A/N: This one was a long time in coming, but I hope you're still with me here. I wish to say that I have not been on hiatus for this fic at all; it is the top priority of all my current ongoing fanfics and the only one I've never put on hold yet. I just happen to have a job and a social life, which you're going to have to understand. So while I appreciate being wheedled for updates, there's still only so much time I can actually spend writing. Now, this is the un-beta-ed version, since I haven't been able to catch my beloved Meinarch online, so I'll appreciate it if you inform me should there be any mistakes in the chapter. Also, I have given up on trying to make this site agree with me on my opinions of decent formatting, so please try to overlook the lack thereof. That said, please enjoy the story and REVIEW.
Disclaimer: If I owned Guilty Gear, I'd have made a BL dating simulation version and an image song album by now. I also wouldn't be writing this piece of FANfiction.
Chapter 4: Nobody Wants To Be Lonely
"Hey. Monsieur. I know you're alive, and you don't have a concussion. Monsieur?"
Bleary blue eyes blinked slowly up at concerned teal ones. A heavy metal band was holding a concert at full blast in his head, and his entire body hurt.
"Ah, finally. A stretcher is on the way up from the ambulance downstairs to take you to an Order-controlled hospital."
Ky tried to speak but found that he couldn't quite make his throat work. His former subordinate had found a large towel to throw over his naked body, and he managed a blush at the thought that the lady had found him completely nude. If Arianne noticed the flush to his pale cheeks, she politely chose not to comment on it, and for that he was grateful. She did, however, notice his struggle to communicate, and quickly returned with a glass of water, which she used her powers to carefully stream past his slightly parted lips. The moisture was heaven to his parched throat, and this time, he managed a hoarse whisper through the pain.
"Sol…" he rasped softly.
There was a moment of silence from the Acting Commander of the Holy Order, during which her brow furrowed slightly in anxiety, accentuating normally unnoticeable age lines. "As I thought… He did this?" she asked quietly, looking piercingly into his eyes as if daring him to lie to cover for the other man.
"It's not… what… you think…" he replied with effort, looking away. Even the slightest movement was painful, and Ky sincerely prayed that he hadn't broken anything.
She scoffed slightly. "He lost control of his Gear side, didn't he?" She rose to look out the bedroom window at the sunny sky as she voiced the question. "For all our sakes, I hope it doesn't get out of hand." She squeezed teal eyes shut and raised a hand to massage a lightly tanned temple.
"You… knew..?" the blond asked incredulously, azure eyes widening as the implications of her words sank in. Then, it was true that the Order had kept things under wraps. Had Master Kliff known as well? Was he the only one who had been kept in the dark? Was that the real reason none of the other knights had liked Sol back during the Crusades?
"I was there when he killed Dizzy. My family have been Craft Users, occultists and mediums for generations. You think I couldn't tell? No human could have achieved the level of power he exhibited and the more and harder he fights, the stronger the Gear presence around him grows." Her coppery locks bounced lightly as she turned to fix a level gaze on him. "Since he saved us all, I saw no reason to cause him trouble, but if he does go berserk…" She buried her face in her hands. "I cannot allow such a hazard to humanity to wander free… Dear God, it's going to be a tough battle. And we haven't even found and dealt with Testament yet."
"It… was my fault…" Ky closed his eyes. The headache was getting worse, and the light was only exacerbating the agony. "I removed… the limiter…"
Before anything more could be said, the door opened, and a few paramedics entered with a stretcher. It was clearly best to keep their discussion between them, so they fell silent. The pain that seared through him as they lifted him onto the stretcher nearly caused him to lose consciousness again, but he somehow stayed awake, and soon felt liquid relief coursing through him as a dose of anaesthesia was injected into his bloodstream. The trip down to the ambulance passed in a blur, and he very quickly found himself drifting off from the drug's effects. He was again asleep long before they reached the hospital.
The corner café looked just the same as it did nearly twenty years ago; there were only a few noticeable refurbishments, perhaps parts that had to be rebuilt after they were destroyed during the parts of the war that he'd missed. It was far from where he presently lived in the outskirts of Paris that stretched towards Chateau Versailles, but having regained his memories recently, he felt the strange desire to revisit some of his favourite locales back when he had lived in Marais, near the ruins of the Bastille prison. Whenever he was back in Paris and there was a lull in Order duties, he would come here for a cup of tea or one of their signature home-smoked ham and grilled camembert batard sandwiches. He was pleased to see that his usual table was free, although he hadn't sat there in nearly two decades. He smiled slightly as a menu was brought to him by a young brunette with a Southern accent in a brown knee-length pinafore worn over a collared white shirt.
The menu appeared to have been recently reprinted, and he didn't recognize any of the people working in the shop. The young man at the counter resembled the last proprietor though, so perhaps father had passed the café on to son. The offerings, at least, hadn't changed much. He offered the girl a slight smile when she returned with a notepad and ordered his usual sandwich and tea, but decided to try out their onion soup as well.
Smiling coquettishly, she pivoted on one foot, making her skirt fly up slightly, before leaving to put in his order, swaying her hips slightly as she walked. It didn't take a genius to see that she was trying to attract his attention -the girl could hardly have made it more blatant-, but a fateful night nearly three weeks ago had finally driven home the truth of his preferences, and Ky had realized at long last why he had never gone beyond the first few dates with any of the girls he had seen in both his lifetimes. There had been quite a number, come to think of it, mostly nice girls and pleasant company, but somehow, his interest had never quite held; the attraction just wasn't there.
