This story was inspired by Dolphin-Fly's Head Games in Deviantart. It was a good read and as I read the last few parts where Phantom realizes he's in love with Freud even though it felt a bit different, I wondered, well what if Phantom didn't know? I had my own mental conception of Phantom (although it wasn't without influences) and I decided to write this to try to flesh him out a bit. It was fun writing this although I'm a bit unsure I depicted him accurately the way I wanted to. I might edit this a bit in the future or when Luminous comes out.
If Phantom had to choose the top three most important people in his life, he would, without so much as a pause of hesitation, recite the names of Aria, Freud, and reluctantly, Raven, his mentor. Although he didn't particularly like the man, he did teach him the tricks of the trade even if some of his lessons were through his attempts to steal from his own pupil.
But Aria and Freud were most decidedly different.
Aria was his first love. Even now his heart yearned strongly for her gentle touch, to gaze once more into soft cyan eyes that held such love and devotion to her people and that shone like crystals whenever they alighted upon him, genuinely happy to see him like no others before her.
She was a strong woman—a trait that was demanded of her as Empress—despite her fragile countenance. Within her tiny body was the fiery will of a goddess and resting on her shoulders was the weight of a kingdom she ruled in equal parts firmness and gentleness.
Aria was truly a one-of-a-kind woman. No one else can possibly embrace the world and everyone in it with the same amount of unfathomably unconditional love she had. It took real strength of character and true kindness to have the determination such as hers to see the best in everybody even in those like Phantom, who was, at the heart of it all, a common crook with a crooked soul.
And that was why Phantom chose to bear her dreams on his own shoulders after her death. He wanted to carry on her passion, to keep her memory alive because to have her love forgotten was something he absolutely cannot allow, not after she gave her entire mind, body, heart, soul, and finally, life, to her dream of a peaceful world; the dream that resonated so powerfully within her that Phantom couldn't bring himself to forsake the very thing that had ended in her untimely demise nor can he bear to lay fruitless blame on the world she loved for its idleness.
Instead, he turned his roaring rage and inconsolable grief on the ones who had killed that bright shining pillar of hope, the ones who had crushed Phantom's own hopes and future.
It was only appropriate. As long as the cursed Black Mage and his blasted pet minions continued to live to soil the land, Aria's dream would never be realized.
So he sought to join the small motley group of four people said to be the only four in the whole world who were brave and powerful enough to take on the Black Mage directly.
Truthfully he didn't expect to be accepted within their ranks but he thought he might as well try on the offhand chance they would agree. It was all the same to him because whether they accepted him or not, he was going to kill the Black Mage and if it meant doing it alone without help then so be it. It just meant that it would take longer to do so.
So he approached the one person he perceived most likely to give him a standing chance.
Freud was perhaps, on the surface, the last person he should approach. He was a scholar who was based on logic and rationale and it was far from reasonable to invite such an obviously disreputable thief into the ranks but he was also counting on his nature as a scholar to weigh both sides of the story before reaching a decision, something he felt wouldn't happen with the other three.
Mercedes was a queen and therefore more bound towards maintaining law and order. Phantom was a thief who stole and deceived, acts that were clearly against the law. It was unlikely she'd view him favorably and it didn't help that she was also somewhat temperamental which could potentially interfere with her decision-making. No doubt she might immediately shut out any conversation to join upon spotting him.
From what he could observe, Luminous was too righteous, his views on good and bad too black and white, and it was difficult to imagine he would hear him out before deciding to drive him away.
Aran was from a clan that—from the information he gathered—celebrated loyalty and moral dignity. She would most likely be a woman with a noble spirit grounded on honorable principles that might not tolerate Phantom for his occupation.
That left Freud who seemed more open-minded judging by the contents of his research notes and finally by his Spirit Pact with the king of Onyx Dragons. Freud would be his best chance but even so, the odds still weren't in his favor so imagine his surprise when the Dragon Master actually agreed after only a single tarot card and not one word of explanation exchanged between them.
He would have thought the scholar would regard him with a little more suspicion than that but he masked his astonishment with his usual suaveness as he made his exit. He wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
But for a time after, an inferno raged inside Phantom.
Now that he was truly starting his revenge, the blistering anger overwhelmed the remaining icy sorrow lodged in his heart and it would not be appeased no matter how much he trained and spied, spied and killed. The fire within him always hungered for more and it served to frustrate him further for he had no way to feed it until the right moment.
Then one day, almost a week after he joined, Freud had sat next to him on the stone bench that cool spring morning and asked, "How are you, Phantom?"
Such an inane question almost made him recoil in disgust. How was he? How did he think? He knew Freud was a bright individual. Surely he could connect the dots.
But he kept his features carefully schooled as he casually replied with a smirk, "Oh just fine. And how are you?"
"I think I can be better," Freud replied amiably, fiddling with something shiny around the palms of his hands.
Phantom's gaze couldn't help but be riveted to whatever bauble the mage was playing with. It was almost second nature by now to divert attention to anything that could hold the potential for riches.
Freud caught his look and he held up the trinket for him to see. It was what appeared to be a pink sapphire shaped like a typically cut diamond at first glance but Phantom knew sapphires and this stone wasn't a sapphire. In fact, he didn't think it was even a gem.
Curiosity piqued, Phantom asked, "What is that?"
