It was amazing how dark the night could be when there weren't any stars to light it.
They'd been camped inside the cave on the veldt for about two days now, and Locke was beginning to wonder if he'd ever get the chance to see the sky again. And it wasn't like he wasn't used to spending time in all kinds of dark and dreary places -- as an aspiring treasure hunter, it was more or less a part of his job description.
It was just that the nights seemed so uncomfortably dark lately, in a way they never had before. There was a heaviness in the air, as if the world was bowing under the weight of the destruction that had swept across it, more than a year ago. Because the world hadn't forgotten. In its own way, it was mourning the loss of all that had gone before.
And it was exactly those kinds of thoughts that were not conductive to sleeping. Sighing, Locke pressed his hands to his knees and stood, shaking out the length of his coat to clear off the moisture he'd collected from the cave wall. It was cold in these deeper reaches of the mountain, and perhaps it wasn't entirely wise to have ventured so far from the fire. There were things in these tunnels that wouldn't take kindly to finding him trespassing here.
Not that the possibility bothered him unduly. He deliberately loosened the leather strap over the hilt of his sword and stretched, almost wishing that something would decide to jump out of the darkness and attack him, just so he'd have something real to fight, instead of just his own fears. But the cave around him remained stubbornly silent.
Feeling a sudden need for human companionship, he started back in the direction of the larger caves. The soft glow of the campfire was unexpectedly welcoming, and he allowed himself a small smile at the sight of it.
Relm was sitting with Interceptor off to one side of the cave, drawing industriously in her omnipresent sketchbook. She looked even younger than she usually did, wrapped up tight in her red wool cloak and hat. It occurred to Locke that she'd aged a year since he'd first met her. That would make her... what? Eleven now? He had to make a mental note to find out when her birthday was, so he could buy her a present.
She'd certainly saved their lives enough times to warrant it, with that strange sketching magic of hers.
Interceptor's eyes reflected the light from the fire, tracking Locke's movement into the cave, but his shaggy head remained on his paws, unchallenging. It was odd, really, how much the dog had taken to Relm. At least Shadow seemed to have ventured off on his own somewhere, which Locke was willing to take as a blessing. There was something about the mercenary fighter that unnerved him, even now.
It looked like Strago was already asleep on the other side of the fire, visible as little more than a thatch of unruly grey hair under a pile of rumpled blankets. There were other bedrolls scattered here and there, which Locke identified after a few moments as belonging to Setzer and Cyan. The others must be out standing watch, somewhere beyond the light of the fire.
Mog was sitting nearby, silken white fur catching the firelight in a ruddy sheen as he sharpened his spear. As always, the sight of the rotund little Moogle made Locke smile; it was hard to find complete fault with a world where something that cute and furry could be considered one of his greatest allies. Mog looked up briefly when Locke stepped into the cave, and nodded, giving him silent reassurance. All's quiet tonight, his eyes said.
It was comforting, in an odd way. These people had become his family in a very short time, and he was glad -- enormously glad -- that he'd been reunited with them once again. They were a motley group, made up of misfits and outcasts, but somehow, they fit together.
"You look like you're contemplating the mysteries of the universe," a soft voice murmured behind his ear.
Locke turned slowly, unable to stop the grin that rose on his face. Yes, this was exactly what he'd been needing tonight. "Maybe I am."
Edgar snorted lightly in amusement, dark eyes catching the light from the fire.
Locke affected a wounded air. "What? You don't believe me?"
"It's not that I don't believe you." Edgar's tone was patronizing, softened by the good-natured humor in his eyes. "Let's just say I've gotten used to taking the things you say with a grain of salt."
"I don't lie." Again, Locke tried to look wounded. Judging by the expression on Edgar's face, he failed miserably.
"No, of course you don't. You just pilfer the occasional pocket every now and then."
And this was familiar, too, in its own way, and comfortable because of it. He grinned. "I'm not a thief."
"Oh, of course not." Edgar's eyes were amused.
"I'm a treasure hunter."
Edgar laughed, long and low, and Locke thought about how much he enjoyed the sound of it. Even before the world's ending, when he'd been a simple Returner spy fighting against the Empire's repression and Edgar had been nothing more than the last in Figaro's long line of kings, he'd found a kind of simple comfort in this man. In a world that seemed to be in a constant state of transformation, it was good to know that some things steadfastly refused to change.
Edgar's fingers wrapped around Locke's elbow after a moment, as his laughter tapered off into silence. Looking suddenly serious, he said, "They should have been back by now."
Locke knew he was worried because his brother was out there on the veldt, hunting down the wild child named Gau. The veldt was a dangerous place, especially in these newer times.
