A War With Such Casualties
Pairing(s)/Main Character(s):
Overall: Gale/Lupa; other: Gale/Cielo, Gale/Heat, Gale/Roland. References to others.
Rating: R
Word Count: ~6,000
Warnings: Spoilers through the end of the second game.
Disclaimer: Digital Devil Saga belongs to Atlus!

Summary: In his experience, most things ended in death.

Death, after seeing so much of it, after enduring and learning what it meant to cry, after betrayal and sacrifice, had not been as painful as Gale expected; or maybe it was that he could not remember.

He remembered calling Cielo 'brother', and he remembered missing Roland and praying for Serph; thinking as always of Lupa and then briefly, shamefully, of Heat. In a detached sense he did remember the pain, biting through his middle section; his body giving way, flesh tearing, bones cracking: the sort of sounds that made Vayu stir inside him. But it was fleeting, unimportant, when compared with the corridor of darkness that followed, the weave along hidden paths of light. Walking until his feet were on solid ground again.

He had looked at the horizon and seen Earth bathed in golden light and disintegrating, only vaguely reminiscent of the pictures that Roland had showed him. At that moment, the Junkyard, grey and wet and emotionless and wracked with war, had seemed so much simpler.

Only a quarter-cycle had passed since an unidentified object had appeared at coordinates 2314 5873, and a scout had already informed Serph that the Vanguards were on the move. Gale stared down at the map of the Junkyard, at where the junction of Muladhara and Svadhisthana blinked red where the object was located.

"What do you think it is?" Argilla bent over the display, quiet-voiced.

"A bomb," suggested Cielo from the corner.

Heat shook his head, shoulder brushing against Gale's as he circled the map. "That size, it would take out the Vanguards' base too." He was still walking a little stiffly, favouring the leg that hadn't been pierced by a Maribel's sniper rifle several cycles prior. Gale thought often of those crucial moments, Serph appearing with Heat draped across his shoulders, pale and white-faced but silent. The bullet had been lodged deep in the meat of Heat's thigh, and there were moments where Gale thought he would be unable to retrieve it.

"Gale." Heat was looking at him, eyes hard across the table. "Do you have a plan?"

Gale redirected his attention back to the display. In the corner, faded images of the five other tribe leaders hovered at his fingertips. Harley of the Vanguards, a tribe only marginally larger than the Embryon. Jinana of the Maribel, memorable for the red tribal marking beneath her right eye: a sight that Argilla had been staring at like it would give her answers. Mick the Slug, leader of the Solids. Varin Omega, source of the Brutes' strength. Lastly, Lupa of the Wolves, standing tall with white streaks blinding against his dark skin. Gale stared into the projection's grey eyes and was not sure what kept him from looking away.

"Gale," said Serph, a reminder, and Gale raised his head. The leader of the Embryon spoke rarely; when he did, it was mostly to Heat. Saying no more, he bent across the map and stretched a pale hand over the object. It was round and green, more pointed at one end than the other, and its image seemed to pulse. Gale followed Serph's line of vision, nodded, and clamped his fingers over the edge of the table, finding the nearest keypad.

With the press of a single button the map vanished, and a new image flickered into view. "Dissemination Machine," he said to the foremost figure hanging upside down, thin arms weaving lines of light through empty space. "This is an act of war. The Embryon will proceed according to the Law."

Gale turned away from the Earth and strode into the darkness, a tiny figure against the wind that persevered even when walking across the surface of the sun turned out to be more dangerous than expected. He knew he would find his comrades if he looked hard enough, ready to chance stepping in the wrong place and being sucked into the inner layer to find all those he lost and maybe ones he never knew. The name 'Greg' ran on loop in his mind, the heavy way it had rolled off Roland's tongue and the definite snap of it on Gale's.

To him, it sounded a little—wrong, too hard and too harsh for the man Lupa once was. It made his chest hurt, made walking difficult, and the sheer feeling welling up inside him brought him to his knees on the edge of a pocket of light.

If he took one step forward, he would be taken to somewhere entirely new: another flat, pitted platform lit from underneath where Lupa might or might not be. Despair swallowed his voice and made his feet heavy, and Gale did not know for a moment whether he would be able to go on.

