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Falling Leaves and Early Snow

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Despite the snow falling around him Eleven feels warm in front of the fire of their campsite relieved to know he had found the majority of his companions and after an emotional whirlwind of a week he'd helped Erik recovery his memories. Hendrik wasn't too far keeping watch a ways off from the campsite while Rab was sitting on a nearby barrel enjoying the Oglers Digest that never seemed out of his reach. Jade had already turned in for the night and Sylvando sat across from Eleven cleaning his flute while Erik was lying against some hay sharpening his knives. 

 

He looks over to where Serena and Veronica would usually sit an ache in his chest. I'll find you. I know I will.

 

He breathes out a light sigh and scoots closer to the fire. The last time Eleven had been to Sniflheim it was the unrelenting cold and loneliness that had left an impression on him. Even before Krystalinda's powers were at their full strength Sniflheim city felt eerily abandoned with its residents frozen like statues. He could tell his other companions had been affected by the atmosphere as well, even Sylvando's endearing optimism faltered in the frigid air and complete silence around them. 

 

Thinking back on it now Eleven realizes another reason for the lonely atmosphere was Erik. It hadn't taken long for Erik to grow on El. He knew the thief could've turned away at any moment and left El behind if he had wanted to but he hadn't. And Eleven would never forget his words on the cliff the day they met. They had hardly known each other and yet despite that Erik had said he believed in him, believed in the luminary. All of his companions had shown their loyalty and faith in him despite the rumor that he was the Darkspawn. However Erik had been the first and that had left a strong impression on El. And that had naturally lead to what Sylvando had told was a special bond.

 

Like magnets the two tended to be beside each other no matter what they were doing, whether that was fighting, traveling, eating, or sleeping Erik was a constant presence at his side. The only place he had been absent from his side was the first time he visited Sniflheim and after the fall of Yggdrasil. Reflecting back on it he remembers Erik making excuses not to go into the city even when everyone was frozen statues. He had been more than willing to help them get to Krystalindas monster at least but he'd also been distance, less talkative.

 

It had been during one of the nights they had camped out in the cold snowy wilderness on their way to fight the monster that Eleven had heard sniffling beside him in the tent. Back then he had assumed Erik was simply cold even with El's own chest squeezing painfully that night as if something was wrong. Now Eleven knew Erik had been crying. He can't help feeling guilty now, that he hadn't done anything especially after everything that had happened.

 

He recalls Erik's words from a week ago when his memory had still been blank, "I… I'm sorry… I don't mean to be a burden…"

 

He wonders now if without his memories Erik had been more inclined to let some of his inner thoughts out. Had he thought telling El of his sister would burden them? 

 

He's interrupted from his musing when someone scoots next to him on the log. Erik stretches beside him yawning loudly. Eleven can't help the smile twitching at his lips with Erik acting so carefree now that his sister was safe. Erik places a hand on his shoulder and lightly shakes him a playful grin on his face, "Hey, what are you daydreaming about? You looked so lost in thought I was worried I'd have to ask Sylv to play his flute to wake you up."

 

Sylv gives Erik an amused look aware Erik is just messing with him, "And what would be so awful about that, darling? My flute would be a wonderful sound to wake up to!"

 

He looks to Eleven for reassurance, "Don't you think, sweetie?"

 

Eleven nods quickly and Erik snorts beside him.

 

Sylvando smiles big and wide, "See El thinks it would be and he has excellent taste! Hmm in fact maybe I should wake you up with my flute tomorrow morning Erik!"

 

Erik raises his hands in mild panic, "Uhh no… that's not necessary…"

 

With his mind set Sylvando exclaims, "Oh it's no trouble, honey! Now I've got to find the perfect song for you…"

 

Sylvando pulls out a couple music sheets Eleven wasn't aware he'd brought with him. Erik shakes his head with an amused grin and turns back to Eleven bumping his shoulder with his own.

 

"Really though I'm curious now. What were you thinking about?"

