Identities can change, but scars are forever. [Iris/Dent. Game-verse, but slightly AU. Rated for descriptions of rape and violence.]
He put on his best smiles. For the customers, for the show, and for her.
She came over during the winters, when everything was bleak and cold and can only be melted away with a warm cup of tea. She walked in through the front doors alone, a soft fur mantel resting over her small shoulders. She boldly walked onward and curiously eyed her surroundings; his brother Cress walked forward to greet her and assign her a seat. From his spot by the bar, his breath immediately hitched when he saw her. He almost dropped his tray.
She's grown a bit, he noticed. She's still petite and her eyes are as large and lustrous as ever, but there's a new level of maturity to the way she walks, talks, and holds herself. Her hair flowed behind her freely, and he thought he saw a flower affixed over her ear, but he couldn't be sure from where he stood. Her olive skin had a scarlet glow to it. She finally sat down and smiled kindly to Cress, making her order. He watched her lips; she ordered Pechadew Tea, with a plate of vanilla biscotti. If there was one thing about her that hadn't changed, it was the benevolence she exuded.
Time had brought him forward as well; he's refined, handsome, and skilled with his line of work. It wasn't so long ago that he had achieved the position of an S-Rank connoisseur alongside his brothers. As far as being gym leaders went, they had improved considerably over the years, but he knew that it would take a thousand more before he could even be compared to her.
It was fascinating, and almost heartbreaking, to watch her grow up from a distance. He constantly heard her stories of a prodigious child, of the girl who became a gym leader of Opelucid City at such a young age. It broke his heart to know that her tiny, soft hands would never again touch his face in the way they used to.
"…Your execution is scheduled to be three days from now. That is all."
The message struck him cold. He never knew how powerful death could be, but after hearing those words he immediately understood. He and his brothers led a roguish life, nothing but pillaging and killing and deceiving the foolish day after day. Anyone who lived lives as pitiful as theirs always dared to try their luck in Opelucid City, with its talks of brilliant treasures hidden behind its gates.
But Opelucid was ruled by an iron fist. They were arrested as soon as they had arrived; of course they had their ties with the Team Plasma faction, but they didn't expect it to attract Drayden's attention so quickly. After being recognized as regional enemies, they were immediately designated for execution. The moment they were thrown into their respective jail cells, they accepted defeat and the fact that they had failed Ghetsis, their god, as well as themselves.
Is this how it's going to end? he thought to himself.
He looked up from his knees and into the darkness in front of him. His thick white tresses fell in front of his eyes. The faint light of the torch outside his cell cast bold lines of shadow on the floor, almost reaching his feet. The stone floor was cold and damp under his skin, and he found sick reassurance in the feeling. He'd learned to appreciate discomfort. It came hand in hand with accepting his doom.
There was a puddle on the floor. He did not remember how it got there, but he scooted next to it and peered down at his reflection. A pale face looked back, the bottom half covered by black cloth. Striking green eyes were the only clear features, while stark white hair framed the sides. The face of the damned. This was what they were. The other side of the coin.
During those dark times, they were only known as the Shadow Triad.
She came in every day that week, either by herself or with a baby Axew in tow. She ordered the usual, and if a gym match took place then she stayed longer to watch. He kept his distance, only coming as close as to refill her glass while her head was turned. He quietly stayed in the sidelines, trying to look busy but always keeping his eye on her, observing and hoping and wishing. It was painful for him. He watched her by the bar while she observed Chili's ongoing battle. He busied himself with tending to the vase of daffodils at the bar, even though they'd had more than enough water. It's only when he looks down at the reflective surface of his tray when he realizes that he's frowning.
Stop looking so sad, he told himself. It's not something a connoisseur would do. It's not something Cilan would do.
He took a deep breath. He relaxed his muscles, letting the corners of his fine lips lift upward almost naturally. He glanced back into the tray. He saw a sharp young man with chartreuse hair, and on his face a soft, honest grin.
It hurt to lie. Even to himself.
He woke up to her. His eyes would fly open and he'd roll over in the cot to see her little face between the cell bars, blinking at him twice before setting down the food tray and disappearing into the darkness.
He ate all of the food and sat cross-legged beside the bars and waited for her, hoping that finishing the meals would help prompt her return.
He often conversed with his brothers when he felt lonely. They were held in their own separate cells, out of each other's sights. They shared a few quiet words amongst themselves, including their thoughts on the execution or on the time of day (one of them had a window in their cell; around then it was nearing dusk). They solemnly concluded that this was their fate, and they accepted in unison the fact they were going to die. But it was death in the name of Lord Ghetsis, the man who gave them everything. At the time, it was enough of a reason to die for.
They immediately became silent when the door at the end of the hallway creaked open. They didn't want to give the guards another excuse to whip them, and the brutes never passed up the opportunity. Instead, small footsteps pattered down the stone floor, quickly at first but slowing down timidly when it grew closer. He held his breath, daring not to look through the bars. He stared indifferently at the opposite wall, and the footsteps stopped outside his cell as he had expected. He turned to face the intruder just before his tray was set down.
