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Down Into Paradise

Chapter Text

Thancred grunted as he eased himself out of the driver’s seat. He hated to admit it, but he honestly preferred the Garlean vehicles over this ancient hoverskipper (tentatively named ‘Epoch’ by the team that cleaned her up). While it was certainly faster and fuel efficient, it wasn’t the comfiest of rides - especially over long distances on what was functionally a desert. He could already feel his cheeks starting to sting from a hellish combination of sunburn and windburn. 

“Alright,” he sighed, shoving open the creaky door and half-falling out. White dust swirled about his feet as a misty cloud, too fine to be called sand, “Break time!”

Ryne made some unholy groaning noise at that, lifting her head from where she’d been resting it against her side of the hovercraft. Her hair was a windswept mess, and she squinted over at him in groggy confusion. That was the reason he stopped - he could hardly continue to drive if his navigator kept dozing off. 

“Up and at ‘em, Ryne,” he teased, smacking the flat of his palm against the side of Epoch. Ryne grunted at him irritably. It made him smile before he moved to his next problem child. 

“I see you’re trapped, Urianger,” Thancred observed, unable to fully smother his amusement as he took in the state of the backseat. 

Urianger, bless him, was sitting perfectly still, yet looked utterly unruffled despite having Aza using his lap as a pillow, quietly snoring away into his thigh. Gods, the bloodflow must’ve cut off completely to his legs at this point. 

“I am loathed to disturb him,” Urianger admitted, “He needst the rest.”

“Yes, he hasn't been sleeping well lately,” Thancred said, sobering as he looked down at their snoozing Warrior of Light. 

Aza hadn’t been the same since the whole Lightwarden and Emet-Selch business. Not in a negative way, exactly - he was a lot more open and honest with them regarding his limitations, and warmer in general, but… still, there was something… well, Thancred couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he supposed it was what was causing Aza to look so tired recently. According to the Crystarium guards, Aza was up at odd hours, roaming about restlessly, sometimes talking to himself, but was friendly enough when approached, so it wasn’t as if he was having some anxious episode like he used to have back on the Source. Yet...

It could be just Aza working through his feelings of almost becoming a Sin Eater - an unnerving experience no matter how fearless you were, Thancred was certain - but at the same time, he didn’t want to just brush it off when it could be an indicator of a deeper problem. Aza always got evasive when directly confronted about his mental or emotional state, though, so Thancred was resigned to waiting and watching, just in case. 

“But, he’d whine if he missed out on lunch,” he continued, banging Epoch's side again, “Aza! Release Urianger so the poor man can relieve himself, for Twelves’ sake.”

Aza jolted awake with a very ungraceful snort, lifting his head with eyes squinted half-shut, “Hrrnwha?

“Good afternoon,” Urianger greeted, completely straight face, as Aza stared up at him from his lap. 

Thancred waited. 

There was a very long pause, where the cogs slowly turned in Aza’s brain - until with a shocked yelp he bolted upright and backwards, almost falling off the seats entirely and landing in the footwell. He managed to catch himself at the last second though, his face flushing an embarrassed red.

“U-Urianger!” Aza squeaked, though he would no doubt viciously denied he did such a thing later, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you!” 

“‘Tis fine,” Urianger said, slowly stretching his legs out with a wince, “I expected no less when I began mine lecture on the basics of aetherology.” 

Thancred turned away with a cough, smothering a grin. The aetherology lecture never failed to put even the most dedicated of listeners to sleep. Urianger had an incredibly soporific voice, especially when pitched at a relaxing, droning tone. Too bad that was the tone was what he delivered most of his lectures in… 

Eh ? You mean you were trying to put me to sleep with that tortuously boring ramble?! I thought I was gonna die!” 

“...”

“Ah. I mean, um…” 

Thancred left Aza to dig himself into a deeper grave. Ryne, at this point, had extracted herself from Epoch and was slowly stretching her legs out with a grimace. 

“Sore?” he asked. 

“Stiff,” she mumbled, pausing her stretching to rub the sleep from her eyes, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to doze off.” 

“We’ve been at it for half a day,” Thancred said, “I’d be surprised if you weren’t feeling dozy at this point.” 

He was feeling pretty groggy himself, though he could push through it for another few hours. Not that he was going to, because there was no need. Asking Ryne to function at his pace was deeply unfair, and it wasn’t as if that Light signature she could sense was going anywhere anytime soon. They could afford to take their time - well, as much as they could in a place like the Empty. 

“We’ll break out some food,” he continued, “Shake our legs out a bit before heading off again. It’s not much further, is it?”

Ryne tilted her head, then tilted it the other way, her eyes squinting in concentration, “Um, yes? No…? It feels bigger, at least.”

Bigger. Well, that could mean it was closer or was growing in strength. Thancred sighed, squelching the petty niggle of annoyance at the vagueness of these directions. It wasn’t Ryne’s fault - it was lucky she could even sense Light in the first place. 

“But same direction?” he confirmed, relaxing when she nodded certainly at that, “Good enough for me.”

Thancred went to rescue Aza from Urianger’s clutches at that point, and about ten minutes later, were portioning out the rations supplied to them by the expedition team. Thancred had given their gear a once over, of course, before they left, and had noted a rather interesting addition to their ration stores just before they left Amh Araeng. He waited until now to mention it, though. 

“We mere peons get jerky and bread,” Thancred said, handing out said rations to Ryne and Urianger, and turned to Aza with a smile, “While our Warrior of Light gets something special.”

“Oh no,” said Aza. 

“Oh yes,” Thancred said, lifting his prize from the supply bag. It was an innocent looking thing - a high quality wooden lunch box tied shut with strong twine, and scrawled on the flower patterned lid: ‘Aza’. The handwriting was unmistakable, and there were only a few of Aza’s fans that would dare call him by his first name. 

Aza made a small, indescribable noise in the back of his throat. 

“A homemade meal from our dear Exarch,” Thancred teased, handing the lunch box over with a grin, “I’m deeply curious to see what he made for you.”

“Probably sandwiches,” Aza mumbled bashfully, his cheeks flushed as he accepted the lunch box. Tugging the twine undone, he lifted the lid - all of them leaned in curiously - and inside were indeed sandwiches. Not just any sandwiches though, these were high quality, fresh ingredients, top of the line sandwiches, made with love and care and the crusts cut off. Aw, the Exarch even remembered that Aza hated crusts. 

“I’m jealous of his crush on you,” Thancred sighed wistfully, “I can’t even remember the last time someone made me such lovingly crafting sandwiches.”

“I’ll make you a sandwich if you don’t shut up,” Aza grumbled, holding the lunch box protectively against his chest, like he thought Thancred was going to dive for them at any second.

“Oh? What kind?”

“A knuckle one.”

Urianger cleared his throat pointedly, and Thancred eased off on his teasing. Gods, he had forgotten how fun it was to ruffle Aza’s fur sometimes, and he didn’t bother hiding his smile when Aza discreetly flipped him the bird while Ryne wasn’t looking. What a brat. 

After their quick meal and a toilet break behind one of the very few outcrops dotting the immediate landscape, they were off again. Ryne was a lot more bright-eyed, and Aza once again dozed off, albeit a lot more fitfully than last time. 

All in all, not a very exciting road trip to start this adventure, but there was something pleasant about having a journey that didn’t involve a homicidal army dogging their every step. Now, if only their end destination could be as peaceful...

Chapter Text

It was a warm, sunny day in the Crystarium, where a sunburn epidemic was currently being tackled by the healers of Spagyrics as everyone rediscovered what UV light was, when Aza returned to the First. 

It had only been a week since his departure. A very long, bittersweet week where G’raha felt rather melancholy and lost about… everything. After spending so long coming to terms with the fact that he’d be dead or made undone when the timeline untwisted itself, he found himself unsure what to do with himself now that he found himself very much alive and whole. 

It didn’t help that everyone kept telling him to rest too. While Emet-Selch’s delightful hospitality had a lingering effect on him, the pain and damage was mostly superficial at this point. If anything the prolonged separation from the Crystal Tower had done more damage than the Ascian’s torture, but explaining that just had people worry more. It was a… mildly frustrating situation to be in, even if a part of him was selfishly touched that so many were concerned about his well being. 

So, Aza’s return was actually rather welcomed. It gave G’raha something to focus on. 

The Crystal Tower picked up Aza’s arrival instantly - a flare of sunburstbrightheatgold aether, linking up with the city’s Aetheryte before properly arriving with a discharge of rift energy. G’raha, who had been nose deep in some archaic tome threatening to crumble into dust in his hands, had jolted upright like he’d been stung the second the Crystal Tower recognised it. 

After that, there was no way he could continue reading. After Aza’s arrival, the Crystal Tower stopped tracking him as it recognised him as a friendly. G’raha shut his book and gingerly set it down, wondering. 

He was in his personal quarters right now. The Crystarium guard tended to turn visitors away when he wasn’t in the Ocular, and in his current mood he hadn’t felt very sociable these past few days - but Aza was a different kettle of fish. It’d be a little sad, though, if he rushed to the Ocular, only for Aza to never call on him. With the Scions still on the First, it stood to reason that he’d be here to visit them, not him. 

G’raha fidgeted, uncertain. 

After a few minutes of dithering, he got up from his desk. Moving awkwardly and slowly, his muscles sore from sitting down for so long, he grabbed his robes and tossed them on, adjusting them to something dignified as he left his quarters and made for the Ocular. 


It took Aza over an hour to finally visit. 

By then G’raha had started to feel a little dejected, and so had almost jumped a foot in the air from sheer surprise when Aza barged through the Ocular’s doors with all the grace of a rampaging wisent. 

“G’raha!” his friend called out jovially, making his thrice-damned heart skip several unhealthy beats, “You’re looking good for someone who’s supposedly on their deathbed!”

“Wha- huh?” G’raha blurted stupidly. Where in the seven hells had Aza gotten that idea from? “My deathbed?”

Aza kicked the door shut behind him with a resounding ‘bang’. It was then G’raha noticed that he was carrying some sort of large wicker basket underarm. What was in there…?

“When I asked for you, everyone seemed pretty worried with how you were hiding yourself up in here,” Aza said, stepping further into the Ocular. While his expression was warm, his golden eyes were sharp, scrutinising G’raha with an intensity that made him squirm, “You alright?” 

“I- yes, I am,” G’raha managed to pull up a smile, feeling oddly exposed without his cowl. His heart was thumping like he was in battle, his flesh palm sweaty, though he couldn’t identity where this abrupt bout of nerves had come from, “I didn’t mean to worry anyone, but… well, I’m aware I need to fix my mistake regarding the Scions’ current situation, and-”

“You don’t need to work yourself to death for that,” Aza sighed exasperatedly, “They said they’re fine with waiting for a bit.”

G’raha didn’t immediately respond to that. His gut churned with guilt every time he thought about the mess his failed plan had left behind. Pulling things through the rift was manageable, because he made himself the focal point - the destination he was pulling his targets towards. Pushing things to some vague point across the rift was entirely different magicks and something G’raha was beginning to realise was beyond his capabilities. It may take him years to figure something out, and those were years where the Scions would be unable to support Aza on the Source. 

“I felt it best not to rest on my laurels, as it were,” G’raha said weakly, “I have the time and drive to do it now, so…” 

Aza gave him a long, silent look. 

“... what’s best is you taking a break and resting ,” he finally said, his mouth curving into a grin, “Y’know, like what you kept insisting I’d do so I didn’t overexert myself? So, c’mon, we’re going out.”

“Out?” G’raha echoed, only to startle when Aza gently grasped his wrist and started tugging him out of the Ocular, “Aza?”

“We’re having a picnic in the Quad… whatever place, with all the grass and the plants,” Aza said decisively, “I went through the trouble of making you muffins and having Feo Ul bring them over in one piece, so I’m sure as hell gonna make sure you eat them.” 

Aza bakes? G’raha thought dumbly, quickly followed by, Aza baked me muffins???

This state of stunned surprise carried him until they stepped outside into the bright sunshine. He winced at the glaring light, his crystal hand lifting automatically to pull down his cowl - only to grasp thin air. It threw him more than he liked, and he shielded his eyes instead… not that it worked that well with his crystal hand. The light just refracted through. But Aza was still holding the wrist of his flesh hand and G’raha really didn’t want him to let go just yet. 

“It’s sunny today,” G’raha noted.

“Yeah. They’ve made some kinda swimming pool too, near the, uh, botany place,” Aza said, “You wanna go there after our picnic?”

G’raha thought about exposing his body in public, and shuddered. It was a twisted mess of crystal and flesh, and even he found it unnerving to behold sometimes. If Aza grew disturbed looking at it… 

“No, that’s alright,” he said, making his tone light, “Crystal isn’t exactly… buoyant.” 

“Hm,” there came that long, scrutinising stare again. G’raha avoided it by looking down at his feet, the sun prickling the back of his neck, “Well, if you’re sure…”

Aza didn’t push. G’raha relaxed again. 

The Crystarium was busier than usual. Many people were dressed in flamboyant shorts and short-sleeved shirts, faces tanned or freckled, there was even an ice cream stand set up, which almost had G’raha doing a double take because he hadn’t seen ice cream in over a century. The air could almost be called festive - and why wouldn’t it? While Sin Eaters were still a threat, their numbers had decreased to the point where no one was in a state of constant vigilance for an attack. People could relax

And here G’raha had been hiding away in his rooms, not seeing this dramatic, amazing shift. What a fool he was. 

They managed to reach the Quadrivium without being swept up in the crowd, and G’raha almost faltered when he saw how crowded it was. Being residential, it normally had a steady foot traffic at all hours of the day, but today it was rammed, people sunning themselves on the soft grass, or having cold drinks at the bar. Aza, however, didn’t pause, deftly navigating them through the throngs of people until he found them a somewhat isolated spot behind a few, well placed trees. It meant they sat in the shadow of one of the Crystarium’s towering walls, but honestly G’raha found some relief in being out of the sun. He didn’t tan very well. 

“This spot’s good,” Aza said, letting go of G’raha’s wrist and setting the basket down, “One sec while I set up.”

G’raha stepped back, watching as Aza opened up the wicker basket and took out a thick, bright yellow blanket with chocobos printed all over it. He smoothed it out on the grass, then sat down on it, patting the free space next to him. With a fond sigh, G’raha took the invitation. 

“The view isn’t as nice as last time,” Aza said, “But at least we have food.”

G’raha frowned, watching as Aza started lifting some lunchboxes from the wicker basket, “Last time?”

“Y'know, our heart-to-heart in Kholusia,” Aza said, “Where you said you wanted to go on adventures with me and stuff.” 

G’raha’s back stiffened, unsure on how to take that blunt remark. Aza didn’t seem mocking or derisive, his expression pleasantly mild as he worked off the lid off a moogle patterned lunchbox. Inside were four muffins.

“Do you still want to?” Aza asked, setting the lunchbox down between them. 

“Go on an adventure with you?” G’raha rasped, hating how his voice croaked a little. Aza was looking at him now, his expression… he couldn’t describe it. There was something intense in his gaze, that made G’raha’s heart flutter like a trapped bird in his ribcage, and he found himself unable to look away. 

“I… well,” he forced out when Aza stayed quiet, “I’m aware you have more important things to do than indulge me-”

“Actually, I don’t,” Aza interrupted with a boyish grin, “I have loads of time to indulge you right now. I spent all day baking you muffins, so obviously you’re worth my time. C’mon, G’raha, be a lil’ selfish.”

But G’raha had spent so long being selfless, or rather, telling himself he had to be selfless. He alone could uphold this duty his bloodline had burdened him with, one he would gladly take, the duty of saving the Source, of saving Aza, and march to his death, content that he had fulfilled his part and succeeded as a supporting character to the true hero of this story. G’raha Tia was never meant to become a legend - he was a stepping stone, a sacrifice, and he was content in that. 

But Aza was patiently waiting, looking at him expectantly, and G’raha found himself unable to deny him anything. 

“My desire is still the same,” he said quietly, his words almost drowned out by the close hubbub of the nearby crowd, “But…”

His gaze caught on his crystal hand. What was once a source of strength was beginning to become a shackle. He didn’t regret joining with the Crystal Tower, and honestly, the longevity and strength their symbiotic relationship generated was worth the drawbacks, but… it was a leash, he knew. With each passing year, G’raha found it harder to leave the Crystal Tower. Where before he could depart for months on end without ill effects, now he started feeling sick and weak after a few hours. There will come a day where he probably wouldn’t be able to leave at all. 

G’raha Tia loved adventure, the tales of heroes and villains, of seeing new lands and mysterious sights. The Exarch, however, had accepted this new shackled state of his, even if he acknowledged the bittersweet wistfulness of young dreams never realised. 

It was fine. He was always fine. 

“I doubt I could make it to Kholusia now without needing to return,” he finished, “My prolonged absence after…” Vauthry. His fuck up. “After Emet-Selch has drastically reduced my tolerance to leave the Crystal Tower.” 

“I see…” Aza murmured, also looking down at his crystal hand. G’raha fought the urge to hide it in his robes, “Is there a way to reverse that?”

“No. Or, rather,” G’raha smiled wryly, “To reverse it would be to assure my swift and painful demise. This body is wholly supported by the Crystal Tower. Without it…” 

“Hm,” Aza frowned, “And are you okay with that? I mean… maybe we can find a way to help you leave the tower without you getting ill. I’m sure we can get Shtola to help out. She can probably do some aether-seeing magic or whatever and think of something.” 

Considering Y’shtola was still rather cool towards him because of his deceit (and probably because she was annoyed at herself for not recognising him), G’raha highly doubted that, “It’s fine. I’m fine with it.” 

Aza scoffed, “Whenever I say that, I’m anything but fine.”

“I really am,” G’raha insisted, “I appreciate your concern, truly, but I have long since come to terms with my… predicament. If anything, I’m fortunate to even consider these problems, as I’m not meant to be alive right now.” 

“You are,” Aza said bluntly, “You are meant to be alive right now.”

G’raha wasn’t sure how to reply to that. 

Luckily, Aza didn’t seem to expect one, “I think you need to figure out what you want out of life now. You’ve spent so long trying to be… I don’t know. A tool for this big plan, and, I think you forgot how to live for yourself along the way.”

G’raha looked away. 

“So, that’s what we’re gonna do,” Aza said decisively, “We’re gonna figure out what you want, G’raha. Maybe not the adventure thing right away, but, little stuff. Gotta start these things slow.”

“I don’t…” G’raha coughed when his voice caught, and he tried again, “I don’t remember you being so… wise in these matters. Before.”

“That’s because I’ve done a lot of growing since then. You know, had a bit of perspective smacked into me, had some therapy, had some people way more mentally stable than me deal with my shit,” Aza said honestly, “Y’know, I was such an emotionally stunted brat back then, I’m surprised you found me inspirational. I had no idea what I wanted, and hated myself so much because I wasn’t the perfect Warrior of Light everyone was forcing me to be. I threw myself into that Crystal Tower stuff because it was… interesting, and Cid treated me like normal. You treated me like normal.”

G’raha looked back up at him, stunned, “What?”

“You remember how we met?” Aza asked, not waiting for a response before continuing, “You watched me get chased by a mob of angry Ixali when I was looking for the aethersand you had hidden in their territory... and laughed at me when one of their arrows hit me in the rump.”

G’raha winced. He did remember that. To his horror, he still found that memory absolutely hilarious , if only because Aza had let out a high pitched squeal like a stuck pig when that arrow struck true. 

“You didn’t give two shits I felled Ultima Weapon and, uh, saved Eorzea or whatever,” Aza let out a huff of wry amusement, “You still played that horrible prank on me. I have a scar from that arrow, by the way.”

“I’m… sorry about that,” G’raha forced out, his tone slightly strangled, unsure if he wanted to burst into ugly laughter or cry from his overwhelming mortification, “I was an… inconsiderate child back then.”

“An absolute asshole,” Aza added gleefully, “I liked it.”

G’raha couldn’t help but give him a strange look at that, “You did?” 

“Yeah, you were such a little shit,” Aza playfully nudged G’raha’s shoulder, “You’ve mellowed out a lot now, though, but so have I. We’ve both grown, but I think you could do with a bit more. Grow more selfish, I mean.”

“But-”

“No buts,” Aza said firmly, “C’mon. One small selfish thing. Tell me it.”

G’raha stared at him. Aza stared back at him unflinchingly. 

“I want…” he began uncertainly, finding his thoughts suddenly crowded, I want go on adventures with you, I want to be your friend, I want to be as amazing as you, I want to go back to those days where we explored the Crystal Tower together and be young and stupid together, I want to go back to the Source with you, I want so many impossible things, I want…

“I want one of those muffins, if you don’t mind,” he finally said, having to force the words past the lump in his throat, “They look nice.”

“Sure,” Aza said, and he handed over one of the muffins. If he noticed that G’raha was blinking away tears, he kindly did not point it out, “It’s lemon and poppyseed.”

“Mmn.”

It was the sweetest and loveliest muffin G’raha ever remembered having. He took his time on it, watching the shadow of the tree’s leaves shiver above them until only crumbs remained and his fingers were sticky from lemon curd. 

“... one more thing,” he murmured, roughly, unable to lift his gaze, “Can you call me Exarch?”

There was a pause, but in his peripheral he could see Aza tip his head to the side, no judgement in his tone as he said; “Can I ask why?” 

“G’raha is… it’s been too long since I was him,” he said, “When you say that name, the memories of those days, of the Crystal Tower, come back along with so many feelings, but… I am no longer him. It’s… I cannot fully put my feelings into words, but I know… Exarch. That is what I now prefer.” 

“Okay, sure,” Aza said, as if it was as easily as that, and added poignantly, “Exarch.” 

It was both better and worse. G’raha - Exarch - could not fully explain it, but he knew in his bones that was the correct decision. If he was to grow, to become selfish for himself, he needed that separation. G’raha Tia was still asleep in the tower, the Exarch is who now lived in the First. This distinction was important

“Thank you,” Exarch said and finally looked up. He was still blinking tears from his eyes, but he managed a light tone as he added, “That muffin was lovely, by the way. I never knew you were such a skilled baker.”

“I’m a man of many talents,” Aza smiled at him, “I can make more for you, next time I visit.”

“I- yes. Yes, please,” Exarch smiled back, finding that bittersweet melancholy not quite vanishing but… it felt lighter.

He had spent so long planted in one spot, immovable, stubborn in his mission, that with his foundation torn from him, he had floundered. But Aza was right. He needed to focus on the little things, take things slow - baby steps. Like when he woke up to a broken world and the despair of realising everything was for naught. You focused on the first step and worked your way to a destination, even if it was one you couldn’t quite see. 

It wasn’t as if he had to do it alone, either. 

The Crystarium was brimming with opportunities, and it was about time that, instead of passively observing… he participated. He, too, was a citizen of the Crystarium, and he should live like one too. 

Slowly, one day at a time. 

Chapter Text

When Lyna had been a child, her mother was devoured by Sin Eaters. 

It was a very old memory, faded and grey about the edges, but it stayed close in her thoughts every time she stepped outside of the Crystarium with her men. The slimy cold fear, the nausea, the sight of her mother screaming as she wildly swung a sword too heavy and large for her, wrenched from the slack grip of a dead mercenary, but still dangerous in the hands of someone driven by animalistic desperation. Mother had killed many Sin Eaters that day, and her wild recklessness had ensured Lyna survived.

That tale wasn’t unique in the Crystarium, though. There were many others in the guard who suffered similar tragedies - parents, siblings, children, comrades, all devoured and torn away by those uncaring, relentless monsters. You killed ten Sin Eaters, and they would recoup their numbers from ten of your own. A never ending grind. It was enough to make a man look into the horizon of the next dawn and think ‘what is the point?"

Yet. 

The Crystarium meant you were not alone, either. Reeling from loss, you could take comfort in those that understood and endured the same pain as you. You helped each other up. You stood in defiance of this slow, grinding extinction and you stood tall . The Crystarium was one giant fuck you to the Sin Eaters and the End of the World, and for that, Lyna felt that her debt to the Exarch would never be repaid in several lifetimes. 

Because, while she had a cliche tale of her family being eaten by Sin Eaters, it ended atypically. As the Sin Eater ate her mother and turned to her, maw red with blood and dead, white eyes staring into her, a hero swooped in and slew the monster before it touched her. 

Lyna remembered, with absolute clarity, when the Crystal Exarch had knelt in front of her, panting, out of breath, had clearly sprinted to reach in time, and asked for her forgiveness for not being fast enough

Foolish man. 

She couldn’t help but recall the memory nowadays, after the night sky had been brought back and the Warriors of Darkness saved Norvrandt. The Exarch always held himself up to some impossible standard, always looked at his achievements and said, this isn’t good enough, after pulling damned miracles out of nothing. Now, Lyna realised what standard he had always been comparing himself to, and honestly, she was unimpressed.  

Aza Lynel was a powerful warrior, an amazing individual to bring down the Lightwardens and bring this world back from the brink - she didn’t dispute that. However, the Exarch had united a ragtag group of refugees, offered them hope, a shining golden rope to pull themselves out of despair long enough for this Warrior of Darkness to save them over a century later. The Exarch had achieved the near impossible, and still , he found himself lacking when compared to the Warrior of Darkness. 

Lyna refused to let him carry on with that ridiculousness for any longer. 


Aza had barely taken five steps from the Crystarium’s aetheryte when Lyna all but morphed out of the shadows to kidnap him. 

“Ah, just the man I was looking for,” the Vii said briskly, “I need you to come with me, Warrior of Darkness.”

Aza eyed her warily. It was late at night here, the Rotunda softly aglow from the aetheryte and hanging oil lamps, so there was barely anyone around. While Lyna was an ally, he could privately admit to himself that she made him nervous - he had a healthy respect (and fear) of powerful women who could suplex him into a ditch. 

“... why does it sound like I’m under arrest?” he asked.

“Perhaps you have a guilty conscience to view it that way?” Lyna said, and Aza tried very hard to keep a straight face. Luckily, it must’ve been a joke (despite her severe expression), because she continued on without a pause, “No, I’m not arresting you. I just need you.”

“Uhhhh…” Aza leaned back on his heels slightly, “You’re a very nice lady, very intimidating, but, um, you’re not my type-”

Lyna grunted, her expression scrunching like she’d stepped in wet muck for a brief second, “Not like that. I need you to speak to the Exarch.”

“Oh,” Aza sighed in open relief, “Uh, okay, sure. About what?”

Lyna’s ears twitched, and she glanced around them. Aside from a few Crystarium guards, and sleepy-eyed citizens using the Rotunda as a thoroughfare, they were alone. Still, she gestured for him to follow, “Not here. Follow me.”

Starting to get worried, he obediently trailed after her. They were making their way to the Dossal gate, and he frowned as he kept up with Lyna’s brisk, wide strides. Was there something wrong with the Exarch? He’d been rather melancholy last time he’d been here, true, but his muffins and their little heart-to-heart seemingly cheered him up! Though, Aza knew from experience that a single chat didn’t miraculously heal everything… 

Lyna stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Crystal Tower, next to the aethershard. Here, they were alone, and if they spoke softly, their voices wouldn’t carry. 

“For as long as I have known the Exarch,” Lyna began, gazing up at the gently glowing Crystal Tower looming over them, “He has always judged himself harshly to an arbitrary standard I never understood. I used to think of it as him being a humble soul, despite possessing such power, but now I know he was always comparing himself to you.” 

Aza stared at her. He was the worst person to use as any kind of standard, “Seriously?” 

Lyna turned to him with a frown, “Yes. He hasn’t said as such, but it became obvious to me after you brought the night skies back. Do you know the story of how we met?”

“You and the Exarch?” Aza clarified, a bit confused by the abrupt subject change, “Um, something about him taking you in after your parents were killed?”

“He did more than ‘take me in’,” Lyna murmured, her gaze distant with memory. Aza half-expected an Echo vision to knock him over the head, but thankfully he was spared that unpleasantness this time as she continued uninterrupted, “After the Flood, the land was in complete disarray. No one knew where to go to escape the Sin Eaters crawling in from the Empty. We were fish in a barrel, nowhere to go, nowhere safe to hide, until one day a Crystal Tower appeared in Lakeland. Tales of it being under the care of a powerful sorcerer circulated, how it could repel Sin Eaters, and like rats fleeing a sinking ship, thousands of refugees fled to here.” 

She pointed towards Lakeland, “It was… oh, near Sullen. My mother had joined a refugee train made up from those fleeing the recently drowned Kingdom of Voebert, and we had only just stepped into Lakeland when Sin Eaters ambushed us. There had been several knights in our group, some mercenaries, but the fear was still strong in us back then. No one had the will to truly fight.”

Aza said nothing. Lyna was looking up at the Crystal Tower again, her mouth curved into a mirthless smile. 

“My mother picked up a dropped sword and fought off as many Sin Eaters as she could. I remember she kept telling me to run, but I could not move. Ah, I wonder how things would have been different if I had done as I was told, but there’s no point in that.”

“Lyna…”

“No,” Lyna cut him off with a sharp motion of her hand, “I know that I acted as any child would. There is no guilt or regret there.” 

Aza quieted.

“Eventually, my mother fell,” Lyna continued, “Fortunately, none of those beasts had the touch, so she had a kinder fate than most. But then they turned to me… and who comes leaping out of the shadows, wielding a shield and sword made out of aether?”

“The Exarch…” Aza murmured, feeling a small bubble of pride at imagining that, “He saved you?”

“Just so,” Lyna nodded, “He cut down the Sin Eaters before they could touch me, then he knelt before me and apologised for not being fast enough to save everyone else.”

Aza frowned, “But… well, he couldn’t help that-”

“That is always how he’s been,” Lyna said, “Here is a man who helped build this miracle,” she gestured to all around her, to the amazing city that was the Crystarium, “who inspired thousands to help him build it, and he feels as if his efforts are lacking because he compares himself to you.”

Aza hesitated, leaning back slightly at Lyna’s frustrated expression, “Um, sorry?”

Lyna glared at him for a moment, then let out an explosive sigh, “No, I am not angry at you. Only… he will not listen to me, but to you… he might.”

“I see…” Aza slowly started to nod, finally understanding the problem. Well, he had a feeling G’raha- sorry, Exarch , was suffering from some knocked confidence, but he didn’t realise it was this bad. Ah, what happened to that overconfident, cheeky little sod that went to sleep in the Tower?

He grew up, obviously, Fray murmured in the back of his mind, For better and for worse, it seems.  

“I’ll talk to him,” Aza promised, unable to stop an impish smile as he added, “I’ll sing his praises until he grows an ego as smothering as Vauthry’s.”

Lyna looked ill at that thought, “That is a mental image I could have gone without…”

Aza laughed and stepped past her, “Sorry! Well, I’ll go see him now then. I doubt he’s asleep.” 

Lyna let him go with a sighed out farewell, and he took the steps slowly, since his knee was acting up again. Well, it gave him time to think out his approach. His talk with Exarch went rather well last week, but he was anxious not to push him overly much either. 

See, when he returned to the First and talked himself hoarse with Aymeric about it, Aza realised that he had left Exarch behind in a rather… precarious state. Here was a man who had plotted his own death decades in advance, and while everything had worked out for the best, that man now had to live a life he had surrendered ages ago. While he doubted Exarch would, like, jump off the tower or do anything drastic, he was worried that he might… isolate himself? Feel a bit lost and sad?

He didn’t know, but Aza was determined to help him out a bit. Yeah, he was kinda sore about Exarch lying to him, but he understood why he did it, and it wasn’t out of malice. Besides, he liked G’raha, and… well, he liked Exarch too. Even if he was kinda intimidated by how the guy all but worshipped him. He really needed to get him to stop that at some point. 

Thoughts? He asked himself as he reached the top of the stairs. The Crystarium guard there let him in without a fuss, although they mentioned the Exarch was in his personal chambers and not the Ocular. 

Just be blunt about it, was Fray’s opinion, Tell him that he has achieved an amazing thing, and that he should stop comparing himself to a disaster like you. He can do so much better.  

Another quieter voice murmured, You’ll just put him on the defensive if you do that. We’ll need to build up to it, maybe over several conversations, help him grow into his own like told him last time.

Fray grumbled, but Aza considered that other opinion heavily. It wasn’t quite Ardbert - more like a lingering impression. Ever since their merging, Aza recognised thought patterns, likes, dislikes, impressions, memories , that weren’t his exactly, but felt so natural they might as well have. Ardbert never manifested as a separate entity, though, and even his mental voice sounded more like Aza’s now. There was no sharp distinction like Aza and Fray, but there was still a… something that was distinctly Ardbert in there, somewhere. 

“Slowly it is,” he hummed, and ascended the Crystal Tower to his friend. 

Chapter Text

The Warrior of Light was an idiot. 

Emet-Selch had come to this unsatisfactory conclusion when he realised that said Warrior of Light had stormed Amaurot without a single plan of action. Emet-Selch knew the second they stepped foot into his territory - he could practically taste that fractured soul screaming in agony from miles away - and had braced himself for some madcap plan akin to the giant Talos smashing through his simulacrum to get to him. Instead ‘Aza’ and his little minions aimlessly roamed about Amaurot and did… nothing worthy of note. 

The idiot had no idea what he was doing. He was dying , mere hours away from the Light ripping free, and he was fumbling about winging it

He was an idiot. An idiot

“I don’t even know what I expected,” he muttered tonelessly to himself, watching from a hidden vantage point as ‘Aza’ slowly walked to the Administration building. Out of sight from his minions, the Warrior of Light dropped any and all pretence of good health. His shoulders were hunched, hands gripping his biceps as if he could physically hold in the Light snarling and thrashing inside him, his tail tucked low between his unsteady legs. A walking, ticking time bomb, ready to blow the exact millisecond his will faltered.

Emet-Selch did have to admit that he was mildly impressed this half-broken thing was managing to shamble about like this. Most mortals would be paralysed with agony, mindless with pain and unable to do naught but scream, but this fool was too stubborn or stupid to even realise how damaged he was. Emet-Selch even indulged in a little, private clap on his behalf.

Bravo, little monster. Emet-Selch almost felt bad at how pointless this show of stubbornness was, though. One way or another ‘Aza’ will be consumed, and the fragmented soul will shatter, held in the tight, merciless grip of the Light until some kind hero put him out of his misery. Then his soul would return to the lifestream, be cleansed, and be born anew. 

Emet-Selch would make sure to track its reincarnation process this time. 

‘Aza’ abruptly stopped, doubling over, and Emet-Selch watched in open interest as the Light flared. He almost heard his soul crack that little bit more, but after a few tense moments, where ‘Aza’ stayed frozen, shivering in place, the Warrior of Light straightened up with agonising slowness and continued on his way. Emet-Selch sighed. 

Tease. 

There was a part of him that considered putting the idiot out of his misery. It was pathetic with how he was going on like this, and Emet-Selch didn’t want him vomiting his Light all over his precious Amaurot simulacrum. He had no idea how the violent shift in elemental balance would affect his spell - the aether would stop flowing, and his illusionary city might break apart from it. Emet-Selch didn’t want that to happen. 

Though, you were planning on making this for him anyway, in case he remembered, a traitorous part of him muttered, Let him see it for a bit longer, as a nice memory

Emet-Selch grunted. He didn’t deserve a nice memory. ‘Aza’ had disappointed him thoroughly- nay, he betrayed him, again. No matter how many times Emet-Selch met this soul, broken apart, it carried on its originator’s will with frustrating dedication. Emet-Selch didn’t know how he did it. Then again, his skill regarding souls and the lifestream were beyond any Amaurotine’s…

At this point, Aza finally disappeared into the Administration building. Emet-Selch stared at it for a bit, considering. 

That was right. His domain had been over the Lifestream. It was how he managed to tie Hydaelyn directly into it, in an effort to make a self-sufficient Primal that didn’t require a constant flow of external aether. The Lifestream flowed through Hydaelyn, and Hydaelyn did the most abominable: consumed and devoured all memories, thoughts, emotions, from every soul that flowed through Her, until it was wiped clean like a slate - then returned back to whichever star it came from to start anew. 

Hydaelyn destroyed knowledge and experience, yet also purged impurities, tempering included. If ‘Aza’ were to die here, his soul would be healed from the devastating trauma of becoming a Sin Eater and placed back into the reincarnation cycle without any ill effects… except sacrificing what made him ‘Aza’, of course. No, ‘Aza’ would be dead forever, and something new would take his place. 

It was anathema to any Amaurotine. To give up everything that made you? To have some entity strip away your memories and experiences, the good and the bad, to start over again as something entirely different? It made Emet-Selch’s skin crawl, as it did every time he encountered a Sundered who looked at him with blank incomprehension, their memories of their true selves an empty, black void of nothing, ignorant of their true worth, of what they were

For that, Emet-Selch would never forgive him. It was part of why he had been hoping to coax ‘Aza’ onto his side of things. He’d raise him up back to what he once was - and pin him down to ask why. Why had he refused to summon Zodiark when extinction had been at their very doorstep? Why had he betrayed them and summoned Hydaelyn? Why did he sacrifice the rest of their people to Her, and Sundered the rest? Why why why why why

It filled him with a bewildered pain to think on it. Why? He had been brilliant and disgustingly kind, had loved so deeply, yet, when the Doom came for them… he dealt a blow far more agonising than that tragedy ever did. 

Emet-Selch clenched his hands hard enough to hurt - but after a moment relaxed them with a slow, heavy exhale. That roiling, festering bubble of grief and hatred still lingered behind his sternum, but he ignored it. He will get his answers, one way or another. 

If ‘Aza’ fell here, became a Sin Eater, fine, good. Everything would be back on schedule. This world would fall, the Eighth Umbral Calamity would happen, and they would be one step closer to their goal. Emet-Selch would find another fragment or wait for the reincarnation process to bring him back into contact with this one. If he didn’t, if ‘Aza’ somehow managed to fight off the Light (hah!) and ruin everything as usual, then Emet-Selch would kill him, and see if there was anything to salvage from his soul before letting it re-enter the Lifestream. 

‘Aza’ couldn’t be entirely ignorant of his origins. He couldn’t. Sometimes, Emet-Selch swore he could see a glimmer of knowledge in him. If there was the slimmest, slightest chance that a fragment of him, still sentient, lingered there… 

Emet-Selch was going to extract his pound of flesh, slowly, thoroughly

He pushed himself up from his seat, brushing his robes down despite there being no need. Yes, everything was coming to a close here, one way or another. He felt relieved about it. The First had been so stressful

‘Aza’ had been stressful, the idiot.

He hoped he died painfully. 

Chapter Text

Exarch’s ear twitched when he heard the distant rumble of the elevator grinding its way to a halt in the floor below. It was a slapdash job, that elevator, well over a century and built from scavenged parts from various magitek found in the tower. Exarch always made a mental note to have it upgraded at some point, but with how scarce resources were, he always pushed it on the backburner. It was just an elevator, nothing too vital… 

Though, he did wonder who was using it. Lyna only did if there was an emergency, knowing that he disliked people encroaching upon this particular space. 

Xande’s throne. 

The room was still a wreck from when Aza had fought that crazed man all those decades ago. The polished marble was cracked and scorched, deep grooves cut into the stone and dark brown stains that never quite got out. The throne itself still stood, looming over the room and thrumming with a dormant power that Exarch hadn’t touched since his arrival here. After figuring out how to pull things across the rift towards himself, he didn’t dare fiddle overly much with it, though in trying to figure out how to send the Scions back, he might have to eventually. 

But for now, Exarch was here for a different purpose. Namely, his newest… project? Hobby? He wasn’t quite sure what to call it yet. 

But Xande’s throne room could be used for something other than an arrogant display of a long dead power. It was wide and open, the water-aspected crystals embedded into the rim marble platform continuously spewing an infinite amount of water that eventually made its way to the bottom of the tower and into the underground reservoir. With the Light cleared from the sky, it made this place the perfect location for Exarch to set up a garden

It wasn’t an entirely frivolous idea. The Hortorium struggled to rear some beneficial plants that preferred high altitudes, so the top floor of the Crystal Tower made it the perfect environment for them. He only ever had a passing familiarity with botany, so it had been something of a crash course when Uilmet had enthusiastically taken him under her wing. It was a different art to Allagan history and technology or rift teleportation magicks but… he found himself liking it. 

There was something peaceful and satisfying about it. Before, he would come to Xande’s throne to brood, but now he did it to relax. There was something vindictive about seeing the throne room of a man so dedicated to nihilism housing so much life instead. Xande must be turning in his grave.

But his uninvited guest. He should probably attend to them. 

Exarch tugged off his weeding gloves, pushing himself up from where he’d been kneeling in the moist dirt of some sprouting bamboo. Back on the Source, this had been abundant in Othard, yet it had nearly died out entirely in the First, its native land devoured by the Flood. This version was slightly different to the Source’s version as well, so it hadn’t been explored beyond barely keeping the species alive. But here was Exarch, attempting to make it viable, as it had so many beneficial uses… 

A sharp gust of wind made him shiver, and he carefully navigated around the various plant boxes and rows of flowering plants. It was like a maze, with visibility overtaken by green and bright, flowering colours. By the time he found himself to the entrance to the Crystal Tower’s lower floors, his guest had already arrived. 

“Aza?” he blurted in open surprise, “What’re you…?”

Aza wasn’t looking at him. Instead he was staring over his shoulder, at the makeshift garden behind him with clear amazement. 

“Wow, you’ve been busy,” Aza said, looking at him with a small smile, “Uh, you’ve got a bit of dirt, here…”

Aza playfully tapped his own cheek, and Exarch lifted his hand, grimacing when he felt rough soil under his fingers. It had been on the crystal part, so he hadn’t felt it at all. He rubbed it away. 

“You look really different like this,” Aza continued, slowly looking him up and down. For his gardening, Exarch had changed out of his robes into something more menial. It made him abruptly feel self-conscious, aware of the mud and grass stains over the dull brown slops and work shirt he had thrown on, along with a pair of sturdy leather boots. There was no dignified Crystal Exarch persona here, just… Exarch in frumpy farming clothes. 

“Ah ha… I wasn’t expecting visitors,” he laughed off, rubbing at his cheek as he looked away. Always with Aza, he was constantly overcome with an urge to pull his cowl over his head. To hide? He didn’t know, but he felt so exposed, his heart thumping and pulse racing, his face warm. It was nerves, it must be, but over what …? 

“I think it suits you,” Aza said easily, “You look more relaxed.” 

“Oh?”

“Well, not right now, because I think I’m intruding on your chill out time,” Aza continued, shifting back on his heels as he grimaced, “Um, sorry about that. If you want me to go…”

“No!” he said quickly, wincing when Aza jumped at the abruptness of his shout, “I-I mean, no. You can stay if you’d like. I don’t mind.”

Aza eyed him for a moment, but relaxed and smiled at him again, “Well, okay then. I’ll stay.” 

Exarch smiled back, “Do you want me to show you around? You’ll find it, ah, a lot different to the last time you were here.”

Aza let out a low snort, “Oh, yeah. For one there’s no meteors being aimed at my head this time.”

“You mean you didn’t enjoy Emperor Xande’s impeccable hospitality?” Exarch teased, gesturing for Aza to follow as he stepped back into the garden maze. The throne could still be seen even amongst all this greenery, a stoic, cold thing that reflected the pale moonlight. 

“Hostility, more like,” Aza grumbled, “I dunno what they fed those Allagans, but they had no right being that huge. Doga and Unei weren’t super beefy giants, so what the hell was Xande’s excuse?”

“Genetic modification,” Exarch said, “In the twilight years of the Allagan Empire, it was commonplace for their citizens, especially the elite, to submit themselves to extensive modifications at the cellular level. It culminated in the majority of the population extending their lifespan by centuries, though this caused many problems on a socioeconomic level-”

He stopped when he caught Aza giving him a fond look, and felt his face heat up all over again when he realised he’d been rambling, “Ah, apologies. It’s been a while since I was able to frankly talk about the Allagans and…”

“It’s fine. You can continue,” Aza said, “I’m finding it interesting.”

Exarch gave him a flat look, “Really? I seem to recall you dozing off last time I gave an Allagan history lecture. You snored. Loudly.”

“Oh, c’mon! That was over a hundred years ago! Er, for you,” Aza coughed, looking very embarrassed about that being brought up, “I was an uncultured philistine back then, but now I’m a changed man, really. I find Allagan, er, history very interesting now!”  

Exarch didn’t believe him for a second, and let his silent stare say that for him.

Aza scratched behind his ear, his earring jingling quietly as he flicked it, “Okay, I don’t find it interesting. But I do like listening to you talk about something you that makes you happy.” 

That… 

It was like getting stabbed in the heart, but by something warm and bubbly instead of lethal. He swallowed and looked away, to where a lattice was set up for some creeping flowering plant whose name escaped his memory at that moment.  

“Oh,” he said, and cleared his throat, “Well, hm. I don’t want to bore you.”

“Okay,” Aza said, “Tell me about these plants then. I didn’t know you were a botanist.”

“More of a hobbyist,” Exarch sighed, controlling himself enough that he could look at Aza without feeling like his heart was going to perform some unhealthy gymnastics, “This is something new for me. After our talk, I realised I was more of a passive observer than an active participant of the Crystarium and wanted to… try something new. But something still beneficial, and as we had all this space going to waste, and the Horotorium struggling to rear certain plants requiring specific altitudes, well…”

Aza studied him for a moment, “Do you enjoy it?”

“I do,” he said without hesitation, “I’m still a beginner, and Uilmet keeps burying me under a mountain of botanist manuals, but I… find it relaxing. It isn’t very…”

Exarch paused. They were in the middle of the maze now, and there was a small garden box with a delicate, white flower leaning over the edge. Snowdrop, if he remembered correctly, a plant that also nearly went extinct from the Flood, surviving in small clusters in Il Mheg. The pixies adored them. 

“... it’s very low stakes,” he finished, “If I make a mistake, the consequences won’t be terrible. After spending over a century terrified of the slightest bit of failure rendering all my efforts moot, I want to participate in something that isn’t world ending if I fail.” 

Aza was quiet for a moment, and Exarch couldn’t look at him as his confession lingered between them. It felt almost cowardly to him, that he was tired of engaging in high stakes, devastating consequences games and chose something easy instead. He wanted… lots of things, and in taking Aza’s advice on board, he decided to do this for his own sake. A century was too long to spend in a state of constant hyper vigilance. 

“It’s cowardly, I know,” he said, twisting his hands together, still looking at that snowdrop flower gently swaying from the gusts that would overtake the garden, “But-”

“Nah,” Aza said gently, “It’s not cowardly. It’s healthy.” 

Exarch peeked up at him. 

"I knit,” Aza offered, “And cross-stitch, and stress bake. Oh man, I stress bake a lot. Because, well, like you said, if you mess up, it’s no big deal. It’s fine.” 

“Oh,” Exarch hadn’t known Aza did those things - well, the baking, he learnt recently, but the knitting and cross-stitching? “Well, now I feel silly for being so embarrassed about it.” 

“Kinda,” Aza said, and gently nudged his shoulder with his knuckles, “It’s fine. Emotions suck and they make you feel dumb shit. But that’s what friends are for, to remind you that they’re dumb and you shouldn’t listen to them.”

“I… have a feeling you were trying to quote someone there but mangled it horribly.”

“Oh, shut up. I tried, you can’t criticise me.” 

Exarch chuckled into his hand, and Aza grinned back at him. In that moment, everything felt right in the world. 

“So,” he said, “What brings you to my garden? It’s quite late to visit.” 

Aza blinked, clearly not expecting the question, and then shuffled his feet awkwardly, “Oh, well, um. I just wanted to visit you?” 

“Hmm…” Exarch gave him a long, searching look, “You’re still a terrible liar, I see.” 

“Hey, I did want to visit you,” Aza grumbled, “But… well, I wanted to see how you were too. You were kinda… sad last time, so…”

Exarch felt something warm and fuzzy bubble in his chest at Aza’s concern, but at the same time his pride felt mildly pricked at Aza feeling a need to check up on him. He brushed aside that prideful feeling. It was a petty emotion. 

“Well, as you can see, I’m doing far better,” he said, spreading his arms wide to demonstrate that, yes, he was good. He lowered them, “Still figuring out my life’s purpose, but isn’t everyone?”

“Okay, that’s too philosophical for me,” Aza grouched, “But if you’re okay… you wanna go get something to eat? It’s kinda late and cold out here.” 

Exarch paused, “Eat? As in, go out for a meal together?”

“Yes…?” Aza said slowly, giving him an odd look, “Unless you wanna get takeout? I hear you guys do that now.”

Exarch was torn. Takeout would mean they would eat in his personal rooms, a level of intimacy that made him feel too squirmy to even consider food. Yet going out, together, to have a meal in public - he was still grappling with walking about without his cowl, although he was certain they could find somewhere private to eat.

“We can go out. I could do with a walk through the Crystarium.” 

“Well, yeah,” Aza grinned at him, “It is your greatest achievement, so you should admire it from time to time.”

Exarch flushed, “The Crystarium isn’t my achievement. I merely-”

“United a bunch of like minded individuals and motivated them enough to start building this fantastic, amazing city,” Aza interrupted, “Such a cool achievement, I’m so jealous.” 

Aza.”

“Accept it,” Aza playfully nudged him before walking off, back to the exit, “You’re amazing!”

Exarch was speechless, his face feeling hot as some small, tiny part of his mind squeaked ‘he thinks I’m amazing! He thinks I’m amazing!’ over and over until he realised Aza had walked off without him and he was still standing in the middle of his garden, bright-red and staring into nothing like an idiot. 

“C’mon, slowpoke!” Aza’s voice drifted over, “You wanna eat or what?”

“I-I need to get changed first!” he managed to shout back, hurrying through the maze to catch up with his friend. Aza, kindly, waited for him near the exit, though he was smirking at him in a way that made his belly flip-flop, “I can’t go like this.”

“Sure you can!” Aza drawled, “You can be incognito-

“How can I be incognito when I am the only person in Norvrandt with a crystal hand?” Exarch huffed, waving said hand about.

Aza frowned for a moment, clearly thinking it over, “Uh… put gloves on.” 

Exarch dropped his hand and sighed. Deeply. He truly cared about Aza, he did, but sometimes he forgot that he liked playing the fool for whatever reason, “I’m getting changed. Please wait for me at the Dossal gates.”

For a brief moment, Aza looked as if he was going to make a lewd joke - thankfully, he kept it to himself, and nodded, “Alright, alright. Dress up nice, then.”

“Well, yes,” Exarch blurted, taken a bit off-kilter by that. Dress up nice? Aza never tended to care about how one looked before, “Of course.”

Aza just winked at him, and Exarch wondered if maybe they should get takeout instead. He feared his poor heart was going to give out with how nervous he suddenly felt. But, no, it’d be fine. A meal out with Aza, as friends, where they would converse with each other, as friends. Because that is what they were: friends

However, there was a small, traitorous part of him that still muttered; this sounds like a date.   

Chapter Text

(-a small butterfly of spun glass, colours refracting through its wings as it flew in unsteady, heavy circles around his head. Amaurot’s sunset was really the best time for this Creation’s release, and he imagined a flock of them, glittering over the public park. The butterfly shivered in mid-flap, then cloned itself. The twins almost collided from the spontaneous birth, and he laughed sheepishly at his mistake. Oh dear. 

“So, this is where you are hiding.”

He thought - stasis - and the butterflies froze in mid-air, not wanting to ruin his careful work from his slipping temper. He prickled, ensured his unwanted visitor felt his soul jag and spike like a curled up hedgehog to clearly demonstrate his displeasure. 

“I thought I made it clear that I wished to be alone?” he said with feigned mildness, not turning to look, “Emet-Selch.” 

“I must have missed that memo,” That slow, drawn out drawl. A quiet crunch of boots stepping on dried leaves. He glanced over to the drooping tree that shaded the balcony, gently revitalising its sluggish aether. It perked up. 

“You failed to attend yet another meeting,” Emet-Selch continued after a long, heavy pause, blatantly ignoring his bristling, “That is unlike you, -̷̡̪̌͜-̸͇͔̻͈̦͎̯͔̏-̴̳̥̱̞̆̃̒̔̂́͋-̶͚̟͓̥͎̏̓͊̑͝-̶̛̫̼͍̗̭̗́͗̎͐̓̂͘͘͜͜-̵͙̱͉̤̱͛͐̊̏̍̒͝͠ͅ-̴̳͔̱̙̽͝.”

“I have no need to attend something that will ultimately be a waste of my time,” he said waspishly, and he reached up to take his frozen glass butterflies in hand. The pleasant stillness of this shaded balcony suddenly felt chilly and unwelcoming, Emet-Selch’s presence a hot brand on the edge of his awareness. He could feel his friend test the edges of him, gently prying at the border of his soul. 

He shoved him out aggressively, and Emet-Selch retreated from that intimate place without a fuss. 

“-̷̡̪̌͜-̸͇͔̻͈̦͎̯͔̏-̴̳̥̱̞̆̃̒̔̂́͋-̶͚̟͓̥͎̏̓͊̑͝-̶̛̫̼͍̗̭̗́͗̎͐̓̂͘͘͜͜-̵͙̱͉̤̱͛͐̊̏̍̒͝͠ͅ-̴̳͔̱̙̽͝," Emet-Selch crooned, his tone shifting into something placating, “Refusing to contribute is not the answer.”

“But it is,” he said hotly, “You promised you wouldn’t support the Zodiark Concept, yet what do I hear when I return from my observations of the Doom in the outer regions? That you all held a vote without me to push it through-”

“Your report stated that we have less than four weeks until it reaches Amaurot,” Emet-Selch interrupted, his own tone growing short, “We cannot debate and squabble over other potential solutions while the apocalypse is practically on our doorstep.”

“-so as my expertise does not matter,” he continued, his voice growing louder with each word, “I see no point in attending further meetings. You can all summon your precious little God to save you, while I will work on a real solution that isn’t a SLOPPY BANDAID!”

The air cracked, ice-cold, whipsharp at the tail end of his shout. Emet-Selch had grown very still, and he felt anger - so much anger, bubbling in him, fizzing out, making it difficult to think straight. His breath misted. Ice crystals clung to the tree’s wilting leaves. 

The end of the world was on the horizon and his comrades were preparing to enslave themselves to an artificial God for salvation. Emet-Selch’s minor betrayal was so petty in comparison to that, yet it hurt the most. 

“-̷̡̪̌͜-̸͇͔̻͈̦͎̯͔̏-̴̳̥̱̞̆̃̒̔̂́͋-̶͚̟͓̥͎̏̓͊̑͝-̶̛̫̼͍̗̭̗́͗̎͐̓̂͘͘͜͜-̵͙̱͉̤̱͛͐̊̏̍̒͝͠ͅ-̴̳͔̱̙̽͝,” Emet-Selch tried. 

“No,” he said, “I am done. I am done. I am done.”

The glass butterflies were broken in his hand. Pinpricks of pain as it bit into flesh, but such things could be healed with nary a thought. He could not make himself relax his grip. It hurt to clench his fingers into the glass, but the pain kept his thoughts focused, razor-sharp, to the solution he could feel forming in his mind. 

Emet-Selch gently nudged at the border of his soul, concerned, apologetic. 

He pushed him out. 

He could not let him see. He could not let him see his plan. For he would stop him, and they will all-)

“Aza, wake up.” 

“Mngh,” Aza grunted, feeling something insistently prod at his cheek until he squinted his eyes open. There was a disorientating moment where he wasn’t sure where he was - and he felt awkward, not right, something wasn’t right here, he was meant to be- until he blinked and recognised Ryne leaning over him with golden dust in her hair and her cheeks red from sunburn. 

Then he remembered - he was in Epoch, Ryne had been driving, they were coming back from Eden, and- right, yeah. 

“You were talking in your sleep,” Ryne said, straightening up from where she’d been leaning over the front seat to poke him, “Really loudly.”

“O-Oh?” he yawned, covering his mouth as he tried to shake off the cobwebs. Epoch’s seats were not made for dozing in, and he grunted as his back popped and his joints clicked as he struggled to climb out of the vehicle.

“Mm,” Ryne was giving him a thoughtful look, “You said ‘Emet-Selch’ a few times, but the rest was… um, I didn’t understand the words very well.” 

Was he dreaming about Emet-Selch? He tried to remember, but the dream slipped like fine powder between his fingers, elusive. He had a faint impression of being annoyed at him, but that was pretty much the default emotion when dealing with Emet-Selch, so… 

“I think I was calling him a dumbass,” he mumbled, easing himself onto the hot sands of Amh Araeng, and gripped Epoch’s door as he stretched his legs out, “Ugh, I’m stiff as a board.”

“Yeah…” Ryne agreed tiredly, looking up towards where the Inn was with some dread, “We need to walk to Mord Souq.”

“Walk? What’s this ‘walking’ thing you’re talking about?” Aza scoffed, “I'm teleporting.”

Ryne paused, and he felt her aether reach out experimentally - before she abruptly dropped it. Her expression flickered with frustration, and she pushed her hair back again, fingers curled into her thick locks like she wanted to grip. 

“I can’t…” she exhaled noisily and shook her head, “I’ll have to meet you there. Controlling Eden has exhausted me in more ways than one.”

Aza immediately felt bad, “Hey, I was joking. I could do with a, uh, nice stroll through Amh Araeng. Loosen off these tight muscles some.” 

Ryne glanced at him, clearly knowing he was bullshitting, but the tiny, relieved smile she gave him was worth condemning himself to a long march filled with blisters and sore feet, “Thank you, Aza.” 

“Don’t mention it,” he said easily.

They began their long walk back, one that was mostly quiet. It was comfortably silent, though, both too tired to carry small talk but enjoying one another’s company anyways. Aza felt his thoughts wander, looking over the endless golden and red sand, wondering. 

Sunset was touching the horizon, changing the skies into hues of pink, orange and red. It reminded him of the flowers from Il Mheg, and his thoughts then turned to the blood morphos that made their homes there. Their wings were the colour of sunsets, it was just a shame they were giant man-eating butterflies. 

(-a small butterfly of spun glass, colours refracting through its wings-)

That was an idea. Maybe he could try making a nice little model of those butterflies next time he had a free moment? It’d be an interesting challenge to try - out of glass, maybe? Glassblowing wasn’t exactly his strength, but now that he had the idea, it had gripped him thoroughly. Glass butterflies, clear enough to refract coloured light through its wings… 

His thoughts turned to that completely, and the lingering remnants of the dream faded into the murk, forgotten. 

Chapter Text

“Are you and Emet-Selch still fighting?”

“We’re not fighting,” Prometheus muttered sourly, his focus not wavering from the delicate threads of aether he was weaving together on his workbench, “We’re having a disagreement.” 

Hythlodaeus sighed behind him, practically oozing exasperation, “With you two, that’s fighting.”

Prometheus placed his work in stasis, letting the aether freeze in time as he turned to face his friend. Hythlodaeus felt tired, looked tired, even past the conforming mask and hood he stubbornly wore even in the privacy of Prometheus’s workshop. He never seemed comfortable trying out different guises like he did. 

Right now, Prometheus was trying out the form of a humanoid creature with animal components. He had no name for it yet, but it felt rather comfortable once you got used to the tail and heightened senses. It felt a bit crammed though, the vessel not used to housing the density of an Amaurotine soul, but Prometheus could adjust that throughout the day easily enough. He might even draft it as a Concept for a new sentient species to seed through the wild lands, to cultivate for future processing. 

“I didn’t start it this time,” Prometheus said, crossing his arms as he felt his tail flick from side to side, “It was him , deciding to take exception to my proposal for close examination of this ‘plague’ across the pond.” 

“Lahabrea has already sent for a specimen to be captured, hasn’t he? Is a close examination really necessary in light of that?” Hythlodaeus said, even though he shouldn’t have known that. But, well, when two of your closest friends sat on the council, some information leaked through with how they were practically in each other’s pockets. Hythlodaeus was discreet, anyways, so it wasn’t an issue in Prometheus’s eyes. 

“Yes. He’s also given his future specimen a pretentious name,” Prometheus sniffed. It was no secret that he and Lahabrea did not see eye to eye on most things, “But it is one thing to observe a subject in isolation, and another in its habitat. This ‘plague’ forces one’s Creation magic to manifest subconscious fears and malice into a physical form without any input from the victim. Unless I can see how this is done first hand, we can speculate and theorise without reaching genuine understanding. Lahabrea may be content with that, but I’m not.” 

“It would be dangerous, though,” Hythlodaeus pointed out, his tone neutral, though Prometheus could feel the tinge of worry futzing the edge of his soul, “Even for someone of your skill.”

“Of course it’s dangerous,” Prometheus sighed, “That’s exactly why I need to go. I have yet to meet a beast that could even hope to scratch me, let alone kill me. I’ll be fine.” 

Hythlodaeus was unhappy, in the same way that Hades had been unhappy with him. It irritated him. What was with this pointless worry? The plague was dangerous, yes, but Prometheus had taken measures to ensure he couldn’t become ‘infected’, and he was so powerful in terms of martial skill that whatever creatures this ‘Doom’ spat out at him would be cut down in an instant. Honestly, it was logical he would be the one to go. 

“I’m going,” Prometheus said stubbornly, “You cannot hope to change my mind.”

“I never expected to,” Hythlodaeus murmured, “I know better than to try and control you.”

Prometheus looked away, shying from the sincerity Hythlodaeus pushed at the border of his soul, “Well, uh, good.”

“It’s simply… you should make up with Emet-Selch before you leave,” Hythlodaeus said pointedly, “He will be simply intolerable if you left without a goodbye, and you cannot be so cruel as to inflict that on Amaurot in your absence.”

Prometheus laughed quietly at that, his mood lifting at imagining the well respected Hades sulking and being bratty during the daily Convocation Meetings because of him. He always did get into a strop if Prometheus snubbed him, and he had to admit it delighted him sometimes. He found it adorable. 

“Okay, fine,” he said, “I’ll call a ceasefire on our, ah…”

“Fight?”

Disagreement, ” Prometheus stressed, but he smiled, felt Hythlodaeus’s soul warm alongside his. He nudged at it playfully, “Though, I may have to ask you to soften him up, somewhat. We’ll just butt heads the second he opens his mouth if I go now.” 

Hythlodaeus hummed agreeably, “You may wish to don a more appropriate form in the meantime.”

Prometheus rolled his eyes, “I haven’t finished finalising this Concept yet. He can deal with it.” 

Hythlodaeus shook his head, but his soul brimmed with fondness. He left not long after that, and Prometheus turned back to his work, still frozen in time above his work bench.

It was a new weapon for his Armiger Arsenal - something to protect him if he truly met something dangerous out there. Ever since their neighbours across the pond had gone dark, a sense of unease had begun to pervade through Amaurot. They were a powerful race, true, but for something to snuff out one of their cities in a single night, without any clear indication on what happened…? It scared people. 

It, admittedly, scared him too. 

But, Prometheus was known as the bold and adventurous one out of the Fourteen. He was young for his position, but gifted and powerful, clever and innovative, as well as wise. Out of everyone, he was best suited to bravely forge into the unknown and bring back news on what had happened, so they could better defend themselves against the encroaching threat. Hades had to know that, but once more, that sentimental idiot was being led by his feelings, rather than rational thought. 

Prometheus continued working on the weapon, letting the calm monotony of the task lull him into a peaceful state. He got up to the point where he needed to let the aether solidify and aspect to an element of his choosing. After some thought, he imbued it with light. All he could do now was wait for the weapon to finalise, and after quickly checking the time, Prometheus decided he’d given Hythlodaeus long enough to smooth down Hades’s ruffled feathers. 

Despite his earlier flippancy, he did take his friend’s advice and conjured a set of dark robes and a new mask to fit his new form, so he wasn’t overly flaunting his current individuality. He wasn’t sure why, but he always felt more comfortable as something other than himself, as something different. Hythlodaeus didn’t fully understand, and neither did Hades, but they did indulge in his little vice where most would have looked down on him for his… flaw. 

He tugged his hood further forwards, realising the cat ears didn’t comfortably fit under it.

“... he can deal,” Prometheus muttered, tapping his mask and willing it and the hood to stay in place before turning on his heel and teleporting to Hades’s residence. 


For someone dubbed ‘The Architect’, Hades’s residence was rather modest and discreet. Tucked away in Amaurot’s city centre, it was part of a residential complex made for government workers. Where most Convocation members tended to situate their homes in isolated corners of the city, to better focus over the din of millions of souls brushing up against their awareness, Hades was a weird one who enjoyed being right in the thick of it. Prometheus found it exhausting and irritating just during his working hours, so he honestly had no idea how Hades dealt with it 24/7. 

Prometheus landed in the lobby of the residential complex - a large, open room with a lovely fountain in the centre. Immediately, he was bombarded with a sudden rush of people , and he quickly shut it out before he got overwhelmed. He got the impression of a flinch rippling through his immediate vicinity, and realised he probably just rudely barged into the middle of this complex’s collective consciousness and made unwanted ripples brush up against the residents’ soul borders.

He hunched his shoulders, pulling his hood further forwards again, and curled his soul up to be as unobtrusive as possible. The ripples calmed. 

As befitting his status, Hades was on the top floor. Prometheus took the elevator, if only to be polite, and upon reaching his door, dithered outside of it for a good few minutes. He could sense Hythlodaeus and Hades in there - and no doubt they could sense him - but with him blocking everyone out, he couldn’t quite gauge the mood in there. He cautiously uncurled, filtering out the white noise of millions, to feel Hythlodaeus’s flutter of concern and Hades’ bristling irritation. 

Hm. Not good. 

Prometheus blocked them out again. 

Well, too late to flee. He’d never hear the end of it if he turned tail and ran back to his workshop, so after a pause where he carefully collected himself, he flared his aether as a redundant greeting. 

The door opened for him without hesitation. 

Prometheus quickly scurried inside, the door swinging shut behind him, and fidgeted with his hood and mask again to ensure it was in place. This body was beginning to show physiological reactions to his soul’s nerves, which was interesting to document, but it meant his skin was starting to itch from where the sweat was getting trapped behind the mask and robes. He should have put underwear on too, thinking on it.  

Putting that out of mind for now, he briskly made his way through the entrance lobby. Hades’s home was one of those new builds that occupied its own instance separated from Amaurot’s dimension, so it resembled a large house inside, despite occupying the space of a shoebox room in Amaurot. It was Hades’s ‘great achievement’ that had him considered for the Emet-Selch title all those centuries ago, as it cut down on the housing crisis by allowing for more homes built on a smaller area. Prometheus still hadn’t figured out how he did it, something Hades was still insufferably smug about to this day. 

“Ah, you actually came. With how long you loitered out there, I thought you were going to run away,” Hades said the second Prometheus stepped into the drawing room, where he received his closest friends regularly. It was a nice room, small, modest, with a fireplace and a window showing a view of a mountain range that didn’t exist in Amaurot. Hades was slouched in his usual squashy armchair, with Hythlodaeus on the sofa across from him. Prometheus remained loitering by the door. 

“I’m here to extend an olive branch,” Prometheus mumbled, shifting his weight as he felt Hades prod at his soul’s border. He reluctantly let him in, even if it meant opening himself up to all the ambient noise too. Kindly, Hades blocked that noise out for him, and he relaxed a fraction, “If you’d accept it.”

“Hmm…” Hades drew out, and across from him Hythlodaeus was watching them both hawkishly, his soul nudging at them to play nice

“Are you still departing for the outer regions tomorrow?” Hades asked idly, and his soul felt like the soft pawprints of a cat walking up and down his spine, showing none of the irritation Prometheus had felt outside.

“Yes,” Prometheus said defensively, “You know-

“I know,” Hades interrupted, “I still don’t like it, but… Hythlodaeus was very persuasive in reminding me that you would be delivering an important contribution with this expedition.”

Prometheus waited, because Hades did like delivering a surprise stinger sometimes, but he was being sincere. Some of that irritation leaked through, sharp like citrus, but it was directed more towards himself, than at Prometheus. Ah, Hythlodaeus was honestly a miracle worker, able to temper even Hades’s mercurial moods. He felt himself start to smile. 

Hythlodaeus huffed playfully, “If you’re both done posturing, can we enjoy this last night together before our friend departs on his journey?”

Hades waved a hand carelessly, summoning a platter of tea and treats with barely a thought. The platter landed, delicately, on the coffee table without a noise. 

“Yes, fine,” Hades grumbled, but it was mostly for show, “Come here. I’m not going to bite you.”

“You might,” Prometheus said, but he obediently walked over, this body’s heart still thumping erratically. Physiological reaction to… relief? Nerves? He filed the observations away, hopping up onto the armchair next to Hades’s. His feet didn’t touch the floor, and he realised he might’ve made this body a bit too diminutive. 

“What is that guise you’re wearing?” Hades asked, “You have a tail now.”

“It’s a new Concept I’m finalising,” Prometheus said, gesturing for one of the teacups to float over to him instead of him fumbling about reaching for it, “A new sentient species for wildland seeding. If the damage to the biosphere is as bad as it’s rumoured with this ‘plague’, then we’ll need to consider how to regenerate that.”

“I think we should be deciding how to stop the plague first,” Hades countered, “Have you seen the proposal for the Zodiark Concept yet?”

“I have,” Prometheus said, glancing at Hythlodaeus. They were verging into confidential topics now, “I don’t agree with it.”

“Hm,” Hades sounded and felt entirely neutral. 

“It’s far too flawed,” he rushed to explain, “We will just be replacing one problem with another. If it goes wrong, we will find ourselves enslaved by our own creation, and then what? Have we forgotten about the Primal fiasco?”

Hythlodaeus winced, having been one of the main researchers on that particular project, and Prometheus apologetically nudged his soul’s border. 

“I haven’t,” Hades said carefully, “But it’s our best option until we know more about the situation.”

“Then wait for me to finish this expedition before throwing your support behind it,” Prometheus said, “Promise me if the Council tries to bring it forward in my absence, refuse to validate it.”

Hades seemed to think about for a long moment.

“Oh... fine. Stop looking at me like that,” he finally huffed, “I promise I will stall it until you come back.”

Prometheus brightened, letting Hades feel his happiness from that agreement. His friend shifted in his seat, looking away with a small grumble. 

“Thanks, Emet-Selch,” he said, glancing over to Hythlodaeus to give him a more subtle thanks for easing Hades up from his earlier snit by brushing up against his soul’s border like a purring cat. Seriously. Miracle worker. 

Hythlodaeus’s pleasure was a warm, broad thing, like basking in direct sunlight, “What’s this? You two being mature for once?”

“We don’t fight all the time,” Prometheus protested, “Only mostly.”

“You once challenged me to a duel because I told you gargoyles are a tacky aesthetic,” Hades said flatly, looking back at him. 

“They are not tacky,” Prometheus sniffed, “You’re just not utilising them correctly.”

Hades looked over to Hythlodaeus in open disbelief, as if to say ‘can you believe this?’ 

“I am not being drawn into this argument again,” Hythlodaeus said firmly, “I almost died last time.” 

“It was only a ten tonne statue…” Prometheus mumbled, but he obediently dropped the subject in favour of a less volatile topic. 


It was late by the time Prometheus returned to his workshop, feeling exhausted yet content. Though they bickered and argued often, there was something about Hades that always made him feel happy. He argued his ideas often, picked holes in his most airtight of concepts, and it drove him utterly mad, but it… honestly made him a better person. He wouldn’t be half the skilled Creationist if it weren’t for his blunt and honest criticism. 

Perhaps he was just a glutton for punishment, hah. 

Prometheus chuckled to himself, taking off his mask and sweeping back his hood. He was starting to feel a little cramped being in this body, but he had to see how it dealt with sleep before he shed it in favour of his expedition tomorrow. When he came back…

Well, hopefully the information he returned with would bury that flawed mess of a Zodiark Concept. He trusted Hades. If he said he’d stall it, he’d stall it. Prometheus can focus wholly on his task, and hopefully come up with a solution that would save Amaurot, fight back the plague, terraform the destroyed biosphere, and have everything return to its usual peace. 

So, with his spirits high and mood light, Prometheus prepared for his journey, unaware that this marked the end. 

Chapter Text

The Doom was horrifying. 

Prometheus stayed crouched in his hiding place, making his soul as small and hidden as he could, staring at the seething, heaving mass below. He was in Xerora, a city famed for its beautiful canal system and public baths, a sprawling metropolis that rivalled its neighbour, Amaurot, in terms of beauty. Yet, instead of gondolas sedately drifting over the canals, and couples walking the golden streets, beasts and monsters crawled and slithered like a swarm of rats, their chattering and guttural snarls warping the air. 

There was no life here. Prometheus sensed nothing. Just an ugly, suffocating pressure that made him want to heave. It wasn’t a physical smell, it was- it felt like something scratching at his soul’s borders, little claws, digging, prying, trying to get in. He kept it very firmly out, even if the sensation started to hurt. 

Focus, he told himself, compartmentalising an alien sense of fear rising in his throat like a lump. Something was triggering that emotional response, Observe. A compulsion to give into fear. No source, it is… ambient? But it must come from somewhere…

Prometheus looked up from the streets below. Xerora’s skyline was broken, the horizon lit up a vivid, angry red from stars falling in the distance. It seemed the monsters came first, followed by the infinite looping meteor spell - but who was casting it? Considering the minimal space debris orbiting their planet, those meteors must be constructed from aether. The sheer amount falling though… whoever was casting had monstrous levels of aether to burn.

“Oh, this is worse than I thought,” he muttered to himself, “Much, much worse.”

As powerful as he was, even he had to admit defeat when faced with these numbers . The moment he was detected, he’d have a swarm of hundreds, nay, thousands of monsters falling on him immediately - his armiger could protect him for some minutes, but eventually he’d be overrun and killed unless he began tossing out Ultimas left and right… and even then the monster numbers would just soak up those spells like a nightmare sponge. 

Could he just glass this entire area? Would it stem the flood? He still didn’t know the source of all this, if it was airborne vectors, or something carried in the groundwater, the earth? He wasn’t sure… and something in him felt uneasy about needlessly blasting Xerora, as decimated as it was, off the face of the star. The resulting fallout from the explosion could spread the infection further. 

Towards Amaurot. 

That was the discomforting fact - that slowly, surely, this was converging on Amaurot. It was the same in the opposite direction of his city. Jeduma, their neighbour further inland, was equally ravaged. Amaurot, it seemed, was the only bastion left, but probably only for a few more weeks, a month at most. 

You wouldn’t know it in Amaurot, though. It still looked peaceful, its skies clear, nothing more dangerous than an occasional escaped Concept from the Akademia. Everyone back home were truly ignorant of the true scope of the Doom. Fuck. They were fucked

Except, he couldn’t put that in his report, could he? He still needed to figure out the source. 

He pinpointed another high vantage point further into the city, focused and - jumped

His feet landed soundlessly on the new rooftop, his soul still remaining crushed small. Something growled the floor below, having sensed his minor flare of magic, but it settled after a moment. Without any clear food in sight, these monsters were rather lethargic, something he used to his advantage. 

Prometheus continued on like for that a while. Stealthily leaping from broken building to broken building, towards where the stars were falling. The air started to grow hot and ashy, painful to breathe in, and that nauseating pressure increased to the point where he felt like some beast had his soul in a tight, relentless grip, trying to crush him to death. He ignored it, dismissing it as a purely mental feeling. 

He stopped on the half-crumbled remains of a stadium next to Xerora’s main river, watching where comets and meteors ruthlessly pounded the block across the river into molten slag. Xerora was slowly, surely, being wiped off the map.

Nothing indicated a caster, a source. Just… heat. The vibrations under his feet of the earth shivering from the merciless onslaught of crashing stone. The sick, pervading feeling of death . That… pressure, scratching at his soul’s borders. Prometheus let out a shuddering breath, that alien sensation of fear harder and harder to fend off. But he couldn’t give in. The moment he did, who knew what monstrosities his Creation magic would spawn?

He needed to regroup. It was difficult to think logically here. He pivoted on his heel, away from the falling sky, and leapt to a nearby skyscraper. He felt drained, weary, and he paused for his next jump, identifying his destination, bracing himself, jumped -

-as an awful, soul-rending scream rose up from the earth until it felt like his bones were going to shatter from the intensity of it. He screamed too, that pressure briefly, sharply, agonisingly, cracking through the borders of his soul, digging in, violation, and he fell-  


(flow)  


The Lifestream spat him out beyond the borders of Xerora. 

It was like breaking free of quicksand. Prometheus flailed, unable to determine if he was standing, sitting, sprawled, limbs erratically moving until his fingers dug into something thick and wet, scrambling, knees sinking and tasting sand on his lips. His soul reeled from a deep, throbbing pain like he’d just ripped himself free from fish hooks sunk deep. He probably just did. That scream had- it latched into him. It had tried to…

It took longer than he liked to marshal his scattered, terrified wits. He came back to himself clinging to the white sand of one of Xerora’s many beachfronts, shaking like a leaf and crying. His soul hurt. It hurt

He didn’t even want to prod at it, but he had to check. Gingerly, he inspected the damage and cringed. The borders of his soul were ripped open, leaking his emotions and aether into the surrounding area. Not enough for his Creation magic to go rogue on him, but enough to make him feel like his soul just got the meat flayed off it. The damage would heal, though, eventually.

“...ow…” he whispered pathetically into the sand, because the alternative was to throw up. 

What the hell had that noise been? It had- urgh, even just remembering it made his insides cramp up. He clenched his jaw, forcing himself up on shaking hands and knees, stubbornly bulling through the pain. Had he been a weaker Amaurotine, that might’ve undone him. As it was, he was fucking Prometheus, the fourteenth member of the Convocation. He will not be brought low by a scream!

“Got to… go back,” he told himself, rising on trembling legs. He clumsily thought of coordinates - if he could teleport back to Amaurot drunk off his ass, he can do it in this sorry state - ignoring the creeping pressure sliding over him. It was coming for him, slowly, sluggishly. 

Not today. 

Giving Xerora’s skyline one last look, he wobbled unsteadily on his heel and teleported back home. 

Xerora’s sky continued to fall. 


Prometheus’s coordinates ended up being a little off.

“My bed is not a landing pa- what happened to you.”

Hades’ voice filtered in like bad static, the familiar sight of his bedroom ceiling spinning like a demented merry-go-round. He couldn’t even talk. A strained, tinny noise of agony left him, because everything was loud (like that scream that scream that scream) because Hades’s home was in the middle of Amaurot and millions of souls crashed over his bleeding borders, drowning him, and he couldn’t get them out -

-they were shoved out. Hades was now leaning over him, his mask nowhere to be seen, dark brown hair tumbling into his eyes, his hands clasped over Prometheus’s damp cheeks. Hades was gently sheltering him from the din of Amaurot, and it felt like cold water splashed over a searing burn.

Prometheus,” Hades said, scandalously using his true name. It helped, though, kept him grounded, “Prometheus, you’re safe. Calm down, let me help. Let me help.”

I am, he thought dizzily, but he realised that he was also shying away from Hades’s soul, scrunching tight like an animal dying under a low-sitting porch. He couldn’t uncurl, though. He knew the moment he did, that awful pain was going to come rushing back. Hades still nudged at him, trying to heal, and Prometheus stayed curled up, refusing to move. 

“Hythlodaeus,” Hades muttered, leaning away, but still keeping his hands on his cheeks, “Call Hythlodaeus, now!”

“Calling Hythlodaeus,” a soft, artificial voice hummed, followed by a sleep-rough, familiar voice of, “Emet-Selch? It’s late-”  

Everything faded out at that point. Prometheus distantly realised he was having a fit. He felt like a soaked sponge, water just running out of him, except it was aether, just pouring out - then a sensation like it was pouring back in, warm and gentle - Hythlodaeus -and he uncurled, enough - Hades and Hythlodaeus - until his mind could think beyond that scream and that pain and the Doom is coming I have to tell them that it is, that it is-

He came back to himself sprawled out in Hades’s bed, sticky with sweat and limbs shaking violently, his soul feeling raw but with its borders restored, if tender. Hades was still blanketing him, keeping the worst of Amaurot’s din out, his hand on his shoulder. 

Hythlodaeus was leaning over him, his mask still in place, “Prometheus?” he whispered, hushed, “Are you back?” 

“Wh…” he croaked, his voice cracking. His throat felt raw, like he’d been screaming at the top of his lungs for hours, “Where…”

“Amaurot,” Hades said tightly, “You teleported into my bed, screeching like a dying animal.”

Prometheus felt it then, a tinge of white hot fear, quickly siphoned away before he really processed it. Hades kept up the calming gentle vibes, despite the unhappy, tense expression on his face. 

“What happened?” Hythlodaeus asked gently, “We need to take you to the healers, so we need to know what damaged you.”

Prometheus’s brain felt like scrambled eggs. What had happened? The answer was there, but his thoughts meandered clumsily, a slowness that dimly terrified him. What had happened? 

“Xerora…” he rasped, “I was there, studying the Doom. And…”

(that scream)

“...the scream…”

“Prometheus?”

Prometheus did not allow his thoughts to move beyond that. Xerora’s broken skyline, the vibration of pounding rock against melting stone, that scream. He did not think beyond that. 

“Something,” he said, when Hades gave him a very cautious nudge, “Tried to claw into me. I felt it, inside me. Trying to.”

Hades’s fingers clenched into a bruising grip on his shoulder, “There’s nothing there,” he said firmly, “I’ve checked, thoroughly.”

“I know,” Prometheus exhaled shakily, “I-I used Flow. The Lifestream ripped me free. Literally, haha…”

“Idiot,” Hades snapped, “You could have sundered yourself!”

“Better than… that,” Prometheus muttered, feeling sick at remembering- nope. Not thinking on it. He closed his eyes. 

“Emet-Selch,” Hythlodaeus said softly, “We need to get him medical attention. Now.”

Hades’s soul prickled almost possessively, blanketing tighter around him, feeling jagged and angry. But, after a moment, he eased up and grumbled his agreement, “Fine.” 

Prometheus felt Hades pull away, and he panicked, gripping at his wrist blindly. Hades jumped. 

“Don’t, don’t- leave-”

“I’m not,” Hades said gently, “Repose.”

Prometheus didn’t even have a chance to be indignant at the bluntly cast sleep spell. It gripped him in an instant, dragging him deep into a painless, dreamless sleep. 


 

Hades was angry

Barely an hour after Prometheus was handed over to the tender mercies of the healers was a Convocation meeting called. Prometheus’s return hadn’t been missed, as he had practically broadcasted his agony all over Amaurot before Hades managed to mute it. As the Council knew where he had gone… the meeting went as expected. 

“So, he bit off more than he could chew,” Lahabrea said, “I believe that was the main concern when he proposed his expedition.” 

Hades ground his teeth together so hard his jaw hurt, “For all his cockiness,” he gritted out, “He knows when to tread cautiously. He said something tried to get inside him. In an ambush, most like.” 

“Considering the state of him when he arrived,” Elidibus said neutrally, clearly playing as mediator, “It almost succeeded.”

“He used flow. I checked. He is clean,” Hades snapped. 

The other Council members were silent, watching this play out. Hades knew that they saw this as an opportunity. Hades had been blocking their Zodiark Concept proposal with the excuse that they couldn’t hold a vote without everyone present, but if one of their own was hospitalised for severe injury, then… 

“But the damage is extensive. His recovery period is expected to be over a week,” Nabriales commented, “If the Doom is so dangerous that it brought low him, whose martial strength matches us thirteen put together, then it stands to reason that we cannot afford to wait any longer. I propose we vote on the Zodiark Concept, so that its implementation is done in time for the arrival of the Doom.” 

Hades almost objected - a week was nothing for them - but he remembered the state of Prometheus when he tumbled onto his bed, screaming like he was dying. It had been awful, feeling his agony and terror just spilling out mindlessly, with Hades only barely able to staunch the bleed. Prometheus must’ve instinctively teleported to the one place he felt safe, and he felt wretched at the thought. 

Nabriales, as much as it pained him to admit it, was right. They couldn’t afford to wait-

(“promise me”)

The Council were gazing at him expectantly, and Hades… 

Hades did not object. 

Chapter Text

Sex was a bit of an odd topic for Amaurotines. 

Procreation was strictly regulated to avoid gross overpopulation, as the death rate for immortal beings was, unsurprisingly, drastically low. When an Amaurotine died, the Bureau of Administration went through the laborious process of shifting through bids to procreate, weighed current resources against the potential benefit for another Amaurotine to replace the one lost, and issued the necessary permission to the very lucky winner out of millions of hopefuls. 

It became a big thing, unintentionally, especially as procreation had become a lot more streamlined in recent centuries, not requiring all that messy sex business. 

‘Sex’ slowly started to be viewed as ‘obselete’, a holdover from when their race was a bit less advanced than it was now. Besides, why suffer through the laborious process of getting sweaty and dirty with no certainty that it would pay off, when you could enjoy the far more reliable, cleaner way of soul-touching . It can be done in public with no one else being the wiser, was just as pleasurable and intimate as sex, and was considered socially acceptable to engage in on a daily basis. 

Physical sex was… well. It was considered weird. Why would you do it?

But, there were always a few kinky oddballs who would be into the filthy, tiring act of it, wouldn’t there? It was strange, and some would call it indecent, but so long as it was kept private, well… just keep it private. That was the common Amaurotine thought on ‘sex’. 

(Unbeknownst to the majority of Amaurot, two of their well-respected council members engaged in said filthy, tiring acts on a surprisingly regular basis, which started because of scientific curiosity (or, so they claim).)  


“What if,” Prometheus said one day over a friendly coffee, “We combine the two?”

“Hm?” Hades didn’t look up from some architect designs sprawled out on the table before him, “Combine what?”

“Sex and soul-touching.” 

Hades paused, staring fixedly at the corner of one design sheet before slowly lifting his gaze to where Prometheus was sipping his coffee like he hadn’t just suggested something totally indecent over the breakfast table. 

“...why.”

“Why not?” Prometheus returned, his golden eyes bright with mischief as he winked at him, “I think it would be fun to explore.”

“Uh huh,” Hades said, practically oozing doubt as he gave his friend a suspicious look. They had done both already, so it wasn’t as if this request was entirely out of left field, but doing them together just seemed like an overstimulating disaster ready to happen. In fact, knowing what Hades did about Prometheus, he could safely hypothesise that this ‘experiment’ would result in Prometheus caving first as he was pathetically sensitive if you knew the right places to touch-

ah

Abruptly, Hades found himself much more amicable to the idea, and he smiled. Prometheus began to look a bit unsure of his own proposal. 

“Well, if it’s for scientific curiosity,” Hades purred, “I’m interested.” 

“Oh,” Prometheus seemed wrong-footed, “Uh, really? Just like that? You usually play hard to get for a bit...”

Hades hummed, low in his throat.

Without his mask in place, Hades had the total delight in watching Prometheus’s face flush, his gaze quickly dropping and looking away. Like he said, pathetically sensitive. After countless centuries with this man, Hades knew how to play him like a cheap fiddle.

“This is unfair,” Prometheus grumbled to his coffee cup, “I was meant to be the sexy suave one.” 

“Admit it, you prefer it like this,” Hades drawled, reaching out to nudge his foot against Prometheus’s ankle, lazily reaching to the edge of his friend’s soul to brush up against is teasingly, “Being a pillow queen-”

“I am not a pillow queen!” Prometheus huffed, going stiff-backed at Hades’s gentle touch. His pupils were dilated though, the blush high on his cheeks - he could feel the warm thrum of arousal twine through his friend’s soul, and Hades basked in it. There was a perverse kind of pleasure in being able to draw out this response by doing practically nothing, but it was like shooting fish in a barrel with Prometheus: too easy.

So, Hades drew back, didn’t bother hiding his smirk when Prometheus let out a disappointed noise. 

“Take initiative, then,” Hades challenged, “You did propose this experiment, after all. Follow it through.”

Prometheus narrowed his eyes at him, and for one thrilling moment he thought the man was going to lunge at him from across the breakfast table. Which, mildly annoying if it ruined his building plans, but also interesting if it meant dealing with a riled up Prometheus. He got delightfully physical when properly motivated.

Instead, being contrary as per usual, his friend restrained himself. 

“I will,” Prometheus promised darkly, “Later.”

“Later?”

“Mmhm,” Prometheus picked up his coffee cup, grinning now, “The suspense is part of the foreplay.” 

