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Crystal Orbit

By kasmikassim

Drama / Fantasy

Crystal Orbit

Rosa is the first to ask. "How did you come to follow Golbez?"

"He rescued me," Kain answers, and does not elaborate, because he has far more pressing things on his mind such as debating whether he should lift her mantle off the stone slab and cover her legs. It is sinful, to see her lying so helpless – she looks naked, and he feels a monster, even though he deserves her just as Cecil does, perhaps more so for all the years he had made a show of not noticing their fleeting glances. Cecil had always had everything, damn him – a king's love, the most powerful army on earth, and Rosa too. Kain would have forgiven him everything, everything, if not for that he had Rosa too.

"When?" Rosa demands, and he decides against covering her legs; it is obscene what he can do with his eyes alone, and to lay hands on her is a sacrilege. She is pure, and he is tainted – regardless of his chivalrous intent, he will stain her with darkness – darkness –

But darkness is comforting, a part of him whispers. It is not fraught with tormented questions or anguished guilt; there is only silence. And in this crumbling world where his father lay dead, his king turned mad, his country a monster, there is but a single blazing trail of honest truth, and that is of desire. Master Golbez had freed him from tormented light; had whispered there is no wrong in admitting one's desires. That he, too, deserved to be happy.

But Rosa looks unhappy, so unhappy, and it makes him ashamed somehow. He looks defiantly back at her, and immediately regrets.

The memory hits like a wave. His darkness stands no chance; it is shredded off of him like a tattered cloak. The light is warm, lulling like a distant dream – a golden sunset, curtains billowing in a feathery breeze as he sits on a little cot with a smaller boy, playful punches and laughter, and a soft-eyed girl with hair of honey climbing the steep tower to call them...

Cecil! Kain! A clear echo, a softness he would give his life to protect. It was precious, that frailty, so much that he would hide behind his mask and try to keep from touching her with his pointy helmet, the same way the other boy would shrink away lest he poke her with his armor...

The sun has set, and the memory fades. Like faded pages of a fairy tale, the memories are yellowed with slanting sunlight – and are snuffed to darkness. How many had he lost? He has given up counting; trying to grasp them hurts too much, but he can't remember if it's his head or chest that hurts, or maybe both.

"But Kain, when you returned to Baron – "

He can't be sure this is the same girl from his memories, because the memory is gone, the girl's voice lost to echo. He looks at Rosa, resentful, but cannot bring himself to hate her; cannot remember why he's ashamed, how long he has loved her, how they had lived their lies before this – but seeing her makes it hurt to breathe, and despite the brutality with which she shatters his peace, he wants it to keep hurting, wants to feel that light again, that light not fraught with torment or questions of justice but with gentle sunlight and golden songs that make him want to cry.

But then Master Golbez comes in, watches him a while, and sends him away. He clutches his spear and heads out to soothe his mind with silence once again. The lulling warmth lingers.

"Why was it you?"

The girl has obviously been dwelling on it. She had fallen back to match his pace at the back of the party, picking her way through the harsh terrain. "Golbez didn't realize that Rosa was important to you until after he brainwashed you, so don't bother with that 'I was in love with Rosa' confession. What made you his victim?"

Kain disagrees with her last word choice, but answers blandly: "I was an easy target."

She is not impressed. "Everyone has darkness. Even Cecil – no, especially Cecil." She glances toward the front of the group, where Cecil is forging the trail. "And unlike Cecil, you don't trust easily. You could not have been easy to prey on." She casts a long look. "How was he even able to get close to you?"

He does not remember. It is a tired story; he was an average man pretending to be a great man – pretending, and failing. It matters not how it began, for somewhere along the way Golbez had found that Cecil Harvey was his greatest nemesis, and that Kain Highwind was Cecil's only match.

Cecil signals: enemy swarm overhead. Kain readies his lance. If he does not meet Cecil's every signal, the party will break. Their link is fragile on this hostile land.

But he knows that his strength is only an additional reason to it all. For somewhere along the way, before finding that Cecil was his greatest nemesis, Golbez had found that Cecil had a weakness.

The battle ends swiftly, and Rosa checks on the ninja and the girl. Kain shakes his head at Cecil, who looks him over even as he steps away. The party moves on and Kain takes his place at the rear. Cecil doesn't check. His unconditional trust grips Kain like shackles of light; Cecil seeks to banish his weakness by leaving behind Rosa, his gentle beloved, but Kain knows that it is not Rosa that will lead him to ruin.

That Kain Highwind had always been Cecil Harvey's greatest weakness.

