|Think of Me
Author: Yu-tan PM
Jade and Peony have had an easy thing going on for a while. Suddenly, the man who thought he had it all Peony has to come to terms with the fact he might not. Jade on the other hand, gains something he never thought he'd have. Pre game / AU / somethinRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Jade & Peony - Words: 7,538 - Favs: 2 - Published: 09-25-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7413151
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Foreword: I don't even remember when I wrote this, or why. I think it was in some sort of attempt to humanize an occasionally sociopathic character, but take that as you will. Also, kind of toying around with how to use an original character although the focus is on Peony and Jade, obviously. But if you can't abide that, you've been warned (right now).
They met, across a crowded room full of fonists and lab technicians. They learned each other's names in a heated argument over fonon calibration. Jade Balfour, Lab Director. Julia Westyrm, Research Associate.
"Jade and Julia? That sounds fucking awful," Peony announced loudly over drinks. Too loudly, after one too many drinks.
"That's because you're drunk."
"Drunk or not, I know an awful couple when I see one. Hear. Hear one."
"We aren't a couple. We've spoken twice. I was just informing you on an interesting observation I made today," Jade replied in a clipped tone, downing his bourbon. Peony continued to twirl the pink umbrella from his drink between his fingers.
"You better not be. I get very jealous, you know."
"You mean you are stupidly entitled and spoiled."
"Semantics," Peony said, gnawing absently on the end of his fun straw. He was only able to steal time to check on things at the lab every month or so, but every arrival was preceded by a minor freak out that Jade would refuse to see him. Which he tried to assuage with the nearest alcoholic beverage, but ultimately could only be laid to rest by laying with Jade. "Ready to go?"
"You love it."
"You're late." the blonde research assistant remarked as Jade sauntered in 2 minutes later than normal.
"So I am," Jade replied it was Peony's fault, since he decided it would be a fun game to hide various articles of Jade's clothing around his royal suite aboard the warship. It took him some time.
"You're never late."
"I'm only human, Julia," he said, wishing she would drop the subject. He had particularly nice memories about the night before that didn't need to be spoiled with her usual over the top rim of her glasses stare.
"Mmm... Sometimes I wonder," she said, and that was all she said to him for the rest of the day.
"Hey, wait up!"
Jade paused to turn to the voice that he recognized instantly. Julia, hauling two bags fit to burst, half ran to catch up to him. "You live in the lab housing, right?"
"Me too." She started walking with him without waiting for any other kind of affirmative. She was an odd one, in Jade's opinion. Very smart, but odd. Not dangerous, just simply odd. He could imagine he would have been somewhat like her if he had not been dangerous, abnormally smart, and male.
"What's in the bags?"
"Books. Some of which you've authored."
"Which is kind of why I wanted to talk to you. If you don't mind. Over dinner, maybe?"
"Are you asking me out?" Jade inquired with a wry smile.
"No, I want to point out some disputable assertions you made in your thesis of "Fonology and New Physics"..." She trailed off.
She was too awkward to even flatter him. It was interesting, to Jade. So he took her up on the offer and found himself enjoying his first intellectual conversation ever since... well, ever since the Professor died.
Ever since you killed her, he reminded himself harshly when he was back in his apartment, after parting ways with Julia. Beauty and brains. Then it's sanity she's missing, he determined, since it was almost scientifically proven you could only have two of the three in any one person. She didn't seem that off, Jade conceded. Not even close to him, at any rate.
"J-Jade... Score, slow down will you... Nngh-" Peony gasped, Jade's working class sheets clenched in his fists. It had been two months since he was able to visit the lab and it appeared Jade missed him. Or something. He wasn't about to question whether Jade just got off on the right side of the bed, or just wanted to get off. It was beautiful and uncomplicated, what they had. No promises, no drama, no in laws and anniversaries. It was just friendly drinks and equally friendly fucking. Perfect.
Well, at that moment Jade hit that place in him that made his back arch and several profanities escape his lips and climax while seeing stars, and that was absolutely perfect.
"I take it you missed me?" he mumbled later, sprawled over the middle of Jade's bed. He didn't need the space. He hardly slept.
"Take it any way you like," Jade replied, grabbing a towel on the way to the shower. He didn't like to add words to the perfectly good arrangement they had so far. It could only complicate things.
