully constructed. His resolve didn't falter - he would save her, regardless of any consequence or feeling on his part - but he found his body wrought with emotion; with pain; with regret. His lower lip trembled uncontrollably in the wake of it.
Just like it was before.
There was only one way he could think of to comfort her - to remind her of what she had succeeded in, even if there had never been a chance for her to succeed at saving him. "Thank you for fighting for this world." Thank you for remembering me. "For believing."
Light was beginning to flood into him, pain beginning to spark up from the joints between the crystal and his living flesh. There was nothing else left he could say beyond, "Fare you well, my friend - my inspiration."
Saying that at this crucial juncture would only add to her pain - but the words were still there on the tip of his tongue as he met her anguished gaze. He would die with that last regret - as penance for deceiving her and causing this distress.
And yet... it felt a hollow trade.
That was the last thought that crossed his mind before pain exploded in his back and the world rapidly sank into darkness.
When he next found consciousness, it was within the rift. A place he'd been only once before, in crossing the void of time and space to attempt this desperate plan in the first place. It was hauntingly familiar.
Ironic, too, considering it was where he'd intended to meet his end. But not like this.
Not like this!
The memory of Farin's expression twisting with desperation and pain had him flailing through to full attention. What happened...? His body still flared with pain, both remembered and actual. As the full force of the series of events began to flood back into his muddled brain, he began to get the sense of more beings within the rift.
Her - yet herself, and not subsumed by the Light. The sense of her presence was stronger than before, a bell ringing clearly before him. Desperate hope leapt within his breast.
There is yet a chance. But...
Another was with her - something dark and powerful. Emet-Selch. Of course. That must have been his undoing. He'd been too careless with the Ascian, and it had proved to be his downfall.
But there was still a chance that it would not be hers.
He knew now what he must do. Pushing past the agony that flared from the wound at his back, the Crystal Exarch struggled to find his feet and moved towards the dual presences that called out to him from beyond.
"Wait for me, Rin..."
His plan had failed, but he would see this through to the end. He owed her that much, and more.
"When all is said and done, I would ask a favor of you."
It was entirely a selfish request, and he well knew it. Ere the words had passed his lips, he knew there would be no way through this without causing her pain.
That pain was coming, though, and there would be no avoiding it. He could feel it in his limbs, where crystal swallowed his flesh anew with each attempt at the vessels that would eventually bear the Scions home. His time was coming regardless of any selfish requests or their potential consequences.
At least in this, there was a chance of redemption. Of beginning anew.
He had not been certain if his final moments as Crystal Exarch would remain or be lost to time, with how little was known regarding the soul and the spirit vessels. However, the feeling of crystal flooding his senses, the pain and the finality settling in as he breathed his last, and the sight at the end - of her, of Rin - calming his spirit were still fresh.
He could feel it, the memory so strong that it imprinted even on the young flesh he awoke to.
And again... again, there was her. The first sight his sleep-blurred eyes perceived. There was Rin.
At both end and beginning... How fitting.
She was still holding up the vessel he'd made; he could see that much. Then she seemed to notice that he was awake and let out a little noise that sounded something like a mix between a gasp and a sob, and dashed forward.
He'd slept in an awkward spot - not that he'd known of any other within the tower at the time - just beyond the massive gates in a nook within plain sight of anyone entering. His body was slumped against the wall, and Farin had to drop to a crouch to check on him.
Well that she did - that she was there to help - because his enforced slumber had left his limbs weak and shaky. He tried a laugh as she helped him to sit up, and it came out more air than substance.
She paused at the sound, one arm looped around his waist to support him. Her face was becoming clear as his eyes adjusted, and he could see the worry writ across her expression. "Raha..." Her voice came out with a little crack, which she ignored. "Are you okay?"
It took more than just one try to find his own voice, for more reason than just the sleep paralysis. The warmth of her body was seeping into his, making him hyper aware of her proximity. It was... distracting. Still, he managed to croak out a response, lowering his gaze to still some of his nerves. "... I appear to have made the trip in one piece. In a manner of speaking."
He could hear her sharp intake of breath, and remembered that she had not known, before that point, if his soul had successfully transferred. Her grip on his waist tightened almost imperceptibly, but all he could hear in response was the ragged sound of her breath.
When he could no longer stand it and looked up to check her face once more, he was startled to find tears openly streaming down her cheeks. "Rin..."
"You're here." The words were choked out, thick with emotion. Her face twisted. "I wasn't sure if... I hoped, but..." Her bottom lip trembled, but she managed to swallow and follow through. "Raha... thank the gods..." Then her head dipped forward, tears dripping down onto his lap as her shoulders shook.
