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A Bad Name

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It wasn’t your fault, not really.

When your childhood friends had hit puberty their thoughts had gone from childish things like adventures and monsters to things like sex and misadventure, and slowly you felt left behind. It wasn’t that you hadn’t developed the same feelings as they had, because you did and you were interested just as much as they were, you just… forgot. You had a job to support yourself and your family and when you weren’t working you were sleeping or spending time with those you cared about. Sex and having it were low on your list of wants.

Soon those things were all but forgotten, buried under the mountain of responsibilities that had been piled on you. What reason did you have to think of pleasure of the flesh when there was a world that needed saving? You weren’t Thancred, who made his job out of such things, and it wasn’t like you could just ask someone; there’d been a Crystal Brave who had been enamored with you but it would have felt too much like taking advantage of a subordinate. It was one thing for someone to want you for your body, it was another for someone to want you for what they thought you were.

So here you are. You’ve defeated the Primals of the Source several times over and had helped the nations of Eorzea free themselves from trouble, both internal and external. People came to you for advice, to be saved. And yet you had slept with anyone, let alone kissed someone. Oh, there were plenty of times you wanted to, and wanted more, but it just never came up and so it never happened. You couldn’t very well ask Ifrit to stop tempering people long enough for you to get laid. 

Here on the First things were different but not: the hero worship was almost non existent, though it was growing rapidly, with people treating you as every other upstart hero who wanted to save the world. There were people who you would gladly take to your bed, and who would gladly join you, but you couldn’t help but wonder about what would happen once you made it home. You know from watching him that Thancred has no problem leaving his conquests the next day but… Well, your friends had always talked about special their first time felt.

Either way it’s becoming a problem. You’re tired and frustrated and there’s only so much so relief you can get from killing sin eaters before it becomes unsettling. So you decide to fix it.

“I beg your pardon.” From his chair Thancred stares up at you with wide eyes. Since coming to the First you’ve realized that the man doesn’t get surprised as he used to, so it fills you with a small bit of glee that you got to him so easily.

“I said I want to sleep with you.” You stand before him, hands on your hips and determination in your eyes. You’ve chosen an appropriate outfit for this venture, a thin button shirt and pants that hug your frame just right, and you won’t draw too much attention unless you want to.

“Well, while I’m flattered I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline.” He holds up a hand when you start to protest. “You’ve been a very good friend of mine these past years and while I find you attractive I would rather not ruin our relationship by taking to your bed; and besides, I like you quite a bit more as a friend.”

“I just…” Stamping your foot down like a child you cast a glare around Thancred’s room to try and find something to focus your anger on. “I’ve never done this before and I don’t know where to start and I trust you and -” You’re ranting, you know it, Thancred knows it, and you’re thankful when he stands, clamping a hand over your mouth.

“What do you mean by you’ve never done this?” Pale eyes stare you down.

“I’ve never slept with anyone. Haven’t even kissed someone.”

“You’re joking?” Thancred lets you go when you shake your head, sitting back in his chair with a spacey sound. “Never?”

“Never ever.” You kick at him when he raises his eyebrows and smiles. Sitting down in the chair across from him you lean forward, covering your face with your hands. “It just… It never came up and I’m always busy, Thancred, always. And- and everyone back home knows me so it’d just feel weird to up to someone and ask them.”

“But you have no issue asking me?”

“I can trust you! You wouldn’t go running around telling people that you slept with the famed Warrior of Light!”

“No, no, you're quite right.” Rubbing his chin Thancred shrugs. “Though you’d certainly be a favored notch in my belt.”

He laughs when you come across the table at him, twisting his shirt in your fist to get at his smug face. You could hurt him, you both know it, but rather than be afraid Thancred places both his hands on your shoulders as he gently pushes you away. You dig your heels in, just to be spiteful.

“Listen to me. I consider you a close friend, one of the closest, so I’m going to give you some advice: There are some who view their first time as sacred and some who view it as nothing more than an inconvenience. Some people want it to be special, to have a connection of love with the person they sleep with while others just… decide that their first time should be an orgy.

