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Carbuncle

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When Nyx was young, he used to whittle. He had learnt the tricks from his father, and from the merchants and carpenters in the village, from the others who only handled kukris and knives in his village. He learnt that to play with the dense mountain woods— as brittle and as dry as they were in the hot seasons— was the best way to understand and learn his own knives. He learnt the tricks to keep the wood from splitting, and the patience to keep practising until his knife was like an extension of his hand, until he had drawn the figure he had seen in his mind to life through the wood.

The first attempts, he remembered, were just terrible. Misshapen little things that he would toss into the fire when he was done.

He learnt the way to carve beads from wood and bone. He learnt to carve the sacred little discs that his sister liked to wear in her hair— on the little chain that she’d weave into her tresses like their mother— marked with the signs of the astrals she liked and the little protective charms he had picked up. He learnt that, sometimes, his hands just needed something to do.

But he had learnt every little bit of folklore and scrap of local knowledge about the woods around his home as a result.

The edges of the little figure he had found on Noct’s nightstand— settled into a place of honour beneath his lamp and next to a much-abused alarm clock— were worn down with age. The long ears were softened, the tail more curved than it should be. It had been dyed, not painted— the flecks of green and gold stained into the grain of the wood itself.

But he knew the wood. It was popular around the little village Crowe had been run out of when her magic nearly destroyed it. It was rare around his own village, but he had still hunted it down when he needed a charm to keep his sister from having bad dreams.

“Why do you have a dreamwood figure?”

“A what?” It was mumbled against his chest, Noct stretched out across the bed like a very contented cat.

“This wooden thing.”

If he wasn’t so curious as to how the Lucian prince had a prize from his homeland, Nyx would have ignored the whole thing in favour of kissing that confused, bleary-eyed glare away. He still might. He could do both. Noct grumbled and tried to focus on what his lover was holding and talking about.

“Oh, that’s just Carbuncle. Dad gave him to me.”

“To give you good dreams?”

“Something like that.”

Nyx knew about the Astrals. Everyone did. But not everyone knew about the local little gods— the desert gods modelled after the burrowing creatures and carrying the mountain stones. “Or to protect you in your dreams?”

Now Noct was a bot more awake. “You know about him?”

“He’s the Galahdian astral. I used to make these things all the time for practice.”

He set the figure, as old and worn as it was, back in its place of honour. Back to where Noct had kept it close at hand for those tricky nights. For those nights when— Nyx knew— dreams of daemons and fate and the cruelty that spawned assassination attempts on young children were too close to mind. For the nights when Nyx wasn’t there to chase away the nightmares with a kiss and a smile and a story about his friends’ misadventures and heroics.

Nights that were too different from this. Where he couldn’t just wrap his arms around his prince and mutter the soothing promises to keep the daemons at bay.

Nights where Noct wasn’t draped across him, still warm and pliant against him. Hair still ruffled from hands moving through it. Bruises and nips already starting to colour (and Nyx had hoped to he remembered to leave them below clothing level), while sore arms could still snake around a narrow waist.

“Tell me about him.”

Nyx hadn’t thought about the strange little dream creature in years. “Well, he’s an astral. Likes children more than adults. Cute, fluffy. You’d love him.”

“I already know all that.”

“Then what else?”

“Is there anything else? Like how Titan holds up the meteor, or Ramuh passes judgement and Bahamut is a stubborn bastard.”

Nyx chuckled, tightening his hold; “I’m sure that’s blasphemy, you know.”

“Tell me about Carbuncle.”

With an overly dramatic groan, Nyx pulled Noct to him for a kiss. “Fine. He’s a dream guardian— guides people through their darkest dreams, sometimes through the afterlife if you believe the stories. He’s sort of the opposite of the others around here, aiding fate by defying it.”

“What?”

“Well, he’s supposed to bring people back from the brink of death. Heal their wounds, guide them to safety. That sort of thing.”

“Ah.”

He could see the wheels in Noct’s head turning, knew all too well the scars that cut through the prince. He traced the deepest scar now— remembering the first moment he saw it, horrified that something would hurt his prince like that— the long one that Nyx could not place to any weapon he’d want to think about.

“Your dad must have been scared,” Nyx knew that sort of fear. Remembered when Selena was sick, when he had wanted more than anything to bring her back from the brink. When he had dragged Libs out to the mountains to find that one type of wood; when he spent hours trying to perfect the little figure in his shaking hands while his mother fretted and worried and tried every cure suggested to them.

Nyx couldn’t imagine being that scared again. He couldn’t— refused to— imaging Noct in a state that caused that sort of fear.

“I think so,” Noct agreed. He resettled against Nyx, tucked himself close; “You’re more effective than Carbuncle.”

“Cuter too, I suspect,” Nyx smiled, hand moving over Noct’s back again to soothe him to sleep. “Go to sleep, your highness. I’ll look after you.”