Hades gave him a flat look, but let it go. Well, fine, if he wanted to make a game of it, he’d indulge him. No doubt Prometheus wanted to wait for him to lower his guard before going in for the kill - they both shared the same goal, after all: embarrassing each other. 

He felt himself smile as he looked back down at his plans. Such a silly game, but, really, with eternity stretching out before them, they had to get their kicks from somewhere


Over a week later, long enough for Hades to sort of forget about the whole thing, Prometheus acted when his guard was at its lowest. It had been a satisfyingly productive day, one where Hades got to flex his Creation magics by constructing a brand new and modern building for the Bureau of Administration in only a handful of hours. He was bone tired, but in a pleasant mood, so had indulged Prometheus’s offer to walk him home. 

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you this tired,” Prometheus hummed as they entered Hades’s apartment. The door shut behind them, sealing them in his personal instance and dampening some of the noise from Amaurot, “It’s cute.”

“Call me that again, and I will turn you into an otter for a month,” Hades said without any heat, tugging his mask off and sweeping his hood back in one motion. His hair immediately tumbled into his eyes without the mask holding it back, and he puffed at one stubborn forelock irritably. 

“Mm…” Prometheus smiled fondly at him. His own mask had been discarded during the walk back, his hood only just barely staying in place. For a respected member of the Convocation, he was shockingly slovenly, even by Hades’s standards. 

“Hey,” Prometheus continued as Hades debated whether or not to have a nap, “Why don’t we celebrate your achievement today?”

“It’s hardly an achievement,” Hades said, “But if you’re giving me a gift, I won’t say no.”

“So greedy,” Prometheus purred, “Well, you can say it’s a gift. You know that experiment I proposed…?”

Hades had to think on it for a hot second, before remembering. Ah, yes, their little game . He eyed his friend thoughtfully, weighing whether he had the energy and focus for it. Well, it wouldn’t last long, he supposed, and it would help him go to sleep… 

“To mix sex and soul-touching?” he murmured, “You want to do that now?”

“If you’re up for it,” Prometheus said, and Hades knew if he said no, his friend would back off instantly. It was what made these games fun. There was never any pressure from either of them, both of them having enough patience to wait for centuries for the other when it came to the important things.

Hades tilted his head, looked at Prometheus from beneath his eyelashes. 

“... fine,” he said huskily, holding back a smirk when Prometheus visibly lit up, “But best get to work before I doze off.”

“I’m not doing all the work,” Prometheus huffed, but he did snap his fingers and teleported them directly to Hades’s bed with their robes ‘helpfully’ vanishing along the way. 

Hades was unimpressed, sprawled out messily on his back as Prometheus sat proudly on his stomach, “That was shockingly lazy.”

Efficient,” Prometheus corrected, “There is nothing sexy about manually getting out of those robes. It’s like escaping a murderous curtain sometimes.”

Interesting comparison to make, but not something Hades entirely disagreed with.

“Anyway…” Prometheus hummed, his gaze heavy-lidded as he looked down at him. His soul brushed up against him, warm and shivering with anticipation. Hades had the faintest sensation of something scratching lightly down his back, making his skin prickle pleasantly. 

Hades made a pleased noise, had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop his grin when Prometheus’s reacted, pupils dilating at that quiet little noise as his arousal spiked. So, so easy to get a response out of. He couldn’t help but open himself up, a breathless little sound escaping when Prometheus dived right in, entwining their souls together as one in a lovely, intimate twist of pleasure

It didn’t require much physical contact to achieve, this spiritual union, but it still felt nice to feel Prometheus’s trembling thighs grip his hips, his fingers curled on his chest as he restlessly kneaded it with his knuckles, every physical contact like a prickling, hot brand. Hades almost forgot they were meant to be doing something else other than basking in each other until Prometheus started to jerkily, clumsily grind down against his belly. 

Hades blindly groped downwards, until he could dig his nails into Prometheus’s thighs - firm and taut with well-toned muscle, being one of the few Amaurotines who did not shirk heavy physical activity - arching his lower back to press up against him. It was difficult to focus, outside of the lovely cresting pleasure of where their souls joined, as rhythmic as waves lapping against the shore. The pleasure rose and dipped and rose higher still then dipped and higher still and higher still and higher still, distantly hearing Prometheus whimper and pant as he rutted harder against him, and higher still, and higher still, distantly feeling Prometheus mindlessly paw at his chest, until he was gripping his shoulders, rutting harder, and higher still and higher still -

Prometheus made an abrupt, cut off noise, his soul spasming from rapid pique of white-hot ecstasy. It took Hades entirely by surprise, knocking him out of the relaxing, rhythmic flow of pleasure he’d sunk into - just in time to feel Prometheus release all over his stomach. 

“Ah,” Hades murmured roughly, still a bit disorientated from the rough pause, as he opened his eyes to see Prometheus sitting stock still on his stomach, one hand over his mouth and clearly mortified at his very very very quick orgasm, “That was fast.”

“I-I didn’t think that would…” Prometheus stammered, red to the very tips of his ears, as he shivered from the afterglow.

Hades gently scratched his fingernails down Prometheus’s still trembling thighs, then kneaded his knuckles into them, until his friend caught his breath and stopped looking ready to spontaneously combust on the spot. 

“It’s fine,” Hades said honestly, smirking up at his embarrassed friend, “You lasted, oh, a few more seconds that I thought you would…”

Hades!” Prometheus huffed, bristling like an offended kitten, “As if you would have done any better!”

He wouldn’t have, which was why he made sure Prometheus had tried to mix the physical with the spiritual stimulation first. He chuckled low, right in the back of his throat, and lazily snapped his fingers to clean up the mess Prometheus left on his belly. 

“Are you wanting to try again?” he drawled, “I barely had time to enjoy myself, you see, so…”

Prometheus attempted to smother him with his own pillow, and after an incredibly childish tussle that was utterly unbefitting of two well respected members of the Convocation, they both sprawled out side by side on the bed, Hades dozy but content.

“I think I’ll do some practice for next time,” Prometheus said, “Sexual stimulation from the physical nervous system and soul-touching was just… too much in one go.”

“You want to keep mixing the two?” Hades asked curiously.

“Well,” Prometheus’s soul suddenly felt shy, and he shifted his weight, “It seems very… soul-touching is incredibly intimate, yeah, and sex is just plain fun, but combining the two. It seems really intimate. Do you get what I mean?”

Not particularly, but Prometheus did a lot of things Hades didn’t understand but still indulged him in. 

“I suppose,” he said doubtfully, and only just fought down a yawn. Ugh. Tired, “I’m sleeping now.”

“Yeah, I’m tired too,” Prometheus sighed, stretching lazily, “I’m staying here.”

Hades grunted, already closing his eyes and starting to doze. Prometheus shifted about next to him for a bit, before he slowly curled up against his side like some big cat. Hades never knew why he played coy like that - in an hour or so he’d be like an octopus, clinging to him and squeezing the life out of him. But again, Prometheus did a lot of things Hades didn’t understand.

But that was fine. Life would be dull if he could predict everything about Prometheus. 

Chapter Text

It was rare for someone to be as injured as Prometheus had been in this day and age. 

Physical bodies could always be replaced, or even flash-created the moment one ‘died’. The average Amaurotine always had one or two ‘deaths’ under their belts, and it was always treated as an embarrassing slip up from an experiment gone wrong. The only way to truly hurt an Amaurotine was to damage their soul, and there were very few, limited ways that could be achieved. 

Accidents happened, of course, but the damage was always minor. Malicious, deliberate attempts to hurt an Amaurotine’s soul were more dangerous, but depending on the power gap between the attacker and the victim, again, the damage was rarely serious. 

Prometheus, however…

Hythlodaeus had some knowledge in souls, something he picked up during his days in the Akadamia working on Guardian Forces. While he did not fully understand what the head healer had told him regarding his friend’s injuries, he understood that Prometheus had come close to actual death. That his soul had been mutilated.  

If it hadn’t been for Hades’s quick thinking, if he hadn’t staunched the aether bleed the instant Prometheus had landed in his bed, he would’ve… 

But Hythlodaeus saw no point in dwelling on ‘what ifs’. Prometheus had managed to teleport across the ocean in a single leap, grievously wounded as he was, to the one person who had the skill and desire to save him. A tragedy had been narrowly averted, even if it shook everyone up. The fact that the Doom had managed to cripple Prometheus, who was well known to be the most powerful of the Convocation, it was terrifying

He tried to keep this fear locked up, though, pressed it right down as he watched over Prometheus’s sleeping form. He didn’t want to cause his friend distress, even subconsciously, by unintentionally broadcasting his worry. Prometheus didn’t seem to be resting well either, slowly fighting through Hades’s sleep spell and rousing into aching consciousness. 

That in itself was alarming. Prometheus should’ve been able to shrug that off in an instant, without thinking. For the spell to hold for almost an entire day… 

Well, it allowed the healers to conduct their work without accidentally being skewered by Prometheus’s hair trigger reflexes. After his treatment, the healers deemed it best to keep Prometheus in familiar surroundings that he associated with safety, to promote swift healing, but not to leave him alone due to how weak his soul’s borders were. Hades had tried to wrangle for his friend to stay in his lodgings, but Hythlodaeus managed to talk him out of it. He just had a feeling it would cause Prometheus more stress in the long run. 

Especially considering the vote last night. 

Hythlodaeus was dreading that conversation. Prometheus was going to be furious at Hades for breaking his promise, and Hades would get defensive and dig his heels in, and, oh, it was going to be a nightmare to mediate. But, there was no disagreement they could never overcome, so Hythlodaeus was sure it would all be water under the bridge after a few tense weeks. 

Yes, surely. 

“...nnh…”

Hythlodaeus snapped out of his thoughts, feeling Prometheus finally stir awake. His soul felt dazed and confused, and Hythlodaeus very gently, like he was touching delicate glass, nudged Prometheus’s still tender soul border. 

Immediately, Prometheus’s soul violently recoiled. Hythlodaeus felt it, then, a flash of sour, yellow fear leaking through before Prometheus’s walls slammed down, shutting him out completely.

“It’s okay! It’s me!” Hythlodaeus rushed to say, hands held up placatingly as he retreated, keeping his soul small and unthreatening as Prometheus bolted upright, his eyes wild with panic, “It’s me, it’s Hythlodaeus!”

Prometheus just stared at him, panting, curled up against the headboard of his own bed, his soul resembling a venomous sea urchin with how jagged and sharp it felt. It hurt Hythlodaeus to see him like this, and he lowered his hands, pressing them palm-down on the side of the bed. 

“It’s me,” he repeated softly, and after a moment of hesitation, moved to take off his mask. He rarely did it - found it too uncomfortable to bear his face, even with his closest friends - but he hoped it would help keep Prometheus calm. He always said he liked looking at Hythlodaeus’s face, “See?”

“Hythlodaeus…” Prometheus rasped, slowly relaxing by a mere fraction. His soul was still defensive, but it tentatively reached out for him. Hythlodaeus met him halfway, soothing the pain he could feel throbbing through him. It was an awful feeling that made him feel mildly nauseous, but if it would make Prometheus feel better, he’d endure it. 

“We’re at your workshop,” Hythlodaeus explained carefully, keeping a careful eye on Prometheus’s fluctuating emotional state. It felt unstable, “In your bedroom. Do you remember what happened?”

Prometheus looked like he was struggling to focus, his gaze sliding from Hythlodaeus to the corners of his room, looking for something. After a long minute, he finally answered, “Yes.” 

Hythlodaeus wasn’t assured by that long pause, “Are you sure?”

“Mmm…” Prometheus slowly uncurled from where his body had been uncomfortably wedged against the headboard. He fumbled, uncharacteristically uncoordinated as he tried to swing his legs over the edge of the bed. Alarmed, Hythlodaeus reached out to stop him. 

“Prometheus, you need to stay in bed,” he scolded, gently gripping his arm and tugging him back, “You’re too hurt to move. Please, rest.”

Prometheus didn’t even put up a fight except for a weak attempt to wriggle free. His face was ashen and sickly by the time Hythlodaeus coaxed him to lie down, and his soul was such a miserable pit of agony it was giving him sympathy pain. 

“I need to tell… the Council…” Prometheus was muttering feverishly.

“I’m sure it can wait,” Hythlodaeus said, anxiously keeping a hand on his friend’s shoulder, in case he attempted another flail for freedom. His friend’s soul jerked away from him again, walls coming back up, as it twisted and thrashed into itself, like it was trying to escape itself

“...need to tell Hades... ” Prometheus didn’t seem to hear him. 

Hythlodaeus dithered, unsure on what to do. This seemed like a compulsion, a final command Prometheus had placed on himself in his last delirious moments. But what was there to tell that was so vital? Had he… had he figured out the source of the Doom? Its solution? 

“Can you tell me?” Hythlodaeus pleaded, “I’ll listen and tell the Council in your stead.”

Clarity flickered in Prometheus’s eyes, and he finally looked at him. He reached out clumsily, and Hythlodaeus gently took his hand, reaching out instinctively to brush against Prometheus’s soul border. His friend shuddered, like a chill had overcome him, but he didn’t recoil. 

“You need to tell Hades,” Prometheus rasped, “It’s- it’s important.”

“I will,” Hythlodaeus promised.

“The Doom,” Prometheus started, his voice almost cracking over that word, “We can’t- stop it like, they want. It’s in the earth, the- star itself, is… poisoned. In the Lifestream, I felt a... some kind of infection, and, if they, if they imbue it with a will...”

Hythlodaeus felt like his stomach had dropped past the floor, not fully understanding but understanding enough to know that this was… very very very bad

“Oh no…” he whispered, “But they’ve already voted-” he stopped. 

Too late. Even in his semi-delirious state, Prometheus caught it. 

“No,” he breathed, his eyes wide with betrayal, “He- he promised-

“They forced his hand,” Hythlodaeus admitted quietly, feeling wretched at being the one to tell Prometheus. It should’ve been Hades, “With you injured, they said they couldn’t afford to wait for your return to vote, so he… he couldn’t do anything.”

It was a weak excuse - Hades could have done several things to stall it further, but privately Hythlodaeus felt that Hades either genuinely thought the plan would work, or had been so shaken by Prometheus’s injuries he felt it was the only chance they had. Hades always had a flaw of acting on feelings at inopportune times, and Hythlodaeus felt that vote was one of those. 

Judging by Prometheus’s expression, he knew this too.

“That- he…” Prometheus looked close to tears, and without warning bolted upright and half-threw himself off the bed. Hythlodaeus had been so surprised he didn’t even have time to stop him. 

Prometheus! ” he gasped, quickly hurrying around the bed when Prometheus, unsurprisingly, collapsed onto his knees with a grunt of pain before he took two steps, “You need to stay in bed-”

“I need to- to punch that backstabber in the face!” Prometheus snarled, shrugging off Hythlodaeus’s steadying hands as he struggled back to his feet, swaying from side to side, “How- how dare he? How- he- h-he promised me t-that…!”

Prometheus started to cry. It was the most heartbreaking thing Hythlodaeus had ever witnessed. 

“Shhh, shh,” Hythlodaeus gently coaxed him to sit on the bed, relieved that he wasn’t shrugged off this time, “Emet-Selch didn’t know about… I’m sure, once they know it is the star itself, they’ll change course.”

“That’s not the point!” Prometheus furiously wiped at his eyes with shaking hands, his soul an ugly twist of frustration, hurt and anger . Oh, there was a worrying amount of it bubbling up, like lava seething in an unstable caldera, “He betrayed me! He lied to my face!”

Because he loves you to a fault, Hythlodaeus thought sadly.

“Prometheus,” Hythlodaeus said softly, “Last night, Hades was terrified. After taking you to the healers, they told us you might not make it. Your soul was torn almost in half which is… normally fatal…”

Prometheus breathed raggedly, his head bowed, his hair hiding his eyes. 

“Hades kept you together long enough for them to fix you,” Hythlodaeus continued, “For those long hours he felt your agony like it was his own. Then after that, he had to immediately leave for that meeting, not knowing if his efforts were enough to save you. It was still touch-and-go a few hours after they stitched you back together.”

Prometheus sniffed, wiping at his eyes again, “S-Still…”

“I just ask you see if from his point of view,” Hythlodaeus said gently, “He made that decision based on what he felt was best for you. You always were his biggest weakness, Prometheus.” 

Prometheus was quiet for a moment. Then: 

“I still get to smack him…” he mumbled, though his anger started to cool, settling into something exhausted and sad, “I’m upset.”

“You are,” Hythlodaeus murmured, gently tucking a wayward lock of dark hair behind Prometheus’s ear, “So, I think you should rest and speak to Emet-Selch after you feel less… raw.” 

Prometheus exhaled shakily, but obediently eased back onto the bed, his arms shaking from exhaustion. 

Hythlodaeus internally sighed in relief, though he made a note to warn Hades to stay away for a few days until Prometheus’s temper had time to really cool down. While possessing a long fuse, when roused Prometheus's rage was a terrible thing to behold. There was still that massive glassed crater a few miles beyond Amaurot’s city limits when he had a genuine fight with Hades two centuries ago, an event the pair of them refused to ever acknowledge.  

Prometheus suddenly lifted his hand, and Hythlodaeus unthinkingly took it, absently teleporting his chair from the other side to under him as he sat. The legs squeaked quietly as he settled his weight into it, feeling several thousand years older as he gently rubbed his thumb over his friend’s knuckles. 

What a mess. 

Hythlodaeus summoned his mask, putting it back on as Prometheus drowsed back into a fitful, restless sleep. Despite being close friends with two members of the Convocation, Hythlodaeus was not someone of particular note. He used to be a researcher, had been one of those involved into that disaster of a Primal Project, and now dealt mostly as Prometheus’s assistant. This whole business with the Zodiark Concept, the encroaching Doom, a solution, it was beyond him. 

But, Zodiark was, at the end of the day, a Primal. Far more advanced and complex, but…

Hythlodaeus let his mind mull over it, to speak to Prometheus about later. Between the pair of them, they might be able to… come up with something, something that would sway Hades, and make everything right again. 

Yes, there was never a disagreement the three of them dwelt on overly long. 

It’ll be fine. 

Chapter Text

When Prometheus’s final moments came, Emet-Selch’s love was briefly stronger than Zodiark’s grip. 

There was still a soft, poisonous voice whispering on the edges of his thoughts, enticing yet revolting all at once. A traitor, a backstabber, an enemy , it crooned, pointing out all the little moments where Prometheus had spurned his open hand, threw their lifetime of friendship and love back in his face, and betrayed him -

Yet. 

Yet…

Emet-Selch crouched down next to his long-time friend, his lifetime partner, his newest enemy, and sighed. 

“What a mess you’ve made,” he said, “You’ve ruined everything.”

Prometheus, only just about sitting up thanks to some broken piece of masonry acting as a backrest for him, let out a raspy, breathless noise that barely passed as a laugh. He looked terrible, his dark robes torn and scorched, his hood long since swept back and his mask cracked right down the middle. Emet-Selch itched to remove it, but he held himself back. 

He no longer had the right to that intimacy. 

“Not going to finish the job?” Prometheus rasped curiously, sounding oddly calm and at peace with the thought, “I bet Zodiark is howling at you to stab me in the throat.”

He was. But Zodiark was also distracted with grappling Hydaelyn up in the heavens, the sky lighting up with flashes of purple and blue, two Gods vying for ultimate control. The earth shook, the air broiled, the aether churned, and all that could be done by the insignificant pawns was sit and watch. 

Killing Prometheus… Emet-Selch found he could not do it, even with His command thundering through his heart. 

“You’re dying anyway,” Emet-Selch said, staring up at the sky, where their Gods fought. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Prometheus anymore, “So, I’m not going to waste the effort on you.”

In his peripheral, Prometheus smiled fondly - yet sadly. 

“Still a brat...” his friend muttered, slouching a little bit as he raised a shaking hand to his chest, pressing the heel of his palm hard against his sternum.

Emet-Selch watched him from his peripheral. Prometheus’s soul was a wreck - large chunks torn out, gouged out, fed to the parasitic Hydaelyn - or taken? Prometheus’s screams of agony when the Primal rose from the desperate depths of his soul had been - heart-wrenching. A terrible echo of a dark night, Prometheus tumbling out of a wild teleport, his soul torn almost in two as he cried for him to help-

But this time, he didn’t ask Emet-Selch to help him. He just screamed, then went quiet, then still. He hadn’t moved since Hydaelyn’s birth, and he will never move again after this. 

“What did She take?” Emet-Selch asked. 

Prometheus dropped his hand. 

“The important things,” he said, no longer smiling, “The things I wanted to keep so much, to remember as I....”

Emet-Selch’s fingers itched from an old, ancient habit to take Prometheus’s hand in his own. Some forgotten instinct was howling at him to try and fix- but no. His touch would not be welcome, and Prometheus was beyond any kind of fixing. He was slowly, but surely, bleeding to death, the shattered remnants of his soul only just barely holding itself together. 

It must be painful, yet still Prometheus held on. Why…?

“I don’t remember your name anymore,” Prometheus confessed quietly, staring blankly across the broken horizon, “I know we were close, that… that we were friends. It hurts to try to remember though. There’s nothing there. She took it all.” 

Emet-Selch clenched his hands, a pain so visceral it was almost numbing piercing through his heart at the thought of- of Prometheus not remembering. That he will enter the Lifestream, and be reborn without any knowledge of the thousands of years they spent as close friends, the happiness they shared, the sadness, their love and affection - all gone, in an instant. 

For the best, the poisonous voice hissed, easier to cut this traitor out of your heart

“You remember…” he whispered, “Nothing?”

“I remember…” Prometheus murmured, “That I love you more than anything. That, that I just…” 

Emet-Selch turned to him, unsure if he was feeling rage or despair. Prometheus’s soul was breaking apart. 

“No. No,” he snarled, reaching for him. His fingers curled into the front of his robes, he grasped vainly for his friend- enemy- his soul, but it was crumbling fast, sifting between his fingers like powder, “No, you don’t get to do this to me!”

Prometheus’s eyes were bright - unshed tears, reflecting the flashes of light above - his skin ashen with pain, his dark hair sticking to his forehead from cold sweat. There was no emotion in him, in his expression. The scrambled mess that was left in him, that could barely be considered even a quarter of a soul, was losing too much too fast for anything that complex. 

Emet-Selch was basically holding a shade of what was once Prometheus. His friend - enemy ( love ) - was already long dead. 

“I just…” Prometheus’s shade whispered, “...want to save…” 

A thunderous roar from above drowned out the rest, his lips barely moving. 

“What?” Emet-Selch rasped, “What, what did you want to save? Prometheus!”

But it was pointless. The light had gone from Prometheus’s eyes. The bright, vivid, glorious soul that burned inside him had gone cold like a dead star. 

Emet-Selch - refused. 

He pressed his palms flat against the unmoving chest, searched - dug deep, reached out for that familiar spark - Prometheus was a brat, he would always try to block him out and hide himself if he was angry enough, but Emet-Selch always found him. 

He did not find him. 

This body was just an empty shell.

Prometheus was dead. 

Rejoice, the poisonous voice cried, counter to the agonising despair that burned his heart, our enemy is dead!

Above, an unearthly scream echoed as Hydaelyn finally struck true, and the sky splintered into fourteen different cracks. 

The world ended for everyone, in more ways than one.

Chapter Text

Hades liked a methodical approach to his Concepts. 

He planned out what result he wanted and how he wanted to achieve it, and started on the foundation before building it up. This was standard for any half-decent architect to their structural designs, but it was also how he approached any and every Concept he conceived. The ‘Individual Instance’, for example, was complex dimensional editing that required a lot of calculations running simultaneously to be successfully implemented. He constructed it the same way: planned what he wanted, how he wanted to achieve it, and built the foundation of it before expanding it outwards.

Prometheus, on the other hand… 

He was a genius, to put it bluntly. He had good instincts, was very impulsive when it came to defining his Concepts, and Hades had only seen him sort-of plan something out on paper and pen once, and that was to doodle some duck-beaver hybrid with ‘venomous?’ scrawled next to it. Prometheus made plenty of failures as a result, but he was terrifyingly quick at correcting them within the next attempt, and wasn’t afraid to experiment with radical ideas either. He was the very definition of a mad scientist.

So, it made sense that their styles clashed horribly. No sane person would partner them up to spearhead a very important project that was an extension to the Akadaemia’s zoology department.

Unfortunately, this was exactly what happened. 

Prometheus,” Hades sighed exasperatedly, “What are you doing?”

“I'm trying to decide on a colour,” Prometheus said absently, idly summoning blocks of marble of random size and colour on the wide, cleared area set up on Amaurot’s outskirts for their experimenting. Hades dully watched as the pile rose to dangerous heights.

“Nero Marquina?" Prometheus mused aloud, flicking his fingers to create a slab of pitch black stone that landed precariously at the very top of the pile, "Ugh, no, the black would make everyone blend in. Maybe Makrana…?" 

"Prometheus," Hades tried.

Prometheus waved a hand at him distractedly, summoning a large chunk of deep red, rippled marble. It landed on the black marble slab with a heavy grinding noise, and somewhere in the structural nightmare that was the marble pile, something groaned in protest, "This? Hmm, it might make the walls look like they're made out of meat... Hey, Hades, what do you think of meat walls?”

Hades felt his eyebrow twitch, unable to look away from the pile on the verge of imminent collapse, “ Stop summoning marble before you end up crushing yourself to death. We haven’t even agreed that we're using that as a finish anyway-”

“Of course we are," Prometheus said, "You always use marble as a finish."

Hades levelled a flat, heavy-lidded stare at him. That wasn't strictly true. Marble was just reliable and had a nice polish to it that he was partial to, so he tended to default to it a lot - not all the time . Still, his pride felt a little stung at the implied lack of creativity on his part. He could do equally amazing work without relying on the nobility of marble, hmph! 

“Well, I’m not using it this time,” he said stiffly, then, impulsively, added; “I thought I’d try something new for this Concept.” 

Prometheus blinked, “Really? You’re trying something new? Huh, guess you can teach an old dog new tricks…” 

Excuse me.”

“Ah, haha…” Prometheus laughed sheepishly, leaning back on his heels with his hands raised when Hades’s soul bristled at him, “I’m joking!” 

Hades sighed explosively, tapping his fingers against the nose of his mask. Prometheus was always a nightmare to collaborate with, but he felt like he was being extra obnoxious this time. If he didn’t want to work on this project, he only had to say and Hades would do it all by himself! Honestly...

"Get over here," he said irritably, slapping his hand down on the drawing board he had been labouring over before Prometheus started fucking about, "We're planning this out properly."

Prometheus sighed, but he obediently shuffled over, leaving his safety hazard of a marble pile behind. Hades vanished the unwanted stone with a sharp snap of his fingers before it inadvertently killed someone, looking back at his drawing board.

"Firstly, we need to agree on how large we will make the extension," Hades began briskly, "Some researchers have requested an outdoor area for a garden that isn't filled with man eating plants for once, so we need to divvy up our work area accordingly-"

"Make it central," Prometheus interrupted, "A hollow square, the outdoor area in the middle. You know, how Igeyorhm has her new house."

Hades paused, mentally pulling up the blueprints for Igeyorhm’s home, before he fully processed what his friend said, "Wait. You visited Igeyorhm?"

“I can play nice with the other Council members from time to time,” Prometheus said dryly, “I needed to ask her a favour for something, nothing too big.”

Hades frowned at him. Originally, he was meant to be partnered up with Igeyorhm for this project, something that didn’t overly trouble him. She was a good collaborator and professional, but recently had to bow out of the job due to ‘personal circumstances’ that ended up with Prometheus being nominated at the last second to replace her. It was… far too convenient to be anything other than planned. 

"Anyway," Prometheus continued hastily, ignoring the suspicious look Hades was shooting him, "Her home design might fit in well with this. I really like it and, well, it's better than doing yet another of your boring block designs. It makes everything look the same."

"The boring block is a popular classic," Hades said dryly, and added in an undertone, "Also, I was the one who designed Igeyorhm’s home…"

Prometheus ignored him,  "And none of those weird spiral structures you insist on putting everywhere. We should have some pizzazz instead."

Hades closed his eyes for a good long moment, feeling a migraine coming on. Oh, he loved Prometheus, he loved him dearly, but he was so stressful to deal with sometimes. He honestly understood Lahabrea’s pain sometimes…

(Due to their respective roles, Lahabrea and Prometheus had to conduct a monthly meeting together where they reported on their respective progress on combat-style Concepts. Those meetings tended to end… ballistically.) 

“Pizzazz,” he repeated tonelessly.

"Yes, you know,” Prometheus made a flowery gesture with his hand, his soul rippling with playful delight. It was then that Hades realised his friend was fucking with him, “That.”

“Prometheus,” Hades said mildly, “You are really getting on my last nerve.” 

Prometheus’s eyes glittered mischievously under the shadow of his hood, grinning boyishly at him. He looked unfairly handsome there, his face exposed with his hood threatening to tip back from a strong gust of wind, his soul a lovely warm thing that kept nudging him playfully despite Hades exuding open irritation. It made it hard to stay angry at him, but Hades liked to think he was slowly developing a resistance to it.

"You're cute when you're mad, though," Prometheus purred, leaning in slightly. A gentle breeze tugged at the edge of his hood, slipping it back an inch. A few dark, wavy curls escaped, framing his friend’s face, his smile, those bright, golden eyes, "You get all flustered and- ack! "

Hades smacked a freshly created mask right onto Prometheus's face, neutralising the hypnotic power of his stupidly handsome face. 

“Ah, sorry,” he said blandly as Prometheus’s reeled back to grope blindly at the mask, “It seems I forgot to make eye holes there.”

“Oh, you little...” Prometheus huffed, lowering his hand. The mask was blank, devoid of any decoration or means to see out of it, pale white. It reminded Hades of the death masks they put on the recently deceased, and something about it disquieted him for a brief moment.

But it didn’t last long. With a sigh Prometheus morphed it into his usual one, his golden eyes visible in the dark shadow of the narrow slits of it.

“Okay, I get the hint,” Prometheus pouted, his bottom lip sticking out childishly, “Work first.” 

“Look,” Hades said, deciding to be blunt, “If you don’t want to collaborate with me, you only have to say.”

“Wh- of course I want to collaborate with you!” Prometheus looked stricken at the accusation, “I love working with you!”

“Yet you keep undermining me.” 

“Eh? I’m not…” Prometheus trailed off when Hades gave him a firm look, and finally his shoulders dropped as he meekly bowed his head, pressing his fingers together. 

“It’s just…” Prometheus mumbled, “You’re so slow.”

“Structures can’t be rushed,” Hades told him, “Some Concepts can be experimented and done impulsively, but buildings require strict and thorough planning, and ensuring your calculations match up before you so much as think about placing the first stone. We were taught this as children. Remember the arch lesson?”

“I remember failing it thoroughly,” Prometheus said, “Mine kept breaking in half.” 

Hades had some theories on why that was, but felt it wouldn’t be constructive to explain. Prometheus was smart , he really was, but Hades also knew he was more of a kinaesthetic learner. Sitting him down and lecturing him at length was about as constructive as breaking down walls with his forehead.  

“How about this?” Hades tried, “You pitch ideas, and I see if they’re feasible and implement them.”

“But that leaves you doing most of the work.”

Honestly, Hades would prefer doing all of the work. He enjoyed architecture, putting it all together and seeing his design come to life. Having Prometheus underfoot during all that, needing to double check his work to ensure it was satisfactory and that his friend hadn’t rushed it out of boredom, or wanted to try some new radical idea… ugh, it would stress him out too much. 

“I like the work,” he said, ignoring Prometheus’s discontented look, “And most of it will be drawing up blueprints. Do you even know how to use a protractor?”

“Um,” Prometheus shifted his weight, “Is that the little half circle thing?”

How did this man pass Advanced Mathematics. 

“Just... sit there and look pretty,” Hades finally said, “It’ll motivate me.” 

Prometheus said nothing for a moment, giving him a long look shadowed by his mask and hood, before he sighed and slouched forwards slightly. 

“Fine, fine. I’ll be the eyecandy,” Prometheus said easily, lifting his hand to sweep off his mask with unnecessary drama, slanting a smile his way, “Let me create a chaise to lounge attractively in.”

Hades left him to it, turning back to his drawing board. In his peripheral he saw Prometheus actually create a chaise and sprawl in it, his voluminous communal robes ruining whatever seductive pose he tried. Still, his face was enough. He swept the hood back, his dark, wavy hair catching the sunlight, as he propped his head up with an upturned palm and smiled at him. 

Hades really hoped none of the other council members came to check up on them. He had no idea how to explain this scene otherwise. 

“I’ll tell you when to take breaks too,” Prometheus added when Hades started to get back to work, “So you don’t waste away like you usually do.”

“Yes, fine,” Hades said distractedly, already absorbed in his work. 

Their styles really did clash, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t compromise… it was just, Hades made a very strong mental note to never step inside a building Prometheus made with his own hands without conducting a thorough structural survey first. 

Chapter Text

Before Prometheus and Hades were members of the Convocation, they worked together in the Akadaemia’s ornithology department. It wasn’t exactly a passion of theirs, but it was the strongest recommendation by their mentor to learn ‘appreciation for complex organisms with subtle impacts on the local environment’. There was a story behind this recommendation, but that will be told another time. 

Hades, for his methodical, careful approach to things, he tended to deal with the cataloguing and recommendations for new species within certain biomes. It required a lot of time hunched over a desk, reading through numerous reports and matching them up, before processing it into a final product to be sent to the head ornithologists desk. Not the most glamorous of jobs, but still very important, of course. 

Prometheus. 

Oh, Prometheus. 

Even when young, his gift with Creation magic was noted. Exuding a control and strength normally seen in adults millennia his senior, Prometheus was earmarked for prestigious positions upon finishing his education. Were it not for his mentor assigning him to the ornithology department, his life’s trajectory might’ve taken a wildly different path to what it did - or it might’ve remained the same, for by then Prometheus and Hades’s fate was tied with red string. 

A desk job was not given to Prometheus (whose weakness for that particular work was noted in bright red marker). He was placed within the Creation labs themselves, shadowing the researchers there to better learn what exactly went into the creation of a brand new species. It didn’t allow for a lot of time to scurry into the dusty archives where Hades sat, but Prometheus still made sure to visit as often as his breaks allowed - usually with a brand new idea for a feathered friend to bounce off of him. 

Hades always indulged Prometheus in these rambles, even if he didn’t care about the subject. This job was a stepping stone to him, necessary grunt work to build up a reputation to slowly climb up the ladder, and laterally move to a discipline that really inspired him. Ornithology was interesting, sometimes, but at the end of the day, they were birds. Fleeting, short-lived little things that didn’t really amount to much. 

Some days Hythlodaeus joined them too, but his position was in the far more secretive ‘Guardian Force’ project. Only as an assistant technician, not trusted with anything of true importance, but it was still a remarkable position and Hades was honestly a little envious of him. He kept it quiet, while Prometheus didn’t, who would always try to pump Hythlodaeus for what little knowledge he could portion out and loudly sigh about how he’d make a super amazing Guardian Force that skipped that pesky ‘sacrifice a living soul’ business for its summoning. 

Prometheus… Hades wouldn’t be surprised if he moved on from the Ornithology department within a decade or so - a relatively short time for an Amaurotine. He was too brilliant, too creative and innovative to waste away here. Hades had already heard some discussions, done in the background of the archive room between some researchers when his head had been buried so deeply in reports they must’ve overlooked him. 

Combat-spell creation, Primal magic, Guardian Forces, Lifestream manipulation… high-level, aether intensive disciplines that were handled only by a select few in the Akadaemia. For Prometheus’s name to be bandied about tied to those subjects… well, it was remarkable for someone of his young age, yet…

Maybe it was petty jealousy, or maybe it was something else, but Hades didn’t like the thought of it. Prometheus seemed so happy just making birds. It didn’t challenge him, but did he really need to be challenged if he was content with his current lot? True, it meant he wasn’t fully contributing to the collective, working to the limitations of his power, but imagining Prometheus’s turning his Creation magics towards aggressive things didn’t… sit right. 

“Morning, Hades!”

Hades jerked out of his thoughts when Prometheus suddenly yelled down his ear, making him practically throw his unfinished report high in the air as his heart tried to leap out of his damned chest

Prom-! ” Hades gasped, quickly snatching the report before it fluttered away, twisting in his seat to scowl at a grinning Prometheus, “I told you not to do that!” 

“It wasn’t my fault you were so lost in your head you didn’t hear me the first few times,” his friend drawled, sidling around his chair to rest his hip against the edge of Hades’s desk, “Is your report on the swans’ morphometric measurements really that interesting?”

“How did you-” Did Prometheus actually read his reports? “No, I was merely thinking of something.” 

“Oh?” Prometheus’s soul nudged against him curiously, a warm sensation like a cat rubbing against his shins, “Are you brooding over how much you hate birds again?”

“You would hate them too after reading five thousand papers on their disgusting digestive system,” Hades muttered.

“Hey, I have. Knowing how the bird eats and shits is vital to actually creating a viable new species,” Prometheus said, pushing himself off the desk, “Speaking of, I was allowed to create my own species today!” 

Hades couldn’t help but smile when Prometheus’s soul bubbled with pure happiness and pride at that. It was a nice feeling to bask in, and infectious, “Congratulations. What is it called?”

“Ah, ah,” Prometheus wagged his finger, “It’s a surprise. Come on, I’m going to show you it.”

“I’m still working.”

Prometheus whisked the unfinished report out of Hades’s hands and, with a twist of his wrist, banished it into his own personal pocket dimension, “No, you’re not.”

Hades’s eyebrow twitched. He wasn’t going to get that back until he indulged Prometheus, was he? 

“I hate you,” he said tonelessly, but he heaved himself out of his chair. His back clicked, muscles stiff and sore from being hunched over for so long. He stayed slouched over, reaching up to adjust his hood and mask. 

“You love me,” Prometheus shot back, and Hades shrugged in response.

They left the archive rooms and descended into the Creation laboratories below. Normally, Hades wouldn’t be allowed in these areas, but Prometheus being Prometheus, managed to somehow get them waved through various clearance doors with little hassle. Hades couldn’t help but look around when they finally reached Prometheus’s office, though really, it was more of a shoebox. 

“Is this a closet?” Hades asked dubiously. 

“Used to be,” Prometheus admitted, “They ran out of floor space for actual offices, so I have to deal with this. But it’s fine. It’s cosy.”

Prometheus had certainly made it his own. Individualism was strictly disapproved off amongst them, as it led to selfishness and conflicts - but Prometheus never took those lessons to heart, which was his sole black mark on his file. He had been cautioned and disciplined multiple times for ‘forgetting’ his communal robes and mask in public, but Prometheus never seemed to take them seriously. 

Hades looked over various illustrations papering the walls of the tiny room - birds, mammals, insects, fish, landscapes - and then at the desk that must have been created to fit in here. It was tinier than Hades’s desk, its surface a mess of crumpled papers, scribbles, pictures, as well as lifelike models of various bird skeletons. 

Prometheus deserved a bigger room than this, he thought irritably. Maybe they could separate the interior space from Amaurot’s and- 

“So,” Prometheus said, knocking Hades’ out of his half-formed calculations, “This is strictly a prototype, but if it passes approval than it can be seeded in the tropical swamps down south.”

“It hasn’t even been approved yet, and you’re showing me?” Hades said, disbelieving. Honestly…

“Well,” Prometheus suddenly felt shy, reaching under his hood to curl a dark lock of hair around his finger, “I mean, if it’s rejected, it’ll have to be destroyed and, um, I just wanted to show you first, just in case.”

As if it could be rejected, Hades thought exasperatedly. He nudged against Prometheus’s soul border reassuringly, smirking when his friend flushed beneath his mask. 

“I hope you’re planning on showing Hythlodaeus too?” he asked, not moving away from Prometheus’s soul - which was, possibly, a little too intimate for this setting, but when his friend felt like this, this proud and happy, Hades couldn’t help but bask in it like a cat in a warm patch.

“I tried, but I wasn’t allowed in their labs,” Prometheus pouted, “Which is why I’m hoping it’s accepted so he can see it.”

“When do you have to present it for inspection?”

“In an hour,” Prometheus sighed, “So, let me get it out.”

He cleared some space on his small desk, carelessly knocking stuff to the floor - Hades winced - and snapped his fingers, drawing from interior inventory. A relatively tall, long-legged bird, reaching 140cm at most, appeared on the desk, frozen in an expertly cast stasis spell. Its feathers were a steel grey, with a large, unique looking beak and stern, dark eyes set in a constant glower. 

Hades automatically classified it as a Pelecaniforme, glancing over its characteristics to quickly define its habitat and role. He didn’t immediately recognise its family, which meant Prometheus made something entirely new, or drew it from a discontinued line. 

“This is Balaeniceps rex,” Prometheus said proudly, gesturing at the bird, “Though, I’m thinking of calling it a Shoebill.”

“‘Shoebill’?” Hades tilted his head, taking in its beak. The upper mandible was strongly keeled, similar to pelicans, and ended in a sharp nail, with the edges sharp enough to cause some damage to any unwary hand that moved too close. The wide, bulbous bill did look… vaguely shoe-shaped, he supposed. 

“Because of its beak, see?” Prometheus was keenly watching him, studying his reaction, “I created it with the freshwater swamps in mind, and so designed it to hunt for fish in waters that suffer from dense vegetation. I ensured it had a very patient hunting temperament too, and-”

Hades let him ramble on, still studying the bird. There was something oddly… familiar about it. Not in that, it resembled a stork or a heron to some degree, but more like Prometheus had taken inspiration from something he should know. For the life of him he couldn’t place it, and it was bugging him. 

“-and that is why I decided on creating this,” Prometheus finished, and Hades tuned back in, guiltily realising he hadn’t listened to a word he just said, “So, what do you think? Isn’t it great?” 

Hades looked up where Prometheus was practically vibrating with anticipation. He found it strange that someone like him would be so eager for Hades’s approval, but he did selfishly like it. He kept that to himself, though, lifting his hand to cup his chin in mock-thought, just to hide his smile. 

“Well, it seems viable,” he said, and Prometheus’s soul lit up, “I’m wondering what inspired you on its design, though.”

Prometheus paused, then, curiously, started to turn red. Hades could just about see the flush underneath the edge of his mask - as well as feel his friend’s soul heat up.

“Oh, well. You know, from books or… something…” Prometheus squirmed in place, before clapping his hands, “But that’s not important! You think it’s good, so that means I can present it to the head of department for approval without any worry.”

“I don’t think-” Hades began, but Prometheus had already whisked his example ‘Shoebill’ back into his inventory, and started ushering him out. 

“You can come with me,” Prometheus said, ignoring Hades protests, “It’ll be fine.”

“I’m not even allowed in here!” Hades spluttered, but Prometheus just waved away his complaints, keeping him in line with a very friendly, very restraining, arm around his shoulders. 


About twenty years later, when Prometheus was poached by the Combat-spells department, he made waves by constructing in only a few short months the highly controversial ‘Ultima’ spell. A spell of such devastating magnitude that it sublimated all matter within its sphere of influence within microseconds, too fast for even the most skilled Amaurotine to divert it. 

It was a spell designed to kill, quickly, instantaneously. 

The nature of it disturbed people. 

It also marked the beginning of Prometheus’s troubled career through Akadaemia’s Combat-spell department, where the majority of his works became infamous for being immediately locked down or outlawed for being too dangerous or inviting total annihilation. Eventually, he created the armiger arsenal, which toed the line of acceptable - if only because it was a Concept only he managed to actually use. All other attempts to create armigers by other hopefuls ended in colossal failures. 

Prometheus, when he eventually took his title and rose to the ranks of the Convocation, was only ever known for his eccentric, deadly and overwhelming Concepts. He was feared, and respected, and as a result withdrew from the public eye to hide away in his workshop instead. He isolated himself to the point where he only accepted a very chosen few to interact with his soul, which only further set him apart from the rest of Amaurot. 

Everyone forgot that Prometheus had a short yet productive career in ornithology, that he created numerous bird species now widespread, of beautiful plumage and lovely song, all designed to improve and benefit the ecosystems they were precisely placed in. The work Prometheus was actually proud of, was the work rarely associated with him. 

There were days where Hades wondered if Prometheus actually had a passion for Combat-magic. He was skilled in it, created amazing but terrible things from it, but his soul had never quite lit up like it did when he showed Hades his Shoebill. 

For he remembered a particular day, where Prometheus showed Hades a spell he had been working on for a while - ‘Death’, he had called it, the painless cessation of physical bodily functions to instantaneously kill the subject. He demonstrated it on a test subject - a homunculus created for simple demonstrations - and while it had been an impressive spell, Prometheus hadn’t been happy at its demonstration. 

Hades remembered that day well. The homunculus keeled over, dead in an instant, and Prometheus had looked somewhere in the middle distance, his soul very small and quiet, while the other observers murmured its approval at its efficiency

There had been no joy in it. 

Prometheus contributed many dangerous, yet useful things to Amaurot as a Combat-spell specialist, but there were some days where Hades wondered if it would’ve been better if he had stayed in ornithology. It would have been a waste of his potential, but…

But he would’ve been happier in the long run. 

(But it also would’ve doomed the world, much further down the line, to an eternity of servitude to an artificial God. 

So, perhaps it was better, that Prometheus had been unhappy.)

Chapter Text

Elidibus found Emet-Selch sitting in one of the fractured ruins of Amaurot, staring at Prometheus’s dead body. 

It had been a few hours since the world ended. The fracturing process had been chaotic, scattering the shards in an explosion that caused a vacuum of space in the epicentre. Everyone had been caught in the violent separation, their souls splintered apart when Prometheus’s Primal had landed that final, devastating blow. Elidibus himself had felt an echo of it, but somehow escaped unscathed… 

Emet-Selch was the only other one he found that was still whole. Nabriales had been irrevocably shattered, though he managed to secure a sizeable piece to regenerate once he had the aether to. Elidibus didn’t know how much he would change from it, though. Recovering from such a small shard… it would give rise to irregularities.

But Elidibus pushed that aside to be dwelt over later, when he wasn’t still reeling over the sheer scale of Prometheus’s betrayal. The shard they were on - the Source of it all - was still settling from its violent separation, the aether wildly fluctuating and seizing enough to make him feel mildly ill.

Elidibus approached Emet-Selch, intentionally making his footfalls heavy. His fellow Councilman didn’t acknowledge his presence. 

“... I see he has fallen,” Elidibus murmured, keeping his tone neutral. Despite Zodiark’s Tempering, Emet-Selch had still somehow maintained some level of devotion to their wayward kin. Had asked for, many times, that they be patient and try to bring him into the fold instead, that once he bathed in Zodiark’s wisdom, he would propel their plans of revitalisation forwards by centuries. 

To express relief that such a terrible and dangerous foe was finally dead… it might incur Emet-Selch’s rage. 

“Yes,” Emet-Selch said in a tone that was empty of any emotion, “He’s dead. He killed himself.” 

Elidibus hummed quietly, warily eyeing Emet-Selch’s too still form knelt down next to Prometheus’s body. His eyes were staring at nothing in particular, his soul like a deep, frozen well, where the bottom was too dark to see. It was a grief that paralysed, that killed, slowly, and Elidibus wondered if Emet-Selch really did survive - or if he was in the process of dying in a slower, crueller way than the rest. 

Prometheus had been Emet-Selch’s other half. This was known when they were still children, all but attached at the hip, their souls entwined and joined for eternity. But Prometheus had been violently ripped from him, left a gaping hole that everything bled out of. Elidibus had seen plenty of Amaurotines die of heartache, after Zodiark’s ascension, to recognise the beginning of it in Emet-Selch. 

“You knew this was a possibility,” Elidibus reminded him gently, “Our God declared him our enemy.”

Emet-Selch’s hands clenched, and he exhaled harshly, looking up at Elidibus with a dark, unreadable stare. Something ugly, jagged, sharp, heaved through his cold, cold, cold soul, and Elidibus braced himself, telling himself that Emet-Selch was acting from grief, that he was not himself-

But Emet-Selch did not attack. He looked away instead, back at Prometheus. 

She took everything,” Emet-Selch muttered, his tone venomous, “He couldn’t remember my name. Everything that made him him, She stole, and it- it impaired his free will. It must have. I will have to take everything back from Her, to restore him to how he should be...” 

What a horrible way to die. Elidibus couldn’t help but feel a shred of pity, glancing down at the body. Prometheus had always been vivid in life, bright and powerful, but this body… empty, pale, nothing. He could still sense traces of a soul broken down, motes and particles of it slowly fading into the ambient aether, like ash crumbling in the wind. 

No, it wasn’t that he died. With some mild horror, Elidibus realised that Prometheus’s soul had been completely scrambled. While the others had been neatly Sundered, equal shards with clean breaks, Prometheus had been… torn. Ripped apart, burned up, shattered and twisted until any remaining shards of him left were corrupted beyond all recognition. If Emet-Selch were to find a shard strong enough to regenerate Prometheus, he would only get a faulty shade, an inferior parody. 

Prometheus… had been completely wiped out from the reincarnation cycle. He was as dead as one could possibly get. 

And it seemed Emet-Selch hadn’t realised it yet. 

“... have you seen the state of the world, yet?” Elidibus asked him quietly. 

Emet-Selch let out a noise - it wasn’t a laugh, it was too raw and sharp for that, but it wasn’t a cry either. A breathless, angry noise, as he pushed his hands into his hair and swept it back, looking up at the night sky above them with alien constellations. 

“It shattered,” he said to the sky, “Along with our God - as Prometheus intended, no doubt.”

“The others broke with Zodiark,” Elidibus said, “You are the only survivor I have found yet.”

“He ruined everything,” Emet-Selch said, partly to himself, dropping his hands from his hair, “Why did he reject-

Emet-Selch did not finish.

“Prometheus always had to do things his own way,” Elidibus said, “He opposed our God from the start, under the delusion that he could create something superior. We know now that was false, that his true colours showed with his God’s destructive nature. He was never our ally from the start.”

“His ‘true colours’...?” Emet-Selch whispered, then let out that ugly not-laughing noise, “You never knew Prometheus, none of you. Constantly judging him, pushing him away, so he felt like an outcast from the start. No wonder he shied away from joining us! Because of you ! The whole Convocation-”

“He was dangerous.”

He just wanted to make birds,” Emet-Selch snarled out, despair making his voice thick, “Those silly, short-lived insignificant things! That was all he wanted to do! He hated fighting!”

Elidibus didn’t reply. Watched as Emet-Selch struggled to drag himself back under control, his soul a horrible, pitiful ball of grief. It was painful just standing next to him. 

“I would have traded all of you, for him, in an instant,” Emet-Selch said very very quietly, looking back down at his friend, “Zodiark would have needed no one else, but him.” 

That was… an uncomfortable truth. Even when standing against them alone, Prometheus overpowered them with ease before summoning a Primal designed to neutralise Zodiark specifically in only a few short months, while on the run . He would have been a gloriously powerful servant to Zodiark - if only they had a chance to Temper him. But they didn’t, he evaded, and it ended like this instead. 

Emet-Selch abruptly stood up, and lifted his hand as if to snap. He hesitated for a long moment, gazing down at Prometheus’s face. It was exposed, his dark hair brushed from his face, his eyes closed. If one were to ignore the dead silence emanating from the hollow space where his soul was meant to be, he could easily pass as sleeping. 

‘Snap’

A flare of light. Prometheus’s body was gone in the next instant. 

Elidibus did not ask where Hades sent it. 

“... let’s see how big of a mess he made,” Emet-Selch said dully, his soul closed off and hard like stone. There was no emotion in his expression, and with an absent wave of his hand, his long-discarded mask rematerialised over his face. 

Elidibus bowed his head, wary of igniting Emet-Selch’s unpredictable temper, and murmured; “The world is in fourteen pieces, an ever expanding rift between them.”

“Of course,” Emet-Selch huffed out, “Of course he had to blow up the world to get his point across.” 

Elidibus looked up at him in confusion, but Emet-Selch had turned away from him. 

“I have gotten very good at fixing Prometheus’s messes, in the last few millennia,” Emet-Selch said, “I will find a solution to this one too.”  

“Once we find the others,” Elidibus added. 

Emet-Selch paused for a long moment, then replied, distantly, “Yes. The others.” 

Watch him, the warm voice of their God rumbled in his mind, wan and weak from his wounds, His sentimentality is a weakness

Elidibus wondered what words Zodiark whispered to Emet-Selch - if he even listened. As always, Emet-Selch had a blindspot the exact shape and size of Prometheus, something that Zodiark’s Tempering never quite cured him of. 

But that enemy is dead, Their God said smugly, Forever. 

One good thing to come from this mess, then. Elidibus would not have wanted to fight Prometheus now, where their victory was impossible. For now, all they could do was search for Zodiark’s other faithful servants, and find a way to fix this mess, to snatch back their home and people from oblivion. Just what had Prometheus been thinking to do this…?

But that was what made Prometheus so dangerous, even when they were under the illusion that he was their ally. He was unpredictable, and harboured seditious thoughts of individualism that ran counter to their values. He had always been a weak link in the chain.

It stood to reason that Emet-Selch might have been infected with such thinking, though the Tempering made betrayal from that corner impossible. Could Elidibus trust him to serve their interests without an ulterior motive?

He will serve, Their God said.

Are you sure?

Yes, Zodiark crooned, His voice fading into the softests of whispers, He will serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For who does he have left, but me?

Chapter Text

Prometheus’s workshop was on fire again

Hades only realised this when he opened the front door to it and almost stepped into a furnace. The air wavered with heat, making him sweat almost instantly, and he reeled back half a step as he just about fought the knee jerk reaction to slam the door shut. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, him, opening the door and getting a faceful of something unpleasant, but this amount of heat was scorching , dry, and accompanied by a disgusting belch of black, acrid smoke, making it difficult to see inside. 

“Prometheus!” he called, half-huddled behind the door in a vain effort to use it as a heat shield (it didn’t work too well), “Are you burning your workshop down again?!”

There was a loud thud, well, several loud thuds, a muffled curse, and Prometheus’s rather harried voice of, “Yes! No! I mean, fucking- Hades, I need assistance!”

Well, that much was obvious. Hades eyed the smoke pouring out through the door with trepidation, his nose and throat already burning. He wasn’t really keen to go in. 

“Hades!” Prometheus yelped again, this time with more urgency. 

“The things I do…” Hades sighed, snapping his fingers to put up a small barrier around him to fend off the worst of the smoke and heat. It wouldn’t do for visibility, but at least he wouldn’t choke or sweat to death. 

He cautiously edged inside, not knowing what to expect. Last time Prometheus’s workshop was like this he had a runaway lava golem oozing over everything, and Hades ended up almost catching fire (not an experience he wanted a repeat of). He waved his hand, casting small gusts of wind aether to send the thick smoke swirling, squinting through the smog until- 

“Ah.”

Prometheus was standing on one of his workbenches - notably the one he reserved for his more dangerous spells. A recent invention churned out by the Akadaemia, its intended use was to contain any mishaps or explosive incidents by mitigating the violent discharge of aether from failed spells. Judging by the current situation, Prometheus’s had failed so spectacularly that the workbench’s limiters had overloaded, leaving his friend to deal with his mess first hand. 

That mess being the miniature star he was barely containing between his hands

It was a small, unstable orb of angry red, spewing out arches of erratic aether that struck scorched lines over the ceiling and lashing the walls. Half of the workshop was on fire from the star attempting to collapse into a supernova, Prometheus holding the damn thing aloft in a wildly flickering barrier that was slowly starting to crack.

“Hi,” Prometheus wheezed as Hades stood and stared in disbelief, “Please help me.”

“...how long have you been like this?” Hades asked in morbid curiosity.

Prometheus made a very strained, high-pitched noise in the back of his throat, “Seriously.”

Hades couldn’t hold back the amused grin, before he focused on the situation on hand. Right. The star was highly unstable, about the size of a small apple, with the worst of its effects contained in Prometheus’s barrier. Hades felt out the aether, humming when he realised his friend had somehow managed to slow the flow of time within the barrier’s sphere of influence, massively reducing the speed of the star’s collapse. How did he do that? Had he bastardised Hades’s individual instance Concept and did a pocket version of it? Manipulation of timeflow was possible in those instances, but it always caused stability problems. This barrier, despite being under so much stress, was remarkably stable , though, so how did he fix that-

Ah, maybe he should mull on this later.

Right. How to fix this mess? Hades supposed he could just launch the damn thing in an ejection teleport, but to where? The rift, maybe…? Its supernova would be small enough not to cause too many ripples - though, if someone had a rift gate open in whatever area Hades dropped this, they’d get a very nasty surprise...

Hades,” Prometheus grunted as he made his calculations for its safe and non-exploding teleport, “Can you hurry it up?”

“Excuse me for not wanting to have this literally explode in my face,” Hades said dryly, “Now hold still, before I accidentally teleport you with it.”

Prometheus scowled but obediently held still.

Doing one last check of his calculations, Hades snapped his fingers and whisked the ticking time bomb into the rift. He went tense - Prometheus frozen in place, arms still held up comically - but after several long seconds where they didn’t get a nasty backlash from the aether current the star took, they both relaxed. 

Then remembered that Prometheus’s workshop was still on fire.

“Fuck,” his friend groaned, jumping off his workbench and glumly looking about. With the star now out of the picture, it wasn’t too bad. Half of his benches were aflame, and that wall looked like it was about to collapse in the next ten minutes, and but it could easily be brought under control now. It wasn’t a lava golem repeat. 

“Hmm…” Hades daintily waved a hand in front of his face, “Your workshop is a mess, Prometheus.”

Prometheus didn’t say anything. Just gave him a heavy-lidded stare like he was sizing him up for a coffin. 

Hades blithely ignored it, “The Akadaemia has a room specifically designed for stellar nucleosynthesis experiments. You know, to avoid these kind of accidents.”

“Can I put out the fire first before you start lecturing me?” Prometheus asked irritably, “I really don’t want to rebuild this place again.” 

“I’ll lecture you as you put out the fire.”

“Ugh.”

But despite his words, Hades held off on the lecture. He even offered his expertise in structural repair and fixed Prometheus’s half-crumbled wall, as his friend snuffed out the fires and filtered the air into something less choking and more breathable. Between the pair of them, it only took less than ten minutes, and they were left with a somewhat sooty and singed pile of workbenches, and the horribly melted mess of one. 

“I only just got this,” Prometheus mumbled sadly, nudging the ruined workbench, “I suppose a well contained supernova was too much for it.”

“You intended for it to supernova?”

“Well, yeah,” Prometheus ran a hand through his hair, still damp with sweat, so it stuck up at odd angles, “It’s my new contribution to the Combat-spells department.”

Hades frowned, “And you chose a portable supernova?”

“It was suggested during a brainstorming session,” Prometheus said with a shrug, “They said it was impossible - well, to do safely, so I’m here to prove them wrong. Of course, I do need to account for the gravitational collapse during the initial explosion, since it wouldn’t have the mass to create a black hole. A neutron star, maybe, but there’s a risk I might end up with a really unstable thermonuclear-”

“Why?” Hades interrupted him tiredly, “Why would we need to throw supernovae at things?”

Prometheus paused, tilting his head a fraction, “Well, we might meet a powerful enemy one day that can only be solved by a supernova bomb to the face.”

Hades heaved a sigh that came from the very depths of his exasperated soul. That was always Prometheus’s default answer. 

“I think you should choose a different contribution,” he said, “Or at least, conduct your experiments in the Akadaemia where it’s safer.” 

Prometheus frowned, but he didn’t immediately protest, so hopefully he was planning on ditching his foolish idea. His friend was brilliant, but sometimes he lacked some basic common sense when it came to his Concepts. A portable supernova, honestly…

“Fine, I’ll be more careful next time,” Prometheus acquiesced, “Now, you done? Because I really need to take a bath.”

Hades smirked, watching Prometheus irritably shuffle his weight, “Yes. You do smell a little… ripe.”

Prometheus grimaced, plucking at the collar of his robes. There was a distinct smell of sweat coming from him, a flush still high on his cheeks from being so close to a star. He had a mild tan too, freckles over the bridge of his nose, which Hades idly admired for a quick moment. It was a nice look on him, honestly. Despite being slovenly with his robes and masks, Prometheus was rarely caught in a messy state like this. Dirty, sweaty, clearly exerted from holding that star in place for who knows how long…

His mind went back to that clever little barrier Prometheus had thrown up. Really, really clever. He must’ve done it on instinct, without thought. Individual Instances were normally aether intensive too, but while clearly winded, Prometheus wasn’t tired. The workshop practically buzzed with his friend’s aether, electrified and settling from the excitement, and Hades basked in it like it was pleasantly warm sunshine. It was an addictive feeling, being immersed in this casual power like this. 

“I feel like you’re going to eat me, staring at me like that,” Prometheus said, nudging Hades’s out of his purring thoughts.

“Mmm…” Hades leaned back on his heels, “Just thinking that this is a nice look for you.”

Prometheus let out a short, abrupt laugh, his fingers still hooked into the collar of his robes as he pulled it down a fraction, exposing the top of his collarbone. His friend’s soul fluttered in amusement, brushing up against his, “What? A sweaty mess?”

“It reminds me of something,” Hades said simply. 

Prometheus gave him a look, clearly knowing where his thoughts went, and started to smile. A lazy, confident little tilt to his lips that never failed to irritate and hypnotise Hades in equal measure. His friend dropped his hand from the collar of his robe to rest it over his chest instead, lightly tapping the metal fingertip of his work gloves against his sternum.

“... Hades, why are you here?” Prometheus asked suddenly, his voice a very low, hypnotic purr, “Because I distinctly remember you telling me that you were going to be absent for about a month, and it’s only been just over a week.”

Judging by the way Prometheus’s soul was nudging against his like an overly affectionate cat, he had already figured out the answer to his own question. Of course, he wanted to make Hades say it, but he wasn’t going to play along. Instead he simply opened his soul up, smirking when he felt a thrill of delighted surprise ripple through Prometheus’s as their souls started to slowly, familiarly, intwine. 

“I found a moment of free time,” he said simply, skirting around the real answer, “Though, you seem busy yourself, so perhaps I should leave-”

“Don’t be a tease,” Prometheus ordered, reaching out. His hand closed around Hades’s, the physical contact making their spiritual one curl warmly. 

There was a moment, a long, lovely moment, where they stood and basked in their familiar, comforting connection. Hades knew Prometheus’s soul better than his own, the sensation of it unfurling for him, letting him glimpse the true depths of it (and it was endless, Prometheus’s soul, like staring into a bottomless ocean and understanding its wondrous and terrifying potential). No one else had a soul like his, and it was the only one Hades would ever tolerate touching him like this. It was… 

Sometimes, he wondered what Prometheus thought of his, in comparison. Hades felt he never measured up quite as well. 

“Of course you do,” Prometheus murmured, and with a guilty wince Hades realised he let that thought travel a bit too close to the forefront of his mind, “I love your soul, Hades. It’s really… steady. I can trust in it, always.”

Hades had a faint feeling of soft touches, down along his spine, as Prometheus’s soul sunk that little bit deeper into him, and he found himself swaying slightly, the weight of his friend taking his breath away. It was a struggle, sometimes, to take in a soul so overwhelming it would crack a lesser Amaurotine, but somehow Hades managed it. Steady, indeed. 

“Desk,” he muttered, before he got too overwhelmed, and Prometheus made a soft, amused noise. 

They moved to the closest desk - not the one almost blown up from Prometheus’s ill-advised experiment. Hades struggled to pay attention to the physical world and the gently lapping, pressing feeling of Prometheus’s soul sinking into every inch of him, and probably would have walked blindly into a wall if it hadn’t been for his friend’s guiding hand. As it was, they half-tumbled onto a desk, clumsily, both of them drunk on each other, paper crinkling beneath Hades’s back, Prometheus pressing down on him, heavy, something clattering onto the floor as it was swept off the desk and-

Prometheus kissed him. 

Ah. 

“Hades,” Prometheus murmured breathlessly against his mouth, his soul a bright, burning star sitting heavy right in his heart, resonating and so intimately twisted with his own soul Hades couldn’t tell where they began and ended, “You are…”

He didn’t finish. Prometheus trailed off with a raw noise, one Hades quietly echoed, as an intimate pleasure than ran soul deep started to crest - then dip - then crest higher, like lapping waves, a heat independent from the lingering fire starting to creep over Hades’s skin. It was difficult to concentrate, though, because Prometheus started worrying his bottom lip, letting out low rumbling noises of pleasure echoed by his soul purring in the very core of him. 

It was almost too much. Almost. He grasped tightly at Prometheus, lifting his knees enough to squeeze his hips between his thighs - chuckled roughly when his friend made a tiny, little obscene noise right in the back of his throat. Beneath his eyelashes, Hades could see Prometheus pull back, flushed and dark-eyed, expression and soul both hungry

“I think,” Prometheus whispered, his voice hoarse as he moved to kiss the corner of his mouth, “That,” his lips moved to the sharp line of his jaw, “We should,” down to his throat, a hint of teeth, “Fuc-

Prometheus’s communicator, left forgotten in the corner of his workshop, emitted an irritatingly high-pitched ‘chirp’ , cutting through the mood as bluntly as a butterknife. They both froze. 

“Call from Convocation Member: Lahabrea incoming,” the communicator declared cheerily, “Automatic accept if no response in twenty seconds.”

Prometheus groaned and pushed himself up off the desk. Hades… needed a moment. Their souls slowly untangled from each other, but his wits felt scattered, his pulse still fluttering from the lingering pleasure and arousal cut irritatingly short. He clumsily pushed himself up on his elbows, Prometheus still leaning over him slightly with his hand on his chest.  

“I am going to end him,” Prometheus muttered, irritation flickering through his soul like cold sparks, “Reject call. Tell him I’m… busy with a dangerous spell. Can’t be distracted for the next hour or so.”

“Call rejected.”

As the communicator’s light started blinking, indicating that it was taking a no doubt very angry voicemail, Prometheus looked back at Hades with a small grimace. 

“Well, that ruined the mood,” he said apologetically. 

“A little,” Hades admitted, realising that he was lying on a paperweight, judging by the sharp pain jabbing into his lower back. He properly sat up, Prometheus moving back to give him room, and he sighed, still feeling tingly right down to the tips of his toes. Typical Lahabrea… 

“But, maybe we can continue it later?” Prometheus said, “I still need to take that bath, if you want to join me.”

“I’ve seen your bath,” Hades huffed, “It won’t fit both of us.”

“I’ll adjust it,” Prometheus started to smile, leaning in close until their foreheads were touching, his hands resting atop of Hades’s thighs, his soul brushing up slow, and warm, and long against his, “Or, you can sit in my lap~”

“Hm,” Hades pressed his hand against Prometheus’s chest, slowly pushing him back. His friend eased back without resistance, “Or you can sit in mine.” 

“Oh ho,” Prometheus brightened at that, “I get to be pampered this time?” 

“I always pamper you,” Hades said flatly. 

“Not always…”

They continued to banter in that fashion as they slowly made their way out of the workshop and into Prometheus’s personal quarters, already forgetting about the call to be worried about on a later date. For now, they had an hour of uninterrupted time they intended to use to the fullest. 


(Three hours later Prometheus ended up having to lie, utterly straight-faced, to a furious Lahabrea about how he had no idea how a miniature star tumbled out of a rift gate Lahabrea was working on and exploded in the middle of his workshop. That, yes, he had been working on stars at the time, but it wasn’t him, truly. Honestly! He was innocent!

All while privately wondering if Hades had done that on purpose.)

Chapter Text

In Amaurot, society took the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ very much to heart. 

Due to the rarity of children, being a society of immortal beings where the lack of regular deaths meant an extremely low birth rate, Amaurot’s Bureau of Administration were settled with the laborious process of managing them. That is, arranging their procreation, their births, their welfare and education, up until they were old enough to be claimed by a Mentor, which was normally approximately after they hit fifty years of age. 

It worked like this: when a certain amount of Amaurotines permanently died, a very small pool of candidates who petitioned for procreation rights were vetted and chosen to contribute a new life. Children require regular social contact with fellow agemates for healthy development, which would be impossible to achieve if people just procreated willy nilly and with no proper scheduling, so the Bureau tended to do batches of fifteen every three centuries or so, just to ensure some variety of personalities.

With modern technology and medical care, the whole process was neatened up even more by ensuring that all children were born on the exact same day, just to make things more organised for everyone involved. Once the new lives were born, they were then given over to the Creche Masters to be raised communally, to instil proper Amaurotine’s values in them from as young an age as possible. 

(And also because it takes a very certain type of person to juggle fifteen children with the powers of Creation and not have a mental breakdown after a few short months)

For the next fifty years, the children would be closely monitored and raised by the creche masters, with reports of their development sent to the Bureau. They were ranked accordingly on various topics: their magic’s potency, their temperament, their creativity, their intelligence, their physical constitution, etcetera, etcetera, and were earmarked for specific Mentors once they were of age, to ensure compatibility and maximised potential.

So, when Prometheus, Hades, and Hythlodaeus reached fifty years of age, still so very young by Amaurotine’s standards, they were given to the Mentor known as Metis. Considered one of the oldest Amaurotines still living, she was known for raising several Convocation members and others who contributed amazing, brilliant Concepts to the collective. Those that came under her wing were expected to excel. 

Of course, the Mentor wasn’t the sole caretaker. The children still interacted with their old creche masters, were even given to other Mentors to cover weaknesses in knowledge that their main one had. It ensured attachment to Amaurot as a whole, encouraged active socialising with those identified as Amaurotine. The only family you had was Amaurot, and that was how things worked for thousands of years, and will continue to work for thousands of years to come. 

Or, it would’ve if, you know, Prometheus hadn’t broken the world. 

But that’s another story. 


Dusk was just starting to touch the skyline when Mentor Metis ushered them into the Hall of Rhetoric. 

Prometheus had to crane his neck back to take everything in - being barely sixty years old, he only just about reached waist height of the adults - so everything was still cumbersomely huge. Mentor Metis adjusted their home accordingly so it was more comfortable for them, but in Amaurot’s city centre, where children were a rare sight and so pointless to accomodate for, it made Prometheus feel like he was a mouse in a giant’s home. 

Beside him, Hades felt bored and tired. He’d been napping when Mentor Metis had dragged them out for this ‘educational trip’, and he always got snappy when his naps were interrupted. Even his soul felt like a prickly hedgehog, warding any kind of socialising whatsoever.

So, Prometheus turned to his other side to the much friendlier Hythlodaeus, who was nervously tugging the hem of his hood over his mask. Ever since his mask had fallen off in public that one time, he had a constant worry that it would happen again. Mentor Metis had given him such a scolding for it, though Prometheus hadn’t seen what the problem was. They saw each other’s faces regularly back home. 

“This place is pretty big, huh?” he asked Hythlodaeus, “The benches are bigger than us again.”

“Oh, yes,” Hythlodaeus said, hurriedly dropping his hand and looking about. This time of the day, those who just finished work were trickling in, creating a veritable forest of cloaked adults. Prometheus hoped he wasn’t accidentally bumped into or stepped on again. Apparently children were so rare to encounter, and their souls so small and inconspicuous, that the adults overlooked them a lot. 

“Children,” Metis’s soft, melodious voice commanded their attention, and all three turned to face her. She towered over them, taller than most of the adult Amaurotines in the Hall of Rhetoric, a sign of her ancient life, “Have you determined the purpose of this visit yet?”

Considering Mentor Metis had been teaching them the basics of debate and philosophy this week, it was obvious.

“To debate?” Prometheus asked.

Mentor Metis tilted her head a fraction and didn’t reply. Not quite wrong, not quite right. 

“To observe,” Hades said in that low, drawl of his, “And see how others do it.”

“Indeed,” Mentor Metis said, “You are to observe your peers in their methods of rhetoric, and attempt some practice yourselves. Be mindful of who you ask to debate, for some will not hold their punches on account of your age, and remember: the moment you allow your frustration to overcome you, that is the moment you have lost the debate.”

Prometheus nodded eagerly, already excited to get stuck in. He had excelled in what lessons Mentor Metis had given them, had beaten Hythlodaeus and Hades in vigorous debate (though, Hades was very tricky to argue with, since he had this way of wording things that made his meaning obscure). While Prometheus wasn’t arrogant enough to assume he’d be on par with the adults, he was interested to see how he matched up to them! 

Mentor Metis eyed them for a moment, “Do not leave the main hall without my permission. If anyone asks you to join them for a ‘private’ debate, refuse. Understand?” 

“We understand,” the three of them chorused, and satisfied, Mentor Metis gestured for them to go. 

They struck out into the sea of adults, Prometheus leading the charge. They almost got separated a few times, and almost stepped on, but eventually they reached a safe, empty spot near a large desk with a very sleepy-feeling Amaurotine manning it. There was a screen erected next to the desk with a list of names and topics next to them, as well as a room number. It looked like organised debates for groups and individuals. 

Prometheus looked away from it and to his friends instead, “So, what should we do?”

Hades shrugged, still sleepy-eyed, and Hythlodaeus looked out at the intimidating crowd with open uncertainty. 

Well, that wasn’t helpful! 

“I’m going over there,” he said, pointing where three adults were in a very passionate sounding debate about ‘Concept Ownership’, “They seem to be having fun.” 

With that, he made his way over to them, curiously prodding at the electrified air with his soul. In this place, the emotions were a lot more diffused into the surrounding area, running high from the thrill of arguing. It made everything feel uncomfortably loud, so Prometheus shut himself off from it instead, imagining closing himself in a tight little box until he felt very alone and disconnected from Amaurot. 

Ah, that felt better. 

He reached the three adults, standing right in their personal space and looking up. They hadn’t noticed him.

“-ying that this ‘contributing everything to the collective’ is stymying creativity to an extent. There are so many guidelines and rules on what constitutes as an acceptable Concept that quite a lot of recent proposals have been rejected out of hand! I agree, the more dangerous Concepts should be outlawed as soon as they have been identified, but some useful Creations are getting caught in the crossfire of these draconian regulations.”

“‘Some’. Some useful Creations are getting caught in the crossfire,” came the swift response from the second adult, “Are we forgetting why these regulations were brought forward in the first place?”

“Of course not!” The first adult snapped, “It’s simply-”

“Oh look, Pallas,” the third adult interrupted, having finally noticed Prometheus standing there, “We have a little visitor.”

“What?” The first adult, Pallas, looked down, and Prometheus suddenly felt a bit intimidated coming under the scrutiny of three adults. He made his soul a little smaller, a little more boxed off when their souls curiously prodded at him. 

“Um, hello!” he said, forcing some boldness. The third adult made an amused noise, “Sorry to interrupt your debate, but, um, Mentor Metis told me to watch people today!” 

“Mentor Metis…? Oh,” Pallas looked at the other adults, “I never knew she took on a new batch of kids.”

“She did about ten years ago,” the second adult said, “Are you really that out of touch with the modern news?”

“Oh, shut up, Crius,” Pallas grumbled, turning back to Prometheus, “Well, I’m sorry, little one, but our debate may be a little too advanced for you.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” the third adult said slyly, “It could be an interesting experience for him. One does need to learn how to tread water when they find themselves out of their depth.”

“I’m not picking on a child,” Pallas said. 

“It won’t be picking on him, it will be teaching him a vital life lesson,” Crius said.

Prometheus was beginning to wonder if he should excuse himself. The adults were looking at him, clearly evaluating him for something. He crushed his soul down even smaller, but it couldn’t go anymore tinier. 

“We will permit you to join in our debate, little one,” the third adult said, “I am Hyperion, and these two companions of mine are Pallas and Crius. We are debating about ‘Concept Ownership’. Are you familiar with the subject?”

“Ah, yes,” Prometheus said hurriedly, his earlier nervousness being swiftly replaced by excitement. He was getting to join in! “I understand that all Concepts must be submitted to the Bureau for proper evaluation. Any and all that are accepted are also entered into the public domain, to be used by any Amaurotine.”

“Good,” Hyperion said, “You’re correct. Now, our arguments are these: should we allow some private Concepts to exist, to promote experimentation and creativity? Or, should we continue to allow the Amaurotine government to claim full ownership and regulation of any and call Concepts, to ensure safety standards are adhered to at all times?”

“Um,” Prometheus hesitated. This felt a bit more complex than the usual topics Mentor Metis gave them, but he wanted to make a good first impression, so he tried; “I think that we should allow some private Concepts to exist.”

“Oh ho,” Hyperion sounded amused. 

“I don’t know if I should be concerned or not that a child agrees with me,” Pallas sighed.

“If we allow private Concepts to exist, how will we ensure complete safety?” Crius asked, “Without oversight, dangerous Concepts could quickly become the norm behind closed doors, only identified when they inevitably cause harm or catastrophically fail.”

That sounded pretty bad, but Prometheus remembered Mentor Metis saying that to quickly backtrack or fumble wasn’t good in debating, so tried to stick to his guns, “Well. Um, maybe we could, um, have Concepts submitted to ensure they’re safe, but-”

“So, you do agree that they should be regulated?” Hyperion interrupted. 

“No- yes, but,” Prometheus could feel his face starting to grow hot, embarrassed at stumbling so badly early on, “I mean, we can allow private Concepts to exist, but before final conceptualisation, they are evaluated by a, a, um, expert, to ensure that it isn’t going to do any harm, before releasing them back into the creator’s control.”

“Hmm,” Hyperion tilted his head thoughtfully, “Clumsily delivered, but I got your point.”

“Who would this ‘expert’ be?” Crius asked slyly. 

With a start, Prometheus realised he didn’t actually know . An expert was just… an expert. Someone from the Bureau of Concepts? The Convocation of Fourteen? The Akadaemia? 

Obviously, it would be a member of the Concept Board,” Pallas cut in, clearly taking pity on him.

“But that loops back to the original problem,” Hyperion said, “A member of the Concept Board would evaluated it according to the Bureau’s guidelines. It would be the same as the current system.”

“So?” Crius directed to Prometheus, “Your alternative answer?”

“Um…” Prometheus quickly racked his brains, “A… um, the Akadaemia…?”

“They’re far too busy with other duties.”

Prometheus fidgeted, “The Convocation of the Fourteen…?”

The adults chuckled, like he said a funny joke. It wasn’t meant to be. 

“P-Perhaps an independent board can be set up,” Pallas coughed out after overcoming his laughter, “A mixture of those from the Bureau, the Akadaemia, with distant oversight by a Convocation member to ensure standards are adhered to.” 

“But that seems like such a waste of resources.”

“B-But it would work!” Prometheus said quickly, kicking himself for not thinking of the answer first, “People can submit private Concepts to them, and, since it’s outside the Bureau’s, um, authority, the standards can be different.”

“Different… or looser?” Hyperion asked, “It isn’t fair to have public domain Concepts run on stricter guidelines than private ones. Everyone will just end up submitting private Concepts, which denies the collective access to new, innovative Concepts. It would kickstart selfishness within our society.”

“That is true,” Crius said solemnly, “Once people become possessive over their Concepts, it discourages sharing - encourages competition.” 

“Well, what if…” Prometheus started, “Private Concepts can, uh, still be made accessible to the public-”

“Oh?”

Prometheus paused, realising that he was contradicting himself. He nervously adjusted his mask, feeling a bit hot and uncomfortable under it. This was way more intense than the friendly debates Mentor Metis set up between him and Hades and Hythlodaeus. 

“We can… incentivise people to share their private Concepts?” he suggested meekly. 

“With what? Rewards?” Hyperion shook his head disapprovingly, “It is a shame to encourage people to help their fellows by material rewards. It should be our first instinct to freely share our Concepts with all of Amaurot.”

“Oh, then,” Prometheus stopped. He was drawing a complete blank, “Um.” 

“I think,” Pallas said, “Our young debater has hit a wall. It’s fine to admit you’ve reached your limit, little one.”

“No, no, I can, um, give me a minute,” he flustered, “Um, I think- that… that we can, uh…”

Hyperion tsk’d, “When one starts to stammer through their words, it’s difficult to take their argument seriously.”

“Hyperion,” Pallas muttered warningly. 

Prometheus went quiet and, to his own mortification, felt himself start to tear up. Luckily his mask hid it from view, and his soul was still tightly locked down, so they wouldn’t feel his budding upset, but it was still embarrassing. His first real debate and he was ready to start crying the second he really struggled.

“Um,” Prometheus mumbled, trying not to let it show that he was ready to burst into tears, “I-I think that, the, um, the Concepts can be… um...”

“Can be…?” Crius leaned in slightly, “Sorry, you started mumbling, little one. Can you repeat that?”

Pallas sighed heavily, his exasperation clearly felt, and Prometheus bowed his head, tugging at the hem of his hood. 

“Prometheus.”

He jumped a little at Hades’s voice, and he turned to see his friend approaching with Hythlodaeus. His soul felt a little prickly, nudging against his, but it seemed his irritation wasn’t directed at Prometheus, but more towards the adults. 

“Ah, I assume you are also Mentor Metis’s charges?” Hyperion asked, his amusement thick in the air, “I forget how small children could be.”

“Are you debating?” Hades asked them, but he was looking at Prometheus. 

Prometheus didn’t dare say anything, because Hades would know something was wrong the second he opened his mouth. So, he nodded instead, blinking very rapidly to dry his eyes as the adults seemed to grow more amused with the situation.

“We are debating on Concept Ownership,” Hyperion said, “Your agemate was arguing for allowing some private Concepts, though he began to lose the thread of his argument near the end.”

Prometheus cringed, embarrassed. Why would he say that?

Hades huffed, “Considering he was being unfairly ganged up on by those several centuries his senior, it’s unsurprising he started to flounder.”

Oh. The adults’ stiffened slightly, Hades’s barb striking true. Throwing down the accusation of being unfair in a debate was a very serious claim to make. Hades didn’t seem to care, though, just gave the impression of sticking his nose up in the air and turning away, like an imperious cat. 

“Mentor Metis is asking for you,” Hades lied, “So, come on.”

Prometheus had no choice but to follow Hades, though he could hear Pallas mutter something like, “I told you it was bullying-” before the ambient chatter swallowed up the rest of his words. 

They returned to their earlier spot, near the desk. Prometheus hung his head in shame. 

“You really know how to leap into the deep end, don’t you?” Hades said, giving him a wry look. 

Hythlodaeus seemed more sympathetic, “We were watching from a distance, and you were doing really well. But, Mentor Metis was right. There are some who won’t hold their punches in a debate here…”

“They should’ve known better,” Hades said shortly, and he physically nudged Prometheus with his elbow, “Oh, stop moping. It’s not the end of the world.”

“I'm not moping,” Prometheus muttered, ducking his head so he could lift his mask up without being seen, discreetly wiping at his eyes. He straightened up once he was done, sniffing quietly, “I feel humiliated.” 

“Well,” Hades seemed a bit taken aback, “What did you expect joining a group of adults in a serious debate?”

For the topic to not be so complex? For them to go easy on him? Prometheus frowned at his feet, mulling over that debate in his mind. The problem was that he didn’t know enough about the situation or the complications around it to give a reasonable argument. Perhaps he should have declined joining the debate from the outset, instead of humiliating himself like that. 

“It’s okay, Prometheus,” Hythlodaeus said quietly, “Next time, we’ll go as a group. Then you won’t be ganged up on.”

Hades sighed, “Ah, I was hoping to avoid doing some serious debating. But, if you want to give another go at it, I suppose I’ll come along to help.”

“I think we should just observe for now,” Prometheus said, “I don’t know enough to participate seriously.” 

“I bet this is one of Mentor Metis’s lessons,” Hythlodaeus mused, “Learning your limits? It seems the sort of thing she would do.”

Prometheus grimaced. He hated Mentor Metis’s ‘hidden’ lessons. They always tended to catch him off guard. 

“In which case, let’s find an unoccupied bench,” Hades said, “We can observe from there without being trodden on.”

“You just want to take another nap,” Prometheus accused, but he found himself starting to cheer up a bit, the sting of his earlier humiliation fading, “Those benches are horrible, you know. Someone made them out of marble and put no cushions on them.”

“No cushions? What a crime,” Hades muttered. 

They wandered off after that, cautiously navigating their way through the crowd to an unoccupied bench. When Mentor Metis went to collect them an hour later, she found them dozing against each other, having grown quickly bored listening to adults debate topics they barely comprehended. 

Chapter Text

Desperation contained a unique and terrible strength to it. 

It was a power Hades hadn’t tapped into since that fateful day when the world split into fourteen shards, when he and Zodiark’s other disciples had fought Prometheus into a corner he couldn’t escape. It had taken every ounce of strength he possessed that day, and several ounces more, wrung out by the gentle yet merciless hand of their God. Yet still, that terrible, desperate strength had not been enough in the end. 

It broke in the face of Prometheus’s defiance.

(and the world broke with it)  

It was an event that echoed through history, right down to this moment. Hades floundering in the darkness, desperately scrambling for every drop of power he had - what power his God squeezed out of him, that poisonous voice that became comforting over the cold, lonely eternity since his world ended thundering in his skull to ‘kill the enemy, kill Her servant, kill your heart until his soul resonated with the desire (command). He threw himself onto the sword poised at his heart with wild abandon, driven by desperation, driven by grief, driven by many, many things. 

And once more, it broke in the face of Prometheus’s defiance

For blinded by his God’s screamed commands, blinded by his rage and grief, Hades did not realise that history was repeating until he descended upon that pathetic, vain reflection of his oldest enemy (friend) and felt his thinned soul flare. Saw the flash of Light, the armiger, crude and wild as it was, take form in the broken reflection’s grip, and it flew to him and it-

The armiger smashed through him like a shooting star. 

(“doesn’t it look like a comet?” prometheus said, turning to him with a proud grin as crystal dust drifted from where his armiger had shot across the workshop in a blink of beautiful light.

it was the first time hades had seen him smile in weeks, and hades couldn’t help but bask in it, feeling his friend’s delight as his own. it did look like a comet, as bright and lethal as prometheus could be)

He

(“i love your soul, hades…” prometheus murmured softly to him, in a lovely intimate moment stolen in the dark hours between days, “it feels really… steady. i know i can trust in it always.” )

Failed

(in the end, it had been hades who was prometheus’s closest match. they stood opposite, desperate and defiant in equal measure, but prometheus had been smiling, in the end, an empty, distant expression, as his gaze fixed somewhere past hades’s shoulder. he did not look at him, even in the end.

“i’m sorry, hades,” prometheus whispered, barely audible, as aether began to churn and build, the shadow of a newborn god rising from the depths of his cracking soul, “i failed you.”)

You

(“there is nothing left for you but to forge forwards,” the comforting (poisonous) words of his God murmured to him, in the silence of the world’s end, “do this for me and i will revive prometheus with the rest. he will be loyal to you always. an eternity in paradise, forever...”

a lie. hades would only get a puppet. a shade. but. he was selfish enough to pretend to believe)

The world came into sharp, abrupt focus. Hades’s soul had a hole punched through it. 

It should hurt. But it didn’t. 

He mindlessly held a hand up to the wound - a hole, burning a gentle, warm white around the edges. It did not hurt. It felt… like water on a fatal burn. Soothing, but ultimately… it did nothing. This wound was fatal. It would…

Prometheus stood before him, and this time he was looking at him. 

(prometheus looked up at the sky, blankly, as he died with agonising slowness in hades’s arms, and said, “i just want to save you.”)

Ah. 

He understood now.

There was no longer a poisonous voice whispering in the back of his mind, comforting in a way that only cold, endless sadness could be. His thoughts were still and calm, and despite the breathlessness of death creeping over him like a pleasant chill, he felt no fear. He looked at Prometheus, and realised that his long, lonely journey had finally ended. Not in the way he wanted, but he felt… just...  

(“It ends this day,” Prometheus said, his thin soul the brightest it had been since its destruction an eternity ago, spoken through an inferior shade, “One way or another, it ends.”)

Yes. It was… finally over. 

Hades lifted his hands. They did not shake. They were steady as he swept back his hood, looked Prometheus in the eye… and accepted that it wasn’t him. 

Prometheus, much like himself, had died an eternity ago. 

