but your wits can't thicken in that soft moist air,
on those white springy roads, in those misty rushes and brown bogs,
on those hillsides of granite rocks and magenta heather.
you've no such colors in the sky, no such lure in the distances,
no such sadness in the evenings.
oh, the dreaming! the dreaming!
Winhill was certainly pretty enough, Kiros mused, glancing up at the jewel-blue sky. A springish sort of breeze played silly music through the blossomtree branches, making the beads in his hair clink against each other. Somewhere, a native bird trilled a sleepy afternoon song, and a child's voice called for its father.
Yes, lovely, he thought, with faint unease.
So what on earth was Laguna doing here?
He couldn't quite wrap his head around it, after the year and a half that he'd searched. A rumor he'd picked up near the mountains (Talks too much? Long hair? Yeah, we remember him.) and now he found himself here. He could imagine Laguna in the middle of Centra continent starting a fried chocobo stand, for example, or else stumbling accidentally into that elusive Shumi village and getting tied up by his ankles. Or worshipped as a god. Kiros couldn't supress the smile. Or maybe both.
But certainly not here, where the light was pale honey-colored and the wind was gentle and there was nothing more threatening than a--
He was caught utterly by surprise by a particularly large funguar, its bulbous eyes glinting wetly at him in that same perfect honey-colored light. Kiros blinked; he hadn't known the damn mushroom things could move that fast. Its sticky slugtrail, that should have been an obvious sign, had gone unnoticed beneath his wandering feet. He swore under his breath, his katal slapping into his palms. Hadn't been two years since the war, but in this town he could almost feel his battle-instincts melting away...
Of course the fight was short, but he took a hit of rather unpleasant magic for being so off-guard. He dusted himself off, the hurt more an annoyance than anything serious. Hyne preserve him, but random monster attacks in the midst of paradise? Heh. Maybe this place could hide a Laguna after all.
A woman with long dark hair was laughing at him. Self-conscious and stiff, Kiros crossed his arms and bowed to her, long braids falling around his eyes. He didn't know how long she had been standing there, and the flowertouched air was making his head feel light, almost dizzy. He was suddenly entirely uncertain how to introduce himself. I am an obvious outsider wandering through your town and getting slimed by funguars, have you seen my best friend?
"Hello," he said, tilting his head toward her.
She was still smiling, but her voice was low and serious. "Hello, stranger," she said, and held out her hand. He took it without question; there was welcome in her eyes, and he was learning not to question small blessings. "I know the monsters make for less than satisfactory hospitality," she said dryly, "so won't you come in?"
Kiros realized the building they stood in front of was a pub, that the hand clasping his was small and strong. He had the impression of graceful toughness, and wondered if she wouldn't have been able to take on a couple of funguars on her own.
In any case, the dimness behind her doorway looked cool and inviting in the midday heat, and he nodded gratefully. "I am in your debt."
Inside it smelled of simmering potatoes and apple cider, with the faintest blossomtree aroma ghosting about the unshuttered windows. It was the closest thing to peaceful Kiros had felt for a long time, and it unnerved him. Easy enough to forget about his quest, in a time-forgotten place like this.
His benefactor pulled a chair up to the bar for him, but he declined it politely. "I was actually wondering--" he began.
"You're from... Galbadia," she hazarded, a brightness in her eyes when he registered his surprise. "You are, aren't you."
Kiros sipped from the mug of chilled cider she handed him, hesitating to answer. It wasn't as if he looked like a typical Galbadian. Hyne knows he'd gotten enough blank stares back home, before he'd been drafted into the army.
She went on, "And you are here--" she narrowed her smile and looked keenly at him, "--because you might be... looking for someone."
Kiros couldn't help it, he set down his drink. "You speak as if you know me," he said formally. Her smile straightened, as she clinked her cup with her own. "He has spoken enough of you, I'm sure, though I must say I never expected to see you taking down monsters on my doorstep. I'm sorry if I startled you. My name is Raine."
"I am Kiros," he said, reflexively, finding a genuine smile. "And thank you. Maybe I needed to be... startled, as you put it. I've been on the road for quite some time."
