This fic kind of assumes that Kain has been on Mount Ordeals for a couple of years or so at the time he was pulled into Dissidia.
Huge, HUGE thanks to Poisonberries (if you aren't reading The Door of Souls, you really should be), Glynnis and Apathy, who I'll never be grateful enough to for all their cheerleading and beta reading efforts.
This story has four parts, and hopefully will be updated once a week, or at the most once every two weeks.
Kain had never felt completely at home in Order's Sanctuary.
The air always seemed thin and appallingly still – it set his teeth on edge, almost as much as the inactivity he'd been forced to endure these past two weeks while the Warrior of Light was away on patrol. The light in Sanctuary never seemed to fade, and Cosmos was everywhere; even now, with its pale spire still in sight, he could feel her presence drifting on the edge of his consciousness, like a bright light only just visible on the horizon, mild yet intrusive.
Unable to force himself to wait any longer, he'd left the place last night and met the Warrior of Light near the Crescent Lake, knowing he'd cross it on his way back to Sanctuary. Dawn had seemed so far away then, the sky ink-black, and the stars, grown few in recent times, still bright in the sky.
Daybreak did come, though - thawing the freezing earth and creeping across the floor of the cave they ahd spent the night in. The Warrior of Light was usually a light sleeper, but when he did sleep deeply, he slept like the dead. Even the pale yellow sunlight that crept across his face hadn't stirred him.
Kain knew he should wake him; Lightning had been like a caged animal these past two weeks, her desperation to be away from Sanctuary almost palpable, and she would not be happy with any delay to their departure. But even as he watched the sun inch higher over the slate-grey water that surrounded them, Kain could not quite bring himself to wake the Warrior – uninterrupted sleep was a luxury that they were not often afforded outside of Sanctuary's walls. It was too tempting simply to remain for one moment more, then one moment more after that.
Despite his intentions, when he turned away from the mouth of the cave, he found the Warrior's eyes open, watching him.
"Ah," said Kain, moving away from the cave's entrance. "The kraken wakes."
Kain watched as the Warrior's eyes narrowed slightly, and a muscle almost imperceptibly twitched in his neck, as if he was trying to decide whether to turn his head and check that a kraken had not crawled in while he slept. Kain had to swallow a smile.
"You should have woken me," was the first thing the Warrior said as Kain walked towards him. "Is it dawn?"
Closing his eyes, Kain pressed a kiss to the sinew between the Warrior's jaw and collar, momentarily pushing from his mind the inevitable belting on of armour and sharpening of steel that defined so much of his life.
The Warrior was so deft with a sword and shield that Kain had a hard time believing that he'd been anything other than a fighter in whatever world he'd come from, though there was scant evidence of it on his body. Kain could put a name to every mark on it, all of them received since he'd known him. He'd forgotten the origins of his own oldest scars – the Warrior of Light sometimes asked him about them, and Kain had done his best to remember – "Burn from a flan."; "Training accident."; "Cavebat bite."; "Naga. Probably." The only time he'd been dishonest with the Warrior was when he had asked about the thick white stripes that latticed his back; Kain had told him he did not remember where they'd come from, and the Warrior had not pressed him.
Kain sometimes wondered if asking him about these wounds was an attempt to trigger something of his own memories, looking for a story he might have lived himself at some other time, in some other place. If it had worked, the Warrior had never told him – as far as he knew, the Warrior remained without memories, without a past of any kind.
Now, he could see the usual look of mild curiosity on the Warrior's face as he spread Kain's hand flat between his fingers, looking at the single line that ran over his right palm, stark against the dark and calloused skin.
"How did you get it?"
Kain hesitated. "A friend."
The Warrior glanced up. "Sparring?"
"No." Kain swallowed. "It was an oath I swore. Perhaps a foolish one."
Kain almost smiled, the memory bittersweet. Cecil had never been very interested in literature or in reading in general, but once he did find something that caught his attention, he was tenacious with it. After reading some poem on the blood brotherhood of two ancient knights, he'd decided that he and Kain should follow in their footsteps.
