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second chances

Chapter Text

There is a world out there for you.

Is it better to have loved and lost, or to never have loved at all?

Trite words, he thinks. There is no more room for love in his life. The few days that skyfarer spent with him were in an ignorant bliss that was unsustainable. The hamlet continued to crumble around them, rife with traps they were forced to acknowledge for their own safety, and the illusion was close to shattering.

It's a bittersweet relief when the man leaves before the shallow peace deteriorates, allowing him to preserve the moment for eternity. While carrying all of his travel gear, that man says, I have to go again. There's always somewhere to be. No rest for the wicked becomes no rest for the saviours, and here, that man's already done what he needs to.

He watches the skyfarer exit the hamlet. He reaches his hand out, but the motion is an insincere attempt to call him back, and he clenches his fist in the hollow light. He knows his punishment intimately.

When he opens his hand again, the silhouette of the man is already gone.

Ruling is passed onto the second oldest son of the royal family, the only surviving member. Their kingdom has survived, but with desperate need for reconstruction.

Their growing kingdom as a whole was unprepared, bleeding hearts finally let for all their worth. The prince-turned-king—too young to take on the burden, still with the sparkling eyes of youth not yet dampened fully by tragedy—thanks his family for their service.

His family is not without its own losses. They armed the defense, and yet it wasn't enough. They were too inexperienced. Too unprepared. They didn't know enough.

In a way, he regrets leaving his father and his youngest brother behind, the only remnants of his own generations-old blacksmith family. He was the most gifted of the bloodline, but talent means nothing without knowledge. Leaving the only place he's ever called home with Sierokarte and a merchant's son trained in combat, he casts his eyes towards the neverending, blue skies. There are things to learn, people to protect, insight on how the world works. One day, he may be worthy of returning home with knowledge for everyone's sake.

He trusts that his family will survive, and that their small kingdom will rebuild. But he will not fail to protect again.

Chapter Text

Openly parading everything he kept close to his heart was a death sentence. Alexander learnt this from what had happened to his own home, and he'd learnt it in all the years he spent travelling the skies. He'd never wanted anything but to protect those dear to him, but the less distance he kept between them, the more unattainable that would be.

The skies are boundless, and every person he meets carries their own universe in their hearts. On his journey to rebuild himself, his scope of home had gradually expanded from the kingdom he'd grown up to the entirety of the skies, and with that, his resolve to right the wrongs he encountered.

But he had grown too powerful, unnaturally so. With the merchant's son he'd been travelling and training with, he'd joked that they would have to remain vigilante justice, and his old friend agreed with much more seriousness than he'd expected. The creation of the Eternals was an unspoken thought given form, a thread that had connected him and his friend ever since he'd left home.

It had been a coincidence that the people he'd initially considered to include in the Eternals had different strengths. He'd specialized in sword work, his old friend with the spear, and his two wards with daggers and pistols. He'd thrown out the idea that whatever powerful group of vigilantes they'd gather, they should cover the spectrum of people most famed for their proficiency in a certain fighting style. It stuck, and thus recruitment for the Eternals began.

Were they to become the most powerful crew in the skies, there would be rumours that would undoubtedly follow, and so it became necessary to protect their identities. His old friend became Uno, the sage co-leader, and he'd made himself Siete, lucky number seven. His wards became Quatre and Esser, although he had fought against their inclusion for a long time. He and Uno split ways to recruit the rest: a lonely archer, a savage axe-wielder, a young healer and her samurai father, a sensitive musician.

All that remained was a melee fighter.

They were spoiled for choice when it came to melee fighters. But consistently, the same person was mentioned as an afterthought alongside the rest of the Eternals' suggestions, the same one that would always emerge in Siete's research. He was more a legend than a person with how everyone across every corner of the skies spoke of him, and while there were conflicting accounts, the story always started the same.

The legend was born to the Karm clan, a group of incredibly skilled assassins that moved as one with the shadows and never missed their targets. At the height of their activity, when he was just a child, he had singlehandedly killed every member in cold blood.

From there, the reasons why always differed; he'd lost control, he'd been wronged, he was a deranged child that simply gave in to bloodlust. None of the stories gave any indication that the child—grown into a man now, judging by the amount of years the rumours had been floating around—would have a good heart.

Of all the melee fighters presented to him, Siete had his mind set on this one. He spent months wringing out information about the defunct clan and piecing together the old legends, and when he'd finally had a converging point on the island where the Karm clan used to reside, he wasted no time in planning a trip.

The night before he went to seek out the Erune of legend, Quatre approached him.

"Nothing about this looks good," he said, plainly. Quatre didn't often get along with him, but his warning that night was borne of the respect established between them from years of Siete's assistance with Stardust Town. It wasn't an invitation to watch Siete fail, but a warning of things to come. "I don't want anyone in this crew that can kill their family and get away with it."

"I'm not necessarily recruiting the guy. Call it a long-gone curiosity sparked once again," he responded, messing up the younger boy's hair.

It was bittersweet to see him and his sister test their own abilities to be part of the Eternals. They had fought well, and he knew they had the heart to extend their protection past their own small town, but a part of him couldn't sever the fighters he sees now with the resilient children they'd been just a yesterday ago. In the end, they hadn't even become the youngest members of the crew, a fact that Siete regrets, even if the youngest member of their crew came with her own, equally powerful adoptive father.

Quatre sputtered. "You're going alone."


"If you die, don't say I didn't warn you. And if you bring him back, you can't fault me for wanting to twist a knife in his guts for murdering his family in cold blood."

"We're trying to prevent casualties, Quatre, not cause them." The codename felt unnatural rolling off his tongue, but with others on the ship it was a good habit to have.

He looked at him, scrutinizing, before turning to leave. "I have no pity."

The others hadn't been much different from Quatre's stance, from apathy to genuine concern that the man that Siete was seeking out was truly irredeemable, but it had only spurred him on further. Only their archer had offered to join him, but he turned her down. If the man was truly as hostile as the rumours suggested, he wouldn't want to get any members of his new crew to be in trouble before they assembled fully.

Besides, if he were to be killed during recruitment, he knew he could safely leave the Eternals in Uno's hands. He'd already heard a few mutters on the ship about him being an unfit leader. It was too early in their inception to take offense to it.

It was stubborn of him to seek this person out, he knew, but the discrepancy in the stories drew him in until he was hopelessly entangled in its thread. It was a constant among the stories that the legendary killer was still alive to this day. According to another skyfarer that was admittedly just as mythological as the Karm clan killer himself, he'd been spotted not too long ago; how a child could massacre an entire population and not grow up to cause more chaos had Siete believing there was the slimmest chance there was more to the legend's story than hearsay. It was enough for Siete to want to find him for himself.

Magic is not uncommon in this skydom, Esser had reminded him, cornering him after her brother had. He could have been restrained indefinitely for his crimes.

The warnings ring in his mind as he traverses across the island where the Karm clan once lay. There are traps where the dock ends and the island begins, serving as an alarm system to deter those with weaker wills. The mechanisms are archaic but are clearly well-maintained, small signs of life that fill Siete with equal amounts of hope and dread. He sets off every single alarm he can find, and by the time he gets to the cave that served as a gate to the main Karm hamlet, he's positive he's caused more of a racket than anyone accidentally finding this place would.

According to the records, the traps here transition from alarms to attempted murder against trespassers. He puts a hand on the hilt of his sword but otherwise keeps it in its scabbard, giving himself a chance to be vulnerable. The traps are difficult to disarm, and their placement and execution follows no discernible pattern. Siete comes out with more than a few scrapes, but his spirit takes no hits, and when he finally reaches the hamlet, he gives himself a moment to breathe.

The place is bathed in a purple glow not dissimilar to the island of Lumacie. Small settlements no longer sit here, but the ground has not been levelled; there are remnants of what were once houses jutting against the landscape, overgrown by the foliage and returned to the spirit of the earth.

It looks as though it hasn't been touched since the rumours of the massacre first came around, but those traps tell him otherwise.

One second he's upright, hand closing tighter around the hilt of his sword, and the next second he's knocked into the ground face-first. A body tries to hold its weight on top of him, but he's not so disoriented that he'll allow it. He's had experience on both ends of a surprise attack.

As hands come around his wrists to try and hold them behind his back, he pushes up with his entire body, sensing that his attacker is smaller than him. The sudden action works, and he rolls out of the way and back into a standing position, sword drawn.

The attacker doesn't waste any time in lunging for Siete again.

Erunes are smaller and more agile, and Siete's wearing too much armour for this fight to try and keep up with his speed. It's clear that the Erune has years upon years of practice, and while his claws look cumbersome at first, they move effortlessly as an extension of his arms. He has an inhuman edge in battle, too, and he disappears and reappears at a speed that shouldn't be possible.

The tempo of the battle is such that Siete should have been long dead. Either the Erune is playing with him, or he's out of practice. It's the only reason he can think of as to why he isn't dead yet, and he barely has time to think as it is.

The only colours to differentiate the blur of purples and blacks attacking him are the mask with its eerie red eyes and the claws the colour of a sky too wide before dusk. Like the rest of the traps around the island, the maintenance on his claws and the shine of his mask look too meticulous for the Erune to be waiting for nothing.

It's been a while since Siete's had a battle that was worth everything he knew. His duels with other swordsmen of the skies, as well as during the recruitment of the Eternals, were all carefully orchestrated. They were honourable and civil, neither parties holding back as a showcase of their skills.

This is a whole other beast. The fight is purely for survival, because attempting to steer this fight towards honour and civility will get Siete killed. In this short battle alone, he's had to draw on all his knowledge just to maintain the distance between them. It's completely different from other battles he's engaged in recently; he grins wide, and his opponent doesn't react to his excitement, lunging forward without missing a beat.

Blades clash, and then there's a single second where all the air in the hamlet hangs still, only their breathing to fill the closed space between them. The Erune has both of his claws against Siete's neck, its points nearly piercing skin. A millimetre further and Siete would be dead.

Equally, Siete has his sword angled against the exposed skin of the Erune's side and back. All he has to do to kill is press forward.

They stare each other down, neither of them daring to move. He's significantly more out of breath than the Erune, but the Erune isn't unaffected, so Siete takes advantage of their brief impasse to start talking.

"A dance that passionate with me and you won't give me a name?"

"Pot, kettle." This is the first time he's heard the Erune speak, his voice gravelly with disuse and settling low in his chest. He rises easily to the challenge, like he's been waiting for his voice to be heard.

"Siete." It takes a moment for his codename to come out, but he finds that in a moment like this, it feels more and more like who he's supposed to be in the context of the Eternals. "Return the favour?"

"It's been a long time since anyone triggered all of the alarms and disarmed as many of those traps as you did, let alone put up a fight like that." The Erune laughs, and Siete feels it against the blade of his sword. The sound lacks happiness. "If I had a name, perhaps I would."

"Everyone has a name."

The Erune's stance slackens involuntarily when he huffs, and the points of his claws against Siete's neck relax until only the hint of them remains. Siete's hand twitches tighter around the hilt of his sword. "The sacred and the profane have a name, and all of the lowly followers in between. I have nothing but my sins."

"We've got ourselves a modern day poet here," Siete says, lips quirking up into a small smile. "You'd make a killing with maudlin literature."

"Words are not my ally. Given the liberty of time, I must give consideration before speaking." The Erune sneers and takes a step forward. It forces Siete to go on the offensive before he can think about whether it's the right course of action, and the two of them begin their dance again.

They're closer now, the Erune pushing in more fearlessly, Siete's own attacks focused less on keeping his opponent at bay and now on hurting. If the Erune isn't going to back down, neither will he.

Morbid their short conversation might have been, a simpler part of Siete rises to the exhilaration of the challenge to fight so purely. There are no underhanded tricks happening here now, the desperation of staying alive from earlier giving way to a more reckless enjoyment of battle. They both aim for domination, having fought for long enough to gather information about their fighting styles.

The Erune can't gain any ground, but Siete can't keep him far enough to deal any more blows. In a deadlock, they break away and begin to circle each other, watching the other's moves closely. "Let me get this straight," Siete says, light tone betraying the intensity of their battle. "You're the one from the Karm clan all the legends are about."

If the Erune's face wasn't completely covered up, Siete's sure he'd be rolling his eyes. "What gave it away?"

"Call it a hunch."

"What are you here for?"

"Just a few questions."

He sees the Erune falter slightly. "Questions."

The derisive tone in the single word prompts Siete to pause their circling and slowly drop his hands, sword hanging at his side. Rather than taking advantage of the opening, the Erune pauses as well, reciprocating the staredown with equal intensity he did the fight.

Confirming the Erune's identity should have cleared up any questions he had, but it raises even more, and they all lead back to one place.

What has he been doing all this time?

The person in front of him is no child. All the legends are unanimous in calling the cold-blooded killer a child, but he's grown now, and the man in front of him is just that—a young man, older than the twins but younger than Siete, and alive.

Siete has many questions, but this is the one he chooses to ask: "Why aren't you dead already?"

It's a deliberately provocative question towards a person that's claimed to have accepted his fate entirely. The Erune doesn't react. He continues to stand still, mask with its unchanging expression staring him down. "Death must be earned. The greatest punishment is to remain alive with the knowledge of my sins."

The statement hovers in the air. Siete narrows his eyes and then he points, making an incorrect buzzer noise.

"You want to be alive," he says, adamantly. When the only information he knows with certainty about the Erune is that he could kill Siete, being this insistent is a death sentence. But with every passing second, he's convinced that the Erune in front of him is the one that killed his entire clan. At the same time, he's learning that the very same Erune isn't completely irredeemable. Those two are truths he has to reconcile.

With a challenging grin, he mirrors the deathly still posture of the Erune and barrels on forward with his words. "No one else resides on this part of the island anymore, and the island is barely populated to begin with. The traps you set were so intricate that no ordinary person could make it this far. Why didn't you lay yourself at my feet and allow me to kill you, if you believe in divine retribution so much? When was the last time someone came here?"

The Erune watches unflinchingly until the last question, when his entire body language shifts to hostility. "Do you truly believe you can understand me?" His voice rises in volume as his posture closes off, but he readies into a fighting stance again and attacks Siete before he can defend himself.

His back is against the ground again, mind struggling to adjust to the speed of the attack. The Erune's thrown his claws off to the side, one hand fisted in Siete's collar and the other rearing back for a punch—and it's a hell of a punch that he's got, one that has Siete absently thinking he's a fucking whirlwind as his head gets slammed mercilessly into the ground. His head gets tossed to the other side when the Erune throws another punch, and it's at that point that Siete fully registers he's been punched—not once, but twice, the pain starting to blossom across his cheekbone.

On principle, Siete doesn't kick people when they're down, but the Erune is clearly not down, the complete opposite of it; when the Erune rears back for a third punch, he moves to push him off, the punch catching him in the forearm instead. The Erune jumps back to his feet as Siete scrambles back into a standing position, sheathing his forgotten sword and throwing the scabbard in the dust behind him.

The Erune sees the motion and scoffs, expressionless red eyes watching Siete remove other weapons from his person, as well as his heavy armour. The Erune isn't wearing anything thicker than leather himself, so it's only fair, Siete decides as he raises his fists.

"I've confirmed my identity," the Erune says, more energy in his voice than Siete's heard during their entire exchange. It makes electricity run white-hot through his entire body, and Siete feels like he's finally getting somewhere, yes, more. "Surely you understand the gravity of the mistakes you're making."

"This is—" Siete pauses to spit onto the ground beside him, wiping a blood-streaked grin across his lips. "This is better than I could have anticipated." The bruises are going to be ugly and plentiful, and Siete thinks he'll be unrecognizable to the others if he waits too many days to get back to the base without first-aid. "Answer my question."

"You asked many."

"Why aren't you dead?" He asks again, more aggressively, before running in and swinging.

As expected, the Erune dodges so easily that Siete doubts his own ability to throw a punch, and a fist goes rocketing into his gut barely a second later. The motion has him coughing, eyes watering, and it's definitely one of the worst punches he's ever had to take. But he's been attacked before, and he'll be attacked again, and it takes more than that to knock him down. Everything he's worked for until this point would be useless if he fell here now.

He staggers, the Erune not letting up despite the moment of weakness. He'll have to be more defensive while he regains his bearings. The punches thrown at him are hefty, each one forcing Siete to reorient himself in time and space. If he had doubts before about whether the Erune had a superhuman edge, he's not doubting it now as he's backed into a corner, blocking flurries of blows coming from impossible directions. Still, he doesn't end up with his back to the ground for the umpteenth time that day, which registers as a success in the back of his mind.

"Who convinced you that you were allowed to play god?" the Erune seethes, impatient with Siete's inability to stay down. The sudden intensity of the question distracts him, and his reward is another punch to the gut. "What makes you believe that you have the right to assume the details of my life? To act as if pretending to care about me gives you access to the horrors I've created by my own hands?"

It takes all of Siete's remaining energy not to fall to his knees and wheeze. His vision is starting to blur, and when he comes to after the last attack, he notices that the Erune has grabbed him by the collar again. Maybe that's why he's still standing. "I can't be curious?" he asks, and it's a considerable struggle for it to come out in one steady sentence.

If he's not mistaken, the Erune falters slightly. He takes a beat too long to answer. "Curious men don't force their way through traps to meet a child who singlehandedly caused a massacre of his own people, only to play missionary and believe all people can be saved."

"What do you have left to protect here?"

The next punch the Erune lands after that question is particularly harsh, stings at him like nettle in his throat. It would send Siete to the ground one more time if the Erune didn't insist on holding onto him. "I don't fight without reason. There is no place for me in the world, until—"

His words stop suddenly and, with a low growl, he throws a messy punch, the fist in his collar loosening enough for Siete to break free and intercept.

He manages to get the Erune in a hold and pin him to the ground; it takes all of his effort to keep his weight on the other man's body, and instead of going for another punch, he moves quickly to swipe the mask off his face, once and for all.

Time stops for them when they finally look each other in the eyes, like the sun rises and falls again in the hidden hamlet closed off from the outside world. The Erune has stagnated here, might have left to see the world once upon a time but now wanders the ghost of his entire universe, everything he's ever loved and lost.

His eyes are the same lavender glow as the rest of the decrepit place, tied traditions of earthen magic and well-honed skills. They're ablaze with the determination to prove Siete wrong, not acknowledging the fact that they're on the same side. He can't imagine that the mask sits comfortably given the bone and steel it's made of, but it hasn't deterred him at all. He's snarling, eyes wide in unrestrained fury.

More than that, Siete's completely entranced.

"Until what?" he says, equal parts desperate and goading and curious. The Erune has a reason to live for, Siete knows, and it keeps him in his stasis in a world that hasn't changed and never will, keeps him going even though his crimes are unspeakable except as rumours under the cover of night. Siete is more aggressive with him than he's been with any of the other recruits, feeling like he's on the precipice of falling into those sharp, lilac eyes. "Why do you want to live?"

He hasn't forgotten for a moment that the Erune in front of him is a born and trained assassin, that he's currently fighting on the grounds that once passed as his home. Soon enough, Siete finds their positions switched, picked up and thrown against the dirt before he can catch his breath. The shadow of the Erune looms above him, sharp even though his vision is swimming from the pain. "What do you want from me?"

Unhidden by the mask he'd left in the dust, the ferocity of his words makes Siete's pulse quicken, jumpstarting him back into motion.

His body is screaming in pain as he forces himself to stand back up to face the Erune. He takes a step forward, his legs buckling, but he doesn't stop until he's arm's length away. Siete's got more than a few inches on the Erune, but when he's hunched over from this much pain, he's barely eye level. "I'm gathering the strongest people in the skydom," he says, squeezing his eyes shut. "The last person we need is a melee fighter."

Why would Siete tell him anything other than the truth?

"Power in the hands of one alone cannot be trusted. The nine of us already gathered... it would be facetious of me to say that we've experienced the same horrors you have, or even that we could fully understand. But to assume that we haven't been wronged by the company we've kept, by our own beliefs in the integrity of humanity's kindness, to assume that none of us have had the wool pulled over our eyes and skinned alive by the greed of others would be equally wrong of you.

"We want better for the skydom. For all the people like us, and everything we've had taken away from us." The wording is trite, and both of them know it; the Erune's disapproving eyes trace how Siete shakes his head with frustration, the words not coming out right.

He needs a moment to rest and get his bearings together, but it feels like time is of the essence. If he closes his eyes for too long, the Erune will disappear back into the shadows, Siete nothing but another well-intentioned missionary on his record.

"And what, pray tell, would I contribute to your little brigade for the greater good?" The Erune's voice is mocking. "Where were you when I killed my entire clan? Or have you forgotten why I've gotten to be infamous in hand-to-hand combat?"

"What you could do for us? You know the answer just as well as I do. I don't have to tell you."

The Erune has all of himself to bring to the Eternals. All of his skills, all of his experiences, all of his passion that he doesn't even seem to be aware of. People's intentions can be the easiest to read, and the Erune has worn his heart on his sleeve for so long that he's covered in his own blood. Siete's never met a fighter more aware of their own shortcomings and yet so unaware of their own strengths. In fact, he's so self-aware that he exacts punishment on himself, because no one remains to do it. An evil man wouldn't suffer for those who couldn't witness him, let alone those he killed by his own hands.

Rationally, Siete doesn't know whether the Erune is truly a good man or not. Given everything he knows, he should have no reason to trust him. But he has a hunch, and if there's anything he trusts, it's his gut feeling. So he finally lets the exhaustion and pain of the fight bring him to his knees, in a purposeful show of defenselessness.

Siete is coming out of this alive, and that's an unmistakable fact. He doesn't feel like he'll be killed for a misstep. The time for that has passed. But he doesn't know how long it'll be until someone with good intentions decides they want to test the legend again. He wonders how many people like this the Erune has run into, and how Siete measures up against them. "Phew," he sighs for the hell of it, keeping his voice chipper, and tries to plaster a smile on his face. "That's heavy stuff for morning hours."

The Erune clicks his tongue, doesn't say anything else as he turns around. "Leave. Your idealism sickens me. I've had enough of men who want to save the world treating me as their charity case."

Siete laughs sourly. Ideas can only take one so far, and objectively the concept of the Eternals is rather idealistic. But there is logic behind every action, even though he doesn't always make it clear. There's no getting rid of wrongdoings altogether, but there's mitigating damage. Above all, Siete wants to know why anyone does anything that they do, whether it can be stopped, whether he can curb the inclination of others to do harm.

Siete's no miracle worker. He just wants to know why.

I've had enough of men who want to save the world treating me as their charity case, the Erune's voice echoes in his mind, and Siete thinks, he's gone through this before, huh. But to admit that to Siete when he spent so much effort holding back—the Erune has a story he wants to tell. Siete can read it in the way that he'd kept in his orbit during the entire fight, rising to all the questions and comments instead of killing him outright. He can read it in the way that he continues to stand there, inviting a response from Siete.