 

Eleven smiles shyly. There's no reason not to be honest he supposes, "I was... thinking about you."

 

Erik's eyes widen and his cheeks turn just a shade darker. "M-me? Why? What about me?"

 

Eleven shrugs hiding his face behind his hair as he speaks, "You're happier now… it's nice. I like it."

 

Erik blinks once, twice, before quickly turning away and rubbing the back of his head bashfully, "Jeez… I mean… I wouldn't be this happy if it wasn't for you…"

 

Eleven feels warmth blossom in his chest at his words and turns instead to look at his feet with a smile on his face.

 

He feels Erik shift closer beside him, "I mean it. Really I… meeting you was probably the best thing that's ever happened to me."

 

A soft aww reaches their ears from across the fire.

 

Both El and Erik jump meeting Sylvando's gaze as he watches them with his head in his hands and a dopey smile. He waves a hand motioning for them to continue, "Oh don't mind me darlings you just keep talking."

 

Erik shuffles beside him glaring at Sylv and growls between his teeth, "Sylvando…"

 

Sylv must catch his drift as he covers his mouth with a gasp and a small "oh" and quickly stands up.

 

"Of course, you need some time alone don't you?"

 

He turns around gracefully, "Rab, darling! I think it's time we hit the hay don't you?"

 

Rab who's drooling over his magazine jumps and fumbles with it shoving it back in his bag, "Oh um ye- yes! Yer right laddie."

 

The smaller man stands up falling behind Sylv as he walks toward the tent. Sylv briefly stops sending them a wink, "Goodnight darlings! Don't stay up too late we've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow."

 

Eleven nods and Erik sends Sylv a grateful look by his side. Rab yawns and follows behind Sylv with a tired, "Goodnight laddies."

 

Once the two are in the tent the night grows silent except for the crackles of the fire. He looks off in the distance at Hendrick who is far enough away from them he doubts he'd hear them talking.

 

Eleven leans forward to catch a glimpse of Erik's face as he stares into the fire. His face appears softer than usual his eyes filled with relief and warmth that sends a shiver down his spine.

 

Erik's voice interrupts the quiet then, "I missed her so much… Mia wasn't kidding when she said all we had was each other. I never realized how lonely life could really be until I was on my own after what I did to her."

 

Eleven wants to tell Erik that what happened wasn't his fault, that he wouldn't be lonely like that ever again (if Eleven can help it) and yet… the words cling to his throat and he finds himself unable to speak. Instead he nudges his shoulder closer to Erik's hoping it's enough.

 

It must've been the right thing to do as Erik looks up at him eyes warm with a small smile. 

 

"I never told Derk you know. When I first met him in Heliodor he was homeless and… to be frank he was an awful thief. Anyone he tried to pickpocket could spot him from a mile away. He was living off of nothing but scraps."

 

"Naturally I couldn't just let him starve so we teamed up together. And it was worth it, he's got a good ear for gossip and always managed to pick up on valuable information. He was even able to get info on the guard's shifts so I could sneak in to get the red orb. We were a good team... but I still never told him about Mia. I wasn't sure what he'd think of me… leaving my sister like that..."

 

Erik looks at him with fondness briefly before chuckling softly to himself. Eleven feels like his chests going to burst and he's not sure if it's due to how sad Erik's words make him or how adorable Erik's laughter is.

 

"Heh sorry. You don't need me going on about my whole life now do you."

 

Erik looks away at the fire again a distant haze in his eyes and Eleven finally manages to find his voice and quickly responds, "I don't mind. I like listening to you."

 

Erik's eyes light up and his cheeks grow a shade darker again. Obviously not used to being told such things he smiles shyly and manages to say, "Wh- while… that… thanks."

 

Eleven smiles softly and nods. He hopes he's at least managed to convey that he truly means it. A comfortable silence fills the air as Eleven looks up at the stars above him.

 

"I really did mean it you know."

 

Eleven looks away to meet Erik's nervous gaze.

