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The hoppang is warm in their hands, much to their delight- It seeps through the paper bags and napkins into the skin of their hands, chilled from the brisk autumn night. It was a bit of a bit of a bargain, really- The miqo- no, mystel- seemed rather delighted at how quickly they finished their errand and gave them an extra helping or seven on top of their agreed payment. Fray mutters in the corners of their mind about how they should really stop taking up jobs in exchange for food, but Caedd just shrugs jauntily, their shadow’s words falling on deaf horns, too delighted at the prospect of warm, fluffy, soft bread-like goodness to wholly care.

“You can admit you want some, too.” they singsong as if they’re a Qalli instead of a Mankhad, skipping once, twice as they prepare to teleport back to the Inn at Journey’s Head. Fray huffs.

“Would you even be able to finish all this on your own?”

The warrior laughs. “Nope. Why do you think I’m not going back to the Pendants?”

“...”

Fray takes long enough to respond that Caedd cannot help but wonder if Fray had been asleep for the duration of their struggle in Amh Araeng- But they surface in their mind, crystal clear, just before the thought can blossom. Of course they’d been awake- They’d been awake for Alisaie flinging her arms around Caedd’s waist before regaining her composure, for the fruit gently cradled in their hands, for Halric and how Tesleen-- For Ryne becoming Ryne, for Minfilia saying goodbye, for their descent into the well, the light sparking on an edge too close to painful.

“You take too many people under your wing.” They sigh, in Caedd’s voice.

The incantation completes, and the world flashes out form beneath them- It is dark for a minute where they let their thoughts roam, drifting between them and Fray freely, their aether entangling in eternal communion.

It’s still just almost jarring, how they snap apart a little every time they arrive, and it still never fails to snap Caedd back to attentiveness- The ground is firm beneath them, they have a physical form, and the bags of hoppang are still steaming and warm and it smells delicious . Across the aetheryte, Alisaie lifts her head and grins- The au ra grins back, waves and gestures to their baggage as she makes her way over.

“I brought snacks.” is how their greeting goes- Alisaie takes one of the bags, peeks in and tilts her head.

“What’s this?”

“Like bread, but with sweet paste inside. I got a lot, so I thought I’d share?”

“A lot? That’s an understatement.” Alisaie snorts, takes two more off their hands with a shake of her head. “I’ll go give these out to the caretakers- You’re going to make your usual rounds, right?”

Caedd nods. The elezen sighs, rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “I’ll get back to you once I’m done.” 

“Wait.”

“Hm?”

She starts when a hand lands on her head, ruffles her hair, messes it up- Her mouth falls open numbly, before she laughs, protesting between giggles and hand-bats. Caedd persists, grins, all teeth and squinty eyes- When she finally manages to bolt out from underneath their headpats of doom, they swear they can hear her swearing vengeance, continue listening for the little buzz of commotion when she reaches the caretakers- Who only then look up to notice their Warrior of Darkness standing at the aetheryte.

Working hard, huh? Smiling, Caedd waves back, before purposely striding towards the beds, vibrant and bleaching eyes both following them on their way. They make their customary little half-circle, from west to east, kneeling and speaking softly and holding hands, the Echo speaking for them in tongues they’ve never learned, gently handing those who can muster the strength to eat the bread, soft and white and warm. Some slumbered, the night soothing enough to bring them to sleep, and Caedd made a mental note to get them food at a more human time. It wasn’t terribly late… But it was late enough, simple as that.

At the end of the day, they always linger with Halric. He’s improving, sometimes getting out a coherent word or two. Humming, Caedd sets down the hoppang , pulls up a seat, turns it around and sits on it backwards with their arms on the backrest, tail gently flicking back and forth. The color would never return to his cheeks, and they’d never know what his hair looked like before it turned white- But he was alive, he was recovering. That’s what matters. Nonsensically, a thought drifts in- a little like us - And they can’t quite tell whose it is, but remains content in not knowing for certain. It suits both of them just fine.

