This is for Megori of livejournal, who won the fic I auctioned off to Help_Japan. She's actually getting two fics: this is the first.
I need to stop looking at Jade's eyes in the post-game cutscene, because they make me sad. Not just that he's so sad that Luke's not going to come back and how everyone's going to feel when they realize this, but also something else and the implications of it…
I reference the contamination sidequest conversation between Jade & Saphir, when Saphir talks about the fact memories will remain in a certain body and how Luke had 'become a real boy,' and Jade was kind of 'stop helping me!' because all of that just made what was going to happen make him feel even worse. Of course, Peony doesn't know the details of that conversation. Jade's not going to want to talk or think about it.
I am sorry about the low-grade snark in this. I didn't mean for it to end up quite this angsty, I swear.
The fic is almost 2,500, but the Digimon fic I'm also doing will still be at least a thousand as planned. There's nothing wrong with a little extra Peony & Jade.
If asked, Peony would say that he missed the waterslides the most, and the questioner would laugh politely and hopefully be amused by what a character the emperor was enough that he could change the subject.
The serious answer, the one fitting for an emperor that actually cared about his people (well, he tried, and it wasn't hard to do better than his father) would have been that he missed healing artes, of course. He might have used that one if Queen Natalia asked, or some official or resentful noble that needed to be reminded of who exactly he was, but it never came up.
The real answer was one of the many secrets he would cheerfully take to his grave.
Peony had ordered Grand Chokmah's famous canals and water artes shut down right after the planet storm had been shut off, except the fountains (to keep up appearances) and essential services like the sewers. He hadn't been Professor Nebilim's student for nothing, after all. Without the planet storm, the amount of free fonons in the atmosphere would start decreasing, and they couldn't afford to waste them on things like waterslides.
Or heating the city.
Grand Chokmah was almost as far north as Keterberg, after all.
The city was smaller now: after the first winter, quite a few people had gotten fed up with the cold and the snow and even worse, the slush when it melted, and moved down south to Engave or the new trade city that had sprung up at Kaitzur.
Jabberwocky and Oriel fur coats had become all the rage as the nobility got the clothes they wore on visits to Keterburg out of the closets. Peony's rappigs had grown thicker, even softer coats. Peony himself had told the maids to bring by hot chocolate and mulled cider every evening and sat watching the snow in the garden, feeling nostaligic. Sometimes nostaligic enough to go out through those windows, remembering the day he'd met Jade, and drag Jade with him, laughing when Jade mock-complained about the cold and his poor old-man-bones, and the aching of the wounds he'd gotten in his service to a certain juvenile and ungrateful ruler.
The second winter, Peony's knee had ached. It had been broken a long time ago, on one of their expeditions. None of them had been a seventh fonist, of course, and Jade had insisted on resetting it. At least they'd camped then, so Jade could observe. Finally, Peony had decided that enough was enough, even though the cold numbed the pain, and just taken an apple gel before the wound could 'set' and become unhealable. Unless he felt like waiting for months anyway, which he didn't and even an imperial bastard getting injured like that would have gotten the others in all kinds of trouble. That would have been the end of sneaking out.
Just like Luke getting kidnapped, or Luke's original anyway, had been the end of freedom for that kid.
Maybe the ache had nothing to do with the long-ago injury. Probably he was just getting older.
He hadn't let it stop him from putting snow down the back of Jade's coat.
Emperors did not have wrinkles.
His illustrious ancestors had employed seventh fonists to cast artes every morning, since wrinkle prevention, keeping them from setting in, required that kind of constant care. As well as cultivation of an impassive mien, but that had probably been easy for them. Peony knew his father certainly hadn't cared about anyone but himself. It was easy to spot 'real' nobility, as opposed to those promoted on merit, in any gathering in Grand Chokmah or Baticul. Princess Natalia might allow her reserve to drop away, but she still had it, that trained paralysis of the face and heart. Even if about as many people turned up their noses at her as at him, the fake princess and the whoreson.
They hadn't bothered to train Luke in that. He wouldn't have lived long enough to worry about wrinkles. Or ruling.