(a distant memory, of hythlodaeus, when he said “you and prometheus are like one soul in two bodies. it makes me worry how you two will survive without each other sometimes”)

Hades had not lived beyond the world’s Sundering. 

I would have traded all fourteen worlds for you. I would have killed every single life on every single shard for you, Hades thought, knowing that if it had not been Zodiark pushing him on, his own weak, sentimental heart would have pulled him on this path regardless. These fragmented lives were worthless compared to Prometheus. They always would be. There was an awful, terrible, painful ache at the thought of forging through these lonely eons for nothing. Prometheus did not wait for him here, or in the Lifestream. He had failed.

But. 

Hades will forget. The Lifestream will take him, and cleanse him into a blank slate. This endless, burning grief will fade with that. 

So, he had to… 

“Remember us…” he said, to the inferior shade - Prometheus’s successor, “Remember that we once lived.”  

The reflection looked back at him.

“I’ll remember you,” the reflection said, and Hades didn’t know if it was a mercy or cruelty that he sounded exactly like Prometheus. 

(“I’ve forgotten your real name,” prometheus whispered)

I’ll remember you. Hades let those words follow him as he finally, after an eternity, let go. 

Chapter Text

In the early hours of the morning, where the sun was barely touching the horizon and Amaurot was hushed and soft, Hades woke up. 

He opened his eyes to a dark ceiling, the flutter of his curtains snagging his attention briefly - his wide open window was inviting a chill that carried the smell of ozone, making him feel uncomfortably cold. He lazily willed the window closed, shifting towards the warmth curled up against his side as he heard the quiet click of the latch. 

Beside him, Prometheus slept on obliviously. 

Hades watched him from beneath his eyelashes. His friend looked so deceptively vulnerable when he slept, his soul a gentle, warm thing that purred when Hades brushed up against it. This was the only time Prometheus truly let down his guard, and Hades couldn’t help but reach out to tuck a wayward, dark lock of hair behind Prometheus’s ear, his thumb brushing over his cheek. 

It was in these quiet, private moments, where Hades realised the depths of his feelings for his closest friend. Bottomless, without end, and it made him smile to himself to think how fortunate he was to find his other half so early in life, that he could spend the rest of eternity with him. Oh, they had their squabbles and spats, their disagreements and petty rivalries, but they always, naturally, gravitated back to each other.

One soul in two bodies… that was how Hythlodaeus described them before. Hades had dismissed it as overly romantic at the time, but right now, in the quiet of the early dawn, he had to admit it was true. 

Sunlight suddenly peeked through his curtains, pale and weak, shining directly onto Prometheus’s face. Hades watched, amused, as his friend grunted, then wrinkled his nose, eyebrows furrowed as he tried to turn away from the glare by pressing his face into his pillow, mumbling incoherently. 

Hades moved his hand to idly card his fingers through Prometheus’s thick hair, occasionally massaging his scalp like he was a particularly spoilt cat. Prometheus even made a happy, albeit sleepy, purring noise.  

“Good morning,” he murmured, his voice husky from sleep.

“S’too early for mornin’...” Prometheus groaned, his voice muffled into the pillow, “S’not even dawn…”

“Hmm, I think the sunlight shining through my window says otherwise.” 

Prometheus’s aether fluttered, and Hades chuckled when the curtains sharply closed of their own volition, blocking out the light. 

“What sunlight,” Prometheus mumbled. 

Hades was half-tempted to just force the curtains open again, no doubt goading Prometheus into a childish battle of wills until they were both wide awake, but he felt too… something. Relaxed, maybe. Content. So, he let it go, watching with heavy-lidded eyes as Prometheus turned his head, resting his cheek on the pillow and watching him back with an adorably sleepy-expression. 

“You feel all soft,” Prometheus said after a long pause where they laid there in gentle, companionable silence, his soul warm and purring against his, “S’nice.”

“I’m in a good mood,” Hades said simply.

“Yeah, I feel it,” Prometheus purred, and he pressed closer - close enough that Hades lazily rolled onto his back, his friend sprawled atop of him, nuzzling into the crook of his neck like an overgrown housecat. His hair tickled the underside of his jaw, and Hades closed his eyes. 

Prometheus’s weight felt pleasant. He rested his hand on Prometheus’s lower back, drawing idle circles on the bare skin. 

“I love you,” Prometheus murmured against his throat, without any real warning, his soul bubbling and overflowing with the affectionate emotion, “Just so you know.”

And. 

Well, normally, their ‘I love yous’ were always accompanied by a joke, or a tease, or many other things to soften its otherwise heavy blow. It was rare, when one of them would turn to the other and simply say it, plainly, raw, honestly, without any prompting. Hades’s hand stilled on Prometheus’s lower back, opened his eyes to see a thin ray of sunlight escaping through the curtains cutting a sharp, golden line across his ceiling. 

“...I do too,” Hades said quietly.

Prometheus hummed, his lips pressed against the flutter of his pulse point in a very light, barely there kiss that lingered for minutes. It felt like a hot brand - one that tingled pleasantly and made every nerve, every mote in his soul, purr. 

It took Hades a while to realise Prometheus had fallen back to sleep - right there, after saying ‘I love you’, he just dozed right off. Typical. But Hades just felt fond exasperation, twisting dark curls around his fingers as Prometheus weight pressed him down against the bed, a comforting, familiar weight that kept him awake, but also kept him happy. 

These types of mornings were rare. Hades wasn’t an early riser, got grumpier the lower the sun was when he woke, but sometimes, rarely, he woke up before Prometheus and looked at him and felt

He felt many things. 

Will continue to feel them, with the endless centuries to come, and once more Hades counted himself lucky, to find his other half so early in life, to enjoy being whole for the rest of eternity. 

Hades closed his eyes at that, drifting back to sleep himself, just as the sunbeam cutting across his ceiling faded with the coming of gentle, morning rain. 

Chapter Text

Xerora was different every time Prometheus visited it. 

It was a city renowned for its proud individualism, a sprawling mess of clashing architecture and styles tied together by grandiose bridges trimmed with gold. For reasons lost to ancient history, Xerora had been built on a deep swamp, so there were no clear roads or stable foundations in this odd, strange city, with people travelling via gondolas along a series of narrow canals. Odd, since teleporting was a thing, but Xerorans were a bit strange, and that air of oddity and illogical sense was what attracted people to their scandalous city. 

And indeed, it was very scandalous. 

Xerorans were immortal, much like their Amaurotine neighbours, but they were short-lived too. Their government was a chaotic mess, the politicians selfish and greedy, and the people equally so, focusing more on instant gratification than committing themselves to anything truly worthwhile. Every five centuries or so, they would undergo a violent revolution of some sort, or everyone got bored and decided they wanted to try out anarchy for a while. Some of them would die, Amaurot would desperately try to pretend Xerora never existed, and everything would settle after a few decades, Xerora back to its usual self, just with different faces sitting on their Council. 

Needless to say, the Convocation of the Fourteen disliked dealing with Xerora during its ‘peaceful’ phase, but it was a necessity. Amaurot could exist in pure isolation if it truly wanted to, but they understood that to maintain their peaceful, egalitarian society, they did require an outlet of some sort for people to explore their more rebellious sides without running afoul of Amaurotine laws. So, so long as Amaurotines did naughty things outside of Amaurot’s borders, then it was all fine.

In short, Amaurot permitted tourists to visit Xerora, and Xerora benefited from Amaurotines occasionally letting slip some interesting Concepts whilst partying. It all worked out, but it did require some management from time to time. 

It had fallen to Prometheus and Hades to handle the management this century. Normally only one member had to do it, but Prometheus had a feeling that the rest of his colleagues didn’t trust him to roam Xerora unsupervised for some reason. 

(He had considered being offended… but then realised he essentially had a free holiday with Hades in Xerora. It was, quite frankly, like an early Nameday present for the both of them!)

As it was a ‘new cycle’ (i.e Xerora only just finished their last renovation of their entire government), Prometheus wasn’t sure what to expect this time round. Xerora had a brand new council, and Prometheus wasn’t familiar with any of them, but he always tended to have a ‘knack’ with Xerorans, since they always tended to think on a similar wavelength to him. 

But first, they needed to find the Council, which led to their current problem…

“This is the worst map I’ve ever seen,” Hades said flatly, eyeing the laminated paper Prometheus had laid out flat against the cafe table with open distaste, “Why is everything in neon colours?”

“Uh, I think it’s a tourist thing,” Prometheus muttered, squinting at the mess before him. For whatever reason, the free map he filched from the aetheryte square was printed out in some over the top, cartoon style, without a proper scale and all the names shuffled around. Prometheus recognised none of the layout. 

Hades sighed, slouching deeper in his seat. 

After roaming for a good half an hour, they had decided to take a quick break at one of the many tourist trap cafes situated in the narrow, winding streets. It was such a lovely sunny day too, so they sat outside, Prometheus occasionally looking over at the thick crowd ambling past with curiosity. 

It was so different to Amaurot. He did love his city, but it was always so… reserved and stressful, having to mind your public persona at all times to be a ‘good example’. Xerora in comparison was loud chaos, emotions and souls flaring bright and shouting over each other, meaning you had to keep yourself walled up just to stay sane. Everyone was dressed differently too, their faces bared - or if they wore masks, were highly stylised to stand out - declaring their individualism without a hint of shame. 

Prometheus felt kind of bland in comparison. Had he been by himself, he might’ve tried to match Xeroran fashion, but instead he tried to keep to Hades’s more conservative style of dress. It meant they were wandering around in their Convocation robes, the more slimmed down, black uniform with the heavy hoods, and while it also meant wearing those very cool metal clawed gauntlets, it did mean he and Hades were stomping about in a sunny city in dark, depressing robes like a pair of killjoy ghouls. 

“Right, I think I’ve figured it out,” Prometheus said, pushing the map more into the centre of their table, “Look, we’re here - maybe - and it looks like this ‘Palace of Authority’ might be where the new Council Chambers are. Should take us about twenty minutes to walk there, since I don’t want to risk teleporting into a wall or something.”

“Palace of Authority,” Hades repeated flatly, “Really.”

“I think they’re trying for a more, uh, monarchist government this millennia,” Prometheus muttered, mystified himself, “I’m fairly sure it’s still a Council. Maybe.”

Hades sighed again, and muttered under his breath, “I hate Xerora.” 

“Stop being a sourpuss,” Prometheus teased, gently nudging his friend’s foot with his own, “Think of it as an adventure! After meeting with whoever’s in charge and talking absolute shit for a few hours about stuff none of us care about and wanting it to end as soon as possible-”

“I do wonder at Elidibus’s wisdom in choosing you for this,” Hades drawled, sounding reluctantly amused, “Should I worry about your crass mouth causing a diplomatic incident?”

“Shut up, I can be charming when I feel like it,” Prometheus huffed, “Anyway, after all that annoying stuff, we can go and enjoy ourselves.” 

Hades looked doubtful, “You want to stay in this hellhole?”

“It’s not a hellhole,” Prometheus chided, “It’s unique and interesting. Look, it’s so different to Amaurot!”

Hades looked. His gaze travelled up along the narrow street, taking in the clashing architecture, and how there were modern skyscrapers looming over old, stylised shops with red bricks and shale roofing, large billboards crammed in where there was space advertising this or that ‘fun location’ within Xerora. 

“I want to throttle whoever the city planner was,” Hades finally said. 

“I don’t think they had one…” Prometheus mused. With how crammed everything looked, it seemed people just built whatever wherever and the city just kind of spread out like that, in a big chaotic mess. It even reached out into the ocean, where there were some underwater hotels and residential areas amongst the coral, “I think everyone has a right to build whatever they want, wherever they want, so long as there’s space.” 

Hades looked oddly pained at that. 

“We can visit the beaches at least,” Prometheus said, “Maybe we can go at night? I hear the view is beautiful when the stars come out. Oh! And maybe we can check out their thermal baths too? I hear they have healing properties, so I want to observe the aether in that area and take samples to see if I can replicate that in my bath. And, also, there’s this popular bird sanctuary-”

“Are we here on business, or on holiday?” Hades asked dryly. 

“We’re here on a business holiday,” Prometheus answered teasingly, “We do a little bit of work, and spend the rest of the time relaxing. The others don’t have to know we took some sneaky time off.”

Hades sighed and shook his head, but he was starting to smile, reluctantly amused. Prometheus started to grin, knowing he was close to winning, and leaned forwards on his elbows, dropping his voice in a low purr. 

“C’mon, Hades,” he crooned, letting his soul gently brush up against his friend’s, “I just want to spend some time with you.”

“You always spend time with me,” Hades said, his lazy slouch shifting into more of a confident sprawl, poorly hiding his smirk behind his gloved fingers, “Needy little thing that you are.”

“Well, I’ll be needy in a different way if you indulge me,” Prometheus said shamelessly, biting back a laugh when he felt Hades’s attention focus on him, a pleasant, prickling warmth tapping up his spine when Hades pressed firmly against his soul’s borders. 

“Really?” Hades said huskily, “Are you bribing me with sex?”

“Is it working?”

Hades gave him a long, heavy-lidded look, his eyes dark and his mouth curved into a little amused smile. It made Prometheus shiver, but he kept himself contained, coyly watching him from beneath his dark eyelashes. If anyone glanced their way, they’d have to be blind to miss the sexual tension pulling taut between them.

“...let’s see how I feel, after we meet with the Xerorans,” Hades murmured, leaving Prometheus in suspense because of course he did.

“Tease,” Prometheus grumbled, but he leaned back in his seat, easing off on the seduction for now, “Is that a not very subtle prod for us to go see them now?”

“Mhm.”

They got up from their seats, and after quickly consulting the near-useless map once more to kind of point themselves in the right direction, set off towards the ‘Palace of Authority’. They carved an easy path through the thick foot traffic, people giving their dark-robed forms a wide berth. Which was good because as fascinating as Xerora was, Prometheus could do without all the people.

The only person he wanted in his personal space right now was right beside him, and Prometheus intended to keep it that way, thanks.


 

So, it turned out Xerora did become a monarchy at some point.  

A monarchy where their current ruler was a child

Prometheus wasn’t sure whether to be concerned, mortified or morbidly fascinated, and settled on an anxious cocktail of all three as he stood there, staring blankly, as King Persus the Second (what happened to the First???? ) sat high in his too-big throne with his gaudy crown threatening to slip over his eyes. He couldn’t be older than forty years old, with cheeks still chubby from puppy fat and eyes bright and guileless, his soul like an open book for anyone to casually riffle through. 

Next to him, Hades was just… taking this all in stride. His friend had adopted a bland, bored expression that hadn’t twitched once during this whole farce, staring straight ahead with a thousand yard stare. Prometheus wondered if he was doing complicated math problems in his head again to maintain that composure. 

“I thank Amaurot for sending such esteemed representatives to the humble city of Xerora,” King Persus the Second said in a high-pitched voice that squeaked like a mouse, “I hope you enjoy your, um, short stay here, Councillors.” 

Oh goodness, Prometheus thought faintly, he’s a baby.  

“Er, yes, thank you…” Prometheus said stiltedly, glancing away from the child to the masked adults standing behind the large, marble throne. There were two of them, flanking the throne, their souls as cold and opaque as frosted glass, “Your city is. Lovely.”

Hades’s lips twitched, a spike of amusement fluttering through his soul before he tamped down on it. Prometheus discreetly stepped on his toes. 

King Persus the Second brightened at the lacklustre praise, “Isn’t it? I designed it myself! Well, um, I drew it, and Rhea made it all, but then I let everyone else add to it, since it’s everyone’s city. I want it to be nicer than before.”

Did he even know what it was like before? Somehow Prometheus doubted it, and bit the inside of his cheek to keep his opinions to himself. As fucked up as Xerora was, Amaurot really didn’t want to antagonise the city state by meddling in it. While they would crush any trouble Xerora would bring, it would tip the very delicate balance on this star. 

Amaurot, for all of its strength, was not very militarily minded. Which was good because Prometheus dreaded to think what the state of the star would be if they used their great and terrible powers for conquest instead of creation. 

Best not tempt fate by pissing off the hotblooded Xerorans, hm?

“But, um, anyway,” King Persus continued, “You’re here about our treaty, right?”

“Er,” Prometheus glanced at Hades, “Yes?”

“Our agreement,” Hades cut in smoothly, “That we remain neutral to one another, and Xerora allows free movement of Amaurotine citizens within her borders.”

King Persus tilted his head, his bottom lip jutting out thoughtfully, “Um, but, what do we get for that?”

Uh oh. 

“Get?” Hades repeated, starting to look puzzled, “Why would you ‘get’ anything?”

“Because we’re letting your citizens come to our city for free,” King Persus pointed out, and one of the adults behind his chair shifted their weight, a tinge of wariness leaking through their soul’s walls. 

“Well, our citizens will participate in your society, enriching it,” Hades said very slowly, “And-”

“Oh, wow, did you draw that?” Prometheus interrupted, pointing at a large painting that was set up on the wall near the throne. It was a painting of a dog - or, what he suspected to be a dog, anyways - with flat, broad brushstrokes that spoke of pure amateurism but plenty of passion. For some reason the dog was a bright baby blue.

“Huh?” King Persus turned in his seat, effectively distracted - and immediately brightened when he saw what Prometheus was pointing to, “Oh, yes! That’s mine! Do you like it? It took me ages to paint it just right!”

“It looks amazing,” Prometheus said, ignoring Hades staring at him, “You’ve got a real talent for, uh...  dogs.”

Please let that be a dog. 

King Persus beamed, “Thank you!”

After that, it had been pathetically easy to smooth over that near political snarl. Completely forgetting about how unfair Amaurot and Xerora’s ‘agreement’ actually was, King Persus cheerily agreed to let the agreement continue on, and even allowed them to stay the night in one of the guest rooms in the Palace of Authority. By the time they left the throne room, Prometheus was feeling wrung out and unsettled for reasons he couldn’t fully explain. 

“Well,” Hades said, “You weren’t joking about being able to turn on the charm when needed.”

“He’s a baby,” Prometheus said, still a bit stunned about that, “They put a baby in charge.”

Hades nodded slowly. He seemed more occupied with the hallway they were walking down. It was all smooth, white marble with gold ripples, the carpet a plush, deep red, and the walls lined with paintings from various moments in Xerora’s history. There were at least ten different paintings depicting ten different revolutions.

“Sometimes I wonder if the rumours of Xerora being some massive social experiment are actually true,” Prometheus muttered, “Have you heard that one?”

“That the first Emet-Selch created Xerora to simulate different governments?” Hades said, “Yes, I’ve heard of that one. Xerora allegedly gave him enough data to architect the perfect society for Amaurot.” 

Prometheus eyed him, wondering if Hades knew more than he was letting on. He was aware that there was ‘private’ history tied to the titles they inherited, important information and knowledge embedded in the Sigils of Power they claimed. Prometheus had things he knew that Hades would never, so it stood to reason that his hunch on Xerora actually being an old social experiment, long since abandoned, was true. 

“Well, here’s hoping little Persus does fine,” Prometheus sighed, “Or isn’t, you know, horrifically assassinated before he sees fifty.”

Hades gave him a look that said he was being stupidly naive, but Prometheus ignored it. 

They reached the guest room then, a pointlessly huge room that meant Prometheus wasn’t going to be able to sleep at all. He grimaced at it, eyeing the massive, soft looking bed, and then at all the gaudy, bright red decorations and banners and rugs everywhere. What was with this place’s obsession with bright red against pure white? It was hurting his eyes. 

Hades didn’t seem particularly taken with their lodgings either, “I think I’ve come to a decision regarding that offer of yours.”

“Oh?”

“Mm,” Hades lifted his arms up in a lazy, lazy, lazy stretch, his spine audibly popping as he actually straightened the damn thing for the first time in decades, “You mentioned a thermal bath…?”

Prometheus huffed out a laugh, “Yeah, I did. Why, is your back aching again?”

“I don’t ache,” Hades grumbled, slouching heavily once more as he dropped his stretch, “But I am exhausted after walking through this city like a pleb.”

Prometheus rolled his eyes, “You’re such a child, honestly. You barely walked two miles!” 

Hades gave him a look that could peel paint, “I’m very much unaccustomed to walking that far. Unlike you who enjoys hiking up and down mountains for what I suspect to be purely masochistic reasons.” 

Well, he had him there. 

“I like the way the exercise makes my muscles ache,” Prometheus muttered, knowing his enjoyment of heavy exercise was very unusual for the usually sedentary Amaurotines. If you could manipulate your body to stay naturally fit and healthy, why bother suffering from workouts, was their thinking. 

Hades gave him a heavy-lidded look, letting out a quiet, fond noise. 

“Well, I can think of another exercise that you might like,” he said mildly, “Very physical and a lot of hard work…”

“Oh…?” Prometheus slowly started to move a little closer, anticipation making him admittedly overeager.

Hades lifted his hand when he drew close, pressing it gently against Prometheus’s chest, applying the gentlest of pressures to make him pause just as they were nose-to-nose. Prometheus made a low, impatient noise, his hands lightly brushing over Hades’s hips, and his friend smiled, clearly satisfied with the effect he was having. 

“Mhm,” Hades purred, leaning in a fraction. They were just shy of kissing, and Prometheus stayed perfectly still, lips parted slightly as he felt Hades’s soul gently unfurl and open up for him, inviting him in. He went for it, slowly, shivering right to the tips of his toes when their souls entwined in a delightful twist of pleasure that made his knees weak.

It was slow, so slow, Prometheus panting quietly when Hades pressed deeper and deeper into him, sinking into all the right places, pulling and pressing as rhythmically as lapping waves, making him sway almost drunkenly on his feet. His fingers were curled tight into the thick fabric of Hades’s dark robes, his eyes fluttering closed as slowly, torturously slowly, Hades kissed the corner of his mouth and…

Gently pulled away and out of him. 

Prometheus whined as their souls untangled, feeling flushed and aroused and impatient as his friend leaned away from him with an insufferably smug smirk. Hades’s eyes were dark, pupils dilated, a very faint flush to his cheeks, but he was far more composed than Prometheus was, and he hated (loved) him for it. 

“Bath first,” Hades hummed, because he was a fucking tease, and had the absolute gall to pat his cheek before swiftly extracting himself from Prometheus’s lax grip.

“Wha...” Prometheus said stupidly, staring as Hades stepped out of arm’s reach and readjusted his rumpled robes, “Now? But I thought we were gonna… y’know...” 

“I really do want that promised soak first,” Hades said, looking far too amused at Prometheus’s poorly hidden disappointment, “I’ll pamper you later, you greedy child.” 

Prometheus pouted at him, “Who’s the greedy one…?”

But, fine. He could wait. There was something weirdly thrilling about playing this little game, even if he found it equally frustrating. He supposed it was because he knew eventually Hades would give in, and it would be all the more satisfying and sweeter when he did. Prometheus could feel his pulse race a little at the thought.

So, he calmed himself down a little, ignoring the mischief in Hades’s expression, and played along. If Hades wanted a bath first, then Prometheus would give him the best bath he ever had. He knew exactly how to display himself to get Hades riled up. 

Heh. 

This was gonna be fun, actually. 

Chapter Text

Hades slowly stretched his arms high above his head as he leaned back in his seat, grunting when his spine loudly cracked. A dull tension pain was starting to pull between his shoulders, and he slouched forwards again, resting his elbows on his desk as he tiredly glanced over his work. 

Architect wasn’t solely about the physical buildings in Amaurot. It also had duties in ensuring the government ran smoothly and that society laws were as perfect as possible. Thankfully, after so many predecessors tweaking and adjusting Amaurot, Hades had little to do on that front as the current Emet-Selch, but he still had to do the occasional examination of it every few centuries or so, just to ensure it remained on course. 

It was a very important duty. It was also incredibly tedious. 

He’d been at it for several hours now and his spine was beginning to thoroughly protest at being hunched over for so long. He should probably take a break…

A flash of familiar aether drew his attention, lingering on the edge of his individual instance. Prometheus. 

Oh, what perfect timing. 

Hades nudged his front door open without a thought, shoving his papers back as he heaved himself out of his chair. By the time he stiffly shuffled out of his study, Prometheus had already invited himself inside, his mask off and hood swept back. Oddly, his friend seemed disconcerted about something, his soul shut off and prickly. 

“Hey, Hades,” Prometheus greeted, his amicable tone belying his uneasiness, “I’m surprised you’re still awake. It’s about two in the morning.”

“Is it?” Hades checked his internal clock, alarmed to find that, yes, he had been sat at that desk for almost twelve hours. No wonder he felt so awful, “Hrm, I lost track of time.” 

Prometheus hummed, turning his mask over in his hands. A nervous habit. Hades eyed him.

“...is something wrong, Prometheus?” he asked carefully, getting a little unnerved by his friend’s behaviour. He couldn’t feel anything wrong. His friend’s soul didn’t feel wounded or overly distressed, merely… off. 

“Ah, well,” Prometheus hesitated, holding his mask with both hands as he tipped his head forwards slightly, “Um. Not exactly. It’s just…”

Hades patiently waited, feeling his friend’s soul flutter and twist anxiously. 

“Well, I was doing some, um, you know, experiments with the Lifestream,” Prometheus said after a very long, lingering pause, “It’s a powerful conductor for spells that normally require things like ‘human sacrifice’, and I was using it to tap into the Rift, you know, to see if time dilation is actually a thing in there.”

Hades vaguely understood. The Lifestream and the Rift weren’t his area of expertise, though he was aware of the theory that the Rift could be used, theoretically , to travel between dimensions and time. The sheer energy required for that though was astronomical, far more than what siphoning a small pool from the Lifestream could achieve.

“And, something went wrong?” Hades guessed, gently probing at Prometheus’s soul borders, checking for injury. Aside from being unnerved by something, Prometheus felt fine, if a little low on aether. Nothing to be concerned over. 

Prometheus’s soul shivered, but it didn’t shy away from Hades’s touch, “No… well, maybe.” 

Hades raised an eyebrow at him. 

“...it went fine, at first,” Prometheus said slowly, clearly picking his words with care, “I accessed the Rift, and managed to establish a temporary instance in there. Then it went… weird. Time intersects there, you see, so I thought, maybe, I could do a bit of farseeing, if I tapped one of those threads and-”

Hades sighed, “Prometheus…”

“It was reckless, I know!” Prometheus huffed, “But, it was only a gentle touch! I didn’t mean for, well… it happened, and, I don’t know. It was... “

His friend trailed off, anxiously turning his mask over in his hands. He was clearly distressed, the emotion becoming more defined the more he spoke, and Hades decided to set aside the lecture for now. It could wait. 

“Are you hurt?” Hades asked, gently brushing up against his soul again, checking properly this time.

Prometheus shifted his weight at the contact, “No, I’m not hurt. I… argh, this sounds so childish, but, uh, do you mind if, um… I stay here for a few hours? I’ll be quiet and unobtrusive, if you need to finish work, I promise. I just, want… company for a bit...” 

Hades leaned back on his heels, eyeing his friend. Prometheus wasn’t looking at him, was in fact gazing downwards in clear embarrassment, his soul feeling so tiny and uncertain. It was then that Hades realised that his friend looked absolutely awful, paler than usual, his eyes red-rimmed with dark bags under them, like he’d been crying. Which was unacceptable, in Hades’s opinion. 

Yet, he wasn’t hurt. Physically and spiritually, Prometheus was fine. Yet he obviously wasn’t.

“You can stay,” Hades finally said, deciding to tread lightly. Prometheus was quite open with his emotions at times, but other times he could be extremely closed off, especially when pressed. That was fine, Hades could be patient when he felt like it, “I was planning on going to bed, though, so if you want, you can join me. Or stare at me while I sleep. I don’t care.”

Prometheus smiled weakly, “Join you in bed, huh?”

“Not like that,” Hades muttered, “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Prometheus chuckled quietly, and a tension Hades hadn’t noticed seemed to ease out of his friend’s taut shoulders. Still, Hades didn’t press. 

They got ready for bed instead. It was quiet and reserved, compared to the other times Prometheus would spontaneously visit him late at night, but Hades didn’t let it bother him. Soon enough, they slipped into his bed together, Hades not making a comment about clinginess when Prometheus immediately curled up against his side and gripped him tight around his waist, like if he didn’t hold hard enough Hades would vanish.

Prometheus was pressing his forehead against his chest, his dark hair spilling against his skin in dark, wavy curls, soft yet ticklish. Automatically, Hades rested a hand atop of his friend’s hair, absently stroking and digging his fingernails into his scalp, staring up at his ceiling beneath his eyelashes. 

He was exhausted, his back was aching, yet still, he couldn’t bring himself to actually sleep. Not when he could feel Prometheus’s lingering unease and distress. The mystery of it was eating at him. Just what had happened in the Rift?

Something he saw, perhaps? In the future…?

“...Hades,” Prometheus murmured suddenly, his voice soft in the darkness of his bedroom, “Can I ask you a, um, hypothetical question?”

Hades paused, gently curling a lock of dark hair around his finger. 

“Sure.” 

“If…” Prometheus hesitated, then continued haltingly, murmuring into his chest, “If I asked you to run away with me, just leave everything behind here and come with me, would you do it?” 

Abruptly, Hades was wide awake with the disconcerting feeling like he’d just stepped into a live minefield and no clear way to escape it except to take a blind step forwards. Prometheus was still curled up against him, his face hidden, his soul inscrutable - small, walled off, even to him, unnerved - and Hades was… uncertain. Run away… run away? What was there to run away from? Amaurot was perfect- well, to a degree. It had its own flaws, and Prometheus ran afoul of them often, but he was happy here. They both were. Why would he want to run away?

“Hypothetically?” he asked, trying to think of a diplomatic answer, “It… depends on why.” 

Prometheus exhaled a noise that was almost a laugh, “Thought so.”

Hades waited, but Prometheus didn’t continue.

“Amaurot is our home,” Hades continued after a heavy silence, “I don’t… understand why you would want to run away from it.”

“Well, one day, it might not…” Prometheus trailed off, and didn’t finish. Instead he sighed, shifting to wriggle up higher until he was leaning over him, Prometheus’s eyes feverishly bright in the gloom of his bedroom. 

“If you asked me to run away with you,” Prometheus said, something hushed and almost desperate in his voice, “I’ll say yes in a heartbeat. Okay? So, if something ever happens-”

“What,” Hades started, slightly alarmed, but his friend spoke over him. 

“-don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll always say yes. No- no matter the reason, okay? You mean more to me than Amaurot does. More than anything.”

Prometheus’s soul was a prickly, buzzing ball of anxious energy, feeling like static electricity when Hades tried to calm it down. Beneath it all, beneath that bright, battle fever glinting through Prometheus’s aether, the bristling of his soul, Hades could sense fear. The soft, mortal kind, that felt like hope turned inside out.

“...Prometheus,” Hades said quietly, “What did you see in the Rift?”

Prometheus looked at him for a very long moment, his expression unreadable in the dark. 

“I don’t know,” he finally said, “It was all out of sequence and loud and confusing but I saw... us…”

He trailed off, looking away. 

Hades gently nudged against his soul, letting the touch linger. He felt Prometheus shiver. 

“We were fighting,” Prometheus murmured. 

“We always fight.”

“Not like this,” Prometheus said flatly, “Not like… what that had been.” 

Hades watched him, tried to imagine genuinely fighting Prometheus. They had their spats and arguments, thrown combative spells at each other or spiteful words, but rarely had they ever struck at each other with genuine intentiont to harm. The few times they had hurt each other had always been by accident, and they were always quick to make amends for it. Though, there had been one time almost three centuries ago… 

It had been a stupid argument. It had gotten heated, though, very heated, and in a blind fit of anger, Prometheus had hurled an Ultima spell in his general vicinity. It had meant to miss him, meant to chase him off so that Prometheus could stew in private. Instead the spell had almost struck true, killing his physical body and dealing a glancing blow so severe to his soul Hades still felt a dull ache from the memory alone. It had been a traumatising event for them both, and Prometheus had been so horrified at his own actions he had cried for what felt like three days straight while endlessly apologising to him. Hades suspected Prometheus still hadn’t forgiven himself for the accident. 

They never spoke about it, honestly. 

“Well,” Hades said after a very long, tense pause, “I can say with absolute certainty I would never willingly fight you.”

Prometheus glanced at him, his expression conflicted. 

“It’d be too much effort,” Hades said honestly, reaching up to gently tug on Prometheus’s dark hair, curling the dark lock around his finger, “And I’d lose. It would be a waste of energy to even try, and we all know that I don’t do pointless things.”

Prometheus let out a breathy noise, blinking rapidly. He looked close to tears, and his soul - it was a jumble of conflicting, confusing emotions. Hades soothed it, unfurled his soul for him, felt Prometheus settle into him - seeking comfort, reassurance. 

“I’m sorry,” Prometheus whispered, bowing his head until his forehead pressed against Hades’s collarbone, “I guess… it rattled me, seeing that. Seeing…” he didn’t finish. 

Hades hummed quietly, “It’s fine. I understand.”

Prometheus nodded against him, settling down entirely. His soul still prickled, it felt like Hades was stroking an agitated cat, its back still arched, fur fluffed, but slowly, slowly, slowly , Prometheus began to relax, the turmoil in him easing until his unsteady, short breathing slowed into the gentle evenness of sleep. 

Hades kept stroking his hair, though, as he thought about what just happened. 

His friend impulsively asked him, ‘hypothetically’, to run away with him from Amaurot. Therefore, he concluded that in the demented timeline where they fought, it must have been over Amaurot in some way. Prometheus always did like to solve problems by either taking them out of the equation entirely, or avoiding them, so it made sense… 

But why would they fight? Prometheus, for all his oddities and individualism, loved Amaurot. He worked tirelessly for its progress and for its people, even if he isolated himself from them frequently. Prometheus was a bit of a loner, yes, if only because he disliked being feared, and his position, unfortunately, invited a lot of that, yet he never showed signs of wanting to leave before… 

(“You mean more to me than Amaurot does. More than anything.”)

It didn’t make sense. 

The Rift was a strange place, though. Perhaps it had been a vision from an alternative reality? Another dimension? Or a snapshot of a past that never occurred? It was difficult to tell. But it had been vivid enough, convincing enough to spook Prometheus into running to him and panicking over the possibility of it happening. 

Silly thing. Hades trusted in Prometheus too much to even consider it ever happening. Them, genuinely fighting? It would be like fighting himself. Too ridiculous to consider.

Quieting his own doubts with that bit of logical thinking, he rested his hand against the back of Prometheus’s head, fingers curled into his soft hair, and began to drift off to sleep. It would be mostly forgotten in the morning, he was sure. Prometheus would be embarrassed, but Hades will be kind for once and not tease him for it. Prometheus had seemed genuinely upset over the whole thing… 

(And he fell asleep, unknowing that the vision Prometheus had witnessed had been a struggle for survival in all encompassing darkness, Emet-Selch crazed and gripped by a monster of shadow, and Prometheus faded and weak, launching a spear of light through his friend’s soul. 

He saw both of them die in that darkness. 

It was a future that did, eventually, come to pass, in a fashion)

Chapter Text

This was the tensest Convocation meeting Hades had attended in centuries.

Prometheus, only just that morning cleared for duty, was slumped in his seat with an air of pained exhaustion slipping through his soul's borders. It was concerning that a Convocation member was struggling to wall off their emotions, but politely no one commented on it. 

In fact, everyone seemed to be hoping that ignoring Prometheus's uncomfortably loud presence would mean he'd stay quiet. Mixed in with the exhaustion, Prometheus's anger and displeasure snapped through, like sharp needles stabbing under the skin. Known for a long fuse to a vicious, and sometimes downright malicious, temper, no one wanted to risk setting him off completely. 

Even Hades. Since their argument two days before, where Prometheus had made it painfully clear on how furious he was with him regarding his betrayal of trust over the Zodiark Concept, they hadn't spoken once. Hades kept trying to catch his eye, even nudged his soul cautiously when this meeting started - but each time Prometheus ignored him. He was giving him a cold shoulder that was sub-zero in its intensity.

It irritated and hurt him. Hades had only done what was right. Why was he being stupidly stubborn about this?

The meeting dragged slowly, Elidibus lingering overly long on meaningless miniutiae of monthly updates of Amaurot’s management. Slowly, however, they were circling closer to the Zodiark topic, and as they did, everyone became more and more tense as Prometheus's soul grew more and more frigid.

"And now…" Elidibus began in a heavy tone, pointedly not looking at a now openly seething Prometheus, "We will discuss how to implement the Zodiark Concept passed last week-"

"I reject the Zodiark Concept," Prometheus cut in softly, his eyes glinting bright in the hollow eye slits of his mask, "How about we discuss that first?"

Ah. So. They were jumping right into it.

Hades clenched his fingers over the edges of his arm rests, looking at Prometheus from the shadows of his hood. His friend was still slouched in his seat, but his soul was coiling taut, like a viper rearing to strike. Hades didn't dare try to reach out when he was like this.

Elidibus paused, his own soul a smooth, opaque wall, indifferent to Prometheus's open hostility.

"Very well," Elidibus said calmly, "Due to the seriousness of your injury, we felt that waiting for your recovery would waste precious time to implement a plan to save Amaurot." 

"Damn it, you mean. Zodiark is a flawed mess, " Prometheus growled, and the aether around him boiled. Nabriales, whose seat was closest to Prometheus, visibly leaned away as far as he could to escape the uncomfortable feeling.

"Yet it is the only solution we have," Elidibus said, "Unless your… experiences in Xerora have gifted you with a solution to the Doom? Care to tell us what you saw?"

Prometheus went very still, something ugly heaving through his soul that echoed with a sharp, terrible pain. Hades's fingers twitched around his armrests.. He could practically feel his friend's abrupt agitation from here, yet he couldn't intervene. Within the walls of the Convocation Chamber, Hades’s and Prometheus’s relationship was secondary to their duties. It was how it always had been. 

"...I'll do one better," Prometheus finally said, very quietly, "I'll show you."

A ripple of unease went through the room when Prometheus slowly pushed himself up. He was slouched over when standing, listing more to one side like he was trying to curl around a painful injury. 

His soul was still a wreck, Hades noted worriedly. It was a miracle it had recovered as well as it had, but anyone with eyes could see and feel the ragged tear that had almost bisected it, emotions and aether sluggishly oozing out into their surroundings. It would take several weeks for that wound to begin scarring over, and it would forever be a debilitating weak spot in Prometheus’s soul for the rest of his life.

"Perhaps you shouldn't strain yourself," Igeyorhm said softly, "You're still-"

"I'm well enough to re-enact a memory," Prometheus said, his frosty tone stalling any further protests, "Now, pay attention, because I'm only doing this once."

Everyone sat up in their seats as Prometheus lifted his hand, snapping his fingers. The wide, circular stage in the middle of the room flickered, warping as Prometheus's illusion took shape - and a terrible scene unfolded before them.

It was only vaguely recognisable as Xerora, but not even that city's bloodiest revolutions had demonstrated such widespread destruction. It was a ruin of rubble, the sky burning crimson as awful, monstrous creatures crawled and slithered amongst Xeroran corpses. The horizon lit up with flashes as a relentless star shower pulverised whatever remained of the landscape, and a creeping sensation of absolute dread hung like a choking miasma.

"That," Prometheus said in a flat, empty voice as everyone looked on in open horror, "Is Xerora, or what remains of it anyways. The monsters numbered more than the Xeroran population, so the amount shown here is inaccurate as I can only show so much in my current state. Jeduma further inland was the same, so this is slowly converging on Amaurot as we speak: millions of hungry monsters looking for something to eat ."

"The reports said nothing on this," Lahabrea muttered, "Our team who obtained the specimen stated that the city was intact, and only its outlying territories began noticing a rise in monster populations."

"It hit fast," Prometheus said, "Once it sinks its claws in you, it’s like a domino effect. One infected person becomes two, becomes four, becomes eight, on and on until it has devoured everything in sight..."

"It?" Hades asked, remembering that night where Prometheus, shaking amd blank with terrified shock, had whispered of 'something inside him'. Prometheus hadn’t been very coherent at the time, kept mentioning something about a ‘scream’ and ‘it’ but… Hades had passed it off as him being in shock. Nothing to pay attention to.

Prometheus looked at him. His soul was crushed small, yet things still oozed out of the crack splitting it - fear, anger, nausea, sadness...

"It," Prometheus said emotionlessly, "Yeah."

"Are you saying you've identified the source?" Elidibus asked sharply.

"Hah, I guess," Prometheus rubbed his mouth with his palm, fingers skirting the edge of his mask. Hades could feel his friend's agitation spike, see his gaze grow distant as his soul simply… locked up.

(Prometheus was staring through him, shaking violently as Hades struggled to keep his soul together, aether spilling out like water from a sponge, uncontrolled and fatal. Prometheus's pain was beyond comprehension, so intense it felt numbing, yet Hades could only do this until Hythlodaeus got here-

"...hurts…" Prometheus was gasping, almost mindless with agony as Hades ruthlessly squeezed his broken soul together, "...H-Hades, stop, s-stop, it hurts, it hurts-")

Hades clasped his hands together in his lap, fingers curled into the hem of his sleeve as he shifted his weight forward. He wasn't sure how Prometheus was going to react. The soul keenly remembered events that had significant impact, even amplifying the emotions and sensations if it was traumatising enough. It could cause traumatic relapses, flashbacks, and as mentally robust as Prometheus was, what he had suffered would have broken a lesser man. While it would be understandable if he had a… fit whilst relieving his experiences, it would irreparably damage his validity. He would be dismissed as being emotionally compromised on the issue. 

So, Hades stayed poised on the edge of the seat, ready to leap into action if necessary.

Luckily, Prometheus kept his composure. He took a short, quiet breath, staring into the far distance before giving himself a shake. He was ashen, but aside from the slightest tremble to his fingers as he lifted his hand to snap, he stayed tall and dignified as befitting his station.

"This was what injured me," Prometheus said, and conjured the illusion.

A monstrous noise suddenly screeched from the very earth, so overwhelming and intense it felt as if Hades's bones were going to shatter apart, an alien feeling of something splitting his soul open and slithering inside-

The illusion abruptly stopped, Hades coming back to himself clinging to the arms of his chair in a death grip, thrown far back in his seat as it would allow, chest heaving and soul curled up tight as that fading echo of violation slowly retreated. Every single member of the Convocation mirrored him, a sense of cold fear and revulsion spilling into the air like ink over paper.

And the worst thing? That had been a faded impression of what Prometheus had experienced. How had he survived that?!

"It came from the earth," Prometheus said, eerily calm and indifferent to their gathered distress, "And when I escaped into the Lifestream, it was all rotted in there. The Doom is coming from the very star itself. It's dying."

Stunned silence rang out after that declaration.

Prometheus dismissed his illusion of Xerora's ruins, slowly easing himself back into his seat. His hands were still shaking, but only Hades noticed.

"So, Zodiark isn't going to work," Prometheus continued when the silence stretched on for too long, "It’ll be powerful if all fourteen of us summon it, but it still wouldn’t be enough. We’d have to use sacrifices, and the amount needed to revive a dead planet…? We’re talking millions of lives here.” 

Millions of lives. 

Hades had been prepared for talk of sacrifice - had honestly anticipated that some of the Convocation would be chosen for the honour of giving up their lives to ensure stability in Zodiark’s form and function, but, millions? There was no way to fully control what shape that much energy would take, to understand how the mind and soul would form from millions of different individuals merging into one. They could create an absolute monstrosity if they weren’t careful.

“...I think,” Elidibus said into the shocked silence, “We should adjourn this meeting to process this… new information. Tomorrow, we will revisit the Zodiark Concept, and see if adjustments can be made.”

Everyone murmured their agreement, meek and quiet, while Prometheus failed to hide his irritation. It was a highly irregular way to end a Convocation meeting, but the whole situation was irregular. Slowly, shakily, the Council members left until only Prometheus and Hades remained.

For a long, indeterminable moment, it was utterly silent.

“...I suppose it was too much to hope that they would immediately revoke it,” Prometheus murmured, his voice utterly flat, “They can’t think it’s worth it.”

"They need time to think," Hades said, flexing his fingers around his chair’s arms. After a moment, where he felt like they were being increasingly pushed into an inescapable corner, he pushed himself up and slowly moved over to Prometheus.

His friend didn't stir from his artless sprawl at Hades's approach, his head tipped far to the side. It looked uncomfortable, but Prometheus didn’t seem to care, staring somewhere into the middle distance, his thoughts clearly elsewhere..

"If you’re going to speak to me," Prometheus said when Hades stopped in front of him, "Don’t argue with me. I’m too tired for that right now.” 

"As am I," Hades said, waving his hand to create a simple chair directly opposite his friend. He sat down heavily, "Let's call a truce."

Prometheus grunted.

"How are you feeling?" Hades tried, cautiously testing the waters by very gently brushing his soul against Prometheus's.

"Awful," Prometheus sighed, thankfully not flinching from Hades's touch. He seemed to sink into it, his soul's borders so weak they almost spilled open entirely for him. Carefully, Hades kept them closed.

"You feel awful," Hades said, trying for a mild tone only for it to fall flat, "Should you even be out of bed?"

"Probably not," Prometheus admitted, "But I had to contest that… stupid Zodiark Concept."

"You could have sent a message with your foundings-"

"Like I did with Hythlodaeus, only to be ignored? " Prometheus snapped.

Hades felt the anger crack through their shallow bond, tried very hard not to snap back. Patience, patience, patience … "If you sent something more coherent than ‘the scream did it’ , we might have paid proper attention to it,” he said evenly, his blood boiling a little at remembering how everyone had dismissed it as the hysterical ravings of a traumatised man (had hated how he had agreed with them, deep down).  

Prometheus growled, his eyes flashing battle fever bright in the pits of his mask - but after a tense few seconds, noisily exhaled, scrambling for some sort of calm, "I'm not arguing with you."

"Prometheus-"

"No, don't," Prometheus lifted his hand, slipping off his mask and carelessly dropping it onto his lap , "Just… don't. Don’t- talk to me right now.” 

Hades obligingly shut up, feeling Prometheus’s soul quiver against his. He stayed close, curling his fingers against his palms and restlessly kneading his knuckles into his thighs, to fight back the urge to reach out physically. Prometheus looked like he was barely keeping it together, felt ready to fall apart, emotions surging and twisting, conflicting, fast and irrationally enough that it was almost giving Hades emotional whiplash. 

Prometheus covered his eyes with his hand, his head bowed, breaths uneven and short. 

“How… stupid is this?” his friend whispered, his voice edging into a breathless, awful sounding laugh, “Why can’t I stop …?”

Hades leaned forwards slightly, feeling unnerved at how unstable Prometheus was feeling. He couldn’t even begin to untangle the ugly snarl of feelings clogging up their shallow bond, his friend’s soul feeling frighteningly fragile and weak as he gently, gently, gently tried to soothe it. 

There was fear, lots of it. Hades could practically taste it, an awful, ice-cold, paralysing emotion that crawled up his throat - Prometheus’s soul was practically screaming it at him. His friend was afraid, terrified, practically mindless with it - and Hades had no idea how to fix it, what exactly was causing it. 

“Hades,” Prometheus’s voice was a small, pitiful thing, and mixing with the fear was awful, gut-wrenching shame, “Can you help… please, make this stop for a while…”

“I can try,” Hades said quietly, finally reaching out to carefully grasp Prometheus’s hand resting limply on his lap. His friend didn’t flinch away from him, and Hades hesitated before slowly sinking into Prometheus’s soul, helping him compartmentalise that awful fear and terror into a tiny little box, to fester quietly out of sight for a little while. 

Prometheus’s breathing evened out, and he squeezed Hades’s hand tight. He was a mess, inside and out.  

He wasn’t fit for duty.

It was a thought Hades had been thinking for a while, but had been uncomfortable in acknowledging, but the evidence was right in front of him. Prometheus was shaken, horrifically traumatised, and Hades knew… he really was compromised. Even if he was right regarding the Zodiark Concept, about how they will need to sacrifice millions of lives to achieve it, Prometheus was driven by a primal fear. It was overwhelming everything inside of him. He wasn’t thinking rationally.

They didn’t have another plan to fall back on. Prometheus hadn’t offered one. He had derided Zodiark, but didn’t offer a replacement solution, didn’t even seem to have one. If the star was dying then, well, it just supported the Zodiark Concept even more . They needed to imbue the star with a living will, pour enough energy into it to revitalise the decaying Lifestream and fight back this Doom. All that was left was trying to figure out how many Amaurotine lives equalled that of a single star. 

Already, he knew how tomorrow’s meeting would go. Prometheus might break from it. 

“...can I talk to you now?” Hades asked with feigned lightness, as if nothing was wrong, “Or am I still banned from speaking?” 

Prometheus laughed wetly, dropping his hand from his eyes. He was crying, “Yeah, you can talk now.” 

“I think…” Hades started carefully, “You should rest for the next few days. You put up a good front today, but you know Lahabrea will try to make you slip tomorrow. Zodiark is his Concept, after all.”

Prometheus looked at nothing in particular, his expression eerily calm despite the tear tracks on his cheeks. 

“... and if I slip, they’ll dismiss me as hysterical and my opinion biased and unreliable,” Prometheus finished dully, “I suppose I should…” 

“Just a few days,” Hades murmured, rubbing his thumb over his friend’s knuckles, his soul gently lapping against his. Listen to him, listen to him… “Enough for you to compile a well-thought out argument. You know we never come to a quick decision. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us still debating the issue when the Doom comes knocking on our front door. We're shockingly inefficient like that, sometimes.” 

“Yeah…” Prometheus said blankly. 

This was the first time Hades had lied so blatantly to his friend’s face. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling but, well, it was necessary for his good health. It was for his own good. Hades was certain he would eventually accept the decision as the only option, anyways, eventually, even if he’d give him the cold shoulder for a while… 

But if it meant Prometheus survived (for his state meant he would not be involved in the summoning at all, and definitely not as an influencing sacrifice), then Hades would take it. 

“Let me help you home,” Hades crooned, “I’ll give you a peaceful, dreamless sleep, if you’d let me.”

Prometheus looked conflicted, briefly. He glanced at him with such intensity, that for a moment Hades was worried his friend saw through his lies - but then Prometheus just sagged, exhaustion making his pale face drawn, as he said, “Okay.” 

“Good boy,” Hades murmured, carefully locking up the part of him that said this was a bad idea. 

It was for Prometheus’s own good. 

He teleported them both to Prometheus’s workshop, laid the charm on thickly to lull his friend into lowering his guard as he fussed him into bed, knowing Hythlodaeus was going to also be furious with him - but would ultimately go along with this plan, for there was only one, surefire way to heal a damaged soul and keep said damaged soul out from underfoot. 

It’ll work out, he told himself. It always did with them. They were one soul in two bodies, the closest of friends - there was no disagreement, no argument, no mistake, no wrong severe enough to break their bond. Prometheus would be furious with him for a while - perhaps for years - but it would all be water under the bridge eventually, especially if they lived to see a world remade and hale once more, saved from the Doom. 

It’ll work out. 

So, as he tucked his exhausted friend into bed, he took a moment to take a mental snapshot of this moment. Prometheus was looking up at him, tiredly, his soul raw but trusting as he opened himself up, as Hades leaned down, kissed his forehead and murmured; “Repose.”

He placed Prometheus into a deep sleep - and he did not wake for a week. 

And by then, it was too late to change their history’s course. 

Chapter Text

It was a cold, rainy day in Amaurot, the sort that urged you to stay at home, bundled up warmly and take the day as lazily as possible. It was also one of the very rare days off doled out to the Convocation members once a century (not an exaggeration), so of course Hades spent it sprawled out on his sofa, his window partially open to listen to the musical sound of rain, a half-finished Concept manuscript open on his lap. 

Hades, some were surprised to learn, quite enjoyed being idle. He put his nose to the grindstone during his work hours, but the moment he was out of the public eye and on his own time? He napped, or just spent long periods of time sprawled out on some comfortable, flat surface idling the time away thinking about nothing in particular - bonus if he managed to angle his window right to get a nice warm spot from sunshine. If Prometheus visited on those days, he would always mischievously shift the window by slow, careful inches just to watch Hades follow the sun rays across the floor until he ended up pressed against the wall. 

Speaking of Prometheus… 

Hades glanced from his Concept manuscript to where Prometheus was leaning against his sofa on the floor, fiddling with some overly complex Rubix cube. Honestly, he was genuinely surprised his friend had visited him on an off day, as Prometheus tended to use those for ‘field trips’ out into the wilderness to birdwatch or whatever it was he did in the woods by himself. Instead, his friend had barged into his home and sat on his floor without so much as a ‘may I come in’. 

Hades left him to it. It was comfortable like this, anyways. Prometheus’s soul was lightly pressed against his, a gentle, pleasant heat that had Hades feeling drowsy, his eyes sliding over the words before him without really taking it in. He could hear the noise of rain, and the ‘click click’ of Prometheus twisting the Rubix cube. 

He drowsed. 

“Hey, Hades?” Prometheus said as his eyes slipped closed, “You going to sleep there?”

“No,” he lied, “I’m reading.”

“Uh uh,” Prometheus sounded amused, his soul fluttering with it, and Hades heard the soft tap of him setting his Rubix cube on the coffee table, “I can tell. You look real engaged in that manuscript there.”

“Mhm, it’s a page turner.”

Prometheus laughed quietly, and there was a rustle as his friend got up. It being in the privacy of Hades’s home, there was no need to wear the communal robes. Prometheus always tended to wear as little as possible when the dress code was relaxed, while Hades was perfectly content with layers. So, his friend was near silent as he walked around the sofa, dressed only in a light pair of shorts, the only noise being the scuff of his heels against the carpet and his thighs brushing together.

The sofa shifted slightly, and Hades opened his eyes to see Prometheus leaning on the back of it, arms crossed and chin resting atop of them. He was giving Hades such a fond look he had to close his eyes before he felt embarrassed. 

“That’s creepy,” Hades mumbled. 

“You’re creepy,” Prometheus returned playfully, “There any room there for me?”

“Not for people who call me creepy.”

Prometheus sighed - then promptly climbed over the back of the sofa and landed on top of him. 

Urk,” Hades coughed when Prometheus’s considerable weight knocked the wind out of him, getting a very uncomfortable knee close to his groin and an elbow to the ribs before they sorted themselves out. Hades glowered at his friend now sprawled atop of him, who returned his glare with a smile. 

“Oh, look, there is room for me,” Prometheus purred, kneading his knuckles against Hades’s chest like an overgrown, contented cat, “How about that.”

“I will throw you out,” Hades threatened.

“No, you won’t,” Prometheus said smugly, and it made Hades want to actually throw him out - preferably out the window, “You’re all bark, no bite, Hades~”

Hades levelled a heavy-lidded, unimpressed stare at his friend. 

“No bite, hm?” he said mildly, reaching up to curl his hand around the nape of Prometheus’s neck. His friend didn’t look concerned, even when Hades roughly pulled him close, close enough that their noses bumped together, foreheads touching, Prometheus’s lips parting expectantly. The way Prometheus’s soul drew taut, flush with excitement, he was already prepared for the bite

So, Hades bided his time. 

Instead of a harsh kiss, he was gentle. He felt the flicker of confusion when he drew Prometheus in for a slow, careful kiss, relaxing his hard grip on the nape of his neck to curl his fingers into the soft, dark hair instead, massaging his scalp. Prometheus, predictably, relaxed his guard, sighing into the kiss and melting against him. Soft, adorable little noises of contentment rumbled in Prometheus’s throat.

Still, Hades bided his time. 

Besides, it was fun to rile Prometheus up. It was incredibly easy to do, for one. Hades just had to kiss him in the right way, arch up against him, make this soft noise, and Prometheus was practically eating out of his hand. When they parted, both breathless and flushed, Prometheus’s eyes were dark, his soul hot with desire. Hades felt satisfaction.

“Still don’t see that bite,” Prometheus purred, his voice low and husky with want. 

Hades smiled lazily, leant back a bit more into the sofa, watched as Prometheus’s gaze darted down to his exposed throat as he tilted his head back. So. Fucking. Easy. 

“It’ll come, eventually,” Hades murmured, “Now, stop talking and kiss me again.” 

Prometheus eagerly leant back in. He didn’t immediately go for the throat, despite Hades making it a tempting target. He kissed the corner of his mouth, soft, lingering, then trailed along the sharp line of his jaw, purring quiet sweet-nothings against his skin, his soul blazingly bright and warm. 

Hades basked in it like he’d bask in the sunlight during his naps. He closed his eyes and soaked it all up, fingers curled into thick, dark hair. It was getting hot, pressed close like this, and he shivered when Prometheus pressed a cool hand against the flat of his belly, lightly digging his fingernails in and dragging down to his hip bone, leaving pale pink lines in their wake. 

It made him arch

Prometheus groaned, low and rough when Hades squeezed his hips between his thighs, effectively trapping him between them. Hades was just focused on Prometheus’s hand, stroking at his stomach and teasingly circling his navel, ruthlessly exploiting a very little known sensitive spot that had Hades feeling uncomfortably hot around the collar. 

Despite his best efforts, a rough, little noise left him, a breathy little moan.

Prometheus laughed softly, pressing a kiss to where his pulse fluttered in his throat, “Aw, that was cute…” 

“It wasn’t cute,” Hades grumbled, tensing when the faintest scrape of teeth had his toes curling, a warm shiver crawling right down his spine. He didn’t moan, but the noise he let out came close.

“Adorable then,” Prometheus purred, “It makes me want to keep teasing you until you’re a mess.”

Distantly, beyond the noise of rain, Hades heard thunder rumble overhead. Prometheus hummed at the noise, lifting his head to nose along his jawline, kissing the corner of his mouth. 

“But I won’t,” Prometheus said fondly, “I just want to kiss you, right now.” 

“Just kiss?” Hades murmured, grunting when Prometheus’s started teasing his bottom lip between teeth, just enough pressure and bite to make him squirm. He curled his fingers tight into his friend’s hair, his heavy breathing edging into low, rough noises that Prometheus hungrily, hungrily swallowed, until…

Prometheus pulled away, smiling with dark eyes and a flush high on his cheeks, looking absolutely ravished. Hades knew he looked no better. 

“Just kiss,” Prometheus confirmed softly, his gaze lingering on Hades’s mouth before he shifted against him, settling in more of a lazy sprawl than seductively pinning him down, “I’m too lazy to have sex.”

“Lazy, hm?” Hades didn’t comment on the hard press he could feel against his hip, idly curling a lock of dark hair around his finger as his gaze drifted to Prometheus’s throat. 

“You are too,” Prometheus said, tilting his head to the side invitingly. His dark eyes were far too knowing, “But, if you want me to do stuff…”

“No, this is fine,” Hades said, gently urging Prometheus to lean back in. His friend did so, chin tilting up, and Hades brushed a feather-light kiss over Prometheus’s throat, felt the strong pulse against his lips, warm and fluttering, and- bit down . Hard.

Prometheus went taut, clutching tight at him, before letting out a high-pitched, breathy gasp, shivering against him. The hot spike of arousal that shot through Prometheus’s soul almost made Hades dizzy, and he pulled away, feeling satisfied at the vivid bite mark he left on his friend’s neck. 

He didn’t understand it, Prometheus’s little thing about Hades biting him like that, but he was more than happy to indulge, found some odd little satisfaction at the visible bite marks that Prometheus let heal naturally. No one else would ever see them, as the communal robes covered them up. It was their little thing. 

It was satisfying. 

“Oh…” Prometheus was panting when Hades leaned back against his pillows, his face a bright shade of red, “That felt nice.”

“Masochist,” Hades murmured, “Was that hard enough?”

“Yeah,” Prometheus smiled, leaning in and nudging his nose against his, “It was good.”

Hades hummed, and his friend shifted, adjusting his position until his head rested against Hades’s chest instead, gently nuzzling against him. He was heavy, and Hades was feeling uncomfortably hot and riled up still, but Prometheus was right. He was too lazy. He didn’t want to move. 

“We’ll finish later,” Prometheus promised drowsily, “If you’re up for it.”

“Maybe,” Hades said, idly stroking his friend’s hair. He could see the bite mark on his neck from this angle. It was beginning to bruise. 

Lightning flashed outside, the rain coming down harder. Hades unthinkingly willed the window shut, easing back into a comfortable doze as Prometheus started to quietly snore. 

Chapter Text

Cooking was a surprisingly popular hobby in Amaurot.

Hades didn't partake in it much, being far too lazy to waste his time manually assembling something he could simply use magic for (and also he was terrible at it). Prometheus and Hythlodaeus, however, were a pair of cooking fanatics . Twice a week they would barge into his apartment and commandeer his kitchen after work, citing concerns over his eating habits. Luckily, this gross invasion of his privacy resulted in his fridge being stuffed full of leftovers to eat for lunch the next day, so he didn’t get too annoyed by it. 

Tonight was a cooking night, except it was just Prometheus this time as Hythlodaeus was collared by Lahabrea for some project or other. So, Hades barely reacted when Prometheus teleported directly into his house like the rude cretin that he was and set up shop in his kitchen. Hades shuffled over to act annoyed. He had a front door for a reason. 

“Why, yes, make yourself at home,” Hades drawled as Prometheus summoned bags of ingredients from his personal inventory and dumped them on his kitchen counters, “I don’t mind.”

“Oh, hi, Hades,” Prometheus said, rummaging about in the ingredient bag, “You going to join in for once? We’re down Hythlodaeus, so I don’t mind giving you some one-on-one cooking lessons.”

Hades gave him a heavy-lidded stare.

"I'm too busy to cook," he said, not moving from his sullen slouch by the kitchen doorway.

Prometheus paused with a carton of eggs in hand, slowly turning to stare at him in disbelief.

"...you're in your pyjamas," his friend said flatly.

"Yes," Hades drawled, "I was busy sleeping, you see."

"Without eating dinner first?" Prometheus set the eggs down, "Oh, Hades, Hades, Hades…"

"What."

"Did you forget what Mentor Metis told us about regular eating?" Prometheus began, turning to him and mimicking Metis's voice with terrifying accuracy, "'Though we can subsist on aether, to ensure our digestive systems do not atrophy, we must consume physical matter to encourage healthy bowel movements-'"

"I remember Mentor Metis’s awful defecation lecture, thanks.”

Prometheus grinned at him, his eyes bright with mischief, "Hmm, somehow I doubt that. In fact, I think I might have to call her and say you’ve forgotten some important childhood Health lessons-"

Hades snapped his fingers and the carton of eggs leapt off the counter.

"Hades-!" Prometheus shrieked, diving for the carton with impressive reflexes. Annoyingly, he caught them, but Hades was entertained regardless. Prometheus's voice always went hilariously high-pitched when startled.

"Oh dear," Hades simpered mockingly as Prometheus protectively clutched the eggs to his chest, "How clumsy of me. I only meant to open the carton for you."

“Yeah, right,” Prometheus muttered, “Ugh, you’re such a brat.”

Hades simply smiled, leaning against his kitchen door frame as his friend turned away from him with his nose in the air. It was like being snubbed by a cat: adorable, slightly amusing, endearing.

Things fell into comfortable routine after that. Prometheus quickly forgot his irritation and went through the calming ritual of laying out his ingredients and then the utensils he would use in exact order. Prometheus started humming a tuneless song under his breath. Hades, as usual, simply watched. 

This was the reason he never wanted to get involved in the actual cooking. He preferred to stand back and watch instead, finding a pleasant calm in it. When it was Prometheus and Hythlodaeus, the air always buzzed with friendly affection and enjoyment, banter flowed thick and fast, and Hades would heckle them from the sidelines - until Prometheus would flick sauce or pieces of ingredients at him to shut him up. 

If it was just Hythlodaeus, though, the air was always tranquil and pleasantly warm. They would gossip (oh, they were both terrible gossip), sometimes Hythlodaeus would tease him about Prometheus, and sometimes they would bat about ideas for Concepts.

If it was just Prometheus… 

It was quiet.

A lovely, comfortable kind of quiet, where Hades could lean against the door frame, close his eyes, and simply soak up his friend’s presence like the warm rays of sunshine. He could enjoy feeling Prometheus’s soul brim with a simple happiness at the mundane art of cooking, even though they could just magic up food without thought. Silly, trivial, endearing.

He must have dozed off at some point, because he woke up to Prometheus’s soul nudging against his, the edge of the door frame pressing uncomfortably hard against his temple. 

“Wow, Hades, you really can sleep anywhere, huh?” Prometheus teased him when he sluggishly straightened up, “You were snoring, just so you know.”

“Lies,” Hades muttered, his voice rough with sleep, “Are you done yet?”

“Yes, I’m done. Behold!” Prometheus flourished dramatically at the results of his labour: a three-tiered chocolate cake, heavy on the cream just like Hades enjoyed. 

“Cake?” Hades blinked in surprise - then frantically began rifling through his mental calender for what special occasion he had missed, “Ah, how unexpected…”

Prometheus smiled, his eyes alight with mischief. No doubt he sensed Hades’s brief flare of panic, and was utterly delighted by it. His soul seemed to purr as he prowled closer to him, a slight spring in his step.  

“Aw, you forgot,” Prometheus crooned, boxing Hades against the kitchen door frame, “I’m hurt.” 

“Sadistically pleased, more like,” Hades grumbled, feeling his traitorous pulse jump when Prometheus leaned into his personal space. Not close enough to kiss, but close enough to feel the heat of his body, to feel the gentle press of Prometheus’s soul against his. 

“Heh, ‘cuz it’s cute watching you fluster a little,” Prometheus admitted, pressing his fingertips against Hades’s chest, “It’s our anniversary, you dork.” 

“Our-” Oh, right. The day where their relationship shifted beyond platonic and into something they hadn’t yet found a name for, “You still keep track of that?” 

“Do I still- ugh, you don’t have a romantic bone in your body, do you?” Prometheus sighed, leaning away. But he was smiling, and he drew a little shape on Hades’s chest before pulling completely away, “But that’s fine. You can make it up to me later.” 

Which meant Prometheus would make him do something embarrassing. Oh well, at least Hades would be getting cake out of it… 

“Fine,” Hades sighed, trying to sound put upon, but it was difficult when Prometheus felt like that, bright and happy and everything he needed-


Emet-Selch woke up when the tree he was in shook slightly, the pleasant, gold-hued memory-dream scattering into nothing. 

“Hey, old man!” Prometheus’s- no, the Warrior of Light’s voice yelled up at him.

Reluctantly, and irritated, Emet-Selch leaned over and squinted. Ever since he had assisted the idiot and his posse of fools in fishing out that Miqo’te out of the Lifestream, the Warrior of Light had shed some of his wariness in approaching him ‘out in the wild’, as it was. 

Emet-Selch wasn’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing yet. Good, because it meant he was cultivating a rapport with what will soon be Prometheus’s vessel, making his life so much easier when it came to coaxing him over to his side, and bad because it meant Emet-Selch underwent painful, emotional whiplash every time the Warrior of Light opened his mouth. 

He sounded exactly like Prometheus, but spoke nothing like him. It was beyond aggravating. 

“What,” he grounded out, “I was sleeping.” 

“Yeah, whatever,” the idiot said dismissively, “You’re always sleeping.”

Emet-Selch considered retorting, but realised he didn’t quite hate himself that much yet to get into a petty argument with this pathetic shade of his old friend. So, he leaned back into his previous comfortable spot and closed his eyes. 

“Hey!”

“I am ignoring you,” he informed the idiot, “Go away.” 

“You know, this hot-cold approach you’re doing is giving me very mixed signals,” the idiot said, like Emet-Selch was being the unreasonable one here, “You’re all helpful and friendly one minute, then you act like this.”

Go away, Emet-Selch thought aggressively, his fingers curling into the sleeves of his coat. The urge to send the brat skittering into the underbrush by smacking him with a jolt of dark magic was so very tempting, but, patience. Patience. He only had to wait a few more weeks at most, and then the idiot would become Prometheus

“Fine,” the idiot muttered, “I’ll just leave this here then.” 

Curious despite himself, Emet-Selch cracked an eye open as the idiot set something down on the ground, between the roots of the tree. The idiot looked up at him, and Emet-Selch looked away the moment he glimpsed familiar, golden eyes. 

“This is a proper thank you for saving Y’shtola,” the idiot continued, sounding slightly uncomfortable, “So, do what you want with it. Now we’re even.” 

With that, the idiot wandered away to join his minions. Emet-Selch waited until the washed out, thin, faded impression of his old friend travelled too far for him to sense anymore before he got out of the tree. 

What was waiting for him was a small box. Half-expecting something nasty to come leaping out at him, Emet-Selch opened it up and frowned at… it looked like a muffin. A chocolate muffin with a lot of cream just like… Hades had liked it… 

Emet-Selch thought of the memory-dream he had and felt oddly disquieted. 

He closed the lid and was just about to drop the entire thing on the floor and forget about it but- he found himself unable to let go. This was the dangerous thing about interacting with Prometheus’s fractured shade - ‘Aza’ remembered some things. Subconsciously, without knowing or understanding those things, but he remembered just enough for Emet-Selch to find himself faltering sometimes. 

‘Aza’ relaxing his guard around him, despite it being uncharacteristic of his overall behaviour, his mannerisms, his likes, dislikes, his hobbies… if he had sufficient education in aetherology and magic, no doubt ‘Aza’ would have excelled in those too, becoming a terribly accurate echo of Prometheus.

Emet-Selch’s grip tightened around the box, and, hating himself, slipping it into his personal inventory, a flash of dark aether when the pocket dimension closed around it hungrily. 

He can’t wait until this was over. When it was, he’ll finally have Prometheus at his side again, and Zodiark will bathe him in his wisdom. They will be together again, and no one would be able to stand against them. The Rejoining would be an absolute certainty. 

Emet-Selch returned to his napping spot after that, and after some thought, picked a different memory to indulge in. It was foolishly sentimental of him, to drift off into dreams of those halcyon days rather than deal with the dull drag of reality, but it was the only way for Emet-Selch to endure this torturous march of time. 

It dulled the grief burning in his chest, for a little while.

So, Emet-Selch went to sleep once more, as the Warrior of Darkness and the Scions blindly continued on. 

Chapter Text

The Doom was slowly but surely creeping closer on the horizon.

It was a dull blaze of red that crept higher into the firmament as the days dragged by. The air began to carry the scent of ash and heat, and the aether channels that swept out of Amaurot into the countryside slowed and stagnated. It was estimated that the Doom would reach them in less than seven days.

Seven days until the end of the world.

The city buzzed with an anxious air, but nothing really changed. The Amaurotines, not really comprehending what was coming, were certain that the Convocation of the Fourteen (now Thirteen) would implement their plan to save them. Amaurot had evolved to have unwavering faith in their own power, in being able to solve any problem, up to and including their own star dying. There was no thought of failure, because they couldn't possibly fail.

Hades refused to even entertain the idea of it.

It also distracted him, to throw himself entirely into ironing out Zodiark's Concepts with the others. It made it easier to ignore Prometheus's now permanent absence - he had tendered his resignation from the Council several days ago and had refused to leave his workshop since.

(It had been the most explosive resignation from the Convocation in the history of Amaurot. Hades and Prometheus had devolved into a screaming match that hadn't entirely been about Zodiark while the rest of the Council sat in very awkward attendance. By the end of it, Prometheus had almost gotten into a literal fistfight with Hades and had to be ejected from the chamber by Elidibus, who told him not to return until he had cooled off. 

Prometheus had said he wasn’t coming back and that was that)

Yet, even Hades couldn't ignore it when Hythlodaeus approached him late at night, clearly worried when he said Prometheus was no longer answering even his calls and refused to let him inside his workshop and if Hades had heard anything…?

Which was alarming. Prometheus never gave Hythlodaeus the cold shoulder, especially if he was fighting with Hades since he didn't… really have any other friends. For all his self-imposed isolation from Amaurotine society, Prometheus hated to be alone. In his current mental state too, he definitely shouldn't be alone either.

He… he was most likely fine. Just sulking, or something. But Hythlodaeus's worry was real and infectious and… and Hades missed his friend, so..

So, perhaps against his better judgement, Hades went to investigate.


Prometheus's workshop sat on the very edges of the city's limits. A large, sprawling complex to allow for reckless experimentation of powerful spells without risking collateral damage, it always hummed with Prometheus's aether, the windows of the main workshop aglow with light as his friend worked throughout the night in the tight grip of inspiration.

That night, the stars above hidden behind heavy, smoky clouds, the workshop sat dark and cold. 

Hades felt a shiver of unease at the sight.

He hesitated at the front door step. If Prometheus was still angry at him, there was a chance he might chase him off with a few well-placed combat-spells. It'd be unpleasant, but it'd be proof he'd be fine. So, ensuring he had a barrier primed and ready to deflect hostile projectiles, Hades knocked on the front door.

It creaked open. It hadn't been locked.

"Prometheus?" he called warily, nudging the door open fully. The inside was pitch black, so he willed the lights on.

They flickered on: showing Prometheus's workshop utterly trashed.

The workbenches, normally set up in neat rows with papers and models strewn atop of them, looked as if they'd been thrown wildly around the room - one was even embedded deep into the wall. Said walls were a mess of writing, scrawled in spiky, rushed ink, initially starting off as semi-coherent calculations on Lifestream connections and replications, but slowly descended into absolute insanity, Hades not even able to make heads or tails of what these calculations were even for.

The air prickled like needles, ambient Rift energy, undercut with a scent of decaying aether, the Lifestream. Prometheus's own aether was mixed in, agitated and thrumming like static electricity.

Shit.

"Prometheus?" he called again, more urgently as he strode deeper into the wrecked workshop. Debris was all over the floor, papers with diagrams, more calculations - a broken model of their star split open - yet no sign of his friend. Hades's alarm began to edge into near-panic.

He shouldn't have left him alone. Prometheus had been a wreck and Hades just… 

He went to Prometheus's personal rooms. These, thankfully, weren't trashed like the workshop, but they also didn't seem like they'd been used recently. The bed was unmade, which was unusual. Prometheus hated unmade beds.

Without thinking, he made the bed for him. A normal habit in an abnormal situation. It didn't comfort him.

Prometheus wasn't here - or was actively hiding from him. Normally Hades would take that as a hint to leave him alone, but the state of his workshop and his earlier behaviour…

What if he hurt himself? What if he wandered off and got hurt? He would've laughed at the thought of it before all this. Prometheus was far too competent to get hurt in such a trivial way, but he went to Xerora and… broke. He was a risk to himself and others right now, and with the Doom looming on the horizon...

Hades tugged the duvet straight before leaving the bedroom. He wasn't sure what to do, so decided to wait for Prometheus to return, drifting over to the wall of crazed scribblings. Prometheus drawing on the walls wasn't new, he did that when caught in the flow of inspiration and couldn't be bothered summoning some paper. His handwriting was normally a lot neater, though.

"Convert, transfer… execute…?" Hades muttered, trying to decode the calculations. Some of them overlapped, or were crossed out and corrected in a cramped mess, and if Hades squinted and tilted his head far enough, he could sort of understand chunks of it. This part was conversion of aether, this part was a calculation on how much energy was released upon a soul fracturing (and Prometheus must have used his own soul for that because the sum seemed far too high), this part was… an autonomous purification module...?

"Hades."

Prometheus's voice made him tense. He hadn't noticed his return at all.

"Prometheus," Hades returned, turning round.

His friend looked terrible, exhausted, a sense of weakness and pain fluttering through his soul. With some concern, Hades realised that Prometheus's aether levels were so low he was practically invisible to aether sight. No wonder he hadn't noticed his approach. Prometheus was normally like a blazing beacon of aether, not this near empty, washed out shade.

"What're you doing here?" Prometheus asked. He didn't sound hostile or angry or… anything. Just tired. 

"I was worried," Hades said carefully, giving his friend a once over, "Have you been sleeping?"

"No," Prometheus said, "Been too busy."

Hades really shouldn't have left him alone.

"Look," Prometheus continued, pointing at the wall of crazy calculations, "I figured out an alternative to Zodiark."

"Really," Hades said, wondering if he could get Prometheus under another sleep spell before he skewered him with armiger in retaliation . He'd make sure to lock him up in Hythlodaeus's home to make sure he's supervised upon waking, this time.

“You see, I realised, either way, we’re all going to die from this,” Prometheus explained, oblivious or uncaring to Hades’s aether stirring into readiness, “Whether by sacrifice to Zodiark, or to the Doom itself, we’ll die. So , instead of looking at to preserve what’s already a write off, we should look to the afterwards.”

Hades had to take a moment to actually process that because he honestly couldn’t believe Prometheus was proposing what he was, “You’re planning on us all dying?” 

“Yeah,” Prometheus snapped his fingers, and Hades almost jumped with a staticy, faded illusion of their star sprung up between them, “But look-”

“Prometheus,” Hades interrupted, beginning to feel alarmed, “I don’t think you should-”

“Will you stop interrupting me and listen to me for once!” Prometheus snarled abruptly, his soul flashing from dull exhaustion to white-hot rage in a near instant. Hades went stiff, nervous despite himself at Prometheus’s wild-eyed expression, the way his aether suddenly crackled with violent intent. 

Hades always knew Prometheus had an ugly temper when it was roused, but he never really feared being hurt by him when he was angry. Right now, however, Hades honestly had no idea what his friend was going to do, and he was uncomfortably aware that if Prometheus attacked him, he would draw a considerable amount of blood before Hades could subdue him. 

“I’m sorry,” he said carefully, his soul shrinking right down in an effort to avoid the discomforting boiling sensation radiating off Prometheus’s soul. As if placating a wounded, angry animal, he kept his tone soft and quiet, his body language non-threatening, “I’ll listen.” 

Like a switch, the rage vanished and Prometheus’s expression eased into something more neutral. It was unnerving. 

“Good. Okay, look at this,” Prometheus said, pointing at his illusion. It was their star, the majority of it aglow with fire, with only a small, tiny spot of green left on its surface: Amaurot, “This is our world as it is currently. Within a week, the Doom will close in and we’ll all die.”

“...” 

“The Doom is a combination is multiple things,” Prometheus continued, ignoring Hades’s concerned glances, “But the truly dangerous part is how it causes a domino effect amongst those with Creation magic. It only takes one to be infected, and then it cascades through the population at rapid speeds. The more concentrated in one area, the faster and more devastating the effects. So, in Amaurot that numbers in millions of souls, I suspect the moment the Doom hits Amaurot will be gone within hours.” 

“Unless Zodiark is summoned,” Hades said, unable to stay quiet any longer, “We can rewrite the failing laws of this star, restore its vitality.” 

“Hah, yeah, maybe,” Prometheus gave him a look, like he was being a very silly, naive child, “Have you figured out how much a star costs yet?”

“...” Hades looked away, muttering; “One million.” 

“One million,” Prometheus purred, “Just to halt the Doom. What about after?”

“...”

“Terraforming will be a must. I wonder how much our new Lord and Saviour Zodiark will ask for in return for that.”

“At least we’ll live,” Hades snapped, “What you’re suggesting is that we accept our extinction without fighting back. You have given up.” 

Prometheus’s eyes lit up , and there was a worryingly bright, fanatic glint in his soul. That sense of unpredictability was back, Hades clenching his hands as his friend tilted his head at him, like a predator trying to decide whether to go for the belly or the throat. 

“...given up,” Prometheus repeated flatly, “I can tell you now, I haven’t given up. I’ve just come to a realisation.” 

He snapped his fingers, and the staticy illusion of their world hollowed out, showing the sluggish, mostly rotted channels of the Lifestream. Only one tiny spot of light remained beneath the foundations of Amaurot. 

We did this,” Prometheus hissed, “Despite claiming we were caretakers of this star, we took an awful lot from it. We Create and Create and Create, yet we don’t die ourselves and enter the Lifestream as everything else, so the flow slowed, stagnated, until all that remains is all the shitty silt at the bottom.”

“What are you talking about?” Hades demanded, wondering if his friend had well and truly cracked.

“It was inevitable this was going to happen,” Prometheus said, ignoring him, “And if we go the way of Zodiark, it’s going to happen again. The problem is us , us and our unchecked powers of Creation coupled with immortality. So, I’m going to remake us, Hades. We’ll die, but we’ll be reborn - we’ll change, definitely, we’ll no longer be who we once were, but we’ll begin new lives, in new forms, on a star reborn probably thousands of years from now, after this purifies the-”

Hades struck, unleashing the sleep spell he had readied since the beginning of Prometheus’s crazed rantings. His friend staggered, the spell sinking its claws in, Hades stepping forwards to catch him- 

-only to rapidly backstep when a flash of crystalised light slammed into where he’d about to be. Armiger Sariel , a broadsword of flickering, pale blue aether jutted out of the now cracked floorboards, radiating a chill so intense webs of frost crept a few feet from its blade. 

Hades was very still, and Prometheus’s Sigil flared with ominous, red light. His friend’s rage felt as tranquil as a frozen lake coated in thin, cracked ice.

“...I see,” Prometheus said very very quietly, “So, that’s your response.” 

“What you’re proposing is madness,” Hades said with equal softness, his heart aching as he realised how lost Prometheus had become. It was all because of the Doom - because his soul had been severed almost in half. Hades must’ve failed to restore him perfectly, must have caused damage when clumsily forcing the two halves back together, and now a madness had taken root, a brokenness to Prometheus’s soul that couldn’t be healed unless his soul was shattered again to be remade back to what it once was.

He had failed Prometheus, he realised. Failed him utterly. 

“What I’m proposing is the only way to save us without placing us under the heel of a Primal,” Prometheus snarled, “Do you want to be a slave? Do you want to surrender your future to eternally serving an artificial God? Zodiark is a cup without a bottom, Hades. No matter how much you put into it, it’ll never be satisfied, ever.”

Hades knew that. He knew that. But what Prometheus proposed… it was frightening. The idea of dying, the idea that they would change and be different and- something in Hades rebelled against the thought. No. They were going to preserve Amaurot and themselves. They didn’t need to change. Who would they be, if they weren’t Amaurotines? 

“You’re asking us to die, Prometheus,” Hades said, “What… how do you expect me to accept that?”

Prometheus was quiet for a long moment, until finally his Sigil flickered out of existence. He looked tired, and sad, and his soul eased from its vicious bristling to something almost…

“There’s no need to be scared, Hades,” Prometheus murmured almost gently, “We’ll die together and it’ll be painless. I’ll cheat a little for us too. I’ll make sure our souls will be reborn together, it’ll be… it’ll be nice.”

“... I can’t,” Hades said, “I can’t die, Prometheus. Not when there is a chance for us to survive.” 

“Survive…” Prometheus looked down, “You’ll pick that over living with me in another life?”

Hades didn’t reply.

“Fine,” Prometheus said dully, “Fine, okay.” 

“Prom-”

Prometheus turned on his heel and walked away, towards his private rooms. Without heeding Hades’s pleas, he slammed his door shut behind him, his soul abruptly cutting out of existence, walling off everything and anything. Hades still caught that split-second of heartbreaking grief, though. 

Armiger Sariel remained, still radiating an unfriendly coldness. Hades looked at it, and knowing that Prometheus was linked to his soul weapons, spoke to it. 

“Prometheus, everything will be fine,” he told the armiger, “The sacrifices have willingly volunteered and, we will find a way to bring them back afterwards. Once the Doom is stopped, we can focus on those things, you can… focus on getting better. You’re very ill right now, so that is why…”

Armiger Sariel abruptly dissolved into motes of pale blue aether that slowly flickered out of existence. Hades sighed. Prometheus wasn’t in the mood to listen, then. 

Hades didn’t want to leave him alone. Prometheus was unstable, potentially suicidal , which was a thought that made him feel ill, but he couldn’t break into his personal rooms. For one, Prometheus might actually attack him, or two, Prometheus might run away in the wilderness, and get hurt. So… 

He made a note to tell Hythlodaeus, to have him cautiously check in. Where Prometheus met Hades with hostility, he might be more receptive to Hythlodaeus. He always had a calming effect on Prometheus. 

“Damn it,” Hades muttered, pivoting on his heel and striding out of his friend’s workshop. 

All this told him was that they needed to finish Zodiark faster. If He was to rewrite the laws of this star, to terraform it back to its previous state, to save them, then perhaps He would be able to help Prometheus too. No one’s soul had ever been damaged as badly as his, so that insane talk about ‘remaking’ their people was probably a side effect of that and the trauma. Yes, yes, that sounded right. 

Zodiark will save them. He’ll save them, and eventually, He’ll save Prometheus too. 

Chapter Text

The Lifestream was considered a wild, untamed thing even by Amaurotine standards. 

It was the lifeblood of the star itself. Everything that died returned to it, and everything that sprung to life came from it, a closed cycle that Amaurot respected… and sometimes exploited. For the Lifestream was also raw energy when reduced to its very basic components. Siphoning the merest of drops could triple the potency of a cast spell, could lend strength to summoned Creations where an Amaurotine’s soul just didn’t quite cut it. 

Of course, they only took in moderation! The Lifestream was a precious resource that fed life into everything, and to drain it dry went against their beliefs as this star’s caretakers. Yet, still, to let it go entirely untouched, that was such a waste, yes?

It took a very certain soul, to siphon energy from the Lifestream, though. There was a certain, unexplainable quality they needed to delve into those wild rapids and gently coax a stable, thin stream to the surface for exploiting. Prometheus was one of those very few, and it was one of the main reasons he was selected to join the Convocation. For no one had a way with the Lifestream like him, able to make that untamed torrent pliable and gentle under his hands. 

Prometheus was even able to use it as a means of teleportation. Where Amaurotines utilised the aether channels, stable currents within the Lifestream that went to specific locations and could not be moved, Prometheus could plunge headfirst into the maelstrom and travel it to wherever the Lifestream flowed without difficulty. If anyone else tried that, they would’ve found their soul battered and bruised from a vicious ride, and spat out in an unknown location (normally where large amounts of aether naturally collected, such as a volcano or the bottom of the ocean). 

But, even he could fuck up. The Lifestream was like a wild animal - it might be placid one moment, and the next, despite knowing you as a friend, turn to snap your hand right off. There was always a risk in dealing with the Lifestream, and to date it was ranked the main cause of death for Amaurotines. 

Luckily, his current fuck up wasn’t the fatal sort, but it was still, uh, not good. 

“I think,” Prometheus muttered, eyeing the very angry, frothy mess before him with considerable amount of wariness, “I might have to call for help.” 

He was trapped, to put it bluntly. This morning he had been conducting his routine, monthly Lifestream harvesting in one of his more heavily reinforced experimentation rooms. He had a very efficient set up where he would delve into the Lifestream and coax a thin stream to bubble up in the spring he carved out some thousand years ago, ready to be collected and crystalised as needed. It was so routine Prometheus barely had to think about doing it. 

Except this time, instead of a gentle stream, he had a fucking geyser come roaring up! Now the room was flooded with the Lifestream, a dense, sticky sea-green liquid that burned to the touch, and Prometheus was sitting on a workbench, feet drawn up, as the liquid aether lapped aggressively at the edge of it. 

He had managed to close up the geyser, so he wasn’t in danger of this flooding even more, but, hm, well, he was stuck. He couldn’t open the door because then all this raw aether would spill out into the rest of his workshop and contaminate everything , but he couldn’t teleport out because the Lifestream made spells go wild and the last thing he needed was to teleport himself into a wall or the floor or something. But, he couldn’t stay here either because… 

He was getting… really dizzy… 

Raw aether released potent fumes, and Prometheus was breathing it all in despite his best efforts. It made his head pound, and he recognised the first stages of aethersickness starting to sink its claws into him. Nope, waiting it out wasn’t going to help either. 

There was only one thing to do: call for help. 

His pride rankled at the thought but, well, he wasn’t an idiot. 

Shifting his weight when a few sticky droplets splashed over the edge of his workbench, coming dangerously close to his boot, he tapped the Communicator clipped to his ear, sending a burst of aether and the desire to connect to a specific person. 

“Hello?” Hythlodaeus’s sweet voice chimed over the line, “Is everything alright, Prometheus?”

“I’ve had a, uh, accident, drawing up the Lifestream today,” Prometheus said, sensing something amiss when the raw aether began bubbling ominously around a central point. He eyed it warily, lifting his free hand to cast a barrier if need be, “And I really need some help.” 

“An accident?” Hythlodaeus gasped, and too late Prometheus remembered that Lifestream extraction was considered dangerous to most Amaurotines, oops, “Oh no, are you hurt?” 

