Shu stood motionless in his study, eyes peering through the window to the still community below. His arms were folded behind him, half an hour’s musing having molded upon his face a most serious expression. Though his entire atmosphere appeared the very essence of peace, within his mind was a world of disarray.

He had no idea when it started. He knew only that it was becoming increasingly worse by the day. There was a concern he had not addressed in some time, something he had been meaning to, but hadn’t found the time to...

...Or, perhaps, the courage to...

But what could possibly make him so fearful that he would dare to hesitate? This was most unlike him. He had never been the one to hold back, the one to give in to certain heart-consuming doom. Yet in these past couple of months, even he could not deny the drastic change within his character.

The war had ended days ago, and the army’s leader had long abandoned his duties with the blessings of all--perhaps surprisingly--in order to journey with closest friends. In the morning hours, the actions would be taken in order to make the victory official. However, this was one subject furthest from his mind tonight...

The girl in his life, if he could call her that, had offered him nothing but unconditional support for the duration of the war. At least, this held true up until the last week.

She slowly became detached during that time, offering compliments and suggestions with a sheer half-heartedness. Eventually, it became so that she would only offer these comments when demanded of her, when in the past she had given them so freely. And then there was the matter involving a specific question. When he asked her of her plans after the war, she almost always provided him with a vague response.

“I don’t feel the biography is finished, exactly...”

“I guess there’ll be much to do here, won’t there...”

“Maybe I’ll just tidy up...”

There were times she would avoid the question altogether. Perhaps this was explicable even without full knowledge. For each time he asked, he sensed something in her eyes...immeasurable amounts of it, in fact.

He knew it was sadness. It couldn’t have been anything else. And yet, he had no clue as to what was causing that sadness.

It’s possible she doesn’t know what she wants to do, he thought to himself. That would make any person understandably anxious and unhappy. But I want her to know of at least one option...

Earlier that day, he had arranged for her to meet with him, in order to discuss the reason for her distant behavior. This was one thing he wanted to get to the bottom of; he could not rest easy until he did...

Just as the man was moving on to a new thought, there was a knock at the door.

“Come in.” Shu’s voice projected calmly but firmly, just as it usually did.

A soft creak was followed by the sound of a female’s cautious footsteps.

“Please, close the door behind you.”

Apple obeyed the command without reply, as though she were some unruly child about to endure a thousand lectures from a guardian or mentor.

“Let’s not be eager,” the man said softly, some poor attempt at a joke. He turned around to see that it had inevitably failed to amuse. “Er...I suppose it’s quite late. Please, come here.”

Perhaps it was extremely late, for the man swore she was moving toward him even more slowly than when she had first entered the room. It was dimly lit in the study, but as she approached him, he could clearly see that she was avoiding his gaze.

“Everything else has been taken care of,” Apple said flatly. “I don’t think there’s--”

“That’s not what I want to discuss.”

Sudden confusion caused her to make eye contact with the man. “Then, what...?”

“I want to”


He nodded. “Lately, you’ve seemed consumed with something. Granted, at this time, it wouldn’t be an issue with everyone. But things are going to change soon.”

“Yes, they are,” she replied somberly, bringing her eyes to the floor.

“But before they do, I want to know of your role in everything.”


“Yes. There’s a question I’ve been asking you for some time, but you haven’t given me a definite answer. I want to know what you’ll be doing when this is all over. If you aren’t sure yet, then--”

“You know, I-I think I left some papers in the restaurant,” Apple said hastily, first gesturing to the door behind her, afterwards turning from him. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll head down and--”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Shu interrupted in a stern tone, making her stop in place. “The restaurant has been closed for hours.”

Apple turned around slowly, rosy faced and sheepish. “I...I suppose they have been.”

Shu studied her for a moment, eyes burning into hers. “This is what I mean,” he stated, walking toward her. He stopped when approximately two feet of space existed between them. “Every time I ask you what you plan to do, you avoid a direct answer. Now, I’m telling you, if you don’t have a plan yet, then I want you to know that you’re welcome to stay here--”

“It’s not that,” the girl responded quickly. “I know exactly...what I want to do when this is all over. Come to think of it, I’ve always known. I knew it even before I made it to the mercenary fort that first day. But...expressing it, sharing it with others...for some reason, that’s always been hardest for me...”

“Since when?”

Her features tensed. “Since...”

“Apple, what?” the man demanded, the impatience in his voice having been unintentional.

“Since...I realized...what carrying out that decision would mean.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean it can’t be carried out, or shouldn’t. At least, if you tell us...if you tell me...we can all work with it.”

Apple sighed. “That’s the thing. No one else here can work with it.”

Shu backed off, processing those words. “All right...but can’t you at least say what it is? Sometimes it helps to have the understanding of another person, be it a friend or a stranger.”

More silence.

“Fine,” Apple said finally. “If anything, you deserve to know. I was planning on continuing my research on Master Mathiu.”

Shu nodded. “Okay. It’s your life, and you’re within perfect liberty to do that. But I fail to see where and why your decision would upset you, to the point where you would alienate yourself from the rest of us.”