 

"I'm so glad I met you. And it's … not just because you saved my sister."

 

El feels him scooting closer and out of his peripheral vision sees Erik's hand inching towards his own.

 

"You… you make me happy Eleven."

 

Eleven is overwhelmed by just how charming Erik is and he feels warmth blossom within his chest like the buds of Yggdrasil. He realizes now that he doesn't think he's ever felt quite so fond of someone before in his life. It's a strange realization and yet he wants more of what Erik's willing to give him, wants him all to himself and needs him to know that. He moves his hand towards Erik's and takes it in his own lacing their fingers together.

 

There's something surreal about the way their hands fit together so well. Unlike when he was young holding Gemma's soft hand as they ran to the river to play, Erik's are blistered and calloused with a few scars. Eleven traces a scar with his thumb and thinks he wants Erik to tell him about it one day and realizes there's so much about Erik he doesn't know yet that he wants to know.

 

A relieved smile spreads across Erik's face and his eyes are so open and glittering with happiness. Erik leans forward bumping his forehead against Eleven's. Naturally El leans into it absorbing his warmth.

 

Erik sighs and says quietly, "This is nice…"

 

Eleven hums slowly shutting his eyes. They sit like that for long enough that El almost drifts off when Erik speaks again in a whisper.

 

"The first time I came back here with you I was surprised by how cold it was. I couldn't stop thinking about freezing out here... on my own trying to keep Mia awake."

 

Erik squeezes his hand, "But now… it's really cozy. Must be a luminary thing, huh? Always being so warm and bright."

 

Eleven's lip tug up and he laughs a little to himself. Somehow he feels better than he has since Yggdrasil fell. Without her in the sky and without his companions it felt as if there was no light left in him like he was a husk of himself. Now with Erik by his side and most of his companions with him he's able to breathe easy again, absorbing the light of hope around him and holding it close.

 

"Thank you Erik."

 

Erik shifts beside him, "For what?"

 

"For staying with me."

 

***********

 

Eleven can't think straight it's as if his mind has been clouded over with fog.

 

Most of his friends had gone their separate ways after the funeral to be alone and mourn Veronica. Eleven was no different initially finding a nearby tree in the forest to sit behind to collect his thoughts and cry freely. Even if Veronica could be sharp sometimes her strong personality had grown on him along their journey and she was always willing to lend him a hand if he needed it. It was his own failure as the Luminary that had led to her sacrifice and now he would never hear her and Erik bicker again, never smile as he watched her and her sister laugh together, never hear her loud and proud voice again. He had been so happy only a day before, he had thought everything would turn out alright. But he had been wrong. 

 

He had failed her, had failed all of them as the Luminary. If there was some way he could go back and make things right he would. By the time he walks back to the inn exhausted from crying it's dark out. The innkeeper explains softly that she's already made arrangements for them guiding him to a room with a sad smile. 

 

Once he's inside he sits on one of the beds and stares at the ground unsure of what to do with himself. Usually he'd make himself useful by forging weapons for his companions but he can't even fathom doing something like that right now. 

 

He's not sure how long he sits there unable to think beyond what could've been if he had just stopped Jasper at Yggdrasil.

 

Eventually Erik's boots enter his vision and he realizes he hadn't even heard him approach.

 

A tentative hand lands on his shoulder and then Erik says quietly, "Hey…"

 

Eleven forces himself to look up. His chest aches when he meets his gaze and he sees how exhausted Erik looks with red and puffy eyes.

 

He gets to his feet and pulls Erik into a hug burying his face in his hair fresh tears falling from his own eyes. Erik stiffens at the sudden contact but eventually his own arms wrap around Eleven's back and he presses his face against El's collarbone tears falling from his eyes as well.

