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The Schemes of Ice & Space

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The Director of the Academics Division was an unusual and enigmatic man. Seldom leaving his lab, he was only known visibly by most residents of Radiant Garden, but those who knew him personally found him, while deeply quirky, an otherwise good man. If not a little too obsessed with his work.

And indeed, he was.

What so little knew, however, was that a certain wiseass sniper was his oldest friend...and still a good, close friend to date. In fact, they were best friends, though they never in their lives acted like it. Their friendship was as strange as it was strong, though it wasn't without its own share of secrets.

In the deepest basement of the Academics Division, Director Even stood over a table, his veiny, ice cold skin and blue lips indicative of the freezing state of the lab. He peered into a microscope while carving notes into what looked like a notebook with a razor-thin, pencil-like knife. Around him, items and machines within the frozen room moved, despite the lack of electrical currents running through the machines and the overall frozen state of the items. Such was the full nature of his abilities, when used in conjunction with more mundane tasks.

Something caught his attention off the border of his senses, and his eyes slowly, deliberately glanced over to his far right. Standing in the shadows, which were not there before, stood a familiar shorter, dark-haired man, whose features were hidden by the darkness. What was visible was his torso, showing his folded arms, and his lower body, which showed his legs were also crossed as he leaned against the wall.

Even turned his attention back onto his work, but he gradually let the temperature of the room rise. It wasn't a necessity, as the other man was more than capable of existing quite easily within the room due to his space/gravity element, but doing such a thing was more habit than anything else. "...Can I help you, Braig?" he asked idly, changing out the slide on the microscope for another. "It is rare to find you down here at this time of the morning."

His internal clock impeccable, Even had every accurate idea as to what time it was. It was late, far past the time Kairi went to bed, and so the girl's Knight would be patrolling at this time. A few seconds passed before he remembered the most plausible reason why the sniper would be anywhere but where he should be.

There was a sound of fabric shifting. "...Not really, no. I'm good."

He glanced over to the younger man again, blinking. That was right. Ansem gave him a few days respite to thank him for his sacrifice and bravery the week before. That foolish, poor girl had made such a dire mistake, and no one but her guardian had paid for it with blood.

"...How is your eye?" he asked, his voice subdued.

Moving out of the shadows, the younger Knight caressed the bandage over the right side of his face. Even narrowed his eyes, noticing immediately that something was off about his friend. "...It's fine. No worries, it's gone, anyways, right...?" he said with a shrug, lowering his hand. His dark eye was partially hidden by his lashes, as his eye was slanted, his usual smile slightly lopsided. His face, slightly flushed.

...He was drunk. That, or pleasantly tipsy.

Even sighed, moving from his work to approach the nearest sink. "Your natural eye, yes, is gone. Do you not recall what I said about giving you an artificial eye?" he asked, though his tone was not reproachful. The man had dealt with enough, already, there was no reason to rebuke him for treating himself after his hard work.

Watching the scientist as he washed his hands, the sniper shook his head a bit. "Nope. Things were a bit...fuzzy, right after I awoke," he explained, head tilting slightly to the side. He seemed to admire his friend at a distance, his smile steadily widening.

The sound of a cork leaving a bottle caused Even to look over, drying his hands off. His friend had a small bottle of alcohol with him, which he was currently taking a drink from. He sighed, briefly closing his eyes, but again, had a bit too much patience. He then easily crossed the space between them, reaching for the bandages. "Let me see, then."

Lowering the bottle into a pocket, the younger man closed his visible eye as the bandages were handled, his head slightly adjusted in the larger hands. He didn't mind, his head going a bit slack, and his smile widened a bit more.

Even put all his attention onto the unraveling bandages, his expression darkening more and more as his friend's scarred face was revealed. He then gathered the bandages into his hands before briefly stepping over to throw them into a step-can. Placing his right hand on the unscarred side of the flushed face to hold it still, he used his other to gently touch the scar under the artificial brown eye identical to the other that was closed. He then scanned the scar located at his friend's chin, lips pursing.

"...It's healing well. The combination of time, the tonics and the White Mage's expertise has aided exceptionally, though you will likely remain scarred. You don't need the bandages, anymore," he said, and then smiled a bit when the eye blinked at him. "How's your vision?"

Humming, Braig opened his other eye and looked his friend over before replying, "Fine. Perfect, actually. As always, your skills're incredible, Even."

"Indeed." Complacent, Even took a step back to admire his handiwork, his smile widening.

A soft, humored chuckle escaped the sniper. "Well. Don't you look like you caught the biggest catch of the century," he drawled, his eyes slanting.

His smile growing even larger, Even leaned back a bit in acknowledgement of the praise. Until he took notice of the look his friend was giving him. The strangest flush of emotion and self-consciousness overcame him, then, and he took a single step forward to close the gap between them to grasp the man's chin. "And you have five seconds to sober up," he hissed lowly, his breath cold in the warmer room.

Immediately, Braig did just that, the sudden, jarring cold sending a shiver through him that jolted him to his senses. He pulled away, shaking his head with furrowed brows. "...Sorry. That was...I..." He briefly closed his eyes, his body heaving from a deep sigh. "...I'll keep that to myself, next time. I'll just...send myself out..." he muttered, turning around to leave.

He disappeared into the shadows he came from, which then disappeared from Even's sight in a moment, before he could say or do anything else. The scientist then massaged his temples before closing his eyes.

...Well, that escalated quickly.

There was no way in hell, of course, he was going to let it end that way, so naturally he found himself taking his time to make it back up and out of the Academics Division to track down his inebriated friend.

As he walked, he found himself thinking about what had happened, even though he tried not to think about it. It was just his friend, drunk, being an ass, as usual, was what he tried to think. That would likely work as a plausible excuse, if not for those words "next time". Next time? As in there would definitely be a next time he looked at him like that...?

...He didn't know what to think of that, because it only led to a disturbing thought: how many times in the past had Braig thought things like that about him? Looked at him that way? Exhaling audibly, he ran a hand down his face.

It was too damn late in the night—hell, it was morning—to be dealing with this.

But damn him if he was going to let it end this way.

Unsurprisingly, the first place he went to in search for his friend was where he found him: the Ninth Sphere. The moment he walked in, he sensed his friend's unique, signature presence that he was...likely too drunk to suppress, as was his norm. And indeed, when he neared his presence, one of the first things to come into view was the table he sat at...and the many empty tankards atop it.

He stopped in his tracks upon seeing this, frowning. The barmaid and owner of the Sphere, Erin, slunk to his side, her expression mirroring his. "...He's been like this for a while. No idea what happened to put him into a mood like this..." she said softly to him before giving him an encouraging but small smile and then walked back to the front of the bar.

Well, that was all the proof he needed. Braig had been thinking of this for...some time.

...How awkward...

But he brushed those thoughts away and walked over to his friend's side, watching him consume yet another tankard of ale. Before he could drink another, Even grabbed his hand, stopping him.

The brown eyes looked up at him, and legs were lowered from atop the table to the floor. "...Even, I'm sorry," said the younger Knight, his words only slightly slurred, despite his consumption. "Really, I am. I'm sorry. I didn't...well, I just..."

As his friend rambled, Even sat beside him, lowering his hand to place the tankard back on the table. He then took a closer look at the amount of them were empty. They were all empty, save for the one he prevented him from drinking. That was five. Five tankards.

If there was a time to feel guilty, it was now.

He sighed, green eyes glancing around to inspect the bar. In the area they were at, they were the only visible patrons. The left and right sides of the pillar table were empty, as was the space behind them. He then softly asked, "Braig...why didn't you say something sooner? Tell me how you felt?"

"I just...didn't want to ruin this good thing we have..." Braig muttered, glancing off. He seemed weary, which was likely the case. First the whole ordeal with Kairi and now this. "I mean, come on, man, we've been friends for...what...?" he said, glancing back at him.

Even nodded, a slight smile spreading on his face. "Over twenty years."

"Yeah. Yeah..." Braig looked away. "Can you blame me?"

"No. Not a bit." Even slightly leaned back, cracking a grin. "I am a handsome man, if I say so, myself..."

A small, wary laugh escaped the younger man, and he looked wretchedly confused. "...That's not...funny, Even," he finally muttered, though his expression was humored.

This time, Even was the one to admire his friend, scanning his form, all the while with his smile growing larger. 

Braig's expression worsened to one of even greater confusion, and fingers began to inch towards the last full tankard.

"You've had enough," Even said, pulling it away.

Shoulders slumping, Braig sighed before he opted to look away, muttering, "What is it, then?"

Even briefly looked down at the ale, considering something. Plotting something. He then leaned forward to whisper into Braig's ear.

Gradually, the brown eyes widened with surprise. When his friend pulled away, he stared at him closely, but then began to nod. The tankard was pushed before him, and he found himself almost hesitant to drink it. He then muttered something to himself before lifting it to his lips to drink.

Smiling smugly, enjoying this a bit too much, Even watched closely.

Braig was becoming just a little bit worried by his friend's strange mannerisms—which was saying something in itself—but didn't take long to finish off his drink. His vision wasn't as clear afterwards, neither was he as sober. So he wasn't exactly sure if the older man did indeed take him by his chin before leaning forward to kiss him, but damn, if the idea wasn't a good one.

Cool. Even's taste was cool...and minty. How stereotypical, he idly thought, but then he realized he really liked the stereotype and that it was fine with him. Bitter. He had a bitter taste, as well, but it wasn't jarringly so. It was like dark chocolate, the bitterness...which was...unexpected. Mint and chocolate. He didn't even notice his eyes had closed, so when he opened his to see the icy, bright green orbs staring at him with mischief dancing within their pools, he startled, falling backwards as he pulled away.

However, a strong hand grabbed one of his flailing arms, preventing him from hitting the floor. He was sat upright again, and he blinked the intoxication away, even if only for a moment, touching his lips. "Wha—Even..." he stuttered, "you...?"

"Yes," was all the other man said before brushing some stray dark strands out of the shocked face, his smile content and amused. He then motioned Braig forward, breaking into a smirk.

Braig didn't have to be told twice, turning to straddle the bench, then slid closer before taking Even's head into his hands to kiss him. He felt the other's arms wrap around him to bring him closer, and he didn't resist, smiling into the kiss and emitting a contented hum.

...Well.

This was pleasantly unexpected...

He suddenly emitted a soft groan and pulled away, muttering, "M'too drunk for this, Even..." That much was steadily becoming true, and a part of him wanted to be sober if this was going to continue. He gazed back at the face of his best friend, making a contented smile, but his eyes were half-lidded.

...It was a bit of a goofy but endearing expression, causing Even to chuckle. He then allowed the younger man to lean against his chest, resting his chin atop the black hair while he also shifted to position them better.

Aside from the obvious, this was nothing they hadn't done, before. It made it that much easier for them to do, now that they were evidently progressing into more intimate territory.

...Speaking of territory...

"Do you want to rest at my place?" he offered, his words a murmur in Braig's ear.

The sniper sighed. "Mn...yeah." He drank too much if he was getting lethargic. "...What time's it, anyways..."

"Almost three in the morning."

Though they mentioned it, neither man made any movement to leave. Even then smiled, running his fingers through the black locks. It was silky and weightier than his, smooth and healthy. The younger Knight evidently took great care of his hair. The soft sound his ministrations elicited caused his smile to widen and he brought the locks to his nose, inhaling contentedly.

Braig cracked a small, amused smile. "Bein' weird, Even..."

"I'm simply...fully enjoying you, at last," Even responded, his hand lowering to wrap back around his companion. His other hand then caressed the top of his head.

"...Huh..." Braig softly chuckled. "...Enjoying me, eh...Sounds nice. Dote on me more often, 'kay...?"

A soft laugh emitted from the older man. "I plan to," he assured.

Braig hummed, and then sat up a bit to blink blearily at the pale face. "Tell me...how long?" he asked, resting his head lazily on the broad shoulder.

"...Oh..." Even sighed, glancing off, "...for a very long time. I wasn't fully aware of my affections towards you until...maybe the Daylight Siege?"

Steadily closing eyes opened a bit in surprise. Brows furrowing, Braig murmured, "That was..."

"Fourteen years ago, yes."

"...Damn..." Raising his head, the sniper looked up into the shrewd, icy gaze. "...I beat you by 'bout...five years."

Pale lips curled into an amused smile. "Impressive. That is quite a long time to have wanted this..." Lowering his head, he gently placed a chaste kiss onto Braig's lips. "...And this..."

Brown eyes slanted, and Braig parted his lips to allow a cool tongue to slip into his mouth in a more passionate kiss. Even leaned forward, causing Braig to lean back further. Steadily, he held him closer, and likewise the other man held on to him, until he was practically atop him entirely, holding his face while deepening the kiss.

Braig tasted of alcohol, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant. Perhaps it was his extremely low tolerance to it, but Even had half a mind to think he was becoming a bit tipsy merely from the taste of alcohol in Braig's mouth.

