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li.

David Nassau has always known loss.

It is an old, despised friend; one that rides upon his shoulder at times, one that has lingered at the back of his mind like a sore. It came when his mother died. It came when his father died.

It comes, certainly, when Emma dies.

David thinks he’s run out of tears to cry.

lii.

Emmy assures him that all Honeywells are honoured to go out fighting, and she tells him that Emma loved him like a son until her dying breath.

She doesn’t show him the letters, but he trusts her words.

liii.

Whenever despair faces him, he finds he’s able to keep on going. There’s nothing stopping him save his own thoughts, and even then he cannot truly be haunted least they are wholly dark.

When that familiar shadow is cast over his mind once more, Blocter hugs him and never lets go; Emmy sits next to him, and holds his hand like a sister in grieving would; Pagus finds the necessary balms to help him sleep at night, and Torgal is the ever vigilant sentinel at his door.

His Generals have always been there. They’re a constant he can rely on and he's grateful.

But then there’s Rush, trying to make him laugh, trying to keep him company, trying to lift his spirits. Rush hadn’t been around before, he hadn’t seen David at his lowest, but he still just tries to be there for him.

And David finds that he doesn’t mind Rush becoming a constant in his life as well.

liv.

He notices he looks at Rush far longer than what’s necessary, and admires him whenever he isn’t looking.

David knows what he feels and he doesn’t doubt the attraction. Emmy notices too, but doesn’t say anything. She understands his reasoning, however silent.

Perhaps after the Conqueror is taken care of, David can pursue his feelings at his own leisure. For now, he’ll cherish Rush at a distance, and tells himself to keep the Sykes safe.

He needs Rush in his life. He can’t imagine one without him anymore.

lv.

Rush smiles in his dreams sometimes.

It always lifts the dread that grips his mind, but then Rush’s smile turns sad and he disappears.

David wakes up crying, and he can’t recall anything but that smile.

lvi.

“Soooo I was thinking of staying ‘round here after we defeat the Conqueror.”

David looks at Rush in surprise upon hearing such words. It’s unexpected, but he welcomes the prospects the conversation offers all the same.

“You don’t want to go back to Eulam with your family?”

“Nah.” Rush waves a hand airily, leaning against the nearby pillar. “Well, I dunno whether it’s obvious or not, but we really like it here. Though… if they decide to head back to Eulam, I think I’ll stay. Besides,” Rush grins then, and David feels his heart flutter. “I need to move out some time, and it’s not like we won’t see each other ever again.”

David can’t bear to hope. “You wouldn’t mind living here?” His voice is quiet and his expression must be solemn and serious, for Rush’s grin fades.

“Of course not.” The Sykes says, and he says his next words without missing a beating. “I don’t think I’d be able to live in a place that doesn’t have you in it, anyhow.”

There it is. The opener. David sees it, clear as day, and he thinks he sees the hope in Rush’s eyes, the need for this conversation to become something more but the Marquis remembers the Conqueror, remembers Emma and he knows he needs to settle this unfinished business first before delving into anything with the other.

“Thank you, Rush.” David says instead, smiling warmly. It’s a little painful, but bearable.

Rush doesn’t smile back, and excuses himself quickly. David sees the hurt expression upon those features, and his chest twists in guilt.

“Wait—“ He starts, reaching out, but Rush is already gone.

lvii.

When David wakes one morning, he feels strange. It doesn’t take him very long to figure out the cause.

Most times when he rouses, there’s an ache throbbing in the entirety of his very being, yet the majority of it is centred at his right eye. It has always been there, the weariness and soreness, but strangely enough it has dissipated.

He wonders at that for a moment, not being bound at all to a Remnant, but then panic begins to slowly ease into his frame for why can he not feel the Gae Bolg’s grip? Kellendros’ keens?  He sits up, mind immediately searching for possible causes—

The familiar patch materializes around his head once more, covering the sight of his right eye. That old ache returns, stronger than ever, and David feels both relieved and subdued.

He lies back on his bed, and daydreams of a world without Remnants.

lviii.