"Nah," he said carelessly, glancing briefly at the darkness beyond the light of the fire. "It's only been a couple of days. Give them time."
Edgar smiled gratefully. Locke was struck by a sudden, almost irresistible urge to hold him, but he didn't dare. Not here in plain view of everyone. While he supposed there were a few of their friends who might have guessed at the nature of their relationship, he also wasn't willing to unnecessarily tempt fate. Homophobia was still an unfortunate part of the world, even now.
"What do you say we go for a walk?" he suggested, keeping his voice low. He could tell by the sudden light in Edgar's eyes that he understood.
Edgar nodded, glancing briefly back toward the fire. "I'll wait for you at the north end of the cave."
Locke watched him go, admiring the way the light caught on the edges of his long hair, which was tied back neatly in its usual ponytail over the backs of his shoulders. There was something regal about Edgar, even here. Even now. He had a strength of character that Locke admired -- envied, even. It was that strength that had allowed him to rule his country in a world torn by war, when the Empire was trying its damnedest to reduce his kingdom to a puppet state. And Edgar had never given up. Never given in.
Not even as the world turned to fire around them.
Locke tore his eyes away and sauntered casually toward the middle of the cave, where he stooped to pick up a spare bedroll. When he straightened, he saw Relm's eyes fixed on him from across the fire, looking far too knowledgeable for an eleven-year-old girl. But she saw things, didn't she? Things most people just... didn't. It shouldn't have surprised him that she'd have picked up on the vibes between him and Edgar, long before now.
Relm smiled slightly and gave him a discreet thumbs up, and Locke felt his face heat as he turned away. Like he really needed the kid's approval. Still, it was kind of nice knowing she was willing to keep their secret. Especially from her grandfather, who Locke had a feeling would definitely not approve.
It was a relief when he finally left the harsh glow of the fire behind him. Edgar was sitting on a broken boulder against the cave wall, waiting for him with his usual calm dignity. He looked up and smiled when Locke approached.
It was dark in this far corner of the cave, more shadow than light, but Locke preferred it that way.
He dropped the bedroll onto the ground and stepped into Edgar's embrace without pausing. It felt so good to be here, surrounded by those strong arms. He buried his face against Edgar's neck and breathed in the scent of him, sweat and wood smoke and wool and some kind of spicy cologne that almost made him laugh aloud -- Edgar's vanity was yet another constant in a world that had become nearly unrecognizable.
"You're shaking," Edgar whispered against his ear, smoothing a hand down the line of his back.
"It's cold," Locke said, refusing to consider the possibility that there might be another reason for it.
Edgar nodded. He continued to hold Locke for a while longer, seeming to take comfort as well as give it, and then he reached down to unroll the blankets and spread them out one-handed across the hard stone of the cave floor.
"Come lie with me," he said softly, pressing a light kiss to the side of Locke's face.
Locke allowed himself to be drawn down onto the blankets, and after a moment's scrabbling to remove their weapons and lay them aside within easy reach, they were stretched out side-by-side together. Edgar was taller than he was, and broader, but Locke never felt smothered when they were together. Edgar never touched him with anything less than complete deference, and it was exactly that kind of cherishing that he needed now.
It seemed like it had been an age since they'd been able to touch like this. Locke let his fingers skim down over Edgar's sides, burrowing underneath his layers of clothing until there was only warm skin under his hands. Edgar's hands moved over his back, stroking deeply, and one trailed up the back of his neck to card through the short thatch of his blond hair. Locke shivered deeply, pressing his head back into the caress, and felt Edgar smile against the skin of his throat.
"Sensuous as a cat," Edgar murmured, sounding amused. Locke nudged him hard with one shoulder, letting him know he didn't appreciate being compared to something so cute and cuddly.
Then Edgar was kissing him, and Locke's minor irritation fled under the onslaught of sensation that moved through him. He flashed back suddenly to the first night he'd kissed Edgar, back when he'd initially been sent to Figaro castle as the young king's contact with the underground Returner movement. There'd been a connection between them even then, impossible to deny. If anything, it had only deepened over time.
Locke made a soft sound when Edgar rolled to cover him, and the darkness around them seemed suddenly cradling, warming. He held tightly to the strong body above him, silently cursing the layers of clothing that still separated them. He wanted Edgar in his bed, somewhere safe where they didn't have to hide. If there was such a place anymore, and he quickly turned that thought aside, not wanting to consider it too thoroughly.
"Easy," Edgar said quietly, sensing his sudden unease. He tongued at the small gold hoop of the earring in Locke's left ear, soothing him with a hand against his side. "Just relax."
