A/N: This is set after the events at Undelwalt and contains spoilers to the entire game. Knowledge of David's sidequest "A Distant Promise" would be useful.
If you don't know what Kellendros is, you haven't studied the union screen enough when playing. Kellendros is the name of Gae Bolg and Ex Machina's summoning Remnant.
"Want to know something?"
He looked at her. There was a smile on her lips and in her voice.
"If this is about him, I already know," he told her. It was a lie - he had a suspicion, and she confirmed it by trying to tell him. But he had learned not to give her any advantage; she already had far too many.
"Oh," her voice was melodic as always, "you're not so stupid this time. So what are you going to do?"
"Really?" She bent over him, cradling his head in her arms. It wasn't that he was short. She was simply very tall. "Why?"
He ignored her embrace and her question, staring straight ahead into the nothingness that surrounded them. "Begone. I need to rest."
"As you wish." She pulled back slowly, elegantly unfolding herself, brushed his hair away from his temple and pressed a kiss there. "Perhaps tomorrow you'll want me again, hmm? Caress me with your hands again?"
He didn't reply but she wasn't expecting him to. In a moment she was gone.
On the way back from Undelwalt, they set up camp on Mt Vackel right where they had slain a giant fiend. The soldiers had cleared away the blood-soaked snow and pitched their dozen or so tents and pavilions on the spot with frightening efficiency. According to Pagus, nothing would dare to come near this fiend's nest so soon after it was slain, which meant this was the perfect location to rest. The fact that Mt Vackel was constantly snow-covered hardly bothered anyone once they got the fires going and put hot rocks inside the tents.
Inside his pavilion, David removed his coat, shirt and cuirass, absently rubbing his right shoulder with a hand.
Hurts? He would have thought she sounded apologetic if he didn't know better. He did not deign to give her question a response, ignoring her brush against his consciousness. But his attention perked when hers did. He didn't need to hear the soft sound of snow crunching under foot, the quiet conversation that followed outside, or the standing guard ringing the bell to know that Sir Rush wished to visit.
"Let him in," David told the guard. "You may go and rest for the night."
The guard wasn't going to argue with the marquis or insist on not sleeping. He let Rush in, bid the young men good evening and left Rush to re-fasten the doorflap from inside.
"Dave, about today..." Rush finished the last tie and turned around. "...hey, you hurt?"
David remembered he was rubbing his own shoulder. "Just a bit of aftercare."
"What've you done to it?" Rush got closer, carefully avoiding the hot rocks on the ground. "You can't do that on your own. Lie down, I'll give you a rub or something."
David cocked his head to the side. "Do you know how to massage?"
"I know how to do everything," said Rush with a grin. "Lie down." He pointed at the bed that had been set up at the far end of the pavilion when David arched an eyebrow. "Lie down. Go on."
Amused, David did as he was suggested. Rush stood beside the bed, rubbing and kneading the muscles that seemed to be bothering David. It soon became clear he had no idea what he was doing.
"I'm not making it worse, right?"
David laughed. "No. Keep going if you like."
"So what've you done to it?"
Rush wasn't going to stop asking. David swallowed a sigh. "Recoil from the Ex Machina."
The hands on his shoulders stopped. "You should've told me! I kept yelling for you to use it like a friggin' idiot!"
"Your judgement was correct; the situation called for it. And there is nothing to worry about. I would not do anything as stupid as damage my own sword arm."
"Well, sorry anyway."
"Apology not accepted, Rush."
There was a pause, and then, "you must really hate Remnants."
The voice in his head fell completely silent. David listened to his own breathing, trying to find a way to parry this probing question; both "yes" and "no" were wrong answers to give.
"I remember you saying once that Remnants bring suffering - "
"There were many eyewitnesses," David cut Rush off. The hands on his shoulder just rested there as Rush listened, "who saw the Valeria Heart trying to protect Emma. There is good in Remnants, just as there is good in Men. It is existence that brings suffering. But it also brings many other things. It all depends on the path you choose."
Is that so? She whispered. Is that truly what you believe, or are you only saying that because -
Be quiet, David told her, and then, yes, it is what I believe.
Valeria Heart is a fool. Always has been. Just like you.
I shall take that as a compliment.
Take it however you like, boy.
The hands on David's shoulder started working again. Rush had a look of deep concentration. David closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax, waiting to see what Rush might say next.
Oh my. He's probably going to tell you.
Does all this amuse you?
Of course. Especially after your pathetic acting this morning in front of that God Emperor. She chortled. Anyone bound to a Remnant can tell.
Anyone bound to a strong Remnant, David corrected her.
Hn. I can see the reasoning in this childish mind of yours. You can protect him from the others, but can you protect him from himself?
I can and I will. Watch me.
I'm always watching.
"...ve. Dave? You asleep?"
"No. Just being comfortable."
"If you're tired I'll - "
"Take your time." David still did not move. He was ready to wait until Rush found the words he wanted to say. "There is no need to... ah, rush."
That earned him a light punch in the side. "Very funny."
"It wasn't intentional." David laughed, opening his eyes. Rush wasn't smiling.
"Look... there's something I want to tell you. It's probably a really bad idea but I want you to know anyway. This is probably the stupidest thing I'll ever do in my life. Besides leaving Irina in the woods. I..." The hands resting on David's shoulders were clenching into fists. Rush's teeth grazed his lip. He stared at a spot somewhere close to David's neck, unable to look at him in the eye. "I lied to you. I didn't mean to, but I... just... dammit!"