It is strange, how slow memories are to return. On his way back from the night rounds, he sees Cecil standing outside the airship, staring at Earth. He turns when he hears Kain approach, bright eyes lit by the blue of Earth and silver hair dripping crystal dew. Kain stops in his tracks. He has had this dream before – but back then Cecil's face had been lit by sunlight, smiles and panting breaths and hair flowing free of helmets and circlets.

He waits for Kain and joins him on the ascension up the ramp, just like back when they would wait for each other after training – and side by side, they squeeze even tighter than when they had been lanky boys in sweaty shirts.

"Don't be too long, Kain," Cecil says softly, and Kain feels contrite by default. Cecil has always worried, gentle Cecil – the girl had told him one gray day that she had once seen Cecil shed silent tears for a lost brother. Kain had no need to ask which one.

It is so wrong, all of it – he is undeserving, and Cecil, damn fool, should have learned his lesson by now. But he didn't, because Kain cheated, swore a solemn oath and bartered his life to have that trust again. Cecil never stood a chance. Kain knows this and is ashamed, but cannot bring himself to undo that oath, not before he can undo that look in those eyes when they looked up and saw a spear aimed at his heart.

Betray you once, shame on me.

The right thing would be to stop making a fool of the forgiving idiot. It would be easy to leave on one of his night rounds and never come back, perhaps fight shoulder to shoulder with Golbez – ha – two miserable souls burning away their sins.

Betray you twice, shame on you.

But in the darkness Cecil is watching and Kain gives up thinking, because the earth is so bright and Cecil's eyes are so blue and he is too tired to have these wars with himself in this silent orbit.

So when Cecil puts a hand on his shoulder and steers him into the ship, he allows him, defeated. The wars can wait.

The dreams are sometimes fierce. He wakes in cold sweat, fumbling in the dark, only to realize he always sleeps with his lance in hand. He stares at his other hand through the dark; he can't imagine what he was grasping at.

But it grasps him first, cool fingers curled around his own. He almost jumps as Cecil sits up, bright eyes opening in his direction. "I'm here, Kain."

He is. And he shouldn't be.

Kain convulsively drops his lance, away from Cecil, and pulls back. Cecil lets him, only because, Kain realizes too late, the snoring ninja is blocking his escape to deck. Resentment flares.

You trust too easily.

Kain remembers telling him that, time and again, and wants to tell him still. It will be the death of you, he had said, and meant it. Someone will betray you, someone undeserving, and you will never know because you only see the good in people.

And Cecil had laughed. That's why I have you, Kain.

And Kain sees blue eyes, tumbling bright as they watched him fly, and it twists his heart. He would die a thousand deaths to undo that look in those eyes.

And so he had remained, believing that he could perhaps undo his sins by laying down his life for Cecil; Cecil was happy to have Kain at his side, and who was he to deny Cecil anything? With an embrace, a whispered welcome – asking if he was all right (as if he was the one betrayed and injured) – Cecil had smiled as if the world was all right again, and seeing that radiant smile, Kain had also dared to believe.

But now he sees Cecil's worried gaze, and his lance within his grasp, a cold sliver in the dark; in a moment of chill clarity, he knows that nothing will be all right as long as he stays. Torment had always been the price of light.

He leaps to his feet before silver linings and blue eyes can silence his raging wars. "A walk," he murmurs, making a show of having been shaken by the dream.

Cecil calls from behind. "You forgot your lance," he says.

Kain turns, torn between accepting the familiar gesture and shouting at the fool for offering a weapon by its handle – damned idiot never once thought to draw against him even in deathblow, except when Rosa stood calling. Only then did he raise his sword for Rosa, only Rosa – and for her he would rise to meet his challenge. And Kain would attack with venom renewed, with each strike his heart blackening to ruin.

Would you kill, me, Cecil, for her?

Betrayal hits like a wave, and he can't breathe. He snatches the lance with shaky hands, and turns briskly away. The venom of betrayal bubbles, and he knows it is a call of darkness that will turn him into a monster. He must get away. He is a danger to them, and moons be his witness, he would die at their hands but he would not hurt them again.

"Don't be long," Cecil says to his retreating back, and Kain closes his eyes, willing to erase the tumbling tears in those blue, blue eyes.

Never again.

He returns from his rounds one day to find a fire roaring away at the base of the airship. Rosa is inside cooking, Cecil is doing his half of the rounds, and the ninja has found a new way to make himself useless by hunting for firewood in this god-forsaken land. He walks to the fire and stops. The flames roar at his ears, scorch his heart. A choice to defy his king in defense of a friend, a choice to forsake his home for the friend, and a final choice to join the friend in betraying his king – the fire is a brand to that day of the final choice, before choices were altogether taken from his hands. How many a fevered night he had spent awake praying he could return to that day.