Back during the Crusades, he thought it was because the war left him with little time to pursue such trivial fancies. Furthermore, death was a constant shadow on a soldier's life, and he had no intention of disillusioning anyone with a fleeting romance and eternal loss. In any case, he had been young then, and most times, he had genuinely believed that he may just have been rather unprepared for the commitment of a relationship, an illusion he had continued to nurse even in the past few years of this lifetime. He still recalled several of the dates he had accepted back in Corsica; it had always been the girls who'd asked him out, since he'd never succeeded at working up sufficient interest, and they had always done most of the talking. One of the more memorable ones had been the charming daughter of a wealthy German immigrant, one he remembered for her sense of humour and wide general knowledge.
Sonja Diamant was one of the few whose company he had genuinely enjoyed despite his lack of interest in romance. They had conversed about a large variety of topics, and she had always been able to make him laugh no matter how sombre the atmosphere. He had liked her, really, although not in the way she had hoped, and shrewdly sensing his emotional unavailability after several dates, she had rather easily settled for staying just friends and moved on. He still received the occasional e-mail or letter from her, and it appeared that she had found quite a perfect match in a successful Swiss entrepreneur her entire family greatly approved of. He was happy for her, although he'd often wondered why he had never felt anything beyond warm friendship for her. She had been pretty enough, with curves in all the right places without being too thin, her jet black pageboy framing a fair oval face from which twinkling smoky green eyes peered out in a constantly jovial expression.
God help him, his lack of self-understanding was fairly astounding; it had actually taken him two lifetimes to figure out his own sexuality. Not that he was pleased to find out about it either; he still thought it was wrong. He had… sinned… with a member of his own gender, and he had loved it, pleaded for more and regretted its swift end. Moreover, he couldn't even honestly repent anything except the mistake he had made the following morning that had driven Sol away from him, perhaps for good. He wanted to forget it, wanted to fight it and find a nice girl to settle down with and start a normal family eventually, but every time he closed his eyes to sleep, he would hear a raspy teasing bass asking him what he wanted, dredging forth memories of rough kisses and strong hands touching him, always touching him, chafing his skin until his body errantly responded and he awoke, skin slick with perspiration and blood hot with unadulterated desire.
Not for the first time did he wonder how it could possibly be wrong to love another, even of the same gender, when God clearly taught his children to love everyone. Of course, he understood that it was the sexual, and not the emotional, aspect that God disapproved of, but search his soul as anyone might, one could hardly say it was mere lust. One kiss had his entire being thrumming with a strangely fulfilling connection that completely transcended the physical. Even now, he could feel the deep sense of longing that filled him to just be close to the other man, to feel those powerful arms encircling him protectively in a moment of perfect peace and contentment. Ky rubbed his temples and shook himself slightly to rid his mind of the tantalizing images. Two lifetimes, and still Sol Badguy haunted his days. Even more disturbing was how very intertwined their destinies were; how many people meet acquaintances from their past lives anyway? Odds were he was alone in the category of those who actually had. That they had met entirely by chance was almost too coincidental to be true.
Sometimes he didn't know whether it made things better or worse that he'd found out the truth about the man. It had pretty much turned his world inside out and upside down, shattering everything he had ever believed about Gears, shedding light on so many things that had previously made little sense while at the same time uncovering new questions to be answered. It had shocked him to the core, first that he had failed to notice a Gear that close to him throughout the Crusades and the dangers that mistake could have caused had Sol possessed any malicious intent, and secondly, that Arianne had known almost all along and yet never told a soul.
Her belief that Kliff Undersn might have suspected as much even if he had never found any concrete proof was equally staggering. All this while, there were people who had known of a Gear in human ranks and maintained their silence? It was unbelievable. Not to mention the million-dollar question that he had been perpending since his ill-fated discovery of Sol Badguy's true nature. Justice was Gear 001, a command-type Gear whom all Gears were compelled to obey. If Sol was a Gear, then why had he fought on the side of humans? Surely, he couldn't have escaped Justice's mind control or notice… unless Justice had commanded him to infiltrate the Holy Order and… No, that was impossible. Sol had helped kill Justice. Why and how he had betrayed his kind was still a mystery and one that the former Commander couldn't seem to solve.
Drawn out of his reverie, Ky muttered his thanks as a porcelain saucer and teacup were set down before him, followed closely by a matching teapot and a plate on which small pots of sugar, milk and honey as well as a dish of lemon slices had been set. The waitress then placed a steaming bowl of soup in front of him before bending forward a lot lower than was strictly necessary to pour him his tea. The scent of peppermint mingled with her floral perfume as he realized how very close they were, and he leaned back to put some distance between them while avoiding the overpowering fragrance that resulted. Realizing that her plan to subtly accentuate her cleavage had failed, she simply offered him another coquettish smile before leaving him to begin his meal.