David sat up and caught Rush's wrist before Rush could pull away in frustration. "Nobody can choose how they are born," David tugged on Rush's hand, making Rush look at him rather than the ground, "not Irina, not I... and not you. But we can choose our own paths. Choose what to do with the power given to us."
Rush didn't move at all, not voluntarily. The trembling in his hands seemed to be spreading to the rest of him, until David grabbed his lapels and yanked him down, the surprise making him breathe in sharply, their faces suddenly mere inches apart.
David could feel her shaking, just like Rush. At a time she would normally be mocking David, she was, instead, deathly silent.
"You... know?" Rush managed to say eventually. "You already know?"
"I don't care what you are, only who you are." Who was David talking to? Both of them? "Who you are, and the choices you make. And I will have you know that I have chosen not to fear Remnants or Men. So what will your choice be?"
There was no reply, but gradually Rush's form relaxed, his gaze softened and the usual smile was back. "Thanks..." He didn't finish because David's hands, still on his collar, pulled a bit more and their lips met. There was no sound apart from the small wet noises of their kiss and quickening breathing when David slipped his tongue inside Rush's mouth. Rush shifted to make the angle easier for both of them, but then David pulled back.
"We've waited long enough." David felt his body grow warm despite being on a snow-covered mountain. He watched, completely unabashed, Rush's eyes sweep over him as if he had only just realised David had been half-nude and on a bed all along. "I want you to take me, Rush."
They were both a bit clumsy and this wasn't the best bed they could have wished for for their first time, but it felt good and it was what they needed right now. When Rush entered him, David let everything go - the war, his duties, the people watching over him, those who had died. He let it all go until, at least for now, his world was just about Rush. And one other.
Inside his head, he searched for her. She would not respond.
Kellendros? He whispered as his body welcomed Rush's intrusion and a small whimper escaped his lips.
She replied after a moment; he rarely called her name. What? I'm trying not to interrupt. Even I can be nice sometimes. And I'm not inclined to watch kids fuck.
He reached for her. She grumbled something about David needing hand-holding at a time like this, but it was he who squeezed her non-existent, trembling hand. Was it reassurance, pity, or ridicule? It depended on how she wanted to interpret it, but he knew how she would respond later on. He understood her enough to know anger was her armour and cynicism her weapon. He left it up to her; he had done his part and he had never been able to tell her what to think.
There were no whispered sweet-nothings, no crying of each other's names, no words at all, just hands desperately holding on to sweating bodies, mouths kissing any piece of skin they could find, Rush pushing inside David, and David accepting. Wanting. Needing.
Rush collapsed on top of David, both catching their breaths. After a long while Rush lifted his head, his arms pushing just enough so that he could see David's face at a distance that didn't make everything blurry.
"Um..." he started, but holding himself up like this proved to be too much hard work right now. When he let his weight drop back unceremoniously, it knocked the breath out of David.
"You're heavier than you look," said David, faking pain.
"It's all muscle." Exhausted, Rush buried his face in the crook of David's neck. "I was going to say... don't take this the wrong way but... maybe I should go?"
"If you want to, that's fine." David's hands went to Rush's hair. "If you're worried about Irina I can understand. I know that people from the islands are different from those born in the continent."
Pressed together like this, David could feel vibrations when Rush spoke. "Huh. So... it's okay?"
"It's uncommon, but not unaccepted. Besides," a certain face flashed across David's mind and he laughed, "everyone has been wondering already. You should have seen Torgal when he tried to ask me in what he thought was a discreet manner."
The body on top of David's stiffened momentarily, then Rush laughed too, swearing quietly against David's neck. "What did you say to him?"
"I let him fumble for words for a good hour before telling him we had not laid together yet."
"If you want to go, then go. I won't take offense."
Yawning, Rush took a long time to think about this. He seemed to be reaching the end of his alertness. "Nah. Irina's sharing a pavilion with Emmy. You know what girls are like when they get together. Emmy's probably filled her in on all the gossip by now."
"If you are sure."
"Yeah." Rush shifted enough to grab the thick blanket at the foot of the bed, pulling it over them, then settled back to where he was before. "Dave... thanks."
"No... thank you."
Thank you, he said, although she probably was not listening.
Many days passed before they met again in that endless nothingness that they shared since nearly six years ago.
"How did it feel, shagging a Remnant?" She sauntered towards him, one hand on her hip. "Was it good?"
Sitting on the floor, knees bent in front of him, he tilted his head back to look at her.
"The day will come when the truth comes out. It'll be interesting to see what they all think about your fraternising with the enemy."
"Remnants are not my enemy," he said simply.
Her laughter echoed in the space.
"Say that again after I've sucked your delicious soul dry." She was right in front of him now. He had to lean back to see her. "When are you going to bind him?"
His stared emptily at first, not comprehending. Then his eyes widened.
"Don't tell me you haven't thought about it." She bent down, one hand reaching for his chin, but he batted it away. "You really haven't considered taking the most powerful Remnant of all and making it your own?" She pulled back, throwing her arms in the air. "You're even more stupid than I thought!"