 

El loses track of time again and the next thing he knows he's opening his eyes to a dimly lit room realizing he must have cried himself to sleep. Something hits his leg and he groggily looks down at the head of blue hair under his chin that can only belong to Erik. It dawns on him his friend must have fallen asleep beside him. He relaxes with a sigh and repositions his right arm over Erik willing himself to fall back asleep. However before he manages to drift off he hears shuffling from the other side of the room and tenses. He opens his eyes abruptly and sees Sylv's silhouette against the light of a candle on a nearby table easing his tension.

 

Sylvando turns around after getting his own bed ready and approaches them. El quickly shuts his eyes pretending to be asleep. 

 

He hears Sylvando sigh and whisper "Oh darlings…" the sadness in his voice making Eleven's throat choke up. 

 

Eleven feels something soft drape over them and Sylv shuffles back toward the other side of the room to his bed. Now under a warm blanket he pulls Erik closer to him and drifts back into the abyss of sleep where he can momentarily forget the darkness plaguing his heart.

 

Later that night he'll wake up to the sound of a harp and his concern for Serena will force him to fully awake but for now he sleeps and dreams that everything had ended up alright. That he hadn't failed.

 

*******

 

Mordragon hits the ground with a loud thud and fades away leaving nothing but black particles in the wind. Eleven releases a breath unaware he'd been holding it. We did it. We won.

 

On his left he hears Serena sigh and mutter to herself, "We did it Veronica…"

 

He turns to Erik on his right who looks exhausted but nonetheless sends El a grin when their eyes meet.

 

Behind Erik, Rab helps Jade up and Sylv smiles big and wide at Hendrick. Relief overcomes him like a wave.

Chapter Text

Sylvando grabs an Arborian man by the waist and spins him around as the drummer from his Soldiers of Smile laughs beside him. There's no denying the people of Arboria are alarmed by their high spirited guests but slowly they ease into it letting themselves enjoy the merriment alongside Sylv and his spirited friends.

 

Jade and Rab look on from afar discussing the future of Erdrea while Hendrick makes small talk with some of the locals. Serena stands by her parents clapping along as she watches Sylv dance joyfully.

 

Eleven sits on the stairs of the nearest building watching Sylv and his merry making from afar. There's a part of him that can't help but be afraid this isn't real like it's a dream somehow. He still had so many questions about the Seer, Erdwin's Lantern and Calasmos. He had the feeling this couldn't possibly be the end of it when so many questions remained unanswered.

 

"Hey there partner!"

 

Erik interrupts his thoughts bringing him back to reality as he often tends to. The thief sits  beside him and offers one of the two glasses he's holding towards him. 

 

"Here, it's apple cider. You said your Mom used to make it in the winter, right?"

 

Eleven nods taking the drink from him gratefully, flattered he'd remember such a small comment he'd made once when Jade had been discussing the drinks in Octagonia. He takes a quick sip from the cup just to try it. It tastes good enough… but it's not quite like his Mothers. He wonders what Erik would think of her cider? He had noticed Erik did seem fond of warm drinks on their journey.

 

He pulls the cup away from his lips and asks, "How's your sister?"

 

"She's still fainting on and off but don't worry about it. She's like yours truly. Nothing will keep her down too long."

 

Eleven takes his word for it and with a small smile takes another sip from his drink. Erik stretches his legs out and throws an arm over El's shoulder, pulling him close. Eleven melts into the touch watching as Sylv grabs Serena's hand leading her out to dance with him.

 

Positioning himself so he can lean in closer to Erik he says, "I wanted to ask you something Erik."

 

Erik pulls his own apple cider away from his lips and says, "Huh? Sure go ahead."

 

Eleven swirls the liquid around in his drink going over the best way to put his question in his head, "Could you and your sister… maybe… come stay with me and my Mum once she's better?"

 

Beside him Erik stiffens and turns to look at him. "I… look El. I know you saw my past when you touched that plant but you don't have to do that for us if you don't want to."

 

Eleven's eyebrows draw together thinking over Erik's response. Did he think he was just asking out of pity? He wanted to make sure Erik didn't go back to being a viking slave of course but there was more to it than that.

