time, and the laws that govern it
"Since the beginning?" He asked, his gaze centered on the gleam of holy fire down the other's hair, catching light and setting him blind.
Edward, with his eyes that spark like sulfur and gold, was always – and beyond any line of reproach – unearthly beautiful.
It seems they were always destined to find one another, over and over, through each permutation of life.
O Time! the beautifier of the dead,
Adorner of the ruin, comforter
And only healer when the heart hath bled—
Time! the corrector where our judgments err,
The test of truth, love, sole philosopher,
For all besides are sophists, from thy thrift
Which never loses though it doth defer—
Time, the avenger! unto thee I lift
My hands, and eyes, and heart, and crave of thee a gift.
Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV (1818), Stanza 130
58 AD; Rome
"Move." A yelp of pain reaches his ears – or, perhaps, more of surprise than pain – and Roy opens his eyes. The constant darkness of the slave cells had made his sight complacent, and seeing the crackle of fire from a nearby torch had him squinting and grimacing, blinking away the tears gathering in the corners. It takes him a moment, for his gaze to focus and adjust, all the while hearing the grating of the iron bars echoing in the silence of the cavern. Murmur reaches his ears and he wonders if it is day or night, unable to tell in the overlapping darkness and he wonders, for a moment, if the other slaves – chained just like him – had the same train of thought.
The voice that spoke, had sounded bored, repeated the command and another gasp – and Roy's brows furrow, hearing pain and rage in the response – and the sound of mismatched footsteps echo in his lonely cell. He sighs to himself, finally noting the gleam of the footsoldier's armor – painted in lines of crimson flames from the torch held aloft. A figure is pushed into the cell and Roy makes out long hair in disarray, reflecting the tendrils of light, covering a figure barely clothed.
Bronzed skin, faint lines of old scars across his arms and the bared teeth of a warrior still rearing to fight back. The footsoldier – a Vigiles from what Roy could make out of his armor – looked unaffected by the other's obvious dislike.
Suddenly waking from his short sleep had Roy groaning slightly, feeling the faint pangs of hunger in his stomach. In spite of that, however, he wasn't up to begging the footsoldier for some gruel. No, the last time he had done so, the butt of a spear had been slammed into abdomen, and he was slammed against the stone wall. Better yet to be quiet, keep his head down and bite his own lips until they bled.
The footsoldier turns slightly to him, and Roy – after meeting the other's grey eyes – ducks his head, willing himself to look as prostrate as possible in the nigh darkness. His new companion sits upright – long hair in shambles, pale like what he recalled of the moon, a long time ago – and lunges forth at the still open entrance of the cell.
Roy didn't make a sound, already knowing what will happen. He once tried that, too.
A quick whack, the sound of iron against skin, and a gasp of pain and the soldier kicks the other back to the cell with his boot. Hurried breaths, as if locked in someone's throat and unable to escape, coursed through the now silent air – even the others in the cells further had gone back to fear-stilled silence.
His new companion though, despite the pain, remained just as feisty as he gasps out words in a language Roy doesn't understand – but it doesn't take a scholar to guess at the way the words were hissed at. He can almost feel some semblance of respect for the other.
The Vigiles doesn't look afraid, simply shuts the bars closed and chains are wrapped to keep it – them – shut.
Roy is aware of the heavy breathing from the new prisoner, but his attention is on the fleeting light from the torch as the soldier walks away into the distance, back to the light and they are left in darkness. He almost calls out to the soldier to leave the torch, leave the only semblance of light he could still remember. He doesn't.
He turns to the other, while light was still present, and takes in the cascade of – and Roy doesn't know what this color is called – but it reminds him of a time before this: reminds him of a time under clear skies and the great moon across a darkened swath; fields of grass running as high as his knees and the coldness of winters come, nipping at his skin. Roy blinks, and memories of his family and home disappear, as the last sliver of torch light recedes, twinkling across the other's disheveled hair.
It was not unusual, though it did not happen quite as frequently, to have female slaves placed in the pits. There were instances of women chained down here, but if he remembers the day he first marched down to the crypts, head down as wont of soldiers defeated, these women were usually those that could no longer serve some function for their captors: women that were old and ancient, with grey hair and eyes that could no longer see past their fingers; women who shook and screamed, cursing out gods and animals, madness clouding their eyes; women disconsolate, no longer answering to the jeers of the men who had beheaded their husbands; they were all thrown down here to die.
