Title: Catharsis [1/4]
Series: FE9 AU
Character/Pairing: Ike/Soren , there's minor mentioned BoydMist and TitaniaRhys (with a brief mention to GreilTitania that never was, but that's canon anyways) and Ranulf/his fanclub
Rating: PG-13
Summary: AU Trust stemmed the bleeding, comfort dulled the pain.
A/N: 30_ways #28 - Replies / 11. less than a single waking glimpse the gauntlet.

This was originally one really, really, really long oneshot, but myaru convinced me that it'd better paced if I split it up into an actual chaptered piece. Many thanks to her for that suggestion for my sanity, and a bit of input on the placements of scenes for pacing. Also thanks to searains for listening to me whine.

This is sorta but not officially for searains so she'll stop opening every conversation with reminding me that I owe her stuff. Also it's partially to Ammy's request, though not exactly as I'd already started it before she asked.

This has been eating me so much lately I haven't been able to write much else.

ca·thar·sis
n. pl. ca·thar·ses

1. Purgation.
2. A psychological technique used to relieve tension and anxiety by bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness.
3. The therapeutic result of this process; abreaction.
-The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Fall

Soren tapped the eraser of his pencil on the opened pages of his Advanced Mathematics course.
His student was five minutes late, thought that was to be expected. Everyone was tardy by Soren's standards. He flipped through the pages to be done today. Chemistry, mathematics, history, most all of the curriculum was to be attended to. Ike's grades had taken a nosedive as of late. He had never been a genius, a C average student at best. Ike however was the star quarterback, thus it was almost cliche that the administrators of the school would take an interest in keeping him above water.

A certain administrator had begged him personally and though Soren had always refused to tutor students this one and only time he had relented. He would have rejected the offer right away but hearing it had been Ike – that Ike, that he accepted the job.

Not that he was doing this for free. The administrator had offered to pay him from his own pocket. Soren never volunteered for anything, unless it was for college credits. Even then, Soren would take a solitary job over human contact anytime.

Ike had a reputation. As the destined-for-a-sports-scholarship quarterback he took the popularity that came from such a position nonchalantly, as if he didn't notice it at all. He was the type to give his last dollar for someone he didn't even know. In fact, the only time this strange sense of heroism didn't come up was concerning food.

Ike didn't share his food unless there was a damn good reason to.

Soren looked over the books again for the third time. It crossed his mind to do his own homework while his tardy student was still absent. And if he didn't hurry up, said student would be studying by himself.

Soren went through his supplies and glared at the pencil with its broken tip. He made to sharpen it when he noticed a person standing in the open doorway. Ike had finally come.

Ike looked as if he had slept in his clothes, possibly more than once. Whether he actually had or if this was just a symptom of his overall slovenliness remained to be seen. Ike rested his hands on the table. He wore brown leather fingerless gloves that had seen far better days. There was a swash of faded red material over them.

Soren never wasted his time with formalities.

"You needed chemistry, math, history and social studies help," Soren stated.

And you're late he added silently.

"Oh yeah. I bombed those exams after...the funeral."

Everyone knew the story, it had been a rainy day in a country not far off. Gallia was a beastly, wild place. Ike's father had been shot by a man in clothed all in black from his slate colored trench coat to black suit and a large pair of mirrored black sunglasses. He'd been shot in the lung, thus the death was not instantaneous. He'd coughed up blood and drowned inside himself. Ike too had been shot, in his left arm. He had tried to carry his father to safety and had managed three blocks before his father died right there in his arms with the downpour drenching them both. It had the feel of some old mafia movie; of something staged and thus far from reality and more a thing of fiction. It turned Ike into a legend, and cemented his status as part of the royal echelon of the popular ones. Before he had been all possibilities. He had always shrugged off praise and never quite believed in what promise he might have.

Ike had returned a different person. He was stronger, more mature. He no longer shrugged off the praises. He accepted them without boasting or flaunting his talents He helped out any of the underclassmen who got picked on by the seniors, and despite this, he gained popularity with those same seniors.

