"Would've been longer," the old man said, unfolding himself from his seat and standing stiffly. The chocobos drawing the cart shifted uncomfortably, feathers twitching. They didn't seem any the worse for the heat, despite their work and their feathers. Edge envied them. The old man jerked his head to indicate someone standing behind the cart. "If it weren't for him, I'd have had to take an even longer way round and back here."
"Him?" Edge said, narrowing his eyes, and then swearing in a way that would've made his Gramps whack him hard. "Kain?"
Kain stepped out of the shade, carrying his lance, and nodded. His helmet was nowhere to be seen, but otherwise he looked just as Edge remembered. Just as if he hadn't disappeared off months before.
"Rosa's going to kill you," Edge said, with some relish, and then surprised himself by actually embracing Kain, banging him on the back. It hurt, of course, because of the armour, but he pretended that hadn't happened. "Don't you realise we've all been worrying? And what are you doing here?"
"Hiding from Rosa," Kain said, straight-faced. Edge couldn't decide if he were joking, truthful, or a bit of both.
"How come you helped him?"
Kain shrugged slightly, an awkward movement in the armour. "I thought I'd try my hand at helping people, and facing some of those monsters single-handedly was good training."
"Right, training." Edge rolled his eyes. "If you want to help people, why don't you stick around?"
"That was the plan," Kain said. He glanced around at the building work, at the people who were arriving to take their share of supplies from the cart. "If there's anything I can do."
Rosa and Cecil would want him to ask questions. Even Rydia would be curious, gently prodding and poking until she got the full story. She'd always meant to go and find him, at some point, though Edge privately thought she was too busy being saint-like with the creatures down under to ever get round to it. Everyone would want to know what was wrong with him, why he'd snuck off, why he hadn't come back before.
Kain met his eyes, steadily.
"You know," Edge said, conversationally, "I don't really care about you. I don't really care about you sneaking off. I suppose the way you made a pretty girl cry is unforgiveable, but that's none of my business. So I'm going to let you get away with not explaining anything. Go and get your armour off, find something more suitable, then come help me here."
Kain's mouth quirked a little, into an almost-smile. "Where should I go?"
"Go up to the castle, tell whoever you find there that you're my friend if they don't recognise you. And hurry up, man!"
"Good day's work, that," Edge said, stepping back to look at the small hut they'd built. Kain stood back as well, his eyes giving nothing away.
"Someone will be glad of it," he said, with more reserve.
Edge rolled his shoulders a little, trying to ease the tension, the ache. "We work well together, I guess. That's the quickest we've had one of these completed. Come on, let's go and find someone to settle in there."
"Why are you doing this?"
Edge raised an eyebrow. "I'm the prince. Nearly their king, as soon as Gramps decides I'm ready. Why shouldn't I do this? I know it's not the custom in Baron, but I've always protected my people. I'd be a pretty crappy ruler if I didn't try and get all this sorted. Not that Gramps is entirely happy about me mucking around with the commoners, but at least I'm not gallivanting off on a quest and getting killed. Why're you doing this?"
"Do you care?"
"Not really. Tell me anyway."
Kain didn't look at him, though he kept pace with him towards the small knot of tents where Edge's people were living in the meantime. "I thought I'd try my hand at rebuilding, rather than destroying," he said, rather reluctantly.
"Couldn't you have done that in Baron?"
"No," Kain said, firmly, and then shut his mouth tightly as if he hadn't meant to respond at all. Edge rolled his eyes.
"Rosa's not going to be happy with you."
"I know," Kain said, barely opening his mouth to do it. Edge made an exasperated noise.
"Right, right, you don't want to talk about it. Come on, let's get one of these families settled into the new house. No doubt someone will want to name their baby after you, and someone'll want to feed you and give you somewhere to sleep. Or there's the castle, of course, you're welcome there too."
"I'll come to the castle."
Edge grinned. "Not inclined to be humble?"
Kain's mouth twitched a little, as it had before, like he was surpressing a smile. "I do know some things about people who don't have much, you know. They'd be inclined to give me more than they can afford. You can afford it."