"This is a Seal Stone or at least, a prototype of one. It will serve as a sort of… backup plan of sorts in the future," Freud answered. "Hold out your hand."
Baffled, Phantom did as he was told and Freud carefully placed the stone onto his outstretched hand. A gentle hum of energy like small pulses of electricity vibrated pleasantly through his palm, tingling his skin.
"I won't go into the specifics on how it was made but it's essentially solidified energy which is what gives it a similar luster as a jewel. If used correctly, it can power a house for a week and if my calculations are correct then the final product should be enough to power a whole city for several years."
"I see," Phantom murmured, lifting it up to the sun and admiring the way the light fractured into a mosaic of reds and pinks.
In the back of his mind he wondered why Freud was showing him something so obviously valuable, even giving it to him to examine.
He had joined under intense fire of disapproval and condemnation from the rest of his would-be teammates, particularly from the Light Mage. The moment Freud had introduced him as the new member, immediate outrage had assaulted them both before Freud managed to pull them away for a lengthy meeting ending in hostile yet grudgingly accepting expressions.
It was clear Phantom's presence was unwanted from the start and he was completely unsurprised given his background and reputation. He was generally met with the silent treatment, ignored outright, avoided or even given openly scathing looks which was just fine for Phantom because as long as they didn't interfere with his goals, which just happened to coincide with theirs, he didn't need their friendship or their camaraderie. It wasn't like he joined because he wanted to be some kind of hero. He was under no illusion of being any such sort because he knew he was too self-serving to be so self-sacrificing like that. The only reason he had even joined was for Aria and even then it was all for his own selfish need for closure.
And then Freud had approached him and given him a gem-like power generator that could sell for millions and expect he wouldn't run off with it. Not only that but he had also agreed to let him join the cause within only the first few minutes of meeting. Why? Didn't the man know about his reputation? The sordid things he did under the table that goes without saying? His propensity to steal valuable things? He must. Even in the short week of his stay, he could already see the extraordinary intellect Freud possessed so why? Did the man truly believe he wouldn't steal it? Perhaps this thing was fake and he was just testing him. What game was he playing?
An inexplicable ire born from suspicion and indignity rose within him.
Well then, he'll play along. Whatever Freud was planning couldn't hurt him anyway because he didn't care one way or another if he broke some kind of misplaced trust on him for he wasn't an honest person.
He shot a sharp look at Freud before smiling in a deceptively pleasant way. "This must be quite the creation," he purred.
"Yes it is," Freud agreed. "It took me several months of research and crafting before I was able to successfully make it."
"Well then," Phantom drawled. A malicious smirk curled on his lips and he palmed the Seal Stone, making it disappear right under the mage's very nose. "I do thank you for handing over something so precious and going through the trouble of explaining to me exactly why it is so valuable. It'll make things so much easier on my end. Do have a lovely day."
And he made his escape via Shroud Walk feeling bitterly satisfied. But just as he started to teleport away, he caught a glimpse of the unaffected expression on Freud's face before his vision became obscured by his flock of cards, then the scenery of trees, leaving him confused, frustrated, and strangely intrigued.
A few nights later, with no demands for the gem back and no confrontations the days it was missing, he marched into Freud's study from his entrance at the window and slammed the Seal Stone onto the desk, attracting the attention of the scholar from a book he was perusing.
"Why?" Phantom asked through gritted teeth.
Freud's actions didn't make sense and it frustrated him. Why did he see it fit to treat him like some casual acquaintance instead of the notorious thief he was like his other companions? It didn't fit with the notion of how he should be treated and he wanted to know why.
"Why what? You'll need to be clearer if you would like your questions answered," Freud replied, putting down the book and giving him his full attention.
"Why did you let me join you? Why did you give me this?" he waved the Seal Stone at Freud's face. "Why?"
He glared down at the seated mage, silently demanding an explanation, heart beating fast with adrenaline and… hope?
There was a pause punctuated only by the ticking of a hanging wall clock somewhere in the room. It served to calm him down somewhat but it did nothing to lessen his desire for answers.
Finally, Freud asked quietly, "Did Aria need a reason?"
The question took Phantom off guard and he blinked. "What?"
"Did Aria need a reason to befriend you other than because she simply wanted to?"
Phantom stared at him, momentarily losing his tongue. No, Aria hadn't had a reason and she wouldn't have needed one. She was just that kind of person to have no reservations about extending a hand to anyone she wished. Aria was… she was the best thing that had ever happened to him because of that.
"I—No, I suppose not," he finally managed to stammer out, feeling a small knot in his throat.
"Do I need a reason?"
Phantom's walls instantly snapped back up and he gave Freud a guarded look. "I don't know. Do you?"
Freud sighed and rolled his eyes at his sudden change in demeanor. "Yes Phantom I can see so many advantages of befriending a criminal hated the world over so I decided to extend my hospitalities to you," he replied smartly.
Phantom's mouth couldn't help but quirk a bit at the smart-mouthed answer. "I'll have you know there are infinite desirous reasons to want to befriend me not the least of which is my charms and my many talents."
Freud shot him a deadpan look and from there, the rest was history.
From then on, they had spent every possible moment together.
Mornings they had breakfast while they admired the forests of Leafre. Noon was spent with Phantom bringing Freud his lunch and occasionally forcing him out of his stuffy study when it became clear he was trying to work himself to the bone. Nights were spent in quiet companionship and gentle conversation if Phantom didn't have his other duties to perform.