The girl is asleep by the fire, curled like a green hatchling, and he fights his urge to leap into the flames and snatch the little creature into the safety of his arms. But she is grown, and he feels old. So many missed moments to make things right.

Not once had he regretted his string of betrayals, not once – until he betrayed the friend for whom he had forsaken the world.

The girl stirs, and catches him with sleepy eyes. She slowly rises, the fire behind her in an infernal backdrop. It is blasphemous, that scarlet blaze dancing in the gray of the moon, and utterly glorious, that creature rising like a slender dragon amidst the roaring flames; a little girl who once cried at his knees now stands with flames licking her feet, her smile reverberant with power.

She sees his unwillingness to join the fire. "I used to be scared of the fire since that day," she says, nearing him. "But I got over it when Cecil needed me to cast it."

He can only guess at her years growing up in a dark land where she dreamed of returning to the man who had ruined her. The fire crackles, and he sees a light there so blinding that he is ashamed. His love for Rosa had been twisted, and his love for Cecil had not been enough. Love had been the weakness and downfall of the noble commander of the Dragoons, and yet it had been her saving grace, the fire that filled out her body into this woman. In her twinkling green eyes he sees Cecil and Rosa; the fierce tenderness that makes him rise to his feet time and again, makes him want to be a better man. Their love binds him to them but his love had failed them both.

"Your love is greater than mine," he answers with shame.

"He is a brother to me," she replies, and he wonders how things would have been different if he had been the one left with the girl, and Cecil with Golbez. But he stops himself. It is all for the best – he could never live with seeing Cecil torment himself with the guilt of betrayal. Better that he suffer.

For he had seen enough of Cecil and guilt. It took him an entire year to pry him off of that goddamned tree, where his brother was supposed to come back for him – if he had been a better brother, he wouldn't have left; if he became strong and no longer a burden, he would come back. Kain showed him exactly what he thought of such stupid ideas by means of his training lance. Cecil had retaliated with a stick. Little crybaby was a spitfire.

But in all fairness, Cecil's tears were reserved only for Kain's audience; and in his absence, only for Kain's safety. Not even with Rosa did he ever show tears, and for Kain, that alone is enough to make him charge into the throne room and defy the king again in a heartbeat. To defend that little boy who never could understand that people are selfish, Brother had lied, that friends could betray. That day was the first that Cecil had managed to give Kain a bruising, that Kain had shouted at the king's little pet until the boy broke into tears, had pulled the pale young thing in his awkward arms. The first of his many choices.

He had thought he would be able to go on making such choices for all his days. Never had he imagined that he, Kain, would be Cecil's second heartbreak.

The girl understands, and her fingers dance like sprites on his arm. "Darkness is not always evil, Kain," she whispers. He looks at the black magic swirling at her fingertips, and thinks of a dark knight's shoulders slumped in blood, and wants to believe her more than he has ever believed anyone.

She is frustrated by his stubbornness. "Everyone harbors a degree of darkness," she says, and Kain thinks of crystal blue and begs to differ. But he does not argue, for her sincerity's sake.

They sit in companionable silence, until the girl gives up and throws a dust of magic into the fire. "I wish," she murmurs, "you were there too. To see me cast the fire spell."

He wishes so too. But instead of thanking her he answers by letting her doze on his arm, and shifts to prevent poking her with his armor.

And that's how Cecil finds them upon his return, before tiptoeing up the ramp to tell Rosa not to yell for dinner. Some absolutions are quiet, anticlimactic, and long overdue.

Cecil rushes forth while Kain leaps. It is a silent dance of understanding they had always performed. But coming down, Kain sees Cecil entangled with the monster, and falters. Cecil looks up and shouts, but even if Cecil trusts him, Kain does not trust himself – he cannot, when he sees bright blue eyes looking upward. He strikes the ground, staggering with jarring shock.

He hurries to pry off the beast, but it is too late. Cecil comes away with crimson spurting from his neck. Kain thrusts him onto Rosa and charges forth alone. The ninja is shouting but he does not hear.

That's why I have you, Kain, Cecil laughs, in that dusty afternoon under the golden sun.

Blood splatters onto cold gray skies.

Yes you do, Kain sighs; and at this rate, you always will.