Despite the harsh words, the Erune hasn't walked away. There's no doubt that they could have killed each other at multiple points during this meeting, especially now, when Siete is vulnerable and tormenting him with existential questions. And yet, he's still here, revealing small hints about his life, hovering at the edge of the territory but never quite disappearing back into the shadows.

He wants to be found, and the fire in his eyes will light Siete's way.

"I think not," Siete says, trying not to wince when he sits up. All of his aches ignite with protest now that the adrenaline is starting to dissipate through his veins, leaving a painful clarity. "I'm offended you consider me idealistic. Nothing but. I'm a pragmatic man. I like things to make sense. I make things make sense."

"Not a single thing about what you're doing today makes sense," the Erune responds immediately, and Siete tries not to laugh with relief at how quick he is on the draw, every time.

"You wanna know why I'm here? I'm here because I heard there was a strong fighter. And horrors or not, I wanted to see what they were like."

"You'd willingly talk to a mass murderer?"

"Regardless of whether I am or not, he's willing to talk to me. Being very clear about it, too. It's not why I'm here that you want the answer to. It's why I stayed." When the Erune doesn't respond, Siete turns to walk away, but he stumbles on his first step. Cursing under his breath, he tries not to rub at his bruises. "I'll be back in a few days. I gotta recover from these."

"You're not possibly thinking of returning here, but I doubt you do much thinking to begin with." They're standing back to back now, the Erune facing the ruins of the hamlet, Siete towards the exit.

"You'd be surprised," Siete says to humour him. "See you here in three days time?"

He feels the Erune walk away without saying anything, disappearing into the wreckage. When he exits the hamlet, the natural sunlight casting on his face, he feels faintly as if he's woken from a dream.

He finds his way back to the Eternals' base before he can get dragged off the streets, thrown into a police station, and interrogated about his haggard appearance. No one is there except Quatre, Uno, and Song. The lack of fanfare is expected; the kind of people they've gathered are more likely to spend their time on their own when they aren't needed.

He was hoping for a crew with more enthusiasm about being together, but that will come with time and effort. For now, he'll trust that they'll come when he summons for them.

He spends the rest of the day and well into the evening in the sick bay, tending to his wounds and discussing the meeting with Uno before falling into restless sleep. Siete has to pass cooking duty off that night, because when he next wakes, the sun is down and any attempts to move elicit a hiss of pain.

When Quatre brings him food, he says nothing except a thinly veiled I told you so.

He's not in perfect condition three days later, bandages around his arms and bruises turning sickly yellow. He foregoes his steel armour to wear a leather set, his body protesting less with any movement at the cost of lowered protection.

When he arrives back to Karm, he inadvertently sets off the first alarm trap. His reaction time is slower than usual with his injuries, and the traps have been reset slightly differently than the last time he came here. The traps leave marks like souvenirs against his arms and legs, but it's of no detriment to him. He's here for a reason, and at this rate, nothing will stop him but death itself.

It takes him twice as long to make it past the entrance of traps this time than it did three days ago, but he's not so off his game that he doesn't expect the claw that swipes at his face, leaving two neat scratch marks across his cheek. Wordlessly, he brings out his smallsword and starts sparring with the Erune, smiling to mask the grimace of pain that threatens to rise up with every movement.

Their battle is silent except for the clash of weapons. Today, they're fighting for the sake of fighting rather than desperation to the death; a calmer bout like this reminds him of the entrance trials the other Eternals went through, but he wonders if he's being too hopeful.

Every little action reminds him that continuing will make his current injuries worse. As their fight wears on, it becomes clear to Siete that the Erune is holding himself back, or struggling with something that weakens him enough for Siete to get a few good blows in and win their match for the day.

"What are you waiting for?" Siete asks, looking down at the Erune, who has his back against the ground. He tries to give the words his normal, joking tone, but the pain overrides it and makes it sound more cruel than he intends.

"I should be asking you that." With the mask back on his face, it's hard once again to discern his emotions.

"If you know what you did was wrong and seek penance, why do you remain?"

"Why do you care?"

"Join us."

"It isn't right for me to leave this place."

At least they're getting somewhere. Siete tilts his head. "Why not?"

"Are you an idiot?"

"Act like I am."

"There's no acting about it. You are." He must have been more effective in getting through to him than he'd given himself credit for, because the Erune sits up and listlessly swats at his leg, respecting that the battle is over rather than seeking revenge through a decisive blow. Siete moves to sit down cross-legged in front of him, chin in his hand. "...I must live every life that I have taken in nothing but suffering," he says, after deliberation. "What remains for someone like me?"

All of his words tell Siete he's resigned about his punishment, but all of his actions contradict them. After saying he never fights without a reason, he continues to push back against Siete, always with something to prove about why he should be punished rather than recruited. With his skills, it should be easy to subdue Siete, especially when he's already been weakened by a previous battle, and yet the Erune keeps him in a state where he can continue to return to the hamlet.

The someone like me that Siete sees is a young man that wants to atone for his sins so desperately that he's willing to throw away everything that defines him until all that's left is a shell of the body that committed the sins. And yet, even in the hollows of everything the Erune could have been, there's an unyielding spirit, one that seeks the cracks in the shell and grows until it splits his mask apart.

Men don't atone for years without believing they can be forgiven. There are reasons that remain for the Erune to live. There's the tiniest hint of something that makes life worth living.

Siete doesn't see someone that needs to be saved. He sees someone that's on his way there. "There's a whole world out there," he finally says, "if you're ready to look."

Bruises heal, and new skin forms over scars, whitening and smoothing over.

Siete doesn't stop coming to the hamlet. He does so every other day for almost two months, but compared to their first and second meetings, he only stays long enough to have a short conversation.

The other soon-to-be Eternals have gone back to their regular lives, Siete dismissing them knowing that recruitment for their melee fighter would take longer than expected. Some offer to help again, but Siete rejects them. It took him this long to get into the Erune's good graces, and calling them good graces is being generous.

He's getting better at the traps, but they change every day he arrives. The Erune only spars with him briefly now, switching his energy to insist that Siete stops talking or showing up completely, but he becomes less insistent about it over time when Siete makes it clear that he's not relenting any time soon.

When he arrives one day and isn't immediately attacked, he hesitates. The fighter in him stays vigilant, but the diplomat walks without fear to where the Erune is seated, two cups of tea by his side.

Wordlessly, Siete takes a seat beside him and gestures towards the small wooden cup closest to him. The Erune doesn't acknowledge the motion, so he takes it as an invitation. The tea is piping hot, and he nearly spits it out, but out of politeness he swallows. The Erune lets out a low chuckle, lifting his mask slightly to take a sip of tea. "Optimistic for you to take food and drink so easily from a known killer from a former clan of assassins."

"C'mon, you've had so many chances that resorting to poisoning me feels lazy. I'd say nothing short of killing me would stop me from coming back, but I've got a crew of eight others that'll hunt down whoever it is that managed to do the job." The Eternals in their current state couldn't be called friends, so he knows they wouldn't seek revenge. He'd trust them to seek balance.

"Why is it that you return?"

"I'm annoying enough to." Although it doesn't add anything more to their conversation, he responds, getting the sense that the Erune needs to verbalize his thoughts, as well as hear an answer from Siete that he can ignore. By now, he's exhausted his sincerity about the reasons behind his persistence.

In the silence that follows, the tea cools enough that Siete drinks it. He finds that it's mostly tasteless, with a sweet tang to it that he doesn't entirely hate.

He feels a shift in the air. The Erune exhales, and then his words start flowing, so quietly that Siete thinks he's imagining it. "In that case, I've never wished for someone to be annoying. It's foolish to believe he'd return. He'd left once already. But that man's spirit, the light within him... it was nothing like I'd ever seen. Even without him telling me, it felt like everything would be okay."

Siete says nothing, doesn't even dare to take another drink. A few seconds pass again in tense silence, and then the Erune hunches over by a fraction, seemingly defeated by his own words.

"I've said too much," he mutters afterwards. "This is why I continue to live as though I am allowed happiness. Take this answer and leave." The Erune's tone is matter-of-fact, with full belief that the man he was referring to was the only one who cared enough to return to him. He treats this like a satisfactory answer, but it isn't one at all.

This Erune is full of fortitude that keeps him alive but not thriving. He is a spirit that is unable to be defeated even though he restrains it for his own punishment's sake. He was a child that was done wrong, that did wrong, and now he's a young man that doesn't know what to live for.

He deserves better than to live life following the mere ghost of a memory. He deserves to see that he can do good for the world, and that while it doesn't erase past sins, he doesn't have to live constantly confining himself. He has a gift, he has honed skill, and he has the last remaining knowledge from his clan. Siete wants him to know that he is more than capable of doing good.

In the fire of his eyes, he can see that the Erune knows it too. He has the same look as when Siete first found the twins, a look that tells anyone that can stand to look in the face of the sun that he wants more than the life he's resigned himself to living.

But Siete's pushed the Erune enough, and although he has few regrets in his life, one of them down the line may be the lengths he'd gone to just to force the Erune's self-defeat, over and over again. Regardless of whether he decides to join the Eternals in the end, Siete will continue their meetings.

If he's left any impact on the Erune's life, then turning away from him isn't an option.

The silence between them has stretched long enough, both of them absorbed in their own thoughts. Siete breaks it by saying, "Hope can be the most torturous thing, can't it?" He smiles. There's little humour in it.

The Erune laughs, a bitter sound, not at all what it could sound like. If Siete strains to listen, he can hear the sweet tang underneath, fruit into wine. "I've had years of practice. This is the worst punishment I can possibly exact onto myself."

"If you ever want an alternative to punishment," he says with a glib tone, "the Eternals is an avenue for you. I'm gonna have to start finding the second-best melee fighters from now on, though, I spent an awful lot of time with you. Not that I regret it, you're a swell guy, but it seems like your answer's pretty clear from this point on."

At this, the Erune barks out another abrupt laugh. "Flattery will get you nowhere."

Siete can't help but bite. He can't stand how apathetic the Erune is attempting to be, not when he's seen him fight to live. He says, not unkindly: "Neither will remaining here to rot."

Even through the mask, the shock from the Erune is palpable, the words a completely different tone from their previous conversation of silent understanding. The words are scathing, and Siete tries not to be so specifically soul-breaking in his words, but he's hoping it's what the Erune needs.

He lets out a chuckle to break the silence. There's another request that's been on his mind, and it's a bit more benign than everything else he's tried against the Erune. "Hey, can I ask you for a favour?"

"What more do you want from me?" The Erune's voice is heavy with thought, each word deliberate out of his lips.

"I usually only do this with swordsmen, but you mind if I copy one of your daggers?"

If it weren't for the Erune's ears twitching, Siete wouldn't even think he'd reacted. "If you what?"

"I guess I never showed you properly, huh?"

Siete stands up and dusts the dirt off his pants, nonchalantly as he can. He steps a few paces back, grinning as the Erune's head turns to follow him, and then he closes his eyes. He feels the magic of his family's bloodline thrumming in his veins and gathering in his fingertips, drawing the rough shape of his favourite sword; the one his father sent him off with, the one he'd maintained through all these years of travel. It glows light blue, ethereal not unlike the rest of the hamlet, and then simmers down into its simple silver shape, hilt with his family crest on the pommel.

The Erune looks at him, and the silence feels incredulous. "This raises more questions than it answers."

"I just like swords." He grins. "They like me. I travelled the skies to collect swords, and somehow I ended up here, recruiting for the Eternals. I know daggers aren't exactly swords, but they're similar enough in shape that I can get the rough plan down. Whenever I defeat someone in a duel, I ask if I can copy the spirit from their sword. But you're an exception."


"As a memento if you're not joining us. I plan on coming back to visit, but it would be nice."

The Erune laughs; just one chuckle, and then low and rumbling, an underground reservoir breaking the earth apart to flood the dried land. It washes over Siete like a refreshing rain after a drought, and it makes his eyes wane into crescents, his grin hurting from smiling.

He doesn't even flinch when the Erune throws a dagger at his feet. "Keep it. I have no use."

Siete dislodges it from the ground, examining it. The blade is thin, the handle only enough for him to wrap his index finger and thumb around it. It's deceptively light, but Siete's been on the blade's edge of his other daggers for a while. Despite the odd shape, he knows that in the right hands, these could be devastating.

With no more business left, he says, "I told you where to find me. This will be the last time I come here to recruit you, cross my heart, but I'll visit. You can't get rid of me that easily."

While he's standing, he extends a hand to the Erune as an offering for him to stand up and see him off. Instead of taking it, he swats Siete's hand away, but there's no vitriol in the action. Only tiredness, resignation, and maybe amusement, if Siete strains to analyse it.

At the entrance of the hamlet, Siete turns back around to look at him, and he shouts, "You sure?"

"Siete." It's the first time he's heard the Erune say his name. It's filled with the same exasperation that everyone else has learnt over time, eliciting a surprised laugh out of him. "I heard you the first hundred times."

"Just saying," and then he disappears into the light.

After he updates the rest of the Eternals about his intensive attempt to recruit the Erune, he admits that he needs to start from the beginning again, questioning them about any other melee fighters. A princess, a priestess, a true dragon, the heir to a royal family, a girl fallen from the sky, some brat from underground fighting arenas. Siete has heard all of these names before, might have passed them during his own journeys during the skies, and although part of him doesn't want to give up on the Karm Erune, the answer there is clear.

When he finishes making arrangements for gathering information about the other candidates, he visits Siero so she can help solidify his plans. Before he can even tell her about his intentions, she waves him over passes him a handwritten message with a sparkle in her eye. It's short, each letter written so carefully that the ink bleeds through the other side. It's a message that must have taken an excruciatingly long time to write, but one that got written in the end, and Siete can't help but smile.

I'll join your foolish pursuit for peace.

Chapter Text

The greatest and only true advantage of travelling with a crew instead of laying in wait at Karm is that he might find that man again. He would give the world to see him once more and feel like everything was okay; he has questions to ask and answers to give, and for that fleeting chance he'd surrender everything.

Even so, accepting Siete's invitation into the Eternals was a moment of weakness. Every single second he spent forming those letters in his message to that annoying, persistent man was a moment of relentless weakness that possessed his hand and didn't relinquish until he had formulated his response.

The market today is much busier than it was a few days ago, when he first passed his response to Siete through Sierokarte, and already he sees it as a warning of his time to come with the Eternals. Any attempts to keep his personal space is in vain, muscles tensed and geared to fight his way out of the crowd, but Sierokarte's smile keeps him in place long enough for her to give him a note.

Welcome to the Eternals, Six, it reads, and he stumbles over the assigned code name. Realistically, Siete wouldn't have been the man's real name, and logic follows that everyone in the Eternals would have names related to numbers, but from what he could tell, Siete defied most logic.

"Don't forget to read the instructions on the other side!" Her voice is bright despite his inner turmoil, always cheery for the time he's known her. She's one of the only reasons he'll leave the hamlet to begin with. There's too many people for him to come out here on his own.

He turns the note over. There are instructions on when and where to meet, and from there, Siete will take him to their main base, where all ten of the Eternals can sit down together for the first time and introduce themselves. When was the last time Six was around so many people at the same time and meant to be friendly?

He has half a mind to not show up and skip the icebreakers, but the Eternals is a job now, and he needs to decide before Sierokarte kicks him for loitering. In the end, he'd folded up the note to put away in his breast pocket, a weight over his heart as he disappeared back to the Karm hamlet.

The date given to him is set for two days from now, ample time for Six to make his way to the meeting place under cover of darkness. The day comes sooner rather than later, and when dawn breaks, he arrives to the location on the map provided to him: an indiscriminate grove on a sparsely populated island in a part of the skydom he's only heard of in passing.

Siete is leaning against a tree and grinning at him as he makes his appearance, the same grin that Six is quickly learning is fundamental to the arrangement of his face. He's in the same full armour as when he first arrived in Karm, dark as charcoal with bronze markings, blinding white cape waving in the breeze.

He's the perfect picture of nonchalance.

Instantly, Six dons his claws and rushes in, ears perked to listen for anyone else in the vicinity. Siete doesn't flinch, sharp points nearly piercing the soft skin underneath his jaw. "What is this, Siete? Where's the base? If you think you can stage a surprise attack—"

"Relax." Siete smiles, and it makes Six's scowl intensify underneath his mask. "The base is coming."


Completely disregarding Six's threat, Siete pokes at his arm until he pulls it away, annoyed curiosity overriding his suspicions about the man. This is dangerous, his mind supplies, that he can make you disarm yourself with only his words.

But like he did back in Karm, when Siete would return with nothing but meandering tales ending in precise truths, he listens. He watches as Siete walks into the clearing without a care in the world, unperturbed at leaving himself vulnerable to an armed man.

Even given the liberty of time, Siete defies any words Six can form.

He whistles, sharp enough to shatter the still morning air. A rumble emerges in response, so ancient and deep to the earth that Six can't discern its source. Its approach makes the ground beneath them shake, and yet Siete remains steadfast looking into the sunrise.

So Six watches. The rustle of the leaves turns into a cacophony, birds startled from their perch. From between the trees, in an opening he's positive wasn't there when he first arrived, emerges a tortoise large enough to carry the moderate-sized building on its back without hesitation, never turning its scrutinizing eye away from Six.

"Terra!" Siete says, voice rising to joy, and he spreads his arms and grins. "Hey, girl!"

The tortoise makes a resounding cry in greeting. She lowers her head, and once Siete hops on, she raises it again. He walks back until he's against her shell, and from the top of their world, he puts his hands on his hips. "This is Six," he says fondly to the tortoise, as if this were a commonplace event. "He's the final member of the Eternals."

Six isn't one to care for the specifics of primal beasts or other ancient spirits, and living with other beings poses a set of problems about conventions he's never learnt. Does he bow, lower his head? His questions are answered for him when the tortoise's eyes turn sharp and she lets out a roar, charging towards him. Siete manages to stay balanced atop the shell, and Six is shocked to see a few others in the same uniform as him emerge from the building.

A test, then.

Six scoffs, and yet, a smile twitches at the corner of his mouth. It's unexpected, but it forces him to fight in a way he's never fought before, only having experience against opponents roughly his size. Beasts are not unknown for him to fight, but nothing quite this large or seemingly benevolent.

When the sun turns scorching hot above, the tortoise finally steps back, and Six senses that the battle is over. She lowers her head slightly, and he does the same. In response, she lowers her head fully and sits on the ground, an invitation.

He looks up onto the tortoise's back to determine the intentions of his audience. Siete cheers, and the cast of characters beside him follow suit. All donned in their uniforms, they watch him with calculating but not unkind eyes, and he thinks that no one but these people would take him even if he tried elsewhere.

He hesitates for a moment. It's almost too much effort to be a part of this crew to travel and find more information about that skyfarer that took care of him, but he was running out of options, and something about Siete still intrigued him in the way an itch under skin persists. He climbs onto her head before he second guesses again.

A Draph with a feral look in her eyes him claps him on the back with so much force it nearly knocks him forward, and he nudges her away, already irritated. She has no care about his mood when she cackles, "Welcome to the crew!"

"Yeah, sure," he grumbles. The adrenaline of the battle is starting to wear off, but nothing clears his mind faster than remembering who he is, where they are, and what he's about to do, reborn as a member of the Eternals.

He tries to convince himself that his time with the Eternals may not be so bad. But eccentric would be the kindest way to describe the crew itself, and Six isn't always kind.

In terms of power, skill, and strength, the Eternals are unstoppable. Even before Six joined as their last member, they were established as a menace, rumours circulating about their invisible justice. They operated from the shadows whenever a conflict was on the verge of turning into a widespread disaster and dissolved it so quickly that it was impossible for their results to escape notice.

But in terms of cohesiveness, Six can only observe one thing they have in common during their first meeting: Uno is the only person enthusiastic about the Eternals' leadership falling to Siete.

Anyone that doesn't look distant is already annoyed with Siete during their first meeting together. The only people that don't are a literal child (and not without a sense of irony, he feels a deep-seated anger rise within him to see someone so young in an organization so adjacent to danger) and the Draph from earlier, who has a bloodlust that makes Six's skin crawl.

Despite the frosty reception, Siete's energy in the meeting never fades. He sets baseline rules, establishes their communication standards, restates the overall aim of the Eternals, and he ends by encouraging everyone to introduce themselves. With each of them wearing cautiousness like a second skin, not a single person has an introduction that's any longer than a full sentence.

Recognizing each other as the strongest fighters in the skydom also means understanding that they're bound to have baggage that Siete himself lacks. He almost feels pity for Siete for recruiting the worst possible people for his friendship brigade, because from his observations, finding friends is the last item on anyone's list.

The meeting closes with most of them not talking to each other outside of required. They split off to wander the base, settle into private quarters, or disappear to their own business again.

Six spends the first few days after the meeting holed up in his room to regain his bearings. When he wears his uniform and catches his reflection in glass, he's unrecognizable, not even his racing thoughts providing a comfort in their macabre familiarity. It's been a long time since he's had his own personal space set aside from a communal one, and living with others is a skill he's forgotten now that he's spent more than half of his life in solitude.

Some Eternals are more optimistic than others that their similarities in powers and pasts will lead to friendship, but it becomes evident that attempting group activities as simple as eating meals together is another burden on their schedules. Six forgoes their dinners, choosing instead to find food elsewhere. If he has to remain at the base, he sneaks around at night to avoid watchful eyes.

He returns to Karm most days when he isn't needed to remind himself of the reason he joined the Eternals—for the slight chance that that man would return, despite all of Siete's insistence and assumptions about his past. It aggravates him that Siete's words from recruitment resonate with him, disrupting the flow of the thoughts that have made their home in his hollow shell and shaking the routine of laying in wait.

He admits that Siete's words may have swayed him to leave the hamlet, but he can't lose sight of his goal. He accepts missions, as frequently and as many as he can. The assignments give him temporary permission to exist not as an abomination, but as a skyfarer, and he uses that to his advantage to gather information about that man. He ignores Siete's comments on his work ethic to focus on the missions that send him out to the far corners of the skies, but his private reconnaissance falls short when he tries to gather clues while being too anxious to ask anyone directly or having any concrete evidence of that man's existence.

His own words of joining the Eternals out of necessity is slowly inundated by his hatred of being part of the crew, his hatred for allowing himself to be acknowledged as the strongest melee fighter in the skydom. After months of their muted interventions to avert conflict, Six stops volunteering for missions, letting Siete approach him instead.

He lays on the floor of his private quarters and stares up at the ceiling, uneasy with the comfort of the small, single bed provided to him.

The environment of the base offers no other respite. Sarasa's earth-shattering footsteps shakes alongside Funf's through the halls, Nio practices her harp in her own room across from his, and Quatre's spar with Siete in the outside training area rings in his ears. Terra lumbers on steadily, and he breathes in and out with her heartbeat, the backbone of the entire base.