Freud had quenched his thirst for revenge and soothed his sorrow like nothing else had. His mere presence was enough to calm him and the ensuing time they spent together was enough to make him believe once again in a life beyond revenge and money and material trinkets, something he hadn't thought he'd ever be able to believe in again since Aria's death.
He was a deeply inspiring individual who always recognized that he didn't know and will never know everything yet aspired in an infinite quest to not only learn what he could but to also encourage others to learn too and for that end he was eternally patient.
His dreams of peace between human and dragon was large but his determination was even more immense. He possessed a quiet will within him that when unleashed burned intensely into something beautiful. It was what drove him unflaggingly to go to such lengths as to form a Spirit Pact with the king of Onyx Dragons himself and it was this same resolve and dogged stubbornness that drove him in the efforts to defeat the Black Mage at all costs, fiercely determined to protect all that he worked for. He was a proud man in regards to his accomplishments yet humble in the way he acknowledged his own short-comings.
Serene yet fiery, firm yet gentle, searching yet nonjudgmental, critical but understanding, Freud was an artful balance of opposing traits that, like the ever immovable ocean, allowed him to flow along with almost anything and anyone that came his way. Freud was the one other person who he felt accepted him as a person since Aria so was it any wonder that he fell in love with him?
However, whereas Aria had died without hearing him utter his love for her—one of the few things he had ever regretted in his life—he was determined to make his feelings known this time. He will not repeat the same mistake twice.
So one night, standing in Freud's cluttered study like he was so oft to do nowadays, he confessed to him in the quiet of the room.
The scratching sound of quill on paper slowed before finally ceasing following his proclamation.
There was another pause before Freud slowly lifted his head to gaze at him with maddeningly calm ocean-blue eyes despite the enormity of his declaration, laced his fingers together, rested his elbows on the tabletop, and simply said, "I see."
Phantom blinked. Of all the reactions he had expected, this one was certainly the furthest from what he had in mind. It felt a bit insulting to have his confession treated in such a nonchalant way but before he could give voice to his displeasure, Freud continued.
"And what is it about me exactly that you love?"
"Why Freud, do I hear a bit of narcissism in that question? I must be rubbing off on you."
Freud drew his eyebrows together and narrowed his eyes in a way that told Phantom he wasn't playing games.
Phantom sighed before saying more seriously, "Because you are not only bright but you have the determination strong enough to take action to fulfill your dreams unwaveringly, to have the strength of mind to look beyond appearances before making your judgments, and…" He trailed off, unsure how to continue to describe the many wonderful things Freud was and feeling slightly awkward at having to list them all.
"Is it the same feeling you have with Aria?"
"Well, no. It feels a bit different, calmer somehow," he admitted, frowning slightly, unsure where this was headed. "But I always have the urge to spend an inordinate amount of time with you, to know more about you, and I worry almost excessively after you as I did with Aria."
He glanced back at Freud, his gaze having drifted away some time during their conversation.
Freud was smiling wanly at him, his sharp, clear cerulean eyes accepting yet slightly sad and Phantom's heart plummeted at what that might imply.
"Phantom," he said gently. "What you are feeling might not be love, or at least not the romantic kind. From your description, it's more the feeling of friendship."
His jaw nearly dropped. Was Freud… dismissing his feelings? Who was he to tell Phantom what he was feeling?
At the look of growing affront on Phantom's face, Freud hastily said, "I'm not denying what you're feeling, Phantom, but the traits that you have just listed are also traits that Aria had once possessed and—I don't suppose you've ever had any close friendships before have you?" He waited for Phantom's muttered affirmation before continuing. "Then it's perfectly understandable to confuse feelings of close friendship with love. Since you have not had such a relationship before, you named it with one of the only other intense emotion you have ever experienced which is love. It's also understandable that you might search for qualities Aria had in me as the one other person close to you and to project your feelings for her onto me, further confusing you."
Phantom stared at Freud, uncertain what to think or whether to feel offended or not that the scholar was trying to write off his feelings. On one hand Freud made devastating sense. He really didn't know what close friendship felt like because he couldn't afford it for most of his life so he couldn't truthfully say with complete confidence that it was love he was feeling. But on the other hand, a part of him chafed at the implication that he didn't know his own emotions.
"I'm not denying the possibility that it's love," Freud continued quietly, gazing downward. "But… just think about it before you proclaim it again okay?"
He looked so forlorn that way with the light of the candles throwing dancing shadows across his wearied and morose face and Phantom realized that he wasn't the only one who was at stake of getting hurt.
His protestations died in his throat.
If this really wasn't what he thought it was, their relationship and hearts could very well be on the line. It was selfish of him to assume that Freud would just happily go along with whatever fancy overtook him. He was too prudent for that. But then again, Phantom had always been a selfish man who never thought of anyone but himself even towards those important to him.
Phantom worked his jaw to say something, anything, but in the end, he couldn't think of anything so he simply swallowed and nodded.
Freud managed a weak smile and returned his attention to his work but not before Phantom caught the slight drop of melancholy in his beautiful blues that made his chest twist uncomfortably. Love or friendship, he hated to see Freud hurt.
It was best to think over the matter carefully then.
They spent the next few days as they usually did and everything was like normal as though that night never happened, giving Phantom a second chance to consider the subject more before truly going through with his intentions.
