True love is eternal, infinite, and always like itself. It is equal and pure, without violent demonstrations: it is seen with white hairs and is always young in the heart. — Honore de Balzac
The burning under your skin was like hot temptation, all-consuming flame, eating your soul alive reminiscent in the way the corrupting light you had harbored when killing a Lightwarden. Not as painful with such terrible repercussions but just as maddening and nearly as irresistible. You lay there on your goose-feather bed wondering if that vision had just been a sinful dream or a remnant of reality as your body continued to systematically react—some parts more than others. You sit up, wrapping your arms around yourself, trying to regain your composure and how sweat trickled down your temple, skin flush with an inkling of passing heat.
Your eyes find a glass of pristine water sitting idly on the table in the middle of your room. Tempting. Mocking. You couldn’t decide which.
After all, this wasn’t the first time you woken up like this—all hot and bothered because that was what you could call it, right? Should you recount the dream that led you to this state? Should you invite the image of the man once again back into your mind— so vivid— so you can reawaken the flame once more? Even now it struggled to fully disperse as your thoughts refused to waver from the man who’s crystalline brilliance shone brighter in your dreams. How ruby-red eyes glinted ever so sagely from underneath that mysterious cowl; how lush, pink lips formed invitingly into a warm smile as they beheld you with awe and wonder.
You who were his inspiration.
His most important person.
The most important person of the Crystal Exarch.
Of G’raha Tia—because he was yet still that young (maybe not so young) historian who hailed from the Students of Baldesion, no matter how much the Crystal Tower held sway over his existence.
The muscular organ in your chest beat harder at the mere mention of the name, your furry tail twitching anxiously at your side as your eyes sought the window leading out to the balcony. The balcony illuminated by the gentle darkness you and yours fought so desperately to achieve. And not just you—but all the other heroes that gave their lives to see the flood of brilliant light banished so other generations may have a chance at life. Credited you are for your vaunted strength; you were still completely and forever aware that such success could only be attributed to the strong support system that remained unyielding at your side.
To think your existence had been so empty before their induction into your life. No purpose really—or rather no direction.
But you digress. Triumph still lazily drifted through your veins on the defeat of Emet-Selch and you were won’t to enjoy it before your next big adventure. That is…if you could take care of the complicated mess that was your feelings regarding the Crystarium’s de facto leader:
The Crystal Exarch.
You whisper the name on your lips; sampling— tasting the loveliness of it as your body tingled with anxious heat, guilty shame eating at your insides for the near depraved turn your imagination took at the thought of him. You recall fondly how his eyes brighten and soften when you call his name and realize almost sullenly that it pales in comparison to the effect it has on your body. If he knew would he be disgusted? Knew the extent you craved for him and how you yearned to be in his presence? It’s only been a week since your return from the Source; you weren’t expected to be back so soon (not that anyone was complaining). Upon taking your first step through the portal, who first to greet you, albeit a little pleasantly surprised, was none other than the Crystal Tower’s guardian himself, a heartwarming smile and the dulcet intones of his voice your acknowledgement:
“My friend! You are back so soon; how was your trip?”
Your heart seized just a little but luckily your voice wasn’t lost nor did it waiver when you gave your response. But admittedly, you were quick to excuse yourself, knowing that your tolerance for his presence was reaching its threshold.
Suffice it to say this would become a repeated occurrence.
And the message the other received couldn’t have been good from all this avoidance.
But how do you tell someone that you were most likely in love with them and that being in their presence for extended periods of time sent your heart into funny little paroxysm of anxiety? It was comical considering you’ve stood in front of the gaping, all-consuming maw of dragons the size of Ishgards spiraling towers; took down aethereal beings that’s enthralled the hearts of men; and even dined with the most powerful people of Eorzea. And you can’t honestly confess your feelings to a man who has given you the impression that you’re at least a person of importance to them. Yes, the irony isn’t lost on you and you’ve grown tired of being its victim, deciding its best to just curl back up on your bed and try to sleep once more. Perhaps your dreams wouldn’t be plagued by such immodest things. Hopefully.