He didn't shirk his friends and he didn't care about the rise to power. Even being the darling of the elite of their school meant nothing to him. It was no wonder Elincia had a thing for him. And oh what a pair they'd make, for she wasn't called "The Queen To Be(e)" for nothing. Everyone knew she liked him. She fell all over herself to stop her books and feign clumsiness when everyone knew she was all grace itself.

Everyone but Ike himself, that was.

Soren cleared his throat and brushed the extraneous thoughts from his mind.

"If you'll open your textbook to page 453..."

.

The proper procedural method of tutor and tutee in Soren's eyes would be only the barest of contact and conversation that only applied to the topic at hand. However, Ike did not, apparently, share those views. He talked to Soren in the hallways and waved to him as if their bonds went further. Soren was less irritated about this then he should have been. Despite Ike's status as a well-meaning but essentially poor student, Soren didn't hate teaching him. That didn't make it easy, however. Ike was been prone to distractions, and he had no hidden aptitude to be uncovered in scholarly affairs. Still, despite that, it was...pleasant. And often the high point of his day. So it went. The weeks passed methodically, with few breaks from their course. Soren preferred this, and assimilated Ike into the overall sameness of his days.

Today was little different.. Still, it had been a reasonably productive session. Soren closed his books and put them in alphabetical order in his book bag.

"Who's going to be picking you up?"

"No one," Soren said coolly.

"I'll take you home. It's the least I can do," Ike said.

So his sense of honor wasn't an exaggeration. Soren shrugged into his coat. It was light, made only for slightly chilly weather. The material was beige and just as threadbare as his slightly heavier, but ultimately unsuited winter one. It also doubled as his raincoat after a particularly bad storm had turned his last umbrella into nothing but twisted metal with a few shreds of black material left over from the carnage.

"You don't need to. I know my way fine."

"I kept you late."

Soren was too weary to argue. If Ike insisted on wasting his time by tailing along with him, then so be it. It was Ike's time to waste and no concern of his.

It'd grown dark while they had been buried in their studies. It was cloudy, the moon showed through a haze and shapes and shadows of buildings and trees were dark contrasts to the night. Ike slung both Soren's and his books over his shoulder, and carried them without a hitch. Soren hadn't asked for this, but Ike apparently took it upon himself to do things like this.

Ike lifted a cigarette to his mouth and took a draw. He breathed out grey clouds that spiraled into nothingness. The only illumination was the veiled moon and the ember of the lighter which touched the foul-smelling cigarette and then flared down again.

"I didn't think you were the type," Soren said.

"I'm not."

No person was a pillar; each would have to crack in their own ways. Maybe this was Ike's. Soren remembered seeing the soles worn out of blood soaked shoes and large popped blisters when changing. Soren had realized those signs even then before he'd taken to spending time with Ike.
He had watched his father die. There would be cracks somewhere.

"Give it to me," Soren said. He took the cigarette from Ike's hands.

Ike handed it over, and Soren pushed the cigarette to his mouth. It was still slightly damp.

"Do you have a lighter?" Soren said.

Ike cupped over Soren's hand to keep out the wind. Their hands touched, brushed and stayed as flame floated there, looking as if it was suspended between them.

"I didn't think you'd be the type," Ike said, almost wryly.

"I'm not," Soren said. He lit up and breathed all those toxins in. He understood for once. shuddered and dissolved into a fit of coughing as the smoke hit his unaccustomed lungs.
Ike patted him on the back. Killing oneself by degrees could be so relaxing.

"Father used to hate people smoking. He'd really lay into me now if he saw me..." Ike said. He trailed off, memories lingered like the smoke rising into nothingness.

And Soren said nothing because there was nothing to say. Condolences meant nothing; they were just words people brought out to act as if they could leave the confines of their own lives for two seconds. What was Soren supposed to do, trade stories? When I was five I lived in the filth of my second adopted parent and walked over his corpse so I could pour myself some dry cereal because I wasn't strong enough to lift the milk. I stayed until his flesh began to rot, I would have stayed longer but I was too hungry.