Then he looked up, and Cielo was stretching a hand down towards him and saying, all smiles, "Hey dere, brudda."

Ten full cycles since light had filled the Junkyard. Eight since green lines had weaved their way across Gale's body, when the burn of the brand on his leg flared and he lost control; six since Heat's voice cut through the fog—"So, you're hungry, Gale? Wanna eat me?"—and Sera awoke, and Gale came back to himself on his knees, her arms wrapped around him. Five and seven-eighths since he turned to see Cielo breathing hard behind him, gun in hand, colour flickering in his eyes.

Gale stepped away from the cracked display of the tribes' multicoloured territories and towards the window, stepping around overturned boxes splattered with dark blood. The rain fell steadily, sluicing down the stained windowpane in clear rivulets. Overhead the clouds were heavier than normal, casting the entire Junkyard into darkness. Thick fog rolled across the barren wasteland in waves, seeping beneath doors and through cracks in the walls.

He wiped a hand across the glass, smearing the blood away, and glanced over his shoulder. A mere handful of cycles earlier Sera had been sitting in the corner, head bowed between narrow sloping shoulders, and Gale had wondered why she was awake, as he was, though the rest of the tribe had gone to sleep: resting up for the coming operation. He had thought, then, that the Maribel would fall to them easily, starting with that woman Argilla pined for, and after that the remaining tribes were just dominoes to be tipped.

Still frowning, Gale touched a hand to his forehead. It had not gone as planned; in the aftermath, Cielo's eyes were a startling shade of blue, Argilla's downturned face was red and swollen, and Gale could not comprehend the words of his own tribe. He gripped the windowsill and stared out into the gloom, listing to his dominant side. The knife in his boot dug into his heel, dislodged at some point during the second invasion of the Maribel's territory. As he reached down to set it back in place, an earlier thought resurfaced without warning, one that had passed quickly and insignificantly through his mind: that woman Argilla pined for. 'Pining' was a new concept, and one that he was somehow familiar with but did not wholly understand.

"Gale, Gale, what're you still doin' up?"

Gale turned lightning-quick, foot raised before the voice—new, strange, accented; he should have known immediately—registered. His blade was pressed against Cielo's throat hard enough to draw blood when Gale caught up with himself. Abruptly and absurdly—the word, he believed, was 'ashamed', he lowered his leg and said, "You would be advised not to sneak up on me."

Cielo's blue eyes were huge, and both of his wide-palmed hands were raised in surrender. "Sorry," he said, and his mouth widened to reveal teeth; it was a smile, that much Gale knew, though why Cielo would be smiling at a time like this escaped him. "I was jus' checkin' up on you, brudda. You need to rest. How will we get Sera back if you ain't dere?"

Gale turned back to the window. Cielo's electric gaze made him uneasy, like Dyaus was moving just beneath the surface of his skin. It made Vayu twitch restlessly inside him; he knew that if he looked down he would see green lines spreading over his leg, a sheath of blue bone erupting from his ankle, but he did not know why.

Cielo, by his nature, would not understand either, but judging by his hand on Gale's shoulder, he saw the transformation beginning.

"You already tried to eat me once," he said, a hard edge to his playful tone. His nails dug into Gale's bodysuit.

Gale blinked once, slowly. If he wanted to eat Cielo, he could do it with little problem. It would take a quick snap of his leg to put Cielo on the ground, and then an arm against Cielo's neck to pin him there. Cielo would barely have the time to call for help before Vayu's sharp teeth tore his jugular free.

But. Gale shook his head. He did not want to eat Cielo.

With that thought, Vayu quieted, and he felt his body returning to normal. Behind him, Cielo released a breath of air that puffed, hot and wet and near, against the back of Gale's neck. He felt the hair on his arms rise, body wracked with an unexpected shiver.

"'Ey, 'ey," said Cielo, sounding confused, and began to retract his hand. "Gale, I—"

His voice cut off with a noise of surprise when Gale spun around and caught his hand. He was filled with the knowledge that he had done this before, though he had no idea what 'this' was. Unsure, wanting to know what came next, Gale raised his stare to Cielo's face. Cielo's wide shocked eyes were dark, colour a sliver at the edges, and that meant something.