Now on his back, Braig felt even more intoxicated, his head swimming with the beginnings of incoherency. Alcohol had a strange, gradual effect on him; first, he could consume as much as he wanted, during which time the effects wouldn't bother him, and then as time steadily trickled by, he would become more and more incoherent. Sometimes—just sometimes—he could control his body to prevent it from acting on its own...but, unfortunately for someone who could control gravity, different body positions could worsen the alcohol's effect on his mind. If this continued, he was going to pass out, sooner than later.

They parted, both breathing slightly harder, their eyes slanted with passion and want.

Feeling a cool hand slide up under his shirt, Braig's eyes rolled closed. "Even..." he groaned, "m'too...gettin' too drunk fer this..." His slurred words were a greater indication of his rapidly increasing intoxication.

Amused, Even paused his hand. "What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"Mn...M'gonna...pass out..."

"Is that a problem?" Cool kisses to the man's neck.

Braig's breath hitched. "Won't be able t'enjoy ya..."

"Hmm...You can have your way with me when you sober up..." Even whispered into his ear, "In truth, I've always found you attractive like this...Let me enjoy you?"

A shiver from cold breath. "Mm...'kay..." Braig smiled, cracking open his left eye when the cool kisses continued along his jawline before reaching his mouth again in a kiss. He relaxed upon the bench, lowering his hands to let them go limp upon his chest.

His other eye opened when his hands were grabbed and raised over his head upon the bench. Even used only one hand to do this, the other crawling up his chest again while the kiss deepened. He softly groaned, strangely enticed by his new, vulnerable position. Letting the older man dominate the kiss, he closed his eyes again, enjoying the attention.

For so long, he wanted this. Nineteen years was a long time, and his patience was being well-rewarded, at last. He shifted, catching his breath when they parted. He wasn't much of a sexual person...but he was nonetheless becoming aroused by all the attention. Attention given to him by none other than the one he pined for during those nineteen years, on top of that. His enticing position wasn't helping either...

He was never self-conscious. Overall, he was carefree, devil-may-care and individualistic. He knew he was a rather small man, at least in comparison to his many peers. It never bothered him, even at his age.

...However.

He was feeling...differently...about his stature, now.

Even was the fourth tallest person in Radiant Garden at just under 6'5'', and like many his height, sported a fit, intimidating frame with a surprisingly muscular physique normally hidden under layers of clothing. Not many outside of the Corps knew this.

There was just...something about the way the man's larger frame visually dominated his, was so much bigger, that brought Braig some excitement that he never knew would excite him.

And it was beginning to show.

It didn't go unnoticed. Slanting his eyes, a sly smile creeping onto his face, Even ceased tweaking Braig's nipple to lower his hand down over the budding bulge in the dark pants. The audible hitch of breath and following groan caused his smile to widen significantly.

"Marvelous..." he murmured, moving his hand back up to take Braig by his chin. Brown eyes, hazy from intoxication, fatigue and arousal, shortly met his. "...Marvelous." He pressed his lips over the parted mouth that was all too eager to be kissed again. He reached down again and cupped his hand over the bulge, then smiled at the resulting choke made by his companion. But he didn't break the kiss, opting to give the bulge gentle strokes instead.

This time, Braig broke the kiss, breathing a curse, before bucking against the large hand.

For several minutes, this went on, the bench softly creaking beneath them. Even silenced Braig's moans with a long, tender kiss, and the hands he held back were grasping him tightly. Steadily, Braig's breathing quickened and he tensed, his eyes partially open to stare off blankly with lust. And then his breathing became hard and fast, as did his thrusts. He finally shuddered before arching his back, locking up, as he orgasmed. His eyes rolled closed, and he groaned deeply within Even's mouth. Only then did they break apart, causing Braig's soft pants to become audible, and Even eased his strokes until the residual high ebbed.

Groaning, Braig went lax, slanting open his eyes with a wry smile pulling at his lips. "...You gotta do that again," he whispered. He was even more exhausted, now, and his fatigued expression emphasized this.

Even let go of his hands, mirroring the smile, though his was more mischievous. "I will...but not now," he promised, sitting upright. He briefly leaned over to place a chaste kiss upon the parted lips before moving to sit correctly on the bench with his back of the table. He gently patted Braig's legs. "You're tired," was all he said, though his expression didn't change. He felt rather complacent.

Nodding, the younger man slowly sat upright, but the world spun, causing him to fall over and onto the floor face-first.

Briefly closing his eyes, with a sigh, Even lowered to help the man up and then stand. He didn't feel quite sober, himself, not after the long kiss he shared. He was certain it wasn't normal to become intoxicated off someone else's breath...or their saliva. He would have to look into that. But he knew his body well enough to tell when something was amiss, and something was a bit...off.

Braig's arm slung over his shoulders, he led the way out of the bar.

Upon seeing them, Erin shook her head with a small smile. "See you, gentlemen," she said with a wave.

Even nodded at her, whereas Braig gave a drunken little wave back.

Though they could both teleport, Even took his sweet time walking, hoping to do so for at least a quarter of the way. He wanted to see if the cool air would help his companion sober up, a bit, but...it was only a hope.

-:IIxIV:-

Fifteen minutes later, they appeared within Even's home in the living room. The moment they did, Braig covered his mouth, on the verge of vomiting. Quickly, Even led him to the bathroom, where the younger Knight proceeded to vomit the contents of the entire morning into the toilet, down on his knees.

Behind him, Even shook his head. This, too, was not new to them. Truly, they were close friends, already...

After several successful heaves, Braig finally stopped. He stayed there for a moment, breathing heavily, and then spit into the bowl. He slowly went to his feet—unsteady, but standing—and flushed the toilet. Turning, he leaned against the wall, glancing blearily at the man in the doorway.

"...I...I blame you...fer this..." he muttered, taking the towel that was offered to him to wipe his face.

Pale lips quirked. "Very well, but I refuse to take all the blame," Even conceded. He moved from the doorway. "I'll get the bed ready. You wash up," he said. He then turned to walk down the hallway towards the entrance to his lab.

His lab was almost exactly like his lab within the Academics Division, save for a small, functional living quarters hidden around a corner. It was impossible to see from most angles, as it was created as an optical illusion to look like a single wall instead of two; the darkened hallway leading to the room was hidden.

This was where Braig would stay, and had stayed, many times in the past during times or occasions like these. Because a little-known fact was that Braig didn't like to live alone, and such times he was inebriated was when that fear would surface with a vengeance when it was otherwise well hidden and dealt with. It was strange, but Braig was a very strange man.

The room was already prepared, but Even made doubly sure. He then teleported back to his lab in the Academics Division to retrieve some of what he had been tinkering with beforehand before bringing them back to his home lab.

He dove immediately into his work, more than momentarily forgetting about his guest. But he was in the middle of a scientific breakthrough. The fact along that he could pull himself away from his work for Braig—even as mere friends—spoke volumes.

For almost an hour, he worked in perfect silence, save the sounds of tinkering, in his ideal element. The lab was already beginning to frost over when a distant thump brought him back to recalling...

...Where was that man?

He paused at the thought, and then stopped altogether. He quickly placed his work down and raced out of the lab. His friend was drunk. He could hurt himself in that state; hell, he almost drowned himself, once.

Even forsook running and teleported before the bathroom door—just in time as the man stumbled out. He almost didn't catch him, but he did fall back from the sudden dead weight. Bleary brown eyes opened to look up at him. "M'okay," Braig slurred. "Hit m'head, but...s'okay..." He gave out drunken giggles, rubbing his head before grimacing.

So, that's what the thump was. Even lowered and kissed the injured forehead, and then realized Braig's hair was down, splayed out over them. He leaned back to admire him, some more.

Braig's hair was very, very long, quite a bit longer than his. It reached the sniper's waist, and it was still growing. Rather, the man was still letting it grow. Of all the former Organization members, Braig had the second longest hair, with Even himself in third place.

...He had a theory as to why Braig was letting his hair grow so long, but wasn't entirely certain about it...

Lying on top of him, Braig opened his left eye. "...'Sup, Even..." he mumbled, clearly in need of rest, at last.

Even simply smiled at him before offering his hands as he stood. Limp hands rested in his and he pulled Braig off the floor, then allowed the smaller body to rest against him as he led them to the room within the lab.

Braig was led to the bed, but he pulled Even down with him. Even didn't object, resting beside his companion, who was asleep seconds after his head hit the bed. A minty exhale brushed against his face, and the scientist rolled his eyes. He then stood up and stayed for a moment longer, admiring the sleeping form, before shutting off the lights and leaving.

He returned to his work with a contented smile upon his face.

Chapter Text

Bright green eyes blinked open. Sitting up, Even sighed to himself and then grimaced at the dull throbbing in his head. So, not only did he fall asleep at his work table, but he did indeed get tipsy earlier that morning. There was no other reason for the throbbing, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. He lowered his internal body temperature to ease the headache as he walked towards the washroom to freshen up.

At the same time, Braig had been awake for several hours already, as it was around ten in the morning. He sat upon his bed, fully coherent and awake, idly braiding his long hair from restlessness...but was confused.

Now, he was no pushover, as far as alcohol consumption went. He had a painfully, dangerously high tolerance, one cultivated during his adolescent years but amplified by his abnormal genetic makeup, and even six tankards weren't his limit. Furthermore, alcohol's effect on him wasn't normal, and he didn't even suffer from blackouts very often. He could even normally recall most of what occurred when he was drunk.

Perhaps it was the nature of what might—or might not—have happened that had him so deeply questioning and over-analyzing whether it happened or not.

And it bothered him.

He frowned at his hazy consciousness from the early morning. He recalled what happened, or most of it...but not if it was or was not a dream.

Before he did or thought of anything more, he needed clarification. The last thing he wanted was to strain his relationship with his best friend over something...so...unnecessary. He could handle rejection, just so long as they remained friends. They had to.

His mind finally made up, he stood from the bed and left the room.

The washroom was occupied, so he waited, resting against the wall of the hallway with his arms folded and eyes closed.

...Eyes.

He idly reached up to trace the scar over his right eye. The artificial eye was just as good as his real one was; gave him 20-20 vision, a keen sharpness. If not for the phantom pains, painfully vivid recollections and his scars, it would be easy to forget he ever lost his eye...He had Even and the White Mages to thank for that.

The washroom door opened, causing him to glance up to see Even exiting. The older man had his hair up in a messy bun, and the sharp orbs focused on him, taking in his appearance.

"What ails you, Braig?" he asked, ever keen to his friend's body language.

Lowering his gaze, Braig closed his eyes again. "...Just...wondering if what happened this morning...was a dream or not," he said with a resigned sigh. He braced himself for disappointment.

Even cocked up a brow. "...What happened, this morning?" he asked.

Teeth clenched, his jaw locked. Braig nodded, moving off the wall. "...Nothing," he muttered. He began to walk towards the door to leave the lab. "...Was just a dream, then..."

Icy green eyes followed his movement. "What kind of dream...?" Slowly, Even also approached the door.

Braig stopped. He recalled cool kisses, tender and passionate. The gentle hand that ran through his hair. The amusement and compassion that danced in the green pools watching him, now.

...Yeah, it couldn't have happened. It wouldn't be the first time he had such vivid dreams...

He shook his head, not meeting his friend's gaze. "...A good dream," he responded. "Too good to be true."

Even's expression gradually changed.

Braig then glanced up, beckoning towards the room. "Thanks for letting me stay, again. I think I'm gonna ask Lord Ansem to let me go back to work," he drawled, managing a lazy smile.

Platinum brows furrowed, and an ice wall suddenly appeared in front of the doors. It meant little, in the grand scheme of things, but the gesture spoke louder. Brown eyes looked into angry green, confused.

"You will do no such thing," Even hissed. He swiftly crossed the gap between them. "You have not yet recovered."

Braig looked up at his oldest friend, his expression largely unreadable. He was well aware he was being foolish, but he quite frankly didn't care. He was sure he could handle going back on the force so soon, and he needed the immediate distraction.

Crossing his arms, as if knowing his mentality, which he could have, Even asked, "What is bothering you, Braig?"

Continuing to stare, Braig caught a glimmer of something in the older man's expression. He scrunched his brow, and the expression changed again. The narrowed eyes became slants and the frown was turning into a steadily mischievous smile. He risked some emotion, confusion settling into his features.

The man then reached up to place a hand on his chin, inadvertently causing him to lean forward.

...He wanted it so badly...

He licked his lips, watching the pale ones when they moved. "...Braig, are you alright?"

He then blinked, realizing what he was doing. The long-forgotten tint of yellow was creeping into his left eye, and he could sense his anger ready to burst from his chest. He quickly looked away, calming down, but then covered up his mistake by openly glaring. "...You..."

He grabbed the taller form and slammed him against the wall. His expression was irritated as it was appalled, scared at what he almost did and why it almost happened. He didn't give Even a chance to speak, pressing their lips together and forcibly slipping his tongue past the man's lips.

What was even more telling was how the man responded in kind, gently taking him by his chin again and allowing the kiss to deepen without a fight.

But he abruptly pulled away to give himself another chance to calm down. This never happened before. He was sure his left eye had the tint of yellow in it, again, and he closed it. Normally, he had all his emotions in check. But Even...He just wanted him so much...