"It looks like it's going to rain," Ike said.

The forecast had been for clear skies but it was cloudy. A brisk wind came through, all fresh and sweet and new. Maybe Ike knew better, maybe he could smell the rain from that night. It wasn't as if weather forecasts were 100% accurate. Yesterday they had forecasted a sunny day, warm and it had been particularly chilly.

Soren shook that thought aside. He was beginning to believe in Ike, and believing in someone was a dangerous thing.

"The last forecast said clear weather," Soren said.

"Yeah, maybe," Ike said.

As they walked home, Soren felt a drop on his cheeks, and then another, and another.
It was raining. Ike had been right in the end. There was a scattering of thunder in the heavy clouds above them. Those few sparse drops soon turned far more imposing. They became a deluge.

Ike had been right.

"Can we make it to your place?" Ike said.

"It's seven more blocks."

Ike muttered a curse and grabbed Soren's arm. He dragged them both towards the nearest awning. There was little room here for personal space. Soren tried to draw his legs up to his chest and away from the personal contact, but found it far too cramped. He simply had to make do with Ike's legs resting against his.

It had grown dark enough that the only illumination was the glimmering of the historically renovated streetlights and the ember of Ike's second cigarette.

Rain pooled down about his feet and ran in rivulets through the gutters. Ike didn't ask anything, and Soren offered nothing. After a long drag, Soren held out his hand and Ike passed along the cigarette. Soren took it and fell deeper into this addiction.

.

Soren opened the door to his house. A crack of light formed over the floor to break the darkness of the shadowed room. Only a faint light came from kitchen where Stefan sat at the table, drinking black coffee.

"So nice of you to finally join us," Stefan said.

"I had tutoring job," Soren said.

"Ah, of course you did," Stefan said.

Soren scoffed. "What are you going to do? Ground me?"

"No. It's good to see you actually socializing for once. And here I thought you were turning into stone."

"I'm going to bed."

"Why don't you stay up, tell me about your day?" Stefan said, a wry tone of mocking in his voice.

"Go die," Soren said. He closed the door to him room and set his books aside. He could hear the low rumble of Stefan's laughter through the door.

It'd been far quieter ever since Sothe had reunited with his sister and Pelleas had been taken off to be some rich woman's lapdog. Now it was just him, which Soren preferred. He'd had to split the room with Pelleas and Sothe before, which had only left him with high blood pressure and a very deep dislike of the place.

He half thought Stefan had made them sleep in the same room just for amusement. He sure seemed to laugh over all their annoying ways.

Soren stretched and yawned. He could still taste the bitterness of cigarettes on his tongue.

.

Later that night, the skies reopened, and the deluge began all over again. Soren turned his face to the window. A flash a lightning illuminated the rain streaked pane of glass.

Rain always made him remember.

The first time Soren had seen Ike, he had been standing below outside the second story, laughing with some of his friends. For some unknown reason, Ike had turned and looked up. Their eyes caught for a fraction of an second. Ike did not smile, but his constant frown softened into something else. Something kinder. Ike waved. Soren shaded his eyes, but made nothing more than a terse nod as a response. Even that was generous, near munificent by Soren's standards.

Someone beside Ike said something and drew his attention away and Soren returned to the study at hand. In thinking back, Soren couldn't say why he had looked outside. He never cared what the sports playing types or girls with their halter tops and short skirts. Maybe there had been a sound which had drawn him nearer. Maybe he had been giving his eyes a rest. Soren didn't let himself linger on the minor aspects.

This did not forge some inalienable bond between them, that kind of thing only happened in banal, formulaic teenage fiction. But through it all Soren began to notice him through the sea of meaningless faces after that.

What a minor thing, to be acknowledged. And yet, Ike was the first to do it, if ever so slightly.

Ike was the first one Soren bothered to remember the name of. If he came up on conversation, at times Soren's attention would flit to whatever gossip was being spread around this time. Not so much for the gossip itself, for such trivialities rarely interested him, but merely the news about the person in question.