"I do not comprehend," Gale said, a little helplessly, as Cielo's free hand rose to frame his face. "What are you doing to me?"

"Brudda, I don' geddit either," Cielo said, one corner of his mouth quirked upwards. They were so close that Gale could feel Cielo's breath against his face, and then Cielo pushed back, pressed Gale against the window, and stepped away.

"Maybe someday, huh?" Cielo said, brushing his palms over his arms as if to ward off a chill, and smiled, flicked a hand in goodbye.

When Cielo turned and walked out, Gale wanted to follow him so badly it was a physical ache, low in his stomach. But he stayed by the window and listened to the rain, and hoped—something he understood little better than what had just happened between them—that Cielo was correct.

Too late, Gale understood what had nearly happened between them. He took Cielo's hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet, and then he cupped Cielo's face in both hands and held him close. Cielo allowed it, closed his eyes and let Gale put their mouths together as Lupa had showed him long ago.

"Brother," Gale said when he pulled back. "Comrade."

Cielo smiled up at him. "You missed it," he said, arms folding around Gale's waist. "Shoulda seen me take down those planes. You woulda been proud."

Gale closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Cielo's. "I am sorry," he said, "and I am proud."

"Wish you weren't here, brudda," Cielo said softly, clutching tighter. He pressed his face into Gale's chest and then, just as abruptly, let go. He wiped his eyes and lifted his chin. "I found him. I did it for you."

Gale did not have time to ask what he meant, because a hand landed on his shoulder, steered him around, and Lupa caught Gale full-bodied up in his arms and did not let go.

One and a third cycles had passed since Lupa strode off into the tunnels, leaving Gale with colour flickering in his eyes and his heart beating off-time in his chest. Heat was breathing heavily beside him, one arm thrown across Serph's shoulders. He was spitting blood, bruised and sore from a Mizuchi's bufudyne. Sera hovered at Argilla's side, shielded from battle.

"You arright dere?" asked Cielo, appearing at Gale's side. He looked dazed, the after-effects of pulinpa slowly wearing off. It was the third time he had been afflicted in the past quarter-cycle.

"I should be asking you that," Gale responded, his ear perked for the sound of movement through the waterway—bones cracking, rasping calls for help—but it was silent except for the sluggish trickle of water along stone and his comrades' footsteps. The flashes of green that he saw in his reflection's eyes told him that the feeling in his gut was disappointment.

"Listenin' for Lupa, bro?" said Cielo suddenly. "He's okay. Don' worry 'bout it."

Gale had little doubt about that; it was for Cielo's sake that he nodded, as though reassured, before walking on. His steps faltered when a low roar echoed down a dimly-lit branch to his left, and after that he did not hesitate. Without stopping to consider what he was doing, Gale pressed a hand to his Atma, and Vayu loped down the hall after the noise. He heard Cielo calling out after him, but he did not stop.

Gale raced down one ladder and along three winding corridors before he found Cerberus crouched over a pair of corpses. He was half-himself again when Cerberus raised its centre head and looked straight at him. Gale shed the last of Vayu's energy and stood tall, and Cerberus made a noise somewhere between a snarl and a low woof. It left the two Brutes half-devoured and padded over to Gale with steps that shook the tunnels to their foundations, but its head was low and its ears flat. By the time he reached Gale, Lupa had returned to himself. He shook the blood from his hair and wiped at his mouth, the savage movement looking graceful.

"Return to your tribe," he said, simply.

The dismissal made something unpleasant unfurl in Gale's stomach, similar to the ache that Vayu sometimes became afflicted with. He said nothing.

Lupa's red eyes shone in the blue-grey light of the waterway and there was a strange curl to his lips; Gale looked at him and thought that he was what the Dissemination Machine must have meant when it discussed Nirvana, when it called Nirvana 'beautiful'. He knew what the heat flaring in his cheeks looked like; he had seen it on Sera's face when she looked at Serph: a strange pinkish hue to the skin as if flushed with exertion.

"Your face," Lupa said suddenly, and his fingers brushed across Gale's mouth and up, over the bridge of his nose and coming to rest on his cheekbones. Gale had not even noticed Lupa closing the distance between them; that above all else made Vayu, sensing danger, rise inside him.