He sighed as he tasted the flavourful warm liquid, his thoughts wandering back to a certain boorish American. He still couldn't fathom how he had ended up on the other side of that thin line between love and hate. Sol was… Sol was uncouth, impudent, boorish, stubborn, condescending and a walking blasphemy. He smoked, drank way too much and could be totally insensitive and unreasonable. Sol was a Gear, one of the monsters that had killed his entire family. Well, almost his entire family, if this lifetime was taken into account. But that thought failed to bring the rage, hatred and terror that it used to evoke in him, that it probably should stir in him. He wanted to loathe the man, had always wanted to, but it was hard to feel any of the intense dislike he had once harboured for the older man now. Just what did he see in that guy? God, the other was a Gear, and he still couldn't seem to think of him as one! He pressed his fingers to his forehead in frustration.
Finishing his soup, he tried to think about some of the brunet's more preferable traits. Despite their many conflicts and how he'd never thought Sol to be a particularly responsible person, the other man had always proven himself worthy of his trust. He smiled wistfully at the memory of the Gear telling him how much he hated him for making him take over the Order. It wasn't as if he'd had a choice. Sol alone possessed the power to carry out his dying wish, and there was no one else he would have entrusted the world to.
And he didn't regret it; everyone was safe now. There were no more wars, and no one had to die or watch their loved ones die horrible deaths anymore. Children were studying instead of fighting, and people were free from terror to live their lives the way they chose. All was as it should be, and Arianne's decision to keep the truth about their saviour a secret had proven to be extremely wise. She had even gone so far as to file false reports regarding the incident that had recently left him hospitalized for two weeks due to minor fractures and internal injuries, hoping to let sleeping dogs lie if possible. Since he hadn't heard any news either way, Sol had probably done a great job of going into hiding, something the Gear was probably remarkable at.
That having been said, the American was also an extremely strong fighter with a shrewd mind. Ky had never won any of their duels, while Sol had always seemed to need no effort to defeat him. Talking to the brunet was always intriguing, if equally frustrating. It was nearly impossible to obtain information from him that he wasn't prepared to share, and he always knew how to turn the conversation in his favour no matter how well the blond planned out his responses. He had a roguish charm and a lazily condescending sense of humour that few appreciated, and he never really cared what anyone else thought, be it of him or of the world he lived in, resigned to being alone in his understanding and perceptions of everything because no one else had the same experiences he'd lived through, and there was no one who could or would understand.
And suddenly, Ky realized what had attracted him all along. Sol was strong and fiercely independent. Sol didn't expect anything of him, and Ky was tired of expectations. Everyone he'd ever known had expected him to do or be something for them, whether it was saving the world, solving their problems, protecting them or even giving them hope by pretending he had more of it than they did. With Sol, he could be free. He could be himself, and it wouldn't change a thing. The older man didn't need anything from him. In fact, he could clearly remember several occasions in which the brunet had saved his life. With Sol, he was free; he was safe; he didn't have to worry about everything because he could trust the other to be there for him. It was… liberating.
That didn't make it any less wrong, but… he couldn't help the way he felt. How could anyone make oneself stop loving another person? Was it not the heart that chose? Burying his face in his hands, he felt so lost and confused. Lost in his thoughts, he barely noticed as his sandwich was set down before him. He was suddenly overcome by the desire to visit the nearest church. He needed to make a confession and pray for guidance and forgiveness.
Why, heavenly Father, if this is wrong, did you lead me back to him? he asked silently.
"Monsieur? Is everything alright?" the waitress asked with polite concern, drawing him out of his reverie.
He glanced up briefly at her, and offered her a slight smile. "Yes. I'm fine. Thank you."
She was quite attractive, really, but her blatant attempts at flirting with him were rather distasteful. Even now, one perfectly manicured hand played with the long brown braid trailing down over her right shoulder as she smiled winningly. "How was the soup, monsieur?"
"Very nice, thank you," he replied honestly.
Ky recognized the hint she was giving him, and fumbled for a way to gently turn her away. While he didn't like her, he also saw no reason to hurt her feelings. "I... Not exactly," he said, trying for an evasive answer that would subtly send a message of disinterest across.
Her smile turned somewhat conspiratorial. "Well, people say food always tastes better with company."
He gave her another brief smile with a slightly apologetic look. "I'm rather fond of peace and quiet."
She shrugged, looking just a tad disappointed as she caught his subtle rejection. "Alors, bon appétit." She twirled around once before walking away anyway. (Something like, "Well then, enjoy your meal," in French)
Somewhat relieved, the blond turned to his sandwich, taking a sizeable bite. It was still delicious, but they really didn't make the cheese like they used to. Maybe it was just him, but he firmly believed they made better cheese in his previous lifetime. At least the ham still tasted the same as he remembered. Wanting very much to be in a church instead of a café, Ky quickly finished his sandwich and asked for the bill, which the waitress brought to him wordlessly and without incident, apparently having finally given up on attracting his attention. The change was brought back just as he had downed the rest of his tea. He rose, reaching for the change, when something caught his eye. Something had been written on the receipt. He blinked as azure eyes focussed on the dainty cursive. It was a name and a number. He smiled ruefully as he pocketed the change and walked away in the direction of his favourite church back during the Crusades, not doubting whence it came. Éléonore Dominique was a persistent girl. He left the receipt where it was.
The beautiful Roman Catholic basilica cresting the hill overlooking the area known as Montmartre was busy with the usual mixed crowd of tourists and believers now that the war was over and tourism was again a viable trade and pastime. Having decided to clear his mind with a long walk up the many stone steps leading up to the church instead of taking the not-too-recently restored funicular railway, the dim near-silence of Sacré-Cœur was as welcoming as Christ's open arms in the picture depicted in mosaic on its central dome ceiling as Ky dipped his fingers into the small basin of holy water and did the sign of the cross on his knees facing the altar.
