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Midwinter in Baron is stark, and bleak: the winds come down through the mountains harsh and cruel, tempered only a little by the frosty plains in-between. The skies are grey, the odd half-light of winter, and the land becomes a tundra in shades of black and brown and white. But Baron rises to the challenge: the castle itself bundles up, in swathes of red and gold; doorframes bulk up with evergreen branches and ribbons. Even the courtiers all wear scarves; the serving-ladies all spend hours knitting fingerless gloves for the poor gentlemen of the stables. Rosa has taken to wearing holly sprigs in her hair, and Cecil has a new cloak, dark hunter’s-green trimmed with white.

It is his first Midwinter as King and Cecil wishes that were all it was: the strange unease of fitting into this role so soon, the awkward fit between the steel-tempered lessons of their journey and the soft-fingered nobles who’d awaited him. But there is something else that permeates the air, something else feathering in his bones, not unlike the chill from the mountains. It isn’t quite unease either: it is more like expectation, the sense of something growing.

He hears the door open and glances up. Rosa is pink-cheeked from the cold, wrapped in white and red and glowing with her laughter; Kain beside her is a starker image, the dark side of winter, blues and blacks. Kain has been back in Baron for two weeks now and he is part of what makes Cecil restless, an odd unsmiling weight, as if there is still something undone.

“Why are you out in the cold?” Rosa smiles and her gloved hand comes to rest on his arm; her cheeks are bright. “Are you watching for the Solstice Chocobo?” She laughs. “He only comes when you’re asleep, my dear.”

He smiles at her, warmed. To Kain he gives a nod; it is always the same nod, one of encouragement and open to become more. Kain returns it with his own gesture, a closing of doors. Cecil does not know how much longer he can endure this – watching these walls close in on his best friend’s face.

He turns his thoughts back to Rosa, his brain finally processing that her white-and-red robe is not entirely for the Midwinter celebration. “It looks like you’re anxious to go, too.” Rosa has been – carefully and through all proper channels – invited to lead the overnight vigil for the White Chapter. Being part of the vigil has been a dream of hers since she was a girl, and Cecil still does not know who actually came up with the idea this year – but Rosa orchestrated it beautifully, for maximum honor: to the White Chapter, for hosting the Queen; and to the Queen, for being invited. The ceremony blesses the Longest Night and the dead and the healing, and the White Mages pray for the wellbeing of the nation. Cecil is glad to see her go, although he’ll miss her, because he knows how much it means to her.

Rosa smiles, and curtseys in her robe, to show it off; it glimmers with fine threads, a Mage’s robe fit for a Queen, and Cecil admires the way she walks the path between her old self and new self so easily, as if they have always been the same. “I do have to go soon,” she says, apologetically, although the glow in her face is taking on that otherworldly light – the one Cecil always feels ashamed by, somehow, as if Rosa’s grace is so far beyond even his Paladin-self. “I brought you Kain, though, because neither of you should be alone for Midwinter.”

The words ring strangely in Cecil’s ears, as if Rosa means more with them than she says; “I would’ve come to find him,” he murmurs instead, and Rosa’s laugh rings bright against the snow.

“Just make sure the Chocobo doesn’t see you out of bed,” she teases, “or you’ll get nothing but coal tomorrow.”

Cecil chuckles, and Kain actually snorts, and for a moment it’s all warm, like it used to be. But then Kain’s eyes turn hard and he looks away from them, out onto the snow-covered rooftops of Baron, and Rosa says softly, “I should go.”

Cecil leans down to kiss her cheek softly. “Peace be with you,” he says, because he learned the rites too, as a child – even if the words mean more to Rosa than they do to him.

“And also with you.” Rosa embraces him, and stands on tiptoe to whisper into his ear: “Will you try to find some peace this Longest Night, my love?”

Before he can ask her what she means – and her eyes are twinkling as she turns away from him – Rosa has embraced Kain, and to him she simply says, “Do try, Kain. Peace be with you, dearest.” Cecil isn’t sure whether or not he was meant to hear it.

It is colder on the balcony without her. He glances at Kain, and to his surprise he sees something on Kain's face; he has kept himself so bland and closed-off that the mere suggestion of an expression is significant. Kain looks like he's considering something. Cecil watches, and waits, in case Kain wants to speak; but Kain's gaze stays fixed on the mountains, far-off shades of grey dusted in pale, cold white. He waits, but nothing seems forthcoming.