"I'll have Ellone go wake him up," Raine said, moving to call upstairs. "He will be very happy to see you."
Simple as that.
Laguna, squinting as he came into the muted light of Raine's pub, looked rather alarmingly the same. Kiros didn't know how he could be living in a place like this and remain untouched. Wait. Kiros looked closer-- in the bend of Laguna's head as he stooped to giggle with the little girl, in the shine in his eyes, more than politeness, when he inclined his head to Raine. Maybe Laguna had changed, after all.
"Kiros!!" Or not.
Laguna stopped up short half a step in front of his friend, as if he'd wanted to hug him or some damn fool greeting, but in that half-second of hesitation it had become too normal to have him there, that embracing him felt too silly, overdone. "Kiros," he said again, shaking his head. "How long has it been?"
Kiros could have told him, practically to the day, but knew that's not really what he meant to ask. "Been pretty dull without you for entertainment, my man," Kiros lifted his mug in a mock-toast. "Good to see you safe."
Raine chuckled behind her hand. Kiros met her eyes-- grey like summer stormclouds, low on the horizon-- and bit his tongue. She was a swift one, no doubt. He wondered how much she could hear in his unsaid words... She met his eyes, and her laughter stopped. But then again, he realized, it would be easy for her to understand him, if she were in love with Laguna.
"Elle, will you help me make a nice lunch for Uncle Laguna and Mr. Kiros? You two look tired. Why don't you go-- take a nap?" And there, in that barest pause, Kiros heard it-- the unspoken recognition. I will leave you two alone; I will get Ellone out of your hair. I will not come between you. Laguna hadn't noticed, Kiros was sure, or he would have protested.
So, though he was wishing just the opposite, he smiled and shook his head. For you, Raine. You deserve that much, if you're trying to navigate his heart. No easy task. Know that he is no more attached to me than-- anyone. "Time to catch up on things, eh Laguna?
Laguna grinned boyishly, hair falling across his eyes. "Nee, Kiros. Geez, is it good to see you."
"Laguna's" room was the smallest four-walled enclosure Kiros could remember seeing in a long time, short of maybe army barracks. But he'd never seen army issue bedding that was quite so... pastel. The faded patchwork of the well-loved quilt spilled over the edges of the too-small bed, touching the floor.
Kiros crossed his long legs beneath him, sitting easily on the rug. "So much you could do, Laguna, if you would take up that journalist job. You could see the whole world. Even Raine knows that you cannot stay here forever." Seeing the placid disinterest on Laguna's face, Kiros added, not quite kindly, "Though she might like you to."
Laguna's head snapped up at that, meeting Kiros' eyes at last. "What??"
Kiros sighed. "You've changed," he said softly, curiosity in his voice. Now they were alone, and he thought Laguna just might-- speak to him. Of secrets. Confidences. He didn't know what he expected to hear.
Laguna played absently with his hair, staring out the small window of that tiny room. "Time feels-- all wrong," he said. "Have you ever felt like you were someone else? As if you were looking out of your own eyes but the things you saw were--"
"Of course I have," Kiros interrupted, trying to break the dream-spell of Laguna's words in that lazy warm bedroom. "Everyone has."
Laguna nodded slowly. "Yeah, I guess so." Kiros thought he'd been too sharp, that he'd forestalled any further words from him, but Laguna wasn't finished. And in a way, Kiros was obscurely glad, that this was more the Laguna that he remembered, irrepressible... and talkative as hell. "Faeries, like they say. Flying over us. But sometimes, sometimes-- and I know this is going to sound freaky, Kiros, hear me out-- I just feel like when I go to sleep I won't be ME when I wake up. That I'll dream and-- and lose myself." He shivered.
Kiros moved as if he would have laid a hand on Laguna's shoulder, but Laguna spun around and met his eyes entreatingly. "I'm not making any sense, am I."
Dropping his hand, almost guiltily, Kiros chose his words carefully. "You know more about dreaming than I do," he admitted. "You were always the one scheming up nonsense, after all."
