Vaan grits his teeth, curling up tighter in his chair, desperate not to hear, but not heartless enough to leave his brother alone.
Reks whispers deliriously in his sleep and Vaan trembles. The chair is a stiff wooden presence at his back and the city is a sleeping beast, sleeping and hungry--each breathe a dream of vengeance.
What does Reks dream? Vaan knows, or thinks he does.
Vaan thinks his brother must dream of vengeance, of freedom and skies run red with bloody constellations.
Reks wakes suddenly, gibbering and clawing at the air and crying.
Before the war, Reks had never cried.
Oh, older brother, you were my strength.
"Shh," Vaan soothes or perhaps hisses. His arms are chains and Reks weeps more deeply. For his weakness, for his loss, he buries himself in Vaan's scent and cries.
"Shh," Vaan begs, his anger fading with his trembling. "Shh, Reks…"
Broken, oh how broken you are, my brother.
The doctors had promised he would mend, scarred but whole. Dalan had barely looked at Reks before he shook his head.
"Prepare your goodbyes, Ratsbane. This will be quick… but long."
Too much blood lost, too many bones shattered. Brother, what happened after Ronsenburg betrayed you? Reks never could say, could only close his eyes and whisper what he dreamt.
"Vaan, Vaan," he cried plaintively. "Vaan, I dream of dark wet places. Enclosed, enclosed, Vaan."
Vaan never listened. "We'll be free one day, just wait, Reks, just wait."
Child, child, not everyone can dream of the skies.
Now Vaan's hours spent rotting in Dalan's smoke den are long. Perhaps he is not the only one in Rabanastre with such weakness.
Weakness, he is young and he is not the strong one. And yet… he is the only one left, what else can he be?
Dalan would watch him dispassionately should he cry, but he does not and so that old man touches his bones and through the fog mouths, "For the pain."
Reks sleeps peacefully that night, his lips like pink petals pursed in a smile of sunshine warmth.
The city stirs, slowly, ever so slowly. She is fortifying her veins, training her marshals. She breathes.
Vaan dreams of Valkyries astride great steaming steeds, dappled grey with coal-red eyes.
Reks dreams of what Vaan does not know. Reks dreams of lions, sprawled in a far-reaching field. Their languid bodies and their animal scent is somehow calming to him.
"Vaan, Vaan," Penelo dances across the sandy cobbles, coins raining in her wake. "Vaan, how is he? How is Reks?"
There are always more brothers to lose, my dear girl, don't fear, don't fear. Fear the soldiers who haunt your steps. Fear the fantasies they haggle.
Vaan scowls. The sky is empty blue and the city is an ant farm charade of glitter. Daggers glint, only glint, in the shade.
"The same," he says. "The same, he won't tell me what happened, he can't sleep without drugs. He's dying, Penelo, he's dying."
The city was dying; war and plague.
Vaan won't stand for it, each stone as his witness. Tomaj smiles with dark amusement and greed.
"Your hand at Hashshashin, my friend?" He has such a singsong voice of Harlequin arrogance, that brother. "I see it in you, clearly. You're no old man to sit grumbling over pints, not when the sewers are open to you."
"I can sink no lower," Vaan bites and thinks of his brother. Ensconced in that hospital--that dying body--already dressed in white. "I can sink no lower."
Tomaj's hands are tricksy things, best to be watched closely. He motions with them gracefully, deception.
"I will be your eyes and ears if you will be my body."
"Yes," Vaan murmurs, eyes and skies much the same to him (he whose brother's eyes have faded gray, gray as stone.)
Rabanastre, his queen, has long been a city of death; rearing him with her plagues and her wars.
For all that he is a child, too young to enlist ever still; Vaan's innocence is not long in holding and Archadians are not so careful with their purses as they should think, their soldiers not as well armored as they would believe.
"You are a blue-eyed boy." Dalan laughs, gibbering vague mysticism "Bahamut is a blue-eyed god, my boy."