Sometimes, they would hush as Soren came through, but just as often Soren could slip through them, a shadow, a nobody who might as well not be human in their eyes. He was beyond something to be bullied; Soren was an untouchable in their schoolyard caste.

Soren kept to himself. He avoided the cliques and spent his spare time studying. He was brilliant, of course, but also highly caustic. People didn't stay around him willingly. Not even teachers could stand him, but that was fitting. It was constructed just as Soren wanted it.

He walked alone and kept company only when he wished.

.

Soren pulled at his locker. Not for the first time, it'd become stuck. He entered his code again and pulled. Nothing. Soren exhaled, a hiss from clenched teeth as he tried again.

At this rate, he was going to be late.

Soren heard steps behind him as a few girls tittered at his plight. Their tittering reached an entirely new level of inanity as some 'hunk' walked by. Soren pointedly ignored them all the more as he inputted the code yet again.

"Here, let me."

Ike reached over him, and Soren had to move his hand away quickly, otherwise Ike would've pressed his hand over Soren's about the handle. Ike pressed in the door, held it a second and pulled it in one, clean grip.

"Don't pull the door off," Soren muttered.

Ike tried again, and this time the door did give way. It swung open to reveal Soren's sparse, and tidy storage space.

Ike glanced in, almost as if he expected to see nude models taped to the sides. Or maybe it was just idle curiosity. Soren couldn't tell.

Soren collected his things and turned back to Ike one last time.

"Thank you," he said, entirely unused to such social conventions. Still, even if Ike wouldn't care, it felt as if it should be said.

He cleared his throat and said it again louder. "Thank you. For that."

"It's no problem," Ike said.

"Yes. Well. If you'll excuse me, I don't want to be late for class. And Ike... I hope you weren't thinking of skipping out. That would make my task that much harder," Soren said pointedly.

"No, I don't skip."

"Good.."

They didn't share many classes, for Soren was in Honors Classes, and Ike was barely making the grades as it was. They of course, shared no social circles. Had this tutoring job not appeared, Soren would've likely gone all through high school without saying two words to him.

Serendipity struck at the most inopportune times.

.

Hours later, Ike actually managed to be on time – even by Soren's standards. In fact for once, it was Ike who was waiting with his book pulled out, and not the usual vice-versa.

"Do you have your assignment for History?"

Ike frowned as he sifted through his binder. After a few minutes of managing to make it even imore/I disorderly than it already was, Ike gave up.

"I can't find it. Can't I just borrow yours?"

"I take Honors class, Ike," Soren said. "It doesn't work that way."

Ike took returned to looking, but the disorder only made Soren twitch.

Soren sighed. "Let me see."

Ike passed the binder over to him.

Soren opened it. A picture taped to the front inner cover greeted him. It was a split-second slice of life for young family. A woman with hair the same shade of blue that Ike's was, as well as a man he recognized as Ike's father from the news reports. A much younger Ike and a young girl he assumed to his sister regarded the camera. Mist was smiling, Ike gave the camera a more determined glance, as if the camera were his rival.

He felt as if he had touched something ultimately private, and had become a voyeur to someone else's life.

Ike fingered the rim of the photo with affection. "I was five then. Mist was about two. That was the first day we moved over there. I remember there being packing boxes being everywhere. There wasn't even any mattresses on the bedframes. We had to sleep in sleeping bags for a week. Of course, dad just called it camping, and we all loved it."

"I see..."

Ike's tone became tinged with golden warm nostalgia. In social structure, it would his turn to share in this nostalgic time. However, Soren had nothing worth sharing. There were no golden tinted memories to bring out and chuckle over. There was only hunger and fear and the constant rejection. Nothing else, and certainly nothing worth telling to an almost stranger.

Soren pulled out the needed paper and smoothed out the crease marks instinctively.

"Back to the topic at hand... The subject was the Visigoths."

"Those kids who wear all black and hate the world?"

Soren cleared his throat. That fit him a little more than it should have.