Your eyelids hardly fluttered before a steady knock accosted the wood of your door. Sleep wasn’t destined for you this suddenly eventful night.
Schooling your expression into something more amicable (because hey let’s be honest, even you didn’t like to be bothered at every second of the day), you grabbed the robe so generously provided by the Keepers of the Suites and hastily threw it on. Wouldn’t due for your guest to see you in a state of undress even if it was your room. Mildly amused by this, you cross the distance with a couple of strides and pull open the door with a polite greeting on your lips only for your voice to quiver back in fear and desert you.
Who but the object of your affections to grace your doorstep at this very hour?
It was hilarious how fate loved to make a plaything out of you.
Luckily, the object of your affections took it upon himself to speak first, his customary hood not enshrouding his features so you can have full display of his handsome visage. Despite the ease of his smile and that warmth suffused in it, in his eyes was a layer of doubt and uncertainty as he beheld you. Even more subtle was the quick way his eyes took in your appearance, a very faint dusting of crimson in his cheeks before it faded away.
He cleared his throat, shifting minutely, fidgeting if you scrutinized hard enough. “Ah forgive me, my friend, for disturbing you at this hour of the night.”
“Well, I think it’s a wonderful thing we can even say things like that, don’t you agree?” You cut in gently, a wry grin twisting your lips.
The little bit of humor was infectious going from how the other visibly relaxed—if only a little. “Certainly. And we have your efforts to thank for the return of the darkness.”
“Our,” you corrected firmly, insistent.
“Our,” G’raha acquiesced with some playful reluctance before falling silent, seemingly not sure how to resume the conversation. Or at least that’s how it appeared. He seemed like he wanted to say something but either the words were avoiding him, or he was holding back. Whatever the case maybe, even if your heart was about to burst out of your chest at what you planned to do, you realized it would be rude to carry out an extended conversation with your guest standing in the hallway. Taking a step back, arm sweeping out before you in a chivalrous fashion, you make room for your guest to enter your abode.
“You’re welcome to come inside, you know. I wasn’t doing much. At least nothing of import.” Save thinking about what your very presence does to me.
Silent gratitude filled those ruby hues as he accepted his host's invitation, taking his first step with the reticence one might see in a newborn calf. He seemed oddly out of place in your cozy room; as if the crystal magnificence of the Crystal Tower was the only thing that could handle his occupation. If anything, his gaze lingered on one of the chairs at the table, contemplating whether he should sit or not. You, on the other hand, didn’t need to think so hard about such simple actions and just took it upon yourself to have a seat. The Crystal Exarch, ever keen to follow your example, took a sit across from you, his crystal limb thrumming idly on the table in a rare show of restlessness.
Trying to calm your racing heart, you clear your throat, resisting the urge to grab the more spasmodic appendage that was your tail—a fair indicator of your emotional state. “If I may be so bold, what brings you here to my quite abode? Have you need for my company?”
“Ah, as wonderful as your company is, it is that exact thing I’ve been meaning to speak with you about.”
Oh… Did he notice?
Worried but not letting it show on your face, you give an intensive look, your voice assured and encouraging as per the norm. Without noticing, your ears flatten just a little against your wild hair, telling despite your wishes. “Please, tell me what’s on your mind.”
“It occurred to me that I may have offended you in some way without my knowing and I have to offer my apologies. It was not my intention to antagonize you in such a way, dear friend.” When he said this, his voice was replete with more sorrow than need be in that charming voice that even your heartstrings tugged painfully at this perceived slight. Your withhold of your feelings was causing the one whom you cared for to suffer and that was more painful than any bodily wound.
“What…? Why would you come to this conclusion?” It wasn’t like you to feign ignorance but even heroes had their cowardly moments.
