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a moment at the beginning

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It is an exceptionally beautiful place, the cemetery kept green and well tended at the edge of a cliff, overlooking what seems to be the whole of Archades, washed golden and breathtakingly brilliant in the setting sun. If it were any other day, Cid would be grateful, but that place is empty inside him. He can barely feel the cool wind on his face, an airship passing by close enough that he might jump out to touch it, just lean forward…

The corner of his lip quirks up, for just a moment. Cid had wondered if his feelings of detachment were real, if he truly had not loved his wife properly, but it seems the grief is merely more than he can handle, with duties left to attend to. He cannot leave his son an orphan, no matter if a grand, romantic gesture might absolve him of his failings.

It promises to be a very bad night.

Cid cannot afford this place, not with his title or even the best of his connections - this is a resting ground for great men - emperors and leaders and fallen heroes of war. It is not for the wives of scientists, no matter how much right she has to be here, for her grace and beauty, as fine a wife and mother and citizen as this empire ever deserved.

A good line, that, for a speech he never made and now never will. He let the priest do the talking, even as he felt eyes boring into his back. So many angered by his silence, by his swift refusal to let Ffamran find solace in the comfort and companionship of his wife's rather large and extended family, living comfortably but far distant from the capital.

His son will have more opportunities here, already showing promise in his classes, praised for his quick mind and pleasant manner. Cid may have had some part in that mind. The rest - the boy is his mother's son, a far better destiny, even if he must now face it alone.

Cid's refusal is the final insult, to a family that had never believed he deserved their daughter. Cid never actually disagreed, certainly not now.

It is not the view, the heights that cause the world to dip beneath him, and he shuts his eyes for a moment, swallows, not wanting to see what he must, what he knows awaits him.

Ffamran has been here for some time, sneaking away at the first opportunity, while Cid greeted mourners and shared condolences - his wife knew so many people, and Cid so shockingly few of those. At least he had all possible excuse for any impolite behavior, for not attending to all the formalities. This was a time for feeling lost. For wondering how he would go on. For staring at the chair in his wife's sitting room, the beautiful marble floor, a piece of work in a hoop in a basket half-finished, as if his memory and his need might be enough to conjure her home again.

So beautiful. Charming, and sweet-natured, and gentle. He did not deserve her, felt only a constant awe, disbelief at his own good fortune when she would smile, clasp his arms to hers when he caught her up in an embrace. Laugh and chide him as she drew her hand across the stubble on his cheek, when he would spend too long at work, forgetting all else, even his son and the wife who loved him.

She had always forgiven him. Even this time, the nurse had said. An entreaty not to trouble him, not when he was so busy.

He still has so much to do. Cid knows he could bury himself in his work for a month at this point, and never have to come up for air. The temptation is profound, in spite of what it has already cost.

If he had been in the city, he could have been to her in hours, not days. He had not even found out she was ill until they had already established themselves in the wilderness - so fast, so swift a sickness, even though she had always been delicate and he should have known. More than one mourner forgiving him as a matter of course, a few of the women taking his hands - it had all happened so quickly. No one could have expected such a thing, so young a woman taken without warning.

He has no idea just how long Ffamran was left alone with her body.

Cid says nothing, approaching the grave. His son might be crying, hands clenched into fists at his sides.

He remembers the boy in his arms, newly born, tiny fists ready to reach out and grasp at his glasses whenever they were in reach, laughing in delight. The boy knew him from the glint off of glass and metal before he knew much else of the world, and Cid had taken the infant to his lab more than once, tucked safely against his chest, looking down at pens and wrenches and beakers with wide, quiet eyes, and the two of the had spent many pleasant hours together there.

It didn't last, his son showing little interest in scientific pursuits even though he had a keen mind. Cid understood - neither of his own parents, nor his brothers and sisters had ever made much sense out of the hours he'd spent alone, save for the time he'd blown a hole in the wall of his room, and when he'd killed his mother's second best rose bushes testing out a new way to hinder weeds. It had never been necessary, or even expected, for the boy to follow in his footsteps.

He puts his hands on Ffamran's shoulders. The boy flinches, ducking under his grasp, turning to stare up at him. Not mourning, but furious, though there are tears in his glittering eyes, the sudden movement enough to spill a few of them on his cheeks.