He stumbles back to find Rosa clutching Cecil with a desperate chant. He lies limp in her arms, and the girl kneels pressing his neck, a river of red between her fingers. He stares dully at the broken crystal light. He was a fool to think he could be forgiven. That the silent nights by the airship, the light in Cecil's eyes as he clasped his shoulder, those moments of pearls and diamonds, could ever be his to cherish. That he could string them together and lay them upon his head into a crown of absolution.

The ninja notices him and begins to rummage through his sack for a restorative, but Kain walks on. He is a man of discipline, and knows when he has been slack. It is time to cast away those gentle comforts and let the wars begin. Those crystal moments of the night, like their laughter in golden afternoons, must also be laid to rest.

He leaves as Cecil begins to stir. He hears a whisper of a name, and cannot bear to hear which one. Little Cecil must learn to walk his path alone. Perhaps it had been himself all along who could not let go.

"You are troubled," a voice muses from behind. He turns and sees Golbez. Golbez, clad in black, his voice smooth satin. "What ails you, Commander?"

"Nothing at all, thank you," he says icily, as if on autopilot. He turns and walks away from the throne room. The king had barely listened when he reported Cecil missing. Mission successful, the town of innocents destroyed, one of your foster sons missing, your other foster son returned with murderous resentment and wild desperation.

Golbez begins to speak, but Kain slams the door. Commander Highwind is not as innocent as Captain Harvey. He knows a suspicious character when he sees one.

Kain watches under gray skies as Cecil comes to him. The gash on his neck is healed, but his breath is short. He wonders how long Cecil had combed this unforgiving land in his desperate search. The thought sparks a memory of a dream. Cecil is crying. But he doesn't know why, so he tightens his grip around his lance, hardens the armor of his heart.

Cecil stops a pace away, blue eyes spitting fire. When he speaks at last, his voice is low and hard. "Come back with me, Kain."

Kain is unmoved. "Go back to your teammates, Cecil."

"Come back with me."

"You know I won't."


"Why were you crying, Cecil?"

Cecil falls silent, and Kain blinks. "Never mind." He reaches to inspect Cecil's neck. It's not fair, he knows; Cecil is an open book, and yet Kain hides behind a dark helmet and hard silence. Cecil waits as Kain meticulously combs his skin.

At last he finds it, a faint white scar running along a throbbing pulse. The rhythm is steady, and he is torn between terror and relief. Cecil wraps his fingers around Kain's wrist.

"Dreams, Kain?" Quiet, knowing.

Kain pulls away. "You should get back to the airship."

"You know I won't."

Yes, helmet or no, Kain is also an open book to Cecil. He had forgotten.

Kain stares as Cecil makes himself comfortable on the ground. They've had contests of will in the past, long after boyish punches and muddy shirts. With a sigh, Kain sits beside Cecil. It is going to be a long night.

"You are a famous man."

Kain bows and walks on. He hardly speaks anymore. He avoids the throne room. Even Rosa is painful to look at. He focuses on the soreness in his body, the fatigue that threatens to drop him dead any minute. He pushes at the great doors.

"A beacon of light, a moral and upright man." The voice is closer. "Powerful enough to fell the mightiest dark knight, and yet swearing an oath of fealty to a decaying kingdom."

He would take offense on his king's behalf, but he is too tired to think of anything other than blazing fire, a dark knight's bewildered eyes. He turns. Golbez grasps his arm, a cold vice.

"Every morning you disappear, and return at night in exhaustion. No one knows where you go. What is it that makes you trudge so wearily, with none of the light you had held in your eyes?"

He steps away. "Good night, Lord Golbez." His arm burns like a brand.

"I would help you," calls the satin voice. "I would free you from the confines of this rotting kingdom."

Kain turns abruptly, the fatigue and the disappointment after another day's search flaring into anger unknown. "There is an equally great man," he says, his voice chill. "A knight whose power rivals mine, whose loyalties no longer lie with my king. He surely is not rotting away in this place, so rest assured."

Golbez looks intrigued. "You imply that this man could challenge me openly...unlike you."

Kain does not answer. He cannot understand the nature of this obsession.

"So what keeps you from leaving? Your loyalties obviously lie with this man, not this kingdom." Golbez spreads his arms. "Do you have unfinished business here? Using the kingdom's resources to hunt for this traitor, perhaps?"

Kain thinks of Rosa, the trembling smile she holds each day he reports his lack of progress. She embraces him in gentle comfort as he hangs his head, weary and guilty. He sees her blue eyes, so much like Cecil's blue eyes, and he thinks of the fire and the desperation in those eyes and how they had brimmed with terrified joy when Kain had made his choice between a traitor friend and a home, king, loyalty, history, country, past, future.