He continued to mull over his feelings, trying to draw distinctions and comparing his experiences so that the time would come where he could tell Freud with absolute certainty where they stood with each other.
But the closest thing that came to close friendship was with Gaston but somehow even that didn't feel as… deep. While he shared many things with Gaston and he valued him for his unwavering loyalty and companionship, they didn't share the same level of understanding as he did with Freud who just simply seemed to meld with his own personality.
Freud shared something special with him that no one else did but what the name of that was, Phantom was confused to know.
Certainly his feelings for Freud and Aria felt different although they were no different in their intensity but was that basis enough for calling his relationship with Freud love? But at the same time, it didn't feel like a normal friendship.
The consequent days blurred together as he contemplated this puzzle and all too soon, they were preparing for war.
It was in these last moments of peace before they set off for the most harrowing hours or even days of their lives that Phantom finally approached him with his answer.
Freud was resplendent and fierce with his staff in hand, Afrien beside him, and expression one of utmost grim determination, the look of a man ready to fight to the bitter end for the future of Maple World.
"Freud!" he called, attracting the mage's attention from his conversation with Afrien.
Freud turned and smiled as Phantom drew closer, battle-ready with his cane gripped tightly in one hand.
Once he reached them, he tipped his head politely towards the dragon. "Afrien."
Greetings, Phantom, Afrien replied, deep voice rumbling through his mind.
"Hello Phantom," Freud acknowledged in turn.
Phantom hesitated in the span of time it took to blink but in the end, he stuck out his hand to shake and it was with this simple action that finally pronounced where they stood.
Freud caught the wordless significance of the gesture and he nodded in understanding.
He took Phantom's hand and shook it once firmly.
"May good fortune rule over you, peace live in your heart, and the stars watch over you," he intoned.
Phantom nodded stiffly. "And to you, Freud."
His grip on the hand tightened as he gazed into Freud's eyes, searching for any adverse effect his answer might have caused but Freud simply gazed back unflaggingly with those profound blue orbs that Phantom so loved.
He squeezed the hand one last time before slowly letting go, convincing himself that this was the right answer.
Freud's smile had fallen slightly so that it looked pained yet sweet at the same time but he remained steadfast, the tranquil pillar of strength he always was from which people looked up to and drew their courage from.
They stood facing each other for a moment longer, drinking in the sight of the other before they had to start moving.
"Take care, Phantom. I will always be behind you. Always," Freud promised encouragingly.
Phantom swallowed thickly, forcing back the sudden urge to embrace his dearest friend at the resolute, unspoken support for his answer beneath the assurance of his absolute aid in the fight although he had no doubts that that was true too.
He took a deep breath and nodded slowly, drawing comfort from Freud's apparent acceptance and moved to the Lumiere to begin the first grueling leg of their battle.
In hindsight, he should have done more for him in those last moments, for everything that Freud had given him, for everything he did, and for everything he was.
He stared disbelievingly at Freud's unmoving body, looking too similar to the scene of Aria's own death, icy, cold fingers of dread slowly gripping him.
No… nonono. He thought he was done with this. He thought he would be done with death…
Emptiness clutched him ruthlessly, emptiness so powerful that it brought him to his knees for mercy, suffocating him, and he trembled from the cold inside that won't go away.
How? How could this have happened? How could he have failed this time? Howhowhowhowhow itwasn'tsupposedtoendthiswayitwasn't thiscan'tbehappening
Afrien's leathery wings into soft feathers and glinting gold with wrought purple and long auburn locks into blond hair and red dresses into white robes and Freud into Aria into Freud into Aria into Freud.
Failed. Failedfailedfailedfailedfail ed
"Take care, Phantom…"
Why are you not here?
"I will always be behind you…"
Where are you now?
A choked howl ripped from his throat.
I still need you.
He found the boy wandering aimlessly through the shelves of his immense library in awe and Phantom had to fight the urge to snigger at the dumbfounded expression on his face as he gazed with wide-eyed wonder at the thousands of books around him, making him look even younger than his age.
Phantom had to admit, he had been quite hostile to the youth when he first met him after all, this boy, obviously too young and naïve to take up the mantle of Dragon Master, had been gallivanting around tarnishing his dear friend's highly esteemed and hard-won reputation.
When he first found out a while after the whole Lotus debacle, the anger and indignity he felt on behalf of Freud made him so livid that he saw absolute red for days on end.
How dare this impudent brat disrespect all that Freud was and had strived to do? How could the little idiot not even have the foggiest clue as to what he had gotten himself into or what his title as Dragon Master even meant? The worse thing was that he hadn't even wondered. He had simply taken the dragon and went frolicking about like an ignoramus and Phantom refused to tolerate such ignorance as an excuse for aiding the Black Wings. Honestly! A Dragon Master? Aiding the enemy? Freud would be rolling in his grave!
It took no time at all to track down the little terror and he might as well have been desecrating Freud's grave with all the fury Phantom had descended upon the child, fully intending to give him a blow-by-blow of the utter idiocy he had participated in with the aim of humiliation for his own breathtaking stupidity. Then afterwards he was going to take the boy under his wing to keep an eye on him to prevent further damage and to hopefully drill some good senses into his thick skull.
But when he set eyes on the boy, the resemblance he found to his long-gone friend was so overwhelming it was like a physical slap in the face. For a few beautiful heartbreaking moments, it was Freud standing in front of him about to cajole him on his behavior with that amused little smile on his face but then the kid opened his mouth and asked, "Who are you?"