He wasn't a man who would normally tolerate being spoken to this way, but he knew her reasons. She thought he put up with her because of her power over him - and that power was indeed true - but her one thousand years failed to show her something simple: he had already seen through her tricks.
"Remnants are not my enemy," he said once more, standing up. "If you despise me so, why did you return after the battle at the Koenigsdorf Bases? Why did I feel you were torn from me by force rather than by your own will?"
In this place where time should mean nothing, the feeling that time suddenly stood still was even more intense. He knew what she would say. She had had many years to perfect the use of excuses, after all. All he wanted to do was make her think.
"Because I enjoy nibbling on your soul. And I want to be there to see you drop dead. Like I watched your father die." There was a cruel edge to her smirk. "So I have to put up with you a bit longer, but what's another few years' wait to me?"
"You returned because I called for you."
"You and I made a contract. Unlike Men, we don't break promises."
"Do you know why I called you back?"
"Athlum needs you and you need me."
"Even though I already have the strongest Remnant as well as Marion's Blessing on my side?"
She showed no reaction but he could tell his words had registered. They had been together for too long for some things to go unnoticed.
"It doesn't hurt to have another weapon at hand," she replied, although they both knew too well the - literally - fatal flaw in that statement.
He put his arms around her for the first time.
"I'm not your mother, boy," she hissed. Anger was her armour.
He said nothing.
Footsteps echoed in the garden. Rush paused just outside the pergola, watching the lone figure for a moment.
"Take your time," he quietly said. David nodded, grateful for the understanding.
He held her until she shoved him away, announced that she was bored, and came to rest within him once more.
The plants of the garden were casting curious, moving shadows under the waning light. The hour was late and no doubt Rush was searching for him to go to the meeting. David hurried to the strategy room. They had devoted a lot of time to strengthening the state's defenses, getting the army ready, poring over maps and refining battle strategies. This was to be their final meeting before the march.
"...then it is decided. Torgal and I will enter the Holy Plain from the west, through this valley. Blocter and Pagus, create a diversion in the south." David trailed his index finger on marked points on the map laid out before them all. "Emmy, Rush, once we've cleared some ground we'll signal. Lead the second wave and protect Irina on your way in... what is the problem?"
Everyone looked at David, and then at Rush.
David barely managed to resist the urge to cover his face with his palms and groan.
"Come on, guys!" Rush slammed his hands on the map, making lines of carefully-placed coloured pins quiver, "I'm not letting Irina out of my sight! And this is about who's most useful where, right?"
"Just so. Thank you. Does anyone have anything useful to say?" David glared at his generals, making them cringe.
Torgal spoke up. "Do you plan on using the Gae Bolg, my lord?"
"I will use it if the situation calls for it."
She would have said something at this point if she wasn't resting deep within his consciousness.
"Then perhaps it would be wise to include Rush in our party. His talisman can protect you should anything happen."
"I will not need it." David pulled back from the table, standing straight. Torgal was frowning at him in the way he always did when he was worried. Anyone not used to seeing sovanis might mistake the expression for resentment, but to David it was a sign Torgal needed reassurance that he wasn't trying to dive head-first into certain death. "I am nowhere near the point where the Gae Bolg will try to take my life. I will not need the talisman's protection."
"Are you sure, my lord?"
"I am the one bound to it. I know."
It was a lie. But what was the point in fighting if he let those he meant to protect die in battle? It was too easy to forget one's original cause and justify one action with another, and another. David refused to fall into this trap.
After the meeting, they dined and called for an early night, in preparation to set out before sunrise tomorrow.
David shared his bed with Rush, he lying on his chest and Rush beside him, on his back. He felt positively ravaged; neither of them was the type to hold back.
"Was that..." Rush's face had a subtle tinge of pink. "...alright? I didn't ask last time, it's been bothering me..."
"It was very much more than all right." David bit back a chuckle, knowing Rush would not appreciate being called cute. "I know how to get what I want."
Rush's blush didn't leave, but he looked relieved.
"Actually, I'm pissed off about the arrangement," said Rush, and added before David had a chance to react, "cos of how it works out. 's not your fault. But now you're clearing the way for us first and it just really sucks."
"Rush." David pushed himself up on his elbows. "This is my fight as much as it is yours and Irina's. You know that if I had a choice I would never even think about taking Irina to the battlefield in the first place." And not Rush either, since Rush wasn't a fighter by training. He was still a civilian no matter what. But David knew far better than to say this. "With Torgal, myself, the troops, and the three Remnants we have, we are formidable enough a force to take down anything. There is no need to worry at all."
"Brionac, Kellendros and Frostblade," muttered Rush, as if trying to familiarise himself with the strangers he had to trust David's life with. "You weren't lying to Torgal, right? You're sure it's fine to use the Gae Bolg?"
"I am sure."
"If we can still fight with our swords, we'll keep fighting, okay? Leave the Gae Bolg as your last resort."
David could see where this conversation was going. He turned over and sat up, pulling the blanket to cover them both. "The only thing I can promise you is I will do what I consider is best. There are things I must put before myself. That is the way I've been brought up and I don't know how to live otherwise, nor do I wish to." This was something he could not lie to Rush about. "Every decision is a balance of loss and sacrifice. But you have to trust that I do not make decisions lightly."
They were silent for a moment, just listening to their breathing.
"Basically, you're telling me to just obey you like everyone else."
