A/N: Aaaand we have reached the end of our journey here. I'm so happy that I took the time to write this, because multi-chapter Emil and Richter is fun stuff! After this, methinks I need a heavy dosage of fluff though. I happen to be way too serious sometimes for my own good. All the same, I hope you guys enjoyed this. Thanks to all who read and reviewed; as always, I love getting feedback and having people read my crazy ramblings. Keep that Emil/Richter love thriving!
"Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns! Earth's returns for whole centuries of folly, noise, and sin! Shut them in with their triumphs and their glories and the rest! Love is best." Robert Browning, Love Among the Ruins.
It was strange how different time seemed when there was too much of it. Emil couldn't quite say when he lost his awareness of the hours and days and years that were passing; all he knew was that before he realized what was happening, it became indistinguishable. Little by little the urgency that had possessed him during his first and only year on the surface disintegrated completely into the mindless flow of life, and he began to exist as he once had before, back when he was a part of Ratatosk, living only to guard the world from any harm that it might face. As long as he had his task set in front of him, he needed nothing else to occupy his time or thoughts; nothing, that is, but the sound of Richter's labored breathing coming from behind him, a constant and soothing reminder of what awaited him if he stayed true to his purpose.
After seven hundred years spent in the Ginnungagap, Richter had lost consciousness. Even with Emil's protection over him, there was only so much his mind and body could tolerate without succumbing to its exhaustion. Although there was no doubt in Emil's mind that he would last long enough for the door to be sealed properly, he still mourned the fact that he could not pull Richter away from the source of his pain and give him reprieve. In the end, they were both bound to finish what they had started. Anything else would have to come after their world was secure, and true time returned to them, bringing back the notion of precious hours and days and years to spend together, urgent moments that would pass yet never fade. Until then, Emil had been forced to reconcile himself to the remaining three hundred years of Richter's silent slumber while he worked alone to reawaken him to a new and better world.
With this in mind, he worked steadily onward until the advent of the thousandth year. Though he had no knowledge of how much time had passed, he was able to sense when his work was coming to its close from the changes appearing in the Ginnungagap. As planned, mana was pooling steadily into the door, allowing the strain on Richter's body to recede. The sacred fire that shrouded him had also dimmed, and his tired breath at last evened out. When Emil sent a final burst of power to draw the last of the mana away from the world that no longer required it, he knew it was finally over. The mana now covered the entirety of the door and sealed it without crack or flaw. The demons of Niflheim were securely held at bay, and there was no chance of them ever corrupting the world with their evil again.
The moment Emil's work was complete, Richter's body fell away from the door and slumped to the ground. Emil was at his side at once, cradling his body and resting Richter's weight against his shoulder.
"Richter," he whispered, his voice dry and hoarse from all the years it had gone unused. Power glowed from his hands, and he pressed them gently against Richter's temples, willing him to feel his strength and find his way back to the world he had been lost to for so long. "P-please come back to me. We did it. It's time to wake up."
As Emil tended to Richter, he heard the barrier that sealed the Ginnungagap from the Otherwordly Gate being lifted. Surprised, he glanced over to the place where Lloyd, Marta, and all the others had returned to the surface a thousand years ago when he made the choice to accept his duties as a Summon Spirit. A small and aged man with long white hair and an unexpectedly youthful stride entered the room, his eyes first fixed on the sealed door and then on Emil and Richter. A crooked smile grew on his face as he looked down on them. "You know," he said in familiarly aggressive voice, "you might want to pack on a few muscles before you attempt to help him out of here. The way you are now, you won't make it two steps without collapsing. Still a weakling, huh? I guess some things never change."
Emil's eyes widened as the memories of his history with this being flooded him. "Ratatosk?" he gasped, trying to find the familiar spark buried under the mask of age. "Is that you?"
"Of course, you idiot. What, you can't see me through a few wrinkles?" Laughing, he shifted his form back to the red eyed version of Emil's. "I found it helpful to go through the aging process several times on the surface. It's easier than explaining the whole Summon Spirit thing to people."
A million questions bombarded Emil's mind, and he picked one at random. "Is everything all right up there?" he asked.