Phantom almost winced at the squeaky pre-teen voice and he was abruptly brought back to the reality in front of him and his original purpose for appearing.
The smile he offered held acid underneath its pleasant façade as he started to mercilessly tear the whelp apart for every brainless thing he did all the while maintaining a mocking persona of politeness and geniality.
Surprisingly, the brat had taken his verbal whipping with a kind of guilty concession and a look of someone who thought they deserved it. Not one protestation passed his lips or any defense towards his actions.
It seems the fool had learned his lesson after Hiver's betrayal and the subsequent journey he had forced himself to take to observe the mess he had caused. He was slightly disappointed he wasn't given an excuse to rail on him further but he had to admit, he was somewhat impressed by his willingness to face his mistakes but still, Phantom remained acerbic towards the incompetent boy who dared to so much as even think he could replace Freud.
However, sometimes he found it hard to keep his sharp tongue when he sees the downtrodden look on the boy's face. It was like looking at a vulnerable Freud, so soft and fresh and new, like a young sprout before a big wide world. He imagined this might be what Freud could have looked like in his childhood, still innocent without his tired, worldly eyes, simply a free boy unburdened by the immensity of circumstances who still possessed possibilities as limitless as his imagination.
The sight sent aches through him as much as it sent a pang of sad, reminiscent fondness.
Freud rarely looked so small and helpless. He had always been strong even when he himself was on the verge of breaking point and that visage was all he ever let anyone see but this child gave him a window of all that Freud might have been if he had not gone through so much hardship in his life and it was this thought that made it difficult to retain his angry grudge on the boy.
He supposed he was being unfair. Just as he saw Aria in Cygnus in the beginning, he was making unfair comparisons between Freud, a fully-grown, mature adult and a child who had unwittingly stumbled onto something way bigger than himself, something no one had answers for, too young to have been able to grasp the enormity of the situation.
At the heart of it all, Evan really was a good person with a big heart who had genuinely wanted to help. He couldn't be totally blamed if the damned Black Wings manipulated something pure into doing their disgusting deeds.
But Phantom found a part of him balking at the thought of sympathy towards the boy because sympathy meant acceptance and acceptance meant replacement and how could he forget Freud? As childish as it sounded, he didn't want the boy as Freud's replacement. It would feel like he was betraying him.
He couldn't forget how Freud had essentially destroyed his own welfare for the sake of his duties; how he waged war with his fellow scholars, earning him the isolation and hostilities of a world not yet ready for ideas way ahead of their time; how much he meant to Phantom.
Phantom forcibly repressed the grin that threatened to curl his lips at the slightly hesitant inquiry. The boy had been intimidated by him ever since their first encounter and hadn't dared to address him any more familiarly.
He supposed he should feel ashamed of himself to have scared the kid to this point but if he felt ashamed every time he intimidated people, even kids, he'd have given up his title as Master Thief a long, long time ago.
"Yes?" he drawled instead, turning his attention to the boy.
He watched in amusement as he fidgeted as he talked, a bit uncomfortable in his presence. "You've been standing there for a while now and I was just wondering if you came here for something."
Phantom raised a brow and the boy flushed, feeling a bit stupid for asking the man what he was doing in his own library.
While he had no intention of replacing Freud and he couldn't entirely forget what the boy had done, he didn't particularly hate him even if he found him slightly annoying at times. On the contrary, he had quite the quirky personality that Phantom found a bit hard to hate after the initial frustration with him was over and he at least somewhat understood the boy's circumstances that drove him to do what he did.
The boy was naïve with a big heart, a sweet characteristic viewed alone but a deadly combination otherwise when used by those with ill will.
"Oh, just thinking."
"About what? Oh," the boy quickly snapped his mouth shut again as though doing so would take back the words he had uttered and looked at him with wide eyes that reminded Phantom of young children caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
If there was one thing Phantom found and quickly it was that the boy was a curious child, which was good he supposed because it meant a willingness to learn, something Freud had cherished and considered a prerequisite to becoming a talented mage since mages were required to know the intricacies of the spells they perform. Besides, it wouldn't hurt if this curiosity would allow him to become a little less gullible in the future.
But curiosity or not, he couldn't very well simply reveal his thoughts so he smoothly answered instead, "I was just thinking about how to best prepare you for your role as the Dragon Master. The library seems like a pretty good place to start."
It wasn't exactly a lie because he had been thinking about it some just not at that moment. However, the boy eyed him skeptically but wisely didn't call him on his bluff and Phantom marveled at his acuity.
Although he was not yet—yet because despite everything, Phantom believed he had the potential—as intelligent as Freud as his brief stint with the Black Wings indicated, he had a rather remarkable emotional intelligence. What he lacked in academic smarts and wisdom derived from experience he made up for with his astute ability to gauge and accurately discern emotions. Maybe if Hiver hadn't worn sunglasses, the boy would've been less trusting of him.
He supposed having a soft heart does give an advantage in that regard.
"Okay so… what do you suggest?" the boy asked.
Phantom hummed. "For one thing, I can't have you haphazardly flinging spells about. I have no intention having my suit singed off because you couldn't execute a simple fire spell correctly," he sniffed. "Freud might have suggested you start basic theories on spells to better understand how to control your magic before putting that knowledge into practical use. Once you get a grasp of the material, it's best to practice with your dragon since you're not an ordinary mage."