Lupa's fingers dropped to Gale's throat and Gale froze in place as though an enemy wielding electricity had caught him off guard. He swallowed twice against the gentle pressure on his larynx and waited, knowing that he could run or use his knife to give himself the advantage. But, strangely, he did not want to; stranger still, he was not afraid.

"I am not going to hurt you," Lupa murmured, his hand curling into Gale's hood and around the back of his neck. "The thought is—painful."

That did not make sense. "Are you injured?" Gale said, eyes scanning across Lupa's body in search of unnoticed wounds. His search proved fruitless, and the expression on Lupa's face only heightened his confusion. Lupa's eyes were dark, redder than blood, and he was staring at Gale's mouth.

"Know that I understand this no better than you," Lupa said, and then leaned in and pressed his lips to Gale's.

Vayu screamed inside him, get away get away get away, but it was white noise, irrelevant, and Gale disregarded it. This, whatever it was, was something Gale knew; something that he had half-remembered when he and Cielo had stood together and breathed into each other's mouths. This felt good and this felt right; reaching Nirvana seemed unimportant when Lupa was pushing him up against the damp wall and moving against him.

After, Lupa kissed him again, both hands on Gale's face, clutching like he did not want to let go. "Return to your tribe," he repeated, and stepped away, spreading a palm over his stomach to hide the red lines bleeding from his Atma. "And go quickly. Wash yourself of my scent."

"We shall go to Nirvana together," Gale said, but it fell dead and meaningless from his lips. The gates would not open to a tribe without all the other leaders' heads; this was a definite truth, a rule of the Junkyard. His chest hurt and his eyes blazed with what he knew had to be colour. "Lupa, you and I."

"You and I," Lupa repeated, quiet, and then nodded. His shoulders set in a strong line and his head lifted, noble and proud and perfect. "So be it," he said, an echo of their earlier conversation.

Gale saw the energy swirling around him and made his decision before his traitorous, confusing mind could force him to stay. With Lupa's taste on his tongue and Cerberus' roar ringing in his ears, he turned away and never looked back.

Lupa held Gale tight, curved around him even after he let Gale back to the ground. Gale hung on, his body pulsing with the memory of wrapping his legs around Lupa's waist and his arms around Lupa's neck, and breathed deep and slow into the infinitesimal space between them. He felt as though he would fall if Lupa was not holding him upright, his heart a wild fluttering creature inside him. Vayu was silent, sated.

When Lupa pulled back—not away, just enough that he could easily meet Gale's gaze—he was smiling. "Your eyes," he said. "They are beautiful."

"This is not what I wanted," Gale said, searching for a better response but coming up empty. Together in the afterlife was not what he had imagined, winding his way through the Samsara Tunnels and straining to hear heavy footfalls over grimy stone.

"And yet," Lupa said, touching a hand to Gale's cheek.

The movement made a memory stir inside him, one that shame had pushed away, choking him with fresh hurt. Gale thought of Heat, limp and bloody in Serph's arms, and remembered what he had tried to forget.

Half a cycle had passed since the perpetual rain slowed to a stop. The path to Nirvana was open, and the clouds swirled above the Karma Temple in a great, rolling maelstrom. Gale stared up at it from the hill above the Embryon's new base, his eyes on the lightning crackling where the tower met the storm. Sera was gone and his comrades were itching to go after her, but they were all exhausted from the battle with Varin. His flesh had not been enough to sustain them all. At least one full cycle was needed to recuperate.

Vayu moved beneath Gale's skin, hungry and growling. His teeth felt too sharp in his mouth, nicking his tongue as it passed over his canines, and on his leg his Atma pulsed a slow, steady ache. He was starving, the taste of blood thick and coppery in the back of his throat.

Canines. Copper. Gale touched a finger to his forehead. Such things had never existed in the Junkyard; yet, like that cat Cielo seemed so fond of, he knew what they were. Canines were also called cuspids, dogteeth, or fangs, and were often the largest teeth in a mammal's mouth. Copper was a chemical element, symbol Cu, atomic number 29; a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity.