But the women – the young, those still on the cusp of womanhood; women with still-fertile hips and softness to their flesh – Roy knew there was no worse fate for them. Death was easier, if not an escape to the subjugation and rape.
Still, his observations aside, Roy was curious, if only for the need to talk – the need to remind himself that he was still alive.
He ventures out a quiet greeting. There is no response in the oppressive darkness.
He makes his voice louder, insistent – even if its own reediness echoed in the silence.
There is a response, a biting reply to his inquiry, and spoken in the same language the other had used before. Roy realized it was male-sounding, scrapping away the faint thought of being caged with a mad woman. The voice, in spite of its anger, sounded quite young and Roy guessed that it – he – was a child, a slave like him, perhaps won from his parents in the conquests of the Roman emperors.
Still, child or no, the least he could do was to know the other's name. It had been a sort of practice for him – for Roy – and the last prisoner he was with. When his army was defeated, their lord speared to a tree and all of them in chains, he had been shut down here with an archer named Aidn, who had been taken away a fortnight from their defeat. It was easier with Aidn, as they had shared the same tongue – and Roy would rather that someone knew who he was here, in this foreign land, where the sun seemed intent to burn them to the ground, than be a nameless ghost should his captors decide to have his head on a plate for entertainment.
Roy ventures out, quietly, in the only language he's learned to use in his time here, in the land of his captors. He asks for a name, words stilted, his tongue unused to them.
There is silence. Pressing, suffocating silence.
Shuffling, as if settling on the craggy earth and the cold stone walls against his back, Roy's new found companion whispers his response.
Et is as strange as his name, Roy finds. Through broken Greek – often times beset by pauses and frustrated sounds (mostly coming from Et's end) as if the boy could not wholly express his thoughts – Roy, with the patience of a prisoner in a strange land and holding no hope of ever coming home, learns of the other's origins.
"East?" Roy asks, slowly pronouncing the word in the stone-still silence of the crypts. "You came from the east?"
"Came. Yes." Was the other's response, a rustle of cloth as if he had nodded and Roy works on whatever remains of his memory of the other's form to imagine such an action. "Hot."
Roy laughs, and he is surprised by it. He hasn't laughed in eons, his throat aching at the now-foreign action. There wasn't even anything remotely humorous about the words, save for the irritated manner Et had spoken – as if he wasn't trapped underground, half-starved and delirious, with the creeping realization that they would most likely die here – and the thought, once more, brings Roy to a chuckle.
A kick to his leg as Roy guffawing, and he can almost feel the waves of annoyance trembling off the other's form. "Yes," Roy speaks, resting his head against the wall and letting himself reminisce upon his childhood days to stave away the gnawing of his stomach. "it is quite hot here. My country could barely get a day in without rain, how I now regret cursing such things in my youth."
"Roy." He turns at the mention of his name, even if all he sees is the same blackness, the same one when he closes his eyes. "Name. Roy?"
Roy shifts, lying down on the rocky earth, uncomfortable but too exhausted to care. "Yes. My name is Roy."
The silence between them is bereft, each one locked in the prison of their thoughts, on anything but the slow death crawling up their spines. Roy doesn't know if the pressing weight against his chest is hope or despair, doesn't know if a day will come where he opens his eyes and sees the infinite skies, painted swaths of blue, instead of the darkness that has even made him forget how he looked like. What is certain, he understands, is that he has been too alone for too long and even if dismemberment would have been preferable, he is somewhat comforted in the sound of Et's breathing, the rustle of the cloth around his skin and the memory of his silvery hair cascading down his shoulders.
In the morning that follows, a legion of Vigiles arrive – to bring them to a new master, to the execution plains, to the colosseum to be used as pigs for slaughter by the gladiators, to whatever purpose the Romans desire for their prisoners – bearing more torches than Roy has ever seen in the many summers that have passed since he was a slave, and the raging fumes of the crimson light casts its glare across the crypts.
Roy turns in his cell, and sees Helios reflected in Et's golden eyes.
The sun bore down, searing and relentless, and Roy grabs the end of his helm and pulls it away. Sweat trickles down the side of his cheek, his hair sticking to his forehead and he squints his eyes, shielding them from the unforgiving burn of the noon sun.
