|Of Things Past
Author: saltedpin PM
The Warrior of Light knows that memories are difficult. Slight AU in which the cycles didn't end at 013.Rated: Fiction T - English - Warrior of Light & Cosmos - Words: 4,443 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 3 - Published: 08-01-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8384453
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
WARNING: This is a very bitter read of Cosmos. It's not a very happy fic.
This is gen, but read whatever you like into it.
Written for the ~ffchaoticcosmos relationships challenge.
Thank you to Poisonstrawberries and Apathy for all their help and betas :)
"She looks sad when she looks at you."
The Warrior shifted, turning his head to look at Prishe.
"Silly. Who do you think?"
He didn't know what to say to that – he almost never raised his eyes to look at Cosmos' face. If she looked sad, he had not noticed. He watched the clouds drift against the blue of the sky, feeling the solidity of the ground beneath his back.
"Do you think we ought to be getting back?"
She flashed him a quick smile. "You need to learn how to relax." She rolled onto her side, propping herself up on a bent arm. "Here," she said, planting the pad of her thumb between his eyebrows, smoothing upwards. "Get rid of that for a start."
She settled back down next to him, nestling slightly against his side.
"Or maybe not sad," Prishe eventually said. "Maybe… " She paused for thought. "No. Not sad. Just – " She cut herself off there, then smiled. "It doesn't matter."
He'd watched her fade – she'd smiled, but her eyes were so tired, and he wondered if it hadn't been what she'd wanted all along.
The Warrior had waited, watching his hands. They'd wavered, but remained solid. Eventually he'd picked up his sword and stood. He turned back to Order's Sanctuary. If the knight that Prishe had felled spoke the truth then he would find it empty, but he was unsure of where else to go.
"You still live, I see."
The voice behind him almost made him start. "Garland?"
"Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised." Garland made no move. As if he didn't expect the Warrior to attack. "Maybe the girl did know what she had stumbled upon after all."
The Warrior of Light opened his mouth, wondering what Garland wanted from him. He had only ever encountered the man in battle.
"I don't pretend to understand the purpose of your presence here, Warrior," Garland said, and the Warrior of Light could hear the ironic twist in the last word. "I can only assume that man has more cruelty in him than it seemed."
"Who – " the Warrior started to ask, before he felt his fingers begin to loosen, refusing to grip his sword. The world grew darker.
At the last, he could see the scowl in Garland's eyes even through the monster's mask of his helm, before he turned and walked away.
He didn't have any memories – everything began and ended for him with the soft light of her smile. Even as he knew it was impossible, he couldn't help but feel he'd known that smile all his life. He understood that at some point there must have been other people, other smiles, but none of them like this.
Despite its kindness, its benevolence, its calm, he could see the sorrow hiding behind her eyes, and he wondered what could possibly make a goddess so unhappy. He would have asked, but he did not feel it was his place to question. Even as something – intuition, perhaps – told him that she would likely tell him, the idea of making such a request repelled him. Cosmos was not to be looked to for answers, and he was not to ask for them.
She simply was. He simply served.
There were many things he could have asked for in his life: a solution to the puzzle of his memories, his long-forgotten name. To discover why, as he watched his comrades recover more and more of their pasts, he remained blank, picturing nothing when he closed his eyes but the faint impression of her light.
Did it matter? He had his purpose. Cosmos was reason enough. Perhaps he was wrong to look for more.
"Kain has fallen."
He didn't look at her face as he said the words, simply knelt before her with his head bowed. As he always did; as he always had.
"I know," she said, her voice gentle. "I felt it."
He kept his head low, not understanding why he suddenly found it so difficult to breathe.
"He was your friend," Cosmos said after a moment. "You are allowed to feel sorrow."
The Warrior pulled in a quick breath. "He died in your service, Cosmos," he eventually said. "I should not be sorrowful for that."
"And yet, you are."
There was no cruelty in her voice, but there was something other than gentleness, too.
"You always are."
"You wonder about it, don't you."
Cosmos spoke softly. Despite her turn of phrase, it was not a question.
