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this is how you love. (this is how you die)

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Cesair is no stranger to love.

He knows what it's like to be cherished, to be adored. He knows what it's like to be caressed by loving hands, to be hugged so tight the warmth sinks into your bones, to be kissed and spun around and to be told "I love you". He knows how love feels, welling up in your stomach and spilling forth from your lips, your eyes, your hands. It's warm like melted chocolate, soft like flower petals. 

He knows, because having to live after losing it all is a fate worse than death.

So when he first chokes on bloody, bright blue petals behind the bar after watching Isran dash off for the Heir like some kind of hero, gasping for breath, splotches of white and black bursting in his vision from the stabbing pain, he thinks that this is the cruellest joke the Gods could ever play on him. 

This is not love, he used to vehemently tell himself everytime he hacks up those wretched flowers—larkspurs, as he later finds out after their poison begins to numb his mouth. Love is warm and soft and kind. This is killing me. But the blood is warm as it floods his throat and the petals look so pretty with crimson splattered across its azure, so maybe this is love. Maybe this is how you love. 

🥀 🩸 🥀 

Cesair quietly coughs a whole blood-soaked larkspur into his cupped palm as he leaves the night bar, crushes it in his fist and smears the remnants against the stone wall. The pain is constant, spiking only when he chokes out flowers, but it's not like he's a stranger to pain, so what's a little more? Theotime had told him that he was to meet an anonymous informer behind the Clean Slates Inn at midnight. Midnight. Who the hell does that fool think they are, a novel protagonist? Cesair had scoffed right in the poor boy's face. He has more pressing issues to deal with.

Amauree, for example.

"He knows." Renaude had muttered in his ear the minute he walked out of the cellar with the others trailing behind him, laughing and half-drunk, "Make sure he doesn't tattle—I'll take care of your mess."  

Then he had caressed Cesair's hat so sweetly that it forced flowers out of his lungs, and he had to hurry away to spit out a bell-shaped blossom into his hands. 

Nightshades. Betrayal. Cesair had taken a sadistic joy in crushing the petals between his fingers into nothingness.

The meeting spot is deserted, lonely; far away from the city, night parties and wandering drunks. It gives him a clear view of The Four.

We are watching, they tell him. Go screw yourself, he spits back at them. 

Marble and pure, emotionless and untainted, what do you know of love and loss, of pain and hate? What do you know? 

Gravel crunches behind him.

He turns around, and Amauree stares back at him, hand on the handle of the sword, stance defensive, gaze accusatory. Cesair feels a surprised smile stretch across his lips.

"Amauree?" He narrows his eyes, widening his smirk into an amicable grin. They're friends, after all. "Listen, if you wanted to hook up, you didn't need to—"

"Cut the crap." 

Ah. Okay.

Amauree's expression hardens, lips curling ever so slightly in a sneer, "I know it was you who leaked Dahlia's plan. It all makes sense. I've always hated the look in your eyes." And oh, Cesair was having a field day. Oh, Amauree, so naive, so heroic

He almost feels bad about what he's about to do. 

"I've never been able to see what you want, or what you stand for." Amauree snaps, snarl firmly in place. "My only question is, why? "

Cesair schools his expression into the smile that he knows makes people squirm in discomfort, the one that makes people stay away from him, mumbling about untrustworthy eyes and dishonesty, the one he perfected over the years to wear as a convenient mask.

"I have my reasons. Can't we just leave it at that?" 

He seems to have struck a nerve, because Amauree takes a step back and wraps his fingers around the handle of his sword. Maybe I should cut them off, he thinks on a whim.

"If it were anyone else, I might ask you for your reasons. But since it's you…"

Cesair tries not to show his glee. He really, really tries.

"I can't imagine the reason being anything other than disgusting." Amauree genuinely looks put off. It makes Cesair feel extremely accomplished in a sick, twisted way.

"Ha." he says, without inflection, clashing terribly with his sickening grin. And then, "Have you told anyone else?" he asks.

This question is crucial. This question will determine how much blood he has to spill tonight.

"No. I wanted to handle this myself." 

"Oh."  Oh, Amauree, so selfless. What a fool, what a hero. This is how you die. "Well, that makes this so much easier."

Amauree takes the hint and jumps into action, tightening his grip around his sword handle and yanking it free from his scabbard. He's too slow. Cesair rips his sword out as Amauree barely frees his own and slices at his fingers wrapped tightly around the sword handle with razor-sharp focus.