The discontent and worry in Rush's tone didn't go unnoticed. David didn't want to have to deal with this now, but deal with it he must. "As the servant of my people, I am asking you to trust me and understand my standpoint." David had stopped hating being who he was for a long time and refused to revert to that state of mind, but sometimes it was almost too difficult. Especially when Rush was looking at him like this. "And as your companion, I can only beg for your forbearance and forgiveness."
That created further silence between them that stretched for what felt like hours, until Rush shifted closer, pressing himself against David's side.
"Sorry. I was inconsiderate."
"Not at all; I'm glad we're talking about it."
"You accept me for who I am, so I'll take you for who you are. You do what you've gotta do. If Gae Bolg tries anything funny, trust me, I'll come running and I'll beat the crap out of it."
Rush did his best to smile; it was obvious he wasn't ever going to be happy about this, but some things could not be changed and must be accepted. David nodded, thankful. He could feel something stir - she was listening. He waited for some kind of remark, or even a threat, but none came.
"Let's sleep. We have a war to fight tomorrow."
She was far, far away from him.
"That's a good game you play."
She wasn't praising him; she knew he played no games with those close to his heart - the pain of being hurt is less than that of hurting, that was what his father taught him. David had stuck faithfully to this advice all his life.
He never played games with her. He was her game, not the other way around.
"I shall have need of you tomorrow, and the days to come."
She pretended to be flicking through something in her hands. "I'll check my schedule. I'm a busy and popular Remnant, you know." Dropping the act, she put her hands in her hips. "Call me when you need me. You'll pay for my efforts as always. What are you telling me now for?"
Unable to see her face from where he was, he willed for the distance between them to close, but it didn't work. She was fighting against it, in the only world she had some control over. He relented.
"You were watching."
"I was bored. Do you think I care about what you do and say?" She shook her head, laughing. "Good show, though. Shall I take your life tomorrow, help you fulfill your dream of martyrdom?"
"I wish for nothing of that sort." He started towards her, but it was as if he was walking on the spot.
"I tire of your childishness, boy. I tire of your fancy dreams... your delusions of honour... your righteousness... bravery..." Suddenly her voice started to shake. The space around them trembled as if filled with static, disintegrating from edges previously unseen. It struggled to reform just as she struggled to stand.
"...your tolerance... and love..."
He found himself getting closer to her. "You..."
"Get away from me..."
He walked faster.
"No. Get away from me! No!"
He broke into a run. In an instant she was in his arms, moaning in pain.
"What is going on?" He squeezed her tight. Suddenly she seemed small and fragile.
"Get him away from me!" She held on to him and pleaded. Then she started to scream. "David... don't let him - GET HIM AWAY! DAVID!"
David's eyes snapped open. Rush's fingers were in his hair.
His hand was over David's right eye.
In a heart beat David knocked away the hand, sat up and scooted himself away from Rush on the bed, his heart pounding hard in his chest. He pressed his own hand on the eyepatch that had appeared as if to protect it.
He got a whimper as a reply.
It's all right. I've got you.
"Just what do you think you are doing?" The words came out of David's mouth as a shout.
Horror marred Rush's face. He pulled his hand back, which was still aglow with pale green light. "What? I - nothing! Why are you looking at me like that?"
The temperature in David's voice dropped. "Don't lie to me. You tried to do something."
"No I didn't!"
They glared at each other, David accusing, Rush defensive. Long seconds passed before Rush moved, running a hand through his own hair. "I wanted to find out if you were lying about knowing your limit with the Gae Bolg, alright? How is that so wrong?"
"You tried to do what?"
"I've talked to Cyclops before. I know I can talk to Gae Bolg too."
"The Cyclops is your own Remnant's conjuration. You don't know my Remnant and you don't know your own power well enough. That could have been dangerous!"
"Says the one who told me I shouldn't fear my own power! You're just scared I'll find out you're a goddamn liar!"
David felt her struggling to pull away from him, and let her go. Like an injured animal, she retreated to rest within the dark, quiet recesses of his mind. "You are being unreasonable." His voice dropped to barely above a whisper.
"You are being dishonest," said Rush, "you don't know when the time's going to come."
The anger within David evaporated, replaced by sadness. "You read that from my Remnant?"
Noting David's desire for calm, Rush just nodded.
"What else did you see?"
Rush didn't answer the question, but he asked one of his own.
"How do you feel about her?"
Rush did not answer David's question, nor did David Rush's, but he apologised for being a hypocrite. Rush accepted that, for now.
For now, they had to concentrate on what mattered the most. There was no time for anything else.
By the end of the first day of battle, the Athlumian army had successfully executed the ambush and gained considerable ground. During stolen moments of quiet around a campfire, David poured wine for each of his generals. It ran out before he could pour for Rush.
"My apologies. I got too used to splitting it five ways," he sat down beside Rush, holding his own glass at him, "I guess we will have to share."
Amidst quiet laughter and his sister's giggles, Rush drank from the glass, then gave it back to David along with a smile. Waves of relief washed over David at the simple gesture.
They went over the plans for their next attack, decided the order of the night's watch, then retired to their tents. When David visited Rush's tent, Rush was staring at his talisman.
"Are you not going to sleep?" David stayed at the door.
"I'm on the second shift. Not worth sleeping now." Rush slipped the talisman back to its usual place under his shirt. "You're letting the cold in."