"As all right as can be expected," Ratatosk said, folding his arms across his chest. "Humans are still humans. They've had more than their share of wars, and the world is very different now from the one you left. But your task succeeded, and there is no longer competition for mana or instability in nature. The World Tree is flourishing, and its guardians are protecting it to the utmost of their abilities." Ratatosk paused, looking again at Richter. "You shouldn't stay here. He needs fresh air and food, or he won't last much longer. If you adjust your form a bit, you'll be able to carry him outside to the Rheaird I've left out there for you. It's been programmed with directions to a place you can stay for the time being, and you'll be able to take care of Richter there."
"You can do that to Rheairds now?"
"You can do a lot of things you never dreamed of doing back then. I told you that it's different now. With every generation, new minds with new ideas are born, and the world changes with every philosophy they bring to it. I hate to give those humans credit for anything, but they are fascinating to watch at least. You'll see for yourself soon enough."
"A lot of things have changed then."
"Naturally. Names for places have changed, and the two worlds that were once seperate have blended together. You'll probably even find the descendants of some of your old friends roaming about if you look hard enough." Ratatosk shook his head. "But none of that matters right now. I didn't come here to talk. I came to work. Now take your friend and enjoy what time you have while you still have it. You do no one any good by wasting it here."
"B-but there is so much I need to ask you. I still don't know what to expect."
"I understand that, you know. When you reach the house, I've left some journals for you to read to catch up with the things that happened while you were away. For now, that will have to be enough. Don't forget that you will be returning to me before long. We will have all the time in the world to speak of these things then."
Emil nodded and turned back to Richter. Drawing on his power, he made himself strong enough to hoist him on his back and carry him away from the Ginnungagap. Ratatosk's eyes followed them with a look torn between envy and sadness, and he waved them off without another word. Emil considered lingering and drawing more information from him, but Richter's flagging breath against his neck told him that now was not the time. He had waited so long to have this man at his side without bitterness or duty standing between them, and his idle curiosity meant nothing in the face of the greater force that called him away from his door and back up into the light of the surface.
The Rheaird- if that was what you could the thing that had transformed into something much more complicated and sleek than the Rheairds Emil had been familiar with- took the two of them to a small island in the middle of the sea where a small cottage rested against the outskirts of the beach. In the distance, Emil could see a waterfront town jutting from the horizon, but he could not discern enough detail to guess where he was. It didn't much matter, at the moment. Richter was regaining his color, but he was not yet as well as he should be. Emil once again hoisted him onto his back and carried him into the house to lay him down on the bed.
In the kitchen there was a spout for water, so Emil filled him up a glass and rooted around the cupboards for some food for him to eat once he had regained consciousness. Ratatosk had left them more than enough to survive on before they would need to go into town and purchase supplies for themselves. Emil made a mental note to search the house for gald, if that was even what they were using these days for currency. If the amount Emil had managed to amass that single year on the surface was any indication, he was certain Ratatosk had some massive treasure trove hidden somewhere in the cottage.
Once Richter was settled in, Emil rooted around to find the journals Ratatosk had mentioned back in the Ginnungagap. He still hungered for answers to his questions on the changes in the world he'd returned to, and wanted at least a general idea to pass on to Richter when he woke up in a drastically altered landscape, Emil discovered them stacked to an impressive height in the study adjacent to the bedroom, each with dates sloppily inscribed on the front cover. He chose the earliest volumes and settled himself in the chair on the porch to enjoy the long absent sunlight as he read.
The first entries were curt and to the point, exactly what Emil would have expected from the abrasive Ratatosk. He spoke of how Marta had kept a journal during what he referred to as his 'time as that wimp Emil,' and how she had asked him to keep one for the aforementioned wimp so he would know all that had come to pass during his absence. Ratatosk had apparently been very resistant to this idea, and Emil, remembering how he had blatantly neglected the task of journal keeping while he was in Ratatasok mode, wasn't at all surprised to hear this. His writing also carried an extra note of bitterness through the next few pages especially because he seemed to think Marta's request proved that she was already longing for Emil rather than him, and that she could not bear not to involve his memory in some aspect of their lives.
