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painted skies

Chapter Text

“You`ve always got your nose in a book.”

The blank look that Sid receives over the spine of a dusty tome revives one too many memories of the same visage against different backdrops. Of pale yellow eyes that could see right through him, disarming his senses until the tiniest of smiles cracked across that stoic mask.

But in the present, the pale simulacrum is replaced with vivid colour. Eyes like a polished amber stone with hair thin cracks running through it, the only shimmer being that of the flame threatening to flicker over the low wick of the candle.

Kaoru didn`t have time to waste. Precious moments that could be spent better himself, making muscles taught and tear, flesh to rend and bleed.

It helped distract him from the ghosts that threatened to creep under his skin.

And after all, he wanted to become more like his late mentor. The one he was being silently compared to this whole time, even if everyone liked to pretend otherwise.

Kaoru Lightheart.

A useless Dark Knight.

Even his own birth name tried to mock him for even attempting to harness the abyss. On top of that, attempting to emulate Fray Myste, the brave warrior who died fighting for what he believed in? 

A laughable endeavour. Somehow, the more hopeless it was, the more he felt the itch under his skin, the mania to drive himself right into the trap he was laying out for himself.

Kaorus sighs, a gasp catching in his throat, forming a stitch in his side from how shallow his breathing had been until Sid decided to come knocking. 

Another turn of the page. Another piece of information devoured. 

Another step closer to being anyone but himself.

Sid can only shake his head. Another thing he can`t help but notice they have - had - in common. When something was wrong, just pretend it didn`t exist but forcing your way through over something you actually had control over.

On occasion, if his vision blurs, Sid sees a reflection, and has to remind himself that Kaoru was simply a boy. There are many things it wouldn`t be fair for him to do, least of all force him to pretend he was someone else. 

Sid wishes he could do something more. Just as he wished he could do something more back then.

What holds him back is a simple thought: what gives him the gall to think he deserves to even take up such a space? What role does he play in this boy`s life?

Was he a replacement for a mentor, as Kaoru was a replacement for a companion?

He shakes his head before these thoughts could devour him even further. He leaves Kaoru to it, knocking twice against the wood of the door of the Cloud Nine Innroom, letting him know he would be back. It was part of their little unspoken code that had developed over the scant few weeks they had known one another. Once was goodnight, and ten times was for the love of Halone, do you plan to sleep in until the Eighth Umbral Calamity, Kaoru?!

He passes by well after Rielle had gone to sleep only to see another book in Kaoru’s hands, his previous tome and yet another stacked haphazardly on the nightstand. The words catch in his throat as he thinks to say something, anything.

But instead he offers the single knock as his missive of goodnight.

“I told you we would be training today.” Sid scowls, watching Kaoru`s knees buckle as he trudges through the snow. His chainmail was skewed across the hip and his hair was tousled. “You stayed up to all hours again, didn’t you?” 

Kaoru had been avoiding getting any proper sleep, and the gods only knew for what reason; at any pressing, Kaoru would simply scowl like your organs were his next meal. 

“I have an insatiable appetite for reading.” Kaoru deadpans, a quiet nip at the heels that challenges Sid to bite back if he dared

“More like you`re a glutton for punishment.” Sid grunts. Kaoru looks at him with that same steady gaze he`d been wearing since they met on that snow covered hill. A hyur boy who`s diminutive size betrayed how he was covered in blood, fixing Sid with a cold gaze. A scene he had seen many times before, but of a man with a slightly different face. 

The worst difference of all were the eyes. Despite being the cooler, calmer one of the two, Fray`s eyes always had a deeper fire burning within. Kaoru`s were so devoid of light, of anything even remotely resembling happiness. It stirs something within the knight, an emotion he thought has been long since buried.

Sometimes I wonder, am I a dark knight, or a babysitter?

Kaoru quirks an eyebrow as Sid remains still for an uncomfortably long beat. It`s when he strolls over that Kaoru flinches instinctively, raising his arms to cover his face in fear. All the better for Sid, who loops an arm through and right around him, hoisting the hyur over his shoulder like a sack of popotos.

“Wha– hey! Put me down right now!” For the first time in a week does he hear a sense of urgency, a sense of any emotion in Kaoru`s voice. He feels the spark rumbling in Kaoru`s throat, and imagines what it looks like in his eyes.

He hopes to see it firsthand very soon.

“I`m throwing you back in bed and chaining you to the bedpost if you so much as get up.” Sid proclaims matter of factly as he makes his way back up the steps to the Forgotten Knight.