When he finally manages to get Rush alone again, he feels nervous.

He needs to rectify what he’s done, the silent rejection. It hasn’t been spoken aloud, and Rush seems to be back to his old self. Seems to.

Rush’s inquiring smile fades when David stares at him a beat too long, and then the Sykes is tilting his head slightly in that adorable way, like a puppy.

“Dave?” He asks softly when the Marquis still hasn’t spoken. David doesn’t think he can manage any words at the moment however, but he can at least act.

He reaches forward and clasps Rush’s hands in his own, intertwining their fingers gently and squeezing. Rush falls silent, but neither does he withdraw.

David’s eyes linger on their physical connection, and he opens his mouth to say something, to explain himself, but nothing comes out. He looks up instead and is relieved to see Rush smiling. David returns it easily, giddiness bubbling at his core, and they just stand there in silence, holding hands.

It’s simple and sweet. David’s never felt happier.

“After the Conqueror.” He says gently, and Rush’s expression falls briefly in understanding before the grin pops back up.

“Sure thing, Dave!”

lix.

Once upon a time, he hated Remnants.

When he finally realizes the truth, he’s staring at Rush’s back as they traverse the beginnings of the Sacred Lands. Irina’s talking with Rush, and the Generals are far too preoccupied looking out for monsters that no one takes note of David’s steps suddenly faltering.

He remembers Wagram’s words, and wonders whether Rush is the enemy. However, he quickly recalls the Sykes’ determination, his stubbornness, his love for his family and friends. He can’t doubt him. He doesn’t think he’s fully able to.

lx.

They face the Conqueror, and he confirms the things that David needs confirmed. They battle the Conqueror, and they defeat him.

David thinks it’ll be fine now. Emma has been avenged; the world is safe from the release of Remnants, so now he can finally pursue his desires. He can finally—

The machine activates again, and even Irina’s powers cannot hold the Conqueror at bay.

lxi.

David chooses the world over Rush, and it’s the hardest decision he’s ever had to make. He knows Rush wouldn’t forgive him if he tried to stop him; Rush chooses family over everything, after all.

David wishes Rush wasn’t so selfless, but then he wouldn’t be the person he fell in love with.

lxii.

Rush speaks to him, and David tries to answer with a strong voice. Rush trusts him, and David assures him that he— that everything will be alright.

Rush finally smiles, and disappears.

lxiii.

David Nassau knows loss. He knows it.

Why.

Why.

lxiv.

He knows why. Rush loves them all too much to give them up. But then, David loves him too much back to let him go.

He wonders whether he’s lying to himself as he goes over in his head how he did nothing.

lxv.

David feels like he runs on auto-pilot the following days.

He still thinks and acts like the Duke he has become. He still remembers how to debate, how to garner favour, how to lay out rules and how to govern. He knows especially how to try and bring the world out of the despair it has fallen into due to the lack of Remnants.

He doesn’t know how to save himself, however.

But then, he doesn’t think he deserves it.

lxvi.

He feels no ties to either the Gae Bolg or Kellendros. Neither of them is present in or around him anymore.

He didn’t expect to feel this emptiness so soon. He wonders whether the feelings he felt before the final battle were premonitions. He should’ve heeded them.

Then again, he should’ve done a lot of things.

lxvii.

Some places like Balterossa and Royotia relied heavily on their Remnants. Their problems won’t be easily solved, but David will try to do it. For Rush.

Irina’s helping too, as much as she can. Marina and John pitch in as well. The Academy dedicates itself to rebuilding the world with the Sykes at the head of it, and David supports them in any way he can. It’s the least he can do for failing them. He never brought their son and brother home, and though it’s a failure that they don’t consider, it’s a failure he decides to carry upon his shoulders.

He’d promised a lot of things, after all. He tries to keep his last one.

lxviii.

The official story is that they fought the Conqueror. The man was painted as insane, trying to release all the Remnants out of the belief that they were all suffering under the rule of mankind. The reason is true, but the sanity of his intentions is not.