Cecil’s nose is freezing and his fingertips are white and numbing and the awkwardness of silence has fallen around them with the weight of snowfall: seemingly light, but piled in layers and layers until it's too heavy to bear. “Gods and eidolons,” he says finally, “shall we go inside where it’s warmer?”

Kain’s face twitches and something like a smile appears; an attempt, and it warms Cecil's heart surprisingly. “Gladly.”

Cecil retreats to their private study, Kain in tow, and on the way he allocates a pair of servants to help: brandy, and wine, for warming; and a plate of snacks, for sustenance. Luckily the King of Baron has no traditional duties on the Longest Night – none other than the traditional drinking and eating before the fire, and the ceremonial twist of straw for the Solstice Chocobo. He lights the fire himself, and it is roaring by the time the rest of the goods arrive.

Kain is in the corner, carefully unbuckling his boots, and Cecil realizes he has tracked snow all through the room with his own – “Damn,” he says, and sits down on the nearest ottoman to do the same. The buckles are frozen, and it takes a couple tries to pry them open – and then suddenly Kain is there, firelight on his face, and all he says is, “May I?”

His hands are already on Cecil’s boot and there is something in his face that stops Cecil, stops him short so that all he can do is whisper-croak, “Yes.”

Kain’s fingers are deft on the clasps, at a better angle than Cecil; the light is hitting the side of his face like a sunset and it’s like he’s suddenly wearing a different expression than all of the past two weeks – like the mask has slipped off and here is Kain, beneath it. He finishes, and sets Cecil’s boots aside… and continues to kneel at Cecil’s feet, looking up with all of that snow-weight in his gaze.

Something catches in Cecil’s throat as he looks down at Kain, and he says in a voice that is not entirely throaty-low: “Will you not come sit with me?”

It’s too courtly a phrase, and Kain’s eyes catch his, intense and intent, and Kain says, low and husky: “Am I invited to sit beside the King?”

“No,” Cecil says; the weight of the room crackles beneath his sigh, and the tension in the air is replaced with something different: less formal, but much more tentative. “Come sit next to your friend.”

Kain’s gaze grows hooded, but he comes to sit on the edge of the ottoman, closer than Cecil thought he would have dared, almost too close with the fire so near. Cecil grabs the nearest towel - a cloth covering from the tray of cheeses - and spreads it out beneath their feet, to cover his snow-tracks. For a moment they sit, not quite shoulder-to-shoulder, and Cecil breathes in the warmth of the fire and wonders what he should say.

There’s so much here, lurking in the corners of the room: their history and their future. It echoes dimly and seeps through the cracks ‘til Cecil feels a chill. “Wine?” he offers.

“Yes,” Kain says, and his eyes are on the fire but Cecil feels the heat of something in his voice.

This small room is suddenly strange, packed with their ghosts: Rosa, Golbez, Baron; Odin, and their childhoods. Cecil pours generously; this wine is spiced, and even just the scent of it warms his face. Kain raises his in a solemn toast, and Cecil is reminded of a scene much like this, he and Kain as fumbling teenagers, with pilfered wine and tangled clothes, and his face flushes darker.

“Here’s to the Dragoons,” he says, purposefully, because it was their old toast, wondering whether Kain will rise to the bait—

“And here’s to the Knights,” Kain says, smooth and intense and they both drink deeply now. The memories are playing across Cecil’s vision like the flickering firelight, and if it weren’t for that low burn he’d be content with this winter, sitting beside a fire with his best friend and drinking mulled wine.

“Thank you for coming back,” he says, because he cannot leave well enough alone.

Kain stiffens, and then laughs, and then turns away to the fire – a series of responses, as if he’s testing out which face to wear. But when he turns back to Cecil, the face is just Kain’s, and it’s bare: those eyes are burning. “Thank you for having me,” he says. “I am sorry it took so long.”

“Don’t be.” Cecil’s voice is strong, and he means it; “You took the time you needed.” He knows Kain spent time on Mount Ordeals; he knows he also spent time in Eblan, with Edge and with Rydia, and that something there gave him the strength to come back to Baron (his mind thinks, ‘home’, and then argues with itself). But he also knows that Kain has been here for two weeks and this is the first night he's seen the man smile; and he wonders whether Kain has said things to Rosa he hasn’t said elsewhere.