He spots shade off to the side of the street, and he walks over, the chainmail against his skin burning but ignoring it nonetheless, not looking at the peddlers cautiously moving away from where he stood. Blessedly out of the heat, Roy leans against the walls of Constantinople, his throat parched and his legs exhausted. Still, he could not ask for more than this respite, knowing that beyond her gates, the Osmans and the Moors lay in wait.
The clanging of the bells of the gargantuan basilica overhead – the Sancta Sophia – made Roy look up, watched the raised buttresses and towers pointing heavenward and, as custom for a soldier of the Holy Church, crossed himself.
It had been a long journey, rife with blood and battle, the Church's holy wars raging across the lands that cross Spain and France. The wars seemed to run forever, and Roy had to be honest with himself, admitting that he can no longer see an end to it. What had started out as a campaign for God and glory, had now become a brutal massacre and Roy sighs to himself, hand gripping the hilt of his sword as he lets himself acclimate to this country's searing temperatures. Falaise had not been as humid, although the summers often came, not as strong and as overwhelming as the regions near the Holy Land.
Perhaps, there was a challenge in that – to stand near God is to feel the flames of the divine.
The thought, in the workings of a man who had lost too much, was a bit humorous and he snickered to himself.
Roy opens his eyes and sees a woman, one of the peddlers, staring at him with a hint of irritation – perhaps due to his behavior while the church bells rang overhead – but she turned her head away when she realized that Roy was staring back, as if challenging her.
Shaking his head, Roy resumes his post and allows himself rest for a little while. The knight that had led him – them – had given them reprieve when they arrived this morning, and as the sole Frenchman in a legion consisting of Spaniards, Roy had stalked off like the rest of the soldiers, to find food and rest among the orders that opened their doors to the Christians.
Roy wasn't above begging, but in the long days of the war, all he wanted was to close his eyes and forget the blood on his hands and the ongoing death for a land that Roy honestly can't find in himself to care about. Some nights, as he lies on his stack of hay amongst the rest of the legions, he looks up to the skies and would dream of a life where he had not chosen to fight for the Holy Church.
Perhaps be a farmer, like his father had. They were not rich by any means, living off the table and amidst the plains of Falaise, but life was safe. The harvest left them with enough to eat, to get through the cold winters, and the occasional meat on the table instead of the usual bread and rice and goat's milk. But Roy—
Foolish, young and naïve Roy, with dreams of splendor and grandeur, of heraldry and knighthood, dreaming of a life beyond his own station, could not be tied to the quiet pastures of the French countryside.
(Knighthood and honor, words seared into his soul, as he brings his axe down the fallen Englishman, the look of terror forever imprinted on Roy's mind; he looks sixteen, and Roy closes his eyes.)
Dreaming Roy – with the education of a Christian village priest and the swordplay of a retired soldier – wanted more than what he had.
(He tries to find solace, tries to remember the words of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, and does not allow himself to think of more as his sword gleams with scarlet, thick and heady.)
The sound of something being moved, like a thick sack raised, had Roy turning his head to the left. Off to the side, by a small stall sheltered by a burlap sack, a young boy looked out.
He looked as if on the cusp of fourteen, dressed in shabby clothes and trousers, dirt-laden yet infinitely more comfortable than Roy in the blistering heat. He had hair like the color of wheat – no, not wheat, but something darker, richer — long and tied to a braid that hung over his shoulder. He did not look like a native, guessing on the dark-haired common-folk across the city, but he seemed to look comfortable in the stall he was sitting in – a refugee perhaps, or the son of an errant knight.
The boy's eyes – dark, from afar – was focused on the red crucifix painted across his armor.
Quietly, Roy turned on his side so that the boy can view the full crux down his armor. As if noticing that Roy noticed, the boy looked up at him with a scowl.
He faintly notes another face behind the boy, perhaps a brother, sporting the same rich color of hair. It was like honey, but lighter, as if sunlight gleamed through it.
Curious, and spotting a wooden crate near the stall that could allow his legs to rest, Roy slowly ambled to towards them. The brother – the younger-looking one – looked terrified, eyes wide, before shuffling back to the shadows under the burlap. The older one, dark-eyed and scowling, simply stood (or sat) his ground and did not look away from Roy's gaze. Defiant.