"About your past. Why it's not yet come back to you."
He considered her words, wondering if she had read his thoughts – in his face, or perhaps, in his mind. Her presence was so constant that he really didn't notice it anymore.
"If it hasn't, it only means my resolve to protect you is all the stronger. I've nothing to cloud my mind."
The words came to him easily, as if he'd said them a thousand times before – in a way, he supposed, he had. If he had a purpose, he need not remember his name.
Were these memories?
He awoke with a start, Cosmos' words ringing in his ears.
You always are.
What did she mean by that? The dream he had awoken from was strange, and he did not know its meaning.
He had been lying on his back, feeling the wetness of the grass beneath him.
I don't know. He heard the words from his dream clearly in his head. I don't think Cosmos summoned you. She didn't know what to do with you 'til the Doc and I convinced her to give you her powers or something.
But if not Cosmos, then who? His own voice sounded in his head. I don't underst –
Look, it's probably best if you don't overthink these things. You're here now, right?
He felt the ghost of a small hand give him two solid pats on the head.
We'll take care of each other, right? That's what matters.
In his mind's eye, he saw the flash of a smile, but the rest of the face was beyond his reach.
Memories were confused things – there were gaps and events that did not seem to follow on from each other; people that he didn't know. Deaths he hadn't witnessed.
He wondered if all memories were like this, or if such fragmentation was simply because he was so unused to remembering.
"You look pensive, my friend."
The Warrior of Light turned, the glow of the campfire casting long shadows against the dark earth.
"No. It's not that."
They sat in silence for a time.
"Perhaps not. But something is weighing on your mind."
The Warrior blinked, unsure of how to give a voice to his thoughts. "I had a strange dream. I… " He licked his lips and wondered how to continue. "I dreamed you died."
Kain's laugh was low. "Unsurprising."
The Warrior creased his brow. "It seemed real. I don't… I woke thinking it had happened."
Kain stood, hefting his lance and turning away into the night. "I can assure you I'm not dead. Not yet," he said over his shoulder, before he walked away.
His thoughts often crowded each other, fighting for space – had it always been like this, he wondered, with so many faces that didn't seem to fit, so many events that didn't seem possible? The man who smiled at him now, he was sure he had seen keeled over the point of a sword; the girl who looked so prettily earnest had been engulfed in fire; the boy running ahead of him found lying in the snow, broken and beyond help. He remembered watching his own hand reach forward. What can I do? I'm sorry, I don't have a potion – I gave it to –
The name wouldn't come to him, though he felt it try to force its way to the tip of his tongue.
Is he safe, though?
The boy's voice was barely above a whisper.
A faint smile. I don't mind. Tell him I said bye.
It made no sense.
He had seen them die, one by one, over and over, and yet, they were here by his side, following him, speaking to Cosmos as if it were the first time they had ever spoken the words.
"What do you remember?"
He was jerked from his thoughts by Cosmos' voice, gentle and quiet.
"Nothing, Cosmos. Nothing of my past has returned to me."
Cosmos was silent, the ebb and flow of her light steady. "Perhaps not," she said. "It will come back. You must be patient."
"Of course, Cosmos. I know."
He felt like this had gone on forever – had there ever been anything other than the sound of steel hitting steel, the clash of blades against armour?
"Do you ever wonder why you don't remember?"
Garland's voice was low and smug as he leant against his weapon, a brief break in the fight while they both caught their breath.
"It doesn't matter," the Warrior replied. "All that matters is Cosmos."
Garland rarely laughed, but he did so now. "Is that so?"
The Warrior of Light pulled himself upright – he was not in the mood to talk, not with Garland; rarely ever with anyone.
"Of course you wonder." Garland parried his blow easily, shifting once again out of reach. "You cannot help but wonder."
The Warrior paused again. For a moment, the flash of a smile ran through his mind. We'll take care of each other, right? That's what matters.
He swallowed, pushing the thought away. "I said it doesn't matter," he repeated, moving forward to attack once more.
He almost expected to turn and see her smile again – different from Cosmos', which was gentle and soft as benediction – it was wide and seemed to hide nothing, though he was not exactly sure that that was true.
