“To think they cover every limb… You are ever the mystery, Warrior of Light.”
Feather-light caresses trace the scars along Vala’s arm. The touch tingles even through the encroaching haze of sleep, and his heavy eyelids flutter open in time to watch as Haurchefant leans in to press a chaste kiss against a large knot of pale, swirling marks. Their eyes catch—sea meeting sky—and the knight repeats the process, his lips twisting into a grin and pressing down on Vala’s shoulder where the scars continue their path.
Vala simply returns the smirk and wriggles himself in closer, pressing his chest against the other’s now that someone decided to lower their quilted blanket. Flushed skin warms his own in this midnight chill, and he winds his arms around Haurchefant’s neck, lays a kiss upon his jaw, and answers nothing. That was an observation, after all, not a question—and so long as it wasn’t a question...
But the observation continues, damn the man’s curiosity. Haurchefant lays his chin on Vala’s shoulder and follows the paint-splattered scars decorating his back with one finger. He holds him through the instinctual shiver, a grounding heat. “I have bore witness to an inordinate amount of injury during the span of my career; felt, inflicted, and bystander all. It has been said that a knight without scars is a knight without honor.”
“Or your brother,” Vala distracts, running his fingertips along the hair at the base of his lover’s neck. His bait is ignored, unfortunately, though Haurchefant's chest jumps with a snort as he lamely knocks a hand against the back of Vala's head. It’s a poor defense of Atoirel and Emmanellain, but that Haurchefant even bothers with the act of playing offended after all he's said of his elder brother’s estrangement (and younger brother’s…’himselfness’) speaks volumes of his character.
“But for all I have seen," he continues, "your own scars remain an utter enigma to me. A glove without a mate, if you will, and I have yet to find its likeness anywhere.” Huddled together as they are, Vala cannot see Haurchefant’s face or vice versa. But he must have tensed, shown some little sign of discomfort, because Haurchefant’s lone finger is quickly joined by the rest. They press into his skin and the thin muscle underneath, kneading any knots they find in soothing supplication. “Pray do not mistake my fascination for irreverence! Never in my dreams would I seek to unease a man so deserving of every calm he is supplied! I…simply noted you are unbothered by their presence and find myself pondering their origin when ‘ere I reflect upon our,” he pauses and, when he resumes, drops his tone comically low. Vala doesn’t need to see his face to know he’s waggling his eyebrows, “sword training...”
...It’s a horrible euphemism, but powerfully disarming in its goofiness. Vala chuckles despite himself, faintly, and feels Haurchefant beaming in pride that his salacious joke has landed. ‘Sword training’... He can already imagine Thancred swooping into Camp Dragonhead to assail the garison leader with demand for stories and pints of ale, should he ever hear of it. Were Vala to tell him. Or anyone.
Of course, it’s impolite to speak of such ‘training' in company—good or otherwise—being that it started at midnight and ended at the stroke of...well. Each other. Hardly something that needs to get out so soon after House Fortemps made wards of the Scions. The political implication that a bastard successfully begged his high-borne father to house the friends of his sickly, male, Duskwight lover is…
Vala shifts back just enough to rest his cheek against Haurchefant’s toned chest and peers at him with the most incredulous expression he can manage over his actual amusement, as if to ask ‘you find yourself “pondering” often?’
Haurchefant understands. “A man must be allowed his indulgences in the face of grueling banality! And it just so happens I fancy them—and you—greatly,” he pouts, clearly thinking on unfinished paperwork and all (or who) he’d rather be doing instead. Soon, however, he's back to tracing scars and theorizing to himself. Vala sighs, but otherwise has no deflection that will also prevent him from exposing something better hidden, so he flops where he is, defeated. “...A blade would be hard-pressed to carve such thick lines while also maintaining such charming swirls, and acids are far too imperfect for such precise, mirroring patterns… I would hazard to guess it magic, but for them to span across every ilm in a singular piece? Oh, the tale they must tell…!”
Haurchefant nudges his lover's foot with his own under the covers, canting his head with growing concern. Vala cannot blame him, of course - for all their chatter of ‘glory and adventure,’ it’s possibly the first time the man’s enthusiasm has been set against a wall. “...are you yet afraid to confide in me, my friend?”
But Vala also cannot respond. He averts his eyes, letting the silence be his answer. In this one, singular thing he cannot indulge, and that he is unable to lay all of himself bare for a man he trusts with everything else pains him more than anything.
“Their story is unspeakable, then…" Vala’s thin body is raised and lowered with Haurchefant’s troubled sigh. “Forgive me, mon ciel étoilé. Loathe am I to crease that handsome brow with the weight of thoughts best left forgotten. It is clear I have overstepped your boundaries, and you have my sincerest apologies, Vala. It is not my place to bid a hero share his troubles unwillingly.”
