Disclaimer/Note: I do not own the characters used in this story; they belong to Daisuke Ishiwatari and who ever he sold his soul to. I'm not making any money off of this story, either. So don't sue me. This story, and all original concepts, are original (duh) and belong to me. Don't steal it, or archive it without my permission. This fic takes place way before the first game, and includes a ridiculous amount of my own headcanon. If things don't quite make sense, I apologize; maybe I'll get around to writing about their travels together some day. Anyway, enjoy.
Winters in Europe were never reliable. One day it was bright and sunny and relatively warm, and the next it was pouring down rain and threatening to freeze overnight. Three days ago it had snowed. Last night they had gotten sleet, which froze in odd patches throughout the old house, and God only knew what tomorrow would be like. Ky shivered, wrapping himself more tightly within the folds of Sol's traveling cloak. He was wearing his own beneath that, along with his ratty old sweater and heavy winter pants, but despite it all he couldn't push back the wet chill that permeated their shelter.
Sol had not wanted to stop in Paris. He had argued with Ky for two hours on the road about how they should swing east and continue past the walled city. There was a travel post only a day's walk from the gates, and Sol greatly preferred those rundown little inns and dirty brothels to the cobbled streets and pseudo-safety of France's capital. It had taken a bit of persuasion—and a substantial amount of bribery—to convince Sol that Paris was not that bad. They were well away from the uptown bustle, from the capital buildings and few great, crumbling monuments that dared to stand up to the test of Father Time.
They were in the southern part of Paris, way out on the outskirts near the wall where it was weakest. It was the part of Paris that had burned down just over ten years ago. Ky had been a young boy at the time, barely five and just beginning to come into his affinity for electricity. He still remembered what the mansion used to look like back then; white walls with beautifully extravagant filigree and carved columns, chandeliers with hundreds of lights to brighten even the darkest corners of the high domed ceilings. The entryway had a perfect marble floor that led up to two curving grand staircases with plush red carpeting. He used to run barefoot down the upstairs hallways, laughing with his father as they played hide-and-seek. His mother always hid in the library, or the study, but sometimes—very rarely—he would catch her in the china room, reorganizing the tea sets in the middle of their games.
And then that rogue GEAR appeared, a screaming backlit monster with one glowing, mechanical red eye that haunted so many of Ky's dreams and waking nightmares. It had been shaped like a man, broad and tall and towering over the burning ruins, with fire dancing along its bared arms and chest, swirling around its legs as it stalked through one wrecked home after another. Ky had barely survived: his mother's body and God's will had shielded him from the flames and smoke. He was never able to identify his father, though he was sure that the man was among the charred corpses left in the GEAR's wake.
Ky shivered at the unpleasant memory, shaking his head in an attempt to rid himself of the terrible images from that night. He turned away from the once-magnificent entryway and shuffled through the dark halls of his father's mansion.
The marble floors were cracked now, heavy stone tiles ruptured and laying unevenly. Coupled with the refrozen sleet and small patches of snow that had survived, they made his walk treacherous, and he had to navigate carefully to keep from slipping. The stained glass from the full windows that used to line the walls had all been shattered, colored shards crunching beneath his boots. As he neared the stairs he had to step around chunks of the ceiling that had fallen in, and in the process stepped on a rat tail when the little rodent tried to scurry by. It squeaked up at him in anger and pain until he quickly lifted his foot and let it escape.
From the top of the stairs, he could see the lights from the market district on the other side of the Seine. There should have been a wall there, but it had long since been reduced to piles of dirty rubble. The red carpet was faded and damaged from exposure; it smelled faintly of mold, but thankfully there was a stiff breeze that covered that scent. Not that Ky would have minded if there had been no breeze at all; he would take odor over wind chill any day.
There was a set of muddy footprints leading from the stairs down one of the hallways, signaling the passage of someone with a heavy gait. Ky tightened his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering, and followed the trail to his parents' bedroom before stopping just outside the cracked door. He could hear a voice from inside, low and rough, and if he strained his ears he could just barely make out words:
"—Hundred degrees, that's why they call me 'Mr. Fahrenheit'. . ."
Ky pushed the door open, cautiously peering in. His parents' bed was set in the middle of the room: what had once been a massive and impressive feather mattress now heavily soiled in its slightly charred oak frame. The headboard was rotting, one post missing entirely. Water had collected atop the blackened sheets and slowly dribbled down the side toward a hole in the floor. The armoire was lying on its back with the doors left open, a slow drip from a leak in the ceiling having nearly filled it. His mother's vanity desk was missing, but there was a suspicious glow from the connected bathroom, and Ky had a dubious feeling about it when he realized that the source of the singing came from there as well. He approached with carefully measured steps.
It appeared that Sol had discovered the last remaining bathtub in the house: an enormous porcelain antique with brass claws and a wide rim.
The older man was lucky that he did not have to worry about catching cold. Ky was often jealous of the fact that Sol did not have to think about the weather when deciding if he could afford the luxury of bathing in a place with no heat or electricity. The young Frenchman crossed his arms loosely over his chest, leaning his shoulder into the empty frame where the door should have gone. It—and the vanity desk, he imagined—had been smashed and pushed into the corner, where they were currently burning brightly.