Likely sensing his emotions, and figuring his eye was not a good sign, Even looked sincerely apologetic. "...I apologize..." he said softly, though remnants of mischief were still in the depths of his eyes.

Exhaling audibly, Braig ran his hands over his head and sensed he was in control, again. The yellow had faded, so he opened his eye to give a full-on glare. "Don't...don't play around with my heart like that," he warned, though he didn't sound as as angry as he could have been. He was greatly subdued. "...Damn it...I...could have hurt you, Eve."

Even blinked, he pet name successfully distracting him from the matter of the eye. "...Eve," he repeated. "...Why, Braig. You haven't called me by that name since we were children..."

Moving closer, Braig rested his head on Even's chest. "Yeah, that's what you get, asshole," he muttered, but he was relieved for more than one reason.

It wasn't a dream.

Arms wrapped around him, holding him close. He closed his eyes and relaxed, just as Even chuckled, "I hated that name."

He softly laughed, smiling when he felt Even's chin rest upon his head.

"...Don't think I've dismissed your eye, Braig."

He frowned. "Shit."

It was too early for this.

Chapter Text

The news of Braig's death left nearly all of the residents of Radiant Garden in mourning. The return and knowledge of the threat of Organization XIII had everyone on the alert, from the children to the soldiers, and the most recent battle fortunately gave way for a reprieve. However, it was an uneasy silence, with the residents waiting for the next, inevitable attack upon their beloved home.

The Director of the Academics Division was in recovery, given orders by Ansem the Wise himself to rest and recuperate from the injuries he sustained during the last siege. And so, he rested within his home. Rarely could he be found at his home, and even more scarcely was he not within his lab when he was.

His eyes were closed as he laid supine atop the comforter on his bed. At the bedside table, a cup of tea was cooling, having been ignored by Even in favor of sleep. He wasn't quite awake, wasn't quite asleep, and his mind was just put to ease from the rushing flurry of thoughts he had for the past several days.

He wasn't aware of it, but those who knew him considered his reaction to Braig's passing to be just as bad as Kairi's, and the girl was actually there when he died. Granted, no one save Ienzo was privy to their private life together, but several of the Knights and some residents were aware of their strong, decades-old friendship.

Despite his injuries, he had spent the initial day after the attack throwing himself into his work in a mix of snow flurries and below-freezing temperatures. Inevitably, he worked himself to unconsciousness, which led to the order by Ansem to rest and stay out of any and all labs. During the 24 hours he had spent in his lab, while he was no different from his norm, there was a sadness about him, a deep hurting, that only his closest companions noticed.

They knew better, however, than to console him.

As he rested, a dark shadow abruptly passed through the room. A corner of the room then turned black from an unnatural darkness. From out of it, a dark figure emerged, covered from head to toe in a black, hooded coat, black gloves, and matching boots.

After emerging, the figure didn't move, staring at the man upon the bed as the Corridor closed behind them. For several minutes, they stood there, quiet and blending into the natural darkness of the room itself. When they finally moved, they came close to the bed, their footsteps soundless without any visible effort.

For several minutes more, they stared again, this time standing so close, they hovered over the still supine form. Finally, a gloved hand reached out, only to halt mere inches from the man's body. The hand retreated, fingers curling into a loose fist, and a masculine voice murmured, "Not drunk enough for this..."

They retreated into a Corridor with haste.

-:IIxIV:-

Twenty minutes later, the figure reemerged from a Corridor into the room, stumbling and unsteady on their feet. They leaned against the wall as the Corridor closed behind them, muttering, "...'Kay...a lil' too drunk..."

Regardless, they shambled over to the bed again, reaching out.

Abruptly, green orbs snapped open.

The figure stopped, freezing in place. "Oh, sh—"

Even cast a pillar of ice that rose from the ground, but the figure, miraculously, dodged. However, they tripped over their own feet and collapsed unceremoniously to the floor just before the spot they once stood at was assaulted by a freezing chill that would have frozen them solid on the spot.

On his feet, Even went rigid upon hearing a familiar chuckle. Slowly, he moved to the front of the bed, peering down at the supine, black-clad form. "...Braig...?" he said warily, softly with disbelief.

Another chuckle. "Eh..." The figure didn't bother moving. "...Not quite..." they said.

Without hesitation, Even approached the figure, then reached down and pulled their hood back.

The face that greeted him was painfully familiar...as was the piercing yellow orb that stared at him. He gasped in surprise and horror, taking some steps back. "Xigbar..." he said softly, anger overcoming his features. "...You have that man's heart inside of you, again."

It had to be so. The discolored left eye, and even more telling, the pointed ears. It was the same as then, in the Before, save the obvious changes. The man before him was a Nobody.

Xigbar made a dry smile, his eyes slanting with some humor. "Nah, you got it wrong...Braig had a piece of the old hoot in him...making me...half-Xehanort," he corrected. Slowly, he sat upright. "Don't bother asking if I have any say in the matter, 'cause regardless, I'm loyal to that geezer."

"Then why are you here?" Even frowned, eyeing him. "...Alive? Miss Kairi saw you—saw Braig die."

A gloved hand waved as Xigbar explained, "Mn, yeah...sort of. Long story short, next thing I know, I'm me, again. This time, however, without a certain spiky-haired, key-wielding brat after me..." He thought about it. "...For now."

Even digested this with difficulty. All he could muster was yet another soft, "Why are you here...?" Watching as Xigbar went to his feet, slightly swaying all the while, he added, "...And intoxicated, on top of that..."

Xigbar sighed, moving backwards until he was leaning back against the wall for support. He lowered his gaze. "...Maybe it's some...sentiment...left over from my time...whole." He slightly shook his head, and then glanced up. "...Maybe...I missed you."

Even's eyes narrowed dangerously, his expression darkening.

"...Hell, I dunno...I had this...this plan to come see you, but..." Slightly hiccupping, Xigbar shook his head again. "Mn, didn't plan anythin' past that. Couldn't....couldn't come up with...anything past that..."

Watching him, Even found his gaze easing too easily. Those mannerisms were just...

There was a silence between them as Xigbar swayed, closing his eyes and trying to think of what to do next. He then shrugged. "Maybe...I should leave, now," he muttered.

Even glanced away, moving a bit to stand in front of his bed, but remained silent. Truthfully, he didn't know what to do, in this situation, either. Technically, Xigbar was his enemy. A very real enemy. His guards were lowered, he was incoherent...This would be an ideal time to attack, perhaps.

And yet...

He focused back on the Nobody moving and stumbling off the wall.

"...Drank...too fuckin' much..." he mumbled, brows slightly furrowing. He then glanced at Even, who looked resigned and amused with his eyes slanted.

...That look.

Xigbar briefly closed his eyes, then opened them and glanced back at the older man again. This time, a touch of sadness replaced the amusement, but the green eyes remained slanted, pallid lips remained slightly quirked.

...Damn that look.

He turned towards him before taking stronger steps forward. Slight wariness overcame Even's features, yet he didn't move. In fact, he seemed to be...almost anticipating something...

At the very last moment, Even's lips spread into a sly smile just before they were captured by Xigbar's. The movement caused them to fall back onto the bed, and they were in an embrace, with Xigbar holding Even's head while deepening the kiss. His tongue roamed, dabbled and caressed, eventually eliciting a soft moan from the man beneath him. Pleased, he gently broke away, and cold air was breathed into his open mouth, sending a shiver down his spine.

Even exhaled audibly when a mouth went to his neck, nipping and licking him, and his hands were then restrained by familiar wisps of silver and black over his head. Lifting the older man's shirt, Xigbar removed his gloves and set about caressing the pale skin, mouthing at nipples. His efforts were paid off, judging by the soft, lovely sounds emitting breathlessly from the man's mouth.

"Hmm, missed me, didja?" he teased, moving up to kiss the man's jawline while one of his hands moved lower.

Even's feet twitched as he was caressed. "Mm...I thought you...were dead..." he breathed.

"Aw, babe..." Xigbar took a moment to give his lover a tender yet playful kiss, and then he kissed the man's eyes to wipe the gathering moisture away. "...I'll make up for that." Smirking, he captured the panting mouth with another kiss, all the while resuming to caress the large bulge growing under his hand.

Squirming, Even groaned into the kiss, causing the Nobody to pleasantly shiver from his cold breath. Warmth was gathering within him, and before long, he was bucking against the hand. He was grasped harder, and he thrust in response with a short spasm of pleasure. He also noticed Braig was purposely having him swallow his saliva. The man was trying to get him tipsy...and it was working.

His eyes rolled closed, the mix of pleasure and the awareness of the familiar presence being the cause driving him up a theoretical wall. His thrusts were spasmodic, his feet twitching in synch, and the dark chuckles of amusement were not helping. He broke away from the kiss, softly gasping, and then turned his head away when a yellow eye bore into him.

Into his ear, the low voice whispered, "You're always sexy like this, Even..."

He shivered, and his thrusts became willingly faster and harder, and he shut his eyes completely. Too easily, he reached a climax, and he arched slightly, emitting harder pants, as he orgasmed. Xigbar watched him with a strange look in his eyes, his smile pleased and appreciative. He didn't see Even like this enough. He silenced the pants with another kiss, one that was unusually affectionate, and slowly trailed his hand up to join with his other as they were placed on each side of the pale face.

Coming down from his high, Even was taken by surprise by the gentleness of the kiss. He responded in kind, and only when he was able to wrap his arms around the smaller man did he realize his hands were free. He found his legs also moving to hold the man against him, and for the first time in days, he finally realized he could admit it: he missed Braig. He missed Xigbar.

He longed for him.

Xigbar softly exhaled, closing his eyes. He had half a mind to realize maybe this was a mistake, coming to see Even. After all, he was going to leave soon...and he was believed to be dead up until this point...Furthermore, the next time they saw one another, they would be enemies...not to mention they technically were enemies, already, making it that Even was fraternizing with the enemy...Wouldn't that make their parting even harder...?

As if reading his mind, after they gently parted, Even softly asked, "Do you have to go back?"

His expression becoming vague, Xigbar slanted his eyes open. He moved back a bit, caressing the man's cheek, to look into glassy ice green orbs. If he had a heart, it would be breaking from that look. "...Gotta, babe. Can't fight against all of my desires," he softly chuckled, eyeing him, "...obviously."

Even blinked away the wetness in his eyes. "...Kingdom Hearts?" he asked softly.

Xigbar looked away. Wouldn't be the first time he silently cursed the darker heart that made up his being. "...Yeah. An'...the war..." He moved away, and then slowly sat upright on the bed to stare off in thought, though he slightly swayed and hiccupped.

...Even knew that look. Despite the Nobody's incoherency, it showed. That was how intense the look was, and in this situation, it frightened him. He sat up and moved to hug his best friend from behind.

A yellow orb glanced back at him, expressionless and subdued.

"...You're going to do something," Even said, his voice a whisper. "...Something only you can do."

Instead of answering, Xigbar's upper lip twitched, and then he pulled away to quickly stand upright. That was a mistake, of course, and he grabbed onto the wall for support, but he was looking away. "Drop...drop it, Even," he snapped. He swayed a bit, nearly keeling over, but caught himself. "Shit...Never should have come..."

Watching him, Even made a small, sad smile. The Nobody was still Braig, after all.

Said Nobody's breath suddenly hitched, and then he leaned heavily against the wall as the world spun. His legs nearly gave out, and he began to dry heave.

The smile faded into a thin line. Even stood off the bed to approach the shaking form. He placed a hand on the Nobody's lower shoulder, which caused him to glance back.

Breathing heavily, Xigbar didn't look too well. His eyes were bleary and slightly red, and saliva dripped from his upper lip. He gave an equally lopsided, sad smile. "...Fuck, Even..." he murmured, his voice low and pained. "...I missed you so much."

He turned into an open embrace, Even's arms enveloping him tightly and possessively. "I know," Even said softly, closing his eyes. "...I know..."

"...S'not...gonna be...pretty..." Xigbar mumbled, his words trailing off, and then he went slack as his legs finally gave out.

Even held him in a strong grasp, and then moved him back to the bed. "Rest," he ordered, helping the younger man lay down.

Xigbar didn't fight, too inebriated and fatigued to do much more than obey. He laid supine, his eyes closed, and was still in seconds. Already, his heavy breathing was evening out. Even laid beside him, his lips spreading into a small smile. He then moved to press kisses to the younger man's neck, earning a low groan in response.

"Even..."

"Mm hm?"

"...M...m'too drunk fer this..."

That was rewarded with a savoring kiss, causing a yellow orb to slant open. It stared into cool green eyes, and slowly its owner reached up to take hold of Even's head. Fingers ran through the platinum blond locks before the eye slowly closed and the hand went limp as sleep finally took him.

Even broke the kiss, smiling when soft breathing emitted from his companion. He knew Xigbar would be gone when he awoke. As he was still recovering, Even was tired, and the earlier excitement made him only more so. Undoubtedly, he would sleep longer than the Nobody would.

The thought brought some sadness to his smile, but there was nothing he could do about it.

With that in mind, he rested against the warm body and closed his eyes. The rhythm of gentle breathing soon lulled him into a contented sleep.