Halric blinks and looks to the bag, then to Caedd.

“Hey.” They say.

“Hi,” Halric mouths back. There’s a whisper of a voice in the word, a faint flicker of surprise on his face at the sound. The boy pauses for a good moment, then sluggishly lifts a hand to point at the bag they’d set on the table in silent inquiry.

“For you,” the warrior replies. “It’s sweet- You like bread, right? Sweet bread.”

His hand hovers. His lips purse, as if trying to remember how to form a b . Nothing comes, but the hand lowers, unfazed, palm on the surface of the table- His table, really- Fingertips minutely inching closer to the bag. Golden eyes follow the movement, and Caedd reaches over to open the paper bag, a little puff of steam escaping into the chilly air.

Halric breathes in, deeply. Counting the seconds until the younger exhales, Caedd fishes a hoppang out, adjusting the napkin they pulled out along with it so the boy might have a good hold on it.

Halric breathes out, putting his other hand on the table while the first turns, both palms upwards. with a smile, the warrior places the bun in his waiting hands until his cold fingers curl around it. The boy looks at it for another long, long moment, and blows on it weakly in attempt to cool it off a little out of habit. One puff, two puff. Satisfied with his work, he takes a bite and chews.

Now that the drahn exclusively has eyes for his food, Caedd retrieves their own from their pack and likewise bites into it, their tail whapping against the leg of their chair in quiet delight- Soft, moist, warm, sweet, inside offset by the neutrality of the outside. If they look hard enough, they can swear Halric is smiling, too- Even with bean paste smeared on his lip, the way he slowly, slowly chews.

Alisaie notices, too, when she trots over, noticeably lacking any kind of baggage. There’s one more bun for her at the bottom of the bag- Halric looks up, still chewing, while Caedd tries to uselessly nudge the bag towards her approaching figure with an errant hand.

“Sit properly,” she scolds them, shaking the bag out for her helping (pushing the napkins that almost flutter out back in as she does), then practically tearing a bite out of it. “You’re making a terrible example, O Warrior of Darkness.”

“Don’t speak with your mouth full,” they reply easily, mouth equally full. “That’s gross.” Halric tilts his head, then nods in agreement. Alisaie jabs Caedd in the shoulder with her elbow, not answering because she has her mouth full and is actually going to take their advice instead of being a hypocrite.

“Oh, look at me,” Caedd jokes, after swallowing this time. “I’m such a bad influence.”

Halric exhales a little harder, ducks his head. It’s close enough to a laugh to be called one, and Alisaie’s eyes brighten a little as she likewise grins. It’s a bargain, really- If they could see something like this every time they get too much food, they’ll gladly do fetch quests a hundred times over again.

Somewhere in their mind, Fray does the equivalent of cuffing them over the head.

They do their best not to burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

Let’s go to the hedge maze, Adelphel said. It’ll be fun, he said. Well Janlenoux had personally been lost in this blasted thing for about half an hour and quite frankly the elezen had had it up to here , having lost Adelphel roughly ten minutes ago not helping matters at all.

Not that his sense of direction is wholly atrocious (the fact it took him over a month to learn the base layout of the Vault notwithstanding), but that this maze is obviously of elezen make, making it downright impossible for himself to see over the blasted hedges. Though he’s taller than the Archim- than Zephirin, this still does not mean much, because Zephirin’s about as tall as a very lanky midlander. Adelphel himself has maybe an ilm or two on Janlenoux, supplemented by the fact he’s rather fond of heeled boots which isn’t very helpful here, but he also has an unerring sense of direction that he just consciously chooses not to use half the time, firstly because he’s lazy in the oddest ways, secondly because getting lost in this is apparently the entire point and also the fun in mazes.