Ky could not have gotten away with a bath on a night like this. It must be nice to have an affinity for fire and a core temperature of several hundred degrees, he thought moodily as he tried to keep his shivering to a subtle tremble. Ky would have gotten into a warm tub and caught pneumonia as soon as the water cooled. He had a weak constitution and was very sensitive to changes in temperature; Sol had once told him that it had to do with his ability to control electricity, that it was somehow connected to a higher than usual concentration of sensory nerves in some part of his brain or another. He had also talked for some length about the way his skin must have picked up tactile information and had made idle comments about wanting to crack the younger man open and see how he was wired.
"—Like an atom bomb about to explode, I'm burning through the sky. . ."
But Sol did not have to worry about any of that. The older man's bath water never got cold, no matter how long he stayed in. Sometimes the water bubbled from the heat radiating off the tub's occupant, but the man did not seemed to take notice unless it passed the boiling point. He would not have to worry about wandering around the drafty ruins of Ky's Parisian mansion still wet afterwards, either: the water was already rising off his exposed skin in steamy white clouds. His hair was already—or was it still?—perfectly dry.
The singing stopped.
"You gonna stand there all day, or what?" came the growl from inside the room, causing Ky to jump a little as he was shaken from his brief reverie. The small teen shook his head, rubbing at one arm self-consciously. He was freezing, but could not bring himself to say that to his companion. Besides, Sol would just laugh at him and call him a wimp, anyway.
The brunet straightened from his slouch, twisting his torso to lay muscular arms on the edge of the tub. Sol leaned forward, more steam rising from his broad shoulders and the lower half of his ponytail as they dried. He had on that familiar, comfortable half-smirk that he always got when the older man had the opportunity to enjoy watching Ky squirm or fidget.
And in this case, that was all he had on.
Ky was not a big fan of nudity. He never had been. Being naked made him feel vulnerable. He tried to be naked as little as possible; he was always cold and felt awkward without his heavy traveling clothes wrapped around his thin frame. Being around others who were naked was even worse, though, perhaps because he was so acutely aware of it. Nakedness made him nervous. It made him jumpy and paranoid, and when Ky got anxious he had an awful tendency to electrocute people.
"You're cold, aren't you?" Sol's deductive prowess was truly astounding. Ky was wearing three thick layers, his teeth were chattering together, and his lips were probably starting to turn blue; it didn't exactly take a brain surgeon to figure out that he was cold. The young Frenchman glared at the man in the tub, shaking his head from side to side. Sol just raised a brow and frowned at the obvious denial, though his amber eyes kept that smirk. "Yeah you are. Come here."
It was the same thing he said the first couple of nights they spent together during the winter out near Geneva. You're cold. Come here. Stop shaking: it's annoying as Hell. That was last year. Sol had wrapped the boy up in his cloak and held him close while he slept. Ky had been so warm he had started sweating, but at least he hadn't frozen to death or lost any extremities to frostbite. Even so, Ky didn't move from his spot in the doorway.
"I'm not going to bite, you know."
"I'd be more worried about you lighting me on fire."
"That was one time, and it was an accident," Sol reminded him, gesturing for the boy to come closer. Ky reluctantly did as he was told, careful not to glance down. It was not as though he felt anything shameful towards his traveling companion; he trusted Sol, and, usually, he felt quite comfortable with him. He just really did not like the idea of being around anyone while they were that naked. Ky stopped next to the bathtub, eyes on a hole in the wall the size of his head. Sol surveyed him slowly. ". . . Get in."
"Are you insane?" Ky gawked, staring in open mouthed disbelief at the older man. Any further protest was momentarily stalled by shock. Surely Sol wasn't being serious. If Ky got into the water with him, he would electrocute him. Not on purpose, of course, but he severely doubted that Sol would care about intent when he was locked into a grand mal seizure with a thousand volts of electricity ripping through him. He had shocked Sol on a few occasions, and it was never pleasant.
Sol had trouble handling electricity, even more so than people normally did. Even little shocks kept him twitching and jittery for hours. Once, Ky had gotten the older man to explain it to him, but there was too much medical terminology for him to remember the exact reasoning. Something about delicate neural pathways, about high voltage levels destroying data processors in the parietal lobe and messed up memory banks, a little babbling on the subject of overloading his optical cortex. Sol had a strange habit of talking about brains like they were made of chips and wires, hard metal machinery that was easily tampered with. Ky never knew what to make of Sol when he spoke like that; when he talked about people the same way he talked about GEARs when he tore them up for parts. They had traveled over a large part of Europe during their year together, and Ky had seen Sol do and say many strange things. Things like you never know when you'll need a new left eye as he carefully cut one out, making sure to keep the long nerve—the optic chord is a direct extension of the brain, you know—intact. He didn't talk much about his past, but had briefly mentioned that he had been a doctor once upon a long, long time ago. Maybe it was a doctor thing, and the older man didn't want to fall into malpractice, or something.