“I’m fine. Just woozy. Uh, though, I’m kinda stuck on my workbench because the whole room’s flooded and…” he trailed off when he felt it then: the stream he had blocked off from the main Lifestream was straining under a sudden pressure, and he realised the bubbles were where the original geyser was from… 

Oh. 

Oh no

“I’ll get Hades and we’ll come straight there,” Hythlodaeus said quickly, “Please stay safe until then!”

“Um,” Prometheus started, but the call disconnected from the abrupt spike of aether that blanketed the room. A very ominous quake started building up, a deep groan, and knowing that what was coming was going to suck , Prometheus summoned the strongest, thickest barrier he could and braced for impact. 

And oh boy, what an impact

With a roar, the Lifestream blasted upwards in a torrent of uncontrolled energy, punching straight through his ceiling and dumping several gallons worth of aether in the already flooded room. 

“Oh fuck,” Prometheus squeaked, just as his workbench was swallowed up by it all. 


Prometheus woke up to someone thumping his back. 

It hurt quite a bit, but honestly he had other things on his mind like what the fuck just happened and oh fuck i can’t breathe -

There was an awful, searing burn down his throat and in his lungs, locking his ribs in place and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t breathe, short, choking noises leaving him until that someone gave one last hard thump between his shoulder blades. The sticky, heavy, burning lump trapped behind his sternum dislodged. Prometheus coughed - then kept on coughing when all the raw aether he’d inhaled came heaving out of him. 

“Oh, thank goodness!” Hythlodaeus’s voice said somewhere above him, as Prometheus pathetically dry-heaved all over the floor, “He’s breathing!” 

“Just about,” Hades’s voice muttered, sounding closer. A firm hand was gently rubbing his back, sending gentle pulses of healing through him. 

His insides were a mess, Prometheus didn’t need to be a medic to know that, but it was a mess easily fixed and non-fatal (to him). Just… severely unpleasant to endure. All he could taste was Lifestream, sharp, bitter and enough to make him gag, and his own aether levels felt fucked and unbalanced. He felt really dizzy, the floor under him wobbling and dipping like he was a thin raft on a stormy sea.

“Prometheus,” Hythlodaeus said, his voice sounding oddly far away and close all at once, “Can you hear me? Do you know what happened?” 

“...nnmph…” came Prometheus’s intelligent response. Sounds were making some very strange colours spark up in his vision, which was… weird? So weird… 

“I think he has aether poisoning,” Hades said, “Hmm, might need to make him throw up some more.”

“He’s already thrown up too much,” Hythlodaeus scolded, “No, let’s get him to the bath. He’s still covered in Lifestream aether.” 

Things got a little confusing after the point. Someone picked him up, physically, and everything went all blurry and wobbly - waaaay too confusing for him to keep track of, so his soul simply decided to tap out until the world stopped moving. For him, he blinked, and suddenly he was naked in a bath with Hades rubbing a damp towel through his hair. 

Hythlodaeus was speaking somewhere out of sight. 

“-cerned that he had such an awful accident,” he was saying to Hades, “It’s very unusual.” 

“The Lifestream is unpredictable, even for Prometheus,” Hades replied, “He was just unlucky today. I doubted he would have died from it.”

“He almost drowned.” 

“He has Armiger Lazarus to protect him from such mortal deaths, you know that.” 

“Hey,” Prometheus rasped.

Hades paused, but then continued rubbing his hair with the damp towel. It was kinda soothing, since his friend was being uncharacteristically gentle about it, “Ah, awake, are you?” 

“Mm…” Prometheus hummed, feeling sore and sleepy and very ill. Aether poisoning, definitely. 

Hythlodaeus leaned into view then. The sleeves of his robes were rolled up and pinned back, though they still ended up damp through. The bathwater Prometheus was in had a faint, off-green tinge to it, and the diluted smell of the Lifestream. It looked like his friends had been scrubbing his near-comatose body clean of any lingering contamination. 

“Focus on my finger,” Hythlodaeus said, holding up a finger. Prometheus tiredly looked at it, following it as Hythlodaeus moved it from side to side, then up and down, then close to his nose and back again. 

“Yes, he’s definitely awake now,” Hythlodaeus confirmed, “Prometheus, you certainly gave us a scare. I feared the worst when Hades fished you out of that Lifestream spring!”

“Er, spring…?”

“One of your workshop rooms is now a permanent Lifestream spring,” Hades answered, “You were floating facedown in it by the time we managed to break in there.”

Hades was speaking in that low, detached way of his that said he was upset, but was trying not to show he was upset. Despite knowing that Prometheus wouldn’t have died from something as silly as drowning, it probably wasn’t a pleasant thing to walk in on. 

“How’s Lazarus?” Hades continued, when Prometheus stayed quiet. 

“Mm, it’s…” Prometheus turned his focus inwards. Armiger Lazarus was one of his greatest achievements, next to the armiger arsenal itself, being an internal soul weapon designed to protect him from injuries or ailments that would kill a normal Amaurotine. It was a redundant safety mechanism, considering how robust Amaurotine souls and bodies were anyways, but as Prometheus dealt with dangerous spells and the Lifestream on a near daily basis… well. It was a good thing he had it, since he probably would’ve died today without it. 

Lazarus was still fully functional, despite the contamination from an overabundance of Lifestream energy. It was already venting the excess aether, putting things to rights after being helped along by Hades and Hythlodaeus’s healing spells. Prometheus left it to it. He designed it to be purely autonomous after all. 

“S’fine,” he finished, “Functioning.” 

“Good,” Hades muttered, giving his hair one last ruffle with the towel before pulling it away, “What an annoying mess, though. We’ll have to quarantine that spring now.”

“Ugh,” Prometheus felt sick at the thought. Quarantining Lifestream geysers were a pain, and he just knew Lahabrea was going to bitch at him for wasting resources, because now all the extracted Lifestream aether was contaminated, being exposed to the air for so long. It would have to be destroyed and wasted, so all his efforts had been for nothing. Great.

“We’ll discuss that later,” Hythlodaeus said firmly, “First, we should let Prometheus rest. Do you feel ready to move on your own?” 

Prometheus clumsily gripped the edges of his bath and tried to sit up. His head spun and his muscles felt pathetically weak. He slowly sank back, face flushed and embarrassed. This was why aether poisoning was the worst . While lesser races would die outright from it, Amaurotines tended to feel weak and shaky, like a nasty bout of flu. It cleared up after a few days, but for that time you were about as weak as a newborn kitten. 

Hades made a softly amused noise, “Can’t even sit up?”

“Shut up,” Prometheus grumbled, “I almost drowned.” 

“Please don’t argue,” Hythlodaeus sighed when Hades opened his mouth to retort, “Come here, Prometheus, let me help you up…” 

It was slightly awkward, getting helped out of his own bath. His legs kept shaking when he stood up, and he ended up getting swaddled up in a thick towel by Hythlodaeus while Hades vanished the Lifestream tainted bathwater. He felt like a child being fussed over, and he didn’t quite care for it, honestly. 

“Hythlodaeuuuuuus…” he whined when his friend picked him up like he was a baby. He couldn’t even do anything to resist it was terrible . It didn’t help that he could see Hades over Hythlodaeus’s shoulder, smirking at him. Nice to see he overcame his upset at the sight of Prometheus being humiliated. Ass.

“Hush, let me help you,” Hythlodaeus scolded, carrying him out of the bathroom with a very amused Hades trotting at his heels. 

Prometheus grumbled, resting his chin on Hythlodaeus’s shoulder to glare better at Hades. He felt sleepy… in that heavy, dull way that spoke of exhaustion brought on by illness. His eyelids kept drooping shut, but it was hard to nod off because he felt hot one moment, and cold the next, shivering in hot-cold flushes that made him sort of nauseous. 

But he must’ve dozed off between long blinks, because suddenly he was being tucked into bed. A thick, heavy comforter was draped over him too, and he felt the bed dip when someone sat on the edge of it next to him, adjusting his pillows for him. 

“I suppose someone will need to report the spill,” Hythlodaeus sighed, “We can’t leave it there to crystallize while Prometheus’ recovers.” 

Hades hummed quietly - it was him sitting on the bed - followed by his hand gently petting Prometheus’s still damp hair. It was a pleasant feeling. He purred drowsily.

“No, we can’t. Prometheus will just whine about it later,” Hades said, curling a lock of dark hair around his finger and gently pulling, “Won’t you?” 

“Mmhm, yeah…” Prometheus mumbled sleepily, “So much whining.” 

“Even though it’s your mess,” Hades tutted, but he didn’t sound annoyed, “Do you know what happened?”

Prometheus sighed, trying to shift through his fuzzy memories. Why did he end up with a geyser instead of a placid stream?

“Not really,” he said, “Just unlucky to get a surge in the Lifestream, I guess…”

Though, from where, he wasn’t sure. It came westwards, from the sea, but Prometheus didn’t know of anything there that should be causing wild, uncontrollable surges in the Lifestream. Hmm, something to investigate once he recovered from his illness… 

Hades felt dissatisfied with this explanation, but his knowledge on Lifestreams was basic at best, so took it at face value. He gave Prometheus one last pat on the head and stood up off the bed. 

“Sleep this off,” Hades said, “Hythlodaeus and I will clean up your mess.” 

“‘Kay…” Prometheus mumbled, feeling the warm souls of his friends leave his bedroom. It was going to be messy, backbreaking work to empty out the contaminated Lifestream and scrub it clean, and here Hythlodaeus and Hades were doing it without really hesitating. Prometheus owed them… a lot. He’ll need to do something for them in return. 

Hmm, he’ll think about it later, though. He needed to sleep this off, first… 

So, Prometheus drowsed off into a deep sleep - while internally, Armiger Lazarus vented the excess aether accumulated inside of him from his dangerous dip into the Lifestream. There was a brief hiccup though, when it found something odd… very strange… a bit of corrupted aether that felt like the Lifestream but wasn’t. It carried malicious intent. 

But Armiger Lazarus did as it was designed to do, and eliminated the potential threat. The odd, rotten piece of Lifestream diffused into nothing, harmless now. Armiger Lazarus didn’t bother to log the anomaly, and continued its work. 

Unaware that the surge came from Xerora’s direction, where an odd, dangerous phenomena was beginning to form… 

Chapter Text

It has been exactly six months since Lyna’s mother died and she still didn’t know what the Exarch’s face looked like. 

It only stuck out as weird to her because after saving her, he took her under his wing to his magical Crystal Tower, where everyone else had been fleeing towards, and looked after her, because no one else wanted to care for some random Vii child when they were already struggling with their own losses. He was a nice man, very nice, and kind, and was a wizard according to some other people, but she didn’t know what he looked like

From the day she met him onwards, Exarch always wore a mask and a hood. He showed no skin, his hands were covered up by gloves, his arms by thick sleeves - in fact, the only bit of skin you could see where his ankles and feet, because he wore sandals, but everything else… 

It made for a lot of gossip amongst the refugees, the other children especially. When Lyna mingled amongst the tents and caravans all crowded around the Crystal Tower’s base, the other kids asked her if it was true that the Exarch was a wizard, or a spirit, or a Sin Eater in disguise, or a demon who’s planning on eating them all, or this, or that, or everything else!

It annoyed her. 

Exarch was… Exarch. He might be a wizard, or a demon, or whoever, but to Lyna he was her saviour, and now her guardian, even if it was clear he had no idea what to do with a kid. He spoke to her like she was an adult, which was nice sometimes, but other times it was frustrating, and she could admit she sometimes lost her temper with him. She never meant to but she did. Exarch never got mad at her for it. 

He was kind like that, but his mask always seemed cold whenever she looked up at it. A pale, flat thing with slits for eyes. Maybe that was why she lost her temper so much him sometimes. It reminded her a lot of… 

Well. Whatever.  

Lyna was getting to the bottom of it now. She might not care if Exarch was a demon in disguise, but she did want to know what was behind that mask. Whatever it was couldn’t be worse than the pale, unfeeling face he normally wore, right?


She struck during dinner time. 

It was late at night, and the food was hastily cobbled together stew from leftover roots and meat that some hunters found for them. People kept giving things to Exarch in exchange for his protection, and he always seemed awkward about it - but accepted some things, like food, solely for Lyna’s behalf. She hadn’t once seen him eat in her presence. 

“Exarch,” she started, eyeing her guardian from across the table. It was a fancy, crystal thing that Exarch had dragged in from the depths of the tower one day. He never said where exactly he found it, “Are you ugly?”

Exarch, who had been frowning over some odd, blocky shaped thing with a screen, slowly lifted his head to stare at her. 

“...what?” he blurted. 

“It’s just, you wear that mask all the time,” Lyna said, “And you never take it off, ever . I’m just wondering if it’s because you’re very ugly, and you’re ashamed about it.” 

“I…” Exarch seemed stunned, whether at her amazing deductive skills or not, she didn’t know, “I-I like to think I’m… not ugly.”

“It’s okay if you are,” Lyna said honestly, “I don’t mind. I like you even if you are ugly.”

“...” Exarch shifted awkwardly in his seat, “Uh. Thank you?”

“So, you can take that off,” Lyna finished, pointing at his mask, “Because I won’t laugh. I promise.” 

Exarch went tense, then relaxed, and then drummed his gloved fingers on the table. Lyna was getting very good at reading his body language, and it was clear he was uncomfortable. 

“It’s not… well, I suppose if I’m to be your guardian, wearing this all the time isn’t… practical,” Exarch muttered, half to himself. After a moment, he sighed, then reached up for his mask, “Alright, alright. I’ll show you…” 

Lyna leaned forwards with poorly concealed eagerness, staring as Exarch took off his mask and swept back his hood to reveal…! 

A normal Mystel face, with bright red eyes and crystal embedded in a line over his cheek. 

“...is that it?” Lyna said, disappointed. It hadn’t matched up to what her imagination, or what the gossip speculated, conjured up. He didn’t look freakish or ugly at all, “You look normal.” 

Exarch smiled - the first smile she saw from him - and it looked wry and fond all at once. 

“The crystal is normal?” he said.

“Well, no,” Lyna said, “But it’s not… some people were saying you were a demon under there, or a Sin Eater, and had big fangs or six eyes or something. That crystal just looks like crystal.”

“I see…” Exarch frowned, looking down at the mask in his hands, “I thought my abnormality would have made them more fearful, but I suppose the unknown is worse…” 

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Exarch smiled again, and set his mask on the table, “You’ve just given me something to think about, Lyna. Now, how’s your food?”

“It’s good,” Lyna said, even though it was in fact very plain. Mother didn’t raise an ungrateful child, though, and Lyna wasn’t too young not to understand the state of things, “I like it.” 

“Hmm…” Exarch eyed her for a moment, like he sensed the lie, but didn’t call her out on it, “Well, better finish it before it goes cold.”

Taking the hint, Lyna turned back to her meal. She kept peeking faces at Exarch’s exposed face, really taking it in in case he decided to hide it again. He looked normal, though the Crystal was strange. What was it? Some sort of disease? Mom used to tell stories about how there was a disease that turned you into stone… 

She hoped it wasn’t a disease. She didn’t want Exarch to die too. 

Finding her appetite dwindling, she stubbornly ate the rest of her meal and picked up the bowl. She always cleaned up after herself. 

“Goodnight, Exarch,” she said, “By the way, you don’t look ugly, so you don’t need to hide your face.” 

Exarch smiled at her, “Thank you, Lyna. I’ll, uh, I’ll think about it. Sleep well.” 

Lyna nodded and walked off to clean her bowl and get ready for bed. Well, that was one mystery solved about her mysterious caretaker. Though, if he looked so normal, why did he wear the mask? Surely the crystal wasn’t that weird… 

Hmm, or maybe it was just Exarch being weird. 

Yeah, that was probably it. 

Chapter Text

It had only been a little over a day and Prometheus was already sick of being, well, sick

Aether poisoning was severe enough to leave the sufferer bedridden for at least forty-eight hours, and Prometheus had only hit halfway for that. His aether was still terribly imbalanced, and his physical body was reeling from the shock of near-drowning and the Lifestream flooding it with foreign aether. It meant Prometheus was trapped in a state of utter misery, stuck in bed, feverish, nauseous and too weak to get up - and hopelessly bored

He couldn’t do any experiments, no synthesising, no spell creation, no nothing. He tried to get up earlier to make a very simple breakfast for himself, and very nearly fainted halfway to his kitchen. Luckily, he managed to crawl back into bed before he genuinely passed out, but still…

Being sick sucked

Urrgh… ” Prometheus groaned, glaring up at his ceiling in frustration, “I’m so bored.”

No one answered him, of course. Hades and Hythlodaeus, busy people that they were, had other duties to tend to, and Prometheus wasn’t in danger of dying, so he could safely be left alone. It was times like this, though, when Prometheus was keenly aware of how isolated he was when Hades and Hythlodaeus weren’t available. Outside of them, he had no friends, was barely cordial with the other Convocation members (outright hostile in the case of Lahabrea and Nabriales), and was such a hermit not many Amaurotines actually knew him outside of his title and all the nasty rumours attached to it. 

It was lonely… but Prometheus couldn’t imagine extending his very tight circle of friends beyond Hades and Hythlodaeus. He didn’t have pleasant experiences in trying to socialise outside of them. 

Prometheus sighed, irritably kicking the blankets off when a hot flush swept through him. Ugh, he was getting annoyed at this… maybe he should improve Lazarus’s capabilities to nullify physiological responses or something. Why was his body being feverish when it wasn’t fighting off a bacterial or viral infection, anyways? It was an aetherical imbalance, which isn’t cured by an internal rise in body temperature! Honestly, physical bodies were incredibly dumb sometimes! 

He was brought out of his sour mood by a familiar flash of aether appearing outside of his workshop. He focused on it, recognising it as Hades. Oh, the Convocation meeting must have ended early…

Feeling his friend start to make their way through his workshop towards his private rooms, Prometheus exploded into action. Or, rather, pathetically squirmed into an attempt at action. Before, he had been sprawled messily over his bed, sweaty and flushed and shaky, but now he was trying to look somewhat healthy, and that meant sitting up!

But alas, it was too hard. Prometheus only managed to wriggle up higher on his bed, his blankets wrapped around his legs, and felt even worse afterwards. Why did his muscles hurt so much? Ugh, he was never getting aether poisoning ever again! 

Hades politely knocked on his bedroom door before letting himself in. He was dressed in the slimmed down Convocation uniform, the black robes, his mask nowhere in sight with his hood down. Prometheus actually liked how he looked in those robes, but he was too ill to truly appreciate the sight today. 

“Huh,” Hades said after a moment of silence, where they just kind of stared at each other for a bit, “You look terrible.”

“I’m dying,” Prometheus told him solemnly. 

“Don’t be dramatic. You’re not dying,” Hades sighed, looking amused as he approached. He sat on the edge of Prometheus’s bed, “In fact, you feel a lot better today.”

“Hrrm…” Prometheus shivered when he felt Hades’s soul brush up against his, getting a taste of his aether, “I don’t feel better.”

“Because you’re bored,” Hades said, knowing him a bit too well, “You have nothing to do but brood over how terrible you feel.” 

“Are you offering to entertain me then?” Prometheus asked hopefully.

Hades smiled, but his eyes were alight with a subtle kind of mischief that put Prometheus on guard. That never boded well. 

“Hm, perhaps entertain is not the correct word, but…” Hades snapped his fingers, drawing forth a stack of papers from his personal inventory. It wasn’t a very thick stack, but when his friend set it down on the bed, Prometheus could see the Convocation insignia on the front page, “Here are the meeting minutes that you’ve missed-”

Ugh.”

“-and you have been selected to audit the research proposals submitted this year for the Akadaemia’s budget,” Hades finished cheerily, “This pile has the cover letters for about, oh, fifty of them. That should distract you well enough until you’re better, hm?” 

“...” Prometheus stared dully at his friend for a long moment, before slowly dragging one of his pillows over his face and tried to smother himself with it. 

“Stop that,” Hades said, taking the pillow off him, “It’s not that terrible.”

“I should have drowned,” Prometheus lamented, not even looking at the stack of papers next to him, “I’d rather die than audit those awful proposals again! The things people put in there!”

“You’re exaggerating-”

“Someone submitted a proposal to Conceptualise a plant to release sex pollen last time!”

Hades made a… very interesting expression at that, like he was morbidly curious but didn’t want to actually know the answer to the question forming in his mind, “...sex pollen.” 

“I basically read plant porn and it scarred me for life,” Prometheus ranted, “It was in extreme intimate detail too. Different means of administration for a sex pollen aphrodisiac, like tentacle penises-!”

“Prometheus.”

“-why would a plant need a tentacle penis?! Why would you- even- think about giving an ambulatory plant a penis?” 

“Prom-”

“Even if you consider the mammalian-plant hybrids Conceptualised for seeding the southern rainforest, you don’t need to put it on tentacles, and especially not give them ten of the damned things-

Hades returned the pillow to its previous place over Prometheus’s face. 

Whatever. Prometheus just finished his rant into the pillow instead - Hades was barely pressing down on it, allowing him to breathe. By the time he was done, he felt hot and flushed, breathless from talking too much, and feeling somewhat better about yelling about something. It vented some of the frustration he had been grappling with. 

Almost tentatively, after a short moment of silence filled only by the sound of Prometheus’s muffled panting, Hades lifted the pillow and peered down at him, “Feeling better?” 

“...” Prometheus threw an arm over his eyes, embarrassment starting to creep over him, “Yeah. A little.” 

Hades dropped the pillow to the side and moved the stack of papers onto the bedside table. Prometheus watched him from underneath his arm, curious. To be honest, he thought the talk of plant tentacle penises would’ve had Hades make a quick excuse and leave him to his loud descent into madness. Instead, his friend was sticking around. 

With all obstacles now out of the way, Hades snapped his fingers - his robe vanished off his body, leaving him in his loose undershirt and shorts instead - and rudely invaded his bed. 

“Budge over,” Hades ordered, pushing Prometheus to the side, “I’m joining you.”

“Wha- hey. Don’t push, geeze…” 

After much pushing, elbowing, and Prometheus realising he was too weak to really put up a fight against Hades right now, they ended up lying side by side on the bed, nose to nose, Hades giving him a very thoughtful look. 

“What,” Prometheus grumped. 

“You’re in a very bad mood today,” Hades observed. 

“Well, I almost drowned yesterday, and I spent all day alone in bed, bored out of my mind being all ill,” Prometheus muttered, closing his eyes when he felt Hades nudge against his soul. He had felt lonely, and he felt annoyed at feeling lonely as his self-imposed isolation was just that: self-imposed. He was just… frustrated, and it didn’t have a clear target, so… 

Of course, Hades knew all that. Prometheus didn’t bother hiding it when their souls very lightly entwined, a gentle, surface-level bond that soothed some of Prometheus’s aimless frustration. 

“Ah, I see,” Hades hummed, a slight lilt to his voice, “You’re feeling lonely.”

Prometheus grunted.

Hades was feeling mischievous again, Prometheus could feel it thrumming through their shallow bond. They couldn’t sink into each other any deeper than that, not unless Hades wanted to imbalance his own aether and get ill too, so Prometheus couldn’t quite glean his friend’s intent from exchanging thoughts - but he did know Hades was up to no good. 

“What’re you up to?” Prometheus asked him suspiciously.

“How rude,” Hades hummed, not sounding offended in the slightest as he reached out to idly play with Prometheus’s hair, “I’m not up to anything. I’m only wondering how to make you feel better like the good friend that I am.”

“Uh huh. Sure.”

“But our choices are limited, considering you’re bedridden for the moment,” Hades continued, definitely sounding sly now, and he curled a lock of Prometheus’s hair around his finger, giving it a firm tug, “Hmm, what activity can we do together in bed, I wonder…?”

Oh. Oh. So, that’s what he was angling for, huh? Prometheus felt his mood pick up slightly, greatly amused at Hades’s uncharacteristic transparency, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess we could sleep?”

Hades gave him a heavy-lidded stare for his feigned obliviousness. 

“Or you can help me with those research proposals,” Prometheus continued, not even bothering to stifle his grin, “Or we can talk about how your day has been, or we can- mmmph-

Hades kissed him, swallowing up his next words with a low, irritated noise. Prometheus giggled into it, ridiculously delighted at how easy it was to rile him up. The kiss was nice too, just a hint of teeth, firm and warm and… honestly, Prometheus found himself terribly distracted by it. Combined with the purring sensations vibrating through their shallow soul-bond, the physical, sensual feel of Hades gently, gently, gently worrying his bottom lip had him trapped in a very pleasantly dazed state of ‘ah this is very nice’

It was very, very nice. 

It also made him feel uncomfortably hot, something he tried to ignore as Hades broke the kiss and started nosing along his jawline instead. Every nerve seemed to buzz when Hades pushed him onto his back, pressing his weight on him enough to let all the air rush out of Prometheus’s lungs with a low groan. He was helpless, his muscles weak as he curled his fingers into Hades’s shirt, and this should worry him, a little, that he was helpless but- 

He really trusted Hades. Even like this, as weak as a kitten, dizzy and hot, he trusted Hades, and the fact he was vulnerable, incredibly vulnerable, just made this entire thing more thrilling, more exciting. His heart felt ready to pound out of his ribcage for it, pulse jumping, skin flush with heat, as he tipped his head back, baring his throat, Hades pressing a kiss to the pulse-point, frantically fluttering… and bit

Oh, it hurt, but it was a good hurt. 

Ow …” Prometheus groaned breathlessly, squirming when Hades just worked at the stinging bite. Pain, stinging, sharp, teased with pleasure, combined into a heady mix that had Prometheus delightfully woozy from it - or, that might be his core temperature shooting right up from all this stimulation at once. For one, embarrassing moment, he genuinely thought he was going to faint. 

But Hades pulled back before it got too much, peering at him from beneath his eyelashes with such smug satisfaction that Prometheus had a brief, fleeting urge to bite him

“This is your plan to make me feel better? Getting me off?” Prometheus asked, his voice husky. He felt the spike of arousal - quickly smothered - filtering from Hades’s side of their soul-bond, and started to grin a little, “Hades, you pervert.”

Hades affected innocence - it didn’t seem sincere at all, “I only have your best interests in mind, doing this.”

“Yeah, right,” Prometheus scoffed, already anticipating Hades pulling some excuse out of his ass about encouraging the release of endorphins and other hormones to make him feel better. He’d be right, but it was still an excuse. 

“Really,” Hades purred, pressing his fingertips against the bite mark he left. It stung, and ached in a way that had Prometheus’s toes curling and breath catching in his throat, “But, if you want to do something else…”

Prometheus was briefly tempted to say he did want to do something else, if only to wipe off that smug look on Hades’s face. Also, he did feel very woozy, even if it was a nice sort. He was pretty sure that if he let Hades carry on, he might actually faint, or get close to it, and that was a pretty big mood killer in his opinion.

“Mm, I don’t know,” he murmured, unconsciously tilting his jaw when Hades leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth, “I feel kind of dizzy right now... ”

“From…?” Hades asked quietly, his slightly cold hand splaying flat against his stomach. Prometheus shivered at the touch. 

“I’m hot,” Prometheus said, groaning quietly when Hades dug his nails into his skin, lightly scratching faint pink lines over his tensed abs. It made many things tense nicely, and he breathed out a soft, pleased noise, “But I, ah, I think I’m good to keep going…” 

“Hmm…” Hades hooked his fingers into the waistband of his boxers, but he didn’t go beyond that. Instead, Prometheus felt him gently delve a little deeper into their soul-bond, just enough to make him gasp - the aether imbalance made him embarrassingly sensitive - and the sensation of Hades’s soul sinking and filling in all the right parts of him, was, for a moment, too much. 

He flinched.

Hades quickly retreated, letting the bond return to being shallow and weak. Prometheus found himself shaking slightly in the aftermath of it, breaths coming out fast and hard as everything prickled like pins and needles. He didn’t know if it was a pleasurable or painful feeling. A bit of both. 

“Too much?” Hades asked quietly, but he was already pulling back, his side of the bond tempering into something more controlled and steady. Prometheus almost cursed. Stupid aether poisoning.

“No, it… it was fine,” Prometheus said quickly, a little breathlessly, curling his fingers into the back of Hades’s shirt, in case he thought to pull away completely, “I just… I’m a little oversensitive but, I’m good.”

Hades gave him a knowing look - he saw right through him, damn it - but he didn’t pull away. He adjusted, lying more at Prometheus’s side, half on top of him, his weight so comforting and good. His hand rested on the curve of Prometheus’s hip, lightly gripping it, half-turning it towards him. It felt like a hot brand.  

“Hm, I think I’ll wait,” Hades said, the corner of his mouth curled up into a pleased smile, his eyes dark and heavy-lidded. It was a very attractive sight that made Prometheus want to kiss him and strangle him. Very conflicting set of urges, there. 

“You… you rile me up, and then decide to wait?” Prometheus grumbled, biting his bottom lip when Hades’s thumb rubbed over the jut of his hip bone, slightly pushing down the waistband of his boxers, “Hades, you’re a horrible tease and I hate you.” 

Hades’s smile turned into a smirk. Oh, he was definitely pleased with himself, “I know.” 

“I’m in the mood now! And you’re stopping!”

“Mhm.”

Prometheus huffed, irritably pushing his fringe back where it was sticking to his forehead from sweat. He really was hot, and restless, and Hades kept touching him, lightly, innocently, but suggestive enough that it was making him horny. This fucking asshole, seriously.

But, horny or not, he was finding his interest rapidly dwindling. One of those odd moments where the physical body was willing, but the spirit was too tired to follow through. He supposed Hades picked up on that…

“...okay, if we’re not having sex, you’re helping me with the proposals,” Prometheus finally said after indulging in some childish sulking for a good minute or so, “As penance for winding me up.” 

Hades sighed in a very put upon manner, “Fine.”

What a dick. Prometheus loved him, “Good. Now, c’mere, because I still want to kiss you, even though you’re a terrible person.” 

“You’re so romantic, Prometheus,” Hades deadpanned, his voice dry as dust, but he leaned in obediently, because despite being an asshole, he was also a good boy, and Prometheus smiled as he curled his fingers into his hair, to hold him close, and kissed him. 

(it still didn’t end in sex, despite Prometheus’s best attempts, but oh well. This was still enough) 

Chapter Text

Today was one of those rare days when Mentor Metis took them outside of Amaurot for a ‘field trip’. 

Honestly, Hades disliked them. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the star their people had sworn to safeguard, it was just… so much walking around in the wilderness, with all the irritating insects and mud and bleh. He wasn’t a fan. He could appreciate it from a distance, thank you, like from a book in his the comfort of his bed

Unfortunately, his two friends didn’t agree with this outlook. Hythlodaeus enjoyed nature - especially if it meant he got to collect some flowers and other plants for his gardening hobby - and always told him to try and approach these field trips with an open mind. So, no sympathy from that corner. 

(Hades once asked him why he didn’t simply Create the plants he wanted, since they were old enough to start Conceptualising simple organisms like those, but Hythlodaeus said it wasn’t the same as gathering them naturally grown in the wild. Hades deemed it a ‘Hythlodaeus Thing’ and left it at that)

Prometheus, on the other hand, absolutely loved romping about outside. The moment Mentor Metis settled them in a safe clearing in the woods, Prometheus always ran off like a dog let off its leash, climbing up trees to look at bird nests, rolling in bushes and chasing butterflies. It made Hades exhausted just watching him, even though there was something endearing about it. Prometheus always ended up tiring himself out near the end of the field trip, though and Hades always ended up being the one to piggyback him back home (if he grew up with a crooked back, he was blaming it on having to lug Prometheus’s heavy butt everywhere). 

Today was no different. Mentor Metis took them to the woods that was part of Amaurot’s nature park on its outskirts. It was a popular, and more importantly, safe , location to teach Amaurotine children on ecosystems and biodiversity without risking coming into contact with dangerous beasts or monsters. Those lessons came much closer to adulthood. 

She quizzed them on what she taught them last time, and after hammering home, once again, that they lived to serve as caretakers to this star, and therefore must appreciate all forms of life, no matter how small and fleeting, she let them loose. 

Hythlodaeus immediately went for the cluster of blooming wildflowers near the edge of the clearing - drooping, bell-like flowers that were a beautiful shade of baby blue - while Prometheus turned to Hades and asked, “You want to climb that tree with me?” 

“No,” Hades said, because that sounded far too exhausting.

Prometheus made a face at him. Normally, this was when he called Hades ‘boring’ and wandered off to swing off a branch like a monkey, but instead he asked; “Okay, so, what do you want to do instead?” 

Hades eyed him, genuinely surprised.

“Probably nap?” he said after a pause, glancing about the clearing. Mentor Metis had folded herself up at the base of a tree nearby, a book in her lap - her masked face made it difficult to tell where her attention truly was, but he knew she always made sure to know where they were. Mentor Metis could be a little overbearing sometimes, but with someone like Prometheus running loose, you had to be. 

“You always nap,” Prometheus groaned, “You’re such an old man.” 

Hades frowned, “I am not.”

“So are,” Prometheus grinned cheekily at him, “C’mon, do something fun. Like, um, oh! There’s a stream just past those bushes! Let’s look at the fishes in there!” 

Hades was tempted to dig his heels in and refuse - but Prometheus had that stubborn glint in his eyes that said he was not going to give in until he roped Hades into something. At least watching fish in a stream seemed fairly relaxing… and he could probably doze off while Prometheus got distracted splashing in the water… 

“Fine,” he relented, “Let’s watch some fish.” 

“Yes!” Prometheus cheered, and without warning grabbed Hades’s hand and started pulling him along, “Let’s go!” 

Uuugh… ” Hades groaned, resigned to his fate as Prometheus charged onwards, almost wrenching his arm out of his socket from his enthusiasm. The things he endured for his friend’s sake, honestly. 

The stream wasn’t all that impressive when they reached it. Barely mid-shin on an adult Amaurotine, it was about hip-deep on him and Prometheus. The bank was shallow too, pebbly and soft with silt, and thick reeds sprouting from it. It was easy enough to find a comfortable spot to lie on their bellies and watch the clear water rush through, sunlight glittering on its surface with the silvery flash of fish darting in between.

It was… peaceful. Hades could hear the croak of frogs somewhere closeby, and idly watched as dragonflies hovered low above the water. 

“I wonder how many of these fish were Conceptualised, and how many evolved normally,” Prometheus mused, “Mentor Metis said we didn’t create all life on this star, so sometimes I wonder what we did make, and didn’t.” 

“Does it matter?” Hades asked, crossing his arms and resting his cheek on them, his eyes closing. While he hated being dragged outside, there was something remarkably nice about drifting off to the sound of nature, with the smell of grass and soil thick in the air.

“Well, yeah,” Prometheus said, “Natural life is so inspiring, isn’t it? And don’t you wonder how they came about without someone to make them? They developed like that through lots of luck and evolution and stuff, and there was no one there planning every minute detail of their function or purpose. They just… happened.”

Hades hummed vaguely, still not seeing Prometheus’s point. True, it was impressive that natural life evolved without assistance, but it was always so… imperfect. Truth be told, most natural species nowadays had been edited by Amaurotines to be more efficient and to better serve their environment an ecosystem, improving upon nature like they were meant to. Hades doubted there was any true natural life left on this star, and it was better because of it. 

“Also, it makes you wonder how we happened,” Prometheus continued, not deterred by Hades’s disinterest, “How did we evolve Creation magic? We didn’t always have it, and Mentor Metis said we used to be like the younger races, with short lifespans and things like that. How did that change? Why did it change? Aren’t you curious about that?” 

“Not really,” Hades mumbled into his arms, “We are what we are, and we know what our purpose is. We were born with powers of Creation because we’re meant to be this star’s caretakers. That’s all.” 

Prometheus let out a dissatisfied ‘hrmph’ noise, “You’re so boring, Hades…”

“No, I just don’t worry about unimportant things,” Hades yawned, “Now shush, I’m trying to nap.” 

Prometheus went quiet, and Hades managed to drift off a little. Still, he did find his thoughts wandering a little, mulling over what Prometheus said. The history of Amaurot always lauded their achievements in tending to this star and contributing amazing, wonderful things to its environment, but it always glossed over their origins. Everyone knew they were once like the lesser races, short-lived, ignorant, deaf and blind and numb to souls and aether, but one day it changed and their people began to be born with the powers of Creation. 

It simply happened, but there had to be a reason for it. Life didn’t spontaneously evolve such things without something influencing that change. 

But… well, while it was an interesting mystery to dwell over, Hades very quickly lost interest. Why did it matter, really? By luck, or quirk of evolution, or some other reason, Amaurotines developed the powers of Creation and they used it for good. That was all that mattered. 

Prometheus suddenly elbowed him, whispering, “Hades, look, look!” 

“Ugh,” Hades reluctantly lifted his head, squinting at where his friend was excitedly pointing. Perched on a gnarled, thick branch from a toppled tree, extending across the water further upstream, and Kingfisher was peering down at the darting shadows of fish. 

“It’s a Kingfisher,” Prometheus told him, like he was blind, “Isn’t it pretty?” 

“You woke me up for that?” Hades grumbled, “It’s just a bird.”

“It’s a pretty bird,” Prometheus said, “And it’s one of the natural species, too! It wasn’t Conceptualised to fish, but it evolved that trait on its own, and filled in a really neat niche, and-”

Hades tuned him out, lowering his head and dozing off again. Once you got Prometheus started on birds, he never shut up. 

But, there was something nice about his enthusiasm. It made it pleasant to doze off to…  

Chapter Text

Hades felt possessive over Prometheus. 

It took him a while to realise this, and it all began from something very small: during a particularly slow year sometime after they claimed their titles, Prometheus had entered a collaborative project with the new head of the Combat-spells Department, a rising young prodigy by the name of Icarus. He was charming, eloquent, and shared the same harebrained insanity as Prometheus did whenever it came to experimenting, so there was some compatibility whenever they worked together. Icarus, however, also craved attention and carnal pleasures, despite it being inappropriate, and was rumoured to have a small fan following that he indulged in every so often.  

Now, Hades wasn’t the sort to throw stones in glass houses. Whilst being a Convocation member and therefore expected to be a paragon of Amaurotine virtues, he was aware that his and Prometheus’s relationship didn’t so much as toe the line of propriety as it kicked sand over it and stamped it out of existence. However, he and Prometheus kept it discreet and private, and it largely went uncommented. It was the polite thing to do, as an Amaurotine. So long as it wasn’t being flaunted rudely in public, you turned a blind eye.

Icarus, however, hadn’t yet learnt that rule. Hades was very good at overhearing gossip, and the topic that insistently crept over the grapevine was how Icarus was so very smitten with Prometheus, and was trying his very hardest to charm his way into the Fourteenth Convocation member’s good graces - in public - despite Prometheus’s awkward attempts at diverting his affections elsewhere.

It irritated Hades, and it got to the point where he knew he had to intervene

“Will you stop scowling like that?” Prometheus sighed as they stepped into the Akadaemia’s main elevator, pressing the button for his lab’s floor, “You’re scaring everyone with that ugly mood of yours.”

“I’m not scowling,” Hades grumped, ignoring how the researchers already in the elevator instantly gave him a wide berth. He was aware he wasn’t hiding his displeasure, was in fact pettily letting it flare out on display, as prickly and venomous as a sea urchin. Prometheus just rolled his eyes. 

“Uh huh, sure you’re not,” his friend said, “By the way, what prompted this sudden desire to watch me work? I thought you found my experiments, and I quote, ‘stressful’ to observe.”

“People are complaining about the racket you’re making down there,” Hades said, half-truthfully. People had complained, but in the resigned way of knowing there was nothing to be done about it, “And when people complain about you, they do it to me . So, I’m reinforcing your laboratory walls with better soundproofing.”

“Right,” Prometheus started to smile, a sly, knowing smile as his soul nudged against his mischievously, “Of course. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with my project partner who keeps flirting-” 

Hades stomped on his toes. Hard. 

Ow, sonuva-!”


One bumpy elevator ride and another scandalous tale of Prometheus trapping Hades in a headlock for Elidibus to scold them about later, they met up with Icarus inside Prometheus’s personal worklab. 

“Good mornin - ah, Emet-Selch. What a… surprise...” Icarus’s greeting went from flirtatious to cautious in a heartbeat, the young man’s smile turning stiff at the sight of Hades sulking in Prometheus’s wake. Icarus’s mask was plain, and his robes were impeccably kept (a vast contrast to Prometheus’s ‘I just rolled out of bed and frantically Created my robes halfway out the door because I overslept’ style), a perfect model of Amaurotine fashion. Hades immediately disliked him for this. 

“Morning, Icarus,” Prometheus said easily, acting oblivious to the tense mood, “I hope you don’t mind Emet joining us today. He’s here to watch us work.”

Icarus’s smile was definitely strained now, and Hades sensed a brief flash of nervousness in the young man’s soul as he glanced over at him. Hades looked back at him, the narrow slits of his mask hiding his heavy-lidded, disdainful stare. He didn’t bother hiding his open dislike.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Icarus lied poorly, “I’m surprised the Architect has an interest in, uh, Combat-spells, though.”

“It’s because he loves watching me work. Isn’t that right, Emet?” Prometheus said teasingly, gently bumping his hip against Hades’s.

Hades swayed lazily at the hip bump, slouching exaggeratedly, “No.” 

“He does,” Prometheus told a frowning Icarus, “He just likes being contrary because he’s a brat like that.” 

“Excuse me, I’m the brat?” Hades huffed, “You tried to suffocate me in a headlock not even five minutes ago.” 

“That’s because you stomped on my toes, you ogre,” Prometheus huffed right back, “Besides, I wasn’t suffocating you. I was… I was lovingly restraining you with my firm bicep.” 

“What a bizarre way to describe throttling your closest friend.” 

“I’ll actually throttle you if you keep whining like that.”

“Hrn, with those stick thin arms?”

Stick thin-!?”

“Um,” Icarus interrupted before Prometheus could launch himself at Hades, “Should I excuse myself, or…?”

Prometheus shot Hades a glare that practically screamed ‘I’ll get you later’ before turning to Icarus with an insincere smile, “Oh, no, it’s fine. We’re just teasing each other. Now, shall we continue where we left off yesterday?”

With that, Hades quietly melted into the background. He was good at that, adopting an unobtrusive presence to be overlooked and forgotten about, and Icarus quickly loosened up as a result of it. Hades spotted it immediately, the way Icarus’s entire posture and tone changed when speaking to Prometheus: flirty and intimate. His admiration and hunger were plain for everyone to see. 

But it was Prometheus’s subtle discomfort that Hades was focused on. Despite joking about it in the elevator earlier, it was clear that he really wasn’t pleased about the flirting. His friend ignored it, mostly, or stubbornly changed the subject if Icarus tried to steer him into accepting a ‘date’ - yet he didn’t bluntly spurn Icarus, obviously trying not to be overtly rude. He did need to complete this project with the man, after all, and being too blunt with him could make the rest of it awkward. 

Hades wondered. 

Prometheus was a bit of a social pariah, so Icarus’s interest was actually rather strange. No one really liked Prometheus - he was too controversial, held beliefs that ran counter to Amaurotine sensibilities, had a few nasty rumours attached to his title that were transferred onto him and… well, he was as undesirable as anyone could be, from an Amaurotine point of view.

Yet here was Icarus, for some reason eyeing Prometheus up like he was a particularly juicy slab of meat. It made Hades wonder if, perhaps, Icarus had an ulterior motive that wasn’t simply attraction. 

It put Hades’s hackles up. 

He watched Icarus and Prometheus move onto the practical stage of their experimentations, trying to temper his mounting irritation. He had only been half-listening to them, but it seemed they were trying to weaponise rift energy in some way. This required tapping into that wild, dark energy - something Prometheus could do with ease, but what Icarus couldn’t. It meant Prometheus was doing the lionshare of the practical experiments, while Icarus observed. 

Hades crossed his arms when Prometheus opened up a rift portal, shifting his focus from his friend to Icarus. The young man’s soul was difficult to read, but there was a definite edge of glee at Prometheus’s casual show of control of strength. Ah, maybe that was it, then? Instead of being attracted to Prometheus himself, he was attracted to his overwhelming power? And he must know that Prometheus was very isolated, socially, and therefore susceptible to manipulation… 

Or, that was the common perception, anyways. Prometheus was no fool and wouldn’t fall for whatever charms Icarus threw out at him. Still, Icarus’s dogged pursuit for Prometheus’s affections was annoying, and Prometheus was apparently too polite to draw a red line. 

Hades will have to intervene then.  


“We made a lot of progress today,” Icarus said excitedly, “Why, I think by next week we can start incorporating rift energy into existing elemental spells to evolve them into something new!”

“Well, first we need to make sure it can be done safely,” Prometheus said, “Last thing I want is to have the spell blow up in my face and kill me.”

Icarus laughed, “Oh no, you’re far too talented for a simple mistake like that. After all, you didn’t strain at all today, channelling that much aether,” the young man’s tone shifted, becoming low and purring as he continued; “You were so inspiring effortlessly taming that wild energy. It made my heart skip a beat-”

Prometheus tuned him out, biting back the urge to sigh. 

Icarus was a nice person, but ugh, he was getting tired of the man’s brown nosing. Whether it was genuine flirting, or him trying to wriggle into Prometheus’s good graces for some other reason, he was getting bored of it. He made it very plain on their first day working together that he was involved in someone else, thanks, but no. It hadn’t sunk in. It didn’t help that Icarus was always polite and just on the right side of appropriate when flirting, so Prometheus felt like it would be rude to snap at him…

Maybe he’ll just get bored of it? Prometheus suspected it was just some puppy crush anyways, and eventually Icarus will get bored of him, or being rebuffed, and will focus on someone else. He just had to wait him out. 

“-be interested in joining me for a private debate at the Hall of Rhetoric?” Icarus was saying. 

“Sorry, but I have other plans,” Prometheus said, glancing over where Hades was lurking in the corner, silently watching them both. Like that wasn’t creepy at all.

Icarus glanced over, then went stiff, seemingly remembering that they had an observer all this time. 

Clearly taking this as an invitation, Hades languidly prowled over to them. He was slightly hunched over in that lazy, old man way of his, which wasn’t terribly threatening, but Icarus seemed nervous all the same at his approach. Prometheus tried not to roll his eyes. Hades was going to get scoliosis if he continued slouching everywhere like that. 

“Are you done?” Hades asked.

“Yes, we’re done,” Prometheus said, “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“I drifted off,” Hades said, waving his hand dismissively, “Utilising rift energy to cause spell transmutation isn’t exactly a new science.” 

Prometheus tutted, “It isn’t a new science , but what does exist isn’t exactly… efficient.”

“There is too much aether loss between connecting the rift to the spells you’re casting,” Icarus added, “To the point where it’s, well, pointless to even utilise. However, we’ve made great strides today in finding a cost-effective way to use rift energy.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say cost-effective…” Prometheus muttered, “It does require an existing portal to draw from, and that’s not easy for normal people to summon.” 

“Hmm…” Icarus bowed his head in thought, cupping his chin, “I might have to ask Ophion to lend me his expertise in dimensions…”

Prometheus held back a grimace at that. Ugh, Ophion. He and that hot bag of air never saw eye to eye on many things, probably because Prometheus had the gall to jump on and do a jig on all the laws he laid down on how breaching the walls between dimensions went. Prometheus could just… do it, without the efforts and preparations normal Amaurotines needed. Ophion was insanely jealous over it. 

Icarus was well aware of this, though, as he added, “I will make sure not to mention your name when I do. Ah, in fact, if you’re busy today, I’ll go do that now for you. I still want to work on this a little more…” 

With that, the young man gave Prometheus a shallow bow of farewell, Hades an uncertain look as he skittered around him, and swiftly left the lab. 

Slowly, Prometheus pivoted to face Hades, who was looking at the door Icarus left through.

“Were you glaring at him the whole time?” Prometheus demanded.

“Not the whole time,” Hades said, clearly not apologetic about intimidating Icarus at all, “Sometimes I glared at you.” 

Prometheus sighed heavily. Hades’s soul felt prickly still, with occasional flashes of possessiveness darting through - he probably didn’t realise it himself, but Prometheus could read his friend like a book. Hades was jealous , and it wasn’t a good look on him. 

“I have it handled,” Prometheus said, “I did handle it, see? He flirts, I ignore it, and he doesn’t push it for a while. He’ll get bored of it eventually.” 

Hades crossed his arms, straightening up a little. A sure sign of his genuine irritation, “I don’t like it.”

“Well, it’s not you he’s flirting with, is it?” Prometheus said waspishly, “So I don’t care if you like it or not. He’s practically a baby anyway. He’s, what, only four hundred years old? It’s just a crush, nothing more. It’ll go away soon.” 

“That’s what has me suspicious about his intentions,” Hades said, “Why would he have a crush on you?”

Prometheus stared at him, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re not exactly popular, Prometheus,” Hades pointed out, a bit rudely in Prometheus’s opinion, “Majority of people have already made a negative decision about you before they even met you, and I doubt Icarus is deaf to what is said about you. He must have an ulterior motive pursuing you like this.” 

That was oddly hurtful, coming from Hades. 

“So, what? You’re saying no decent Amaurotine would ever find me attractive or desirable, and if they do it’s immediately suspicious?” Prometheus snapped, “Well, thanks, Hades, that’s so nice of you to point out to me!”

Hades went still. Obviously, he realised he crossed a line, “No, I mean-”

“I know exactly what you meant!” Prometheus jabbed a finger in his direction, “So what’s your ulterior motive, huh? Since I’m so undesirable you must have a reason to put up with me!”

“I don’t have an ulterior motive,” Hades said with forced calm, but he was slouching again, his soul shifting from its jealous prickling to something more chastised, “I like you for who you are.”

“Hmph! Well, you have an odd way of showing it!” Prometheus huffed, “Maybe I should go join Icarus in the Hall of Rhetoric tonight. At least he never insults me so rudely to my face.” 

“No, he just fawns over you like a sycophant instead,” Hades muttered venomously. 

“It’s a bit much, but it’s nice to be shamelessly complimented sometimes,” Prometheus said, “You could learn something from him about that.”

Hades stared at him, utterly affronted, “What ?”

“You heard me,” Prometheus sniffed, “Anyway, I meant it when I said I have plans - and they don’t involve you. So, if you can kindly get out of my lab, that’d be grand.” 

Hades stood there for a moment, clearly debating whether or not he could get away with pushing his luck. They argued like this every so often, but Prometheus was genuinely hurt by the implication that people would only like him if they could get something out of him. He was painfully aware that he wasn’t well-liked, and he didn’t need Hades bluntly pointing it out because he was jealous over some brat with a puppy crush on him. 

Luckily, Hades realised this wasn’t one of those arguments where he could charm his way back into Prometheus’s good books. He backed off. 

“We’ll talk later,” Hades said, “When you’ve cooled off.” 

“More like when you get a brain cell,” Prometheus snapped, “Go away.” 

Hades huffed at him, but he left the lab without further comment. Prometheus stewed to himself for a bit after that, trying not to feel guilty or regretful snapping like that at his friend. He understood that it was probably irritating for Hades to witness someone flirting with him, but Prometheus endured that almost every day when it came to Hades! 

Hades was surprisingly quite popular, despite his dour attitude, and had a ‘dignified’ position on the Convocation that involved a lot of contribution to the public. This resulted in loads of people practically drowning Hades in compliments or attempted flirting, and Prometheus wasn’t going around being a spiteful brat about it! That was because he trusted Hades not to go straying, and he’d like it if his friend offered him the same courtesy...

Ugh, stewing over this wasn’t going to make him feel better. Prometheus burned off some steam cleaning up his lab instead and, once he could clean no more and felt enough time had passed that he wouldn’t accidentally cross paths with Hades out in the corridors, left work. 

He needed to see Hythlodaeus. 


Hythlodaeus felt Prometheus’s upset before he opened the door to his home, so he was utterly unsurprised when his friend returned his greetings with, “Hades is a cold hearted bastard and I hate him.”

“What did he do this time?” Hythlodaeus sighed, stepping aside to let his friend in. 

“He was rude!” Prometheus began, stomping inside and dismissing his mask from his face with a sharp wave of his hand. When Hythlodaeus closed his door and followed him to his living room, the robes quickly followed, leaving Prometheus in a simple shirt and shorts, “He said no one likes me and that’s why no one will ever find me attractive!”

Well, uh. Hm. Hythlodaeus felt he was missing plenty of context here, because that sounded mean even for Hades. 

“Why don’t you start from the beginning?” Hythlodaeus said gently, pausing to Create some tea and biscuits on the coffee table as Prometheus flung himself onto his sofa, and took his seat in the armchair across from him, “Is this to do with the Icarus thing?”

Yes !” Prometheus threw his arms up from where he was sprawled on his back, “Hades was jealous and followed me to work this morning to glare at the poor boy! Then he got all shitty afterwards and said that Icarus had to have an ulterior motive to flirt with me, because no one likes me normally.”

Hythlodaeus closed his eyes, fighting the urge to knead his knuckles against his forehead. He could kind of understand Hades’s perspective, as callous as it was, but goodness he could have put it a lot more delicately. Hades must’ve been very annoyed about Icarus to not pick his words with care… 

“I see his point,” Hythlodaeus began carefully, and hurriedly added when Prometheus shot him a betrayed look, “In that you do need to be on guard for someone to try to take advantage of you. Prometheus, you must be aware that your position and unique qualities do place you at risk of manipulation?”

“...” Prometheus crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at the ceiling, “I’m aware.” 

“Hades, I’m sure, was only concerned that Icarus was attempting that,” Hythlodaeus murmured, “Though, I’m sure he was also blinded by some of his jealousy. You know how hot headed he can be when riled…” 

“Hrrrm.” 

“Did it really upset you that much?” Hythlodaeus asked softly, levitating a cup of tea to float neatly into his hands, “Hades saying no one likes you?”

“Of course it did,” Prometheus mumbled, “If no one likes me, then why does he like me? Why do you? Everyone else hates me…”

“No one hates you,” Hythlodaeus said quickly, his heart aching at the sadness he could feel slipping past Prometheus’s soul borders, “They just struggle to understand you, especially as you hide yourself away from the public eye.” 

“...”

“I like you,” Hythlodaeus said, “because you’re a very kind person, Prometheus. You’re a little unconventional, and sometimes dangerously reckless, but you’re a good friend. I wish more people could see that.”

Prometheus peeked at him, “Really?”

“Mhm,” Hythlodaeus smiled, “Hades, I know, likes you for the same reasons. In fact, I think he loves that you’re unconventional and reckless. It gives him an excuse to fuss over you.”

Prometheus pouted, “I don’t need to be fussed over.”

“But you like it, don’t you?” Hythlodaeus said knowingly, “You love being pampered and worried over. You’ve been like that since we were children.”

“Hmph,” Prometheus sulked a little, but his mood seemed a little lighter, “I hate how you know us so well, Hythlodaeus.”

Hythlodaeus laughed quietly, “Well, I need to! Otherwise you and Hades would continuously misunderstand each other and get into plenty more fights. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how you two are as close as you are…”

“I think we just like butting heads too much,” Prometheus admitted, “I like getting mad at him sometimes, because he gets mad right back, and then we get to make up afterwards.”

Hythlodaeus sighed, “I really don’t understand that…”

“Me neither,” Prometheus said, “I think it’s an ‘us’ thing and we’re both masochists or something.”

Hythlodaeus could believe that, “Well, what about this time?”

“... I don’t know. I was really hurt,” Prometheus muttered, “And I don’t like Hades being jealous and trying to interfere with my problems. I can handle Icarus, and I don’t need him lurking in the background being all possessive about it.” 

“Do you want me to talk to him?” Hythlodaeus offered, “I can soften him up a little for you.”

“Yeah,” Prometheus sighed, “That’s probably for the best. I might just start yelling at him again if I go see him now.”

“I’ll leave him to cool down for the moment,” Hythlodaeus said. If Hades was as angry and spurned as he thought he was, he wouldn’t want to be disturbed for a good few hours. In comparison to Prometheus who was surprisingly easy to soothe, Hades in a foul mood was a delicate task to handle even for Hythlodaeus. 

“Oh, yeah, he’ll be grumpy right now,” Prometheus winced, looking briefly guilty. No doubt feeling bad for snapping at him. 

“He brought it on himself,” Hythlodaeus said, “Now, Prometheus, look. I summoned my best biscuits for you, and you haven’t taken even one yet. I’m hurt.”

“Oh,” Prometheus hurried sat up, his guilt vanishing for sheepishness, “Oops. I’m sorry, Hythlodaeus! They look really nice too- oh ! You shaped them into birds!” 

Hythlodaeus hid his smile behind his teacup as Prometheus cooed over the bird biscuits, feeling overwhelmingly fond. His friends were absolute disasters, but he loved them all the same. While Prometheus loved being fussed over, and Hades the fussing, Hythlodaeus loved watching over and guiding them both. Whoever had matched the three of them up during childhood had very good intuition for their compatibility. 

He privately thanked them, whoever they were. 

There were still several problems to wade through, though. The Icarus Problem, Hades’s jealousy, Prometheus’s alarmingly low self-esteem… but they had centuries to work through these things, and no doubt they’d be old history when some new issue replaced them. 

Hythlodaeus hoped that Hades and Prometheus’s relationship became less dramatised, though. Honestly, it was like watching a Xeroran soap opera sometimes… 

Chapter Text

They had a plan for when the Doom came. 

It fell apart almost instantly. 

Hades supposed their first mistake had been assuming it would advance like a conventional enemy. It was already a visible entity seen on the horizon, encroaching slowly as a writhing horde of monsters, heralded by a burning sky - yet, when the Doom came, it didn’t crash against Amaurot’s walls to be held at bay by the barrier they prepared beforehand. 

No. It came from inside

From, as Prometheus had warned, the earth

It all started when Hades was in the Council Hall with the rest of the Convocation, overseeing the last few details of the summoning. The Doom had been estimated to be half a day out, leaving plenty of time for their summoning to succeed. With the safeguards and additions to the ritual, the summoning itself would take five hours to ensure that Zodiark would firmly be under their control and minimise the risk of being enslaved by it themselves. 

Contrary to what Prometheus said, they did listen to his concerns about being enslaved. Even with the safeguards, though, there was still a risk but… well, Hades would take the gamble. A low chance of being enslaved over certainty of annihilation? The choice was an easy one to make. 

It should have been a smooth operation. It should have followed the plan perfectly, where those brave sacrifices would give themselves up, the God summoned and then bound, and the Doom turned away the moment it approached their glorious city. None of the civilians would have been inconvenienced in any way, they shouldn’t have had anything to fear. 

Instead, the Doom rose up from the very foundations of their home as a maddening scream. Amaurot, encased in an impenetrable barrier, became a boiling cauldron of terror and destruction with no way to escape, nowhere to flee but further inside, towards the centre where Zodiark would be summoned, bringing the Doom with them. 

The plan fell apart. 


Hythlodaeus had shot so far into pure terror that he had somehow landed squarely into calm again. Everything didn’t feel real, the panic boiling thick in the air, choked with fear, everyone yelling and crying as they crammed themselves into the Bureau of Administration. There was no bunker, nowhere safe to go, so like instinct, everyone had fled to the very centre of the city, where the Convocation were, in naive, childish hope that if they ran here, hid here, then they’d somehow be safe. 

He was here for a different reason. After fighting his way free of the panicked crowd, feeling the ground beneath his feet thrum from the city collapsing around them as he ascended on the miraculously functioning elevator-

(a glance out of the glass wall of the elevator showed an orange skyline, distant skyscrapers toppling as a terrible beast in the far-close distance rose from the ruins, a beam of pure white ravaging through everything. It looked like a nightmarish scene from a film, than reality. It barely registered as real)

-and the howls of monsters and rumble of magic running wild crackled only just outside. Hythlodaeus knew it would only be a matter of minutes, than hours, before it reached this building. Potentially in the immediate future. So many terrified people in the floors below - he wouldn’t be surprised if monsters began spawning right on top of them from it. 

The elevator stopped at the penultimate floor, and Hythlodaeus took barely two steps out of it before Hades accosted him, his soul a bright spark of frantic panichopefearhopehope

“Where’s Prometheus?!” Hades demanded.

Hythlodaeus could feel his hands shake as his friend grabbed him by the biceps, looking around him as if expecting to find Prometheus hiding behind him. But no, Prometheus wasn’t here. Prometheus wasn’t anywhere, and Hythlodaeus had looked , looked long enough to come face to face with those monsters and barely escaped with his life, from the broken ruins of Prometheus’s workshop. 

“I… I don’t know,” Hythlodaeus admitted, some of that fear starting to trickle in through that calm numbness that had carried him back here. Not fear for himself, but fear for Prometheus, fear for Hades, fear for… 

“You don’t…” Hades stared at him blankly. He wasn’t wearing his mask, his hair was windswept, streaks of ash over his cheeks and nose. He must’ve been standing outside very recently, Hythlodaeus thought detachedly. 

“I went to his workshop, the moment this started,” Hythlodaeus whispered, bowing his head, “The only thing I found there were… were monsters. I barely managed to escape, Hades.” 

Prometheus’s workshop was on the outskirts, far away from everyone else. If there were monsters there, then only one person’s Creation magic could have summoned them there... 

Hades squeezed his arms in a bruising grip, and something desperate edged his soul, the way it reached out, out, as if it could sense Prometheus nearby if it reached far enough. But Hythlodaeus had already tried that, and if Prometheus was out there, it was hidden beneath the endless fear and screaming smothering everything like a miasma. 

Oh, Prometheus was out there. It felt as if it only registered then. Prometheus was out there, in Amaurot somewhere, with all the monsters, alone. Hythlodaeus barely choked back the urge to cry at the thought. 

“... no,” Hades murmured, letting him go abruptly. His soul went cold, flat, closed off, and he stood there, staring out the window. The lobby - the room that allowed people to wait before being called before the Convocation Hall just beyond the golden doors - had wide, tall windows that offered a grand view of Amaurot’s skyline. On any other day, the view would be beautiful. But now… 

Hythlodaeus looked out to see one of the monsters from earlier swoop over a shorter building a few blocks over. It left molten fire in its wake. 

“He’s somewhere out there still, Hades,” Hythlodaeus said quietly, knowing it to be true. Prometheus wasn’t dead - yet. The bond between them, him, Hades, Prometheus, it was strong enough that they would know if one of them perished. They would feel it as a physical blow a world away, so Prometheus was alive , just… 

“...” Hades said nothing. He was clenching his hands, then relaxing them, his attention drifting to the doors behind him. Hythlodaeus could sense the other Convocation members there, the restless energy, the build up of something , edging on the cusps of materialisation. 

His confliction was clear, so painfully clear. Hythlodaeus knew Hades ached to leap into the burning streets below, to find Prometheus, even if it was to drag him back by his ear and yell at him for being a reckless fool. But, Hades couldn’t. Zodiark’s summoning was nigh, and he couldn’t leave. It was why Hythlodaeus’s task was to bring Prometheus here if anything went wrong with the plan. To keep him under both his and Hades’s watchful eye while the city burned around them. 

“Damn it,” Hades suddenly hissed, pivoting on his heel, pacing, prowling before the window, watching over the nightmarish scene of their home dying, “Why does he always make everything more complicated than it needs to be?! If he just listened to me -!”

“Hades,” Hythlodaeus whispered. 

“If he just stayed with you!” Hades stopped, clenching his fingers in front of his face, like he wanted to grab at a mask that wasn’t there, “Now he’s out there alone while the whole city is burning down!”

“Prom… Prometheus is strong. I’m sure these monsters are… are nothing to him,” Hythlodaeus said weakly, trying not to think about how unsettlingly ill Prometheus had been the last few days. Every time Hythlodaeus had visited his friend at his workshop, Prometheus had refused to eat or sleep, just feverishly worked on this ‘Hydaelyn’ project of his. Hythlodaeus’s presence had only been tolerated if he didn’t nag him, so he had reluctantly let him continue on, but now… maybe he should’ve… maybe he should’ve charmed him asleep and taken him to the Healers, like Hades had suggested.

“Prometheus is currently mentally unstable and suicidal, ” Hades snarled, and those words were ugly, thrown out there with such frustration and fear, “For all we know he’s throwing himself at them hoping he dies!”

Hades,” Hythlodaeus gasped, “Don’t say something so horrible!” 

Hades looked like he was going to snap something back, but he didn’t. He visibly struggled with himself, fear cracking through the cold walls of his soul before it was swiftly snuffed out, his eyes bright as they reflected the glow of fire outside. 

“... I can’t go out there to find him,” he said after a long silence, his voice chillingly flat, “I have to summon Zodiark with the others soon, after the last of the sacrifices are prepped.”

Hythlodaeus stomach turned - as it always did whenever the sacrifices were brought up. Had it really come to this? Them, killing their own just so everyone else can survive? It was a logical numbers game, one million die so the rest of the species survived but, still, still… 

“And I won’t ask you to search for him out there either, Hythlodaeus,” Hades murmured, “You wouldn’t survive.” 

An awful, awful truth to say, but a truth all the same. Hythlodaeus had only managed to escape by the skin of his teeth when the monsters at Prometheus’s workshop had attacked him, and they had been small compared to the behemoths roaming about outside, spewing lava and fire over everything. Hythlodaeus wouldn’t last longer than a few minutes out there at most. 

“So, we’re… we’re abandoning him?” Hythlodaeus whispered, his voice cracking, “We’re leaving him to die?” 

“...” Hades turned away from him, his shoulders drawn tight, “Zodiark will be summoned soon. If Prometheus survives until then… we’ll find him together, Hythlodaeus. We’ll find him, fix him, and everything will be as it once was.”

An awful, awful lie to say, but one Hythlodaeus couldn’t find the strength to challenge. He lowered his gaze. 

“You promise we will go to find him after Zodiark’s summoning?” Hythlodaeus said, “Immediately afterwards?”

“Yes,” Hades looked out the window again, and for a moment, it looked as if his resolve to abandon Prometheus for now wavered… but then he looked away and clenched his hands. 

“It’ll be fine,” Hades said stiltedly, “Everything will go fine.” 

He walked away after that, towards the Convocation Hall doors. Hythlodaeus watched him go, uncertain, until his friend vanished into the room beyond, the golden doors creaking shut behind him. Hythlodaeus was left alone with only the noise of the apocalypse to keep him company. 

“Oh, Prometheus,” he murmured, clasping his hands to his chest as he closed his eyes, sick with worry, “Please stay safe, wherever you are…” 

He stayed there until Zodiark rose from the ashes of their burning city, and breathed His blessing unto them all. 

Chapter Text

“So, basically, it works like a solar chimney?” 

Hades hummed at Prometheus’s observation, more focused on the blueprints before him. It was for a new extension on the Administration building, and with the climate slowly warming as their star entered its hot cycle, Hades was incorporating a windcatcher in its design. It was old-fashioned, maybe. A system of ice-aspected wind crystals would suffice well enough as a method to keep the building cool, but working with elemental crystals was a pain and Hades was, first and foremost, an architect. If he could use the building’s design itself to keep it cool, then it was unnecessary to add extra things to it.

Prometheus, of course, had chosen his planning stage to be nosy, and had barged into his home to loiter in his study like a stray cat Hades made the mistake of feeding once. Right now, his friend was leaning over his chair, his hands pressing uncomfortably heavy on Hades’s shoulders, forcing him to slouch forwards slightly. Hades didn’t have the energy to tell him to get off. 

“You know, it seems stupidly simple,” Prometheus continued, undeterred by Hades’s distraction, “But I wouldn’t have thought of it if you asked me to make a building that can cool itself.”

“Knowing you, you would line the walls with ice crystals and call it a day,” Hades muttered. 

“Hey, it seems like the obvious solution,” Prometheus said, “And the easiest! A system of ice crystals, adjusted accordingly by pulses of aether-”

“Except everyone has their own preference for temperature, so it would end up becoming a complicated mess,” Hades interrupted, “That’s not getting into how unreliable crystals can be, if not properly shielded from the aether the average Amaurotine exert. It would break within a week.” 

“Oh, that’s true,” Prometheus leaned back a little, easing some of his weight off Hades’s shoulders… only to squeeze them, kneading into the tense muscles, “Heh, I guess that’s why I’m not the Architect, huh?”

“Mmmn… we’d be living in death traps if you were…” Hades mumbled, finding his focus wavering from the blueprints. Having spent a better part of the morning hunched over his desk planning this out, his shoulders and upper back were tight knots of tension. Prometheus’s hands felt heavenly… 

“That is my speciality, death traps,” Prometheus said, pressing his thumbs on either side of Hades’s spine and rubbing small, firm circles there, easing up a particularly tight knot. Hades only just managed to bite back an indecent noise,  “Which reminds me, I’ve taken up a new project today.”

“Oh?” Hades purred, half-listening. 

“Yup,” The smile was clear in Prometheus’s voice, his soul warm and affectionate. Hades basked in it, “It’s a new private project, that you might be interested in assisting me with.” 

“Will this private project end up with me trapped in the rift again?”

Prometheus huffed, “Geeze, will you let that go already? That happened half a millennia ago.” 

“Never.” 

“Brat,” Prometheus squeezed his shoulders again, gently, rhythmically massaging them with the heels of his palms, “No, it won’t involve rift magic or anything dangerous-”

Hades snorted. 

“-well, it’s a little dangerous,” Prometheus admitted sheepishly, “But only if it goes wrong.” 

“And how likely is that…?” Hades asked drowsily.

“...depends on how much you trust me,” Prometheus said. His hands paused their ministrations, his thumb rubbing a very light circle against the back of his shoulder, “I want you to help me make an armiger.”

Hades paused, not sure if he heard correctly at first. Him? Help Prometheus make an armiger? Hades barely knew what went into their construction, and that wasn’t getting into the fact that Prometheus was the only person to ever successfully construct one anyways. 

“I’ll do the heavy lifting,” Prometheus said, clearly taking his silence for hesitation, “The forging and infusion, I’ll do all that. The only thing you need to contribute will be some, um, substance.”

“A portion of my soul, you mean,” Hades murmured. 

“...yeah,” Prometheus shifted his weight, sliding his hand forwards over Hades’s shoulder to press his palm over his heart, “My plan is to craft an armiger using both our souls, to create a weapon the both of us can summon, so long as our hearts are in harmony.”

“Then it’ll never get summoned, considering how much we squabble,” Hades joked, but the idea of it… he was tempted. Imagining a piece of himself, forever forged with Prometheus’s as a representation of an eternal bond… it was a dangerous endeavour to undertake, with plenty of ways it could go wrong, but , Prometheus had crafted thirteen armigers thus far. Hades trusted him to create a fourteenth using his soul as fuel for it.

“Maybe,” Prometheus purred, leaning in close to nuzzle his hair affectionately, “But think how amazing it’ll be if we do manage it. It’ll be a powerful weapon, with both of us behind it.” 

“Hmm…” Hades pressed his hand over Prometheus’s, holding it over his heart, “Fine, you’ve gotten me interested. I accept.”

Prometheus’s happiness almost blindsided him, it erupted so suddenly and so purely , heavy with warm affection and love, that Hades almost shied away from it. Sometimes, the depths of Prometheus’s feelings for him frightened him, if only because he knew he reflected them just as intensely. 

Thank you,” Prometheus crooned, hugging him tightly from behind before straightening up, going right back to massaging his stiff shoulders, “Oh, this’ll be fun~ I’m interested to see what form it takes, and its function and… oh, we’ll need to agree on a name…”

“Shouldn’t the name come after its conception?” Hades asked dryly, slouching slightly in his seat as Prometheus gently squeezed the tension away from his shoulders. The drowsiness started creeping back. 

“The name helps shape it too,” Prometheus said, “Some of my armigers I had to name first for them to take shape, and others vice versa. It all depends on the soul fragment you use, since they’re finicky...” 

“Hm.” 

“How about Anteros?” Prometheus suggested, “Or Endymion?” 

“A bit on the nose, aren’t they?” Hades murmured teasingly, “I’m partial to Persephone, myself.”

“Spring growth…” Prometheus mused, “That might potentially shape a healing armiger…”

Hades left his friend to it, closing his eyes as Prometheus talked to himself about the steps to armiger forging. He had to admit, he was also curious to see what form the armiger would take. How would a physical representation of their bond look like? How powerful would it be? What would its function be? Healing? Protection? Offensive? 

What would it say about them?

But, Hades would have to wait to see. For now, all he could do was sit here and let Prometheus gently ease away the tension pain in his shoulders, shamelessly enjoying his friend chatter to himself. Whatever form the armiger made, Hades knew he would be content with it. A permanent, physical bond with Prometheus… 

It felt like they were taking a step further away from ‘friends’ to something deeper, something without a name. Yet, as always, Hades didn’t dwell on it. He didn’t want to complicate things.

Besides, it was just an eternal bond between their souls, crafted into a physical form. Nothing too scandalous. 

Chapter Text

The Lifestream was alive. 

Everyone accepted this, but in the way someone would say the star was ‘alive’. It existed, and indeed, there was life within it, but it didn’t think, it didn’t feel, it simply existed. There were no dreams, no fears, no hopes, buried within the star, and the Lifestream was the same. It was lifeblood, a continuous flow of aether that cycled through the star. It was alive… but it wasn’t alive

Prometheus knew differently. 

The Lifestream was alive. He felt it every time he dipped his hand into it, every time he dived deep and let its flow carry him across the land, every time he reached out and asked for strength… it answered. It answered, and left imprints, impressions, echoes of things long dead, hopes and dreams of forgotten souls that still lingered within its ceaseless currents. It wasn’t just alive , it was living

Trying to explain it was difficult, though. He couldn’t explain it without letting them experience it too, but, well, there was a reason why the title Prometheus inherited normally sat vacant. 

Those who carelessly reached out to the Lifestream would quickly find that hand snapped off. Probably because it could sense the inherent greed for knowledge within their hearts, knew their reach was insincere and hungry. Prometheus had learned that lesson quick in his youth, when he had been identified as one of the rare few with an affinity for the Lifestream. 

It had been a steep, cruel learning curve, that one…

But it meant his expertise was never questioned, when it came to matters of the Lifestream. Though people didn’t understand what he meant when he said it was alive , they nodded and agreed regardless, taking him at face value. If he said this experiment could not be conducted by extracting the Lifestream for it, no one questioned it. 

It sort of added to his isolating mystique, though. Prometheus’s affinity with the Lifestream was beyond normal - it was unique. It only added to the rumours that circulated him like a tightening ring of vultures. 

Your thoughts have turned lonely, a low gentle voice rumbled, words without words, that bubbled up like water through the cracks in the earth. 

“Have they?” Prometheus murmured, opening his eyes. He was knelt before the harvesting spring situated in the very depths of the Akadaemia, the air sharp with the smell of fresh spring. Particles of twinkling green aether lifted from the shimmering pool of Lifestream before him, coaxed up from the earth by his gentle touch. 

In the past, he would always be observed by curious researchers, who would try to push him for more, and more, and more. That was before he had the protection of his title, though. Now, he could tell them to leave him be during the extraction and they couldn’t do anything but complain about it to Lahabrea. Thankfully, Lahabrea wasn’t foolish enough to stick his nose into a science he had little grasp over, and just left him to it. 

“I suppose I’m in a lonely mood today,” he said, watching the light play over the surface of the spring. The extraction was finished, but he did enjoy simply soaking up the peace if the Lifestream was in a gentle mood. It was soothing.

Those moods are more frequent as of late.

“Hm, yeah,” Prometheus was surprised the Lifestream kept track. Being a type of ‘collective consciousness’ of eons and eons of living creatures dying and living through it, its grasp on time and consistency was loose at best, and chaotic at worst. Prometheus had introduced himself to the Lifestream a thousand times in his lifetime, as an example. 

The Lifestream fell quiet, its currents swirling like the gentle eddies of a stream. It pulled and pushed against his soul, as waves on a shore. Relaxing. It gave Prometheus the impression of a mother’s touch, even though… he didn’t have an actual memory of a ‘mother’. An impression, fleeting, that the Lifestream remembered from a past soul, maybe. 

Love, the Lifestream finally said, You crave love.

“I have love,” Prometheus reminded it gently, “I love Hythlodaeus, and Hades…”

Yes. 

“And Amaurot-”

Lie. 

Prometheus sighed, “Yes, that’s a lie.” 

The Lifestream said no more. Its focused, sentient mood dispersed, slightly, like wet sand sliding apart, a sense of discontent bubbling up. Impressions, a fleeting, greyed out memory, with the edges blurred out, of, betrayal and sadness and loneliness. Prometheus winced. He hadn’t realised his buried emotions had made such an impact on it. 

“Hey, hey, none of that,” Prometheus crooned, trying to head off the Lifestream’s bad mood before it turned vicious, “Let me sing you a gentle song, yes? Yes, one of hope and love, listen…” 

Singing was always a surefire way to soothe the Lifestream. Of course, it wasn’t conventional singing, done with one’s voice. It was with your soul, reaching out, harmonising and resonating, a song extracted from its very depths. Yet, Prometheus found himself slowly singing verbally with it - it helped him focus, helped him keep the resonating rhythm, even if back then, the researchers had found it ‘distracting’. 

Especially if the lyrics took a disturbing turn… Prometheus didn’t know what words he would utter until he was singing, as the melody would mirror the Lifestream’s mood. He knew he had once caused a stir when the Lifestream, in a vengeful mood, had wrenched up past impressions of ancient wars and old bloodsheds and Xerora, and Prometheus had sang and sang and sang of death and the pointlessness of glory. 

That had resulted in a very interesting conversation with Mentor Metis afterwards - for a mental wellness check

“Sleep, my child, they don’t know your wars…” Prometheus sang softly, crossing his arms atop of the edge of the spring, resting his cheek on them. He shifted, so he was sitting more comfortably against the low, hard lip of the spring, listening to his voice quietly echo back to him in the otherwise empty, lonely chamber. 

“Though it’s them you’re fighting for…”

The Lifestream settled, its murky currents clearing. 

“Sleep, my child, blame the world no more…”

Prometheus never felt more at peace than he was then, speaking to something so ancient and beyond his understanding. Maybe the rumours of him being something strange and inhuman had some merit to it after all. 

“Always give meaning to your efforts…”

Not that it mattered. 

“We all aim for happiness, though our paths may diverge…”


Prometheus woke up to a hand carefully shaking him awake, followed by the familiar, warm brush of Hades’s soul against his. 

“Prometheus,” Hades said quietly, “It’s been three hours.”

“Mm…?” Prometheus reluctantly sat up, grimacing at how achy he felt. His leg was numb from where he’d been sitting on it, and his neck and back were stiff from his awkward angle leaning on the edge of the spring. There was a dull stab of exhaustion from deep within, bone-deep. Hm, he must’ve ‘sung’ longer than he intended to… 

“Oh, I dozed off…?” he mumbled groggily, blinking up at Hades leaning over him. The pale green light from the spring cast odd shadows over his friend’s mask, his eyes hidden deep in the dark slits of it, “Sorry.” 

“Hm,” Hades studied him for a moment, “You feel tired.” 

“Yeah, the extraction was harder today,” Prometheus lied, slowly tilting his head from side to side, hearing his neck audibly crack, “It happens.” 

“I wish you’d have someone sit in here while you do it,” Hades muttered, “In case anything went wrong.” 

“I find it distracting having someone stare at me while I sing lullabies to the Lifestream,” Prometheus said, shifting so he wasn’t sitting on his numb leg, ignoring the rush of pins and needles that followed. He patted the space next to him, “C’mon, sit here. My leg’s asleep so I can’t stand up.” 

Hades hesitated, but after a moment he carefully knelt down beside him, adjusting his robes neatly around him. Prometheus slumped back over the lip of the spring, resting his cheek on his arm as he gazed out over the spring’s surface. It hadn’t crystallised yet. 

“You know,” Hades said after a comfortable stretch of silence, “One of the newest children for this cycle has an affinity for the Lifestream.” 

Prometheus grimaced, unable to hold back the thought of ‘that poor child’, “Oh?” 

Hades was watching him closely from the shadows of his mask, his gaze uncomfortably knowing. Of course, he knew everything Prometheus had endured to hone this unique ability of his, “Yes. Not a prodigy like you, though.” 

Prometheus scoffed, the noise echoing sharply in the chamber, “Prodigy. Is that what they call it in polite company now?”

“In my company, at least,” Hades said wryly, “You know how people are. They fear what they don’t understand.”

“You don’t understand, but you don’t fear me,” Prometheus said, peeking at him, “Right?” 

Prometheus could practically feel Hades roll his eyes, “Me? Fear you ? You’re about as terrifying as a baby bird.” 

“Hey.”

“Though, I will admit, you can be very intimidating when angry,” Hades huffed, “But so is Hythlodaeus. So am I.” 

Prometheus was quiet for a moment. Then, “So, this child. Any reason you brought them up?” 

“I remember you had issues when growing up,” Hades said, gesturing to the room at large, “With all this.” 

Issues. What a… mild way of putting it. Prometheus had the absolute luck of being born into an era where the last holder of his title had perished from an unfortunate mishap with the Lifestream. It meant there had been no one to really teach Prometheus, and combine that with his uncanny, unnatural affinity with the Lifestream, meant he felt like both a lab specimen and some alien creature. 

He didn’t exactly blame the researchers back then, though. Amaurotine’s greatest flaw was their insatiable curiosity and desire to know, and Prometheus had been some great mystery they still hadn’t yet unwrapped. He understood, yet, still… 

“Instead of leaving them to the tender mercies of the MED,” Hades continued, his tone becoming careful, “I thought you might be interested in mentoring them yourself.”

“I’m too busy to mentor someone,” Prometheus said, and he wasn’t even lying. Between ensuring his continued contribution to Amaurot by developing new Combat-spells, sitting in on meetings, assisting his fellow Convocation members in their own projects, auditing research proposals, extracting Mako from the Lifestream, socialising with Hythlodaeus and Hades, etcetera, etcetera… there was no time to mentor on top of that. 

“Only during their lessons here,” Hades said, “To give them an experienced perspective on all… this.” 

Prometheus eyed his friend, unable to help but feel suspicious. Hades wasn’t exactly a cold-hearted bastard, but he was rarely this considerate of absolute strangers either, even if they were one of the very precious few children of Amaurot. So, this meant Hades thought it would benefit Prometheus in someway, for him to push it like this… 

“Well, I guess… I can a few times,” he said slowly, “But why the sudden interest? You normally try to ignore this side of things.”

Hades went a little tense, as he always did whenever Prometheus called him out on his small acts of kindness, and leaned back. It was sort of cute, that concealed bashfulness. 

“... you’ve been in a strange mood recently,” Hades said, “Normally, introducing you to something new and unexpected breaks you out of it.” 

“Strange mood…” 

Well, if both the Lifestream and Hades had noticed it, then Prometheus must’ve been more obvious than he thought about this… dull feeling. He couldn’t place a name to it, this dragging, slow feeling of loneliness and boredom, but it wasn’t the first time he felt it, and it probably wasn’t the last. It made Prometheus wonder if something had gone wrong during his conception and birth, that maybe he was defective in some way. It might account for his other oddities that separated him from the rest of Amaurot. 

“...” Hades drummed his fingers on the edge of the spring, his soul feeling restless and frustrated, “They’ve been happening more often lately.” 

“I guess so,” Prometheus smiled wryly, lowering his gaze, “Sorry.” 

“Don’t apologise,” Hades huffed at him, “It’s something you obviously can’t help. Also, it’s weird.”

That startled a scoff out of him, “ What? I apologise all the time!” 

“Insincerely, or mockingly,” Hades drawled, “Hythlodaeus normally has to wring a genuine apology out of you.” 

“Same to you! Trying to get a sorry out of you is like squeezing blood from a stone.”

I,” Hades said with exaggerated snootiness that made him sound eerily like Lahabrea, “am a master at saying sorry. It’s not my fault you’re too uncultured to recognise-”

“Uncultured!”

“-my carefully crafted apologies for what they are.”

“Huh,” Prometheus turned his nose up, “More like your ‘carefully crafted apologies’ are actually petty excuses to shunt responsibility onto someone else.” 

“Why, Prometheus, I’m hurt at your accusations,” Hades said flatly, not sounding hurt at all. 

Prometheus couldn’t help it. He burst into laughter. 

It was a stupid thing to find funny, but when he overcome his fit of giggles, Hades’s soul felt satisfied. Clearly, his goal had been met, and Prometheus did feel a little bit better. Ah, really, he loved this man, as frustrating and irritating as he could be sometimes. 

“Better?” Hades asked him after he recovered. 

“A little, yeah,” Prometheus said a bit breathlessly, smiling at his friend, “I needed that.” 

Hades nodded, casting a glance over the spring, “In that case, let’s go somewhere where we can sit on chairs like civilised people, as opposed to this horrible floor. Ugh, how you can stand to sit here for hours on end, I don’t know.” 

“You get used to it,” Prometheus said, slowly leveraging himself up onto stiff legs. Hades stood up with a bit more grace, “I’m guessing the MED is waiting to crystallise this?”

“That’s why I was sent here: to crowbar you out,” Hades said dryly, “They’re impatiently waiting outside.” 

“Great.”

Hades looked at him, pointedly, before reaching out to grasp his hand. It was brief, a quick squeeze, but it was enough to ease Prometheus’s remaining tension. He smiled, and when he left that extraction chamber on Hades’s heels, it was with a slight spring in his step. 

Even though Prometheus was isolated from rest of Amaurotine society, even though he had unpleasant rumours circulating him, even though he might be defective… it was easy to forget about all that when he stayed at Hades’s side, at Hythlodaeus’s side. With those two, Prometheus didn’t need anyone else. 

As the Lifestream said, he craved love, but he only craved it from them

Without them… 

Well, he didn’t want to think about it. 

Chapter Text

It was a dull, rainy day, yet despite that Hythlodaeus still made the effort to visit Prometheus’s workshop for tea. 

In retrospect, this should have raised alarm bells in Prometheus’s mind - while Hythlodaeus was a very good friend, he tended to stay indoors during poor weather since he disliked the chill. Honestly, Prometheus had been too distracted by the biscuits Hythlodaeus brought with him to question his odd visit, so had hustled the both of them to his private quarters to sit in comfort and watch the rain together. 

It meant Prometheus’s guard was down when Hythlodaeus struck.

“So,” Hythlodaeus began in a very innocent tone, “How has it been, working with Hades again?” 

“Hm?” Prometheus looked up from the plate of biscuits in his lap, “Oh, it’s been fine? To be honest, I’ve been bored…”

“Oh?” 

“Yeah. All we do is sit in a circle with the other councillors and debate,” Prometheus sighed, “It’s incredibly draining. Though, me and Hades have gotten good at passing notes without any of the others noticing, heh.” 

“Hmm,” Hythlodaeus said ambiguously, eyeing him closely. 

“What?” Prometheus frowned at the scrutiny, beginning to realise that this innocuous visit probably had ulterior motives, “Did you expect something else?” 

“You two have always been like two peas in a pod,” Hythlodaeus said fondly, “It just warms my heart to see you two working together again. I remember Hades being so despondent when the Combat-spells department poached you four centuries ago.”

“Ugh, I remember that,” Prometheus pouted, “All he did was mope and get sulky with me. I didn’t even have a say in it!” 

“Well, you were both still young back then…” Hythlodaeus smiled, retrospect making that awkward period amusing instead. Hades had sulked, Prometheus had sulked, and Hythlodaeus had sat there wondering how these two geniuses could be so dense

“Yeah, I guess so,” Prometheus said, “And, I mean, it is nice working with him again. We share the same timetable finally, so it’ll be easier to spend time with him.”

“Mhm,” Hythlodaeus sipped his tea, “Which I’ve noticed. You two have been together a lot recently.”

Prometheus paused… then winced, wondering if maybe Hythlodaeus was feeling neglected. Thinking on it, Prometheus had spent most of this week with Hades, rather than Hythlodaeus, “Oh, yeah, we have. I’m sorry, Hythlodaeus, I didn’t realise I was neglecting you…” 

“Oh… oh, no, no, that wasn’t what I was getting at!” Hythlodaeus laughed awkwardly, waving his concerns off, “I don’t mind! I was very busy this week anyway! No, what I mean is… meant was, well, you two are working together again, and are very close anyways…” 

“Um, yes?” Prometheus said slowly, a bit puzzled at the direction this conversation was going, “We’re close friends, same as you.” 