Well, Janlenoux thinks as he walks into another dead end. This is not very fun at all. He’s half tempted to just sit in the dirt and wait until someone passes by so he can piggyback on their lack of ability to walk in circles for hours, because he’s somehow quite sure that’s what he was doing for at least the past, what, quarter bell? He’s quite sure that’s also what contributed in him losing Adelphel in the first place- Fury, next time he finds him- if he finds him, that is- he’s going to grab onto the sleeve of his partner’s coat and adamantly refuse to let go until they’re out again, his own pride be damned, because--

The elezen mournfully looks towards the small platform on the tree in the center of the maze. Halone spare him. He hadn’t even reached a single landmark yet.

Three more minutes pass in which the elezen trundles through the maze, gradually coming to terms with the fact he may as well never find his way out and become part of the dirt feeding these Twelve-forsaken hedges. He completely misses the first two or three distant hollers of his name, too busy attempting to find some kind of landmark in his wandering regardless.

Which is why he practically jumps three fulms into the air from the shout of JANLENOUX DE COURCILLANT, ARE YOU DEAF AS WELL AS HALF BLIND” coming from a quarter across the maze and suspiciously far above him- Extremely mortified, the man in question whirls around so fast some of his hair ends up hanging into his face in an uncoordinated blue mop.

Adelphel is waving at him. His heart skips a beat. Adelphel can see him!

And then his heart drops to his feet. Adelphel just shouted his full name across the entire garden for every Spoken to hear for what might be a malm around.

Janlenoux is not sure if he is going to laugh or cry or yell back or lie down and wait for the earth to come claim him. Some part of him wants to do all of these things.

He was, however, not one of the Knights Twelve because he did something as pathetic as lie on the floor and cry because his spouse is embarrassing him. On the platform, Adelphel is leaning on the railing, his hand moving like he’s tapping his fingers against the wood. Janlenoux can practically feel the smug smile radiating off his entire stance, even from the distance. Is he. He’s doing this on purpose, isn’t he.

With a gentle groan, Janlenoux very visibly buries his face in his hands, takes a deep breath and counts to three, before peeling one of his hands away from his face, peering through his fingers up at the other and making a Templar handsign. awaiting orders.

Adelphel straightens up and very clearly holds up his finger, turning it in a circle- Oh, he was going in the wrong way, that explains a lot. Janlenoux turns around, jogs to the next intersection and looks back up to the platform where Adelphel has the back of his hand turned to him and is gesturing to himself. Towards him. Alright. Okay. This is fine. It’s fortunate he’s good at following orders and Adelphel’s got a head for getting out of things, be they mazes or social situations going sour or whatever else- Janlenoux makes significantly more rapid progress with Adelphel signing him the directions from above (though he may or may not have run into a hedge or two), and finds himself in the clearing in the middle in almost record time.

How… How in blazes does Adelphel do that. Janlenoux still feels some desire to go up there and lovingly strangle the other elezen for yelling his full name across half of damn Eorzea, but also, he’s a modicum too drained to make good on any kind of threat. He mentally compartmentalizes the slight into something to spurn revenge into next time- Oh yes, spinach cookies… Spinach cookies……

But Adelphel is clambering down from the platform already, looking for the life of him like he’s been holding back laughter for eons and pulls him into a. Hug? Hug. Admittedly, Janlenoux is finding it harder to be angry by the moment, but remembers the sound of his name and surname ringing out clear in the other’s voice far over his head in a situation he does not want to hear it over his head.

“Don’t try to charm yourself back into my good graces.” Janlenoux mutters, burying his face in the crook of Adelphel’s neck. He just laughs in response.

“First three shouts were warning shots, dear.” Adelphel chortles. “Also, we still have half the maze to go.”

The other slumps, foisting his weight onto his husband as silent preliminary punishment. “I am baking vegetables into everything you love except carrot cake. There, I will bake everything in it except carrots. Look at this, my love. You have driven me to committing kitchen atrocities.”

A feigned melodramatic gasp. “You wouldn’t.

“I can, and I will.”

“I’m beginning to reconsider getting you out of there.”

“What?" Janlenoux lifts his head, staring at Adelphel's red earcuff in disbelief for lack of anything else being in his direct line of sight. "You can’t even make oatmeal on your ow-- Can’t you just reconsider bringing me here in the first place!?

