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Love Hurts

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Whatever god created soulmates, Lantis thought that they must not have thought the concept through very well. There was something very poetic about not feeling pain until you touch your soulmate, but as a practical life experience, he found it lacking. Without fail, people without the ability to hurt made reckless, dangerous stunts that easily left them dead. Lantis wasn’t an exception, though it wasn’t intentional. It was easy to miss a cut or broken bone, and more than once he’d found bruises and had to be healed for injuries far worse than he’d thought they were.

He'd thought, at the start, that his brother was lucky. He’d learned that he was the soulmate to the princess at a young age, and that ability to feel pain had tempered him, making him have a proper sense of risk and caution that Lantis tended to struggle with. But Lantis found, as they grew older, that there were more kinds of pain than the physical sort. That for his brother at least, this bond had brought a different kind of pain.

Lantis hadn’t thought about what it meant to be a soulmate to the pillar of the world. To be expected to come second in her heart compared to their world. He certainly had never considered that the bond would cause the princess pain or that her smiles would turn into longing, aching stares, or that the world would start shifting from its perfection as her emotions began to spiral. Lantis could fight the beasts cropping up, protect citizens when he needed to, but he could not watch his brother and his soulmate slowly killing each other with the pain of their bond.

So he left.

Perhaps it was a coward’s route. Perhaps it was foolish to hope that maybe somewhere there was an alternative, something that would let the princess be free of the role that was destroying the world and his loved ones’ happiness. He left all the same, travelling other worlds and found himself on Autozam. And on Autozam, he met Eagle.

Eagle Vision was… Brilliant. Bright. Driven and passionate and a strategic fighter that could push Lantis to his limits. He didn’t meet him face-to-face at first; battle mecha were used in most tournaments, driven by strong will much like magic was in Cephiro. It was a way to make money at first, and a way to examine the technology’s suitability for use in Cephiro, but Lantis found it compelling in its own way. The circuit of fighters were largely made up of people who had yet to find a soulmate for obvious reasons.  Damage to mecha could give physical pain backlash on the pilot, so who better than someone who couldn’t feel it?

Among those pilots, Eagle was the best of them. And Lantis matched him fight for fight, up until Eagle grew curious about who he was fighting and invited him to a post-match meal.

For Lantis, it was a shock to meet Eagle’s pale green eyes and have something in the universe shift in him. To suddenly feel the ache of bruises and muscles in a way he’d never felt before. He could see that shock mirrored in Eagle’s face before it was shuttered away.

“Ah,” Eagle said with a smile that didn’t meet his eyes that first meeting. “That explains everything.”

Love and friendship came later. They came over Eagle teaching him to fix parts of his mecha, over late-night meals and stories about different worlds. They came over seeing Eagle meet expectations piled high on his shoulders again and again without breaking, and Eagle listening closely as Lantis admitted why he had fled his world. For the first time since his brother, Lantis had someone he felt he could talk to about anything, and he hoped that Eagle felt he could do the same back.

The pain they felt didn’t seem to be as bad as he’s heard described. It had been an unpleasant experience the first battle after finding his soulmate, but not so bad that he couldn’t manage. Eagle found it the same as they compared notes.

“It’s described as so much sharper,” Eagle mused, flexing fingers beside a glass of wine. “Like a sudden, violent shock while this is more of an echo of that. I thought it would be worse.”

“I think,” Lantis said slowly, remembering the times his brother had been doubled over from one injury or another in their training, “that it can be. I wonder why it isn’t worse?”

“Hmm.” Eagle tugged Lantis closer, side-by-side on the soft-pillowed chairs of his personal quarters. This, too, was something Lantis hadn’t expected. The warmth of companionship and the easy intimacy that they’d formed between them. “Perhaps it is because we come from different places. Cephiro and Autozam are very different.”

And yet, Lantis mused, not so different as he would have thought. Cephiro had its clear skies and plants and shining bodies of water. Autozam had pollution clouded cities with people stacked all but on top of each other, its greenery tucked into carefully controlled chambers as they sheltered what life would still bloom. But the people weren’t very different in the end, he found. They were still ruled by their strength of heart. It was through technology, not strength of arms or magic, but it boiled down to the same things.

He didn’t have another explanation for why they were different though, so Lantis had to conclude that Eagle must be correct. Their worlds made all the difference for them in how the bond manifested.

There didn’t seem to be the drawbacks his brother had. No painful longing and gaping chasm between them. Eagle put his country and world first, and Lantis wouldn’t have expected anything different. In the end, he too would put Cephiro first before their bond, and that was understood between them. He didn’t remember why he’d been afraid of such a connection until he felt the shift in the universe of Cephiro dying and knew he’d have to return home.

Cephiro dying meant the death of its pillar. And the death of its pillar meant the death of his brother because he wouldn’t have let her die alone. The ache of that knowledge was somehow far worse than the physical pain he could feel.  Lantis leaned against Eagle, a dozen apologies and regrets to his soulmate, brother, Cephiro itself, swirling around in him.

“You’re going then,” Eagle had said, unsurprised and careful not to show his emotions on it like he hadn’t done in a while.