Only up close did Roy realize, what he took for pools of brown, were of a color as unique as the fine hair tied into a braid that hung over the boy's shoulder.
"Can I sit down here?" He asks, in French, and not caring if he was understood or not, pointing with an armored hand to the crate.
The boy looks at him, silent, before opening his mouth. "Yes."
In soft-accented French.
Taking his word for it, Roy sits on the crate – finding it sturdy enough to carry his weight, armor and all — and stretches his right leg out. His sheathed sword is angled awkwardly, making it difficult to pull out but he doubts he requires a sword should the boy beside him decide to attack. He looks young enough that a punch from his armored fist would do enough damage, not that Roy was of the bearing to attack defenseless children.
(Perhaps murder their fathers, decapitate their brothers and cut a path of blood towards the land of a violent, avenging god)
"Are you French?" He asks the other, eyeing the flecks of yellow, of gold – resembling the splinters of coins – as the boy looks at him.
The other shakes his head. "I don't know. My father—"
"Eduard!" There was a hiss, and Roy turns his gaze towards the other, to the one that called out, and saw the likeness.
"It's fine," The boy — Eduard – said to his brother, and turns back to Roy. "My father…he spoke like you. He taught us to talk like him."
"I'm grateful, then." Roy responded, a corner of his lips turned up. "I was beginning to despair that I was the only one who knew French here. My Spanish is as terrible as the Spaniards' attempt at pronouncing my home's name."
Eduard, and his brother, are silent – and he can see the boy turning his words over, perhaps still testing them. Roy raised a hand and untied the glove from his left, pulling the straps away and laying the iron-capped gauntlet on his knee. Raising his bare hand to his face, Roy pushed his hair back and wiped the sweat off his cheek. "Where's your father, boy?"
A scowl. "I'm not a boy."
Roy raises a brow. Eduard responds with still-defiant eyes. "I'm fourteen. I'm old enough."
Perhaps it's true, Roy thinks. In a time like this – perhaps fourteen is old enough.
Old enough to live, old enough to die.
(Grey eyes widen in fear, reflecting the glint off his sword's blade, counting the seconds to his execution)
Roy hums, not agreeing with Eduard's statement, but not disagreeing as well.
"My father told me that soldiers like you fight for the Lord." Eduard says, eyes back on the crux on his armor. Roy looks at him, expression as blank as he can possibly make them.
As if Roy's nonchalant look was egging him on, Eduard continues, voice growing strong as he leans closer to Roy. "That you fight to keep the—the—the Moors out of our city. That you fight to keep us safe."
"And? So what if I fight in the name of the Church?" Roy asked, raising a brow.
Eduard's brother had slinked off further into the shadows, and Roy spies a pile of clothes. It wasn't just a stall – it was the boys' home. Roy recalls Falaise, recalls the stone walls of his family's home, the fire crackling in the hearth.
"He said that you were supposed to protect us…so why?" Eduard asked, anger still echoing in his words, but covered in a sheath of sadness.
Roy frowned. "Why what?"
"Why did you murder my family? We're Christians. We believe the same as you do, but why did you kill my father and mother?"
Roy paused, no answer forthcoming. Gold eyes flicked to his and, something – an inkling of a memory – dancing just outside his memories, of a fire-lit cavern and iron bars and Roy looked away.
"We just wanted to be left alone in this war." Eduard said, quietly but it was as if he had shouted. The clanging of the basilica had stopped, and Roy watches more soldiers trickle into the city, watches horses carry the dead into Constantinople, watched as crimson blood stained the red crosses on their armor.
He had no response to Eduard's words.
What could he say?
How could he ever say anything to that — to face the truth as it is? That these wars were nothing more but the mongering of kings who cursed mercy at the pawns they used on a chessboard that spanned kingdoms? That these wars were fought for glory and gold, and God was just a banner to use in a campaign against another – what better can you give a fervent zealot, save the promise of salvation steeped in murder?
"I'm not a boy!" Eduard shouted, voice thick with rage. A few faces turned to them at hearing the child's ire, and Roy's glare was the only thing that made them look away.
The soldier sighed tiredly, and turned to Eduard. "In war, there's no victory. In war, people get killed for the stupidest reasons. You can shout all you want about how we fight to protect in the name of God, but not all of us raise our swords for good intent."