"You better give as good as that next time I come around because it'll be a while."
"Things that busy at the court?"
"Of course," Peony said, groaning into the pillow. "It's so unfair."
"It's your job."
"Back on the job? I thought you were on vacation," Jade said, looking over to Julia who didn't look like she had taken a vacation at all. While all of the lab employees were given the holidays off, Jade hardly ever took the days. It appeared Julia didn't either.
"Nah, too much to do!"
"What about your family?"
"Don't have any," Julia replied with an aloof tone that Jade previously thought only he had mastered. "Alive, that is." She laughed awkwardly, turning back to her terminal.
"Are you seeing anyone...?" Julia giggled madly, luckily her wine glass was empty or the floor would have been in trouble.
"No, not really."
"Not really...?" She inquired. Somehow, they were in Jade's apartment, which previously had only entertained Peony as a guest. "Very bachelor," she had commented when she crossed the threshold to wade almost knee deep in books, journals, publications and research. Then the wine came out and she made a continuous slew of comments regarding his apartment and lifestyle.
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because. I can deal with workplace romance, but I don't think I can deal with adultery."
Jade was about to question, but suddenly she was close to him, too close, kissing him in a gentle, but determined way. He found he didn't mind. Actually, it was more like he felt a great wave of relief, like the final puzzle piece falling into place, as if one of the great mysteries that plagued his life was finally solved with that one simple gesture.
He was sure by the way she looked at him, past the scars and strange eyes and coldness, and the way he could look at her, simple in her compassion yet exceedingly complex in her thoughts.
"Hm?" She looked up at him, with a defenseless look that made Jade feel a little lost, but he recalled her raw intellect which made her interesting in the first place. For one, Peony never looked at him like that, Peony always knew what he wanted, where he wanted it, and how. That made things exceedingly simple for Jade. Julia was an entirely different plane of aesthetics. "What's up?"
They were tangled on his bed now, a little hesitant, but both fairly inebriated, in a friendly fashion. As far as he knew, there would be no regrets on either side. Well, if she didn't leave after he told her.
"I've never been with a woman."
Julia burst out laughing, the same way she laughed when there was a hiccup in the test results and she pondered what could have caused it.
"I would hardly have guessed," Julia said thoughtfully, "I figured someone would have gotten to you by now, with your looks and all," she said plaintively, without flattery or resentment. Jade could tell she observed much of the world the same way he did: as a matter of fact.
"I frighten people, I think." Actually, Jade was positive that was the case. Julia was the second human being he had let get this close, and it seemed to have been a complete fluke.
Or a miracle.
Julia made a dismissive noise, though a small part of her was relieved. So there were things Jade didn't know that she did. A nice change, but she was more interested in teaching him. "Let's not waste time then."
"You sure that was your first time around?" Julia asked teasingly the next morning, sitting in his kitchen, wearing a bed sheet, and drinking coffee. Jade wondered if he wandered into the wrong apartment after coming back from the bakery.
He nodded, still marvelling at what a completely different experience it was. There was a twinge of guilt- true he had never been with a woman, but his 'thing' with Peony had been going on for a very long time. However, it never hurt to make a good first impression.
She whistled appreciatively, tearing one of the hot rolls Jade brought back in half. "You must be some kind of secret natural."
No, just a cheater, he said to himself, smiling noncommittally to her. Though he wasn't entirely sure how things stood with Julia, he was 99.9% positive it didn't have anything to do with Peony. But he was also equally sure that had to end if Julia still wanted to see him. Would she?
"You are what?" Peony shouted, attracting the attention of some of the nearby patrons at the bar.
Turns out yes, Julia wanted to see him. Jade also surprised himself by how much he reciprocated. She drew something out of him that previously he doubt even existed. Something still far from compassion and not nearly close enough to empathy to count, but it was something. However, turns out that Peony was taking it the completely wrong way Jade expected him to.
"Julia and I are seeing each other," Jade explained again, more slowly.
"Yes, I got that, but first of all, why are you doing that, when you know it will be a fucking disaster, and two, glad to see you cared so much about-" Peony bit his words there, realizing he had almost spoken of their agreement as if it was something more. Of fucking course it was more to him, but it had been a mistake to think Jade cared at all about him beyond just sex. Seeing how he just picked up a broad out of the blue.