 

Eleven shakes his head, "No. I want to help you but… I'm also asking because it's what I want. I want you to come home with me. And I'd like if we stick together for a long time… if um.. that's alright with you?"

 

Erik looks completely befuddled face shying away embarrassed, "O-oh. W-well I mean… i-if that's what you want."

 

He looks away hiding his face from El's sight muttering, "I can't really say no to you anyway."

 

Eleven grins playfully and leans forward to try and get a better look at Erik's face, causing Erik to scoot further away from him. Eleven giggles. Erik usually tries to act so cool and composed Eleven can't help but thinks it's cute whenever he gets bashful like this.

 

Sylv let's out an excited hollar diverting Eleven's attention. Rab is dancing by Sylv and Serena now attempting to keep up with his friends energetic dancing. Watching his Grandfather's odd shimmy he gets an idea.

 

He hops to his feet and extends a hand to Erik who tilts his head, puzzled by the action.

 

Eleven smiles fondly and bows remembering the day his Mother taught him proper dance etiquette, "May I have this dance, Erik?"

 

Erik's face flushes again and his eyes dart around nervously, "A-are you sure you want to dance with me?"

 

El laughs, "Of course! There's no one else I'd rather dance with!"

 

Erik tentatively places his hand in Eleven's and he pulls him to his feet. When Sylv sees them approaching he lets out an excited squeal.

 

With the world and his friends safe El reinvigorates his spirit as he dances beside the people he'd grown to care about more than he realized. 

 

******

 

Eleven sits beneath a massive oak not far from their campsite. It's almost dark out but he can still make out plant buds rising from the dirt beside him, a sign of spring and renewal. It was Rabs idea that Eleven wait at least until tomorrow to make his decision on whether he should shatter the time sphere and change the events of the past. While his companions had settled down at the nearest campsite he'd gone off on his own to think things through.

 

He's not sure why he chose this spot in particular to think through his decision, he thinks it's possible that subconsciously the tree reminds him of the life present here in this time, blossoming and recovering. The others had been against the idea right away when the time keeper had mentioned he would have to go back alone and it was possible he could end up lost in a corner of time, gone forever. Thinking of Veronica's funeral and the many people of Erdrea who had lost their lives he's almost certain of his decision despite the risks. The only thing really holding him back was the unpredictable nature of time itself. There was no way of knowing what would happen if he failed again or if something worse might happen if events were changed. 

 

Above him a single leaf falls from the tree, floats graciously down and onto his lap. He picks it up and twirls it between his fingers, noting the way it droops in his hold. He decides he'll take it as a sign from Yggdrasil herself on what he should do and promises all those who were lost that he won't fail them again.

 

Getting to his feet he begins his trek back towards their campsite mindful of the night enveloping the sky above him. He passes a small clearing by the cliff to his right when a familiar shade of blue catches his eye. Stepping back to get a better look he spots Erik sitting on a rock close to the edge.

 

Erik's hair appears to shine under the moonlight reminding El of the icicles in Sniflheim glowing with the light from the church's glass windows. Entranced, he steps forward and realizes Erik is looking past Yggdrasil at the sky and fondly remembers Erik discussing his fascination with stars once or twice on their journey.

 

He takes another slow step closer when Erik speaks up without looking away from the view, "You shouldn't just do everything for others you know. You have to do what's best for you sometimes."

 

Eleven doesn't respond, walking up directly behind him and ignoring the chill that runs down his spine from a small breeze.

 

Erik sighs and gets to his feet, turning around to meet El's gaze. Eleven's breath leaves him at the sight of his form in the moonlight. With the blue of his eyes and his hair he doesn't think even the moon can compare to how beautiful he looks against the night sky. Captivated, it takes him a second to notice Erik's eyes are shinier than usual, like he was about ready to cry.

 

Erik frowns, "You've already done so much for us. You heard what that… weird thing in there said. If you go back there's a chance we might lose you and… and if you do make it you'll be the only one that remembers any of this."

