Sting claws his way out of the oppressive, suffocating darkness surrounding him, and the world almost immediately explodes into searing hot, merciless agony.
Every last fibre of his beaten body seems to be on fire, while his leg is barely more than a throbbing, bloody pulp made of raw flesh and splintered bone, and the sharp twinge coursing through the mauled limb very nearly sends him back into the pitch black void of unconsciousness.
Then, however, he remembers Rogue’s heart-beat fluttering against his chest, Rogue’s feverish forehead pressed up against his neck, Rogue’s weak body shivering in his arms… And all the excruciating, unforgiving pain suddenly gives way to a mind-robbing, all-encompassing fear.
He can’t tell for how long he’d been out cold, but the moon hangs concerningly low and ominously crimson in the night-sky; its dying light bleeding out over the fog-shrouded landscape in cascades of scarlet and black, while a stinging scent of copper and decay stabs his nose with metallic, lifeless cold.
For a short-lived moment of unaltered panic his head snaps up and his dazed eyes dart around, certain to find the Bronze Knight looming over him, the razor-sharp edge of his great-sword the last thing he’d ever see in this accursed, hopeless life of his, but where the creature had sunken to its knees only a copious pile of a fine-grained, white powder remains.
Stings eyes widen at once and his mouth goes dry with anticipation….
If he was to offer this much salt at the altar of Devara’s sanctuary, he’s almost certain, it would be enough to heal both him and Rogue completely, so he scrambles closer arduously to shove the unexpected loot into a well-hidden leather satchel attached to the inner seem of his vest.
He’s already turning away – the pouch now hanging comfortingly heavy from his belt – as a wayward ray of starlight gets caught on shiny metal and when Sting reaches for the small glittering object, his searching fingers retrieve a ring adorned with a crudely cut triangular rune.
Even though it feels cold to the touch and dew covers its surface, there’s an undeniably curious energy humming through the thin silver band, and as soon as it has slipped over Sting’s finger the pain in his leg lessens just enough for him to stagger to his feet.
He downs one of the red vials fastened at his hip – the bitter, coppery taste making him shudder – before tying two straight, sturdy sticks to his injured shin as a makeshift splint.
“Hang in there, Rogue… I’m coming…” he mumbles with a sharp hiss of pain upon putting weight onto the broken limb, but all the agony in this world couldn’t match the despair and ache of losing is other half – once again and this time for good. So Sting bites down onto his lip hard and limps on, even though there are stars dancing in front of his eyes, even though he has to stop twice to throw up.
He needs you.
Sting finally slips through the concealed entrance of his sanctuary and the nearly completely burned down fire confirms that he has been away for much longer than he’d ever anticipated; thus the sudden onslaught of concern and fear immediately steals his breath.
At once he’s thankful that he had the prudence of collecting some firewood on his painstakingly slow way back but right now the fire is the last thing he could care about, for as he reaches out to stoke the dying embers, his hand brushes Rogue’s fingers and the impassive chill carelessly biting his skin has his heart-beat start in panic.
“Rogue?” he whispers quietly, reaches out for his throat with shaking fingers, as he prays for the obvious to be a lie.
But then his quivering fingertips graze the lifeless, pale flesh of Rogue’s neck and they’re met with nothing but stone-cold silence, while his own pulse rages in his ears in a maddening crescendo of:
“Too late! Too late! Too late! Too late!”
A broken, strangled sob leaves his lips then; an elegy for something dear and precious now forever lost and when he pulls Rogue’s unmoving, empty form close, the coldness of his sallow skin seeps right into his very core.
“No… no….” he whispers against the rapidly cooling brow, his voice hoarse and raw with unshed tears, and the sheer unbearable grief eats away at his very heart with ceaseless, precise incisions.
Suddenly all dams are breaking as he cries out in anguish, the still body of the man he used to love clutched to his chest as he laments their cruel fate, all the smiles they would never get the chance to share, the arguments they were never going to have – the future so viciously stolen from them, as Rogue’s life had trickled out of his beautiful heart on a forgotten, cursed island at the end of the world.
He’d died all alone; hurting, freezing, scared- and Sting hadn’t even been by his side as he’d breathed his last breath.
And only the restless winds and waves had guided his soul into to the uncharted territory beyond his reach, leaving behind nothing more than another empty shell of flesh and bone to litter the unholy grounds.
Bile rises in the blonde’s throat as he realizes, that any moment now Rogue’s abandoned form might start stirring in undeath; the once strong, caring and beautiful lively man he’d fallen for reduced to a will-less, staggering hollow, with his gemstone-like eyes broken and dull and neither mind nor memory to call his own.