-:IIxIV:-

Merely a few hours later, Even rested alone on the bed. A hooded figure watched him soundlessly, standing over him. A gloved hand reached out and gave the pale cheek a gentle, feathery caress, which lingered when the sleeping body stirred with a soft sigh. The figure then moved away, lowering their hand, and opened a Corridor to leave. They glanced back at the bed for a fleeting moment, and then unwaveringly disappeared into the darkness.

Chapter Text

Even sat at his desk, going over paperwork from his division. It wasn't the most stimulating work, but he did enjoy seeing and learning of discoveries, propositions and ideas his subordinates had. What he had little care for was the managemental nuances of being the director of a Division, but even that wasn't entirely unbearable.

He wasn't paying much attention, focusing on his work, and so he didn't notice when a corner of the room to his far left became black by unnatural shadows.

A small smile came to his face as he read a report from Ienzo, his godson and protégé. It was always nice to read what the young man had developing in his genius mind, and the report was on a theory relating to the "Awakening" they had recently experienced. Even himself had several theories as to what it could mean, but Ienzo's was more...more...

He slowly, deliberately glanced over to his left. There, in the shadows that did not belong, stood a too-familiar Knight partially hidden in the darkness. All that was entirely visible was his folded arms and crossed legs as he leaned against the wall.

Focusing back on his work, Even's smile slightly widened. However, he did not acknowledge his old friend, instead finishing his work properly and without haste. He finished reading Ienzo's report before moving onto another, never letting the dark figure out of his peripheral vision.

By the time he was done reviewing and filing, the shadows had disappeared, showing Braig was nodding off with his eyes closed, his position unchanged. Even finally moved to close and lock the door, which roused he sniper from his dosing. Slanted brown eyes easily adjusted to the darkness as the lights went off, watching as Even moved into the adjoined meeting room and then glanced back at him, beckoning him inside.

He cracked a sly smile, moving off the wall to saunter over. "I knew you couldn't ignore me forever," he teased, closing the door behind him as he entered.

Even softly scoffed, eyeing him as he approached. He stood near his chair at the head of the meeting table, his hands held behind his back. "I wasn't ignoring you," he said, focusing back on the slanted eyes. He deduced his friend was tipsy. "One must finish their work before...indulging."

Braig sat down in the chair at Even's right, his smile smug from the unusual praise. "I'm an indulgence, eh...Sounds nice. You should indulge more often, if that's the case," he chuckled, leaning back in the chair.

"Perhaps..." Even agreed, slowly approaching him, keeping eye contact.

Braig's smile widened as he came closer, his smile widening knowingly. "...Nice room you have, here, Even...Lots of, ah...table space."

A hum was his response as Even lowered his head, lifting a hand to the scarred chin before proceeding to kiss him. Of course, as he figured, he tasted alcohol.

Sighing contentedly, Braig closed his eyes. When the kiss gently broke, he tilted his head slightly to the side and slanted open his left eye as kisses were trailed down his face and neck.

"...You've been drinking..." Even murmured. The smell of alcohol wasn't very strong, however, also as he deduced. "...Ale, again?"

Braig closed his eye, quirking his lip. "Hm, you know I love a good drink," he softly laughed. It had been a stressful day, in more ways than what people were aware of. His ward had trained, which meant triple the amount of stress on his body, earlier that day. Oh, if only Even knew...

"For what reason?" the scientist asked curiously. He had an idea, but wanted to be sure before he pressed on.

It wasn't that he hated alcohol so much that it bothered him to smell and taste it from Braig, but he was concerned for his oldest friend. He was in his late 30s and had been a heavy drinker since adolescence; in no way, shape or form was that healthy. Not that Braig was anything near an alcoholic, thank Kingdom Hearts...

A deep sigh escaped the sniper. "I'd tell you," he said softly, distractedly, as his throat was kissed, "but...mn, I'm not drunk nor sober enough to tell it."

Pausing, Even slightly pulled away to look up into a slanted gaze. The meaning behind those words wasn't lost on him. "...You won't tell me?" It must not be what he thought it was, then...

Instead of answering, having backed himself into a verbal corner, Braig looked away. There was a look of regret and guilt in his eyes that only Even could catch.

At this, with a peeved glare, Even stood upright and crossed his arms to stare down at the younger man. As if he was just going to let that look go without an explanation.

Under the pressure of the gaze, Braig's already wavering willpower crumbled. He ground his teeth before muttering, "...Fine, I'll tell you...but first," he mumbled, looking up, "I'll need more to drink."

An icy glare was leveled at him.

He let out a heavy, burdened sigh. "...I mean it, Even," he said, looking away again. His voice was growing weary.

Even exhaled in a huff, though his glare slightly lessened. He then turned to leave the room, going back into his office.

After he left, Braig sat forward, his head held in his hands to stare at the floor. He was dreading this moment. Had been dreading it, for every year of his conscious life. His literal dark secret he was so willing, so hoping to take to his grave...

But it was Even, right? He could do this, as long as it was Even...

...Right...?

He waited in the room for what felt like several painfully long minutes, but he was sure Even was looking for the most potent alcohol he could find. Which, for Braig, was fantastic, because he wasn't intending to get drunk that night, but it was absolutely necessary if he was going to talk about this.

Finally, the scientist returned, holding in one hand a good-sized, silver can with a lable and a tall-form beaker in the other. Both the can and the beaker were placed before Braig atop the table, and then Even sat down, watching as the can wasn't even examined before his friend poured himself a glassfull.

"...That's what's called potable alcohol," he explained. The beaker was filled to the top. "...I highly suggest you not drink too much of th—"

Wordlessly, Braig downed half of it in a second, only stopping to briefly shut his eyes and shake his head. "Well...damn. Had no idea you had such strong stuff lyin' about..." he whistled, and then continued to finish the glass.

Looking pained just from watching, Even reconsidered what he was doing.

But Braig was already pouring more. "Don't worry, this won't kill me so easily," he assured. He held the glass in hand, sighing before running his free hand through his hair as he looked away. "So...the χ-blade. Split into 20 pieces. Seven of Light, which is what...like...everyone knows, but honestly have no idea just what they represent. Hell, most think the Princesses symbolize the Light of Kingdom Hearts...Some shit like that..." he scoffed before taking a large mouthful of the spirits.

Perplexed, Even leaned back in his chair as he listened. He never knew Braig had an interest in that legend...

Braig wanted to get the informational bit out of the way before the alcohol caught up to him, and he was entirely sure, with its potency, it would very quickly. "Anyway, there are also...antitheses to the Princesses...called Hosts...or those whose hearts are the Dark pieces of the χ-blade." Another large mouthful from the beaker. "...Now most people don't even believe in the Hosts, 'cause they tend to be belittled and...feared. Hated. But there's a way to identify them. They have these symbols on their bodies...called Dark Markers...or Recusant's Sigils..."

Even's eyes glanced to the left arm wrapped tightly with gauze.

Noticing, Braig stiffened, and then downed the glass before slowly pouring himself another. Three tall glasses. He was already feeling the high. Good, good...He was getting to the gist of it, anyway. His tongue was rapidly loosening, which was fine, since he was well past tipsy, anyway...

"So...so these Sigils...or Markers...they take the form of an 'χ', like the χ-blade itself. Pronounced the same way, too." He lowered the glass to unfasten the gauze around his left arm.

Sitting forward, Even felt his heart skip a beat before rapidly continuing. He watched soundlessly as the gauze revealed a normal arm underneath...until Braig unwrapped his upper arm, just between his shoulder and lower bicep. Green eyes then widened at the black, infectious-looking and veiny stigma upon his friend's arm. Indeed, it was very obviously shaped like a 'χ'...but it was...painful-looking. The tips of the letter had several veins running underneath the skin, and it looked overall...wrong, somehow.

He eyed it warily, and then focused back on Braig as he downed another glass.

"...'Kay...I'm gonna stop that..." the sniper muttered, shaking his head and briefly closing his eyes. He then looked at his arm, nodding. "Yeah...So, this...this thing...It's proof that I'm...I'mma Host. Kairi's antithesis," he said, his voice soft and subdued despite his intoxication. He glanced up at his dumbstruck friend, managing a humorless smile. "There's not a shred of Light within my heart."

A short silence passed between them. Even sat back and crossed his leg, adopting his familiar pose of contemplation as he lifted a hand to partially cover his mouth and held the pose with his other. His brows were deeply furrowed as he digested this and its meaning, but Braig wasn't done.

"She's pure Light, y'know," he said, his words degenerating into deep slurs as the alcohol hit him with a vengeance. "Sh...she hurts me...snuffs out m'Darkness." At the shocked expression upon Even's face at that, he shrugged, letting out a humorless chuckle. "All th' time, I'm 'round 'er, I'm in pain. S'not like she...she does it on purpose...Just IS." He leaned back heavily in the chair, his eyes slanted and keeping a lazy smile on his face.

"So you drink?" Even asked softly.

Braig's left hand twitched, as did a brow. "Fuck yes, I drink. 'Second m'off work fer th' day, I get pissed drunk. I'll take any...anything t'take off the edge of th' pain, jus' by a lil' bit, even," he said, vehemence in his voice despite his condition. He looked pained, perhaps from pain, perhaps from shame. He then pointed to his head. "M'not...not jokin', I think my mind's erodin' from all th' pain an' stress m'under. Bet the booze doesn't help..." He eyed the can.

Even quickly pulled the can away, out of his friend's arm reach. "You have had enough," he said, regretting that he got it at all. He then sighed, rubbing a temple. "Why didn't you tell me sooner, Braig? I could have helped you, somehow," he said, his words soft, yet with some emphasis of severity. "Anything but drinking. You know your history..."

Shrugging, Braig glanced away. "...People...fear th' Dark...Don't you?" he murmured.

At this, Even lowered his hand, his brows furrowing deeply. "Don't act like you don't know me, Braig," he hissed. "You know what I think of Light and Dark. Both are vital to our existence." He then calmed down, sighing, "...If Kairi is hurting you, have you considered ceasing your role as her guardian? I'm sure Lord Ansem—"

"As IF. If I didn't wanna tell you, why'd I tell 'im?" Braig snapped, waving a hand.

"You don't trust us?" Even asked just as harshly.

Appalled, Braig's eyes widened. Angrily, he spat, "Dammit, Even! I trust you an' Lord Ansem with m'life! Hell, I trust you with my being—and don't you fucking forget it!" He pointed angrily at the older man, hurt upon his expression.

The icy gaze didn't lessen. "Why, then, Braig? What's your reason for the secrecy?"

Standing, Braig's hands suddenly became engulfed with Darkness and the shadows in the room grew. The overhead lights dimmed, flickering from the assult of Darkness. "You askin' me?" he growled, his left eye glowing yellow.

Taken aback, Even glanced around the room before focusing on the man before him. He took it all in, the veiny, infectious blackness crawling up the man's neck, the glowing eyes of yellow peeking at him from behind the growing shadows in the room that matched the one glowing before him as the other, artificial eye was lost in the darkness; and finally, the overwhelming Darkness he felt all about him. But most speficially, the Darkness he felt in front of him.

And then it waned, the lights brightening as the shadows swiftly receded. The Darkness around Braig's hands faded away, and he stumbled back to fall heavily and haphazardly into the chair. He didn't look healthy in the slightest, his once healthy-looking skin pale, yet still veiny, and flushed from intoxication. He breathed heavily, his eyes barely open and staring off idly. His left eye still held a faint yellow glow.

It took a second, but Even realized with a start that this was likely the pain Braig was talking about. Or at least some form of it. But what triggered it? He immediately pulled his chair over and reached to place a hand over Braig's heart. The heartbeat was weak.

"Braig...What happened?" he asked, confused and concerned. Instead of waiting for a reply, he decided to take matters into his own hands and experiment. He focused on the natural Darkness within his body and slowly fed it through his hand into Braig's.

At first, nothing changed. Then Even felt the heartbeat under his hand throb hard before becoming stronger, steadier. His eyes closing, Braig's breathing evened out, and he slowly lifted a hand to place over Even's. Gradually, his body relaxed as he gave out a deep exhale. "...That...that feels...mm...Feels good...Even..." he murmured.

Quietly observing, Even made a small smile. "I told you," he said softly, lifting his free hand to place upon Braig's face. The brown eyes opened to look into his. "There's no reason to fear Darkness."

Managing a small smile, Braig softly chuckled, "Says you...the one...in love with Darkness itself..."

"Indeed." Even's smile turned complacent.

This went on for several short minutes, with Even regulating his Darkness so it didn't overwhelm him, and found that Braig was also helping to do so, as he could manipulate the Darkness in others, it seemed. When Braig no longer looked as sick and the veins had disappeared from under his skin, Even removed his hand.

"Feel better?" he asked.

"Mn...yeah..." Braig slowly sat up, repositioning himself so he was sitting correctly in the chair. He took up Even's hand and placed it to his lips to kiss, causing the scientist to slant his eyes with some sort of humor and appreciation. With a soft sigh, he then looked away, letting his hand go. "...Sorry," he said softly. "...Was...angry. I guess. I'mma ass, I know..."