"Then why fight in the first place?" Eduard asked, softly now.
Perhaps – Roy had an answer then, in his youth. He would have an answer – an answer that would have been enough to say to a child (no, no longer a boy as Eduard so adamantly insists). Perhaps, he would have an answer then, an answer that wasn't rife with murder and bloodshed. Perhaps an answer that echoed his earlier inklings of chivalry and knighthood (for God and Glory, and not Glory and God).
But, it would be make a dishonest man out of him, wouldn't it?
To respond like that – to ignore the startling truth that sometimes, in war, the blood that ran down his sword was the blood of innocents; that to insist in fighting God's wars, under the vicar of Christ and knowing that even vicars are sinners and wrong-doers and stomaching the brutality because – what is God without power, and who else puts God on a throne save the legions under Rome's hold?
He looks into Eduard's eyes, looks into golden orbs that seemed bright with fervor, like a righteous halo of light, and he wonders if the words itching to run from his lips were honest enough to console the grief of another victim of war.
Constantinople falls to the Osmans in 1453. Roy's last glimpse is the brightness of the sun, apex across the firmament, blinding in its radiance as Moor lances run him down. Irony and blood drips from his mouth, and he finally wonders if that's honesty enough for Eduard.
There were instances in Roy's life that, for some reason or other, he feels as if he's gone through the motions beforehand. He doesn't know when he started feeling it – it was less a sense of déjà vu but more of a bubbling familiarity that throbbed in his veins. From what he's noticed, on the off times that he does notice these things, they were not attached to places but more on stepping stones of his life: on each birthday, there is this drumming in his chest – as if to remind him that he has gone through this before.
In spite of it, though, it had never stopped Roy from living his life. He wasn't one to obsess over such small meanders – although such feelings have grown more consistent over time, they weren't strong enough to eclipse everything else Roy had set his life to.
Yet, standing on the deck of the cruise liner, amidst the tourists and passengers gaping and ogling at the wide expanse of the Atlantic, he feels that same lance of againagainagain as his eyes take stock of a person standing by the bow of the ship.
Drawn by a faint pull of familiarity, Roy slowly walks up the bow and stands next to the figure. It was a boy, no — as Roy's eyes gleam down his features – a man, construed as a boy due to his height and the lasting slivers of youth across his cheeks. Hair tied into a pony-tail, falling down his back – it wasn't blonde, but a darker shade, like gold, rich and vibrant. He felt oddly familiar enough to want to reach out and card his fingers through it.
"This is a nice view." Roy said, instead, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his coat, looking ahead. Swaths of blue and cerulean, running across the horizon, meeting the sky at the edge of the world in his view.
His companion shrugged, raising a shoulder, not even deigning to turn to Roy. "Pretty enough."
There's a hint of an accent there, not unlike most of the passengers they've picked up from Queenstown. However, what he heard was Eastern-sounding, probably German if Roy is lucky enough to guess.
"Not a sea-faring person?" Roy asked, a bit of humor in his tone.
There was a hint of a smirk in the response. "It's okay. I'm more partial to grasslands than the sea, honestly."
Roy has to concede that, in some cases, views of jagged hills that resemble ones he is oft to see in Munster can be beautiful and calming in their own way. He had never liked the ocean much, not even the beaches – found them gritty and coarse – but there was a rhythmic order to the way the waves continued to oscillate and ripple.
"I think it's the water." He says, and the shorter man next to him slightly turns his head as if noticing that Roy had spoken. He spies a sliver of gold underneath delicate lashes. "There's something mystical about them – how endless they seem when looked upon by the naked eye, watching them undulate and whirl. Almost—"
"Cyclical." A whispered response.
Roy blinks and faces the other, takes in the upturn end of his nose framed by loose strands of gold hair. Mythical.
As if in response to Roy's unspoken inquiry, the other continues. "It seems cyclical. The ocean, I mean. It ripples constantly, giving the impression that it's endlessly moving forward and in one direction, but if you think about it, all oceans are connected one way or the other. They're locked by borders of land and ice, so the waters continue to revolve around a sphere, like a cycle."
Then – as Roy is paused in quiet amusement at the eloquent response – the man flushes suddenly, before ducking his head and his hair falling into his face to cover his blush. "I mean, that's what I think of it, anyway."