'I don't think she'll ever forget you,' Ratatosk wrote, his words sharp and accusatory. 'She says she's happy I'm here, but I think she would have been just as happy if it had been you. Even locked inside the Ginnungagap, you're nothing but a pain, do you know that?'
As the entries progressed, Ratatosk grew more open and passionate in his descriptions. It was clear that he was really beginning to enjoy life on the surface. He talked of visiting Meltokio to fight in the Colosseum and seeing the rebuilt Ozette for the first time with Presea, who was finally growing taller and looking more her age. He wrote often of his travels, which took him from Mizuho, where Sheena was working hard to lead her people, to Exire, where Genis and Raine were working hard to find a way to return the half-elves to the surface. When Marta and Brute submitted to arrest for crimes the Vanguard had committed, he rambled on and on in his anger so vividly that Emil felt equal anger welling in his heart. When Zelos used his power as Chosen to grant the Lualdis an early release, Ratatosk took her away to Altamira and built her a home- this very cottage- on the seaside.
'She has so many bad memories of this place,' he wrote, 'so the least I can do is give her something good in return'.
On and on the stories went in that fashion. A stable government in Sylvarant began to organize with Widow Dorr at its head, Lloyd the Great and Colette the Chosen married and formed the most intellectually stunted couple in history, half-elf persecution slowly died away, and all traces of exspheres vanished in Sylvarant and Tethe'alla. Emil read and read of these things until he reached the page he had most been dreading. It was blank but for the date in black ink and a few words beneath it that read, 'I am told that there will be other people I will meet to heal the wound of what I have lost, but never again, even though I have hundreds and hundreds of years awaiting me here, will I find anything powerful enough to soothe the pain of living without her'. The entries did not resume until weeks after Ratatosk had written the words on the page, and his former note of complete happiness thereafter was permanently subdue.
Emil set aside the book and gazed out into the waters of the ocean. The fact that life had gone on without him was beginning to sink in. He was in Altamira now, but he didn't even know if it was still called by that name. And no matter what it was called, it wasn't the place he knew or even the place Marta and Ratatosk had lived together. Time had changed it, erasing their footprints and painting over them with new lives and new heroes whose quests drew them down the same paths with different purposes. The world was not his world anymore, but a stranger he would have to reacquaint himself with little by little.
He glanced back towards the house where Richter was sleeping. He wasn't unhappy to be here. It didn't matter what the world was, as long as they both were still here, still themselves. Like Ratatosk, there was only one person in all the world who could complete his happiness, and as long as they were together, the world could change at much as it liked. It didn't matter what was there, as long as there was, and always would be, love to fall back on.
When Richter awoke, he found himself in a room he had never seen before. At first he thought he must be dreaming. He knew he was doomed to the Ginnungagap, and all else was a sick fantasy of his mind made to deny his reality. But somehow this place felt so real. The mattress was soft and warm against his back, his eyes were heavy with sleep and exhaustion, and his throat was dry and hoarse. He lifted up his head. There was a sandwich and glass of water waiting for him on the bedside table, alongside the used up and useless Sacred Stone that had consumed him for years upon years. Richter lifted it up, and then quickly placed it back onto the table as if he feared he would burst into flames all over again. He instead turned his attention to his food and drink, polishing off both in a matter of seconds. It felt so wonderful and strengthening that he could not deny he was truly awake now. He had no idea where he was or why he was here, but anywhere was a relief if it meant that his duties as a seal to the Ginnungagap would never be resumed.
"Emil?" he called out tenatively, swinging his legs out of bed. He thought he would feel much more empty without his mana, but he was surprised to find he felt as hale and strong as ever. Emil had done his job thoroughly for such a bumbling screw up. Where was he, anyways? Richter felt a sudden and foreign burst of longing for the feel of Emil beneath his hands, steady and constant. He felt lost and intrusive in his surroundings, and he needed something to clutch onto that he knew and understood and, grudgingly, loved. What was the point of being here otherwise? He had been ready to die; he lived only because Emil asked him to.
