The shattering happens for no reason. Ankh is walking next to the river when he feels the medals at his core begin to come away from one another.
It’s as though they’re no longer drawn to each other, the connections simply broken in an instant. They float away from one another almost gently.
Ankh tries to catch them, but his hand won’t move: he’s frozen, back arched and mouth open as he falls to pieces. Medals spin away, jewel-bright in the darkness. The loss is familiar and unbearable all at once. It’s happening again, it always happens again, and Ankh –
He strikes his head on something hard, the sound of his own breath loud in his ears. He jerks upright, almost knocking his head against the wall a second time, gulping air in panicked gasps.
There’s a tangle of blankets around him, just barely coloured red in the wash of moonlight from the window. He’s in the attic room at Cous Coussier. The shadows and moonlit edges are beginning to take on a recognisable shape.
The knowledge can’t seem to chase away the tension that grips him. The blankets are too heavy on his over-sensitive skin. He pushes them away with hands that shake. He squeezes his eyes closed, dragging in breaths that catch on air, on nothing, his arms tight around his knees.
The bunk bed frame shifts and squeaks beneath him, and Ankh jerks his head up. A moment later Eiji pulls himself over the end of the top bunk, tumbling in a sleep-heavy tangle of limbs onto the mattress.
Ankh freezes, his chin at a tilt.
Eiji folds his legs beneath him, shifting to sit cross-legged opposite Ankh’s drawn-up knees. Eiji rubs his eyes, scrubbing at the messy dark of his hair, then rests his elbows on his knees and leans forward. He’s still blinking sleep from his eyes, bare chested and shivering a bit, but his gaze is clear in the moonlight.
“A dream?” Eiji asks. His voice is low and a little rough.
Ankh doesn’t think about it before he launches himself forward and seizes Eiji, pulling him down and flipping them so Eiji is trapped in the tangle of blankets below him.
“Hey, Ankh,” Eiji protests, struggling up onto his elbows. Ankh leans closer, panting into his face, left hand gripping Eiji’s wrist and the talons of his right pressing up against Eiji’s windpipe.
Eiji’s eyes are wide with surprise, but not on guard. Whatever he’s seeing in Ankh’s face is making him dismiss the threat.
Ankh releases him with a jerk and sits back.
Eiji sits up, rubbing at his wrist. There’s something careful but still not cautious in his eyes.
Ankh can feel it now: the single core medal inside him, broken edges held together with a spider web of gold. The way that material extends inwards, deeper, holding more of him than a core ever could before. He’s still not sure how they did it. It’s been a little under a week since he felt that searing sense of coming together and opened his eyes; a week of stumbling on legs that are too new, overwhelmed by senses that are too keen and too close to the skin. But whatever the alchemical process was, Ankh can sense an impression of the two of them in the gold holding together his centre: traces of Hina and Eiji twining through his remade core.
The strange thing about that is how it’s the least strange part of all this. Or maybe it’s not strange. He’s still a creature formed of want, and Hina and Eiji, for better or worse, are part of what he wants. They’re his, and there’s a satisfaction in carrying a little of them within him.
Ankh’s still shivering. “I wasn’t dreaming about you,” he says, abruptly.
(This time, he doesn’t add. Eiji doesn’t need to know how afraid Ankh was of Eiji turning on him the way the king had, purple void in his eyes.)
Eiji’s mouth opens, his eyes a little wider, then he closes it. There’s something too understanding in his expression.
Ankh clicks his tongue against his teeth, narrowing his eyes. “You didn’t have to give me dreams when you brought me back.” He turns and drops back against the wall. He can’t seem to calm his breathing. “Idiot. Couldn’t you have given me a body without that?”
Ankh feels Eiji shift. “I’ve heard that humans have dreams because we need to,” Eiji says. “Maybe you need to as well, now.”
Ankh flexes his fingers by his side, feeling them shift to human skin and back to feathers and jewelled claws. He closes his eyes.
“Don’t think that I’m human just because you brought me back,” he says tightly.
“No,” Eiji says. “I don’t think that. But you –” he breaks off, and the bunk shifts again as he leans forward. Then there’s a light brush of fingers against Ankh’s forehead.
Ankh’s eyes fly open. Eiji regards him, a few inches between their faces, his hand at Ankh’s temple. When Ankh doesn’t say anything, Eiji moves his hand again, fingers twisting into Ankh’s hair to push it back where it was falling into his eyes.
“This is new, isn’t it,” Eiji says. He places the mussed lock of hair to his satisfaction, and doesn’t hesitate this time as he moves on, methodically smoothing out the dishevelled line of Ankh’s part.
It’s new, yes. When Ankh was with the detective, his plumage was whatever he wanted it to be. Now his clothes get rucked up and twisted, and his hair musses and tangles into snarls while he sleeps.
Just as new, harder to get used to, is this sensitivity of his skin. He felt things, when he was with the detective. But it was never this close to him, never so inescapable as the unbearable sweetness of the air against the fine hairs of his arms, the sharp shock of Hina’s hand wrapping around his wrist to pull him down into a seat, the irritation of a stone working its way into his shoe. Eiji’s fingers slipping through the strands of Ankh’s hair, shivers chasing the contact.
Eiji bites his lip in concentration. His blunt fingernails lightly scratch Ankh’s scalp, and a deeper tremor goes through Ankh.
Eiji meets his eyes again. Eiji’s own eyes are startled, half obscured by shadow cutting the moonlight over his nose. The movement of his hand becomes hesitant.
Before he can think about it, Ankh jerks his head towards Eiji’s hand, bumping his knuckles.
Eiji seems to hold his breath for a moment. Then he lets it out in a small sigh. His hand starts moving again, his fingers careful. He lifts his other hand to run the pads of his fingers along the bumps of Ankh’s braid.
Ankh can’t get used to it; the way this body responds to touch is overwhelming. But it feels as though this shivery warmth is heating up the chill of the dream until it dissipates into the air. He closes his eyes once more.
What Eiji’s doing now is less smoothing Ankh’s disarrayed hair, and more simply running his fingers through the strands. Every scrape of his fingers against Ankh’s scalp is a tingle that catches Ankh’s breath and then eases it.
Eiji tucks a wayward piece of hair behind Ankh’s ear and then his hands are slipping away, finally.
It’s a loss and a relief. Ankh deals with that by keeping his eyes closed and not acknowledging it.
A moment later Eiji’s back settles next to Ankh’s, against the wall. “I don’t like dreaming much either,” he admits.
Ankh rolls his shoulders, shifting against the wall. “Stop talking about meaningless things like dreams,” he says. “Idiot.”
He feels warm and relaxed, and Eiji’s huff of silent laughter and the way he jostles Ankh’s shoulder don’t bother him.
Ankh slits his eyes open and turns his hand over, watching the glitter of his heavy talons as he flexes them. Even in the moonlight, it’s a brighter colour than he ever saw as a Greeed.
He’ll never get those medals back, the ones that spun into darkness. He’ll always be incomplete and wanting.
But the things he wants now aren’t cold medals. They’re warmth and touch and colour, and they’ve never been so close.