For a moment, Kain thought back to that day with Cecil. They had believed themselves to be so grown-up, so knightly and so noble in their boys' blood oath, even as, Kain now realised, they had no idea what it was they were swearing to uphold. The ideals of knighthood were not its realities, and Kain wondered if Cecil had ever thought back to that day when he was alone in his room and asked himself where their childish dreams had gone.
It seemed like such a long time ago. They had been so young, feeling so much like the men they weren't, and Rosa had never looked more beautiful, and, he thought, she had never smiled quite like that at him before. The life he had imagined for himself that day could not have been more different than the one he had actually led.
Kain removed his hand from the Warrior of Light's grip, turning it over and hiding the scar in his fist. "I was a child. I didn't understand what swearing an oath meant."
"I'm sure you honoured it well."
Kain almost had to smile, though the humour in it would have been sour - as if the Warrior could know just how badly he'd failed to uphold it. Perhaps it had been doomed from the start – tradition held that the cuts should be made to the hand that held the weapon, but he and Cecil had done it wrong, and the cuts had ended up on their off-hands instead. As if that had not been enough, Kain's cut had become infected, but he'd been too proud to go to a healer about it; instead, Rosa had noticed it and taken him aside. He had started to give her a reason for not going to have the wound cleaned, but she shook her head. Dragoons don't make excuses, she'd said, her tone stern but her mouth smiling, the echo of her reprimand to him the first day he and Cecil had met simply a joke between them now.
For a moment, Kain almost had to close his eyes at the image of Rosa's golden hair, so vivid in his mind, head bent over his hand while the cool healing magic seeped from her warm fingers, moving over his palm.
How could he have ever wanted someone else in any capacity so long as he knew Rosa existed? But his love for Rosa had been a stillborn thing, something that he could never give expression to in any meaningful way. Of course, he'd given her things when they were young; he and Cecil had competed over who could pick the most flowers for her, or he'd begged her to let him wear her scarf in game matches against Cecil, but Rosa had always known how to walk that line and brought one token for Cecil and another for him. She'd always done her best to smile just as hard when it was Cecil who ended up flat on his back in the dirt. But time had revealed the truth, as it always did: Kain often wondered when exactly he had realised that he knew, or if he had always known and had buried it in some deep and silent part of his mind until it could no longer be ignored.
He'd believed he'd found a way to quell, or at least to suppress, the burning feeling in his chest when he'd realised that Rosa had begun to seek out Cecil alone to say her goodbyes before they went into battle. Even now, in this foreign world, when he thought of it, he had to close his eyes and swallow past the sudden clench of his throat.
Kain pressed his lips again to the slow, steady pulse in the Warrior's throat, pushing the thoughts away; he was no longer in Baron, and Rosa was not here… but the Warrior of Light was. Kain didn't know exactly how he'd come to value the Warrior's company so much, except in that being around him seemed easy, almost too much so. Perhaps it was a case of equal solitude, or possibly it was because in all the time they'd spent together, Kain had never seen anything in the Warrior's eyes but the appreciation of a well-timed kill and respect for valour that Kain himself had thought long gone. In any event, what he offered was wordless and calm, a brief reprieve for both of them.
"Perhaps we should be leaving."
Kain felt the shift of the Warrior's throat against him as he spoke, and he closed his eyes briefly before pulling back. "You're right, my friend. I must depart." Kain made himself smile. "Two weeks of patrol – what could be more pleasant?"
The Warrior blinked, tilting his head. "Yes," he said slowly, after a moment.
The next smile that pulled at the corners of Kain's mouth was genuine – he'd had so few warm and unguarded moments in his life that for a moment he hesitated, before curling the Warrior's fingers in his own and pressing them to his lips. "If I must go, then I promise on my faith, though I will not recoil from the enemy, I shall return to you."