“Ah, but with you two, it’s a little different,” Hythlodaeus said, “Your relationship with Hades is a lot more… ah, how should I put it? Well, you’re very, very, very intimate with him.” 

“Am I?” Prometheus frowned, “I haven’t noticed.” 

Hythlodaeus muttered something like “give me strength,” in an undertone, before saying louder, “Well, you are. I mean, if you want to keep it private, I understand, but, I was just wondering if you two have taken that step yet?”

“Step?”

“Yes, the… made it official?”

“Huh?”

“You two. Official.”

“Official… Councillors…?” Prometheus guessed slowly, genuinely bewildered. What on earth was Hythlodaeus going on about, “I’m really confused.” 

Hythlodaeus heaved a sigh, briefly looking up at his ceiling as if asking for divine strength, before slowly setting his tea down on the coffee table between them. His soul practically dripped with exasperation. 

“I’ll be blunt then,” Hythlodaeus said dryly, “Prometheus, have you and Hades confessed your feelings to each other yet?” 

“...” Prometheus stared blankly at him, “What.” 

“It’s very obvious to anyone with, well, eyes that you two are a little… um…” Hythlodaeus made a vague gesture, “Like that.” 

“Like… that…?” Prometheus said a bit faintly, his blank shock slowly giving way to mortification, “W-Wait, you mean, everyone knows that I love...?” 

Hythlodaeus’s amusement faded when he noticed Prometheus’s growing distress, “Um, yes, but…”

But Prometheus wasn’t listening, because he was obvious. For centuries, he had kept this very dangerous, warm feeling under lock and key, worried that it would turn off one of the closest friends he had if it became known - and it turned out he was obvious about it. If Hythlodaeus knew, did that mean Hades knew? Hades, who was always so close to him, who could read him better than himself most days... 

He definitely knew. There was no way he couldn’t know! Which meant, all this time, Hades had known and didn’t say anything! He had ignored it, stayed quiet, didn’t even bring it to attention. Which meant-!

He hates me!” Prometheus wailed, covering his face with both hands as his mind immediately flew to the worst conclusion possible at terminal velocity. 

“Wh- n-no- he, how did you come to that conclusion?” Hythlodaeus exclaimed in utter bewilderment, picking up a sofa cushion and launching it at Prometheus’s head. It bounced off harmlessly, but it was enough to make him look up in utter betrayal. 

“Listen here, Prometheus,” Hythlodaeus said sharply, his tone instinctively making Prometheus straighten up to attention, “Hades doesn’t hate you. I don’t even- I’m sorry, but that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Hades feels the same as you! If you’re obvious, then he’s even more obvious! Except to you, it seems…”  

“He’s… he’s obvious too?” Prometheus mumbled, his mortification making a sharp u-turn into hope, “You mean, he loves me too?”

“Oh, for…” Hythlodaeus groaned, pressing his fingertips against the nose of his mask, “I love you dearly, but goodness, you’re dense…” 

“Is that a yes?” Prometheus asked anxiously. 

“...” Hythlodaeus lowered his hand and picked up his tea, “Yes, that’s a yes, Prometheus.” 

Prometheus quietly absorbed that for a long moment, staring at the coffee table between them. It beggared belief, because he never would have guessed… well, maybe it wasn’t so hard to believe? While gruff and sarcastic with him, Hades never hesitated in offering him a helping hand, and kept him company, and fussed over him, and cheered him up when he was sad, and would indulge him when he wanted to talk about his projects, or even about birds, with this really soft, happy smile when he thought Prometheus wasn’t watching, and that they’d sometimes sleep in the same bed if they stayed over at each other’s homes, and Hades would wake up and play with his hair and- 

Ah. 

“I’m dumb,” Prometheus said blankly. 

“A little,” Hythlodaeus said fondly.

“Hades loves me,” Prometheus said, “And I love him. So.”

“So…?” Hythlodaeus prompted, when Prometheus didn’t continue. 

“Uh…” Prometheus drew the noise out, his brain kind of drawing a blank. He now knew that these feelings he had held for centuries were supposedly requited, but he had no clue what to do with that knowledge. What should he do? Uh???

“Maybe… you can tell him?” Hythlodaeus suggested gently.

“T-Tell him?” Prometheus felt faint, his heart thumping a frantic tattoo against the inside of his ribcage. He couldn’t- it wasn’t for certain that Hades loved him back, and even if he did, wouldn’t it interfere with their duties in the Convocation? Hades was very devoted to his duties, so he might… refuse on those grounds, and it’ll get awkward, and… 

“Or, if that’s too daunting,” Hythlodaeus said, “Maybe write him a love letter and I can give it to him for you?”

“A l-love… let…” Prometheus was fairly certain smoke was coming out of his ears, with how hot his face felt, gripping his knees in a white-knuckled grip. 

“Or I can tell him for you-”

Erk,” Prometheus squeaked out, covering his face with his hands again.

Hythlodaeus sighed, “Oh, Prometheus… does it really frighten you that much?”

“I-I don’t want to mess it up…” Prometheus whispered into his palms, “What if Hades just wants to- to stay friends? Us being something more, it’ll interfere with Convocation business…”

“Hm… well, nothing says you can’t stay as friends,” Hythlodaeus said thoughtfully, “You could be friends with benefits, who also love each other. Yes, that sounds like it would work.” 

“That… that sounds like a very weak workaround…” Prometheus muttered, lowering his hands to grip his knees again. His heart was still pounding. 

“But…” he continued after a short pause, “You’re sure he… does love me?”

“I am absolutely certain,” Hythlodaeus said firmly, “Honestly, it gets a little awkward sitting between you two sometimes because of it. Undressing each other with your eyes-”

“I do not undress Hades with my eyes!” Prometheus squawked, his face turning absolutely scarlet at the (true) accusation, “I-I have never- the audacity! I w-wouldn’t do anything like that to- to Hades!” 

Hythlodaeus levelled him with a very flat look. 

“Two weeks ago,” he said, “Hades met us for tea in his Convocation uniform, the black, form fitting one. You stared at his-”

“N-N-No, I didn’t!”

“You stared at his buttocks for five minutes straight,” Hythlodaeus finished ruthlessly as Prometheus moaned in mortification, hiding his burning face in his hands again, “How Hades missed it, I have no idea. Your soul wasn’t very discreet either.”

“They just fit him so well!” Prometheus wailed, “It should be illegal!” 

“Then you stared at his calves…”

“He was wearing knee-high boots! Those should be illegal too!” 

“Then you looked as if you were contemplating jumping him there and then-”

Prometheus threw his sofa cushion at him. 

Hythlodaeus ducked under it, the cheat, and coughed a laugh into his hand, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I just… Prometheus, it’s so obvious you two want to be something more. You should just go for it.” 

“But what if it’ll go wrong!?” Prometheus groaned, “I can’t… I don’t want to lose Hades’s friendship!” 

“Oh, Prometheus…” Hythlodaeus sighed, “You won’t. Even if he… doesn’t… accept, I doubt he would ever willingly leave you.” 

Prometheus looked down at his knees, gripping them tightly.

“I can’t tell him,” he mumbled, knowing he would probably end up tongue-tied or his soul would give him away, and then he’d fuck it all up. But now that the cat was out of the bag, he couldn’t just carry on either. He would just keep looking at Hades and wonder, if he would, if he would…  

Prometheus had been planning on going through life with his feelings unrequited, so to be offered a chance to maybe have more…? He was always a selfish, greedy person, and… he did want. He wanted so much. Yet, he was paralysed with indecision. What if…?

“I’ll…” Prometheus sucked in a deep breath, mustering his bravery enough to force out; “I’ll write a letter, to...to confess my feelings.”

“Do you want me to help you write it?” Hythlodaeus asked him kindly. 

“...yes, please.” 

Hythlodaeus waved his hand, delicately Creating paper and pen, which he set on the coffee table between them. 

“Alright,” Hythlodaeus murmured, “Dictate your honest feelings for me, and I’ll make sure they’ll reach Hades for you.” 

“Thanks, Hythlodaeus.”

“Ah,” Hythlodaeus smiled, his soul warm with affection, “Don’t mention it. I’m just glad I can finally put an end to the sexual tension…” 

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Hythlodaeus coughed sheepishly, “A-Anyway, how do you want to start?”

“Oh, um, maybe, uh, ‘hey, Hades, what’s up’-”

“Er, perhaps you should… go with something a bit more romantic?”

“Uh, hey, hot stud?”

“...”

The letter, unsurprisingly, took a while. 

Chapter Text

Hades barely opened the door to his apartment when Hythlodaeus pushed a letter into his hands. 

“You need to read that,” Hythlodaeus told him in a very serious tone, “It’s from Prometheus.” 

Hades didn’t even bother hiding his confusion, looking down at the envelope. It didn’t look all that special - except for the fact that Prometheus wrote him a letter when instant messaging was a thing. Had he broken something important and decided to pre-empt Hades’s annoyance by writing him some flowery apology letter? 

“Has he done something bad he feels the need to apologise for?” Hades asked warily, carefully tugging the envelope open. 

“No,” Hythlodaeus sighed, “I just ask, please, please , do not think this is a joke. Take what you read very seriously and whatever decision you make… don’t make Prometheus cry.

“Uh,” Hades shrank back a bit when Hythlodaeus fixed him with one of those smiles , the polite, gentle ones that somehow exuded pure threat. Unconsciously, he held up the envelope like a flimsy shield, trying not to cower as he said very quickly; “I won’t?”

“Good,” Hythlodaeus waved, his smile turning much friendlier, “I’ll see you and Prometheus for tea tomorrow to see how this situation resolved!”

“Situation?”

But Hythlodaeus was already walking away, leaving Hades utterly baffled and slightly terrified. 

He eyed the envelope in his hand like it was a live grenade. 

“...I think I should have alcohol on hand for this.”


Prometheus was in a state of absolute anxiety. 

After Hythlodaeus had walked away with his love letter in hand, promising to hand it directly to Hades, Prometheus regretted everything instantly. He tried to keep his mind off his boiling nerves by scrubbing down his workshop from top to bottom, by hand, and rearranged his private quarter’s living room, and remade his bed a thousand times, and ended up sitting, perched on the very edge, on his armchair chewing his fingernails to nothing. 

It had been hours after Hythlodaeus had left, and still nothing from Hades. Maybe he hadn’t read it yet? Knowing him, he probably deemed it as some weird prank Prometheus was playing and tossed the letter aside to read later. Or, maybe he had read it, and was currently trying to figure out a kind way to reject his earnest advances without damaging their friendship. Or maybe he had freaked him out so much that Hades was going to pretend nothing happened. He tended to ignore things that he didn’t want to deal with. 

Oh no. What if that meant he ignored Prometheus from now on?!

Prometheus groaned in utter misery, leaning over his knees and gripping his hair, feeling absolutely awful. These nerves, this uncertainty on what was going to happen… he hated it! He really hated it! Argh, why did he have to fall in love!? It was so awful! 

A flare of familiar aether knocked him out of his anxious spiral, and he jolted upright, frozen in a burst of panic when he recognised it as Hades. His friend was outside his workshop, his soul inscrutable, and was flaring his aether, asking permission to come in. 

Pretend you’re not here, something gibbered in his brain, but that was stupid because Hades would know he was here and that he was ignoring him. Prometheus exhaled shakily, wiping his suddenly sweaty palms (damn physiological responses to stress!) on his shorts before he mentally willed his workshop door to unlock and open for Hades.

Okay. He can do this. C’mon. Brace yourself. Hades would let you down easy, he wasn’t that cruel. Be prepared for a ‘let’s stay as friends’ speech. Yeah, friends was fine. Incredibly fine. So fine. Yeah. 

Hades made a beeline for his private quarters, no doubt able to sense the absolute beacon of intense anxiety that was Prometheus. He quickly hopped to his feet when the door to his living room opened, trying not to look like a nervous mess. 

“H-Hi, Hades!” Prometheus chirped, his voice sounding strained even to him, “What a surprise!” 

“I got your letter,” Hades said, utterly inscrutable in both expression and tone, even though he wasn’t wearing his mask, holding up the letter he and Hythlodaeus had spent hours painstakingly writing and editing and writing again

Prometheus got a very nauseous feeling, like his guts tied themselves into a literal knot, and pressed his hands on his hips, fingers digging in as he clenched at the waistband of his shorts. He was pretty sure it all showed on his face, judging by how Hades’s calm expression became slightly concerned. 

“Ah, I see,” Prometheus said, “I guess you, uh, you’ve read it?”

“Yes,” Hades said slowly, then, “Prometheus, are you even breathing?”

Oh, was that why he was beginning to feel kind of lightheaded? Probably. He forced out the breath he’d been holding and sucked in a quick one, wishing that he had resisted Hythlodaeus’s insistence on confronting this… this terrifying thing. 

“I’m breathing, I- no, uh, let me, let me say something first,” he said, when Hades moved to speak, “I know you’ve read that and I just wanted you to know, but I don’t expect anything and if you want to stay as friends it’s really fine and I understand and I’m really sorry for forcing my feelings on you-”

“Prometheus,” Hades cut in, very gently, “Breathe.” 

Prometheus breathed, his throat clogging up as nerves made him tongue-tied. He was so painfully aware that he looked like a fool - he didn’t even put proper clothes on, after finishing his cleaning. Oh, he was sweaty too, from the workout of gutting out his workshop, so he probably smelled of sweat and cleaning products, and his hair was all messy and his fingernails all bitten to the quick and ugh, he was a mess. Why would Hades look at him and think ‘ah, yes, I love that’. 

“... sorry,” Prometheus mumbled, fidgeting with his hands as he looked down, “You can say no, if you want.”

“Hm,” Hades walked towards him. He could hear the slow, heavy thud  of his boots, he always walked heavily for some reason, and the slight swish of his robes. Prometheus didn’t look up when his friend stopped directly in front of him, determinedly staring at Hades’s knees instead. Or, what he could see of his knees, considering his robes hid them. 

“Why did you write this letter and have Hythlodaeus send it to me, if you thought I was going to say no?” Hades asked, a strangely teasing lilt to his voice, “It’s not like you to give up so quickly.”

Prometheus’s heart started hammering with something other than absolute nerves. It felt hopeful, and he swallowed thickly, cautiously glancing up at his friend. 

Hades’s expression was still difficult to read, but there was something considering in his heavy-lidded gaze, like he had discovered an attractive quality he hadn’t noticed before in Prometheus. It made him subconsciously straighten up a little, hesitantly meeting that gaze. 

“Because… it’ll hurt less if I expect you to say no, and you say no,” Prometheus admitted quietly. 

Hades tutted, lifting a hand to poke Prometheus in the centre of his chest, “Now that isn’t very brave, is it? Come on, Prometheus, tell me to my face.”

“Tell you…” Prometheus paused, realising something, “Hades, have you been drinking?”

“Yes,” Hades said, “But I’m sober. Now, tell me to my face.”

Prometheus gaped, a little bewildered. Hades getting drunk was a rarity, which meant his letter had actually driven him to drink. Or… well, despite the slight scent of alcohol he could sense off his friend, Hades was extremely focused and sharp. He probably wasn’t even tipsy, but had imbibed just enough liquid courage to directly confront Prometheus without any hesitation. 

“I…” Prometheus hesitated, feeling like he was on the edge of some great cliff, about to do a leap of faith. Hades hadn’t indicated one way or another if he accepted his feelings, was just demanding he told him straight to his face. Would it be like Hades to ask him that, then say no? Probably… honestly, sometimes Hades did weird things Prometheus struggled to understand the logic behind. 

“You…?” Hades prompted, pressing his palm flat against his chest. It felt like a hot brand of heat, considering Prometheus was shirtless right now. Hades could probably feel his heart going wild behind his sternum. 

“I-I…” Prometheus croaked, squeezing his eyes shut. He couldn’t do it with Hades looking at him like that, his face blazing with heat as he forced out in a great big rush, “ Iloveyoualotandwanttostaywithyouforever!”

There was a pause. A very heavy, pregnant pause, where Prometheus stood stock still, his eyes still closed, holding his breath with his pulse pounding in his ears. He was bracing himself, he realised, bracing himself for Hades to- to laugh, maybe, or turn him down, or tell him-

“You’re an idiot,” Hades said fondly, and his hand moved from the centre of his chest to curl around the nape of his neck, the scuff of his boots as he moved closer, almost stepping on his toes, very close now, Hades’s soul unfurling, revealing what he had been hiding from him, warm, affection and- 

Prometheus kept his eyes closed, so it was a bit of a surprise when Hades kissed him. 

Ah. 

Ah.

Oh. 

Okay. 

Hades huffed into the kiss before pulling back with a muttered, “You know, normally you kiss back.”

“Ah… o-okay…” Prometheus breathed out stupidly, blinking his eyes open to see he was practically nose to nose with his friend. He could see the slight dusting of freckles over the bridge of Hades’s nose, and the amber flecks in his golden eyes, and found that his brain was just… fucking, doing nothing. He was frozen in place, staring like a damn fool.

Hades leaned back a bit more, for the first time a flitter of uncertainty crossing his expression. It was obvious he was worried he had misjudged the situation.

Oh shit, Prometheus really was a damn idiot. Quickly, before Hades thought he had misstepped and made things awkward, he curled his hands into the front of his friend’s robes and pulled him back - maybe a bit more enthusiastically than he meant to, because they didn’t kiss so much as bump noses and knock foreheads together, but, hey, he got his intention across. 

“Ow,” Hades grunted, before letting out a huffy kind of laugh, his lips briefly finding Prometheus’s in a fleeting kiss before he leaned back a fraction, “You get very clumsy when nervous, mm?”

“Shut up,” Prometheus muttered, aware he was red-faced and mortified, but he tightened his grip on the front of Hades’s robes, refusing to let him move any further away, “You- that kiss was out of nowhere! I panicked!”

“Mhm.”

Prometheus found himself starting to smile, his nerves settling when he realised he hadn’t ruined anything, that Hades actually returned those feelings. Or, he hoped so. Like, why else would he kiss him? Hades could be mean, but he wasn’t cruel, and this wasn’t the type of trick he would play on him anyways. Besides, Hades’s soul felt warm and brimming with affection against his, and Prometheus couldn’t help but reciprocate, shyly unfurling his soul for him, letting them entwine, just a little. 

Hades’s breathing audibly stuttered, a twist of foriegn warmth rippling through their shallow bond and making Prometheus’s toes curl. Deep inside, it felt like something clicked into place, like ‘ah, yes, I’m complete now’

Prometheus kneaded his knuckles against his friend’s chest, several questions bubbling up inside of him; ‘where do we go from here’ , ‘are we friends or something more now’ and ‘will you say I love you back?’  

But he didn’t ask those questions. Instead he pulled Hades back in, putting those concerns on the backburner for now, and murmured, “Okay, I’m ready. I’ll do it properly this time.”  

And they kissed, and their souls entwined, and, oh, it was a good thing that sofa was right there because… 

Well, four hundred years of sexual tension. 

It definitely got resolved.

Chapter Text

Embarrassing thing to admit: this was Prometheus's first time kissing someone.

It was a wondrously new experience, kissing. Previously, he never had much of an interest in it, just the occasional passing, idle curiosity on how it would feel like to kiss Hades. Now, however, standing in his living room, Hades almost stepping on his toes with his boots, the feel of soft fabric beneath his fingers, warm lips against his own… well, now, he really had an interest in it. 

An Amaurotine’s dominant trait was their desire to know, and research to death anything that interested them. And right now… 

Hades nipped his bottom lip, scattering his thoughts. Oh

The noise that left Prometheus was not meant for polite company. 

“Hrm,” Hades pulled back a fraction, while Prometheus stood there in a happy kind of daze, his nose gently bumping against his, “Now that was an interesting noise.”

"Shush,” Prometheus huffed, sliding his hands higher up Hades’s chest, until he could wrap his arm around his shoulders and keep him close - just in case he had any ideas to be a tease and move away. That’d be like Hades, “This is my first kiss, let me be all embarrassing.” 

Hades paused at that, a very odd feeling rippling through his soul. It felt a little… heated. Hm? What emotion was that…?

“First kiss?” Hades sounded something, and his hand not curled against the nape of his neck settled on his hip, his thumb hooking into the waistband of his shorts, pressing against the jut of his hip bone. The touch made him shiver, goosebumps rising along his skin.

“Mm… well, it didn’t interest me before…” Prometheus said distractedly, leaning in and experimentally kissing his friend. Hades let him set a slow, exploratory pace - it was all very chaste, really, but… something. It was something that had his pulse hot and fast, echoed by the warmth of Hades’s soul entwined in his. 

Hades nipped his bottom lip again. Prometheus groaned

“And now?” Hades murmured against his mouth, pulling at his hip. 

“Mm?” Prometheus hummed distractedly, letting his friend pull him close until-

Their bodies pressed flush against each other, a line of heat from chest to groin. Hades’s hand shifted from his hip to dangerously low on the small of his back, fingers well underneath the waistband of his shorts, and Prometheus’s pulse jumped.

He felt Hades smile, briefly, into the kiss before he pulled back a fraction, nose to nose. Prometheus’s eyes fluttered open, aware he was probably making a stupid expression right now, face hot and eyes a little dazed as Hades looked at him like that, heavy-lidded and very very very pleased with himself. 

“Are you interested?” Hades purred, and with how his fingers drew little shapes just above his tailbone that was - it took a lot of effort for Prometheus to remember what the hell he was talking about. 

“Y-Yes,” Prometheus said a bit breathlessly, abruptly aware of how snug they were. What blood wasn’t going to his face went, er, elsewhere, and he shifted his hips back a fraction to try and, um, hide that. 

But Hades just applied more pressure on the small of his back, keeping their hips snug. Prometheus was fairly certain his face was going to catch fire. 

“Uh, Hades, I’m kind of…” he started awkwardly, only to pause when he noticed Hades’s smile was starting to take on a very smug edge to it, “Oh.” 

“I’m very aware,” Hades said with mock-innocence, and then the cheeky little bastard grinded against him

Prometheus made a very high-pitched, startled noise, his body reacting immediately to the stimulation. He wasn’t an idiot, he knew what sexual arousal was - had even masturbated a few times out of idle curiosity - but those past fumblings paled in comparison to having a warm, firm body rub against him. The fabric of his shorts chafed a little, but Hades pressing down on his lower back, almost cupping his ass, as his hips rolled forwards and rubbed and-

“Nnh…” The obscene noise left him before he could clamp down on it, tipping his head down in an effort to hide the no doubt embarrassing expression on his face, his breaths quickening as… oh, it was interesting, in a weird way. The physiological response to sexual stimulation was… it was a little much, but very pleasant and, especially when Hades leaned in, kissing the line of his jaw, up to his ear and, oh, oh oh oh

Prometheus dug his fingers right into the meat of Hades’s shoulders, gasping out something incoherent even to his own ears, and Hades’s hand was definitely on his ass now, guiding his uneven, clumsy rolls of his hips into something harder, feeling the long, firm press of- oh, okay, so it wasn’t just him affected by this, okay, good, but- there was so much fabric in the way, shorts, robes, and Prometheus just wanted… more touch, physical contact…

It was probably ill-advised to do magic when his mind felt like it was fizzling apart, but determination to have them naked trumped common sense at that point. Making some vague calculations of where to displace their clothing, he snapped his fingers, giggling when Hades flinched at abruptly finding them both very naked. 

It made everything a lot better. 

“The fabric was chafing,” he purred when Hades leaned back enough to give him a look , managing a devious smile even though he was flushed and breathless. 

“I was trying to keep things slow for you, like the considerate friend that I am,” Hades drawled, but he looked pleased, very pleased, and pressed against Prometheus’s ass, restarting the rhythm between their hips. Without the fabric in the way… Prometheus’s eyes fluttered shut, a soft, raw noise catching low in his throat, barely noticing Hades’s hand trailing with deceptive slowness from his ass, over his hip, down his happy trail to- 

Oh

He felt himself go tense - not from anything unpleasant, but just from the feel of Hades’s hand curling around his arousal, light pressure, a gentle squeeze and slow strokes. Prometheus gasped, pushing himself onto his toes, hips jerkily meeting the aggravatingly slow rhythm Hades was setting as he dug his fingers right into his friend’s shoulders, pink lines drawn from his nails…

It was amazing how different it was from his own hand. It had felt great when he masturbated, yes, but with Hades? Completely different, in an amazing way. So different, his hand felt different, had callouses from where he held his pencil sketching blueprints, writing out his plans, rough palm, and he could be kissed while getting jerked off now too, which Prometheus discovered was his new favourite thing in the world, especially if it was Hades, kissing him slow, and long, and stealing the embarrassing little noises that kept slipping out of him. Gasps, whines, moans, between short, strained breaths, echoed by the very quiet, barely stifled noises Hades made… 

Prometheus could have had this four hundred years earlier if he’d just confessed sooner. He was such a dumbass. 

His knees were also starting to feel a bit weak. Hades was practically holding him up at this point, Prometheus clinging tight to him as he frantically rutted into Hades’s palm, feeling his abdominals start to tense as that heat coiled tighter and tighter low in his belly. He was close, he was embarrassingly close, and he clawed a bit mindlessly at Hades’s shoulders, wanting closer, but already as close as he could be, nerves alight with pleasure and knowing his soul was just flinging all those hot and desperate emotions out there. Hades would feel them, know what effect he was having on him, and Prometheus wanted- he wanted him to-

Pleasure abruptly piqued into ecstasy. Prometheus cried out

“Ha- ah-!” he couldn’t even get his name out- just, that raw, hot burst of relief, hips mindlessly jerking in uneven thrusts as Hades, lovely, lovely Hades, gently stroked him through his orgasm - sticky, wet, his brain blankly noted - until Prometheus was whining from the touch, hypersensitive and squirming from it. 

“Good boy,” Hades purred against his mouth, his soul pressing against his, hungry and hot and so very satisfied. It made Prometheus feel dizzy, in a good way, overwhelmed, because Hades kept stroking, slow and firm, even though it made his toes curl and back arch because it toed the line of too much and oh fuck please do not stop

Nh, H-Hades, this is…” Prometheus gasped, barely managing to keep a straight thought. His knees were shaking, he wanted to lie down - he wanted Hades, two very strong desires that can be accomplished at once, “M’gonna, fall over, sofa…” 

Hades laughed, quietly, fondly, but he obeyed Prometheus’s jumbled up plea. Despite being a lazy man who shirked manual labour whenever he could, Hades was still very strong, so it was with a thrilling ease that he picked Prometheus up by gripping under his thighs, hauling him up (and feeling the sticky, wet feeling of his own release on his thigh which was- well, Prometheus wondered if it was weird he found that arousing). A few steps, and then he was unceremoniously dropped on the sofa. 

Hades!” Prometheus yelped, landing in an ungainly sprawl on the sofa, one leg hanging off, his hand just about grabbing the back of the sofa before he tumbled off unsexily. The shock of the drop jolted him out of his post-orgasm daze, at least, “You jerk.” 

“Rude, I just helped you to the sofa like you asked,” Hades crooned, confidently moving to straddle his hips. The weight of him, combined with everything else, pushed all the air out of Prometheus’s lungs, and then Hades was leaning down, his weight heavy, keeping him breathless, to nose along his jawline, lips brushing featherlight kisses along it.

This was getting very addictive. Prometheus loved it. 

“Didn’t have to drop me…” he grumbled with mock-irritation, curling his fingers into Hades’s dark hair and cradling him close as his mouth trailed down to his neck, over his throat. He tilted his head back, closing his eyes as he idly combed his fingers through his hair, his other hand pressing against Hades’s thigh, kneading into the firm muscle with his knuckles. 

The pace slowed. Prometheus felt a little drowsy from it. 

Then Hades started stroking his stomach, trailing the space between speckles of drying white, finger slowly, lazily, circling his navel. It made him quiver, abs tensing, pulse picking up as Hades’s hand dipped lower, thumbing the dark curls of his pubic hair. Prometheus tightly clenched his fingers in Hades’s hair without thinking, drawing out a grunt from his friend. 

“Sorry,” he murmured, forcing himself to relax his grip, his breathing audibly edged. 

“Are you too sensitive?” Hades asked, his voice husky and muffled against the crook of his neck. Very gently, Hades fingers brushed over his cock, making every single nerve in his body prickle, the sensation teetering between sensitive and yes please

“N-No,” Prometheus stuttered, groaning when Hades immediately curled his hand around his cock and started stroking. Should he be embarrassed at how quickly he got hard from that? It just felt a lot more intense now, much more than the first time, and Prometheus bit his bottom lip to try and quieten the noises whining low in his throat. Okay, okay, he was still very sensitive, but, somehow, it kept teetering on yes yes yes rather than too much too much

Hades chuckled, clearly pleased with himself, “For someone who just had their ‘first kiss’, you’re eager.” 

“Shut up,” Prometheus muttered, helplessly bucking into Hades’s brisk touch. His friend was keeping him pinned down with his weight, so he couldn’t really move, and he whined petulantly, wriggling under him as he dug his nails into Hades’s shoulder, scratching at the skin. 

Hades felt smug, the asshole, but he lifted his head enough to placate him with a very distracting kiss. Unlike the soft, chaste kisses from before, this was… something else. Hades kissed him hard , hungrily, until Prometheus was a panting, lightheaded, dizzy mess, lips dampened and parted as Hades bit and worried his bottom lip until it started to ache-

And his hand didn’t stop once. It slowed, oh, did it slow, applying the gentlest pressure as it stroked him slow, and sure, squeezing the base, before moving to rub his thumb over the damp tip, making Prometheus helplessly squirm in a mix of frustrated bliss. It was lovely, but it- he felt- he could just almost- the pleasure was plateaued, just teetering on the very edge of completion and it was driving him insane

Hades,” Prometheus whined, not even caring how desperate he sounded at this point, clawing and scratching Hades’s back up when, yet again , as he felt his abs tense and arousal pique… Hades eased off, his weight keeping him still as he gently, torturously gently, rubbed the tip of his arousal, precum making it slick, until the warning cramps of orgasm passed, “You- tease- I want- need…” 

“Hm?” Hades nipped at his tender bottom lip, “You need…? What? Use your words, Prometheus.”

Oh, how he hated this man! Prometheus growled something out, wanting to shake him unconscious, and Hades just laughed, his eyes dark with a sultry kind of mischief as he tightened his grip and stroked

“Hh,” Prometheus squeezed his eyes shut, arching as much as he could, abs clenching as Hades found a lovely rhythm, stroking him firm, fast, rubbing gently at the tip, making Prometheus tip his head back and whimper as he felt himself about to- 

-and Hades eased off instantly, squeezing the base of his cock until the feeling passed. Prometheus almost cried. 

Please,” he gasped, “Please, please, I’m so close-

“What do you want me to do?” Hades purred, clearly delighted at how undone Prometheus was, “Use your words.” 

Argh, y-you, asshole-

Hades tutted, “Not those words.”

Prometheus whined, digging his heels right into the sofa and restlessly moving his legs - as much as he could with Hades sitting on him anyways. He wasn’t sure what Hades wanted, and his thoughts were scattered, too hot and frustrated to really puzzle it out. He just wanted… wanted… 

“I want…” Prometheus panted, “I w-want you to let me cum.”

“There we go,” Hades hummed, a dark surge of satisfaction rippling through his soul, “Was that so hard?”

“I’ll bite you, you-”

Hades jerked him off, hard and fast, and Prometheus’s threat broke off into a mess of panting moans, twitching and squirming as the pleasure piqued- and it fucking piqued, the orgasm so intense Prometheus was fairly certain he blacked out for a good second there. He was just aware, of, every nerve singing with a raw, primitive kind of overstimulation, his whole body shaking as Hades gently, almost tenderly, kissed him while he gasped and whimpered Hades’s name over and over. 

Oh fuck. 

Fuck. 

How did thinking work again. 

“There you go, good boy,” Hades was purring, kissing the corner of his mouth, his jaw, as Prometheus slowly started to remember what breathing was, “See, wasn’t that worth it?”

Mmnnhh… ” Prometheus whined, twitching when Hades carelessly wiped his hand clean on his hip. It felt wet and sticky, “Fuck.”

“Well, if you really feel up to it...”

“Nooo…” Prometheus groaned, fairly sure that if he went again so soon he might actually die, “Break, need… a break.”

Hades huffed out a fondly amused noise, and he nosed at his jaw, almost as a nuzzle, but he let him catch his breath. Prometheus felt loose-limbed, absolutely lax and exhausted, even if nothing really happened. He still had his arms locked around Hades’s shoulders, fingers weakly pressed into the skin. It felt slightly damp. He probably broke the skin at some point. 

Orgasms were so weird, he thought blankly. It was different to achieving perfect harmony with someone’s soul, which was a type of ‘orgasm’ but more… it wasn’t less, but different. These physiological reactions felt a lot more intense, though, left him panting and shaking, adrenaline and other reward hormones buzzing through him, making him feel delightfully lightheaded and relaxed. 

Different to masturbation orgasms too. Prometheus definitely wanted more of this, even if Hades was a tease

...Hades also seemed to be holding back from orgasming himself. It wasn’t that surprising. Hades prized self-control, so probably didn’t want to risk losing it by indulging in physical pleasure when Prometheus was right here. The thought almost made Prometheus smile. What a dork. 

“Hades,” he murmured, idly stroking his friend’s hair, tilting his head to bump noses with him, “I want to touch you now.” 

“You are touching me now,” Hades said, but by the curve of his smile, he knew what Prometheus meant, “Going to deliver some payback, mm?”

“I’m not mean like you,” Prometheus huffed, pushing against Hades’s shoulder to make him lean away. He obediently did, “C’mon, let’s switch places. I want to touch you.” 

Hades paused, some unreadable emotion flicking across his expression, but he eventually did let them switch places. Hades ended up lying down on the sofa, Prometheus seated on his thighs, and it was then he noticed what an absolute mess he was. 

Streaks of drying white over his belly, and smears over his thighs where Hades wiped his hands clean, contrasting against his darkly tanned skin. He flushed a little, lifting a hand to wave it clean, when Hades made a small noise. 

“No, leave it,” Hades murmured.

“You want me to stay dirty?” Prometheus was surprised. Hades was into that kind of stuff, huh? Well, fine. It wasn’t that gross, and he could ignore the slight itch of it drying into his skin. 

“Mhm,” Hades didn’t even bother trying to pretend he wasn’t shameless, idly stroking his dirty thighs, his thumbs pressing against the sensitive insides. His thumbnails dug in, just slightly, and it made Prometheus shiver. 

“Naughty,” Prometheus purred, gently grabbing Hades’s hands and pulling them away, “I’m touching you, remember? Behave for at least five minutes, please.”

Hades sighed in the most put upon manner possible, making Prometheus roll his eyes, but he obediently rested his hands slightly above his head, giving him a ‘well, go on’ look. He looked so lackadaisical about it that Prometheus was tempted to bite him. 

Hm. He’ll keep it in mind for later. 

Instead, he focused on his task at hand - Hades. His friend was lanky even by Amaurotine standards, though his height was normally concealed by his terrible posture. Despite his slouching, shuffling ways, however, his body was pleasantly nice and fit, and Prometheus curiously ran his hands over his stomach and chest, kneading his knuckles into the pectoral muscles. 

He’s seen Hades naked before, of course. Plenty of times. Yet, right now, seeing Hades naked underneath him, watching him with dark, heavy-lidded eyes and his hips framed by Prometheus’s thighs speckled with dried cum… it was very different, very… something. Like this was the first time. His heart was beating fast, and he lowered his gaze, hands sliding down over Hades’s stomach. 

He felt the abs tense then relax under his palms, and Prometheus couldn’t help but smile, idly drawing shapes, circling the navel like Hades did with him earlier. He felt Hades shiver underneath him, but when Prometheus’s peeked, his friend’s lazy expression didn’t so much as twitch. 

But Prometheus felt that shiver, so he did it again, very lightly stroking his fingers over Hades’s belly. He started to grin when Hades started to wiggle and made a very amusing expression and a quiet, choked off noise when Prometheus finally realised what he hit upon. 

“Hades…” Prometheus breathed, “Are you ticklish?” 

“Right, that’s your five minutes up,” Hades said, quickly snatching at Prometheus’s hands and holding them hostage. 

He couldn’t help it. Prometheus burst into laughter, giggling as Hades huffed and scowled at him for ‘ruining the mood’. But it was too funny! Hades had a ticklish stomach . Oh, he was definitely going to take advantage of that! 

“T-That’s so adorable,” Prometheus gasped, working his hands free of Hades’s, “Aw, I kinda want to blow raspberries on your stomach now…” 

Hades sighed, dramatically flopping like a limp fish, his arm dangling over the edge of the sofa as he muttered, “Mood. Ruined.” 

“Don’t pout,” Prometheus purred, “Think of it as payback for torturing me earlier.” 

“You enjoyed that,” Hades sulked. 

“Mhm,” Prometheus slowly leaned down, chest to chest with Hades, and started nuzzling the crook of his neck. It was odd, how easily all this intimacy was coming but… really, it wasn’t much different to before. Prometheus and Hades had always been very physical with their signs of affection, same with Hythlodaeus, except now it was edged with something else. A hungry kind of intimacy that made Prometheus itch with the urge to bite him, or kiss him, or dig his fingernails into his skin and leave marks. 

It was a selfish love that wasn’t actively encouraged in Amaurotine society. He loved Hades, he wanted Hades, he wanted to possess Hades… which was reciprocated in kind. It was fatally selfish, and Prometheus was reckless enough to indulge in it. 

“Okay,” Prometheus murmured, kissing Hades’s throat - vulnerable throat - and leaned back, to kiss the corner of his mouth, his hands pressing against his chest, kneading his knuckles against firm muscle, and purred; “I’m in the mood now.” 

Hades hummed, playing hard to get, but Prometheus was a fast learner. He may have had his first kiss less than half an hour ago, but he wasn’t a child, or a fumbling novice. He was always eager to learn, and now that he knew Hades loved him (was his), there was no point in hesitating or getting shy. Now, he can explore and learn and devour every little experience he wrung out of this moment, so that the next time was better

So, Prometheus smiled and put what he learned to good use. 

(he definitely got his payback)

Chapter Text

It was only a matter of time, really. 

With how much Emet-Selch crawled out of the woodwork to loiter disdainfully in the rear of their group, like their mere existence exhausted him despite actively seeking them out (really, Emet-Selch was a master of mixed signals), Aza was surprised it took so long for the Echo to pounce and show him something of this supposed tragic past the Ascians had. 

Aza had started to figure out the pattern to it, after all: an event relevant to him, combined with a powerful surge of emotions attached to it… Emet-Selch had been pinging the flags for it for a while, and the long delay in the Echo vision had started to make Aza suspicious that the Ascian was just spouting pure shite to make him seem more sympathetic. 

Then, oh boy, did the Echo deliver

It was in Amh Araeng. Aza was doing the grim task of chasing off buzzards from the cart tracks in anticipation of using them in the hopefully near future, nimbly stepping on the planks when Emet-Selch literally popped out of nowhere and nearly startled him right off the tracks. 

“Oh ho, that would have been an ignoble end to the Warrior of Darkness,” Emet-Selch leered when Aza just about avoided a very messy death via falling into the gaping, bottomless canyon below, “A clumsy slip.”

Aza, rightfully disturbed, made sure to stand dead centre of the tracks, away from any fatal edges, and eyed the Ascian warily. It was strange, but it was hard keeping his guard up around Emet-Selch sometimes. He didn’t know if it was because he looked like some harmless, tired asshole, slouching his miserable way through life, rather than a deadly Ascian, but Aza was beginning to realise it was getting to be a big problem. A moment of complacency was all it needed for Emet-Selch to pounce on the opportunity, as nearly proven just minutes ago. 

“What do you want?” Aza muttered, noting how discomforted Emet-Selch looked beneath the searing glare of the Light above. There was no thick canopy shielding him from the Light here, so it was… suspicious, why he was tolerating it now. 

“Just came to see how you were dealing with the ‘cart problem’,” Emet-Selch drawled, waving a hand dismissively as he, impossibly, slouched even more. Ugh, just looking at him made Aza’s back hurt, “I’m growing bored with how you’re loitering in this dust bowl.”

“Maybe we’d loiter less if you actually helped,” Aza muttered. 

“Oh, so easily do you forget my generous act in saving… who was it? Y’shtola ?” Emet-Selch sighed, “Your memories so do resemble that of gnats.”

“Oi,” Aza frowned, but, well, he couldn’t dispute that. Emet-Selch had saved Y’shtola’s life, something that made him both grateful - and deeply uneasy. What did Emet-Selch get out of it? Why was he so eager to curry favour and goodwill with them? Surely, he must know all his talk about rejoining the shards at the cost of millions of lives was just… incompatible with them? He was getting something out of it, but for the life of him, Aza couldn’t figure it out.

“Well, if you’re feeling generous again,” Aza said, “Maybe you can, I dunno, magic up a talos we can use? Or better yet, open that door for us?”

Emet-Selch slanted a heavy-lidded look his way, his mouth curving into a smile that put Aza on edge. 

Perhaps,” Emet-Selch purred, “With proper motivation.”

Ugh. That sounded like a deal with the devil right there. 

“Motivation,” Aza repeated carefully, “What kind of motivation?”

“Hm,” Emet-Selch turned away from him, looking out over the dusty, rocky plains stretching away from the cart tracks. Birds circled low, away from the searing Light above, and the air was clouded by the occasional dust cloud, blown up by the sluggish, stagnant wind. 

“Indulge me for a moment,” Emet-Selch said, “I’m going to tell you a story.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.” 

Emet-Selch ignored him, “Back when the world was whole, there were many cities, larger and far grander than anything you broken reflections have ever conceived. There was one such city situated in a place like this: Jeduma. It sat amongst great golden dunes, stretching for miles, and was once considered the centre of all trade on the continent. Of course, over time, the trade shifted elsewhere, but it remained as a hub for tourism instead.”

“Okay,” Aza said, when Emet-Selch paused expectantly, “Sounds neat.”

Emet-Selch fixed him with an unreadable look, his eyes shadowed beneath his hair. There was clear unhappiness in his expression, a subtle, angry dissatisfaction that made Aza feel like he had come up short in something. But what did Emet-Selch expect? Aza just didn’t care

“Does it not sound familiar?” Emet-Selch prompted, his tone wheedling.

Did it? The only city Aza could recall meeting the criteria of ‘city in arid region, trade, maybe rich’ was; “Ul’dah?”

“Ugh,” Emet-Selch shot him a look filled with absolute disgust before turning away, “Ul’dah. You honestly compared Jeduma to Ul’dah.”

“I’m sorry?” Aza frowned at him, “You expected me to say Jedu-whatever or something? If what you’re saying is true, I wasn’t even born when that city existed.”

Emet-Selch sighed in an utterly put upon manner, turning back to him. Any earlier annoyance or disgust was gone. The Ascian simply looked tired instead, “I don’t know why I bother.”

Aza felt the last of his patience fray, “Bother with what? I don’t-

And it struck. The Echo abruptly surged up, swallowing the painfully bright scenery and Emet-Selch to-


Jeduma was disgustingly hot during the day, but the nights were pleasantly cool and brisk. Hades had something of a love-hate relationship with the place, because he despised the extreme heat and the headache inducing sun, but admired the perfect layout of this ancient city. It was older than Amaurot, old when their people first learned the magic of Creation, and Hades remembered studying its architectural science avidly when preparing for taking the title of-

“Hades,” Prometheus sighed, “We’re in the most beautiful city on the continent, and you’re sitting here with your nose in a book.”

“It’s a very good book,” Hades said idly, but he did lower it. To take advantage of the night’s cool breeze, he had taken a sat on the window’s low seat, leaning on its sill with Jeduma’s sights stretched out before him. They were on one of the highest floors of the main hotel, and the city twinkled below in glitters of orange and gold, the quiet hubbub of nightlife rising up as a calming murmur. 

It wasn’t the only pleasant sight, though. Prometheus was was sprawled out in bed on his side, slightly propped up on his elbow with the thin cotton sheets of the bed only just keeping him decent by being tangled around his legs and draped over his hips. The pale sheet complimented Prometheus’s darkly tanned skin nicely. 

“Since we got here, you’ve just sat there and ignored everything,” Prometheus said, “While I’m languishing here in absolute boredom. Look! Look how much effort I’m putting into being seductive here!”

Hades looked. He took a very long, careful look, then turned back to his book, “Could use a bit more effort.”

“A bit more -!?” Hades didn’t bother hiding a smile at Prometheus’s adorable sounds of absolute indignation, waiting him out for half a minute before closing his book and rising from his seat. 

“I’m teasing, I’m teasing,” he drawled, looking at Prometheus pouting, now sprawled out on his back, arms cross over his chest, sulking , adorable, and felt his heart feel like it would burst from fondness and love both. This ridiculous man. He would do anything for him-


The Echo released him, and Aza stood there, half-doubled over with one hand gripping his head, frozen in disbelief. The vision was still rattling in his skull, foreign feelings and information rolling through, the lingering feel of a desert’s night chill, the adoration for Prometheus fading from the edges of his mind- 

Memory. Aza had seen a memory, and the only person here was… it couldn’t be…?

“Did you pass out on your feet?” Emet-Selch asked, and there was an odd tone there. He sounded dismissive, idly curious, but when Aza slowly straightened up, dropped his hand and looked at him, there was an edge of… something to him. Wariness? Expectancy? Aza was still reeling too much to figure it out. 

“...no,” Aza said, his throat suddenly dry. Some things were clicking into horrible place, a nauseous realisation that oh, Emet-Selch had probably been telling the truth, and who’s memory that was… 

(“Be it Elidibus or Lahabrea or Igeyorhm, all are titles of office.”)

Hades. Hades. Was that Emet-Selch…?

“Try not to be coy,” Emet-Selch sighed, “It’s obvious your Echo granted you a vision of some kind. What was it?”

There. Aza heard it then. An eager kind of hunger - had he wanted to trigger a vision? His nerves still felt rattled, and some awful, cold feeling was crawling up his spine like ice. He couldn’t explain it, but some deep-seated instinct was telling him not to say Prometheus’s name, even to see what his reaction would be. 

But the name lingered, right on the tip of his tongue. 

Aza wetted his dry lips, turning away abruptly, even if the hairs on the back of his neck rose at letting Emet-Selch leave his sight, “None of your business.”

Emet-Selch sighed, like Aza was being an unreasonable child, “Really?”

“Besides, I didn’t see anything,” Aza continued, his rattled nerves making him ramble, “Just some, some hotel room, in a boring old city. Nothing important.”

Really,” Emet-Selch’s voice dropped, a low, predatory purr, “A ‘hotel room’?”

Shit, he shouldn’t have said anything. 

“Did it seem familiar?” Emet-Selch asked pointedly. 

“No,” Aza said. This, at least, was true. The view from the window didn’t seem familiar at all, yet the names Hades and Prometheus - just hearing them made him feel cold and feverish, like their very existence made his soul want to crawl out of his skin and into another dimension entirely to escape, “Not at all.”

Emet-Selch’s stare felt like a physical burn on the side of his skull. Aza kept staring off at the distance. He could feel sweat start to make his hair stick to his forehead. His heart was pounding. 

“Prometheus,” Emet-Selch said abruptly, and without thinking- Aza turned to him as if he had spoken his name.

Ah,” Emet-Selch’s eyes lit up, “I see.”

Aza froze, realising what had happened, but Emet-Selch didn’t push it beyond that. 

“Well, how illuminating,” Emet-Selch hummed, his mood eerily cheerful as he gave Aza a quick once over, like he was looking at him in a new light, “Really, nothing familiar at all in that vision?”

“No,” Aza said, but his voice was quiet and weak to his own ears. 

“Hm,” Emet-Selch smiled, and pivoted neatly on his heel, “Well, in time, maybe.”

With that unsettling remark, Emet-Selch waved goodbye as he stepped off the tracks - and disappeared in a flare of darkness. Aza felt nauseously cold, despite the heat beating down on him. 

Okay, Aza didn’t care if he had to craft a talos himself by hand, he was not dealing with Emet-Selch anymore. That vision, that… had been too humanising. He didn’t want to think about Emet-Selch in humanising terms. 

Hades. Prometheus

Aza shoved those names out of his mind, and determinedly forgot about them. 

Not touching that. 

Not with a ten malm pole

Chapter Text

Some days, Lahabrea felt that Prometheus was born just to test his patience. 

He was wilful, slovenly, ill-mannered and reckless, and always butted into Lahabrea’s business to offer ‘opinions’ on his research projects. Grudgingly, Lahabrea admitted that those opinions were actually very helpful when he was stuck, but it was the fact that Prometheus delivered those opinions in an insufferably smug tone, like he was childishly pleased over having something over him. 

Yet, that smugness was well-earned, even if it was immature. Prometheus was a once-in-a-million-years prodigy, with an instinctive understanding and knowledge centuries beyond even the most experienced Creationist. His aether stores were bottomless, his Creations revolutionary, and he was, thankfully, a pacifist (with admittedly disturbing thoughts on ‘death’), despite the destructive spells he churned out at a breakneck pace. He was also the sole expert on the Lifestream that Amaurot possessed, so there were times where Lahabrea had to grit his teeth and ask him for one of his opinions whenever his research touched upon that subject. 

It was so obvious that Prometheus was young though, because of his attitude. Only someone less than a thousand years old could act so annoying whenever his fellows asked him for help. 

Today was one such day, where Lahabrea was attempting to make it easier to detect where the Lifestream was at its strongest without having to bother Prometheus overly much. He was aware that as their sole expert, Prometheus was forced to attend many low-levelled research experiments and rituals regarding the Lifestream, just because he could sniff out the optimal location to perform them. As Prometheus’s skills could be focused elsewhere for the betterment of the Collective, Lahabrea felt that this Lifestream Compass was a step in the right direction for that. 

So, he asked for Prometheus’s opinion on its functionality and effectiveness. It was a day that he expected to be… trying. 


“You’re really making this to make my life easier?”

“To make everyone’s life easier,” Lahabrea corrected, “You’re one man in high demand which restricts the amount of proposals accepted for Lifestream exploitation. It’ll be more beneficial to Amaurot as a whole in the long run.”

“I see,” Prometheus said, his neutral tone giving away nothing. 

Before, it used to annoy Lahabrea, but he had slowly come to realise that Prometheus was simply socially awkward. For reasons unknown, Prometheus closed his soul off to any kind of social interaction, and with his mask hiding two thirds of his face it left only body language and tone to gauge. Which, admittedly, Amaurotines weren’t very skilled at in general, so it meant Prometheus tended to cause a lot of unintentional misunderstandings and offence in conversations by being maddeningly inscrutable. 

Lahabrea learned to roll with it. 

“Well? Critique it, then,” Lahabrea said, gesturing to his prototype, “I’m giving you permission to insult me.”

“I don’t insult you. I try to help you,” Prometheus scoffed, an edge of disdain to his tone before he took a step forwards, examining the prototype. 

It was a simple construction, in Lahabrea’s opinion. He based it off the lamps the Crystal researchers used to detect corrupted aether, except repurposed for the Lifestream. That had been the difficult part, as Lifestream aether was incredibly pure, and Lahabrea used many, many rare samples to ensure he tweaked the frequency just right (not to get into how many aether burns he got on his hands handling said samples). The end result had been a very simple, admittedly ugly, squat lamp, with a pure white crystal in the centre, fine-tuned to glow the closer it was to a potential Lifestream spring. 

Prometheus was quiet for a very long moment - long enough for Lahabrea to think the entire thing was wrong. 

“Huh,” the young Amaurotine finally said, “I see.”

“...well?” Lahabrea asked impatiently.

“This is clever,” Prometheus said, “I wouldn’t have thought of it, personally.”

Well now, that was incredibly high praise from Prometheus. Lahabrea squinted at him suspiciously from behind his mask. 

“Will it function?”

“I don’t see why it won’t,” Prometheus scratched the underside of his jaw, briefly exposing his throat - Lahabrea saw a bruise there, which he pretended not to see. He didn’t care to get involved in that volatile situation between Prometheus and Hades, even if it was slightly inappropriate at times. 

“Let’s try it,” Prometheus said, “I’ll draw the Lifestream close to the surface, and we’ll see if this will get a reaction.

Lahabrea went tense, imagining the disaster of a spring erupting in the middle of his personal labs, and obviously detecting his alarm, Prometheus laughed at him. 

“Don’t worry, Lahabrea, I won’t wreck your lab again.”

Emphasis on again. Lahabrea scowled and crossed his arms, watching the young Amaurotine like a hawk as Prometheus crouched on the floor, tapping the smooth, metal floor in a gentle, rhythmic pattern. The thick, impenetrable walls of Prometheus’s soul dropped a bit, resonating with a quiet ‘song’ that Lahabrea recognised as a ‘call’ to the Lifestream. 

Honestly, it fascinated him, that inherent ability. It wasn’t something you could ‘learn’, you either had it, or you didn’t, and it manifested randomly within Amaurotine souls. Incredibly rare, incredibly powerful… incredibly dangerous. The Amaurotines most likely to achieve permanent death are those with that affinity, yet Prometheus never seemed to let it dissuade him from using his gift. 

Lahabrea was distracted from his thoughts by his lamp starting to flicker, a pale, white light that brightened and brightened as the ambient aether started to prickle in that tell-tale way when the Lifestream was close to the surface. Prometheus abruptly cut his ‘song’ short, standing up. 

“What a surprise, it does work,” Prometheus said.

Lahabrea couldn’t hold back a smirk, pleased at his success. There was always something satisfying about achieving his objective on the first try - especially if it meant avoiding Prometheus giving him one of his ‘well obviously you did this wrong’ speeches. 

“But,” Prometheus continued, immediately sending Lahabrea’s pride to a screeching halt, “I think it could do with some improvements.” 

“...” Lahabrea sighed quietly. Too good to be true, “In what way.” 

The lamp’s light was already fading as the Lifestream settled deep back underground, and Prometheus pointed at the dimly glowing crystal, “You used Lifestream in this, didn’t you?” 

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s why it got confusing. This resonated with me when I was calling. You’re planning on mass producing these for work? Well, if that’s the case, you can’t have two working too close together, because I suspect they’d just detect each other.” 

Lahabrea grimaced. Ah, he actually hadn’t realised that. What an amateur mistake. 

“But, I mean, you probably realised something as obvious as that,” Prometheus said, “You’re not that stupid, right? Anyway, it looked as if it couldn’t sense deep springs either…”

For something that ‘worked’, Prometheus sure had a lot to complain about it. By the end of it, Lahabrea had several notes worth of ‘revisions’, Prometheus had unintentionally insulted him about six times, and Lahabrea felt exhausted. He could only really tolerate this man for an hour at most. 

Why couldn’t Prometheus be more like Hades? At least he was polite. 

“In short… I actually like this,” Prometheus finished, his voice carrying a hint of cheerfulness as he affectionately patted the lamp, “It’s a very clever Creation, Lahabrea, even if it’s riddled with mistakes. But, hey, that’s what prototypes are like, huh?”

Lahabrea vanished his notes into his personal inventory, not even bothering to hide his sigh, “So, you approve of it, then.”

“Mhm, like you said, this will free up my time for personal projects by a lot,” Prometheus said, “Though, I’m surprised you’d do something this nice for me, considering you hate me.”

Lahabrea… paused at that, genuinely surprised. While he didn’t conceal his dislike or annoyance for him, he didn’t hate him. He just felt Prometheus would benefit from learning how to socialise properly, or letting some of Hades’s maturity rub off on him. Maybe then working with him wouldn’t be such a painful challenge. 

“I don’t hate you,” Lahabrea said, “I just find you annoying.” 

Prometheus made a short, huffing noise that sounded like a laugh, but with his soul closed off, and his expression hidden by his mask, Lahabrea had no idea what emotion he was trying to convey. He was so difficult to read! It was aggravating. 

“Yeah, sure, I accept that,” Prometheus said, “In any case, is that all? I don’t want to keep annoying you.”

Was he offended? Lahabrea didn’t know. Didn’t really care anymore, thinking on it. His mind was already turning to the improvements he needed to make, how to fix the design so that next time, Prometheus couldn’t complain about a damn thing when inspecting if it was fit for purpose. 

“That’s all. I’ll call you back for the improved prototype.”

“Alright. See you at the meeting tomorrow, Lahabrea.”

Prometheus left, and Lahabrea put him quickly out of mind. Honestly, that meeting was one of the more civilised one, and it left him thinking that really, Prometheus wasn’t too bad, so long as you had thick-skin. After a few more centuries working as a Convocation member, Lahabrea was certain he’d get more tolerable. 

One could dream. 


Much to Lahabrea’s dismay, Prometheus simply got worse as the centuries went on - as well as their relationship. 

Chapter Text

Death began with a field of white flowers. 

They glowed gently, swaying in the wind on tall stems that leaned over Hades’s prone form amongst them. Their scent reminded him of the tea Hythlodaeus would brew during the weekly get togethers. How strange, that time hadn’t dulled his memory of that.

He wasn’t sure how long he stayed like that, sprawled in amongst the flowers. The sky above didn’t change - bright blue, with white clouds that stayed static, a moment frozen in time. There wasn’t even wind, yet, the flowers still swayed above him. On the edge of his senses, he could feel the Lifestream gently sing. 

“Have you fallen asleep?”

Prometheus’s voice. Gentle with fond amusement, like it hadn’t been eons of heartache since they last spoke. Hades closed his eyes when he heard (felt) someone sit next to him, the rustle of grass and stems and flowers and fabric, his fingers twitching before digging into the earth underneath him. His heart, that for so long had sat cleaved in two in his chest, ached. 

Hades…” his friend’s voice took on a chiding tone, “It’s been over ten thousand years, and you can’t even be bothered to say hello?”

No. He couldn’t. Hades’s throat burned, a pain so deep it was visceral. He could not say hello. 

A familiar hand stroked his hair, familiar fingers curling a lock of his hair in a familiar habit, thumb rubbing over it. Hades didn’t move. He stayed frozen, fingers clenched into the damp soil under him, his breaths stuttering in his throat, as realisation began to sink its cruel, merciless claws into him. 

I’m dead.

He was dead. He had stood there as his soul slid apart, shattered right down to the core from Hydaelyn’s chosen striking him down. Prometheus’s shard struck him down. It had been agony and total relief in one.

I died.

He died without ever realising his dream: without seeing Amaurot returned, without seeing all his lost brethren, without seeing…

I’m dead, and so here, Prometheus is…

“How…” Hades finally croaked out. He still didn’t open his eyes. He was terrified this was a cruel joke, a fevered dream his mind conjured in its last moments. He will open them and no one will be there. Prometheus would not be there. It will be a trick. A cruel trick. 

“Am I here?” Prometheus finished, “Why do you think?”

“...”

“We’re both dead now,” Hades could hear the smile in Prometheus’s voice, “You’re about several eons late, though. Do you know how long I’ve been waiting here for you?”

“...”

“It was a long time. I should’ve expected you to survive, though. You always did like to make things difficult.”

Hades opened his eyes. 

Prometheus was leaning over him, the blue sky behind him, flowers brushing against his shoulders. His face was in slight shadow, but Hades recognised it all the same. The golden eyes, the dark, wavy hair - there was a white flower petal caught in it. 

“There we go,” Prometheus smiled down at him. It was a terribly sad smile, “You’re finally awake.”

Unthinkingly, Hades raised his hand, fingers dirtied with dark soil. Prometheus didn’t move away - wasn’t repulsed - and Hades’s shaking fingers touched his cheek, leaving streaks of black. There was no warmth to it, lukewarm, but the soul, the aether, it was Prometheus. A little less, a little different, for mixed in was the Lifestream, Hydaelyn and Her Blessing, and little cracks and holes where the pieces called Aza and Ardbert were missing, amongst others, but it was Prometheus

It was Prometheus. 

Hades’s trembling hand was gently clasped by his friend, pressing his palm firmly against Prometheus’s cold cheek. He could feel his terribly sad smile, could feel the slight dampness of shed tears, and the burning in Hades’s throat was intolerable. 

“Is it…” Hades whispered, “Is it over, Prometheus…?”

“It’s over,” Prometheus told him, and already everything was becoming bright, the sensations of the grass beneath his back, the scent of the flowers, the firm grasp on his hand against a cold, lifeless cheek, becoming blurred and faded, “All that’s left is to move on.”

Hades thought he would be frightened. Death meant the end to everything, forgetting everything, the memories of those who came before and Prometheus being cast into the void, to never be recalled again, for Hades to forget them, and become someone, something else entirely. Zodiark had Tempered that fear into him. 

He felt no fear now. Just deep, exhausted relief

“Are you ready?” Prometheus asked him, quietly, softly. 

For the first time in eons-

For the first time-

“Yes,” Hades said. 

Amongst that field of white flowers, with the broken soul of his friend leaning over him welcoming into death, Hades felt peace. 

Chapter Text

“You know, we’re the exact same height.”

“Mm, yes, I know…” Exarch said absently, flipping the page of his book. It was a gift Aza had brought back from the Source for him, an enthralling tale about a Miqo’te Huntress helping an Ishgardian Knight find his way back home. There was adventure, intrigue, and a surprising amount of sex thrown in there. Exarch wasn’t sure why Aza was handing him erotic novels, but at least it was well written. 

It was definitely a book he wouldn’t read in public, though. So, he was reading it in the comfort of his personal quarters, propped up on his bed, in nothing but a pair of loose-fitting, cotton shorts to combat the sticky-heat Lakeland had found itself in with the arrival of summer. A shockingly relaxed state to be in with company, but with Aza…

Well, it took several months for them to reach this level of comfort, where they tread a very thin line of friendship and… something else. The fact that Aza was in a very committed relationship with someone else made Exarch hesitate, despite Aza reassuring him that Aymeric was understanding and willing for them to take steps to be something ‘more’, so they lingered on that line. It was comfortable for him, at the moment, and Aza didn’t press for more.

Sweet, lovely, Aza, who was the same and different to what Exarch remembered. He was older, wiser and happier. Not to say he had been a dour man when Exarch had been G’raha, but he had certainly been weighed down heavily by his demons. Not anymore, it seemed. 

A sudden flick to his ear brought him out of his thoughts, and he jumped, holding his book up to hide the lower half of his face as Aza stood at the side of his bed, giving him a playful smile. 

“You really like that book, huh?” Aza said teasingly. Much like Exarch, he was dressed down only in a pair of shorts, but seemed to be weathering the humidity better. His fit, compact body was a mess of scars, pale white or pink lines cutting over dusky skin, evidence of a life lived hard and brutal. 

It always made Exarch feel a little sad to see, filled him with an urge to make Aza’s stay in the Crystarium absolutely lavish , to make up for them. 

“Hm, it’s engaging,” Exarch admitted, carefully dogearing the page before closing the book, “I’m curious why you keep gifting me with erotic novels, though. Are you trying to say something?”

“Who, me?” Aza gave him a look of utter innocence, “I had no idea they were erotica!”

“Mhm.”

“I just picked up Aymeric’s ol’ adventuring novels,” Aza continued, “He’s a secret pervert, you see.”

Exarch sighed, but couldn’t suppress a smile. Through Aza, Exarch had learned a lot more than he wished about the Lord Commander’s private life. Well, at least those letters he had scrounged up in the ruins of Ishgard actually were true, then. Some nobles had gossiped quite vividly about Aza’s affair with the Lord Commander. 

“Anyway, enough about porn. I have a brilliant idea,” Aza said, “We’re the same height.”

“Ah, yes, you’ve said,” Exarch set his book on the bed next to him, giving his friend a curious look, “And…?”

“Well, we should try each other’s clothes on,” Aza said eagerly, “I bet you’ll look cute in my armour!”

Exarch’s thoughts stuttered at being called cute , as it always did whenever Aza so blithely complimented him, and he felt his cheeks heat up slightly. It did sound charmingly romantic, trying on each other’s clothes, except…

“Have you… washed your armour?” Exarch asked delicately, “I remember it being very, um, blood-drenched this morning.”

“I wiped it down, yeah.”

Which meant no. 

“Um, well, it’s a bit too hot for that, I think…” Exarch said weakly. He loved Aza, honestly, truly, but his armour was a hygienist's nightmare. While very well-maintained and cared for, there was always a lingering smell of blood, sweat and oil that clung to it. 

Yet, Exarch’s will weakened when he saw Aza start to wilt in disappointment. Argh, no! He looked sad! Quick, fix it!

“B-But, you can try my robes on, if you’d like!” he added in a rush, holding up his hands reassuringly, “You’ll look, um, adorable in them!”

Ah. 

Ah

Why did he say adorable!?

“Really?” Aza perked up at that, not looking bothered in the slightest at being called ‘adorable’. In fact, he looked rather pleased, a faint hint of pink to his cheeks. Exarch’s heart felt like it was going to thump through his ribs at the sight. 

“Um, really,” Exarch said, a bit dazedly, before giving himself a bit of a shake. Well, in for a gil, “In fact, if you had the hood up…”

Aza was right, they were the same height. From a distance, if Exarch placed a glamour on Aza’s arm to resemble crystal, people might mistake him for the Crystal Exarch! The idea of it filled him with an impish kind of amusement, one mirrored in Aza when he realised the direction Exarch’s thoughts had taken him. 

“I’d look passably like you,” Aza finished, his eyes bright with mischief, “Oh, we have to do it now!” 

“Alright, alright!” Exarch laughed, scooting off his bed, “Let’s see how many we can fool…”


Zoran jumped when the gate to the Crystal Tower swung open, and Exarch stepped outside. 

“Exarch!” he greeted jovially, lifting a friendly hand as Exarch turned to him, “Come to enjoy the sunshine, have you? Did your friend already leave?” 

“Oh, um,” Exarch sounded a little hoarse, his voice huskier than usual as he said, “No, he is taking a nap. So, I thought I’d take a, er, walk.”

“Oh…?” Zoran crossed his arms, eyeing the Exarch. He sounded and looked a bit odd. Had he gotten a tan recently? Well, it had been roasting hot these past few weeks, so maybe the Exarch had sunned himself in a private spot somewhere? Still didn’t account for his weird voice, then again… 

There were plenty of rumours about the nature of Exarch’s relationship with the Warrior of Darkness. The salacious sort that Zoran tried to ignore. As one of the guards who manned the gate leading into the Crystal Tower, he always got questioned and grilled for any ‘juicy’ details on Aza’s comings and goings from the tower. He tried to remain above it, but right now, maybe there was some truth to it…

But, hey, what Exarch did with his friend in the privacy of his tower, it was none of Zoran’s business! If Exarch’s throat was sore because of those things he did with his friend in the privacy of his tower, then, definitely not Zoran’s business. 

“Well, mind you don’t overheat, Exarch,” Zoran said, “You don’t need the Captain dragging you by the ear to Spagyrics again, do we? Haha!”

Exarch, oddly, looked amused - normally he got flustered if you pointed out Lyna’s motherhenning - but Zoran didn’t have much to think on it when Exarch lifted his crystal hand and started to move on, “Thanks for the heads up, I’ll keep it in mind!”

How oddly casual for him, Zoran thought, watching Exarch walk stiffly down the stairs. He had a slight limp to his gait, and he could see the slight peek of a tail near the hem of his robes to accommodate for his awkward walk. 

Nope. None of his business. Wasn’t even going to speculate on what Exarch had been getting up to with his friend. Nope. Not at all

But, really, if he had been doing that… impressive stamina for a Mystel rumoured to be over a century old…


It was weird, playing as Exarch. 

Everyone always stopped to greet Aza, and even draw him into some idle talk on this or that project they were doing, or hobby they picked up, or this idea they had to better the Crystarium (all while Aza sweated bullets, hoping no one asked him anything only the Exarch would know and blow this whole ruse apart). They even commented on his ‘nice tan’, and if he was coming down with a cold of some sort with such a rough voice. They spoke to him with such warmth and happiness, it honestly made Aza feel a bit intimidated. 

But. 

It was nice to see that everyone appreciated Exarch. The Crystarium loved him, and it certainly put a spring in his step as he finished his circuit along the perimeter of the Exedra, and he entered into the Rotunda. The Aetheryte lazily rotated, the crowd here quite thick from newcomers all over Norvrandt - apparently they were barely keeping up making enough houses for everyone. He used the crowd as cover to let him slip into the corridor leading towards the Cabinet of Curiosities, sighing in relief when he found himself alone. Oof, a moment of peace-

“I’m surprised no one noticed-

Gah!” Aza leapt a foot in the air when Exarch’s voice piped up directly behind him, and he whirled around to see his friend grinning sheepishly at him. Exarch was dressed in rather bland, dark clothes, a tunic with a dark hood pulled far over his head, concealing enough of his face from view. His tail was free for once too, merrily swishing from side to side. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Exarch chuckled, lifting his hands in surrender when Aza frowned at him.

“It’s fine,” Aza sighed, idly fanning himself with his hand. This cowl was heavy and hot. Sweat was starting to stick to the back of his neck, “So, turns out I make a pretty good you, huh? Everyone likes the tan.”

Exarch snorted, “It does look good on you- er, me, I suppose.”

“Mhm,” Aza purred, “It does. I guess that means we should take some time to sprawl out in your private garden, soak up the sun together…”

“And burn?” Exarch said wryly, “Sadly, I don’t tan very well.”

“I can set up some shade for you,” Aza said easily, “I think it’ll be nice. It’s quite peaceful at the top of your tower.”

Exarch clearly thought about it, was tempted, and rocked back on his heels, “Well, I suppose-

“Exarch!”

The pair of them froze at Lyna’s voice barking at them, and they both shared a panicked look. There was no way Aza could fool Lyna!

Lyna, who was striding over to them with a fearsome frown - a frown that quickly turned into one of mild confusion as she drew close enough to realise that ‘Exarch’ was in fact Aza, and the scruffy, hooded Miqo’te next to him was actually Exarch.  

All three of them stared at each other in silence for a bit. 

“What are you two doing.” Lyna asked flatly. 

“Uh…” Aza started, “Playing a prank?”

“A prank,” Lyna repeated, slanting a look Exarch’s way. 

“We thought it would be, um, amusing?” Exarch added, smiling a little nervously.

“Amusing.”

“Yes.”

There was another moment of silence, broken when Lyna sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. There was, however, the slightest curl to her lips, a smile of reluctant amusement. 

“Do you know how many people have expressed concern over your ‘budding cold’?” Lyna asked a very sheepish Exarch.

“My voice isn’t that terrible,” Aza muttered.

Lyna ignored him, “And salacious rumours are starting to spread, rumours I very much did not want to hear about my grandfather.”

“Salacious rumours?” Exarch looked bewildered, “Because I have a tan?”

Lyna closed her eyes, as if mentally asking for strength, “Because Aza has a limp.”

There was a moment where Aza and Exarch stared at each other, stumped, but slowly, their mental cogs turned, hard enough to grind grain, until realisation dawned. Exarch made a short, mortified noise, pressing a hand against his mouth, while Aza didn’t know whether to do the same or burst into laughter. 

“O-Oh,” Aza choked out, “So, they think, um…?”

“Exarch, let’s drop the ‘prank’ now,” Lyna said dully.

“Y-Yes, okay!”


But by then, it was too late. By the end of the day, one Zoran, Hrothgar guard of the Dossal Gate, had told his mates at the tavern after his shift his suspicions regarding the Crystal Exarch and the Warrior of Darkness, and when that spread, with those who spoke to ‘Exarch’ confirming those details, well…

It became Common Knowledge: Exarch and Aza fucked. 

Chapter Text

Exarch wasn’t the sort to linger in bed. 

The moment dawn touched the horizon, Exarch was up. It was a routine he kept to for over a century, and not something easily shaken. While in the early days of erecting the Crystarium required every last drop of time he could squeeze out of a day, nowadays, after the return of the night’s sky, Exarch found himself with an intimidating amount of free time. The Crystarium ran fine without his input - entirely by design, of course - and he felt he was mostly humoured when he inquired about the facilities and if they needed anything. Everyone kept insisting he’d rest or take up a hobby or something…

It had been a difficult thing to adapt to. He’d wake up with the sun, then find himself with… well, not a lot to do. There was only so much research he could do regarding the Scions’ plight before he started to go cross-eyed from reading too much, and he found himself loitering in parts of the Crystarium, trying to make himself useful or busy. He also founded a garden to tend to, just to fill up time, and it was… well, it was a horrible disruption to a routine a century old.  

Aza, of course, took it upon himself to help Exarch adjust, and one of those ways was reintroducing him to the concept of ‘lie ins’. 

It was weird. It was also… very nerve-wracking. 

“Y’know…” Aza mumbled against the nape of his neck, “Lie ins are meant to be relaxin’. You’re tense as a rock.”

“Ah, sorry,” Exarch said sheepishly. 

They were both in bed, an hour past dawn, and Aza had decided to ensure Exarch’s lie in by basically clinging to him like a limpet. His powerful, muscular body was curled around Exarch, his arms holding him close, and his face buried into the back of his neck, so he could feel his slow, steady breathing - and the movement of his chest against his back. It was both fantastic… and very sweaty, because Lakeland was hot this time of year, and Aza’s body heat was a bit much. 

It was a dream come true. Exarch found himself shivering every time Aza’s tail flicked idly against his calf, his own tail entwined with it, and one of Aza’s muscular thighs was draped over his hip, his heel just touching Exarch’s knee. It was an incredibly intimate position, one Exarch had fantasied about in his more shameless self-indulgent daydreams, yet instead of being absolutely boneless in happy bliss, Exarch found himself nervous instead. 

He was sweating - would Aza find that gross? Also it was past dawn, and, what if something had come up and Exarch wasn’t there dealing with it? Also, Aza must be bored, just lying in bed with him, right? He must be hungry, or thirsty, or hot, and here he was, trying to reteach Exarch lie ins, because he couldn’t wrench himself out of a deeply ingrained habit by himself. Aaaa… 

“I can practically hear your brain smokin’,” Aza muttered, “Chill.” 

“Ah haha…” Exarch was glad Aza couldn’t see his face - it felt embarrassingly red, “S-Sorry.” 

Aza sighed, nuzzling his cheek against the back of his shoulder - his crystalised shoulder. Exarch still had sensation there, but it was dull and muted. Even so, that gentle contact had his toes curling and his heart skipping a beat. 

“Are you uncomfortable?” Aza asked him. Exarch could feel his lips moving against his shoulder, “I can give you space if you want it.”

“No! No, I like this,” Exarch said quickly, “It’s only… I feel very strange, not… doing my routine. That’s all.” 

“Ah,” Aza sounded understanding, and he idly tapped Exarch’s belly with his fingers, “Okay, so, how about I distract you?”

“Er, distract…?”

He felt Aza smile against his shoulder, the only warning he had before the Warrior of Darkness used his superior musculature and weight to push Exarch onto his stomach, Aza sitting on the back of his thighs with his hands pressed against his back. 

“Um,” Exarch started, his heart thumping a little from anticipation at this new position. Was Aza going to…? “What’re you-”

He was cut off when Aza started kneading his knuckles into his tense back, deftly avoiding the tender edges of where Crystal dug into flesh. It hurt, like he was pressing against a deep bruise, but at the same time, oh, it was lovely. Exarch panted out a very soft noise of relief into his pillow, the tight knots that plagued him constantly easing beneath Aza’s clever, gentle touch.

“There we go,” Aza murmured, sounding pleased, “I should’ve done this earlier.” 

“Mmmmmnnnnn…” Exarch agreed unintelligibly, finding himself slowly going loose-limbed and lax. That felt nice. Oh, he didn’t even realise that ache had been from that, and oh, now Aza was applying more pressure, digging the heels of his palms in and-

‘Pop’

Exarch grunted when his lower back audibly popped from the pressure, and Aza paused. 

“I’m fine,” he said breathlessly, giving an impatient wriggle, “Please, don’t stop.”

“Ahah, okay, okay,” Aza chuckled, “Wow, you’re really loving this, huh?”

“Im… Immensely…” Exarch groaned, the noise tapering into a very low, quiet purr when Aza pressed his thumbs either side of his lower spine, just above his tail, and rubbed small, tight circles. He was in heaven. 

Aza made a quiet, amused noise, but he said nothing further as he focused entirely on his task. After thoroughly massaging Exarch’s back - or rather, what he could massage, on account of the crystal - he moved lower. Exarch felt Aza scoot lower down on his legs, his fingers pressing into the taut muscles of his thighs, moving lower down to his calves, and eventually, to the soles of his feet, pressing his thumb gently along the arch of his foot, the sensation almost ticklish but just about not. 

By the end of it, Exarch was fairly certain he had forgotten what moving was. He was utterly boneless, a happy, relaxed pile of goo, purring into his pillow. Any and all worries of him being unproductive, or this or that… gone. Gone completely. 

If this what a lie in entailed, maybe he should take them more… 

“Exarch…” Aza whispered, “You asleep?”

Mmn.”

Aza laughed quietly at his drowsy response, and he felt the mattress shift as Aza lied down next to him. Aza’s hand idly scratched him behind his ear, his thumb pressing into the perfect spot.

“You’re so cute,” Aza said fondly.

Aza always thought he was cute. Exarch even remembered, back when he was G’raha, that Aza thought the same then. Of course, back then, Aza called him ‘cute’ in an effort to curb his ego, since they had butted heads several times throughout their time in NOAH. G’raha had would call him an ‘old man’, Aza would call him a ‘cute brat’, and then… 

But those days were far in the past. They were different now. Now Exarch was the old man, and Aza was the cute brat, and they didn’t butt heads as much anymore. Amazing, how much time changed, but while it made him feel wistful, he didn’t regret the events that led up to this. 

Aza’s hand was now resting on the nape of his neck, his thumb rubbing over where Crystal covered his Archon tattoo. It tingled nicely. 

“See how nice lie ins are?” Aza murmured, his voice very soft, most likely thinking him asleep, “I’ll keep giving you massages if you take them every now and then, okay? Lyna’s right, you gotta rest more.”

Exarch didn’t reply. He was too sleepy to. Aza seemed content with that, however, and continued to gently stroke the crystal on his neck, a rhythmic movement that had him sliding more and more into sleep, until consciousness left him entirely. 

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry. I thought I could… last a bit longer... “

“It’s fine.” 

Exarch made a quiet noise of protest - it wasn’t fine - but he didn’t have the energy to take it further. Aza was carrying him in his arms, bridal-style, like he weighed barely anything, Exarch’s arms weakly wrapped around his shoulders to stay steady as the world spun and dipped nauseatingly. 

Aether Starvation. That’s what it was. 

Exarch’s existence was an unnatural one, he knew. His long-lived body could only exist so long as he stayed within close proximity to the Crystal Tower, feeding off its aether and connection. The further away he was, the thinner the connection and the aether. For whatever reason, drawing upon the ambient aether in his surroundings was agonisingly difficult, and didn’t really energise him that much, leaving his body to start succumbing to aether starvation. There were several theories why, but it meant that whenever Exarch went beyond the Crystal Tower’s influence, he had to bring ‘batteries’ with him. 

Crystals, charged with aether from the tower. Except, ever since he had been under Emet-Selch’s tender care, something fundamental must’ve been damaged inside of him somewhere. Without the Crystal Tower’s steady connection, he haemorrhaged aether, and even with his ‘batteries’ he now only lasted just over half a day away from it. 

It meant that this ‘little adventure’ he arranged with Aza along the fringes of Lakeland did not end as romantically as Exarch had hoped. 

“You feeling a bit better? We’re near the Round now,” Aza said, drawing Exarch out of his unsteady, woozy thoughts. 

“A little,” he mumbled, his head tipping enough that his cheek rested on Aza’s shoulder. He smelled of oil, leather and metal, and he could hear the creak and rattle of his armour every time he moved. His breastplate wasn’t the comfiest thing to be pressed up against, and the edges of his vambraces cut uncomfortably under his knees and against his back, but Exarch wasn’t going to complain. Aza didn’t have to carry him.

“Want me to hire an Amaro porter to fly us back?”

“Nnh, no…” Exarch said. His pride, though thoroughly humbled from what it’d been before (a brash, overconfident thing), prickled at the idea of Aza carrying him into the Round and scaring the Crystarium guards there. Ever since his kidnapping, everyone hovered over him protectively, and while it was touching, he didn’t want to send them into a frantic worry because of a little dizzy spell. Lyna, especially.

Aza huffed fondly, “Don’t want anyone to see me lugging you about?”

“Mhm.”

Aza adjusted him in his arms with a quiet grunt, “Alright. I’ll take us to the lake’s shore, and we can take a break there.”

Exarch felt a bit guilty then. Right, Aza was strong, but Exarch wasn’t exactly light, especially with the crystal weighing him down. Aza had been carrying him for well over a malm at this point, “I can try to walking…”

“You sure?” Aza stopped, “You still sound a little woozy.”

He was woozy, but he was also experienced in pushing past that to stagger onwards. He managed in Kholusia, after all. 

“I’m fine,” Exarch said, lifting his head and wriggling pointedly, “Put me down, I can walk.” 

“Okay...” Aza sounded reluctant, but he carefully lowered him onto his feet. 

Dried leaves crunched under Exarch’s soles, a few blades of grass tickling his toes as he gripped onto Aza’s shoulder to stay steady. He could feel his heartbeat thump between his temples, and Aza, very gently, rested a hand on his lower back as he got his bearings. 

They were near the Round, they were near the path that led directly to it. The lilac trees loomed over them, the leaves swaying from a gentle breeze that brought a soothing coolness. It was peaceful, in a way that Lakeland hadn’t been in well over a century. There were barely any Sin Eaters prowling these woods anymore, and even the more dangerous monsters had been culled back to allow civilians to safely forage in the outskirts of the woods without armed guards. 

Aza watched him closely, “You good?”

“Yes,” Exarch mustered a smile for him. He felt rather wan, like all the blood had drained from his face and left him shaky, but the Crystal Tower was now just close enough for him to establish a very strained connection. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, strength began to return to his fatigued body. 

Aza clicked his tongue, his hand slowly sliding up from the small of Exarch’s back to rest on his hip instead. His fingers lightly pressed against his hip bone, firm even through the layers of Exarch’s robe, and the physical contact had his heart thumping wildly against his ribs, feeling lightheaded for an entirely different reason. 

“I’ll keep you steady, just in case,” Aza said, seemingly oblivious to the effect he was having on a stiff-backed Exarch, “C’mon, let’s take a few steps.”

“O-Okay,” Exarch breathed, unthinkingly obeying. He took a step, a small one to match Aza’s uneven stride. His legs felt wobbly, but not dangerously so. Aza’s hand was firm against his hip, keeping him tucked close against his side. It was driving Exarch’s blood pressure through the roof. 

“Good?” Aza said, but didn’t wait for a response as he said, “Want me to let go?”

“N-No, it’s- um, you can stay like that,” Exarch flustered, and in the corner of his eye he could see Aza slowly start to smirk. Oh, so maybe not oblivious at all, “This is nice.”

“Mhm, very nice,” Aza agreed, tugging him a little closer. His grip around his waist was now less for support and more about intimacy, and Exarch swallowed thickly at the warm press of his body against his side, “I guess we’re close enough to the tower for you?”

“Just about,” Exarch breathed, shivering when Aza’s tail flicked against the back of his thighs - his own tail lifted, hitching the hem of his robes up, “I’m sorry that I… that my stamina isn’t what it used to be.”

“Well, I mean, your stamina’s pretty good considering you’re practically a fossil,” Aza said teasingly, prodding at the crystal line on his cheek, “Besides, it’s fine. This still counts as an adventure.”

Exarch stayed quiet, disagreeing. His idea of an adventure had been whisking Aza to the lesser travelled corners of Norvrandt, showing him what he missed during his journey to kill the Lightwardens. Yet, if he couldn’t even get beyond the borders of Lakeland without having to turn back, that adventure was impossible now… 

“Exarch?” Aza’s worried voice brought him out of his brooding. 

“Oh, um, yes,” Exarch said distractedly, trying to stamp down the melancholy thoughts clambering in his head. He should be grateful for what life he still had, considering he was meant to be dead now, but still, the wistfulness and envy rose up in him from time to time. The part of him that was still stubbornly G’raha Tia ached for the possibility of a pure, exciting adventure with the man he admired (loved) most, and it was a bitter pill to swallow to realise the limitations of his body meant that could never happen. 

He sighed - then yelped when Aza abruptly swept him back into his arms again. He flailed a little ungracefully before latching his arms around his friend, blinking a bit rapidly when he found himself almost nose to nose with a frowning Aza. 

“Um?” Exarch blurted, too bewildered to form anything coherent. 

“You’re brooding, ” Aza said, “C’mon, none of that. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing is…” Exarch trailed off when Aza’s expression shifted into something deeply unimpressed, “I… I’m sorry.” 

“Don’t say sorry,” Aza said, setting off again. His grip was sure and strong around Exarch, barely jostling him as he moved, “C’mon. What’s up?”

Exarch sighed, realising there was no getting out of this. Aza was like a dog with a bone sometimes, especially if Exarch ended up getting gloomy or lost in his thoughts. It was probably for the best, Aza wasn’t afraid to cut to the heart of the matter and drag him out of his low, sluggish moods, but it didn’t mean it was comfortable. 

“I’m upset that our adventure didn’t turn out as I had hoped,” Exarch admitted, feeling like his disappointment and upset was petty when spoken aloud like that, “I promised you a tour of Norvrandt, and, I had many places for us to visit, but…”

“It’s okay,” Aza said when Exarch trailed off, “You can’t exactly help this, can you?”

“But still…”

“Besides,” Aza continued, not letting Exarch a moment of self-pity, “We’ll figure something out. In fact, you can just ask the Crystarium to help you find a solution, right?”

Exarch blinked at him, “I can?”

Aza gave him a fond look, like he was a bit dim, “Well, yeah. Everyone loves you there. If you ask them to help you find a way to stray beyond the borders of the Crystal Tower so you can explore Norvdrant, why, I bet everyone’ll pitch in. They love you that much, you amazing fool.”

Exarch’s face felt like it was on fire, and he stuttered a little as he said, “Y-You’re exaggerating-”

“Am not,” Aza sniffed, “It’s enough to make a man jealous, y’know, with how beloved you are. Of course, you deserve it for working so hard and for so long, so it doesn’t bother me.”

“I…” Exarch looked away, finding himself smiling despite his embarrassment, “Really?”

“Well, maybe I’m a little jealous,” Aza said teasingly, “My adorable Exarch has so many admirers! It’s enough to make me a little nervous.”

Exarch laughed quietly, well, more like a giggle really, and Aza grinned at him, obviously pleased at buoying his mood. 

“What I’m trying to say,” Aza said when Exarch’s giggles passed, “Is that I’m fine waiting for our big, romantic adventure. I mean, I won’t make any promises on being as spry as I am now-”

Spry?” Exarch coughed before he could help himself, “You’re hardly, er, spry, Aza.”

“Excuse me, but should you be throwing stones like that?” Aza purred, “Who’s carrying who here?”

“Not even I’m as creaky as you are,” Exarch muttered, but he was smiling, “And you have more grey hairs than me.” 

Aza pouted, “I-I’m not that grey! Just a few streaks…”

That pout was adorable. Aza was adorable, when he wasn’t being handsome, that is. Exarch couldn’t help it, leaning in, his heart fit to bursting with fondness, and kissed Aza tenderly on the mouth.

Only to immediately freeze the same time Aza did, mid-step. 

There was a pause, then Exarch hurriedly pulled back, flushed right to his roots as he stammered; “I-I’m so sorry, I just… I didn’t think…”

“Uh,” Aza blinked a few times, then quickly got over his surprise, “It’s fine? I mean, um, I did say it’s fine, if you wanted to kiss me, remember?”