I think you need to find out what would be best for you and go from there. What happens if, let’s say, you sleep with me and come to regret it? I wouldn’t want to disappoint you and have you look at me with possible hatred afterwards.”

“I could never hate you.” You respond softly, looking at him dejectedly. Letting go of his shirt you take a step back, now staring down at him, and sigh. “Will you at least kiss me?”

“Ah. No.” He holds his hands up in surrender. With great care he pushes his chair back until it rests on two legs. “That you should save for someone special. Besides, I don’t like bad kissers.”  

Thancred makes a show of puckering up his lips at you. You kick the chair out from under him.

----

With all the happenings of the First you soon forget about sharing a bed with someone. There are so many people on the First who are in need of help that you scarcely have time for yourself, often crawling into your bed or cot and falling asleep immediately when the time comes. Eternal Light be damned, you’re tired at the end of the day. 

The pixies of Il Mheg are insasitable with their want to play; each time you complete the request of one, two more show up demanding your attention. Go, go, go, they never stop, and when they do you find yourself feeling like you need to fret over Thancred and Minfilia. The girl tries her best to impress him, anyone can see it, but you know that Thancred’s heart is still aching for his Minfilia. Your Minfilia. 

The Ascian, Emet-Selch, is an issue too. Rare was he to show his face but when he did it always caused a commotion; Thancred and Alisaie constantly seem moments away from attempting to murder the man while Urianger and Alphinaud stand off to the side, torn between assisting their friends and letting the strange being carry on. Only Ryne stands by you as you watch their interactions with utter indifferences. Emet-Selch, annoying as he may be at times, is here to stay. At least until he grows tired of you all. 

“Do you think we should be worried? That he’s here?” Minfilia looks up at you, a hand place against her chest. She’s such an anxious child, full of worry and doubt and it pains you to see her this way. Children should spend their time playing games and loving, not fighting wars.

“I’m never not worried that he’s here, if that’s what you mean.” Shrugging you look over where the Ascian is hiding in the shade of the trees, taunting Thancred as he picks flowers for the fae.  “For now he’s doing us no harm and I don’t want to attack him without knowing what he’s capable of.”

“I understand.” Giving you a short bow Minfilia makes her way towards Thancred to help. You busy yourself with watching them until you feel something heavy weighing on your back, like someone watching you. Looking around you frown as you find Emet-Selch staring straight at you. He raises a brow when you meet his gaze, head tilting quizzically. Raising your chin in defiance you march over to where he stands.

“What?” There’s no reason for you to be hostile, except that the man’s comrades had tried to kill you and your friends multiple times in the past. Not to mention you don’t know how involved this man has been in those events.

“Am I not allowed to simply observe, hero? This might come as a surprise to you but you were quite the topic when Lahabrea and Elidibus came to visit.”  Gold eyes search you up and down and a smug smile crosses on his face. “They always went on and on about how annoying you were.”

“You talked about me? I’m flattered.” Planting your hands on your hips you return the smug look. It should bother you that your sworn enemies talk about you in the dark but it brings about some sort of happy joy to know you irritate them that much. Prideful, Y’shotla had called you once and you quite agree with her.

“Oh, yes, very much so, though I’d wager you speak of us often as well. Do you sit around your fires, telling scary stories about the Ascians and the Void as a child would talk about snarks and grumkins.” Emet-Selch only has an inch or two above you but when he leans in close it feels as if he towers over you; nonetheless you meet him head on, giving no ground when he presses in.

“We mainly talk about how much an arse you are.” You snark.

“And we mainly talk about your arse.” He returns. 

You recoil, face growing hot and hand pressed to your chest as if to protect yourself. You don’t want to believe the words that you just heard but there’s no way for you to claim disbelief when Emet-Selch stands there looking at you, smirking. So you do the next best thing: your hands go straight at your sides, you raise your chin, and you reclaim your original spot.