“I`d like to see you try.” Kaoru growls, weakly attempting to fight back. But with no sleep, he can barely budge a hair on the Xaela`s head. It`s clear that he`s fighting a losing battle, and with a huff, Kaoru gives up the ghost before letting his weary body droop against the broad shoulders of his new mentor. 

He`s far too tired to feel awkward about being tucked in for the first time in his life. It`s a strange, alien notion, but none too unwelcome as Sid fluffs the pillow behind him once before covering Kaoru with a blanket right up to his chin.

“I`ll ask the innkeep for a glass of warm milk.” Sid scoffs as Kaoru`s eyes flutter closed. He waits for a few minutes, the five longest minutes of his whole life, before testing the waters.

Kaoru opens one eye, surprised to see that Sid is still there despite all of the protests and scowls he`d delivered since they`d met.

He`s lucky he didn`t blink, else he would have missed Kaoru`s lips forming the most inaudible “thank you” that Sid has ever heard in his life. 

Chapter Text

Auguste rolls over with a groan. One by one his devices float back into his consciousness. 

It feels like his stomach is where his heart is, head in the clouds, nose buried in the pillow that retained the salty ocean scent of his lover, and hips far too sore to think of doing anything but sleeping the morning away with the man who was responsible for it. 

He glances over to catch Perci coming back in from the loo having finessed the need for underwear, manhood cheerfully on display with the suggestion he might be up for round two. The carefree smirk on his face causes Auguste`s heart to flip back into his chest cavity, using his stomach as a springboard.

“If I make you breakfast, will you come back to bed?” Auguste murmurs into the frigid morning air, reaching across the sheets for Perci`s hand. He prefers to make the subject ‘the bed’ rather than ‘me’ where it truly belonged. Perci was wont to go wherever he liked after their pleasurable nights, but lately, Auguste was tripping over goodbyes and Perci was running out of excuses to stay. 

His emerald eyes glitter with his plea, and the way he bites his bottom lip whenever he really wants something causes Perci to surrender himself wholeheartedly. 

He falls back into bed, crawling on top of Auguste as he tried to hide a smile against his cheek.

“No need.” He answers honestly, lacing their fingers together. “I wasn`t planning on leaving anyway.”

The sound of chopping is so seamless it resembles the hum of a magitek engine. Auguste works at the slices of carrot over the low hum of a simmering stove. With a sprinkle of salt and a little bit of oil, Auguste glides through the kitchen humming a cheerful tune, bending low to find another frying pan under the counter.

He is blissfully unaware of a figure in the doorway wiping the sweat from his brow, wiping the dirt from his boots, laying his pickaxe to the side. Perci begins to make his way downstairs before stopping cold, a smile slowly blooming as he observes such a beautiful display of domestic bliss.

The sudden hand on Auguste`s behind makes him yelp, but he had felt this enough times before not to reel up in shock (and have the back of his head make best friends with the bottom of the cabinets). Auguste wiggles his way out of the cabinet, rubbing his ass right into Perci`s crotch.

“Trying to rile me up, are you?” Perci murmurs low in his ear, reaching up to undo Auguste`s ponytail and let long pink locks flow freely over his shoulder, threading his fingers in comfortably. Instead of responding, Auguste plays coy and merely smiles, turning around so he can properly wrap his arms around his beloved as he leans in for a kiss that was a little more friendly than “welcome home”.

“If I run out to the market place to pick up dinner, will you let me?” Perci mumbles as he slides his hand up Auguste`s thigh. 

Auguste fumbles, reaching behind them clumsily, knocking over the tiny egg timer contraption he had received from Cid as a wedding gift. He manages to extinguish the flame as Perci`s hands make their way up Auguste`s home-knitted sweater, reaching up to his angel bones where scratches still remained from last night`s escapades. Auguste giggles as those hands make their way round again, settling on his tummy and those ticklish hip bones.

“Well?” Perci hums deep in his throat. “The deal is on the table.” He backs Auguste up against said object, as if to suggest that he too could be on the table if he`d like. 

“I say you`ve got yourself a deal, Ser Laviere-Vanrieux.” Auguste laughs against Perci`s lips.

“Why thank you, Ser Laviere-Vanrieux.” Perci responds before heaving Auguste into the air, causing him to yelp and clamp his legs around Perci`s middle lest he fell.

The two couldn`t even make it to their bed, opting to fall right onto the sofa instead.

“I said, where is he?” Auguste whispers coldly. “You`re being oddly protective of this door.”