“Well, I might as well get used to it, because I’ll be seeing a lot less of you all pretty soon.”

He was stunned by the girl’s unexpected bitterness. “What?”

“Don’t you see? Continuing research means I’ll have to travel far and wide. Yeah. After all this time, I won’t be here anymore. Isn’t that great?”

“But a lot of people won’t--”

“And the reason...I avoid talking about it,” Apple continued, volume rising, “is because I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about what I’m going to leave behind me, the memories, the people...and yet, I can’t give up on my goals...”

“Apple...” the man murmured, unable to help feeling affected by seeing her in this manner.

“I-I don’t...want to seem ungrateful for all the opportunities I was given,” she said, her voice then losing its strength, “i-it’s just...” Tears were forming in her eyes, and she bowed her head slightly. “When I’m out there this time, I-I just know...I’ll be dwelling on things I never did, things I...I never said, and...and...” Apple brought a hand to her forehead as her tears started to break free.

Shu could only watch as Apple struggled hard not to fall apart in front of him. But in this particular meeting, it seemed completely unavoidable.

“I never told you...” Apple began to sob, her elevated hand forming a very tight fist.

“...Told me...?”

“I...” More tears slid down her cheeks, speech hindered by overwhelming emotion.

Shu continued staring at her, frown triggering an aching sensation between his eyes. He, too, was without words, though not for the same reason.

“Tell me, have you ever...” Apple started as she lowered her arm, drawing in a sharp breath. “...ever found yourself alone for the longest time, and finally think you’ve found some peace, you’re thrown into that void again?”

“I-I don’t understand.”

“I was...seeking...”

“You were...”

“I was seeking...uh, I’m sorry...” The girl quickly wiped away her tears. She met his gaze occasionally. “Seeking...that stability, that peace, for so long, and when I met you again, I thought the answer had been so simple, all this time...”


“That I had finally found that peace, being at your side...”

My side?” the man questioned. “What are you--”

“But I realized...I had fabricated that sense of peace...and as much as I wanted it to be true, it wasn’t...”

“Wanted what to be true? Apple, you’re not making sense--”

“I wanted us to be true!” she shouted at him. “I wanted us to have a chance! At least, I-I thought...I...I just...I wished...I fantasized...and with you so close, I thought one day, it might happen...”

The man could only look upon her in response, his expression mixed and ever-changing.

“Because...because...I...” Apple was avoiding his gaze once more. “...I love you, Shu...I...I always have.”

More silence followed, heavy and painfully, painfully awkward.

Though she had anticipated it to a degree, Apple was growing even more uncomfortable due to the man’s lack of a reaction. “I-I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have. I just--”

That’s when she found herself being drawn into a tight hug.

“Oh...wh-what are you...?”

But he made no vocal response as he stood there, holding her protectively. All was still, and then, he finally spoke. “Please...don’t think for a minute that you have never mattered to me. I’ve always thought of you as close; I just never gave much thought to what degree. Still...that doesn’t mean you were never important.”

Apple brought her hands up to his shoulders, resting her head upon his chest. Allowing his words to sink in, she remained silent, the turmoil within her gradually washing away.

“I’ve watched you change since the start of this. You’ve only grown stronger...perhaps...stronger than I could ever be...”

“No, Shu...” Apple whispered.

Despite her objection, the man went on. “And over the course of this war, I noticed how everything affected you. How happy you were when battles were won, how downhearted you became when we lost lives. How understanding and accepting you were whenever I came up with something crazy, and how compassionate you were to many when it was needed. And yet...all of that seems to have vanished, these past few days. I wasn’t sure I understood. Something terrible was finally coming to an end, and yet, you were becoming increasingly sad, more withdrawn...”

Apple held him even closer at hearing these words, silent tears rolling down her cheeks.

“That is why I called you here tonight. So that I could understand...what was happening to you, why it was happening to you. That I could not...have a sense of peace until I did.”

As they slowly pulled apart, Apple gazed up at him, studying his face, finding nothing but true concern in his eyes.

“I don’t know...what it is I could order to take that sadness away...but I want you to know that I’ll be there...” He lifted a hand to her face, gently touching her skin. “...for as long as you want me to be...”

Apple brought a hand up to his. “Shu...” Then she moved in, embracing him again.

“Thank you...Shu.”


“Uh...” Apple broke away from the man, drying her face once more. “Yeah, I guess I, uh, I’d better head back to my room.”

Shu nodded slowly. “Yes...”

“I’ll...see you tomorrow, then.”

“Yes, bright and early...” He extended his palm to her, a new expression upon his face, one that was most indescribable.

The girl hesitated, but took his hand. “Bright and early...” she repeated softly.

The two then parted, turning away from one another. Shu returned to the window, folding his arms once more.

Apple made her way back to the door, pulling it open. After a moment's pause, she placed a hand against the post and started to walk out.

“Apple,” the man said suddenly, looking over his shoulder.

Apple stopped halfway through the doorway, turning her head.

“If you must leave...please don’t go too far away.”

Whether it was out of politeness or genuine appreciation, the girl smiled.