Title: Firelight
Fandom: Star Ocean 2
Pairing: extremely mild hints of Dias+Claude
Rating: G
Disclaimer: If SO2 were mine, you know whose lap Claude would've ended up in. The quote used beneath the title stems from a film called "Firelight", which I've never watched. I googled the term 'firelight' because I wanted to use it as a title and wasn't sure if the word existed in English, and this is what came up. I liked the quote, and it was appropriate, so there you go. XD
Notes: Dedicated to maiji, for offering so many enlightening insights on this pairing and encouraging me to start posting my own SO2 fics.

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Firelight

Firelight makes time stand still. When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight's glow there aren't any rules any more.

After tending to the horses, Dias sat down by the fire and began inspecting his sword carefully. The flat of the blade felt smooth and showed no signs of any nicks or scars, but the day's trials had dulled its edge somewhat. Humming to himself, he pulled a whetstone from the pouch at his belt and went to work.

Suddenly, the sound of soft footsteps reached his ears, and he tensed immediately, lowering the stone and grasping the hilt of his sword tightly. A moment later, Claude emerged from the trees to his right, sword in one hand and a plant stalk in his mouth. Dias relaxed his grip, inwardly shaking his head at himself. Stupid. Who else would it be, really? There wasn't a soul around for miles, not even monsters. He supposed it was time he got used to having a constant companion, lest he end up stabbing Claude one day when the other woke him for breakfast.

When he saw that Dias had noticed him, Claude clicked his heels together and shouted, "Perimeter clear, Commander Flac, sir!"

Dias snorted into his collar to hide his twitching lips. The blond's pose looked absolutely ridiculous, toes apart, back straight and two fingers at his brow - obviously a military salute of some kind, but the swordsman couldn't fathom which ruler would want his army to look like idiots. The world Claude hailed from had to harbor some crazy people.

"Ensign Kenni would also like to report that his feet are going to be a bitch tomorrow, sir!" Claude added in the same voice before dropping the salute and striding over to the fire, patting his horse's neck in passing.

Dias gave into the urge to roll his eyes at those antics; he was keenly aware that this was a continuation of their earlier argument, when he had told Claude to check their surroundings and the blonde had deemed it an unnecessary task that qualified as harassment. After Dias' rather lengthy explanation - which involved various threats - he had finally given in, moaning and complaining until he was out of hearing range.

"Well, in any case, I don't think there's anything around to give us any trouble," the younger man continued as he plopped down beside him, laying down the sword and stretching his arms over his head. He grinned. "Unless you're worried about vicious demon bunnies chewing off your toes in your sleep."

"Good thing you're taking first watch, then," Dias shot back, taking unexpected pleasure in the way Claude's face shifted into a cross between a scowl and a pout. "You," the blond informed him, "are mean. Cruel. A sadist."

Dias gave him a feral smile. "I can live with that."

Claude huffed and took up his sword in lieu of a response. He patted down the sides of his jacket and came up with a whetstone of his own. Dias resumed sharpening his blade, now accompanied by the scraping echo beside him.

"Don't use so much pressure," he instructed after a while, not even looking up from his task. "Puts unnecessary strain on the blade."

The scraping stopped for a moment, then resumed more softly than before.

For all his childishness and fiery temper, the younger man always absorbed his advice silently, and applied what he learned with a quiet dedication Dias found himself appreciating. He supposed that this was what made him willing to teach in the first place, since he didn't make a habit of giving free lessons to just about anyone he had to put up with. Everyone needed to make their own mistakes, after all.

Exchanging the whetstone for a piece of cloth, he set about polishing the blade. A short while later, the scraping stopped entirely, and Claude began rummaging around again. Dias glanced to his side. His hair fell mostly in the way, but through the heavy strands he could see that Claude had set down the whetstone and pulled a stained rag and a small bottle from his saddlebags. Then, the blond reached into the holster hidden beneath his jacket at the small of his back and pulled a strangely shaped object free.

Dias had seen him do this often; every time Claude cleaned his sword, he would then proceed to clean this strange contraption as well. Dias surmised that it was a weapon of some kind, though he had never seen anything like it at any blacksmith's across the land and the younger man never seemed to use it in battle. Still, he treated it with the same care he bestowed upon his sword.

Claude pushed a small lever at the back of the weapon, and it slid open with a quiet hiss, revealing a coil of colorful wires and other, stranger parts that looked like they stemmed from some mad scientist's laboratory. Dias had found himself curious about it before, but Claude had never ventured any information on the device, so the swordsman simply assumed that this was one of things they just did not talk about.

Another chamber opened at the touch of a fingertip, containing a spindly-shaped stone held between two bars. Removing it, Claude held it up for contemplation in the firelight. Dias had never seen it before, so he decided to give up on pretending not to be interested and began studying the stone instead. It seemed to be a crystal of some kind, gleaming dully and reflecting the flames.

"What is this?" He only realized he had spoken aloud when Claude blinked, startled from his perusal of the stone, and turned to look at him. Dias was aware that he had just violated an unspoken agreement between them, to never talk about the past. But the words were out of his mouth and he now found himself curious as to what Claude would do, if he would get defensive or choose to answer.

"My phase gun's energy source," the blond explained quietly, after a pregnant pause.