Exarch remembered, but still, it was one thing to discuss it, and for him to suddenly kiss him out of nowhere without warning! His face was still burning, and he lowered his gaze, his arms tight around Aza’s shoulders. For these past few months, they had tread that thin line of friendship and something more, and he had been comfortable with that! Or, told himself that he was comfortable with that. The truth was, he was terrified of taking that step forwards, even as he ached for it, in case… in case what he had imagined ended up being a disappointment, or for Aza to get second thoughts and…

Aza broke him out of his thoughts by gently jostling him, and Exarch looked up - just in time for Aza to kiss him

He made a soft noise, his arms tightening around Aza’s shoulders, but it was a gentle, chaste press against his lips, before his friend pulled away with a smile.

“See, now we’ve kissed each other,” Aza said, while Exarch tried to remember how to breathe, “So, no need to worry about me not wanting it or anything, okay?”

Exarch struggled to grasp the logic, blinking rapidly at him as his heart somewhere in his throat. His lips still felt warm from the kiss, and he pressed his crystal fingers against them, the coolness making him feel… weird. 

“Uh, okay?” Aza sounded and looked a bit worried now, “You did… want me to kiss you, right?” 

“...” Exarch jolted, his wits finally coming back to him, “Oh! Um, yes, I did. I… sorry, I’m… I’m being a bit of a mess right now, aren’t I…?” 

Aza laughed, sounding relieved, “Oh, it’s fine! I mean, you’re doing better than me when I tried confessing to Aymeric…”

Exarch gave him a thoughtful look, “You know, no stories really said how you ended up having an affair with the Lord Commander.”

“It wasn’t an affair,” Aza scoffed, rolling his eyes as he started walking again, “Makes it sound so scandalous… but, well, if you must know, I got really drunk at some Ishgardian function. Everyone was there, and I, um, stood on a table and very publicly yelled my love confession at Aymeric before throwing up on him.” 

“...” That was. That was just, “Wow.”

“I know…” Aza looked physically pained, “Not my best moment.”

Exarch tried imagining it. He very easily could, and he coughed, trying and failing to suppress the laughter at imagining what a disaster of a love confession that had been. He could admit, if Aza had tried that with him, he wouldn’t have been very impressed!

“H-How did… how did the Lord Commander…?”

“Aymeric is a saint,” Aza said solemnly, “Also he has shit tastes in men. I mean, he was in a relationship with Estinien, for fuck’s sake. Me puking on him probably ticked a box of ‘ah, yes, this man is an absolute mess, exactly my type’.” 

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t throw up on me,” Exarch said, “Though, you nearly did, back in…”

He trailed off, finding that enough time hadn’t passed to make that horrific moment on Mt Gulg any less painful. He quickly changed the subject, “But, um, anyways, I… so, with us…”

“We’re whatever you want us to be,” Aza said easily, “Friends who sometimes kiss, or more than friends, or just friends who kissed the once and just cuddle a lot instead. Whatever you want.” 

Exarch slowly absorbed that, “Whatever I want…” 

“Mhm.” 

“But, if you wanted more, then-”

“Nope, doesn’t matter,” Aza said firmly, “We’re moving entirely at your pace, and I’ll be happy with it. Okay?” 

“...okay,” Exarch said, surprised at how relieved he felt. A part of him had worried that the kiss would’ve invited… he didn’t know, expectations? He was still attempting to sort through his emotions, how he felt about having a relationship with Aza, while accepting that he was in a relationship with another person at the same time. All consensual, of course, all parties informed, but… Exarch was still grappling with being alive, having this opportunity, trying to regain his footing and know his place in the world. Tossing a full on, committed relationship on top of that… no, remaining as ‘friends who sometimes kissed’ for now, that was… that was what he wanted right now. 

He looked at Aza, watched how the dappled shadows from the canopy above played over his face as he walked amongst the trees. He was more and the same of what he remembered. Exarch doubted he would love a man more than he loved the Warrior of Darkness. 

So, he leaned in again, and Aza let him, and he kissed him. 

Slowly. 

It was chaste, but… for now, that was what Exarch wanted. 

“When,” he murmured against Aza’s mouth, “I can take you on an adventure beyond the Crystal Tower, that’s when…”

“Mm?”

Exarch leaned away, letting himself settle comfortable as he smiled, “That’s when we’ll become something more.”

“Oh?” Aza grinned, tightening his arms around him in an affectionate squeeze, “Then I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

So was he. It’ll take some time but, it’ll happen. 

He will take Aza on a truly romantic adventure throughout Norvrandt, and at the end… well.

They’ll see where it went.  

Chapter Text

Before Hydaelyn was summoned, Prometheus did try to deal with the Zodiark Problem in a way that wouldn’t result in the total upheaval of the world’s natural order. At the end of the day, Zodiark was a Primal, an amalgamation of millions of Amaurotine souls bound by the prayers for safety and order. He wasn’t ‘immortal’ in the sense that He was indestructible, and Prometheus knew that if he could destroy His physical form and banish Him deep into the Lifestream, then he could focus entirely on curing everyone of their Tempering and figure everything else out afterwards.

It was a straightforward plan. Easy to think about. Kill Zodiark, save those trapped under His thrall, ???, profit. 

However. 

As they say. 

No plan, no matter how simple, survived contact with the enemy. 


“So, you finally come slinking back like a dog with its tail between its legs, hm?”

Prometheus didn’t react to Lahabrea’s words, keeping his breaths even and mind perfectly razor-sharp, his gaze fixed ahead. The Convocation Hall didn’t look that much different since the last time he’d been here, except they had now erected an ugly effigy to Zodiark at the head of the room. He was standing in the centre of the circular room, his thirteen former colleagues in attendance, with his own chair conspicuously empty, as if waiting for his return. 

He felt queasy at the implication, felt ill at the oily miasma lingering in the room. Hades was right there, in his peripheral, but Prometheus didn’t dare meet his friend’s eyes, terrified of seeing how deeply Zodiark’s corruption went. The city stank of it, made Prometheus feel greasy just standing amongst it all, and his fingers twitched with the urge to wipe it off his skin. 

But, focus. Focus. The Convocation hadn’t twigged onto his ruse yet. He ensured to look as pathetic as possible when he crawled back to the city, several months after Zodiark’s summoning, and the Convocation had welcomed him back with open arms - albeit cautiously. Prometheus wasn’t well known for changing his mind once he decided something, after all. 

However, Amaurotines weren’t used to deceit from one of their own. Prometheus was going to betray them with a literal backstab, and they’d never expect it. It meant Prometheus was going to have to do this in one shot. One powerful spell, an overloaded Ultima, the very second Zodiark descended to claim him. It’ll destroy Him completely, destroy this room, destroy everyone, but by then… well, Prometheus had already set down the foundations for his Hydaelyn project, so-

“Prometheus,” Elidibus’s voice brought him out of his near-feverish thoughts, “You must understand that after your… prolonged and unsanctioned absence, you cannot simply step back into your previous role as the Fourteenth without giving reassurance of your loyalty.”

“I never said I wanted my title back,” Prometheus said dully, not even feigning the dead exhaustion in his voice. In the corner of his eye, he could see Hades shift, his familiar yet unfamiliar soul rippling with poorly concealed concern. Like he said, he made sure to look pathetic

Not entirely faking, either. He was pale, with dark bruises from lack of sleep under his eyes, and his soul strained to cracking point. Hydaelyn demanded a lot of energy at the moment, since he hadn’t completed Her binding to the Lifestream or given Her a stable, physical form, but Prometheus had enough left in him for this final bit of defiance. He tried not to think about the fact that he’ll be killing everyone in this room in a short while. 

Well, almost everyone. No matter what, he was saving Hades.

Elidibus stared at him. Zodiark’s effigy loomed behind his seat. The statue looked as if it was staring at Prometheus too, right into his skull and reading his thoughts. Like it knew his plan. 

Prometheus pushed the feeling aside. Don’t crack, don’t flinch. Do it. Just do it. 

“Then you wish to rejoin society?” Elidibus asked carefully, “If that’s the case, then you will need to be treated for your… illness.”

Illness? Prometheus didn’t realise he was ill. 

Elidibus easily read his confusion. 

“Ever since the Doom wounded you, it’s been agreed that it left you crippled,” Elidibus explained, “Emet-Selch’s reports on your erratic, unhealthy behaviour further supported this. Therefore, if you are to rejoin society, you must agree to be treated for this illness and to undergo social reconditioning. Emet-Selch will supervise your treatment, to ensure you are… comfortable.”

It was the tone, Prometheus realised abruptly, that was making him feel uneasy. Lahabrea’s words had been harsh, but everyone else had spoken to him softly, carefully, like he was a wounded animal liable to lash out if startled. In their gazes, there was pity and uncertainty. 

They thought him ill. They thought Prometheus’s trauma was an illness to be cured

“I see,” Prometheus said, wondering if it was Emet-Selch who convinced them of this. He wasn’t stupid, he knew he was a massive threat, roaming around without a leash. Zodiark was probably dancing a jig right now at the thought of Prometheus slinking back willingly into His hands, and was dangling Emet-Selch in front of him as a carrot. Accept the treatment, accept the Tempering, and Prometheus would be hypnotised into the perfect Amaurotine citizen, blithely living in paradise with his friend, declawed and rendered harmless. 

If Prometheus didn’t loathe Zodiark’s very existence, he might’ve taken the bait. 

“It was very good of you, to come back,” Elidibus praised, “We worried you would continue to hide out in the dangerous wilderness, and eventually come to harm. Monsters still roam beyond our borders, after all.”

“...”

“Beneath Lord Zodiark’s protection, nothing will hurt you like the Doom did,” Elidibus continued, taking Prometheus’s silence as hesitance, “And you will be amongst friends.”

Prometheus lowered his gaze to the floor, keeping his breaths even. He could feel it, that oily miasma thickening around him, the way the aether started to prickle. Zodiark was coming, and even Prometheus could feel His delight

“What if I say I’m not damaged?” Prometheus muttered, “I think I’m fine.” 

“Such is the nature of your injury, that you cannot see it,” Elidibus said without hesitation, “This is non-negotiable, Prometheus. As you are, you’re a danger to yourself and others. But worry not, Zodiark will heal you and guide you, and soon you will return to your proper place.” 

It was. 

Eerie

Elidibus had always been the voice of reason amongst the fourteen of them. He was usually quiet in meetings, intervening whenever things got too crazy or heated, mediating arguments and ensuring everyone stayed on topic. He was also who Prometheus saw the most after meetings, to be scolded or lectured on this or that rule he had flaunted or broken. Despite that, though, Elidibus had always been kind to him, who had lectured him because he felt Prometheus could do better. They hadn’t been friends, but they at least had an amicable relationship.

This person was not the Elidibus he remembered. Elidibus wouldn’t have said he was ill. Even when Prometheus had been, admittedly, out of mind with fear and pain when the Doom drew close, Elidibus had tried to keep him calm and mediate his aggressive arguments with Hades right until the end. This person… who was this person? This wasn’t the Elidibus he remembered. Who was he!?

And no one said anything either. No one denied what Elidibus said, not even Hades. They all thought he was sick, like, like, his trauma was something undesirable to be wiped away by Zodiark’s thrall. 

“I’m not sick,” Prometheus hissed, his temper briefly overcoming his sense.

“Prometheus,” Hades said quietly, and he went rigid, forcibly turning his head in the opposite direction of his voice, “It’s not an insult.”

Hades sounded the same, felt the same, that was the insult. Hades’s concern and yearning was clear to him, even with his soul’s barriers up, and it- it pissed him off so much. How dare he even pretend

No, focus. 

Focus. 

“I understand that it must be frightening for you,” Elidibus murmured, and in his peripheral Prometheus saw him shoot Hades a warning look, “But know that our God holds no grudge against you for denying Him. You believed you were acting in Amaurot’s best interests, and your concerns were legitimate at the time.”

They still were legitimate, considering the entire Convocation were puppets dancing in the palm of Zodiark’s hand! Prometheus wondered if they even realised, if they genuinely thought they were acting out of free will. They didn’t act like the mindless drones most Tempered did, but there was something more… insidious about this. Subtle, threatening. 

Prometheus was struggling to keep his breaths even, and he knew his fear was probably leaking through his soul’s barriers, judging by how some of the Convocation were shifting warily. While Zodiark’s Tempered were no longer capable of summoning monsters by accident, Prometheus still carried that ‘defect’. If pushed hard enough, his Creation magic could conjure something monstrous in a fit of blind panic - and they all knew that. 

What monster would come scrabbling out of his soul? A detached part of Prometheus felt distantly curious about it. Hah, maybe if his assassination attempt failed, he’ll try that. Create a monster, see if it could contend with a God. 

“Well, let’s get on with it before he has a fit and summons a monster,” Lahabrea muttered, his voice sounding very far away as Prometheus’s focus sharpened on his singular goal, “His aether is moving erratically.”

“He has far more self-control than that,” Hades said peevishly.

Prometheus lifted his gaze past Elidibus - who said something - to the Zodiark effigy, feeling the ambient aether thicken and grow heavy. One shot. His armigers stirred within the depths of his soul, ready to leap into action, Lazarus bracing for the violent backlash of aether that was going to happen at launching a swiftcasted and overloaded Ultima, Valstrax prepping to throw up a shield to protect him from his own spell… 

Sariel ready to spear Zodiark through his crystal core once Ultima exposed it. One shot. 

Focus. 

Zodiark Descended. 


The Convocation Hall had a tall, high-arched ceiling, skylights letting the sunlight filter through. With Zodiark’s Descent, the ceiling simply… melted out of existence, to reappear once the God was gone, and He was huge. Eldritch. Prometheus looked up at Him, and it was as if some invisible force made his eyes slide past Him, unable to look directly at Him, just, a dark, large looming shape on the very edge of his vision, the tips of wings in his peripheral, the air so thick with dark-aspected aether it almost made him dizzy. 

“Our God…” Elidibus murmured, echoed by the Convocation. 

Prometheus exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, let his soul unfurl to strike, Ultima on his lips, the glitter of pure aether solidifying as his armiger-

Zodiark was faster, perhaps sensing Prometheus’s intentions. He breathed His wisdom unto him in a gentle wave of cooling dark aether, and-

obey obey obey obey obey obey you insects obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey you impure souls obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey taste ignorant bliss obey obey obey obey be saved obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey become mine obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey taste ignorant bliss obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey be trapped obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey exalt obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey enslave souls obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey be mine obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey be blessed obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey be trapped obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey you insects obey obey obey obey obey obey obey fools obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey impure obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey cleansing obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey trash obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey don't think obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey stop limb movement obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey all the same burdens obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey impure insects obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey taste ignorant bliss obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey stop lung heart obey obey obey obey obey obey obey bacteria obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey souls of damn insects obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey taste ignorant bliss obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey obey stop brainwaves obey obe

FOREIGN INVASION. PURGE. 

Prometheus came back to himself gasping and on his knees, Lazarus a star of blinding, hot pain in his core as he just about threw off the crushing, over-dominating will of Zodiark. Even still, he could feel the stain, black fingerprints smeared over his soul as he reeled, terrified and realising he was out of his depth. That sheer power, that overwhelming presence - no, Prometheus didn’t stand a hope of so much as scratching him. The fact he survived, mind intact just now was- was miraculous. He couldn’t- withstand that again…! 

Above him, Zodiark rumbled in displeasure, and the staccato of footsteps, people standing, approaching-

Elidibus, bewildered: “He threw off His blessing?”

Hades, quicker: “Prometheus! Are you hurt-!?”

The dark aether swelled again. Another blessing (curse) was coming.

Prometheus’s mind went blank with terror. 

RUN, some primal instinct in him screamed, and he did. He leapt to his feet in a sudden burst of speed, Valstrax shrieking to life as a barrier to keep the others at bay as he staggered back on unsteady, weak legs. 

“No,” he heard himself say, frantically, “No, no no no-”

“Prometheus, stay calm,” Hades said gently, soothingly, knowing better than to test Valstrax’s barrier - he helped him make it, so many centuries ago. The other Councillors stood tense, looking uncertain on what to do, as Zodiark loomed, mustering an even stronger blessing, one that would crush Prometheus’s will before he could even think to fight against it. It would shatter Lazarus in him, he knew, “It won’t hurt if you just accept it. Don’t struggle. Just accept it.” 

Don’t struggle. Just accept it.

Prometheus stared, had no idea how he looked like, wild with fear and the horrified realisation that he was fighting a seemingly unbeatable foe. Hades stood beyond Valstrax’s barrier, his mask in place, but his concern and worry was so vivid, so much like… how it was before, so much like… 

Obey obey obey obey he will be yours again obey obey obey 

“No,” Prometheus breathed, ignoring the lingering imprints of Zodiark, “I can’t.”

Zodiark reached out- but too late. Prometheus pivoted and leapt into the Lifestream, letting it carry him far, far, far, far, far, far away, as Zodiark’s snarl of frustration followed him to the very ends of the star. 

Prometheus fled, like the natural born coward that he was.

Chapter Text

It was odd to think of Aza being old

Exarch couldn’t help but mull it over, gently pressing his fingers into the swollen joint of Aza’s left knee. It was just before morning, the sky outside a dark blue with the paleness of dawn lightening it up, and his friend was sprawled out on the bed, pale and clammy with pain, as Exarch rested Aza’s bad leg over his lap, trying to coax the pain away with careful application of magic. 

It had been a bit of a nasty shock, waking up to Aza falling when trying to get out of bed. His leg had buckled, apparently, and Exarch woke up to a loud thud and Aza making short, gasping noises of pain. He had… panicked, a little bit, had a bit of a flashback to Aza on his knees on Mt Gulg, choking and gasping in agony, but when he realised that it was just his bad leg…

Hah, ‘just’ his bad leg. Judging by Aza’s strained expression, it wasn’t ‘just’ anything. 

“Is this helping?” Exarch asked softly, his eyelids still heavy with sleep now that the adrenaline from his earlier scare was wearing off. 

“A little,” Aza mumbled, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Exarch said, mustering a smile for him. The joint felt incredibly inflamed, and he could see the pale, precise scars running along the back of the knees, as if they were done by a scalpel. When he probed with magic, the ligaments there showed signs of repair by magic, but shoddily done. It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. The multiple scars, done precisely, the shoddy healing of it… it made something black and ugly boil low in Exarch’s stomach, but it was an emotion that was useless to the situation. Asking about it wouldn’t help anything either. The scars were old

“Ugh, I hate these days…” Aza sighed, throwing an arm over his eyes, “Where my piece of shit body is just… shit.”

“Now, now,” Exarch chided gently, “It’s not all bad. We can, um, have a lazy day. You’ve been telling me to take more of those.”

“Mm…” Aza didn’t seem cheered.

Exarch thought about his next words, carefully pressing his thumb on the inside of his knee, letting his magic ease the inflammation, applying an anaesthetic element to it - it wouldn’t do much for the biomechanical damage, he will definitely be hobbling about on it, but at least Aza could move it without feeling like there was glass trapped in the joint. 

“What if I kiss it better?” Exarch said. 

“...okay.”

Exarch smiled, and carefully, nudging Aza’s leg further up his thigh, he bent over his lap enough to press a small, tender kiss to his aching knee. It made his lower back pull stiffly, but Exarch easily ignored it, letting his lips linger on warm skin before he straightened up. 

It was silly. Indulgent. But it was enough, because when he looked up at Aza, his friend was smiling a little. He was still pale from pain, but he was smiling. 

“There,” Exarch murmured, “All better.”

“Mm.”

Exarch rubbed his hand along Aza’s muscular thigh, his fingers trailing old scars. There was a thin scar that looked like it came from a glancing blow from a blade, and further up, curving over his hip, were faded, thick scars from what looked like a nasty bite wound. He must’ve been a child when it happened, judging by the way the scar tissue stretched taut over the skin.

“Will a bath help?” Exarch asked, only just about stifling a yawn, “Mn, I do have one, you know. Though, it’s more like a swimming pool, than a bath…”

“I don’t wanna trouble you,” Aza said, “I’m fine like this.”

“Trouble? It’s not any trouble at all,” Exarch huffed a little at the thought, “No, I insist now. Let’s have a bath.”

Aza groaned, “Exaaaaarch…”

Exarch smiled, gently nudging Aza’s leg off his lap, and scooted off the bed. For someone who insisted on Exarch taking better care of himself, Aza sure didn’t take his own advice sometimes. No doubt he was worrying about inconveniencing him, or keeping him awake, which, well, yes, he was tired, but… well, Exarch can just have a lie in. He was getting better at those. 

“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said, wandering into his ensuite bathroom. Like everything Allagan, the room was huge (he did switch the toilet out into something where he wasn’t liable to fall into it, though), and the bathtub was massive. It looked more like a shallow paddling pool, and Exarch tiredly shoved at the ornate taps until hot water spluttered out. 

With that done, he went back into the bedroom, lightly clapping his hands together, “Alright, Aza, time to get up. Come here, I’ll carry you.”

“Uh, I think I might be too heavy for you…” Aza said warily, carefully sitting up. 

While he and Aza were certainly the same height, Aza was very muscular, and therefore heavy, for a Miqo’te. His shoulders were broad, his chest was thick with muscle, his thighs could probably break a man’s neck, and he was solidly built. Seriously, it was like running into a brick wall if you bumped into him. But, Exarch was no slouch, even at over three hundred years of age! He was lean and well-toned, and he liked to think he was pretty strong too. Not as strong as Aza but, still, strong. 

He can carry him. 

So, ignoring Aza’s hesitance, Exarch pressed one knee against the bed, leaning down to scoop his crystal arm under his friend’s knees, and the other braced against his back, before picking him up with a grunt. Aza’s arms immediately wrapped around his shoulders to stay steady, and Exarch pressed his knee heavily into the mattress as leverage to push back, breathing a little heavily as he successfully held Aza in a bridal carry. 

“S-See? It’s- it’s fine!” Exarch huffed proudly, ignoring the burn in his normal arm and his upper back as he carried a nervous looking Aza over to the bathroom, “Ah, mind your feet on the doorframe.”

Aza minded his feet, and Exarch grunted when he reached the edge of the bathtub, carefully leaning down to let Aza into the rising water. It was a bit clumsy, but Aza didn’t complain as he was almost dumped into it with a small splash, the water soaking Exarch’s smallclothes through. Oh well, whatever. 

“Wow,” Aza said, looking impressed as Exarch braced himself on the edge of the bathtub and caught his breath - and appreciative. Something in Exarch preened when Aza’s gaze raked over him, as if only noticing the lean muscle that was there and liking what he saw, “You’re stronger than you look, Exarch.”

“H-Ha, well, I haven’t stayed idle!” Exarch boasted, straightening up and ignoring how sweaty he was from that short bout of exertion as he playfully flexed his bicep, “I may be old, but I’m not decrepit just yet.”

Aza laughed, shifting to ease into a more comfortable position. The water, at this point, was up to his waist, and Exarch slipped his soaked smallclothes off. He leaned against the edge of the bath.

“May I?” he asked. 

“It’s your bath,” Aza pointed out, watching him with heavy-lidded eyes.

“Yes, but you’re currently in it,” Exarch said, dipping his normal hand into the water. It was pretty hot, but Aza didn’t seem to mind, “Is this temperature fine?”

“Oh, yeah, hotter the better,” Aza muttered, slouching a little and straightening his bad leg out a fraction, “You can hop in if you want.”

Exarch turned the taps off - the water didn’t need to be any deeper - and then gingerly climbed in. It was almost too hot for him, but he resigned himself to having lobster red skin for a bit as he sunk into the water. He positioned himself so Aza could rest his bad leg over his lap again, Exarch’s hand kneading into his firm thigh. 

Aza was smiling at him fondly. 

“You’re red,” he observed, “Is it too hot?”

“Oh, no, no, it’s fine,” Exarch lied, ignoring how he was probably sweating buckets, a flush high on his cheeks. He’ll adjust in a few minutes, “Though, you must be part dragon or something to endure this heat without breaking a sweat.”

Aza chuckled, “Nah, I think it’s ‘cuz I’m used to running about in deserts and volcanoes in full armour.” 

Wicked White, no wonder his armour always carried a hint of sweat, “I think I would faint…”

Aza made a low, humming noise that bordered on a purr. 

They lapsed into a comfortable silence at that. The hot bath was making him feel even drowsier, but he fought off the sluggishness, keeping up his gentle massage to Aza’s thigh. In the corner of his eye, he could see Aza slowly start to relax, the tension that had been bunching his shoulders up easing. The heat must be doing his sore knees some good. 

“...thanks, by the way,” Aza mumbled.

“Hm?” Exarch blinked a few times. Oh, he almost dozed off, “For what?”

“You know, this,” Aza’s head tilted to the side, a lazy smile on his face. It was… very handsome, and Exarch felt himself redden from something other than the heat. His gaze was riveted to that smile. 

“Oh, well, I don’t like seeing you in pain, so...” Exarch murmured, unconsciously pressing his thumb into the inside of Aza’s thigh, rubbing over the bump of a scar. With some difficulty, he lifted his gaze from Aza’s mouth to his eyes.

Those eyes that were heavy-lidded and very knowing.

Exarch had a very odd feeling of - it was like embarrassment, but delight and thrill, all bundled up into a confusing package that had him swallowing thickly. He was abruptly aware they were both sitting naked in a bath together, his hands pressed intimately against Aza’s firm thigh, and that despite Aza’s easy posture, he was sweating, small beads of it rolling over his firm chest-

He directed his gaze to the far wall, clearing his throat. Now wasn’t the time. If Aza was in so much pain he could barely walk, then, well. Yes. Behave, libido, please. 

Exarch ignored the heat clenching low in his belly, and started kneading his knuckles into Aza’s thigh again, just to distract himself. 

“Are you having a lie in today?” Aza asked after a moment of silence. There was a tension there, but it was a thrilling kind. Exarch felt himself smile a little. 

“Mhm, I think I will,” Exarch was composed enough to look at him again, “Joining me?”

“Like I have a choice,” Aza said wryly, “But, mm, yeah. I think it’ll be nice.”

The way Aza said ‘nice’ made Exarch’s heart skip a beat, and he grinned.

“Very nice. Why, I think it’s time I spoiled you a little,” he hummed, “Payback for all those massages, and cuddles-”

Aza flustered a little. He always did when you brought up cuddles, it was cute, “Exarch.”

“Mm?”

“You’re still a cheeky boy, huh?” Aza mumbled, but he sounded fond, “Okay, if you insist, you can pamper me today.”

It was silly, and self-indulgent. Exarch was getting good at being silly and self-indulgent now, without guilt treading close on its heels. 

“Mm, it’s a date then,” he said, and, feeling emboldened, he leaned in. 

Aza met him halfway, as he always did. 

Chapter Text

It had been three days since Prometheus had fled in a wild panic from them and Hades was sick with worry. 

Zodiark, as well, had been deeply concerned. Not only because one of His wayward children had ran off into the wilderness in a fit of blind panic after violently rejecting His Blessing, but because Prometheus also posed a… a risk. Unlike everyone else in Amaurot, Prometheus’s Creation magic hadn’t been shackled, and his illness made him afraid and erratic and… 

Prometheus was a ticking time bomb. Hells, for all they knew he had already gone off, with how terrified he had been in the aftermath of Zodiark’s failure-

(not failure, something in his mind self-corrected, with a slight sting for his petulance)

-aftermath of Prometheus’s pettiness. Hades’s stomach knotted as he remembered that discomforting pull from Valstax. Prometheus had practically clawed at that armiger with all the desperation of a cornered animal - the fear that spilled out of him, wild and hot and sour, an echo of the Doom that they had conquered and survived. It was a miracle monsters hadn’t spawned out of Prometheus’s terror there and then. 

“Damn it,” Hades muttered, stopping in front of his apartment window. He had been pacing since he returned from work, and…

Something about it struck him as odd. Disjointed. His apartment, rebuilt from where it had been destroyed from the Doom, his work, the same as it had been before the world ended and was reborn again. Yet, these past months had limped by in a surreal sense, because for the first time, he existed without Prometheus. 

His friend wasn’t barging into his apartment at odd hours, just because he could. He no longer came every other evening to cook him more food than he was ever going to eat. He no longer took over his bed, stole all his blankets, and use him as a pillow. He no longer smiled at him, his soul brimming with love and affection, a whisper of a promise of eternity in their lingering touches. He no longer goaded him, just because he found Hades’s annoyed expression cute, or rambled to him about birds, or this or that odd Concept he was thinking of making, or...

Instead, Prometheus abandoned him. He ran off into the wilderness to live with the beasts, only slinking back when he was exhausted to breaking point. He had refused to even look at him, and when Hades tried- tried - to reach out, gently, carefully, with his soul, to reassure him that it was okay, Hades was still on his side, he wasn’t mad - Prometheus had snapped at him. Hades had felt the ugly surge of betrayal and anger and despair from Prometheus as he lashed out at his soul’s touch, and Hades had given him space, bewildered and wounded. 

What had he done to deserve that?

It was his illness, Hades told himself. It warped Prometheus’s perspective, made him paranoid, delusional… being alone in the wilderness with only beasts for company, who knew what his fevered mind had conjured up? He probably thought Hades had been reaching out to hurt him. The thought of it made him feel sick.

But that was fine. Hades won’t give up on him. As hurtful and frustrating as Prometheus was being, Hades will endure it. He’ll find him, he’ll keep him calm as Zodiark heals him - gentler, this time. He felt Zodiark might’ve spooked him by accident, reaching out too heavy-handedly, yes, no, Hades will ensure Prometheus was sufficiently calm before accepting His wisdom. Then it’ll be a case of reminding him how things were and it’ll… it’ll be back to normal. Everything.

He just needed to find him again.

But this star was vast, and Prometheus had dived deep into the Lifestream when he fled. He could be anywhere, and Zodiark could not see every square inch of His world. 

But it would only be a matter of time. Day by day, their God’s power grows and His influence spreads. Soon, the entire star will be beneath His protection, and there will be nowhere left for Prometheus to hide. Hades will drag him before Zodiark, kicking and screaming if he had to, and pin him down if he must, to make sure the Blessing sticks

It was for his own good. 

Prometheus’s place was always meant to be at Hades’s side - they were one soul in two bodies, and his heart ached at this distance between them. Zodiark will make it right again. He will heal Prometheus and turn him back to normal, heal his wounds so he is no longer this… wild, half-broken animal. Bring back the old Prometheus. Hades will have his other half back. 

One way or another, Prometheus will come home. 

It was for his own good. 

(and, the quiet, selfish part of hades’s heart whispered, prometheus was his , and his world was not complete, unless prometheus was in it and his)

Chapter Text

“Yeah, I’d like an Iced, half-caff ‘rist-ret-to’ venti, four pump-”

Hades tuned the order out, already mentally supplanting whatever nonsense coming out of the customer’s mouth with ‘decaff espresso’ as his gaze slid over to the far corner of the coffee shop. Like clockwork, at the same time in the mid-afternoon, one ‘Prometheus’ would come and order a medium mocha before sitting in the corner with his laptop until closing time. Occasionally he would come up to the counter for a refill, linger to chat, and then slink back to his laptop. 

It was the sole bright spot in Hades’s day, honestly. 

Except today Prometheus was running late. It was edging close to five o’clock in the afternoon, and he hadn’t spotted hide nor hair of that little ray of sunshine. It wasn’t that he was worried, of course not, but Hades was edging from ‘exhausted apathy’ into ‘vaguely homicidal’ without that comforting distraction and he still had four hours left of this shift. He might actually kill a man by the end of it. 

“-did you get all that?” demanded the customer, a very haughty Lalafell that Hades had an urge to tip off the stool they were using to see over the counter. 

Hades’s reluctantly looked away from the empty corner, hitched up a smile as equally vacant, and lied, “Of course.”

Then he made a decaff espresso. 

One ignorant customer later, someone more tolerable by a small margin took their place.

“Emet,” Lahabrea said, sulking in a too-large hoodie like some scruffy hoodlum, “Espresso.”

“I thought I smelled sulphur,” Hades commented idly, taking in his appearance. The man looked dead on his feet, which meant he had been pulling several consecutive all-nighters again, “Who’s guarding hell if you’re here?”

Lahabrea grunted. 

Not in a bantering mood then. Shame. 

Hades made an espresso. A strong one. 

“So,” Hades began idly, “How’s that dissertation coming along?”

Lahabrea shot him a look better suited to a corpse that had just finished clawing its way through a cemented coffin. 

“That bad, huh?” Hades tutted in mock-sympathy, setting the drink down and shoving it over into Lahabrea’s open, grasping hand, “Oh! Before I forget, you do remember you’re on the late shift tonight, hm?”

Lahabrea froze, and Hades didn’t bother hiding his grin at the look of blank despair that crossed his pale face. Oh, he had definitely forgotten. 

“It starts in two hours,” Hades added.

Lahabrea heaved a sigh that sounded like his soul was escaping his physical form, his bloodshot eyes squinting shut for a long moment, “Thanks… for reminding me.”

Hades hummed, watching the poor man shuffle off with his shoulders slumped, like he was carrying the weight of the world on them. That man really needed to learn how to loosen up a bit. He was passionate about his work, but Hades worried he was going to self-destruct one day. If he did, then Hades would end up having to take longer shifts to cover him, which would be terrible. 

Hades eyed the empty corner again, and fought the urge to sigh. Very terrible. 


It was ticking close to nine o’clock - the end of Hades’s shift - when Prometheus finally slinked in. 

He looked tired, his dark hair a wild mess, in an adorable, dark button up coat. Hades very quickly kicked Lahabrea off the till - who had allowed it with a disgusted mutter of ‘just ask for his number already’ - and ensured to look as apathetic as possible as his ray of sunshine approached the counter. He can’t look too eager. 

“Mmn, evenin’,” Prometheus said, giving him a tired but sincere smile, “You’re still here, Emet?”

“I never leave,” Hades said flatly, “Medium mocha?”

“Yup.” 

Hades shot Lahabrea a look, and his coworker dutifully started making the drink with a roll of his eyes. He ignored it. 

“This is late for you,” Hades said with forced idleness, accepting Prometheus’s gil without bothering to count it. He always gave him exact change, which made his life so much easier, “Busy?”

“Oh, well, mm, kind of,” Prometheus said evasively. He seemed a bit nervous about something, and Hades couldn’t help but frown. Was something the matter? Not that it was any of his business, really, but the curiosity itched at him. Prometheus was a comforting constant, and him changing routines or acting differently disrupted that. 

“Uh, I know you said you never leave,” Prometheus continued, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his fingers curled into the strap of his laptop bag hanging off his left shoulder, “But, I’m guessing you do?” 

“...” Uh. He knew Prometheus was intelligent enough to detect sarcasm. “Yes?”

Lahabrea muttered something too low to be heard. 

“Well, yeah, I mean, of course you do!” Prometheus said quickly. For some reason he was starting to turn bright red, “B-Because, I was wondering, if, you’d like to, when you can leave, if you want to, like, I’m gonna go straight home after this, and you can, uh, can…” 

Hades tilted his head, puzzled. Prometheus didn’t finish. 

“This is agony to witness,” Lahabrea cut in, leaning past Hades to shove Prometheus’s mocha across the counter, “He’s asking if you want to go home with him after your shift, Emet.”

Hades blinked, the same time Prometheus looked mortified enough to expire on the spot. It took a long moment for the words to properly sink in. 

“Wait,” Hades started, “Are you asking me on a-”

I’msorrytobotheryougoodbye!” Prometheus yelped, bright crimson and looking ready to die, and promptly bolted from the coffee shop. He left his drink behind. 

For a long moment, Hades and Lahabrea stared after him. The door swung shut with deceptive gentleness, considering how fast Prometheus had fled through it. 

“...” Hades looked down at the abandoned drink. Lahabrea had scrawled Hades’s number on the side, “Huh.” 

Lahabrea looked up the ceiling, “Give me strength.” 


It took a week for Prometheus to come creeping back, embarrassed and shy. Unfortunately, he came back during Hades’s off day. Fortunately, Lahabrea gave him Hades’s number and told him to please sort this out so he wasn’t forced to witness their relationship drama every time they were in the shop together.

It turned out Prometheus was bolder asking someone out over text, thank God. 

Chapter Text

Exarch wasn’t sure if his current situation was romantic or embarrassing. 

An abrupt tug on his tail’s fur made him wince, making him lean more towards ‘embarrassing’ as Aza muttered something under his breath. 

“You’ve really been neglecting this,” Aza chided.

“Well, people never see it, and I’m normally quite busy…” Exarch mumbled into the pillow, hiding his burning face in it. Aza was sitting on the back of his thighs, grooming his tail with the brisk efficiency one reserved for a horse. It made it difficult to find the entire situation sexy, even though this was the exact scenario most Miqo’te would find seductive. 

Another tug. Exarch flinched.

Then again, they weren’t like normal Miqo’te, were they?

“My legs are covered in so much shed hair right now,” Aza said, sounding amused, “Also, it’s clear you’ve just been doing a quick surface brush. I’m hitting mats close to the skin.” 

 Exarch felt mortified. Mats. Really? He knew he rushed his tail grooming on most days, but he hadn’t realised he’d let his tail’s condition get that bad. And Aza pointed it out, the man he loved and admired most, noticing he had the fur hygiene of a prepubescent Miqo’te. 

“I’m… I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this…” Exarch said quietly, his ears drooping back, “Considering…”

Well, considering Exarch had been trying to be a little… spontaneous today. A little flirty. He had managed to shore up his confident bravado enough to coyly ask Aza to bed in the middle of the day, but before anything resembling intimate or romantic happened, Aza noticed the condition of his tail and… 

Ugh. He’d never felt so embarrassed in his life. The urge to drag a pillow over his head and smother himself with it was overwhelming. 

“Eh, it’s fine. I mean, I’ve let this happen to my tail a lot too,” Aza said easily. His strokes were smoother now. Most of the mats were seemingly brushed out, “Spent a week in a swamp chasing a huntmark, and my tail was like one giant matted mess by the end of it. Bluebird had to pin me down to cut all of it out.”

“It couldn’t be washed out…?”

“The mats were rock solid,” Aza sighed, “I mean, I probably could’ve, but it was easier to just cut my tail’s fur short. Luckily, we don’t have to do that with you. You just needed a good brush.” 

Aza had stopped brushing his tail now, was instead stroking the long limb from base to tail tip with his hand. It eased some of Exarch’s embarrassment. 

“Speaking of, we’re all done,” Aza said, followed by the noise of him vigorously brushing his legs off, “You’ll need to change your sheets, though. There’s a lot of loose fur.”

“Um, thank you…” Exarch mumbled, shifting to get up - but Aza remained sitting on the back of his thighs, keeping him in place, “Aza?”

“Mm?” Aza hadn’t stopped stroking his tail once, rhythmically, from base to tip, base to tip. It was very relaxing, very pleasant, very… something else, when Aza started to linger at the base of his tail, calloused fingers pressing just above it and rubbing a small circle into the sweet spot. 

Exarch let out a rough noise, his face hot for an entirely different reason as he hugged the pillow closer to his face. His lower back arched of its own volition, trying to push his hips back into Aza’s clever fingers deftly rubbing the base of his tail. 

“Good?” Aza asked quietly, when Exarch groaned softly into his pillow. 

“Ah, yes,” he admitted breathlessly, turning his head enough to peek over his shoulder. Aza caught his eye and then smiled, lifting his hand from the base of Exarch’s tail to gently brush off some lingering hair clinging to his lower back. 

“So, um, before we got distracted…” Aza said, leaning back slightly, “What were you wanting to do again?” 

Exarch shifted - this time, Aza obligingly got off his legs, letting him roll onto his back. His heart fluttered a little, from nerves, anticipation, his earlier embarrassment a faint, distant thing as he bent his knees then spread his legs invitingly. It was a seductive pose, he knew - he hoped - and he bit his bottom lip when Aza gave his naked body an appreciative once over. 

“I was wanting,” Exarch murmured huskily, his fingers curling into the bed sheet under him when Aza slowly settled in between his spread legs, his friend’s calloused, strong hands pressing against his thighs, thumbs rubbing small circles on sensitive skin, “Ah, wanting… us to be a little intimate.”

“A ‘little intimate’?” Aza said teasingly, but he was already leaning in, his hands sliding from his thighs, pressing down against the bed on either side of Exarch’s head. His eyes were dark, “That’s a lil’ vague…”

Exarch knew this game. He reached up, his crystal hand cupping Aza’s cheek, his normal one pressing against the back of his shoulder, urging him down, closer - Aza obliged, leaned in, down, closer… 

They paused just before their lips touched, nose to nose. Aza’s strong body leaning over him, and when Exarch closed his legs enough, his thighs squeezed Aza’s hips, and on a whim, he lifted his feet, hooking his ankles together just behind Aza’s back, to keep him in place. Aza made a delightful noise at that. 

“What do you want, Exarch?” Aza purred, his voice a low, low, low rumble. 

He knew this game. He was getting very good at this game, in fact. Learning a bit of selfishness… 

“I want…” Exarch whispered, his crystal hand sliding into Aza’s hair, fingers curling into his soft hair, “...you to kiss me.” 

“Mm,” he felt, rather than saw, Aza’s smile, as his want was very nicely obliged. He was kissed, deeply, tenderly, until his breath was taken away and he forgot about his earlier embarrassment with his tail. 

Aza’s hand pressed against his ribs, palm rough and calloused, scarred fingers gently stroking a path over to where skin met crystal, following it - it prickled, not quite pain, not quite pleasure, sensitive, and Exarch made a soft, little noise, right in his throat. Aza swallowed it in their kiss, pressed his fingers harder, hint of nails, and ah, pleasure, definitely pleasure.

Aza broke the kiss, breathing only a little short. Exarch dizzily envied him. He was panting like he ran a marathon. 

“Good?” Aza murmured hoarsely, his hand trailing over to Exarch’s nipple, fingers gently playing with it. 

“Y-Yes,” Exarch gasped, his fingers clenched into the sheets under him in a white-knuckled grip. He dug his heels into Aza’s back unthinkingly, squeezing his hips hard with his thighs as Aza gave his pert nipple an experimental pinch. He barely choked back a needy noise, “ Yes…” 

“Mm,” Aza sounded pleased, and he nosed at Exarch’s jaw, head tipping enough to kiss his throat, on the edge where Crystal bit into skin. Exarch whined quietly. 

It was a moment that could tip. Exarch knew the effect it was having on him, could feel the effect it was having on Aza, the hard press against his hip, and he knew, if he said ‘ I want more’, Aza would give it to him. He wanted more, he did… but…

But he had a horrible itch all along his lower back - from the shed hair, of course. It was distracting, no matter how hard he tried to ignore it. 

Exarch squirmed, trying to, somehow, awkwardly, scratch his back against the bed while not moving from his position - but he ended up just wriggling in a way that had Aza pulling back in confusion. Exarch grunted irritably. 

“Um, was that no good?” Aza asked anxiously.

“Yes- no, I mean, it was good,” Exarch flustered, “I, just, um… I have an itch.”

“An itch?”

“My back… hold on,” Exarch mumbled. The embarrassment was back, and he reluctantly let his hand drop from Aza’s hair to squirm it underneath him, his lower back arching as he scratched furiously at the itchy spot. He felt loose hair there- oh. Right. 

Of course. Aza had brushed the shed fur off his legs… onto the bed.  

Aza seemed to remember that too when taking in Exarch’s disgruntled expression. 

“Oh, oops,” Aza said sheepishly.

“Sorry…” Exarch sighed, quickly losing the mood as he relaxed his legs around Aza to let him go, shifting to sit up. Aza leaned back to let him, “I should have realised this would… ugh.”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Aza said quickly, watching as Exarch irritably brushed off the hair clinging to his back, “We’ll change the sheets and pick it up again later.” 

Still, how embarrassing. Exarch made a mental note to pay more attention to grooming his tail from now on. He couldn’t believe he had been cockblocked by his own shed fur

Embarrassing!

Chapter Text

Prometheus was an odd child. 

Metis had been warned about this when given her assignment to mentor him and his two agemates. There was no reason for it. His Creation was conventional, his ‘parents’ were very powerful yet standard Amaurotines, and he was raised the same as everyone else. It meant his oddity was something that formed during his soul’s crafting, seeded from the moment of conception. Did one of his parents have a fleeting thought that tainted the end result? Or perhaps the exact mix between his parents’ souls gave rise to a unique mutation? Whatever the reason, it was difficult to pin down and replicate, and Metis was now given the task of ‘managing him’. 

Some Mentors offered their condolences. They had all read Prometheus’s files, had read how wilful he was, how stubborn, how unconventional and dangerously powerful he was, how… odd he was. He was not normal. He was dangerous. He was selfish. He felt too much. He felt too little. He shied away from contact. He was too physically affectionate. He was strange. He was contrary. He wasn’t normal.

Metis scorned such condolences. Prometheus was an odd child, yes, but Metis was old enough to remember when such oddities were common and expected, when children were born organically, than crafted to near perfection. To shy away from the challenge of raising a difficult child, to say ‘I am sorry’ because Prometheus wasn’t normal...

Cowards. 

Metis was going to raise Prometheus to the highest of heights, just for that.


They had to start small, though, of course. 

“I hate these masks,” Prometheus muttered, visibly sulking on their front doorstep. He was being difficult this morning - Hades and Hythlodaeus had obediently donned their communal robes and masks, and were loitering in the front garden as Prometheus dug his heels in and refused to put his mask on. They were used to his little stubborn fits by now, and were patiently watching from the sidelines.

“I know you dislike them,” Metis said patiently, “But they’re a requirement to go out in public.”

“Maybe I don’t want to go out in public.” 

Metis felt herself smile, “You want us to leave you here alone, then?”

Prometheus paused at that. He had such an expressive face, despite his soul being as closed off as a clam. For Metis, it was easy for her to read his emotions just by the tilt of his mouth, the furrowing of his brow, the look in his eyes - many other Amaurotine’s lacked such basic knowledge. 

(Hades and Hythlodaeus, she refused to obtain that level of ignorance. They could read Prometheus as well as she could, without requiring to read his soul)

Right now, Prometheus looked uncertain. 

“Um,” he started, “Well, no…”

“Then you will need to put on a mask to come with us,” Metis said gently.

Still, Prometheus hesitated. 

This would be when the average Mentor would become impatient, but Metis changed her angle of attack. This wasn’t the first time Prometheus refused to put on a mask. He complained that they were uncomfortable, or they were heavy, or he just didn’t like them, but she wondered if there was a deeper reason why. 

“Is there something wrong with the masks?” Metis asked. 

“They’re uncomfortable,” Prometheus grumbled. An old complaint that Metis knew to be false. 

“Prometheus…” she chided softly. 

“He finds them scary,” Hades piped up.

Prometheus shot his agemate a look of utter betrayal, “Hades! You- you promised you wouldn’t tell!” 

Hades shifted his weight, a brief sign of his discomfort, but he didn’t apologise, “It’s something you need to get over.”

Metis mulled over that as Prometheus and Hades slipped into one of their regular squabbles, Hythlodaeus anxiously refereeing. He found the masks frightening? She supposed that for someone like him, who used facial expressions to judge social situations, they would be unnerving. Metis probably should have tried to steer him to allowing spiritual contact more, to better fit in, but he viciously disliked any stranger touching him in that way, and she wasn’t going to push it. He opened his soul up to her, Hades and Hythlodaeus, and that was all he needed for now. 

She clapped her hands, and immediately her children stopped their arguing. 

“Thank you for telling me, Hades,” Metis said, because while she didn’t condone breaking promises, she did accept it if it was done to help someone, “Now, Prometheus, I understand why you don’t want to wear the mask.”

Prometheus squirmed. He looked embarrassed. Some of that emotion leaked through his soul’s borders. 

“But unfortunately, it is part of Amaurotine society,” Metis continued, “Unless you wish to isolate yourself completely from it, you must adjust to enduring the discomfort.”

“But that’s… that’s not fair…” Prometheus said very very quietly into the collar of his robes. 

“No, it isn’t,” Metis said bluntly, “But this is how our society has developed, and how it will remain - unless, someone of great influence changes its course…”

She let that sentence linger, then flicked her wrist, Creating a mask for Prometheus. 

“Until now, you will simply have to endure,” she told him. 

Prometheus looked unhappy, but he took the mask. He realised he had no choice in the matter, which was… sad. Amaurotine society as it was restricted those like Prometheus, who were square pegs trying to fit in a round hole, but that simply was how it was. All Metis could do was encourage him to try and find his own way to live in this society, the rest he had to do by himself. 

“It will only be while we’re amongst public,” Metis told him gently, as he glumly stood up from the step, his mask and hood in place, “At home, we will hide these masks away.”

“Mmn,” Prometheus made an unhappy sound. 

Metis left him to it. She ushered them out from their garden, smiling when Hythlodaeus and Hades immediately bracketed Prometheus between them, and drew him into a conversation about what was better, a hawk or a falcon? Prometheus’s unhappiness was swiftly forgotten as he educated his poor agemates on how a hawk and a falcon were equally amazing and great and here was his hour long argument as to why. 

Metis could practically feel the regret radiating off Hades for asking that question, but he indulged Prometheus all the same. Hythlodaeus was hanging off every word though, silently encouraging Prometheus to keep talking and talking and talking...

Prometheus was so odd. 

Yet, Metis loved him all the same. 

Chapter Text

Exarch expected several things when he staggered over to give his apology. 

He expected anger: righteous anger, for his deception, his lies, his fuck ups . He expected disdain, he expected disapproval, he expected… many things like that. He even kept his gaze downwards, like the coward he was, unable to bear seeing the potential anger in Aza’s face. As he was, he feared it would snuff out his remaining determination to stay standing on weak, trembling legs. 

What he didn’t expect was… this. 

Aza storming over to sweep him into the most aggressive hug he’d ever endured. Exarch’s ribs creaked from the grip, his face was pressed into the crook of Aza’s neck, the edge of Aza’s breastplate digging into his chin, and strong arms keeping his arms pinned tight against his side, a hand pressed into his hair. It was a hug that hurt. It was the best hug he had in centuries. 

“G’raha,” Aza muttered into his hair, his voice taut with several emotions, “You idiot.”

G’raha. 

He remembered him. 

He had thought, in that moment, where Aza had been delirious and in agony, before Emet-Selch ruined the plan, that he had only imagined him gasping his name but… 

He really did remember him. 

He remembered him.

“It’s good to see you awake,” Aza whispered, and the last little bit in Exarch - G’raha - Exarch, the last little bit… 

Something  gave. 

Exarch clung to Aza and wept.


Of course, the emotional ‘reunion’ had to be cut short on account of still being in Emet-Selch’s apocalyptic illusion. 

Unfortunately, Exarch was scraping empty on his energy levels. 

He had spent far too long from the tower, his aether stretched so thin he felt like that thread was going to snap at the slightest bit of strain. He didn’t even dare attempt to use the feeblest of healing spells on his injuries, lest he knocked himself unconscious from the attempt. Summoning those heroes from beyond the rift, albeit temporarily, had honestly torn out whatever he had left to spare. He was an empty vessel.

He was an empty, useless vessel. 

Emet-Selch had been right to express disbelief at his ability to walk, because without being prompt up by sheer willpower, adrenaline and determination, Exarch’s legs decided they no longer knew how to work. He had almost thoroughly humiliated himself falling flat on his face when they buckled under him only a few steps after being released from Aza’s aggressive hug. Luckily, Aza caught him before he had a broken nose on top of everything else but… 

It meant he was a burden as Aza piggybacked him out of Amaurot and into the Tempest.

“I’m sorry…” Exarch mumbled into the back of Aza’s neck, his voice thin and reedy even to his own ears, “I must’ve… overdone it…”

“Will you stop apologising?” Aza grouched, “I said it’s fine. Just rest, okay?”

Exarch obediently shut up, not willing to test Aza’s patience. The ambient noises around him rose and fell as a dull roar, the Scions talking, discussing how they were going to reach the surface, expressing relief about Aza’s miraculous recovery, and, in softer tones, thinking him asleep, if Exarch was going to be fine, if his injuries were severe, if his time away from the tower was… 

He drifted despite his best attempts. Unconsciousness kept yawning up and tugging at his mind, exhaustion dragging on his thoughts. Emet-Selch had pushed him to the limits of his defiance, trying to tease out and then claw out his knowledge on winding back time. Exarch hadn’t given him a single scrap of information. In fact, he managed to headbutt the Ascian at one point, which was equally stupid and satisfying. He made a groggy mental note to tell Aza that later. He’d find that funny. 

He drifted. 

He drifted until he felt himself seated on hard, damp ground, his upper body resting against a warm, well-armoured body. He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids felt like they had leaden weights tied to them. Voice murmured, but it was as if they were speaking in another language. He heard, but barely comprehended. 

“...igure out a way to get to the surface safely.”

“...to teleport…”

“...phoenix down and see if he has the strength to swim most of the way…”

He drifted again. 


He stirred awake when a burning warmth swept through his sore, exhausted muscles, a lingering taste of ash in his mouth as he squinted his eyes open. Aza and Alphinaud were leaning over him, the rippling sky of seawater high above. 

“Oh, thank the Twelve, it worked,” Alphinaud breathed, “G’rah- er, Exarch? Can you move?”

“Mn…” Exarch faintly noted the lingering effects of a phoenix down, a potent (and rare) revival item that would lend its user temporary strength and consciousness, no matter how grevious their wounds. He was lying on uncomfortably hard, rocky ground, and with some effort, he managed to push himself up into a sitting position. 

Aza immediately steadied him with a hand on his back. 

“You good?” Aza asked him. 

“Y-Yes,” Exarch said. He felt strange. His body was in pain, exhausted, yet it felt almost detached, distant. The effects of the phoenix down, no doubt. If he pushed himself, the pain would return with a vengeance hours later, but his groggy mind was slowly understanding that it was a necessary evil. They were still in the Tempest, which meant… 

“Ah, am I… do I need to swim, now?” he asked faintly, peering up at the gloomy ceiling above. They were close to one of the ‘walls’ of the bubble they were in, on some high, rocky ground so they weren’t starting from the very bottom, to dive in and swim to the surface.

“Yes. Do you think you can make it?” Alphinaud asked worriedly. 

“He can make it,” Aza answered for him, gave him a friendly thump on the back that made stars briefly flare in his vision, “I believe in you, Exarch.”

I believe in you.

That revitalised him more than any phoenix down ever could. With a strength he didn’t know he still possessed, Exarch laughed breathlessly and climbed to his feet. Oh, it hurt, it hurt, but Aza believed in him and he had a sea to swim. He can make it. 

“Swimming the Tempest… it should be easier than winding back time and travelling across worlds,” Exarch said, mustering some old, almost forgotten bravado. Aza was smiling up at him, and he couldn’t help but return it.

Yes. He can make it. 


How the fuck did he make it. 

Exarch wheezed for air on the gritty sand on Kholusia’s beach, his sodden robes weighing him down like lead. Saltwater stung cuts barely scabbed over, and every muscle in his body screamed in protest for simply breathing. The phoenix down’s magic began to wane close to the surface, but luckily Aza practically dragged him the last few hundred fulms. He probably would’ve drowned otherwise. 

“There we go,” Aza said breathlessly, clearly exhausted from the long swim. He was gently rubbing Exarch’s back, trying to ease his struggling, short breathing, “Deep breaths, you’re ashore now. You’re good.”

He didn’t feel good, but he appreciated the sentiment. Unconsciousness was circling him again, his vision dotted with grey and black spots that wobbled and wavered. His breathing whistled audibly, lungs struggling to take in enough air. Exarch cheated with some minor magic to allow him to hold his breath longer than he normally could, urgh, even then… that had been pushing it. He felt dizzy from lack of oxygen.

“See, told you you could make it,” Aza said, patting him approvingly between his shoulder blades, “You’re doing better than Alphie, at least.”

Dazedly, he looked to where Aza was pointing. Alphinaud was sprawled flat on his face in the sand with Alisaie angrily trying to shake him awake. Yes, at least Exarch was on his hands and knees. Slightly… better… 

“Think you can stand?”  

Beyond words - he was still panting like he just finished swimming up from the ocean floor - he tried to get his feet under him. His legs barely moved, muscles twitching from overexertion. He wobbled. He had nothing left in him.

Aza caught him before he toppled sideways onto the sand. His cheek pressed against the wet metal of Aza’s breastplate. He felt warm, even when soaked through. Aza’s voice sounded distant as he said, “Okay, guess I’ll carry you.”

“S’ry…” Exarch gasped, and he never heard Aza’s reply, because unconsciousness abruptly lunged at him. 

He passed out.


He woke up with his face pressed against a broad, armoured shoulder. The smell of metal, oil and blood lingered, mixed in with seawater - Aza. 

He was being carried again. 

“We’re almost at the pick up point,” Thancred’s voice drifted over, sounding both close and far, “Aza, you happy keeping the Exarch for the amaro ride?”

“Yeah, he’s not that heavy,” Aza’s voice rumbled. He sounded tired, “It’s only for a few hours anyways. I can keep him on.”

“We could try another phoenix down, see if he can-”

“He’ll probably have a heart attack from overexertion,” Aza said, sounding annoyed, “I said I’m fine carrying him, so leave it.” 

The topic was swiftly dropped. Exarch drifted off again. 


This time, he woke up in his bed. 

He recognised it immediately - could feel the Crystal Tower purr around him, its aether thrumming through him and through the air, revitalising sore, aching muscles. He could breathe easily, his thoughts no longer muddled, his aether no longer strained to breaking. He felt… sore, and exhausted, but fine. He was home. 

He was home. 

Slowly, he opened his eyes, made a small noise when his vision was overtaken by Lyna’s hair and ears almost spilling over his face. He stiffly turned his head to get a better look. She must’ve been kneeling against his bed at some point, but fell asleep while waiting for him to wake up. She… hadn’t done that in a long while, but then again, it had been a while since he was pushed this hard. 

Exarch lifted his hand, shakily threaded his fingers through her hair. He was home. When he had last been here, he had left with the acceptance that it would be the last time he’d see it, had given Lyna the key… oh, she’ll be angry with him when she woke up, he knew. She’d yell at him for being a self-sacrificing fool, and who was he to decide to run off and die without telling at least her… 

He smiled. 

Lyna grunted softly, and he eased his fingers from her hair when she lifted her head, blinking at him tiredly. He kept smiling, even when she jolted upright with a soft hissing noise, her expression darkening into one of anger. He… thought he’d never see her again, when he left, so right now, he felt… his heart felt…

“You- you idiot !” Lyna yelled at him, then aggressively embraced him hard enough to make his bones creak. 

What was with everyone trying to kill him with their hugs?!

“Ah, L-Lyna…” he wheezed, “My ribs…”

“Damn your ribs!” Lyna huffed, her voice suspiciously thick. He couldn’t see her face though. She had buried it into his hair, “When they brought you back, you were barely breathing, you…”

“...”

Exarch relaxed into the painful hug, rested his hand against the back of Lyna’s head, fingers curling into her hair. Even though she was a powerful, fiercely independent young woman, right now he couldn’t help but remember the little girl he had taken in, who had clung to his robes and called him ‘Grandpa’, until she became too old for that. He knew she would’ve been upset about his death, but, he made sure… he made sure she had many things to live for, to protect, and had hoped it wouldn’t have hurt her much. 

He really was an idiot. 

“I’m sorry, Lyna,” he murmured.

“You better be sorry,” Lyna growled into his hair, “You foolish old man.” 

Exarch smiled. 

He had expected so many things, when he climbed up after Aza on Mt Gulg. Had accepted them, as unpleasant as it would’ve been, but it had gone all wrong, and he had despaired and wondered if everything had been for nothing , and… 

Instead a miracle happened. 

Knowing Aza as he did, he should’ve expected that. 

Chapter Text

Prometheus was quite pleased with his handiwork. He purred as he happily kneaded his knuckles into the plush pillows and duvet making up his little ‘nest’, ensuring it was absolutely perfect before flopping bonelessly into it. 

On either side of him, his agemates Hythlodaeus and Hades were sprawled out in equal states of bliss. 

“Comfyyyyy…” Prometheus mumbled into his pillow, smiling when his sentiment was echoed drowsily by Hythlodaeus. It was an icy cold day today, thick with frozen snow, so Mentor Metis told them to stay indoors where it was warm. She probably expected them to study, but why study when it was cold and Creating pillow forts was a thing?

Besides, it sort of counted as studying. It took a lot of trial and error for the three of them to Create the perfect pillow fort - and teamwork! Hades liked very squashy pillows, while Hythlodaeus liked firm ones, and Prometheus somewhere in between, but after a lot of squabbling, compromising and clever thinking, they all had their own little ‘section’ in the pillow fort to their own specifications and were rewarding themselves with a good lazing about.

Prometheus lifted his head enough to rest his chin on his pillow, sleepily looking to his left where Hades was. The only thing that was visible of him was his dark hair, the rest buried underneath a thick duvet, wrapped up like he was some kind of cocoon. His breathing was slow and steady, deeply asleep. 

Geeze, Hades sure fell asleep fast, huh? They only finished less than two minutes ago! 

“Lazy,” Prometheus mumbled, looking in the opposite direction. Hythlodaeus was propped up slightly, a book open in his lap, though his crimson eyes were heavy-lidded and clearly weren’t taking in a single word. 

“What’cha reading?” Prometheus mumbled curiously. He couldn’t see the title from this angle. 

“Mm…? Oh, it’s a storybook Mentor Metis gave me,” Hythlodaeus said, “It’s called, uh, ‘The Wisteria Hero’. It’s a very old story, from Jeduma, and really interesting…”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” Hythlodaeus started looking a bit more awake, visibly pleased at Prometheus’s idle interest, “The story’s based before Creation magic was a thing, and…”

Hythlodaeus launched into a very interesting story about a young boy who fought monsters - called ‘Demons’ - under the epithet of ‘Wisteria Hero’. He travelled to far off lands, and had to use cunning and trickery to battle these ‘Demons’, since he didn’t possess any magic whatsoever. Prometheus was mildly impressed, since these ‘Demons’ sounded very fearsome, even if he wasn’t exactly sure what they were. 

“What’s a ‘Demon’?” Prometheus asked, “I’ve never heard of that kind of beast before. Are they extinct now?”

“Oh, um,” Hythlodaeus fidgeted, “Well, they’re not real, Prometheus. They’re a type of metaphor. See, in the book, ‘Demons’ are born from the hearts of evil people, and it turns them into man-eating beasts. It lets people imagine evil as a physical thing to fight, rather than, um, a natural part of people that you… can’t.” 

“I see,” Prometheus said, mulling that over. Everyone had the capacity to do evil or selfish things, it was why their society was the way it was, according to Mentor Metis. Jealousy, envy, selfishness… that kind of stuff was bred by individualism, and the more individual and different people were from one another, the more potent the evil feelings born from it. Prometheus knew it used to be really bad before people had Creation magic. The Lifestream still echoed from devastating events brought about by human evil - loudly enough that Prometheus got nightmares from it sometimes. He hated that.  

 But at the same time, something about it settled oddly with him. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. 

“So, the ‘Wisteria Hero’ isn’t killing monsters, he’s killing people who do evil things?” Prometheus asked, just to clarify, “Is it legal for him to do that?

“Oh, well,” Hythlodaeus didn’t seem to know what to say about that, “I-I mean, in the book, they’re monsters, so it doesn’t need to be legal… it’s just a story... ”

“...” 

Prometheus let the quiet settle between them as he thought. He felt like this one going to be one of those complex subjects he’ll have to ask Mentor Metis about later. Because who decided if a person was so evil they had to be killed? People could do an evil action, but still be a good person, right? Just as an evil person could do a kind action, but still be evil. Besides, was anyone really down-to-the-bone evil? Prometheus couldn’t wrap his brain around imagining it. 

No one was so cruel that death was the only solution, right?

Ah, that was too heavy a subject to think about on a lazy day like this! He’ll think about it later. 

“Do you like stories from the ancient days?” Prometheus asked, changing the subject, “Do you know any others?”

Hythlodaeus, who had been eyeing him warily (no doubt expecting a complicated debate on what constituted as good and evil), relaxed and smiled, “Oh, a lot more. I really enjoy them, even if… uh, they’re not very educational.”

“They’re educational. They’re, uh, learning our ancient culture, before we got smart,” Prometheus said quickly, “And I’m totally ignorant on any of them! So, c’mon, Hyth, tell me one~”

“Okay, okay,” Hythlodaeus closed his book and rested it on his stomach, drumming his fingers on the surface for a moment, “Um, let me think… oh, I have one. This one is from Jeduma again, about an elephant that carried a world on its back…”

“Ehhh? How big was the elephant?”

“Uh, bigger than the world?”

“Wow…”

“Yes, and it was standing on four turtles, one for each leg, and…”


“-it’s turtles all the way down.”

Hades grunted when that odd phrase filtered through his half-awake mind, and he squinted past his duvet cocoon to see Prometheus and Hythlodaeus in very animated conversation. For some reason they had Created a model of an elephant standing on four turtles balanced precariously on the pillows. He blinked groggily at it. 

“But, but the turtles will have to end somewhere ,” Prometheus was arguing, pointing at the elephant, “You can’t have turtles going indefinitely.”

“Well, why not? It’s in the rift, where anything can happen!”

“But infinite turtles? They have to end sometime!”

“But if there weren’t infinite turtles, then the elephant wouldn’t have anything to stand on.”

“But- well, I mean, what if there’s actually a ground…”

“The rift is an infinitely expanding space, remember? There’s no floor, in which case, it’s turtles all the way down!”

“Ehhh! No way, I refuse to accept that!” 

“What,” Hades groaned, “Are you two arguing about?”

“Infinite regress,” Hythlodaeus answered promptly, while Prometheus continued to look offended about the turtles, “Are you done napping, Hades?”

“Mngh,” was Hades’s answer to that. 

“Aw, baby Hades is still drowsy,” Prometheus teased, looking away from the elephant model to pin Hades down with a mischievous grin, “Do you need help getting up?” 

Hades narrowed his eyes into a thin glare, “Don’t.”

Prometheus’s grin widened. 

“Don’t.”

Prometheus jumped on him. 

Hades squawked angrily, managing to flail his limbs free of his duvet just in time to counterattack Prometheus’s unprovoked assault. In no time at all, they were grappling and wrestling childishly with each other, Hades yelling furiously and Prometheus cackling, while Hythlodaeus simply opened his book and ignored them with a quiet sigh, the elephant model and its offensive infinite turtles forgotten. 

“Prom- argh,” Hades grunted when Prometheus managed to grab him in a headlock and promptly shoved all his weight on top of him, pinning Hades facedown against the pillows, “G-Get off!” 

“Say I win~” Prometheus cooed, easily keeping him in place. He was freakishly strong, in Hades’s irritated opinion, and once he had him pinned like this, there was no escape. Hades stopped struggling with a sulky mutter, wishing he just went back to sleep. 

“....w’n…” he mumbled under his breath. 

“Hmm?” 

“You win , you idiot !” Hades snapped, kicking his legs uselessly, “Now, get off! You’re suffocating me!”

Prometheus giggled but he let go of him, rolling off and flopping dramatically into the messed up pillows. When Hades sat up, smoothing down his hair that got messed up in the tussle, he shot a glower at his friend. Prom was sprawled out, flushed and grinning, clearly happy, and Hades found most of his annoyance spluttering out. Hmph. 

“Idiot,” he grumbled, just to keep up appearances of being annoyed. 

“Lazy,” Prometheus shot back, still smiling. He idly kicked his legs up into the air, “You sure you don’t have narcolepsy, Hades? All you do is sleeeeeep.

Hmph.”

Prometheus’s response to that was cut off by Hythlodaeus letting out a loud yawn. They both turned to stare at him, and Hythlodaeus jumped and flushed bright red at the sudden attention, lifting his book up to hide most of his face behind it.

“Oh, sorry! I wasn’t yawning at you two…” Hythlodaeus said sheepishly, “I’m just drowsy.”

“Well, in which case, we should nap together,” Prometheus decided, throwing his arms out in a welcoming gesture, “C’mon, let’s puppy pile.”

“Puppy what?” Hades asked blankly. 

“Puppy pile. Mentor Metis said it once,” Prometheus said sagely, “It’s when you nap with your best friends. It’s meant to be good for proper socialising between kids, I heard. So, c’mon~”

Hades and Hythlodaeus shared a look. It was one of ‘those things’, where Prometheus would spout out some weird stuff but get insisted on it. It was normally harmless stuff, and honestly, Hades thought it sounded nice. He’d get to nap and do it without the threat of Prometheus getting bored and trying to wrestle with him again.

“Alright, fine, fine…” Hades muttered, grabbing one of his pillows and shifting it closer to Prometheus, before flopping next to him, resting his head on Prometheus’s shoulder, “Just don’t go squashing me in your sleep.”

“You say that like I’m heavy,” Prometheus whined. 

“You are heavy.”

Hythlodaeus got settled on Prometheus’s other side - only to squeak when Prometheus dragged him in close until he ended up with his cheek on Prometheus’s chest. There was a bit of shuffling, some last minute adjusting, accidental kicking of each other’s shins until, finally, everyone was comfortable and semi-dozing. 

Their little pillow fort fell silent, filled only with the sound of their deep breathing and the noise of the snowstorm outside. Hythlodaeus’s and Prometheus’s souls were warm and fuzzy, and Hades soaked it up like a cat basking in sunlight, already drowsing off. 

Hm, okay... 

This was a lot better. 

Chapter Text

Prometheus died. Yet his consciousness lingered afterwards.

It lingered, in a haze of disjointed regrets and confusion as the Lifestream was torn apart into fourteen different directions all around him. A physical rip, a resounding crack that somehow hurt, as he felt saw heard felt Hydaelyn strike true and shatter Zodiark in an instant.

It - He - It - They screamed, a noise echoed by a surging flux of recently deceased, their souls fragmenting and splitting in a torrent, drowning, rushing as deep filthy water, all experiences and thoughts and emotions smashing together in the collective consciousness of-

what is this why did you

fourteen strikes, fourteen cracks, fourteen death blows

prometheus, it is done, hydaelyn whispered, weak, exhausted, and 

prometheus saw the fourteen splits the pathways that knotted over zodiarks soul

cracking apart

fourteen death blows

why did this happen why did you

what have you done, the lifestream screeched, you have broken us you have mutilated us you traitor you traitor

stop

traitor

hydaelyn swallowed up the lifestream. prometheus tumbled in the spaces in between, inviting darkness

zodiark writhed in there, bleeding black, reaching out

stop

sleep prometheus, forget, hydaelyn whispered

forget

( traitor )

please, help me, zodiark begged, i will

do not listen to the darkness's lies

i will bless you with preservation, zodiark said, sinking claws in, another direction slowly shearing prometheus apart, i will curse you with remembering

do not listen to the light's lies

i will bless you with clean rebirth, hydaelyn said, her fingers curled into the very core of him, hooked in his heartstrings, i will curse you with forgetting

that light broke the world!

that darkness enslaved the world!

fourteen directions

two others pulling, clawing

crackcrackcrack

( traitor )

prometheus 

he

forget

remember

A resounding crack , and Prometheus's consciousness was savagely torn apart, its ragged shards flung far through the fractured Lifestream.

Prometheus died.


His consciousness lingered.

Fragmentary. Distant. Hollow. It lacked in thought and emotion. Exhaustion. The passage of time absent. He lingered, and lingered, and lingered, and lingered…

Hear.

Hear what?

Feel.

Feel what?

Think.

Think what?

The commands came. A gentle, weak brush of aether. Prometheus turned away from it. He lingered.

Remember.

Remember what?

Live.

How?

Return.

Return to where?

The commands came. A desperate, burning cold brush of aether, grasping and painful. Prometheus turned away from it. He lingered.


People came. People left.

Glimmers of souls, like tiny grains of white sand amongst a sea of navy. Tiny, small, fragile souls, compared to before.

They inherit your legacy.

Sins, more like, the bitter thought bubbled, but Prometheus didn't know from where.

These fragile souls were gifted strength. Gentle blue, soft, pale aether, like the time before dawn, in the warmth of bed with the murmur of affection breathed against your lips and the touch of

Love, was the strength bestowed. Mortal, deep and all-corrupting.

Sank into your bones. Brimmed over the walls of your heart. A poison with an equally corrupting antidote called hate. Wild, fatal, powerful, uncontrollable. There was nothing to match such extreme strength.

Hydaelyn bestowed this. Hydaelyn nurtured this.

It was why Prometheus lingered still. That. Poisonous, deadly emotion.

Corrupted him absolutely.

Other souls came too. Specks of ash, trailing scorched remains in the wake of their paths like dying comets, streaking through a colourless void. They were not small. They were devastating. Brittle.

These powerful, brittle souls were gifted perseverance. Cloying, smeared black-purple aether that clung like oil, like the suffocating despair and rage that clogged your throat, gazing at the smouldering wreckage of your home, the betrayal of your other half, the touch of

Hatred and grief, was the endurance gifted to then, knotted together in a crown of thorns. The pain never left. Never let you forget.

Sank into your bones. Brimmed over the walls of your heart. A poison with an equally corrupting antidote called love. Wild, fatal, powerful, uncontrollable. There was nothing to match such extreme strength.

Zodiark bestowed this. Zodiark nurtured this.

It was why Prometheus lingered still. That. Poisonous, deadly emotion.

Corrupted him absolutely.

Prometheus died.


He lingered.


A shard of himself, he realised, trapped between two forces.

A planet, caught in the gravitational pull of two stars, slowly being grounded into dust. Slowly, slowly, slowly, he was eroding.

He was aware he was broken. There were pieces missing. Flung deep into the Lifestream. Reborn. Destroyed. Devoured. Gone.

He lingered. The core of himself. The part used as fuel for Hydaelyn. The part irrevocably tainted by Zodiark's touch. He was stuck. Between them both.

Claimed by both, but never belonging. He existed. He lingered.

Prometheus wanted to die.

Help.

Help

help

help

help

help

help

Yet

Nobody came.


He lingered...

Chapter Text

“You ever think about having longer hair?”

Exarch hummed at the question, distracted by the slow, comforting pulls of the comb in his hair. Aza was surprisingly gentle and precise, despite his thickly calloused, scarred fingers, lulling Exarch into a dozing state. He didn’t really need such dedicated grooming - his hair was short enough, and silky enough, that he rarely suffered from tangles or frizzing - but Aza insisted, and Exarch found it enjoyable, so…

“Hey,” Aza brushed his fingers against the nape of his neck, his voice teasing; “Did you fall asleep?”

“Yes,” Exarch murmured, unable to hold back a smile when Aza laughed, “Your hands are so comforting… it makes me drowsy.”

“Thanks, I think,” Aza said, resuming his earlier ministrations. The comb was pulling easily through his hair, the teeth scraping lightly against his nape. It made his tail curl pleasantly, a low hum rumbling right in the back of his throat. 

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Exarch said after a comfortable pause. 

“Hm?”

“Longer hair,” he sighed when Aza stopped combing his hair to tie it back for him, “This style is easy to maintain…”

“I suppose,” Aza said, “It looks cute on you too.”

He finished tying his hair back, and Exarch shivered when Aza leaned in to press a light kiss to his exposed nape. It was warm. 

“You’d be sexy with long hair, though,” Aza murmured against his nape, his strong arms encircling Exarch’s waist. With a tug, Exarch found himself easily pulled onto his friend’s lap, his back flush against Aza’s front. His pulse jumped. 

“Is- is that what you’d prefer?” Exarch asked, his voice embarrassingly breathless as Aza nuzzled just behind his left ear. It made him want to melt, his hands lightly gripping onto Aza’s arms. This casual show of intimacy still made him reel, sometimes. Still made him tensely wait for the dream to shatter and for cold reality to slither its way back in. 

But this dream didn’t shatter. Aza’s warm body against his was real, and so was his affection, amazingly. Exarch still didn’t know how he managed to gain his hero’s affections. 

“I prefer you either way,” Aza said, “Cute, sexy…” he felt him smile into his hair, “ Nerdy.”

“Excuse me- nerdy?” Exarch pouted, “When have I ever been nerdy?”

“You’ve always been a nerd,” Aza chuckled, giving his waist a bit of a squeeze, “My adorable, precious, tiny-”

“We’re the same height!”

“-nerd,” Aza finished, before slipping his hands underneath Exarch’s nightshirt and ruthlessly tickling him. 

Aza-!”

By the time Exarch fought himself free, his meticulously done hair was a mess once more. Despite Aza’s offer to fix it for him, Exarch did it himself to make a point - but still, his heart felt warm and fuzzy as he tied back his hair and checked himself in the mirror. 

His hair was greying, lacking its youthful luster when he was twenty four, but… Aza still liked his hair. 

Maybe he should grow it out a little. 


Three hundred years tended to impact one’s singing voice, somewhat. 

Exarch simply didn’t have the time to indulge in the hobby, and by the time he did, he had other matters to tend to. Occasionally, he’d hum under his breath, or murmur something tuneless when focusing on some task, but actually singing? It had been a very long while. 

So, he was hesitant when Aza asked him to sing for him. 

“Oh, it’s… it’s been a while,” he mumbled, “I probably won’t be as good as I once was.”

“I’m sure you’ll be stunning,” Aza said simply, laying out the blanket. It was a warm day in the Crystarium, perfect picnicking weather, according to Aza. So here they were, bundled off into a private corner of the Quadrivium, beneath the low hanging, flowering branches of a pink-leaved tree. 

Exarch fidgeted, sitting down on the blanket once Aza was done. His friend didn’t press him, just patiently laid out the food from the basket - sandwiches, muffins, pastries, Aza certainly been busy - and when Aza was done, he set the basket aside and fixed him with a contemplative look. 

“You wanna hear me sing?” Aza asked, “I actually made up a song, and I could use a second opinion on it.”

Exarch relaxed a little at that, even as curiosity kindled in him. He never heard Aza sing, though he suspected he would be a baritone. Aza’s voice was husky and deep, enough that Exarch found himself getting goosebumps when he would purr low into his ear during those stolen, intimate moments in bed… 

“You sing?” he asked curiously. 

Aza shifted, briefly looking self-conscious, “Um, well, yeah, I guess. I mean, my dad was a Qalli so…”

He trailed off when Exarch cocked his head in confusion.

“Qalli are a Xaela tribe,” Aza explained, “Singing is a big part of their culture, and they even have their own language based on it. I mean, I was mostly raised as an Iriq, but Dad wanted to keep some traditions from his old tribe, y’know?”

Exarch nodded slowly, understanding that. He couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those who were born tone deaf. Singing could be taught to whoever put in the effort, but it must be hard work for those who lacked natural talent for it… 

“Heh, in fact, Dad managed to convince Mom to marry him the Qalli way,” Aza continued, “The happy couple have gotta sing a duet together, right? But it’s gotta be judged by three Qalli songsters, like, if their voices harmonise well, how structured it is, etcetera. Mom’s a horrible singer, though, so it turned into a bit of a mess.”

Exarch couldn’t help but smile, “Surely she wasn’t that bad?”

“Oh, she was bad,” Aza sniggered, “Still is! She’s just… so tone deaf, and she thinks the louder she is, the more in tune she is too. So, she just screams at the top of her lungs until her voice gives out.”

“...” Exarch wasn’t quite sure what to say in response to that, except; “Er. You don’t take after her with singing, do you?” 

Aza smirked at him, his eyes bright with mischief, “Hm. Maybe?”

“P-Perhaps I’ll sing instead,” Exarch said quickly, not trusting that cheeky little grin his friend was giving him, “Um, give me a moment…”

He cleared his throat, hummed a few times - just to get the pitch right, of course! - and started to, haltingly, sing an old song where he mostly remembered the words. The first verse was horribly out of tune - he almost stopped out of embarrassment, honestly, but Aza looked absorbed in his singing he didn’t have the heart to, so he continued… 

It was like riding a chocobo. A bit shaky if you haven’t done it in a while, but a few laps and it’s like you never left the saddle. By the time he finished, his voice had gained volume and confidence, a pleased thrill from knowing he sang well and beautifully making him flush with pleasure. 

He’d… forgotten. He’d forgotten how much he loved singing. To rediscover that love made his heart lighter than when he first laid eyes on Aza here on the First. 

“Lovely,” Aza murmured, drawing his focus back to the present - and reminding him he had an audience, “I thought I was gonna swoon.”

Exarch couldn’t help but blush, smiling happily, “Thank you, Aza, but… there’s no need to exaggerate your compliments.”

“No exaggerations here,” Aza winked, “Hey, we should totally work on a duet together. We’d sound great together, I feel.”

Exarch’s smile turned into a grin, a flash of almost forgotten mischief making him say, “Why, Aza, is that your way of asking if you want to marry me?”

Delightfully, Aza flustered at that. It was rare for Exarch to catch him out like that, and he laughed as Aza talked himself into a confused circle about how he didn’t mean it like that, not to say he didn’t want to marry Exarch, but it was a little too early for that, right, but it wasn’t a rejection and-!

Maybe he should sing more often. No, he definitely should sing more often. He had the time to indulge in that now, and it made him happy to… 

(to, perhaps, one day, sing that promised duet) 


With the return of the night’s sky, so too came the return of fireworks. Exarch almost had a heart attack the first time he heard the boom and crackle of fireworks one evening, embarrassingly thinking they’d been under attack before recognising the noise. 

Since then, there had been a lot of fireworks. There wasn’t any special occasion for them. The Crystalline Mean had been inundated with hundreds of orders for them, everyone eager to indulge in this ‘new’ past time of splashing colours and shapes amongst the starry sky. Exarch, who had hazy recollections of firework displays from myriads of Eorzean celebrations, had felt an odd sense of indulgent affection at everyone’s excitement over them. 

To him, they were just fireworks. Noisy, briefly entertaining, but nothing special. They didn’t hold his attention at all, and, if anything, he found them distracting after a while. Thankfully, Lyna had a strictly enforced noise curfew, but, goodness, the first few hours of evening made it sound as if they were under attack by the Imperial army’s artillery regiment on some nights. 

So, when Aza returned to the First and discovered fireworks were now a thing, Exarch had been mildly annoyed to be dragged out for one of the many, many firework displays on a very chilly night at Aza’s insistence. 

“They’re more creative here than back on the Source,” Aza said as they looked up at the sky together. They were standing close to the steps leading up to the Crystal Tower, the wide open courtyard rammed full of citizens staring up and crowing in delight at the display up in the heavens, “Probably because it’s a new and shiny thing.”

“Hm,” Exarch said non committedly, tugging his scarf closer around him. He was dressed in heavier clothes to fend off the chill, his breaths misting before him - but despite the thick layer of clothing, he could still feel the press of Aza’s hand against his hip, his arm around his waist to hold him close to his side. It was… warm and intimate… pleasant enough to make up for standing out in the cold like this. 

“Look at that,” Aza said, pointing up at the sky. 

Exarch looked. Fireworks streaked upwards, exploding in a sunburst of colours, swiftly followed by others, forming a dynamic, moving image of a snake-like dragon twisting across the sky. It almost looked alive, with how it danced amongst the stars. Exarch blinked, amazed despite himself. How did they do that…?

Aza whistled beside him, “ Impressive. You don’t see that on the Source.”

“Yes…” Exarch said faintly, feeling a little chagrined. He had assumed that their fireworks were just the normal, static bursts of colours, and paid them little attention. How foolish of him, to underestimate the citizens of the Crystarium. Of course they would design something as fantastic as this, especially now that they could focus on such frivolous displays, instead of always anxiously looking to the horizon for flocks of hungry Sin Eaters. 

“I wonder when they’ll get bored of it?” Aza said, “If ever.”

“I have a feeling Lyna will ban them outside of special occasions before then,” Exarch said wryly. Unlike the majority of the Crystarium, his granddaughter heavily disliked the noisy, bright flashes of colours. She was kind enough to allow everyone their excited fun, though, but even her patience had its limit. 

Aza laughed quietly, that low, husky rumble that made Exarch smile to hear. 

“It can be a bit much after a while,” Aza admitted, giving his waist a squeeze, “But it’s nice to see everyone so happy over something as simple as fireworks. I didn’t realise how much I took for granted back on the Source before coming here.”

Exarch hummed. The First still had its woes - the small landmass that remained, the tiny population, the Sin Eaters that still lingered after the Lightwardens’ deaths, and the sluggish flow of aether that made growing crops a struggle - but their struggles had eased, just enough, for them to enjoy these simple, trivial pleasures. 

Fireworks. There was no real use for them. But it made his citizens happy, awed them, made them forget about their worries, just for the night. Steered their imagination towards creating beautiful, dynamic things, instead of how to survive the next Sin Eater assault, or the next potential famine. 

Perhaps, he should make a point of watching these fireworks displays more often. If only to remind him what a large step forward it was for them, to even have these displays at all.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me!”

Phanes stirred out of his dozing stupor at the young voice, blinking at the cowled head peeking over the edge of his desk. A child, he realised, their beaked, dark grey mask resembling that of a sparrow. 

“Oh, hello, little one!” he greeted, quickly dusting off the lingering mental cobwebs as he fluttered his soul in a friendly manner. With children, it was best to be obvious with ones emotions, as they didn’t quite grasp subtle nuances of the soul until closer to adulthood, “What brings you to the Akadaemia?”

The child leant back on their heels. They had been on their tiptoes before, Phanes realised, and now, flat-footed, their head barely reached the edge of the desk. Goodness, he had forgotten how tiny these children could be, their souls as gentle and fragile and malleable as that of a baby bird cupped in your hands. It made him a bit nervous, actually. The Akadaemia wasn’t really appropriate for such a young child to roam about unattended. 

“I want to see how Concepts are made,” the sparrow-masked child chirped, “Mentor Metis said this is where a lot of them are conceived.” 

“Did she now?” Phanes said indulgently, “Did Mentor Metis also tell you this place is usually for adults?”

The child’s mask was such that he could clearly see their mouth. It turned downwards into a pout. 

“Um, no?” the child lied poorly, scuffing their shoes against the floor and fiddling with their sleeves, “Ummm, nope! She didn’t say that!” 

“Mhm,” Phanes rubbed his jaw, thinking. He knew Mentor Metis, and it would take little time and effort to inform her of her wayward child - no doubt she was frantic with worry, if they had wandered here by themselves. Then again, he was curious. It was said Mentor Metis’s recent trio were very skilled and powerful, even at their very young ages, and Phanes supposed there’d be no harm in indulging such a precocious mind like that… 

It was a slow day at the Akadaemia too. There were no appointments booked, and visitor hours were over for the day. He was just warming the seat in case an emergency cropped up. Ah, maybe for an hour or so… 

“...in which case, the Akadaemia is not for unsupervised children,” Phanes said, smiling when the child drooped in disappointment, “Luckily for you, I can supervise you, allowing you access.”

The sparrow-masked child perked up, doing an adorable hopping skip on the spot, “Really!?” 

“Only for an hour,” Phanes said, “And you will wait here afterwards to be collected by Metis.”

The child paused, then winced, no doubt thinking about the verbal thrashing they’d get from that. However, the allure of the Akadaemia was too much, and after a too-short moment of thinking, the child bobbed their head in a nod and said, “Okay, I agree!”

Phanes nodded and rose from his seat. With a flick of his wrist, he Created an ‘Desk is Closed’ sign and walked around it. Oh, his legs were so stiff from so many hours sitting in one place. Perhaps a child-friendly tour of the Akadaemia would do some good for his sore muscles. 

“My name is Phanes,” he said, holding his hand out for the child to take, “Please stay by my side at all times. While the Akadaemia prizes its high quality safety standards, there are still areas dangerous for children to roam unattended.” 

The sparrow-masked child didn’t hesitate. Their hand was so tiny compared to his own, and Phanes gently held it as he began to lead them to the elevator that led to the Akadaemia. 

“My name is Prometheus,” the child said, practically skipping they were so happy, their soul a nice little ball of sunshine. It was cute, “Are you as old as Mentor Metis, Phanes?”

Phanes barked out a laugh at that, “Hah! No one is as old as her. No, I’m only a few thousand years old.”

“A few thousand…” The child - Prometheus - mumbled, “But, that is old.”

Phanes smiled wryly, “From your perspective, yes. How old are you, little one?”

“I am fifty one!”

Ah, practically a baby.

“So, you have been under Mentor Metis’s care for only a year?” Phanes asked, and at Prometheus’s nod, he continued, “How are you finding it? It must be different to the creche, yes?”