Turning to the other, Roy extends a hand to the rail and sets his weight against it. The shorter of the two hadn't left after his sudden exposition, allowing Roy a full view of his face.
He was mesmerizing, to say the least.
Roy is a frequent traveler – he's been through so many cities and towns, met people coming from all walks of life and he could not, for the life of him, recall anyone as intrinsically singular as the one before him now. Golden hair framing a sun-kissed face, piercing molten gold eyes that Roy had never seen before, down to lips rent in a small pout of embarrassment. A surge of attraction lanced through him, and Roy couldn't help himself as he reached a hand out, his own name at his lips.
The other looks at him, quiet and contemplating, a flurry of emotions running across his eyes too fast for Roy to dissect, before looking down at his bare hand, outstretched in an offer.
"Edvard." He says, raising his hand to tap against Roy's before putting it back down. Instead of being turned off by the slightly standoffish response, Roy felt that same burgeoning sense of familiarity once more.
"Have we met before?" Roy asked. He had to, the echoes fluctuating in his ears as he looked at Edvard.
The other looked up, tilting his head to the side. "Have we?"
Roy imitated his earlier action and shrugged with a shoulder. "If we had, I would remember you. You're a bit…unforgettable."
Sometimes, Roy had a tendency to blurt things out without thinking them through, watching with a faint smile as red creeped across Edvard's cheeks. He hadn't meant to sound like that, just wanted to state out that meeting someone with gold hair and gold eyes was rarer than seeing a blue moon, if he were to be honest.
"And what if we have?" Edvard asked, gaze intent on Roy even as the red slowly faded from his cheeks. "What if we've met before? What then?"
And as the question reaches his ears, Roy wonders if it's forward enough to say that, yes, he does want to know if he's met Edvard before. He wants to know if they have because if they indeed have met before, it would answer so many questions and bring up so many more: to ask if Edvard's felt the same compulsion for him, if he goes through that same throb of familiarity, if he goes through life wondering if he's gone through this before.
That, just like the way the oceans oscillate and undulate, perhaps life is cyclical, and maybe they've met each other – once upon a time, over and over, lifetime after lifetime.
(and maybe, just maybe, Roy would like to know if they have met before because looking at Edvard – fiery gold eyes lit like a saint's halo – he really would like to meet him again.)
Roy leans back against the railing, and Edvard approaches to set his elbows against them, his hair billowing in the wind, closing his eyes as seasalt kisses his skin. Roy smiles, a little, and turns an eye to the endless ocean. Perhaps, this is another cycle.
Another chance, Roy thinks, and he doesn't know why he thinks that – as if he was given another chance. He's not sure, but as of the moment, he doesn't really care.
It's 1912, and he was on the world's largest ship – the RMS Titanic – set on her maiden voyage. He was hopeful.
Surprisingly, for a Friday night, the ICA was devoid of people. He hasn't seen a single person, other than the museum staff and curators, since he entered an hour ago. He doesn't really mind, though. In spite of what Maes – his best friend – says, Roy can thrive on solitude just as well as he can thrive on popularity.
Slowly walking by the paintings, the corners shadowed by the dimmed lights, Roy actually feels at peace here. He wasn't an art contemporary by any standard, he simply liked looking at beautiful things – and some part of it may sound extremely superficial, but it is what it is. Roy had no qualms with beauty, drawn in by the scarlet strokes of fire and the blinding white of holy light, oil and acrylic.
There's a particular painting here that consistently pulls Roy in. It was a wide painting, in strokes of black and grey and beige, resting at the very back of the hall. It wasn't one of the more famous paintings, those that are often replicated across museums – he believes it's mostly because it's a recent one by a contemporary artist. Unlike the cherubs of Botticelli or the predominant chiaroscuro by Da Vinci and Caravaggio, no, this particular painting was more Eastern, by a Japanese painter before the onset of World War II.
Roy doesn't really know what attracts him to the painting, to the harsh strokes circling up in waves, into a large dragon, into a cycle that repeats and repeats. He guesses that it may be a remnant of his Asian heritage – he had some Chinese blood off his father's side of the family – but he thinks that, in itself, is a bit too self-serving and assuming. Another part of him says that he just likes it because it looks broody enough to like (he may start to believe that part all the more).