Rising, he glanced over at the glass confession box to his right with its thin white curtains obscuring its interior. He had come here planning on making a confession, but he wondered if that would really help him. He sighed, turning away from the booth and making his way towards the pews nearer to the front instead. He could already mentally hear the reverend advising him to forget this temporary temptation of the devil and increase his love for God through praying the rosary on all the four sets of Mysteries a certain number of times. If only that helped… He already faithfully prayed the rosary on all four sets of the Mysteries everyday as it were, and Sol was as nagging a problem as ever, albeit a problem he had to reluctantly admit was his favourite mistake ever. God, that thought was probably blasphemy, especially in a church.
The clear and soothing voices of the brothers and sisters in choir rose to echo within the cathedral's stone walls, signalling that the evening mass was about to begin. Ky cleared his mind, tuned out the people around him and kneeled to pray, kissing the silver cross on the ash wood rosary he always kept in his pocket before making the sign of the cross and beginning on the Apostle's Creed with practiced ease. Mass and the rosary sounded like as good an idea to unravel the chaotic confusion swirling in his mind right now as any. If he was blessed, he might get some divine guidance while praying and meditating.
The road hazed over before him as he staggered his way along the dark deserted alley, holding onto the faded tan-coloured brick wall for support. He could feel drying blood soaking his clothing, although the thick light brown cloak wrapped around him hid his wounds well. A gentle breeze picked up, blowing several stray pieces of litter across his path, and he shivered slightly, wincing at the pain that erupted in his side at the movement. Red eyes blinked as their owner's vision blurred slightly again, and Sol turned to lean his back heavily on the wall to rest for several moments. He squeezed his eyes shut. If the warm early autumn air was chilling him, the blood loss was certainly beyond even his Gear abilities to overcome.
He moved his hand away from where he'd had it pressed to the long deep gash at his side for the past hour or so. It was covered in coagulating blood, sticky and dark red. The wound hadn't stopped slowly oozing blood since he had received that cut from one of the two Megadeath class Gears he had run into earlier that day, and that gave him reason to suspect that the claw was mildly poisoned to inhibit the healing process; the enhanced healing powers of a Gear should have at least stopped the bleeding by now, if not healed him completely. The fight would have been much easier had there not been civilians on the scene; he had refrained from using some of his more explosive attacks to keep from killing them with the monsters.
His throat and chest hurt, both from the three long slashes he had received and from coughing up what little diamond dust he had inhaled during the fight. The slashes were almost completely healed, but the fact that they could still be seen after so long showed just how much of his magic was being used to control the bleeding in his side. While his body apparently couldn't close the wound, it could greatly slow the bleeding. Otherwise, he would have been long dead.
Come to think of it, he didn't mind the thought in the least. Death seemed like it would be such a relief now; he was so tired of living, or rather existing, after all these years. He sighed. No. No, his work wasn't done yet. He couldn't die before he had taken care of Testament. All these monstrosities and all the devastation they had caused was his fault, the end result of a great dream gone horribly wrong. He had created them, and he would destroy them. It was his responsibility to clean up his own mistakes; he had no right to make it someone else's problem.
Sol straightened a little at that burst of determination that filled him. Somehow, he had to survive until he found and destroyed Testament, the last of the humanoid Gears besides himself. Once that was done, he would be able to die a peaceful death. Once his final atonement was complete, he would at last be able to rest. But right now, he needed medical attention. The only problem was that he trusted doctors and scientists as much as he trusted Justice on an interspecies peace and understanding campaign, and the last thing he needed was a bunch of crazy researchers getting weird ideas from his DNA samples collected during the treatment process. He couldn't and wouldn't go to a hospital. That left one other option in mind.
No, that wouldn't do. Now that the boy knew what he was, there was no telling what he would do if they met now. Gears had destroyed his life right from the start, and he had every reason to hate them. He still remembered the look of intense shocked terror in azure eyes that fateful morning. He was a monster to the blond now. Heck, he was a monster even to himself. What reason could the boy possibly have to help him? He would even consider himself fortunate if the Italian didn't either run off screaming or call the Holy Order down on him. The American let out a self-deprecating scoff.
Yet, at least… if it was that boy, he wouldn't be running the risk of turning into a lab specimen. In the worst case scenario, he could always find his way back to some deserted corner of the country to die. Even in this state, the slender blond didn't have the power to stop him. And if Order forces found him… well, Arianne was a smart woman; she would know better than to allow anything scientifically useful to be taken. If he trusted nothing else in the water witch, he trusted her wisdom.
Well, that cinched it then. It wasn't as if he had a better alternative. Pushing himself upright again, he resumed his unsteady walk down the alley, only this time with a specific destination in mind. Hopefully, the boy was as kind-hearted as his namesake, and that charitable side of him would win out. With that in mind, Sol told himself he would make it to the kid's doorstep. It wasn't far, and he couldn't die just yet. It was just a few miles, an access code he recalled well and four flights of stairs away. Yes, he was definitely going to make it there.