For Reks, laughing Dalan sends his potions, for Vaan he spares his wiles.
"Secret places," Dalan's mouth giggles with that senile parrot glee he seems disposed to in his cagiest moments. "Everywhere, especially in minds."
Reks dreams of Galbana Lillies, red petals, one for each body, one for each dead. He dreams of steel serpents and twin gods.
He wakes ripping at the sheets, which stink of sweat and urine.
Sunlight streams in through the window and he cries.
"Oh, Reks," Penelo laments for him, strong and courageous mother that she will someday be, she cradles him. "Oh, Reks, may you soon be free…"
Soon he will be.
His friends, hunters and beast stalkers, come with wishes of well and gifts. He wonders if they realize what death omens they leave at his side.
"Courage," Triba Hamin whispers to him in his crocodile Bangaa tongue. "Courage, Reks, my little friend who is a hume, the mist comes for you soon." There are brief words for this, made clumsy in translation, but so clean in that Bangaa's inflection.
Courage, courage, my brother, your brother and we must carry on, carry on, leave us your courage, please.
Courage… Reks dreams of dark places, dripping with slime Reks dreams of weakness, of failure.
The sunlight blinds his eyes, it does.
"Dreaming of the sky?" Vaan asks, Vaan believes.
There are those dew-garnet lilies in his hands and he smiles.
Your brother has changed. When you are the last of something, you must change.
He smells this, it is natural. He does not mean to be so unkind.
Vaan settles into the chair, an upright wooden presence at his back. There is blood on his bracers, Reks does not notice. There is dirt beneath his fingernails, Reks does not chide.
The city breaths outside. Nocturnal thoughts and beasts roaming the streets.
Like Vaan, but Vaan is here, not outside. Reks smiles and closes his eyes wearily.
He does not dream of the sky, and Vaan does not know of what he dreams. Only that it wakes him weeping and broken.
In the morning Penelo puts the flowers in a vase by the window. Daytime is her time, she spends much of it with him, to hide from him where Vaan has gone.
There is a black curtain gathering on the hospital-white walls.
His nightmares are gathering in his world, blurring the lines between this one and the next.
A dark place, a prison, and how his body hurts. How the slow drip of moisture drives him mad in the shivering heat of his fever.
That is when he refuses to eat, turns his back to that white porcelain vase and is gone.
There are black things in the night. They haunt him in his waking hours, and so he never sleeps.
Dalan's opium gifts have no meaning in his world. His jaw is immovable, no fingers to pry it loose. No fingers, but Vaan's mouth does the trick, breathing life and sleep into him, slipping that magic pearl deep into his throat.
Reks has dried his well of tears, drought and blight spreading from his gray eyes.
Oh brother, the ocean looked so much different than the sea…
Vaan does not cry.
He burns and stares at the sky to challenge the sun. He steals for coin and slides his sleek cool knife into the ribcage sheaths of his enemies for relief.
And Penelo dances for her sorrows.
Dark places, trapped in dark places, where he belongs, oh he belongs. Scaly chains and the breath of the Judge-Sal upon his face, and he waits. Dark places, dark pits with dark creatures that drink blood and eat flesh. Slime and moisture, it breaths, your filth, it breaths and your nightmares breed. Copulate and breed like madness. Their eyes glow a black pearl gleam, their fangs flash deadly. Dark places, trembling and aching while strength leeching worms crawl the marrow of his bones.
Reks dies in the morning on the first day of what will be a heat wave.
The sands scorch his skin, but that is where Vaan buries him.
"Beneath the open sky," he murmurs, scattering the grave with the red flowers his brother loved.
The hunters come in clanking solemnity to make their sacrifices of fangs and tails, eyes and hides and scales.
Dalan comes, spreading strange herbs to the dull winds and whispering strange words.
There are others but no one dares touch Vaan but Penelo, their fingers clasped, intertwined.
She only slips away from him to dance.
She dances for rain and it comes, packing the sand, drowning sorrow by flood.