"Ah. Sorry. Goodnight then."
"I mean you should come in, Dave."
David thought for a moment. "Actually, would you like to take a walk with me?"
They strolled just behind the front line, their swords at their sides, making their presence visible to the men securing their safety right now to help boost morale. It was almost an hour before they reached the far end of their camp, where a dying fire on an outcrop was the only source of light. Rush crouched down and threw some wood on the fire.
"You were bleeding a lot when I got here."
"All just flesh wounds." David turned his arm to give it a quick look. "They've all been treated. There won't even be any scars."
"That's good." Rush poked at the fire a bit, coaxing it back to life. "So... how's she?"
David decided against lying again. "She has not spoken at all today and I'm hesitant to check." He held one hand in another to stop himself from fidgeting. He had never talked to anyone about her before. Even if it was with Rush, it was still not easy. "There are days when she breaks off like that."
"Was it bad, what I did?" Rush didn't look up at David.
"She felt you, not I, so I can't tell. It was a huge shock, though." To lie was one thing, to not tell the whole truth was another. There was nothing to be gained by letting Rush know he had caused her pain. "I have never seen her so frightened."
"Would you tell her I'm sorry?"
That took David by surprise. He tilted his head to one side, wanting to ask something but not sure exactly what.
"I intruded upon her privacy," Rush explained. "I had no idea it'd hurt her so much."
It was at this point that David's mind ground to a halt - why was he speaking this way? How did he know she was hurt? David crouched down as well, staring into the fire, his voice small because he could never be totally sure if she was listening. "I thought you were angry with me." 'Angry' being a great understatement, given the situation.
"I don't know. I think I am. Or at least should be. But I don't know." The fire crackled, a spark landing on Rush's lamellar jacket. "I've never been so confused in my life besides, you know, the Remnant thing."
"But you don't hate me?"
"Hate you?" Rush chuckled. "I like you too darn much for that."
The easy honesty made David bow his head and smile in relief and gratefulness.
"I don't hate you. I just... don't know where I should stand in all this. I think I'd despise you if you treated her just as a weapon, but I know you don't. She makes everything convoluted but you get through to her somehow. I think I'm just... well, jealous. She's always fought alongside you. She gives you help when you really need it."
That was different from just one night ago, when Rush saw Gae Bolg as a threat to David's life.
"But I don't hate you and I can't hate her either. It's like... it's a bit like how I tried to hate Irina and blame everything on her, once. And that didn't work out so well. I... crap, this is going to sound so stupid. Let's just stop."
There were things Rush wanted to say, things he had nobody to talk to about before. David reached around for another piece of wood to feed to the fire, and nudged Rush to sit down with him.
"It's fine. I'm listening."
Rush dipped his head, messing his own hair with a hand as if he was confused. It took him some time to start.
"When I was a kid, I didn't remember anything about Elysion but I always knew I was adopted. When my parents had Irina, they said they wanted me to have a sibling, but I knew they wanted to have another kid anyway. One of their own."
"After Irina was born, she had everyone's attention, cos she was the younger one and suddenly I had to be responsible and nice and everything. Everyone kept saying how much she looked like mum and how she had mum's eyes and hair. Back then, I was so jealous. I hated her so much. But I thought if I wasn't good to her then my parents wouldn't want me anymore. I was so stupid."
"You were a child."
"But you know what Irina's like. She never has anything against anyone. And that just made me feel even shittier. I thought about running away, maybe going to Elysion to find my real parents. So I started asking questions and tried to find out where I really came from. Eventually I got a piece of paper from the registration office that said my parents found me on the steps of the Temple of Elysion." Rush took a deep breath. "Back then, I didn't know it was a lie. And I thought... well, that's it then. Nobody wanted me in the first place. I was an outsider to begin with and I was an outsider to my own family. I didn't have anything that really belonged to me."
"Gosh, Rush," David could see where this was going and he had to stop himself from grabbing Rush and shaking some sense into him. "That is stupid."
"I told you it is." Rush tried to laugh. "But... even though I know it was all stupid... I don't know how to explain this, but the feeling stays with you. You think you've forgotten about it, but something happens that makes you remember and your mind just starts to loop. You can keep telling yourself it's not real and it's stupid but it doesn't work like that."
"We are shaped by the experiences of our childhoods," David said simply, doing his best to keep judgement out of his tone and words. He had also been deeply affected by past events and Rush knew that. "Rush, tell me: do you still feel yourself an outsider? That you have nothing that belongs to you?"
"I don't know."
It was clear Rush was lying. "Let me be more specific, then. Do you feel you are an outsider in my life?"
"Well, you belong to Athlum, right? And my name's not Athlum." Rush tried to move away and huddle himself closer to the fire, but David grasped his shoulder briefly to stop him.
"You are right, I belong to Athlum. I can't ever claim otherwise. That wasn't what we were talking about in the first place, though." David cupped his right eye with the palm of his hand. "You think you are an outsider because of her. But what you don't know is I am an outsider to her - or at least she treats me as one."
"But that's not how she thinks," said Rush.
"So what's your point?"