“It wasn’t just time or space,” Kain muses, drawing a long pull from his glass and setting it down empty. “Or, it isn’t.” He looks at Cecil sidelong. “I could ask you whether you’ve forgiven me, and why.”

“I will forgive you every time you mean it,” Cecil says, and somewhere along this line his voice has grown tight with emotion, drawn thin by the ghosts in the room, their shared pasts spinning it like thread. “You know that.”

“I know it, yes, but I also know I don’t deserve it.” Kain reaches across Cecil and picks up the pitcher; he fills his glass and Cecil’s both and does not move back from Cecil’s side. The warmth is surprising, because the room is already full of fire. Their legs are touching and it burns like absolution. “Why do you trust me?” Kain asks, and his tone of voice is so light and casual Cecil starts at it, as if this is the start of some new and intricate betrayal itself.

“Because I…” He trails off as he thinks of all the things he could say, to fill this blank. Because you took Rosa, but you didn’t hurt her. Because we grew up together and I know you don’t really want to hurt me. Because I have seen you torn to pieces in battle, lost in love, tangled in passion, and you look the same either way: honest in all. There are no answers. His head doesn’t have one.

“Because I do not blame you." It isn't the entire answer; how else can he say it? "You wouldn't have acted without - influence." You had years of chances, and never did. Not until his dark magic.

"Do you know that?" Kain's voice is supple, somehow tempting. "Enough to trust me?"

Yes, Cecil thinks. But he looks at Kain's face, and sees the answers he is expecting: things he could argue away, all things he has told himself over the last days and months in Eblan. There are holes now, between him and Kain, spaces that have grown. He used to know all of Kain - every inch of his body, every expression of his face - and now it is almost a cold stranger who sits before him. Almost. There are still threads he can pull.

"I trust you because... I want to,” Cecil says finally. And it is the best way he can think of to say everything else, too. But then he asks: “Why do you trust me?”

Kain looks up and his face is surprised, outlined in sharp lines by the fire.

“You’re here,” Cecil points out. “In the castle of the King you betrayed, and the Queen you kidnapped, surrounded by the countrymen you led and lied to and helped Golbez control.” And now he turns to face Kain, his gaze as much of a challenge as he can muster, because he has to hear it: “You trusted us both, to come back here, no?”

“I—“ Kain stops, and swallows – and counters, “I would deserve any punishment you and Rosa saw fit to deliver.”

“But that isn’t why you came.” Cecil leans in, his eyes on Kain’s. “You came knowing it would be alright. You trust us.” He looks into Kain’s eyes and says, “You trust me.” And it’s like a victory, something in his breath. "You're trusting, yet you don't think you deserve the same."

"That's different," Kain spits out, and Cecil wonders whether he's angry - or angry at himself. "You, I know, are trustworthy, and honorable, whereas I..."

"You are the same," Cecil says, "to me."

Here it is, lain out, filling up the room with heat - Cecil unfastens his cloak and only as it puddles on the ottoman around them in a soft whisper of velvet does he realize what that looks like; but his eyes meet Kain's, and he shakes his head. "So why do you even ask?"

Kain blinks: his eyes close slowly. “I trust you because I want to,” he whispers, “and because I choose to.” His eyes flicker open – Cecil’s breath catches – and he leans in to kiss Cecil, soft and slow.

Except that everything in Cecil’s body leaps forward at this, and the kiss suddenly turns not soft at all: he leans into Kain, eager, alight and burning, and it’s just like when they were in training, one move suddenly becoming a chorus of moves, a torrent of heat, and Kain’s mouth is moving against his, answering his sudden demand, this strange sudden need—

Cecil breaks away, suddenly, as if burnt. He remembers Kain’s words, and that he is the King, and – “I am sorry,” Cecil says, his voice rough. He does not want to push anything onto Kain that Kain does not want; he does not want to imply that this is the price of forgiveness.

Kain pauses, and Cecil says, "You needn't... prove yourself." It catches in his throat and all he wants to do is lean forward again but he fists his hands on the ottoman and nods. There is still something embarrassing about honesty, the way it catches him on the edges of everything, the temptation to hide these vulnerable things. Would he have been content to sit and drink and pass the Longest Night in silence? "Truly," he adds, and it adds nothing.

Kain looks at him, and now the real smile is in his eyes as he says, so softly, “Rosa said you would do this.”