"Yes, indeed..." With a smug smile, Even leaned forward to plant a chaste kiss over the left eyelid. At the slow smile growing on the scarred face, he softly chuckled, then turned the man's face to his to kiss him properly.

It was a deeply intimate kiss, slow and tender, and Braig sat perfectly still, enraptured by it.

...Okay, so he was most definitely an ass for not telling Even sooner. He wasn't deserving of such affection...The kiss was suddenly broken, and he opened his eyes to watch Even grimace, covering his mouth with distaste.

"That alcohol is horribly potent," he commented, looking at the can. "I regret getting it at all."

Humming, Braig licked his lips, amused. "96% alcohol...Not bad..." He leaned back into the chair, smiling lazily again.

Watching him, Even shook his head with a touch of sadness in his smile. "...You should be dead from all you drank," he said softly. The man's tolerance to alcohol and his reactions to alcohol never ceased to amaze him. "You're a marvel, Braig..." He reached over to place his hands on both sides of the flushed face to tenderly kiss him again.

Braig cracked a drunken smirk, humming appreciatively. Between the kiss, he murmured, "Y'need to...get drunk with me, sometime, babe..."

It wasn't he first time he asked for this. He couldn't recall a time when Even was intoxicated, yet he could remember how pathetically nonexistent the scientist's tolerance to the substance was.

Licking the man's lips, Even reminded, "Kissing you gives me enough of a high, if that helps."

"...'That so...?" Braig opened his eyes, which shone with mischief.

Even with his eyes closed, the older man was on to him. "Don't even think about it."

"Aw..." He glanced at the table. "...It's so...so temptin', though..."

"No."

He wasn't distracted by the kisses trailing down his neck. "We haven't done it onna table, yet..."

"...No, Braig."

He shivered at the cool breath that cascaded down his neck. "Ah...but—" His mouth was captured again, and he looked into slanted, cool green orbs.

Even gently pulled away, his expression different from before. He exhaled deeply, his eyes intensely slanted as he pulled on his tie, loosening it. His expression gave Braig such a chill of excitement, he couldn't stop the triumphant, yet relieved smirk from growing on his face.

...He wouldn't be keeping secrets from Even, anymore.

Chapter Text

Training.

...Magical training.

Braig hated this experience.

His ward, the Princess of Heart Kairi, was aware of this, but was sworn to secrecy and to never let on that this was a problem in any sort of way. Now, it would be different if it was just boring or painful to watch. Something normal. But having to be near not just Kairi, but members of the White Mages—who excelled at Light magic—put double to triple the amount of stress on his body...and most importantly, on his heart of pure Darkness.

After over fifteen years in Kairi's presence and feeling her power grow, he could handle most day-to-day experiences near and with her. It was normal, now, and little more than a pinch of pain. Once she started busting out high-level Light magic spells such as Spark and Holy, however, more often than not, he either inconspicuously hid or found some rational (or semi-rational) pretext to excuse himself with.

...It was one of those days, and he had long figured out what his plan was, for the day.

He asked Nora to watch Kairi. It was quick, it was simple, and Nora was used to his "distance spectating".

This time, he spectated with Even, who was making a rare outdoor venture to watch the training grounds from a distance, as well. They were largely out of view, though Even wasn't trying to be seen, as it was. Braig, on the other hand, stood within full view, standing on the edge of the balcony ceiling Even stood under with the aid of his gravity-defying element.

His expression was relaxed, his eyes slanted, and had his arms and legs crossed as he leaned against a column. He made sure Kairi could see him if she wanted to, hence his rather close proximity, all things considered. He was truly proud of how far she had come with her magical training, and wanted her to know that. Though...she hadn't brought out the big spells, yet.

Up at the low castle balcony, Ansem and Talulah watched with Aeleus and Dilan near them, also watching. Ienzo was also there, at the border of the grounds, alongside Isa and Lea. Needless to say, Kairi's training was taken as a big ordeal by those who recalled the Before—and any form of it. Nora and Hope were other such individuals, who were also bordering the grounds.

"I'm surprised you're so close," Even observed, glancing up at his lazing companion with a raised brow.

"Eh," Braig shrugged, a steady smile upon his face. "Whatever happens happens, you know? I think I can handle the pain," he drawled.

"You've been exposed to her Light all day, as it is...Be careful," the scientist murmured, moving back and disappearing from view. He could still see Braig, however.

His friend gave him a lazy wave, calm and carefree.

-:IIxIV:-

It happened so fast.

One moment, Kairi summoned forth her fifth Holy spell, awing all those present, including Even, who nodded in appreciation as he looked at the sky. But abruptly, his friend fell from the balcony ceiling to the grass below.

"Braig...?" he called, moving forward to watch his friend stumble on his feet.

The younger man stiffened, taking a gasping breath before he lowered to the ground, grasping his chest. He emitted a low, deep groan before falling forward, his body still, and wisps of Darkness began to wear away from his body.

Green eyes widened in horror and realization. Braig was fading to Darkness.

Propriety be damned, without thinking twice, Even jumped over the ledge and to the ground. He came to Braig's side and gently turned his eroding body onto his back. The sniper's left eye was a faint yellow, waning, and both his eyes were slightly slanted, but stared off at nothing.

Even placed his hand to a paling neck, feeling for a pulse, and his eyes widened in shock at the desperate, dangerously heartbeat. It would herald something horrible, he knew it. No doubt the Darkness within Braig was trying to overcompensate in its frantic state against Kairi's Light. The girl herself had canceled her spell, no doubt sensing Braig's lifeforce weaken. She was running over, bringing more attention with her.

Grimacing, but knowing he had to stay calm, Even placed a hand over Braig's heart and forced as much Darkness as he dared into the supine form. "...Come on, Braig," he whispered, speaking between his teeth. "You fool...Everyone will know..."

Nothing happened for what felt like the longest time. The seconds felt long and merciless as they ticked by, during which time Even felt his own heartbeat quicken in growing fear. Then slowly, Braig's body stopped eroding. And just in time; Kairi was nearing.

"Dad!" she called frantically, alarm and guilt strewn over her face.

Along with her was Nora, thankfully, whose pace quickened upon seeing the supine form. Further back, the inquisitive faces of the others could be seen, but they didn't approach.

His hand still over Braig's heart, Even felt the heartbeat gradually slow down. The glow to Braig's eye dimmed and he gasped softly for breath, as if he was unable to breathe properly, but otherwise didn't move.

Nora and Kairi came to his sides, and it was evident Kairi wanted to touch her adoptive father, but she didn't dare risk it. "What happened?" Nora asked, her brows deeply furrowed. "Another attack?"

...Unfortunately, this had happened only one other time. It led to the impromptu, necessary lie that Braig "seemed to suffer" from rare bouts of unconsciousness; a strange, dangerous form of cataplexy was how Even was forced to describe it. Fortunately, it taken as a different strain instead of with suspicion.

"...Relatively. He's having trouble breathing," Even explained, and indeed, Braig was gasping, still.

"Sit him up," Nora instructed.

Without question, Even did that, shifting to take Kairi's place somewhat behind Braig and placed his hand behind the small of his friend's back and his other holding him up by his shoulder.

Out of the corner of his eye, Even spotted Ansem and Talulah approaching, causing him to frown a bit.

Abruptly, Braig jolted awake, gasping deeply with his eyes wide and frantic.

"Are you with us, Braig?" Nora asked, placing a hand gently onto his shoulder. He barely focused at all, and she directed his attention to her with a few snaps of her fingers.

Slightly slanting his eyes, he opened his mouth to speak, only to loudly groan and clench his chest as his heart throbbed angrily.

Ansem saw this as he approached, directing most of the attention to him. "Braig, are you well?" he asked, deeply concerned.

Gasping, Braig closed his left eye, shaking his head. He avoided eye contact with Even. "No...m'lord..." he breathed between his teeth. To Kairi, he said, "Sorry, miss...Permission...to rest?"

She nodded vigorously, tears welling in her eyes. "Of course, Braig," she responded, more than willing to let him recuperate.

He looked away from her, breathing heavily. He knew she wanted to react more appropriately, but she kept her secret. "...Thank you..." He allowed Even to help him stand, and slightly leaned against him, but continued to avoid eye contact. He would fuss the moment they were alone.

"Take care of yourself, Braig," Ansem said as they began to leave, stern but in an almost paternal way. "That's an order."

Braig gave a bow of his head, briefly closing his eyes. He wanted to get away as soon as possible. "Yessir."

He and Even then slowly left, fortunately heading away from the training grounds, where the others could see him. No doubt this was going to make its way to the Ninth Sphere by the end of the day; likely thanks to Lea. Slightly grimacing, Braig could only hope the barracks were semi-empty. The last thing he needed was to answer questions.

Watching them as they left, Nora eyed Kairi, who was trying her best to wipe away her tears inconspicuously. The medic wondered why the girl was so distraught...Perhaps it was time to ask some questions...

-:IIxIV:-

To Braig's surprise, the walk to the barracks was silent. Not a sound passed between him and Even, even after he managed to move away and walk on his own. The older man simply let him, unnervingly quiet. It caused an evident tension between them. Braig didn't know what was worse, being subjected to scrutiny or the hateful silence between them.

As if the fates took some pity on him, they arrived at the barracks to find they were mostly empty. At least for the moment. At least from what he could tell. To make it easier on himself, Braig warped inside, leaving Even waiting for him. He took a moment to compose himself, leaning briefly against the wall and taking deep breaths, before returning some items inside of his locker. He then warped out, and, without meeting Even's gaze, walked towards the residential area.

The silence continued.

Only when it became apparent that Braig was going towards his home did the atmosphere shift. He stopped, having taken notice, and slightly glanced back. Even was glaring openly at him with deeply narrowed eyes. They didn't stare for long, as he beckoned towards the direction of his home, instead, and began to lead the way.

Not in the mood to fight back in any way, Braig followed behind him, emitting a soft, resigned sigh all the while.

They arrived at the domed house and, instead of entering through the front, Even led them through the back. Wordless still, Even opened the door to the lab and descended. Behind him, Braig took another moment to emit a sigh before following. He knew what was coming.

And just as he knew it would, the second he touched the floor, something changed.

Even spun around to take him by his hand, pulling him into the hidden room. He didn't fight, even when he was forced to sit down upon the bed. Instead, he finally watched the older man instead.

"Rest," Even ordered, finally breaking the silence. Looking him in the eye, he hissed, "And if I so much as suspect you've left this room, I will make the rest of your day EXTREMELY unpleasant." Hands behind his back, he turned to leave.

Braig sighed, "You're making this a bigger deal than it is, Even." He briefly looked away before meeting an icy, deep scowl.

The scientist had halted to glare at him. "Bigger than it is?" Even repeated, turning completely around. At the nod, his eyes slanted dangerously, and he moved to stand before his friend with a livid expression. "It is a 'big deal', Braig, when you could have had a heart attack—when you begin to FADE!" he all but screamed.

Clenching his teeth, Braig close his mouth and glanced towards the floor.

Deeply exhaling, attempting to calm himself, Even stepped closer and placed his hands on the sides of Braig's face. He waited patiently until the brown orbs were looking up at him again. His expression clouded with unbridled concern, and he took notice of the surprise upon his friend's face. "...I almost lost you..." he said softly, lowering his head to skim his lips over ones slightly parted.

His expression changing to one of guilt, the sniper glanced away again.

"Don't you dare scare us...scare me...like that," Even whispered against his lips, "again. Understand?" He forcefully took the younger man by his chin, forcing their gazes to meet again.

Braig frowned a bit at the manhandling, but knew it was deserved. He softly sighed, but nodded firmly. He didn't want to repeat that, either. "...Roger," he murmured. Cool lips then lowered over his, and he closed his eyes with a soft exhale....

...only for his eyes to pop open when he was pushed back onto the bed.

Even's expression was mostly emotionless as he removed his shoes, but something was there. He then removed Braig's boots before climbing atop him.  

Black brows rose. "...Babe...you told me to rest," Braig hummed, honestly liking where this was going. He slanted his eyes as cool kisses were placed on his neck, and he reached up to tangle his fingers into platinum blond locks.

"Hush." Even unbuttoned the dark uniform, his fingers fast and almost desperate. "You will...after I'm done with you," he said, a promise for pain in his tone.

Chuckling softly, Braig closed his eyes and relaxed, more than willing to accept the punishment.

...He sort of deserved it.

Chapter Text

It began as remnants of a numbing sensation that left pins and needles in its wake. It shook him awake with a groan, and the second his eyes opened, they went wide from pain as his heart throbbed painfully, sharp and mercilessly, sending a shooting pain throughout his entire body. He grasped his heart with a loud, pained gasp, and then writhed, his eyes rolling back into his head.

His mind went blank from the sheer intensity of the pain. All that existed was the pain. He could barely breathe, only able to take in a few breaths before it was cut off as he took in the pain. His body writhed, arched, shook, convulsed, and tossed violently from the pain.

All that existed was the pain.


Gloved hands slowed before coming to a full stop, just inches from a beaker of bubbling, steaming pink liquid. Behind a large pair of protective goggles, icy, almost glowing green eyes slowly, deliberately glanced off.