"Just keep your hands out of the water. And Ky," Sol paused for a moment to catch the young Frenchman's gaze, which he held steadily as he finished his threat. "If you shock me, I will boil the blood in your veins and burn you from the inside out. Now shut up, take that shit off, and get in the damn tub before you freeze to death."
Ky swallowed hard and nodded, pulling his many layers off and setting them on top of Sol's discarded clothes. He hoped they wouldn't get wet. His body shook uncontrollably as he felt the cold wind on his bared skin. He stood uncertainly for a moment, with full knowledge that his companion was watching him fidget and shake and trying not to snicker. He hurried to get into the steamy waters, a miserable expression clearly evident on his boyish features. Sol had moved as far back in the tub as he could manage with his bulky frame, but even so, it was a tight fit with Ky forced to sit between the older man's spread legs. He kept his hands out of the water, all too aware of the pale blue arcs of electricity that sparked across his knuckles and danced along his fingertips.
"I hate you right now," Ky half snapped, hunkering down in the water. His entire body felt rigid, every nerve in his body wound tightly until he thought they would snap. He could feel Sol's dry chest pressed against his back, a slow and steadily rhythmic beat from within thumping against his spine, and the older man's breath hot on his neck. Ky tried not to lean back, but Sol wrapped strong arms around him and held him close, captive. He may not have been comfortable, but at least he could console himself with the fact that he wasn't cold anymore, either.
"You wanna get out? Go ahead. But I'm not gonna take care of you if you get sick," Sol warned, one roughly calloused hand crawling up from Ky's chest to his shoulder, cupping the joint for a minute to warm it up. Sol was not an affectionate person, but what he lacked in emotional capacities was eagerly made up for with physical contact. He liked to touch when he could, and seemed to take advantage of any opportunity when it arose. Ky just wished the opportunity didn't have to arise when they were naked, especially knowing that Sol sometimes had trouble regulating the amount of heat he gave off.
That warm hand traveled down along Ky's arm, rubbing softly until he reached the boy's wrist. He put his chin on Ky's shoulder, amber gaze flicking over to wide, nervous blue eyes. "If I touch your hand, am I gonna get struck by lightning?"
"Yes," he ground the answer out through clenched teeth, tightly gripping the edge of the bathtub. Sol's hand moved back to its original place on Ky's chest. Ky bit down on his tongue and inhaled deeply through his nose, taking note of the heavy scent of ozone in the air. He was getting too nervous, his anxiety manifesting as built up power. One of those small arcs snapped loudly, a harsh crack like thunder and a brief flash of light off one hand.
"This is like taking a bath with a toaster, you know," the brunet stated wryly. One arm slid down beneath the water, wet fingers lightly drumming on the younger man's tense stomach as he spoke. "A French toaster. Try to relax."
"You don't find this at all odd, do you? Or is this just something all Americans are okay with?"
"My youngest son and I used to take baths together," came the soft murmur against the skin just below Ky's ear, coupled with a slight tightening of Sol's grip. Ky squirmed a little. Sol had never talked about having a family; there had been the implication of a daughter early on, but Ky had just assumed that she was dead, mostly because he could not explain to himself why any father would leave behind a child to tromp through Europe hunting GEARs in any other situation. "Back when we had time for that sort of thing. I'd take his hand and we'd compare them for size."
"Your. . .son?" he prompted hesitantly, turning his head a little and trying to read Sol's expression from his peripheral. The older man had closed his eyes, a small smile playing on his lips as he thought back to those better days. He went back to touching Ky's arm, trailing fingertips from shoulder to elbow and back along his tricep.
"Yeah. Black hair, dark eyes, delicate and pale: most beautiful little boy you ever saw. He was designed that way, of course, but still—"
"I thought you didn't believe in God or the divine will."
"Well, I guess it's sort of complicated," Sol opened one eye and shrugged in response to Ky's frown. "You'd understand if you knew him. Anyway, didn't your father ever do this with you?"
"No, never. How many kids do you have?"
". . .Three, and we're not talking about any of them." It was getting warmer, almost uncomfortably so, Ky realized. Their legs knocked together as he shifted, trying to move forward away from Sol. The older man leaned back further in the tub, pulling the young Frenchman by the shoulder so that he was also lying back. Water sloshed up against the sides, a little spilling over the edge. Ky noted that there was a hole in the ceiling just above him and that the night was still clear. He tried to keep his mind off the feeling of their bodies sliding against one another. "Now shut up before I light you on fire."
"Do, and I swear to the Lord Almighty that I'll call down the full wrath of the Heavens on you."
"If I'm struck by lightning at any point tonight, you and I are going to find out how hot a person needs to get before the human body liquefies completely," Sol growled, the temperature in the room rising dangerously. Spiderweb cracks appeared along the inside rim of the porcelain with a subtle popping sound. Ky swallowed hard, hands clenching and unclenching convulsively outside the tub, snapping electrical currents arcing up his wrists to his elbows. The white-blue light danced over his fingers. Sol just held him tightly and rested his cheek against the boy's smooth shoulder, humming softly to himself. Ky wished the older man knew other songs. He was really starting to hate Queen.