This comes from the 64 Damn Prompts on LiveJournal (by rashaka). I will, most likely, be working through all 64, because I can't bear to leave such a lovely thing unfinished. I will also include the song that helped me write it/find inspiration/that I thought fit the mood.
P.S.~ Oh noes! It's drabbles gone mad!
(…Ignore that, I'm sleep deprived.)
P.P.S ~ This was hard. I'm still not entirely sure about Byron's character—he's a tough one to get right. And yes, this premise is clichéd by now, but I enjoy it, so hush!
Prompt 25: Acid
Music: Inside of Me, by Dead by Sunrise
His sister Madeline had once spoken of the general as the emerald-eyed elemental, but Reeve could never think of him that way. Byron's eyes were not the green of emeralds. They were the green of poison. And, like a particularly insidious poison, they infected him, swarmed through his blood, and settled deep in his chest where no medication or spell chant could touch them.
Even now, six years after the end of everything, those green eyes still haunted him.
Boots clacked and crunched as Reeve made his way through the small white stones and soft white sands of the desert that separated the Eastern countries and the Winterlands. He was tired, almost too tired to stay upright, and especially tired of running—but not yet tired enough to put away the naked sword he carried. After more than five years of running from Hunters from the East, he had run out of hiding places. After the war had ended, and Absolon had been confined to whatever stygian depth the gods sentenced the traitor to, the leaders of the Eastern countries—quite happy to hide in their holes while the Winterlands battled the enemy that threatened them all—had turned their attention to the shapeshifter commander who had fought alongside their own armies for so long.
With his powers gone, exhausted in the kingdoms' defenses, they had considered him an enemy easily removed.
One more threat disposed of.
Of course, they hadn't counted, as Madeline and Troy always did, on his singular ability to overcome life-and-death situations. His powers had come flooding back as the High King's assassin—and really, who else would they have sent for such a task?—struck the second blow.
He had run. Without hesitation, and without pausing to find allies or enemies, and leaving behind everyone he had thought he knew. Troy had found him in a tiny border town three weeks later, cold, hungry, and hunted, and had given him all the information Etienne and Lucien had been able to pass on. The High King had declared him an enemy of Absolon's level, and all soldiers had been ordered to kill him on sight. But, Troy offered cheerfully, the King was coming up against a surprising number of dead ends. Even some of the more obedient soldiers—who, thankfully, remembered just how hard and long he had fought alongside them—were being hesitant and their results were unforthcoming. Knowing that gave Reeve hope enough to keep running.
Hope enough to run for almost six years.
The crumbled ruin of Absolon's fortress loomed against the swollen moon as Reeve climbed over the tumbled wall and made his way towards the one-time throne room. Long shadows flanked him, trailing his steps across the smooth floor, even as he wavered and fell, going down to one knee in front of the white throne. It was an ironic mockery of the war, when Absolon would have given so much to have him—any of the shapeshifters, really—in this position. And now, of all the things that Reeve had faced, all the things he had beaten, it was his one-time lords who had driven him to his knees. His lords, his bone-deep weariness, and the memory of eyes like absinthe and deep green grass.
He still didn't know why he had come here, of all places. Certainly, there was only the slimmest chance of the High King finding him here, because this was the very last place he would ever go. It was dangerous, even though he was more in tune with his power now than ever before. Enemy soldiers and creatures still roamed the fortress in great number, and he was too tired to put up much of a fight to anything. Even now, darkness was wavering across his vision, and his sight was coming back a little more slowly each time. Breath rasped in his lungs, and from the wetness spreading across his torso, Reeve guessed that he must have reopened his wounds from the last battle with the High King's assassins. With a sigh, he released his grip on the sheer willpower that was holding him up, letting himself crumple to the ground. Funny, he acknowledged, that after all the lords and monsters and would-be gods, it was the tiny captain of the assassination squadron, with her ongoing hatred of him, who resulted in his death.
As darkness settled firmly over his eyes, Reeve thought he heard the faintest sound of footsteps coming closer.
The smell of blood was heavy on the wind.
Byron stood in the doorway of the throne room, staring down at the crumpled form in the center. Crimson pooled around him, black in the moonlight, soaking into the tattered remains of his once-fine cloak. A bone-white and scarlet sword lay beside his head, its naked blade gleaming up at the shattered ceiling. But—and this confused Byron more than anything else—there was neither the smell nor feel of his enemy—Byron's one-time allies and subordinates—around the wounds. Moreover, the shapeshifter boy looked weary in a way no battle could have left him.
It was madness, Byron knew. That was what drew him over the smooth floor he had not crossed since his Lord's fall. Madness was what made him lift the young man from his crumpled heap and carry him swiftly—had he always been this light? This slender? Almost sickly thin, as though with a wasting fever?—and silently to the room Byron had appropriated for his own use. After all, there could be no other reason for the gentleness with which he laid the boy down. No other reason for the care with which he stripped the enemy shapeshifter—and was he even an enemy anymore?—of his rags and dressed the wounds he found there.