The cool morning air caressed his skin in wispy touches as Ky's booted feet clicked softly on the asphalt. He had just mailed his applications to the few universities he'd chosen, and was enjoying the pleasantly warm rays of the morning sun on his way back from the nearby post office. Regaining his memories had the somewhat confusing effect of overlapping memories. It resulted in mixed feelings about many things, an occasionally displaced sense of time as well as erratic bursts of paranoia. There were mornings when he awoke thinking it was a certain day approximately two decades ago and panicking over oversleeping and missing the Order's morning gatherings. On some days, he felt perfectly comfortable reading on a park bench surrounded by open space; on others, the mere sound of approaching footsteps from behind would have him raising shields against magic –now that he remembered how to do that- and tensing in preparation to evade an attack that would never come.
He also found himself sometimes looking forward to and sometimes dreading the idea of going to university. The part of him that had lived this life remembered what it was like in ordinary educational institutions and looked forward to resuming the pursuit of knowledge at a higher level as well as meeting new friends. The other part… Well, having spent his entire past life in war, whether as an evacuating civilian or as a militant fighting for the people's safety, he had never been to a normal school.
Before she had passed away in the Gear attack that destroyed his hometown in Lyon, his mother had taught him to read and write. Then, he had attended a few classes at evacuation centres to improve. Later, he joined the training academy for the Holy Order, and there he had learnt advanced French and English along with fighting techniques, magic usage, weaponry studies, battle tactics, the history of the Crusades and the latest information known about Gears. Anything else he'd learned were a result of his liking for books. He didn't feel prepared to deal with people and an environment where the greatest worry hanging over anyone's head was getting assignments done well and on time and scoring decent grades on examinations.
On one level, he had experienced that simple life before and felt that he could fit right in. On another level, he knew he'd always feel out of place, old even. It left him both excited and worried. It would be nice to be surrounded by easygoing people who didn't tread on eggshells around him, but he also wondered if he'd ever get used to it. He would enjoy meeting new and interesting friends in their own right, but he also knew that they would never truly know or understand him. He would probably receive Valentines and be asked out on dates just as he had been back in Corsica, but even as a part of him was fairly accustomed to it, the other part of him wondered how he would react to such things. It all left him trying to sort out a large jumble of emotions.
To top it all off, as if one wasn't complicated enough, he had to deal with two levels of feelings for a certain boorish American. There was this lifetime's innocent attraction, warm affection, deep gratitude and pure love that could almost be an infatuation. Then, there was also the proud rivalry, instinctive trust, emotional dependence and the restrained mix of love and hate from many years spent fighting relentlessly together or against each other in a bleak war where everything sometimes seemed so hopeless that one just had to seek a distraction to stay sane and someone to lean on when strength seemed to have dissipated, leaving behind an empty hole.
Then there was the part of him that had never known the horrors of the Gears in anything more than several attacks spread out over a lifetime; that part was fairly ready to accept and overlook the truth he'd recently discovered, still young as he was and still believing in ideals of love. The part of him that had spent his entire life watching Gears destroy everything that mattered to him, however, was hardly as forgiving and somewhat more cynical; the truth had brought him many doubts, among which were if Sol was capable of caring about anything or anyone at all and whether or not he should kill the brunet the next time they met. He was a Gear, after all, a demon, but… but he was also… Sol. Coupled with the ghost of loneliness and incessant longing that he had always felt for the older man, this emotional duality might have been the cause of his recent mental turmoil and inability to sort out what he wanted with the American.
While they had never really been together in a romantic sense until just over a month back, if one could even call that romance, he realized he'd secretly always wanted things that way no matter how much he'd continuously tried to deny it. It was wrong, but that didn't change the fact that he wanted it. Truly, he was a sinner, and an unrepentant one, at that; God didn't forgive those who didn't repent their sins. He sighed heavily as he walked on absently, letting his feet take him back home on autopilot.
Looking back, he came to recognize that part of the dislike he had initially felt for Sol stemmed from an underlying feeling of envy he had refused to acknowledge. He had envied the man's strength, his courage and resulting freedom to live his own life without caring about society's constraints or what others thought of him and the way he seemed to be able to just take life as it came. The man's extensive list of bad habits and traits had only fed his dislike. It was funny how he had envied the very aspects he had fallen for later. His being a Gear was relatively a very good and perfectly justified reason to hate the man, but just when he needed that burst of intense dislike to keep him from sinning further, it simply refused to come.
It was peaceful walking along quiet roads with quaint little houses and shops as well as the occasional apartment complex on either side as scenery, one of the benefits of living in the outskirts away from busy, dusty streets and the unending rows of apartments atop shops in the city centre. There were only a handful of people about, some doing their morning exercises, some walking to work or school, some putting out the laundry and even some tending their gardens.
All of a sudden, he spotted someone strolling towards him that made him tense. Part of him panicked as recognition sank in, and the memories recognition brought made him balk. That woman. The morning breeze blew her messy silvery-white hair into her violet eyes, and she reached up with slender fingers to push the errant strands away. He caught sight of her violet nail varnish that matched the shade of her lipstick and the shiny pearl earrings he hadn't seen that night. She had left the gloves and eye patch behind and wore a simple sleeveless white sweater over fitting violet jeans, but it was unmistakably her, Jeanie, leader of the group that had tried to abduct him that fateful night. Had she not been his almost-kidnapper, he might have found her fairly attractive. As if hearing her name in his thoughts, she abruptly looked directly at him, noticing him for the first time. He had to calm himself down with the thought that he now remembered how to magically compensate for physical shortcomings as recognition flashed in amethyst orbs.