“Rosa—“ Cecil gasps, but the word drowns as Kain’s mouth covers his again and isn't it fitting for her name to be stuck in his throat now, caught between his lips and Kain's.

He loses long moments in the kiss; Kain moves against him, lips opening, his tongue coming to brush against Cecil's: bright like fire, his mind a whirlwind -- Cecil licks it from his mouth and feels the fire settling in his belly. He pulls back, breathes once - twice - and manages to say, "What of Rosa?"

Something flickers across Kain's eyes and he draws back, the light in his eyes dimming slightly, and Cecil almost leans forward again despite himself, eager and desperate to bring that back. "She said you needed something, but you would not allow yourself to have it."

Cecil blinks, and the only thing in his mind for a moment is Rosa's smile, glowing enigmatic, and her soft whisper: Will you try to find some peace this Longest Night, my love? "Is there anything... in the way?" His voice is huskier, carrying far more meaning than he'd intended, and he would be embarrassed except that this is Kain, the first and the foremost. He leans forward, and takes Kain's mouth with his; takes Kain's bottom lip and sucks at it. "I only want," and he draws it into his mouth longer this time, and gentler. "Anything you want."

Kain laughs, then, and it is a bright spark in the room. "So honorable, Cecil." His face is teasing, but his eyes are dark-honest, and the contrast warms Cecil somehow, even as it unsettles him a little. "Do you take a traitor to your bed?"

"No," Cecil says, and it's huskier than he means and it doesn't even matter as he pulls Kain upright; "but I do take a friend."

He leaves the fire in the study burning because that way they needn't light any of the lamps: the light will come in through the crack in the door and for a second he thinks of Rosa; Rosa, who has blessed this as she blesses everything. Rosa, who worked healing in his friend - Rosa, and Mount Ordeals, Cecil thinks; both holy - and made Kain well enough, whole enough, to take this step. He is too far from Kain, now, the heat of the fire gone, and Cecil turns to catch his friend and press him against the wall. This kiss is long, and decisive, and not entirely honorable.

Kain's hands are eager now, eager and yet not entirely confident; they flicker from his waist up his back to his forearms, and then again to his waist. Cecil's hands have in turn come up to Kain's face, to cup his cheek, to run his thumbs over the cheekbones he hides beneath that stark helm. Kain's mouth breaks off to press against Cecil's neck, traces a hot line behind Cecil's ear. Cecil steps backwards, and pulls Kain the last couple steps into the master bedroom.

Kain looks startled, as if he hadn't expected a bedroom tucked behind the cozy study - and then his expression slides somewhere between amused and perturbed, as his quick glance covers the room. Cecil doesn't let him take in too much detail; his hands are under Kain's tunic, and his mouth on Kain's neck, and he hears and feels Kain's groan, beneath his teeth, and the heat goes straight to his groin. He does leave the door open so that the room is lit indirectly, and the ghostly dim-shadows on his things, on Rosa's things - they make it look a different place, a different world.

And Kain is different in this dark. Cecil realizes eventually that his hands are still reaching for a younger Kain, a Kain at fourteen: this Kain is broader, his chest filled out with muscle from their travels. Muscle and scars, Cecil finds, as he pulls the tunic off over Kain's head; in the faint firelight he sees one thick stripe along Kain's stomach that his fingers trace, over and over again, until Kain moves his own fingers beneath Cecil's shirt and tugs. Cecil allows it and uses the motion to pull Kain forward, tugging him down into the bed and into another kiss, deep and powerful.

Kain is still tentative and Cecil stops, here, Kain's brilliant hair strewn all over his own pillow; he's up on his elbow, breathing hard, and he says to Kain: "Is this - is this truly-"

Kain's mouth twitches into a smirk and he says, in a voice so wrought with honesty that Cecil wants to take it and save it to warm him: "Cecil-" His voice cracks, as if he's suddenly afraid of the answer. "Will you take nothing for yourself?"

The offer floors him; it fills him with heat, that Kain would lay himself out like this - literally, his mind realizes, and then his body catches up with him and his hands are in Kain's hair and this kiss is everything he wanted to say earlier but couldn't: welcome home. He speaks with hands and lips instead, one hand tightening rough in Kain's hair while the other travels downward to Kain's trousers; he fumbles with the fastening and Kain's breathing catches, his mouth gasping beneath Cecil's. Cecil palms him through the clothes - already hard, and Kain's hips buck up into his hand.