"That how we see our place in other people's lives, how they feel about us, and how they treat us, can be completely different things. You asked me how I feel about her. The truth is I don't know. She means very much to me, yes, as much as I think you're guessing she does. But at the same time she and I try our hardest to stay outsiders to each other as a matter of survival. Whereas you, Rush," David tried to fight down the feeling of embarrassment because of what he was about to say. There was no need to feel abashed at all, it was just that he was the type who much preferred actions over words, "I know how I feel about you. I spent all of today more worried about you than I did about the war. If that doesn't tell you what you mean to me, I don't know what does."
"My ancestors must be turning over in their graves, but it is the truth."
Hugging his knees to his chest, Rush buried his face into them. "Man, now I feel even stupider."
"No, I haven't talked to you about this before and it's my mistake." David found a branch and used it to poke at the fire. "She is a separate person, yet a part of me. We cannot be separated until death. If you would rather... not continue, I understand. But know that this isn't because you're just an outsider and that it pains me to even be saying this right now. I say it only because the pain of being hurt is less than that of hurting." He tossed the branch on the fire.
Rush uncurled himself. "I don't - "
"Take your time to think. Don't let yourself be swayed to pick one choice or the other, don't let guilt have a place in your decision." David stood, and held out his hand. Rush stared at it for a moment before grasping it, letting David pull him up.
"I guess... it's almost time for my shift."
"Whereas I am going to bed." David's smile was wry. "Enjoy managing sleep-deprived men."
He sat, knees bent before him, his forehead resting on them.
"That's why I've always said Men are all idiots."
"I never said you were wrong."
She offered him no comfort, but she didn't leave him either.
"Stupid, stupid boy."
They won the battle at Holy Plain, luring every last scrap of the Conqueror's army out and giving no quarter, thus securing the continent's safety, but it was a peace that would not last. The Conqueror by himself was as formidable as any army and as long as he remained, the threat would only worsen.
The Conqueror should be in the Sacred Lands, but there was no way to get to it - Irina could not bind the Ark at Elysion.
David felt close to screaming in frustration. The Athlumian army returned home victorious but he could hardly share that joy. Rush's family was looking for a way to get to the Sacred Lands, and the army was using the time to replenish their supplies and refresh their spirits, so no time was being wasted. Yet David could feel his patience thinning everyday. How many more hurdles must he jump over, how much more did he have to give to finish this?
That's what I call a lust for war. You're learning.
A lust to end the war. It continues as long as the Conqueror lives.
You do realise what you want to do is to kill one of the most powerful Remnants in the world. Do you know if it's even possible?
David looked up. The sky was overcast and his mother's garden looked almost lifeless. Is it?
David had already guessed she wouldn't tell him.
He's here. She tensed up. As soon as she spoke the words, David could hear a familiar pattern of footfalls. She was pulling back. Perhaps she disliked Rush; David could not blame her.
David nodded in greeting. Rush noticed the lack of verbal response.
"Is now a bad time?"
"Not at all."
"Everyone's been talking about how you've been brooding since coming back from the Holy Plain. They reckoned I'm the least likely to get my head ripped off so they sent me to check on you."
David sighed. For all the wisdom and experience those people had, they could be so childish sometimes. "I apologise. They shouldn't bother you this way. I'll make sure they don't do it again."
Rush shrugged. "It's okay. I was looking for you anyway. Is it okay if we...?"
He had been dreading this, but there was no use in delaying the inevitable. David nodded again and followed Rush out of the garden. They went to Rush's room.
"You look tired. Have you been sleeping?"
"I have, just not very well."
"Same here." Rush leaned against the chest of drawers whereas David picked a spot by the window. "I've been thinking about what you said."
Silence. David waited, watching Rush's mouth move but making no sounds. Minutes passed this way. It was just the time of the day when the sun sank below the horizon, so darkness suddenly swallowed them both.
David's hands gripped the edge of the windowsill. He knew what Rush was going to say. If it was anything positive it wouldn't have taken this long. "Yes?"
Gas lamps outside the window started to come on one by one, some of the light finding its way in and illuminating the room gently with a warm glow. Rush hadn't moved an inch. "How could you let me choose?"
"I..." David sighed.
"No I mean..." Rush shook his head and laughed humourlessly. "You know when you go to the shops to buy something, and they have a few varieties of the same thing to choose from, like different brands, different flavours? Sometimes I think I don't know what I want and I spend ages trying to pick one. So I think to myself: okay, I'm only allowed to buy the one right in front of me," he reached out to grab an imaginary item, "none of the other choices exist. Then I'd realise which one I really wanted to begin with. Because all of a sudden I wasn't allowed to choose anymore. Works every time."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I believed you when you said I mean something to you and I'm not an outsider. But you're letting me pick. I don't know how you can do that."
Because he's stupid.
"Because I'm stupid, apparently," said David, brushing the hair away from his eyes and letting his fingers linger where the eyepatch should be.
"It's becoming a theme isn't it?" Despite everything, they both laughed. Rush pushed himself to stand and walked a bit closer to David. "I couldn't choose, Dave. I wanted to do the right thing but I don't know what the right thing is. So like when I go to the shops, I told myself I didn't have a choice."
David tried to smile. "Have I become a commodity?"
"Sort of," Rush replied with a grin that faded as quickly as it appeared. "I convinced myself it wasn't really a choice you gave me, and you were just dumping me in a really nice way. And you know what I realised?"
David didn't dare to hope. "That everything is stupid?"