With horror tightening his chest Sting wonders if he had it in him to drive his sharp, keen dagger right through Rogue’s unmoving heart to deliver him from this accursed state of eternal unrest or if he’d just watch him stumble into the darkness, as his own heart turned to salt.
Would he be able to endure crossing paths with the ever-wandering ghost of his beloved again and again until his mind had withered away and he’d finally given in to the voices calling out to him at the highest point of the cliffs?
Or would he fall prey to Rogue’s slender, quick katana himself, taking the sight of cold, emotionless eyes with him into eternal sleep?
He could imagine worse fates than dying by his lovers hands; but not here.
Not like this. Not when it comes down to either kill or being killed himself.
The realisation brings painfully hot tears to his eyes.
Tears that fall onto milk white, marble still cheeks; but it is only when he presses a last lingering kiss to the unresponsive, blueish lips that their gruesome chill makes him fully understand what exactly it is, that he'd lost.
The raw wail suddenly ripping itself free from his tender throat is a lacrimosa yelled out in unaltered agony and bereavement; a sound so broken, so hurt and accusing, even the gods that had left this isle long, long ago, must have heard it.
Sting’s whole body is on fire; the heart-ache too much to bear after this long years of impassive numbness, and now the grief is racing through his form like an unholy venom; burns him from the inside, as it swallows him whole, and when the heat, the agony, the pressure threatening to rip him apart get almost too intense to withstand any longer, a piercing scream rings throughout the thick, claiming blackness of the cave and a bright, dazzling light of the purest white erupts around him; the pristine shine engulfing both him and Rogue’s still body cradled in his arms.
The sensation is unfittingly soft and soothing, a sweet pulsating warmth flowing throughout his whole form like a gentle summer wind and all at once he feels the pain subsiding.
The frost leaves his bones and his harsh sobs die down until only silent tears fall from his closed eyes, while the fair light embraces them like sunlight in May.
For a moment he wants nothing more than to just fade into this light, leave the hideous, cruel lands that took his beloved from him and follow Rogue into the endless night beyond, but somehow the radiant shine seems to brim with life and won’t allow it.
So he sits in silent shock, his face buried in the shimmering obsidian-black strands, and chokes a wordless, desperate farewell against Rogue’s temple.
The soft light he still feels whirling around them starts taunting him mercilessly all at once, for its warmth has the bloodless skin beneath his lips appear vivid and inviting, and he curses Devara for her cruelty, her scorn, wants to yell his despise into her sanctuary and defile it, when suddenly…
Suddenly the dazzling nimbus is gone without a trace.
Not even a faint afterglow remains and the air becomes heavy with harsh, biting frost once again; the small token of comfort abruptly snatched away by the mirthless, vengeful Master of the island, as it couldn’t allow such an unearthly beautiful tribute to life and love.
But there has been a certain something Sting has sensed in the silvery shower of purest energy, something achingly familiar that has called out to him in a tongue older than time, and now a small, muted voice; buried beneath the aloof linens of forgetfulness; is whispering a prayer in his heart of hearts that his numb lips can’t help but repeat.
His voice rings through the silence all foreign and broken, while a string of words tumbles from his mouth he has no recollection of ever hearing before.
He still mutters them with the reverence of a true believer, lays all his longing, all the grief and heart-ache into each and every syllable of his remorseful elegy - but the thick nothingness still closes in on him - relentlessly and with a silent mock.
So he clutches his already piously folded hands together ever harder, revels in the stinging sensation of his nails carving bloody crescent moons into his flesh, and he’d almost given in to the sudden irresistible need to fist into the red glowing remains of the bonfire to extinguish the agonizing throbbing in his chest. But then an inaudible, gentle voice holds him back…
All at once he finds one tiny spark dancing happily and bright around him- a tiny reminiscence of the dazzling supernova enclosing them earlier- and it swirls playfully around his head, tickles the nape of his neck carefully, before coming to a halt right in front of his eyes; obviously eager to attract his attention.
So when sky blue eyes widen in heart-broken disbelief and reflect its airy shine, the little firefly goes completely still, before it buzzes a last time in determination and then sinks down slowly.
Sting watches it almost mesmerized; his mind suddenly blank and dazed; as it descends directly towards Rogue’s head, the light casting deep shadows over his face.
After what seems like hours played out in the stark interlude of impending blackness and waning light, it touches his brow gently.
Then it vanishes abruptly with a last burst of dazzling radiance that illuminates his features and – for a fleeting moment – has him appear more bright and beautiful than ever, as it tinges his cheeks with a soft, lively blush.