 

He clenches his fist at his sides and glares at the ground, "It's too risky and unfair! After everything you've done you shouldn't have to sacrifice yourself!"

 

El's chest tightens and his eyes soften. He steps forward and lays a hand on Erik's shoulder, squeezing lightly like the thief had done to comfort him so many times before. 

 

Erik looks up at his gesture, eyes shiny and hopeless enough to make El think his own heart might shatter at the sight.

 

"I'm worried for your sake El. You can't … carry all of this, everything you know that you've left behind all on your own...and if something goes wrong … if I lose you..."

 

Eleven's heart swells and he reaches a hand up to caress Erik's cheek smiling fondly at him. "But I'm not alone. You- all of you will be with me even if you don't remember. And... I have to try Erik. I have to make things right if I can."

 

Erik sends him a pleading look searching for any sign he might change his mind. Eleven's resolve doesn't falter even if his chest aches painfully at the desperation in Erik's expression.

 

Erik knows him better than anyone else so he must realize there's nothing he can do to change Els mind once he's decided something. The thief gives in looking down and away from El, voice small and tired, "… it's still your decision. Not anyone else's. No one would be upset or blame you if you chose not to."

 

Eleven appreciates the reassurance and rubs Erik's cheek with his thumb affectionately as the other boy appears to be trying his best not to shed any tears in front of him. He wonders if maybe.. it be okay if he kissed him? If something goes wrong tomorrow and he does end up lost forever, never able to see Erik or any of his friends again...

 

Letting his heart guide him he leans forward and presses his lips to Erik's. It's a bit clumsy and their noses bump together but at the contact of their lips a thrilling shiver runs down his spine. Erik goes stiff like a statue at the contact but slowly like melting ice eases into it and re-cooperates with enthusiasm making goosebumps rise on El's arms. Eleven moves a hand down to the other boys waist and pulls him closer. Erik hums as he does leaning into the touch and wrapping his own arms around El's back. El pulls away momentarily to readjust the angle and then leans in again without hesitation, pressing his mouth to the other boys and moving the hand pressed against Eriks cheek through his hair instead. Unlike icicles his hair is soft and smooth against his fingertips. Erik kisses him back eagerly and Eleven does his best to commit the feeling of his lips against his and the warmth blossoming in his chest to memory. 

 

No matter what happens tomorrow he knows this moment will stay with him like an imprint on his heart.



******

 

His companions final goodbyes stay with him even as he walks down the path of the First Forest determined to stop the fall of Yggdrasil this time and make things right. Behind him he hears Veronica discussing heatedly with Serena about healing plants, her voice loud and chipper. He can't help but look back at her every few minutes or so to make sure she's really there. It's relieving for him to actually see her, especially with Serena by her side smiling joyfully the way she used to. He's relieved and happy they're all safe and together again, but an ache still remains in his chest like a remnant of the other timeline and anxiety settles in his stomach due to the uncertainty of what will happen in the future.

 

Like he's done so many times already he turns back to check that everyone is really here, that this isn't a dream. Jade and Sylv are too caught up in conversation to notice him watching them but Rab spares him a glance and a reassuring smile.

 

Eleven offers him a small smile in return and turns to his right to double check Eik is still walking beside him. Erik is curiously looking around at the foliage around him the light filtering in from the trees above hitting his face just right and reminding El of blue eyes that shine like jewels against the night sky and hair like icicles under the moonlight. His stomach flips and his mouth goes dry.

 

He stares long enough for Erik to notice turning to him with concern.

 

 "Hey, you okay?"

 

Eleven only realizes now his eyes are watering and the ache in his chest is worse than before. He swallows down the lump that has managed to form in his throat and looks away with a small nod.

 

Erik leans forward to try and look at his face, "You sure? You looked kind of sad."

 

El finds his voice and whispers a small, "I'm fine." 

 

He tries not to look at Erik too long the rest of the trek up to Yggdrasil even as they sit beside each other later that night by the fire of their campsite. Once everyone's asleep he lies awake with Erik sleeping on his left and Sylv on his right, thoughts jumbled in his head and anxiety coursing through his veins in anticipation for the next day. 