He had such clear memories – he was sure that was what they were, though they were muddied by the fact that they seemed to play out with the same people, the same places that he had always known. She faded before him, her smile growing dimmer by the second.
It's okay – I had fun getting to know you. Whatever you do, don't forget your name!
But he had forgotten it, as he felt like he'd forgotten so much else. Perhaps Cosmos knew it, and would tell him if he asked – but again, the idea of asking her for anything was not something he was prepared to do. It was not his place.
Now, she watched him quietly – whether he was standing by her throne or wandering to the edges of the world.
"I'm not," he always answered. "I'm yours."
"What more could I ask of you?" she replied. He could not tell if it was meant as a comfort to reassure him or a question to which she expected a response.
Either way, he said nothing, and merely continued to put one foot in front of the other, seeking whatever he would find.
The stars wheeled overhead, streaks of light against the dark sky. He wanted to raise his head, but found that he could not.
He supposed defeat had always been inevitable – Cosmos' forces were outnumbered, and their lack of experience showed badly on the battlefield.
He felt her presence along the border of his mind, smoothing down the tattered edges of his consciousness.
You did what you could. I understand.
He closed his eyes briefly. It was necessary, Cosmos. She said nothing, but he believed he could almost feel fingers brush over his forehead. He had the thought that perhaps she was trying to comfort him. It was a reasonable sacrifice, he said, not wanting her to be sad for him. For any of them.
The fingers stilled against his head.
What did you say?
He was not sure whether it was confusion or dizziness that lanced through him then. She had never asked him to repeat himself – never asked him for anything – and never had she spoken with such sharpness in her tone.
I - he began.
Don't. She cut him off, and he felt her fingers recoil from his brow. I know what you said. I know.
"Kain." The Warrior crouched down – Kain's helm was broken, his long hair splayed on the ground. Blood bubbled when he breathed.
"My friend. I fear I've failed."
The Warrior almost reached for Kain's helm, to hand it back to him as if that would fix the wound in his side.
Kain's smile was brief. "Forgive me. I wasn't able to finish what we started."
The Warrior leaned over him. He had no potion, no healing magic. He almost wanted to touch Kain's head, to offer something – but he drew back, not knowing what would be proper.
"You must finish it, my friend."
Kain's eyes were closed, his breath shallow.
Kain. Kain. He'd seen this before – he knew now. He knew it with the force and clarity he knew so few things – this had all happened before.
The cycles were true. There could be no other explanation. They must gain their crystals – Kain's death was a means to that end. There was no other way.
He waited until Kain's breath had stopped, his hand sliding from the sucking wound he had been trying to staunch.
The Warrior stood, turning and walking through the mess of shattered manikins that littered the ground.
You must finish it, my friend. They were so weak and so few. He closed his eyes briefly, and wondered what to do next.
"Did you really believe you could end them?"
The Warrior of Light had no idea what Garland was referring to - end what? He didn't understand why Garland had not yet made any move towards him, and he moved into an attack stance. He did not want to talk. Not to Garland.
"Golbez was as big a fool as either of you."
Golbez. the name stirred something – a memory, perhaps – somewhere deep within his mind.
Golbez – Kain –
One name seemed to pull at the other, and it drifted unbidden to the surface of his mind, though he knew no one by either name.
"The price of treachery is to not be brought back," Garland said, standing unmoving as a stone. "I suppose he got what he wanted in the end. A pity he had to leave his brother behind and the dragoon abandoned to whatever fate the manikins deal out."
The Warrior stepped back, readied his sword.
"Perhaps I envy them." Garland finally crouched, the muscles in his thighs tensing as he readied himself. "Their cycles are ended. But you and I are here forever."
"I don't know what you're talking about," the Warrior answered automatically, gauging distance, counting steps.
"No. Of course not." Garland raised his weapon. "It was a vindictive thing, I think," he said, as one foot slid behind him like a coiling spring, "not to even tell you your name."