The words of the traditional oath were out of his mouth almost without a thought – he'd said them to Rosa enough times that they remained imprinted on his mind, even after all this time. He'd always meant them when he'd said them, even though the words were so old they barely had any meaning beyond a formality to be observed before a soldier's departure. He'd stopped addressing the oath to her once she'd stopped coming to find him before he left and instead tossed them to whichever lady looked prettiest on the day, hoping to see jealousy in Rosa's eyes. In the end, the words had lost their meaning, becoming the gallant formality they had always been intended to be. But they came back to him now, and for the first time in a long time, he felt the lick of pride in his chest at repeating words that had once meant so much to him.
He raised his head again to find the Warrior looking at him with a mildly puzzled expression. "I'm sorry?" he said.
Kain almost smiled – he'd not expected the Warrior to understand. "It's something departing soldiers say to – people they're leaving behind," he said, his mind supplying a hasty substitute for loved ones.
The Warrior tilted his head again, as if trying to fathom something deeply confusing. "I can come with you, if you would like," he said, after a long pause.
Kain barely suppressed an exasperated sigh. "No, that won't be necessary," he said, watching as the Warrior furrowed his brow, as if looking for the correct response. Smiling slightly, he covered the confused tightness in the Warrior's lips with a kiss he almost didn't realise he'd leaned in for. While usually he might open his mouth, forcing the Warrior's jaw wide with his tongue, this time it seemed inappropriate. He simply lingered, chaste and serious as a squire, until he felt the Warrior smile beneath his lips.
In the end, he was surprised by how long it took Lightning to seek him out – he had been in the armoury for some time, sharpening his lance and packing provisions before he heard her step on the threshold.
"Where were you this morning?" she asked, her voice as harsh and demanding as always – as if she had a right to know, Kain thought, smiling tightly to himself.
"Away," Kain answered, knowing that the obtuseness would only make her more angry but unwilling to either lie or tell her the truth.
Turning and watching her out of the corner of his eye, he could see her open her mouth, presumably to demand more details from him. Instead, she just paused, her eyes raking over him. Kain saw her frown for a moment, before apparently deciding it was too much trouble and simply rolling her eyes.
"Forget it. If you don't want to tell me, then don't."
She turned and strode away from him, cape flapping behind her, and Kain could not help but watch her go.
He sometimes wondered why he felt the need to hide from her prying – he certainly wasn't compelled to answer her like a child might some nagging nursery mistress. And yet, he could never escape the agitating possibility that she could see straight through him, straight to his core, and she could cut out from under him, with a single rightly placed question, the roots of what he had built for himself here.
The thought that she might be waiting for the most opportune moment made him more guarded with her than with any of the others. But even as he thought it, he rejected the idea – she may have been hostile, but she was not manipulative, and such calculated destruction was not in her arsenal.
And yet, he was unprepared to take the risk.
Kain hoisted his lance over his shoulder. Lightning and Cecil would be waiting for him by Order's Throne, and he could not reasonably delay any longer. In truth, he was anxious to be off.
Cosmos sat as she always did, radiating calm, the golden waves of her hair wreathed in light, the Warrior standing at her right. Kain barely listened to the words she gave them, hardly took notice of the small smile that creased her lips. Cecil bowed low when he took his leave; Lightning remained upright in stony silence, not looking at either the Warrior of Light or Cosmos.
After a moment, Kain inclined his head slightly, a courtly gesture that he would make to an equal, not at all appropriate for Cosmos, but not intended for her.
He could not bring himself to look back over his shoulder as he walked away.
It was over so quickly; Cecil had dashed forward and Golbez had vanished, disappearing within the deep clouds of dark magic that sprung up around him.
Kain had been speechless for a moment; the Cecil he'd known would rather have taken a blow himself than raise a hand to his brother - once he'd discovered that Golbez was his brother. Had he truly no memory of the man at all? He'd honestly seemed to believe that Kain had been in danger, and the attack he'd attempted was no feint.
Even without the benefit of the monster's helm he'd crafted, Golbez's face was ever a mystery, his voice impassive. Nonetheless, Kain had to wonder if he had remained as stoic as he seemed as his younger brother had rushed towards him with intent to kill. He supposed Golbez was philosophical enough to package his feelings away, to tell himself that Cecil had no memory of him and would likely be horrified later, when and if he remembered.