"Ah… It's you, healer boy. Hello," she greeted amicably with a cheerful smile, walking closer, the slender steel heels of her violet suede boots clicking sharply on the asphalt.
Instinctively, he took a step back. "W-What do you want?" he demanded suspiciously, hating the slight quiver he could hear in his voice. Calm down. You can defend yourself this time, he told himself firmly.
She paused, looking slightly thoughtful. "Ah… You're still upset over that night, yeah? Well, chill. I quit."
Ky blinked at the woman before him. "Quit?" he echoed simply, somewhat lost for words.
"Yeah," she agreed easily, not a trace of deception in her raspy soprano. "It's just a job, you know? Got hired to grab you for some greedy granddad who wanted to make some big bucks by charging death-fearing people exorbitantly for your healing services. But I'd rather not mess with that man."
"That man..?" He still wasn't quite sure he followed.
"Commander Sol Badguy. You're with him, aren't you? I'm not stupid or desperate enough to risk his wrath," Jeanie explained patiently. "Not like that miser paid all that well anyway," she added as an afterthought, running a hand through her somehow stylishly messy locks.
"Ah…" That made sense, he supposed, and he had yet to find anything suspicious in her explanation. "Does he still intend to capture me?" he asked slowly.
"Who, my former employer?"
"Who knows?" she replied. "If he does, he'll be hiring someone else. It's not my problem." She paused. "He's stupid if he does, though you can't tell how far greed will drive some people."
"I guess…" he responded hesitantly, not knowing what to say. How did you carry on a normal conversation with someone who'd tried to kidnap you and who nearly helped get you raped? "What about your friends? Aren't you… upset about what became of them?" he enquired tentatively at last.
"Friends?" The woman looked puzzled. "Oh. Collin and Jerome? Nah, they're not friends, just industry acquaintances all hired separately for the same job by the same person. Tough luck for them, I guess." She shrugged carelessly.
The blond thought it was rather cold of her to say so, since she was at least partially indirectly responsible for what had befallen them, but chose not to comment on that.
"Well, I've got a life waiting, healer boy, so ciao!" With that and a casual wave of her hand, she sauntered past him as he cautiously sidestepped out of her reach anyway, not even looking back as she shoved her hands in her pockets.
Still slightly disoriented from the adrenaline that had flooded his bloodstream from the slight burst of panic and the anticlimactic encounter that had followed, he resumed walking home in a half daze, thoughts whirling. Now that Sol wasn't here, he would have to deal with any attackers on his own. In a different lifetime, this wouldn't have been a problem, but he was well aware that it would take quite a bit of training to regain his fighting abilities, something his mind now remembered rather well, but his body was incapable of performing. He had to come up with a defensive plan quickly. Lost in his thoughts, he failed to notice the object lying on the stone-paved path through the little bit of lawn from the outer metal gate to the door of his apartment block until he nearly tripped over it.
Eyes widening as recognition hit him immediately with a sharp burst of alarm, he picked it up and scanned the vicinity for its owner. There was no one around, not on the two stone benches on either side of the path where visitors without the access code could wait for their hosts' return nor anywhere in sight. He glanced back down at the red metal headpiece in his hand worriedly. Inscribed with the words 'ROCK YOU' roughly carved into the metal surface, it was definitely Sol's, and the Gear was a hazard to everything and everyone without this limiter. He didn't know what he would do when he found the other man, but he had to locate the American, and swiftly.
Turning, he caught sight of something he hadn't noticed earlier. On the stone step up to the black wooden door of his apartment block was a reddish brown speck. He hurried across the necessary three steps towards it, feeling a distinct sense of dread rising in his chest. Blood. Anxiety filled him as he punched in the access code, still gripping the headband tightly in his hand, and ran into the building dimly lit by the weak sunlight shining through the windows beside the door. Not wanting to wait for the tiny and slow elevator, he tore up the stairs to the second of six floors, hoping he would find Sol in his apartment and not knowing which possible scenario playing out in his mind was worse: that Sol was badly injured or that he had injured an innocent in his berserk Gear mode.
Everything flew out of his mind when he finally reached the second floor landing to take in the sight that greeted him: the brunet slumped against his cream-coloured apartment door, seemingly unconscious, with blood around him that even his thick light brown cloak couldn't hide and the Gear mark on his forehead glowing its ugly orange weakly. In an instant, he was kneeling beside the other man, terror flooding his system in a tidal wave as he undid the cloak to see the large gash in the man's side. Then he was patting the other's cheek gently but sharply in hopes of getting some response, any response, out of the wounded man.
"Sol. Sol! Please, answer me!! SOL!!" he called, his slightly nasal tenor rising in panic. Please no, Sol, you can't die on me. You can't. You just can't… You don't even know who I am yet… "SOL!!!"
Abruptly, the Gear mark flared brightly and Ky found himself pinned to the floor under the other's heavier and more muscular form, staring up into bloodshot red eyes with a golden gleam in their depths he wasn't sure he wasn't imagining. Long fangs were bared at him fiercely in a berserk reflexive response to the possible threat as the Gear growled low in its throat as a warning. Fear and relief vied for dominance as he wisely remained still, not raising any defences in hopes of convincing the other that he was no threat to the brunet's already fragile safety.