He'd never met a girl like her before. She had clear, olive skin that looked soft to the touch and large chestnut eyes he knew he would never forget. In that moment he was caught in her gaze, an encounter that made his chest swell and his heart race. The only thing he could do was look away, flushed.
He began to eat right away. She stayed, which he didn't anticipate on. She squatted beside the bars and eyed him curiously but kindly, as if she were observing an animal in its cage. Amusing for her, but degrading for him. Did being so close to a criminal thrill her that much?
"…I was wondering what you looked like behind that mask," she told him. She smiled at him faintly yet kindly, and he felt that he didn't deserve it.
"We're criminals," he murmured. "No one wants to know what the face of a killer looks like."
He continued to eat in their hushed silence. She stared down at the damp stone floor from between her knees when she said her next words.
"But you're just a child, like me."
He chewed before answering. "Me and my brothers killed, stole from, and betrayed people from all over the region. We had attempted to steal a treasure of your state, and because of that we'll die. On top of that, this was our choice. We don't need any consolation."
She looked up at him, speaking calmly, "I'm not trying to console you, I'm just saying that… it's sad. It's not right." She looked away, towards the door. "But justice is justice. Drayden is only trying to uphold it. Sometimes you can seem like the nicest person in the world and still crack under temptation." She dared to look at him again, speaking more softly. "You let the darkness embrace you."
Her face became pouty. Flustered, but not in a charming sort of way. She knew her game well, and she jumped to the Spartan Mayor's defense without question. She believed in justice. In him. He figured he had no chance of swaying her to be on his side, and all hopes of him ever escaping death had gone out the window.
But he looked forward to her company in the future. She gave him something to think about for the next two days.
"What's your name?" he asked her.
He started to arrange music shows every Saturday night at the Striaton Gym. He and his brothers agreed that it would make a great addition to the atmosphere, and if any of the local musicians weren't available, he didn't mind putting on a show with his own violin. He was proud to say that he'd finally mastered it after years of practice. Chili had taken up the keyboard upon much convincing by him, while Cress had tried out his luck with the clarinet.
He liked music. It kept his mind off of stressful thoughts and put it in a more tranquil state. He liked feeling uplifted and bold, which was what the sound of the violin invigorated him with.
But he found a new purpose to play. As he got up on the stage under the glare of the spotlights, he positioned the instrument in the crook of his neck and played, knowing that she was somewhere amongst the filled tables, watching him. He played in a way that he knew would make her smile, and he hoped that she would get something from his music, be it warmth, satisfaction, or a spark of truth. When he played, he rooted his emotions and music on the past, which they had both, once upon a time, shared together.
He wanted her to remember. But he would have done anything but tell her about the time they had first met, or the person he really used to be. He couldn't just tell her. Instead, he wanted to incite those memories through feelings and emotion. Through that, by some chance, she'd remember him, after all the years that have changed and molded him into to someone completely different.
He received large amounts of praise from the audience, often getting full houses on most nights, but it barely mattered to him. He looked for her in the crowd, wishing for her to be the one to speak to him and shake his hand after each of his performances. But she only got up to leave the gym as soon as his shows ended, with nothing but a faint smile on her face.
Sometimes he wanted to give up. After another night of performing, he retired to his dressing room, feeling somewhat dejected. He lounged about his couch for a while, thinking, then finally deciding to change and return to his apartment. He threw open the closet and removed his satin vest, and then proceeded to unbutton his shirt, simply letting it slide off and onto the floor. He glanced up at the mirror for a moment, his brow tensing at the brief sight of scars that ran up and down his chest. Some thin, some wide and once blistering, each of them holding a memory he wanted to forget. He wished he could shed his skin, to rid himself of these sins and impurities of the past, but no amount of makeup and surgery could cover that.
He glanced at the brand that was imprinted on his right abdominals. A faint rendition of a "P" and a "Z", imprinted on a black and white shield in electric blue. Proof that his soul had once belonged to someone else.
When his eyes focused on the door behind him, he saw a sight that threatened to stop his heart. Peeking through the door ajar was a small face framed with violet locks; a pair of large chestnut eyes widened considerably before the face withdrew. He had no idea how to react. He slipped on his shirt again and hastily buttoned it up, careful to hide the scars. He slowly opened the door, nearly jumping at the sight of her still standing there.
She was still much smaller than him, but they both had their time to grow. He found her much lovelier up close, her large, lustrous eyes trying to swallow him whole and her small lips quirking at the sight of him so close. He noticed the bright blush on her cheeks and tried not to blush himself; it seemed that they were both breathless at the sight of each other. He heard the crinkle of paper and looked down at her hands, which held a generous bouquet of white gardenias, which she offered up bashfully.