There is a pause where Amauree gapes at the slices across his fingers, then a high-pitched, horrified shriek rips from his throat when the thin slices open up to reveal pink, raw flesh and white bone. His sword clatters unceremoniously to the floor. Amauree's decapitated digits dangle wildly as he stumbles back in horror and pain, some of them snapping clean off the thin remnants of skin and falling to the stone ground. Cesair steps on one as he advances on Amauree to shut him up— it flattens with a crack as the bone snaps under his boots and a disgusting squelch as the flesh clinging to the bone digs into the grooves of his heels.

A stabbing pain begins to drive spikes into his chest, so acute that white and black spots invade his vision. The familiar, sickly sweet scent of flowers overwhelms his nose, and his throat begins to spasm in anticipation. 

Now? He thinks in disbelief. 

NOW? He roars in his head, anger turning his vision red, twisting his face into something ugly, terrifying.

Amauree seems to realise that the Cesair he knows, with sickening smiles and eloquent words, was gone and a wild animal had taken its place. He begins to scream, stumbling over his feet in his haste to escape.

"No!! N—mphf—!" Cesair grabs Amauree's vest and slams the both of them to the ground. With the wind knocked out of Amauree's lungs, he only manages to open and close his mouth wordlessly in desperate gasps, struggling to throw Cesair off. He watches, eyes wide in horror, as Cesair claws savagely at his mouth, scrabbling at his tongue and gagging inaudibly from the fingers probing his throat before pulling out a handful of blood-stained blue and purple flowers. 

For a second, Cesair just stares at Amauree, hatred and pain simmering in his dark green eyes. Then he growls, a deep animalistic sound that had Amauree redoubling his efforts to escape before having bloody flowers shoved deep into his throat. 

Amauree's eyes begin to water as he chokes and gags violently on the flowers. He claws desperately at Cesair's collar, scratching at his throat the best he can in his weakened state. The metallic tang of blood coats his mouth, and the knowledge that the blood trickling down his throat isn't his own makes bile rise up his gullet. His body goes into overdrive, swallowing rapidly on instinct, then forcing everything back out when he feels the slimy petals slide down his throat. He can taste Cesair; his saliva, his blood, his breath—he tries so hard to spit out the petals, but Cesair forces another handful of those bloody blossoms down his throat, and he nearly blacks out from asphyxiation. 

"Don't ever bring a sword—" Cesair snarls, specks of blood splattered at the corners of his lips and painting the insides of his mouth crimson as he raises his sword high in the air, positioned directly above Amauree's neck, "if you're not ready to die."

He brings his sword down, stabbing straight through Amauree's neck; the crunch as the sword crushes his windpipe and gullet makes Cesair grimace. Amauree chokes on the blood flooding his lungs, streaming from his nostrils and the corners of his lips as his voice dies down to nothing and his body goes limp, the hand at Cesair's throat falling away and thunking dully at his side.

Cesair slowly pulls his sword out of Amauree's neck, mindful of the bones and tendons. Larkspurs and nightshades spill from Amauree's lips and peek out from the gaping wound at his neck, coated in both his and Cesair's blood. There is something inherently intimate about this scene and ah, maybe this is it—this is how you love: ruthlessly and fatally, with beautiful bloody bouquets of poison and hatred. 

The moon begins to shine, finally unobscured by the clouds, casting a silvery light over the scene. Cesair turns to face the light source, then freezes when he sees the gargantuan statue of the Four, its sheer size intimidating as it looms threateningly over all of Belluna, its arms stretched out in a spectacular show of authority as their stoic faces gaze unseeingly across the country.  

The stabbing pain starts up again in Cesair's chest, but this time he doesn't flinch, doesn't gasp, doesn't move a muscle. A smile begins to stretch across his face. 

"This is how you love," He whispers slowly to the statue, "this is how you love, isn't it?"

He opens his mouth, as wide as it can go. He reaches inside his throat, grabs ahold of a bunch of stems, soft and long, and pulls them free from his lungs with the precision of a surgeon. He stares at the little bouquet of larkspurs and nightshades, the blue and purple matching wonderfully with the bright red blood dripping from the petals of the flowers, sliding down the stem and over his fingers. 

He wishes he could stuff the blossoms into his mouth, chew and swallow and feel the poison creep along his body, so that he can finally find peace with the poison taking over his heart. 

It's hauntingly beautiful. Horrifying, yet—

"How poetic." Cesair murmurs, holding out the bouquet to the Four. A drop of blood falls and stains the ground. "If this is how you love, then this is how you die: before the Gods."