"Should we go outside to discuss this."
"Yes," Peony said harshly, leaving some gald for the bartender.
Outside the air was chilly, but both of their tempers were already running hot. "What exactly did you mean when you said 'you know it will be a fucking disaster'...?"
"Sorry for having doubts about you, since now apparently you're Mr. Personality," Peony spat, that feeling that something he had taken care of for a very long time was being snatched from his grasp. Jealousy. Spoiled entitlement.
"Because I'm the one who sneaks a continent away to flee from the very real problem of still not even being engaged," Jade shot back, knowing full well it was poor form to go after Peony's lack of a bride/heir/legacy, but he was still pissed Peony said his relationship was doomed from the start. "Go back to your castle Peony. Take care of your problems instead of coming here for... whatever you come here for-"
At Jade's last words, Peony couldn't help himself, his body reacting faster than he could judge, decking Jade right in the jaw. "Fuck. You."
"Oh jeez, what happened to you?" Julia rushed over when she saw Jade walk in with a swollen jaw.
"I'm fine, just a disagreement at the bar," he replied, grabbing a fistful of ice and wrapping it in a towel.
"What are you doing with that?" Julia asked, putting a hand to his cheek and letting the small rush of the seventh fonon mend the bruise.
"Forgot you could do that. I was used to treating myself, you see," Jade explained, feeling a pang of guilt for the worry in her eyes. He should have let the bruise stay, let the pain linger for a few days to remind himself not to fall in with such monumental idiots like Peony. He must have been really drunk and really upset about things back at the capitol, Jade thought as he curled up around Julia, letting the quiet sound of her breathing lull him to sleep.
"Happy birthday, Jade!"
It was a small affair, but for once Jade ate cake on his 26th birthday. Usually it was spent with Peony and a bottle of something expensive, but he hadn't seen or heard from his friend since that winter evening, more than half a year ago. He put these thoughts out of his mind as Julia brought out his gift, wrapped in teal paper.
"You shouldn't have."
"But I have to!"
It was a book. A very rare book that Jade had been trying to track down for nearly five years. He kissed her and said he would treasure it. Of course he would. It was from her. He felt such contentment and if the rest of his life, however short it was meant to be, would be just like this moment, he would have no qualms.
"What are you thinking about?" Julia asked when the lights were out and Jade was just a warm presence beside her.
"How I would like it to be like this forever."
"That's uncharacteristically sentimental of you," she remarked without any bite.
"You make me uncharacteristic," he replied and could somehow tell in the dark that she was smiling.
Something was off. After spending copious amounts of time around a particular person, it was something distinctly detectable by anyone with half a brain. Sometimes she couldn't climb the stairs as fast as she usually did. Sometimes she'd lose track of a conversation, which according to Jade's thorough but admittedly narrow knowledge of Julia, did not happen.
"Is something the matter, Julia?"
"Yeah, I think one of those idiots in the screening lab did this test wrong, look at how off these values are-"
"I meant in regards to you personally."
"All right, I'll go down to the screening department and see why they insist on being the incompetence dragging us down."
"Thank you, love."
In the elevator on the way down, he couldn't help but marvel at the dynamics of a lie. Before, he hardly would have cared. Now, it was an almost tangible thing born between the two of them and he had a choice whether or not to do something about it. By the time he reached the screening department, he decided to let it alone. It was her decision and isn't it a fact of life that everyone has secrets?
"Can I help you sir?" the decidedly unhelpful jewelry boutique attendant chirped. Jade had spent literally all day doing the one thing he despised the most: shopping, in an effort to find something for their anniversary, already only a couple weeks away. He'd never had an anniversary to celebrate, what on Auldrant do you give that person? He'd gone to the only store he was familiar with at first, but quickly realized it would not be found at the grocer's. Systematically checking every retail location on the street, he found himself in the last, tiny, cramped jeweler's.
"We have a lovely selection of engagement rings-"
"No, no, just... an anniversary."
The shop clerk recomposed her expression, pointing to a case with various (and expensive) items. "Wonderful. What kind of lady are you shopping for?"