He should have grabbed Cecil instead of bracing himself against that Titan.

"Remember my words, Commander Highwind." Golbez begins to slide into shadow. "I may be of service to you."

Yes, Kain thinks bitterly. Just as you are being of service to my king.

He casts a last glance at the throne room, where the king is probably talking with Baigan about another invasion of another kingdom. He turns away. Suddenly he misses Cecil so much it hurts to breathe.




He gasps, and opens his eyes. There is darkness, pierced by a sliver of light. Cecil hovers over him, eyes aglow with the light of the distant Earth. Kain grabs him jerkily, and Cecil starts. Kain sits up, drinking in the sight, panting like a dying man. "I found you," he breathes, hoarse, and he doesn't care that he is trembling. "I found you." His breath breaks between a sob and laughter.

Cecil reaches out, slowly touches Kain's face. There are streaks of tears.

Surprised, Kain blinks, and more tears fall. He touches Cecil's eyes, just to make sure. They are dry. "Why were you crying?" he asks dazedly, and Cecil's eyes cloud with concern. Kain shakes his head, but he can't stop his babbling. "You keep crying and I can't reach you," he stammers. "Why did I keep having that dream? Where were you?"

"Kain." Cecil's hands grasp his with gentle strength. "I am here."

"But you weren't." Kain clutches desperately, still unsure that it was a dream. "You were lost and you were alone. I couldn't find you."

Cecil's face contorts. "Oh, Kain." He wraps his arms around Kain's armored shoulders. "I couldn't find you either. I looked and I looked but I couldn't stay... I had to get Rydia to safety." Kain dully reaches up and holds Cecil close, just to make sure. "I was so scared, Kain... I thought I might have lost you." Kain blinks some more; rapid tears keep falling, heavy and mournful, as if a part of him is weeping for something he doesn't know, a distant loss.

Cecil's face suddenly darkens like clouds over a silver moon. Kain fidgets as speculative eyes bore into him with increasing certainty. In an instant Cecil is behind him, undoing his armor; Kain manages a feeble protest before it is taken off. A murmur of a chant, and tingling warmth spreads against his skin, and as the soreness on his back disappears, so returns a bit of clarity.

"You've become mighty useful," he jokes lamely, and Cecil chuckles.

"Yes, well, Palom says I've become girly."

Kain refrains from comment.

But Cecil doesn't let him pull away. Fingers map out his skin, searching, until they slowly trace an invisible mark, and then two, and then three.

"You never had scars on your back, Kain." Calm, alarmingly so.

Kain frowns. "I don't."

Cecil is silent.

"Cecil?" Kain tries to turn, but the grip on his shoulders tightens. And with a strange intake of breath, Cecil leans forward, touching a weary forehead against a bared back.

"I should have stayed," he whispers. "I should have stayed in that god-forsaken wasteland until I found you."

Perhaps Cecil regrets too, all those yesterdays he cannot undo. Kain reaches behind to rest a hand on Cecil's knee, hating himself for being unable to offer solace. "I was all right," he says quietly. "I returned to the castle safe and sound."

"Golbez didn't find you." Flat, knowing.

"No." He now knows that Golbez had not rescued him and nursed him back to health. The false knowledge dissolves under the heat of the Baron sun, beating down on his weary trek back to the castle. Despite his hopes, Cecil has not returned ahead of him. He waits, he searches, but Cecil cannot be found. The Baron sun darkens. Soon Rosa is gone, and the palace is shadowed with whispering emptiness. Kain also leaves. Leaves with naught but a lance in hand, and one last glance at his beloved home.

Kain closes his eyes. He had been manipulated even when he had not been delirious or dying. The thought burns like another brand, but Cecil is in a place he cannot reach, and he cannot think. The breaths on his back are hot and broken, and he still doesn't know why Cecil is crying.

"Cecil." He squeezes the whitened knuckles on his shoulders. "Cecil, don't cry. I'm all right."

"You did find me, Kain."

Kain feels the silent shake of those shoulders, wondering and worrying, as Cecil whispers his name again and again like a prayer. He cannot understand, but those tears are so hot against his back that he manages to recall the fading dream, where Cecil is crying alone in broken armor and he can't go to him, and he thanks the moons that he is here for Cecil this time.

It is well into another dark afternoon that they argue again, also with no result. Cecil refuses to return alone. Irritated beyond sanity, Kain politely asks him to stay away while he fumes.

"I could leave you right now," he threatens, and Cecil smiles, the brat.

"Try me."