“Does it surprise you, hero?” Emet-Selch lets out a breathy laugh. “You’ve become a constant in our lives and there’s no denying that you… attractive, I suppose.” He looks you over again appraisingly, like one looks over a piece of meat. 

People look at you all the time; in hate, joy, awe and despair. Sometimes in lust, sometimes in love. You know they look at you the way Emet-Selch is looking at you but you’ve never been this close, this personal to such a look and it makes your skin crawl in a way that isn’t purely disgust. 

“Lahabrea in particular used to go on and on about you. He always said how much he hated you, mind you, but we could all tell he’d just as easily slot himself between your legs as tear your head off.” He shrugs when your mouth falls open.

“He did not!”

“He very much did. It grew to the point that Elidibus would ban him from talking about you unless needed. I don’t understand why you’re surprised. You’re quite pleasing to the eye, you know.”

“Forgive me if it never crossed my mind that an immortal, body-hoping spirit would find me attractive.” Huffing angrily you cross your arms over your chest. It honestly had never crossed your mind. You knew that those that you fought would lie with other people, Aymeric and Zenos were proof of that, but the thought that one of them might have been attracted to you had never crossed your mind. Oh, you knew of Zenos’ odd obsession with you, all the Scions knew, but you have never considered it to be that type of attraction. 

“Why surely you must have an army of suitors back on the Source waiting for you to return so that they might throw their bodies at you, begging you to use them. Or perhaps a lover, one who sits in their window each night praying for your safe return. Why, I’d wager that even one of the Scions warms your bed on occasion, when you both remember to remove the stick from up your arses.”

Your head shakes ‘no’ before you can stop yourself and it is only by the surprised look on his face that you realize what you’ve done. No amount of stuttering excuses deter him as he steps closer, guiding you around like a sheepdog until your back rests against a nearby tree. He places his hands on either side of your head, bracketing you in, and leans in until your noses are mere centimeters apart. Your friends have wandered off, no doubt distracted by the faeries and their games.

“Truly there is no one?” Emet-Selch’s breath feels warm against your face.

“No one. Ever.” Whispering you shake your head.  You’ve gone this far, might as well keep going. “There’s never been anyone.”

“I never would have pegged you for one so… innocent. Do you think that no one would want you, my dear, or perhaps your blood only runs hot on the fields of battle?” Emet-Selch’s voice is full of laughter that is lacking in the regular malicious undercurrent. He is genuinely interested in your response it seems. 

“It never came up. I’ve never even kissed someone.” Still you don’t know why you tell him this. This shall only end in pain for you and a new joke among those Ascians that still remain. You really, really don’t want Elidibus coming around to mock you about never having kissed anyone but, well, if that’s all they decide to do for the next couple of months that’ll be the least of your worries. 

“Never ever?” You see a glint in his eyes as you shake your head. “Well then, allow me to do the honors.”

Time seems to slow down for you. Emet-Selch leans in close, his eyes narrowed so that all you see is a sliver of gold and black. The look on his face is serene, inviting, and welcoming. The exact type of look you want someone to look like when they kiss you. Just… It’s Emet-Selch, and so you punch him.

The look of shock on Emet-Selch’s face is one that you wish you could have forever. His wide eyes, mouth fallen open in shock, and the faintest shadow of a bruise forming on his chin from where you hit him. He could have used his powers to move before you hit him or perhaps stop your fist and instead he decided to let you hit him. You feel as if this should say something about your relationship.

“You hit me…” He says, astonished.

“I did.”

“I have been alive for thousands upon thousands of your lives. I dare say I know how to do a first kiss better than anyone you will ever encounter. So why, pray tell, did you hit me?” Snarling he leans back in, the bracket of his arms feeling more like a cage now. You can feel the anger rolling off of him.

“I’m sure you know quite a lot,” You say, lifting your chin. “But I’m in charge of when my first time will be, not you, and I’m also in charge of who it will be. If I want to kiss you, I will kiss you. If I want to kiss a random merchant on the street, I will do just that. You aren’t Emperor of Garlemald here, you just can’t do as you please.”