What kind indeed. Jade realized that he was in the completely wrong store. Julia didn't wear a single piece of jewelry, except for Core that belonged to her mother, and that didn't even count. She wasn't the type to go crazy for rocks. Like him, the only thing she really cared about was-
He left the shop without buying anything, wandering slowly back to his flat. For his birthday, she had given him the perfect gift. Why couldn't he do the same? Maybe he'll give her a vacation, he thought, she really needs it. Since the day he asked, he didn't bring the subject up again, but she was definitely exhausted.
Entering his apartment, he was surprised that she wasn't there. A chill settled in his gut as he walked quickly across the compound to Julia's building, finding her door. He knocked.
He tried the door.
It was unlocked. He called for her as he crossed the threshold, checking the kitchen, living area, her office, then finally, her bedroom. There she was, asleep.
Except she wasn't.
Dear Jade. First, I ask you to forgive me.
"Jade, what the fuck is going on?"
Peony had forced Jade's apartment door open, after reports the lab director hadn't shown up for a week. No one would give him a straight answer. Jade didn't even call in sick. He was just absent.
As you know, I'm a seventh fonist. But I was also dying.
He found Jade sitting in his living room, the coffee table unnaturally clear of books. Only a letter lay upon it now. Jade didn't even react to his presence. That was a bad sign.
"Jade, are you all right?" He shook him, none too gently.
Weird to say that in the past tense. I supported my own life through my ability for a few months.
Clearly, he wasn't. Jade was like a ghost, his eyes seeing past Peony, past his surroundings to a place Peony had no idea if it existed. He scanned Jade's expression for something, anything, but there was nothing.
It got to a point where I couldn't do it myself. But I refuse to spend the remaining weeks as a vegetable on life support.
So he slapped him. Jade blinked, focusing on Peony for the first time. "Peony?" he murmured, wondering how he was standing in front of him now. It had been almost a year since they last met. Why?
That is where I ask for your forgiveness. For everything. For lying to you from the very beginning- In all honesty I was running away from my fate. I ran to this laboratory and hoped I could forget everything in my work. And then I met you, and it was both the cruelty and grace of the Score that allowed us to work side by side, if but for a short while.
"Jade, what's wrong with you? Huff one too many at the lab?" Peony said, the levity sinking like a stone in the oppressive atmosphere.
"Why are you here," Jade asked without real curiousity.
"What are you talking about?" Peony asked, his attention drawn to the letter on the table. He leaned over to read it, before being shoved roughly out of the way. "Score, what the fuck is your problem?"
Thank you for a wonderful year. There are not enough words or time to tell you how wonderful it was. I love you. Selfishly, I love you and I'm so, so sorry.
"She's dead," he said harshly, his voice breaking. He had spent the last week in a zone where the news was not quite real yet. Where he could still think it was a cruel joke, where he could still imagine her coming through the door, groceries in one arm and books in the other. Laughing, joking, poking fun at him and discussing their work. And then Peony barged in and that carefully suspended world was blown to pieces.
"I'm sorry, Jade." There didn't seem to be any better words. The last time Jade was like this was over 10 years ago, when they carried Nebilim's body out of the wreckage of her house. He must have really loved her. And that realization just about broke him. But in a twisted way, he realized she wasn't there anymore. Only he was.
"I didn't even get to say goodbye," Jade said later that night, after Peony more or less forced him to having a strong drink. Several, actually. "I just found her, lying there. She let herself die. No... She killed herself."
"It's not your fault."
"I know," Jade said, but Peony knew he didn't believe it. In the back of his mind, he couldn't help but resent her. Not for being with him and making him happy. No, for that he was grateful. He never would have been able to do the same for Jade. But for leaving him like this- that was fucking unforgivable.
"I didn't even get to say goodbye."
Seventh night, same nightmare. Only made more vivid perhaps by the copious amounts of alcohol. He was in a small dressing room and he knew it was a wedding. He'd never been to one, but assumed there would be flowers. Except everywhere around him, it was the wrong kind. Anemones. He'd wait and wait and wait until someone came in and told him it was time. He'd walk outside and saw it wasn't his wedding. It was her funeral.
That explained the flowers. He left. It wasn't where he wanted to be. He walked back up the stairs to the church, only to be looking at the start of a wedding. His wedding. There she was up the aisle and Jade knew why the word 'radiant' was applied most often to brides. Because she was, smiling and perhaps a little relieved because Jade was already five minutes late.