The words flashed in the Warrior's mind – Whatever you do, don't forget your name – I don't think Cosmos brought you here –
"Stop it," the Warrior said, lunging forward. "I have no name."
"Not any longer." Garland dodged, moving beyond his reach. "You are hers now, more completely than you've ever been, and she has not deigned to give it back to you."
The Warrior blocked the words from his ears, hearing only the sing of his sword in the air.
"How ironic," Garland said as he parried, "that you believe me cruel."
"What are you thinking about?"
Cosmos seemed to ask him this more and more frequently now; he did not understand why, when she could simply reach into his thoughts at any time.
He wondered if it was some kind of test.
"I fought Garland."
Cosmos did not reply. He could not tell, from this angle, if she was looking at him.
"He said – things I didn't understand. About cycles." He swallowed. "About my name."
He turned his head slightly trying to see her reaction. From the corner of his eye, he saw Cosmos incline her head slightly towards him. "What purpose would there be in knowing it?" Her eyes flickered. He saw something he could not identify flash in them. "Would you even wish to know it, if you could?"
He thought for a moment. "No," he eventually said. "It doesn't matter."
He believed the words as they came out of his mouth. He had no right to want what she didn't offer freely – what she offered was purpose. Garland could not understand.
It was enough, the Warrior told himself. It was enough.
"Chaos is winning," Lightning said, her voice rising in anger. "Can you understand that? Is there any brain in that head at all?"
"Then Chaos wins."
He could not understand what she wanted, what she expected him to say.
She stared at him, anger making her incoherent. "I don't believe you. Just… fuck…"
She turned and stalked away from him, her shoulders rigid. "I'm no-one's pet. Not yours. Not your fucking goddess's," she spat, the wind carrying her words back to him. "There is a way out of here." She had stopped and half-turned back towards him, her anger unspent. "I'll find it. I will."
The Warrior watched as she finally turned to go. Was there a way out? Was there, in fact, anything beyond this at all? He was not sure he believed it to be true. Memories were difficult things. Maybe he'd believed it once.
Even if, he thought, even if it's true, what else would there be?
"Did you call out to me once by name?"
The question came out of his mouth haltingly – he could not recall ever having asked her something so directly before.
Cosmos turned her eyes to him, as cold and blue as they always were. "Why do you ask?"
"I don't think I can remember it. Perhaps I never had one."
He wasn't sure how much he believed the words – he must have had a name at one time. He had such strange recollections: fighting back manikins, the cold of Sanctuary creeping over his limbs. He could hear the sound of her voice calling out, her lips rounding in a cry, but the name itself was gone.
Cosmos was silent. "No," she eventually said. "Not to you."
She was naming names to him. "Vaan. Firion. Cecil." She paused. Her voice didn't waver and the Warrior could almost believe it sounded cold. "Prishe. Kain."
He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't underst –"
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "They mean nothing."
Somewhere deep in his mind, something stirred and tried to rise. "No," he said, before whatever it was could take shape. "There's only you."
She looked at him, her face beautiful and unreadable. "Why do you stay with me?"
For a moment, he felt as if she had squeezed the air from his lungs – the question was unanswerable.
He swallowed, trying to compose some response. What reason could there be? She was here – and so was he. There was no other way.
"It's my purpose," he eventually said. "To do whatever is necessary."
She looked away from him. "Whatever is necessary," she softly repeated. "I suppose that's true. It always has been."
The Warrior began to wonder if all he was ever meant for was this. To die. To watch them die.
One by one they had fallen. It was necessary, it was reasonable. To protect the flank here, others must fall there. It was hopeless, but to ask less of them was unthinkable.
For Cosmos. For Cosmos.
He was almost ready to close his eyes, to sink into the water of Sanctuary when he felt the heavy tread of a foot next to his head. Fingers clamped around the lower half of his jaw, hauling him upright.
Garland's voice was low, but the Warrior could hear none of the amusement he was expecting to hear in it.
"She has trapped you here like this. Do you think you'll ever be free?"
The Warrior of Light blinked; he tried to speak, but the only thing that rose in his throat was a wracking cough.
"The cycles continue. You are powerless against them."
