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A Petal Among Thorns

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For Kain, the worst part of being called to the cycles was forgetting, and then remembering, his betrayal.

The very first memory that ever returned to him was one from their childhood. It was when the King of Baron called Cecil and him into the throne room so they could announce to him the job classes they would select. The King turned to Cecil first, and he proudly announced, "I will train as a Dark Knight, my lord!" The King's face lit up.

At perfect Cecil.

His Majesty turned towards Kain, and though it was only a memory, it was so powerful that Kain's heart started to beat out of his chest in the present day. He resisted the urge to look at his feet and he cursed the heat in his cheeks that revealed his embarrassment. He announced that he would be a Dragoon, after his father, and the impulse to run from the room nearly overtook him when the King's bright expression fell into a disappointed frown. It was only on His Majesty's face for a second before he remembered himself and managed a pained smile.

He turned back to Cecil, and started to praise him for his choice.

Cecil, the King's favorite. Cecil, a Dark Knight, pride of Baron. Pride of His Majesty. He could do no wrong in the King's eyes, while all Kain received was his reprimanding and scorn. Perfect Cecil.

After that, the memories of Cecil started to trickle in, one after the other.Cecil, who wore light and happiness around himself like a crown. Perfect Cecil. Who walked in the favor of the gods and who carried all the luck and who garnered the love of the whole kingdom for simply existing while Kain was forced into his shadow.

The resurgence of rage and jealousy he felt alarmed him. Before he even knew himself in this war, he knew that he was capable of hatred and contempt. They were so natural to him, like returning to his own bed after a long journey.

Memories of Rosa naturally followed alongside his recollection of Cecil, only solidifying his emotions and hardening his heart further. Dazzling, dizzying glimpses of her, sometimes so beautiful he had trouble breathing. He knew her tender, healing touches like they were burned into his skin. He memorized the tones in her gentle voice, that sometimes sang bard songs around the campfire. Rosa was so selfless, she would drop everything if someone was injured, even if it meant endangering herself. She was undemanding of others around her. She was understanding and empathetic. She was soft and nurturing to the younger members of their group.

And she was fierce and fearless. She had a fire behind her green eyes in the heat of a battle. She could bare her teeth and growl with the angriest of wolves, and she could harm without mercy. It was amazing to watch her flip personas in an instant.

He loved her from the moment he saw her, when she broke up his and Cecil's fight. And he was forced to feel his heart sink into his stomach all over again, when he remembered the way she immediately turned and spoke to Cecil. He tried, over and over again, to get her to notice him and get her to feel something for him. She only fell further and further into Cecil's embrace. She only offered her smiles to Cecil.

Of course she should like Cecil more than him. Of course she would be more drawn to Cecil. Perfect Cecil, who was better in every way.She wore a crown of stars and he wore a crown bathed in the light of the two moons, so of course they would be drawn together. Kain could never be worthy of being her friend, especially not when Cecil was there. Even when he was a Dark Knight he outshone Kain.

Kain could try and blame Goblez all he wanted for the actual betrayal, but that was only the half of it. If he said that he was forced to do anything that he did, he would be lying. Golbez's influence was only that - an influence - and Kain still acted as he pleased. He still understood and recognized that he wanted Rosa, and he knew that to get to her, he had to get rid of Cecil in the way. He knew that he was jealous. He knew that he was doing something awful.

He didn't care. He wanted her.

He could add selfish to the growing list of character traits he made for himself.

That was the worst of it. Finding out, memory by painful memory, that he used his emotions to betray his friends. Watching, mortified, as Golbez manipulated him and made him want to bring harm to Cecil. Kain felt all of it, all over again, and he watched himself kidnap Rosa. He relived looking her in the eye as though he had any reason to be prideful and act like he was finally proving to her he was better. He told her how much he loved her, how much he envied and loathed Cecil, and how much better he was than Cecil as though it would draw her to him. Rather than brighten his own image he only worked to tarnish Cecil's, and under Golbez's control it seemed right.

And then the spell was broken. And he had to admit to Rosa that his actions were his own. His shame hit him in waves and he couldn't look her in the face. He turned away from her, even when she tried to look into his eyes. And he told her he just wanted to be close to her, with the unspoken words hanging in the air that Cecil was the barrier. He had to admit to everyone there, people he didn't even know, that he was jealous and he just wanted to be with her, even if it meant killing his friends.

He felt his shame there, always in his chest. It hurt him to remember. It made his heart heavy and everything he felt bled into the rest of him. The emotions of the ordeal, and his own mortification as he remembered bit by painful bit.

How cruel of this world, that now that Rosa was here he would have to go through this for the third time. Once by himself, once when Cecil was called, and now once while Rosa remembered.She would alienate herself from him, just like he did. No matter how close she considered them to be, she would inevitably start to look at him differently, with shock and injury in her eyes. And she would know everything about him. She would learn everything he felt about her and Cecil. Everything he did to her, and everything he said to her.