After that it’s gone without a trace and the spell is broken, so Sting lets his lips graze his lover’s forehead one last time, his hand already reaching for the sheath of his dagger, when suddenly gentle puffs of air tickle his skin and he finds that Rogue’s chest is no longer silent…
There’s a heart-beat thrumming stubbornly where stillness dwelled only moments ago and slow, steady breaths ghost over the slightly parted lips.
Sting stares at him, mouth agape, his own breath stolen away in wide-eyed wonder and all at once a fierce trembling takes a hold of him.
Without thinking he presses his forehead to Rogue’s brow, revelling in the soft warmth spreading throughout his body now that his blood is no longer frozen in place, while the ghostly pallor slowly leaves his face.
Before he can do much more than choke out a raw sob, a small noise falls from Rogue’s lips, something between a whimper and a sigh, and then his long, black lashes start fluttering.
Rogue blinks himself back into the present – slowly, arduously – and starts glancing around all searching and confused; before he finally finds Sting and a small jolt runs through his whole body.
Within seconds a smile blooms on his lips… A smile that creeps over his features; nestles in his wine-red eyes and sets them aglow until they flicker and shine like amber.
“You’re really here…” he breathes, voice rough and low from neglect. “I was afraid that I’d only dreamt you…”
He sits up with another small whine, his eyes never straying from Sting’s face, and his expression falters when he takes in the tear-stains glittering on his cheeks and the traces of a bone-deep, unbearable pain still etched into his features.
“Sting? What….” He’s already reaching out when he suddenly stalls dead in his tracks and withdraws his hands to look at them wary and pondering for a moment.
Then his face darkens and he clenches his eyes shut with a weary:
“God fucking dammit…. Again?”
When he turns to Sting once again his eyes have gone soft with sympathy and concern while regret tinges his voice a deeper shade of sad.
“I’m sorry, Sting. Sorry you had to go through this again… You must feel horrible…”
The blond, however, just stares at him without understanding, an eerie hollowness surrounding his exhausted form, and his tune his flat and empty when he inquires:
“What are you talking about? I… What the hell just happened?”
Rogue looks at him strangely, concern worming its way into his expression, as he mutters:
“You had to bring me back just now, didn’t you?”
“Me?” Sting whispers in apparent shock. “I didn’t do anything… I… there was this light… And… and suddenly you… you weren’t breathing and…”
Out of the blue he’s sobbing almost hysterical, voice trembling and hitching as the sickening aftermath of the adrenalin-rush mingles with the sensation of hot relief in his veins.
“Shhh…. It’s alright… I’m right here… it’s fine…” Rogue sooths quietly, as he lets his fingers ghost over the blond’s hand. “Of course you saved me! I mean I can still feel your magic all around us…”
Sting’s jaw drops down in disbelief when he breathes an incredulous: “My… magic? I don’t…”
But suddenly his eyes become distant and unfocused, colour draining from his face, and a flood of pictures surges through his mind.
The white Dragon of ephemeral light.
A warm, soft aura buzzing in his hands.
The feeling of life flowing through him freely, filling him to the brim.
A dazzling, radiant shine traversing through every fibre of his being…
“My magic!” he repeats, this time more certain and full of wonder, before extending a hand and summoning a small blindingly bright orb of purest energy.
For a second it thrums quietly in his palm, then he sends it off with a quick flick of his wrist to have it swirl merrily around them.
Within moments it starts dancing around Rogue’s head exuberantly and bouncing, obviously drawn to him just as much as its Master.
“I completely forgot…” Sting mutters quietly, as he follows the quick sprite with awe in his eyes.
Rogue looks at him softly for a moment, before a shadow of pain flits over his features and he mumbles: “So it’s true then… This island does steal your memories; your previous life.”
He averts his gaze for a moment, grief all at once open and raw on his face, before he swallows hard as he braces himself, and then whispers hesitantly:
“Tell me… Do you remember me?”
For a moment he doesn’t dare to meet Sting’s eyes, afraid he’d find amnestic emptiness and a lack of recognition there, but then the blond caresses his cheek gently as he coaxes him into lifting his gaze and when they look at each other there’s a warm, endless longing written all over his demeanour.
For a moment they remain like this - frozen in time and barely daring to breathe – then Sting leans in without hesitation and brushes his lips against Rogue’s.
For the fraction of a heart-beat the dark haired man doesn’t react, but then he sighs softly and smiles against the other’s skin, before reciprocating the touch.
“You’re what even this place couldn’t take away from me completely…”
Sting whispers gently, never breaking contact, and Rogue breathes in his words, lets them heal his heart, the same way the blond’s light has healed his body, while he carefully deepens the kiss.
Above their heads the small ball of holy magic frolics and flares.