Something was wrong.


Gasping for air for the umpteenth time, he regained his senses and reached for the bottle of pills just within arm reach atop his bedside table. His hand reached, only to curl and his eyes rolled back again. He clenched a hand over his heart, crying out, and he was sure he tasted blood from the back of his throat. His body suddenly arched, his lips parted in a soundless scream, and he ceased breathing as an intense bout of the pain ran through him again.

All that existed was the pain.

When he came back again, he desperately reached for the pills again. Hyperventilating, he tried to use telekinesis to bring it to him, but his mind was too jarred, too much in a shock, to focus. Again, he spasmed violently, his jaw locking and blood gathered in his mouth. His tossing sent him off the side of the bed, and he proceeded to vomit rich sanguine to the floor, not once, but several times, turning his skin sickly pale from blood loss.

His body was suddenly flung backwards, hoarse, creaking groans emitting from him as his body convulsed again. Once more, he tried to reach for the pills, an eye closed and blood dripping down his throat. The pill bottle fell to the floor, and he crawled over to it, his movement desperate, yet rigid. Just as he grabbed it, another fierce spasm shook his form, causing it to roll out of his hand.

He went supine, once again clenching his chest, but with both hands. The sounds he emitted were mixed, intermittent hoarse breaths, chokes and screams. He vaguely felt the tears streaming down his face, and saliva and blood rolled from the corners of his mouth.

He could sense it. Despite everything...despite the pain. He could feel it.

"D...don't you—" He choked, but he spit the blood out, and clenched his teeth before trying again. "Don't—"

His eyes rolled back, his body locked up. For several minutes, he soundlessly writhed, clawing at the floor, his chest, and pulled the bedding from the bed. When he could finally move again on his own will, he cried out.

"Don't you dare, Even!" he breathed, closing his eyes as more moisture left them. "Don'...please...Don't...see me like this..."

He grabbed the pill bottle and, with shaking hands, managed it open. Quickly, desperately, he took two into hand and brought them to his mouth. He swallowed immediately, and only hoped he didn't vomit again.

Groaning softly, he lay there, on the floor, waiting for the convulsing to continue. They didn't disappoint, and he grasped at his heart, his eyes back in his head from the pain.

All that existed was the pain.

-:IIxIV:-

Twenty minutes passed before the pain subsided, even by a bit. By then, the bedroom was trashed, wrecked from his mindless actions during his convulsions. He laid slumped against the side of the unkempt bed, his eyes blank and distant, his body shuddering and limbs twitching from the residual pain.

But the pain was fading.

Rapid, urgent knocking at his front door brought him back to full consciousness. He slowly, with great effort, sat upright. He stopped holding his breath and breathed normally when his heart didn't hurt so painfully that he couldn't hide it. He was used to pain.

But the pain was fading.

The knocking continued.

"Dammit...Even..." he muttered, moving to stand up with the assistance of the bedframe. His body ached, throbbing from top to bottom. He placed a hand over his heart, feeling it was rapidly beating. Abnormal. Trying to overcompensate.

"Fuckin' asshole..." he scoffed, lowering his hand and steadily making it to the door.

But seeing himself in the hallway mirror caused him to stop.

Quickly, he glanced away. He was a wreck, covered in blood and saliva, his hair unkempt and matted with blood from when he fell into his own vomit; he couldn't let Even see him like this. Instead, he did the only other thing he could come up with.

He swiftly went back into his bedroom to retrieve a new pair of clothes and entered the bathroom, but not before closing the bedroom door and opening the front door with his telekinesis. "Be a sec, Even..." he said, just loud enough, as he heard his friend enter.

Even caught just a bit of the younger man disappear into the bathroom further within the house as he entered. He slightly frowned, but was glad to know that he was...at least not in any sort of horrible condition that would render him unconscious. Or something of that nature. The man was conscious, thankfully.

He moved to sit at the counter, unsure how to explain his visit. He just had the most...unusually strong feeling something was amiss. Amiss with Braig. So many horrible scenarios entered his mind—steadily, as if to urge him along—until he couldn't ignore the possibilities. He managed to clear out his lab and leave instructions behind for Bartholomew before racing over. Otherwise, he would have arrived sooner.

Patiently, he waited, listening to the sound of running water as Braig took a shower. As he waited, he considered what this meant. The only other time something like this was done was when the sniper had far too much to drink the night before and would take a shower to rinse the strong smell of alcohol from his body.

The thought made him frown. It was too late—or too early—for Braig to be recovering from a night binging. It was cutting into his time to sleep before going back to work. While his ability to drink every night before going to sleep for two hours and go back to his duties without any negative side-effects was remarkable...it wasn't an ideal schedule to have. For the umpteenth time, he considered talking to his old friend about his...habits.

Glancing to the bedroom door, he took note that it was closed. Rarely was it ever, and it never boded well. Never. Every time. He slowly rubbed his forehead, reconsidering what he was going to talk about. He would rather take this steadily. Preferably with some sort of cover-up so the man wouldn't get defensive. A defensive Braig was an unpleasant Braig, and Even didn't come to argue or fight. He was concerned, damn it all.

Finally, the water ceased. Several minutes after, the bathroom door opened, and Braig emerged. Unashamed, Even pointedly leaned back to catch a glimpse of the long, loose, wet black hair before a towel hid it from sight. It was then he realized he rarely saw Braig with his hair down and wanted to see it that way more often.

Steadily making his way to the counter, Braig peeked between his locks to smile at Even. "Hey, babe. What brings you here so early...?" he asked, approaching the older man. He was dressed in a large long-sleeved shirt and baggy black pants. He then wrapped his arms around the man's waist, smiling up at him.

Bright green eyes scanned the man's form from top the bottom. Immediately, Even noticed a few things. One was that Braig was several shades paler than what was his norm. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, which never happened, even when he was thoroughly inebriated. Though it was to be expected, he was noticeably tired. He was also trying to hide a slight limp, which would have fooled anyone else. But not Even.

The scientist sighed deeply, briefly closing his eyes to both steel and calm himself and to take Braig's head into his hands before kissing him. A slightly coppery taste...Undoubtedly blood. He hid his concern by deepening the kiss, and he felt the younger man's body relax. They slightly parted, and he licked the lower lip. "I have my reasons," he hummed. "Maybe I wanted to see you dearly."

Grinning, genuinely touched, Braig kissed the cold nose. "The Snowman's got a heart, after all," he chuckled, earning a smile in return. He then moved back a bit, head tilting to the side. "You didn't come for a sleepover, did you...?"

Recalling the door, Even quickly went over his responses. He opted for, "No...unless you want me to. I've already left instructions in my absence."

The grin faltered by a bit. That was the last indicator Even needed to know something was indeed amiss. Braig never turned down a chance for him to spend the night, or even spend time together at all. Not when there wasn't a bleeding good reason, otherwise.

Braig pulled away a bit, glancing off. "The room's a mess..." he muttered, his grin completely gone.

"What happened?" Even asked, truly curious.

Softly sighing, Braig briefly hid behind his hair as he patted it with the towel. "Just...my own experiments," he said, not even bothering to sound genuine. He likely figured he was nearing a corner, or nearly backing himself into one.

Mind games and lying with Even was never easy for him.

But Even played along, smiling at him. "Experiments, you say? Are you keeping secrets from me, again?" He turned the man's head towards him with a pale finger under the scarred chin.

Braig initially avoided eye contact, but then smiled apologetically at him. "Let me have this one, eh?" he asked. Weariness was apparent even within his eyes. His bloodshot eyes...

Raising a brow, Even considered. He could see how long this would play out, which would likely mean having to let something bad happen, or he could end their evident tit-for-tat and cut to the chase.

As he waited for an answer, Braig's expression showed he seemed to be considering something similar.

This gave Even the sign he needed, and he narrowed his eyes, causing brown eyes to turn wary. "It depends on what you're hiding from me," he said finally, taking Braig firmly by his chin, this time. "I noticed the door is shut."

Swallowing, Braig pulled, moved and looked away. "Damn it, Even. Don't make this harder on me than it is..." he muttered, his long hair obscuring his features.

"Something is amiss. That's why I'm here, in truth," Even confessed, his expression darkening.

"I know."

"Then you know I'm not leaving until I am relieved of this uneasiness."

A visible glare was thrown his way. "You know I wouldn't throw you out. I just...don't want you to bother me about this. Let me have my secrets, just this once."

Crossing his arms, an eye narrowed into a thin slant while the other opened wider. "And I told you, it depends on the nature of the secret. If it has anything to do with you, personally, that isn't happening," he hissed.

"Why the hell not?"

"Because I know you, Braig, and your personal business never bodes well for either of us when it is something you find worthy to hide."

"You know, sometimes I fucking hate it when you're right." Braig sat heavily on the farthest stool from Even's. He placed a hand upon his forehead, exhaling in irritation.

A short silence overcame them. Sitting with anticipation, Even lessened his expression until he was only giving the younger man a stern frown. Braig slowly reached up to massage his chest, aware this would likely give the secret away. Watching this, Even's eyes indeed widened.

After the destruction of Xehanort's heart, and inevitably, Braig's as well, Braig should have died. But he didn't. His heart was in pieces, and yet he didn't fade away. After several days, his heart instead pieced itself back together, but it was a fragile little thing. Perhaps...too fragile.

Even clenched his jaw, wanting to demand answers to the questions running through his mind at the speed of sound. But he knew better to, mindful he had to give his friend his space and time.

He sighed, closing his eyes, and turned in the stool to face the counter. "Think about it. I'll be here," he said softly.

Braig glanced up at him. He remained still for a moment, and then slid off the stool to slip into his bedroom, closing the door gently behind him.

-:IIxIV:-

Several long minutes later, Braig emerged from his room, lured by the smell of food. He peeked into the kitchen, only to blink in surprise upon seeing Even cooking a very early breakfast. Approaching, he smiled when green eyes glanced back at him, taking in his appearance.

He wore loose navy pants and a grey tank top, allowing his χ Sigil to be fully visible, and his feet were bare. Undoubtedly, he was wearing nightclothes. His hair was still damp, but remained loose, earning an appreciative hum from the older man.

He then wrapped his hands around Even's waist, resting his head on his back. "You're cooking for me...?" he asked, sincerely touched yet again.

Even smiled, focusing back on the stove. He served the perfect sunny-side-up eggs onto a plate of pancakes and homemade hash browns. "Naturally," he simply responded. His smile widened, complacent, when the hug tightened.

"Thanks," Braig murmured, moving away to sit at the counter. He rubbed the back of his neck. This was a first. If Even was trying to charm him into a confession, he was nearly there, already. Almost.

...If not for the meaning behind his secret, it wouldn't have been a secret at all. Not from Even, in any case.

He sighed heavily at the reminder, glaring in resignation at the other man's back. Damn Even and his...his knowing-it-all.

As if aware of his thoughts, Even softly chuckled to himself, causing Braig's expression to deepen.

Damn him.

He blinked back to the present when a plate was served in front of him. His expression changed to one of appreciation upon taking in the sight of fresh fruit served alongside the dish. Even placed beside the plate a cup of orange juice and water along with a fork and knife.

Black brows furrowed. "Wait...I had all this in my fridge?" Braig asked, causing his friend to chuckle with a shake of his head.

"Yes, Braig, you poor man. Most of it was going bad, or nearly so. You need to eat at home more often," Even lightly scolded, moving to sit beside him with his own plate.

Braig made a face, taking up some grapes. "But everyone else cooks so well..." He popped some into his mouth before cutting into his food.

"Maybe if you cooked more often..." Even trailed off, casting a meaningful glance at his friend, who only scoffed as if that was funny. He then shook his head again and began to eat.

Eyeing the plate, Braig took notice Even wasn't eating very much. The plate only consisted of fruit, an egg and a single hash brown. He poked Even's muscular forearm. "How'd you manage a body like this with a diet like that?" he asked before eating his pancakes.

Smirking, Even slanted his eyes. "It's a secret," he teased, knowing damn well what he was doing.

Braig tut, glancing away. "Bastard," he muttered.

"Turnabout is fair play," Even reminded between a bite of his strawberries.

-:IIxIV:-

Even kept Braig in his peripheral vision as he washed the dishes and cleaned up. Now that he ate, the man seemed even more lethargic, somehow. The scientist had been hoping for the opposite effect, but...He watched as Braig stared off while slumped on the couch.

...Something was wrong, damn it all.

Once the kitchen was clean, Even approached the couch. Braig was dozing by then, his head resting on the back pillows. He slightly stirred from the slight dip in the couch when Even sat beside him, but otherwise remained unmoved.

Even looked over him, and then at his Sigil. He placed his hand gently over it, and then let his Darkness flow from his hand. Braig reacted immediately, jolting up and gasping softly, though his eyes remained closed, this time. He breathed hard, but from deep contentment, and his head lolled to the side.

"Feels nice..." he softly murmured, pressing against Even's hand.

Slanting his eyes, Even revised a thought he had. He had the strangest feeling that when Braig spoke during this time, while siphoning his Darkness, he wasn't entirely..."himself". It was that "otherness" that he read about in the tome from the Library that spoke instead. The "essence" that made up Braig's heart, his Piece; the entity that his heart was comprised of.