While the planet itself produced small amounts of the other fonons naturally, with the planet storm off once the seventh fonon was gone it was gone. He'd banned frivolous use in the full knowledge that noble lords and ladies were going to ignore his decree. It was always useful to have something that he could arrest them for as part of larger corruption investigations.
It meant that the whole bathing and grooming and putting on raiment part of the morning now included strange herbal goops from St. Binah, the poor man's substitute for anti-winkle artes, but it was a small price to pay for even one more successful resurrection arte.
Very soon now, dead really would mean dead. Very soon now, if you stabbed someone they'd stay stabbed.
Peony might collect weapons, but since he couldn't very well bring a weapon back with him to the manor (unlike another captive prince, he hadn't been allowed them) he'd learned an unarmed combat style that was probably going to go the way of the selenias. Every style was going to have to adjust to the fact that letting someone hit your arm was no longer an acceptable sacrifice, and fighting without armor?
He still sparred with Jade, but Jade used a special padded staff now, pulled his blows and focused on chasing Peony around the ring less because he was playing annoyed and more to help both of them keep their agility.
Jade had it much worse than he did. Standing still to cast in a one-on-one match now was suicide, even for a fonist as skilled as Jade. It was taking longer and longer to gather the fonons, even for Jade himself.
Jade kept pushing it, though, up until Peony had punched him in the stomach when he was trying to use energy blast. Not hard, just hard enough to take his breath away.
Or maybe that was the fact that Peony had just beaten him in a spar for the first time.
Perhaps it was the kiss.
It certainly was a kiss that shut him up when he remarked that Peony defeating him must be a sign that the world was coming to an end, again, and he'd best report to military headquarters and focus on discovering the new threat.
The first set of replacement glasses that Jade brought were simple stage wear. Glasses with lenses that did nothing except make a fashion statement: Jade's glasses were iconic, and lots of people wore ones just like his.
"You know, you could have just borrowed mine." Hey, if his subjects were going to cosplay Jade, then of course Peony was going to.
"No: yours have the glyphs inlaid into them." That was the other reason Peony had a pair of glasses just like Jade: what if Jade's glasses broke? "That would quite defeat the purpose of acquiring new ones." Jade tilted his head from side to side.
"Are you sure that's safe?"
"Safer than the old ones," Jade muttered, frowning. Before, he'd needed those glasses to suppress the power of his fonon-gathering glyph. Now, wearing glasses that suppressed his fonic ability was not only mostly unnecessary, but doubling his casting time.
'Safer' wasn't the same as 'safe,' but Jade was a big boy, so Peony held his peace.
Well, he did order a pair of Jade-style reading glasses (all the rage among fonic researchers) for his poor old friend, and suggest that Jade get bifocals next time.
"You know, without the Score, there's nothing keeping you from marrying Nephry," Saphir was tactless enough to say during one of Peony's first few visits, The rest of the conversation so far had been about how awful of him it was to steal, 'dear Jade,' but that was Saphir. It really wasn't possible to be Saphir's friend unless you learned when to tune him out.
"People change," Peony said, for what felt like the millionth time, even though Saphir still wouldn't want to hear it. He knew that was the real reason Saphir had joined Van. He'd been so obsessed with going back to that golden age that he'd forgotten that they couldn't exactly all go back to Keterberg if Keterberg was destroyed by Van's hyperresonance machines. Well, Saphir had probably planned to betray Van before that happened, and that was why Van hadn't let Saphir try to use Van's power as a Yulian to recall Gelda's soul from the fon belt into a replica body until Van's plan was complete. If he'd ever intended to.
Saphir hadn't had any more chance in a battle of wits against Van than he'd had of winning against Jade.
"Except you. You're still that same kid, tagging along on Jade's heels." For a moment, Peony wanted to be that same kid, following Jade because he'd never imagined that people like this could exist and he'd wanted to keep following to see what happened next, all the amazing things in this wide world. "Or that's what I like to say, but you've changed. Dist the Reaper might have started out as just a costume." Saphir taking a leaf from Peony's book. "But you got swept up in it."
"It's Dist the Rose, dammit!" Saphir said, clearly having said it so many times that it was reflex by now.
"Jade kept track of your unit, you know. Military intelligence. Then there's all those replicas." That Dist had helped to create, and doom. "Want to tell them that you're not Dist the Reaper?"