The other lords know the veiled truth: how the Conqueror was a Remnant and how Rush was a Remnant too, and how he’d sacrificed himself to rid the world of them all.

The lords of Melphina, Balterossa, and Royotia are understandably displeased—even angry but he knows their respect for Rush is what keeps their true fury at bay—, but David assures them that there is still time to figure this out, that their cities are not doomed to the natural disasters that threaten them (or monsters, in Melphina’s case). After all, when the Valeria Heart had been taken from Athlum, there’d been no earthquakes tearing it down immediately. Indeed, their settlements show no sign of collapsing due to the lack of Remnant support—perhaps since the land has been held that way for so long, it was shaped permanently in the end.

He thinks he hasn’t said enough to convince them for a moment afterwards, because they seemed about ready to spew forth a volley of curses. But then the three Lords exchange glances with each other, and David has the feeling they have been sharing thoughts neither David nor the other Lords are privy to.

“Please.” He says quietly, and it is the first time his voice is so small in this conversation.

Bertrude di Balterossa looks at him then, and there’s something both sad and unreadable in her gaze.

“We’ll trust you.” She says, exhaling softly, and David wonders at the whimsical note in her voice. “In memory of Sir Rush Sykes.”

lxix.

David makes certain to take care of the Ladies of Bloody Alice.

They’d been fused with Remnants because of the Third Committee, something that David had been horrified to find out about. Rush had quietly shown him the gruesome visistone, and though no words had been said, David had seen the silent request in his eyes.

He hadn’t had any real power then to do anything concerning them, but now…       

He finds a big enough place in Elysion for them all to live, and sends Pagus to take care of them along with a handful of healers. Some of the Ladies had not lived with a Remnant in them for too long, so the adjustment was not too arduous. Others, like Nora, had been living with one for many years and have to take time to recuperate.

Nora laughs at him once in a near-delirious state when he tells her the reason for doing this at all.

“You’re so whipped.” She sniggers, but then very quickly it fades into sobriety. “I miss the brat.”

David silently agrees.

lxx.

After a month, they hold the funeral.

They have it in Eulam, and it's a silent, solemn affair. They almost don't have enough seats for the many people that wish to pay tribute, but they manage to fit all the same.

Everyone loved Rush, David realizes. He wonders if Rush himself saw it.

But then, there was not as much gratitude shown to him alive as much as he's being shown it now dead.

David tries to think of times when he'd thanked Rush. He tries to recall a moment where he's pulled him aside, and told him how much he means to the whole of this land, to Athlum, and to David himself.

Only once. Just once.

Once, before the final battle. Once,  before Rush died. Once, and David didn't have the decency to relay proper, heartfelt words on how much he appreciated Rush. It’d been only a quick thing, something that came to mind on spur of the moment. There was nothing special about it, and David feels as if he could’ve done more.

It’s alright.

He can almost hear Rush’s words, his reassurance that the Duke shouldn’t have to worry. Rush would say it with a grin on his face, but even as he’s imagining it, David still cannot accept it. He knows Rush won’t blame him, that he wouldn’t even see anything to forgive, because Rush is just like that, bearing a heart of gold.

Rush deserved more. Rush deserved to live.

lxxi.

Ever since Emma died, David had taken up her silent vigilance. Every night, whenever possible, he’d go around the rooms—or even the tents when they’re travelling—and make sure everyone is safe and resting. Torgal sometimes joins him, and David wonders what had went on between them when Emma was still around but he doesn’t have it in him to invade their privacy.

Still, this is his way of paying tribute to her. She’d made sure everyone was safe, and he decided to do it in her stead to assure both her memory and himself.

When David finally has time to make his nightly round back in Athlum two months after the final battle, he accidentally visits Rush’s room.

Rush isn’t here.

He’s half asleep when this happens, and for a moment he stares blankly at the empty room, as messy as it was the day they’d left that fateful morning. He starts to wake up fully as he processes this, and he opens his mouth to call out for the Sykes when reality hits him.