The base is so full of life that they shouldn't be allowed so close to him, one who only exists to extinguish the flame of spirit. He lets the white noise replace his aimless thoughts, disappointment draining the dangerous hope between his fingertips.

Alongside the current of perpetual regret, new thoughts join in harmonious dissonance: reminders that joining the Eternals was a severe error in judgement, but that no one but the Eternals would agree to have him in the first place.

If someone had told him even a month before Siete had first arrived that he would join a crew of his own accord, let alone willingly undertake missions to keep peace in the skydom, he would laugh in their face. He cannot deny that this is where he is now, and the idea still makes him laugh. Who is he to keep peace when he brought so many others utter destruction, including his own self?

For someone like Six, the missions are coloured in the same cold irony that has unfolded throughout his life. He clears wandering beasts, apprehends wrongdoers, and prevents crime in the dead of night, all without killing innocents. Siete told him that his power would be used for good, but more often than not, his power was only used to wrangle monsters not unlike himself.

Although it seems like it would be a necessary evil for a group like the Eternals, Siete never sends him on missions that are nearly guaranteed death for either party. It's not until he spends a year with the crew that he discovers that Siete doesn't intentionally put any of them in that position except himself.

The revelation arrives on his doorstep abruptly one night, while he waits in the meeting room of the base for Siete to debrief him on their mission. Sierokarte informed Siete that treasure bandits had begun tearing Karm apart in search of hidden wealth, and he brought it to Six, offering a knowing smile when he accepted.

Like most of Siete's moods, he ignored it, because the smile was surely predicated on the implication that Six cared about whatever treasures were left behind in Karm, if any. The clan had hardly been a home to him, and any stories of its riches are far from his concern, but the memories he had of that place were already fragile in his own hands. There was no need for outsiders to ruin what remained.

Anyone he would cross paths with on the way to the hamlet would be little problem. But Siete offered his assistance, and Six rationalizes—a second person that knew the location of the hamlet and how to navigate traps would help clear out adversaries quicker, minimizing destruction. Additionally, although Siete hadn't seen the worst of him yet, he'd seen the shell of what remained of Six's brand of destruction. He might as well keep that knowledge contained within this one, annoying man.

Eyes flitting towards the clock on the wall, he runs the mission's basics through his mind. Siete's a few minutes late, but if a year of doing missions with the Eternals has taught him anything, it's that Siete generally runs late, so he sighs, taking his mask off and rubbing at his tired eyes.

He rushes to put his mask back on when he feels Terra shift to allow someone onto her back. Siete staggers through the front door, and Six can tell that something is wrong with the sound alone.

Walking out to the front entrance, he sees Siete with his cape draped over his arm, wearing a hollow smile that doesn't reach his eyes. Six watches as he kicks off his boots and heads in the opposite direction of the meeting room, towards his quarters. Instead of talking nonstop, never getting to any sort of point until prompted, he is deathly quiet.

Morbid curiosity moves him to follow, and Siete doesn't acknowledge the shadow he's grown behind him until they reach the bathroom. Six stands at the doorway, watching as the cold water from the shower head turns murky red and swirls down the drain, as Siete looks hollowly at the Eternals' cape draining white again. "It's symbolic," he says weakly, with a laugh that causes more pain than it does force amusement. "It's..." he trails off.

Six, not for the first time, has absolutely no idea what he could be thinking. But this is the first time he's seen their leader this shattered, and there's no one around to free him from the awkward situation. Nothing in his years of living has prepared him for circumstances like this. With no ideas of what to say or do, he only watches as Siete washes the blood out of his cape and hangs it up to dry with shaking hands, clammy with the ice cold water and exertion and regret.

"Well," Siete says, wiping his hands on his pants. He's looking through Six, not at him, as he waves a hand and feigns nonchalance. "Let's get to it, this mission is a little short notice. And I know it's important to you."

Siete's gait is slightly off-kilter, his footfalls not quite even, and he walks by without any other comment. It fills him with a sense of dread, but not because he senses any danger.

More often than not, Siete's a difficult person to get along with because of how incompatible they are on every dimension. But above all, it's impossible to hate him. On the worst days, Six's emotions towards him border on intense dislike, but Siete isn't a bad person. He started a crew with the sole purpose of using everyone's power for greater good, and the only thing more foolishly optimistic than that is the fact that he got nine other people on board with the idea.

Siete makes jokes in bad taste, and Six is on edge around him for that reason, but far be it for him to hurt any of them on purpose.

Six frowns as their leader pushes past him gently, not mentally present. Watching him go through the motions of cleaning blood off his cape hasn't given him any more ideas on how to approach the situation, and if Siete's working to ignore it, then he'll gladly follow suit. He trails behind him back to the meeting room, and Siete sits at the head of the table like he always does for debriefs. But something compels him to stay standing in the doorway, watching as Siete unfurls a map of Karm with those same, shaking hands.

Woefully unprepared, all he can do is observe.

Instead of inviting Six into the meeting room, he begins to prattle on about the mission, making jokes that fall short and continuing as if Six had said anything. The pen is unsteady in his hand, making him redraw lines over blots of ink that form when he holds still for too long.

In the middle of one of his sentences, Six blurts over him, "What's wrong with you?"

Siete is shocked out of his rambling, and for the first time that night, he looks at him without the fog of emptiness that's been plaguing him since he arrived.

Six clenches his fists and moves to sit opposite of him, and Siete's eyes follow the motions jumpily. His face blanches, and he runs a hand through his hair before attempting a laugh. Six is expecting a bad joke, something that plays at his sensitivities on his past and his present, but he gets a sigh. "I'm—I look that bad?"

He sits back up, rolls his eyes up to the ceiling, narrows his eyes towards the lights before opening them wide. The small, jerky motions he goes through as he tries to regain control and fit back into his own body are disorienting to witness, but unfortunately not unfamiliar to Six.

Between the shell-shocked motions and the blood over his uniform, he can make an educated guess as to what's affecting him. The first kill is always hard, he thinks bitterly, and it's lucky for Six that he got his first and second and third and hundredth done all at once.

"How many did you kill?" There's no use softening his words. If Siete didn't do the same thing for him during recruitment, it's only a courtesy. Although social conventions escape him, the Golden Rule is transcendental.

Siete's eyes shut tight at the biting question, a shudder running through his body. "Jesus, Six." He laughs, completely devoid of humour, and he takes it as a sign that Siete's appreciated the curtness. "Four people."

"Was this your first time?"

"No." Siete laughs like it's the only way he'll remember to breathe. The smile on his face is broken, the tension of his tight grin the only thing keeping him together. "But it's the first time there were that many at once." Siete's fists tighten. "You know about the mafia, correct?"

Mafia is a generic term for the decentralized terrors across the skydom. If they were easy to disband, he has no doubt that Siete would have done it by now, with or without the Eternals, by virtue of his involvement with the twins.

"I'd finally found one of their central locations, and they pushed back more than I'd accounted for—Regardless," Siete interrupts himself, not giving Six a chance to react, "you have to understand that killing is never my first intention when going into a mission—"

"I understand." Six's mouth forms the words before his mind can, because he does, the urge to respond at that moment instinctual. Siete will continue to drag his own traumas out to light if he doesn't stop him. "To me, there should be no need to explain."

Siete's false grin starts falling apart under Six's words, and he slumps over, hand gripping the hair by his scalp tighter and exhaling slowly.

He doesn't know if he should keep talking, but he does. "At least those people deserved it." Compared to his own experiences, Siete hasn't done anything wrong. Compared to Six, he is no monster.

It's all he knows to say, and it still doesn't feel right.

Words escaping Siete, his mouth opens and closes before his smile twists with concern.

"You can call me a monster." Six allows the humourless smile to spread across his face underneath the mask. It's the first time he's called himself a monster of his own volition with an audience, and the word is not so much his as it is of the world's, planted sick in the acid of his stomach before it came to bloom against his own lips. It feels like a gunshot through his brain, but Siete's presence cauterizes it, allowing him to voice a painful reminder. "It's nothing I haven't heard before."

"Six," Siete says, like the only thing tethering him to the present is saying his name in various states of disbelief. It feels wrong to hear the man that always has something to say speechless. "You know that's not what I mean."

Throughout the conversation, the cracked grin persists on his face, dangerously close to falling apart. Perhaps the reason that Six is still here after a year of odd jobs and playing justice hero is that Siete's behaviour is so bizarre that it keeps him from ruminating on his own past, instead urging him to prod at Siete's present.

Siete's always late, the hands of the clock a few notches ahead of Six's expectations, keeping him moving into the future.

A man with all the power in the world burdened by too big a heart. He's heard that story too many times, having been on the receiving end of good intentions for too long. He pokes at the open wound to test Siete again, like he'd relentlessly done to Six in the hamlet. "Arrogant of you to choose who gets to live and who gets to die."

Siete often ends debriefs for riskier missions with the unspoken if necessary, then resort to lethal force. But never have the Eternals acted on that, and it begs the question of how many times Siete's done so during his own missions without telling anyone. Not often, judging by the reaction.

"I'm still only human. I don't pretend everything I do is right. All I can do is try." Siete's eyes dart around, and when he finds the words he wants to say, his back straightens with new resolve, looking directly at Six. "Some people can't be forgiven for their acts. But those aren't the jobs for us. Our jobs are for the people that can be."

The sincerity of the statement, paired with the pointed look at Six, startles a humourless laugh out of him. Of course Siete would still believe that he could be redeemed. Although his life with the Eternals has more movement than where he's been stagnating in the Karm hamlet, it's nowhere near enough for him to instantly have a change of heart and believe in the delusion that he could be forgiven for what he's done.

Siete speaks again before he has time to think further. "Just because you're shaped by the things you did in the past doesn't mean you'll forget them if you move forward." With a smile that doesn't reach his eyes, he leans back in his chair. "Though I suppose I'd have no idea."

"You wouldn't," Six says indignantly, equal part offended that Siete's making assumptions on his background when all he's heard are rumours, and equal part dangerously, horrifically—

Hopeful. He snorts in Siete's face, the former emotions taking over. It's the more recognizable one, the one that leaves him in safe territory. He scrapes the chair out from underneath him so he can stand. "If you've said what you need to say, I'm leaving. I can't stand this for much longer."

"Alright. The mission should be straightforward, anyway." Siete rubs at his face as the smile drops slightly, hinting at the same tired demeanour that gave Six a short-lived concern for their leader. "But thank you for talking to me. Never lose that fight you got in you," he mumbles cryptically, this time not hiding the weariness that overtakes his words.

Most nights, he dreams. He dreams with senses that aren't sight, because his memories from the massacre are tactile. The feel of blood, rivulets up his arms and down his face; the resistance of flesh underneath his sharpened nails; the stinging horror as his mind was left to the mercy of his body to strike again and again; the suffocating anger at how he'd been isolated.

It was easy to surrender control when he had taken the mask off his father's lifeless form and made it his own. He traced the golden crown of the mask marking him as successor and regarded the throne he had inherited.

Only a void inaugurated him when the blood of the entire clan had cooled and cracked against his skin. The once lively Karm hamlet had transformed into a parade of vermilion, a colour that was once auspicious now the only evidence of their existence.

Who equated dreams with goals for a better future when his dreams were always things of the past? In his dreams, he wears no gloves, and there is nothing to protect him from the feel of cold dirt underneath his open-cut palms as he buried every last body alone, willing the old flesh to rot and become reborn through the earth to ensnare him for eternity.

The lack of understanding as to why he'd been abandoned by the only thing he's ever called family clings to his skin like sweat when he wakes, cold and relentless, sending shivers through his body.

Waking after these dreams operates like clockwork, always at the crack of dawn before the sunlight can offer him reprieve. His feet carry him to the communal bathroom of the base, and he heaves until only dry gasps escape him, a despondent chorus resounding with perfect acoustics.

As he stumbles out to return to his room, Siete's cape distracts him briefly, the flutter of the dawn breeze a hitch in his steadied breathing. It continues to drip wet, crimson washed away completely and leaving only the bleached-bone white free of sin.

On the way to Karm, Six stands at the bow of the Eternals' small ship, the skies much too bright for the history their destination carries. Siete talks to him about mundane things, their capes an inescapable weight against their shoulders. He feels little guilt in tuning him out, doubting that Siete is making conversation because he thinks either of them want it so much as they do need it. Duty doesn't pause for personal reasons, and in their own ways, they move forward from last night's incident by forging a false normalcy between them.

Karm has a way of striking silent reverence in the same way old gods used to invite worship. The atmosphere is oppressive enough to make even Siete stop chattering as they dock on the island and proceed further in. This unholy place looks different on maps than it does in person, and he quickly pieces together where the map coincides with his own knowledge of the land, not having the opportunity to do so the night before.

When the realization dawns on him, Six's heart stops in his chest. The place they're headed to is the only peaceful location he visits in his dreams. He'd spent days on end with that skyfarer in that area, days of listening to his stories of the outside world, days he'll never get back of being reassured that it wasn't a sin to experience it himself.

He avoids that place when he can. He avoids any of the places that once brought him joy, because there is nothing for him to find there but desolation. The familiar scenery only reminds him how much time has passed.

"Looks like no one's made it this far," Siete muses, breaking him out of his thoughts. He wonders whether Siete knows exactly when to do that, how he knows that Six is lost in the past.

It might not be so hard when he's always lost. "It may be salvageable after all," he mutters under his breath. Siete doesn't ask him to clarify.

Six is the one that set the traps himself, and Siete has more experience than most with how his traps function. They make short work of the entrance to the part of the hamlet with speculated treasure, and then at the exact same time, their actions still. Under his hood, Six's ears turn, and Siete sighs. "Guess we've got company."

"I was getting bored with only you around," Six says, and without further discussion, they turn around, weapons at the ready.

The treasure hunters are laughably easy to defeat, and they leave them in a pile at the entrance. When they're out of earshot, Siete says, "You're protecting pretty passionately for someone that doesn't like this place."

"Mind your business." And then, quieter: "Not all is lost here. Certain things must be preserved."

Siete hums, like he could ever understand.

Disarming the traps absentmindedly, he finds relief when the area is undisturbed. Siete nudges him and makes a joke about whether the claims to treasure are real, and he ignores them. The heat never simmers down in Karm, and it sticks to his skin (like sweat, cold and relentless), but their work here isn't done. It's highly unlikely that anyone other than the two of them have made it this far. All of his traps were untouched, but he didn't get to where he is now by not being thorough.

(the feel of cold dirt underneath his open-cut palms as he buried every last body alone—)

Siete tries to wander off, and he frowns underneath the mask, reaching out to grab his arm. "Don't touch anything. Don't look at anything. I don't trust you."

"Ouch." Siete says it with a joking tone, but he takes the request seriously, staying behind Six and refraining from making further comments.

In the middle of this area is an old tree with branches that reach the natural stone ceiling, growing magically without sunlight. He passes by without a second thought until he passes a hollow, where something catches his eye. He reaches underneath his sleeve for a dagger, and without looking behind him, he can sense Siete unsheathe his sword, both of them preparing for the worst. He approaches the tree from the side and slowly looks in.

At the bottom of the hollow sits a small bound journal, faded to time but intact, and he puts his dagger away and reaches in. He'd consider himself thorough with this place, but he doesn't remember seeing this journal any of the times he's returned to Karm. Then again, he doesn't visit this specific place as much as he used to. Relishing in the details here only causes him pain.

He opens the journal, and from behind him, Siete sheathes his sword again. "What is that?"

"I'm trying to find out," he mumbles. The handwriting is unrecognizable, but already from the first page, the events detailed are much too familiar to have been written by an outsider.

He is growing much too quickly. There is no way to contain him, and yet, I want nothing for him but to be himself. His mother would want the same.

It's clear that this is blood father's journal, each pen stroke of each letter undoing the foundation of everything he's built his world upon.

There is no reason to be afraid, but everyone continues to clamour for his isolation, and I am forced to acquiesce. I only hope that this does not have any long-term effects on him. It will be temporary. But to quell the worries of the clan, this must be done. He will prove himself worthy. I have nothing but faith.

Six feels his hands shake as he turns the wrinkled pages more rapidly.

They are coming. I have no choice—I leave my son to my old friend, that trusted skyfarer. I cannot name names, but should he come, he knows who he is, and the clan will not. All I can hope for is that he comes in time for my son.

My son. My son—I am sorry. I only hope that you can one day forgive me.

The rest of the pages are empty. He nearly rips the journal with clumsy hands trying to find more answers, but none appear. He could barely remember the sound of his blood father's voice, but it comes rushing back, his deep, calming baritone narrating the downfall of the Karm clan, of Six himself.

The dream from that morning hits him full force, but he is no longer hollow from lack of understanding. The flooding revelation that the only remaining blood family he'd killed was trying to protect him from the wrath of the clan disorients him, bile rising up his throat as all of his frustration and fear and anger as a small child returns.

His father believed that there might have been a future for him with his abilities, but what good was it when he was the only remaining person that took the name Karm?

Laughing humourlessly, he closes the journal and drops it to the ground, turning to face Siete. At the action, Siete raises an eyebrow. Six doesn't give himself time to think, readying his claws through muscle memory and charging with lethal intent.

Siete isn't an easy sparring partner—in fact, he's one of the most difficult among the Eternals. It's a suicide mission planned in a split second, allowing the stress of emotions to puppet him. He pushes forward aggressively, and while Siete is by no means a defensive fighter, he's guarding more than he is attempting to fight back.

"I thought the point of the Eternals was to take down the likes of me!" His voice rises before he can control it, and on a particularly impulsive strike, Siete deflects him so strongly it shakes the rest of his words. "Or will you remain spineless and believe that redemption is possible?"

He spits out all of his words, sick laughter on the end of it. Every second that Siete doesn't take him out of this world makes him feel more unstable, willing himself to sink into the earth where he buried everyone, their decomposed hands claiming him to reunite with his clan.

Who is Siete to pass forgiveness? All anyone can do for him is to pass judgment. The only people Six can beg for forgiveness from are dead, and so as long as that remains true, he has no intentions of being forgiven. Certainly not by someone who barely knows him, who went so far as to draft him into a sickeningly optimistic operation to rid the world of evils.

"The more you ask me to kill you," Siete starts, and there isn't a hint of fear in his eyes as he readies up against Six again, "the less I will. You of all people should know that no resolution comes with death."

He wants to believe that the Eternals are incompetent, judging by their leader alone. Siete can hardly kill on a mission when the people deserve it, and when faced with direct evidence that Six has never been anything more than a monster, Siete failed to eliminate him. If the leader was like this, what did it say about the people he recruited?

But he also knows that Siete is far from weak-willed, and that's what infuriates him the most as he charges in again, fists flying. "You say this," Six roars, all turbulent emotion, "without even knowing what I've done!"

He lands a solid hit against him, but it's unsatisfying, because among the din of his mind he recognizes that Siete let him land it. They stand there, panting, staring at each other; clutching his gut, Siete looks at him with a fire that hadn't faded once during his breakdown. "Then tell me."

Storming back to where the journal is sitting on the ground, he tosses it thoughtlessly towards Siete. He looks up at Six as he opens to the first page.

His shock is impossible for him to hide, but even as he continues reading, there is no hatred that makes itself clear, no disgust. It frightens Six at times how good he is at keeping his emotions under control when the situation calls for it, which is what made the shaken-up Siete from last night such an anomaly.

When he gets to the end of the journal where empty pages should be, he double takes. His eyebrows raise, and Six finds himself tethered to the unrestrained reaction. "The handwriting here is different from the rest," he muses, passing it back.

That's all Siete says. No other comment on the horrors he'd read. Six is too tired to argue back when he takes the journal, instead flipping to the last page.

When you find friends you can truly trust one day, don't ever let them go.

Like he'd missed this journal sitting in the hollow, he'd missed this note the first time he read through. He reads it over and over and over until the loops and strokes of that man's handwriting is burned in his mind, the memory of his voice igniting the words.

He looks back at Siete, whose expression is questioning but not provoking. It's difficult to form a response, but Siete's presence demands it. Sarcastically, he says, "I don't suppose you'll try to tell me 'the Eternals are the friends you can trust'." He sounds as tired as he feels, his low growl tinged with sudden exhaustion.

"You took the words right out of my mouth," Siete laughs, but quickly reins his expression back into seriousness. "But Six. There are people in the world who believe that you'll find company you can trust, and believe it or not, whoever that man is, he's not alone in thinking that."

Improbable as it is that Six would ever see that man again, he would want him to be happy. He was entrusted to his care by his own blood father, and now that man is the only connection that remains to a possible happiness.

In the corner of his vision, Siete extends his hand and takes a step towards him, but no more. "Whether you like it or not, there's a present to be lived. But you don't have to try and move forward in complete solitude."

After a moment of contemplation, he walks towards Siete, not taking his hand. But he holds the journal like a lifeline, and he doesn't brush Siete's hand away. He's overwhelmingly tired, he needs time on his own to process everything the journal's told him, and Siete isn't helping.

At least, it doesn't feel like Siete's helping. "Considering last night's events, are you in any position to say that?"

Siete's eyebrows raise before he laughs. "Maybe not. Although you'll forgive me for trying to hide it, since I thought you'd feel awkward about trying to console me."

"I hate to agree, but you'd be correct." Again and again and again, Siete easily steers the conversation in any way he wants, and he uses this talent to give Six more options than he'd ever considered.

He's getting too optimistic. A single sentence of platitudes from that man and he's gone soft.

"And yet, you're still here with me," Siete cajoles. "That's friendship."

"Obligation," Six enunciates as he walks past him, leading their way out of the hamlet. They've spent long enough here. There are things he wants to preserve, and having this conversation with Siete is beginning to threaten the narrative that's been weaved into this part of Karm. "As an Eternal."

"I didn't know being friends was a requirement to be part of the crew," Siete laughs, but there's a hint of strain in it, and Six's ears twitch involuntarily trying to discern it.

"Regardless of whether it is, you've been very persistent about it."

"Of course I'm persistent. The phrase is making friends, not having them fall into my lap."

And there it is, Siete trying to bring everything back to where it began. "The journal says 'finding' them."

"That still means I have to go out and find them. I can't sit here and do nothing." Siete gives him a meaningful look, like his attempt at interpreting that man's words isn't already heavy handed.

Six rolls his eyes behind the mask. "I didn't know I was taking orders from you now."

"These aren't orders, just interpretations," Siete sings, voice lilting around the edges. He passes Six, who's stopped in his tracks to stare incredulously at him. Siete's hands are in his pockets, and he gets as far as the mouth of the exit before noticing that Six isn't following. He turns around, with the same, challenging grin on his face that's become a fixture to the operation of the crew. "Besides, I'm not telling you to do anything. I've been talking about myself."

That day remains in his memory for a long time to come, but he finds that he reads the words at the end of the journal in Siete's voice more than that skyfarer's. It transforms from a reminder of blissful days into something much more irritating, and after a few days, he accepts the first mission Siete offers him to keep himself busy.