“I assure you I never did as I pleased. Have you any idea what it takes to run an empire?” Snark aside Emet-Selch pulls away from you, pouting like a petulant child. He crosses his arms over his chest as he takes a step back to allow you to get away from the tree. “I simply assumed that you wanted me to help you along from the way you were staring at me.”

“I wasn’t staring at you.”

“You were. I know a hungering look when I see one.” He wags a finger at you when you try to speak again. “Now, now, let us not waste our time debating who is right and who is wrong, though I am in the right. I do believe the faeries have made off with your friends. Run along and play the hero, hmm?”

You gasp, rushing past him to realize he speaks true; your friends are gone as in gone with no sight of them around. They wouldn’t have just left you here with Emet-Selch. Turning back to said man you frown as he makes a shooing motion with his hands. You flick him the bird in return and sprint off towards Lydha Lran. When you bother to cast a glance over your shoulder Emet-Selch is gone.

----

The heat of Amh Araeng is next to unbearable. Even Thanalan had hopefully spots when the sun set and the sands began to cool, not to mention the several, several towns that one could hide in. Here in Amh Araeng, however, there was nowhere to hide unless one took to the caves and even then the heat was unbearable. It didn’t seem like the eternal light had any heat to it but perhaps the Lightwarden of Amh Araeng was a particularly spiteful beast. 

You and the rest of the Scions are camped out in Twine, the locals giving you all rooms in the inn. They were nice people but you could see it in their eyes that they didn’t believe you when you said you were here to fight the Lightwarden. You didn’t know if they thought that someone else had saved Lakeland and Il Mheg or if their hope was just gone altogether. It was frustrating, to say the least. 

By the pocket watch that hangs from your belt it’s late at night and you know that you should be asleep, getting a promising rest for tomorrow. However, you’re too full of energy and you’re unwilling to keep Urianger and Thancred awake with your tossing and turning and huffing. So you venture out into the sands, climbing over rocks to avoid the creatures who were still out hunting. You climb and climb and climb until you reach a clearing that’s free of people and beasts and exactly what you want. The light clothing that you chose for the desert cling to you.

You favor a good many type of weapon, both physical and aetherical. You have to, you’ve got to adapt to each fight that you encounter and so you had trained yourself in a variety of weaponry. Each of the Scions had shown you their work, helping you overcome any shortcomings that might arise; you would never best them in their chosen fields, could never heal as well as Urianger and your carbuncles would never be as loyal as the ones Alphinaud keeps, but against an enemy you could hold your own.

Pulling the staff from off your back you think of Y’shotla and focus on the aether in the air. The aether on the First is just like the aether on the Source except that it feels different, taste different. It’s like having a drink from two different bars that had the same instructions but somehow they turned off different.

It starts from your chest and moves through your arms until you feel the tingling on your fingertips, warmth following soon after as you think of fire. You bring your staff forward in a quick, aggressive movement and fire springs from your fingertips, quickly swept into the focus at the tip of the staff and redirected outwards at a nearby rock. It doesn’t explode thankfully, though a small part of you wishes it had, but the scorch on it is a sicking black.  You relish in the feeling and do it again, repeating the motion again and again until you’re certain that the rock is well and truly beyond healing.

“My, my, I had no idea that the Lightwarden had taken the shape of a rock.” The voice comes from behind you, startling you, and you fire another ball of fire as you turn on your heel. It travels on and on hitting nothing because now there is nothing there except the endless expanse of sky. Whoever was behind you has moved, disappeared, and that can only leave one option.

“Come out, Ascian,” You say with a scowl, spinning in circles in an attempt to avoid a surprise attack. “I’m in no mood for games.”

“Yes, so I can see.” Emet-Selch materializes before you, seemingly unbothered by the Light for a man who complained about it so much. He’s slouched forward, arms crossed, looking the very picture of boredom and disinterest, like a man who did not just have a fireball hurled at him with deadly intent. “I know what has you hot, dear hero, now what has you bothered?”

“I…” You let out a frustrated breath, the hand around your staff tightening until your knuckles turn white. “I’m just thinking. About a lot of things.”