"How does it feel?" he asked, just as softly, leaning forward by a bit.

Braig slightly tilted his head. "Feels...good...Real good..." A slight smile spread on his face before his expression went neutral again. "More..."

"As much as I can," Even assured. He wondered if that was all Braig needed. But it couldn't be. There was something else, he was sure of it..."How are you feeling, Braig?" he asked softly, whispering into the man's ear.

"Tired..." Braig softly moaned, a hand reaching up to place over his heart. He massaged his chest, and he blinked himself to consciousness. He stared forward for a moment, and then glanced at Even. "Playin' dirty, Even..."

Sighing, Even moved away, removing his hand. To his surprise, Braig actually emitted a sound of disappointment, but he didn't do anything more than that. "I merely worry about you, Braig..." Even softly sighed.

"I know..."

With that, Even stood up. "I should get going..." he said, moving towards the door.

Continuing to stare forward, Braig frowned. "Not even a goodbye kiss...?" he murmured. "What'd I do to deserve that..."

Stopping, Even smiled back at him, but it was a sad smile. He managed not to roll his eyes as he returned to kneel before the younger man and smile up at him. At the small, lethargic smile returned to him, his expression turned somber. He took the other's head into his hands and leaned forward to kiss him. It was a gentle, tender kiss, and it broke Braig's heart for them to end it like this. Especially...considering the nature of his secret...

Even blinked in surprise when Braig broke the kiss, his expression guilty and wrought with conflict. His breathing was slightly harder, and he avoided eye contact, glancing at the floor. "I'm dying," he whispered.

Lips parting, as if to say something, Even lowered, but kept his hands on Braig's face.

"I'm dying, Even," Braig repeated, as if the reality of what it meant was dawning on him, as well. He looked into the green eyes of his best friend, his gaze weary and ridden with guilt. He slightly nodded his head. "Yeah. I'm dying..."

Even's expression fell to one of horror and disbelief. He shook his head, but his friend only nodded again. He then stood up, never breaking eye contact, and wrapped his arms around Braig while sitting beside him. He held him close, closing his eyes, and inhaled the smell of his hair as he hid his head in the crook of his neck.

He couldn't do that, again.

He couldn't go through that, again.

Braig held onto his best friend, his gaze crestfallen as he stared at nothing. There was little more he could do but hold him. Neither was much of a crier, so it hit him hard when he heard soft sobs emit from the older man. He clenched his jaw, shutting his eyes. Held him tighter, closer. They were practically atop one another. Didn't matter. They needed this.

Shakily, he exhaled. "I'm...an ass...I know," he apologized in a whisper. He combed his fingers through the platinum locks. "Y'know those...pills you gave me? For pain? They came in handy, today. Dunno how long they'll work, but...Damn, I was in some serious pain, before you got here. Wrecked my room..."

Even's hands clenched. He knew there was something dire that was wrong. He knew it. Moreover, his heart knew it, too.

Noticing this, Braig pursed his lips. "I'm sorry, babe..." he whispered, feeling wearier. Oddly, he wondered if he was going to have another attack. Where was this fatigue coming from...? Well, it wasn't like he wasn't dying or something...His thoughts amused him, if not self-disparagingly. "It's my heart...but I guess you know that..."

Gently, Even pulled slightly away, moving his hands to place on the sides of Braig's face again. "I'm not mad," he assured quietly, massaging a cheek with his thumb. "I knew this could happen. I simply...tried not to consider it."

Braig's gaze was still rather weary, not quite focused. "Don't blame you." He briefly closed his eyes, and then focused on the teary face before him. "Babe, I...I hate it when you cry..." He tried to smile, but it trembled.

Even kissed the man's eyes just as tears fell from them, and then his tear-stained lips met Braig's in a gentle kiss. They embraced, and Even pulled Braig down to the floor with him. They stayed there, holding desperately onto one another, until Braig finally fell asleep, at last.

Chapter Text

Within the lab inside of his home, three hours before four in the morning, Even readied his equipment for a new test subject. He wasn't quite sure what to expect, and even more unsure exactly what he was going to do, but he regardless sanitized instruments and cleaned surfaces. Despite these things, a great, needy anticipation was bubbling within him, just while thinking about what he was going to have the mere opportunity to do.

...Now if only his test subject would arrive.

Once he finished, he glanced up at the ceiling. It was almost quarter after one o'clock, nearly fifteen minutes after the time his subject was expected to be there. He shook his head and briefly closed his eyes, pinching his nose bridge. If that man was out getting intoxicated before he had a chance to even decide what he was going to do with him...

 As if on cue, the doorbell rang. He lowered his hand, brows quirking. Since when...?

He left his lab and returned upstairs to the main floor. He glanced to the door, then approached and opened it. "Since when do you ask to be invited in, Braig?" he asked his guest.

Leaning against the doorframe, the sniper brandished a slant-eyed grin. He wore a slightly modified, casual version of his uniform, and his long hair was still in a ponytail. "Since I decided to ask. You gonna let me in?" he asked teasingly.

Even shook his head, but moved back to allow entry. He beckoned inside, a slight smile on his lips.

Continuing to grin, Braig stepped in, but didn't move until the door was closed. He then sighed heavily, glancing off. "Just this once, Even," he murmured. His gaze slowly returned to his friend. "Just once. So just get it all outta the way, okay...?" He began to walk towards the entrance to the lab.

Even followed him. "I plan to. Only, I'm unsure where to start, in truth..." he admitted, emitting a disappointed sigh. As they descended the staircase, he lamented, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and yet I have not and cannot decide how to go about this experience...!"

Rolling his eyes, the sniper glanced back at him, a brow cocked upwards. "Aw, you'll come up with something, babe. I've got time."

"I don't plan on wasting time!" Even immediately walked to the examination table, his fingers twitching at his sides.

Slipping his hands into his pockets, a fond smile formed on Braig's face as he watched.

The scientist sat at the table, fuming. "I've been thinking about it since yesterday, and I cannot come up with anything!"

Braig rolled his eyes again, head tilting to the side. "Babe..."

"It's infuriating!"

"Babe..."

"It's shameful, even!"

"Babe." He warped beside the older man, head tilted to look at him better. "I can give ya some ideas, y'know," he offered, still smiling at him.

Brows furrowing, Even glanced up at him, but seemed to be calming at the offer. He rested back in the chair, settling his fingers over one side of his face. His eyes wondered. "That would be...welcomed, yes," he acknowledged.

Chuckling softly, the sniper leaned against the table, glancing off. "Blood samples. My blood isn't normal, though you can't tell, most of the time. Y'know, since it's from my heart and all..." He raised a hand from his pocket, examining it. "There are also a few...other things I can show you..."

Slowly, a platinum blond brow rose as the scientist listened.

A brown eye glanced at him. "...if you can properly bribe me." Braig finished suggestively.

"What are the natures of these...other things?"

Glad it was at least being considered, Braig slipped his hand back into his pocket. "Visual, kinetic...and really freaky." He made a face. "Yeah, I've scared myself," he admitted.

This had Even's complete attention and he looked up at him. "How must I bribe you?"

Humming secretively, Braig continued to glance off, though his eyes slanted and he scrunched his mouth. "Let me have my way with you."

"Doesn't that defeat the purpose of you being here?"

"Oh, not at aaall."

Even sighed. "I will consider. Until then, on to the examination bed with you."

Braig grinned, sure he was going to have his way, but obeyed and moved off the table. He walked towards the long, flat table-like surface with some cushioning upon it set under a bright light. "Do I need to get undressed for this...?" he asked, his voice low and suggestive.

Pale lips turned up in a smile. "Your shirt can be removed, yes..." Even moved from the chair to wash his hands at the nearby sink.

Chuckling, the younger man did just that, pulling his shirt over his head. He felt only a touch of the cold before his element regulated itself. He then looked around for a place to put his shirt before simply draping it over the back of the chair Even had sat in. Without prompt, he moved and laid upon the bed, hands down at his sides, but relaxed.

Even was soon to come to his side, rolling a cart with vials in a container and other instruments atop it. He donned gloves before taking up Braig's arm in search for a vein. Just a second into his search, before his eyes, dark veins showed underneath the surface of the arm, pulsing and...slightly....moving...

He slowly glanced at Braig's face. The brown eyes were closed, and the younger man was breathing steadily through his nose, as if concentrating.

...Wordlessly, he continued, wiping an alcohol pad over the crook of the man's elbow and then prepped a clean, unused needle. He connected it to one of the vials and gently stuck it into a vein.

The blood that flowed into the vial was very dark, more of a reddish-violet color than actually red. This was strange, and not because he didn't know why Braig's blood was unusual, but because someone must have drawn the man's blood before and would have noticed this.

"Braig, what is your blood type?" he asked, switching out a vial for another.

His eyes still closed and relaxed, Braig responded, "Type 0..."

"Why am I not surprised—"

"negative," he finished, breaking into a steady smile.

Even looked up at him again. "How are you not dead, yet." It was a rhetoric question, of course. Slightly shaking his head, he switched out another vial. "How has no one noticed your atypical blood type or its abnormal color?"

"I work really, really hard."

"I'll leave it at that, then." Even switched out the last vial, and it filled quickly. He placed gauze over the needle before taking it out, and then placed the needle on the cart. His fingers were waved away, and he moved his hand and the gauze to see there was no blood spilling from the healed puncture. Of course.

A sense of excitement ran through him as he lifted and examined a vial. The blood of a Dark Piece. A large smile broke out on his face, and a soft, amused chuckle brought him back to the present. He looked at Braig to see the man smiling at him, his eyes slanted with fondness.

"Well. Don't you look like you caught the biggest catch of the century..." the sniper softly drawled, his smile turning into a grin.

Smiling back, Even lowered the vial back onto the cart, murmuring, "I have..." He leaned over and kissed the smiling lips. "You," he said softly.

Braig's grin widened and he softly laughed. He placed his hands on the sides of the pale face, tilting his head. "You're cute."

A soft scoff. "I'm not trying to be."

He hummed, skimming his lips over the cold ones. "That's why you're so cute."

"I'm not. I'm old and temperamental." Even kissed him again before he gently pulled away, carting the handcart to a refrigerator. "Stay there," he said. He felt the sharp eyes staring at him, but paid no mind.

"Think about my proposition?"

He briefly glanced over as he placed several of the precious vials into the fridge. Naturally, he was most curious as to what the other was hinting and referring to, as far as these so-called "freaky" things were concerned. He didn't believe in "freaky" things, as everything had an explanation and reason, even if those reasons were heavily obscure. But the terms of being able to witness them...

"Exactly what does letting you have your way with me entail?"

He didn't see it, but Braig's face went alight with a smile. The sniper slightly sat upright. "Let me do what I do, when it happens," he said, a touch of excitement and fear in his expression.

Icy green eyes glanced at him and held his gaze. "What do you mean?" The expression on his face did not go unnoticed.

He shook his head, his lip quirking in the beginnings of a small smile. "Can't really explain it. I've only experienced it once, myself..." he admitted softly, lying back down and staring up at the ceiling before closing his eyes again.

"You sound as if you expect yourself to act differently."

"I will change."

Even removed his gloves and washed his hands. He seemed to think about it, but was evidently hesitant.

By the sound of it, his friend was speaking of, perhaps, a Dark form. This was something he had never considered, that the Hosts would have an ability to truly manifest as Dark beings. It made him wonder if even the Princesses could do that, as beings of Light. Or was it purely a Dark ability, be it that Darkness was the more invasive element...?

But he was also aware his hesitance would give the idea that he was wary of the Dark.

He was not.

His mind made up, he turned to lean against the sink, placing his hands on the rim. "Very well. Do as you must," he easily conceded. As the brown eyes opened, he asked, "Will you need to be somewhere safer so no one senses your Darkness?"

Braig slightly repositioned himself, looking a tad uncomfortable, suddenly. "No, I've got it," he said, exhaling and flexing his fingers.

At this expression, Even approached his friend. He leaned closer, his brows furrowing slightly. "Braig, if you don't want to do this—"

"I have to."

"—then please be careful." He reached and gently stroked the younger man's face, earning a small, thankful smile in return.

"You might wanna have your equipment near. I expect you to take some samples..." Brown eyes glanced away.

"Samples?" He didn't stop stroking the warm cheek.

"Yeah. You'll see."

None too eagerly, he removed his hand and brought the cart back over, minus the vials. He then focused closely on his friend, who slowly closed his eyes when gentle tendrils of Darkness began to rise from his body.

The mark underneath the gauzed left arm became visible, as if burning through the wrapping. The x-like mark then faded from view, but black, veiny wisps began to crawl up Braig's neck and down his hand, turning his skin black. Upon his face, the veins crawled up to cover his left eye, which then opened, showing a steady yellow glow.

Even watched, unafraid, but highly interested. Carefully, he took up Braig's arm and unwrap the gauze. As he did, Braig sat upright, watching him. The scientist observed the blackened arm carefully, feeling its smooth texture with somewhat affectionate caresses. Before his eyes, the black hand became larger, with long, sharp claws, then reached up and was placed on the side of his face.