But that wasn't right. He stood on the threshold, looking over his shoulder at her funeral still in progression behind him and the wedding that was beginning in front. He tried to move inside the church, but he couldn't pass through the doors. He took a step back with no problem. He had only one choice. One possibility. One future. One Score.
He woke, like the other nights, hyperventilating and almost strangled by his own sheets. He crawled out of bed and sat in the shower until all the hot water was gone.
"I have this dream every night," he told Peony quietly, unenthusiastically eating lunch at Peony's insistence. "I have no choice but to go to her funeral."
"Did you actually-"
"No," Jade answered shortly. "I didn't think it was right. It was only for a year," he said quietly. He left out the part about the wedding. To him, the year might as well have been a minute or a decade.
Peony wished Jade had just manned up and gone to her funeral. Funerals provide closure to the living, in reality they did very little for the dead. And closure was what Jade desperately needed.
Jade woke up from the same nightmare in the same state. The only difference was Peony was in his room for some reason, at his bedside as if he were some sort of invalid.
"Go away," he mumbled, still disoriented in the darkness.
"You've got to let her go."
"Fuck you," he responded eloquently, trying to brush him aside but instead found himself pinned under the other and then confronted with the realization he could smell her perfume on him. The clean, fresh scent of jasmine that was always in her hair, her clothes, even her books. It was her favorite.
Peony knew that somehow it had worked when Jade kissed him, because they never kissed. Jade avoided it with Peony, for obvious reasons. He knew it was cruel to Jade, but he hoped this way they could both get what they wanted.
When they usually fucked, it was a friendly competition. They were rough with each other in an easy, confidant way that they both appreciated. There was no need to mince words or mind each other's comfort. It was selfish and irresponsible and greedy.
Their positions shifted as Jade moved above him, pulling away the clothes and layers between them, his gaze in the darkness unfocused and lost. If he stopped trying to concentrate and just let the heat and her perfume carry him away, he could remember. He could remember her exactly as she had been.
Peony made no sound of discomfort when Jade entered him, roughly, without warning or apology. Every other time Jade had done that, he'd get his revenge, but in this instance he kept quiet. He let Jade move and shudder against him, moan her name into his shoulder, intertwine their fingers as he let Jade go through pretty much every stage of grief out of order and sometimes simultaneously.
But after the pleading, anger, and denial, sometimes towards her, sometimes himself, and occasionally at Peony, he was left empty. All he could do was say goodbye. That's all she would accept, anyway. She was always stubborn.
He was a poor substitute, but Jade needed to grieve and love her and his own twisted feelings for Jade gave him the idea. The idea of wearing the same perfume that laced that letter Jade thought he had hidden away well enough and then giving Jade the opportunity to love her again. He'd always have her.
And he'd always have Jade.
It was late afternoon when he woke up. The room was lit with a gentle glow from the fading daylight. His body ached, but for once his head felt clear enough to focus on his surroundings. He must have slept more than half a day.
"Good morning. Or should I say, about damn time," Peony said, barging into his room with his usual sense of disregard for people's personal space. "I thought you were never going to wake up. Have some coffee."
Jade took the cup with a significant measure of gratitude, until he tasted it.
"This isn't coffee."
"Well, I tried."
"You had the whole day to try."
"And I tried the whole day!" Peony said indignantly, though it was really more for the last two hours. There wasn't a lot to do in Jade's apartment.
"Right. Don't you have royal... obligations, or something?"
"Well, yes, obviously..." Clearly the night before was slow to come back to Jade. Not that it really mattered in the mattering sense, Peony would just appreciate some sort of acknowledgement, unless it was going to be one of those topics they never acknowledged, like Nebilim or Peony's 17th birthday party. "Just wanted to make sure you were okay."
That was a remark worth contemplating. It seemed pretty likely Peony was not going to speak to him for another decade. Until... he somehow found out what happened. Jade remembered distinctly Peony arriving, but that was at least three days ago. Although last night / day was the first time he got any real sleep. Right up until that point.
Nightmares. And Peony. Temporarily it appeared Peony was able to give him a measure of peace. How, he could fill in the blanks himself. For that, he owed him... what, exactly? Thanks? An apology?