Unfortunately, he planned on it being a solitary mission. It's too late to withdraw by the time he wakes up in the morning and finds Song preparing outside. Like Siete, Song is open about her desire to make friends with the Eternals instead of resigning to an estranged crew. She carries with her an indescribable loneliness that she's unable to hide even if she wanted to, having kept everyone as far away as her arrows can land.

When she's the best archer in the skies, that distance increases until it becomes immeasurable. Before the mission that morning, she practices shooting atop Terra's back, her forlorn thoughts trailing behind the arrows that she shoots at invisible targets.

Without turning around, she asks, "You're my partner for the day, Six?"

"The missing persons hunt?" he asks in return, hesitantly.

Song hums. "Truthfully, I'm grateful to not be alone for this one." Her wistful voice floats in the space between them. "The mission is at my old hometown, you see."

"I..." It wouldn't be a lie for Six to tell her that he was unaware that the mission would be with a partner. The details must have slipped his notice when receiving directions from Siete. "My pleasure," he decides on saying, because the distant look in her eyes and the tense set of her shoulders reflects almost perfectly against his, and some truths should be withheld.

It takes them less than an hour from their arrival into her old town to discover that all the missing persons from her hometown aren't lost, but held captive by beasts. The beast situation extends from the wilderness into the boundaries of Song's hometown, but it's easy work for the two of them.

Between moments of clearing out the town, she reunites with the people she grew up with as they check the barricaded safe houses. It doesn't take them long to clear the greatest obstacles with the more capable fighters helping them, and when a person that Song indicates as an elder emerges from a safe house, Six exhales. "My work here is done."

"Six," she says under her breath, even as she waves towards the elder. He watches her hands shake, in a much different way than Siete's had that one night. "I know it's silly of me to ask, but if you could, please stay. I haven't seen these people in a very long time."

"If they cared, doesn't that mean they'd understand, no matter what?" When you find friends, Siete's voice in his mind repeats. He resists the urge to shake his head to banish Siete from his thoughts.

"...Forgive my bluntness, but those aren't words I'd expect from you." The nervous edge to her smile hasn't faded, but she relaxes slightly. "You know this means I'd like you to stay even more."

Six thinks back to his attempt at reassuring Siete when he'd returned to the base. They were jagged and unrefined, and in the end, Siete's recovery was more a testament to his own tenacity than Six's ability to console someone shaken by the harsher realities of life. "I don't see what comfort I could offer."

"You'd be surprised at how much confidence a familiar presence offers." She attempts to convince him, but in the end, she leaves the decision to him.

He doesn't take the opportunity to leave, and he feels like a shapeless entity next to her as she's greeted by old friends and family. He stays still, willing himself to blend with the shadows as they make up for lost time in front of him, and then Song says, "Oh, of course! My manners—I got too excited, but this is Six. He's from the same crew I am."

All of the attention turns to him, sudden enough to make the breath catch in his throat. Through the anxiety, he manages another nod, a grunt of acknowledgement, enough to prompt their conversation to continue without involving him.

He doesn't escape this island to return to their base in the end, even allowing himself to get involved with structural repairs alongside Song. Although the destruction is great, the town now has a second wind breathed into its corridors, the townspeople reclaiming the streets again. Whatever morbid familiarity this place might have had for him morphs into uncomfortable new territory with the advent of new life.

The children have begun running around and causing minor chaos, one of them bumping into him as he's pointing out weaknesses in structures to Song. The child screams when she sees Six and his mask, but it turns into an innocent laugh, and she yells back to the rest of the group she's playing with—


He freezes in the middle of his sentence.


He mutters the word under his breath, giving it power like a curse given life. It's different than when he said it to Siete, someone else's words branded on him once again. His grip becomes knuckle-white around the tools he's holding. "The child is right," he says, interrupting himself with years of torment compacted into four short words. He's already forgotten his place. "I need to leave. There is no room for me here."

"The Eternals really are fighters without peer." Song exhales, meeting halfway between a laugh and a sigh to form resignation. That small action is enough for him to realize that her anxieties mirror his own. "It's why I was always scared of returning here. But I've always been scared of staying here, too. There's no place for a monster to call home, after all."

The reminder stings, but it's clear that Song is referring to herself. The lesson she tells, of a monster wandering with no place to stay, is something he cannot forget. He isn't allowed to. He's a monster, through and through.

"Listen to me rambling when we should be working. Hey," she says, voice gentle in the way the hollows of trees once housed animals, in the way nature always has a way of reclaiming ruins. "Will you stay long enough to help us patch up? You're free to say no, of course. I'm not asking you as a member of the Eternals."

Not for the first time in such a short period, Six wishes he knew how to help others with more than his fabled, unholy strength. "Then what are you asking me as?"

"One lonely heart to another." When she giggles this time, it hangs in the air, shattering the fragile apprehension between them. "I get the sense we have a lot of things we could talk about together, but only if you'd like."

He's not ready to start talking about anything. But their similarity compels him, in the same way that Siete's differences does. "I'm not much of a conversationalist."

"That's alright." Even though Six considers himself bad company, she smiles as if he's offered her something truly precious, and he thinks that this might be the least he could do.

His path doesn't often cross with Song's at the base, and the nature of their powers lend them to different types of assignments. But he discovers that her presence gives him surprising peace of mind after he embarks missions more frequently with her.

However, while her presence is calming, he begins to develop suspicions after they're continuously paired together for arbitrary reasons. On the same day that he and Song return from a mission, the third one together that month, Six corners the one that's been assigning them during every weekly debrief.

Siete's in his quarters, and he leaves his door open by habit, so Six has no qualms about bursting in. "You're not usually the visiting type," Siete says as he pushes the chair out from under his desk. He's the picture of comfort even as Six looms in the open doorway. "What's on your mind?"

With his ever-present smile, Six might have forgotten how shaken he was nearly a month ago, the moment he'd accidentally shared out of necessity. He wonders if he's practiced in recovering from traumatic events, or if he's practiced in hiding things that bother him. "You've been putting me on more missions with Song lately. Why?"

Siete raises his eyebrows, but the smile doesn't fade. On the contrary, it grows. "Didn't expect you to notice."

"Of course I noticed," Six says, resisting the urge to roll his eyes even if Siete wouldn't see. "When most of my missions have been alone or with close-range fighters before this point, it becomes obvious."

"Alright, you caught me. You guys just seemed to get along well. I thought being with the Eternals might be more bearable if you were with the right people. Like anyone that wasn't me." Siete shrugs, like it's the easiest thing in the world to be around others.

Six narrows his eyes. "How can you tell if you're not on missions with us?"

"What, you think I spy on you guys or something?" Siete laughs, and he can't tell whether it's a joke or not. "I don't have the time or interest for that. I trust you can all do your jobs. But Song enjoys missions with you, and she's more forthcoming with her emotions than you are. Should I stop?"

"Yes," he answers without thinking, although a part of him feels it to be wrong. He drives the feeling away by continuing, "I don't need you meddling in my affairs. I've spent all of my years alone. I'm more than capable of completing my assignments."

"It's not your quality I'm worried about," Siete says, tilting his head slightly, with the world's most infuriating smile still sitting on his lips.

"Then I don't need to be forced into socializing. If you think you're 'doing what's best for me', then cease." Siete is rushing the when portion of the when you find friends message, and it makes Six more apprehensive.

"Fair enough. You guys are adults. You can make friends if you want. Or don't."

Siete says nothing else, leaving him with an unsatisfying conclusion. Increasingly, Six notices that rather than addressing the things left unsaid between them, Siete chooses not to pursue it. It should be unfair how easily he can read everyone else when the man himself is impossible to read.

He crosses his arms and lifts his chin slightly to look down at him, trying to gleam any more information from his body language. Siete keeps looking up at him, and he can't tell if it's his imagination or not, but his smile looks challenging, his eyes lighting up with mischief.

Their impromptu standoff continues, but Six can't gain anything other than the facts he already knows: Siete is annoying. Siete knows more than he's letting on. Siete is annoying.

Frustrated, he turns around without a word and leaves the room.

No sooner does he leave does he see Song again, heading towards the room he came from. She changes direction to fall into step beside him, not too far away that she'd have to raise her voice, but far enough that Six is given his personal space. "I have a mission next week," she says. "I'm meant to go with Nio, but I was wondering if you'd want to come as well."

"I talked to Siete about this," he says, warily. "You shouldn't let him force me on missions with you."

"Oh... I'm asking because I want to," she admits. Unlike Siete, with his infallible smile and bewildering agenda, Song is open about her disappointment despite her attempts to hide it. "You don't have to come if you don't want to. If that's how you felt all along, I apologize if I've pushed your boundaries."

"What I want has no influence on my missions," he says. He intends to turn away, but he finds that he can't.

The inability he has to leave right now is nothing like he felt with Siete during recruitment, where he was waiting for a dawning revelation. He's spent too much of his life waiting for someone else, and now it's been turned on him, the expectations for an answer on someone else's lips.

As Eternals, they're bound to be haunted by ghosts from their past. Despite that, their self-appointed leader that shouldn't be good for anything still has the energy to help them connect with each other. His efforts have reached through to Song, who retains her optimism despite her loneliness stemming from a similar place as Six's own. And Siete's persistence is enough that although everyone insists they can't stand each other's company, their weekly debriefs bring the ten of them together and everyone makes it out in one piece—and if their spirits are slightly higher, they won't admit it directly.

Song stands there, waiting for him to answer. She's patient, and understanding, and it's what he needs in that moment more than being pushed into a decision. "I'll think about it," he finally says before he turns away, not missing the way Song's face lights up with a small smile.

Chapter Text

For the past two years, the goal for the Eternals has remained steadfast: to resolve conflict before it could unfold into widespread disaster. That was, and continues to be, the primary goal, but Siete would be lying if he said he didn't want more for them.

When it comes to the battlefield, they're undoubtedly a crew. They always complete objectives despite personal gripes, fighting alongside each other and using their powers to their greatest potential. However, they still have a long way to go with trust outside of battle.

Their histories lend them to understanding each other more than most skyfarers would, and it's because of this that Siete is confident that he and Uno recruited the right people. Seeing their initial wariness begin to fall away during their weekly debriefs reinforces the underlying goal that he's only ever voiced jokingly: he wants the ten of them to enjoy what time they spend together. His hope for their friendship and mutual understanding has evolved into hoping that their base will one day become a home, however they define it.

He's not so blind as to miss how his own self becomes an obstacle to that goal. While the Eternals recognize his power and skill, his personality drives them away, and he tries not to take it personally that they'll willingly keep each other company and ignore his invitations. It's not the ideal treatment, but it's not enough to bring him down. He's more inclined to see it as a necessary sacrifice if everyone's annoyance towards the way he carries himself helps them grow closer to each other.

Camaraderie comes easiest with a common enemy, and if that's Siete as much as it is the wrongdoings of the skies, then so be it.

Six makes it very clear that he dislikes every aspect of being with the Eternals. Every time he starts a sentence with I never, Siete's tempted to finish it for him, because the chances are good that the next words would be asked to be an Eternal.

Even given the harsh words, Six isn't free from the call of friendship that seems to be taking over the Eternals, bit by bit. From Song and Funf's conversations with Siete, he learns that Six joins them occasionally on their days out, although it's often not without heavy bargaining. He sees Six helping in the garden Siete set up in their backyard, and he finds new planters from time to time labelled with flower names and do not touch, in the same, deliberate scrawl from that first response note he received.

Despite his disdain of being recognized as an Eternal, Six remains one of the most reliable members, rarely turning down missions even after two years of a steady pace. The most recent mission Six accepts is to accompany him for an extraction mission in a city that Siete knows to have heavy mafia presence, having patrolled for it before. There is a storm predicted for their arrival, and they attempt to arrive a day early to beat it.

Their planning doesn't counter their bad luck. Hints of the heavy rainfall are already present when they dock, and while the time limit to complete the assignment is flexible, Six insists on continuing instead of waiting for clearer weather. Siete warned him that the storm to come was apparently so strong that visibility may be close to zero, but he simply responded with Erunes have better night vision than humans, as if it would help in the middle of a storm when the curtain of rain masked all form.

At least Six is reliable, as always. He follows dutifully as they settle into the inn they'll be staying at for the duration of the mission and listens as Siete walks them around the town to explain the territory. Between Six's skills and Siete's familiarity, he's sure that the mission will be successful despite the weather.

A boy hurrying to find refuge from the coming storm bumps into him, but both he and Six pause to watch him carefully. "Check your pockets," Six mutters, and he knows before he pats his back pocket that the small store of rupies is missing. They see the boy dart into a back alleyway, and they follow in silent agreement.

Sensing their decision, the boy looks back and makes direct eye contact before scurrying off. Siete picks up the pace, saying, "Looks like we've got more trouble than we anticipated."

The clouds finally break under the weight of the rain, and a torrential downpour begins in the space of a breath. The lightning that flashes is enough for them to catch the silhouette of the boy as they enter the alleyway he escaped into.

Siete tugs the hood of his cape over his head. The relentless rain will never be enough to obscure this scene from his eyes, of the boy handing the money over to mafia members years older than him. He clears his throat, piercing over the sound of the heavy downpour striking the cobblestone.

Scum, really.

He's had enough of the mafia acting like they can saunter into an established community and declare it theirs. Not everyone can be like the twins and fight back successfully, and although it makes his blood boil, he does what he's used to: he smiles, the curl of his lips taking on a sharp edge, eyes narrowing. From beside him, Six adjusts the way the cape sits on his shoulders. A warning, a reminder of the last time Six saw him after a mission with the mafia.

He takes a deep breath, and the rain starts to fall heavier. It wasn't that he'd lost control back then. It was that he had too much of it over the situation. With Six by his side, his concerns evaporate. "Judging by the most successful people I know, I'll go out on a limb here and say that muscling money out of a kid in a side alley isn't sustainable for business."

The boy from earlier recognizes them, and his face contorts into an expression that Siete is very familiar with. The flicker of shame from being discovered twists into a disgusted pride for having others interfere, the very same feeling that Siete's never quashed from his own heart.

You've got spirit. Good. Don't lose that.

"Who's this?" The ringleader of the group grips the boy's shoulder tighter, and Siete resists the urge to step in immediately. He can handle his own, at least for a little longer. "Your papa come to save you?"

"Hey, I'm not that old! I got my youth." He keeps his tone light, but he prepares, his fingers twitching. Beside him, he can feel Six shift minutely as well, imperceptible from their enemies but a signal loud and clear to anyone that's fought alongside him for long enough.

The moment hangs in the air.

One of the mafia members lunges for Six, thinking him an easy target, but Siete doesn't even flinch when Six quickly disarms him and holds his wrists behind his back with one hand. The man tries desperately to kick at both of them, and Siete takes one step away to dodge the flailing.

"Attacking first without knowing your opponent," he says, grin turning a hint of maniacal under the blue glow of the spirit swords he begins to summon. He might be going overboard with the ones he chooses, but he can't help it when the group in front of him already looks like they're regretting their victim for the day. A sabre, deceptively simple if not for the distracting aquamarine in its pommel. A broadsword, hilt to cross-guard gleaming gold and reflecting the lightning flashing from the heavens themselves. An enormous blade forked in two like wings unfurling, beckoning calamity with its infamy.

He explains each sword as he summons them, and when he finishes, he lets them process it. Even the mafia member that Six is holding stopped struggling, and when Six lets him go, he doesn't react.

Siete chuckles once and then charges into the group, Six not far behind.

It would turn into a massacre if they used even half of their power against these foolish people and their superiority complexes. Even without Six's presence by his side as a reminder of that one mission, their opponents don't seem to be the type to mercilessly back them into a corner and force their hands. Neither of them break a sweat by the time the group picks themselves up and runs away.

Siete shakes his head as he watches them. "Some people, huh?"

He tries to make it sound lighthearted, but his disgust must come through, because Six takes a second too long to respond. Rather than addressing his rhetorical question directly, he says, measuring each word, "Where is the child?"

"I'm not a kid," they hear from behind them, and they turn around to see the boy from earlier, brandishing a baseball bat that the members of the mafia left behind. "I could handle that on my own."

He hears the slightest exhale from Six, and before he can say anything, Siete puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes lightly. For kids like this, trust needs to be built up instead of lashing back. "Nothing wrong with help from time to time."

The attempt to calm him down doesn't work. The boy's grip tightens around the baseball bat, hands firm despite the pouring rain. "What do you want? Your money? Well, I don't have it. They already took it."

"I don't want my money back. We're trying to make sure you're okay."

"Yeah, right. All you adults are the same. What do you care? You're gonna keep me in your debt and turn me in! What makes you any different from them, huh?!" The fire ignites in the boy's eyes again, and he's so clearly reminded of the other kids he's met, sick and tired of being pushed around.

But under his hand, Six tenses. Siete's used to direct attacks about his character, and although Six has experienced it since youth, his life from the massacre onwards existed only as rumours. It must have been a long time since Six heard accusations directly to his face, and Siete can only hope that being with the Eternals has bolstered his faith in his integrity enough to allow himself a defense.

"How about this," he starts to bargain. "I'll put my swords away—Six, your weapons too—and then we can talk more about this."

He feels Six's shoulders stiffen underneath his hand before he follows the request, removing his claws and hooking them back against his belt. Siete sheathes his physical sword and returns all the spirit swords to ether. After deliberation, the boy lowers his bat as well. There's still a wariness in his eyes, but he seems more willing to trust.

All the better, too. The storm is growing worse, the visibility barely more than a few metres in front of him, and the boy is at risk of getting sick. There are a few places he knows in this town that would let them take shelter even when drenched from the rain. "Being in the middle of the storm isn't the greatest time and place to talk," Siete says, and he walks backward past both Six and the boy out of the alleyway, smiling at them, encouraging them to follow. "We could find a warm place for a bit and grab a snack. We worked up a sweat, even in this rain!"

He turns and continues walking, and not soon after, he hears two sets of footsteps behind him; one running, one steady and careful, following as he tries not to slip on the cobblestone to head to a more secluded café.

The owner looks at Siete with exasperation, her ears drooping slightly against her head as she sees the mess they've trailed in, but she's familiar with him, and with the rain this heavy there are no other customers. She tells them to flip the sign on the door to closed, and to please stay in the entrance while I get towels and a change of clothes, darting upstairs to where she lives.

She hands each of them an outfit with an apologetic look on her face about the fit; her older brother's set is just right for him (if not a bit breezy), and her younger brother's for the boy, but Six's shorter frame forces him to roll the sleeves and the cuffs of the jeans up so he can move around properly.

When Six no longer shrouds himself in shadows of dark and purple, opting to accept the dry clothes instead of staying in his soaked uniform, the boy relaxes. It's disarming to see them both like this, with their armour drying off to the side and only minimal weapons on their person. Even though the mask is ever-present, Six looks less gloomy in lighter shades of colour, and Siete considers for the first time that he should have been more creative with colour usage for the Eternals' uniforms.

Once they're settled warmly into a booth, Siete encourages the other two to order, and he tries to pay ahead of time, but the café owner waves it off. "It's the least I could do for you for helping my li'l brother," she says over his insistence, and she glances at the boy quickly before leaving to make drinks.

"What did you do?" the boy blurts out.

"The mafia has a farther reach in this town than most expect," he says, and then he ruffles the boy's hair with the towel to dry it off more. The boy sneezes. "Her brother was in a bad place, just like you."

"...Are you guys justice heroes?"

At the question, Six stays still, expression unreadable with the mask on. It's an amusing juxtaposition to see the horrifying visage with the plain long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans, but the boy's comfort, he realizes, comes at the cost of Six's own. "Do we look like justice heroes?" he says, his voice guarded but steady, mask as his vice.

"Apparently, you guys like swooping out of nowhere and saving people." The word saving is carried with disdain.

"It's only doing what we can," Siete says. "And that includes going against the mafia, no matter how many times they keep coming back."

"For kids like me."

"We try." The smile is bittersweet, but sincere.

The young lady comes back with their drinks: a coffee for Siete, a tea for Six, and a hot chocolate for the boy, who never asked. He stares at Siete with wariness, and he shrugs. "Unless she can read minds, you know I didn't say anything."

The boy looks between the two of them and the café owner retreating behind the counter before he picks up the mug and starts drinking. His eyes lighting up with the sweetness of the drink, he finally gives in and tells the two of them his story.

By the time he finishes, Siete decides that he'll send him to Stardust Town with a letter. He'll be in good hands and good spirits among those with the same fire as he does to rebuild a home where he has none left.

A fact that became obvious to Siete from the very first second of recruitment is that Six is more stubborn than he lets on when he decides on a course of action.

The storm doesn't abate. Six insists on continuing, and Siete wonders if he's trying to prove himself after the boy's accusation that you're just like the others, even though they ended that interaction on a positive note, receiving apologies for the harsh reception. The rain is freezing where it pelts against their skin after they leave the café, seeping through the spaces where their armour doesn't connect and dampening their borrowed clothes.

Their assignment isn't hard, but the weather makes it long, and Siete's never been so happy to see a mission end. The altercation with the boy ends up being tangentially related to the mafia presence they ran into, and half of their work is already finished by the time they get to the bottom of the mystery late that night and find those same people among the perpetrators.

When they return to the base, they sluggishly strip themselves of their armour, leaving it to dry. Six holds his head high as he retires upstairs, and by the time Siete's done eating a snack, there's no trace of him other than the raindrops trailed across the floor, fallen from his fringe.

That's the last time he sees Six that week.

While at the base, Six will spend most of his time in indoor and outdoor training areas, as well as tending to flowers when he thinks no one can see. Without a doubt, if he isn't here, then he's returned to the Karm hamlet and its surrounding areas. Although Six has spent most of his life stagnant, he is always moving, finding ways to expend his energy.

It's not unnatural for Six to disappear for days on end because of his nature to seek solitude. What is unnatural is how Quatre goes almost the entire week without complaining that Six is hogging the training rooms when he's been here since they returned from the mission.

Six is, more often than not, predictable, so when it gets to the point that he doesn't show up to the weekly debrief without warning, concern arises. Their weekly meetings are far from perfect attendance, but at least one person will know a missing one's whereabouts—and yet for this meeting, no one can tell where Six is.

He waits a few hours for Six to show himself, but to no avail. Song has already left for the evening to patrol elsewhere, which means that he can't ask her if she's seen him. He has to improvise.

He keeps his footsteps quiet as he walks towards the end of the hallway where Nio rests, having arrived after the meeting had ended. She has a concert to prepare for, and he doesn't want to disturb her rehearsal more than necessary. Although she's lived most of her life with her gift, she still gets overwhelmed easily, and the hallway with everyone's personal quarters tends to be quiet to lessen the burden of being surrounded nonstop by their emotions.

That's another thing on his list of renovations, making more space for them when he can. He should ask Terra soon how much more weight she can handle.