“If you make it worth my while, I might be inclined to tell you.” A blade glimmers in the pale moonlight as a hand grips his thigh, and Auguste grits his teeth, weighing the scales. “I`d say you don`t have much of a choice, lest I let everyone else on patrol know you and your little friends are trying to sneak by.”

He swallows hard, thinking of Kaoru and Lyse. But at the same time, his hands worry at the ring concealed under his glove.

I have to get out of here alive.

I have to save him.

“…Fine.” Auguste relaxes, convincing this supposed captor that he will be docile and sweet. He slowly begins to discard his gloves, giving him the illusion that the rest would follow. Thankfully, the lad was too thick to realize that the man under the hood was the Warrior of Light. He relinquished the grip on his knife long enough to forcefully push Auguste against the wall of the quiet alleyway. Painful, yes, but nothing compared to what his beloved must feel right now.

His white magic wouldn’t save him now. His black magic would take too much time.

The only weapon he had left was the agony in his heart. He could recall his dearest friend`s voice telling him something like this, that this pain could be his greatest strength. 

So Auguste called on each and every ounce of hatred and sorrow that boiled underneath his flesh and rammed his knee into the rogue`s gut. As he leaned in to retort with his knife, Auguste sent him backwards with a fist to the face.

The high heel of Auguste`s boot stomped against his crotch, debilitating him long enough for Auguste to make quick work of tearing the hem of his white linen robe into a gag. 

He hurriedly gathered the rogue`s hands behind his back, as Auguste cursed and praised the twelve above under his breath that Kaoru insisted on teaching him the sort of things that would get them arrested if they weren`t the bloody Warriors of Light.

Auguste had never done something like this before, even when liberating his own people from their centuries long hatred of the dragons. His breath caught in his throat in near hysterics as he pulled out his cane with shuddering hands. 

“I have a better deal for you,” Auguste hissed, the flames licking his staff so keenly with anger that steam nearly rolled off his tongue. “I don`t kill you where you stand, and you tell me where Percimont is.” 

The indent of his diamond ring made a clear imprint on the man`s face, a stain of blood dripping from the glinting silvery band. 

“Or else I`ll raze this godsdamned place to the ground!” 

Chapter Text

“You have something on your face again.” Fray muses, gently pressing a finger into the constellation of freckles mapped on Kaoru`s cheek.

The first time Fray had moved to gently caress him, Kaoru flinched. His muscles remembered far too often that when he disobeyed (a word that, to Kaoru, meant “whenever his mother was unsatisfied”) he would be struck across the cheek. 
Proper young men didn`t have food all over their face. Proper young men didn`t slouch. Proper men didn`t use their left hand. A dutiful son would learn how to carry the weight of the family name properly.

Memories, feelings, begin to fade the more one learns how to pick up the pieces.Kaoru and Fray slouched over their chosen bench of a worn down fence, picked at the splinters with their left hands as Kaoru smeared his afternoon snack across his cheek.

Fray`s touch was gentle, despite being coated with pieste organs barely an hour before. 

Kaoru smiled and covered Fray`s palm with his own, feeling the warmth of a hand that was covered in the blood of many, yet touched him so sweetly.

He can feel the weight of Fray leaning towards him, whispering something he can barely make out.And then he opened his eyes, staring at the empty space across from him. The same old empty table at the Forgotten Knight. In the space between dream and reality, he wavers for a second, and can see that familiar shade sitting across from him. He shakes his head in a desperate attempt to rouse himself back to reality. He notes the spot of drool on stained wood beneath him, having obviously passed out from sheer exhaustion.With each dream, a memory would come back. 

One by one in solemn procession.

It was becoming so severe that he tried to avoid all attempts to sleep, evading the fragmented dreams of a paradise lost. His blissfully unaware memories of happiness as Fray tried to make him see. 

But one memory, one dream, was the worst of them all. The blood on his hands at Whitebrim, holding off the knights who clamored and shouted his name, but all fell on deaf ears. Instead, he fell to his knees, holding the man who had slaughtered the temple knights one by one.

He held Fray`s - his - crumbling body in his arms, trying to hold him upright.

“You don`t have to fight like this anymore…” Kaoru whispered in a broken voice. He knows his aether is fading fast, and pleaded for Fray to take a step back inside where he belonged. 

“Then…let`s go on an adventure again…together.” He saw Fray whisper with his own face, his own voice.They could be one again, and everything would fall back into place. Nothing could go wrong, nothing could ever hurt them again.

But this is not how the story goes. Has the hero ever had it easy? Was he ever the hero to begin with?