"I'm sorry for coming in like this. I went next door to get some flowers after your show, but by the time I came back you were already heading back stage. I didn't want to wait until tomorrow. I-I hope you like them."
He took the bouquet from her small hands, his larger ones grazing over hers unexpectedly under the paper. It sent a jolt of electricity through his body, which caught him off guard for only a moment. It amazed him how spontaneous these feelings could be. He closed his eyes and took in the scent of the gardenias, smile relaxing.
"They're beautiful, Iris. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Cilan." She chuckled nervously. "I never usually do stuff like this… Anyway, I'm going home this Monday, so I wanted to give you something before leaving. You're very talented, Cilan."
So, she would be leaving soon. But to share this moment of closeness with her was enough for him. He thanked her again before they said their goodbyes, and she left while he withdrew into the dressing room. He put the gardenias in a vase on the windowsill, and he flopped onto his couch, clouded over with mixed emotions, telling himself, This is enough. This is as far as you'll ever get with her.
But he left his door unlocked out of sheer hope. Of course it wasn't enough. He needed her.
The guards rushed into the cell unexpectedly. They grabbed the back of his neck and pinned him face first into the cold floor of the cell. A blindfold was looped around his eyes and mouth, gagging him. He writhed, screaming in protest as they bound his arms in front and lifted up the back of his shirt as far as it could go. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't see their faces.
He heard his brothers calling for him from their cells, begging for the guards to let them contemplate death in peace; the brutes did nothing of the sort. They yanked at his hair to stop his struggling, and when he didn't pay heed they cracked a whip on his back. He could feel the hot blood run down his spine, a contrast of cold skin and sweltering liquid. He willed himself not to scream. As they struggled to remove his pants, he bit into his lip for dear life until it bled.
This isn't happening. This isn't happening.
His nails scraped against the floor as he was sodomized; it was beyond torturous. It's difficult and painful to think about. It tore him apart to know that he would die a dirty and impure soul. He heard there was a place for people like that.
Just kill me. Just kill me now.
It felt like eternity. He had fallen into a deep trance at some point, because when he woke up, he was alone in his cell, lying curled up on the ground with his clothes severely disheveled. He was shivering. He felt cold, dirty, like he no longer belonged in his skin. He ached and stung everywhere. He was too shocked to even move.
He noticed that the blood that was once pooled on the floor had been cleaned, and his wounds had been wiped as well. It appeared as if it had never happened. But he knew very well that it certainly had.
He heard sniffling somewhere beyond the bars of his cell. He thought it was one of his brothers sobbing, but the sounds were too light for that. His heart stopped when he recognized the voice. Wherever she was, she was somewhere where he couldn't see her, concealed by the darkness. He wanted to call out to her, urge her not to cry over him, but his throat was too sore for him to speak. He only managed to croak helplessly at the darkness.
She couldn't speak as well, but he could sense her stifled sobs and tremors of fear, wherever she was watching him from.
At the sound of her terrified voice, he found himself crying too. He felt even more horrified that a girl as young and innocent as she was had to bear witness to such a hideous crime.
Before leaving the gym that night, he told his brothers, "We're having an end-of-winter ball tomorrow night."
Chili almost spilled his soda. "Tomorrow?! Why so soon?"
"I assume he wants to impress Leader Iris before she leaves," Cress chimed in coolly. "Otherwise the idea is straight out ridiculous."
A blush crept up his face. "Cress, how did you…?"
The blue-haired triplet made his signature shrug-gesture. "It was frightfully obvious. You take every opportunity to stare at her from afar like a lovesick buffoon. Even my Simipour was able to tell."
"But how did you know she would be leaving tomorrow?"
"She told me herself. Goodness, Cilan, you're far too shy for your own good. Now if we want this ball to be a success, we need to call in all of the assistants early tomorrow and order a large shipment of flowers from Nacrene as soon as possible. We need to commission an orchestra, decorators, cooks, entertainers. Chili, can you cover all of that?"
"Err, of course. No problem." Chili hurried off towards the nearest phone, grabbing a phone book off the shelf on his way out of the lounge.
He looked at Cress, at a loss for words. "I suppose I'll go balance the cheque book. But Cress, can we really prepare the gym in time for it?"
"You're the one who brought it up. Of course we'll get things done. Listen." He dropped his voice and moved closer to Cilan, looking down to the side. "Brother, I haven't forgotten what happened in Opelucid. She was the only thing you loved about that place. You deserve her more than anything. But when it comes down to her, she's in your hands. Chili and I will take care of everything; just find a way to get her to attend."
His brothers' kindness gave him newfound hope; he tackled the night with fervor, trying to figure out how to get her to attend without sounding conspicuous.
"Just ask her yourself," Chili told him, running through phone numbers at the desk. "You gotta man up! Otherwise, would she really want to be with you if you don't act like you mean it? If it helps, she's staying at the hotel on Main Street. Just ask for her name and they'll send her whatever message you want. Just steer clear of the media, okay?"