"I'm fine now. I'm sure," Jade said with as much confidence as he could muster, if only for Peony's sake.
"Right." Peony responded in a tone that meant he didn't believe Jade at all. "I should go then-"
"That sounds like a good idea-"
"I'll check in later-"
"Don't worry about me-"
The room felt smaller and stiller with Peony gone. Jade couldn't decide which way he preferred it. On one hand he was a distraction, on the other he just wanted to see her one more time. There was so much they had never got to, if only because of the Score. Had he known... he would have treated her differently and she knew it. Selfishly, she wanted to be treated like everyone else. Like she didn't have only months to live. Like she had forever to fall in love.
He began to compile a list of things he would ask her, of things that had slipped his mind during their time together. It seemed unbelievable he let so many hours escape in silence, just working side by side when he could have learned where she was born. What her favorite color was. Where she had studied. How she was that smart, yet not like the damaged person he was. Just dying.
Sooner than later it was dark. There wasn't anything left to drink, he wasn't hungry, and once again the couch seemed like a perfectly acceptable place to stay still and not move. Then, there was a polite knock on the door.
Of course, it was Peony. The only person who cared so little about what Jade said, but cared more than anyone left alive about how he felt.
"Just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Please go back to ruling the empire," Jade replied sleepily, trying to disengage the image of her hair, the same blonde as his friend. He didn't want to visit his nightmares and he didn't want to have to deal with Peony. "I can't deal with you right now."
"So don't," Peony replied simply, pulling him up and over towards the bedroom. "Talk to her."
"What are you..."
"Just try it."
He was too exhausted to argue. His eyes were already shut, surrendering to the other. "Julia?"
She'd be standing there beside him, puzzling over which book to read in bed. Jade liked to sit up and read; she liked to lay on her front. It was the few memories he had of simply talking to her.
"What's your favorite color?"
"That's your favorite color," Jade said a little crossly, managing to still glare at Peony through half shut eyes. But the emperor just shushed him, silencing his protest with a kiss. Not a prolonged affair, almost casual.
"Blue like the sea and the sky."
Another couple that will never meet, Jade thought vaguely as he wondered what she would say.
"I miss you."
"I miss you too."
Before Julia, Jade would not have considered the warmth of another person to be of any significance. But now it was like a drug, numbing his brain with a pleasant high. He drew her closer in his mind, for once in the thrall of a pleasant dream.
Jade didn't see him now, he saw her. Which granted, was more or less his intent, but it made him feel like he was taking advantage of his friend somehow. Even though Jade would probably think he was the one taking advantage of Peony. It was a twisted cycle.
"Mmm?" Peony responded lazily, having just gotten the last of whatever Jade was wearing off. In a fairly fucked up way, he enjoyed Jade in a rare state of disoriented vulnerability. The man clearly was lost in his own deep personal world, far removed from the shields and the masks he wore every day, even to Peony. Jade wasn't a genius, or a sinner, or even his best friend anymore.
Jade was lonely.
The days slipped by in an easy pattern. Jade split his time between the capitol and the lab, leaving some of the work he would have previously taken upon himself to the staff and took up some bureaucratic duties in Grand Chokmah. Obviously under normal circumstances he'd choose death over bureaucracy, but it was a small concession since the emperor couldn't well traipse off to the middle of nowhere all that often.
"Hard at work?" Peony asked, slipping into his office in the barracks long after he should have gone to sleep.
"Something like that," Jade replied, looking absolutely perfect in that azure uniform, compared to the too clinical labcoat he wore on other occasions. "Nothing like paperwork to slowly drive a man insane."
"Bureaucracy makes the world go 'round," he quipped cheerfully, reading over Jade's shoulder.
Peony would say something like that. He would say anything really, Jade realized, in order to keep him here, for whatever reason. As Peony drew close, he could smell jasmine, just subtle enough to catch at such close range. It was their unspoken signal that tonight he could see her. If he didn't smell the jasmine flower, well, too bad, to quote Peony. It may seem unfair, but Jade didn't complain. After all, he was in no position to.
"Did you miss me, Jade?"