"I'm not your son!" Fierce and unyielding, the purity of youthful emotion, with no gray areas. Waiting for this moment. All day, just for this, and now he fights to get the words out. He probably had a whole speech prepared, a list of failings, but there's too much anger to bother with them now. "I hate you… I hate you!"

Cid is lost. He deserves it, as his son pushes past him, sprinting down the well-kept path, feet sounding loudly off the stones in the otherwise quiet space. For a moment, it seems important to follow him, the responsibility of a father - but what can he say? All the facts stand against him. He was not there when he should have been, he did not return as fast as he should have. He was not there. Not even the first time the boy had stared at him accusingly, ignoring his mother's protests and admonitions. He was an important man. He was doing great things for the Empire.

It was not right, that Cid had been forgiven so many times. She should not have been so understanding. He did not deserve her. Obviously.

Cid kneels down next to the smooth stone, rubbing a thumb over the engraving of her name, expertly notched lines in smooth script, the last record of her in this world. He shuts his eyes. Cid does not cry, has never been able to, although it would make things so much easier. Instead he can feel the grief locked up inside of him, pushing at skin and bone, pressure building without a safety valve.

"It is difficult. I lost my own mother at about his age."

Vayne leans, one hand lightly against a plinth belonging to a family Cid has never heard of. His wife would have known. She was the one who entertained, kept social calls. Probably deflected more criticism of her absent husband and his all-consuming work.

He will live in his lab now, despite his best intentions. Cid knows the choice will cost him his son, whatever is left that Ffamran might even forgive him for. He doesn't know what else to do.

He does not stand up from where he is kneeling, though Vayne doesn't care, any more than he cares for such genuflections when he appears at the lab, quietly observing whatever project Cid has his hands in. Asking questions with a genuine interest - most nobles couldn't care less how things work as long as they do so without delay. He's a bit coltlike still, caught just at the edge of adulthood, yet there is already a sense of power and dignity, shoulders braced to bear the great weight of his family's name.

"I am deeply grieved. I would have called you back sooner, had I known." Ostensibly, all that Cid had ever done was for the Emperor, not his son. Yet there was nothing obligatory in Vayne's words, or in the fact that Cid knew then who was responsible for securing this tribute, this grave for his wife.

"It's all right. It happened so fast, and she…" He nearly chokes. She did not complain. She did not want to disrupt him. She must have wanted him to come, though. Must have waited, frightened, some part of her certain he would not disappoint her. Ffamran had been there, alone. They had been waiting for him.

"He will forgive you someday, for not being able to save her, Perhaps before you forgive yourself."

The thought startles him, glancing up at that deceptively young face.

"It was… incurable. I could have done nothing."

"Yet, do you believe it? You, the greatest scientific mind in the Empire, helpless?"

It hurts, badly, though it is a truth lancing a festering wound, meant to heal rather than hurt. It is what he is thinking, that this was not a tragedy but a failure, that if he had loved her enough, if he had but tried - and that he might still… that somehow… even though that is the stuff of legends and fairy tales, none of which ever end well.

"My father, the Emperor, not bound by the laws and limitations of other men, and yet there were truths to face. A father is not a god. It is difficult for a son to learn."

A hand on his shoulder. It is the first offer of real comfort, not simple politeness. Lord Vayne Carudas Solidor knows of death, even at his young age, and that the future holds only more of the same. Regrets that cannot be avoided, mistakes made, and disappointments despite the best of intentions. "He will forgive you."

"I loved her so much." Cid whispers, leaning forward, until his cheek is against the stone. Stubble, he hasn't shaved in days. It would make her laugh. His whole body seems to shake, more profound than tears, a bit of wetness in his eyes and nothing further. Vayne's hand slips away from his shoulder, though he is still there, quiet and knowing, not about to let him wander off into oblivion. Foolish and shameful, perhaps, that he needs to be herded by a princeling only a little more than half his age - but has Cid learned anything from the extra years given to him? He had thought so, once.

It is a comfort, whatever his failings, to have an ally. A friend. Some say House Solidor has no friends, that they can barely afford allies, a nest of vipers. Cid can't imagine the young man would bother with all this, just to secure an allegiance he already has, but it doesn't matter much either way. He is staggering blind down a dark and dangerous corridor, and now Vayne has lit a candle at the far side, a beacon by which to make his way through.

He will need every inch of light in the days ahead.