 

Distantly he hears the same conversation from before between Veronica and Serena play out the same. With Veronica's mumbled words of "I hope so," he tightens his fist and swears to himself no matter what he will not fail this time, he'll save her and protect all of them even if it kills him. 

 

Alone with his thoughts he thinks back over everything that had happened in the previous time, going over his plan of action for tomorrow, the ache in his chest returning. Letting out a sigh he rolls over and faces Erik. Something about his presence alone grounds him and El relaxes into the pillow under his head eyes beginning to droop. Watching Erik sleep with his guard completely down makes him appear so fragile and soft. El suddenly has the urge to run his hands through his hair and hold him close like before. His hand twitches by his side longing to reach out.

 

Rab lets out a loud snore reminding El where he is and he stops himself. Erik's expression changes to distress and he fidgets once, then twice and a small murmur escapes his lips, "Mia…"

 

El's heart squeezes sympathetically. Once tomorrow's over and Veronica's safe, he promises himself he'll patch up all the loose ends he had no choice but to unravel when he went back in time. He'll save Erik's sister, help Sylv meet with his Papi again and make sure Jade can reunite with her Father. And he'll finally acknowledge the affection he has for Erik that he never quite got to fully address before.

 

******

 

Despite the festivities and his Mother sitting safely by his side at the dining table Eleven can't shake the tension he's feeling. Mordegon still resides within King Carnelian and he has no way of knowing exactly when the man will strike. For now he can only assume Mordegon is biding his time and waiting to catch him alone. 

 

What if he's waiting for the chance to strike someone else down?

 

The very thought of Mordegon hurting one of his friends makes his heart race. He's wary of leaving his Mother's side for that very reason though but he's also concerned about his companions and Gemma.

 

He at least knows where Erik is. He turns to lookout into the hall where the thief is talking to Derk. Derk says something excitedly and Erik laughs brightly, eyes sparkling with mirth. El feels a weird sense of jealousy and longing twist around in his chest not realizing his fists naturally tighten around the eating utensils in his hand.

 

"You alright, love?"

 

Eleven looks away bobbing his head slightly as a response to his Mother. She watches him carefully and El gets the urge to hide under her scrutinizing gaze. He meagerly picks at the food on his plate with his fork instead to distract himself. 

 

"Well this won't do." She says beside him.

 

"I don't know what's got you so tense but it would do you some good to go see your friends I think."

 

He shrugs.

 

She sighs fondly, "Now, love, you should know there's no use in worrying at times like this. I swear nothing bad's going to happen to me if you leave for awhile. And your companions are more than capable of protecting themselves as well."

 

He stops playing with his food and looks up s hocked by her intuition. Amber merely laughs at his reaction, "Now why don't you run along and enjoy yourself. This is a party in your honor after all. Oh! Why don't you go find Gemma. She told me she's been meaning to talk to you."

 

He thinks her words over and gives in; she won't let him stay here after she's made her decision anyway. He places his utensils down sending her a nervous smile and heads out of the room into the hall.

 

Once he enters the hall Erik notices him and sends him a smirk making El's heart rate pick up. Like lightning drawn to the ground he finds himself moving towards Erik on instinct.

 

Derk notices him now with a goofy grin, "There's the big 'ero! Erik was just telling me about some of your adventures! Sounds like you've had a grand time together 'aven't ya?

 

Eleven nods wondering if he can get Derk to elaborate on that further. He's curious how Erik described their adventure, how he described anything involving him really.

 

Erik crosses his arms, "It wasn't all fun and games Derk. There were times when we almost died you know."

 

He looks back at Eleven meeting his gaze with warm eyes, "Still even if it was rough sometimes, I wouldn't trade any of it… not for the world."