He's so engrossed in preparing the questions about Six's whereabouts that he nearly misses the hacking cough emerging from behind one of the doors. It sounds like the kind of coughing that racks one's entire body, like the person's life hinges on how violently they have to expel the itch in their throat.

The sound is coming from right behind Six's door.

Normally, Six wouldn't go to such lengths just to avoid everyone. But judging from the muffled full-body coughs, it doesn't seem like a normal situation.

Decided, he turns around, planning to stop by the sick bay for medicine before he starts interrogating Six about his sickness. It's a solid plan until he puts all of his weight on a squeaky floorboard and the coughing stops immediately, cut off by a painful-sounding wheeze.

The only sound in the hallway is his breathing, even the faint melody of Nio's harp stilling. When her music resumes, but Six's room is silent, he knows his presence is no longer a secret.

There's no sense in hiding his footsteps as he walks away. The cold medicine is easy to find, but it won't be enough, so his next order of business is to take control of the kitchen. Six won't get any better if he doesn't eat properly and take medicine, and the sooner Siete can get both to him, the sooner he'll recover. He finds himself working faster, putting together a soup as best as he can with an arbitrary time limit he's imposed on himself.

He makes the same recipe he used to make for the twins whenever they got sick, the same one his mother brought to him and his siblings when they were younger. Like every other sick person he's taken care of, Six is going to be stubborn about being fussed over, and the thought makes him smile.

When he finishes, he balances everything on a tray and treks back. He makes his presence as obvious as he can, sending a silent apology to Nio for causing a ruckus all the way to Six's room. "Haven't seen you in a bit, Six," he sings in time to his knocks against the door, tray balancing on his free arm. "Not even for your sneaky midnight snacks. I have leftover soup if you're feeling hungry."

The answer is instant. "I can handle myself." Six forces his voice lower than usual to disguise the unmistakable grogginess of sickness. He sounds positively miserable, his retort lacking the usual bite. For good measure, he adds, "Go away."

"Now that you've said that, then I've got no choice but to stay here," Siete jokes.

A beat of silence. "And if I ask you to stay?"

"Thought you'd never ask."

"So you'll stay regardless."

"Yeah, you sound awful."

"Fantastic observational skills." Six's sarcasm is so thick he forgets to hide how hoarse his voice is. "What would we do without a leader like you—" The statement trails off into another coughing fit so violent it sounds like he'll lose a lung.

"I'm coming in."

"No, you will not."

"I have medicine."

"I am not sick."

"You're not fooling me."

"Leave me alone." Siete doesn't bother responding to that one. He likes to think that Six can see him raise his eyebrow even from behind the closed door. "After further consideration, I've come to the conclusion that you're incapable of that."

He's never heard Six sound more exhausted than he does now. He thinks in particular of their first meetings, where Six always had an unquelled energy within him, no matter how bleak their conversations. At least they're both equally stubborn, and Siete thinks he's right about what he's doing in this particular case. "I'm not leaving until I know you've taken the cough medicine," he lectures. "I'm coming in. I'm giving you ten seconds to lock the door, otherwise it's an invitation."

"Invasion of privacy." Six has the energy to quip back, so Siete has hope, but he doesn't hear any movement from inside. He waits closer to a minute instead of only ten seconds, and knocks again to make his intent to enter clear. He takes his time putting his hand on the doorknob, turning it slowly and pushing inwards.

The room is unbearably hot, all of the curtains drawn and clothes discarded across the floor, and for someone that doesn't own a lot of variety in clothing, it surprises Siete just how much there is. Drawers are open at random, and any extra blankets are piled on top of the Six-shaped lump. He cracks the door open so the room can air out, but when he takes a step away from it, Six's voice emerges from the pile of sheets on the bed. "Close that door if you're going to be a nuisance."

To his credit, he does listen to that request, but he walks over to the window after leaving the tray on his desk. "I'm opening this," he says, before he tugs the curtains open, letting the light breeze circulate through the room. "You need fresh air."

"What I need is for you to go away."

"I'm sure."

Six's ears turn towards him, barely visible from the mountain of blankets. When Siete walks closer, he sees that his mask is on, but its lopsided state tells him it's been donned only moments before he had company. Grabbing a towel half hanging out of Six's open drawers, he goes to the bathroom to soak it in cold water, wondering how to approach getting Six to take the medicine.

It concerns him when he returns and Six hasn't moved from his position. "You'll need to take your mask off, Six."

"I would sooner die." On the other hand, it's an undeniable relief that although his energy is depleted, he's still got enough fight to bite back. He sighs, but there's a smile in it as he ignores how the mask is already slipping off Six's face.

"Not on my watch." Instead of a response, he gets Six's ragged breathing, and the force of his coughs nearly knocks the mask off. His ears twitch with the tinny sound echoing against the inside of his mask, and Siete decides this is where they have to draw the line. "Okay, come on. We have to take this off."

Six coughs again in lieu of protesting. Out of concern that he'll choke, Siete gently nudges him into an upright position before sitting on the edge of the bed himself. It surprises him that Six is still wearing his uniform stripped down to its barest parts, his shorts and the long-sleeved backless compression shirt, bronze bands unmoved from around his forearms.

He's aware that Six sleeps in his uniform during overnight missions, opting to be prepared at any opportunity, but he didn't realize it was a habit while he was also at the base. He glances back to the clothes scattered across the floor and wonders how many of those are underclothes for his uniform, and spots the spare clothes from the café owner shucked in the corner, away from everything else.

"Last chance," he warns.

The lack of resistance to Siete reaching up to either side of his face to remove his mask is the greatest indicator of how severe his sickness is, and Siete frowns with concern as he puts the mask down beside him on the bed. He wastes no time in wiping the sweat off from his face, Six wordlessly leaning into the refreshing coldness of the towel.

Removing his mask is akin to a death sentence on a regular day, and it feels like a privilege to see glimpses of his face not contorted with anxiety over being exposed. Six's mask exists as a buffer between social interaction and his own personal thoughts; it's a necessary guard for someone as unintentionally sincere as he is, whose hopes and dreams are so potent that they become obvious through any amount of conversation with him.

The mask hides Six's age, and despite his history, his bare face is unscarred and free from blemishes except for the mole underneath his left eye. At rest like this, despite his trembling lips and sickly pale demeanour, his face is kind. He's lived every worst-case scenario life could imagine for him, but against all of his attempts to keep everyone at arm's length and his claims that he cannot live and trust and love again, he continues to claw forward into the future.

It's a shame, Siete thinks, that he has such a kind face, because the world does nothing good to people like him. His brows furrow slightly.

Six stifles a cough, shaking him from his thoughts. "Jeez," Siete chides, expression softening again, "how'd you even get to this point? Was this because we were out in the rain in last week's mission? You're the one that wanted to keep going."

"Do you ever shut up," Six mutters weakly.

"You can answer that one for me."

When he's convinced Six won't fall over the second he stops holding him up, he slowly stands up to avoid jostling him around, wiping down the inside of his mask before going to the bathroom to wash the towel and wring it to dry.

Thankfully, he returns to an upright Six. Siete would think he hadn't moved at all if his mask wasn't back on his face. "Hey, my soup's gonna go cold. You should have some. Chef's best, guaranteed!"

"With how annoying you're being, I'm convinced your concoction will make me sicker so you can feel useful." He's swaying back and forth slightly, groggy through the sickness, and somehow he manages to be as verbose as possible.

"You need to spend less energy forming the world's longest sentences and more energy on getting better."

"Neither brevity nor elaboration will stop your antics."

"Not when you look this bad! Now stop resisting and get some food in you, I whipped this up just for you."

Six tilts his head. "You said it was leftover soup."

"Eh, what's the difference?"

Six lets out a long suffering sigh, deflating slightly. He seems to weigh his options, his ears tilting from side to side in thought. "...Get me that tray."

There's only so much teasing Six can handle, and while Siete could chirp all day, there's no point when he's already accepted the help. He fills the silence between them as Six starts on the now lukewarm soup, so delirious with sickness that he'd been uncaring about exposing his face for a brief moment to disconnect part of his mask and eat.

He's more responsive than usual, mumbling responses to get the last word as Siete rambles on about how that squeaky floorboard ruined his plan to surprise him with a meal, how the recipe for the soup was passed down in his family, how the twins were equally resistant to being helped when they were children.

"You're just as stubborn," Six points out, his voice hardly above a murmur, and Siete doesn't deny it.

Putting the empty bowl to the side, he picks up the cough medicine and fumbles with the bottle stopper. Siete can't hold back his laugh when he drinks and makes a disgusted face, the strongest emotion he's showed the entire time. Siete continues talking to him as he slumps back against the bed and lets his eyes droop closed.

This is the extent of the help he can offer. He moves the tray aside, clears the tripping hazards of his discarded clothes, and closes the curtains enough that the room is dim again, keeping the window open.

As he breathes in the fresh air carried by the wind, he swears he hears something that sounds like thank you. When Siete asks him to repeat it, Six instead says, "Don't make this a habit. Get that smile off your face."

He doesn't realize he's smiling until Six says it, and it only prompts his grin to grow wider. "I should be saying that to you."

Six shows up to an unofficial crew dinner two days later, as if he had never withdrawn from company. He shows no sign of the worrying sickness that Siete observed, and no one comments on his disappearance other than Song giving him a little nudge. He scoffs at it, but it's good-natured, and Siete smiles around the spoon of food he puts in his mouth.

Chapter Text

The Eternals aren't friends.

In Six's eyes, they were never meant to be. The Eternals' personalities, their individual goals, and their ambitions were secondary to the power for which they were gathered. Aside from their apparent strength, the real uniting forces of the Eternals wasted no time rearing their ugly heads: their distaste for their leader, their traumas, and their aversion to people that were too different or too similar in their struggles.

It left much to be desired. Siete was an absolute fool for even trying.

His words had swayed Six at first. Siete was undoubtedly a good speaker, so much so that even Six had convinced himself that he had a place in the world not among rot. But when the dust settled, when the smoke dissipated and the mirrors shattered, there was nothing left for him but his disappointment in fooling himself into thinking there was something more, draining into Siete's hollow promises of companionship.

The Eternals had nothing for him. It was impossible for any small group's efforts to make a positive difference in the skydom, let alone bring any lasting peace. On the contrary, he'd heard whispers that their power and the nature of how they'd gathered made them a menace. Because the Eternals lay so low, only intervening from the shadows unless absolutely necessary, no one truly knew what their intentions were.

They were well aware of the association. One day, Uno returned from a mission of Siero's request; with a voice more drawn inward than Six had ever heard him, he reported that the Eternals were being impersonated, their name used for the very acts they tried to prevent. That group he stopped was only one of potentially many, and they had no way of confirming or denying their identities lest they expose themselves and compromise each other.

With that, Six was a monster once again, but now it was his duty to be a monster, never ceasing to complete the missions he accepted of his own volition. A new thought had arisen among his mind, as insidious as all the ones he'd had in the years before: What would remain of him were he to leave the Eternals? It was another variation of his same old punishment, to be well-known and fated to be an outcast for his transgressions. He no longer had anywhere to hide.

For two years, that was how the Eternals had functioned for Six. Not as friends or as enemies, but unlikely comrades, united by duty and not much else.

The Revenant Weapons had changed everything.

Siete had gained knowledge of the One-Rift Spear being unearthed, and he'd asked Uno to investigate and bring it to completion. The Revenant Weapons couldn't fall into the hands of common skyfarers, and so Siete had warned everyone to remain on guard for their respective weapons and gather as much information as possible before engaging.

No amount of speculation prepared them for what overcame Uno once he'd fully awakened the One-Rift Spear. Because the Eternals by nature spent most of their time separated, Uno had sought each of them out individually, and by the time anyone could warn the others, it had almost been too late.

It was a combination of luck and, more importantly, Uno's own strong will that the possession wasn't as devastating as it could have been in lesser hands. But the fact that Uno had been affected at all had shaken their notions about the Revenant Weapons and the Eternals' strength, physical and mental.

When Uno regained his bearings, they worked to piece together answers to their questions about the process of discovery and awakening, how the weapon brought him into its clutches, whether or not he was lucid during the possession.

But they weren't fast enough.

Quatre and Esser happened too soon afterwards, both of their respective Revenant Weapons emerging to fell them both in one swoop, as if it could sense the bond between them. The rest of the Eternals barely had time to gather their resources as the twins worked together to try and take everyone down, much more violently than Uno's steely determination to discover true strength.

This time, the Eternals almost failed.

The emergency meeting they'd held afterwards about the twins was what spurred Six to visit his own Six-Ruin Fist that he had awakened and stashed in the weaponry of the base. The Fist spoke to him of pointless power, and power that could not be controlled, and it told him of the power he could have—not to save, but to destroy so wholly that there would never be anything to save again.

Six thought of the Eternals, breaking apart at the seams from an attack by one of its leaders and a coordinated attack by two of the people with the strongest bonds. The words warped in his mind to create the urge rising in him to bring them all to his level of despair. He wanted to show them the shame that he steeped in for his entire life, that they all needed to feel for having power that was on equal footing with his.

The moment he'd donned the Fist, he felt a repulsively familiar nausea wrack his entire body, and the fire that blazed within him was so hot that it scarred him to numbness. He didn't want to dwell on it further, and the Fist heeded his request, moving him forward before he could object.

The mission planted in his mind was to destroy the Eternals while they were weakened, but when he'd walked up to the main floor of the base, no one was there. It was odd, and the thought nagged at him as his feet carried him to the front door of the base. He knew that hardly half an hour ago was their meeting about the twins' altercation with the Revenant Weapons. It was what spurred Six to leave in the first place and find his own weapon—and why he had kept it a secret, he wasn't entirely sure—

When he opened the front door, no one was there except Siete, sitting with his back facing Six in the front garden of the base and looking up at the moonlight. The Fist said to him then, It would be easy to rush forward with your speed. It would be trivial to reach into his chest and rip out his beating heart, because he is nothing but mortal, and he is nothing but foolish.

Good evening, Siete said, completely vulnerable, voice light as always, and then he turned around, smiling like he already knew what was happening. He only had a light rapier strapped to his belt, and he was the picture of ease, if not for the way the moonlight reflected in his eyes: alert, sharp, watching Six's every move. What brings you here?

The Fist whispered, Destroy the pillar of the Eternals. Bring them all to ruin, one by one.

Six growled over the din in his mind. What do you want?

Siete didn't falter. I should be asking you that instead.

He smiled, devoid of humour. What do I want?

You so rarely want, Six. I'm willing to listen.

And Six responded. To one, or to both. I want power.

Is that so, Siete said. His smiles were rarely comprehensible to Six, and in that moment, with the influence of the Fist, under the hazy glow of the moonlight, it was impossible to gleam his intention. He drew his blade and pointed it at Six, teasingly, as if Six weren't on the brink of killing him—It's been a while since we've sparred, hasn't it?

But that was the crux of Siete's personality, the brutal compassion behind every joke. Because he was proficient with a sword, he kept deceptively at arms length, and Six never noticed how close he got until the blade was twisted right in his heart.

Answer me this, Siete asked him, after Six defeated him in their useless little bout. What is it you seek power for? Your past? Or your future?

My future, obviously. But was it so obvious? Six wasn't so sure, curling the gauntlet on his hand into a fist at the same time that a smile curled upwards on Siete's lips, and he second-guessed. The Six-Ruin Fist could sense it, but its rattling was nothing compared to how compelled he was to listen to Siete.

He'd left Six with more questions than answers, and as he fought his way through the rest of the Eternals, his own voice drowned out the Fist's attempt to drag him into the darkness. Why?—and then, when Sarasa's careless words revealed Siete's involvement—Why did Siete send everyone after me?

It wasn't until he'd met with Song again that he'd remembered her words: You'd be surprised at how much confidence a familiar presence offers. Neither of them enjoyed fighting or using their powers, and his hurt had been raw from the way Sarasa had so carelessly called him a monster, but she readied her bow against him without any fear of who he was becoming with the Fist taking control.

I always got the sense you didn't like using your power, she said lightly, but you're past all of that now, aren't you?

Not quite. The words surprised even him, how easily they came to his lips. But almost.

I won't hold back. Her smile told him everything he needed to know, a confirmation of the swirling feeling in his heart beginning to take shape. The power we wield is not inherently evil nor good. There is light to be found in the darkness.

He looks at the Fist in his hand, his fingers testing the space they occupy in the gauntlet, and he stares at Siete from across the field. He looks the way he did under the moonlight just a few days ago, always so sure of himself, basking as if eternal sunshine followed him.

"Did you find your answer?" Siete asks, walking closer.

On anyone else, the perpetual relaxation would drive him mad. On Siete—it does the same, but it nags at Six's lips until they pull up into a farce of a smile, the muscles clumsy from disuse.

The Eternals aren't friends. But for whatever reason, they'd listened to Siete, and more importantly, they'd listened to Six, and spoke over the ghost of the Fist in his mind so insistently that only now does he realize that the only time he'd heard it clearly was before the first meeting with Siete. He'd had nothing but himself and the other Eternals to keep him company, and they'd done so with more dedication than he'd expected.

They'd spoken to him about the nature of power, and their unspoken faith in him—you seem different, as if he'd found something to fight for. As if his power were no longer abhorrent.

He's not quite there. But belief isn't so far out of his grasp.

The Eternals aren't friends. They're too hard on each other for that, still clumsy at navigating each other's boundaries. Some had said too much, others had said too little. But they had all said things that they believed would help him, and whether on orders from Siete or of their own volition, they had all worked to chip the Six-Ruin Fist away from his mind.

They're overly persistent, and they're much too insensitive at times. If Six knew any better, perhaps the word family wouldn't have been the first thing to come to mind.

"I could tell you." Six smiles, the only way he knows how, and Siete's grin grows in response. "But it's been a while since we've sparred, hasn't it?"

Chapter Text

When Six wrests full control over the Fist, its spirit fading to dust, relief floods over Siete.

Any attempt to hide a Revenant Weapon discreetly was doomed to fail, its antiquity changing the atmosphere until it was thick enough to choke. When he saw Six disappear into the armoury the night the Eternals discussed the twins' weapons, he knew what was about to take place.

Siete told the others to clear out, and he waited in front of the base, unafraid despite the restlessness plaguing the Eternals. As if on cue, Six emerged, silhouette cutting out shadows from the moonlight. He had been the same melancholy young man that he had grown accustomed to, seemingly unaffected by the Fist until he told Siete he wanted power.

It had been too soon after Uno and the twins, and the Eternals were still at a loss as to how bear the burden of the Revenant Weapons for the sake of the skies. The other three had been alone for far too long with the weapons equipped, unable to resist the call in their solitude. Siete only had one idea as to how best disarm Six, and it was with the way he always did: engage him before doubts had the opportunity to take root among his tangled thoughts.

Their fight had the same desperate edge from recruitment that Six had since then reined in, and as they inched closer and closer to killing blows, Siete stopped their spar, forcing him into conversation again. It was an infuriating routine, but one that Six knew well, and one he didn't shy away from.

After their cryptic conversation, Six stepped off Terra's back in search of the Eternals. Siete called on every single one of them to go after him, because if they were to lose him to the shadows, there would be no hope.

Even preparing for the worst outcome, he had the utmost confidence that Six was far from the monstrous acts he believed himself capable of, the horrors he once committed, and was more than capable of resisting the temptation of the Fist. All he needed was the Eternals' faith and enough time out of his head.

Siete was meticulous with the order of fighters he would send against Six. He first sent Funf, her innocence a neutralizer to even the greatest of warriors; then, Okto, her guardian with decades of experience; Sarasa, too unaware about the world's workings to be cautious about her own words; Esser, with whom Six found quiet understanding.

The remaining Eternals questioned the extent to which he would go for a possessed Six, and he said, You've seen the other three. This is only the least I can do.

He'd never directly told anyone about the limits he'd tested during Six's recruitment, nor did Six seem the type to openly discuss it. Their brutal conversations remained as an unspoken promise between the two of them, and there was no better opportunity than now for Siete to fulfill his end of the promise and reinforce that Six was no mere weapon of mass destruction, but an autonomous agent of change.

The others followed his lead, despite the initial hesitation. The first four sent after him were done so in quick succession, each battling Six and the Fist before he had time to think. They each left him with confusing statements that only spurred him on further towards the Eternals instead of the ruin that the Fist wanted to bring.

The remaining four Six found himself, and they each reported back with their own commentary. What did you say to him, Siete? He's nothing like the other three.

The only thing that changed between Six and the others was that someone had been there for him from the very beginning.

It's a surprise to Siete when Uno passes a verbal invitation onto him: after facing the other eight, Six seeks him out once again. He didn't intend to become the final stop on Six's journey with the Fist, and an emotion he can't name blooms in his chest when they meet again.

He might have called it pride, if pride never had an accompanying downfall. He only finds the feeling spirals higher and higher until he becomes lightheaded with it.

With renewed determination, Six holds his head higher than before, eyes sharp with clarity, and it brings a smile to Siete's lips. Compared to their first fight, this one is evenly matched than before. No longer is Six clouded by the words of the Six-Ruin Fist, and as Siete tumbles across the grass and laughs with the exertion of the battle, he thinks that no Revenant Weapon in the world ever had a chance against Six's resolve.

Six sits next to him on the grass with the Fist adorning his hand. Out of the darkness and into the wide sunlight, the gleam of ancient gold and the gravity of its obsidian is easily overpowered. Six talks of what he's learnt from years of isolation and yearning for his own death, and Siete's heart aches. But he knows that side of Six is now suffering its own slow death, each of the Eternals as pallbearers towards self-compassion.

A silence drifts between them, and then Six removes his entire mask voluntarily. He only looks him in the eyes for a brief moment before averting his gaze, but it's enough.

He'd seen Six with his mask off when he'd been sick, but now he's completely of mind and doing it himself, and Siete eyes wane into crescents. Often, the only time Six can talk without turning into a stuttering mess is with his mask on, but the Six in front of him now is speaking with confidence.

Maybe this confrontation with the Revenant Weapon will do the ten of them more good than harm.

He wonders if Six knows he's smiling right now, or that it's the most relieving sight Siete's ever seen. "C'mon, let's get outta here," he says, and Six follows with a chuckle, their capes billowing in the breeze.

It becomes a common occurrence to see Six with his mask only half on. Some of the Eternals have seen him with his mask off when he'd gotten too close to Siero at her shop, or when they accidentally remove it while sparring, but never as regularly as they do now. He insists on alternating the halves of his mask in case he's ever plunged into darkness and needs to quickly adjust, so only half of his face ever remains visible, but it's impossible for him to hide his increased amicability.

He's taken everyone's words to heart, and with the first successful resistance against the Revenant Weapons, everyone feels motivated to seek out the rest, knowing that they're capable of looking after one another.

Even though Six's sociability has increased, he still doesn't often rely on people, and by often, Siete means not at all. So when Siete gets a knock on his door during an ordinary laundry day, the last person he expects to see is a full mask-clad Six with the Eternals cape wrapped around him so tightly that he might suffocate.