Burgundy brows creased ever so minutely as he gazed at you, studying your face by chance he could glean that you were honestly being this obtuse. “To put it simply, you have, forgive my forwardness here, been avoiding me it seems. You hardly stay in my company for moments at a time before excusing yourself, thus leading me to think I have done something wrong.”
“N-No! That’s not it!”
And suddenly you were shouting with your palms flat on the table, standing up as you gazed at the man who stared back, more than a little surprised, ears twitching perhaps at the volume of your voice. Wincing and abashed at the lack of finesse and loss of composure on your part, you apologize quietly before doing it again, louder so it wouldn’t get carried away by the wind. “My apologies—my behavior has been inexcusable. I have been avoiding you and you have done nothing wrong.”
Hurt flashed faintly in those eyes before being replaced by acceptance, but it wasn’t gone fast enough that you didn’t see it. Shame threatened to make your cheeks flush miserably in response, but you keep your expression as emotionally neutral as possible, not wanting him to see how much he influenced you. “It’s quite alright. I’m sure it was not without reason…something that I can hopefully rectify?”
He still thought it was his fault. Twelve above bless him. “It’s not you, it’s…” me you wanted to finish with, but you didn’t much care for clichés. Instead, being one who lets their actions speak for them, you get up and walk around the table till you were standing before the Crystal Exarch—your friend. He craned his head up towards you, curious, silent, if not just a smidgen concerned. Your fingers twitched at your side, wanting nothing more to touch the intersection where crystal met the softness of flesh. It occurred to you that you never once touched his person; with your thoughts as of late, that was probably a good thing.
“Is everything alright?” G’raha prompted softly, gently. His crystalline arm made a move to perhaps touch your arm in a gesture of friendship but fell back against the table after reconsidering. Being so close would be the death of you it would seem—had he always been so beautiful?
Come on hero, where’s your courage now ?
Scarlet hues beseeched yours, staring right into the depths of your soul but somehow incognizant to discord the festering within you.
“You see, I…”
“Yes?” Kind and ever so patient, despite how foolish you must appear struggling to compose words. How ever he could respect you so much was lost on you.
It was so simple but …
You couldn’t take it anymore; the ineptitude that came with simply being honest about one’s feelings; having avoided him the entire time you were back; and doing nothing about the dreams. It was just too much, and you could not contain it anymore. Doing what you do best, you acted—or rather let the passionate inferno consume you as you leaned down, gently cupped his face and pressed your lips against his. Twelve forfend it was like dying and being born all at once; the sweet caress of his soft lips against your own; the brief taste of him like nectar on your tongue; and the warmness of his breath. It was more than any mockery your dreams could create on their own, knowing that to go without this would be worse than death. You wanted to trace your tongue along the seam of his lips, to see if he would allow you entrance to conduct the most intimate of kisses. So caught up in the fervor of the moment that you immediately began to bulk when you realized he hadn’t so much as moved an inch. Haven’t reciprocated, haven’t given a sign that he was naught else but a well-made statue composed of flesh and blood.
Mortified and appalled, you were already pulling away while a slew of apologies was already leaving your lips, “I’m sorry, I—”
Hydaelyn above his lips were suddenly on yours again and his hand had wrapped into the fabrics of your robes, ensnaring you once more so you daren’t run away again. What you gave that first time he returned in full force, leaving you breathless and wanting as you could feel him pour the entirety of his being into it. Could feel his passion and intensity in how he kissed you; could feel the strength hidden in that solitary frame that has grown wry with time as he gripped you. You didn’t want it to end…but like any mortal being, your lungs craved oxygen so it was with reluctance you pulled away enough that you could look him comfortable enough in the eye, your breaths mingling together between you.
His face was beautiful and his eyes…his eyes were like crimson jewels. On their surface you could see every emotion that could only be mirrored in your own. Love. Joy. Desire. Uncertainty. Hope. It was foolish of you to think you may have been the only one to feel such things, to believe you were the only one shouldering such a painfully wonderful burden.