His own thoughts made no sense to him. He turned and buried his fist in the ruined wall beside him, the bones in his hand (scaphoid, lunate, triquetral, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate, metacarpals, phalanges) shifting beneath his skin, cracking: a collection of hairline fractures. Gale retracted his arm and stared down at his bloodied palm. A wound like this would have Cielo howling with pain. Before Sera, it would have taken months to heal. Vayu relieved the pain in an instant.

Flexing his healed fingers, he thought, suddenly, of what Lupa had told him—You're beginning to understand.

Gale's eyes stung, an unfamiliar burn, and he realised that his face was wet. An unnoticed injury? A thumb across his cheeks revealed water, not blood, but the rain had stopped. He thought of the liquid that had collected in Argilla's eyes, the way it had streamed down her face when she beat her fists against Serph's chest.


Gale tore free of his thoughts and turned, too slow. Heat was already upon him, eyes alight, red hair crashing about his shoulders like a bloody wave.

"What the hell are we doing? We have to go to the Temple and find Sera. We don't have time to sit around with our thumbs up our asses!"

Gale brushed Heat's hand free of his shoulder and took a step back. "We have little chance of success in our current condition," he said. "We will leave at the start of the next cycle." He paused, examined Heat's too-bright eyes and heaving chest, frowned. "Are you unwell? I have a dis-ache—"

"I don't need your goddamn help," Heat snarled. The fingers of his left hand twitched, and upon re-evaluation, that was where Gale made his mistake. He should have been watching Heat's right side, his dominant side; should have seen the hand that wrapped around his neck coming. Heat shoved him up against the nearest wall, and Gale briefly contemplated using his feet to snap Heat's neck.

"What are you doing?" he asked, instead.

"You would've eaten me," Heat said, "if Sera hadn't been there." He shook Gale savagely, teeth bared. "Remember? I would've killed you."

Gale's eyes still hurt. He blinked twice to try and relieve himself of the pain.

Heat's expression changed, and his fingers flexed around Gale's throat, looser and then tighter again. His eyes narrowed and his mouth screwed up into a confused little line that looked as foreign on his face as it did—Gale knew, now, that the word was 'beautiful', but a thousand other possibilities filled his head. "What—" Heat said, clipped on an angry indrawn breath. "Why are you crying?"

"I do not comprehend," Gale said, but as soon as it was out of his mouth he registered the wetness trailing down his face and knew that was what Heat was referring to. Gale stalled, the image of a woman flickering in his mind's eye, her dark hair wrecked and falling about her shoulders, eyes brimming over. "I do not comprehend," he said again, quieter, and it should have felt like a wall, a barrier coming up and shielding him from whatever madness Heat and his other comrades had given in to, but instead it left him feeling exposed, broken open.

"Gale," Heat said, raggedly. "You— what are you playing at?"

Gale could stretch up at any moment and use his knife to slit Heat's throat, but he was frozen, reduced to struggling weakly against Heat's hold and wondering about the water pooling in his eyes. Telltale red lines were running down Heat's arm; Gale knew in a distant place in the back of his mind that if Heat didn't get Agni under control soon, his throat could be crushed with the twitch of a finger.

Then the hand around his neck was gone and raking through his hair, knocking back his hood and pulling him down, in. Gale only had an instant to suck in a grateful breath before Heat's mouth closed over his. His head spun like someone had crept up behind him and dealt him a vicious blow, his legs weak as though a demon had sent electricity coursing through his veins. He shut his eyes.

There were a number of reasons Heat could be doing this. He had to use his stored-up energy on something. Sera was gone. He was pushing himself out of Serph's favour. Any and all could account for the sweep of Heat's tongue across Gale's teeth.

Heat did this the same way he did anything else, reckless, impassioned, too hard and not enough all at once. His teeth caught on Gale's lower lip, tugging, and the burst of pain was a shock to Gale's system. He released his hold on Heat's hair, unable to remember grabbing on in the first place, just as Heat pulled back, eyes opening half-lidded and lazy.

"Fuck," Heat said, his body still pressing Gale into the wall, a long hot line all along him. He dropped his head onto Gale's shoulder and breathed harshly into the crook of his neck. The action sent waves of cold through Gale's overheated body. "I wanted that. I've wanted this for a long time," Heat said, and Gale nearly told him that he couldn't have, that he was lying; nearly, because this new Heat lied often and seemed untroubled by it. He told Sera it was all right when it clearly was not; he repeatedly insisted that he was uninjured when he was close to collapse.