As soon as Siete opens the door by a crack, Six storms in with as much silent fury as he can when his movement is bound to small shuffles by his cape, landing on the edge of the bed. He's seated precariously, every fibre of his being screaming that he doesn't want to be here.

Like always, Siete's smile persists in the face of how despondent Six looks right now. "What's this about?" he asks, closing the door and leaning against it to give them privacy.

Six sags slightly. "...My uniform requires repairs."

"Like.. The one you're wearing?"

This conversation is taking much longer than it has to because Siete is trying not to laugh and Six is tight-lipped about his situation. His ears tilt from side to side as he tries to find the right words. "Yes."

There's no holding back the teasing now. "So you see my problem."

"I'd be concerned for your eyes if you couldn't."

"Luckily for you, it's laundry day!" Siete digs through his drawers to find clean clothes not too large on Six's person, tossing them in his lap. "Change into these and I'll fix your uniform up before you can even blink. Actually, I haven't brought out my laundry yet, want me to take yours out with mine?"

"Just get it done," Six grits out. He takes the clothes, opens the door, and peeks his head through, checking for signs of life in the hallways, before he sprints to the bathroom to change. It takes a long time for Six to return, and when he does, the cape is still wrapped around him like he'd fall apart without it. He turns to put his uniform in the basket Siete has out, and Siete sees the rip that runs up the side of his cloak all the way to the insignia.

"I can fix the cape, too," he offers.

Six doesn't move from where he's standing, but slowly, he takes off the cape and adds it to the rest of the dirty laundry. When he leans over, Siete can immediately tell what's adding to his discomfort; the back of the borrowed shirt is pulled up around his neck, exposing his back like standard Erune fashion, but it has the added effect of doing the same to the front and baring his abdomen.

Siete can't hold back the snort of laughter when he sees it, and he's sure that underneath the mask, Six is glaring at him with intent to maim. "Sorry, I forgot about the... Erune thing. I'll get these washed up, and if you really want, you can rip the back off that, there's scissors in the top drawer—"

"Leave me be," Six pleads, and the mask can't hide how strained his voice is.

Siete doesn't intend for his laughter to be mocking. It's... kind of endearing how genuine Six tends to be in all of his actions, even down to this. He never compromises on anything he does. It's a stubbornness he can get behind. "Yes, sir," Siete finally says when his chuckles fade into a smile, and he picks up the basket with one hand while saluting, leaving Six alone in his room.

Esser and Nio exit the laundry room as he arrives, caught in quiet conversation, and he nods to them. The laundry is empty, and from the window he sees linen sheets hanging from the clotheslines.

He sings under his breath as he washes his clothes by hand, and as he starts on Six's, he comes to a sudden understanding as to why Six had wrapped himself up so thoroughly in the cloak. He can't help but laugh as he holds up Six's shorts and finds a rip, right along the inseam. He should teach Six how to mend his clothes—but isn't this a skill that he should know? If he'd relied only on himself for almost his entire life, mending clothes seems like a skill that would have been important. When Siete first found him in the hamlet, his clothes covered him from head to toe and were made for the bare minimum of survival, making them even more high maintenance than everyday clothes.

Then again, it's not his business as to why Six sought his help for a problem he might have fixed on his own, and he must have really been out of options if Siete was the one he went to. Tragedy, no matter how minor, is a good chance at a team bonding exercise, and he amuses himself by pretending that was Six's intention.

He goes out to hang the wet clothes on the line and breathes in the smell of clean laundry, relaxed for a moment before Funf runs full-bodied into him. He gets roped into her impromptu game of tag with Sarasa and Song, which starts getting out of hand once they start bringing magic into it, Song and Funf spiralling high into the air as Sarasa starts dropping non-lethal Ground Zeros.

It's midday by the time they've tired themselves out, and he forgoes the lunch the others prepare to head back to his room. He's left poor Six there, uncomfortable in a spare shirt not made for Erune standards.

He's surprised to find Six still in his room, and Six must be equally surprised by his return, because he jumps at the sound of the door opening. He makes a hasty motion to put something down back on the dresser before turning to face him. His shirt is, true to Erune form, cut straight up the spine, a pair of scissors on top of the dresser next to whatever it was that Six was holding.

Even with the mask on, Six is a clear picture of guilt, ears flattened against the side of his head, and Siete knows what it is he's found.

He doesn't keep many belongings from before his dedicated skyfaring—not because he isn't sentimental, but because he may be too much so. He left all photographs behind except for one, unframed and at mercy to the elements. Normally, it lies face down and out of the sunlight, underneath the clothes that lay in his drawers.

Airing out dirty laundry, he thinks with amusement.

Six doesn't ask who it is in the image. He doesn't say anything, and although his body language can be easy to read, especially with his ears, Siete can't be sure of anything when the mask is on. He walks up next to him and picks up the photograph, smiling to himself in a way that doesn't quite reach his eyes. In this picture, he's barely older than the twins when he first found them. He's holding a stick above his head like a sword (how else?), and behind him is his father, and beside him—

"Look just like my old man, don't I?" Siete says, not addressing the third person in the image. The words sound bittersweet to him, but judging by how Six turns carefully to look at him, he might not have been successful in conveying it. He runs his thumb against the side of the photograph where it's starting to wear, and he thinks, next laundry day I shouldn't take this out.

Anyone else would fill the space between them with questions or comments. Siete is evasive about his life before skyfaring and likes to keep it that way, only offering jokes and exaggerated claims about his childhood. Uno knows about his family, because Uno is the reason that he's here and not confining himself in the place he used to call home; the twins might have a hint, having known him for too long and seeing him slip too many times, but they've never seen the photo in his hands right now.

It's one of the most private parts of his life, and yet he finds himself unworried that outside of Uno, Six is the first person to uncover this part of him. He can trust him not to offer banalities or pressure him to divulge unpleasant memories.

It's that blind, unknowing openness that makes Siete want to tell him everything.

He opens the top drawer to put the image face down again in the corner, and he hears Six's voice against the grain of the wooden drawer closing. "...I overstepped boundaries."

Siete waves a hand. "I left it lying there, and I did say you could snoop around."

Now, the silence becomes awkward.

He glances out the window and then back to Six. Even he's aware of how jittery his motions are, but he's not as affected as it makes him look. He'd found peace a long time ago with what had happened to him and his family, because remaining in the past would do them disservice.

There are ways to break the tension that settles over them, and the one he chooses is to walk over to his desk, dragging a spare chair from the corner of his room and finding a deck of cards. "It doesn't bother me. Don't worry so much about it," he says, waving him over in invitation.

The easiest solution for Six would be to leave. Instead, he exhales, long and steady and unsure about the situation. He nods and moves to sit in front of him, and Siete hides his surprise by busying himself with dealing cards. He notices for the first time that day, when Six goes to collect his hand, that he isn't wearing his gloves. Their constant presence in blinding white always signalled to Siete as proof of his innocence to observers and to himself that there will never be undue blood spilled by his hands, his past and present laid out between his fingers.

He smiles without thinking, and Six gives pause. "Is something amusing?"

"Somehow," Siete says, smile widening and slicing through old hurt like a particularly annoying paper cut, "I get the feeling you'd like my sister."

At the acknowledgement of the third person in the photograph, Six remains silent, and he's never wished more that the mask was off so he could watch his expressions. His next words only come when it's his turn to play again. "I'm unsure I'd be able to like anyone related to you."

The comment catches him off guard as much as it does anchor him to where he is in time, in the way only Six's candour can. He would make the same retort even if Siete wasn't so sombre about the topic, and it takes him half a second to laugh. Seeing the line of tension melt away from Six's shoulders reveals the joke as his attempt to make him feel better, in his own clumsy, unrefined, endearing way. "Fair point. But my sister—she was much more tolerable than I, rest assured."

Six doesn't question further. The past tense of the sentence is enough of an answer. He takes a card from Siete's hand and, pausing to look at it, puts his last pair down in the pile, emptying his hand.

"Ah, you won. Look at that." Siete drops the joker with a smile. "Listen, this is our secret, okay? Uno's the only one who knows, but—"

"I understand," Six interrupts, like he's swearing an oath instead of making a promise from one friend to another. One step at a time, then. "We all have our demons. Or... guardian angels."

The words are awkward, but the effort to listen ultimately shines through. Six is not unkind, but it's a difficult side for him to show, and Siete is unsure how much of it is because he deliberately shields himself and how much of it is simply inexperience of navigating social situations like this. "She was my little sister," Siete chuckles. "Naturally, she was a bit of both."

Maybe he'll write a letter to his old man. It's been a while.

After a few rounds of cards, Siete's stomach grumbles. Looking outside, he notices that the sun is hanging heavy in the sky, the brilliant blue losing colour as the day prepares to give way to night. "Oh, I should check your uniform to see if it's dry enough," he says, putting his hand down. Six was winning, anyway. "And get a snack. You want anything?"

"...No, thank you." The words take a while for Six to form, and he doesn't blame him. Even with company, it's easy to get lost in thought on a mundane chore day like laundry day.

He takes his time gathering Six's uniform and his own dry blankets off the clotheslines, giving Six time to himself after spending the good part of the day with him. It should also give him ample time to escape, should he not want to stay around any longer.

When he returns to his quarters, he's curious to see what else Six managed to uncover of his past. But instead, the window is open with a slight breeze, and the chair in front of the desk is now unoccupied. The sound of the door opening makes Six's ears twitch slightly, but he otherwise doesn't move from where he's curled up on the bed, fast asleep.

"You just recovered from a cold, you'll go and catch another one like this," Siete says gently. He takes one of his blankets warmed from the sun and carefully puts it over Six and his exposed back. Six's first instinct to curl into it makes him want to nap too, but he should finish the request that Six first came to him for.

Two years since the inception of the Eternals, and Six is finally warming up to the idea of company. Selfishly—and the thought catches him so off guard that he doesn't know what to do with it, his heart skipping a beat—he hopes he's the only person that's seen Six like this, relaxed with sleep, trusting him to watch his back while he's at his most vulnerable.

He's known for a long time that Six doesn't sleep well. He knows that even now, when he's snoring softly and curled up under a blanket, that one loud noise or accidental startle will force him to be at the ready once again.

Should danger arrive while he's sleeping, Six can take care of himself. But Siete knows what it's like to live life on the edge of danger, and the least he could do is extend the small courtesy of comfort to his friends for a few hours.

When Siete finishes sewing Six's uniform, he folds it up and places it by Six's head. The urge to take a nap now has no barriers, and he lays down stretched between the two chairs by his desk. It's not comfortable, but laundry day has a way of making them all comfortable in their skin for a day, and it's enough for him to drift off without disturbing Six's light slumber.

He wakes to the click of his door closing, and around him are the blankets he'd placed on Six earlier.

Chapter Text

Life with the Eternals is unlike the isolation through which he'd suffered for so many years—and isn't that an accomplishment, to call it suffering without prefacing it with deserved.

Sharing his life with others was never a possibility he granted himself, but he grows weak to their skewed definition of compassion. They all saw a future with the Six-Ruin Fist adorning his wrist, and they insisted he was greater than the darkness.

From his trial, they learn to combat the ancient voices by overpowering them with their own. It takes another year for the rest of the Eternals to find their own weapons, and they keep a watchful eye on each other's mental states. While the change is daunting at first to Six, the Eternals are more empathetic than before they unearthed the Revenant Weapons. There are enough lighthearted jokes, friendly insults, and allusions to their pasts that Six thinks that they might become friends, or whichever version of it a group like theirs can scrap together.

(It's a dangerous train of thought to follow, so he doesn't. Six knows what he's done to people he's called family.)

The growing familiarity with each other means learning boundaries. With a few exceptions, they don't overstep Six's intentionally. Siete is one of those exceptions, always a pest except when he's not—and yet, Six feels like a stranger to his own mind when he reflects on how it's shifted.

Whatever logic Siete follows makes no sense at face value, but his desire to see the best for people exposes itself in due time. It's impossible to forget their first meeting, where he'd forcefully uprooted Six's old thoughts from deep beneath the earth. He'd despised the man for it at the time. A part of Six still despises him for how it had changed the next three years of his life. When he lays in bed ruminating, he's almost unrecognizable to his own self.

Self-awareness of his past transgressions is a disease in which finding its cure is more painful than suffering through its onset; now that Siete's put him on the path of the latter through the power of his faith, the uncertainty of what he'll find at the end of that path haunts him. Siete isn't that skyfarer that saved him so long ago that gave him a reprieve with easy words before leaving him in wait for better days.

It's because Siete is nothing like that man that he has to retreat. To win certain battles, he shouldn't engage at all. He cannot be a light in someone else's life, cannot even reflect it like the moon. The courtesy of companionship would be a waste on him. The shadow of his past clouds the people around him and fills his footprints with blood.

It's worse when he notices how effortlessly Siete distances himself from anyone who tries to get too close. They're the same in that regard, so although Six is less evasive with personal matters these days, he pushes away the feeling that tells him he can open his heart. If no one can get through to Siete, Six is the farthest person from capable for it. It's a reminder that no matter how close he gets to the Eternals, their pasts will always keep distance between them.

Knowing this, Six continues to indulge in Siete's pranks and responds to every mission call and conversation, but he's playing a game he knows he'll never win. It's a safe balance for a while, and then it goes downhill during a night like this:

They're returning to an inn after finishing a mission, and Siete slows his walking until he matches Six's pace, leaving Nio and Quatre to their own conversation. He winks and asks, Wanna grab a drink? and Six responds, because Siete always invites the Eternals to have the last words against him, Going with you is nothing more than a precaution so you don't destroy the door trying to stumble in while we're sleeping, and Siete laughs. A guy does that once and no one lets him live it down, and they go back and forth like that, seeing the other two off and wandering into the first pub with open seats they could find.

The pub is a splash of colour among an island painted in muted colours; the wind of the dawning storm slices against his back, and the open grill burns him alive. At any other place, they would settle in a secluded corner, but these are the last two spaces. Six huddles his cape tighter around himself as they sit on the two stools of a pub where the appeal for the clientele seems to be the lack of space and privacy, Siete included.

He creeps into Six's space to give the drunk group next to them a wider berth and orders appetizers. Under the mask, he raises an eyebrow at how he's paying less attention to the server and more to Six, wasting no time in filling the space between them with another exaggerated tale. During a lull in one of his spiels, in which Six prepares a response, a woman comes up to the two of them. Specifically, a woman comes up to Siete, as if he and Six aren't in similar enough clothing that she could be assume they were there together.

It's funny to Six that this woman, like the other ones that seem to approach Siete around this time, has no idea who they are. It's funnier that before Siete even opens his mouth, Six knows that he won't introduce himself as the leader of the Eternals, unlike every other situation where he does so with great enthusiasm.

He's seen enough instances of this that he slips on the rest of his mask, sticks the straw of his drink through the mouth hole, and watches out of the corner of his eye. He can tell immediately that Siete isn't interested but is trying to be polite about it, sidestepping around the conversation to get back to his food.

The party next to them at the bar clears, leaving an empty spot next to Siete. He shoots Six a look when the woman sits next to him. It's a mystery why he looks at him during times like this, since he has no desire to save Siete from the situation—and even if he did, he'd have no idea what he could do but watch. It's become his entertainment during outings like this.

A game.

More of their food comes in, a greater case for Six's attention than whatever Siete's doing. He's hungrier than he thinks, so he pulls his hood further over his face and hunches over, reaching over to Siete's side to take food he hasn't touched. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Siete's eyes flicker between the woman and the portions that keep disappearing. He's finally resorted to telling her outright she isn't interested, but Six can smell the alcohol on her breath from where he is.

The woman keeps talking and leans over to grab a skewer of chicken that's sitting closer to Six than Siete; Siete pushes the plate away, and on the edge of dedicated politeness and necessary shrewdness, Siete finally says something that has Six reeling, his own skewer stopped dead in its tracks halfway to his mouth.

Siete says:

I'm here with my boyfriend, tight smile on his face and thumb pointing over his shoulder, in the general direction of Six—but there's no mistaking the fact that Siete is, in fact, pointing to him. Or maybe it's to the black and white photo of the founder of the pub sitting on the wall behind him, or maybe at the menu detailing the day's specials—or maybe, he's pointing at Six, and disoriented, he finds himself thinking, when did we start that?

Both Six and the woman take a few, long seconds to register Siete's words. She comes to the conclusion quicker than he does, and she leaves without a word to the other end of the bar before another group piles in and fills the rest of the spaces. Turning back to him, Siete grimaces, raises his eyebrows, and then reclaims a skewer that Six stole. "So, this means you can vouch for me when anyone tells me I'm not popular with the ladies, eh?"

"For all your incessant complaining about how we won't acknowledge your evident popularity," Six says, mouth moving before he can make sense of his thoughts, "you turn down an awful lot of chances." He stuffs food in his mouth the second he finishes speaking, trying to chase away the feeling he gets from being called anyone's significant other, serious or not. Of being called Siete's.

Siete raises an eyebrow at his haste. "I'm gettin' old, Six. I'm in the age of settling down, getting married, having a few kids. I gotta find love." He sighs melodramatically, and Six almost believes it, a part of his mind latching onto the idiotic idea that Siete could find someone special, although what about it is idiotic, he can't elaborate—

The sound of Siete snorting breaks him out of his thoughts. "Yeah, right. If I ever wanna settle down in a single place, knock me unconscious." He gives a bright, knowing grin to Six, but what it means, he can't tell.

"I'd knock you unconscious for almost any reason." Familiar territory. But most of tonight was, before a few moments ago.

"I knew I could count on you." Laughing, Siete claps him on the back, and they lapse back into a comfortable silence as more of their food comes in. Hearty conversation in the pub ebbs and flows like ocean waves, the clash of armour from other skyfarers sitting too close to each other striking like alarm bells.

"The Eternals are getting more and more infamous, aren't we? Trying to drag a civilian into this life would be nothing short of irresponsible, no matter how much I've dreamed of my one true love." Siete says the words with extra sarcasm, but there's truth in jokes.

"Your choices are rather limited, then."

"Not entirely." He winks, and it sends a shiver of distaste up his spine. Siete picks up his cup of sake and smiles when he brings it to his lips, looking over at Six with a curve of his mouth that he's only ever been able to describe as mischievous. He leans in closer to Six's space and drops his voice, keeping the next words as a secret for the two of them.

The wind of the dawning storm slices against his back, and the devilish smile on Siete's lips burns him alive.

"I hear there's a big-shot captain around the skies these days."

He doesn't care what Siete gets himself into. It's what he tells himself as he tries to hold onto the space between them, but being faced with it so blatantly leaves him at a loss. "You may not drag a civilian into this life, but we as the Eternals are affected by each other's decisions. Our identities would be compromised by inviting another captain within the presence of our crew, dysfunctional as it is." It's the answer he defaults to when his mind won't settle on any line of thinking, even if the Eternals haven't gotten that much closer to each other to warrant this level of defensiveness.

Siete raises his eyebrows and laughs, cheer never fading. "I mean, that's why I'd bring home another captain, right? They'd be no stranger to crews and battles and fighting."

Six gets the sense he's not being taken seriously—but why would he be? His discomfort doesn't have a logical source. The closest answer he has for a question he can't form is that Siete's never dedicated himself to a single person. It's always been people. Humanity. What a laugh, how much of a goddamn philanthropist he is. He doesn't hide how much he cares for the Eternals and their never-ending resolve, but that's the nature of the affection he holds. For Siete to be harbouring a desire for a partner to love unconditionally instead of an equal by his side regardless of romantic intent seems out of character.

He receives a reminder, in his own voice, that of the Six-Ruin Fist's voice, that of that skyfarer's voice. Keep your distance. Hope has ruined you far too many times before.

"Hey," Siete says gently, his voice softening while never increasing the distance between them, as if he can sense the turmoil currently wracking Six—"I'm joking."

"And?" He knows Siete is joking. Judging from past experience, there was a good chance Siete was joking. He's willing to play the numbers game when it comes to him.

"I put the greater good first, you know that." The wording is hackneyed, and Siete punctuates it with a snort.

"At the sake of your own personal happiness?" Six asks, and he doesn't know why he does.

"Happiness doesn't always come at the price of that of others." He smiles, eyes glittering, and he gets the sense that Siete's talking to him rather than about himself.

It reminds Six that he's sitting in a pub, years after massacring of his people, around strangers that could have heard of his legend and called him a monster. Beside him in this unassuming setting is an idiot of a man he might be able to call a friend, talking about insignificant topics like love and life and the possibility of living happily.

It's enough to make him sick, all the food he's eaten settling at the top of his stomach and threatening to rise back up. His hands grip the edge of the counter and he nearly kicks the stool away trying to stand up, but Siete puts a hand on his arm, as if he can sense that he is about to run away.

Six swallows. "And if the price has already been paid in advance?"

"Sit," Siete says.

"I'm sitting." His hands tighten around the edge of the counter, his feet planted against the ground. Siete doesn't let go, opting to squeeze his arm in what's meant to be a gesture of comfort but instead sends nausea hurtling through his body.

"You know what I mean."

Siete pours him a cup of hot sake that they both know Six won't drink. They sit in silence, and Six feels his careful eyes on him as he breathes and tries to dig the phantom grip of his claws out of the wood counter.

"You see," Siete starts, his steady words an anchor, "that's the thing about happiness. It creeps up on you, but only when you're looking for it. And we're always looking for happiness. Doesn't care if you're ready for it or not."

Trite words.

Siete smiles at him. "If we're alive, we're looking for something better. That's just our nature."

"That's a lot of words to say I deserve happiness."

"Is that what I'm saying?" His smile is sly as he sticks more piping-hot food in his mouth. Six's anxiety is quelled somewhat by the hiss of pain he elicits, the temperature forcing him to open his mouth and let the steam rise out. "I could be wrong. I could be off my ass right now."

"You do like hearing yourself talk."

"I've got a nice voice, don't you think?"

With the return of Siete's jokes, Six has been given an out to abandon the current line of conversation. Siete finally removes his hand from his arm and goes back to eating as if nothing happened, in the way he does: he doesn't, at all, and Six feels his testing gaze without even having to look at him.

Six might be tired of it, after all. With his only witnesses as Siete and the portrait of the pub's founder, black and white and proudly holding a fish, he admits—"Don't push your luck."

He admits nothing. But he relaxes back into his stool and picks up his chopsticks again while Siete chuckles. His eyes struggle to focus in front of him, the din of the pub secondary to how his breathing rattles through his chest. But then Siete's voice calls out to him, piercing through the fog of his mind and pinning him in the present.

"What do you want?"

His wording hasn't been this direct since recruitment, when he'd attacked Six with questions that forced him to re-evaluate his life in the heat of battle and followed him in his solitude. Like the rest of the Eternals, Six had his fair share of ignoring Siete these past few years. But unfailingly, Siete has been there for everyone, and when any of them sit down to talk, he listens.