"Oh. I guess that's a good start…" The boy seemed to hesitate, shifting his eyes to the floor and biting his lip uncertainly, seeming to debate with himself.
Phantom sighed. "If you're going to ask a question, do ask and spare me a few more minutes standing mindlessly in the middle of my library."
The boy jumped, looking slightly flustered. "O-oh. Sorry it's just… It's just that my question's a bit personal." He shifted uncomfortably. "And I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want me asking it," he mumbled.
"Well, I suppose you'll never know unless you ask it."
The boy shook his head vigorously. "No, no never mind. It's not that important," he hastily said.
Phantom rolled his eyes in frustration. How anyone could put up with children and their precariously teetering whims he had no idea. No one minute and yes another.
"Just speak your peace so we can get it over with and continue with our lives," he managed impatiently.
The boy hesitated a moment more. "Well sir," he began enunciating his words slowly and carefully, "I know this is something you probably don't want to talk about but I've just been wondering about… about Freud."
Phantom froze and a stifling silence fell over the library.
The boy… wanted to know about Freud? What brought this on all of a sudden? Granted he is supposed to be Freud's successor but…
His heartbeat fluttered erratically in a small burst of inexplicable panic and his breath hitched slightly.
Freud… he wasn't ready to talk about Freud.
Hilla's schemes against young Cygnus had begun almost immediately upon his awakening and subsequently caused him to remember his original goal for being a Hero in the first place: his revenge for Aria. Everything had been blanked out for that end except for his single-minded thirst for blood and three centuries of remembered rage. Freud had been momentarily forgotten in favor of his craze but his pain had certainly never disappeared and since he had spared him only a passing thought during the entire course of his bloodthirsty quest for vengeance, this sudden confrontation was something he was ill prepared for.
At least he had gained some closure after speaking with Aria for one last time but Freud… Freud was still an open wound. His death was his second failure, one he should have learned to prevent after Aria and it hurt to think of what he could have done for him, how he had abandoned him.
He missed him. He missed him so much that it almost physically hurt.
The boy was looking at him with concern in his big cornflower blue eyes and the resemblance was almost enough to make him nauseous with guilt for within this mirror reflection of Freud, he could see all his short-comings come to life, could see how this could easily have been his dearest friend standing before him instead of an inexperienced and scared child that's merely a look-alike shadow of the radiant hero of old.
He turned away from him, unable and unwilling to face his failure and shame reflected from within this child.
"I suggest you begin now," he managed in a light tone despite his clenched throat. "You'll need all the time you can get."
He swiftly made to retreat but a tug on his sleeve held him back.
Phantom stiffened at the touch, his grip tightening around his cane. By all means he hadn't exactly sunk low enough to actually hit a child but this boy could clearly defend himself so in his mind, it was all fair game especially in the mood he was in now.
"Afrien… He… he showed me a memory of Freud," the boy said quickly and quietly.
Phantom wondered where the boy could be going with this so he remained still and silent but his hold on his cane made it abundantly clear to him that he had best tread wisely.
"He called him master… and it struck me how much he must have loved Freud to call him that despite how Freud treated him like an equal, like Mir. After the memory was finished, he had such a regretful look in his eyes, as though he had betrayed him by breaking his promise… I could tell that… that he dwells on it a lot and after years trapped in ice, I could only imagine how much his sadness has built up… because he loved Freud… like how you loved him too… except… I think you hurt more because… because you were… you were in love with him…" the boy finished timidly, peering up at him seeking some sign of confirmation.
Phantom's eyes widened in shock and only remarkable self-restraint prevented his jaw from dropping.
He whirled around and grasped the startled boy's shoulders, earning him a yelp.
"What did you say?"
The boy gulped and stared fearfully at him. "I-I um… I said you… were… in love with him?"
Phantom furrowed his brows in befuddlement and he released the boy who heaved a breath of relief. "How did you make such a conjecture?" he asked as calmly as his racing heart allowed.
"It's just… every time you mention him, you look so happy, a whole lot happier than I've ever seen you and you always get that smile and faraway look on your face as though you're imagining what he could be saying. You actually kind of look like Utah whenever he's daydreaming about Camila.
"Like just now when you were telling me how to train and you had this really thoughtful look as though you're being really careful to think what Freud would have wanted and how he would have taught me. And the way you instructed me like you were so sure of yourself that that's what Freud would've done, it was as though you were close enough to read minds like Afrien and Freud or Mir and me.
But sometimes I see you regretful, like how Afrien looked, but… worse somehow because you seem such a lonely person and… and Freud was one of the only people in your life so I figured he must be a big part of you and that… you must miss him… a lot…" the boy trailed off, looking suddenly uncertain he had managed to articulate his thoughts and observations properly but Phantom understood anyway.
Somehow the boy had managed to pick out a simplified summary of his thoughts. He wasn't aware he had been giving away hints but the boy was mostly accurately portraying his turmoil… But for one thing.
"That still doesn't suggest I'm in love with Freud," he rebutted.
"Um… maybe not. I guess you would know more than I do…"
But the problem was he really didn't know and now suddenly his three century old dilemma has come back to haunt him.
"It doesn't feel like Aria though…" he muttered almost despairingly.