He'd aimed his voice for teasing, casual, like when they'd stayed up late nights on patrol and told each other ghost tales or silly stories to stay awake. But Laguna didn't rise to the bait. "No matter how small this place is I like it, I really like it... and I don't want anything to happen." Laguna laughed, nervously. "I mean, it isn't even really MY bed. And Hyne knows my feet hang off the end. But it's Ellone's, and she's awfully sweet to let me stay here, y'see, and Raine takes good care--"
"It's all right," Kiros heard himself saying. "It's all right." And he touched Laguna's shoulder, too strong a grasp to be misinterpreted, and sat him down on the bed. "You must be tired, you're talking too much. Nap, like Raine said. Sleep, and dinner will make you feel better."
Laguna lay uneasily on his back, staring up at the small ceiling. "Maybe you're right. You were always good at that sort of thing." Before Kiros could decipher just what sort of thing, Laguna rolled over and gave him a look.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Kiros, who hadn't moved, blinked. "What?"
"You've had JUST as busy a day as I have with the monster patrol, and you had the journey here, to boot. You're not getting out of this without sleeping, too." At Kiros' exasperated eye-roll, Laguna chuckled. "If I have to be a toddler and take a NAP, then so do you." He punctuated each of those last words with his hands, raising them beseechingly to tug on Kiros' braids. As if they were still barely out of their teens, in boot camp late at night, nervous as fuck.
At Kiros'-- admittedly feeble-- protest, Laguna beamed. "Room enough for two," he said, indicating the tiny width of the bed with a dramatic sweep of his hand. He laughed. "Well, that is, if they don't mind being in each other's armpits. But we've certainly been through enough together, nee, Kiros-kun?"
Kiros was lost. "Oh, all RIGHT, if you'll just be quiet. I guess I could use some rest."
Laguna's smile was too tentative to be victorious. "Good. I mean-- sometimes it's kind of disturbing to dream alone--"
Kiros cut him off, laying a coffee-colored hand across Laguna's mouth. He opened his mouth without knowing what he was going to say, and was surprised at how reassuring his own voice sounded. "It's all right to dream, Laguna. You're not alone."
"Kiros," Laguna said, sheepishly, into the fingers on his lips. His breath was warm, and Kiros flinched away, almost embarrassed. They shifted, each seeking warmth without wanting to maneuver too close. "No more wars, Kiros," Laguna said, after a moment. "Nothing to fight, really. Just... the two of us." The number was off, and they both knew it. It was only a moment before Laguna murmured, as Kiros knew he would, "I miss Ward."
"So let's go find him," Kiros invited. Come away with me, Laguna. "I'm sure he'd get a kick out of seeing you again."
Laguna made a face. "Knowing us? We'd start another war."
Kiros, eyes dark and intent, was afraid to raise his voice. "Then let us fight by your side again."
And in that instant there was offered a ring of steel, not of gold, a ring of hard metal weapons around them to hold them in, to keep them to themselves-- Laguna and Kiros and Ward. The only circle of arms they had ever offered each other, wound around with a gun and a pair of katal and an anchor. That was all there was to give.
All there needed to be given.
"Kiros," Laguna breathed, seeking refuge.
And Kiros nodded, offering it, winding long arms around Laguna's shoulders and holding him tight against his chest. "Hush," he said. "It can wait until we wake up."
"It had better," Laguna laughed. "Look at the pair of us. Ah, but tease all you like! We've got it where it counts." There was such a look in his eyes that Kiros was moved, knowing for once that Laguna knew more than he was saying. And, without really knowing why, he kissed Laguna on the forehead.
Laguna spoke, awed. "Like being kissed by faeries," he whispered, tracing Kiros' profile with a tremulous finger. "You sure you're real?"
Kiros laughed. "Go to sleep, Laguna."
"Kiros-- will you-- you know, be here? When I wake up?"
Kiros did not have to pretend to smile. "Since you asked me to, my man. I won't leave."
The frown between Laguna's eyebrows eased, and his eyes were already sliding closed. "'Cause you know I wouldn’t want to wake up all freaked out and not know who..." He was asleep.
Kiros chuckled, settling Laguna's head into the crook of his shoulder, savoring the familiar weight of his friend. Beyond the bedroom window a sunwarm breeze blew, carrying a slurry of pearblossoms, falling like a benison of white faery wings.
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