I want to keep living.

The response, the realization rises through him heady like smoke, dangerous and intoxicating all at once, and he nearly chokes on the flood of emotion it releases in him. I want to be alive.

When he lifts his head again, more sure of his answer than he's ever been, he finds Siete looking at him curiously. The slip of paper for orders in front of him already has boxes crossed off, pencil twirling in his fingers.

Siete wasn't asking him anything existential at all. He was asking if he wanted more food.

Without thinking, Six barks out laughter. Its barbs scratch his throat and stings the air, but it lacks the self-satisfied hint of pride that heated battle tends to elicit from him. It's an honest laugh, and it might be the most honest Six has been about his emotions in a very long time.

Siete looks taken aback for a second, before an amused smile crosses his face. "What?"

What is it he calls himself? Siete, Star Sword Sovereign, Leader of the Eternals. Nothing but a massive idiot. He shakes his head to chase the smile off his lips. "Get me more beef."

He dreams.

When he woke up, he walked downstairs to meet the other three over breakfast, as well as the client that Sierokarte had connected them with. He started eating, because he didn't have anything to contribute to the morning's idle chatter.

The client walked in, and it was the woman from last night that had approached him and Siete. He choked on his food, coughing to clear his airways, but everyone continued as if nothing had happened—not in the way that people pretend to be polite, but as if Six hadn't existed in the first place.

He looked back up at the woman again, and she sat down in front of them, but she morphed into Sierokarte when he wasn't looking. She smiled at him, and told them, good work, everyone! Everyone responded in turn, like nothing was out of the ordinary. He gaped at them all as they rattled on about the specifics of the mission unprompted, before diving into their own personal opinions about the quality of the food or the starchiness of their clothes and other mundane things, and then everyone stopped to look at Six.

He swallowed down his discomfort, and he turned to follow suit with everyone's ignorance, but she had transformed into someone else again. She had turned into that man, that skyfarer who had come and gone. No matter how many times Six tried to focus on his face, the details grew more and more distorted until he was barely recognizable.

If the memories ran away from him the more he tried, then the more he ran away, the more memories would torture him. He was never meant to be an archive for the history that made the Karm people tangible, real things that may have once brought him happiness and strife and made him feel as though he had a foot on solid earth.

Six had dreamt of this day for years, but seeing that man in front of him sent a spike of terror through him, the relief he expected absent. He stood up suddenly, the chair flying behind him, the ceramic on the table clattering with the force of the chair hitting the ground and shaking the entire inn, and—

You okay? There was a hand on his that were gripping the edge of the table, equipped claws shattering the plates in front of him. Neither Quatre nor Nio were paying attention to him, forcing his world to focus on either the point of contact between him and Siete or the eye contact between him and that man. It was his luck that he could do both. You'll choke on your food if you stand up so fast, love.

Everything he had to say to that skyfarer in front of him evaporated at the last syllable out of Siete's mouth. The smile on that man's face grew, and he remembered its brilliance, its calming quality. He let the memory of his smile fade away from his grasp, uncaring, because—"'Love'?"

Right, sorry, you hate nicknames, said Siete and not-Siete at the same time. It was his voice, his mannerisms exactly, but there was an expression in his face that Six should consider foreign but didn't. At a loss, as Siete gently squeezed his hand, he looked up to the man, the one that guided him a long time ago.

That man laughed, and his eyes were the same as both Siete's in the dream and Siete's from memory. It was disconcerting in its compassion, its unconditional something and everything. Even his laugh had faded, sound playing from a record's grooves run over too many times by a needle, a memory recalled so many times that he no longer remembers the original. I have to go again, that man told him. His chair scraped against the wooden floor, and Six felt it reverberate through his chest, but it didn't make a noise. It was nice seeing you again.

Dream-Siete let go of his hand, and when he looked down at the table, everything was in order once again. There were no broken plates, no claw marks in the table. Nio and Quatre hadn't stopped talking.

That man turned to leave without a second glance, and in that moment, Six was free to follow him.

If there were things Six remembered in perfect clarity from the day that man left his life, it was the sight of his back when he walked away for the first and last time. It was his gait, his hand rising to adjust his hat as he walked away. It was the silence that always fell on the Karm hamlet.

Six put a hand on the armrest of the chair behind him, caught between pulling it in to sit down or throwing it behind him to chase after that man—and then the front door of the inn opened and closed, and he was gone.

(He's the last of the four of them to wake that morning, tears streaked down his face. He clenches his fists hard enough that he feels crescent marks in the palms of his hands, harder and harder until he knows for certain he isn't dreaming, and then he wipes the tears off his face.

When he washes up in the bathroom, he finds no sadness in his heart. Watching that man walk away again was a sight he'd helplessly watched ad nauseam, but it's the first time he's experienced it without a profound sense of loss. He feels light, as if a weight's been taken off his shoulders, rather than reminded that it exists in the first place.

He walks downstairs to meet at breakfast, and it's uncanny how similar everyone's placement is. He sits down next to Siete, like his dream, and he starts eating, and soon their client shows up. It's someone none of them have seen her before, but she recognizes them based off Sierokarte's description. Only Siete talks, the others occasionally interjecting, and Six doesn't say a word the entire time.)

(Siete doesn't hold his hand.)

When they return to base, Six avoids everyone to return to his room.

He walks through the halls, feeling Terra rise and walk after allowing them onto her back. The slow but steady rumble of moving forward resonates at the same frequency hope rattles his bones.

The base has evolved over the past few years from a mere structure temporarily housing the ten of them to something more permanent. There are marks everywhere of people returning to live their life in this space, useless trinkets and occasional picture frames, marks in the walls that haven't been scuffed out and furniture that doesn't match. At times, the Eternals will spend time in the common areas after a mission, outside of obligation. There are days where he joins the budding friendships and feels only little guilt at the end of the day, but this is not one of those times, still reeling from the dream and his conversation with Siete at the pub.

None of them spare more than a glance to Six's retreat. The second he locks himself in his room, he lies on the ground and breathes, steadily. He tries to breathe steadily. He fails as the realization washes over him that his gravitation towards Siete was disguised all this time as less savoury emotions—as irritation, disgust, annoyance.

It cannot be anything more than that. He repeats that to himself over and over, not giving himself the opportunity to name any other possibility.

He cannot escape.

His feet drag him to the mandatory meeting early the next day about the final Revenant Weapon trial—Siete's own, the Seven-Star Sword, on the cusp of awakening.

The Eternals may roll their eyes at Siete's antics, but the air this morning in the meeting room is serious. It would be a death sentence to not take his power seriously, and preparation for every worst-case scenario will be the difference between failure on an individual level as Eternals and failure for the entire skydom.

And yet, Six is intent on glaring at Siete, scrutinizing how his lips form every word that comes out of his mouth, the fall and rise of his syllables, the cadence of his speech, how unnecessary his gesticulation is. He exits the meeting with more frustrations than one, so engrossed in his thoughts that he startles when Nio puts a hand on his arm.

Under everyone's watchful eye, she offers hushed and generic words about the turmoil in his heart. He brushes her hand off to escape into the safety of his room again.

Chapter Text

And so the saying goes—history repeats itself.

In the span of the year when the Revenant Weapons emerge from the ancient battlefield, the Eternals are forced into a tighter sense of teamwork in and out of combat, eventually transforming each experience with their respective weapons into a dialogue.

Even if he isn't the one to get them all together, this developing friendship is what Siete wanted all along for the Eternals as a crew. Not even he could dream up an icebreaker this awful—near-death, forced discussions of personal traumas and insecurities, all via supernatural possessions—but it's an icebreaker all the same. These days, he finds odd pairs talking in the common areas, members sharing chores, spontaneous plans to spend days off together. He's not one for means to an end, but he's willing to allow these weapons to exist in their hands, just this once.

By the time Funf awakens the Five-Soul Staff, everyone is prepared. She's the most vulnerable of the crew, and luckily her heart and mind are so untouched by the despair of the world that the Staff guides her instead of corrupting her.

After that, the only Eternal that needs to face their Revenant Weapon is Siete. He'd found the Seven-Star Sword shortly after the twins had their joint episode and refrained from upgrading it to its full potential until he was last, assessing the development of the Eternals' teamwork.

The night after Funf finishes the last of her battles, he walks into the base's armoury to reveal the Sword from where it sits. Are you happy? it asks, an old power masquerading as an old friend, seeking to bring about destruction.

With my crew? Always, he says. He takes it to the forge, preparing the final materials. They've far surpassed my expectations.

Have they surpassed you? the Sword asks, a transparent attempt at planting doubt.

It matters not, so as long as they remain noble on their paths.

The fully awakened Sword glows something unholy lost to time. Siete is stricken by an indescribable hunger, but if he had given into temptation this obvious before, he would have long been defeated by anyone with greater resolve. Defeated by the Eternals, he thinks with a smile.

The Sword is as stubborn as he is, insisting for Siete to take him in hand. The powerful deserve power, it says, chiding Siete as it would a lesser man.

The powerful must earn it, he corrects, before the Sword attacks him.

The fight is straightforward. The Sword's movements are reminiscent of the legend who once wielded it, the magical energy in the room so dense that Siete can nearly see the spirit form. The clash of steel blades resounds in the armoury, and he wishes that he chose a battlefield more spacious for this duel, but the confined space doesn't deter him from his eventual victory. He's fought too many swordsmen to be felled by a mere spectre.

Maybe that's his undoing, he thinks in the split second before he loses himself, taking the Sword in hand to duplicate its spirit. Maybe he'd underestimated the power of history.

The Eternals often dismissed Siete throughout the years, although it had softened after each of their trials with the Revenant Weapons. That same flippant attitude they held towards him masked the influence he'd grown to have as their leader until he'd pursued them with the intent to kill rather than nurture.

Siete isn't often scared, and that held true when he returned to his senses and he found the skin of his throat against Uno's spear. The Sword had been forced out of his grasp, and the heat thrumming through his fingertips told him his hands would be burnt if not for his gloves.

He admits to the Eternals that he wasn't himself when he'd fought them all. The real question is whether or not he was cognizant of the events unfolding, and it's one that none of the Eternals ask. They must already know the answer.

Siete knows, and the truth of it lodges in his throat and chokes him. The Sword tapped into the recesses of his mind and strung out indecencies he'd never say but always knew about the Eternals, their worst fears and greatest hopes. Only one had succeeded in using the other.

He trusts them all to keep the skies safe, and when he came storming in, drunk on power and high on domination, they didn't hesitate to band forces to take down their very own leader. He cannot hate the Eternals for how passionately they fought against him. Their actions ensured the ideal outcome. In fact, he felt an overwhelming relief in the knowledge that those nine could handle everything that came their way, no matter the cost. Their lack of restraint in calling him despicable was a balm for his burnt pride.

The elation of relief overpowers his hurt ego from being taken advantage of. The misleading rush scrambles his thoughts, making him attempt to laugh about the situation with the others only minutes after the Sword had surrendered his consciousness. The way I see it, it's practicing for a worst case scenario, right, guys?

Like all of his other tasteless jokes, no one laughs.

Many of the Eternals don't talk to him for days, and the days stretch into weeks. He relies on Siero for updates on their well-being, and her knowing eyes grow more and more pitying each time. Scorn and disapproval he has borne for most of his life, but pity crawls under his skin and taunts him about the young man he had once been that lost everything.

He'd kept his distance from the rest of the Eternals to allow them time to regroup, but after weeks, his annoyance at his own actions reaches a tipping point. Siete may not often feel fear, but only because he's given it other names—the apprehension he feels in facing them again, the shame in his hubris.

It culminates one day to him standing at the edge of the marketplace, staring at the Knickknack Shack. Unable to bear another day of Siero's piercing gaze, he turns around and makes plans to catch the first ship to Stardust Town.

It's difficult for the Eternals to navigate the shift in their dynamics. Fundamentally, Siete is the same man. He still cares for the Eternals above all in the world, and years of habit makes jokes rise to his lips. But everyone is more careful about the information they share, their feelings towards their pasts, how they look towards the future.

Broken trust is harder to gain than beginner's trust, and the process of relearning how to keep their company tires out both sides. He begins by finding the twins, against whom he'd dealt the most exacting blows, and then he'd addressed all nine of them after they'd arrived in Stardust Town. That night ended with a difficult conversation about how the Eternals would move forward, but it leaves him with optimism that trust can be rebuilt.

History is rewritten by the winners, but Siete doesn't feel like one as he fights to regain trust. He seeks the remaining Eternals out to apologize until all that remains is Six. He has the most history of them all, burdened by the weight of being the winner and the loser of his story, a victim in his own unwilling crime.

Siete hasn't once forgotten the implicit promise he made to Six at recruitment—that he would do everything in his power to help him remember he was more than what history dictated for him. It was the very same promise he'd bolstered when Six had been overcome with the Revenant Weapon, this time with the same reminder coming from the Eternals.

And he had failed that promise. For even a moment, Siete was the person Six wanted most to defend against. Siete, who was the person that sent him careening onto the path of the Eternals, had become the likes of which Six protected the skies from.

He may have been a puppet to the Sword, but he was completely of mind. There is no way to forget his words and his actions towards the people he'd longed to one day call his family. He remembers Six's unassuming question about why Siete had called him out alone outside of the base, without the other Eternals. They'd prepared for this situation, but Siete left the others at their limits, leaving them unable to contact the others.

He remembers watching the slow, creeping realization that Siete was there for a battle, and how Six seemed to retreat into himself, wordlessly placing his full mask over his face as their conversation continued. With the Sword controlling of the most vicious parts of his mind, Six's scorn reinvigorated him instead of striking doubt through his heart. Six almost didn't see the Sword until it was too late, the gold of ancient warlords clashing against his claws in an unfair first strike. The curl of Six's lips, the snarl of his teeth, and the baring of his fangs roused Siete on further during their fight, pushing them to their limits until he'd all but left Six for dead.

When Six begged for mercy, it was that pride that swirled in his eyes above all that Siete's possessed mind embraced. That pride was intoxicating, the potency of his burning eyes scorching him alive as he'd swung the sword down into the earth next to his head, close enough that any other opponent would flinch. But Six didn't, and not once did his eyes fade—not once during their fight, and not once during their three and a half years of battles they'd fought alongside each other.

Satisfied, Siete uprooted the Seven-Star Sword from the dirt, turned his back to him, and walked away. Six had pinned Siete's words as pointless drivel, but the Sword had already become entrenched too firmly for his challenge to bear any fruit. Instead of Siete upholding the promise he made, he'd showed Six the opposite. He'd offered Six kindness, only to rip it away from him.

But hadn't he said so himself? Camaraderie comes easiest with a common enemy, and if that's Siete as much as it is the wrongdoings of the skies, then—

Chapter Text

The weeks that pass after the Sword's possession are some of the most excruciating weeks Siete's ever faced. Many of the Eternals watch his jokes with a weary eye, as if the spirit that possessed the Sword remains a thorn in his heart. But there's nowhere to go except forward, and he won't allow his time with the Eternals to end because he didn't work hard enough to regain everyone's trust.

It takes another few weeks until all of the Eternals hold him at the baseline of trust again, except one. Six returned to the base on Siete's first attempt to reach out to him, but he keeps the distance between them with precision, rebuking Siete's efforts to close it. He would joke that it's the same Six he's always known, but his cold contempt is calculated, and he holds a scrutiny for Siete that he doesn't turn towards the others.

Everyone notices. It's hard to ignore how Six goes quiet whenever they're in a room together, but no one makes an extended effort to pass the olive branch between them. We're not taking sides, and he hasn't told us what you said, Song reassured him after Six had walked out of the room for the umpteenth time one day, but we don't blame him.

Six doesn't hide his disdain. Siete's eyes linger on his retreating form longer and longer each time. Instead of the feeling in his chest settling into resignation, it spirals even higher, driving him to gain back that trust even more until Six is comfortable with him again.

(It's not as if Siete doesn't know what this feeling is anymore. He would call it pride as equally as he called it interest, amusement, gravitation. While he has the same feelings towards the rest of the Eternals, there's an irrational edge to it when it comes to Six. He knows his gaze often lingers on Six when he thinks he can steal that time away. He can't ignore the rush of elation from seeing his small smiles, whether they be tinged with sarcasm or with embarrassment. He can't stop himself from extending invitations to spend time alone.

He knows what this is, and the thought makes him laugh. It's caught him so off guard, like everything else that Six does, and pride may have an accompanying downfall but this sure doesn't, because it pushes him higher and higher with the thought of it. But with Six, he hesitates to ask. There are too many obstacles before their paths can intertwine. So for now, he puts the emotions to action and works on regaining trust.)

Without the fog of the Sword's possessions hanging between him and the Eternals, it's easier to meet with Siero again. Her knowing gaze is less piercing, and instead of commenting on the trials he'd put the Eternals through, she continues business as usual.

He matches her energy when they trade weapons, and when she passes him an invitation of top of the missions she sets aside for them, he sees the glint in her eye. He reads over the words printed on the crisp parchment as her cheery voice announces the special summons that the kingdom of Cenea has for any knights looking for extra work.

Cenea had fallen to ruin three years prior, but with the young prince taking leadership while his father was recuperating, they'd recovered so unnaturally fast it was as if they'd never fallen apart in the first place. The message is calling on knights, both temporary and permanent, to assist their whittled-down army. As his eyes reach the bottom of the parchment and linger on kingdom's seal, Siero shares her suspicions about the practice by passing him a set of missing posters, the oldest of which date back to some time three years ago.

Later that night, Siete swallows the feeling of déjà vu he gets from reviewing the information about the attack on Cenea's castle. It's fitting for him to complete this mission alone, but although he's impatient to prove himself capable of taking on a responsibility this great, he reminds himself that pride was what caused him trouble in the first place. Despite the startling familiarity, this burden isn't his to bear alone; he bites down that feeling and begins making preparations to bring someone alone.

Running through the list of the Eternals to bring with him, there was only one he'd wanted back by his side.

During their weekly meeting, other people claim jobs, and he assigns the rest. He announces the final one for Cenea and calls on Six. For a split second, the entire room freezes, eyes darting between the two of them, before they all pretend nothing happened.

Six doesn't react. Siete takes it as a cue to continue. "The job needs someone proficient in close combat, who has practice laying low. Someone that can remain level-headed. I have a feeling they're not asking us to show up and get ourselves recruited, so we may have to deliberately put ourselves in a difficult situation." It's a logical explanation, and all real reasons for choosing Six over any of the other Eternals.

No one in the meeting room moves as they watch this unfold.

Six exhales, slow and steady. "I'm sure you have no ulterior motives for your choice of partner."

"While I'm not lying about my reasons for choosing you, Six, I do have to admit that I'm playing dirty by making you go on a mission with me so we can move forward from my transgressions." It's a gamble to put his intentions so bluntly, but it's one he's willing to take. Better to be burnt for complete honesty than try to hide again.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Song's eyes widen and her mouth pull into a grimace as she looks away, in disbelief at how forward he is. Quatre snorts, shoulders relaxing, and Uno raises an eyebrow. After a long silence, Six turns to face him. It's been a while since Siete's seen his full mask inside the base, and its presence startles him more than the design.

Then, Six huffs out a laugh, and it feels like the entire room takes a breath alongside him. "A job is a job. If I am the one you've chosen, then so be it."

Siete can't hide the grin that stretches across his face. "I knew I could count on you. This one needs investigation as soon as possible, so stay behind after the meeting's over."

He nearly misses when it's time to release them from the clutches of the meeting room, eager to make good on the chance Six has granted him to regain the trust he'd broken. In particular, Nio gives him a look layered with warnings as she exits the room, the last one to do so before he's alone with Six.

With the door wide open and the two of them left behind, Six turns to him. "You know I no longer trust you when you request my presence alone."

"Hey, we're still in the base, and everyone knows we're here. It's for a real mission, Six, I promise." He can feel Six's glare from underneath the mask, and he tries to shrug it off. The grin lingers on his lips as he straightens up, switching to seriousness as he passes the invitation from Siero.

Six wastes no time in reading it over. He holds it up to the light, his gloved fingers pristine white, and then he places it down on the meeting room table. When he's done reading over the words, Siete explains what he knows of Cenea, of their downfall and their dramatic rise back. He fights down the urge to tell him how the story mirrors his own, instead talking about his suspicions regarding their army, of all the disappearances that have been overshadowed by their strong growth. He takes out the missing posters, all of young men and women.

When he finishes, Six says, "Nothing about this is good news."


"...What do you have in mind?" Without hesitation, Six looks towards him, his way of accepting the mission. His voice is guarded, sharp around the edges, but he's never been good at hiding his emotions behind his words.

"It's obviously a trap," Siete says with finality. "And we're going to let ourselves get caught."

To avoid suspicion, they show up to the Kingdom of Cenea's front steps as Siero's top knights while hiding their status as Eternals. Although no one has seen the face of the Eternals' melee fighter, Six keeps his helmet on, and underneath he covers the bottom half of his face with a handkerchief. Siete temporarily dyes his hair a light brown, and the dye itches his scalp. He's only revealed himself to other skyfarers and swordsmen, but he'd rather err on the side of caution for this mission and be unrecognizable within reason.

The invitation calls for them to arrive at sunset for a feast where their role is to be dutiful knights, knocking elbows with other knights gathered from across the skies. Among the excitement, it's easy for everyone to miss how Six nudges him, muttering under his breath that there's something in the wine.

They play along with the rest, letting their heads droop when the other knights do. Under the flutter of his eyelashes Siete notices that the guards in the room don't to react to the scene in front of them until everyone stills. He hesitates to call it their training when they all move in unison once the last recruit has settled down.

Unfortunately, both of them underestimated their enemy's perception, and the guards discover their ruse while escorting them across the courtyard and into a dungeon. Fortunately, they overestimated their enemy's intelligence, and Siete thinks they've signed their death warrant by chaining them all in pairs—including his right hand to Six's left.

The two of them are thrown in a dungeon cell of their own and chained with extra care against the wall, before the guards take the other unconscious recruits and shove them into other empty cells. The work is methodical and impersonal, the guards doing no more than their part in silence.

When the dungeon quiets and it's safe to talk, Siete chirps, "That was an oversight on their part."

"What was?"

"Not considering us a threat, but it doesn't look like they see much that isn't their current objective," he reflects, thinking about their stiff movements. "Can you lockpick us off the wall?"

"If you have something for me. I'm unarmed."

For the most part, Siete's arsenal of spirit weapons are swords. But there are a few exceptions, like Sarasa's sword-axe combination, an attempt of Okto's katana, Quatre's daggers, and this:

With his left hand, Siete traces the outline of a thin blade with a bronze-coloured handle, so small that only his index finger and thumb can properly grasp it. He summons five of these before dropping them by Six's side, the blue glow of the spirit illuminating his small smile before they fade into their true colours.

Their binds make Six's attempt to lean over cumbersome, but he manages to pick them up with the hand not chained to Siete's. "This is..."