Rush isn’t coming back.

Torgal finds him shortly afterwards, silently crying, leaning heavily against the doorway and just staring at the unmade bed.

lxxii.

He remembers Rush, and how he looked at David. He remembers how he looked at Rush back, and how comfortable they felt in each other’s presence. He remembers how he loved Rush.

He doesn’t remember saving him.

“It’s not your fault.” Irina tells him hollowly when he expresses this to her. “He wouldn’t have wanted you to think that. He was such… an idiot. A stupid, selfless idiot.” She chokes out both a sob and a laugh, and David has no qualms in hugging her. She hugs him back, and she’s sobbing, her frame shaking with each tremor assaulting it.

David thought he’d run out of tears, but they flow easily once more.

lxxiii.

“Dave.”

Rush is smiling at him again, and David strains to hear his next words.

He wakes up before he can.

lxxiv.

There are fewer riots about the Remnants’ disappearance than David’s more cynical thoughts expected.

Sure, there are people that actively voice their displeasure on losing the usefulness that the Remnants provided, but that only proves the Conqueror’s points about how they’ve come to see them as beneficial tools.

David remembers Irina’s speech about it, a week after her fifteenth birthday, and how she’d expressed so charismatically and empathetically that they have to learn how to live without Remnants. She points out the dangers that the Remnants had posed, both to their souls and to their very way of living due to the heavy reliance. She points out how easily they’d fallen the moment Remnants disappeared, but then brings them new hope that the Academy, that she herself is determined to find a way to restore balance.

In a way, he resents her words. Rush was trustworthy. Rush wasn’t a danger. Rush wasn’t like the other Remnants. Then he considers the next half of her speech, and can only agree. With Rush, he’d risen. Without Rush, he’d fallen.

But then it’s David’s turn to speak, and he does so with strength in his voice. He recalls Rush’s bravery, Irina’s determination. He recalls his General’s strength, the support they’ve given him throughout his life. He relays his hopes, his dreams for the future, and the people rise positively with them, emboldened with the notions presented.

“You’ve changed the world.” The Duke of Qubine says to him afterwards in a private Congress meeting, but David shakes his head. There is a pang in his chest at the words, and he feels as if people are already starting to forget.

He won’t let them.

He says his next words with certainty, and makes sure the younger Lord—and the Congress behind him—hears them.

“No.” David begins, and smiles sadly. “Rush did.”

lxxv.

Caedmon visits him one day, and he seems perturbed.

David immediately has an idea of what this encounter may be about when the sovani stiffens at his approach.

“You didn’t stop him.” Caedmon’s voice is soft, but it is still accusatory all the same. He is often fierce on the battlefield, and smart outside of it. David only ever sees him loosen up with Rush around.

“I didn’t.” David says just as quietly. He’s guilty of this, he knows it so well. He wonders how many others blame him, and starts to become convinced again that the Sykes family is merely hiding their resentment for him. How can they not hate him for his inaction, after all? Especially since he has promised Rush’s safety to them?

“The Silver Falcons will aid you as much as we can.” Caedmon says after a short moment of appraisal, and he folds both sets of arms. “I have decided that this arrangement will remain for a few months longer for Rush’s sake. Afterwards, my forces are needed elsewhere.”

“Of course.” David bows his head. “Thank you.” His army is currently stretched thin, even with the aid of Lord Qubine’s men. The reinforcement that the Silver Falcons offer is a blessing, especially with the riots that have sprung up. Luckily, the only threat seems to come from the protestors—especially the powerful ones—and not the monsters. Their overall activity has dropped now that the Remnants are not around to agitate nor spawn them.

He thinks Caedmon is done then, for he turns to leave. However, his next words are both honest and harsh.

“I trusted you with him.”

David swallows hard, and finds he cannot answer.

The sovani makes a derisive noise, and leaves.

lxxvi.

Caedmon spoke of Rush like he’d been a part of his family, or, perhaps, someone the sovani cherished greatly.