Who would she cling to? Cecil, now wearing Paladin armor. Whose light was so bright he was blinding.

Rosa didn't remember yet. But when she did, she would seek out Cecil’s comfort. She would be drawn to the light, so similar to her own radiance. She would turn away from Kain and never turn back, and if she did, it would destroy him.

Perfect Cecil.

He could never wash away what he did. He could never undo it. It would be with him forever, and now it would be with the two of them forever, like a secret they could share in order to laugh at him.

If shame itself had a face, surely it was Kain's.

He knew he wore it well.

. . . It crossed his mind, more than once, that since she had forgotten, this was his chance. He had two options: he could slot himself into their already-growing friendship. He could be as nice as possible to her, make her grow to like him (however much it was compared to Cecil), and that way when she did remember his betrayal, it would be harder for her to hate him. Perhaps, if he was lucky, harder to believe at all. He could try to protect his image as much as possible and potentially begin some sort of road to redemption, and he could also be closer to her. Whether or not it ended in his favor anymore, he didn't care. He knew she would always choose Cecil over him. The two were fated to be together. But at least he could be closer to her.

Or, he could just let it be what it was, and face her scorn and her pity and her distancing like he knew he deserved. That would certainly be the honorable thing to do (not that he had much to spare), and it was certainly what he deserved. He was a traitor. He deserved no less than however she decided to react.

Take advantage of her, or face her judgment for the second time? It would ruin everything he could ever hope to have with her. Chance her friendship in a dishonorable way, or chance losing her forever?

He was still pondering one over the other, when he decided to return to Sanctuary.

When he touched the signet in the Cornelia Plains, he was whisked upwards, to the outside of Sanctuary's barrier. From where he was, he could see the most, if not all of the warriors, lined up along the invisible wall. He immediately looked for Cecil and Rosa, but neither of them were anywhere to be seen. Perhaps they were at the front of the group.

Kain jogged lightly to the barrier and pushed through it, but when he raised his eyes, he saw the two of them. Cecil was clad in his Dark Knight armor, crouched low and squaring off with his spear at the ready behind him. He was looking for the sparring partner when he saw her.

She had her eyes glued to the ground and was quickly picking arrows up off the ground around her. From the speed of her movements, she was Hastened. Rosa drew an arrow and held the bow, charging up the arrow. Then she raised her bow and loosed it far over Cecil's head. In the next instant, she was shooting arrow after arrow at Cecil, so fast Kain's eyes couldn't follow them.

The rippling of her muscles under her skin was mesmerizing. The form of her body so beautiful to watch. The fire was there, in her eyes, burning hot and bright, and Kain was content to simply watch her.

Until Cecil cried out.

Kain blinked himself back to awareness and realized that two of the shafts had embedded into Cecil's shoulder. The one she fired over his head was arcing around and racing back for him, too.

He didn't know what happened. Perhaps Cecil tried to push her to remember too much, too fast. Maybe he tried a romantic advance and she refused him? Either way, he didn't want them hurting each other.

For anybody's sake, out of the three of them.

Kain pushed forward, to the front of the crowd of warriors, but when he moved to take a step out into the battlefield, Cloud stepped up and grabbed his arm, pulling him back. "They're just sparring."

Cloud removed his hand and Kain stood there, watching the two of them. The arrow coming from behind punched into the middle of Cecil's shoulders and sent him sprawling to the ground. She ran forward a step or two, said something to him, but he waved her off.

" . . . Is she doing well?" Kain asked. She seemed to be. Her movements seemed to be natural enough, with the occasional calculation's hesitation. She had Hastened herself, so perhaps she remembered some of her magic.

Rosa planted a Paralyze spell in Cecil's path, and it held successfully, trapping Cecil where he was. He struggled and grunted with the effort of breaking it.

Zidane answered his question. "Yeah, I think so! She's really powerful with that magic. Oh, man!" he yelled suddenly. "You shoulda seen her, Kain! She hit Cecil with this Confuse spell and he literally almost killed Bartz! It was amazing - scary, but amazing! What a lady, huh?" he asked, elbowing Kain in the hip due to their height difference.

The gods were toying with him. " . . . Yes," he said simply, crossing his arms over his chest as though to protect himself. Either that, or keep his true emotions locked down. He watched the rest of their fight, swearing in his heart to stay neutral no matter what she remembered of him, and when. Every stumble made his heart jump into his throat. Every pause Cecil gave her to recover tightened his chest. Did he dare approach her after this? With the chance that she remembered something about his betrayal? Every memory she received, he would be walking on eggshells.

What to do? Did he try to befriend her? Perhaps charm her out of a startling revelation later? Or did he let things play out as they would, and let her react as she would? At the end of their battle, he made his choice, and walked over towards her, even after Cecil sat down next to her and they started talking to each other.