"...No. We already went through this. The Visigoths were—"

Ike's pencil was poised over the blank paper, its movements making idle squiggles and doodles on the originally pristine page. His stomach growled, as if on cue.

"I can't study like this," Ike said. He pushed his chair back and stood almost fast, as if he'd been waiting for an excuse to do so.

"I'm sure Mist has made something by now. Most of her stuff is even edible."

"You're inviting me....?" Soren said.

"Mmmhmm. You'll probably survive her cooking."

Soren could picture the sort of sibling rivalry and spats just from the scant bits of conversation that had included her.

It would be foolish to turn down a free meal.

.

Not too long after Ike's father had died their house had gone into foreclosure. Ike had tried to hold onto the house and its memories by taking up a job to pay for the utilities in order to save their domicile from the auction. This one yet another reason why he'd been failing every subject before Soren's tutelage began.

Needless to say, his endeavor had failed. Already by then Ike and Mist had been legally taken in by a friend of the family (and once a near lover, according to some rumors) and her clergyman husband. They'd been appointed as guardians should this death ever occur, as if Ike's father had known he'd die all along.

In this house, they set out to make new memories and leave the old as a place to be entombed, a graveyard for ghosts to dwell within.

This house was one of those fix-it-upper types, one far different in size and shape from Ike's first residence. Soren only knew this from the picture. He stepped inside, in time with Ike. In a place like this, Soren seemed smaller, slouched down and compact. He was no more than Ike's shadow in this place, nothing more than a transient specter to be forgotten soon after.

Ike set his books down carelessly as soon as they were inside. They tipped over. Soren bent down immediately to right it. He twitched at the disarray of poorly written notes and how Ike's History textbook was carelessly placed before Calculus. He sorted them into the proper alphabetical order and rose to find Ike bemusedly starring down at him.

"What?" Soren said.

"You never can abide a mess, eh? I'd better keep you away from my room then."

"It would be for the best. Besides, it would be more efficient at the kitchen table."

Ike chuckled, but said nothing when faced with the glare Soren sent his way. Unfortunately, Ike seemed immune and otherwise utterly impervious to glares of any kind. He had plenty of his own, and any sour behavior on Soren's part slid away, harmless.

"Anyways, I'm starving. I can't work like this. Want anything from the fridge?"

"Whatever is in stock is acceptable," Soren said.

"No allergies?"

"None."

"Good. Where is Mist anyways? Ehhhh. I'll just get it myself."

However, the phone rang before Ike could leave.

"Could you get something?"

Soren wandered to the kitchen only to find it occupied by a rather amorous pair. The girl – Soren assumed her to be Mist, giggled and flung a bit of whipped cake batter at an older boy's face.

It was some jock Ike hung with. Green haired, on the football team. Soren could never be bothered to remember names.

He wrapped his arms about her, and she laughed as he placed a kiss on her neck. She flicked a bit of spilled icing off of his face and made a squiggling motion in the air as if she was going to put it in his mouth. At the last moment, she put the batter in her own mouth. His payback for the steal was to kiss her on the mouth. It was not a quick kiss, and lasted some moments with her moaning into him.

"Excuse me, Soren muttered He was used to this situation as an amorous couple was prone to making out on the locker next to his. He opened the fridge door as they broke apart from their frantic hormonal liplocking.

"Oh, sh...Ike's home," he said.

"Guess it's time to be back to normal."

She took a deep breath and frowned far too comically to ever be serious.

"Boyd you idiot! I can't stand you!"

She slammed a cupboard door for good measure and shared a conspiratorial smile with Boyd.

"Don't tell Ike, ok? It's our little secret, Ike's-friend."

"It's of no concern of mine," Soren said. He gathered up what he had come for, turned on his heel and left her to whatever teenage girl flirting she wanted to do.

"Thanks friend-of-Ike's!" she called after him. "I'll remember this!"

.

