It surprised me that I didn’t break down. After all, three hours had passed. The old-world barroom had closed for the night and the flirtatious bartender had gone home. It was just Rubedo and I, sitting together in the low light, talking about everything and nothing and drinking amber-colored liquors like they were about to evaporate from the bottle. Or maybe that was just me. Rubedo simply stayed by my side, sweet and patient and interested in what I had to say. Being near my old friend cheered me more than I had imagined it might and I told him as much. Leaning in, he kissed my cheek. “I’ll always be here for you, Shion.” The tears prickled at my eyes and I knew it was going to be an ugly cry. Those words had shattered whatever rickety dam I had built up to hold back my tears. Because I knew Rubedo Kukai and .I knew that he meant what he said, no matter what. He saw the first tears before I even felt them slid down my cheeks. “Shh,” he soothed gently, reading for me and drawing me against his sturdy warmth. “Let it go. That bastard ain’t even worth it, but you are.” Rubedo had never been afraid of anything, as far back as I could recall –not even the tears that had terrified my husband. Holding me close and soothing me until the tears went away was his first and only instinct. He’d told me once that his twin Albedo had been a bit of a crybaby when they were much younger, spooked by strange sounds and frightened by shifting shadows. Little Albedo had always run to his big brother to make everything alight. “I liked it,” he’d admitted to me. “That someone loved me and needed me and trusted me that much was incredible to me. It made me feel wanted and needed for the very first time, and it changed my life.” Still, after my… abilities had manifested, I became afraid of the flairs in my emotions and what they caused. I would isolate myself and wait it out until my emotions leveled themselves out again. But it was in those very moments that I would see a head of red hair and then Rubedo’s impish smile as he told me, “I was looking for you, Shion!” It was just the sort of person he was. He didn’t believe that I should cry and stew alone, so he would find me and keep me company. It never occurred to him to fear what I was, and when I mentioned it, he would just tell me, “We all have things we want to hide, but I’m your friend –no matter what.” So I allowed myself to be held, to weep like a child at dashed and dead hopes and silent dreams I’d still clung to. I wrapped my arms around him as well and he gave me a gentle squeeze, all the while murmuring nonsense and platitudes and anything else he could imagine I might find soothing. Breathing in his scent, I listened to his voice and felt the kindness leech off of him in waves. He felt like home, like belonging somewhere, and I tried to tell him so through my tears. I wasn’t sure if he heard me or understood me, but he never let go. He rocked me gently against him, stroking my back and my hair and it just made me cry all the harder. Why on Midgar had this notion been so hard for my husband to grasp? Something that came so naturally to my very best friend was absolutely alien to the man I married, and it was sad and tragic as a reflection of my decisions. How could I have chosen a man so wrong for me? Why hadn’t I held out for someone as wonderful as the man holding onto me and soothing my hurts and telling me that I was worth the tears? His lips brushed my temple and he held me closer still. “He didn’t deserve you; he never did. I want you to know that. You deserve so much better than him.” And those words, whispered against my hair with such fervency, made me cry all the harder. “Why didn’t you tell me he was a fucking rat?” I wept out the question. “Because you chose him, Shion, and I respected your decision. It’s your life, your choice. And we all pick a bad apple from time to time.” He kissed my brow again. “But you are not allowed to repeat that mistake, or I’ll kill him before you marry him.” Laughing and crying was a strange combination, but it was one of Rubedo’s superpowers that made it possible, in my eyes. “Deal,” I told him, hugging him tighter. “I wasn’t asking for permission, Shi. That’s how it goes next time, no questions asked.” Though there was a certain levity to his tone, I knew he meant it. “I don’t want you to ever be hurt like this again.” I brushed a kiss to his cheek. “I know, Rubedo. I know.” And when the tears returned, he was still there, holding me and soothing me and making sure that the very last thing I felt was alone. It struck me as funny that I still felt beautiful in the middle of ugly sobbing when I was in his arms. I felt loved and wanted and cared for and I wanted a chance to return the favor for once. It made me greatful I’d decided to take two weeks of vacation to be here with him at this point in my life. Though I wanted all of my friends around, none of them made me feel as whole as Rubedo did. Though the reason for the tears changed, they still remained. I held on tighter, relishing the feel of his arms and the scent of his hair and the pure wholeness I felt in his embrace. When the tears ran out, he held onto me still, careful to keep his tone light and gentle, to remind me of the good things and the future. And with him, I could see the future, as though it were laid out before me on a timeline. With him, I could see an end to my hurt, and that was the best thing of all.