Still, though, for this particular night – he feels as if he's meant to be here, looking at this painting.
(and like clockwork—)
"That's called Metempsychosis." A quiet, yet unwavering, voice says and Roy turns to find gold framed by gold, halo fire and molten stars in the form of a single man.
Roy stands, watches as the golden-haired man steps into the light and confirms Roy's earlier assumption – he indeed had gold eyes.
"It's by Yokoyama Taikan." The golden-eyed Icarus said, crossing his arms as he stood next to Roy, the tumble of his gold hair against his back and Roy itching to run his fingers through them.
"Yes, it is." Roy says – confirms – and turns back to the painting, to the cycle.
"What do you know of it?" Searching eyes turned to him, assessing. Roy looks back at the sylph.
"That the soul is bound in human chains – it yearns to be free, and when it is free, it is bound again by human form. The cycle goes on and on, the soul assimilating life and all it knows as it continues the circle, until it achieves perfection." Roy said, tracing the strokes of the waves of the ocean coalescing into a dragon.
"Do you think it's fair?" the other asked, after the lengthy pause from Roy's exposition. He turned to Roy, and he suddenly looked morose and weary, as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulder for far too long. "Do you think it is fair, to keep a soul in its cycle, to have it live over and over and over, never being able to keep the freedom it longed for?"
The question echoes with a desperation that Roy feels isn't just about the painting, or on ancient philosophies. Roy's response is quiet, yet it's almost like a gunshot in fragile silence. "It's not fair at all."
The smile on the other's face bears no humor, but grim certainty, gold eyes down to slits as he looks at the painting in contemplation.
"Yet," and the eyes turn back to him as Roy continues. "life isn't always fair. It doesn't mean there are no moments of happiness in it. The soul is indeed doomed to continue on, searching for its denied freedom, wandering from body to body. It's sad and unfair, if you look at it from an angle, but there is something beautiful about that, too."
A raised eyebrow.
"What most people forget about this is that, even if the soul goes from body to body, it carries with it the life and experiences it had gone through while alive. For each lifetime it goes through, the soul slowly fills and coalesces with all the memories and experiences, and it moves on, carrying with it a growing number of lives."
Roy smiles, uncrossing his arms. "What I mean to say is, that, yes – it is unfair to be denied the freedom you longed for, but for each moment the soul is alive, it is given the opportunity to experience all the joys of life all over again."
"What joys are there to experience?"
Roy stepped closer. "Everything. The chance to live, to love and to laugh. To look across the table and find your friends laughing and happy; to stand beside the love of your life before an altar, promising forever; to hear the cry of your newborn in the middle of the night. The chance to see rage and grief in another person's eyes, to feel the heartache of a broken heart, to know how it is like to grieve and mourn."
"You can't take the good and leave the bad, they're too linked to pull apart. Like the cycle of life, the good comes from the bad and the bad comes from the good, it's just a matter of how much you're willing to go through to see it till the end."
He may be a bit biased, a bit prejudiced in his ideas, but for Roy – that was the truth of it all. Life was a mixture of good and bad, two sides of the same coin and no matter how much you paint things differently, they are what they are: a culmination of life.
Perhaps that is why he is drawn to beauty, to life, to this painting before them. The victory isn't in the ephemeral freedom the soul attains in between death and reincarnation – but the culmination of all the experiences it has gained.
Isn't that what the core of life – love – is? That life, and existence, continues to evolve and grow in face of the difficulties? That the victory of humanity is its strength to keep on going, to keep on standing and moving forward?
Roy steps into the other's space, feels the dress shirt against his coat and looks down into ancient eyes. "Isn't that what we've been looking for, Et?"
A thousand lifetimes flicker and flash across his thoughts and in his reflection on inky golden pools.
"Edward." Says the other.
"Et." Roy says, hands slowly falling to Edward's sides. "Eduard. Edvard. Edward."
Ancient eyes, eons of grief and sorrow hidden in their depths, widen in understanding. "You—"
"Yes," Roy said, smiling a despondent smile, his chest tight and his hands cold. "I don't know what to say. I have no idea what to say to you, to finally understand all these memories I have, all these glimpses I've seen in the moments I allow myself to because I can't understand a single second of them, haunted by a gold-haired boy.
"'m not a boy," Edward says, looking up with wide eyes.