Heat lifted his head, and Gale saw that his lips were swollen like he had taken a punch directly to the mouth; there was a flush high in his cheeks and he was sucking in breaths like there would never be enough air in his lungs. There was a flicker of a smile on his face, a shadow, like he wanted to but didn't know how, and the calloused hand on Gale's cheek was surprisingly tender. He looked like everything Gale should have wanted but didn't.

"Do you want this?" he asked, and if Gale tilted his head just right, the grey pall of the Junkyard made Heat's hair look the same shade as Lupa's. Forgoing verbal reply, he closed his eyes and leaned back in. Heat's arms closed around him like that was the answer he had hoped for.

"I should never have indulged you," was the first thing Gale said when he found Heat. Heat's response was to rear back and punch Gale solidly in the face. It stung, rough knuckles skating across his cheek, but Lupa's hands on his shoulders when Gale tumbled back against him made the pain seem inconsequential.

"You bastard," Heat said, drawing in heavy breaths as if wounded. His eyes shone wetly, a brighter red than Lupa's. "You goddamn bastard. Get away from me."

Gale did not understand. They had never talked about what happened—reaching the top of the Karma Temple had been their priority, then, and no sooner were they reunited in this world than shoved to opposite sides. Heat had stared him down from under Margot Cuvier's clever strings and Gale had been filled with rage that felt more like hurt.

"I am sorry," he said, because he thought he might understand on some level that he could not quite reach. Heat did not want to hear that he was the one who had been indulged, and not the other way around. Perhaps, Gale considered, as a familiar figure approached them with one hand raised in greeting, he should have felt the same way about Roland, but he did not.

He had stopped counting cycles. Roland said time was measured in, among other things, "hours" and "minutes". Gale had worked it out that an hour was roughly the same as one-eighth of a cycle, but without regular influxes of solar noise he could not keep track of how much time was passing. It was disconcerting, left him feeling lost and free-falling. He did not like it.

Beside him, Roland knocked back another glass of that vile-tasting drink he seemed so fond of. Everyone else was asleep, Cielo an exhausted wreck and Argilla dark-eyed and furious.

Gale closed his eyes. Before, Serph's would have been a meaningless death. He died so we could live—the thought would have never crossed his mind. It would have been a poor death for a tribe leader, but in this world, everything was so different.

Gale's chest hurt. That burn was back in his eyes. He stretched out an arm. "Your drink."

Roland blinked at him, eyes unfocussed. The hand that held the glass shook dangerously as he handed it over. "Didn't take you for a drinker," he slurred.

Gale downed the amber liquid in one gulp. It scorched his throat, tasted like the poison rival tribes had been so good at concocting, but it distracted him from the water dripping down his cheeks. He dragged a hand across his face, rubbing the moisture away, and drew in a calming breath. It sounded nothing like he had expected: rough and thready, a thin little sob. He leaned back against the soft seat and became suddenly and acutely aware of the way Roland had moved to sit heavily beside him.

Roland was rolling his flask between his palms, but his eyes were on Gale and his blank, sorrowful expression almost made him look sober. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said, and it sounded to Gale's ears like tradition, something meaningless said by rote—just another of Roland's strange speech patterns. "Fuck, I. I suppose that doesn't mean much to you. Loss."

Gale hissed on a shallow breath, anger churning within him. His fingers clenched around the glass in his hand, and the noise that it made when it shattered startled him out of silence. "You know nothing," he said, standing, flinging the remains to the floor and ignoring his stinging hand. He stared down at Roland, venomous, furious like he could never remember being before. Vayu growled, pleased and anticipatory, within him. "It means everything to me."

He was so angry that his body was thrumming with it, and he wondered mutely if this was how Heat felt, uncontrolled and unreachable; if this was like the sorrow that had assaulted Cielo earlier, bringing him to his knees and forcing wails from his throat. He had been shaking with it, face blind and swollen when Gale had tried to steady him.