Prometheus seemed to mull over their answer for a moment, “Yes. I, um, I like Mentor Metis, and… I like Hades and Hythlodaeus. They’re the other two, my, uh age-mates. So, I know them from the creche.” 

“Do you get along well? The Bureau tries its hardest to group those with a high affinity to one another.” 

Prometheus seemed oddly pleased at that, fiddling with the hem of their cowl, “Yes! We’re the bestest of friends! Except… Hades is very lazy and grumbles all the time, and acts like he’s too good for everything, but, he’s nice to me mostly, but, in a sneaky trying not to be kind of way, if that makes sense? And, Hythlodaeus is really nice, but doesn’t try to hide it behind a grumpy face. He’s calm, but not in the lazy way like Hades is.” 

Phanes nodded slowly. Already, he could see why that trio was placed together. Hythlodaeus’s gentleness to balance out Hades’s harshness, while Prometheus was the energetic one to keep them focused. The Bureau had worked it down to a fine science, pairing personality traits successfully and encouraging emotionally close relationships that persisted well into adulthood. Of course, sometimes they misjudged, or the unpredictability that was humanity spoiled those bonds of friendship. They weren’t omniscient gods, after all. 

“Well, that’s good then, isn’t it? To have two close friends,” Phanes said, smiling when the child puffed up proudly, “I wonder, though, did they not want to come with you today?”

Prometheus paused, then shifted guiltily, “Um, well, I asked, but they said we’d get in trouble, so…”

“Which they were right about,” Phanes pointed out gently, “Mentor Metis will not be pleased when we finish our tour.”

He was curious how Prometheus would react to that. The sparrow-masked child chewed their bottom lip briefly, before they lifted their shoulders in a shrug that was just shy of cheeky. 

“It’ll be fine!” Prometheus said, “I’m pursuing knowledge, which she always tells us to do! And, I’ll share it with Hades and Hythlodaeus too, when I go back. They might’ve been too scared to come, but that’s what I’m here for. I’m the bold one.”

Oh, indeed you are, Phanes thought fondly. There was something very decisive and blunt about this child - he could see Prometheus become a formidable Creator in their own right, with such boldness and initiative, provided they learned to heed the wise caution of their friends later in life. 

“There is a thin line between boldness and recklessness, little one,” Phanes said, “But, I think that is a lesson you can only learn through experience. Now…”

They stopped in front of the elevator, and he summoned it with a gentle press of the call button. The child ‘ooh’d next to him as the towering, gold-gilded doors swished open, and they stepped into the smart elevator. The buttons next to the doors glowed gently, awaiting input. 

“Let us start with the Ichthyology department, hm?” Phanes said, pressing the number, “Do you know what that means?”

“Ichthy…” Prometheus mulled over it, “Fish?”

“Well done! Yes, it is the study of fish. In the Akadaemia, the Convocation member who spearheads this research is…”


Phanes’ contact with children was always sporadic and minimal. They were a precious and rare resource in Amaurot, due to the strict population control the Bureau of Administration enforced, so he could count on one hand the amount of times he directly interacted with one. Yet, each of those times had been a delight. They were something special, and Phanes knew that every Amaurotine were fiercely protective and indulgent of these tiny, fragile souls, gifted to them by the very star itself. 

Prometheus had been easily distracted by the wall-sized aquarium in the visitor’s hall for the Ichthyology department. The sparrow-masked child was avidly watching the colourful, harmless fish flit to and fro between corals and water weeds, the luminescent glow from the aquarium catching the glint of golden eyes in the round holes of their mask. 

The fascination and joy in that child’s soul made Phanes feel positively zen. He enjoyed encouraging enthusiasm in knowledge and learning - it was why he was so well suited as the Akadaemia’s tour guide and receptionist. To encourage said enthusiasm in one of Amaurot’s precious children made him positively smug. 

“I have to bring Hades and Hythlodaeus next time,” Prometheus mumbled to themselves, under their breath, “They’d love this…” 

Phanes smiled. 

“Do you want to see even bigger specimens?” he asked, his smile turning into a grin when Prometheus looked at him with open excitement. 

“Bigger ones?”

“Mhm.”

“Just as colourful?”

“Some of them,” Phanes said, holding out his hand, “Come along. I’ll show you.” 

Prometheus skipped over to him, and Phanes thought their sparrow-mask suited them well. They were a light-footed child, more like to hop and skip in place, their voice lilting into chirps. Yet, Phanes could tell that the child was also like a magpie - attracted to shiny, new things, frivolous and lacking discipline. 

But, they were young. They could indulge in those traits for a while yet. 

It was also difficult to pin down what the child was presenting as - but it could be they hadn’t decided yet, or this was what they wanted to be. Phanes simply rolled with it. Amaurot always allowed their children to find their ways to themselves in their own time - with some minor guidance from their Mentors, of course. 

“Next time,” Prometheus said as they took his hand, skipping as they moved on, “Can I bring Hades and Hythlodaeus?”

“If your mentor allows it.”

“Hmm…” Prometheus pouted at that, and Phanes smiled.


Phanes may have gone over the promised hour by quite a bit, but when they reached the Ornithology department, he didn’t have the heart to cut the tour short when the sparrow-masked child flitted about in the aviary, absolutely brimming with pure happiness. 

They spent a while in the aviary. 

But alas, all good things came to an end, eventually, and Phanes ushered Prometheus back into the Akadaemia’s lobby, and into the waiting, stern arms of their Mentor Metis.

(While Prometheus had been distracted by the aviary, Phanes did his duty and took that opportunity to call Metis. She had been deeply relieved that her wayward child had been found, and didn’t seem to know whether to be impressed at Prometheus’s gutsiness, or angry at their disobedience. 

(She ended up settling on a mix of the two))

“Uh oh,” Prometheus mumbled when they spotted their towering mentor, clutching at Phanes’s robes and trying to hide under their voluminous folds. 

“Now, now,” Phanes chided gently, extracting the child from his robes and nudging them from and centre, “You obtained the knowledge you sought, and now you must pay the price for your bold curiosity. Think of it as a life lesson.”

“I hate life lessons,” the child whined, but they didn’t resist as they approached Metis. 

“Prometheus,” Metis said firmly, “Do you know how worried we’ve been? I told you that you were not to leave the library without my permission, especially without telling me where you went.”

Prometheus toed the floor, their shoulders slumped and head bowed, the very picture of contriteness. Even their soul felt meek, “But, I wanted to go to the Akadaemia…”

Metis sighed, making a grasping motion before her face, like she just fought back the urge to push up her mask to pinch the bridge of her nose. After a pause, she seemed to set aside the scolding for somewhere more private, and turned to Phanes. 

“Thank you for indulging in my child,” she said with a short bow, “I hope they were little trouble.”

“On the contrary, they were a delight,” Phanes said honestly, “They were inquisitive and eager to learn. They also expressed an interest in bringing their agemates along next time, to experience the knowledge of the Akadaemia first hand.”

“Hmm…” Metis seemed a bit mollified at that - consideration for your peers, and exchanging and encouraging the spreading of knowledge, were deemed positive attributes to have. It softened the crime of Prometheus’s disobedience and childlike rebellion. 

Prometheus peeked up at him, and Phanes winked.

“I will… consider it,” Metis said after a pause, “They are an intelligent group. Perhaps…”

Prometheus visibly perked. 

But,” Metis said, noticing her child’s uplifting mood, “I still do not condone such reckless behaviour. Do you understand, Prometheus?”

“I understand, Mentor Metis!” Prometheus said quickly, “I won’t wander off by myself without permission again!” 

An easy, frail promise of a flighty child, Phanes thought fondly, already knowing that Prometheus would break that vow within a week or two. 

“We’ll see,” Metis said wryly, clearly thinking the same, “Now, thank Phanes for indulging you. We need to return home before Hades and Hythlodaeus get it in their heads to mount a ‘rescue party’ for you.”

Prometheus winced guiltily at that, but they hurriedly bowed to Phanes with a genuine chirp of, “Thank you, Phanes!” 

“It was my pleasure, Prometheus,” Phanes said, watching the child do their little hop and skip to Metis’s side, clasping her hand, “I hope I will be able to give you, and your agemates, a more in depth tour next time.”

He watched them leave after that, and he sighed as he trudged back to his desk. Ah, kids. As enjoyable as that tour had been, he felt exhausted to his bones. 

Still. Phanes felt satisfied. There was no better pleasure that passing on a love of learning to the next generation, after all.

Chapter Text

The rift. 

It was an odd place, in that it wasn’t really a place. It was abstract, a concept, an infinite space where finite minds struggled to compartmentalise and analyse. It was also a subject of great debate and study by the Amaurotines. For within the rift was power, unexplainable and inexhaustible, transmuting spells by unknown means, whispering knowledge that had not yet come to pass, bridging gaps between places that should never be bridged. 

There was a theory that the rift was a boundary of sorts. The place where all timelines and all worlds, met and tangled together like cosmic yarn. It also reflected the mind of those that unwisely ventured there, and everything became one, and one became everything, and a feeble mind would snap beneath the strain whereas a strong one would be forever changed. 

Prometheus…

He wasn’t sure which one he was. 


 

Prometheus thought it would be like dipping into the Lifestream. That was an eldritch entity, but still based on finite beings with a finite intelligence, even if it was mostly instinctual and lacking in rationality. There was a very base, animal logic to its thoughts and movements, and experience allowed Prometheus to anticipate its reactions in response to certain stimuli. The rift, however, was a different beast entirely. 

His first foray there was… quiet. He astral projected there - a physical displacement on his first attempt at exploration was blindingly stupid, even by his reckless standards - and it was like… it was like walking into a dense forest during a pitch black night. It was too dark to see anything, but he still saw faint shapes, outlines that could be… something, if he could see, pressing close but never touching, no matter how far he reached out. It was cold, and lonely, and endless. It had a scent too: the sharp smell of frozen earth, pine leaves and decay. 

There was something beguiling about it all, that darkness, holding promise of concealed secrets, teasing - venture forth, deeper and deeper in… - but he did not fall for the bait. He shied away from it all. 

All in all, it was a dull first trip, but also unnerving. Prometheus left learning nothing of note. 


The second time was different. 

The rift was loud, this time. A distant rumble like an avalanche, a grinding, crunching noise of a thousand jaws snapping and snarling in the oppressive silence. The plane felt electrified, buzzing with power, an aether so alien Prometheus kept his soul’s borders firm and solid, to prevent cross-contamination. 

A flash of colour - explosion - an echo, rippling through that space like a distant supernova- a gasping cry from the Lifestream, of 

astardyingfromtheinsideoutitsbloodcoagulatedandrottentheaetherchokingitselflittleliveslittlemortallivesfightingtolifetosavetearingaholeininfinityourshininghopeourdestinyliesinthepastinthepastinthepastinthepast

Prometheus didn’t remember leaving that place. 

He woke up sprawled out on his workshop floor, the aether around him buzzing like a nest of angry hornets, with his nose bleeding and a thunderous headache slamming behind his burning eyes. Imprinted behind his eyelids was that flash of colour, a scream of a dying planet, of a timeline crashing into annihilation, wiped out and dumped in that empty, infinite space to be forever forgotten. 

Yet, also, a flash of hope, a tiny, flickering comet, streaking across that infinite space, achieving what Amaurotines could not. Crossing boundaries. Walking those bridges. Plunging into another timeline with the scent of desperate hope leaving a tail of glittering light, abandoning that crumbling, doomed timeline.

But.  

His mind couldn’t hold onto those details. Too profound, too much, and Lazarus quietly purged the damaging memory from his mind, smearing the details until they were hazy, blacked out blurs of nothing. He forgot what he saw. 

All in all, it was a dull second trip, but also slightly painful. Prometheus learned nothing of note. Again.  


The third time, Prometheus felt better prepared. 

He really wasn’t.

The moment he entered that plane, a cacophony of noise and images rushed up at him - azure, blinding, bright, information and knowledge ramming hard against the borders of his soul, demanding and begging to enter. Some things cracked through, and he felt as if his soul would vibrate apart when it was- himself? Himself, across a boundary

Looking across from a timeline slowing to a standstill

Listen!

Prometheus saw himself and himself saw Prometheus, across a bridged gap that shouldn’t be bridged, a timeline veering downwards into oblivion while his continued on a tenuous golden thread forwards, forking in the distance, a choice- 

If he stepped ahead, he would see

The darkness yawned up beneath his feet like the gaping jaws of a hungry beast and

With momentous effort, Prometheus tore free of the connection. The rift shuddered, implosion of colours imprinted behind his eyelids, the scream of a dying timeline, and he

He fled. 


He did not enter the rift again. 


Prometheus was oddly quiet that morning. 

Hades couldn’t help but glance over every so often at where Prometheus was slouched over in his seat. It was their weekly Convocation meeting, and while Hades and Prometheus maintained professionalism within these walls and didn’t overtly demonstrate their close relationship, Prometheus at least greeted him or sent him a cheeky note or two when Elidibus’s gaze was turned elsewhere. Today, however… 

Not a single word. 

It wasn’t a cold shoulder - Hades knew when Prometheus was angry at him. Instead, Prometheus seemed preoccupied with something, his soul closed off with his walls shored up thick and strong. That could mean anything, and not necessarily bad either, but still… Hades couldn’t help but worry. 

Everyone else seemed content that Prometheus was being docile, however. He always tended to make these meetings too lively with controversial opinions or debate topics, so the peace and quiet was highly welcomed from his corner. 

“Onto our final topic,” Elidibus said, “The rift research that the Fourteenth was spearheading…?”

Prometheus stirred out of his slouch at that, lifting his head. 

“Mm, what about it?” Prometheus said. 

“You’ve been oddly lax about your updates,” Elidibus said evenly.

Hades winced at that. Being late with research reports was considered a terrible faux pas - absolutely unheard of if you were a Convocation member. As scatter-brained as Prometheus was, even he made an effort to be somewhat punctual with his research data. 

“Oh, right,” Prometheus shifted in his seat, his soul tightening up even more, “Uh, well, I’ve put a pause on it for the time being.”

“A… pause?”

“Yeah,” Prometheus waved his hand dismissively, “The rift is too, ah, energised at the moment. I almost gave myself an aneurysm last time I prodded it. Unless you want to be one Convocation member short, I felt it best to put the research on hold while the rift calms down from whatever got it all riled up.”

Elidibus eyed him for a long moment, but with a small ‘hm’, let the topic drop at that, “Understandable. In which case…” 

The meeting was adjourned soon after that, and everyone began filtering out of the hall in their usual cliques. Hades made a beeline for Prometheus the moment it was polite to rise out of his chair, trying to seem nonchalant despite his hurried steps. 

“You’re distracted this morning,” Hades said the moment he reached his friend, scrutinising him. Prometheus was moving stiffly, rising from his seat with a careful precision that Hades found suspicious.

“Oh, am I?” Prometheus said airily, crossing his arms and tucking his hands into his sleeves. His mask hid his expression, and when Hades prodded his soul’s borders, he was, unusually, kept out, “Probably because I stayed up late last night. I feel really… drowsy.”  

“Mn,” Hades tilted his head, “Research?”

Prometheus hesitated for a fraction of a second - very brief, but it betrayed his lie when he said, “Yeah. Research.” 

Hades hummed doubtfully, but let the subject drop. No need to press the attack right now. Prometheus would just clam up. 

“I think I’m going to visit Hythlodaeus,” Prometheus continued, shifting the topic clumsily, “Unless you need me for something…?”

“Well,” Hades began a mite slyly, “Now that you mention it, I do need some help with the Bureau’s Concept submissions. There’s a backlog-”

“Oh, wow, I just remembered I actually have something important to be doing right now,” Prometheus said quickly, “What a shame…”

Hades gave him a heavy-lidded look, amused, “Oh? And what would that be?”

“Er,” Prometheus, unsurprisingly, struggled to think of a lie. He lacked a devious bone in his body, so Hades was greatly entertained at watching his friend flounder about, his gaze casting about for inspiration for his excuse.

“Yes?” Hades prompted mildly. 

“Ah,” Prometheus snapped his fingers, “I need to discuss some of my rift findings with Hythlodaeus. It’s important for the next phase.”

Hades raised an eyebrow. That would be a suitable excuse, except… “For your research that you said is on hold?”

“Momentarily,” Prometheus said quickly, “I can still do, er, theoretical research to prepare. Yes.”

“...” Hades put as much Doubt as he could into that silence before heaving a sigh, “Fine. Go procrastinate, then.”

“I’m researching,” Prometheus said solemnly, before flashing him a bright smile, “Enjoy shifting through your backlog, though!”

With that, his friend teleported out of the Convocation chamber after giving him a jaunty wave. Incredibly rude since this room had a door for a reason, but everyone else had filtered out by that point, so Hades let it slide. With a sigh, he slouched out of the room, brushing aside his lingering worry.

Here he had thought something was wrong with his friend, but it turned out Prometheus was just being Prometheus. He’ll make sure to check in with Hythlodaeus later, just to make sure, though. 

With that, Hades cast the matter entirely out of his mind without a thought. 


Prometheus was oddly quiet this morning.

Hythlodaeus couldn’t help but peek at him curiously over his cup of tea. It was nice of him to visit, but normally when Prometheus visited it was either to nap in peace, or to gossip with him about this, that, or the other. Instead, Prometheus was bent over the coffee table, scribbling down notes in that horrendous handwriting of his. No matter how much Hythlodaeus squinted and tilted his head, the cramped scrawl was as indecipherable as any uncrackable code.

It didn’t really worry him. Sometimes Prometheus needed a quiet, calm place to think, and Hythlodaeus’s home was that calm spot. Prometheus’s workshop always buzzed with a frenetic energy, a side-effect of his experiments and powerful Concepts, and if he went to Hades’s they’d either argue or get, er, distracted. So, while he was curious about what Prometheus was writing, he wasn’t really concerned. It was probably to do with that rift research he spoke about a week ago. 

The tea he had poured for Prometheus had gone untouched and cold, though. He tutted quietly. That won’t do. 

“Prometheus,” he said, snapping his fingers and willing the tea to heat up. An easy bit of molecular manipulation - and something Hades grouched about ‘ruining the taste of tea’, which was just silly, “You let your tea go cold.”

“Huh?” Prometheus stopped his scribbling, looking up in surprise, “Oh, uh, sorry.”

Hythlodaeus eyed his friend. Prometheus was chewing on the end of his pen now, his golden eyes shifting from the paper to the now steaming cup of tea. His calloused fingers were stained with ink. 

“Come on, take a break,” Hythlodaeus said. 

“...yeah,” Prometheus sighed, setting down his pen and picking up his tea. He leant back, slouching in his seat. His cowl was swept back, his dark, half-curled hair more of a mess than usual, and now that his head wasn’t bent so low towards the coffee table, Hythlodaeus could see how tired he looked. 

“Have you been sleeping?” Hythlodaeus asked slowly, “You look awful.”

“Thanks,” Prometheus said dryly, lifting a hand to rub at his jaw. Heavy, dark bags bruised his heavy-lidded eyes, and he looked a wan and exhausted, “Nah, I’ve just been… busy.”

“Researching?”

“Mm,” Prometheus’s gaze flicked away briefly, before he glanced back. His expression brightened into a friendly smile, chasing away some of the exhaustion, “You know how I’m like! I’ll take a big nap at the end.”

“I think you should take a nap now,” Hythlodaeus sighed, “If Hades sees you looking like that, he will fuss.”

They both exchanged wryly amused looks at that. Hades was an odd duck, in that he tried to come across as aloof while caring intensely about his friends. Luckily, the pair of them saw through his act, especially when Hades decided to get fussy. No man could motherhen like Hades when the mood struck him.

“Ah, that’d be a terrible fate indeed,” Prometheus drawled, “To have the esteemed Emet-Selch wait on me, hand and foot, out of concern for my health.” 

“More like he’d dropkick you into bed and tie you to it,” Hythlodaeus coughed, remembering that exact scenario happening a century back. Prometheus had been dreadfully ill, but stubborn about it, and Hades had resorted to Extreme Measures. That had been an interesting situation to walk into...

“Oh,” Prometheus made a face, no doubt remembering the exact same scenario, “Right. I forgot that happened.” 

“Did you see him this morning?” Hythlodaeus asked, abruptly remembering there was a Convocation meeting today, “Strange he didn’t ambush you then.”

“Ah, hm. Yeah, I saw him,” Prometheus fidgeted, his soul tightening up a fraction, “But, I didn’t take my mask off. He was trying to rope me into helping him with his backlog…”

“Ah,” Hythlodaeus nodded in understanding, “Yes, best to avoid that.”

“Right? So, I made my excuses and ran away,” Prometheus chuckled, “You were my excuse, by the way. So, if he asks, we talked a lot about, er, complex manifolds.” 

“Algebraic geometry,” Hythlodaeus noted, “Are you meddling in physical dimensions again?”

“I’m not meddling,” Prometheus said, but his fidgeting said Hythlodaeus hit the nail on the head, “This is Convocation sanctioned research. I’m just, gently poking my nose into the rift, seeing what’s in there.”

“Hm,” Hythlodaeus had mixed feelings about that. The rift was dangerous for a reason, and many Amaurotines had fallen into its trap. They either died, or their souls became lost in that large, empty space for eternity, leaving behind their bodies which withered away. However, if anyone could traverse such a dangerous space and come back, it was Prometheus. 

“And… have you poked your nose in there?” he asked. 

Prometheus hesitated, “Um, sort of.” 

Hythlodaeus’s eyes narrowed. Prometheus’s soul, which had been rather relaxed, abruptly tightened up, its walls shored up high and thick. It didn’t take much for him to link some things together - Prometheus’s exhaustion, his evasive answers - and he set his tea down to cross his arms pointedly. 

Prometheus grimaced, “It’s not like that.”

“Prometheus.”

His friend groaned, rubbing his forehead with his free hand, “Okay, fine, I have gone in there. It was fucking awful, by the way. Every time I stepped out I had a nosebleed and a pounding headache…”

“Have you told the others?”

Prometheus scoffed, “ No. I promised them I’d dig out something concrete about the rift, and I plan on delivering that.”

Hythlodaeus sighed, “At the cost of your own health…? Prometheus, we’ve spoken about this.”

Prometheus squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Honestly, Hythlodaeus was tempted to snitch on him to Hades, if only because he was good at wrangling Prometheus into taking better care of himself. Hythlodaeus was too much of a soft touch’, apparently. 

“...have you found anything in the rift? Aside from a migraine,” Hythlodaeus added wryly. 

“Well… I don’t know,” Prometheus admitted quietly, “My memories are distorted and fuzzy whenever I step out of there. Lazarus is always functioning at maximum capacity whenever I wake up too, so I think what I see is too much for a finite mind to effectively comprehend, so…”

Lazarus purges the damaging memories, before it drives you insane,” Hythlodaeus finished, feeling concerned. Lazarus’s main function was to protect Prometheus’s soul and body from harm, which it did admirably, but this was the first time he heard of it mucking about with his friend’s memories. It was a fully autonomous system, so it didn’t even need Prometheus’s input to start removing select memories either. 

He recalled, distantly, Hades expressing uneasiness about Lazarus when Prometheus created it several centuries ago. It was, technically, sentient, forged out of a sliver of Prometheus’s soul and therefore, technically, owning one itself. Prometheus had always dismissed Hades’s concerns, though… 

(“What’s there to be worried about? It is me, in a roundabout way.”

“You’ve allowed a sentient fragment direct contact and influence over your soul. It doesn’t matter that it was once you-”

“Ah, how reckless do you think I am? I’ve got safeguards in place, don’t worry!”)

Hopefully, Prometheus was right, in that there was nothing to worry about. 

“I’m taking a break from it, for now,” Prometheus admitted when the silence stretched for too long, “The last time I went there, it felt like someone had driven a pick axe through my skull. It wasn’t nice.” 

“I still say you should inform the Convocation,” Hythlodaeus said firmly, and, when Prometheus opened his mouth to protest, he added, “Otherwise, I will tell Hades what you just told me - exactly .” 

Prometheus shot him a betrayed look, “Oh, come on…”

Hythlodaeus just gave him a firm look. 

His friend relented, “ Fine. I’ll tell them at the next weekly meeting…”

Hythlodaeus recognised the procrastination for what it was, but he allowed it. Prometheus will try to find ways to wriggle out of it before the next meeting, but Hythlodaeus will make good on his threat in that case. He might help Prometheus procrastinate or goof off sometimes, especially if it wound Hades up, but when his friend’s health was on the line, he was stern. 

“Also, you should take a nap now,” Hythlodaeus added, lightning his tone into something teasing, “If you’re to keep up the ruse of being perfectly fine for the next week. The moment Hades sees you without your mask, he’ll know something’s wrong.”

“I know,” Prometheus groaned, but he set his tea down and flopped dramatically sideways on the sofa, “It’s just, whenever I try to sleep… I have weird dreams.”

Leftovers from whatever Lazarus purged, Hythlodaeus assumed, “Do you want me to cast repose ?”

“No, it’s fine,” Prometheus mumbled, tucking a cushion under his head and closing his eyes, “I’ll deal.” 

Hythlodaeus watched his friend until he slipped into a deep sleep. Considering how quickly he nodded off, Prometheus must have been extremely exhausted. He sighed quietly, Creating a thick, heavy blanket to drape itself over Prometheus’s slumbering form, and leaned back into his seat. 

Oh, what was he to do with him? 


It was close to late afternoon by the time Hades could free himself long enough to visit Hythlodaeus. He had intended just to follow up on Prometheus’s claims of visiting him, expecting to see his friend long gone - so it was a surprise to see him completely knocked out on Hythlodaeus’s sofa, snoring quietly. 

“He was very tired,” Hythlodaeus explained when Hades asked, “He’s been like this for about six hours now.”

“He must’ve needed it,” Hades said neutrally, internally kicking himself for not noticing. He knew Prometheus had been acting strangely, but had let him convince him otherwise again. 

“Mm,” Hythlodaeus made a vague noise, “Stop hovering over him, Hades. You’ll give him a scare if he wakes up to you looming over him like that.”

“I’m not hovering,” Hades grumbled, but he did stop leaning over Prometheus to take a seat next to Hythlodaeus instead. 

Hythlodaeus made tea, and even laid out some biscuits for them to nibble on as they both stared at Prometheus. Their friend’s brow was furrowed, as if subconsciously sensing the intense focus and not enjoying it that much. 

“He looks awful,” Hades commented, taking in the dark bruises under Prometheus’s eyes. 

“He got carried away with his rift research and forgot to eat and sleep for a few days,” Hythlodaeus said, “Or, so he said.”

“Hrm,” Hades felt a prickle of annoyance. Why did Prometheus tell Hythlodaeus his woes but brushed Hades’s concern off? He could be considerate too! “He mentioned something about not sleeping well last night…” 

Hythlodaeus’s soul suddenly fluttered with a spike of mischief, “Ah, then, perhaps when he wakes up, you should take him home.”

Hades frowned, giving his smirking friend a wary look, “What?”

“If he’s struggling to sleep…” Hythlodaeus started with faux innocence, “All I’m saying is everyone knows that only the esteemed Emet-Selch can match the Fourteenth in terms of stamina and skill, so exhausting him to the point of sleep should be-”

“Stop,” Hades hissed, smacking his friend on the shoulder. Hythlodaeus laughed at his poorly concealed embarrassment, “Where did this dirty sense of humour come from?”

“Dirty? I only meant you could coax him into one of those incredible Creation competitions you two do every so often. I remember how you both made a very beautiful garden together once,” Hythlodaeus sighed fondly, giving him a gentle smile… which slowly turned mischievous again, “But, I suppose your lewd idea would work too…”

Hades stood up, ignoring how hot his face felt. He remembered that garden. Remembered they were both so tired after trying to outdo each other, they ended up falling asleep together under the shade of a blossoming tree. Hythlodaeus always gushed how romantic it was, much to Hades’s… not discomfort but… it always left him feeling hot about the collar to have it brought up. 

“I’m leaving.”

“So soon?”

“I have work to do,” Hades grumped, “Tell Prometheus I’ll visit him later this evening when he wakes up.”

Hythlodaeus sighed, but he didn’t argue, just sipping his tea while giving Hades a knowing look, “Alright. Goodbye, Hades.”

Hades muttered his farewells and left, feeling… annoyed, worried, and put off. He couldn’t fully pinpoint the source of those confusing emotions, and he didn’t quite care for them either, so he just shoved them aside and ignored them. He just felt snubbed that Prometheus went to Hythlodaeus to share his worries, instead of sharing them with him. 

He did that sometimes. Of course, Prometheus shared his woes with him on occasion too, but…

Petty jealousy, he thought irritably. Hades needed to get a grip on that.

Chapter Text

It started, as all their competitions did, with an innocent observation.

"Hades can deal with the shrubbery. His weird affinity for flowers will make them look nice," Prometheus suggested during the brainstorming session of their unofficial 'project' in the cleared space behind Hythlodaeus's home. Much like Prometheus, Hythlodaeus preferred the outskirts of the city, though mostly for peace and quiet rather than anti-social reasons, and so had Created a small house out of the way of the more urban areas. 

Of course, no house would be complete without a beautiful garden to go with it, so he had employed his two friends to help him wrangle the barren grounds into something lush, but...

"It isn't weird," Hades huffed, bristling at the perceived slight, "It's skill. I just have a more precise touch than you when it comes to organic creations."

Prometheus smiled at that, a sultry kind of mischief fluttering through his soul as he muttered; "A precise touch on organics , huh?"

Really, Hythlodaeus didn't know what else he expected. He laughed quietly when Hades slanted a narrow-eyed stare in Prometheus's direction, a crackle of tension forming between them. 

"What are you implying there?" Hades asked with mock-sweetness, an aura of danger radiating from him.

"Nothing," Prometheus said innocently, "Just an interesting word choice, is all."

"As amusing as this is," Hythlodaeus cut in before Hades gave into his clear impulse to grab Prometheus into a punishing headlock, "I do want this garden completed today…"

"Right," Prometheus said blithely, like he wasn’t the instigator of that distraction, "Like I was saying, Hades can show off his precise touch for flowers and-"

"Skill," Hades gritted out.

"Skill," Prometheus amended without missing a beat, "Skill for flowers, and I'll, hm… I guess I'll-"

"Supervise," Hades said, his annoyed expression easing into something smug, "If I have a skill for coaxing things to grow, you have a skill for making them wither. If it isn't bird-shaped, your organic Creations tend to be, hm… lacklustre."

Prometheus flushed a little at one of his shortcomings being pointed out so bluntly, "Excuse me, I can Create organic things just fine!"

"One word: Malboro."

"You promised to never speak of that," Prometheus hissed, thrusting a finger at Hades’s nose, "That only happened once, anyways, and when we were practically kids! I've improved a lot since then!"

And then, Hades did The Thing. Pleased at having turned Prometheus's teasing upon himself and gotten under his skin, Hades slanted a heavy-lidded stare at the fuming Fourtheenth’s way, mouth curved into a smirk as he said, "Oh, yeah?"

Hythlodaeus sighed.

"Yeah!"

"Hm. I'll believe it when I see it."

"Oh, you'll see it! In fact, I'll show you right now. What I can Create will be leagues better than what you shit out!"

"Is that so? Willing to bet on that?"

Hythlodaeus left them to it, knowing the fate of his future garden was well out of his hands. He Created a deck chair and placed it delicately on his wooden patio, angled just right to catch the warm rays of the sun without blinding him to the show unfolding before him. 

When he sat down, Prometheus was already in the process of flinging his voluminous robes off, revealing his shorts and tank top underneath. Oh dear, that meant he was serious. 

“Alright, you take that half, and I’ll take this half!” Prometheus ordered, aggressively pointing at one side of the would-be garden, “Hythlodaeus will judge which side is better, right?”

“Uh, yes?” Hythlodaeus blurted, startled at being so abruptly addressed - but Prometheus wasn’t listening anyways, as he was now barking conditions and rules as a deeply amused Hades. 

Hythlodaeus could only sigh. As much as he and Prometheus loved winding Hades up and making him agitated, the same could be said vice versa. Hythlodaeus prided himself on being far too relaxed and adaptable to be flustered so easily, but Prometheus was, sadly, easy to rile, once you knew his buttons. Hades very much enjoyed pushing those buttons, too…

But, honestly, he wasn’t complaining on how this turned out. Hades and Prometheus would work hard to one up each other, most likely constructing a beautiful garden… and Hythlodaeus wouldn’t have to do a thing! He could sit here, and watch, and maybe take a nap too - and when he wakes up, he’ll have his garden!

Hythlodaeus gave himself a mental pat on the back for his cunning plan… nevermind that he hadn’t intended this to happen when calling his friends over to help.

With a casual wave of his hand, he Created a bag of popcorn as well, leaning back in his deck chair as Prometheus and Hades got to work.


The sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon when they were done. 

Hythlodaeus had only just woken up, a chilly wind rousing him from his comfortable nap. He muffled a yawn, stretching his arms high above his head before he took in the sight before him. Gone was the barren field of dull brown dirt. In its place was a beautiful garden of flowering shrubs, trees bearing both flowers and fruit in a little orchard down by the corner. Oh, there was even a pond, a small, adorable one with reeds and lilypads and croaking frogs. 

Hythlodaeus was deeply impressed. 

But, where were Prometheus and Hades? Had they excused themselves after realising he was asleep and couldn’t judge? Or were they venting their frustrations with each other in more physical ways…?

Warily, Hythlodaeus explored his new garden, keeping an eye out for any suspicious noises or discarded clothing. Luckily, he found his friends well and decently dressed - they were sprawled out beneath one of the trees in the orchard, clearly exhausted from their efforts, snoring away in deep slumber. 

He watched them fondly. Prometheus was covered in dirt, a dark smudge of it streaking over his cheek. Being dressed lightly, he was snuggled up against Hades’s side, his fingers curled into the thick fabric of his robes as he tried to leech the warmth from them. Hades was tidier, but he was flat on his back, the only sign of life being the steady rise and fall of his chest. Prometheus was using his arm as a pillow, and Hythlodaeus anticipated him complaining about pins and needles later. 

“Thank you for the garden,” Hythlodaeus hummed, Creating a thick blanket to gently drape over the pair, “It’s absolutely lovely, thank you.”

He got no response. But that was fine. 

(They made up for it later, when they woke up and pestered him to decide a winner. His decision? “Oh, I simply can’t decide! Both sides were so lovely… I guess it’s a tie!” 

Oddly, they didn’t seem pleased at that)

Chapter Text

Masks were a very important development milestone in Amaurotine children. 

When they are first given over to their mentors at the tender age of fifty, this is when they’re told to begin Creating their masks. It’s something that would constantly evolve and adapt over the next few decades, as mercurial as any child until finally, on the day they reach adulthood, they submit their final mask to be attributed to them until death. 

The children were encouraged to be creative and experimental, yet not criticised for going the simple route either. So long as they were satisfied with the end result, no one would judge it for its aesthetics. 

Well, adults, wouldn’t judge it. 

Your fellow agemates, however… 

“How’s this?” 

“It’s ugly.” 

Prometheus pouted as he lowered his mask from where he had held it up admiringly, giving Hades an irritated look. All three of them were seated around the coffee table in their living room, the table cleared to let them play around with various masks and designs. Mentor Metis left them unsupervised for this, since she was busy making dinner. 

“Hades,” Hythlodaeus chided quietly, “That’s rude.”

Hades didn’t seem overly bothered, but he did tip his chin down a little as he glanced at the mask in Prometheus’s hands. It was brightly coloured, since Prometheus hated the blank white or angry red that most people used. It was an explosion of pinks, oranges and blues, painted spirals of flowers or meaningless shapes that made him happy to look at. It probably clashed a little, yeah, but… 

“It doesn’t… match,” Hades said as diplomatically as he could, “Colour-wise, it’s ugly.”

“But, it’s interesting,” Prometheus stressed, “It’s not all… boring.”

“I think it looks cute,” Hythlodaeus said, trying to play peacemaker, “I like the flowers.”

“Thank you!” Prometheus said cheerfully, giving Hades a look that clearly said ‘see was that so hard’, “I like your mask too, Hyth!”

It was a plain white one and very simplistically done. It wasn’t Prometheus’s cup of tea, but since he wasn’t a jerk like some people, he knew better than to say that. 

Hythlodaeus smiled, quietly pleased, and Hades just sniffed.

“Well?” Prometheus prompted, “Show us yours then.”

“So you can insult it as payback?” Hades said sourly, but he obligingly held up his mask. It was a deep crimson, the eyeholes narrow, angry slits. It looked really aggressive and mean to Prometheus, which he felt suited his personality from time to time. 

“It looks like it’s constipated,” Prometheus said honestly, “But tough, too. I wouldn’t mess with you if you had that on.”

“It doesn’t look constipated,” Hades snapped, but he did give the mask a dubious once over, “Maybe I should soften some of the edges, though…” 

Prometheus let Hades mull over his constipated mask, slipping on his much nicer on. It felt comfortable, though he had to fiddle with his hair so his fringe wasn’t uncomfortably sticking to his forehead. It was then, though, that he realised one major design flaw. 

“Hmm…” he tilted his head this way and that, nodding slowly, “I can’t see anything.”

“That’s because your mask has no eye holes,” Hades said, the ‘idiot’ heavily implied in his tone. 

“Well, eyes are overrated,” Prometheus said, opening up his soul to be more spiritually aware of aetherical fluctuations instead. This way of seeing was so bizarre, but just as precise as visual acuity. He turned his head to ‘look’ at Hades, seeing the fuzzy, wavy outline of his soul, “I think this looks cool.”

“Children!” Mentor Metis’s voice drifted from the kitchen, “Dinner is ready! Put away your masks now and make the table!”

Prometheus sighed in disappointment, taking off his mask as Hades and Hythlodaeus rose from the table. With a bit of concentration, he slipped his mask-in-progresss into his personal inventory. Maybe he should put eye holes in, just in case. Walking around with his soul open like that just to see felt weird.

But he had decades to figure it out, and… well, at least his didn’t look constipated like Hades’s.

Chapter Text

The snow crunched loudly, Prometheus’s foot sinking right through the crispy whiteness until it was up to his hip. He made a small noise of surprise, the cold leaching through his trousers and wellies immediately, so he quickly retracted his foot and perched warily in the doorway.

Behind him, Hades and Hythlodaeus were equally dubious. 

“Is it deep?” Hythlodaeus asked.

“It’s up to my waist,” Prometheus said solemnly, stomping his foot a few times. The snow had caked to it, and it fell off in thick clumps to melt on the doorstep instead, “It’s deep.” 

“We should just nap,” Hades grumbled, still sounding groggy from where Prometheus had dragged him out of his bed. He always got dozy on cold, snowy days like this, and would transform himself into a blanket burrito if left to his own devices for too long. 

“You just had a nap,” Prometheus scolded, turning around to face his two agemates. All three of them were dressed for the weather - thick coats, scarves, gloves and hats - but despite their careful preparation, none of them seemed eager to leap into the snow. 

Because, the truth was… this was the first time they were allowed to go out in the snow. 

Amaurotine children were both revered and considered fragile. Unlike adults, who were famously robust enough to survive a physical ‘death’ so long as the soul was intact enough to be implanted in a new body, a child’s soul required a physical vessel to remain intact until they gathered enough quintessence and aetherical density to maintain their ‘Self’ outside of their body. This normally didn’t happen until close to adulthood. Their souls were also highly sensitive to any physical damage to their bodies, which could cause problems as they matured.

So, aware of their children’s fragility, Amaurotines tended to be hyper protective of their physical forms - especially if they were only freshly turned fifty, like these three were. 

Yet, Mentor Metis was a little more relaxed than their creche caretakers. Where they were normally kept inside and bundled against any risk of hypothermia or pneumonia, Mentor Metis Created warm clothes for them and ordered them to ‘obtain some life experience’ rolling about in the snow - provided they remained within the safe confines of the front garden, that is. 

Having read about, and seen snow, Prometheus wasn’t entirely ignorant to the fun factor of it. It was just… it felt wetter and colder than he assumed it’d be, and he wasn’t a fan of being wet and cold. 

But, he was the bold one out of the trio. So, after taking a deep breath, he turned around and bravely leapt into the deep snow with a battle cry-!

Only to slip on the landing.

Prometheus squealed (something he will vehemently deny later) as his heels slid hard against a patch of ice lurking beneath the snow, pitching him forwards violently in a flailing panic. He barely got out a cry of ‘help-!’ before he face planted right into the snow and left a perfect Prometheus-shaped hole in the drift he tumbled into. 

For a long moment, no one said anything or moved.

“I think he’s dead,” Hades finally said. 

“We will remember him fondly…” Hythlodaeus sighed woefully. 

Really. 

With some difficulty, Prometheus clawed his way out of the snow hole he was now trapped in, wriggling and flailing until he was sitting up. He was bright red, flushed with embarrassment and exertion as he glowered at his friends ogling him from the front doorstep. 

“I’m still alive,” Prometheus said peevishly. 

“Good thing you had all that snow to cushion your fall, huh?” Hades said idly, not even bothering to hide the amused tilt to his mouth. It was clear the jerk was barely fighting down the urge to laugh at him. 

“Are you okay, Prom?” Hythlodaeus asked, because he was a sweetheart, and Prometheus’s new bestest best friend ever.

“I’m fine,” Prometheus sighed, gingerly climbing to his feet. It was really slippery, but he managed, albeit with the shaking, uncertain legs of a newborn foal. He felt like shifting his weight too much would send him flat on his rump, “Just cold…”

Clumps of snow stuck to his front from his ill-advised dive, and he irritably tried brushing it off. It clung on stubbornly. 

Hades clearly took pity on him, because he took an awkward step into the snow, leaning over to stretch his hand out to him, “Here. Before you slip again and we lose you in the snow forever.” 

Prometheus grumbled, but internally he was relieved as he reached out. He had to lean over a lot - he jumped quite far, which he was now regretting - and he clasped Hades’s wrist tight. Now came the hard part. 

“Um,” Prometheus started, eyeing the thick wall of snow separating him and Hades. It was hip height, but it felt packed solid, hiding slippery ice underneath. 

“Just walk,” Hades said grumpily, “I’m losing feeling in my legs here.” 

“Easier said than done,” Prometheus muttered, but he tried wading forwards. It took a lot of effort to push his thighs through the thick snow, and he grunted, heaving his weight forwards - only to yelp when his foot slipped again and-

“Prom , you-!

-he dragged Hades down with him into the snow drift. Prometheus wheezed loudly when his friend landed on top of him , squashing him deep into the snow and crushing his ribs. Hades was heavy , certainly heavier than him, and Prometheus flailed uselessly under him. 

“Ah! Help! Hades is suffocating me! He’s too heavy!”

“I am not!” Hades squawked, vainly trying to get up - but with Prometheus squirming under him, and all the slippery ice under the snow, it wasn’t happening. The pair of them flailed, shoved, and flopped about in the snow, getting nowhere fast while Hythlodaeus watched the disaster unfold before him with morbid fascination. 

“Um,” Hythlodaeus tried, “If you two calmed down, you might be able to… um, Prom? Hades?”

He went ignored. 

“Get your fat butt off me, Hades…!”

“You’re sitting on me, idiot!”

“You’re pushing me down!”

“I am no- OW! Did you just bite me!?”

“That’s what you get for- OW! Ow, ow, ow, stop pulling my hair…!”

Hythlodaeus heaved a deeply put upon sigh and Created a small bucket with a wave of his hands. With that, he scooped up some snow and packed it into the bucket, before willing it to melt. He picked up the bucket of water, struggling with the weight. 

“Hades! Prom! Please stop fighting! Or- Or I’ll have to take extreme measures!” he shouted over their yelling, but once again, he was ignored. 

They were going to be so mad at him, but, it was the only way to get them to focus long enough to cooperate, so…

Hythlodaeus tossed the freezing cold water over his brawling friends. 

Birds exploded from the nearby tree in a panic when Hades and Prometheus screeched.

Chapter Text

Prometheus idly watched the glass butterflies flutter in uneven circles above him. Their clear wings caught the sunlight, refracting in flashes of rainbows with each flap, as he reached up. Obediently, one of the glass butterflies alighted on his finger, its spindly legs sharp as it gripped onto him.

It was a frivolous Creation. Prometheus made it on a whim, a passing thought as he lay here amongst the grass staring up at the blue sky. A lot of Creations were like that nowadays: whims, passing thoughts and ideas, barely kept in check by the likes of Hythlodaeus and Hades. Slowly, century by century, they were moving from the days of radical inventions for the betterment of life and this star’s ecosystems, and onto more trivial, meaningless things. 

There wasn’t anything wrong with that - in moderation. But, recently, it felt… it was all so… there was stagnation, here. Prometheus looked upon their society and felt stagnated, like they were beginning to reach the limits of their potential, and he struggled to muster much enthusiasm or genuine amazement at the recent Concepts and ideas that crossed the Convocation’s floor. He felt bored. 

He felt agonisingly bored.  

Prometheus lowered his hand and gently touched one fragile butterfly wing with a finger. His magic granted his Creation some flexibility and sturdiness, but if he grasped a wing and applied some force, it would snap all the same. It was just glass, after all. Kind of like him, in a way. He was good at putting up a pretty facade, but if anyone bothered to push too hard, he’d be too brittle to bend.

Ugh. 

He disliked these moods. He disliked this feeling of flat, cold boredom. He disliked this total lack of motivation. He had so many things he was procrastinating from - some research, some projects, a meeting with Lahabrea he kept putting off (much to the other man’s irritation), but… 

Prometheus grimaced, shaking his hand. The butterfly immediately flew away, rejoining its brethren in its aimless, purposeless path above his head.

Maybe this was a sign. Prometheus wasn’t blind to his own defective nature, after all. He’d been putting it off, since Lazarus was an extremely radical concept and dangerous to implement - so many things could go wrong - but… an autonomous system with direct access to his soul and brain chemistry, it might be able to rectify-

“There you are.”

Prometheus stiffened at Hades’s voice coming from behind him, his heart thumping up in his throat as he barely fought back the instinctive flinch. He froze, hearing the crunch of grass as his friend stopped behind him, followed by a flare of his aether as his soul unfurled from where he’d squashed it down tight to be undetectable. 

Ah. Damn it. 

Prometheus quickly hitched up a cheerful expression and leaned back on his hands, glancing over his shoulder. Hades loomed over him, his mask not hiding the unhappy twist to his mouth.

“Well, that’s a scary scowl,” Prometheus teased, projecting as much positive emotion as he could scrape together to pad his lethargic soul out a bit. Not that he was fooling Hades any, but the effort counted, right? “What’s the matter? Unearthed another backlog of Concept audits from your predecessor?”

“More like I’ve been harassed by many annoyed scholars looking for you,” Hades said snippily, crossing his arms over his chest, “Why they think the fastest way to find you is through me, I’ll never know…”

Prometheus felt a flare of genuine amusement at that - he always did find it funny when he managed to inconvenience Hades in some way - and idly gestured for his glass butterflies to gently alight on the grassy ground.

“Probably because you’re the only one who can find me when I’m being anti-social?” Prometheus drawled, scooping his butterflies up into his hands and standing up to face his friend. He didn’t like Hades looming over him from behind like that, “You know, if you stopped doing that, maybe, just maybe, people will leave you alone.”  

“Hn,” Hades tutted loudly, “If I did that, we’d never see you again.” 

“I can think of several people who’d rejoice over that,” Prometheus muttered in a low undertone, then, louder, “So, what am I being summoned for this time? Lahabrea?”

Hades didn’t immediately reply. Though his mask hid his eyes from view, Prometheus could still feel the weight of his stare on him. He was being scrutinised, Hades’s soul gently prodding at his, the sensation ghostly enough that he couldn’t help but shiver and clench his soul border’s tightly shut.

But Prometheus knew he looked fine. While he had been moping about in a bored sulk, he did learn his lesson from previous, ah, fits, and made sure to look physically fine. Nothing sparked Hades’s motherhenning and Hythlodaeus’s quiet concern looking like a reanimated corpse, like last time. 

“Hades,” Prometheus said flatly, when the silence started to stretch awkwardly, even for them, “The staring’s kinda creepy.”

“I’m not staring,” Hades snapped, his feathers adorably ruffled like an offended water fowl’s, before he settled again, “Are you…”

“Hm?”

Hades grunted, “Nothing. No, I’m not dragging you off to Lahabrea - though he has asked me, multiple times, about some meeting or other-”

“Damn,” Prometheus muttered, “I was hoping he’d forget about it.”

“-instead,” Hades continued, ignoring him, “We’re going to Hythlodaeus’s.”

We?”

“We,” Hades said mildly. Prometheus grimaced. Ugh, no way he could cut and run at this close range, “You missed our weekly get together yesterday.”

“I… no, that’s- isn’t that tomorrow?” 

“It was yesterday,” Hades said, and there was concern there, buried deep in his tone and flashing through his soul like minnows in a shallow creek. It made Prometheus feel oddly jittery, “You’ve missed a lot of appointments too.”

There it was. Prometheus felt himself tense, felt his soul clench up too, as his gaze dropped to their feet. His fingers closed tight around his glass butterflies, “I, uh, I’ve been busy…”

“Prom.”

The childhood nickname, murmured like that, made Prometheus feel like the weakest, most pathetic creature on the planet. He was sure his shame was filtering through his soul’s borders like a flaming beacon. 

“We’re going to Hythlodaeus’s,” Hades said in a tone that brooked no arguments, “We’re going to have tea, chat, and then you’re going to deal with your duties you’ve been ignoring for the past month.”

“I really have been busy…” Prometheus mumbled.

“With what.”

Ah, he’s angry, Prometheus realised, nervously smiling at Hades’s curt, sharp tone. He always found it funny, Hades’s temper. It was probably why he needled him so much. His soul felt hot and blazing when he in a right snit, especially if it was over something he cared about (him). 

“Well,” Prometheus curled his fingers closed over the glass butterflies, willing them to deconstruct. He brushed white sand off his palms, “A new armiger called Lazarus. It’s going to fix me.”

There was a pregnant pause. Even with only half of his face visible, Prometheus could see Hades go through several facial expressions. The silence stretched almost painfully, and Prometheus watched him from beneath his eyelashes, wondering if he’d...

“...don’t be an idiot,” Hades finally said, “There’s nothing to fix about you, except your terrible timekeeping, and no armiger will do that for you.”

Ah. Okay.  

Prometheus shrugged lazily, giving him a grin, “Well, I’m gonna try it anyways. It’ll be one less thing for me to deal with, right?”

“You don’t deal with it anyway,” Hades sighed, but his tense shoulders were slowly relaxing as the topic shifted from less emotionally dangerous waters, “That’s what we get for spoiling you as kids, I suppose.”

“Spoil- you were the spoilt one! Always whining until you got your way and complaining about wanting a nap all the time!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hades sniffed, “Now stop distracting me and come here. We’re going to Hyth’s.” 

Prometheus groaned and dragged his feet, made a show of it, because he was fulfilling a certain role now, but obediently moved over to Hades’s side. His friend grasped his elbow, fingers tight, his aether flaring as he hooked onto the channel that would take them to Hythlodaeus’s house on the edge of the city. 

And, briefly, Prometheus had to urge to stop him and say ‘no, really, I’m not joking, there’s something in me that needs to be fixed, I think there’s something terribly wrong with me’, but… 

A swirl of aether, his feet landing on the cobbled path leading up to Hythlodaeus’s front door. Hades’s grip shifted from his elbow to his wrist, dragging him along as he pulled him forwards. Prometheus’s courage wavered. 

The moment was gone.

Right, the moment was gone.

He sat on the sharp, heavy feeling squatting behind his breastbone, buried it deep, and let his smile become more genuine. There’d be other opportunities to talk about it, and… with luck, if Lazarus worked, he’d never have to talk about it at all! 

(the truth was, he was, and always will be, a coward. he never took the next opportunity, or the one after that, or the one after that, until… well, there were no opportunities left) 

Chapter Text

“Oh, yes, you are adorable, absolutely cute! With your little feeties and cute noses and…”

Alisaie couldn’t hold back her grin as she watched Aza fuss and croon over a gamboling flock (herd?) of amaro chicks. He was sitting on the floor of the stables, uncaring of the straw sticking to his tail as he let the chicks use him as a perch, their taloned feet and clawed wings helping them find purchase on his armour to haul themselves up his arms and onto his shoulders. 

It was an adorable - and funny - sight to see the famous Warrior of Darkness coo over baby amaro like this. Aza didn’t seem to care, either. Perhaps it was because of his upbringing in the Iriq, where gender roles were reversed compared to Eorzean society, but Aza’s pride was never tied to machismo. If he saw a cute baby animal, then by the Twelve he was going to squeal over said cute baby animal without a hint of shame.

“Having fun?” Alisaie asked as she stepped into the stable, instead of lurking by the open door. This deep into summer, the wide doors were open to facilitate airflow, not that it helped much with this much humidity. She could feel her hair clinging to the back of her neck from sweat. 

“Absolutely,” Aza said, looking up from where a particularly bold amaro chick was playing tug of war with his gloved finger, “Have you seen how cute these things are, Alisaie? Look! They’re like balls of down with wings and feet!”

Alisaie looked. The amaro chicks did resemble feathery phurbles with wings attached, stubby little wings with tiny hooked claws. Apparently these claws were eventually shed and dropped off when they grew into adults, and scholars theorised that it was an evolutionary holdover when the amaro’s descendants lived in the trees of Rakt’ika, before the Ronkans fiddled with their species. 

After a pause, she gingerly sat down on the stables floor in front of Aza, laughing quietly when some brave amaro chicks immediately climbed onto her lap, cheeping demandingly. 

“Yes, they’re very cute,” she said indulgently, carefully stroking one chick’s head with a finger. Tiny, blunt teeth hidden behind the keratin of the chick’s beak nipped at her. It didn’t hurt. 

Aza made a satisfied, rumbling noise, deep in his chest. It bordered a purr, and Alisaie recognised it as a gesture of total contentment in Miqo’te. Or, Mystel. Whatever. 

“I wish I could take one back with me,” Aza sighed, “But, I guess it’d be bad to introduce an alien species to the Source’s ecosystem…”

“Mm, it might be a bit reckless,” Alisaie said wryly, even if she couldn’t see the harm of bringing back one amaro. But, of course, Aza would argue that it might be lonely, and try to bring back more to give it company and… yeah, if left to Aza, he’d end up creating an entire herd of the things back on the Source. 

A companionable silence lulled between them. Aza went back to chirping at the amaro chicks, low, purring noises Miqo’te normally reserved for their own children, and Alisaie contentedly watched him. 

They’d been worried about him for a while. Them, the Scions. After almost turning into a Lightwarden, after almost having his soul shatter, Aza bounced back really well. Almost too well. They knew, better than most, how Aza tended to bottle up his emotions until they reached a boiling point, so they anticipated some kind of fallout from all the trauma he endured here on the First but…

He was doing fine. He moved frequently between here and the Source, was spending a lot of time with the Exarch (Alisaie had her suspicions that there was something going on between those two, but she was keeping her nose out of it. Aza, Exarch and Aymeric were grown men and their business was their business), and routinely visited the Scions as well. He was also helping Ryne and Thancred out with something in the Empty.

In short, Aza was like herself. So long as he had something to focus on, something to keep him moving forwards, he was fine. It was when they allowed him time to wallow and brood over past events that he began faltering. 

Still…

“How are you?” Alisaie asked, her tone blunt.

“I’m fine,” Aza said easily, glancing up at her with a knowing smile, “How’re you?”

Alisaie huffed quietly, “I’m fine.”

There was a pause. 

“A little bored,” she admitted, when Aza’s gaze didn’t waver from her, “The majority of the Sin Eaters have been culled from the more populated regions, and those at the Inn are slowly recovering from their Light afflictions. They seem to think they’d make a recovery in a few more weeks, maybe months…”

“Hmm,” Aza said. 

“Of course, there are no shortages of beasts to keep in check either,” Alisaie continued, “Occasionally I visit Alphinaud, but Eulmore is still… ugh, I can’t stand it sometimes.”

“Yes, it’s a bit…” Aza’s mouth twisted, something dark flashing through his expression before he shook it off with a smile, “Gaudy.”

She had a feeling that wasn’t the first word he was going to use, but didn’t call him on it, “Gaudy. Yes.”

“You know,” Aza said conversationally, “When me and Alphie snuck in there the first time, they made me do pole dancing.”

Alisaie choked , “ Excuse me?!”

“Yeah,” Aza laughed, a low, husky noise as he absently plucked one amaro chick off his shoulder. It had been chewing on his ear, “I wasn’t pleased in the slightest. Pole dancing…”

“How… I didn’t realise that’d be something you’d even know…” Alisaie mumbled, unable to reconcile Aza with the idea of pole-dancing. He was intensely private and, dare she say it, almost prudish about displaying himself in that way, and grew visibly uncomfortable if people, especially strangers, commented on his handsome looks or flirted with him. 

“Hah,” Aza’s gaze drifted away, down into his lap where most of the amaro chicks were roosting now. Most of them were asleep, or close to it, “Well. I did other things before… I was a mercenary. Y’know.”

Alisaie eyed him. There was a subtle tension to his shoulders, his eyes avoiding hers. She wasn’t oblivious to that implication. Bluebird dropped a few hints herself, from time to time, and after knowing him for so long, Alisaie… she had her suspicions. His aggressive defensiveness over his personal space, his discomfort in people flirting with him, the vagueness in his explanations on how he came to be adopted by the Iriq tribe, and how Bluebird would get an angry, cold expression if anyone asked about it. 

Alisaie could guess. She didn’t like thinking about it.  

So, she changed the subject, “What are your thoughts on Runar and Y’shtola?”

Aza looked up, the dark shadows in his expression quickly banished at the mischievous grin he sent her, “You see it too, huh?”

“It’s a bit difficult not to,” Alisaie said dryly, “Thancred is adamant that they are already a couple.” 

Aza laughed, “Yeah! He said the same thing to me. You know, I asked Urianger too, but he pretty much told me to mind my own business about it. I think? I’m still learning Uriangese, but I’m pretty sure he told me to stop being nosy.”

“He’s not that difficult to understand,” Alisaie said, smirking when Aza sent her a disbelieving look, “Look, his dialect is outdated-”

“Even Emet-Selch struggled to parse his words sometimes, and he was, like, a billion years old!”

“He was not a billion years old,” Alisaie grumbled, though with Ascians it was hard to tell. When was the original world split? They didn’t exactly sit down with Emet-Selch and hash out an accurate timeline, “He was in his thousands.”

“My point still stands,” Aza sniffed, “If even Emet-Selch, who no doubt observed multiple linguistic evolutions in his time hopping between shards, struggled to understand Urianger, then obviously that man needs to modernise or simplify his words.”

Alisaie couldn’t help it. She stared. That was… the most academic thing to ever leave Aza’s mouth. 

“Er…” She shook off her shock, “You’ve thought a lot about this.”

Aza, weirdly, looked just as startled as her, blinking a few times before frowning, “I guess so... “

“Hm, I guess there’s a little bit of a scholar in you,” Alisaie said fondly, “You do pick up on things quickly.”

“If explained simply, yeah,” Aza sighed, “It’s when people complicate their words to sound smart, but it just obscures the meaning and confuses people… I tried reading some of those, um, theoretical books on aetherical elements? You know, to understand this ‘Terraforming' stuff we’re doing out in the Empty, but I didn’t understand half of the words…”

Alisaie grimaced sympathetically at that. Yes, the language in those tomes were archaic and unnecessarily complicated. For Aza, who had no official schooling and barely knew how to write when he joined the Scions, they probably boggled his mind trying to parse. 

“I can try to simplify the texts, if you want,” Alisaie offered, “It would be something for me to do between hunts, so I don’t mind.”

“Would you?” Aza looked relieved, “Thanks, Alisaie, I’ll definitely owe you one.”

Alisaie scoffed and waved her hand, “No, you won’t. This is what friends do, helping each other.”

Aza smiled, his eyes crinkling in the corners, and Alisaie looked down at the amaro chicks in her lap to hide the faint flush to her cheeks.

That was another thing she noticed recently. Aza was a lot freer with expressing his emotions and thoughts. Before, he was always stoic and reserved, but now… well, he smiled more, exhibited happiness more vibrantly, was brighter and… she wondered at the source of it but, maybe, having his soul almost shatter put some things in perspective. Possibly?

Either way, it wasn’t a bad change, as unexplainable as it was. 

Aza was still Aza. She doubted that would ever change. The famous Warrior of Darkness, slayer of Primals, also a huge dork who loved cute animals and knitted and baked in his free time. 

She wouldn’t trade him for anything. 

“So,” she said, “Do any of these have names?”

“Oh, yeah,” Aza said cheerfully, “So that one there, on your left thigh, that one’s Rosebud, and that one is Violet, and that one is…”

Even if he did have a powerful, and weird, obsession for anything with feathers. 

Chapter Text

Aza jerked awake. 

There were a few confusing seconds where he didn’t know where he was - a bright, blazing white sky, white sand - the Burn? - with the aether so stagnant it crawled against his throat every time he breathed in. Then he sat up, saw Ryne curled up in a tiny ball in the bedroll next to his and remembered: ah, the Empty. 

In the close-distance, Eden hovered like the world’s creepiest airship. 

“Have a bad dream?”

Aza’s gaze shifted from Eden. Thancred was sitting in front of his attempted campfire, the brittle white sticks piled on top of each other. Thancred didn’t seem to care that there was no fire going, he was still prodding the sticks with another one, going through the motions because there was nothing else to do. 

“...yeah,” Aza said, seeing no point in lying. Thancred must’ve noticed his restlessness before he woke up, “You?”

Thancred lifted one shoulder carelessly, “I haven’t slept yet. Urianger’s head is still buried deep in those tomes of his, to figure all this out...”

“Hm,” Aza’s glanced over at the tent. Despite putting up two of them, only Urianger made use of them as a private space to think. Aza didn’t like the claustrophobic air of a tent, and Ryne and Thancred preferred to sleep under the sky - better to quickly escape incoming Sin Eaters or Eulmoreans. Habits were hard to break. 

The other tent, of course, housed that mystery lady that had given Aza a pretty good thrashing. It took him an embarrassingly long time to figure out the trick to that delayed spell casting, even with the Echo shrieking warnings in his ear.

After a moment of thought, Aza pushed up off his bedroll, tiptoeing past the slumbering Ryne to settle opposite Thancred next to the inert campfire. They both stared at the unlit firewood for a bit. 

“Feeling any better?” Thancred finally asked, “You were looking a bit, ah, smoky after that fight.”

Aza gave him a dry look, “Smoky.” 

“I almost mistook you for a piece of coal, to be honest,” Thancred said, “You still have some soot here, by the way…” 

Aza sighed, but wiped at his cheek where Thancred indicated. 

“I feel okay,” he said, dropping his hand back into his lap, “Just… sore and tired. I’m too old for this.”

“Don’t say that,” Thancred groaned, “I’m only two years younger than you.” 

“And yet, you’re still really agile and flexible,” Aza noted with naked envy, “It’s really unfair. I’m fitter than you and everything!”

“That… might be the problem,” Thancred said wryly, “Before I took up the gunblade, I excelled in dodging and avoiding grievous injuries. You soak those up like a sponge and then attempt to escape your sickbed hours later against the advice of the chirugeons.”

Well. Yeah. Okay. Aza can’t really dispute that. 

“You also lived a hard life,” Thancred continued, his light tone sobering, “Harder than mine, I’d wager.”

Aza shifted his weight uncomfortably, “Probably. But it’s not a competition, who had the shittier life.”

“I suppose not,” Thancred said mildly, and pinned him down with a quietly intense look. 

Aza recognised that look. It was what everyone, Exarch included, gave him when they thought he wasn’t looking. Concerned, keenly searching for any cracks in his facade or anything that might betray weakness. He didn’t know what they expected from him - to be emotionally fragile after the whole Lightwarden business? To have a long overdue mental breakdown? To finally go abso-fucking-lutely insane? Or, insaner , since he was already batshit crazy.

“I find that look extremely annoying,” he said, “Stop that.”

Thancred, the asshole, stared harder, but it was more comical than annoying now. 

“You’re such a dick,” Aza muttered, picking up a pebble to flick it at Thancred. It bounced off his shoulder harmlessly. 

“For being concerned?” Thancred said dryly, “Well, sorry.”

Aza picked up another pebble, but he rolled it between his gloved fingers, watching the powdery, white dust cling to the black leather. All the stones and rocks around here felt brittle, weak like chalk. He applied pressure, and the pebble crumbled immediately. Not enough aether. 

“For doubting me,” he said, brushing his hands clean.

“Doubt…?” Thancred frowned in open confusion, “We don’t doubt you.”

“As you said before, I’ve lived a hard life,” Aza said blandly, “This whole business with the Lightwarden and Emet-Selch… honestly, it hasn’t registered much with me as something to get upset about. But you’re all sitting around waiting for me to, I don’t know, have a mental breakdown about it? That’s what it feels like. It’s annoying.” 

Thancred didn’t immediately reply. He was giving Aza another look - this one was also concerned, but in that deeply disturbed way that he hadn’t seen in a while. When the Scions were still getting used to his… quirks. 

“Suffering from a traumatic experience that almost ended up with you transforming into a Sin Eater and destroying the world isn’t something to get upset about,” Thancred said very slowly. 

“No,” Aza replied, “Because it turned out fine.”

“Do you believe that, or is that what you’ve been telling yourself?” Thancred asked mildly, “Just because it turned out fine doesn’t mean you can’t have a… a reaction to it.”

Aza knew that. 

“It’s fine,” he said, picking up another pebble. He rolled it between his fingers. Again, it felt chalky, weak beneath his thumb. Parts of it crumbled off. 

Thancred sighed quietly, “Is it?”

Aza didn’t answer. 

Truth was… he didn’t know. He knew trauma, intimately, and every time he reacted differently to it. This wasn’t the suffocating, tense cowering of when he was a child, gazing at the ceiling and letting the soft spaces between thoughts yawn wider and wider as a monster ate him alive over and over. This wasn’t the heart thumping, terrified bloodlust to kill it now before it hurts you when he was a youth, funnelling fear into violence. This wasn’t the frigid, concrete certainty of predator when he was an adult, wielding intimidation as a cudgel to ensure no one ever got the idea to hurt him and what he deemed his. 

This time. 

He felt fine. 

No. 

He felt… 

He didn’t know what he felt. It wasn’t the hot-blooded passion of terror, or anger, or hatred or resentment. It was something milder, deeper, like the still surface of a very deep, dark lake, that got colder the deeper you swam. Very… lethargic. Tired. Sub-zero.

The emotion didn’t really have a name. He just… felt. 

“Aza?” Thancred prompted, his voice hushed. 

The pebble had crumbled between his fingers. His hand was curled into a fist, tight enough the leather of his gloves creaked. 

“I… don’t know,” Aza said, “I don’t know.”

“... it might need time to brew,” Thancred said, watching him carefully, “Sometimes, these things have a way of creeping up on you when you least expect it.”

Sometimes, you can only process trauma when you think you’re safe enough to do so, Crisp’s voice murmured through his mind, an old memory from their ill-spent youth, that’s why it always feels out of place, when you finally feel it. 

“Yeah,” Aza said, both to that memory and to Thancred, his gaze drifting to Eden floating serenely above the Empty. 

“But we’ll be here when it does. All of us, and others back on the Source too,” Thancred smiled a bit wryly at that, prodding again at the unlit firewood with his brittle white stick, “Speaking of, how is Tataru and the others?”

It wasn’t Thancred’s most graceful subject change, but Aza took it. He glanced back at Thancred, hitching up a mostly genuine smile as he recounted his last visit to the Source. He ignored the slight, homesick wistfulness Thancred carefully hid, letting it solidify his determination to find a way to get his friends back home. 

Aza wondered if Thancred was waiting to feel safe enough to feel the burdens he’s been hauling about himself. Losing Minfillia, stuck wandering an alien world for years, becoming a pseudo-parent for Ryne… Aza wondered. 

Well. 

He’ll extend the same courtesy, at least. If Thancred was to be here for him, Aza will be there for him too. Even if he was the worst person to go to for emotional support. 

But, he knew trauma. That had to count for something, right?

Chapter Text

The trigger was a harmless burst of sun-spot inducing light, ilms from Aza’s nose. 

On the heels of it was ice-cold terror that flooded every nerve in his body, muscles drawing taut and heart thudding - a split second of feeling like he was dunked in a half-frozen lake. He even felt the prickling burn down his throat and into his lungs, imagined taste of metal as congealed aether forced its up his windpipe, choking- 

“Oh, sorry! Didn’t mean to startle you!” Thiuna’s voice jarred through the jumbled up memory, “It just went off in my hands- damn it, darn, I should have…” 

Reality violently asserted itself.

Crystarium. The Mean. Thiuna. Delivery. Reality.

Aza slowly blinked the wobbling spots out of his vision, details oozing through the blank, frozen panic. The quiet pitter patter of grey rain against the tarps above, sharp smell of burning, Thiuna’s embarrassed face as she fumbled with the half-melted remains of her prototype ‘party popper’. 

“I must have put too much oomph in that one. It wasn’t meant to flash like that,” Thiuna muttered, frowning at the party popper like it had betrayed her, “Hmm.” 

It took a moment to get his voice to work. He could still taste aether in his mouth, his hands shaking around the wrapped package he was delivering to the Mean, “Yeah. I guess so.”

Thiuna looked up sharply at the pathetic croak of his voice, “You coming down with something?”

The Crystarium was suffering from a nasty flu pandemic - harmless, but unpleasant - so Aza just nodded. 

Thiuna believed his lie without batting an eye, “You should go down to Spagyrics for that throat of yours then. Sounded like a toad for a moment.”

Aza nodded again, and robotically held out the package. 

“Oh, that’s for me?”

Probably. He nodded again. 

“Thanks- hey, this is for Iola-”

Aza was already walking away. 

It was weird. A weird time, these moments. He was braced for it, but it still took him off-guard, how his mind would catch in a low, droning buzz, details sliding over the surface like oil catching on water. He didn’t think. He moved. Walked. One step in front of the other, into the rain, barely feeling the cold lash of water hitting his face, until the cold rain stopped and he was somewhere dimly lit and grey and was standing in a corner. 

He liked a good corner. 

At least he could breathe, this time. It was a bit of a struggle - breaths catching in his tight throat, his fingers clenching and uncurling, hands shaking as violently as his body as he stared blankly at the stretch of dull grey wall in front of him. It looked smooth. Metal? It was probably metal. He pressed his forehead against it. 

It was metal. 

Okay.













Okay. 














It’s okay. 

 

okay. 

 

okay 

 

okay

 

okay










okay okay okay okay.





















He is okay. 

Something finally punctured through that dizzy, tight-breathed fog. He giggled, a little hysterically, into his corner, and clutched tight at his elbows with gloved hands and sucked in a deep, deep breath until his ribs ached from the effort of it. It came out and shaking, almost like a very stifled hiccup, and he inhaled again, because he could. He was breathing, and not choking on aether, vision blinded by the brilliance of Light and he was okay.

Bloody. Fucking. Brilliant.

“I…” he rasped, “Can add party poppers to the fucking list.”

“Aza?”

He jumped wildly- yelped when he fucking headbutted this stupid metal wall with a resounding ‘THUD’ that had him seeing stars for an entirely different reason. He reeled back a step, only to violently recoil when a hand steadied him on his elbow, the touch making every inch of him crawl in a hot flash of firmhandpressrestrain

The hand quickly retreated. 

“Sorry! I forgot- are you alright?” The voice sa- Exarch. 

Horror shot through Aza like a thunderbolt, and he pivoted hard on his heel, scrambling to hitch up a normal expression like he hadn’t been in the middle of a party popper induced meltdown. He probably didn’t succeed, considering the frown Exarch was giving him beneath his dripping hood. 

Fuck. Fuck, he can’t- come across as a crazy psycho here-!

“Fine!” Aza said, his voice sounding shrill even to him, “I- I’m fine! Okay!”

Exarch leaned back a fraction, a brief flash of alarm widening his eyes before it vanished in a blink. His expression was difficult to read, but something shifted in the Exarch’s stance, a lowering of his shoulders, hands splayed in front of him, calmingly, non-threateningly, and Aza found the anxious, vicious energy vibrating in his bones easing a little at the sight. 

Nothing was said for a long moment. 

It was still raining. Over Exarch’s shoulder, Aza could see the dull grey drizzle of it, the empty plaza beyond. He vaguely recognised where he was. The metal staircase where they stashed the crystal cannons. Aza was lucky none of the guards were here. They probably would’ve been weirded out at him talking to the corner. Unless there had been guards here, and had been weirded out, and now Exarch was here because of that. 

“...maybe, we should go inside?” Exarch finally said, his tone pitched to be light and casual, but his eyes were sharp and assessing beneath the rim of his hood, “You look cold. It wouldn’t do for you to get ill.”

Aza was cold. He was soaked to the bone, and was vaguely aware that he was shivering violently. Not from the cold. Or, maybe? Probably.

“Yeah,” Aza said, but did not move from his safe corner. 

Slowly, almost comically so, Exarch reached out towards him. Aza tracked his movements with a sudden, razor sharp focus, his fingers twitching when Exarch’s crystal hand gently touched his bicep -  not grasping, not restraining - just, a gentle touch, applying an equally gentle pressure to coax him out of his corner. 

Aza’s feet shifted, his heels digging in, resisting for a brief moment - but Exarch was patient. A few, dragged out moments where Exarch made a low, calming humming noise that wasn’t quite a melody, but close enough to catch Aza’s attention, calm the wild fluttering of his pulse in his throat. 

He left the corner. 

Oddly, it was the most terrifying thing to do. But, Exarch was there, already linking their elbows together, holding his arm with his hand resting against his forearm as he walked them out into the rain. He was murmuring, while Aza tried not to fall apart in an embarrassing mess because everything was far too wide open and exposed and he wasn’t wearing his armour today because it was the Crystarium and that place was safe except suddenly it wasn’t because his heart was thumping in the hollow of his throat and his hands were shaking where they gripped the loose sleeve of Exarch’s robe as he walked next to him and

“-and two new Chocobos have been brought into the Rookery today. They come from the outer fringes, owned by a small family who had decided to come here to settle.”

Aza tuned back into Exarch’s words. Chocobos. 

There was a slight curve to Exarch’s mouth, a smile that was somehow both fond yet sad at once, “I thought that would catch you attention.”

“...sorry,” Aza said, sounding mostly human now. They were at the bottom of the steps leading to the Crystal Tower. Fuck. He didn’t remember the walk at all, “Sorry. Shit. I haven’t- had that in a while, I’m sorry-”

“It’s fine,” Exarch said calmly, gently squeezing his forearm, “Do not apologise for being human.”

Aza didn’t say anything. He felt it, like he always did, the squirm of shame and embarrassment, the need to apologise endlessly for this weakness he could never quite cut out of him. It wasn’t constructive, that thinking, he knew. Aymeric told him. Bluebird told him. Everyone told him. He knew. Rationally. Yet, he still felt it. Thought it. 

“It happens,” Exarch continued, and his head was angled enough so that his hood hid most of his face, like from before. Aza saw when he briefly bit his bottom lip, an anxious gesture, “I don’t… think less of you for it. At all. Even if I’m not sure how to…”

Exarch paused and lifted his head. He looked concerned and sad and tired and all of his centuries all at once. 

“I want to say ‘fix’, but it isn’t something to fix, is it?” Exarch said quietly, “Help… is that better?”

Aza dropped his gaze. Rain was tickling the back of his neck, slipping under the collar of his jacket. He focused on that sensation, to keep him grounded. 

“...yeah, that’s better,” Aza admitted to his boots. 

“Well then,” Exarch shifted his weight, couldn’t quite hide the nervousness in his voice as he said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Aza knew what things helped. The activities, the thought exercises, the talks. He looked up at the Crystal Tower, a smudge of bright blue through the haze of grey, dull rain. 

“Can we… look at your garden?” Aza asked. The thought of digging his fingers into dark, loamy soil, damp yet smelling fresh of life, calmed him in a way that was visceral. He didn’t want to be trapped indoors, even if it was warm and dry. The thought of walls all around him made him want to crawl out of his own skin.

Exarch smiled, “Yes! Ah, I mean, yes, of course. We can look at my garden. It still looks lovely even in poor weather like this.” 

Normally, Aza would make a quip about how the same held true for him, but he felt too rattled to try hitching up that persona right now. Instead he smiled, a weak, pathetic thing, but genuine. Exarch practically slumped in relief at the sight of it. 

“I’m sorry,” Aza said again. He realised this was the first time he sprung this… issue of his on him. 

Exarch stepped on his foot. It didn’t hurt, but Aza still said ‘ow’. 

“I said don’t apologise,” Exarch said with mock-sternness, tugging him forwards.

“You’ve gotten so… bossy,” Aza muttered without heat. 

“I have always been bossy.”

“Oh, true.”

Exarch huffed, but he was smiling. 

By the time they reached the garden, Aza felt himself again, if a bit hazy. He tried not to feel frustrated, or ashamed. He tried. He still did, but Exarch proved himself to be suitably distracting whenever his thoughts shifted towards brooding. 

It was… 

Compared to a few years ago, this was fine. It really was okay. He would have preferred not to be triggered by a fucking party popper of all things, but he dealt with it… okay. He was getting better, slowly, steadily. He was getting better. 

He will always be ‘getting better’. 

But. 

Aza was beginning to accept that. 

It was how being human worked, after all.

Chapter Text

“The Exarch, hm?”

Gck!” Aza fumbled with his knitting needles, clumsily dropping them and his scarf in his lap as Thancred popped out of nowhere to loom over him. Aza shot him a glare, irritated, picking his project back up and wondering how the hell this man snuck up on him in an open space like the Quadrivium .

“Is that a scarf?” Thancred added in mock innocence.

“Yes, it is,” Aza said stiffly, glancing past Thancred’s legs to see if Ryne was nearby. She wasn’t. 

“For the Exarch?”

“Yeah,” Aza refused to be flustered and held it up for inspection. It was a red scarf, made from very soft, high-quality wool, “He doesn’t have one, and since this’ll be the first winter without the Light heating everything up…”

“Hmm,” Thancred said neutrally. 

Aza went back to work, the only sound being the distant noise of the Crystarium and a passing citizen moving towards the Pendants, and the click of his needles. The air was brisk and the sky a dull grey, chasing away the usual crowd that loitered in the Quadrivium. Too cold and too dreary.

Thancred watched him, leaning against the tree Aza was taking shelter under. His gaze was dissecting. 

“...as attractive as you are, Thancred,” Aza said mildly, losing patience first, “I’m not interested in you like that, sorry.”

“What-” Thancred jolted a bit at that, then let out a low laugh, “You’re not my type.”

“Then what’s with the creepy staring?” Aza paused his knitting, glancing up at his friend, “C’mon, you know I hate all this subtle shit. What’s up?” 

“I’ve heard a rumour that you and the Exarch are… close,” Thancred began. 

“That we fucked, you mean,” Aza said bluntly, smiling when his friend heaved a sigh, “Is this an intervention?”

“More like I’m satisfying my curiosity,” Thancred said, pushing off the tree. After a moment, he squatted down, his weight firmly on his heels as he rested his forearms on his thighs. Aza envied the ease with how Thancred could move. He was only two years his junior, and Thancred seemingly suffered none of the joint pain or problems Aza did. That was so unfair.

“Did something happen with Aymeric?” Thancred asked quietly, and Aza stared at him in confusion before it clicked

Right, for Thancred, he’s been on the First for five years. His memories were probably a bit foggy on the nature of Aza’s evolving relationship with Aymeric before he left, especially since he had been distracted by other, more important things. He must be wondering if Aza had broken up with him, or if Exarch was a messy rebound, or… something. 

“Nope,” Aza said, relaxing now that he knew the reason for this talk, picking up the pace of his knitting again, “Everything’s fine with Aymeric.”

“And, Exarch…?”

“It’s fine,” Aza said, “I mean, Aymeric handed him a written letter of consent, practically. It was a sex proposition disguised as a love letter, by the way- er, not a proposition from him but, it was for the Exarch- from me, I mean, to… you know, yeah.” 

“Er, right, I see,” Thancred said in a tone that clearly said he didn’t, “But, everyone knows and is happy with the arrangement?”

“Yup,” Aza slanted a look his way, “ Thancred, did you think of me as a nasty cheater?”

“Of course not,” Thancred huffed, before adding, “I was worried you were using the Exarch as a rebound.”

“Rude.”

“Hrm, well… I remember how you latched onto Aymeric after…” Thancred paused with a wince, realising he was treading on a painful subject. 

Time had dulled that particular wound, however, and Thancred was right. Back then, Aymeric had been something of a rebound from Haurchefant’s… yeah. It turned out for the best, luckily, if only because Aymeric was a saint, but he knew Thancred had been concerned about him back then too. So, Aza just hummed, letting the painful subject slip past. 

“Well, he’s not a rebound,” Aza said, “In fact, we’re actually friends.”

Really.”

“Mhm,” Aza smiled, finishing off his scarf, “Friends with benefits.”

“Is that what Exarch thinks?”

A fair question. Exarch did not conceal his devotion to Aza, and his love was so intense . Yet, when Aza asked, Exarch insisted on that title - friends. He didn’t know if it was shyness, or if Exarch still wanted to remain in the comforting lines of friendship, as opposed to ‘lovers’, but Aza let him keep it. Even after when they took the next step, after Aymeric and Estinien goaded him on with that damn love letter, Exarch kept the title of friends. 

It was fine. It didn’t bother Aza. In the end, it was just a title. He cared for the Exarch, they were friends, sometimes they just hung out in his garden, sometimes they kissed, sometimes they fucked (though, not often), and sometimes did dumb, silly things. If Exarch wanted to keep the label of friends, then, whatever, Aza’ll go along with it. Whatever made him happy.

“Yeah,” Aza stabbed his needles into his ball of yarn, inspecting his scarf to ensure it was perfect, “I asked him, and he said that’s what we were.”

“Hmm,” Thancred said. It was the same ‘hmm’ Bluebird would use whenever Aza did a blindingly stupid misstep in romance. Aza hated that ‘hmm’. 

“What?” he asked waspishly.

“Nothing,” Thancred said quickly, affecting innocence, “Just surprised, is all.”

“Really.”

“He doesn’t hide the depths of his feelings for you,” Thancred said, “So I’m surprised he’s the one to suggest remaining as friends. Or, rather, friends with benefits. It almost feels like he’s… settling.”

“He isn’t,” Aza said shortly, “After all, you should be friends with your loved ones, right? I mean, boyfriends, lovers, husbands, whatever, you’re also friends with them. You have to be, otherwise what’s the point?”

“Ah,” Thancred made an interesting face, “Well-”

“And I’m not including one night stands in that, before you bring those up,” Aza sighed, “Or- maybe? I don’t know. I think that’s complicated territory.” 

“...”

“Anyway, uh,” Aza frowned, realising he had rapidly lost the thread of his argument. He glanced down at the scarf in his hands, then at Thancred, and said, “Me and Exarch are happy as we are, that’s all you need to know.” 

“Well, alright,” Thancred said, lifting his hands placatingly, “I’ll stay out of it.” 

“Good,” Aza sniffed, “Now make yourself useful and pick up my yarn basket. I’m too old to carry that and this scarf back to my room.” 

Thancred rolled his eyes, muttering something under his breath, but he did pick up the yarn basket. They both stood up, Aza far more stiffly than Thancred. His leg was aching, the knee disliking the long period of sitting and the chilly air. He failed to hide a wince.

“Need my arm as well, venerable elder?” Thancred asked mildly, holding his elbow out like an Ishgardian gentlemen. 

Aza bit down on the knee-jerk refusal, swallowing his pride as he carefully held his lovingly crafted scarf in one hand. He could walk back to the Pendants by himself, but it would be a miserable one - and he was learning, slowly, to lean on his friends, as meddlesome as they could be. 

“You’re not that much younger than me, you cheeky asshole,” Aza said, taking Thancred’s arm and giving his bicep a hard squeeze, “But I do need your arm, thanks.”

Thancred let out an amused huff, letting the yarn basket swing loosely in his free hand as they walked slowly back to the Pendants, “You’re the one who called yourself old.”

“Mm,” Aza smiled, “I did. So, what does that make you?”

“Middle-aged.”

“Yet completely grey,” Aza said sotto voce, “And I see those crows feet.”

“I was born with this hair. Now, you on the other hand…”

“Don’t.”

Chapter Text

Ryne was no stranger to struggle or failure. For most of her life, she was used to scrunching herself up small, unobtrusive, to be as convenient or malleable as she needed to be (yet never enough), and for any tiny achievements she managed to claw for herself to be overlooked or ignored. She was used to that. She didn’t like being used to it, but she was. 

It wasn’t forgotten overnight. Despite her growth and self-discovery in the recent months, she didn’t instantaneously become fearless and confident like the others. She tried her best, took Aza’s advice (“fake it ‘til you make it”), but still floundered as she tried to figure out what she wanted, where she wanted to be. She didn’t know what to do with herself, especially since her and Thancred were taking a brief break in the Crystarium at Aza’s behest. She hated being static, in one place for too long, feeling like a useless lump. 

Not that she was being useful anywhere else. 

So, she decided, if they were marching in place, she was going to learn something new. Something small, but useful, and become skilled in it. It sounded a little petty in her mind, but Ryne had decided it, and she was going to stick with it. She was going to learn a new, useful skill, and do it so well she’ll feel proud of herself. And that was all that mattered: her own pride.

Except...

“Ouch!”

It wasn’t going well. 

Ryne sucked on her throbbing finger, eyeing the needle with open dismay. The silver piece of metal jutted through the pale fabric in her hands, the grey stitching wonky, ugly and too loose in some parts. Nothing like the neat, professional stitches from the Crystarium’s tailoress. 

She wasn’t sure what she was doing wrong. It looked easy on the surface. Stitching was just the same as tying your shoelaces, except you were leading a string on a needle, instead of laces with your fingers, yet… yet

Her fingers were clumsy, her hand-eye coordination wasn’t skilled enough to deftly stitch, the fabric was resistant or didn’t sit where she wanted it too, the needle kept stabbing her, and, and, and she was feeling so frustrated she could feel it like a physical weight on her throat. The urge to toss down her attempt in a sulk was overwhelming, but she swallowed it down. 

This was like Thancred teaching her how to fight all over again. She didn’t get it quickly at first. It just… required practice. A lot of practice.

Ryne closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Okay. Let’s try again. Practice.

She threaded her needle, sticking her tongue out as she carefully pushed it through the pale fabric, pulled it taut, pushed the needle thr-

“Hey, Ryne!”

Ryne startled at Aza’s voice coming from directly behind-

“OW!”

-and stabbed herself right in the meat of her hand.

Bugger.


“I’m so sorry,” Aza said, feeling absolutely awful as he carefully applied a dab of potion to the very tiny cut on Ryne’s hand. She had said she was fine, but he insisted from guilt alone. 

“It’s okay,” Ryne said patiently, looking faintly embarrassed as she clutched her stitch work in her free hand. The pale fabric was too scrunched up for Aza to make it out properly, and he felt another surge of guilt at potentially ruining whatever project she was doing, “I shouldn’t have focused so hard in a public spot.”

Aza frowned a little, glancing about. They were in a public space, just a little ways off the market, but the secluded air of this tiny alcove, hidden under a sizeable overhang used to store crates or other goods, was private enough for someone to be left well enough alone. It was reasonable to expect not to get bothered here, if you weren’t as paranoid as Aza, at least. 

“No, it’s my fault,” he said, patting her hand and stowing his half-empty potion vial, “I hope I didn’t ruin your, um, cross-stitching?”

Ryne didn’t immediately answer. Her pale cheeks flushed pink, her head bowing a little as she unclenched her hand, showing off the rumpled pale fabric. 

“It’s sewing,” she admitted quietly, as Aza examined her work. 

It was… 

Er. 

Well .

“You just starting to learn?” he asked warily, taking in the amateurish stitching and how loose and wonky some of the thread was. 

Ryne, if anything, looked even more miserable. 

“Is it that obvious…?” she mumbled. 

“Well, I mean,” Aza rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah.”

Ryne slumped. 