 

Warmth spreads inside his chest and El smiles back at Erik unable to tear his gaze away. He hears Derk say something like, "Always a big softie ain't you Erik?" But Erik doesn't look away either meeting El's own eyes with obvious content. 

 

He briefly forgets Mordegon still lurking somewhere in the castle and instead loses himself in the moment, memories of moonlight flashing through his mind. This may be his chance to piece back together one of the fragments he lost when he reset time. He breaks eye contact and fidgets nervously, shifting closer to his companion ignoring Derk looking between the two curiously. "Erik… can we talk-"

 

He intends to ask if they can talk alone so Eleven can work out what he's feeling now that they have a small window of time. But before he can finish his sentence a familiar voice interrupts him.

 

"Eleven!"

 

Gemma runs over to him a large smile on her face as she grabs his arm.

 

"There you are! There's dancing in the entrance hill! Come along we can dance together just like we used to!"

 

Eleven freezes and words escape him as she starts dragging him off.

 

He briefly looks back as Derk yells, "Have fun, 'ero!" Erik at his side doesn't say anything but there's a visible frown on his face as he watches El get dragged off.

 

Gemma and him dance for maybe twenty minutes in total. Sylvando is as usual the life of the party enticing everyone around him to join in. Eleven, however, isn't as affected by Sylv's enthusiasm as he usually is. As he spins Gemma around in the typical Cobblestone dance routine he thinks of a different time and a dance with a different person. Sylvando seems to notice his poor mood and swoops in to take Gemma away pulling her into a fancy dance that leaves her laughing joyfully.

 

With Gemma preoccupied El makes his way to the side of the room where he tries to collect his thoughts. He feels a headache coming on as memories blur together in his mind and he eventually ends up sitting pathetically against the wall rubbing at his temples.

 

He's not sure how much time has passed when Gemma approaches him still out of breath from dancing.

 

"El?... Is something wrong?"

 

He shakes his head, "No… sorry Gemma. I just have a headache."

 

She gasps, "Oh! I didn't even notice! I'm so sorry all that dancing probably made it worse."

 

She moves to sit down beside him and he simply responds with a shrug, "It's okay."

 

As she makes herself comfortable El watches Sylv dance around. It was funny, even after Yggdrasil fell Sylv danced the same as he was now so full of joy and hope.

 

Gemma at his side blushes and looks at her lap, "We'll have more chances to dance in the future I'm sure of it. One day… maybe we'll even share a special dance together…and we'll be able to be together forever..."

 

He tenses heart plummeting in his chest. If he was honest with himself a year and a half ago he would've happily gone along with her fantasy. It was what the entire village thought would happen after all, that they'd wed and live the rest of their lives together and who was he to say no. But now that he knew so much more about the world and seen so many places, met so many people...

 

"El? There's um something I need to tell you."

 

She looks over at him hopefully. Eleven knows what she's going to say and bites his lip racking his brain for answers on what to do, what to say.

 

"El… I-"

 

He interrupts her quickly, "I need time." 

 

"W-what?"

 

He doesn't dare look at her staring at his feet instead, guilt settling in his stomach.

 

He clarifies quietly, "I need time… to figure things out."

 

She stays quiet and El counts the seconds in anticipation. He wonders if she'll hate him now, if he's manager to ruin their entire lifelong friendship. When she speaks again her voice wobbles. 

 

"H-he's watching you, you know."

 

El finally looks at her face unsure what she's talking about. Her eyes look wet and she's glaring at something which is enough to make him want to hide away for the rest of the night at her shift in mood.

 

He follows her line of sight and is surprised to see Erik at the top of the large staircase by Serena and Veronica. It looks like Veronica's yelling at Erik about something but he's too preoccupied looking over at where Gemma and him are sitting. His eyes meet Erik's briefly and the thief quickly turns away.

 

Gemma stands up beside him, "M-my Grandad's probably looking for me."

 

He gets up after her, reaching a hand out as she marches off, "Gemma…"

 

She ignores him and keeps moving eventually disappearing behind the crowd of dancing knights and nobles.