"So just because I'm a prince you can freeload?" Edge elbowed him, gently. "Ah, well, I guess you're working for your keep. And you're not a bad worker."
It was true, he thought, as he helped a grateful and chattering woman carry things over to the new hut he and Kain had built. Kain wasn't a bad worker, and working beside him had hardly been a chore. He pulled his weight and -- well, he was sort of decent company. A bit silent, but then, Edge preferred it when he got to talk and the person he was with listened, or at least pretended to.
It probably wouldn't be worth Rosa's pretty kicked-puppy eyes, but he figured he'd blame the unreliability of messengers, or something.
It was an easy rhythm to fall into. Work, banter, eat, sleep, eat, work, banter... Edge threw himself into it whole-heartedly, and if Kain didn't seem so torn, he'd've said Kain had, too. There was an odd camaraderie between them: he'd've been more comfortable with Cecil, or Rydia, or pretty much any of them, and yet at the same time the two of them fit together. There was a cohesiveness they'd had before, in battle, that had Edge turning to pass Kain a tool he needed before Kain'd asked, that had Kain moving to hold up a beam before he'd asked for help.
If Kain wasn't so hard to read, he'd've said he was getting to know what made him tick, too.
"You've been weird for days," he said, one morning. He gave Kain a sidelong look. "Weirder than usual, I mean."
"Have I?" Kain asked, apparently without interest. Edge thought he looked more tense than usual, though. Bullseye! he thought.
"Yep. I was thinking, maybe you'd like to come and do some monster extermination for me. The soldiers have been reporting more monster activity round here lately, and I think they'd benefit from us going round and dealing with a bunch of 'em." Edge gave him another sidelong look. "Since you wanted to train, I thought..."
"I'll come with you," Kain said, straightening up. He pushed his hair out of his face and gave Edge an odd look. "How did you..."
"How did I... what?" Edge raised an eyebrow.
"Nothing," Kain said. He turned away quickly and went back to the castle to collect his lance.
Edge could never decide, later, how exactly working together, fighting together, set them up to end up together together. After all, he and Kain had never really connected, and -- well, Kain could be a huge asshole, too. Though admittedly some of his dickery wasn't entirely voluntary, historically.
It made stupid amounts of sense to end up kissing Kain, though, with Kain kissing back all awkward and shy like it was a first. They weren't even drunk, though someone had pressed a drink or two on them earlier in the evening.
It made stupid amounts of sense to end up in his bedroom with Kain, with Kain's hands on him, Kain fumbling like he didn't know what he was doing. It made stupid amounts of sense to take control and drag Kain into bed with him.
And it made disturbing amounts of sense the way they fit together afterwards -- not exactly comfortable, but not about to move, coming to rest together like they'd done it a million times before.
Edge never understood how Kain accepted it so easily. He'd've expected him to angst and feel bad about it for obscure reasons, or maybe pretend it never happened. Kain accepted it with disturbing ease, though, and as for himself... Well, he'd never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and being with Kain had been surprisingly fun. It was worth a second go. Or, well, technically, a third go, since second had already been taken care of.
"Rosa is going to kill me," he muttered into Kain's shoulder, but Kain was already asleep. Edge thought that, at least, was a very good idea.
He knew Rosa and Cecil were visiting for weeks in advance. Guiltily, he kept putting off actually telling Kain about it. It'd only make him run off, he reasoned, and it wasn't like Kain should be allowed to act all rabbity. And he owed Rosa something at least: not telling Kain so he wouldn't hare off felt dishonest somehow, but also like a good thing -- for Kain, for Rosa, for him, all three, whatever.
Still. He was never renowned for his ability to keep entirely quiet. "Are you ever going to go back to Baron?" he asked, one evening. They were outside in the cool of the evening, finishing up repair work, and Kain'd been silent, thoughtful, all day. "I mean. If Rosa showed up and smiled, would you wag your tail and follow?"
He couldn't help that he sounded confrontational. He had a pretty distinct mental image of Kain running off after Rosa, considering that he'd been known to murmur her name in his sleep -- though always in a troubled tone -- and knowing that he flinched almost every time she got mentioned.