Obviously he had. It showed in his tone, his gaze, his way of loosely holding Peony's hand while falling asleep. The perfume of a single flower made all the difference in what Jade would say and what he would keep to himself. Peony admitted sometimes he let his curiosity get the better of him, using those still moments to ask the questions Jade would never answer if he didn't believe she was the only one listening.
"Do you ever want a normal life?"
"What is 'normal'" Jade murmured, absently braiding the strands of blond hair by Peony's ear. "A family, a partner, and a home? Perhaps... I've never considered it to be a future a person like me deserved."
"You are terrifically self loathing. Stop it."
"Sorry," he said with an sad smile. She was the only one he'd ever apologise to. Peony was getting tired of the growing list of things he would only do and say 'for her'. But he was just as much at fault. He should be helping Jade get over her, not sink further in the delusion that he could hold onto her memory like this. He should be, but he wasn't. He loved Jade too much not to.
"I suppose it would be nice to have all that though. I saw families, growing up, but it didn't really dawn on me that I was suppose to have that too. There was only my sister, we grew up essentially alone," he explained, thinking back to the snowy city he spent his formative years in. Where sin and tragedy was a tall tree with many branches and deep roots. "I think one of my greater insecurities include being unable to make other people happy. I am generally selfish... but with you, I think it might have been all right."
"I guess that makes two of us," Peony replied quietly, having already guessed Jade felt this way. While it was one thing to find out Jade was capable of considering domestic bliss, it was another to realize that he would never have been enough. That's why he did this. Wearing the scent of a dead woman to get into bed with the man she left behind. Perhaps not the most illustrious tagline for the ruler of the second largest empire on the planet, but his forebears weren't exactly pure as the driven snow either. Especially his great grandfather, who had a penchant for questionable sexual practices.
"I love you, Jade."
"I love you too."
Peony allowed himself the luxury to forget her for a moment, to just enjoy the weight and style of the words that hung in the warm night air. It was emotional grave robbing, but what need did the dead have for sentiments like that. He gave everything on these nights for a woman he'd never met, a woman he resented and begrudged and mourned with Jade. The least she could leave him were those three words.
"Got a minute?" The largely rhetorical question went unanswered as Peony closed the gap between them, as the last doddering council man left the hall and they were alone. Inkwells were knocked over and documents ruined as he nearly pushed Jade right on the table, decidedly over the whole concept of uniforms being worn as opposed to being discarded somewhere on the floor.
"Someone was clearly distracted," Jade remarked, though this was not an isolated incident. There was no perfume to mask the lies, no gentleness to sustain a fantasy. Peony actually yanked his hair hard enough to elicit a grimace at the crude method of attracting his attention. "I didn't know you were a hair puller."
"Not my fault if you make it damn easy," Peony replied shortly, fumbling with the front of his trousers. When was the last time he caught Jade in a corner like this, unsure, but not unwilling? Jade was not one to be indebted to another human being, but in this case he had little recourse.
The vaulted ceiling of the conference room let in the last rays of sunset, illuminating the swarm of dust motes above. In the hollow hall, only two sets of uneven breathing and the rustle of papers ruined beyond use echoed on.
"I love you, Jade."
Like every other occasion like this one, Jade deigned not to respond and simply went on buttoning his uniform. But this time, Peony didn't feel like letting it go. Maybe it was Jade's carelessly disheveled appearance that he would normally never stand for. Practically flaunting the bruises at his neck, all it said was "I don't care".
"You're not even going to answer?"
"You didn't ask a question," Jade responded quietly, retrieving his belt from under a chair.
"So you're okay with this."
"Well I'm not," Peony said, forcing Jade to turn and face him.
"Then stop," he replied flatly, thought they both knew what would happen then. Or did they? They were caught in a cycle that was more of a tangle now. Neither would be free to break from the other at this rate, until they are irrevocably wrapped up in each other's massive issues.
"You know I can't do that. I don't want to see you throw yourself off the city walls tomorrow."
Jade smiled sardonically at the thought. "Do you think I'm that weak?"
"I think you're a coward."
Jade shrugged. He resigned himself to that the day of her funeral- the funeral he didn't attend.
"You haven't even visited her, have you."
"I haven't. I don't see the point."
"The point is that maybe you should get back in touch with the real world and face the fact that she's dead!" Like a wave building in the storm grey sea, the words he kept away from Jade were spilling out.