He searches and searches, letting his feet guide him through the gates of Whitebrim and into the frozen lands of Coerthas. Wandering came naturally to him, having left his home far behind him years ago. But with no true place to call home, he would always be adrift, forever lost to the abyssal sky threatening to swallow him with shining stars. 

“Are you sleepwalking now?” Sid observes, standing vigil as Rielle lay fast asleep beside him. He doesn`t remember having fallen asleep.

“…I`m awake.” I think. 
Kaoru shakes his head, realizing he had made his way to the edge of their makeshift camp without realizing he was no longer in his dream. He throws his hood over his head and offers a short missive. “I`m going for a walk.”

Even if Sid protested, Kaoru wasn`t listening. He slipped into the brilliant hills that had been painted in night.

“Why do you keep showing me my– …our memories?” Kaoru asked, the starry sky blurring into a beautiful shattered mess, marred by his tears. “If you`re even still there.”

The twinkling stars offer him no answer, no reprieve. 

He pulls his soul crystal from his pocket, the last piece of evidence that all of this even happened, swearing that he could see the faintest glimmer of red shine in the pale moonlight. Or perhaps it was just a trick of the light, another faded memory, another shattered dream.

“I wish you could tell me…I wish you could make me see.”

His heart grows cold, but his palm glows with the faintest flicker of warmth. 

Chapter Text

A heart bleeds

“Fray used to tell me stories of the Fane.
…Sid said he would`ve won if they let him keep his staff.”

A man weeps

“Ever since you`ve joined us, we`ve visited so many new places
I`m sure Fray would`ve enjoyed it to…”

A soul burns

Kaoru`s fist slams into the solid wood table with a frightening crack. Be it bone or stone, no one could even move to tell the difference as he raised his voice. To them, the ones that didn`t know the real Kaoru, they had no idea he could scream this loud.

No one did.

Not even Auguste.

Kaoru hadn`t shouted in years, ever since his mother had beat the habit out of him until he tried to shut his mouth for good.

Thence comes darkness.

“The only time you open your damn mouth is to talk about Fray!” The words pour out like the wine glass thrown off the table, spilling deep red onto the floor with reckless abandon.

Sid opens his mouth to object, especially given the company they were surrounded by, but Kaoru shoots him such a fiery look that even he is caught off guard for just a moment.

“You`ve beaten it into me, both of you, how you wish he was here. More`s the pity that you got stuck with some paltry replacement instead.” Hands that destroyed just a moment earlier now shake like the lost child he once was, grasping for something, anything that felt like solid ground.

“Well I`m not dealing with it anymore.” Kaoru curses, baring his fangs. “I`m tired of this charade!”

He throws his sword to the ground, cursing the weight it bore onto his hands, feeling so much lighter, if only physically. His heart felt like sludge as he wandered below the bridge, and off towars the Brume.

“He`s just having another tantrum,” Sid sighs, unaware he was echoing Kaoru`s mother`s sentiments. Although Rielle had only met Kaoru several weeks ago, knew nothing about him aside from a name and a face, it was enough. A momentary glimpse at the pain in his eyes when he gave her that horrible glare told her everything she needed to know.

“Well then, I suppose it`s back to square one for us, Rielle.”

A pause.


Thankfully for a girl that couldn`t risk to be seen, he hadn`t wandered too far.

It doesn`t take much for one who had trained in the arts of a rogue as a child to notice her clumsy steps crunch through the snow.
“You`re not going to get what you`re looking for, you know.” Kaoru`s vain attempt at sounding rude only comes off as wistful. Clearly the tone of someone who was cowed to the fact no one would ever come looking for him, unless it was something they required.

“I came looking for you.” She replies tacitly as always, something that unnerved a liar like him.

“Even after I yelled at you?” Kaoru can`t help but laugh in spite of himself.

She nods. “You didn`t mean it. Sid does the same thing sometimes. You two are more alike than you realize.”

Kaoru genuinely laughs at that. The two of them, similar? He places them side by side in his mental canvas, laughing at the disparity between his lithe hyuran frame and the towering auri male who had, on several occasions, picked him up like a plaything.

“He rarely even talked to me, you know. Sid. Or to anyone really, after Fray…” She trailed off, not wanting to provoke Kaoru back into his grief. “But ever since you came along, he talks, and even smiles sometimes when you`re not looking…”

Kaoru makes a funny face as he tries to picture Sid wearing anything other than a stoic or grumpy expression. He made him smile? Despite being a thorn in his side, a painful reminder of what was gone? Or could it mean that, he thought of Kaoru

as Kaoru?