“Mmm… Well, it was actually quite funny, seeing you walk the same two paths over and over agai-” Janlenoux’s palm falls on the top of his head a little too heavily, nearly making Adelphel topple over from both that and and the other elezen’s weight. “Ouch. You're killing me, Jan. Killing me.”

“Just get me out of here.” He mutters, extracting himself from their mutual limb enclosement.

“Alright, alright, I’ll be here if you need to hold my hand too.”

“Vegetables. In. Everything. You. Love.” Janlenoux hisses, but grasps the hood of the other's coat, regardless. Adelphel laughs again, almost actually succeeds in charming his way back into Janlenoux' good graces by being an absolute gremlin again. Spinach cookies, he repeats to himself like a malevolent mantra. He briefly wonders if this would've counted as heresy back in the day.

Adelphel just smiles, blissfully oblivious to his nefarious plot. “Yes, ser.”

Chapter Text

It is already too late when the blessing screams of danger in their skull. A brilliant bolt of light rains down from the heavens, and Haurchefant shouts in the spaces where they’ve forgotten to. Time slows once they see its trajectory, primed to meet their heart, and a thousand thousand deaths they’ve already been wrenched back from run unbidden in golden eyes; Fear is mere reflex, now, for what is one more death, what is one more when blue crystal fills the insides of obsidian scales to shine like geodes every time they break to claw, fang, blade, stone--?

The thud of metal brings them back to the present, where a brilliant bolt of light collides with cold steel- Blue eyes burn brightly, teeth grit. His legs do not give, his arm does not falter, but his shield, oh mother, merciful dusk mother above oh, his shield--

They hear the splatter of red on the floor more than they see it. They hear the way his body hits the floor, the little clinks of his chainmail, the clank of his armor, his sword and broken shield skittering away on holy stone. He gasps and coughs for air, hurting, hurting, punctuating the tinkle of fatal aetherial light.

Caedd loses all rational thought. Golden eyes burn with all the ferocity of Azim and then some as they round at the figure who rained light from above, sharp teeth bared as a bloodcurdling scream pierces the air- They move, lunge, uttering a horrible noise more animal than man, lob their shield at the knight upon the Vault with all their might.

It is not enough.

The knight watches with vacant, green eyes. It is not enough. The shield falls short, even with all the warrior’s fury and strength behind the throw. He silently watches it tumble into the chasm where the aether swirls, armor shrouded in a despoiled halo, exalted upon a false savior’s wings.

False, false. The warrior watches, as well, stumbles. Bereft of shield, their sword clattering to the floor, the nova of rage in their chest collapses unto itself into an unimaginable hollow deep in their gut. The knight wavers and vanishes out of sight, leaving them upon their knees, staring into the abyss where they had failed.

Failed.

Their own ragged gasp tears them out of the thought as they turn, crawling towards-

Towards-

Towards their heart, bleeding out and waiting.

 

Oh.

Oh, oh, mother, oh.

It is almost a pity they cannot sink any further than they already are. They don’t want to look. They know the blood is there. They have to look. They don’t want to see. They don’t want this to be their last memory of him. They don’t want his last to be without them. They don’t, don’t, don’t want so many things, selfish thoughts roiling in their trembling hands. They clench, unclench, uncertain and shaking. This is. Not real. This is. Not real.

They will wake up in Fortemps Manor, shaking and screaming, Haurchefant hovering over them in concern. They will wake up tangled in their bedsheets and drenched in sweat, and he will remind them it is but a dream.

This is. This is--

They. Reach, forwards. Gloves grasp his form, cradle his head, pull him from Aymeric onto their lap and stroke through his hair the way he likes it. The leather makes the motion clumsy, but Haurchefant smiles all the same, like it’s another lazy day in bed.

That is. What they will wake up to. Surely. Surely. The sunset crumbles in their peripheries for their illusion as the elezen in their arms coughs.

“My dearest friend,” he rasps, punctuated by a wet noise. “you’re safe.”