Jade look right ready to hit him at any moment. But he stood, fists clenched but at his side, and said, "You don't want me to do that."
"You don't want me to get over her. Because then you're afraid I won't need you. And then you lose your precious fuck toy-"
Peony had a lot less restraint than Jade, acting out blindly at those words. They were trading visceral verbal blows, but Peony was the first to make a physical one. "Don't play the victim, it doesn't suit you, Jade," he ground out between clenched teeth, the pain in his chest becoming sharper. "I'm not proud of the things I've done, but I want you to know I did it because I couldn't see you in that much pain."
"I didn't need your pity-"
"Yes you fucking did, if you didn't have enough pride to fill the ocean, you would admit that. You were a fucking wreck then."
"So, I'm all better now?" Jade said with a hollow laugh, eyes narrowed coldly. "That you could just fuck my problems away? Let me tell you, because I know personally, it takes more than perfume to bring someone back from the dead."
Peony was ready to hit Jade again, but it looked like this time Jade might hit back. And he'd never won a sparring match with Jade, so that was a lost cause now. Speaking of lost causes, this entire situation seemed to have become one. What else was there to do but walk away?
"I thought I could comfort you," he said tersely, "Because there was no one else on this planet who would even try, besides me. Maybe you should think about that, because you decide that there's absolutely nothing left to live for."
There was nothing he could do but walk out at that point. Then he broke out in a run, past the guards and the parquet and the doors of his palace, out into the twilight that cradled the floating city. He stayed at an inn that night, the smell of common soap and cloth alien, but soothing because it contained no ill memories to haunt his dreams.
The day dawned bright and harsh, dragging the irate emperor kicking, if not groaning, into the sunlight. He felt an overwhelming sense of unease as he looked around the plain and unadorned inn room where he spent the night. Because he didn't want to return to his chambers. Truth be told, he was just as much of a coward as Jade.
He set out into the city, heading in a very particular direction. If anything he said to Jade got through to him, he'd be there.
"I accept I am pretty much the worst," Jade said quietly, laying down the large bouquet in front of the headstone. It looked well kept, but of course the graves of nobility were always maintained. He didn't even know her family was a prominent aristocratic line. There was again, so much he never got to know. "But better late than never, I suppose."
He realized in a way it was pathetic that once he could no longer turn to Peony, he really did have to seek out the last remnant of the woman he loved on the planet. But it just made him uneasy to see the rows of monuments and the varieties of flowers left by relatives and friends. He considered himself close with death, but in a natural, visceral sort of incarnation. This was purely human and it unnerved him. He would never be normal.
"I just wanted to let you know that I wish we had more time," he says quietly, sitting down on the cool grass because it felt too awkward to talk down to her grave marker. Likewise in life, he never talked down to her like he usually did to people. "You brought back a part of me I thought had been taken while I was still a child. I never told you this, but I killed someone dear to me when I was ten. Then I violated the laws of nature trying to bring her back. After that ordeal, I pretty much accepted the fact that I was a very disturbed human being. I considered that perhaps the world would be better off without me. And then a lot of other things happened and it became to be that I was the director of a lab you joined. My point is... being with you felt like the closest thing to having a soul."
Jade sighed, wondering briefly if he was truly losing it this time. There was no one who was going to answer him, much less her. It was a sort of mad idea to see if all those believers in the Order were right about communicating with their loved ones.
"I thought I'd find you here. Am I great or what?"
Heading towards him from the gate was Peony, wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Did he even return to the palace?
"I will admit I'm impressed," Jade said, though he supposed since it was Peony's idea he borrowed to visit her, it was likely Peony figured out where he would be. For a moment, all the harsh words and verbal wounds from the night before lay suspended between them. Silently, they agreed it would be better to lay it to rest here.
"I should apologize-"
"Don't worry about it," Peony cut him off, "You're pretty fucking terrible at that anyway."
"Guilty," Jade admitted, half smiling if just for Peony's benefit. They left the cemetery, shoulder to shoulder, back towards the palace in the distance. Like their future, the mist of the constant flowing water obscured some aspects of the horizon, but without the spray of water, there wouldn't be the great arch of color expanding across the sky.