“And decided to take it out on a rock rather than discuss it like a civilized being? I didn’t think your primitive behaviour ran that deep, hero, but it seems that I was wrong. How sa-”

“Will you shut up!” Maybe you shouldn’t snap at the several millennia old being but the longer you stay out here the more irritated you get. “I’m so sick of hearing you preach about how much better you are than us. If we bother you that much why not leave or be done with it and kill us? Maybe you’re just lonely, huh? The big, bad Ascian hoping to make friends but not knowing how.” You sneer.

“Mind yourself.” Emet-Selch’s head tilts towards you and even from a couple feet away you see something flash in his eyes.Something dangerous that threatens a fight and you want it.

“You want to know what I’m thinking about? I’m think about how Elidibus was right, about balance. Anyone can see it with this world and when they learn about the Void. But if you’re so obsessed with balance and returning order how come you keep fighting against me and the rest of the Scions? How is that you, a ‘great and powerful’ being blessed by Zodiark, keep losing to me, a simple creature as you so often remind me.” Straightening yourself up you raise your chin in challenge. 

“You forget yourself, hero.” Stalking towards you Emet-Selch means to make you walk until your back hits a rock but you hold your ground, a move that seems to irritate him even farther. “I tolerate you with the hopes that you’ll do something of interest. I can leave when I chose, and have done so, mind you, but I stay because you remind me of a circus monkey, trained to do tricks and all I have to do it wait.”

“Remind me.” You quip.

“Excuse me?” He blinks, obviously taken by surprise. 

“You said I forget myself. Remind me.” Reaching up with your staff you lightly tap him with the end of it. “Spar with me.”

“I could wipe you from existence.” Emet-Selch sounds hesitant, searching your face for a bluff he won’t find. None of the other Scions save for Y’shotla and Thancred will spar with you when you get in these moods, when you move from restless to irritated to full of bloodlust in a quick breath. You wonder if Emet-Selch would join those two or start to stand aside for as long as he travels with you.

“But you won’t, and if you do, well, sparring accidents happen all the time.” You can tell by the way he blinks that your tone and the smile on your face have thrown him off guard. 

“Very well, hero.” He concedes, taking a few steps back. “But don’t go crying to Hydaelyn if I kill you.” With a snap of his fingers his heavy overcoat is gone, leaving him before you in a  dark sleeveless shirt with a high neck, dark pants, and you briefly see a ripple as his boots become more adjusted to the sand. A pair of long, wicked knives appear in his hands. “However, before we begin, let’s make this a little less boring, hmm? A wager.”

“Alright, my terms first. If I win, you tell me about the Ascians and what they want. What they really want.” Emet-Selch sighs dejectedly, sloping forward as if you’ve put a great weight upon his shoulders.

“Yes, yes, fine, but such an answer is not easily given and so neither shall my prize be as such. If I win… You shall give me your first kiss.” He winks as you recoil. You can tell just by looking at him that there will be no changing his answer. Fine then, you’ll just have to win.

The two of you pace across the clearing until you stand at opposite sides, turning it into a mini arena. You fall into a familiar posture, staff raised and aether pulling around you, ready for defense or attack, which ever you need. Emet-Selch pitches forward just a bit, looking as if he weren’t paying attention if not for the focused look in his eye. Neither of you move for what feels like several minutes, so you decide to make the first move; drawing aether to you once more you ready a fireball and -

Emet-Selch is across the clearing in a matter of seconds, blink and you’ll miss it, and you barely have enough time to bring your staff up to block him, preventing his knives from sinking into your chest. His face is neutral, giving away nothing if he’s frustrated at your block. Summoning forth a burst of aether you push him away, sending him back across the sands so hard that he falls to a knee to brace himself. You waste no time summon your fire this time, sending a single ball racing towards him; it misses by mere inches, seemingly bouncing off of an aetherical barrier and hitting a nearby rock. 