"That I was stupid to even let you to talk me into choosing in the first place. What the hell, Dave? Look how miserable we both are right now!"
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Those feelings of mine are stupid. We agreed on that. So instead of protecting me from them, help me get over them." Rush put a hand on his hip, standing with his head tilted slightly to one side. His usual pose when he felt at ease and confident. "Are we going to do this or are we just gonna roll over and give up?"
Was Rush saying it was fine for him to care about another woman at the same time? David couldn't get his head around it.
"Dave, let me talk to her."
David stared. He didn't think he could take any more shocks right now. "You want to talk to her?"
"If she doesn't mind."
Talk, hmm? How Men-like. He's really more Man than Remnant. She sighed with a bit of drama. Sure, I'm up for conversation. If he tries anything I'll blast him into smithereens.
David nodded, pushing himself off the windowsill. "Be careful."
"I got some pointers from Cyclops. Don't worry." Rush stood closer. His hand reached up, brushing hair away from David's eyes. The eyepatch appeared without David calling for it. He felt and heard nothing, but he knew something was happening because the look in Rush's eyes changed; Rush had always been easy to read, like an open book. There was calm, then surprise. Sadness. Then he was calm once more, and he even blushed, grinning ear to ear.
When Rush removed his hand, David heard her laugh and it sounded almost genuine.
"She's... feisty. I didn't realise you shared your head with someone like that. How do you stay cool?" Rush's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline.
"What did you talk about?"
"Nothing important." Rush shrugged. "But I think I can believe her."
She snorted. I might be a mass murderer, but I'm not a liar.
That in itself was a lie, but David let it go. He grasped Rush's wrist with a hand. "What did you two talk about?"
"If you really want to know... she told me what you've been doing the last few nights to help you sleep. Then she said she's sick of your brooding and I should shag your brains out now."
Even as he was dragged to the bed, a sense of trepidation grew in David. They discussed something important that they weren't going to let him know about. He could not shake the feeling that he had made a grave mistake.
"What did you say to him?"
"Just what a miserable bastard you became when you thought the two of you were over."
"I told him to shag your brains out."
"There is no more." Seeing his deep frown, she threw her arms in the air. "What can there be? A conspiracy? To do what? Do you think I, with a millennium behind me, would work with that shameful excuse of a Remnant? Don't insult me, boy."
It all sounded like excuses to him although she made it look like paranoia.
"You've been like this for days. I don't want to deal with it anymore. If you want to panic, do it by yourself." She disappeared from sight before he could even make another sound, before he could reach forward and hold her. There was nothing and no one in the endless space, save him. He was alone.
David blinked his eyes open. Rush was asleep beside him, his face, his smell, his warmth, all familiar and comforting. David nudged himself nearer, draping an arm over Rush to pull him close as well. The movement woke Rush, who blearily opened his eyes to see what was going on before deciding he liked it and settled back into sleep, muttering for David to do the same. They were heading for another Remnant Ark tomorrow and needed all the rest they could get.
He reached for her again, tentatively and almost timidly. She was still there - where else could she go? - but she would not respond to him. Anger was her armour, so who or what was she protecting herself from? Rush? David? A fate only she could see?
The body pressed against David moved, Rush's hair tickling David's neck. "Remnants can be killed..." his voice was full of sleep, "don't worry Dave... we'll get him."
"Yes," David whispered, "go back to sleep. Sorry for waking you."
That was right. Remnants were mortal as well.
They made it to the heart of the Sacred Lands using the Ark Rush's mother had found. There, under a giant machine of arcs and spinning globes, the Conqueror was waiting.
"What is your game, Conqueror?"
"I desire to release Remnants from the hands of Men." The Conqueror didn't even look at David when he spoke. "The beings on this planet have become too accustomed to using Remnants as their tools. At this rate, they will push the Remnants' power beyond their limits. They will destroy all existence."
Tools. David listened for her, waiting for her to say that David was her tool and not the other way around, but she remained silent, as she had done since the night before. "Ridiculous! Do you really think so little of us?"
The Conqueror turned his head then, looking at David over his shoulder. "Do you really think your trust in mankind is founded?"
It was an argument David could not win.
"My duty is to prevent that eventuality. With the activation of this machine, all the Remnants in the world will be freed. Do you finally understand?"
Standing by David's side, Rush's hand went to the hilt of his sword. "I understand that you don't really give a damn about people's lives. But me... my friends and family are something I wouldn't trade for the world. I'll protect them, no matter what!"
Rush had made his choice. This was the path he would walk, this was what he would do with the power given to him. He looked at David, the two exchanging a nod.
Will you fight with me? He asked her.
Like I have a choice? She laughed.
It was ironic that the Conqueror chose to use Valeria Heart as his weapon. When he finally lay bloodied and defeated, and the sword plunged into the ground next to him, David was suddenly reminded of the days gazing out his bedroom window and seeing Valeria Heart in Athlum's skyline, watching over the people. Watching over Emma. Athlum was where Valeria Heart wanted to be. He could bring him back, and -
The machina the Conqueror had triggered to life spun into action.
Irina stood forward. She nodded at her brother, then unleashed the full force of Marion's Blessing at the Conqueror, who had staggered to his feet and was trying to steer the machina into moving faster.
David's drew his weapon once more, but he could not even get close; the energy from the machina had formed an invisible wall.