"Well, I think there's different kinds of love," the boy piped up. "Love love doesn't have to all feel the same way. The way I figured it is that different people would make you feel love differently because they're unique so their love would feel unique too. But that's just what I think."
Phantom felt another urge to roll his eyes this time at the boy's rather annoying indecision.
But still he wondered. Could that be true? Had he been in love all this time but denied it as mere friendship?
Another thought took hold of him almost immediately.
Did Freud know? After all, he had tried to convince him that it was close friendship he was feeling. Could it be that he knew but tried to discourage his love?
Phantom's heart squeezed until he thought he could be bleeding inside.
But why? Why would he do that?
He felt a small, tentative hand on his arm and he looked down, almost unable to register seeing the boy in his haze of anguish.
"Phantom sir? I-I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brung it up. I-it was stupid of me. I'm sorry."
Phantom paid no heed to the boy's apologies and nodded mechanically.
The boy bit his lip, unsure as to what to do before a spark of inspiration lit up his eyes.
"Sir Phantom? I'm going to go out for a while with Mir. Is that okay?"
Phantom nodded again and the boy wasted no time bolting out like hell was on his heels, leaving him alone in his vast library. Probably for the best because he didn't think he wanted to face anyone right now… especially that boy.
It was rather late in the night when Evan finally returned to the Lumiere from his mysterious excursion.
Both dragon and Dragon Master looked weary but nonetheless somehow lightened from their trip and the moment Mir touched down, Evan slid off the saddle and raced through the grand hallways of the airship with Mir close behind, stopping only briefly to inquire a disapproving Gaston as to his master's location.
"He is particularly upset tonight. I suggest you leave him be," he advised, giving pointed looks at an eager Evan flushed from running through the hallways but otherwise did nothing to prevent him from speeding off again towards his designation.
He slowed as he neared Phantom's room until finally stopping to a halt in front of the door. Muffled sounds of beauteous, lilting music drifted like a soft wind from beyond and from the sorrowful tones it sang, it was obvious that the occupant beyond was in no mood for company.
He hesitated for a second more at intruding such a moment before firmly knocking on the door.
This was something Phantom needed to know.
There was no answer on the other side and Evan knocked again.
When still no answer was forthcoming, he began to rethink his, admittedly, rash plan to confront Phantom with the knowledge he now possessed right away. But he felt that the sooner Phantom knew, the better so he knocked yet again this time much harder than his previous attempts.
Again there was no answer and just as Evan was debating whether or not to just simply enter, the door cracked open slightly, inviting him in.
He exchanged glances with Mir before proceeding into the room, the dragon having to squeeze through the doorframe a bit to do so.
The music was much clearer now, full of slow, wistful notes and low, dejected timbres flowing from a gramophone sitting on a dresser.
A defeated-looking Phantom lay sprawled on his white couch, barely acknowledging his guest as he swirled an elegant glass of wine in his hand.
"Sir Phantom?" he queried nervously.
He received no reply to his prompt and he faltered but Mir nudged him encouragingly. He smiled at his faithful friend and feeling slightly more emboldened, continued. "Sir Phantom, we have something to show you."
There was a pause filled only by the delicate music in the air before Phantom finally sighed, his grip on his glass tightening momentarily before he gulped down the entirety of its contents.
"What do you want from me now?" he asked, his tone bitter and biting yet tired and resigned at the same time.
Hadn't this boy done enough already?
"We want to show you a memory," the boy continued.
"I think I've had enough memories for today," he retorted acidly. "Now if you would kindly leave me in pe—"
The boy quickly teleported towards him and before he could react, a flash obscured his vision and he blinked to clear it, moving to bolt upwards and express his outrage towards the brat who had dared assault him but found that he couldn't.
Bewilderment overtook him as he realized his familiar room in the Lumiere had been replaced with greenery and… and Freud, sitting in the grass sideways from him.
Stunned, Phantom stared at him, wonderingly, his mind racing and his heart beating but before he could decide on what to think or even what to feel, a familiar deep voice penetrated the air, addressing the contemplative mage sitting before his eyes.
Are you sure that is wise, master?
The figure shifted slightly but didn't turn towards him, deep blue eyes gazing off into the faraway landscape and Phantom desperately beseeched him to look towards him.
"I am," he replied resolutely.
But your heart—
"Is not as fragile as Phantom's," he finished firmly.
The aforementioned thief's heart skipped a beat at the mention of his name and he finally settled to listen attentively to the ensuing conversation.
He continued softly. "Phantom has never known much love in his life, Afrien. He has never known much of family love, romantic love, or even friendship love and although it seems he has experienced romance with Aria, it doesn't change the fact that he had practically no love in his life and as a result, clings to any morsel presented before him should they pierce his guard. He could easily mix these distinctions together and it would be unfair and erroneous to take advantage of that for the sake of my own feelings.
"If he were to later find out the true nature of his emotions towards me and discover that I had encouraged his illusions, it would be more disastrous to him than to me for it is an act of betrayal by one of his closest and for someone who had so little love, this betrayal could be devastating. It could close him off more than before, depriving him further of the one thing he needs the most."
There was a pause as a pained look flickered briefly across Freud's face before disappearing.
"I love him, Afrien," he stated solemnly and the sincerity that laced those words was enough to take Phantom's breath away. "It was not my intention to play the martyr but Phantom comes first. For him to learn about love, he must untangle his feelings in his own terms, so that he might realize the responsibility he holds in their commitment, so that he may begin to learn distinctions for the future." He closed his eyes, a slight breeze playing his light auburn hair. "And in that regard, I cannot help him."