Of course they are. It should have been them, sweet fool.

They twirl a lock of his silver hair around their ring finger and wipe the blood off his lips, bring it to their own to taste the ice-tinged iron. It spreads on their tongue as Haurchefant breathes a shaky laugh at the gesture.

“I couldn’t,” he begins, again, gravitating closer to them, reaching to grasp their wrist. “Couldn’t stand the thought of losing you, you know.”

This is not real.

They can feel his breath, warm on the fabric on their abdomen. It huffs twice in another laugh- Gods, please keep breathing- His grip on their wrist tugging lightly, guiding without the strength to see the motion through. Their fingers unwittingly move to lace together with his. The rest of the words- The rest blurs in denial, but they know he asks them to smile. Who are they to deny him? He’d want to remember them that way, as much as they wanted the same for him, and they’ll be damned if they can’t. Even do that much, for him. So they blink the tears out of their eyes.

This is not real.

And they smile. He smiles back with every bit of warmth he can give them, one last time, gives their hand a little squeeze.

This, this isn't.

The sky goes out with the twinkle of blue in his eyes. His head lolls back. They brush the hair out of his face, lean down and press their lips to his forehead in a goodnight kiss. He is still warm.

This isn’t real.

(A sob wrenches its way out of their throat. Sweet fool, it should have been them.)

Chapter Text

As tired as he is, the sudden rush of activity through Spagyrics is not lost on him- The whispers, the rustles of sheets and gowns as patients sit up, toe cautiously into slippers, move across the tile. The elf notes, too, the light lifting- That’s what always is first and foremost, anyways, the light, covering, smothering, stifling all that is and was and will be.

Therein lies the problem- Light everlasting is- It’s not meant to lift. He unclasps his hands from where they perpetually hold the sunstone around his neck, flexes his fingers as his ears flick, straining to catch whispers of whatever is happening, because though they can’t see it, they can all feel it- All the light-afflicted here with him. The woman next to him, normally unmoving, sighs a noise that is close to relief, and shifts. Others with him in this closed ward, dark and cool, mutter about presences, about being able to breathe. 

He raises his hands, runs them over the skin of his face- Still soft, undoubtedly still the same dark grey, but the long locks of hair in his peripherals have long-since turned from brown to white. He should- He should get up, and see. The mystel here, Tora-Loi- She’d known him longest, before he’d gone from caretaker to patient- looked to him, urging him on with pale eyes. The hume across from him had already gotten up, determination bright in hazel gaze, standing in front of the curtain in silence before drawing it open and disappearing into the hallway.

Sighing, the elf shifts his legs with some effort, sets bare feet on the ground and gets up- There’s a soft, habitual assurance that he’ll be back, and Tora laughs a little, mouthing a seeya, songbird for where her voice doesn’t carry anymore.

The door is already ajar when he turns the corner. The elf takes his cane from outside the ward, free hand trailing along the wall as he wills his stiff joints to move. There’s whispers that carry, far from holy wind-chimes and light-blasted crystal. It’s a soothing sound until he can make out the words.

Stars, moon, sky. Night, night, night. The sunless sea , Fae-Hann whispers, the front room half-barren from everyone running out front to stare. Wicked white , are we saved? a drahn asks, her voice barely above a whisper. Blinking, the elf struggles to process- but the lack of light streaming through the entrance is already telling enough for a lifetime, the cool breeze for once not suffocating in its entirety. The cold thing between his ribs- It beats, warmed by something other than his keepsake and the sheets.

Caught in the thought, he missteps, staggers slightly and catches himself, but his cane clatters to the floor. Someone gasps, a gentle gloved hand on his upper arm.

“Ethelraed,” Chessamile starts, but he brushes her off before she can finish with a shake of his head, eyes trained only on the tiling near the entrance warily- Her grip on his arm loosens as she follows his gaze. As always, she understands.