"I understand. Thank you, Chili."
"No probs. By the way, what kind of flowers do you want to order? Since it's from Nacrene, we can order a whole truckload of the same kind, just so you know."
He gave it a lot of thought. He looked upon his extensive knowledge of flowers, which he had gained from working part time at the florist next to the gym. He had learned more than just arranging and caring while working there. He knew flowers down to their very meaning and soul.
"Order Chrysanthemums," he told Chili, confident with his choice. "In white."
He appreciated his brothers' advice. They spoke to him with such fervor that suggested that they had been waiting for something like this to happen for a long time. He wondered if Chili still remembered Iris from Opelucid, but thought it wouldn't be right to ask him. He focused on what he had to do, and he took it to be the most important job divided amongst the three of them.
He hurriedly made his way to the hotel where Iris was staying, thinking over and over about what he would have to say to her. As much as he felt excited, he felt terribly nervous; he had never really asked anyone to go with him to a dance (despite his popularity with the women), even though he was only asking her to simply attend without a hint to his own desires. A million other thoughts clouded his mind, such as What if she refuses? Or, if she's able to come, what will she wear? He debated whether or not to make the ball formal or not, and if it were going to be casual it would have to be lowered to something closer to a dance, which was very unlike a joint of their stature.
When he made the call at the hotel, his heart accelerated considerably when she answered the phone. He had spent the entire walk thinking about what to say, but now that he was confronted with her, words escaped him completely.
"Cilan? Is this you?" She sounded sleepy, as if she had just gotten out of bed, but nonetheless sounded alert and surprised with his call.
"Yes. I deeply apologize for waking you up."
"Oh no, it's fine! I was just lounging about, really. Um… is something the matter?"
"No, everything is fine. I was just calling to ask you something… would you be interested in attending the end-of-winter ball me and my brothers are holding tomorrow night?"
"Yes, tomorrow. Formal attire, all-inclusive, and there's an attendance fee but I'm sure I can make an exception…"
The silence that ensued afterwards made him worry. He was prepared to bang his head against the front desk, convinced that he had been too forward with her, that personally asking her to a ball was enough to give himself away, that—
"Cilan, I'd love to go."
He lifted his head up, eyes wide and glinting in the orange light. "You do? Wonderful!"
"But there's just one problem."
"I didn't exactly bring anything appropriate to wear."
He put a finger to his chin, glancing outside through the hotel doors at the cold streets of Striaton. "I'm sure that's easily remedied. Wait there, don't fall asleep yet. I'll be back."
She chuckled almost nervously on the other end. "What are you up to?"
He grinned softly. "Please wait. You'll see." He hung up before she could say another word.
Only two days remained before his execution. He expected to spend his last hours in peace and silence, but he was overwrought by fear and shame. He couldn't even work up the courage to talk to his own brothers.
He only found refuge in her. All she knew was that something disgusting and horrifying had happened to him, but it was something beyond her comprehension. Nonetheless, she was aware that he was in need of comfort, a safeguard to protect him from the guards that would undoubtedly return for a second time. She was aware that if they saw her sitting by his cell they wouldn't dare to enter, as if she were a dragon coiled at the entrance of its cave, prepared to defend its territory. Nobody would dare to touch the adopted daughter of the Spartan Mayor, after all.
When they were together, they seldom spoke of anything regarding what he had gone through. He found it very difficult to speak, his lips constantly quivering and his voice refusing to project. She never asked him questions. Instead, she told him stories, myths of old that the people of Opelucid knew by heart. She immersed him in her culture, and even though he knew of these legends after being taken in by Ghetsis, to hear these stories in her voice was completely different. It gave him an experience. It took his mind off of things, of his bloody past, his tainted present, and the inevitable future. When she spoke to him, none of that mattered anymore.
He would often lie silently on his cot, watching her round face and large eyes through the bars as she spoke, feeling safe, almost content. There was a moment in time when he used to feel the same way, when he used to be with someone whom he had called "mother", and he knew nothing else in the world but her, his brothers, and the four walls that surrounded him. But of course things had changed since then, maybe even for the worse, but he couldn't trade that moment for anything if it meant he could feel at home again.
"I-I wish I can go outside," he managed to tell her. He lay parallel to the barred wall that separated them. He stared up at the ceiling, imagining he could see they sky that lay beyond it.
"If course you can. Here," he turned his head to face her. Smiling childishly, she lay down beside him, arm going between a gap in the bars to grasp his hand, and she in turn looked up at the ceiling. "Now, close your eyes."
He eased his eyes shut. He felt like a child again.
"Imagine you're lying down on a field of fresh, green grass. The wind is rustling through each blade, through your clothes, through your hair. The sky is a bright, light blue, not a single cloud in sight. The sun is right above you, and you try to shield your eyes from the glare, but you notice something else. There are Cottonee floating through the air above you, dozens of them! It's mating season, and they're going along with the wind, twirling around in pairs, like a mid-air waltz. You wish you could capture this moment in your mind, forever."