And he really wasn't – Roy remembers. He remembers now, puts the pieces together: in a crypt under Rome's stonesteps, hidden in darkness save for the touch of the torchlight and the memory of almost-silver hair; the summer heat of a city in the East, of old Constantinople and her arrogant walls, of a boy under a tarp; the taste of German lips in a lamplight lit room, a hand pressed against the window and his bare body pressed against a slender one's, the Atlantic's waves crashing against the ship's hull.
Permutation after permutation, cycle after cycle.
Oscillating and undulating, destined to reach and release, over and over.
"I know." He whispered back, feeling a pair of warm arms lightly against his waist. "I know."
"You've always known, haven't you?" He whispered.
"Since the beginning?" He continued, his gaze centered on the gleam of holy fire down the other's hair, catching light and setting him blind.
"I thought," And Edward – beautiful, wondrous, singular Edward – whispers, unspoken agony and sadness and joy and hope creaking and biting in his voice. "I thought it would be the same. Over and over."
Roy nods, says "I know" once more, and feels the arms around him tighten, feels fingers grasp the back of his coat in white-knuckled fists, promising to never let go.
Perhaps he'll never understand the why's and the how's, will never find an answer to the lifetimes he's led, the many times fate has pit them against on another – as if pawns on a chessboard in an eternal game – but how many can say that they've been give so many chances, so many opportunities—
That in each cycle, they were always meant to find one another?
Edward, with his eyes that spark like sulfur and gold, was always – and beyond any line of reproach – unearthly beautiful.
Edward's lips open, as if wanting to say something, to speak, but he closes them shut as his eyes shine in the dimmed lights, watery and fragile. "I thought, I thought that 1912 was our last chance."
"I know," Roy says, leaning down and resting his forehead against the other, never taking his eyes off of him.
(The windows fogging, the scent of salt on sun-kissed skin. Roy tracing the shadows drawn by candle light down Edward's body, a symphony of hitches and whimpers in his ear, golden hair fanned out like a fallen god in repose.
"Don't stop," Edward – Edvard – whispered and whimpered and Roy reached a hand up and captured his. "Don't let go."
And he doesn't, through icebergs and sinking ships and the disappearing trail of gold hair down the Atlantic's murky depths.)
"I know," Roy said, again. He knows he sounds stupid, repetitive even, but it's all he can say. "I know and I'm sorry."
He whispers those words, lips against blessed skin awash with fire.
(Echoes of laughter in the silence of abysmal crypts. They know, they know they are about to die but Roy doesn't care, reaches a hand out to the darkness and finds purchase on Et's thin shoulder.
A hand reaches up to hold his, as if confirming. As if promising.
Perhaps, they said. Perhaps, his prayers whispered to Roy. Perhaps, in another time. Another life.
Roy holds on to those hopes, closing his eyes as the steps of the Vigiles echo, as the burnt decrees of Nero singing against his skin.)
"I'm sorry," Roy whispers, before leaning down to capture those sweet lips, to feel them against his own and hear the breathed sighs of his past and future lover, feel the grasp around his waist and the slope of Edward's nose against his cheek.
He tastes sorrow and tears, and maybe he's even crying too if he takes a moment to even care about it.
(An apple is brandished before him, and Roy looks up into fiery young eyes – the eyes of a survivor, the eyes of an orphan, the eyes of a wronged man – and he wonders if he deserves such honor, such a gift, with the blood on his hands and the memories of the innocents he's butchered echoing in the recesses of his mind.
A bare, unarmored hand reaches out to hold it, feels the weight of the other's trust and he wonders if honesty and regret are one and the same.)
"I'm sorry, I'm late." He whispers it, in the spaces between their lips, to the chin against him and to the upturned end of a nose. He whispers it against the fingers of the hand softly placed against his cheek, to the strands of halo-fire framing manmade Adonis' cheeks, to Icarus and Helios, to the faces of saints glaring down Sophia's caverns, to the drumming that thrummed in his veins and in his heart.
"I'll make it up to you next time." He says, grinning, if not a little sad but also a little ecstatic, lips against Edward's temple.
"Next time?" A response against his neck.
Roy nods, the arms around his neck tightening. "Next time, and next time and next and next."
Over and over and over.
He's found hope, and he's not letting go.
He has all of infinity.