"From the time we met? Yeah." His smile grows as he recalls the memory. "I know you gave me a real one of these, but I tried to replicate its spirit anyway. It's not perfect, but they're sturdy, and I don't have the swinging room to summon a sword to smash these chains apart."

There's no sound from next to him as Six tests the weight of one of the daggers. Under the dim light of the dungeon, with the handkerchief obscuring his mouth, Six's expression is unreadable as he turns to Siete. "These are exact."

"I try."

Six lets out a huff of laughter through his nose. The lines of his frown looks more pronounced in the dark light, but they soften before returning with determination as he leans up. It only takes a few moments for him to pick the lock and free them from the wall.

He wastes no time in starting on the one around their wrists when the guard begins to make his rounds. They must have made too much noise, but instead of laying low, Siete sings under his breath, "We've got company."

The white of Six's eyes become visible in the dark when he rolls them, but he follows along, shifting in preparation to spring into action. By the time the guard arrives to investigate, the two of them are crouched. The guard raises their hands mechanically to cup around their mouth, and they get one syllable out calling for backup before Six launches a dagger into the guard's hands.

He misses. "I spoke too soon. They're weighted differently," he muses, even as the dagger lodges itself into a devastating place in their shoulder, in between the cracks of armour and into soft flesh.

The guard barely reacts. They elicit no cry of pain while removing the dagger from their shoulder and dropping it on the ground, and then turn to continue calling for backup. Whatever suspicions Siete's had of all those missing persons is beginning to fall into place.

It would be detrimental if they were caught now before either of them have a chance to uncover the kingdom's operation. "Can't have you alerting everyone," Siete says, and he rises, forgetting about the chain around his and Six's wrists.

There's only slight resistance before Six follows, grumbling, "A warning would be nice." Siete yelps in surprise as Six leaps forward, throwing another dagger his time that hits its mark. With the guard distracted from the successful attack, he deals a blow to the side of the guard's head, knocking them out cold.

The guard falls against the bars of the cell, and the two of them pause as they listen. Despite the ease with which they defused the guard, the damage has already been done. Six's ears are more keen than his, and he confirms, "They're already on their way." He picks up the remaining daggers, stashing one and holding the other three between his fingers like makeshift claws, and Siete thinks, oh, that's what they were for.

Not noticing Siete's amusement, or ignoring it, Six tests the way they feel in his hands. "It'll do. Get those keys."

Reaching his hands through the bar to unhook the keyring from the guard's belt, Siete can see some of the other knights captured in the cell across from them begin to stir from the noise. It's easy work to unlock themselves and fling the guard back into the cell and lock them there, and while Siete watches the entrance to the dungeon, Six looks for the keys to the handcuffs.

"It's not here," he says with finality, shoving the keyring into Siete's handcuffed hand. "This is our situation for the indefinite future. Stay sharp."

"One moment," Siete says, an idea forming in his mind. He unlocks the closest cell with another pair of knights, kicking it open.

"What are you doing?" Six hisses as those in the cell lift their heads, shaking off the grogginess from the drugged wine with the commotion.

"Just giving a helping hand." He uses both of his hands to form the shape of the most basic sword he can, and Six doesn't protest the movement of his chained hand. "Come."

Six trails behind until they're close enough for him to swing down the broadsword, breaking the imprisoned knights' chains. They yelp in surprise, but there's no point telling them to be quiet when the footsteps of the royal guards are already approaching.

He summons as many swords as he can, dropping them by their feet. These ones aren't going to last long, but it'll be enough to fend everyone off until they can steal weapons back from the armoury. The knights look up at him with confusion, but Siete's already looking away, tossing them the keys and exiting the cell. "You've got a lot of options to choose from," he says as the first guards arrive. "But you better release everyone or I'll come back and give you a talking to!" His words are almost cut off by Six leaping forward to react to an attack, dragging Siete with him.

The first few guards are the hardest to defeat while they're uncoordinated. Siete thinks that he'll leave with as many injuries as the first time he ever fought with Six, except they're fighting together instead of fighting each other. Then, without either of them thinking, Siete rears up to swing his sword and Six uses the momentum to launch forward and lodge his makeshift claws into the guard's side.

By the slight stutter in Six's reaction time, he's as surprised as Siete is about their quick adaptation to their predicament. Six is much more mobile than Siete is, making up for his more slight stature by his speed and accuracy. Siete can fend off most people with his sword work alone, allowing him to trudge forward at a relentless pace. Siete relegates himself to keeping others at arm's length while Six brings them close, tugging on Siete to guard or block or deal debilitating blows against their current enemy.

The exhilaration that overtakes him doesn't come from the fight itself or how the enemies fall to the ground. Not without a hint of irony, he thinks that he can't find the honour in a fight where an opponent is barely conscious of their own actions. Instead, the pleasure comes from fighting next to Six as they approach perfect unison, the ingrained habit to trust each other overwriting Siete's wrongdoings and Six's reservations about fighting alongside him again.

By the time the rest of the knights are freed from the cells, most of the guards are down, the stragglers taken care of by the others. Siete's eyes scan the dungeon that's become cramped during the time that he and Six were fighting. There are too few on the ground for it to be the entire army, but already too many for the stack of missing persons papers sitting in their mission room.

The orders from the guards are more than a backup request from the first one they'd subdued. They're coming from somewhere else, and he raises his voice to warn the other knights regaining their bearings. "I trust you can all find your way out of here?" Siete says, even as Six tugs on their connection to move him forward.

A knight from the first pair he'd freed looks over from where he's locking guards in a cell and exclaims, "We'll stay and help!"

The others clamour to agree, and the enthusiasm makes him laugh. "It's appreciated, but some of you should hustle outta here, get to a clinic, and warn them what's coming. I'm sure you know firsthand now that this place isn't exactly rainbows and sunshine with its recruitment." A determined silence follows, an understanding of what their fate was meant to be and how things would have followed without intervention.

From beside him, Six takes a helmet off one of the guards and fits it over his own head, putting the visor down. It must be confining his ears, but Siete realizes that he's been quiet because without the rush of battle, he's aware of his maskless state. He crouches down and opens the eye of the guard from which he'd taken the helmet. He's still breathing, but his eyes are the ice-blue of a whiteout storm, unseeing even with Six staring right at him.

"Let's go," Six decides, voice commanding now that he's contained his expression from public view. "The kingdom is doing something unsightly."

The stairs from the dungeon wind up clockwise, so Siete leads their linked pair with sword in hand, ready to defend at any moment. When no guards meet them, he says to the men and women behind them, "They'll be waiting. Can we trust you to hold everyone off while we get to the bottom of this?"

"You're from the Eternals, aren't you?" the knight at the front rushes to ask. It's the other half of the pair he released first, the one that's regained his footing the fastest. He's become an impromptu leader of the others, Siete hearing him rally the others to break free and fight back.

He smiles. "Maybe. But for now, we've got a job to do."

The moonlight meets them at the courtyard, shining down on the guards in their near-obsidian armour. They expect the first swing that comes down against them, and he makes short work of blocking it. The rest of the knights behind them surge forward, with their own disorganized donning of armour from the unconscious guards, and the battle begins.

In combat, the knights of Cenea move as mechanically as they did in the dungeon, without any regard for their lives. The only cries are those of the recruits, and Siete wants to stay and fight alongside them, but Six tugs on their connection again. It prompts him to follow behind, hugging the courtyard walls and trying to disappear among the clash of blades.

They surge through the castle doors, the guards so intent on their order to restrain the others that they pay no mind to either him or Six.

The front hall is empty. Now that he has time to observe, he'll admit that he expected more from the castle's interior, having heard in passing about this kingdom's success and extravagance. But with all the guards outside, the place feels gutted, lacking the energy from the night's earlier banquet. The tiles and high walls, once warm with flickering light from flame, now feel lifeless.

The doors of the courtyard entrance close, revealing this showdown as another trap.

At the head of the hall is the next-in-command prince of Cenea, noting their approach with disdain as if he'd expected this outcome. Despite being the oldest of the line, the prince is young. Siete notices how he doesn't quite fit into the formal dress yet, the armour dwarfing his frame. He still carries the innocence of youth, as sharp as his eyes are. When the prince had taken over for his bedridden father three years ago, he must have been around the same age Siete was when he left home himself.

"You two made it all this way linked together," the prince muses, his voice not yet heavy with the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders. They stay two sword's lengths away from each other, daring the other to close the distance. "That shopkeep's truly sent some of her best."

"Only because we let ourselves get caught. We wanted to see what kind of operation you were running here, and it ain't pretty." Siete keeps his voice noncommittal, gathering as much information of the situation as he can. None of them are wearing proper armour, the prince's more ornamental than functional. There are scant few windows in the hall, but enough to reveal the first floor as being above ground level. Every door is closed, trapping them inside.

"Sacrifices must be made."

"When they aren't your own," Six says from next to him, "the decision must be easy." His voice takes on an edge that only sharpens when the topic is too personal. From underneath his own beating heart, he takes note of Six's steady breathing beside him.

The prince refuses to acknowledge them as a threat. "If I have the means to control participants willing to rebuild, then I will."

And then he says the words that makes Siete laugh before he can stop himself.

"I don't want Cenea to fall to ruin ever again. I'll do whatever it takes."

Where is he now? Is he in the present, with an unfailing ally beside him, facing a villain that isn't so clear-cut? Or is he in the past, with another young prince standing in front of him, thanking his family for his service while he clenches his fists in shame for not having done enough?

His fingers twitch with the sudden, primal urge to prove himself. To bring forth the weapons he's amassed in his attempt to show that he's no longer helpless, that he's been in the position the prince is in right now and found ways to do it without endangering innocent lives. "Of course you don't," he finds himself saying, more to himself than to anyone in the room. He feels Six's warning, a fist clenching next to where his is attached. Only Uno should know this, but now Six is privy to his life, and he remembers that as he tries to rein in the sympathy that builds in his chest. "But I don't think anyone recommends kidnapping and brainwashing in the manual for Rebuilding Kingdoms."

"It worked," the prince spits, glaring at them, voice rising for the first time. Chin high, eyes sharp, unrelenting resolve. "We regained our footing and became better than we were three years ago." He raises his own sword, and the look in his eyes is so familiar that it freezes Siete to the spot.

Six shoves him, forcing them both to dodge as the prince's arm swings down. The only indication that Six is injured is his hiss of pain when he rolls against the ground, tumbling until both of their heads bounce against the hard floor of the castle.

Siete looks up to see the prince saunter over, wiping the blood off his sword with a handkerchief, and his head whips towards to Six to inspect any damage. The hit is not insignificant, his blood already staining the tile red. "You couldn't understand," the prince sneers, and Siete thinks, I do. More than you know.

"Focus!" Six ignores the prince, his steady voice displaying no pain. "You brought me here for a mission. We're going to finish it."

Focus. He has been losing focus all this time, ever since he summoned the daggers, ever since he'd freed the first pair of knights and fought against the guards. He'd lost focus imagining what kind of person would resort to such measures for their own kingdom.

Turns out, that kind of person is him. Someone he might have been, once upon a time.

"The kingdom has no use for dissenters," the prince says. As he swings his sword again, Six raises their linked hands at the right angle to free them both with the force of the attack.

They roll away from each other; Six's arm injury is more obvious now, but the fire in his eyes is a familiar anchor in the present. With Six injured and with only false daggers to replace his claws, Siete doesn't hesitate to summon a sword and block the enraged swing that comes at him.

The prince isn't the most refined fighter Siete's fought against, but the passion is worth enough of the lack in skill. It always is. He doesn't underestimate him, but it's easy to keep him at arm's length, forcing his eyes not to wander over his shoulder to where Six is standing back up.

His blood might be spilling against the floor, but the wound hasn't hindered his ability to attack. With the prince's full attention on attacking, it's easy for Six to subdue him in a hold, for Siete to disarm him, and for them to disorient him.

"That was the plan all along," Siete says as he drags the prince to a post and secures him against it.

Six hovers behind him. "You were planning to engage with him further." The precise, disconnected assessment of the situation makes Siete wince. "I told you to focus."

"I was. Just not on..." Siete's voice trails off when he turns back to face him. As the adrenaline of the fight wears off, Six stumbles for the first time that night. Siete looks back at the blood strewn against the tile, dripping from his fingertips.

Before he can say anything, the doors of the courtyard entrance are wrenched open. One of the recruits from the banquet runs in, sustaining his own injuries and gasping. He looks up at them, bright-eyed and optimistic, and says, "Sirs! The King is on his way—"

"We were never here." Siete's smile doesn't reach his eyes, but he makes the attempt. Six turns away from the conversation, no doubt looking for an escape route. "You understand, yes? The prince will come to, so make sure to keep watch on him. And find out how he's kept the kidnapped knights under control—"

From beside him, Six lets out a ragged cough, and the urgency of the situation escalates. The knight at the entrance of the castle has company.

"Gotta run!" Siete salutes, and Six tugs on his sleeve, just once, before he turns to sprint past him, unlatching a window and leaping out. Siete follows without a second thought.

(They land in the gardens, and Six lays among the foliage, heaving for breath.

As much as Siete would love to give him the time to recuperate, they need to move. The grounds are getting louder with the king's return to what his oldest son and next-in-line has done. If they stay any longer, they risk being found.

Siete stumbles as he regains his bearings, and then he extends his hand to Six. Not a second later, Six's hand shoots up and grabs onto his arm. His nails dig into the flesh trying to find purchase, and he pulls himself up.)

They don't have the luxury of staying in the same town, even though the clinics are full of people sympathetic to the kidnapped knights under the prince's magic. Siete rips off the sleeve of his underclothes and uses it to stymie the bleeding on Six's arm before he calls in a favour for a ship to bring them back to base.

Six knocks shoulders with him as he walks, an unsteady gait that's too stubborn to lean on him. They say nothing to each other as Terra lowers her head for them, making a low, rumbling noise of concern as she sees the state that Six is in.

Summoned by Terra's concern, Nio peeks her head around the corner as they walk through the front door, and she ushers them into the sick bay. "Funf won't be returning until the morning," she tells them as she plays a melody to ease their nerves before helping them dress their wounds.

She wears a frown that doesn't fade even as they lay down in the empty beds. If she notices anything discordant about their melodies, she doesn't say. Once convinced they won't leave before the morning comes, she takes her harp again and plays a melody to lull them to sleep. Both of them recognize it in the first few notes, and Six protests its usage.

"The two of you are the most likely people in this crew to agitate your wounds. Until Funf comes, it's necessary. This is the only way to get some peace and quiet with you two in the same place."

Her words stay with Siete until her spell puts him to sleep.

Siete wakes at dawn. His head is pounding, the temporary hair dye stains the sick bay's sheets, and he's alone in the room. Funf complains later that morning for letting Six walk around when he was injured, and he does the same old routine: raising his hands, laughing, joking.

"But I'm happy you two made up," she says as she examines where the chains around his wrist rubbed his skin raw. "It sucked to see you guys not be friends."

"Everyone was angry at me, Funf," he laughs. The topic isn't as difficult to breach as it was previously. His standing with Six was a huge weight on his shoulders, and although it's ambiguous, he thinks it's not completely irredeemable.

"Yeah, but Six was really sad about it."

Nio can hear the sound of everyone's hearts, but Funf's innocence leads her to make plain observations about the world around her. He's willing to take her word at face value because she's more perceptive about other people than her loud personality suggests.

"So was I," he says, lost in thought. "But things are looking better from here on out."

He dreams—but this isn't one of them.

His father writes him back. It's the first letter he's received since he'd left, but he's sure it's not for lack of trying. The envelope slides underneath his door the day he's relieved from the sick bay, the side with his name face down against the floor, and his hands shake as he opens the weather-worn paper.

His father's scrawl is rickety, but it carries all the self-assurance that he's always known him to have. Siete still can't return home, and he's not sure how much of a home that place would be to him anymore. He's disappeared from it for more than half of his life for a justice mission that's long since expanded past its original proportions. But as much as he obscures himself, there are parts of his past he cannot surrender.

That was the first time you included a return address, and you made it this difficult to find? We felt like we were on a quest, dropping it off with a shopkeep! And Siero, no less! But even if this letter doesn't reach you—you don't have to apologize. There's nothing to apologize for. Just keep being the best person we know you're being. You were always a little too big for this city of ours to handle.

We read your other letter to where she rests, and it started raining, so we know she's still got a sense of humour. She's probably laughing at what you look like once that eternal bedhead of yours gets soaked. We're all proud of you, no matter where we are, no matter who you are. Try not to be so stubborn at times, and whoever you keep company with will look out for you, too.

PS: Please stop sending swords. We've been meaning to tell you for years, but we never had an address. We're out of places to hang them, even though it's been great help for our designs. The guilt was never yours to bear alone, and the skies are your home now, aren't they?

He doesn't know if there is an answer. He doesn't know if he needs to respond when both of them know. He's always had big plans, but the only difference was that he'd expanded those plans from his blood family alone to the crew he and his old friend gathered, to other skyfarers they've met throughout the years.

His definition of family has expanded since he'd left, but the place where he was born is still dear to his heart. Despite his perception of his failures towards the people with whom he shared blood, the only obstacle was his own pride. A link still exists between them, and all he had to do was reach between them himself for them to reciprocate.

It feels like a weight off his shoulders, when he folds the letter up and puts it on the top drawer of his desk, smiling to himself. But there's one more thing left to do.

When the time comes for their weekly debrief, Siete finds himself in his quarters, watching the hands on the clock drag forward. He can't divorce the mission from the look in the prince's eyes, lost to the urge to protect. It was similar to the Eternals during their possessions by the Revenant Weapons, so close to his own when he first left his hometown.

I don't want Cenea to fall to ruin ever again. I'll do whatever it takes.

In that moment, he was Alexander again, the name he'd always kept close to his heart, the reminder of why he continued to seek out swords and lead the Eternals. He'd never forgotten that he wanted to protect the people he cared about, to extend it so that no one would ever feel the despair he—or any of the other Eternals—had felt. The letter sits in his drawer, and while it gave him peace a few days ago, it's another expectation hanging over his head.

"'Try not to be so stubborn', huh." His laugh is hollow in his empty room, and he holds his head in his hands. There's only so much I could do. There's a knock on his door, and without looking up, he tries to bring the cheer back to his voice. "Yeah?"

"Mission debrief." To his surprise, it's Six's voice that comes through the door, and that makes him raise his head until his body follows, back against the wood of his chair. A beat of silence, and then Six says, in a voice not unlike Siete's insistence in moments like this, "I'm coming in."

"Uh, sure."

As promised, Six enters with his mask half on, arms crossed as he leans against the door to close it. The mission and this moment are the most of his face he's seen in almost a month. Six doesn't say anything, instead letting his sharp eye turn onto Siete and hold him there.

Siete shatters the silence first, hoping to break the tension with familiar routine. "Man, I really froze up out there the other day."

"You did. How am I supposed to rely on you, leader?" The tone is sarcastic, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a smile, but it carries none of the cold disdain from the past three weeks. The acknowledgement of Siete's shortcomings giving way to familiar teasing is kind in only the way Six can provide.

"Very carefully." He finds himself smiling through the weariness. "Thanks for counting on me anyway."

"What happened to you?"

He hesitates to elaborate, but over the years, Six has seen more of the young man he used to be. He thinks to the photo sitting in his dresser, of the times he's fallen apart, of Six's mask always watching over him. "I saw myself reflected in his struggle. Who I used to be, why I am where I am now. Maybe in a different world, we would have been in each other's shoes."

Six scoffs, but it lacks any sort of bite. "Self-pity is unbecoming of you." It's as good as saying give yourself more credit in Six language, and the smile on his face persists through his exhaustion. Either Six has improved in giving reassurance or everyone's learnt how to read him better. "Reflection, too, is uncharacteristic."

"Given recent events, I could stand to reflect on my actions a little more." Six raises an eyebrow at him, and he decides, to hell with showing up on time to the weekly meeting. Everyone expects him to be late as it is, and there's no better time than now for what he needs to say, even if it's already been said.

"Six, I apologize. For leaving you to die, and for causing a disturbance among the Eternals. For placing too much undue faith in myself and not enough in our crew. For forcing you into a mission where you got injured due to my carelessness."

The apology is heavy in his mouth, his lips deliberating over each sound. He takes a deep breath, but Six's eye narrows, stopping him in his tracks.

"You're forgiven." He licks his lips, mouth open before forming the next words. "Thank you."

The words are sudden, but not unplanned. Four words is enough to derail Siete from his apologies for destroying four years of trust, broken in one mere day. He tilts his head. "I—What? 'Thank you'?"

Six's next words, too, are delivered without hesitation. "For telling me what you believe your injustice was. You remain the first to go through the effort to offer me apologies."

He doesn't elaborate, but it's enough. Siete thinks of the journal from almost three years ago, of a father who wanted the best for his son and paid the wrong price. He thinks of post-mortem apologies, apologies that would never be said because of distance, apologies Six could only give with his small hands as he packed dirt over everyone's graves.

The sadness on his face must be obvious, even through his tired smile, because Six glares at him. "I don't want your pity."

"You don't have it," he says. Why would Siete tell him anything other than the truth? There is no room for pity from Siete to others, the same way he leaves no room for pity towards himself. Only the resolution to keep moving forward should remain. "Never."

He lets himself get taken apart by Six's gaze. "I'll hold you to your word. Now, and towards the future." He opens the door to exit, and as he's about to close it behind him again, he says over his shoulder, "Don't make us wait too long for you, or we might not be so kind as to give you a second chance."

His voice is full of a renewed trust, a promise that both parties want nothing but to come to fruition.

The door closes with a soft click behind him. He watches for a few seconds, hearing Six's feather-light footsteps down the hallway, and then he mutters to himself, "Full of surprises, aren't you."

Siete's never been one to give up, and Six, for his rumination throughout the years, has never done anything but move forward. It's not until he's forced to regain it in pieces that he realizes how much of Six's trust he'd acquired. Even then, some of it must have remained through the hurt; instead of turning away and isolating himself, Six had continued to scorn him openly without removing himself from the company of the other Eternals. The coldness towards Siete had been born of a feeling of betrayal that only came when one understood how they fit among a group of people.

The same feeling from the time Six wanted to meet again Siete after he'd fought the Eternals bubbles in his chest, making him lightheaded, lifting the corners of his lips into a grin. From the very beginning—and this, he hears in Uno's voice—there was always something that drew him to Six, something that made him want to be by his side as he pursued greater heights for himself and the skies at large.

Six puts his whole heart into everything he does. How could Siete not love him?

Soon, the Eternals will regroup stronger than before. But for now, he has a meeting to attend. Six must be telling the other nine where he is right now, which means any excuse he offers about how he was lost in his thoughts will be met with disbelief.

He walks to where his white cape is swaying in the sun, drapes it around him, and savours its weight around his shoulders.