"Is this what you call it, a 'phase gun'?" Dias motioned to the device in the other's lap. Now that Claude had showed his willingness to talk about it, there was no reason why he shouldn't try and satisfy his own curiosity. "What does it do?"

"It's a weapon."

Dias scrunched up his nose at the non-answer. "I kind of guessed that. But you never use it."

"Crystal's broken," Claude said, holding the stone out for him to inspect. A thin, spidery crack ran from one end to the other, like a scar.

"You can't replace it?"

"I don't think I could find a replacement anywhere in this world. These are artificially created stones. It takes a highly complicated process to make them. I don't know all the details myself."

Dias frowned. So, he never used the phase gun because it was broken? It seemed stupid to carry around a weapon that couldn't be wielded, and he told Claude as much.

Claude smiled, not offended, as he put the stone back in its proper place and snapped the chambers closed with a practiced flick of his wrist. "I suppose it is stupid. But..." He paused, his smile turning wistful. "My father gave it to me."

"A memento," Dias said, nodding. It made sense, then, that Claude would want to hang onto it, even if it was not a healthy thing to do. He couldn't find it within himself to berate the younger man, though, since he had done the same after the loss of his family. For months afterwards, he had carried his sister's favorite ribbon with him on his travels, as something to remember her by. He had often taken it out and looked at it, in hopes of deriving some sort of comfort. The ritual had been painful, like a wound that was never allowed to regrow skin tissue because its sting always drove him to scratch away the scabs. It had taken him a while to realize that this pain would not make him stronger. He had abandoned her ribbon in the end.

There was no sense in telling that to Claude, though. The blond would not take kindly to being patronized; this was something he would have to discover on his own.

"Not... just a memento," Claude answered softly, looking at him with eerily knowing eyes, as if he could guess at Dias' line of thinking. The swordsman was the first to break away, directing his gaze towards the crackling flames and away from the uncomfortable scrutiny. Claude sighed and tilted his head skywards, loosely dangling the phase gun between his thighs.

After a while, he said, "My father... gave it to me because he wanted me to be able to protect myself. He wanted me to learn that, though I doubt he ever imagined I'd be doing it with one of these." He tapped the sword hilt. "I think I... well, I wouldn't say succeeded, but I've gotten better at looking out for myself. I'm a lot stronger than I was back then, at any rate, and now I can use my sword to protect others, too. I can't say if that's what my father ultimately hoped for, but it doesn't matter in the long run. The gun, though, is going to remind me of who I used to be. I don't know why, but... for some reason I feel as if I shouldn't forget that, you know?"

Silence.

"Makes it more stupid, huh," he said, leaning forward with a self-deprecating smile. Somehow, his face looked softer in the flickering light and shadows, more vulnerable, and Dias realized that the next few moments were entirely dependent on his own reaction. Strange to think that another could value his opinion so much. Strange to think that Claude could value his own opinion so little.

Dias frowned, unhappy to be forced to rely on his rusty people skills. To his surprise, he found himself wanting the earlier mood back. The teasing and bickering had felt much more comfortable than the seriousness of this situation, his curiosity be damned. "No. I don't think it does."

When Claude blinked at him, surprised and a bit relieved, Dias added, "It would sound more convincing if you weren't mumbling around a stick, though."

Claude looked utterly bewildered for a moment before remembering the stalk he had shoved into the corner of his mouth. "What, this?" He suddenly grinned, pushing it between his front teeth with his tongue and resumed chewing softly. "'S just sorrel. It won't kill me."

Dias rolled his eyes. "Good to know that you're only sticking non-lethal things in your mouth. You're still looking ridiculous."

The insolent grin widened, and Claude's nibbling took on a definitely deliberate air. "Well, your world is woefully lacking any and all forms of chewing gum, so I'm reduced to amusing myself with this."

"Chewing... gum?" The term sounded bizarre, certainly not like anything that you would want to ingest.

"Yes, chewing gum. It's..."

As Claude launched into a lengthy explanation of the various flavored rubbery substances that qualified as chewing gum and that they could be used to trap air inside and make bubbles which had to be snapped to recapture the substance, Dias concluded that the world Claude came from was insane and the people living on it and creating such things were most likely insane, too, and should he ever be so unfortunate as to stumble across a group of them, he would be sure to give them a wide berth.

Really, Claude was crazy enough for him.

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A/N:
- I realize I haven't specified the timeline; I wrote this with the Claude/Dias ending in mind, but I suppose you could see it as an in-game ficlet just as well. If you're doing that, and wondering where everyone else went, well... look over there!

- If the Calnus crew does salute, their sprites are too small for me to see. I simply stole the salute from a space-opera Anime called "Crest of Stars".

- I don't know if there are horses in SO2. The Anime makes them use horses, but we all know how accurate that is. Since I couldn't very well put them on Chocobos, horses it is. Also, I have no idea how phase guns work. I'll leave it to your imagination to puzzle this one out.

- Sorrel is a herb that can be found almost anywhere in Middle and Northern Europe (and America as well, or so I'm told). In the past, it was used for medicinal purposes, but now finds itself as an ingredient for herb salads and soup. Freshly picked sorrel stalk develops a nice, sweet-sour taste when chewed on. I realize that Expel is a wholly different planet, but SO2 has an abundance of healing items named after Earth plants, e.g. clarysage, blueberries, blackberries etc. So why not sorrel? XD

Oh, C&C is, as always, much appreciated.