“But that’s okay!” he said quickly, “I mean, it’s expected you’d suck as a beginner-”

Ryne slumped harder. 

“-n-not that I’m saying you suck -! I mean, you do, kinda, but, it’s- I’m not surprised you do-”

Ryne hid her face in her hands. 

Aza stopped rambling, realising he was just making it worse, and tried a different angle.

“Okay,” he said, “You suck, but beginners always suck. You don’t even want to know how my knitting looked when I started. I made the ugliest sweaters known to man. Mom still wears them for some reason.” 

Ryne peeked up at him from her hands, still looking embarrassed but also faintly curious, “Knitting?”

“Yeah,” Aza said, long resigned to people’s surprise over his domestic hobbies, “It’s expected of guys back home to do all that kind of housework. I mean, I don’t mind it. I find it really relaxing and stuff.”

“Oh,” Ryne lowered her hands, looking at her amateur work with a small frown, “I didn’t find this relaxing. More… frustrating.”

“Well, yeah, because you’re starting out and have no idea what you’re doing,” Aza said, “Look, how about I give you some pointers, show you how it’s done, and we try again?”

Ryne looked at him uncertainly, “But, aren’t you busy?”

“Pfft,” Aza waved a dismissive hand, “Don’t worry about it.”

Ryne, unsurprisingly, looked worried about it, so Aza decided to just plough the situation along before she could protest. 

“C’mon, it’s been a while since I got to sew with someone!” Aza cajoled, gently nudging her off towards the markets, “Bluebird’s got no patience for it, and none of the other Scions do it… well, except Urianger, but without someone acting as a buffer, I have no idea what he’s saying half the time…”

“Urianger isn’t that difficult to understand,” Ryne said.

“Yeah, but I’m dumb as shit,” Aza huffed, “I was technically illiterate not so long ago, y’know.”

Ryne looked even more surprised, and Aza wondered how many built up expectations of himself he knocked down just now. Even with the other Scions, the titles of Warrior of Light or Warrior of Darkness pervaded their perception of him, despite actually knowing him. It was exhausting, sometimes. 

“... I don’t think you’re stupid,” Ryne said after a pause, where they walked in companionable silence towards the markets, “You’re just like Thancred.”

“That’s pretty much calling me stupid,” Aza said on reflex, then winced when Ryne gave him a disapproving look, “Sorry. That was automatic. Um.”

“I meant,” Ryne said, “You both, uh, you like to act first, because you see something that needs to be done, and you don’t think it through until after. You’re both… impulsive, not stupid.”

“Oh, yeah, we’re both hotheads,” Aza said, “Though, Thancred kinda covers it up better, what with that smart schoolin’ he had about a million years ago. Gives him a veneer of wisdom or something.” 

Ryne still tried to look disapproving, but he saw the corner of her mouth twitch, barely fighting down a smile. Aza grinned, playfully nudging her, and continued. 

“Did he ever tell you of the time he tried to challenge Lyse to a drinking contest and got annihilated?” Aza said slyly, “Shtola peeled him off the floor, and he ended up vomiting all down her legs.”

“No,” Ryne gasped, looking both horrified and morbidly fascinated, “You mean Matoya Y’shtola? He didn’t!” 

“He totally did. But, it doesn’t stop there! So, after he threw up on her, he immediately tried to make amends, but…” 

Aza kept up the embarrassing story all the way through the markets, effectively distracting the wide-eyed Ryne as he purchased some sewing supplies and led them up towards the Crystalline Mean. It was when they were mostly up the stairs leading to the top level that Ryne realised where they were going, her steps faltering with a small frown.

“A few people owe me a favour in the Mean, so we can grab an actual working area to focus better,” Aza said before she could say anything, “It’s fine.” 

“Oh,” Ryne looked uncertain, but she didn’t protest. 

Aza eyed her. She kind of reminded him of, well, himself back when he was a kid. Thankfully far more well-adjusted despite the shit she went through, and he kind of wanted to… to boost her confidence a little, or, teach her to relax. She was still quite solemn, and prone to stifling childish urges on account of being ‘mature’. Fuck maturity. She was still a kid, she should live like one!

A small, petty part of his brain still wanted to throttle Thancred over Ryne’s upbringing, while majority of him acknowledged it a shit, stressful situation all round and the blame couldn’t be placed squarely at Thancred’s feet. Still. Aza was so aggravated over it, the whole ‘Generations of Minfillia’ bullshit. Who the hell thought of subjugating generations of children to fighting fucking Sin Eaters!? Absolute insanity. Aza should have burned Eulmore to the ground. 

Ryne caught him staring and gave him a puzzled frown, “Is something the matter?”

Everything about your horrible childhood, Aza thought wryly.

“Just wondering if you’re up for helping me with something after this,” he said lightly, “I promised to help Szem groom his Amaro, y’see, but it’s a lot of work for just me…”

Ryne’s expression immediately brightened. He remembered her innocent fascination and love for Amaro back in Il Mheg, and it seemed that hadn’t waned in the slightest since then, “I’d be happy to help!”

“Good,” Aza said, “We’ll see if we can rope Thancred into it too.”

Ryne nodded, still looking happy, and Aza mentally amended it to: Thancred will definitely be roped into it for Ryne’s sake, even if he had to drag the man to the rookery by his ankles.

Chapter Text

The first thing Lyna noted was Aza being taller.

Then her brain actually processed what her eyes were seeing, and realised the Warrior of Darkness’s sudden boost in height was the least strangest thing happening right now.

Steps sure and confident, betraying well-ingrained experience in stiletto heels, Aza boldly strutted up to her with the sharp click-clack of heels, came to a graceful stop, and posed.

"Good morning, Captain!" Aza greeted cheekily, clenching a white gloved hand against his chest in a well-executed salute, "How are you today?"

"What are you wearing," Lyna asked flatly.

"Oh? This?" Aza held his arms out, showing off the outfit in full. A scandalously short dress, with a slit on the right that travelled to above the hip, flashing very tight, pale underwear that left barely anything to the imagination. The dress had a lovely cleavage window too, squeezing his pecs together in a close approximation of an ample bosom, and the dark fabric clung rather flatteringly to his body. He also had dark stockings and thigh high boots with heels long and sharp enough to pierce unwary toes.

It was, Lyna had to admit, a very nice outfit. It was just…

This is a lost a bet with some of your guys last night,” Aza continued, jutting one hip to the side as he rested his hand on it, an easy, confident posture that just emphasised the thigh his dress slit exposed, “For some reason they were adamant I squeezed into this thing as a penalty. I don’t see anything too bad with it, though, except it’s a little tight-”

A little tight? Lyna could see almost every damn curve of his body! 

“-and these boots are real calf burners,” Aza complained, “And they pinch my toes! I think I’m gonna get blisters from this. Ugh, how do Vii wear these damned things comfortably…”

“We wear the right size, for one,” Lyna said dryly. Clearly the outfit Aza was wearing was tailored for a far more slender Mystel woman, though his muscular frame admirably filled it out (almost too well, really). 

“Yeah, I think the boots might be a size too small,” Aza admitted, then waved a hand dismissively, “Oh well, never mind. By the way, you know where Exarch is?” 

Lyna, very much aware of the nature between her grandfather and Aza, normally wouldn’t think twice about telling him of the Crystal Exarch’s whereabouts. Except this time, Aza had a decidedly mischievous air about him, and coupled with his provocative outfit, Lyna didn’t want to imagine what Aza was planning on doing. That man could be surprisingly lewd when the mood struck him, and subjecting Exarch to that in public was a little mean.  

So, she crossed her arms and pinned him down with a scrutinising glare, “Why do you want to know?”

“Because we’re friends and I want to see him?” Aza said innocently, which probably would’ve worked if he wasn’t a middle-aged man in a seductive dress with possible equally seductive intentions, “I’m not planning anything nefarious.”

Lyna stared him down. 

After a pregnant pause, Aza started to fidget, glancing away and rubbing the back of his neck, “Oh, c’mon, don’t make me say it…” 

Lyna raised an eyebrow and waited. 

“...I was hoping to surprise him?” Aza finally mumbled, looking for the first time self-conscious about his current state. He smoothed down the front of his dress, fidgeting with its short hem before planting both hands on his hips in a forced pose of confidence, “You know. Like that.”

“Like that?” Lyna parrotted, at this point just fucking with him. 

Aza gave her an irritated look, but he answered reluctantly; “In a, y’know, the, sexy kind of… way…”

He mumbled the last few words, and Lyna had to sigh. Honestly, the relationship between the Crystal Exarch and the Warrior of Darkness was so charmingly cute yet awkward at times. She told herself she wasn’t going to get involved because, well, they were both adults and, as stupidly self-sacrificing and thick-headed as they were, they were mature enough to navigate the pitfalls of a romantic relationship by themselves. Just, this time…

“He’s with the horticulturalists gathering seeds for his garden,” Lyna said, and quickly added when Aza moved to depart, “ But I’d advise you wait until he finished before springing that on him.”

“What? Oh,” Aza looked down at himself, “Why? You think this would embarrass him?”

Lyna hesitated, “I wouldn’t know. I know the horticulturalists might be, though.”

Aza looked puzzled, and Lyna wondered what it was like back in his and Exarch’s homeland. She knew that despite the Flood of Light drowning the previous society, some elements of it lingered even here, in the Crystarium, and one of those toxic things were ‘it was humiliating for men to wear dresses’. It was something that refused to be completely stamped out of society, yet Aza didn’t seem to register it as a thing at all. 

“Do you know why that dress was a penalty?” Lyna said, making a mental note to find out which guards were involved and give them a thorough thrashing, “Because they thought you would be embarrassed about it.”

“Why would I be embarrassed?” Aza said with a frown, “I mean, it’s stupidly tight, so I can see that being funny, but it’s just a dress.”

“It’s…” Lyna started, trying to formulate a simple explanation, but Aza suddenly made an ‘ah’ noise of realisation. 

“Oh, I get it,” he said, and slowly dropped his fist into his open palm, “The patriarchy.” 

“...” Lyna blinked slowly, “What?”

“I guess it’s not just some strange Eorzean thing, then. It’s very prevalent in Ishgard and stuff,” Aza said, unaware that Lyna knew none of those places, “It gives people weird ideas, like, how feminine attributes are something to be mocked in men? And this extends to clothing too, even though their robes kinda resemble dresses, so that’s weird…”

“I see,” Lyna said slowly, somewhat getting the gist, “Well, you’re not wrong. Some would think you willingly wandering about like that as…”

“Deviant,” Aza finished with a small, wry smile, “Well, that’s nothing new. Miq- Mystel are the very personification of deviancy, y’know! According to common stereotypes, anyways.”

There was a bit of a pause, awkward on Lyna’s side, who understood that all too well. The Vii also suffered from some stereotypes like that, the ones that willingly left their homes to join outside societies. Misunderstandings and cultural differences tended to set some stereotypes in stone more than others.

“Thanks for the heads up, though,” Aza continued, shifting his weight with an audible scrape of his heel, “I’ll keep this private, then, so I don’t make things awkward for him. See you around, Captain.”

Lyna watched Aza strut away after that with a slight sway to his hips. From behind, he really did look like a muscular Mystel woman, even if she could’ve done without that eyeful of his ass that small gust of wind gifted her. 

She closed her eyes, and sighed deeply. She was just going to forget that whole thing just happened. 


Exarch sighed quietly as he stepped into the green warmth of his garden, clutching the small bag of seeds he wrangled from the horticulturalists. They were seeds of the flowers from Il Mheg, painstakingly negotiated and traded for from the mischievous Pixies, and Exarch was truly fortunate that the horticulturalists generously gave him a small batch for his own personal garden. 

Aza had described them as rather lovely, with a beautiful scent, so Exarch was determined to grow a few just for him - and to sate his own curiosity, of course. He never saw those flowers from Il Mheg before, so it would be nice to-

“Oh,” he stopped abruptly when he rounded one of his potted trees, seeing someone seated on his bench. It took two long seconds for him to register that ‘someone’ as ‘Aza in a dress that hid nothing’. He felt himself stare, his gaze snagged onto the exposed skin of Aza’s scarred thighs, “Uh.”

Aza looked up from where he’d been contemplating his knees, his expression brightening as he jumped to his feet - and very nearly broke an ankle, when his stiletto heel didn’t quite catch the ground at the correct angle and he almost rolled over it 

Shit- ! Uh, hi, Exarch!” Aza greeted, smoothly recovering from his fumble with minimal flailing and planted a hand on his hip. His skirt shifted, showing a tantalising flash of his muscular thigh in the most provocative way possible. 

“Hi…?” Exarch said slowly, dragging his gaze up with tremendous effort. The dress left nothing to the imagination, a helpful ‘window’ at the chest showing off a pseudo-cleavage from Aza’s squeezed pecs. This was like something out of one of Exarch’s wilder, more shamefully indulgent fantasies, and facing it in reality was making his brain short-circuit. 

“Like the dress?” Aza asked impishly, and the mischievous playfulness in his expression made him look years younger, “Your face is going bright red.”

“Yes, it’s- it’s, um,” Sexy, provocative, Exarch wanted to rip it off with his teeth, “...lovely.”

“Lovely,” Aza repeated, looking fond, “Damn. Here I was hoping to hear a ‘sexy’ from you, at least.”

Exarch blinked dumbly, then realised how his reaction probably seemed supremely lacklustre, “Oh! I- well, yes, of course you’re-”

“It’s fine, I like it. Lovely,” Aza purred the word, and Exarch felt a thrill shiver down his spine, right down to his curling toes, at the sound, “Sexy’s overrated, anyway.”

“Why-” Exarch paused to clear his throat, his voice a little hoarse, “Why are you…?”

“I lost a bet,” Aza said simply, smoothing a hand down the front of his dress. With how tight it was, it kept bunching about his waist whenever he moved too much, hitching the skirt high enough for Exarch to see the very tight pale underwear beneath, “I think this was meant to humiliate me? But the jokes on them, because I’ve worn worse.” 

Exarch sobered considerably at that. Knowing what he did about Aza’s past due to his obsessive research into his life when trying to summon him… that definitely coolled his brewing passion like a douse of ice cold water. Worn worse indeed. 

Aza noticed, “Oh, come on, don’t make that face. If I didn’t wanna wear it, I wouldn’t’ve.”

Well, that was true, he supposed, “Is this part of the bet too?”

“What?” Aza blinked, looking genuinely thrown, “Seeing you like this? Of course not. I wanted to, um…”

For the first time, Aza seemed self-conscious. He fidgeted with the hem of his dress, his gaze lowered. Like this, Exarch understood what people meant by breathtaking. It was normally hidden beneath the grime of adventuring and blood and battle, but Aza truly was a beautiful man. A little weathered, since age came for all things, but the shape of his eyes, his long, dark eyelashes, his strong jaw and defined cheekbones, as well as his tastefully greying, thick hair and large, tufted ears - all of these features combined into a work of art. When cleaned up like this, Exarch wondered how Aza managed to walk through the Crystarium without getting mobbed by admirers. 

(The answer was: because he intentionally made sure to be as uninviting as possible, with his bloodstained, bulky armour, bristling with weapons and a deadpan expression that could unnerve even Sin Eaters. It made strangers keep their distance, and even his friends) 

“This will probably sound stupid,” Aza finally said after a quiet pause, “But, I hate people thinking I look sexy. Like, strangers, I mean, and… I only like a few people thinking I look sexy, so.”

Realisation dawned quickly, and Exarch couldn’t quite pin a name down on the emotion he felt twisting his gut, “Do you like it when I look at you like that?”

Aza huffed quietly, rubbing behind his ear. He looked embarrassed - almost, shy, really, as he murmured, “Yeah.” 

Exarch felt that tight, clenching feeling his belly relax at that, “Oh, good.” 

“I’m sorry,” Aza sighed, “I just… totally ruined the mood, didn’t I? I was trying to seduce you all sexy-like and then I blurted all that stuff out. I know I’m weird and-”

“I’m happy you told me,” Exarch interrupted gently, pausing before setting aside his bag of seeds and stepping closer. With the heels, Aza was a few ilms taller now, but he didn’t let it throw him as he took Aza’s gloved hands, pushing himself up on his toes to playfully bump their foreheads together. 

“And I understand,” he murmured, easing back on his heels and smiling up at Aza, “Not everyone appreciates unwanted attention. I’m glad you like my attention, though, you had me worried for a moment there.”

“Sorry…” Aza smiled sheepishly, and he looked amazing, like that. Exarch felt something warm fill his chest, looking at him - it wasn’t lust, not entirely, yet it wasn’t pure affection either. Something deeper and softer, that made him feel decades younger just basking in the sensation of it. 

“I wouldn’t mind you dressing like this more often either,” Exarch admitted, feeling his face flush as he pressed his hands against Aza’s chest. They were firm beneath his hands, yet there was a satisfying amount of squishiness there when he started kneading his knuckles into that pseudo-bosom. That dress should be illegal, with how it… it contained Aza’s body in such a flattering way. 

“...if you’re comfortable with it,” Exarch added belatedly, realising Aza might feel obligated just to please him, and he didn’t want that. 

“With you, yeah,” Aza murmured, and he shifted slightly, lifting his leg up to rest his foot on the edge of the bench next to them. It gave Exarch a pleasing flash of his underwear, as well as the dark expanse of his inner thigh, marred only by one thick scar cutting across it. Without thinking, Exarch lowered his hand to it, feeling the firm muscle beneath his palm, the raised bump of the scar against the pad of his thumb. 

Exarch swallowed thickly, tipping his head back a fraction when Aza leaned in, “That’s… that’s good… then…”

“Yeah,” Aza purred, his gloved fingers stroking along Exarch’s jaw, before they curled around his chin and tilted his head right back, leaning right down- 

‘Shhhhkck!’

They both froze. 

Exarch blinked slowly, his frazzled wits taking a few seconds to compute that sound, “Aza, was that your dress?”

“Um,” Aza straightened up stiffly, very awkwardly lowering his foot from the bench, “Yes.”

Exarch’s gaze lowered, to the dress seam on Aza’s side. It had split open, right down to the slit, clearly having lost the fight in staying stretched over Aza’s body. Considering it was clearly tailored for a much slender Mystel, Exarch supposed it was only a matter of time until that had happened. 

“You don’t have any spare clothes with you, do you?” he asked mildly. 

“Not on me…” Aza admitted, awkwardly holding the ripped seam shut and looking very much like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.

“Well, I think I was going to rip it accidentally-on-purpose anyways,” Exarch admitted, flashing him an impish smile, “Do you want to relocate to my quarters, though? I can give you some of my spares so you don’t have to walk through the Crystarium in your underwear.”

“Wouldn’t that be a scandal,” Aza muttered, but some of his embarrassment was starting to fade, “But, um, yeah, we can. Go to your room, I mean.”

Exarch smiled fondly, stepping back from Aza and giving him some breathing room, “Perhaps next time invest in a larger dress?”

Aza flicked him with his tail, “Cheeky sod.”

But Aza was smiling, so Exarch considered it a win. It was kind of funny, though - and fortunate it happened now. Imagine if his dress ripped in the middle of the Crystarium! 

Now that would’ve been embarrassing. 

Chapter Text

“I wouldn’t mind you dressing like this more often either,” Exarch admitted, feeling his face flush as he pressed his hands against Aza’s chest. They were firm beneath his hands, yet there was a satisfying amount of squishiness there when he started kneading his knuckles into that pseudo-bosom. That dress should be illegal, with how it… it contained Aza’s body in such a flattering way. 

“...if you’re comfortable with it,” Exarch added belatedly, realising Aza might feel obligated just to please him, and he didn’t want that. 

“With you, yeah,” Aza murmured, and he shifted slightly, lifting his leg up to rest his foot on the edge of the bench next to them. It gave Exarch a pleasing flash of his underwear, as well as the dark expanse of his inner thigh, marred only by one thick scar cutting across it. Without thinking, Exarch lowered his hand to it, feeling the firm muscle beneath his palm, the raised bump of the scar against the pad of his thumb. 

Exarch swallowed thickly, tipping his head back a fraction when Aza leaned in, “That’s… that’s good… then…”

Aza made a low, agreeable noise, right in the back of his throat. His gloved fingers skimmed over Exarch’s jawline until they curled just under his chin, his thumb pressed against his bottom lip. Exarch’s lips parted, his breath audibly stuttering as he felt his pulse jump. 

He was still getting used to these moments of heated intimacy. Before, such sensations made him feel overwhelmed, after so many decades being numb to them. Just, something about Aza reignited that passion, that interest in him, and it wasn’t just because he was a pretty face, or a lovely man, or strong and amazing and fantastical - it was a combination of all those things, and learning of the flawed person underneath, a man who was afraid of many things, whose heart was guarded from a lifetime of pain, who was stubborn and pigheaded and far too quick to temper… 

Yes, Exarch loved every ilm of him, the good and the bad. 

It was a terrifying thing, sometimes, like missing a step on a steep staircase. A heart-stopping swoop in his belly every time he stopped to think about it - so he didn’t, think about it. If there was one thing he retained from his life as G’raha Tia, it was that reckless bravery to leap into the unknown, and the unknown of loving Aza Lynel was no exception. 

“What’s that look for?” Aza murmured, rubbing his thumb over Exarch’s bottom lip, “It’s so intense.”

Exarch smiled, relaxing his firm squeeze over Aza’s thigh, his fingers ghosting along the dark skin until they lingered near the edge of those very provocative underwear. They were clearly for women, and were a mite too tight - Exarch could see every bit of him through the fabric, and that included Aza’s, ah, brewing interest.

“I’m deciding on my angle of attack,” Exarch said, shivering at feeling his lips move against the gloved thumb pressed against them. He had a fleeting urge to gently bite it, “Since I don’t know where to start with this.”

“Well, why not where it’s easiest?” Aza said, giving his hip a pointed sway forwards, “It’ll be the path of least resistance anyways, since I, uh, I don’t think I can get this off without ripping it.”

Yes, it did look close to busting a seam if Aza tried a too ambitious bend over. Exarch stifled an amused chuckle at the mental image - that’d ruin the mood, no doubt. 

“Mm, well, hopefully whoever loaned it to you isn’t expecting it back,” Exarch said distractedly, running his fingers along the inside crease of Aza’s hip joint, ‘accidentally’ letting his knuckles bump against the bulge in his underwear.

Aza’s pupils dilated. Exarch felt a thrill rush through him at that. 

“No, I don’t think they are,” Aza purred, moving his thumb away from Exarch’s bottom lip - and kissed him.

It stole his breath away, as all their kisses did. Except this time it left a pit of heat smouldering low in his belly, Exarch tangling his crystal fingers into Aza’s hair as he pressed into the kiss. 

When they parted, Exarch was flushed and panting, buzzing with a heated kind of energy that made him unthinkingly bold. He pushed Aza, delighting in that surprised little noise he made from the sudden movement, pushed Aza until he was sprawled on the bench, legs spread wide and Exarch falling to his knees between them. 

It was a good vantage point, looking up at Aza: thighs spread wide, his chest heaving from his quick breathing, his dark, heavy-lidded eyes, the way his hands gripped the edge of the bench... 

Exarch very carefully memorised the sight. 

“Wow,” Aza said breathlessly, “This dress has got you heated, huh?”

“The moment I saw it on you…” Exarch murmured, pressing his palms flat against the inside of Aza’s thighs, pushing them wider until Aza made a very low, desperate noise, “I wanted to rip it off you with my teeth.”

“Fuck,” Aza gasped, his tail giving such an excited flick it almost buffeted Exarch in the face. 

“In a bit,” Exarch said impishly, gently brushing Aza’s tail away as he leaned in, nosing at the hem of the skirt until he got his head under there - not that there was much material to navigate. It honestly was such a short dress, he had no idea how Aza managed to walk through the Crystarium without Lyna arresting him for public indecency. 

Aza’s breathing audibly picked up, a quiet scraping noise from his stiletto heels dragging against the floor as he lifted his hips a fraction.

The more flustered Aza got, the bolder Exarch felt. He couldn’t explain it, but it made his pulse red-hot, and he shamelessly nuzzled Aza’s groin while he had the momentum, his fingers skimming, feather-light, over the inside of Aza’s scarred thighs, to the inside crease of his hip joint, teasing the edges of his underwear but never dipping underneath, until Aza was panting and grunting impatiently.

It was such a raw sound. Exarch loved it. 

“Exarch…” Aza groaned, his fingers clenched so tight over the edge of the bench Exarch could almost hear the wood creak from the strain, “Will you stop teasing?”

“But I enjoy teasing you,” Exarch rumbled, gently nipping the thin fabric of the underwear and pulling - just enough to let the elastic gently snap back when he released. Aza made a very interesting noise at that, “Oh, that was…”

“I swear to fucking Nhaama,” Aza growled, so deep and throaty Exarch felt his mouth go dry - and his heart almost stop when Aza suddenly wrapped his legs around his shoulders and clenched his thighs tight around him, and, gods, Exarch had nowhere to go and it really shouldn’t excite him as much as it did, but gods, did it excite him.

But he took the hint. Inhaling deeply, almost dizzy from the scent of heat and musk, he leaned in that little bit and pressed his lips where a small damp spot was forming on Aza’s underwear. It tasted slightly salty when he boldly lapped at it, and, encouraged by the enthusiastic, tense panting of his name, he explored with eager lips and tongue until he found what he was mostly certain was the head of Aza’s cock.

He wondered… 

“Exarch…” Aza groaned, pressing a hand against the back of Exarch’s head through the thin fabric of his skirt, fingers digging just behind his ear and scritching in a way that made him want to melt, “C’mon, c’mon, please…”

Well, as the Warrior of Darkness asked so nicely…

Exarch sucked him off through his underwear. Gods, it was awkward and difficult, but it was worth it just for the noises Aza made - edging him so close, but not quite getting there, feeling Aza’s thighs squeeze and clench and tremble around his shoulders, hips clumsily thrusting but not quite getting a rhythm from the awkward angle, and it made Aza’s voice rise higher and higher, until it echoed loudly over the garden and- Exarch had a fleeting thought, wondering hm, would people hear that? But the thought didn’t linger long because one frantic thrust, Aza all but grinding against his cheek and- 

-and Aza came with a jerk and a cut-off grunt, fingers almost painfully tight in his hair as he shuddered and rutted clumsily against his cheek. Exarch gasped quietly, pinned in place by Aza’s powerful thighs - not that he wanted to move! He tried to keep up, nuzzled and mouthed at him until Aza rode it all out and slumped to a halt. 

Aza’s thighs dropped away from his shoulders, heels audibly clicking when they landed heavily, and Exarch resurfaced from between his legs flushed and panting, his lips tingling as he licked them slowly, glancing up at his friend. 

Aza looked good - rumpled, slouched low on the bench, his fringe sticking to his forehead from sweat with his eyes dazed and dark. Exarch found himself rising without thinking, crawling up the length of Aza’s body to kiss him deeply, pressing close to him, until they were both panting and dizzy from it. 

“F’kin’ hell, Exarch...” Aza mumbled dazedly against his mouth, his fingers curled into Exarch’s robes, just to keep him close. Their kiss didn’t really end, just, short, lingering kisses, lips never fully parting, a sharp edge of salt to it. Exarch found it addicting. 

“Mm,” Exarch purred, easing his weight down so he was properly sitting on Aza’s lap, feeling thoroughly, utterly, satisfied with himself. Through supreme effort, he pulled away from the kiss, planting his hand on Aza’s chest to stop him from chasing after him. He grinned at Aza’s disappointed whine. 

“I really like this dress,” Exarch said, easing the pressure against Aza’s chest, fingers stroking over the slit cutting across the chest. The skin was warm and sweat-damp.

“I can tell,” Aza mumbled, his gaze heavy-lidded as he tugged at his robes, trying to coax him back in close, “Here I was, thinking I was gonna seduce you, and you turn into a sex fiend…”

“But you loved it,” Exarch murmured, then paused, when the first prick of doubt trickled in, “Didn’t you?”

Aza rolled his eyes and said affectionately; “Yeah, I loved it, you dork.”

Then he tugged harder at Exarch’s robes, successfully yanking him back in so they were nose to nose again, Aza’s voice dropping into a low, sultry purr, “And I want you to do it again.”

Exarch blinked, his heart skipping several, medically unhealthy beats at the hungry look Aza was pinning him down with, “N-Now?” 

Aza nipped his bottom lip, teasing it between his teeth until Exarch forgot what critical thinking was. Aza’s thighs lifted, squeezed him hard around his waist as he growled, rough and demanding; “Now.”

Exarch, ever eager to please where Aza was concerned, obeyed. 

Because, and this was an important detail: he really liked that dress.

Chapter Text

Aza returned to the Source from his forays in the First, bone-weary but satisfied, and more than eager to see loved ones once more (especially considering that fatal near miss of his, what with almost becoming a Sin Eater and all). Stifling the urge to zip off to Ishgard first thing (as for all he knew, Aymeric was still in Ala Mhigo, giving the Garleans what for), he teleported to Revenant's Toll and made his way to the Rising Stones. At the very least, he can inform Tataru that he and the Scions weren’t dead. It was only polite. 

Except, the moment he stepped into the Rising Stones...

“CATBOY!”

“Uwah!”

He got ambushed!


“B-Bluebird…” Aza wheezed, trying to ignore the unnatural way his spine was bending from the force of Bluebird’s grapple (it was too painful to count as a hug!) , “Nice… n-nice to see you too…”

“Don’t give me that!” Bluebird snapped, mercifully releasing him from her grasp. Aza immediately staggered away, doubled over dramatically as he clutched at his aching ribs, “Do you know how worried I’ve been!?” 

“Ye-” Aza started, but Bluebird was already talking again. 

“I had to hear from Tataru that you got- got kidnapped to an alien planet by asshole gate man!” she ranted, uncaring of all the stares she was drawing from the Rising Stones’ inhabitants. She pointed aggressively at him, “Then some psycho flying Lalafell calling you their ‘adorable sapling’ dropped by-”

“Feo Ul’s a pixie,” Aza muttered.

“Fuck-Whoever-The-Hell-They-Were!” Bluebird snarled, “I had to hear from them that you weren’t dying in a ditch somewhere! And then, radio silence, completely! Only for Ful Eo whatever to come back and be all ‘oh just so you’re not worried, my adorable sapling did Not almost die horrifically, no siree, he is in mostly perfect kind of sort of goodish health and might come back probably in mostly one piece kind of’! Then fucked off before we could ask what the fuck that meant!”

Aza slowly closed his eyes. Twelve damn you Feo Ul. 

Bluebird loomed over him, her eyes narrowed dangerously, “So, how was the First, Aza?”

Aza smiled nervously, lifting his hands placatingly, “T-The First? Oh, it was fine, you know, not a single Primal to be found! Weird, huh? Didn’t fight a single Primal! It was like a vacation!” 

Bluebird stared him down unflinchingly. 

“There, uh, was a single Ascian, though?” Aza’s voice rose slightly in pitch as he leaned back, “Just, um, one, tiny, little Ascian?”

“A tiny, little Ascian, huh?” Bluebird said sardonically, “What, were they possessing a Lalafell?”

“Garlean,” Aza mumbled, “Um, the old Garlean Emperor. Solus or whatever, but he was, uh, like, younger. Not decrepit, like.” 

Bluebird clasped her hands together, holding them up to her mouth and inhaled - deeply.

“Okay,” she muttered, “What happened with this Ascian.”

Aza stayed quiet. He can’t incriminate himself if he doesn’t speak. 

“Did you, perhaps, fight this Ascian?”

“Yes…” Aza admitted carefully. 

“Did he beat the shit out of you?”

“Uh,” Aza flustered. 

“And did he, maybe, almost kill you in some way?” Bluebird finished sweetly, “Lightly maimed you, perhaps? Because you’re being oddly coy, catboy. Normally you don’t skimp on the dramatic details when it comes to fighting Ascians or Primals or whatever, unless you got your ass thoroughly destroyed.”

Aza glanced away, trying to find a good escape route with minimal risk of Bluebird potentially suplexing him into the ground. 

His sister gave him a long, heavy-lidded stare. 

“I’m telling Mom,” she decided. 

“No!” Aza gasped, “No, don’t!”

“I’m telling Mom you went to an alien world and got beaten up by some creepy old man,” Bluebird said decisively, “Unless you tell me what happened.”

“Ugh, you… awful harpy…” Aza grumbled, flinching when Bluebird narrowed her eyes at him, “I-I mean, you! You, lovely, beautiful sexy beast whose benevolence is matched only by your, uh, super amazing biceps! They’re so, uh, strong and well-toned!”

“Heh, they are pretty cool, huh?” Bluebird preened, flexing her arms a little, “But nice try. Flattery won’t get you anywhere.”

Aza groaned, slumping forwards in resignation, “Okay… okay, I’ll tell you. We should probably get a table and some drinks, though…”

“I hope you didn’t forget about me, Aza,” Tataru’s voice piped up somewhere around his knees, almost giving Aza a bloody heart attack from the unexpectedness of it.

“T-Tataru!” Aza pressed a hand to his chest, relaxing as he looked down to see Tataru frowning up at him, “Oh, er, yeah, of course! I was planning on reporting to you, y’know…”

“Hn, a highly edited report, probably,” Bluebird drawled, and slung an arm around Aza’s shoulders, “Alright, let’s do this then. C’mon, Tataru, time to put those interrogation skills from Kugane to good use!”

“Interrogation skills?” Aza squeaked. 

He went ignored. 


“You,” Bluebird said the moment Aza finished his reluctantly truthful story, “are not going to another planet unsupervised ever again.”

“I was supervised!” Aza huffed, then paused, “Wait, I don’t need supervision, anyways! None of that whole Sin Eater business was my fault!”

“No, it wasn’t,” Bluebird admitted, a dangerous glint in her eyes, “You put your trust in people who really should’ve been upfront with you, but weren’t. Hn,” she cracked her knuckles loudly, “Gonna have a chat with good ol’ Urianger when his spectral ass gets dragged back here.”

“Bluebird…” Aza hissed, “Enough, c’mon. It all worked out.”

“By a sheer miracle,” Bluebird snapped, “What would’ve happened if you died, huh? Or become one of these- friggin, Sin Munchers or whatever?”

Aza stayed quiet. In all honesty, he didn’t want to think about it. It had happened, it was over, and he was quite happy just purging the more traumatising parts from memory, never to be thought of again. 

Tataru cleared her throat, “Aza’s right, Bluebird. It all worked out, so we should be happy that the others are alive and he’s back in one piece, right?”

Bluebird grunted, but dropped the topic. Aza shot Tataru a grateful look, one she returned with a smile and a wink. 

“Though…” Tataru sobered, “We should tell F’lhammin about… well…”

A sombre silence descended. Of course. Minfillia. 

“I’ll… tell her,” Aza said awkwardly, “I mean, I was there, so…”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Bluebird sighed, “You don’t have to tell her by yourself.”

“It might be easier as a group,” Tataru said, “And, um, well, don’t take offence, Aza, but you’re not exactly… tactful, when it comes to these things.”

“Hey,” Aza frowned. 

“Fuck, yeah,” Bluebird chortled, “I still remember when we were lookin’ for a missing guy, a few years back, remember? You just walked up to his dad after we scraped his corpse up from a wolf’s den and was all ‘he’s dead, Jim’.”

“I-I really thought his name was Jim, okay!” Aza huffed, but his drooping ears betrayed his embarrassment, “And, he… he took it well, so…”

“You dropped his son’s severed arm into his hands. I think he was too shocked to be offended.”

“Maybe,” Tataru cut in bracingly, “Then, you should, er, tell Krile about the First, while we tell F’lhammin about Minfillia.”

Aza didn’t bother protesting. Bluebird’s smug grin threatened more embarrassing stories of his stupid youth if he did, “Yeah, okay.”

Bluebird sniggered, and leaned over the table to clap him hard on the shoulder. Her grip lingered, fingers squeezing tight as she said lightly, “Good to have you back, catboy. I’ve missed your dumb ass.”

“And I’ve missed your stupid face,” Aza said, and their pair of them smirked at each other while Tataru let out an exasperated sigh. 

“You’re as bad as Alphinaud and Alisaie,” Tataru muttered under her breath. 

“No,” Aza said, picking up his drink and idly tipping it from side to side, so the amber liquid inside sloshed energetically, “We’re worse.”

Then he dumped his drink over Bluebird’s head. 

“Wh- AZA!”

Chapter Text

Ezel II waited until Uin Nee sent Aza on a noble quest to punch some Fuath on the nose before turning to Tyr Beq and saying, “He’s plagued by nightmares.”

“What?” Tyr Beq gave him an odd look, “Him? But he’s Titania’s favourite sapling.”

It was a comment that wouldn’t mean much to mortals, but Ezel II caught the gist of it. With the Fae king as his adoring branch, why would Aza have nightmares? What would he have to fear? Wouldn’t his days be bright with mischievous fun, with Titania watching over him? It was such a frank, Pixie-like way of thinking. Ezel II barely stifled a sigh. 

“His nightmares have existed long before he encountered our King, I’m afraid,” Ezel II said solemnly, “Their roots are deep and gnarled, entrenched to his very core. I doubt even I could rip them out in one snort!” 

Tyr Beq reeled back in clear surprise, “And your snorts are plenty powerful!” 

Oh, how rare to have such a straightforward compliment from a Pixie! Ezel II preened for a brief moment, but quickly got back on topic, “Indeed. Why, I doubt he’s ever had a good dream in his life.” 

Tyr Beq stared at him, a stare that quickly became contemplative. They tapped their chin with a clawed finger, their brow furrowed, “No wonder he spends so much time in Lydha Lran…” 

They both fell into a deep silence. Ezel II pondered over how they could even try to remind Aza what a good dream was. They had felt it was strange, how unconcerned Aza had been over the prospect of children having nightmares initially - who only spurred into action when realising they were brought about by an outside, malicious force. For someone like him, who only dreamt of nightmares, they must seem so normal. It was kind of pitiful. They wondered why Titania hadn’t yet intervened. 

Tyr Beq broke the silence by dropping their fist into their open palm, “That’s it! Lydha Lran!”

“Hm?”

“You said you can’t rip out the nightmares in only one snort, right?” Tyr Beq said, but didn’t wait for an answer, “Then, why not do loads of little snorts while he’s in Lydha Lran, where he seems happiest?”

“I don’t do ‘little snorts’,” Ezel II said peevishly, but they did think it over, “However, that idea has merit. Nightmares are easier to unhook when their victims are otherwise occupied with lighter, happier thoughts… the smaller meals might be easier on my stomach too…”

“Then it’s decided!” Tyr Beq declared, “We can’t have a helper of our dream garden suffering from nightmares themselves. That’s simply… well, what if it spills over, hm? We can’t have that!” 

Ezel II snorted. Tyr Beq could simply say they wanted to help Aza, honestly. 

“I wonder what kind of nightmares he has, though,” Tyr Beq mused, tapping their cheek, “He’s so strong and fearless. Is it some weird mortal thing?”

“I could spit up one of the nightmares and you can weave it into physical form, if you’re so curious.”

“No, thank you!” Tyr Beq recoiled, “Anything he’s frightened of would definitely rip us to shreds!”

“Or be too abstract to comprehend,” Ezel II said, well aware of how warped Men’s dreams could be, sometimes. For someone like Aza, who knew what plagued him. Ezel II had a feeling those grasping, thorned roots wouldn’t take kindly to someone shining a light on them, anyways… 

No, no. Best Ezel II devoured them, little by little, until they were completely gone! It’d be a perfect way to reward Aza for his help with Lydha Lran.

“Hmm, I need to figure out what Aza finds the most fun,” Tyr Beq mused, “If he’s to be so happy in Lydha Lran, those nasty nightmares will leave him alone…”

Ezel II snorted, but didn’t offer any input. Having fun was a Pixie’s speciality, after all. 

“He’s likes chocobos, from what I hear- ooh, yes! I am a genius!” Tyr Beq giggled, snapping their fingers, “I have the perfect idea! Aza’s going to love it so much, he’ll never want to leave!”

“Ah, Tyr Beq-”

But too late. Tyr Beq was off in a flurry of Pixie magic, leaving Ezel II to float near Lydha Lran’s doorway. They sighed. 

Pixies. 

Chapter Text

This was a stupid plan. 

It was a stupid, impulsive plan that had a high potential to end in a very awkward situation, but Exarch still stubbornly forged on ahead. It’ll go fine, he told himself. Aza had displayed intense physical attraction to his body, despite the crystal warping his flesh, and rational logic dictated that Aza would very much enjoy this little surprise Exarch was going to spring on him. 

However. 

This was the first time he was using ‘initiative’, in this context. It was always Aza being the ‘seductive’ one - he had a knack for it, a bold, shameless kind of knack that left Exarch pleasantly reeling. Yet, he felt compelled to match it. Even after all these years, that stubborn, competitive streak of G’raha Tia’s reared its head from time to time. 

So, his stupid plan. 

But unwanted doubts still kept springing up. It had been… a very long time since he was last in any kind of sexual relationship, and even then he’d never been invested enough to try doing this kind of thing. What if he looked silly? What if this wasn’t Aza’s thing? What if Exarch failed entirely at being seductive and made things horrifically awkward? What if, what if, what if… 

Gods. This was such a stupid plan.

“Exarch?” Aza’s voice cut through his nervous thoughts, “You okay? You’ve been glaring at that book for, like, five minutes now?”

“W-What?” Exarch quickly looked up from his hiding spot - a thick tome on the history of agriculture in Lakeland, helpfully leant to him by the horticulturalists, “Oh, yes, I’m- just thinking.”

“Hmm,” Aza inserted a lot of doubt into that single noise, but he didn’t press, merely lowered the watering can on a low sitting wall. 

Exarch held back a grimace, nervously glancing down at the tome he settled on his lap. He knew he was mucking it up already: he invited Aza to spend some time with him in his garden, and promptly started to ignore him under the pretense of ‘reading’. Aza being Aza, took this all in stride, thankfully, and occupied himself by watering his flowerbeds but, urf, come on, Exarch. You can do it. 

He fidgeted with the corner of a page, folding it over. 

“So,” Exarch injected some lightness into his tone, “I have a- a surprise for you.”

“Mm?” Aza turned fully towards him, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops. Exarch’s gaze was drawn to the motion, lingering on those calloused hands resting perfectly against Aza’s hips. 

Exarch cleared his throat, forcing himself to look up at Aza’s face instead. His normal hand felt sweaty, and he fought the urge to wipe it on his gardening trousers as he tried to ignore the way his pulse picked up. Worst comes to worst, Aza might laugh, and the situation will be somewhat awkward, but nothing bad will happen. Do not cower, Exarch. Be bold and shameless, like Aza can be. 

Aza’s head tilted a fraction to the side, one ear perking up in an adorable gesture of curiosity as the silence stretched between them, “Exarch?”

Exarch laughed nervously, setting the book aside on the bench he was on and standing up, “It’s… a bit silly, maybe, so feel free to laugh, but, mm, perhaps we should relocate to the gazebo?” 

Aza’s other ear perked up too, interest flitting over his expression. ‘Gazebo’ meant the same thing to them both: time for intimacy between them, be that the hot heavy kind, or slow, gentle sort. The gazebo was a small one, surrounded by lush green and vibrant flowers of his garden, with a very comfortable, cushioned bench that was more like a bed really, just large enough for two small Miqo’te to squeeze onto. 

It was only because Exarch’s garden was absolutely private, that he chanced it. Lyna never disturbed him, and if there was an emergency to warrant being disturbed, the grinding, clanking groan of the elevator would give them a long enough warning to get decently dressed for unwanted visitors.

“Is it a naughty surprise?” Aza asked playfully as they walked to the gazebo. 

Exarch cleared his throat again, smiling a bit bashfully, “Ah, maybe.” 

Aza’s tail flicked against his, idly curling around it before pulling away. Exarch’s heart rate quadrupled in response. 

When they reached the gazebo, they both took off their boots before they stepped into it - Exarch had learned his lesson about accidentally tracking fertiliser in there - and the thin, light curtain that acted as a ‘door’ fell shut behind them. Sunlight filtered through the narrow, high windows, and the dark wood was warmed from a full day sitting in the sunlight. 

It was at this point where Exarch realised he hadn’t actually thought his stupid plan through. He couldn’t just rip off his clothes and expect things to proceed apace. No, he’d had to lead into it, build up anticipation

“Exarch,” Aza murmured beside him - the size of the gazebo meant they were practically on top of each other, and Exarch swallowed thickly as he turned towards him, “You okay?”

“Yes, um,” Exarch paused to take a deep breath, letting his nerves settle. It’ll be fine. Seductive. He can do seductive. He can.

Aza patiently waited for him. The sunlight filtering through the gazebo window caught his grey-streaked hair, making it glint golden. Exarch focused on that, his gaze drifting over his friend’s handsome face, before taking that little tiny step forward, lifting his crystal hand to cup Aza’s cheek, his thumb pressing against his bottom lip. 

“I’m a little nervous,” Exarch admitted, his pulse jumping when Aza’s hands rested against his hips, “It’s silly.”

“It isn’t,” Aza said, leaning into Exarch’s palm, his eyes heavy-lidded, “Must mean a lot to you if you’re nervous, so it isn’t silly.”

Exarch felt something fuzzy and warm bubble in his belly at that, and he smiled, rubbing Aza’s bottom lip before shifting his hand away. He leaned in. 

Aza, as always, met him halfway. They kissed, light and lingering at first, and Exarch felt the tension bunching his shoulders and fluffing his tail slowly ease out of him. Aza was an exceptionally good kisser - warm lips, clever tongue, teasing, sharp nips on his bottom lip that had his toes curling, the way he’d just, swallow the noises that Exarch couldn’t help but breathe out, how the kiss would naturally deepen, heat up, until Exarch was panting and hot and dizzy, and Aza’s hand halfway up his shirt, fingertips ghosting where crystal met skin and- 

“Aza…” Exarch groaned, softly, his crystal fingers entangled in Aza’s hair, thumb pressing into the spot behind his ear, rubbing tight, small circles, until Aza was purring against his mouth- 

It was when he felt adventurous fingers slip into the waistband of his trousers that he made a quiet, protesting noise. Aza instantly backed off, his hand resting on the small of his back instead as he drew back from the kiss enough to murmur; “Too much?”

“N-No, I…” Exarch had to take a moment to organise his muddled thoughts, blinking dazedly at Aza as his bottom lip tingled, kiss-swollen. Aza was so handsome, his half-melted brain sighed dreamily, his mouth, his eyes, his nose… he wanted to kiss him and kiss him and keep kissing him until they were both sick of it. He just about restrained the urge. 

“It’s- it’s part of the surprise,” he finished breathlessly, leaning back a little as he pressed his hand against Aza’s chest, coaxing him backwards towards the bench, “If you’ll sit, I’ll show you.”

Aza sat down, slowly, his fingers ghosting over his hips before he reluctantly pulled his hands away. Exarch’s skin tingled nicely from the contact, resting a knee on the edge of the bench beside Aza’s thigh, leaning over his friend. It was a lovely position, a lovely lovely one, Aza looking up at him with heated hunger - it, it gave him confidence to follow through, that look. 

First went his shirt. There was nothing sexy about its disposal. He pulled it over his head and tossed it somewhere over his shoulder, his hair a ruffled mess from the rough movement, his heart thumping a tattoo against his sternum as he trailed his fingers down, over his stomach, to the waistband of his trousers, where he thumbed the dark curls of his pubic hair peeking over the edge of them. Aza’s gaze followed his fingers’ every movement. 

“It took a lot of effort to get these discreetly…” Exarch murmured, slowly, slowly, hooking his fingers into the waistband of his trousers, teasing them down an ilm, “But I think you’ll appreciate it.”

Aza made a low noise, a low, churring noise that had Exarch’s breathing edged in anticipation. He pushed his trousers down, low, past his hips, to mid-thigh, to show off the surprise he brought: 

Lingerie. 

Sexy, black lacy lingerie that left nothing to the imagination, as worked up as Exarch was already. He’ll never be able to look Braggi in the eyes ever again for managing to get these for him from Eulmore, but the awkwardness with the marketplace master was worth it to watch Aza’s pupils dilate like that. There was no amusement, no laughter, no awkwardness: just a look of pure heat as Aza grabbed his hips and tugged him close, his head dipping so his lips pressed, featherlight, against his stomach and, downwards…

Aza,” Exarch gasped, caught off-guard as Aza nosed at his happy trail, absolutely shameless but- gods, it made Exarch want to melt. He combed his fingers clumsily through Aza’s hair, biting his bottom lip to stifle the breathless, embarrassing noise that whimpered in his throat as Aza gently, gently, took the lingerie’s waistband between his teeth and pulled it - just enough to let it ‘snap’ back against his skin. Exarch felt his cock jump at that very weird but amazing feeling that brought. 

He was panting, he could hear himself panting, shallowly, as Aza’s fingers ran over the edge of the lingerie, where it cut high on his hips, barely covering his ass, skin tingling from the contact, hips shivering as Aza nosed and nuzzled at the front of them. Every touch was gentle, featherlight. It was sweet torture - he loved every moment of it. 

“This…” Aza murmured, his voice a low rumble that had all Exarch’s hairs rising on the back of his neck, “is a very nice surprise.”

“O-Oh?” Exarch breathed.

“Mm,” Aza purred, pulling back enough to smile up at him, an expression so entrancing and attractive Exarch felt his belly clench hard with heat, “They’re so sexy and cute~”

Cu- ” Exarch coughed over the word, “Cute? H-How?”

“It just is,” Aza hummed, his thumb rubbing over the jutting bump of Exarch’s hipbone, just catching the thin waistband of the lingerie, “It makes me wanna swallow you whole, though.”

Exarch felt his mouth go dry, Aza’s thumb hooking into the waistband, tugging it down, lower…

“Is that okay?” Aza murmured, his voice hypnotically low as he brushed his nose over his happy trail, dipping his head lower as he pushed the waistband lower, the coarse rub of fabric over his arousal making Exarch tremble right down to his toes. 

He made a noise - probably a yes, probably a hell yes , he didn’t know. It caught right in his throat, his fingers clenching into Aza’s hair when the lingerie were pushed down, just low enough, for Aza to dip down and take the head of his cock in his mouth and the wet warmth and suckling pressure had him gasping within seconds. Oh. Oh oh oh, this was- 

Aza swallowed him whole - right down, nose pressed against dark curls, throat swallowing around his cock, until Exarch was begging him for- for- something. Strong hands on his hips, coaxing him into a rhythm that had stars erupting behind his eyelids, helpless to do anything but thrust into it, thrust thrust thrust, and Aza swallowed, his hair soft yet thick between his clenched, shaking fingers, ribs tights from stuttering, gasping cries, and- 

He spilled into Aza’s mouth with a choked cry of his name. It was embarrassing, how quick it was. 

Exarch didn’t care. 

His wits crawled back into his skull when Aza popped off his cock with an obscene wet noise, a low, rumbling noise of satisfaction purring in his throat. Exarch’s legs were shaking, and he was fairly sure he was only still standing because of Aza’s strong grip on his hips. 

“Alright?” Aza asked, his voice hoarse and scratchy. Exarch’s pulse spiked at the sound. 

Fuck,” Exarch blurted without meaning too, “Ah, I-I mean, fuck-

Aza laughed, giving his hips a good tug. Exarch squeaked as he practically toppled onto his lap, legs still caught up in his trousers wrapped around his thighs, his softening cock just hanging out of his lingerie and fuck indeed. 

“Cute,” Aza purred, and kissed him full on the mouth. Exarch tasted himself, and for some reason it wasn’t entirely disgusting. He was panting by the time Aza drew back, nipping at his bottom lip, “You still good to do more?”

“Now?” Exarch mumbled dazedly, grunting when Aza cupped a good handful of his ass and squeezed, “Mnnh, yes… I’m- I’m good.”

“We can pause if you need to,” Aza said, but he was kissing him again, the line of his jaw, his throat, over his fluttering pulse, his hands restlessly stroking over his hips, the high line of his lingerie over his ass, everywhere, everywhere, it was amazing, “I can… wait…” 

Exarch hummed, gently tugging his fingers through his hair, relaxing. The pace was sluggish now, but, in a good way, a lovely way. His earlier nerves were a far off memory, the ice thoroughly broken, and he coaxed Aza to look up, bumping their noses together when he did. 

“Aza,” he murmured, “I don’t want you to wait. I want you to fuck me.”

Aza’s breathing hitched, a lovely noise, his eyes dark as he stared up at him. 

“...now that,” Aza rasped, “Is sexy.” 

And without hesitation, Aza pushed Exarch onto the bench proper, on his back, whisking the trousers trapped around his knees away, and Exarch couldn’t help but laugh breathlessly, not even embarrassed about the sight of him right now, naked except for the flimsiest of lingerie, already pulled halfway down his hips. 

He didn’t have time to be embarrassed, not with Aza panting after him like that. 

Ah, he was right. That was sexy. 

Chapter Text

“-rich in potassium too, so it’s not like it’ll kill you to try one.”

Hades exhaled irritably, pointedly ignoring the banana Prometheus was waving a mere inch from his nose. That horrid, yellow fruit kept obscuring his Concept notes every time Prometheus wiggled it, and Hades was half-tempted to smack it out of his hands. 

“It’ll stop kidney stones!” Prometheus continued, “I know you’ve been getting some stomach pains recently, so-”

“For the love of-” Hades snarled, snatching the stupid banana from Prometheus’s hand, “If I eat this will you leave me alone?”

Prometheus leaned back, his hip resting against the edge of Hades desk with a self-satisfied smile. He radiated smugness, and it was both a handsome and annoying look on his stupid face, “For today.” 

Sometimes, Hades wondered why he loved this fucking fool. Prometheus always knew how to get under his skin and send his pulse pounding red hot, and it was an aggravating quality that he both loathed and loved in him. He huffed loudly, pinching the broken stem of the banana as if to snap it - before an idea formed. He paused.

It’d be disgusting, what he was planning, but it wouldn’t be the first gross thing he’d done to weird Prometheus out. Hmph, if he was so determined to force feed Hades bananas, then he deserved it, honestly. 

So, making very intense eye contact with Prometheus, he firmly held the base of the unpeeled banana… and shoved the entire thing into his mouth. 

He got to see the exact moment Prometheus’s expression shifted from smug amusement to horrified disgust. Prometheus gaped at him, his eyes wide as he pointed wordlessly at his mouth - where Hades only just managed to choke down the banana with some liberal application of Creation magic. He wasn’t going to try that again anytime soon. 

A long moment of awkward silence passed between them. They didn’t break eye contact once. 

“That,” Prometheus finally said, “was awful… and really hot. Somehow.”

Fuck’s sake, “You’re disgusting.”

Me-!?” Prometheus spluttered in outrage, “I’m not the one who deepthroated an unpeeled banana!”

Hades licked his lips, somehow feeling that awful, dry fuzziness that came from the peel. He hated bananas, “I needed the extra potassium.

“You absolute cretin,” Prometheus said, somehow sounding disgusted and fond at the same time, “You awful man. I love you, even if that was gross.”

Hades just levelled him with a heavy-lidded look, “Didn’t you promise to leave me alone if I ate your horrid banana?” 

Prometheus made a face at him, “Oh, I see how it is. You’re happy deepthroating bananas, but not spending time with me.”

“The banana was bigger.”

“Oh, wow,” Prometheus raised his hands and turned away, “I’m out. I’m gonna spend time with someone who really appreciates me and my bananas-”

Hades scoffed.

“-someone like Hythlo,” Prometheus finished, “I’m telling him all about this by the way.”

“Go ahead,” Hades said blandly, unbothered. It would’ve be the weirdest thing Hythlodaeus would hear about him - he grew up with them, and witnessed more than a few of their, er, adventurous experimentations, “I’m sure it’ll amuse him.” 

Prometheus paused long enough to stick his tongue out at him… then he teleported away, because he was an ill-mannered hooligan who refused to use doors. Hades rolled his eyes and went back to his Concept notes. 

Ugh. All he could taste was banana. Disgusting.

Chapter Text

Aza was still mostly asleep when he began to stretch. 

It was something he did on autopilot nowadays, heavily ingrained into muscle memory when he roused with the sun to arch his back and tense his muscles, until something went ‘click’ in his back. It was always a satisfying feeling, enough to bring out a low, purring groan deep in his throat, and he blinked his eyes open. 

The room was still dark. The dawn was only just starting then.

Aza stayed still for a moment, breathing deep and slow as he lazily wiggled his toes and flicked his tail, taking note of the dull aches and pain twinging through his body. His knees, as per usual, felt stiff and achy, his back was a tight knot of tension along with his shoulders. He spent much of yesterday helping Crystarium guards flush out a band of Wargs, and their blows had been strong even by his standards. His body hurt from fending them off all day. 

But otherwise… not too bad. He’ll stretch, take his pain meds, and be ready to face the day.  

Aza sluggishly rolled over - and grunted when he ended up sprawling half off Exarch. His friend mumbled drowsily. 

“Mmnrr?” Exarch said intelligibly, blindly groping with his crystal hand to gently lay his hand on Aza’s forearm resting over his stomach, “‘za?”

“Sorry, f’rgot,” Aza sighed, mentally shaking off the brain cobwebs as he took in Exarch’s sleepy face. Exarch’s eyes were still closed, his grey-streaked, reddish hair messy and unbound from its usual rattail. A long strand was caught in the corner of his mouth, and Aza couldn’t help but smile fondly, lifting his hand to tug it out of his mouth for him. 

“...time?” Exarch murmured after a long moment, where Aza simply watched him. 

“Uh, before dawn, I think?” Aza said, consulting his inner clock. It was always accurate, and right now it said ‘dawnish kinda’, “You can go back to sleep, I was just movin’ around and stuff.”

“Mmm,” Exarch hummed vaguely, for a moment looking like he was going to drowse right off. He didn’t. Instead, after a bit of a pause, he opened his eyes, heavy-lidded and unfocused as he looked at Aza. 

“Are you…” Exarch paused, lifting his crystal hand to smother a yawn, “ Nnhm… getting up?”

“Not really. I’m just stretching,” Aza said. Exarch was so cute, adorable in a way Aymeric wasn’t. He liked it, in its own way, “Lazy stretching.” 

“Mm, good,” Exarch’s eyes slipped shut again, his crystal hand lazily dropping to rest beside his head, palm up. 

Aza impulsively played with his fingers, watching the crystal flex and curl when he moved them. How did that work, he wondered. There were no hinges, or joints, just crystal that felt hard and unyielding beneath his touch, but could bend like flesh…? Some magic beyond Aza’s ability to understand, probably. 

Exarch didn’t seem to mind the fiddling. In fact, a low, barely perceptible purr was rumbling in his throat. 

Aza eyed him, then curiously shuffled closer, nudging his nose against those crystal fingers. They didn’t really smell of anything, more like… crisp, clean aether. It was a very neutral smell, nothing like the rest of Exarch, which was more, mm, him. Musk, and well-worn cloth with a sharp, lingering scent Aza could never place, but quite liked. 

Exarch’s fingers twitched at the shamelessly sniffing, and in his peripheral, Aza saw the corner of Exarch’s mouth tilt into a smile. 

“...what’re you doing?” Exarch mumbled. 

“Sniffing you,” Aza said shamelessly, scooting that bit closer so he could bury his nose into his reddish hair, just behind his ear. He nuzzled, feeling Exarch’s ear twitch against his cheek. He stifled the urge to impulsively bite it, “Mm, smells nice…”

“I smell horrid and you know it,” Exarch mock-huffed, “I forgot to bathe last night…”

“Yeah, you smell kinda musky,” Aza said bluntly, pressing his cheek against Exarch’s hair and inhaling deeply, “I like it.”

“Because you’re noseblind,” Exarch sighed, but he made a low, happy noise when Aza nuzzled behind his ear again, “Mmn, aren’t… aren’t you supposed to be stretching…”

“Yeah,” Aza reluctantly leaned away. Exarch will be here to cuddle after he’s done, he’s sure, “I’ll be back for cuddles in a few.”

“I’ll wait,” Exarch yawned and, pointedly, he rolled over - away from Aza, his tail giving a few lazy thumps against the mattress before lying still. 

Aza pouted, but he took the hint. He got up to do his stretching. 

But, maybe he rushed them a little too, because cuddling Exarch made his aches and pains dull just as well.

Chapter Text

Aza wasn’t sure why he kept going back to Amaurot. 

By this point Emet-Selch’s magic had faded, leaving the edges of the towering structures smeared and greyed, the Amaurotines translucent wisps whose voices buzzed with static. It gave the whole place an unsettling feel, a literal ghost city, yet still Aza found himself coming back every week or so, to watch it deteriorate back into ruins in slow, painful increments. Grand skyscrapers regressed into broken rubble, shafts of stone stretching towards the wavering seasky above. The roads were cracked and slick with dead seaweed and coral, the intricate patterns carved into them long eroded. The aetheryte a lumpy mass of fossilised crystal, pale white and inert. 

Invisible ghosts lurking still, snatches of distant, breathy voices. Aza only understood the occasional word now. 

The magic was almost completely gone when Aza returned this time. The elevator no longer worked; its doors were gone, and when he peered down the shaft, it had been clogged with bleached coral. He ended up having to climb down, scrabbling down wet, porous rock that cut at his palms, and wade through puddles of stagnant saltwater until he roamed the broken ruins of Amaurot for one final time.

This was the final time, he told himself. The magic was completely gone, and nothing of that dazzling, alien city remained, except in Aza’s memories. It made him feel weirdly sad, an unpleasant rock in his belly as he thought about the kind, gentle people who used to roam these streets, who had died ugly, pointless deaths. Life was cruel, he knew, but something about them…

Well, it happened thousands upon thousands of years ago. 

What was he looking for in these ruins anyways? Aza wasn’t sure. Just, something about them compelled him to return, to watch the city wheeze its final stagnant breaths as it finally, finally, was put to rest. There was something both devastating and satisfying about it. Like a closed book, or something. 

Aza wasn’t sure. 

Without Emet-Selch’s magic giving the city the appearance of wholeness, its layout was vastly different. New paths had opened up from toppled buildings bridging gaps, or acting as roads over otherwise impassable ruins. Previous paths were gone, either gaping chasms or piled high with broken masonry that Aza was far too lazy to try and climb. So, he went the path of least resistance, striking out into unexplored territory, trying not to feel too spooked at how eerily silent this city was. 

He walked. He walked and walked and walked, until the buildings and rubble became sparser, opening up into loose, damp silt and decaying seaweed. He almost turned back then, honestly, but something caught his eye in the far distance. It looked like a lone building, sitting out in the open and away from the city’s edge. Was that part of Amaurot too?

Curious, Aza went to investigate. 

There had probably been a road leading up to this building, once upon a time. He could make out a faint impression of it beneath his boots, where the ground felt firmer than the soft, sinking silt that made up everything else. When Aza drew close to the building, he was surprised to see how sprawling and well-maintained it looked. Like, genuinely maintained. 

It was single-storey, yet sprawling, its walls unmarred by time or coral or damage. Its windows still had glass in it, and it had a perfectly functioning door, one that hadn’t rotted away or been completely ripped off its hinges. Considering this had been under the sea for possibly eons, Aza had a suspicion this was Emet-Selch’s doing. This was no mirage - this was real. For whatever reason, Emet-Selch physically maintained this building despite its location under the sea, protected it from damage - or rebuilt it? Why? How come? What was it? 

Gingerly, like he expected some horrible monster to come leaping out at him, he opened the door. A strange tingle went up his hand when he touched the handle, but despite him tensing up, nothing happened. The door just… opened. It didn’t even squeak from rusty hinges. 

He stepped inside. 

It was… 

Aza wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but stepping inside what looked like a home hadn’t been it. He was standing in what looked like a little entrance way, like in Aymeric’s home where you put your coat and shoes, but it opened up into a wider room with multiple desks and work tables and shelves piled high with books and statuettes of various animals. A lot of them were bird models - there were even posters put up of various birds, their anatomy, as well as scribbled drawings- designs? Even on the wall, someone had written in some alien language, a slanted, loopy handwriting that reminded him of Alisaie’s. 

He lingered on the threshold, abruptly feeling like an intruder. There was a thick layer of dust over everything. 

Cautiously, Aza entered the room properly. He kept his hands to himself as he explored it, glancing over the titles of the books, the papers strewn about, and understanding none of what he read. It was in an alien language - Amaurotine, probably - but some of the papers had images, hand-drawn sketches. He lingered over one that was of what looked like Hydaelyn - the star, that is - with arrows and lots of cramped, messy notes scrawled in the margins. 

“Was this your home…?” Aza asked the empty house, half-expecting Emet-Selch to slither out of the shadows and sneer at him. But, of course, that man was long dead, so the only answer he got was the building groaning as it shifted its weight. 

When the bubble surrounding the Tempest collapsed, this place would go with it, Aza realised grimly. It not from the initial flood of water, then the slow decay of being submerged. Like the ruins of Amaurot, this tenderly preserved home would rot away, existing only in Aza’s memories. Only his, too, since he presumed only Emet-Selch would’ve known about this place. 

Aza stepped away from the desk he’s been loitering out, deciding to leave - but a glint caught his eye. There, half-hidden by a stack of papers that looked as if they’d been carelessly tossed on top of it, was a tomestone. 

Or, what resembled a tomestone. Compared to the blocky, utilitarian designs from the Allagans, this one was sleek and slim. When Aza picked it up, it was light, crafted from a smooth, hollow material that made the device feel almost weightless. Its screen flickered when he curiously brushed his fingers over it, blocky white letters flashing on the screen, followed by a fingerprint image. 

Touch here, maybe? With the image so low down, he pressed the pad of his thumb down on the fingerprint image. 

The screen immediately flickered white and…

Aza stared at the image that came up. There was other stuff too, little icons that probably served some purpose when selected, but beneath those icons, like a sort of background, was an image. Too sharp and crystal clear to be a drawing or a painting - a photograph? That was relatively new technology in Eorzea, but it resembled that: a snapshot of reality. A picture of a man with white hair and amber eyes, smiling warmly - he looked familiar, almost like Emet-Selch, but… the differences were too much for them to be anything but distant relatives. Emet-Selch did say they could shapeshift the vessels they possessed to suit their tastes, though… 

His eyes were drawn to the earring dangling from the white-haired man’s ear. Identical to Emet-Selch’s. 

“This is… weird…” he mumbled, clumsily prodding at one of the many icons floating on the screen. One opened up a menu with lots of rows of text - the numbers were curiously the same, and it didn’t take much to realise the text was next to a date time format. Messages, maybe? If only he could Amaurotine, who knew what knowledge were in those… 

Aza pressed the back button - at least that symbol was universal across all civilisations - and tapped another icon. More text, but this time coupled with images. There were a lot of birds, some flowers, pictures of a desk with a lot of papers, a plate of biscuits and tea…

It was all so… normal. Aza felt unsettled. 

He backed out of that programme, clicked another one - a white screen with a sad frowny face with some writing underneath, the hell was that about… - and he backed out again, opening another programme… 

Another list of alien words with numbers, except with Orchestrion symbols at the bottom: play, repeat, oh, music, maybe? 

“Hm, I wonder what they listened to?” Aza mused, tapping the topmost file - unbeknownst to him, the most recently recorded file. 

Music didn’t come out. 

“Right, okay, take three. That’s the magic number, isn’t it?” A raspy, brittle voice filtered from the device, almost startling Aza into dropping it. The language was Amaurotine, yet… something twinged as familiar with the voice, and Aza stared at the little device in his hands with a small frown. 

“Okay. This is… this is a final message, of- of mine. I don’t know if there’ll be anyone left, to listen to this after- well. The… so, I need this- this message is for Emet-Selch, Hades- for him. This…” 

The voice paused, long enough that Aza thought the recording was over. With an audible, shuddering breath, it continued; 

“Come on, you need to give him something … okay. This is, you know, Fourteenth. Whoever listens to this message, please… tell him- Hades, please tell him I’m… I-I’m sorry, for what… for this. It’s an awful, ugly necessity, and I’m sorry for it. I’m sorry, and, I- I don’t regret it. I know you’ll never forgive me, Hades. I know. I accept that. I just want you to know, though, that… the time we spent together, the memories of them, they’re like pure light. When I take this final step, I’ll keep them close, to give me courage to follow through. I’m sorry I’m too much of a coward to say this to your face but, if I try I… I’ll falter, I know. So, this… is all I have left for you. Thank you, Hades, for loving me. I wish you well.”

The message stopped. The repeat button blinked at the bottom, and the player jumped to a random file. The voice spoke again, considerably more distressed, crying to- Hythlodaeus?

Aza quickly hit stop. His heart was thumping somewhere in his throat. 

That message hadn’t been for him.

His grip tightened on that flimsy tomestone. This, held important information, if only they could decipher Amaurotine language. It could probably be done, probably. But, this was also- this message, this device, so private and raw… something about it settled all wrong in him, still hearing that miserable, tortured voice. The Fourteenth… 

(“I cannot believe a Convocation member would resign at such a critical time…!”)

Aza put the tomestone back of the desk, and tugged the papers back over it. 

This message wasn’t for him. 

Aza left that quiet, perfectly preserved home behind him, the only sign of his visit the footprints he left in the thick dust. He didn’t look back, but he never forgot about that empty home and its pitiful message - even when the Tempest bubble finally collapsed and swallowed it whole, burying it in its murky depths for the rest of eternity.

Chapter Text

Prometheus was feeling ill. 

It didn’t have a specific source. His physical body was fit and well, his soul wasn’t damaged or strained, and he had plenty of sleep last night and ate well during the day. Yet, slowly, insidiously, a sense of malaise had been creeping over him as the day wore on. It made focusing on his work a little difficult. 

His work being crafting a humane way to kill living creatures. Too many research specimens slated for termination suffered a painful end due to the nature of the experiments they were involved in, something Prometheus found personally abhorrent. He advocated that if you intended to end a creature’s life, you must do so in a way that caused no pain. It was why his combat-spells were crafted to be so destructive . You felt no pain if you were obliterated in less than a nanosecond, after all. 

Obviously, he couldn’t do that for research specimens held in their termination pens, so Prometheus had focused on crafting a spell called simply ‘Death’. It would cause immediate organ failure while severing nerve function throughout the body, and they would die peacefully and painlessly. It was surprisingly difficult to do, and…

Something about it felt… off. 

Just thinking of the various ways to make the spell flexible - organisms were constructed differently depending on species, and what would cause instant, painless death in one, would cause an agonisingly slow one in another. There was something incredibly unsettling , even for him, to study the biology of various species so he knew how to kill them instantaneously. It put into perspective how many creatures they Created, solely to be experimented on and to be terminated, and it… it felt sort of…

Prometheus pushed away his papers - diagrams of various humanoids’ innards, autopsy notes - and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, breathing through the nausea persistently roiling through his belly. He was just overworked. That was all.

“Maybe I should focus on stopping the flow of aether,” Prometheus muttered. Aether channels were widely the same in every living creature, with some variances if they were Arcane or Artificial. It would be tricky to do that, though, blocking aether channels. It can be painful if done wrong, and he might accidentally cause the victim to slowly suffocate to death, unless… the spell causes an aether clot in the heart’s channel? No, no, cardiac arrest wasn’t painless in many organisms, so perhaps in the brain? That would be a slow death, but a potentially painless one as brain function was slowed in a controlled rate…

But that might just instigate brain death, resulting in a cruel vegetative state. Granted, they’d feel no pain when terminated in the old fashioned way after that, but it seemed like salt in the wound, wasn’t it? Eradicating their sense of Self before killing them entirely. They still hadn’t fully explored the impact of brain damage prior to death on souls, so...

... 

“Break. I need a break,” he muttered, standing up and abandoning his work. The walls of his workshop felt too oppressive and enclosed, so he went outside instead. As his workshop was on the edge of the city, with his nearest neighbours about three miles away in a residential complex, it meant he could stand right outside his home and look up at the stars in peaceful silence, with the only noise being the hooting of owls and the chirps of insects. 

Prometheus sat down on the soft grass in front of his workshop, leaning back until he was sprawled out. He was just in shorts, so the chilly night air made him shiver, goosebumps prickling over his skin, but the cold was nice. His breaths misted before him, and he closed his eyes, soaking up the refreshing chill, listening to the noise of life around him, and let it settle him.

Prometheus, inevitably, fell asleep. 


He woke up to someone frantically shaking him by the shoulders. 

Erk- what…” he grunted, still groggy as he tried to fend off whatever was assaulting him. He squinted his eyes open to see Hades knelt at his side and scowling down at him. His friend’s soul felt displeased and worried all at once.

Prometheus ,” Hades hissed, letting him go and jabbing him hard in his chest, “Did you sleep outside all night ?”

“...” Prometheus blinked very slowly, realising that the sky behind Hades was the dark blue of early morning. He also felt terrible , his nose stuffy, his head aching, his body stiff and sore, and his fingers and toes tingling, partially numb. So, the answer was, yes, he had slept outside all night. 

Before he could wrangle his sore throat to croak this out, however, Hades pressed the back of his hand against his forehead, then against his cheek, checking his temperature. His hand felt hot. 

“You’re freezing ,” Hades snapped, and he grabbed Prometheus by his biceps, forcing him to sit up. The shift from horizontal to vertical made Prometheus’s headache absolutely blinding, a pressure thumping hard behind his sinuses and making his eyes feel like they were about to pop out of his skull. 

“Ugh, what’re you…” Prometheus rasped, flinching when Hades snapped his fingers and Created a thick blanket there and then. He abruptly found himself aggressively wrapped up in it, his arms pinned against his chest as Hades levelled him with a grim look. 

“Do you know what time it is?” his friend asked him, then answered before Prometheus could open his mouth, “It’s two hours after you were meant to attend this morning’s Convocation meeting. So, I come here, thinking you got carried away with your research again... only to see you sprawled out in the grass, practically naked, with your workshop’s front door wide open! How careless can you be?!” 

Oh. Hades was mad . Genuinely angry . Prometheus knew the best way to weather this storm was to keep his mouth firmly shut and try to look as pathetic and meek as possible. He huddled into his blanket, telling himself it was because he was cold, and not because he was cowering from Hades’s mood.

“Um…” Prometheus’s voice cracked on a rough cough, his shoulders jerking violently from it, “Erk, uh, s-sorry…?” 

Hades’s expression did something weird - like he was both disgusted yet concerned all at the same time. It made him look vaguely constipated, “Sorry. That’s all you have to say for yourself?”

Ah, he should’ve kept his mouth shut. Prometheus just turtled even more into the thick blanket and said nothing. 

Hades’s eyebrow twitched, and he let out a very slow, loud exhale. Prometheus braced himself for an admonishing forehead flick.

It came as expected, a hard thwack that had him flinching despite it only stinging a little. It was quickly followed up by Hades’s smoothing a hand over his hair, his fingers catching on Prometheus’s tangled, messy hair, tugging the worst of the knots out. 

“Idiot,” Hades muttered with a sigh, “Why are you sleeping outside? That’s unlike you.” 

It was unlike him. Prometheus was prone to taking an hour or so outside if he needed a break from his research, but very rarely did he end up falling asleep - especially if it was cold and he was underdressed for it! Looking back, he did an incredibly stupid thing. While his robust Amaurotine body wouldn’t have succumbed to hypothermia, it still suffered from cold stress, which was just as unpleasant. 

“I wasn’t feeling well,” Prometheus admitted quietly, shifting in the blanket so he could move his arms underneath it.

Hades’s gaze sharpened, pinning him down with a scrutinising stare. Prometheus avoided it, knowing he looked terrible. He felt clammy, and even when wrapped up in this thick blanket, he found himself shivering lightly. It was difficult to tell if his current nauseous feeling was from the cold stress or that odd malaise from last night. 

“You should’ve called myself or Hythlodaeus if you were feeling sick,” Hades chided, but his lingering anger visibly cooled. The worst of the storm was over. 

Prometheus sighed, “Yeah…”

“Idiot,” Hades said again, this time more fondly, “Well, at least you have an excuse to trot out to Elidibus when he questions you about your absence.”

Prometheus winced at that. Erk, Elidibus was a stickler for attendance - especially if one didn’t call ahead to announce their absence. He was going to get lectured again… 

“Come on. Let’s warm you up inside before you freeze to death,” Hades ordered, grabbing Prometheus by the shoulders and coaxing him to stand up on his painfully stiff legs. 

Prometheus groaned, but he leveraged himself up, the pounding headache thumping harder behind his eyes. Hades pressed a warm hand to the nape of his neck, followed by the sensation of healing magic sweeping through him. The headache eased. 

“I should let you suffer to teach you a lesson,” Hades grumbled, but as usual he was all bark and no bite. Hades would never willingly keep Prometheus in pain. 

“But I never learn,” Prometheus joked croakily, unable to hold back a smile when Hades levelled him with an unimpressed look, “With you always cleaning up after me.”

“Hmph. I spoil you too much,” Hades said, but he didn’t remove his hand, and neither did he stop the comforting wave of healing magic, gently urging him back towards his workshop, “I won’t always be around to look after you, you know. Our duties mean we’re too busy for that nowadays, childhood friends or not.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” Prometheus mumbled into his blanket. It was an old lecture, one Hades never paid attention to himself. Hades loved fussing over him, no matter how much he griped about it, and Prometheus was scatter-brained enough to need fussing over. They were, as Hythlodaeus said, a perfect match, and Prometheus didn’t see it changing anytime soon. Hades will always help him, and Prometheus will always need help. 

He felt some of that nauseous feeling settle at that thought. Right. He’ll always have Hades. 

“What’re you grinning like a fool for?”

“No reason,” Prometheus hummed, “Just, this blanket’s really comfy. What were you thinking when Creating it?”

Hades, curiously, turned a little pink, looking away from with a loud harrumph, “Just- I wanted a blanket. I can’t recall the exact schematics.”

Uh huh. Sure. He’d probably been thinking something tender or embarrassing… 

“Oh, shame. I kinda wanted another one,” Prometheus sighed, “Guess I’ll make due with this one- oof!”

Another blanket abruptly dropped onto his head, Hades’s muffled voice muttering, “There. Never ask anything of me again.” 

Heh, so easy to play, Prometheus thought gleefully, quickly rearranging the extra warm blanket around him with a smile. They reached his front doorstep then, and he shot Hades a bright grin as he stepped into his home. 

“Ah, whatever will I do without you, Hades?” he laughed playfully. 

“Die, probably,” Hades said.

“Eh!? I’m not that useless!”

“So says the man who slept outside in subzero conditions naked!”

“Ah…”

Chapter Text

It was always a lovely surprise, bumping into Alpha. 

Aza always ran into the adorable chocobo when he least expected it: in Revenant’s Toll, sneaking about the kitchens, in the Black Shroud’s forests, curiously watching the fish flit about in shallow creeks, or wandering through the frontier villages across Eorzea, soaking up the pleased cooing from the residents.

Today, Aza ran into him in Revenant’s Toll: chased out of Rowena’s cafe because Omega got into a snit and tipped over several chairs. Aza rescued the bird and his minion companion from a fuming Rowena, quickly got out of town, and ended up aimlessly wandering towards the Crystal Tower with his two friends in tow. 

“You know, getting on the bad side of Rowena isn’t a good idea,” Aza said to Alpha idly, “She’s like a vengeful spirit. You’ll never know peace if she’s pissed off with you.”

“Sorry…” Alpha said sheepishly, while Omega made a sullen blipping noise behind them, clearly sulking. 

It was strange, this whole Echo translating language thing. Aza understood Alpha as clearly as if the chocobo was speaking human words, but Omega’s blips and beeps were, as usual, mystifying. It was probably to do with that ‘soul’ crap, how the Echo translated speech between people but, still, Aza couldn’t really wrap his head around it. How do you just randomly manifest a soul? What criteria did you have to hit, to get one? Alpha and Omega displayed equal amounts of ambition and emotion, but only Alpha achieved it? Aza didn’t get it. 

“It’s fine. Best to avoid Revenant’s Toll for a bit,” Aza said easily, stopping along an outcrop of rocks. It had a nice view of the lake from here, where Midgardsormr’s dessicated corpse loomed silently over the still waters. It was slightly foggy, so all that could be seen of the Keeper of the Lake was a faint shadow of his form. 

Omega blipped, a short, sharp noise. 

Alpha scratched the silty ground, kicking up faint plumes of dust, “This place feels strange.”

“Well,” Aza hooked his thumbs into his belt loops, “The aether’s all messed up here, ‘cuz the Garleans dropped an airship into the Source.” 

Alpha pointed a feathery wing at the airship wreckage half-sunken into the lake, “That thing?” 

“Yeah,” Aza’s gaze drifted over to the Omega minion. He had a hunch about it, one Bluebird declared paranoia, but one Aza was very certain about. This minion didn’t act like a regular mammet, and it was constructed from Omega scrap metal that Aza had knocked off during one of his fights with it. Maybe its mind could be transferred through metal or something weird like that. 

“Midgardsormr shot it down, but when it exploded it took him with it,” Aza said, looking away from Omega. The minion was just silently staring in the direction of Midgardsormr’s corpse, “I don’t think he can die properly, though. He was a ghost when I first saw him, then he came back as a baby? It was weird.” 

Alpha made a puzzled noise.

“I think he’s a ghost again now,” Aza said, thinking back to when that old, grumpy dragon saved him. He’d been surprised, honestly. He thought Midgardsormr was content in being an observer, right until the end. But instead… “Probably resting in the lake somewhere now.”

Alpha didn’t reply, and all three of them gazed out over the lake for a long, albeit comfortable, moment. 

“Blip, beep,” Omega finally said, and started ambling off the rocky outcrop. 

“Huh, guess even mammets can get bored,” Aza muttered, but he followed suit, Alpha close on his heels. They continued their leisurely walk to the tower.  

“Have you had anymore adventures, Aza?” Alpha asked him curiously, “I can tell you some of mine, in exchange!”

Aza smiled, leaning down enough to ruffle the feathers atop of Alpha’s head, “Haha, yeah. I’ve met an old friend of mine again, actually, but it’s a very long story. How ‘bout you tell me about your adventures first?”

And Alpha did. Innocent, happy adventures that luckily avoided the worst of this cooling conflict against the Garlean Empire. Alpha visiting beast tribes, or finding interesting, overgrown ruins in a mossy cave, helping someone find their lost cat, little, innocent things that made Aza feel a bit lighter to listen to. 

“They were lots of fun!” Alpha finished cheerfully, just as they reached Saint Coinach’s Find, “I think I want to go back to that hidden grotto again, though. It was pretty.”

“You’ll have to show me it,” Aza said, his eyes scanning the small archeological camp. There were some familiar faces, a few that gave him a friendly wave or nod, but he was searching for a specific one… ah, there. Looming head and shoulders over the predominantly Hyur personnel was Rammbroes, sternly talking to a pair of sheepish scholars covered in dark red dust. 

“I will!” Alpha promised, sticking close to his side as Aza navigated through the busy camp towards Rammbroes, “So, what about your adventure?”

“Well,” Aza said, lifting a hand when Rammbroes finally glanced his way, “I’ll tell you in a second. This guy needs to hear it too.”

“Huh?” 

“Well, if it isn’t Aza!” Rammbroes greeted, shooing the chastised scholars away as they approached, “To what do I owe the pleasure of this rare visit? And with a curious friend in tow, too.”

Alpha gave his signature - and adorable - greeting, lifting one leg up with a feathered wing raised high, while Omega just squatted there menacingly… well, as menacing as a fulm high mammet could look, anyways. 

“Hey, Rammy,” Aza said, “This is Alpha, I don’t know if Cid told you about him.”

“He did,” Rammbroes squatted down to be less looming, lifting a large hand in greeting, “Hello, friend. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Hello!” Alpha chirped, but of course, Rammbroes didn’t understand. All he heard was a chocobo’s ‘kweh!’, but he seemed to get the gist of it. Spending enough time with chocobos let you sort of understand their kwehs… or that might just be Aza. 

“I just thought we’d pop round for a visit,” Aza said idly, curling a lock of hair around his gloved finger, “And, uh, tell you a funny story…”

“A funny story?” Rammbroes lifted his eyebrows, “This isn’t to do with your recent expedition into that new chamber at the tower, is it?”

“Heh, well…” Aza clapped his hands together and grinned, “Kinda. So, you know G’raha, right? Well, turns out he’s…” 


It must’ve been a funny story, because when Aza finished his tale about the Crystal Exarch and who he used to be, Rammbroes laughed until he cried, though perhaps those tears weren’t entirely from mirth. 

Chapter Text

Y’shtola never knew what to make of Bluebird. 

She was a quintessential Xaela on the surface: loud, brash and always willing to drag someone into a wrestling match to settle disputes. However, she was also more perceptive and intelligent than her egotistical persona had you think, and, more importantly, she was their only residential expert on the Warrior of Light. 

That last was the important part. 

Even after all the dramatics of Ala Mhigo and Doma, Y’shtola realised that the Scions didn’t really know Aza that well. He had a lot of hidden, dark depths, and his past was still a mystery. They learned things by piecemeal, and even then, only what he wanted them to know – vague details that coaxed them to make their own conclusions that he neither confirmed or denied. The trip to the Azim Steppes shed a lot of light, probably against his wishes, on his background, but even then it just offered up more questions. 

How did a mixed-breed Miqo’te with clear Eorzean ancestry end up adopted by a Xaela tribe in Othard? Miqo’te tribes did live on the outskirts of the Steppes, but they were mountainous, isolationists, and very different to their Eorzean cousins. Aza had also given Y’shtola a look of blank confusion when she brought up the Othard Miqo’te tribes, and despite his obfuscation regarding his past, he couldn’t lie or act his way out of a paper bag, so she was willing to belief his ignorance there was genuine.

It wasn’t as if they had to know, though. Y’shtola already knew Aza’s character was sound, and the simple explanation could be that he was a private individual. Y’shtola, however, was also intensely curious, and after watching Aza deflect, dodge and bullshit his way around the topic, Y’shtola could admit that she was intensely curious. It was like an itch she couldn’t scratch sometimes, and it was a curiosity she saw reflected in Thancred and Alisaie most of the time. 

So, when an opportunity arose to scratch that itch, Y’shtola, of course, took it. 

It was late at night in the Rising Stones, F’lhammin had closed the bar for the night, and majority of people had pried themselves from their empty cups to go to bed – except for Bluebird and Thancred. From the number of empty flagons on the table, it looked as if some drinking competition had happened. Thancred was clearly the loser of it, as he was flat out asleep, face-down, on the table, while Bluebird was reclined comfortably in her seat, flushed but alert and far too sober looking. 

Y’shtola, who had gotten up only to grab a glass of water, unconsciously veered towards that lonesome table, lit up by a low-burning candle already starting to splutter. 

“A bad influence as usual,” she greeted, pitching her voice low even if Thancred looked like he wouldn’t wake if an Imperial grenade went off next to his head, “How many…?”

“Eh, I lost count,” Bluebird said, only a slight slur to her words. She was watching her with heavy-lidded eyes, her body languidly slouched in her chair. She reminded Y’shtola of a lounging wildcat, a predator who was confident enough in their surroundings to relax, but was still no less deadly, “Enough for ‘im to konk out, so mission accomplished.”

Y’shtola made a questioning noise, but Bluebird didn’t elaborate. 

“What’cha doin’ up?” Bluebird asked, “Don’tcha go to bed at like, old woman o’clock or whatever?”

“I needed a drink,” Y’shtola said, and almost sighed when Bluebird immediately pushed a half-empty flagon of something towards her, “Water. A drink of water.”

“S’got water in it.”

Well. That sounded like something a true Limsan would say, Y’shtola thought wryly. And yet, because she felt oddly nostalgic for that salty, rough-and-tumble city despite its numerous faults, she sat down on the chair between Bluebird and Thancred, and accepted what she suspected to be ‘Adventurer’s Grog’, a mystery drink that had something alcoholic in it. Potentially poisonous, if some clever adventurer tried to increase the potency with Morbol Essence. 

(Whatever ‘Morbol Essence’ was. Honestly, Y’shtola felt it safer for one’s sanity not to ask)

“’Ey, I knew you to be a drinker,” Bluebird laughed unevenly, lifting her flagon before setting it back down with a tad too much force, “Y