Cecil lets his hands clutch the edge of Kain's trousers and he says, breathlessly, "May I?"

Kain's eyes glint with pleasure, and success, and he nods. Cecil's grasp turns almost frantic as he pulls them off, out of the way, one last layer - and is it strange that this is the best way to cut through all the things between them? Too many things words can't say, not between two men better with swords than sentences; he takes Kain in his mouth in one motion, unpracticed and probably clumsy but Kain actually shouts - something like his name, and jerks beneath him, and Cecil sucks slow and slides off and Kain gasps out, "Cecil-"

He halts, and Kain says, breathless, "At least take your clothes off as well?"

Cecil pauses long enough to strip the rest of the clothing from himself; Kain bends to help, and those deft hands undo the lacing on his trousers as quickly as they did his boots. Their hands fumble at each other to remove his shirt - rough hands; callused hands - and Cecil pulls back the furs on the bed and climbs in next to Kain. The next few moments are simple bliss: his hands exploring new angles, new strong lines. On Kain's back he finds a network of scars, thin lashes crisscrossing each other; his fingers trace them for a moment, and then Kain growls "Golbez" and rolls Cecil over onto his back, burying questions in a kiss so angry-burning Cecil almost forgets. He traces the muscles in Kain's shoulders, and kneads his grip into Kain's ass, and runs his hands down the firm Dragoon thighs.

Kain, in turn, is exploring him, and Cecil wonders at it; they are both so changed, in these few short years, but Kain's hands spend eons along his shoulderblades, and the bones of his hips. He and Kain are opposites in build; his sword-wielding has left him topheavy compared to Kain's powerful legs. This is a strange gift, and all the more appreciated for its strangeness: a gift from Rosa, yes, but a gift from Kain as well. The walls he wears during the day are lost, puddled in the shadows on the ground like his clothing, hiding in pieces on the floor. Cecil sucks at the hollow beneath Kain's hipbone and wants, so badly, this thing: this one thing for himself, his own Midwinter gift, one he hadn't asked for until now, Kain laid out bare and warm beneath him and Rosa's blessing warming the furs around them like a crackling fire.

He comes back down to Kain's cock and licks up the length of it, listening to the sound Kain makes in his throat, watching his hand fist in the sheets; he wants to show, somehow, the way he wants this: Kain's place is in Baron, beside him, just like this. Here. Kain reaches down and his fingers scrabble against Cecil's face but Cecil takes the length in his mouth again, and Kain's hand ends up pleasantly tangled in his paladin-hair, tugging just so along his scalp. He moves, Kain's hand more of a welcome weight on his head than a guide, and Kain's harsh breath is encouragement enough; he wants Kain to know how serious he is; wants to make Kain feel good, finally, for once. He wants Kain to lose that wall-like control he's worn around the castle for weeks like a curse, turning that expressive face to stone. Cecil runs his tongue up the underside again and Kain jerks his hips; Cecil licks at it again willingly, but then Kain makes a murmured noise and pulls away.

Cecil glances up, his hair all tangled in his face and Kain smiles, pleased, as if he's a wild thing. "Come here," he says, and Cecil climbs up that long pale body to lay kisses on Kain's face; Kain sucks at his lip and turns Cecil over onto his back. Before Cecil can protest Kain has shifted down, and he flashes Cecil one distinctly naughty smile before taking all of Cecil's cock in his mouth - Cecil jerks at it, his body overtaken by the feeling of smooth, hot, wet - he makes some kind of noise, and Kain laughs, and the vibrations of it in his throat make Cecil's eyes want to roll into the back of his head. Kain's tongue flicks against his length, careful and precise, and his mouth is tight and unrelenting and Cecil gasps out, "Kain," because if this doesn't stop soon he will not last.

And Kain's eyes are burning as he says, "What does my lord want?"

"Will you?" Cecil manages to gasp it, because he wants - but he doesn't want - this isn't an order from the King, but Kain's eyes are as amused as they are aroused, dark and wanting just as much; this isn't something Kain should feel compelled to do - but then he realizes, maybe Kain needs this; maybe Kain needs to turn this request into a joke because it is the thing he cannot say: do you need me here? Do you want me here? And he wants so badly it should be funny, or it shouldn't be funny; if this is a way that Kain will understand, if this is how they can break down the things between them...