Phantom's view shifted from the seated figure to the sea of grass before him, to the point in the horizon where the bright blue sky kissed the lush green earth and then the memory faded into white and he was left staring blankly at a slightly blurred silk canopy.
He blinked and was surprised to feel wetness in his eyes.
Freud had been thinking about him all along.
He had been in love with him.
A wave of remorse washed over him as he remembered the point in time in which he had declared them friends. How he must have hurt him and yet Freud had never let it get between them. He had simply accepted and encouraged it and—
Unexpected anger suddenly bubbled in his chest.
How could Freud keep this from him? To simply go along so placidly when he knew full well how much Phantom felt for him. He probably even knew Phantom had been in love with him and yet still asked him to reexamine his feelings! How could Freud do this to him? He wasn't made of glass! All that agonizing only to come up with the wrong conclusion and now… now he couldn't even tell Freud that he loved him too…
Far from elation, the new revelation only served to drain him further and Phantom closed his eyes.
If only Freud had given them both a chance. If only Freud hadn't suggested close friendship. If only he had stayed adamant and not yielded to Freud's suggestion to find distinctions for feelings which he only realized now had no distinctions.
Freud was wrong. Sometimes there were no boundaries between friendship and love or any other emotions for that matter. They blurred together like the colors of an artist's palette, indistinguishable yet still inextricably present even if somewhat muted.
If only he had found out sooner. If only, if only, if only…
Phantom opened his eyes and turned his head towards the boy and his dragon looking anxiously down at him.
Are you okay? Mir implored him, prepubescent voice ringing through his mind, peering at him with yellow eyes.
Phantom sighed and decided not to answer that because at the moment he wasn't sure himself instead asking, "And why did you decide to show me that memory?"
"Because I thought you were upset because you only realized your feelings now but never got to tell Freud and I thought if you knew what he felt or if he already knew, maybe it'd help ease you a bit so I went to see Afrien to find out if Freud might have told him something and he gave us this memory."
So he thought the source of his melancholy was over discovering his feelings for the first time but being unable to confess.
Earlier it wasn't because he was too busy worrying over why Freud might have suggested he rethink his feelings, reasons which ranged from secret contempt or disgust to having someone else he loved.
But now that he knew why and so much more, he was now only beginning to feel the full effects of the regret and the if-onlys running through his head.
It seems the boy's good intention to comfort him had backfired.
"What?" he grunted.
"Do you feel a little better now?"
Phantom stared at the boy, sharp retort ready at the tip of his tongue but faltered when he saw the hopeful look in his eyes.
So eager to do good, to help others yet so naïve in his attempts. It will be his doom.
Phantom sighed and settled for something a little less scathing since his annoyance and frustration wouldn't allow otherwise. "Aside from the fact that what should have been a private memory has been revealed to an unrelated party, yes I feel better."
"You don't have to lie sir," the boy said glumly. "I can tell from a mile away."
Phantom had to agree that it was a terrible lie but he was emotionally drained and mentally exhausted. All he wanted was to be left alone right now and apparently miracles do happen because a second later the boy continued to say, "I'll leave you alone now, sir. I'm sorry I hurt you more."
And with that he fled the room with Mir at his heels.
No doubt he was feeling upset he had made things worse for somebody again but Phantom couldn't bring himself to care. As cold-hearted as he sounded, he had no room to care for anyone else but himself at the moment.
Phantom blew out a puff of breath.
What on earth did Freud see in him?
To this day he never did quite know why Freud chose to allow him in with the rest of the Heroes or why he chose to befriend him but he supposed his dear mage had seen something in him that first night that permitted him to believe in his story spoken in just one card; seen something just as Aria did perhaps.
He couldn't be sure and he didn't know if it mattered now. Aria and Freud were his two most precious people but they were gone now and he was alone once again.
Phantom chuckled humorlessly as he refilled his wine glass and raised it as if in a toast.
"To the many, many splendid and fruitful years to come. Cheers," he whispered and downed the alcohol, seeking one night of reprieve in which he would be free from the ever poignant thoughts of love and of friendship.
Wow I never meant for this to be so long! But at least it was better than the Evan-asks-about-Freud-Phantom-realizes-feelings-aren't-friendship thing I was going for. I feel this has a bit more depth so I'm pretty happy although slightly frazzled at putting this together. What started out as a relatively straightforward one-shot that was supposed to explore the depth of Phantom's relationship with Freud turned into quite the monster.
I think Phantom is a pretty self-aware individual shown most prominently when Tru hero-worships him during the storyline but, much to my eternal fascination, instead of basking in his admiration as someone as conceited as Phantom would've done, he pretty much scoffed at being called a Hero and I find that part particularly interesting and striking to me in showing me a bit more of Phantom's character beyond the bow-before-me-for-I-am-great and the vengeful character we predominantly see.
As an additional side note, I made it so that the Onyx Dragons don't physically speak using their mouths but rather with their minds to explain why Mir couldn't hear Afrien when he reveals their familial relationship when he's standing right beside you and because I don't think dragons have the correct anatomy to speak human language. Besides, the Evan class borrows heavily from Eragon I mean heck, at one point in the first book, Eragon even used the false alias Evan to sneak into one of the cities!