She grew silent afterwards. He finally opened his eyes and turned his head to face her. Her expression was somber and humorless.
"I know, it's stupid."
"What are you talking about?" he murmured.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you can't go outside as you like. Even if I ask Drayden, he'd surely object to it. I feel like I'm flaunting around my freedom."
"No. D-don't say that." He squeezed her hand gently. "…The world sounds more beautiful when you describe it."
Her lips quirked as if to say something, but nothing came out. He couldn't tell in the darkness, but he thought he had made her blush.
After a while, she spoke, "Then I hope heaven is just as beautiful."
He had a feeling he wouldn't be going there. He said nothing more.
For the rest of the night they lay that way together. At some point he felt her hand slip out of his, her presence and warmth moving away from him until it disappeared completely. He curled up on the floor, cold and alone, the fear of the guards' return slipping back, but she returned to him before they did. She had something for him.
In her hand was a bright orange flower, with three heart shaped petals spreading out from the stem and three thinner ones jutting out from the center. It had been a long time since he had seen such a bright colour. It was a precious thing, and she told him to keep it, so that it would remind him of the outside. Of the world she had described to him.
"It's an Alstroemeria flower," she said, taking his hands. "The people from my home village call it Dragontongue. A lot of them grow outside my house. If you take this with you to the afterlife – if there really is one – hopefully you'll remember me."
He took the small delicate flower between his two fingers. He took in its scent. Pure and aromatic, like a breath of fresh air compared to the dingy stench of his cell. He looked up from the flower and at her, her face distorting and blurring in his vision. He felt his eyes sting. Were these tears?
"How could I ever forget you?" he said.
He stood alone inside the elevator, bouncing on his heels out of sheer excitement with a hint of nervousness. In his arms was a large gift box tied together with gold ribbon, and he held it close to himself as if it were the dearest thing to him. His mind swam with endless thoughts, such as what he was going to say to her and what her reaction would be.
I hope she likes it, he thought, watching the dial on the wall as the elevator neared the tenth floor. He felt ridiculous for running around at midnight trying to pull things together, but he never felt so accomplished in such a long time.
He had no trouble finding her room. He used the directions the secretary had given him, and they brought him to her suite in no time. The hardest part was working up the courage to knock. He smoothed out his hair and clothes, trying to look presentable; when he was sure that he was ready, he tapped lightly on the wooden surface, and his heart began to race when he heard her muffled footsteps behind the door. It swung open to reveal her standing there in a pink bathrobe, and all sense of time flew out the window.
"Cilan." Her eyes looked him up and down, and then focused on the box in his arms. "Oh, you did not…"
"You said you didn't have a dress, so… I went out to get one for you…"
She leaned against the doorframe, head leaning to one side. Her long, violet locks were free from their ties and tassels, and his eyes quickly looked over what he was allowed to see of her thin yet elegant legs.
Then she broke out into a soft smile. "Come in."
He hesitantly followed her inside; he did not anticipate this. His true motive for being there suddenly vanished and he was no longer sure of the existence of the gift box in his arms. Anxiety overtook him. She led him to the small sitting area on front of the large window, which offered a stunning view of Striaton, twelve o-clock in the evening.
"You can put your coat on the chair."
He complied without question, taking off his trench coat and laying it over the edge of the nearest arm chair, and then went to join her where she stood by the window.
"Um… Here is your dress. I think it will suit you well, and if it doesn't fit right I'll have it replaced." He offered her the box.
"Cilan, this is..." She lifted the lid and withdrew the cream coloured gown from within the wrapping paper. Little rosettes dotted the bodice, and fixated on the right shoulder was the fabricated likeness of a chrysanthemum.
She said nothing.
"…Would you like to try it on?" he asked her.
Her expression remained solid. "…Cilan, you need to return it."
He felt the panic rising. "I-is it not you your liking? Would you prefer it in a different colour?"
"Cilan, please stop." He looked up at her face to see tears springing in her eyes, but she pretended they weren't there. She smiled sadly. "The dress is beautiful. But that's just it. The dress, the ball… All of this, it's unnecessary. You don't need to do any of this to impress me."
His green eyes widened, mind spinning into confusion. "H-how did you…?"
"Cress called me while you were gone. When he told me how you're rushing to get this event organized, it became obvious. He even admitted that it was all your doing, and why you are doing it. So I convinced him cancel the preparations."
It was his turn to be upset. He merely stood there in disbelief, unsure of whether to work things out or walk away. He didn't even know what to think of Cress, who had the right mind to interfere. What was he supposed to do?
"What are you saying, Iris? Are you turning me down?" he murmured, dejected. "I… I just want you to be happy."
She slowly took a step closer to him, then another, until her bright brown eyes stared up at him, the closest he's even been to her.