David starts to get it when he hears that Caedmon often visits Eulam, only to stand hours on end before Rush’s memorial. He remembers Rush once telling him in a hushed voice how there used to be a mitra commander of the Silver Falcons so many years ago, and how much Caedmon had admired him.

David wonders often how sovanis deal with loss. Considering their lengthy lifespan, they must have become attached to many with shorter lives, if they chose to wander from their secluded customs.

But then he remembers how Caedmon lingers at the door to Rush’s room, how Torgal himself visits Emma’s grave at least twice a week, and realizes they probably don’t.

lxxvii.

“Dave, I—“

Rush is talking to him again, but David can’t seem to lift his head when he speaks. He isn’t able to even look at Rush, and the thought itself is distressing.

David thinks he feels Rush’s smile, the warmth of it, but he wakes up.

For a moment, he orientates himself, staring at the ceiling high above him. It’s still dark, perhaps in the early hours of the morning, so why does he feel as if that warmth has carried over with him into reality?

lxxviii.

He dreams of Rush more and more often. He feels that same warmth cloak his shoulders as he wakes. He can see the beginning of that familiar smile.

Hope is sometimes dangerous, but David starts to believe that something may be going on.

He starts to believe that, maybe, Rush is still alive.

lxxix.

When he tells Irina about this, he’s surprised at the answer she gives him.

“I’ve been using my Blessing a lot lately.” She admits in a quiet voice. “It’s probably useless now that there… now that there’re no Remnants around but… I can’t help but think that if I keep on searching, then I’ll find him.” Her eyes are brimming with tears again, but David’s proud of the strength she is showing now.

“Did you sense anything?” David doesn’t know whether he should even ask because he can be let down easily and he knows loss, he knows that he can’t afford to hope—

Irina nods.

David feels a painful lump in his throat grow as she explains.

“Before… before the battle, I was always aware of Remnants on some level. I mean, I didn’t realise how connected to them I was until they were gone.” Irina swallows hard. “I’ve used my Blessing on and off since then, but… recently, I’ve been getting hints of something.  I thought it’d just been my imagination, but… a Remnant is responding to my power, Mr. David.” She looks at him with an imploring look in her eyes, as if she needs to be assured that what she’s feeling isn’t just her imagination. David doesn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise, and he doesn’t want to expect results but… this is something. This is something concrete that he can rely on.

“I want to find it.” David manages to say, and feels determination well in his chest.

I want to find Rush.

He allows himself to hope.

lxxx.

The moment they share this with the others, they jump on the idea.

Marina and John use their resources at the Academy to possibly replicate the Remnant Tracker, and the Generals are stalwart in their fields of awareness, knowing to immediately relay any suspicious activity in several locations, especially if it suggests a Remnant presence.

The more they look, the more hope grows inside David.

We'll find Rush, he tells himself. We'll find him.

He doesn't know what he'll do if Rush isn't anywhere to be found.

lxxxi.

It hits the first month, and David isn't surprised that they haven't found anything yet.

He's busy with work, busy with the technologies that the Academy produces on the side. While there may be resources dedicated to Rush,  they still have to find solutions to the many holes Remnants have left in their everyday lives.

There are plans to create mystic technologies, self-sustaining and enduring. David thinks it's a good idea, and he makes sure everything goes smooth,  that the tech is used in the right places.

Life is getting better. David can't wait to show it all to Rush.

lxxxii.

"Dave--"

Rush is speaking to him again, and David knows that he's smiling. Strange that he cannot make out his features,  but he knows Rush is there.

"I will find you." David thinks he hears himself say—promise—and Rush utters something in response.

The dream ends the same way as the others: David wakes before he can hear the words.

lxxxiii.

When he tells Torgal this, the sovani seems withdrawn. David has always confided his dreams to him, his nightmares, and Torgal takes them in stride. He’d listen, and David is grateful just for that.

But then just this once, Torgal offers council, and David doesn’t know whether it is welcome or not.

“Perhaps Rush is telling you something you do not wish to hear.”

He decides not to answer.

lxxxiv.