No admittance, boy. From this point on it's a Remnants-only club.
I cannot just stand and watch!
This is beyond you.
A sudden burst of power from the Conqueror threw Irina into the air, sent her flying thirty feet backwards before landing painfully. David watched Rush explode in rage, moving so fast that nobody could stop him and slamming himself against the Conqueror. Into the Conqueror. The fist that aimed for the Conqueror's stomach had went into him, green light glowing where the two connected.
David helped Irina up and held her close to him. She struggled feebly in his arms, screaming, but he wouldn't let her go. Rush could handle this. All David had to do now was protect the most important person in Rush's life.
But what the Conqueror said next told David he was wrong. "This power... you would choose to destroy all Remnants?"
Destroy all Remnants.
Irina nearly slipped out of David's loosened hold. "But Rush! If you do that, then you - "
"I know. It's suicide because... I'm a Remnant too, right? But it's not like I can just let this happen! You've all done so much for me. I can't let you die! I won't!"
The energy around them intensified, green light illuminating everything in sight, a renewed power pushing everyone back even further. David felt everything stop. Time stopped. His heart stopped. His life stopped. Nothing meant anything. He was standing here, a useless fool, watching Rush end his own life. Rush knew this was what he had to do. He spent days and nights with David knowing this would happen. Last night he tried to ease David's worries knowing that today he would have to die. She, too, probably knew this all along.
And then David realised this was what she and Rush had talked about - how to kill the Conqueror. It would have to be done at the cost of their lives.
The burn in David's chest rose to his eyes. Everything suddenly became blurred.
Rush, now hazy in David's vision, turned his head enough so that they could see each other's faces. "Dave... sorry! I don't think you're gonna have any Remnants left after this. But... it'll be okay! People will figure out how to live without us!" He was speaking for himself, and for her.
"Right. It'll be all right, Rush! I... we'll get by somehow!" David could not have said anything else. He nodded, trying to feel convinced by his own words, trying to show Rush that he would remain strong. It wasn't working. They were both going to leave him.
The nonchalance of her voice only caused more tears to rise. I... you didn't tell me...
Are you crying? It's not over yet, stupid boy.
What... do you mean?
See how your little lover is holding the Conqueror in place? I'd very much like to caress him.
The Ex Machina appeared in David's hand, unbidden. He let go of Irina. It wasn't over yet. He would try this. What did he have to lose? What was left for him to lose?
Aim well, you don't want to hit the wrong one. And watch your shoulder, hmm? This one's going to hurt a little. She chuckled in his ears.
David pulled the trigger, watched light gather in the barrel of the Ex Machina, swirling, concentrating into a force. He poured all he had into it and waited for the familiar pull on his soul as the light burst forth, piercing through the invisible barrier to hit the Conqueror. He was ready to drain his soul to do this - but the feeling didn't come.
Already wounded in battle and halfway towards destruction because of Rush, the Conqueror splintered to thousands of pieces when he was hit, the recoil throwing David back and making him fall. Still, he clutched the Ex Machina tight in his hand.
Where did that power come from?
She was laughing. It was a sound of pure joy and pleasure.
See? There's no need to cry.
Everyone was running towards him. He tried to stand, but could not get further than kneeling. He covered his right eye with the palm of his hand.
"Dave!" Rush appeared by his side, kneeling on one knee. He grabbed him by the shoulders. "Why did you do that! Are you okay? Dave!"
David tried to find the words. Something was happening. He knew what it was but he couldn't voice it. "That was not me..."
The Ex Machina in David's hand vanished. What had channeled through David's arm into it and shot out as a power to finish the Conqueror was not David's own soul.
"It was her?" Rush asked, and although David did not answer, he knew he was right. "Dammit! That wasn't what she told me!"
I'm a mass murderer and a liar. In his mind, she smirked.
Why? He didn't know what else to say. He reached for her and put his arms around her. She rolled her eyes and sighed, as if torn between annoyance and resignation.
It'll happen either way. I'd rather not be killed by that pathetic excuse of a Remnant. And I hate it when you brood. You cry like a baby. She tried to push him away, but she was weak, and getting weaker. Her hold on David's soul had lifted completely, their lives untangling. It's been almost six years and I've hated every second of it. You and your respect and being noble and all the rest of the fancy stuff. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you.
David only held her tighter. I love you.
I don't, David. Stupid boy.
Then she was gone.
Valeria Heart chose to stay by Emmy's side. He had failed to protect her mother, but he would protect her.
David's shaking fingerstips touched where his eyepatch should be. For her, there was nothing that he could do.
"Did you tell her?" Rush watched him and asked, his voice quiet.
David lowered his hand. "Yes."
The garden was dark. They had only returned not long ago and everyone had retired for some well-earned rest. David found himself wandering about the castle, finally stopping in the garden, where Rush was waiting.
"I had a crush on Emma when I was sixteen," said David all of a sudden.
"What the..." Rush widened his eyes enough for them to fall out. "Man, is there anything else about you I should know? You might as well tell me now."
"No, that is all." David had a ghost of a smile. "I think I have no luck with women, Rush."
Hands on his hips, Rush cackled. "Not something you need to worry about anymore, then."
"You're right." Unable to stop himself, a snigger escaped David's lips. Then more came, and eventually Rush's arms were around him and they were both laughing.
There was nothing he could do for her, except this.