"I already am." Her lips were trembling, and her eyes welled up with tears, but she blinked and they nearly disappeared. "When I found you earlier this evening, I saw your brand in the mirror. I saw the scars all over your body, including the ones on your back. I haven't forgotten what they did to you." Her voice was fearful, but he was impressed with how bold she was to uncover the past they put behind themselves. "I always wondered where you had gone. When I first saw your picture in the Unova trainer handbook, I got this hunch that you were somewhere out there, alive and well. That hunch was confirmed tonight, and since our meeting I couldn't stop thinking about you. I couldn't sleep."
Then and there, everything fell into place. But a part of him forced him to remind her of why things couldn't be. "Iris, I've changed. The person you once knew me to be had died away, long ago. I'm no longer the person you fell in love with in that god forbidden cell. I just thought that… doing these things for you would be enough. That making you happy from afar would be enough for me."
She shook her head, forcing a smile. "It doesn't have to be like that. And who said that I don't admire the person you are now? You're… everything a girl can ask for." She looked to the side bashfully, a hand to her mouth. "What am I doing…?" A faint blush crept up her face, and he hesitantly brought up his pale fingers to stroke the smooth curve of her cheek.
They stood quietly for what seemed like forever, during which Cilan felt his eyelids droop, slipping in and out of consciousness.
"I'm awfully tired, Iris. Thank you, for everything. I… I suppose I'll be going now."
As he turned around to get his coat, her small hands gently tugged back on his sleeve.
The order was quiet yet commanding, and in that moment he could no nothing but oblige.
The summer light was blinding him. His feet felt heavy as he stepped out from the parapets of the prison. It was his first time seeing it from the outside. It was wide and fortress-like, with short slits for windows and medieval crests that sat atop the flat roofs. The sky was a bright blue. To the east he could make out the mountains of Victory Road, where he and his brothers had once spent several weeks scouting.
They had a harsh life, but maybe death would make things better.
They were urged forward by the guards. As a group he and his brothers walked out from the prison doors, hands bound by chains. Their masks were pulled over their faces. His two brothers looked down, eyes calm. Only he looked up at what was before them. In the center of the courtyard was a dense ring of spectators, citizens of Opelucid, he guessed. They jeered at them, scowling, throwing things, breath reeking with hate. Hate for the three of them. He briefly wondered if Iris was watching him, but he didn't want to look for her. It was better if she didn't watch.
At the center of the crowd stood the stage of execution. In the dead center was a raised platform of wood, upon which sat a metal guillotine. He recognized that the blade was made of a Haxorus' tusk, the symbol of justice in Opelucid City. He watched as it grew larger in view the closer they got. He was unable to take its eyes off of it. So this is what's going to kill me, he kept thinking. The walk towards the platform felt like forever, and the warmth of the sun was getting to him. The weather did not seem suitable for such an occasion. He will die with the sun's warmth on his face.
They stopped right below the platform on the guard's order. When he peered over the opposite side he noticed a tall, daunting figure walking towards him, followed by a group of guards, four of which were bound by chains. By the startled looks on their faces and their low muttering, he immediately recognized them as the guards who had violated him two days earlier. The realization came as a shock, and then blossomed into a nearly sinister contentment.
The broad figure in front of them advanced ahead and stopped in front of him, shadow swallowing him up like a tower's. He looked to be someone of high standing, judging by his flowing cape and proud demeanor. Shocks of white hair made up his beard, which curved around his face like a dragon's jaw.
"Iris informed me of the guards who abused you," his voice rumbled, low and stern. "They went against the guards' conduct, and for that they will be punished. They will be executed before your eyes, so that you will die knowing that your violators have been put to justice. Your own execution will follow theirs."
So the Spartan Mayor also had mercy to spare.
His golden irises stared deeply into his own green ones before he slowly turned away, walking back towards the condemned guards. He pushed them onto the platform; the first one was seized by the executioner, and then roughly blindfolded. There were spots of dried blood on the blindfold. Sobbing, his head was inserted through the hole beneath the blade that held his head in place, and several meters above him, the tusks glinted as the device trembled.
The Spartan Mayor stood atop the platform, in front of the panicking guard, and addressed the crowd. "Today we are gathered to witness the execution of a group of prison guards who have gone against my orders." He flung his arm towards the squirming guard. "Under the charges of rape and prisoner abuse, prison guard Marcus and his fellow conspirators will be put to death in the traditional Unovan method of execution. May this be a lesson to anyone who attempts to defy my laws."
With the wave of his hand, the executioner pulled the lever. With a dull click, the tusk came plummeting down, slicing clean through the man's neck. Fresh blood poured over the floor, seeping through the floorboards. The scene played continuously in his mind: the sounds, the fall of the tusk, the stench of blood. The carcass was removed and tossed into a wagon behind the platform, limp like a doll. The guards that followed after were swiftly finished. The Spartan Mayor addressed the same crimes and charges for each one, like a mantra that led to their deaths. The last one was more distraught than the others. He regarded them with utter monstrosity, yelling and cursing at them ("Damn you, you little shit! Fuck the mayor! Fuck everyone here!"). His screams were eventually silenced by the tusks that sliced through his vocal chords. His voice drowned away in his blood.