A couple of weeks later, Emmy hears rumours of the Third Committee.

An off-shoot of the Academy—David hopes so; he doesn’t know the true extent of the corruption but the Sykes have surely purged the institution by now—, thought to be done with when Wagram ultimately died. However, she says she witnessed shady dealings and shadowed a few figures. They lead her to the back streets of Genaade District before she lost them.

“There’d been a package.” She says, brows furrowed in worry; Emmy heads both information and relations along with Pagus—she’s had to obtain specific material either through force, persuasion, or subterfuge. It is not an easy job, and David is grateful for her work. “I got told that it was dangerous, that the Third Committee would need it to commence their experiments. Haruko asked me to take care of it while she tracks down any remaining turncoats in the Academy.”

“Right.” David says, clenching his fists. There is no real debate here. Not when the Third Committee is involved. When will they quit?

He stands, and Emmy straightens.

“My Lord, what do you plan?” She asks.

“Simple. We find and eliminate every last Committee member.” He finds he has no trouble saying that. “The world finally has peace—we should not let them ruin it.”

Not when Rush has sacrificed so much for them. David can’t let that go to waste.

He looks up. “Let’s go.”

lxxxv.

Irina asks to be brought along as well. David doesn’t deny her, and they’re directed by Haruko and Emmy. Torgal tags along, as well as a handful of men.

When they enter Genaade District in the dead of night, Irina’s Blessing suddenly flares to life. The marks appear upon her face, and her actions seem almost robotic as she stiffly raises her palms before her.

“What’s wrong?” David asks sharply.

“A Remnant.” She breathes. “A Remnant is here.”

David barely has time to even think about it before he’s starting forward, eyes wide.

“Rush?” His voice is soft and almost pleading and she looks at him, her features alight with hope.

“It feels like him.” Irina confirms, and David feels his heart rise. “It really… it must be him!”

David’s stomach drops suddenly. If Rush is here, where the Third Committee may be, then…

“Find them!” He barks suddenly, turning to his men. He won’t let Rush get hurt. He won’t let him get experimented on, or whatever sick thing they may be thinking. His mind flashes back to Nora’s scars, seen briefly when she’d passed out before him that one time, and he remembers the visistone Rush had shown him so many months back.

With the world now bare of Remnants, what would the Third Committee do to Rush, now that he’d be the last one left?

“Our first priority is retrieving Rush.” He says with strength in his tone. He’ll find Rush, and keep him safe. He has to. “Do not allow any harm to come to him.”

“Yes, My Lord!”

lxxxvi.

As they move, Torgal looks at him, and his expression is unreadable.

“Whatever we find, do not despair.” He tells David quietly.

“We’ll find him.” He responds, and he’s unable to keep the venom from his tone.

lxxxvii.

Haruko leads them to a courtyard. There is a well and a garden. It’s full of Irina’s favourite flowers.

“Through here.” She murmurs, and leads them into a door previously unnoticed.

lxxxviii.

Apparently, the Third Committee has been hiding out here for a while. The remainders of their organization, anyway. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be anything too gruesome going on—indeed, it seems as if the reboot of the Committee has only just started.

David arrests the majority of them, and kills the ones that resist immediately. They do not put up any fight, taken by surprise as they were. David finds he’s lucky in that regard.

But…

“Where is he?” David’s voice is harsh, grated by apprehension. Rush should be here, right? Rush should be here.

His deadly gaze is trained on someone who seems to be the ringleader; they immediately cower from his stare, but it is Irina’s choked sob that draws his attention from the stuttered explanations.

“I thought…” She looks up at him when he quickly approaches. He sees the object she holds delicately within her hands, and his heart breaks. “I really thought Rush was…”

“It’s okay.” David says. His voice is strangely robotic, and he feels as if all his emotions were drained the moment he caught sight of a dulled gem.

“It’s alright, Irina.”

It’s not.

lxxxix.

They were both caught in the same trap of hope. Torgal tried to warn him, but David didn’t want to listen.

If anything, David is to blame here.