He smiled, leaning into the hold, and Braig managed a small smile back. The sniper's right eye turned black as the veiny darkness reached the right side of his face, but didn't cover his face entirely, leaving his mouth, right eye and lower face normal. The darkness continued to move down to the right side of his body, turning his other hand claw-like as well. He then moved his hand away to briefly look at them both.

"Might wanna get a petri dish..." he muttered, grasping his throat with one hand. Blackness bubbled to his mouth as he spoke.

Blinking in surprise, Even watched this, and then moved to do that. He quickly took one and placed it underneath Braig's chin, catching pure blackness as it dripped from the other's mouth. It was oily, with strings of it pulling apart from the chunk that was coughed up into the dish.

Even's expression was one of awe, interest and slight horror, though the latter bit was well hidden. Once the blackness ceased to flow from the darkened lips, he capped the dish and examined it with shining eyes. "Interesting..." he softly murmured.

Braig didn't look pained, only resigned, and he slightly grinned at his friend's reaction. It was just like him. Lowering his hand from his neck, he softly cleared his throat, and then looked up when a hand was placed to his chin, turning his head slightly to the left as his blackened eye was examined.

"You can still see?" Even asked, leaning closer to look into the eye.

"Steadily. The view's...different from normal, but...yeah, I can see."

"Interesting. Perhaps your form cannot properly change since it is artificial."

He watched the scientist move to the tool used to work on his eye. "I was thinkin' the same thing," he said with a hum. He slowly laid down to allow his eye to be prodded at, his movement strained, which didn't go unnoticed.

Even moved the utensil away, frowning. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"Takes great effort to hold the...the other parts of this form back," he admitted. He shook his head, beckoning to continue. "S'fine. I'll let you do what you need to do first before I...have my way..." he said softly.

A blond brow rose, but Even continued, gently pressing the utensil's end to just below the artificial eye's tear duct. "May I remind you, I agreed to it," he said, taking another tool to remove the eye from the socket.

Unable to see out of that eye, Braig slightly smiled. "Yeah..." He briefly closed his left eye, which started twitching. Softly, he murmured, "Still, I want you to have your fun..."

"I'm actually most curious as to what you mean by letting you have your way..." The older man softly scoffed. He didn't remove the eye, keeping it attached, but watched as the Darkness behind the eye crawled out a bit, turning the skin around the eye socket black and veiny. Almost as if it were alive. "Isn't that you every day?" he quipped good-naturedly.

"Well, if you put it that way...no, actually," Braig chuckled.

"Now I am truly curious." He placed the eye back inside, but the Darkness remained. After reactivating it, he placed the utensils away before smiling, leaning over to look down at his subject. "I am not afraid of you, Braig," he reminded softly.

Braig looked up at him, keeping their gazes locked. His eyes then wandered as he thought about it. "Alright," he relented, glancing back at him.

Without warning, the once gently glowing yellow eye turned completely yellow, like the eyes of a Heartless. Both of Braig's eyes then shut as his body gave an abrupt jolt, causing Even to move back in surprise. Wisps of Darkness once again began to emit from the supine form, and Even took notice of the air of Darkness permeating the room.

The lights flickered and dimmed, Darkness formed in the room's corners. The mark on Braig's arm burned violet, and more veins began to move from it through the man's body. They covered half of his torso along with the blackness, veiny tendrils reaching down to his naval and beyond. He began to grimace, more of the blackness trailing down from the corners of his mouth, and he soundlessly writhed.

Even didn't move, staying right beside him, watching carefully. He had a feeling this would pass as Braig recovered from holding the full transformation at bay.

A few short minutes passed, and then Braig shot upright, his eyes open again, though along with the steady, strong glow of his left eye, there was a very faint yellow light within the blackness of his left. His head snapped towards Even and then he jumped at him, tackling him to the hard floor.

Still calm, Even didn't move. He remained still on the floor, watching his Dark friend while staring into yellow. Tendrils of Darkness were emitting from Braig's form, and all his features save those eyes seemed nonexistent from the Darkness that covered his body entirely. Instead of jerky movement like a Heartless, however, his movement was slow and deadly, calculating and menacing. He slowly lowered his head to skim over where Even's heart was, soft inhales audible as he smelled him, all while holding the man down by his wrists.

...So, this is what Braig meant by allowing him to "have his way". With him. Even watched with interest when his chest was nuzzled, and then his cheek was lovingly nuzzled, in a strange, feral way.

"Are you there, Braig?" he asked softly. If he wasn't, it was most interesting. But if he was...

He watched as the dark head rose, and he was stared at. Then his mouth was stared at, Braig's head tilting to the side. Even's thoughts then flew out the window when the dark mouth split open, revealing glistening, sharp black teeth and a long tongue dripping with blackness. He clenched his teeth at first, but was curious, despite himself.

The tongue flicked at his mouth, and he gently parted his lips. The tongue flicked a few more times before slipping into his mouth, sending a shiver down his back. His mouth was caressed once before the tongue slipped further down his throat, and he found it to be...highly erotic. His eyes slanted, but continued to stare into unblinking yellow orbs.

Braig's new taste was...difficult to describe. It was ashy, in a way, and yet chalk-like, without much discernible taste at all. The tongue retracted to his mouth, and he found his breathing beginning to increase. He was then properly kissed, causing him to emit a soft, breathy sound.

...This really didn't answer his question, but he was leaning towards Braig not being completely conscious.

...How fascinating.

Braig pulled gently away, head tilting to the side again while watching Even breathe heavily. His head tilted to the other side, and then he kissed him once more. The familiar dabs, caresses and teases caught Even's attention, and he blinked up into the eyes that continued to stare.

...Was it possible he was simply remembering what he did and acting on instinct...?

...So fascinating...!

A clawed hand moved from holding his down and was placed on the side of his face, and he leaned into the touch, closing his eyes.

"Braig..." he breathed once they parted from the kiss, slanting his eyes back open. The hand caressed his face, and then it was placed on his chest, reaching under his shirt to gently rake down his skin. Every touch caused his skin to pleasurably tingle, and his breathing deepened.  "Are you trying to arouse me...?" he whispered.

There wasn't a response, of course, and he used his free hand to place on the side of the smooth, black face before returning the kiss. Braig went still, and yellow orbs slightly twitched before turning to slants.

They parted again, and against the warm lips, Even murmured, "It's working."

Braig's head tilted to the side again, and then he lowered to trail kisses down the older man's face, down to his neck, where he then began to mouth and suck on his skin.

"Very nice..." Even hummed, lips turning upwards in a smile. "There's a part of you still there, Braig..." He softly moaned when he was bitten, and then shivered when a long tongue licked him.

This was really beginning to enter foreplay territory.

...But he was enjoying it....

His other hand was suddenly released, and he glanced down at his companion, who was nuzzling his chest again. Why the interest in his heart, he had no idea. It wasn't as if Braig was a Heartless...He was something far superior. Mighty superior, with a heart, a body and a mind: A Host. He lowered his hands and began to unbutton his shirt, which grabbed all Braig's attention.

Once his shirt was unbuttoned, Braig once again raked claws gently down his chest, and yellow eyes slanted from the soft, deep sounds of pleasure from the touch. He reached up to touch the younger man, but Braig moved swiftly away, physically away from him. He crawled away, and then jumped atop the examination table, crouched low and staring down at him.

Blinking, Even kept still while this happened. The sudden change in demeanor was confusing. It couldn't have been something he did, as they were touching freely just a moment ago. He then slowly sat up, watching his friend closely, who, in turn, watched him unblinkingly. "Braig?" he called, watching the dark head tilt to the side. "Are you there?" he asked again.

Evidently, Braig had some sort of control over his body, unless he was instinctual. It seemed to Even that his friend was a bit of both, instinctual and in control. Or perhaps not. He gradually went to his feet, watching the dark form out of the corner of his eye, and, humming, walked over to his table.

So many notes, he had, now. So many ponderings. So many things to beg Braig for again in the future, because this was unlike anything he ever would have imagined was possible, so there was no way he couldn't ask for him to be examined, again. He glanced back at Braig, who had moved down from the table and was no longer crawling, standing near and staring with those googly eyes...

It was a tad unnerving, but it was only Braig.

He tried an experimental, slow reach into his friend's direction, and was granted to touch him. As he ran a hand through the black hair, he pondered. How long was he going to be like this...?

"Can you understand me?" he asked gently, bringing several locks to his nose to inhale. The hair smelled and felt the same as always.

The eyes merely watched him, and he hummed.

"If you can...you may return to your normal form," he said, just in case the message came across. He gently reached and placed his hands on the sides of Braig's face, smiling at him. "You've given me two incredible samples...and much to contemplate on...Thank you." He pressed a tender, sincere kiss to the blackened lips.

Braig didn't react, at first. When Even moved away, he then twitched, head tilting to the side. Out of nowhere, his eyes closed, and he swayed on his feet. Even came to and held him just in time before the sniper collapsed, his body going limp. The dark tendrils were fading, and the blackness and veins in his skin were receding into his marker, which was burning again. Watching with avid interest, Even lowered them to the floor, and then held his companion in his arms.

Behind closed lids, Braig's eyes darted about, twitching, as was his body. Interestingly, the blackness was still trailing from the corners of his mouth, and Even used his lab coat to wipe it away, despite knowing it could stain. For several moments, this continued, until every bit of the Darkness and veins, save the ones that were always there, returned into the sigil. It pulsed once, dark and violent, before dying and becoming dormant.

Not a minute later, brown eyes blinked open, and lips parted in a sudden, sharp inhale. "Even...?" Braig murmured, glancing up at his companion. A smile greeted him, and he managed a small one in return. He seemed lethargic. "Hey, babe...What...happened?" he asked, closing his eyes long and hard before opening them again.

Blond brows rose with interest. "You weren't in control, after all," Even mused aloud, brushing a hand down the man's face. "You went into your Dark form. It was most fascinating."

Staring off past his lashes, his eyes slanted, Braig hummed. "'That so...That'd...explain the crap I taste in my mouth..."

"It has a taste, to you?" Even blinked into brown eyes. He lifted a hand to his mouth. "I don't taste much of anything," he admitted, receiving a humored smile.

"So...I had my way with you, eh..." Braig chuckled softly, resting comfortably against him. "Good. Been wanting to do that for damn near forever...The itch is gone..."

"Wanting to do what?"

He shrugged. "What I did. It's like...a tingling in the back of my mind, sometimes, when I'm around you. Just this desire to...let loose, I guess...But it happens around you, and only around you."

Even made a sound of interest, but also confusion, recalling being recoiled from. He would have to inquire about this, however, in greater detail some other time. "You were quite difficult to understand. You recoiled from me once."

Braig softly laughed. "Did I...?" he murmured, closing his eyes.

"You also seemed to understand me sometimes, and other times, not at all. For instance, you went back to normal after I informed you I had plenty of samples."

"Well....I dunno 'bout that...Was my first time transforming with someone near." He raised a hand to stare at it, recalling his claws. "The first time I transformed wasn't pretty at all. I trashed the hell out of my room...but thankfully, I didn't leave it, either."

Even rested his head atop Braig's. "When was this...?"

The sniper made a face, then chuckled, glancing up at the older man. "Shortly after that lovely, world-changing sleepover we had nineteen years ago." At the silence, he grinned and said, "Yeah."

Softly laughing, Even shook his head and glanced to the ceiling. That was a most world-changing event, for them. "That sleepover changed everything. Such a shame neither of us were brave enough to admit it to ourselves..." he mused. He glanced down at Braig, noticing he was falling asleep. He gently roused him back to consciousness, murmuring, "Let's get you to the bedroom."

A soft groan emitted from the sniper, but he steadily rose to his feet. He then followed Even's lead back upstairs, not so tired he was about to fall over, but unsteady on his feet, regardless. He was soon leaning against the older man instead, but once they hit the bedroom, he suddenly flung himself atop the bed.

Smiling, Even watched the younger man dive underneath the sheets before going still. He then came to his side, brushing some of his hair out of his face while looking upon the resting face. He slightly leaned down to whisper, "Can we do this again?"

A groan was his response.

"Please...?" He pressed a gentle kiss to the man's cheek.

Braig didn't respond immediately, lying there on his stomach, breathing softly. He then felt the bed dip as his companion sat beside him, and another kiss was pressed to his cheek, then his forehead, and then his lips. He was smiling by the time the kiss went to his cheek again. "Mm...okay..." he murmured, cracking his eye open. "You're so cute..."

Sniffing, Even lowered to place his hand on the side of the sniper's face, and the man turned so he was lying on his back so they could properly kiss. He suddenly shivered when he recalled the tongue that had slithered down his throat. At the inquisitive glance, he smiled before gently breaking the kiss. "You were...hm, loving," he chuckled.

A cheeky grin was thrown his way. "'Cause you're so cuuute—"

"Good night, Braig," he said abruptly with a smile, moving off the bed and turning to leave. As he closed the door, he caught a gently glowing, yellow eye smiling at him in the darkness of the room.

The shiver he made brought a larger, anticipatory smile to his face.

Marvelous.