Madness was all it could be.
It was certainly was not a desire to see the honey-and-topaz eyes that remained troublingly closed.
It seemed as though ages beyond count had passed since the fall of Absolon—which had come about partly through this shapeshifter's efforts—though Byron knew it hadn't really been that long at all. But he had been adrift since then, lost and unsure of his place in this new world without constraints or allegiance owed. There were no orders, was no loyalty that had to be paid, no leader to follow. Byron felt similar to a marionette that had suddenly had its strings severed mid-step. He was lacking focus, lacking a solid center or anything with which to ground himself.
Now, staring down at the shapeshifter on his bed, golden skin all but glowing against the stark white sheets, Byron wondered why he felt steady for the first time in six years.
Reeve woke up feeling warm, in a way he had not in years. The last thing that he remembered was creeping darkness, encroaching death—and thinking that wouldn't the High King be pleased as punch when he showed up among the other lost souls that haunted the desert, without them having to lift a finger—but now, all of that had disappeared. If he had known that this was death, he might have given in to it earlier.
Slowly, Reeve opened his eyes and stared upwards. Instead of the shattered ceiling of the throne room, there was a dark expanse of unbroken stone above him. The bed beneath him was a surprise, as was the thick blanket that kept away the fortress's chill. His injuries had even been wrapped, and he could no longer feel the tacky thickness of dried blood on his skin.
For the first time since he had started running, someone had taken care of him.
"You are awake, shapeshifter."
It was an empty, emotionless voice, one that he had never thought to hear again. But, even now, even here, he couldn't find it in himself to feel surprise as he turned his head to look at the former commander, the very elemental he had faced in battle, while Etienne went for Lord Absolon and the kill.
Despite himself, Byron felt something freeze in his throat at the sight of those calm eyes, nevertheless burning with amber fire. Unable to do anything else, he simply nodded and stepped closer, until he stood right over the shapeshifter. "Your wounds are severe. Do not attempt to rise."
To his great surprise—for he had been imagining the reaction of the aggressive, hotheaded boy he remembered—Reeve nodded in acceptance and let his head fall back to the pillow. "I don't think I could, anyway. Thank you for helping me."
The very strangest thing was that he actually seemed to mean the words. Byron's eyes widened minutely in surprise. "You do not care that we are enemies?"
For some reason, that made the shapeshifter laugh, though it was not a happy sound, and obviously caused him physical pain. He shook his head. "Maybe once. Not anymore."
And with that, his breathing settled into a gentle rhythm, and Byron was left to his own, strange thoughts as his one-time enemy drifted to sleep in front of him.
It was a strange connection that they had, in the days that followed. Byron was as taciturn as ever, rarely speaking more than ten words at a time. But, after so long running alone, Reeve thought even that was something to be celebrated. The ice elemental also stayed near him more often than not, and his company—though silent—was a balm to all the years of loneliness that had come before their meeting.
Of course, Reeve reflected wryly, if someone had once told him he would one day seek solace and safety with his enemy—and especially this enemy, with whom he clashed in the same way ice clashed with fire—while escaping from the High King, he would have laughed himself half-sick. Now, he was hard-pressed to recall even the faintest edge of that old enmity. Instead, they spent their days either in Byron's room—while Reeve was recovering—or picking through the rubble of the fortress to repair what they could.
Byron had, he said, been doing so ever since he had woken up among the white sands some time after Absolon's defeat. Thankfully, the stone was repaired easily enough, if they found if they found the correct pieces and returned them to their rightful places. Within the first week of Reeve's mobility, they had finished the surprisingly large library and several of the rooms the rest of the elementals under Absolon's command had used. Reeve wasn't exactly certain why, but he never said anything. In the same way, Byron never asked why he had appeared here, of all places, battered and bleeding and as close to hopeless as he had ever seen the younger man come. By unspoken agreement, they also never mentioned the past. It was an odd peace, but satisfying.
Satisfying, especially, Reeve thought, in the evenings. Their nights—the time that was usually set aside for sleeping, as the curse Absolon had left on the desert meant that it had no day—were now often spent in the reorganized library, near the large windows, simply taking pleasure in each other's company. They read in silence, or slept, or just sat quietly as the ever-bright moon moved across the dark sky. It was closeness, and kinship, and connection. Neither quite understood, but they accepted. And with that acceptance came an intimacy and understanding that neither tried to resist.
There was no need for words.
Not between them. Not about them. Not for anything else.
Contentment, Reeve thought, leaning into the steely strength and surprising warmth of the Elemental beside him, as the moon drifted above the ruins. And he smiled, just a little bit.
He had not felt this contentment before.
He wouldn't give it up for anything.
Not for anyone.
And Byron looked up from his book, following Reeve's gaze, and the poison-absinthe-acid-grass of his green eyes softened slightly. In anyone else, it would have been a smile.
"It will be a good home," he said simply, and Reeve couldn't have agreed more.