He should know loss.

He should know it.

The dead don’t come back.

xc.

The Third Committee members are separated and arrested. David is thankful that there are no losses on his side, that everything has gone smoothly.

Still, it is not enough to sooth the rupture in his heart.

xci.

Irina comes to him shortly afterwards.

Her smile is shaky when she raises one towards him, and he finds he cannot return it. He hears Emmy talking quietly with Torgal, and finds a dead humour born in him at the fact that they think he cannot hear them.

It doesn’t stop him perceiving Irina’s words, however, and it certainly doesn’t make him miss her next actions.

xcii.

“I can’t take this.” He whispers, staring in shock at the Talisman she offers to him. It is the package that’d been passed through the Third Committee, a memento of Rush’s that should be returned to his family.

“You loved him, right?” She asks, and her smile struggles to make itself known. “He’d want you to have this. I’m sure of it.”

When he still refuses to move, she reaches up—as he remains immobile—and ties it loosely around his neck.

“It’s the last Remnant in the world.” She says to him. “And it belonged to Rush.”

He opens his mouth, but finds the lump in his throat too large to speak around. She doesn’t wait for an answer, and her fingers intertwine behind her back as she speaks for him.

“Take care of it, won’t you?”

xciii.

Time passes.

The major problems seem to have been settled. The cities that were reliant on Core Remnants now have stable environments. The new technologies invented and created by the Academy are bulky but they seem to have been installed successfully. The townspeople just need to get used to them.

David stays within Athlum. He hasn’t the heart to show his face just yet, and knows that his Generals are shouldering the brunt of the work for him.

The Talisman rests against his chest, and the light has been growing duller each day.

xciv.

The last Remnant, Irina had said.

David holds it in his palms, and wills the light to keep on going.

He thinks it gets better.

xcv.

He wakes up one night to the Talisman emitting a bright glow.  It feels akin to when he’d bound himself to a Remnant the first time, and he feels warmth spread throughout his being.

“Rush?” He breathes, and he thinks there are arms coiling around him, thinks that there is a breathless laugh in his ear, but then the sensations fade and he’s left listening to the rain outside.

It may have been a sign. It may have been Rush telling him something. He doesn’t know what, however.

xcvi.

The Talisman doesn’t glow anymore after that.

xcvii.

He’s standing at the door to Rush’s room. He doesn’t know how long he’s been there, but there’s a touch upon his shoulder after a while. Emmy.

“You have to let him go.” She says softly.

I can’t.

The words stick in his throat, but there’s something rising in his chest too. Something painful and hard to name, and he clutches the Talisman within his grip a little tighter. His words are choked when he finally speaks.

“I loved him.”

She holds him then, her features torn and saddened, and he turns his head into her breast and weeps.

xcviii.

The next day, David asks Irina’s permission to clean Rush’s room.

She smiles at him, and it’s watery and sad.

“I’ll help.” She whispers.

xcix.

That night, David dreams of Rush. He looks up, and he sees Rush smiling. This time David can make out those features, bright and encouraging but there is a tinge of sorrow that he cannot remember seeing before.

“Dave…”

Perhaps Rush is telling you something you do not wish to hear.

“I wasn’t listening to you before.” David tells him, and he tries to steel his heart. “I’m sorry, Rush.”

“Dave.” There are tears in Rush’s eyes, and he starts to reach out to him. David starts to reach out too, and he feels his heart beat faster despite himself.

But then—

“I’m not coming back.”

David wakes before their hands could ever connect.

c.

David Nassau has always known loss.

It is an old, despised friend; one that rides upon his shoulder at times, one that has lingered at the back of his mind like a sore. It came when his mother died. It came when his father died. It came when Emma died.

It came when Rush sacrificed himself, and David found he could cry.

Even as life goes on, he finds himself standing in the garden one day. He almost thinks that there’ll be an eager call for his name, accompanied by steps with a bounce to them.

I’m not coming back.

He tilts his head skywards, and lets the rain fall one last time.

I’m not coming back.