“You’ve heard, haven’t you?” she finishes, in stead of her usual inquiry. Ethelraed can hear the smile in her voice. It’s out of fondness that he replies with a nod. “Go see for yourself, sweetie.”

“Thank you,” he replies, voice barely above a croak. “I’ll walk on my own.” She lets him go with a parting touch to his shoulder, and he walks, slowly- Steps only along the cracks of the stone tiles, head bowed stubbornly as he moves around the people before him until he reaches the threshold.

Cold light spills onto his grey gown even there. His hands slowly come together again, around the sunstone over his heart. It warms under his touch- Something like a guilty prayer passes his lips; a poem, a song, an elegy as he drowns out the reverent hush and muffled sounds of wonder around him.

Head lifts, eyes flutter open. It is dark, and Ethelraed’s eyes have no need to adjust.

It is dark.

It is night.

He cannot stop the sob that wrenches its way out of his lungs.

It is dark.

It is night.

It is so very… bright.

And it- it is beautiful, even if he can hardly see the sky for his tears. It's beautiful, and he can feel it deep in the cracks of what aether is still his, a soothing balm, a swirl of stardust it the black. Without thinking, his feet cross the threshold in a clumsy stumble meant to be a run, stiff fingers fumbling to undo the clasp of his pendant- He seizes the stone, holds it up against the sunless sea, hands already shaking from the effort of his first steps into the night.

The heartstone is warm, glows faintly next to the moon and stars. Ethelraed knows not of the Greatwood, knows nothing of the rites, only knowing the bleak fields of Kholusia, the garish colors of Eulmore, the soothing purples and blues of Lakeland. He’d never had the chance to learn. The stone's owner never got to tell him. The elf doesn’t know if his- his stupid, foolish, impulsive behavior he’d thought he’d left behind is anywhere even remotely close.

It probably isn’t. He doesn’t think the stone’s owner would’ve minded. A helpless smile creeps onto his face through his- his disgusting sniffles and hiccups, broad and bright and impossible to stop. Oh wicked white, he feels impossible to stop- The world could end, he could turn on the spot, but nothing, nothing would be able to stop the sorrow, the disbelief, the love and the gratitude, spilling out unbridled from his chest.

Look, he thinks deliriously into the night sky, still smiling, still crying, still clutching the heartstone like a lifeline, holding it aloft like a beacon. Here I am. His arm aches when he laughs, as does his heart- This is stupid, he thinks for the umpteenth time, but only laughs harder in response.

His arm gives, and he shifts his grip to cradle it gently between his palms, brings his clasped hands to his chin. A cool breeze passes, promising, gentle. It is night, the sky endless and dark and so much brighter than he could ever have imagined.

Lucky bastard, coming here without me. Here I am. Can you see me?

The heartstone warms his cold fingers.

Chapter Text

“How did it feel, having that much power at your fingertips?”

Zephirin doesn’t know how to answer- He cannot tell if it is from the shame throttling the air out of his lungs or the fact that Thordan’s influence had stolen even that from him. He still has no excuse. He had given himself over freely to be blinded by choirs of glory, to belief in a false messiah. They were promised so very many things. None of them were values he had sought, some of them were the very antithesis of what he’d once stood for- Yet he took the offered hand instead of biting it, and drenched his hands in blood in their stead.

Out of envy, out of greed, out of any number of disgusting, selfish vices that had caught green eyes, leaked emerald into his mind, soul and shattered heart. Red shines wetly in silent overlays on his hands, and he makes no effort to scrub it away. He keeps his silence, eyes fixed on a wrinkle on the sheets, pretends he does not know what the warrior had lost (and what they had found) to come and sit upon the edge of his bed.

He knows that if he looks up, they’ll have an easy, disarming smile on their face and pity in their sun-wreathed eyes. Like last time. Like the times before. Somehow, that makes it worse. He’d rather be dead, Zephirin thinks, and desperately tries to recall just for an excuse to avoid looking any further than their scaled wrists, the tail lazily smoothing over the blanket next to his leg.