"I - want you - to..." His words trail off in a sentence that maybe doesn't need to be finished with the way Kain takes him in his mouth again, the way Kain's hand creeps up the inside of his thigh, the way it pauses right next to his stones as if waiting. Cecil gathers his will - fractured into fragments by Kain's mouth - and fumbles in the dresser for a potion.

"Here." It's more a gasp than he'd like, and Kain pauses and looks up; he tosses it down and it lands in the bedclothes with a soft thud. Kain takes it and pops it open. The room is suddenly and strangely silent and Cecil's body is aching for more, on fire with it; he hears the sound of slick against skin and then Kain's hand has returned to that spot, tingling-warm with the potion and Cecil says, "Yes," loudly and as firmly as he can because he is going to explode with this, he cannot take it, he cannot wait. Kain slides in one finger and it's slow and slick and it fills him and he bucks his hips, but only a little; he looks down to see Kain's eyes intent on his, his other hand glowing oil-slick as he pumps his own cock, and the sight of it is breathtakingly amazing and Cecil can't think for it and he asks, desperately, "Now?"

And Kain moves, shifting his weight, and plants one hand beside Cecil's head; he bends down for a kiss and presses up against Cecil; the sensation of it, slick against Cecil's sensitive skin, is so amazing he almost wants it to go on longer - except that he knows what's coming next is even better; he brings his hands up and pulls Kain down to him by the hair and ears, and kisses him hard enough to bruise, because if Kain does not start to move - but then Kain does, pressing into him slowly at first. Cecil tries to breathe: the ache of feeling full is overwhelming, and it continues to grow, the sensation both sweet and a little sour and yet he just wants more of both. His mouth devours Kain's and Kain laughs and pushes in the rest of the way.

Cecil's breath escapes him with a quiet "Oh," and he is breathless for a long moment, and then Kain moves, back out, and the breath flies back into his throat with a moan. For a few moments his noises echo Kain's movements, because they are shooting heat and light and pleasure down his spine directly to his brain and then directly back to his groin: gasping little sounds he can't control. But then Kain's hand, slick and tight, wraps itself around Cecil's cock, and he cannot stop the noises he is making now, although he doesn't recognize the sound, needy and desperate and splintering somewhere in-between his brain and his throat.

Kain's breathing is ragged also and Cecil cranes up to suck at Kain's neck, to bite along the curve of it, to try to give back this sensation: Kain's hips running into his, and the pressure building at the steady work of Kain's hand and his eyes are flickering open-closed because he can't concentrate on anything but the feeling. The pleasure spikes in waves and Cecil clutches at the sheets, hissing; Kain moves faster, unrelenting and hard, his thighs grinding into Cecil and his hand getting almost rough. The feeling is unbelievable, and Kain groans and his head drops onto Cecil's shoulder as he shudders and his hips stop moving briefly - and oh, hells, Cecil had not realized Kain was so close and the realization of it sends him over the edge, unbearably, suddenly white-hot and shuddering into Kain's hand as the rush of pleasure spreads through him, his hips jerking upwards into Kain clumsily. Kain's teeth close on his shoulder as his thighs pump into Cecil once, twice, hells, Cecil has lost count in the throbbing aftermath of orgasm as Kain finally gasps and sinks down onto Cecil's body.

Eventually Cecil realizes Kain's hair is in his mouth and that his hands have come up to wrap around Kain's back, resting on his shoulderblades; he can feel the network of scars. His senses right now are on overload; his fingers trace them lightly, and it feels exquisite right now, like lace. Kain muffles something into Cecil's shoulder but then turns his head, and Cecil realizes it is a laugh.

"Is it well?" Kain asks.

It is a silly question, and as Kain sinks sideways off of Cecil - not too far; Cecil's hands keep him close enough, hips and shoulders touching now - Cecil looks at him and sighs. He tugs the sheets and furs up over both of them. "Yes, my friend," he says, and his heart's welling up with something else he doesn't have words for. "It is well."

He thinks of Rosa, returning in the morning to find them thus - and it is not strange at all; somehow it is right, that they should heal their friendship whilst she serves her White Mage's vigil. She was right, Cecil thinks; there is peace here, now, for the Longest Night. Peace be with you, he thinks, to his love - to both his loves: one here and one far, but both in his heart at that moment, bright-white and burning with it.

And, because Kain looks relaxed in his pleasure, he dares to say: "Welcome home."

Kain pauses for a moment, and the shadows flicker across his face, but then he says finally: "It is good to be home. My friend."