Memory surged. Cycles – Kain – Prishe –
But it was gone in an instant as Garland's fingers tightened, and the Warrior struggled futilely against him.
"Chained to your mistress. As you always shall be." Garland's voice was almost soft. "There is another way."
The Warrior wanted to close his eyes, as if by doing that he could block out Garland's words.
"Abandon her. She has no love for you – you only serve to remind her of the man who sold her to this war. Why else would she keep you in such bondage?"
The Warrior looked up, wondering if his confusion was plain on his face.
The clawed tips of Garland's gloves dug into the skin of his throat.
"I won't." If he had been wrong in this, he had been wrong in everything. Prishe. Kain.
Vaan. Firion. Cecil. Prishe. Kain.
I don't know those names.
You chose to forget.
Her voice was like liquid, filling every corner of his mind. She spoke to him like this often now, when he was away from Sanctuary. Why are you here?
It's my purpose. You know that. Cosmos, why –
Of course, Cosmos. Always.
Do you remember them?
I don't know who you mean. Please –
You used to remember. You chose to forget.
She was terribly weak now. He did not think it had always been so – he thought he could remember a time when he had roamed to the edges of this world, to whatever lay beyond the boundaries of her spire. When he was sure there had been others.
No. It could not have been so. It has always been this way.
His mind often played tricks on him – it was the only explanation. Memory was a difficult thing. Maybe because he did not understand it. Maybe not.
Now he stood by her side in Sanctuary. He could not leave. She was too weak, and Chaos was coming.
"What do you remember?"
His tongue felt heavy in his mouth. He blinked, and wondered what he could tell her.
"You remember something. Tell me."
Her voice, though quiet, was so cold – he must have had memories of it once being otherwise, or else it would not have startled him so.
The Warrior of Light swallowed. "I remember that I wasn't always alone."
She smiled then, just the briefest twitch of her lips.
The Warrior was not sure what to say. "How – but where –"
"We sent them to their deaths, you and I." Her voice was quiet, but her tone was as cold and hard as ice. "Perhaps we had no choice. But we still did it."
The Warrior stared out to the periphery of Sanctuary, out to the seemingly untroubled sky. "Did we?"
"You knew it. You still do." She paused, but she was unrelenting. "You, me, him."
Somewhere in him, he knew she did not speak falsely – even if he could not bring himself to believe she bore him malice, she had no reason to lie. He looked back over his shoulder at her, curiosity, for once, overriding protocol.
"Him?" For a moment he thought she must have meant Chaos, but something in her tone told him otherwise.
A tired smile touched her lips. "Perhaps I've been unfair. I see so much of him in you."
The Warrior blinked and opened his mouth, but no words would come.
"He placed you here – what purpose but to mock me? He knew – it was his idea – " She raised her eyes to his face, her gaze piercing. "I did only what he asked. I called the warriors, and I sent them to die. He promised there would be an end to it. Revenge for us all. The cycles were the only way."
The Warrior of Light turned away from her – somewhere in some deeply layered part of his mind he remembered that someone had told him these things before. Cycles. Did Garland –
He shook his head. Maybe Garland had tried to tell him something, but even if it were true, he could not go back now.
"Was your purpose so precious to you?" Her voice broke into his thoughts. Calm. Quiet. As ever. "That you were so willing to overlook your own actions, and send them to their deaths?"
"I could do nothing else, Cosmos." He almost wanted to kneel before her, as he remembered doing so many times in the past, but he didn't know if it would be right. He reached for the right words, but all he found was hollowness. "I could do no better. It was all for you."
"For me," she said, looking up at the sky, at the sun breaking through the clouds. "And for you."
The Warrior closed his eyes. There were so many faces he could not place, so many people he thought he had once known, though making them fit into what he knew to be true was impossible.
Maybe the cycles were they were chained to the wheel, and maybe he had once had comrades - friends – who had been crushed beneath its turning. Maybe he had kept it turning, even more than she. It mattered not. It could not.
Even if she were a goddess of death, he'd stand by her side in this twilight until the end.
There was nothing else he could do.