He remembers duty, his palms burning with aether. He remembers his king’s voice, offering exoneration, peace, valor in exchange for the warrior’s heart. The choir caught in an eternal crescendo, eyes wrapped in haloes, angels grasping at his wrists and arms in guiding gesture. His own voice, echoing pretenses of the greater good when he’d only ever been propelled by jealousy.

He had seldom handled a spear before. His aim was true. It would have met its mark, had it not been for the bastard of House Fortemps.

The room remains silent. Zephirin does not speak. No amount of justification or apology will help. He does not want to voice any. He does not want forgiveness. He does not deserve it. He laces his fingers together and purses his lips, and the warrior hums, their hand shifting out of his field of vision. Green eyes close, expecting the warrior to take their leave again as usual. They always do, come to ask a question they don't expect an answer to, then sit in silence until they take their leave. It's torture.

The weight on the bed shifts, but instead of staying that way, it only moves closer- And suddenly they are far too close, he can feel their breath on his face, and Zephirin recoils, eyes snapping back open.

“Do you mind,” he growls, reflexively, hands fidgeting on the decision to shove them away. His voice is rough from disuse and night terrors in alternation. Their gaze is searching, but after a few terse seconds, they draw back a little.

Their nose is still very much in his personal space.

“Haurchefant died, you know.” They say. He does. They do not say anything like you killed him or you took him from me , and it doesn’t escape his notice. It’s disgusting. He doesn’t know how they can remind him of it with a straight face. They were close. All of Ishgard who paid attention would know.

“It’s the least I can do to torment you like this a little.”

Ah. Fair. Zephirin bristles anyways, because he cannot stand anyone being so close without doing anything. If they had their blade, or he his, even if blood was spilled, it’d still be better than this. Whatever this was. He does his best to sink into the headboard, ignoring how their eyes glint too familiarly when they tilt their head and the sunlight drowns in smoked gold instead of reflecting.

There was only one other person who thought to confront him like this, and he allowed that solely because-

Zephirin wonders if it’s just how the warrior of light operates. He wonders how they hadn’t been stabbed to death yet. Why is he allowing it now? They remain motionless even as the realisation (memory) strikes him and his eyes dart down their form.

The dark soul crystal hanging around their neck, out of their light shirt? The gold of their eyes? The stance they’d taken at the Singularity Reactor, the black aether that rippled around them, thrashed against his own in a simulacrum of bared teeth, a blunt claymore, a cruelly loving laugh, a scar he’d caused out on a summer excursion a decade ago?

The smell of damp wood fills his nostrils. Suddenly he is nineteen again, in the Brume after hours, forsaking his Temple Knight uniform in favor of dark clothes, seeking out a turncoat and his two charges Zephirin called his friends.

Why is he- Why are they--

“I didn’t spare you for your own sake.”

He knows. They both know exactly what the warrior means. It doesn’t make the truth any less disorienting, nor does it offer any context. The context is like to be of little help. The spell breaks. They smile. It’s wry, crooked. The warrior draws back minutely as Zephirin reels in silence. They let him, for a while, content with waiting.

The admission they make is all the more quiet for it, hangs in the air between. “I don’t think it’s your fault, but I’m not sure I can ever forgive you. Are you okay with that?”

“I don’t want to be forgiven.” he whispers back.

“Are you sure?” they ask.

He is silent. Their smile turns knowing, a warm hand moving to brush his hair out of his eyes, linger where their knuckles brush the bridge of his nose. Their skin roils with the abyss, the depths of a frozen lake, an endless ocean where it makes contact. He makes no move to move away, too familiar with it to do so.

“Leave.” Zephirin hisses when the seconds stretch too long.  They don’t flinch at the demand, either.

“Goodnight,” they say instead, regardless of the daylight still streaming through the windows. “Remember I didn’t do this for you.”

The hall echoes with their footfalls as they walk away.

They will be back, he knows- Be it tomorrow, in a week, in a moon, a strange, unspoken promise. Zephirin pulls the covers over his head and pretends he’d rather be dead.