Silence dominated and ruled. The corpse was soundlessly flung on top of the wagon. Taking this as a queue to continue, the Spartan Mayor faced the crowd, pulling on his cape.
"We will end this gathering with the execution of the captured state enemies."
The guards nudged them forward. He stared at the executioner mopping up the tusk and wood of the guards' blood as he went atop the platform. His racing heart pounded in his ear, but he did not show his fear. He directed his thoughts toward the Alstroemeria flower in his pocket, remembering its orange colour, its meaning. He became slightly relaxed.
When all three of them were gathered on the platform, the executioner removed their masks. The crowd grew restless when their faces were revealed; some cursed on anger, others recoiled in shock. They were just children, after all. He suddenly felt misplaced in their eyes, a mere child who was going to die for a most unbelievable crime.
"The nameless Shadow Triad," the Spartan Mayor bellowed, gesturing at them with his outstretched arm. "With the charges of countless murders, association with the Team Plasma terrorist group, and most of all, for abducting the Black and White orbs, a national treasure valued by our city, these three will be put to death in the traditional Unovan method of execution."
He could do nothing but watch as one of his brothers was nudged forward by the executioner to be blindfolded, with a fresh cloth this time. His brother did not struggle as his head was fitted into the guillotine.
His breaths quickened, his lips a straight line. The blindfold around his eyes grew damp; he was crying.
"I'll see you soon, brothers," he murmured.
She had seen many executions during her lifetime. This was the first one where she wept.
From a window in Drayden's quarters she looked down at the scene below. From where she watched she couldn't tell which of the triplets was him; they all looked so identical, their eye colour being the only characteristic that set them apart. But she couldn't see them clearly from such a high distance. The one being fitted into the guillotine could be him. As Drayden gave his speech, she sank under the window and cried. She buried her head into her arms. She couldn't watch.
This was supposed to be just another execution.
The seconds ticked by. Drayden continued to speak, but his words were muffled and drowned out in her ears. She began hearing things. She heard the familiar sound of a dragon's wings beating through the air, a sound that made her think of her Druddigon, which she had spent her entire childhood with. She was so familiar with the sound, and it brought her some comfort, only… the sounds she was hearing was much different than the wing beats of her Druddigon.
They were lighter and slightly quieter than a Druddigon's wing beats. If she concentrated she could sense that it were not just two wings flapping; there could be about six, flapping at once. With each second they grew louder until it sounded like they were right above her.
It took her only a second to figure out what was happening.
She got up from the floor and stuck her head out of the window, looking up. A dark blue body violently surged down towards the courtyard from the sky above, the force almost sending her back onto the floor. When she recovered she leaned through the window to see what had descended, and immediately recognized the beast when she saw the six wings on its back. Hydreigon. She never thought she'd see one in the flesh.
She stared on with both intrigue and fear of what was transpiring. A jet of blue flames erupted from one of its three mouths, tearing through the wood of the guillotine, rendering it useless. The moment it hit the ground a cloud of black smoke shrouded the courtyard, and she heard the panicked screams of the spectators present. The Hydreigon descended into the darkness, growls ripping from its three mouths. She thought she saw a rider perched at its neck, shouting orders. Amidst the chaos she heard the roar of Drayden's Haxorus, which expelled the black smoke with a burst of Dragon Rage, aimed at the Hydreigon. But the Hydreigon was already ascending by then. On its back sat its rider, a robed man with chartreuse hair, whom she thought looked familiar. Behind him sat the Shadow Triad, unscathed. So in the end, they were rescued from death. She didn't know whether to be relieved or not.
They loomed so close to her window that she thought she'd be able to touch the dragon's snout. Gathering courage, she stuck her upper half outside the window, staring up at the Shadow Triad, trying to make out which one of them was him. But they ascended too quickly for her to follow, and before she knew it they were gone, out of sight, a cloud in the sky. Never to be seen again.
He rolled down beside her onto the sheets, skin slick and body exhausted of all energy. His mussed hair fell in front of his eyes, and he watched her with a tired smile as they both tried to catch their breath.
It was turning out to be a long night. Lovemaking was an act he chose to avoid. He feared the idea, and he was scared that she might hurt him unintentionally or trigger something if they did it. But she was gentle with him and eased him into pleasure with practiced guidance. He found it strange since she claimed it was her first time as well, but she explained to him that it was easy for her to tell how he felt, and what he wanted.
"I'm worried that we aren't taking things slow enough," he murmured, pulling her into his arms.
She snuggled his chest. "Don't worry about it, Cilan. I guess you can say… we're making up for all the years we've spent apart."