"It wasn't… It wasn't supposed to be like that."
"Wasn't it? The way I heard it, replicas were meant to be killed. Bring back an original, kill a replica: isn't that how it works?" Isn't that what you were going to do to someone with Gelda's face? "But you know more about it than I do."
"They wouldn't have existed long enough to have a personality. And their memories would have remained, so it's… Not the same thing. At all," Saphir said, and Saphir knew Peony knew he was lying. "Dear Jade sounded just like you, you're…You've changed him, you've stolen him."
"He's changed, but he wouldn't say I deserved any credit." He'd say it was Luke, although not by name. "He's worked hard, to change. And steal him? Please. Although there's a thought." Tying him up, hauling him off: that might be fun.
Wicked grins made Saphir sputter, which got him angry again instead of looking empty around the edges, beginning to realize how empty his life was. He'd held on to a precious illusion, and what did he have now that it was gone?
He had Peony, and Jade was trying to learn how to be there for people, even annoying ones. Reading between the lines of what Jade said, and what Luke had said in that diary of his, the one that had been published, he was doing amazingly well. For Jade.
"You're not the only one that misses those days." Missed when Jade had been the golden child, a jagged sharp brilliance like the icicles that hung around outside, like Jade himself, in the wilds where the wind howled, as cold and inhuman as his eyes. Both of them would make you shiver.
"I knew there was something strange about that place," Jade said as the door closed behind him, removing his uniform with movements practiced well enough to be as precise as fontech. "The field of selenias was still there. I wonder if they'll die now that the clump of fonons has manifested." They'd starve to death without enough fonons to feed on, like every other selenia plant in the world. Tataroo wasn't a planetary fon slot anymore: the sephiroth was deactivated along with the planet storm.
The 'clump of fonons?' "He has a name, you know."
"He has two," Jade corrected Peony, heading for the bed with sharp, quick steps.
"And if he took back Luke's name, his name would be mud." Peony followed, watching him. "Tear would kill him if you didn't."
"This isn't… This isn't something to joke about," Jade said, almost harshly, then stopped walking. "I'm sorry."
"Rough day." Peony put his hand on Jade's back.
"They all wanted me to explain it to them." Explain why Luke was dead and not coming back, even though Asch had died first. Force Jade to relive his plans to revive Nebilim, his realization of the lives this cost, the knowledge that Luke (the closest thing he would ever have to a son, the child he'd watched grow up just like Nephry, failed just like Nephry) was going to die, just like Nebilim, just like the other example he'd had of how to be human, and there was nothing he could do.
Peony could imagine how he'd torn into them with mocking insults, of them and of himself, to hide that the questions really did make him angry, the memories really did make him hate himself.
Luke was dead, and Professor Nebilim was dead, and neither of them was ever coming back.
There was nothing to do but wrap his arms around Jade and tell him that, "I'm here."
He was glad that his chest was pressed to Jade's back, that his cheek was pressed against Jade's. That he couldn't see Jade's eyes.
They were brown now. After all this time, it was hard to think of Jade's eyes as anything but red. The Necromancer's eyes had been red, the monster's in human form, but now Jade's were a brown, surprisingly warm, amazingly human, far more human than when they had been brown the first time.
Jade had learned from Luke, after all, how to realize what he was feeling, how to show his emotions, and as grateful to the kid as Peony was for it?
Jade was the ice of Mt. Roneal, cold and deadly and pristine. He wasn't supposed to feel, cry, ache. Peony didn't want him to. He wanted Jade to be alright, to be happy, or probably mostly happy, the way he had been when it was just the four of them and the Professor, before life had torn the other two away and he'd barely been able to keep a hold of Jade.
He'd always had a fondness for games, masks, illusions and pretend. Like pretending to be a simple student, one that could play in the snow with his friends.
When Jade was the monster, he could tell himself that Jade was alright. That Nebilim hadn't hurt him. That Hod hadn't. That Nephry's rejections hadn't. That the use of replica technology and the loss of Luke hadn't. Of course Jade was alright, Jade was Jade.
He'd known better, all along. He'd known that Jade was human.
He still missed those red eyes.
Even if the brown were no less beautiful.