"Sol..?" he tried tentatively. "It's me… Ky…" he whispered. "Sol… It's alright… Let me help you…" Don't panic…No shields, no abrupt movement… Hopefully, if he doesn't think I'm dangerous, he'll calm down.
He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again pleadingly. "Please… Sol… Don't do this now."
He only received a fierce growl for his efforts. His voice, his words… they weren't reaching the older man. He slid his eyes shut resignedly as he felt hot breath on his throat when razor sharp fangs descended. He considered releasing a blast of magic at the other, but that would only worsen the other's injuries, and he couldn't bear the thought that he might end up killing his once-sworn rival.
I suppose there's no other way around it then… I'll just have to let him rip my throat out with his fangs, he thought with a hint of bitter amusement. It wasn't supposed to end this way, but between kill or be killed, he'd take the latter for Sol. Sol… I'm sorry…Don't blame yourself…
Suddenly, he felt all the air leave him as the brunet collapsed onto him like deadweight, his blue eyes flying open in surprise. The injuries had taken their toll, and the other had slipped out of consciousness again. Relief mingled with his surprise when he realized that he had just barely escaped with his life, and he could still feel the other's shallow breaths. Quickly, he put his hand to the gash, letting his power heal the wound. He fervently thanked the Heavenly Father for blessing him with this ability in this lifetime, unable to imagine having to watch the American die before his eyes.
Even as he prayed, he realized that he would never be able to escape the sin of loving Sol Badguy. Whatever he had thought of, whatever plans he might have had, to put everything behind him and move on without the brunet vanished from his mind the instant he saw the man again. There was no way to stop. And if that was what it took to save them both, to make them both happy… If forsaking his soul was the price he had to pay, he would pay it. He closed his eyes, raising his left hand to stroke soft brown strands gently, and said a prayer for forgiveness. He only hoped God would understand and not be too angry. Maybe it was weakness, but while he wasn't sure of much at that moment, he was sure he didn't want a world without his beloved in it.
Sol…Maybe I'll go to hell for this…but at least… at least I'll be with you.
He blinked slowly, blearily. His vision was clouded somehow; his eyes wouldn't focus.
People. There were so many people milling around.
White. They were wearing white. They looked like lab coats.
A muffled garble sounded. He couldn't make it out, so he tried to ask, "What?" but it came out in a grunt. He couldn't seem to make his voice work right.
There was a glint in the light. A needle, his mind told him. What was it for? He couldn't remember. He tried racking his mind again. He couldn't remember. Why?
Before anything could properly register, pain seared through his body. He saw white again, a hot white that burned through his already cloudy vision. Pain. Pain, pain, PAIN.
And then everything went orange. Move, someone –or rather something- said, no, screamed at him. MOVE. MOVE. GET OUT. KILL! DESTROY!! NEUTRALIZE DANGER!!! MOVE!!! And orange became red, and screaming was all he heard, and fear was all there was. Fear, it flooded his bloodstream because something was wrong. The red. The red was wrong. It wasn't supposed to be red. The noise and commotion around him was wrong. What was the racket about? Why did anything have to be so loud? Get out. Get out. Get out of me, of here. He wanted to tear out his hair in frustration. Go away. GO AWAY!!! He started running, unable to stand it any longer; it was red, all red, and the noise… like a hundred forks on a chalkboard, it was driving him insane. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's not supposed to hurt. It's not supposed to be this way!! he screamed. He ran and ran, away from the red and the noise and everything that should not be and should never be, and then finally, there was a cool black rising to meet him. He dove to meet it gladly.
The first thing he noticed was the silence. It was quiet and peaceful. The noise was gone. He slowly opened his eyes. His vision was clear now, and he found himself automatically trying to figure out which constellation he was looking at in the clear night sky. As usual, he couldn't tell, but it proved that he could now think without being interrupted by horrid noises, searing pain or frantic voices. He didn't know where he was exactly, although fine desert sand slipped through the fingers of his right hand as he gathered some and let the grains fall back to the ground.
He continued to lie there, enjoying the peace. He would be in grave danger soon because he had made a mistake. He should have thought more about it before risking his life for a fleeting dream. And now… He wasn't sure if he would rather have died in a failed experiment or face the danger possible success brought. But he would have to hide himself, and soon, for they would find him. They would try to make more creatures like him to destroy everything that stood in their way. They would turn him into a lab rat and kill him. But for now, it was strangely warm as the wind tousled his hair gently and caressed his bare skin. He decided to sleep for a while, to rest before it all went to hell tomorrow. Or perhaps everything was in hell already.
Mismatched eyes blinked slowly, readjusting to the light. It was warm despite the light breeze he felt on his back. The scent of vanilla and honey was pleasant, and fingers carded through his hair gently. He felt strangely at peace. Suddenly, as if dropped off onto him from a high cliff, memories flooded his mind in a rush. He had staggered into the small apartment compound after letting himself in through the small black metal gate and had to remove the Gear Cell Control Device there to release more of his Gear powers. The trip up to the second floor in the tiny elevator was probably the longest elevator ride he'd ever had to endure, but he'd finally arrived at the kid's front door only to discover that he couldn't sense the other's familiar presence anywhere in the vicinity. He had sunk to the floor then and lost consciousness promptly.