“That`s all because of you. No one else.” Rielle worries the hem of her sweater, gaining more courage as she sees Kaoru`s walls slightly faltering in her presence.

“I didn`t ask for Sid or Fray to save me.” Kaoru`s heart catches in his throat, opening his mouth to speak before Rielle`s quiet voice cuts him off.
“I`m not asking you to replace him. You don`t have to.”

He remains silent, the wispy snow caught in the wind melting against his freckled cheeks. 
Two children who`s mothers had forsaken them, awkward in speech, tried their best to dance around each other. They both fidget, worry their bottom lips, and try to think of something that just might endear their company to them.

After all, the only company they had was each other.

“When no one`s around,” Rielle pipes up suddenly, “I see you humming songs… Do you like music?”

It`s Kaoru`s turn to be stunned into silence, taking a moment to actually think about himself. No one usually asked these questions.

“…Yeah.” Tiny slivers of memories dance through his mind, so rarely free of agony and pain. Of his hands plucking his shamisen, of the ivory keys of the strange foreign contraption in their foyer.
“I do.”

“Tell me more.” Rielle implores quietly, reaching to hold Kaoru`s shaking hand. “About you.”

Yet even in the depths, the flame endures.

Chapter Text

I`m not going to make it.

I`m too late.

He`s going to die.

Thoughts like frigid steel stabbed through his chest, a chilling reminder of a moment where Auguste had already failed this test.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, sound the church bells in their solemn judgement.

He nearly trips, footfalls echoing off the high ceilings, angry saints staring down at him, weighing his soul with every step. He feels his tendons screaming in pain as he rights himself, scrambling up the stairs to find Aymeric bleeding at the hands of the clergy. Someone unsheaths their knife and goes at him from the rear.

“Aymeric!” Auguste cries out, throwing himself body and soul in front of him. 

And it was about to happen all over again.

“Hey, that stings,” Perci groused as Auguste absentmindedly soaked his wound with a cloth.

“Ah? Oh, I`m sorry…”

“Don`t apologize. How`s your back doing?”

“Better than yesterday,” Auguste nods, remembering Perci`s lecture of stop saying fine when it’s not fine and admitting that it did, indeed, still hurt.

A lot of things still hurt. Very much so.

He feels the sheets shift underneath him as Perci leans back and smiles, observing Auguste in his naturally nursing habitat.

Everything still hurts, but perhaps “love” is the magical elixir that alchemists have been searching for.

“But more importantly, how is your–”

“Are we really having a contest? One of us took a knife for the Lord Commander and the other got a poisoned one in the belly.”

Auguste can`t help but laugh as Perci always had a way of making the most dire situations sound just a little better than they were. They were likely one of the few couples who could lay claim to having matching wound dressing with bandages wrapped round their middles.

“You`re right, you`re right,” Auguste nods firmly as he wraps the gauze around Perci`s forearm. “It`s in my blood to worry, you know? You`ve met my mother, after all, and everyone says I take after her the most.”

Perci continues to watch as Auguste`s clever fingers work quickly with his first aid kit, humming a soft tune to himself.

“You know, when we first met, you couldn`t stop stuttering. You couldn`t even look me in the eye, for that matter.” He muses, gently grasping Auguste`s chin and tilting it up so that sea green meets ocean blue.
“And now look at you.”

Auguste`s first instinct is to look away, but he swallows hard and meets Perci`s gaze head on. His beautiful blues were practically sparkling, and Auguste`s free hand natural reaches to intertwine with Perci`s.

“When it comes to you, you know I can`t help myself.” Auguste sighs as this single instant stretches into an eternity for the two of them in their own little world. 

Perci feels his chest tighten as he watches this angel before him in the soft light filtering from the setting sun. He feels like he could spend the rest of his life just gazing at his beloved, be it in this hospital bed, in the Fortemps manor, on the battlefield - anywhere, anywhere.

“…Say, Aucchan. What do you think about The Goblet?” Perci pipes up suddenly. “Some nice houses, huh?”

“Oh, I`ve been there.” Auguste`s entire expression lights up instantly. “It`s so warm, and there’s lots of beautiful flowers.”

I knew you`d say that.

“Say, Aucchan.” Perci traces two fingers up the side of Augustes arms, like a pair of legs going for a walk on the sunny avenue that`s Auguste pale arm, until he arrives at the ticklish crook of the elbow that makes Auguste laugh.

“Hmm?” He smiles and glances down at Perci`s ticklish fingertips, ready to answer a question about their friends or perhaps what`s for dinner.

“How do you feel about living with me?”