According to what Ike said, Soren surmised that the rest of Greil's coworkers came every night for a family dinner of sorts. (When Soren asked the occasion, Mist had cheerily said 'Dinner!') There were two more brothers of the green-haired jock Mist had been flirting with, as well as a corrosive redhead who came smelling of alcohol. He was the one most likely to miss these dinners, and this seemed to gall Titania to no end.

After the kitchen incident, Mist came out only slightly rumpled and worse for wear. Ike seemed oblivious to the slight blush and Mist's habit of giggling and kicking her paramour under the table. He seemed the only one in the room to do so as the redheaded male was rolling his eyes, while the other brothers, Titania and the red headed man's foolish companion all seemed charmed by what was blossoming before them.

Rhys bowed to say a blessing before the food. Soren and the redheaded man kept their eyes open, both too much skeptics to even feign polite acquiescence to Rhys' faith.

Soren had never had the feeling of belonging or being a part of It was such an illogical feeling, for he was the outsider here as much as any and yet one that was strangely comforting.

He pushed it aside. It was charisma, that deceitful front. The group of them with their flaws were charming in a quirky, homey way. But Ike especially was likable enough to impose illusions of connection on people without even trying. It was his utter lack of artifice and his acceptance that gave that semblance of a connection already formed long ago.

To someone as affection starved as Soren, these illusory bonds could be so tempting.

Their world was separate from him, as separate as if there was a glass dome erected around it and he were merely looking inside. Wistful for a connection he himself could never attain or even dream of.

This was no future of his.

.

Soren had gathered his books. It was far more trouble to carry the heavy textbooks by himself.
Almost so much that he missed Ike's presence, if only as a book carrier.

Ike was laughing with a friend of his. The mischievous, wild child Ranulf (someone so popular and infamous, even Soren knew his name) swatted Ike on the shoulder. The green haired jock who'd been flirting with Mist joined in. They looked so carefree, so happy.

Soren stared on from afar, The untouchable looking inwards to places he would never belong.

Wistful. Wanting.

This world that Ike inhabited, Soren wanted to remain a part of.

.

Two days later, he was back at Ike's house. Ike had gone separately and it was Soren's turn to come up the walk by himself, without Ike's leading him and telling him that it was truly ok for him to cross the threshold. When he did find Ike, he made note of the little things. Soren had a careful eye for details. When Ike took off his shoes, he saw the red stains, still sticky and far from old. Soren didn't broach the topic of other people's problems. He didn't entrench himself in their lives, but a detail scritch-scratched the back of his mind, like the tapping of fingernails on glass.

Ike noticed his gaze. He shrugged it off. "I got a few blisters walking. These shoes don't fit that well."

How long could Ike have walked to bleed that much? Had he even noticed at the point? Or had he been remembering, caught up in another day? Had he worked his muscles until the sting was a constant affirmation? Or had he just not noticed it for being too full of memories for there to be anything else?

This wasn't the first time it had happened, but it was the first time it bothered Soren. Before it had been a simple accepted fact of Ike's grieving. Now, seeing Ike injured troubled him. Ike was a sliver under his skin, and the problem was that now he cared if Ike lived or died.

Was Soren the only one who saw the fractures that had begun to form? As much as they had put Ike on a pedestal after his father's death, something deep and voyeuristic in them was waiting for Ike to break. It was the same despicable human nature, wasn't it?

So this was to be his breaking. Miles walked, and a pack a day. Compared to some (himself included), Ike was freakishly well-adjusted. Still, the sliver pricked at him, the thorn dug deep.

"I'll go get some bandages."

Soren turned, a step away. Wet, sticky red prints seeped into the carpet. Soren was aware of the feeling now. Caring was a prelude to connection. A thread to bind, to ensnare and entangle.

To strangle.

It was all coming clear to him now. The heat and wistfulness, the wanting of that bound, happy place that was not his. Everything was in focus, and as he caught sight of Ike's face, something within him fell.

He knew. The first shot fired against his walls had been that glance, that accepting glance. As fleeting as it had been, it was the beginning of everything that Ike represented and was. Acceptance, family, caring.

Soren did not meet Ike's eyes as he bandaged the wounds, or again that night.