Suddenly, the feeling of the slender form beneath him and the significance of the sweet scent in the air registered in his mind, as well as the fact that the fingers stroking his hair and the arm around his waist had to belong to a certain someone. Sol pushed off the other in a single swift motion forgetting the gash in his side for the moment and was pleasantly surprised when no pain came as he steadied himself with his back to the open window. The kid had healed him after all. Said kid was now picking himself off the floor slowly, dusting off his white turtleneck and loose-fitting blue jeans. Even as he stared at the younger man, a familiar item was held out to him, and he took the headpiece wordlessly, strapping it firmly back to his forehead to hide the Gear mark there. Then they stood there on the landing, facing each other in somewhat heavy silence.
Finally, Ky broke it. "I'm sure I've said this before, but a little gratitude goes a long way." His lecturing tone was almost cold.
"And I'm sure I told you to mind your own damn business." The reply was gruff and even as usual, and the American made himself comfortable by perching slightly on the windowsill, wrapping his bloodstained cloak properly back around himself.
"You did," the blond affirmed with a slight, almost mirthless laugh. "And both times I tried to help your ungrateful self nearly cost me my life, if memory serves." He looked up then, meeting mismatched eyes directly with his azure gaze. "I wonder why I bother…"
Sol looked away first, reaching into his pocket for the pack of cigarettes there, shaking one out and lighting it with a bit of magic. It suddenly struck him what the other was really saying as he inhaled the first calming puff of tobacco smoke, and he looked back into blue eyes as realization dawned. The familiar weariness had returned to those clear aquamarines, and it made the boy seem older than he really was. Well, his mind and soul were nearly twice the age of his body after all.
"Glad to see death hasn't changed you, boy," he acknowledged softly, closing his eyes in quiet acceptance.
Ky offered a wry smile at that. "Nor the passage of time you," he replied, just as soft, for once not complaining about being addressed like a child.
Silence descended again, and this time, neither seemed inclined to break it. Sol decided it was about time he left. Now that his wounds were healed, he had no reason to stay and endanger the boy. Besides, the blond was probably only helping him for old times' sake; he was even rather surprised that the Ky he remembered, who hated Gears rather vehemently, hadn't taken the opportunity to kill him already. He pushed off the windowsill and began walking towards the stairs.
"Thanks for the fix-up, boy," he drawled as he passed the former Commander and began his descent down the staircase.
"How many times do you want to leave me..? Sol?" The hoarsely whispered question stopped him in his tracks against his will.
He closed his eyes and silenced a heavy sigh. "As many times as I have to," he replied quietly without turning.
A pause. "Why did you come back?" Even at that volume, he could hear the blond's voice cracking with some kind of emotion. The storm was coming.
"I don't trust doctors."
"… And that night..?"
"…was exactly what it was: one night."
Ky paused again. Then, "Liar," he accused softly.
"You've always only seen what you wanted to see, Ky," Sol riposted evenly.
Out of the blue, an amazingly powerful fist connected with his jaw at blinding speed, throwing him off-balance and sending him flying down the stairs. He landed on his back and looked up to see the blond standing with his face to the floor and his fist clenched tightly, feeling the residual magic the slender man had used to bolster the punch dissipate even as fury rose fiercely within him. Even in his weakened state, Sol was far from frail, and he leapt to his feet instantly. In a flash, he had the younger man pinned to the wall by his collar.
"What was that for?" he demanded in a harsh growl.
"For being such an… asshole!" Ky retorted angrily, the last word feeling foreign on his lips but incomparably apt for his purpose. "Just admit it, Sol! That night you literally hauled me to bed because you were lonely, and you know it!!" He yelled, voice rising in livid frustration as he shoved roughly against the American's broad shoulders.
"I—" the brunet began, about to launch an irate rejoinder, but was abruptly cut off by warm lips pressed hungrily against his own.
And like he hadn't been able to resist the boy then, he was kissing the blond back now just as harshly, vying for dominance with his tongue as hands buried themselves in his hair, and his own slid under the other's white sweater to touch bare skin. The other's willowy form arched against him in need and desire, and he wound his arms around the slim waist to draw their bodies closer. Just then, air made its absence in their lungs known, and they broke off, panting lightly. Ky smiled up at him, cupping his cheek gently with his hands, and he knew he'd lost this battle. The boy would never let him leave now. He closed his eyes and pressed his headband to the other's bare forehead.
"We should go inside…" the former Commander said with a breathless chuckle. "I've forgotten all the excuses I came up with just now for being pinned to the floor or wall outside my apartment by another man in case my neighbours passed by."
Sol only let out a sharp bark of laughter at that.
"It's not that I mind being discovered now, but it's really quite shameless even for a normal couple," he explained quickly. "And most of them only work if you're unconscious anyway…" As if suddenly realizing that he was rambling, he abruptly switched topics. "There's coq au vin in the oven for lunch," he announced.
The boorish American allowed his lips to curve up in a small smile at that. He was just getting hungry. "I guess I'll stay."
The rare glow of happiness that shone in azure orbs at those four simple words was a reward in itself.
Once again, much thanks to:
Ishiwatari Daisuke for a great game with nice, slashable characters
Meinarch for her valuable opinions and beta-ing
Raging Tofu (and you'd all better thank her too) for bugging me to write and reminding me that there are people waiting for an update
All readers and REVIEWERS for giving me a reason to keep writing this