Kain watched the back of Cecil's head as he walked ahead of him, seeming so utterly untroubled by what had just transpired. He had moved so easily into the role of the paladin, it seemed; Kain had barely known him when he had seen him again after the Tower of Zot, though he was unsure how much of that was the changes Mount Ordeals had made to his friend and how much had been the dark chatter in the back of his own brain, the eyes that had still been watching through his, waiting for the opportunity to snap back on the leash of his mind.
"Were you talking to him?"
Kain was jerked out of his thoughts – Cecil had stopped and half-turned back to him, a quizzical expression on his face.
"To that Chaos warrior," Cecil said, his expression guarded. He doesn't trust me, Kain realised. He wondered how much Cecil truly remembered, or if this was some as yet subconscious impulse warning him to be on his guard. It was a grim realisation, but one that Kain found easier to understand than the complete trust that Cecil had placed in him on the Lunar Whale, after two betrayals and against Edge's better judgement.
"What did he say to you?"
Kain considered. "It may have been lies to demoralise us. It made little sense, in any case." That, at least, was not a complete untruth.
Cecil turned and walked on, but not before looking back at Kain and cocking his head – the same incorrigible gesture that Kain remembered him making since childhood and that, young though he had been, made him look about half his age again.
Young. We were both so young. How could we have known?
But he had known, he and Cecil both – he remembered that same tilt of Cecil's head as they had picked over the charred remains of a village after the Red Wings and the dragoons had been called in to deal with it. It had been over and done with before the dragoons had arrived, and the smell of smoke had been strong in his nostrils as he had watched Cecil, covered head to toe in Dark Armour, turning over pieces of burnt wood that had once been someone's home.
"It was an easy win," he'd said, not raising his head as Kain approached him.
"Easy enough, when your foe lacks airships. Or cannons."
Cecil had looked up at him then, though his eyes were invisible behind his visor. "They were rebels, Kain."
"And their buried store of wooden spears shall threaten us no more."
Then there had been that same cock of the head, as if Cecil had not heard him right or simply did not understand. And why should he? Kain had reflected bitterly sometime later. Cecil had known no other father than the king, and he would have died in the forest he'd been abandoned in if not for the benevolence of the man who had taken him in, elevated him far beyond what a nameless orphan could ever have expected: far beyond men who had a prouder heritage, more familial wealth, and arguably greater military skill. A pledge of unquestioning loyalty did not seem so high a price.
Kain had always wondered what lies Cecil had told himself to placate his conscience before his doubts had finally overwhelmed him, or if lies had even been necessary. Kain wondered if it was for love of Rosa that he had found the courage to speak at last - or had it been that which had held him back for so long? Cecil may finally have found the commands of the king intolerable – even if he still found it easier to carry them out and question them later – but Kain did not imagine he would have found the thought of Rosa following him into exile, as she undoubtedly would have, to be a savoury one.
Prior to Cecil's final break from Baron, they had spoken of it only once. Cecil was to receive a commendation for valour in the field - Kain had to wonder which village he'd burned down this time - and he'd asked Kain to be his second. Tradition held that it should have been a fellow Dark Knight, but Cecil had insisted and the king had never been able to deny him anything.
He had slept that night on Cecil's floor as he had done when they were children, when he had deflected with laughter Cecil's – innocent, he had always assumed – request for Kain to come join him under the blanket. They talked, just as they had been the first time that Cecil had ever asked him, What do you think of Rosa? She's pretty, isn't she?
"Do you ever wish you could leave all of this?" Cecil had asked him after roughly ten minutes of silence, during which the candle had burned down to a sallow yellow glow, and Kain had drifted to the cusp of sleep.
"All what?" he'd asked, sleepiness making him slow.
Cecil had hesitated. "I just thought… a soldier's life would be simple. A clear path. Orders to follow. A kingdom to protect. I sometimes think –"
He had cut himself off then, and Kain had seen his eyes dart towards him in the darkness. He realised Cecil was waiting for encouragement to continue.