...to speak of boundaries is expected and genuinely appreciated, but it’s the last part that holds Vala’s attention. ‘Not my place to bid a hero share...’? What an oddly impersonal thing to say to a man who’s spent the last several weeks teleporting into his bedchambers for company. With the way their relationship has developed and all that they have shared, focusing on Vala’s unfortunate title as ‘Eorzea’s Most Put-Upon Errand Boy’ sounds...
It is a rare, unhappy sight to see the cracks in Haurchefant’s well-built armor. His smile thins, and in his eyes Vala can see memories of loneliness and a constant struggle for relevance, for a place in a society content to avoid acknowledging him. It’s a life Vala knows all too well himself, and of course the man would assume this too, this childish refusal to communicate, is another small rejection. That he would see Vala’s silent avoidance of his own past as a silent confirmation that what they had wasn’t truly personal, just some fun distraction before the next adventure. His heart sinks and he pulls his hands to the knight’s face, desperate to clear the misunderstanding. He caresses Haurchefant’s cheek with one thumb and traces the point of his ear with the other. The gestures are simple, but speak of comfort, of intent. ‘I love you,’ they say. ‘I am here for you. I will never leave you.'
But silence is what set the doubt in, isn’t it? "...pray never doubt your place beside me, mon rayon de soleil. It is only that… I am simply…" Vala swallows, searching, ever unused to being listened to, "I am simply not ready, to share that story. But I shall be, one day," he smiles, small and warm and apologetic, "for I love you."
Somewhere, Vala is sure, Tataru has sensed that he’s verbally conveyed an emotion and is demanding wine for celebration.
It is clearly enough for Haurchefant too, for he brightens, his fears allayed. His next jostling sigh comes with a grateful, relieved grin and Vala realizes how dull the world grows without Haurchefant's joy to give it color. “And I, you,” he whispers, brushing messy strands of bluish-silver from Vala’s face. “Enough of the past, then. Towards the future shall we ever strive—and what a future awaits, with you at the helm! You, a man who offers hope with his very presence. Who weaves his spells as beautifully as his poetry.” He leaves a kiss then, upon his brow. “My inspiration…” Another, to his cheek. “With you at our side, this war is as good as won. All of Ishgard will sing your name and I shall lead the chorus as the loudest of them all!”
Hydaelyn save me. I do not deserve this man...
Vala melts, drawing circles into Haurchefant's chest with a lazy finger and a bashful smile. “You always have been.” It’s meant in admiration and it’s in admiration that Haurchefant clearly takes it. His eyes shine with that tell-tale warmth that never completely fades, that brightens upon each compliment and word of praise...but the man still feigns offense. He draws a hand to his chest in an exaggerated gasp, scandalized, and Vala laughs when he’s pitched off the knight’s body and onto his back.
“Ohoho! So unappreciative of my enthusiasm! How you wound me!" He has to raise his voice over Vala's laughter, rolling atop him and nudging one knee between Vala's own. "I should be honored, then, to learn from the master of silence! I beg of you, kind tutor: deny your eager pupil yet again the pleasure of hearing his name sung from those luscious lips, that he might glean inspiration from your…" he leans in, voice lowered once again into something more silly than seductive, "pianissimo.”
It earns Haurchefant another laugh and a slap to the chest. “I am already nude in your bed! You needn’t the terrible come-ons.”
“Mmm, passing strange…! You’ve never before claimed anything terrible about my c—”
Vala clasps his palm over Haurchefant’s incorrigible mouth so quickly it is an insult he refuses to actually pick up a sword. “Thaliak preserve me, I shall yet die alone,” he bemoans, dramatically, over the knight’s muffled cackling. “Send my apologies to your father; he is lovely, but I cannot impose on a man whose son gave me no other choice but to cast him out a window."
Warm, callused fingers coax away his cold hand. He obliges despite his playful threats, unable to truly deny Haurchefant anything less than a single, horrible truth, and he finds nothing to regret in the loving smile it reveals. Haurchefant is shining and beautiful and he laces their fingers together, squeezing the summoner's hand within his own.
...It's entrancing, to see the difference in their strength with such a small, delicate gesture. Vala has ever been thin. Gaunt. A man with the story of his discardment etched into the hollows of his cheeks, the sallow of his skin, and every exposed rib. Haurchefant has the hands of a knight without peer, of a man who's pushed himself every moment of his life to be a shield for those in need, to be the protector he himself was never afforded. He could easily snap the brittle bones of Vala's fingers without a second thought, yet he holds them between his own as if admiring spun gold.
It's childish, shameful even for Eorzea's so-called savior, but he finds himself tearing at the sight. At the knowledge he is this lucky, this blessed...