Something filtered through the haze of red over Gale's eyes: Roland, reaching for him, saying sorry sorry sorry like that was enough; as though an apology could bring Serph back—could bring Lupa back—could right all of these wrongs.

Damp cloth pressed against the fresh cuts on his palms and Vayu howled, retreating. Gale flinched, tried to pull away, but Roland had his wrists in a tight grip. The pain seemed to ground him, and he came back to himself staring at the place where their arms met. Across the back of Roland's hands was a series of tiny brown discolorations—freckles, his brain supplied; not scars. Gale ran his free hand across them, merely out of curiosity, and Roland shivered at the touch.

"Sorry," Roland said again, dabbing away the last of the blood and balling up the cloth. He hurled it carelessly into the corner, dropped back onto the couch, and stared up at Gale with an expression of absolute defeat. "When I'm drunk, I just. I say the stupidest damn things."

Gale stepped around the broken glass and returned to his seat. The anger had gone and taken everything with it—confusion, grief, pain. In their absence he felt nothing but a deep emptiness. Without Serph, he would be expected to lead the expedition through the Power Plant. There was nothing he wanted less. He wanted, instead, to sit and talk with Fred about his father; to help Cielo through his pain and keep Argilla from falling apart; to fix what was broken between him and Roland.

"I am sorry," he echoed, figuring that was as good a place to start as any. Apologies seemed to make all the difference, here. "I will purchase you another bottle of that liquid. Is that acceptable?"

Roland laughed, but it was not a happy sound. "You're going to buy me a drink?" he said, as if Gale had said something very amusing. He was still smiling, but his eyes were dark, and his fingers were wrapped tight around his flask. "But can you follow through?" He laughed again, high and keening, and peered at the crotch of Gale's pants. "Do you even have the equipment?"

Gale did not know how to answer those questions and stayed quiet. When Roland noticed, he too went silent: his mouth snapped shut with a solid clack of teeth and he tipped his head back against the cushions.

"It's a euphemism," he explained, at length, while staring at the ceiling. "It means. Never mind. You should go to sleep, Gale. Get at least a few hours' worth before we head to the Plant. After all," he swung his flask in a wide loop in midair, liquid sloshing around audibly inside it, "what do we have to talk about, anyway? I'm sad and drunk, and you're. You're. I don't know what the fuck you are." Roland turned away, shoulders hunching down crookedly. "Just—do me a favour and get out."

Gale would not be so easily dismissed. He put his hand on Roland's shoulder, ready and braced for a punch in the jaw or a shove onto the floor, but Roland did neither. Instead, he whirled around, too quick for Gale to get his feet up, and pushed Gale back onto the couch. He fisted his hands in Gale's hair and locked his knees around Gale's legs, rendering him immobile, and Gale looked into his eyes and saw Indra.

"Roland," he said, in warning, but the rest of his sentence was swallowed by Roland's mouth slanting hard over his. His eyes widened and heat flooded his body, clearing his mind and reducing his world to just them. By the time he registered that Roland had moved his legs, one still locked in place but the other unwound and shoved up between Gale's, he had no intention of using his feet to get leverage. This was familiar, similar to what Lupa had showed him but lying down and on a much more comfortable surface, and Roland's mouth was warm and soft and tasted of dark, bloody meat.

Gale thought of Lupa's eyes and tongue and teeth, and then he hiked his free foot around Roland's waist, arching, and fitted his hands to Roland's jaw to pull them even closer together.

"Gale," Roland panted against his mouth, ragged, wanting, and Gale gave himself over to the pure feeling coursing through him.

Roland broke down and cried when he saw Lupa, and Gale gathered from his halting half-sentences that the hair colour was wrong and he had several tattoos too many, but I'm sorry, Greg. I'm so fucking sorry.

Lupa put a hand on Roland's shoulder and said, "He never blamed you," and Roland just cried harder.

Gale looked between them and felt so full with emotion that he thought he might burst. He wanted to tell Roland that he was a good man, worthy of Gale's trust. Even more, he wanted to wind his hands in Lupa's long hair and tell him that this was the closest they would ever come to a true Nirvana, death the nearest to peace, and then he wanted to press himself against Lupa until they were one being.

Seraph arrived scarcely as soon as he finished the thought, and infused with Lupa's strength, Gale carried on.