Kain had opened his mouth to respond with something light and reassuring, before the full implication of Cecil's words, half-spoken though they had been, sliced through him, and anger welled up in his chest. How many men had both killed and died in the hopes of being in his friend's current position – a lord, a commander, the king's apparent heir – and how many men and their families had died in their homes in the name of a cause that not even Cecil Harvey believed in as he'd burned them?
Kain had always known that Cecil harboured kernels of self-doubt, and it made him angry to the point of incredulousness. What on earth did Cecil have to doubt? How much love, friendship, and reinforcement did he need? Cecil seemed to absorb it all almost without realising it was there, but still it didn't seem enough to extinguish his doubts. His men were fanatically loyal to him, Rosa loved him dearly, and the king had never made any secret of where Cecil stood in his affections, and in respect to the throne of Baron itself. And still, and still, Cecil couldn't find it in himself to be happy. Thinking back on it later, Kain realised that it was at that moment that he had come the closest he ever would to truly hating his friend.
For a moment, he had almost been tempted to tell Cecil that yes, he should most certainly listen to his doubts, abandon his duties and leave the Red Wings, leave the kingdom. Rosa need not follow you. And I would still be here…
Instead, Kain had forced himself to speak lightly, burying his anger – it had all come back to simple envy, in the end. "A bit late, don't you think, Lord Captain, to be questioning your chosen career?"
Cecil had swallowed heavily before dropping his eyes from Kain's face.
"I'd never say the king was wrong," Cecil had begun again after a few moments, "but I think that… these rebels. Would it really be so bad to treat with them? I don't know what they could be demanding that would be so –"
"They're rebels, Cecil," Kain had interrupted him. "You said so yourself."
Cecil's head had flicked towards him, and Kain had detected a trace of anger in his eyes. "And you said they had no more than wooden spears."
In the darkness, Kain had sneered, whether at Cecil or at how stupid his own words sounded when parroted back to him, he didn't know. "It had to be done. Do you think it would have stopped there? If the summoners had gotten involved, what then? A protracted conflict? Our men dead in place of theirs? Better to cut it off now, quickly, before it spread."
He hadn't believed it even as he'd said it – the summoners had no reason to enter a conflict with Baron and had seemed less than interested in an insubstantial rebel movement. But he'd still spat out the words, his anger with Cecil overriding everything else. It wasn't for them to question why - if Cecil had doubts, it was far too late to express them now, not when he and Kain had come so far together; not when Cecil had achieved so much beyond what either of them had ever expected. Kain had almost asked him if he thought that he enjoyed cutting down barely armed villagers, but he'd simply grit his teeth instead, swallowing and willing himself not to say more, not trusting himself to stop once he had started.
In the moment that followed, Cecil had paused before letting out a hollow laugh that rang through the half-light, his own anger seeming to collapse in the face of Kain's. "Of course. You're right. I'm a fool."
Kain had not looked up at him but heard the puff of breath as Cecil blew out the candle and the rustle of blankets as he turned over in his bed. "Goodnight, Kain," he said, and after a few moments Kain had heard his breathing deepen into sleep.
I am a dragoon, Kain had told himself in the dark. I do my duty. For all that, sleep had not come to him for some time.
The memories of those evenings with Cecil were clear in his mind – Kain wondered, watching the back of Cecil's head as they walked, how much of these things Cecil would recall, even if his memories returned tomorrow.
Dawn had just begun to crest the horizon when he and Cecil finally arrived back at the camp. He didn't realise how far he had wandered and wondered how long Cecil had been looking for him before he'd found him.
"Nice of you to grace us with your presence," Lightning muttered when they appeared. "I don't suppose either of you actually managed to do anything useful while you were gone?" For once, Kain did not have the energy to antagonise her further, ignoring the obvious attempt to provoke him and walking to his tent, hoping to snatch a half-hour of sleep before the sun was fully risen.
Before crawling inside, he glanced back over his shoulder to where Cecil stood by the fire, the same tilt of his head, the same quizzical expression clouding his features.