Kain would have just stomped on him, but slender as he still is, Cecil is no longer fourteen. Kain curses the passage of time. So the arguing continues.

And when Cecil begins to set camp, and Kain begins to search for firewood (don't think about the ninja, don't think about the ninja), since it's pointless to try to run, Cecil will track him down anyway – it suddenly hits him. Just as Cecil could track him anywhere, Kain could do the same; it would matter not where he would hide. He is a danger as long as they are on the same planet, or in the same universe. Suddenly he hates his strength more than he ever has before; he hates even more the lulling voice that rings inside his head. He drops what meager findings he gathered, and sinks dully to his knees. Sometimes goodbyes are abrupt, and mockingly unfair.

He jumps, watches Cecil look up in bewildered despair. He tries to stop, but cannot undo the dream from playing out its intent; he feels himself flying, flying in the darkness of the abyss, and he prays it is over soon. He knows this battle only too well.

He remembers it, that dark desire to watch him break. To say farewell to gentle songs and golden lullabies. He had watched that raging grief in those eyes and had desperately wanted to kill. Wanted to snuff that soft beacon of light in the midst of war – for one look at those gentle bright eyes, that voice calling his name with a glad smile, and he is lost, always lost.

Little Cecil. If not for him, Kain would have never abandoned his home. Would have never questioned his king. Would have left the girl to die in the burning village. Would have silenced the tormented questions in his heart. They are so frail, so persistent, those crystal blue eyes that call him back to the light, that he cannot allow them to live, cannot allow the flickering hope to continue. He stomps it out, grimly and desperately crushes it all, and somewhere in his head, or his chest perhaps, it hurts.

Cecil scrambles to his feet. Anger burns in those eyes, and Kain attacks anew. Now Cecil knows, he must know, that there is no going back. He would need to live without trusting, and learn to face his battles alone, without that hand upon his shoulder, that whisper in his ear, that wall of defense that stood against the slanders of court. He brings his spear down, and aims at Cecil's heart. Somewhere in the dark screams a little boy with blue eyes. Tears blur his vision, and he cannot understand why the boy is crying. So long, Kain, he whispers, blinks away the tears, and strikes.

"Another unsuccessful day, Commander Highwind?"

Kain limps past Golbez in silence. His heart beats with a weary groan. Rosa is gone. Has left in the blue of dawn, leaving only a scribbled note, abandoning her home in search of a traitor who is possibly dead. Together they had held against despair, had whispered fierce comfort, had searched with fervent hope blazing in the dark. But no more. Cecil is gone, and Rosa has gone, and Kain is left alone. The hope has lost its keeper, and Kain watches its flames snuff to dust in the groaning fall of its tinder. Their trio has broken, and he now maroons in solitude. He lets his lance drag on the carpet as he touches the doors.

"I can help you find what you seek."

Kain does not answer. He stands still, because his head is spinning, and his vision is black. Cecil may be dead. Rosa is gone. He sees fierce blue eyes pleading bright in burning fire, and he sees soft blue eyes brimming with brave tears as he reports another unsuccessful search. His heart pulls with an ache, and it hurts to breathe. His limbs tingle and he feels faint. He had known at one time that he, too, also had bright blue eyes.

Cecil finds him, of course. Comes charging into the rocky patch with his lips set in a line, and halts to find a lance pointed at his throat. He stares defiant and wordless, and for that Kain is glad. Because he knows that if Cecil asked him to stay, asked with those tumbling blue eyes and open, vulnerable look, he wouldn't stand a chance.

"You asked me to trust you, Kain." Cecil's voice is low, measured. "Is this your answer to my trust?"

"Go back, Cecil." Cecil does not understand that Kain had only uttered those hypocritical words because he had trusted him to be his cage. Only around Cecil's sword would he allow himself near the others; he had trusted Cecil to protect him against himself. But no, Cecil would not raise his sword against him, and with that comes black despair. He will break again, and he will be uncontained; Cecil had abandoned him to fend for himself.

He should have known, should have known before allowing himself to be lulled by promises of smiles and quiet nights by the airship, that the only way to redeem himself would be to lay down his life at Cecil's feet.

Kain –

Zemus calls. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, Cecil watches him with worry, and resentment explodes like fireworks.

Kill him kill him kill him

That's why I have you, Kain, laughs Cecil, bright and twinkling, and Kain would give up life itself to go back to that sunny afternoon. The sun is snuffed to blackness; there is only cold gray, and he swipes at Cecil. His lance crushes the rock behind him, and Cecil leaps without touching his sword.