“I have to,” Lantis said, trying to find words to explain.

He didn’t need to though, because from the edge of resigned sadness in Eagle’s eyes, he understood only too well. That he would leave if Autozam had needed him just as quickly.

They might never meet again, Lantis thought, as he called for his spirit beast. Eagle had Autozam to worry about. Lantis wasn’t sure if Cephiro would live without a pillar and would die trying to save it if need be. This could be forever. Still, he left without a backward glance. They were two strong hearts in a large universe; it was always possible to meet again.

*o*

The Cephiro he returned to was a broken, monster-riddled shell of its former beauty. It hurt more than injuries taken from fighting the new swarms of beasts how he was viewed with suspicion for coming back now, after everything had fallen apart. There was no use in explaining how watching his brother and his brother’s soulmate destroy themselves had been destroying something in him. There was no use in saying that he’d hoped to find something to save them both somewhere in the universe. They were dead. The world was broken. Everyone left was struggling to keep the shattered remnant of a world together and didn’t give a damn about his motivations, only what he planned to do now.

So Lantis threw himself into rescuing Cephiro’s citizens, one after another. He pretended not to notice the way Mage Clef looked at him sometimes with worry like he expected him to turn around and tear the world apart even more. He avoided the princess’s brother because he knew he looked too much like his own brother for the man to be comfortable with the sight of him. He rescued people, beasts, fairies, anything alive that he could salvage, and took it to the castle, the last bastion of safety the world had, held together on the will of less than a dozen people who weren’t strong enough to hold up the world itself.

Lantis hated the pillar system. Hated that any one heart would have to give itself up for a whole world to survive, but he’d have sacrificed himself to the role if it would save them. He’d have fallen into his brother’s same impossible situation if it would mean Cephiro would stop breaking apart.

The skies were black with clouds and storms now. The earth was shattered stone. The waters that used to shine in sunlight were confined to the narrow area around the castle still supporting life.

Lantis was fighting a losing battle, but he would fight it.

And then the Magic Knights came.

*o*

As a child, hearing the legend of the Magic Knights, they’d seemed like something beautiful and amazing. Chosen warriors from another world, there to save Cephiro in its darkest of times. That had been the tale told to children, though, not the true legend, and he’d felt bitter to know that the Magic Knights were the only ones who could kill a pillar of a world. Far from saviors, they were more like harbingers of doom.

He’d expected them to be larger than life. People with great power and wisdom. …Adults. The Magic Knights were young, truly young, not Cephiro’s agelessness, and while they were powerful, they hadn’t come to this world seeking that power. It took only a handful of stories from castle residents and seeing them once for him to know that they’d been unwilling tools in Emeraude’s demise. How they could forgive the deception by Mage Clef he couldn’t understand, but their eyes were haunted in the same way so many of Cephiro’s people were. Grieving.

They’d killed his brother too, but Lantis had forgiven them for it before they ever met. Meeting one young Knight in the garden, hearing her profess apologies for his loss… Even if Lantis hadn’t forgiven her already, even if meeting her gaze hadn’t slotted the final bit of the world into place, he’d have forgiven her then and there for the genuine regret she showed.

He looked at Hikaru and didn’t see a warrior of legend. He saw a girl with bruises on her knuckles and scraped shins; a girl with sorrow and determination in her heart glowing as bright as any star. His echoes of pain turned sharp, physical and emotional. Another soulmate. Another piece he’d never known was missing.

Her eyes widened at him when he took her hand, brushing over the bruises. Her breath hitched, likely feeling pain for the first time in the dull way bruises carried it.

It was so very easy to forgive anything just like he knew he could forgive Eagle anything.

*o*

Lantis had two soulmates. It stood to reason that Hikaru and Eagle were soulmates as well. There was no confirming it until Eagle took Hikaru and then everything became a mess with the fight for the Pillar.

His heart wasn’t as strong as his soulmates’. He could only watch them hurt each other as trying to strike down the god of the world was not enough.

When the other Magic Knights came forward to help stop the fighting, to help save Eagle who’d lost the fight to become Pillar, he could only feel relieved.

Here, they had already averted the tragic fate of his brother and Princess Emeraude. Here, there was no choice between world and soulmate because Hikaru had more than enough love to go around. She loved Eagle even though they had barely met. She loved the other Magic Knights enough that their shared determination defied the god’s will. She loved Cephiro enough that just the transfer of power already had the skies starting to clear.

Lantis had respected her for her dedication to saving Cephiro properly, but he knew this was the point he started to fall in lover with her. How could he not when she cradled Eagle with the other Magic Knights in the palm of Rayearth’s hand?

Eagle was sick, but he could get better with the will of a heart strong enough to hold up a world wishing him well. Lantis wouldn’t repeat his brother’s mistakes. He’d love his soulmates freely and let that love radiate to the rest of the world around him just like Hikaru seemed to do. Because this was a world they all lived in and loving it could only add to loving them.

Lantis had two soulmates, a rare and precious thing. Once he’d have thought this a curse, but now it was a blessing, pain and all, because the world was real and present and whole.