Haurchefant places his lips upon Vala's knuckles and peers up at him through snowy lashes. The blue of his eyes in the moonlight matches the shine of Allag's Crystal Tower and Vala is lost, hypnotized. “You shall never be alone, mon ciel étoilé…”
“I shall never bid you leave, mon rayon de soleil…”
They kiss, limbs like vines entwining around one another. It’s gentle and sweet and Vala’s chest burns with a fire that rages through his soul as their bodies reclaim each other. One day, he swears to himself, he’ll tell Haurchefant about his scars. He’ll tell him the truth, about Albion. About himself, and the lie he’s been living. He’ll tell him when this is over, entrust in him this burden, because he knows Haurchefant would do anything to help him shoulder it. Vala would do anything to help Haurchefant shoulder his own.
Mayhap they were born unwanted. Cursed forever with the scars of excision, two pieces thrown away from greater puzzles. But their edges interlock and together they fit into their own salvaged picture. Together they are loved, accepted, cherished. Acknowledged. Together they are whole, safely anchored in an unyielding current that would have them washed apart and drowned. Vala drags his nails through Haurchefant’s hair, whispers to him praises and vows of devotion, and Haurchefant kisses like he’s been given the world.
“—we retreat, then—…”
This isn’t happening.
This isn’t real.
Only a dream. A miserable dream.
He’ll awaken again to find himself warm and held and protected and loved and this nightmare will fade over morning breakfast and stolen kisses. It’s fading already, blessed as he is, his vision blurring and ears ringing. They’ll go about their day with Nidhogg slain and Ishgard safe—and who within the city walls would deny the savior of their home and the man who brought him there if they desired to hide their blossoming romance no longer? They are owed that much. Deserved that much.
“—enough time to regroup and inform the others. We must…Fury forgive, we must inform Count Edm—…”
They’ll go on leave to someplace warmer—Gridania, perhaps. Haurchefant might enjoy seeing the Golden Saucer if not for the Ul'Dahn heat and Vala is ever cautious entering Thanalan regardless of current events. Limsa smells too of the sea and is home to too many memories. Gridania is mild, but beautiful, though he’ll have to admit to not hailing from there despite appearances. He’ll have to admit to many a thing even if fear floods his very being that the man he’s come to trust, to love, will not understand his story or his—his existence. But he must believe that Haurchefant will accept him knowing who—what—he really is the same way he accepts him now. He must have faith. They have plans. He must…
“Vala...? Vala, I— ...Please, there are no words I could say to ease your heart, I know...”
This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening.
He won’t let this happen.
He’s doubled-over a corpse yet to lose its warmth, one hand clutching the man’s face to his own and the other holding a large, blue crystal in a desperate grip. The two of them shake with Vala’s rattling sobs and even that emotional release does little to abate the cold seeping in. He can’t breathe for the air leaving him in quickened heaves. He can’t breathe at all. His lungs are burning. He’s drowning. Can only weep and press his now-glowing crystal, Hydaelyn’s crystal, her gift, her curse, to Haurchefant’s stilled heart and...
“Twelve forfend, boy! What are you doing?!”
Quiet words spill from his lips, unbidden by promise or reason. They are incoherent to the ears of his Elezen compatriots, the Xaelan clumsy on his own Elezen tongue, and ominous in their intention, but his mother’s prayers has ever had that affect in Ishgard. Let them be frightened. He cannot afford to care what they think, not right now.
Has he not done everything you wanted of him, Hydaelyn? Has he not served loyally? Slaved? Sacrificed?! Has he not given enough of what little of his life there is to give? Has he not done enough to amend the sins of his past self? Can you do nothing for this man?! You saved Albion! You saved what was left—you can yet save Haurchefant, please, save him—
“‘Tis useless with a mere crystal, isn’t it?! He couldn’t possibly summon—”
“The man slays gods and you think him unable to bring about one of his own if he willed it?!” Metal-clad hands grip his arm, jerks with strength beyond that of a mortal, but it isn’t strong enough to make him stand. This weight, this will, is heavier. “Vala! Vala, stop this!”
It is not too late. There must still be enough aether, enough to put back together what death would claim for the Lifestream. This world is dark and cold and your only will is to bring the Light to the realm—do not take the man who brings the Light to your champion…!
“Vala, please, I share your grief, but this is not what he would want! Vala! Vala, listen to me!”
“He will not yield, Ser Aymeric! Estinien, stop him!”
“What is it you think I’m trying to do, woman?! You try budging the skeletal bastard if you think it looks so easy!”
What is it that you want...?! His own aether?! His life?! His memories?!! Take them!! Rip him asunder again and again and again until there is nothing left, death for life, but do not let this man, the only soul who has made him feel whole, who loves him, this man who looks to him and sees hope instead of a weapon, a man instead of a monster, do not allow him to die for someone so unworthy of the sacrifice, Mother Hydaelyn, please don’t take him he is all the light he has—
“Oh, sod this!”
Something dull and hard collides with the back of his head. The world flashes white with pain, the crystal of light clatters to the ground, and Vala falls first into Haurchefant’s bloodied chest, then into darkness.