"No," Kain said, after a moment. He didn't look at Edge. "I've... grown comfortable here."
"You mean you feel less uncomfortable here than you would in Baron."
"I mean I like it here," Kain said, after another moment. He still didn't look up at Edge. "Working, and helping people, and..."
"And the brilliant sex."
A brief flash of an almost-smile. "Yes," Kain said, "that. And..."
"Nothing," Kain said, looking back at his work. He rose after a few moments more. "I think that's done. Do you want to come and train for a while?"
Edge nodded and got to his feet in one quick movement, stretching. "I think I could do with some exercise. Actual exercise, not just the kind of exercise we have in bed." He grinned at Kain in the half-dark, and was gratified by the embarassed look on Kain's face. He stretched a little more, easing tight muscles, trying to limber up. He heard Kain cross the yard for his lance, and was semi-pleased, semi-annoyed by the way he was constantly aware of him.
He was suddenly annoyed, though, when Kain caught him by surprise, pushing him back against the wall and kissing him hard. But he couldn't argue with the fact that it was a nice surprise, and a nice kiss.
"I'm getting too sentimental about this," he muttered against Kain's mouth, and dragged him deeper into the shadows to scandalise him deeply with the things princes of Eblan did even if they were in imminent danger of being caught at it.
He was pretty sure Kain loved it really, protests of how inappropriate it was aside.
They never did get round to training -- at least, not that night.
"How long has he been here?" Rosa's tone was shocked, something in her expression betrayed. Her eyes were fixed on Kain, and Edge could guess that Kain was steadfastly refusing to so much as look at her. Rydia was giving him an accusing look. Cecil was looking kind of confused. Edge made a huffy sound and shrugged a little.
"A while," he said. "He just turned up and said he wanted to rebuild. And that he couldn't do it in Baron. I got the feeling he didn't want you to know, so... I didn't say anything."
Rosa looked at him, then, briefly, and he winced at getting the full force of what was almost a kicked-puppy look -- except, of course, she was too graceful and lady-like for that to bequite applicable. "He came to you first?"
Cecil cleared his throat. "I think... Maybe we should talk to Kain."
Rosa nodded. Edge glanced over his shoulder at Kain and wondered whether he should be grateful about not being under fire any more, or worried about how Kain would take it. He'd lapsed into silence the minute he realised who was visiting, but now he finally glanced up. Edge wanted to believe the tiny smile then was meant for him.
"How come you didn't tell anybody?" Rydia asked. She wasn't quite belligerent, but there was something fierce in her eyes. She'd grown older again, he thought, with a little pang of sadness -- the different time streams taking their toll already.
"He didn't want me to, that's all." He shrugged. A long quiet fell between them, and then awkwardly he stirred himself, raising an eyebrow of her. "How've you been?"
It didn't get any less awkward. She could only talk of her home, the creatures there, the strange life she led there. He found himself talking about Kain -- about building, and being a prince, and Gramps, but mostly about Kain.
And to think he'd imagined marrying her, once upon a time.
"I'm staying, you know," Kain said, softly, right by his ear. Edge almost jumped, wondering when Kain'd got so good at sneaking up on him.
"What?" he asked, more sharply than he really meant to.
"I'm staying here. In Eblan." Kain hesitated. "With you. Are you going to make me say it?"
"Say it?" Edge frowned slightly, glancing up at Kain's face. Kain huffed softly, looking as if something was paining him.
"You know. That I... have feelings for you."
"Oh," Edge said, and found himself grinning like an idiot. It didn't make any damn sense and yet it made plenty of sense, felt like the only right thing. He moved closer to Kain, bumping their shoulders. "Nah, don't say anything. I guess I've got Rosa to blame for you coming over all romantic, right? But, yeah. You don't have to say it. I know."
A pause. "And what about you?"
"Gonna make me say it?"
Kain looked down at him, and he was smiling, he really was. "No," he said, after a moment. Another pause. "Rosa said I was running away. That I was... being weak."
Edge shrugged, leaning against him comfortably. "Even if you were, you're not any more, right? You faced down Rosa in a motherly mood -- now that takes some doing."
He dared to think Kain laughed, at that.