Richter stepped quietly through the hallways and out through the front door. The sun was so bright that it almost blinded him for a moment, but he shielded his eyes and caught his bearings. He saw Emil curled up on a rocking chair, staring pensively out into the rushing ocean that surrounded them, his green eyes absent and far away. Richter took him in for a moment, reminding himself of the form he had not laid eyes on for so long. The soft blonde hair, the flushing cheeks, the slight frame, the small, warm hands. He felt his throat close up, removing his power of speech. This was the exact thing he had given his life for. This was the only familiar sight in the world that he needed to feel the will to live. This poor creature had sacrificed so much for him, and Richter had never given him anything worthwhile in return, dealing out much more pain than the affection the boy had always desired. But now at last was the time to make amends. They had the time now. The time for sorrow and forgiveness and rebirth. The time for love.
"Hey," Richter said when his voice returned to him. "There you are."
Emil leapt to his feet in surprise, upending the stack of books he had surrounding him. His eyes frantically scanned Richter's body for signs of weakness, but the vivid blush on his cheeks told Richter that more than anything he was happy to hear his voice again after one thousand years of silence.
"Richter!" he cried, hurrying toward his side. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Although I would have expected to wake up to the sight of you rather than find you out here, reading the day away while I needed your care."
Richter was only teasing him, but Emil hung his head in shame, looking mortified. "You're right. I'm sorry."
Richter couldn't help it. He burst into laughter, roughly pulling Emil close and ruffling his already rumbled blonde hair with his hands. Emil's eyes widened as Richter continued to chuckle at his expense. It was only the second time he'd ever heard Richter laugh, and the sound of it was so beautifully strange that he had no idea what to say to it.
"What is it?" he at last demanded, smoothing his hair back in place. "What's so funny?"
"You're still sorry," Richter said, smiling in spite of himself. "After all these years, you're still sorry."
"I can't help it, Richter. You always manage to make me feel guilty."
"Of course. Of course. I'm glad to hear it. I'm glad you're still the same. I don't know what I would have done if you weren't."
"B-but I thought the way I was always used to annoy you. You hated when I apologized to you."
"Yeah. Maybe. But you know better than anyone else that I don't put up with things I can't stand. So why am I still here with you, after all this time?"
"I... don't know?"
"Of course you don't. You're still an idiot. And here I am still putting up with you."
He lowered his head and closed the distance between them, bringing their lips together. Emil was still holding back on him, he knew, but Richter had been denied for so long that he couldn't help but take and take and take until Emil sank willingly into him. He pushed against Emil like a man dying of hunger, reawakening himself to the taste that had become a sweet and distant memory until it returned to him so real that it resounded across every inch of his body. Emil whimpered into his lips with a cry so sincere and helpless that Richter could not wait for him any longer. He drew away and grabbed Emil's hands to pull him forward. "To bed," he said gruffly, leading the way.
"B-but!" Emil stammered, his face hot and his eyes half glassy with emotion. "You just woke up! M-maybe your body isn't ready for this yet."
Richter pushed him down into the sheets and leaned over him, pressing his hands against Emil's flushed cheeks. "I think both yours and mine are completely ready," he whispered back before rejoining their lips. With a strangled sigh, Emil's resistance faded into nothing as he allowed himself to give into the longings that invaded him. Rejoining the world could wait, but this couldn't. The of them had waited for so long that they could not be denied this moment, this first of many times they would take each other without the lingering threat of bitterness for the past or the fear of betraying the feelings of others.
Emil trembled slightly beneath him, and Richter paused to place a gentle hand against his face. "Are you afraid of me?" he asked, turning the boy's face so their eyes were locked together.
"N-no. Not you. You're the only thing I know right now. I think what I'm afraid of is everything else. Everything that will come after this."
"Don't worry about that. It's all in the future. Let's just focus on now, all right?"
He pressed his mouth against Emil's neck, feeling the heartbeat pulsing underneath his skin. He couldn't say how long any of this would last. Nothing was permanent, not even the world they lived in that felt so endless and indestructible. But what did it matter how much time they had or what they would do with that time before it reached whatever end it would find? It was just enough that they had it, and that it could branch out in whatever directions they chose. As long as they believed in it with their hearts, they could make a life wherever they chose, on whatever terms they desired in the precious time they had.
"All right," Emil echoed, at last submitting to the moment. "Let's begin."