No longer hindered by dark armor, Cecil is swift enough to match a dragoon's speed. Kain attacks without reprieve. He has no time, no time until Cecil undoes him with that look.

"Go before I hurt Rosa," he says. Cecil's expression shifts. Only when another is concerned would Cecil draw his sword; only for Rosa, only for a life that is not his own would he raise a hand against Kain.

Kain jumps. The clouds rush by with a cutting chill.

Would you kill me, Cecil, for her?

The clouds dissolve in a dizzying gray, and Cecil is visible again. He is looking up with that defiant stare, and by his side lies his sword, sheathed. Kain has no time to think.

The lance strikes, and there is a sickening crack. The lance is embedded on a rock, a breath from Cecil's temple. Cecil doesn't move. Kain feels ill.

"What are you doing?" he breathes, and he wants to kill him right there and then.

Cecil's eyes are fierce. "What are you doing?"

Kain lets go of his lance and immediately regrets, because he wants to punch something, maybe the brat's face. "Damn it, Cecil! Do you not realize I intend to kill you?"

"Who are you trying to fool, Kain?" His voice is hard. "You didn't kill me when Golbez controlled you, and you won't kill me now."

Kain pulls on his spear, thinks better of it, and pushes it deeper into the rock and holds onto the shaft. "I would have finished you off had it not been for Rosa."

"Really, Kain?"

Kain does punch the rock then, and grainy debris explode. "How many times must I tell you?" He throws down his helmet, and Cecil's eyes flicker. "Never give your trust to the untested! Never trust those who have betrayed you once!" He is punching the rock, again and again, and the rock is cracking, and so is his skin. Blood oozes down the crack in the rock and Cecil catches his arm. Kain wrestles it away. He had always been the stronger of the two.

Kill him kill him kill him hold him protect oh gods Cecil run –

He twists away, a wretched cry. "I cannot be contained! Even you at your mightiest can barely withstand my Jump attacks. For moon's sake, don't stand there stupidly – fight!" With that he swings his bloodied hand toward Cecil's neck, and Cecil dodges just in time. The crack deepens, and his lance begins to dangle loose. Kain twists it out of the rock. Zemus' voice rips into the echo of a call of the honey-haired girl, blasphemous red fire roars behind a green dragon rising, and he wants to tear down the grey of this world before lucent pearls and diamonds can be shattered.

He readies his lance, panting heavy, vision blurring. "Fight me, Cecil," he grinds out, "if you wish to see Rosa live."

Cecil's eyes flare with temper then, and it is pure and honest. Kain watches with bitter triumph. It always comes down to Rosa.

Cecil's sword strikes, and a metal screech resounds in the air. Cecil's eyes spark as they he presses close, blade against blade. His low voice is venomous. "Would you kill me, Kain, for her?"

Kain falters. Cecil throws him off his feet. Kain rises again, and Cecil watches unmoving. Those eyes bring back those tumbling blue tears, and suddenly, Kain also wants to ask the moons why, why he had to be the one.

A desperate strike, and he throws Cecil onto the ground, body to body. He traps Cecil underneath. "You create your own weakness," he snarls, and somewhere inside, also prays.

"So do you," Cecil snaps, and Kain misses a beat. Cecil sees the opening, and Kain moves too late. He is thrown onto his back, and Cecil's blade gleams by his neck. Blue eyes tremble bright, and somehow they cut sharper than at their deadliest. "Was it Kain Highwind that doomed you to Golbez's chains?" Cecil breathes, a suppressed whisper, "or was it Cecil Harvey?"

Kain blinks, and darkness falls. Golbez' voice cuts through the weary fog.

"I only wish to ease your mind. Your nights must be restless as well, I am sure."

"My nights are merry, thank you."

"With no worries for a missing brother, then?" He can hear the smile behind the mask. "Or dreams of a lost young knight?"

Realization hits like a punch in the gut. Kain stops in his tracks. "You're the one behind my nightmares."

Golbez raises a placating hand. "I do not fabricate what you see, Commander. I only show what will come to pass. The choice is yours."

Kain says nothing. This man has been behind the king's madness, Baigan's hypocrisy, the bloody wars. He tightens his grip around the knob of the door. He is Kain Highwind, the proud commander of the Dragoons, an upright and just man of light. And somewhere where he cannot reach, a dark knight sheds silent tears in broken armor.

"I vie your strength, Commander Highwind." The voice is almost kind. "Give me absolute obedience, and I will give you wings."

Kain knows better than to barter with the devil. It was the reason he refused the king's order to join Cecil in the path of darkness. Someone had to be there to wrap his wounds, reprimand his blood offerings.