But Locke didn't want to relax, because relaxing meant he had to think too much. He pushed at Edgar's chest with both hands, and Edgar rolled aside for him easily, settling onto his back. Locke felt hot now, needy, as he slid a hand down to tangle with the clasp at the front of Edgar's trousers, relishing the small gasp Edgar made as he did so.
And Edgar was ready for this, ready for him, as Locke closed his fingers around the hard length of him, sliding his thumb over the slick fluid gathered at the tip. The feel of it made his mouth water, and he didn't hesitate, moving with reflexive agility to shimmy down Edgar's body, taking the solid heat of him into his throat.
Edgar's hands immediately fisted in the back of his hair, and Locke grinned around the cock in his mouth, picturing Edgar biting hard on his lower lip to mask the sounds he was making. Edgar's body was taut under Locke's hands, muscles straining, and Locke soothed him as best he could, sucking hard. There was no time for niceties here, not with the way he was feeling. After only a few minutes, Edgar stiffened with a muffled cry, filling Locke's mouth with the proof of his pleasure.
The cave seemed unnaturally silent around them, and Locke kissed Edgar's skin gently as he withdrew, savoring the taste of him that lingered on his tongue. Edgar's muscles were lax with satiation beneath him, and Locke allowed himself a faintly smug smile. He tucked Edgar's softening cock back into his pants, smoothing a hand gently down the line of the tunic that covered them.
"C'mere." Edgar's voice was slurred, and Locke's grin took on a more pronounced edge as Edgar pulled him up to lie beside him. Edgar kissed him deeply, humming slightly in appreciation, and Locke squirmed against him, trying to hint that he was still in need of some comforting of his own.
Edgar chuckled softly as his hand made its way down past Locke's waist, flicking open the button on his artfully tight pants easily before sliding inside. Locke gasped into Edgar's open mouth when strong fingers closed around him, stroking hard down his length.
"Easy," Edgar murmured again, leaning in to nuzzle at his ear. "I've got you."
Locke clung to him, closing his eyes hard and trying not to think about where they were, and what they were supposed to be doing here. In his mind there was only Edgar, and the strangely familiar warmth that surrounded him, and the knowledge that in this moment, at least, he wasn't alone. Heat sizzled underneath his skin with an almost electrical fury, stoked higher by the movements of Edgar's hand. Locke thrust his hips into the warmth of it, clinging to the welcome oblivion of passion, of sex, as they rutted in the unseeing dark.
There were tears on his cheeks when he came, muffling his cry against the side of Edgar's neck. Edgar held him tightly, gentling him through it, and then there was only the harsh sound of their breathing, echoing off the hard stones that surrounded them.
"It's okay," Edgar said, cupping a hand over the back of his neck and hugging him tightly. "It's okay, Locke."
Locke pressed his face hard against Edgar's neck, silently cursing himself for being so weak. And he was still crying, damn it.
"It's all right." Edgar's voice was soft, all traces of amusement gone. "I understand."
And that seemed suddenly ludicrous to Locke, because he damn well didn't understand it himself. He fisted his hands hard in the cloak at Edgar's back, refusing to let go. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
He felt Edgar smile against his cheek. "There's nothing wrong with you. You're just... tired." His voice softened slightly. "We all are."
Locke drew in a deep breath and then let it out slowly, considering that. He was tired, tired of the fighting, of being on the run. Tired of this whole accursed world they were forced to live in now, after Kefka's ambition destroyed it.
"I want to go home," he said quietly.
Edgar was silent a moment. Then, "You are home."
Which seemed an unnecessary cruelty at first, until Locke realized that here in the darkness, wrapped in Edgar's arms, it was impossible to tell just where he was, really. Maybe -- now that he stopped to think about it -- home wasn't so much where he was as who he was with. If he kept his eyes closed, it was easy enough to imagine he was anywhere at all, anywhere he wanted to be, warmed by the faint susurration of Edgar's breath moving past his ear.
Slowly, he relaxed, and Edgar's arms lost some of their previous tension around him. He burrowed closer against Edgar's chest, not wanting him to let go. There had never been any promises spoken between them, but still, there was a permanence to the comfort he felt here that he instinctively prayed would never be taken away from him.
"Get some sleep now," Edgar said, brushing a kiss over the hair at his brow, and Locke nodded, already feeling sleepy. It had been a long day, and he was eager to see its end. Morning would come soon enough, with all the challenges and pitfalls it would bring. But maybe... maybe it wouldn't hurt to pretend otherwise.
For just a little while longer.
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