It would seem things never changed.
“How many years have I waited for this moment…,” G’raha whispered as if he was speaking aloud his thoughts, sucking in a breath when you felt the cool brilliance of his crystal appendage touch your face. It was only chilled at the initial touch before warmth pulsed from beneath the hard surface like a muted heartbeat. Enthralled, your hand delicately wrapped around his hand, thumb caressing the smoothness in quiet fascination.
“For this moment…?” You echoed belatedly, dazed. A part of you wondered if this was a vivid dream. Vivid, but cruel, nonetheless.
The Exarch chuckled lowly, his eyes becoming half-lidded despite the shyness you can see dwelling beneath. The uncertainty. The nervousness. But his voice didn’t hint at any of that. “Hmm, yes. The moment that I could finally tell you—my most important person and inspiration—that I love you. And no amount of years in the rift or being bound to the eternity that is the Crystal Tower can change that.”
If your heart could deafen you from the sheer franticness of its frenzied beating, you might’ve been worried about your impending loss of hearing. But instead, you could do naught else but smile so wide till your face began to hurt, coming to kneel before him as standing was beginning to hurt a bit. Your closeness allowed his scent to tickle your keen noise and you realized you quite enjoyed his scent: books crinkled with age with trace elements of something metallic under the surface. The faint whiff of a forest lay even further underneath it all if you deigned to look hard enough. It was a unique smell but one you found enjoyable regardless because it was simply his.
“I love you too. For the person you were in the past and the person you are today—it’s the same. It’s why I’ve been err…avoiding you. I didn’t know how to speak to you without doing something…regrettable.” You tried to sound a little confident, but it came out sheepish if that warm laugh was anything to go by. You narrowed your eyes at him, your lips forming something akin to a pout. “It wasn’t easy confessing this. I didn’t have years to figure out the best way to tell you this.”
G’raha's laugh died down to a chuckle, his eyes warm and loving and amused all at once. “Forgive me, you’re right. I did have quite some time to dissect and analyze my feelings for you in my years of solitude. Although trying to find the right time and way to admit them has always been an exhausting endeavor.” He paused and his gaze turned coy, wistful, “I quite enjoyed the manner in which you relayed your feelings to me however.”
“As long as I got my point across, I suppose…” You trailed off, mildly embarrassed at remembering your lapse of self-control.
Gingerly, he wove his fingers among your battle-calloused ones, gazing down at them for a moment before meeting your gaze once more. The happiness and reverence in his expression was enough to warm the entirety of Ishgard enduring its coldest winter. “I couldn’t have interpreted it in any other way I’m afraid.”
“Does this mean we are together?”
“I would think my confession and your own is sufficient enough to answer that,” he teased good-naturedly.
You fight the flush threatening to creep up your neck, knowing that your question was almost redundant. But you never been in love before or at least put into a situation like this so none of your famous stoicism was going to aid you. “So, lovers then?”
Perhaps he could sense how you were unaccustomed to things like this, so he merely squeezed your hand, having nothing but patience for you. Always. “Yes, if you feel inclined to define us in that way.”
“Where do we…go from here?”
Ruby hues softened with affection. “I’ll defer to your leadership, hero.”
For a moment your eyes stung but you blinked it back, summoning back the collectedness your friends known you for. “And if I wanted to kiss you again?”
“I’ll reply in kind.”
Even now he reacted so strongly at the sound of his name, the adoration on his face even stronger, his smile brighter than the sun of this star. For a moment, his eyes looked glassy, watery, faraway even as if he was back in a different time. But he was still here, your G’raha Tia. “Yes, my warrior?” My inspiration.
“Thank you…for everything.”
For your support. For your love. For your companionship.
He chuckled one last time and pressed a kiss against your head; the caress softer than the downy softness of a baby bird’s wings.