But Cecil is alone, Cecil is in tears, and he does not know why. He drops his hand from the knob. Golbez watches him, expectant. Kain's body burns.

"You will never have absolute obedience," he hears himself say.

Golbez chuckles. "'Tis all right." He steps closer, lifts up Kain's chin with a steel-clad finger. "I can... discipline."

They burn, those scars on his back. Kain closes his eyes. Somewhere in the darkness he grits his teeth, closes his eyes, curses and hopes and waits as the pain sears into his body and wraps itself around his mind, those long, tortured nights of red-hot pain and dying thirst and naked humiliation. He must not lose. He must not lose...

But he is already losing, as he had known he would. For before it all began, before he knew of a love for a honey-haired woman, Golbez had found that Kain possessed a power that could defy him. That he would need to be killed or tamed. That Kain Highwind had a weakness.

Kain swipes wildly, forcing Cecil to duck. He charges before Cecil can recover. His lance shatters the ground by Cecil's head. Cecil goes still, and Kain breathes heavily upon him. Blue eyes meet. So long, Kain, he had whispered, snuffing the light to dark. A golden-haired boy screams, and a silver-haired boy looks up with tumbling tears in those blue eyes. He had not known, could not allow himself to know, that those tears were for him. Had always been for him.

"It wasn't your fault, Kain," Cecil says quietly, and Kain's fingers tremble around his lance. Faults matter not in the end, for along the way Golbez had found that Cecil was Kain's match; it matters not that Golbez had known, before it all started, that Cecil Harvey was Kain Highwind's greatest weakness.

A sickening groan in his heart, and Kain realizes that he had already lost, long ago – and yet he cannot allow himself to put down his arms. "I warned you before," he pants, ragged, "I will bring you to ruin."

Cecil smiles, gentle and bright; the battles are already coming to a close. "You can try," he says quietly. "I am not leaving you."

Kain cannot afford to lose. But the swaying world is tumbling down, and it is too broken to be held together with a lonely lance. Cecil's eyes look up at him, reflecting tumbling blue eyes and golden hair, and Kain sees a long-forgotten world of golden afternoons and silver moonlit nights that he had tried so hard to crush to dust. But he suddenly wants to believe in that world again, wants to believe in those forgiving eyes so much it hurts to breathe. Because in the end, he still loves, perhaps too much.

"Stay away from me," he whispers, broken. "I am going to kill you."

Cecil's smile falters, and his face is heartbroken. He reaches out and touches Kain's eyes. "Oh, Kain," he whispers, "Don't cry – I'm all right. You did find me."

And at last Kain hangs his head, because Cecil's eyes are sparkling bright and the world reflected in them is so beautiful, beautiful – and with a weary moan, the agonizing heat of his blazing wars is dying into a gentle simmer of whispering warmth.

And so he remains, his shoulders shaking in silent tears as Cecil pulls him close, whispers, whispers.

Above them, the distant earth is ever blue, aglow with gentle silver light.

The End

The dark knight hangs his head, covering his face with bloody hands. Pale hair hangs frail, tumbling down shaking shoulders. A little green-haired girl stands before him, patting his head helplessly. Don't cry, Cecil, she whispers, a childlike whimper. Don't cry. We'll get him back.

"So what will it be, Commander?"

Golbez waits. Kain remains unmoving. The temptation lingers, haunting the blackness of despair with tantalizing hope. The righteous leader of men stands unable to tear himself away, and somewhere, sometime far away, a dark knight weeps.

Kain turns around at last. He had never had a choice.

"Where is Cecil?" he whispers.

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Brian Shaber: I very much enjoyed this. I was a fun read, the characters and story expanding immensely as it went (almost to the point of bewildering me). The characters, settings, and scenes were vivid. The world-building (though, as I said, bewildering after a while) was most impressive. The grammar erro...

heavyonbooks: I admire your creativity. You have written a great piece. I want to promote your Inkitt book for free to my list of newsletter subscribers. If that is alright by you then please email me at exzordersplrwso AT gmail.com to book your spot, thanks.

TayMH: WHERE THE HELL IS THE SECOND BOOK BECAUSE...This book was just so amazing. Everything about it is so real.

abdiabdullahi: i liked it a lot you have so much room for improvement i am not saying i have great knowledge of writing i know if you put in more effort you could reach new levels and i kinda felt like you were rushing things and we did not get to see the better part of oriens growing up

Capsi.rum : Story is unbelievable but i m bit off about end because there should be reunion of hamilton with all of his friends that's it

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