He grinned softly. "I rather like it when you put it that way." He skimmed his fingers over the curve of her body, marveling at the contrast between his pale skin with her own chocolate complexion. Her body was small and lithe, but underneath her soft skin was strong bone and defined muscle. Her scent was a calming aroma of exotic oil and flower petals, and he simply wanted to melt in her arms. He snugly drew the covers over them, taking a deep breath and holding her closer.
"Speaking of which, after all these years…" Her eyes peeked up from his chest, "What happened to you after you escaped your execution? What caused you to change your identity?"
His thoughts reverted to a long succession of memories.
"A lot has happened." He looked up, eyes tracing the chandelier that hung over the bed. "For a short while my brothers and I continued to serve Ghetsis, but it was only to tie loose ends. After he was arrested, he renounced us. He told us to serve him no more, and apologized for depriving us of a normal life."
She took a deep breath. "So that man can feel guilt after all…"
"After that, we didn't know what to do. We had built our lives around him, and a servant without his master is nothing but a lost cause. We eventually tried to settle down here in Striaton, going as far as to change our appearances and our personalities.
"The first few years were rough. It's hard to establish yourself when you've suddenly materialized in society, with no working or social experience. We took odd jobs here and there. We eventually began our training as connoisseurs, and after a few years we rooted ourselves into our new lives. We are no longer the Shadow Triad we used to be."
He grew silent. He's never told anyone this much about his life before. He looked at Iris, who had leveled herself so that her face was directly in front of his, so close that their noses touched.
"No, you're not." Her finger traced over the outline of a scar on his chest. "You're completely different from who you used to be." She gently lowered her hand over his abdomen. "…Yet you still have this brand?"
That was true. He wasn't a puppet anymore. He wasn't a slave to someone else's ideals. He was a free man, and life couldn't be better for him. He was in charge of his own life now, and the only person he ever loved was in his arms.
He kissed her softly, gently stroking the side of her face. "You're right, Iris. I think it's about time I let go."
It was two in the morning, and they finally let sleep overtake them both. Outside the window, the lights of Striaton flickered like a celestial garden.
He stands naked on white tiles. In front of him is his bathroom mirror. His reflection stares back at him. Green eyes, chartreuse hair. White skin. Scars everywhere. He glows under the fluorescent light.
In his right hand is a sharpened flint. His heart is pounding in his ear. He closes his eyes; tries to level his breathing. He thinks about his brothers. He thinks about his job, about the sound of a violin. He thinks about the sweet smell of the chrysanthemums sitting by the windowsill. He thinks about Iris and her gentle touch, the ring of her voice and laughter. They are all that matter now.
When he opens his eyes he is ready. He positions the flint over the brand on his abdominal, applying pressure. He presses so hard he cringes. His skin eventually gives way, and there is a slow burst of red, and a dull pain. It's unbearable, but he forces himself to continue, ebbing away the image underneath. Blood blossoms on his skin and trickles down his pale thighs.
In no time the Team Plasma brand is scratched out of existence.
When he is done, he cleans the wound until the bleeding stops. He knows it will leave a nasty scar the size of his palm.
But he feels accomplished, and he relaxes, like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. It is the first scar he's ever given himself, but it is the last one he'll ever get. This is the scar that would mark his freedom.
He rubs his heel on some blood that had gotten on the tiles. When he looks up, there is a smile on his face.
EDIT (22/01/2013): Right after I posted this story about a year ago I never realized how many typos and errors there were until I actually sat down to reread it. And I never thought about updating this fic with the revised copy until several kind reviewers pointed out all the embarrassing mistakes I've made – so here! This should be this fic's FINAL FORM. I hope you found it just as enjoyable as the first draft. :)
Also, a small word for those of you following my other fic Shadowplay: I will complete it. It's just that it's difficult to get the right mojo for writing when you're pooling everything you've got into college and you have a million other things on your mind. Please forgive me! I have most of the second chapter finished so you can expect an update soon.
A/N: To give you some chronological perspective, Cilan and Iris here are in their early twenties. In the flashbacks they are about eight years younger. The Shadow Triad's execution is set four months before Ghetsis' defeat. Yay for timeline manipulation. :)
So there you have it. A much darker take on Iris/Dent. I decided to focus on the idea of the Triplets actually being the Shadow Triad and the moment where their lives are saved by Ghetsis. I don't think this is my best work, but overall I'm glad I was able to finish it. I considered having Iris betray Cilan in the end by telling Drayden the Triplets' real identities, but I decided not to be too cruel.
Here's a list of flowers I used in the story and what they symbolize:
Daffodil – regard and chivalry; unrequited love.
Gardenia – purity and sweetness, and indicate a secret love.
White Chrysanthemum – truth and loyal love.
White Carnation – innocence and pure love.
Alstroemeria – friendship
Iris – eloquence, wisdom, faith.
Coriander (cilantro) – romance, spice.
Liked it? Want to vent out some constructive criticism? Review!