There was just enough strength in him to lift his arm and settle it over her. "I'm here." Unbidden, somehow he found tears rising to his own eyes, but all he could do was shut them for a moment and smile. I'm here, where I belong. Where he should've known he belonged from the start. "Rin."
She looked up, eyes still red and tears still wet on her cheeks, and he found his tongue running away with him, caught up in the moment. "There is no place I'd rather be than by your side." Having come that far, he found that he could finally manage to say the words he should have told her from the start. "I love you, Rin."
In the end, saying it felt so right.
Her breath caught sharply, eyes widening, and for a moment she just stared at him. Then her thoughts seemed to catch up, and her eyes narrowed.
That was all the warning he got before he was caught in a surprisingly strong embrace, her face burying in the crook of his neck and something like a mix between a laugh and a sob coming out muffled against his flesh.
"Yeah, me too, you reckless jerk!"
Insult or no, G'raha Tia thought the words filled his heart more than any others had or would. This, here, was where the future began - with her in his arms and heart. And he would not let it slip away from him again.
His recovery took some weeks, and as usual, Farin was never in one place for long. It was as G'raha had just completed preparations and was heading out on a journey that he met her again at the entrance to the Rising Stones, on her way in.
They both stopped, momentarily started, and then Farin grinned sheepishly and he couldn't help a brief huff of a laugh.
"Seems we're fated to meet in passing."
"You always seem to think it's fate." Her tone was chiding, but there was a playfulness in her eyes that belied it. "There is such a thing as coincidence, you know."
"I'm afraid I don't - you'd best tell me all about it, here and now." The smirk he offered in return would have felt uncomfortable on his lips as the Crystal Exarch, but at this time, in this body... it somehow seemed easy.
There's a joke in here about recapturing my youth, I'm sure of it.
Farin huffed out a brief laugh, and grinned at him. "We finally see each other again, and all you want is a lecture?"
"Well - " As usual, her straightforward attitude caught him off-guard. G'raha gathered his wits as best he could. "Now that you mention it..." He could feel heat rising on his cheeks, and there was a tremor in his fingertips as he reached out to brush them across hers.
Still, though, he managed to hold eye contact.
An answering blush spread across Farin's cheeks and nose; the smile on her face became less mischievous. Her eyes - always so expressive - seemed to gradually shift toward warmth and affection. As ostentatious as the sentiment may have been, he couldn't help but be struck by the impression that her entire heart was shining through them.
I really can't be saved at this point, can I?
Well, that had likely been true already long before this moment.
With how their eyes had held, it was inevitable that they leaned in closer, but it still caught him slightly by surprise when his lips brushed hers. Farin made a little noise of approval and pressed in, allowing him to tilt his head for a better angle and kiss her back in earnest.
The contact was electric. They had done it before, and still... He could not have helped the way his heart jumped in his chest.
There was no drawing it out, though - not with the current location. G'raha pulled back regretfully after just a moment, allowing his eyes to flutter open and regarding Farin's lidded gaze with open admiration. The responding look was equally open in its affection.
It was almost difficult to believe this was real, being with her, but there it was.
He cleared his throat, keenly aware of the presence of others in the room - not that anyone was particularly watching, but still... "Well. I'd best be off, then."
She nodded slowly, a tiny half smile spreading on her lips. "Take care, Raha."
"Fear not - I've been thoroughly impressed with the need to preserve my own skin." He smiled ruefully in response. "I'll look forward to seeing you again."
"Me too." Her eyes were shining with such promise that he almost gave in to the urge to kiss her again - but refrained, turning away with a last fleeting look and heading for the door.
And then it hit him.
Oh yes... of course.
The courage to reach out his hand... How quickly he'd forgotten.
G'raha turned on his heel, looking to where Farin had already moved away from him to head into the room. "Rin, wait!"
She responded immediately, turning sharply. "What? You forgot something?"
In a manner of speaking. He cleared his throat again, and then without stopping to think too hard about it, held out his hand towards her, palm up. "Perhaps... If you're not already busy with some other duties..." It was difficult to spit out the words, but he persevered. "Would you wish to accompany me?"
For a moment, she blinked at him, clearly taken aback - and then her face split into a smile. It was of the same brilliant radiance he'd remembered from back when they'd exchanged names - and it captivated him in much the same manner. He felt a surge of warmth within, and was immediately glad that he had worked up the courage to speak.
"I thought you'd never ask."