“I hope you don’t plan on sending fire at me this whole time. It is rather boring after the first one.” You roll your eyes at him, ignoring the happiness that blooms in your heart. Banter during spars has always brought you joy, seeing it as a way to determine how angry the person coming at you is. 

“You’re using knives, you don’t get to complain about repetitiveness.” With a single finger you beckon him forward. He comes forward as expected, prideful thing, flickering in and out of existence in an attempt to confuse you. Through the power of the Echo you are able to see him as he moves though the edges of him still flicker and threaten to draw your attention away if you stop paying attention. 

This time when Emet-Selch comes in close he comes in low, a leg sweeping out, hooking around your ankle to pull you down. The ground comes rushing up at you and you barely manage to get a hand out to catch yourself to avoid breaking your nose. Being down on the ground, however, is no relief; a foot connects with your chest, lifting you upwards with unfathomable strength. You don’t have time to think before Emet-Selch’s knee comes around to hit you in the area of your collarbone, sending you flying across the sands. When you hit the ground again you roll for what feels like miles before you stop. Each gasp of air rattles in your chest. Rising to your hands and knees shakily you look around for your staff.

And find it between you and Emet-Selch.

Gone away are the knives that emet-Selch had started with and now he holds a blade similar to the one that Alisaie favors, though there is no focus to speak of. The steel, if it could be called that, is a dark metal, one that gleams green in the sunlight. Another darker piece of metal wraps around it without touching and its point ends just past the tip of the blade itself. It’s a beautiful metal and though you’re no master crafter you still want to take a closer look at it; but, alas, that day will have to come later. Right now you need your staff. 

“Predictable enough for you, hero?” You snarl in response to his sneer and rise to your feet. Without a focus to channel your aether into it goes straight into your hands, giving you a punch that you know can shatter more than bone. Rushing towards your staff you call upon your aether as he does the same, throwing a punch forward when the two of you meet in the middle. He blocks it with his blade, his own aether pushing back against yours. Your aether gathers in your feet now and you feel the urge to bounce on your toes; instead you move your fist from Emet-Selch’s blade, bending your body around as he goes through with his thrust. Quickly you swap your legs and bring the free one up now, intending to land a hit on the man himself. However, his blade once more blocks your attack, breaking against your knee. The tip flies off somewhere and Emet-Selch disappears in a puff of darkness, reappearing a ways away from you.

Scooping your staff back up you turn around, raising it in defense when Emet-Selch falls upon you once again. This time he wields an axe, a weapon that by all means should break your staff. And it’s going to, you can feel the aether coming off the axe in waves upon waves that will overpower yours. So you just need to outlast him.

Spinning your staff around you hook it under one of the curved edges of the axe’s blade, pushing it away from yourself. It gives you enough room to readjust when Emet-Selch comes back at you, swinging his axe upwards in an attempt to stumble you. It succeeds, though just barely, and you take a step back without giving him room to advance. Hooking your staff in the underside of the axe again your force it down, making Emet-Selch bend with it. In an attempt to get more distance between the two of you you summon aether to the palm of your hand and force it forwards. Emet-Selch doesn’t go far but it’s enough to give you room.

With room between you now you go on the offensive. Your staff is no spear or lance but you didn’t spend days under Estinien and the dragoon trainers of Ishgard to not know how to improvise with the weapon. You sweep the bottom part of the staff up, knocking it into Emet-Selch’s axe and sending it flying. Sliding both of your hands down the staff you grasp onto the bottom and swing the staff out like a bat, knocking Emet-Selch’s feet out from under him and sending him onto his arse. Bringing the staff back around for a side sweep you aim for his head, a move that hits Emet-Selch on the top of his head. He rolls away from you, rising to his feet with a curse.

This time when you bring the aether into the staff you think of the cold, ice running through your veins, and you feel more than see a few icicles, roughly the size of a small dagger, form in the air behind you. Emet-Selch must see them too because you see a brief look of something in his eyes before it’s gone, replaced by mirth in a matter of seconds. A thin line of dark blood trickles down from his hairline where you managed to smack him in the head. You know nothing about Ascians or how their bodies work so you don’t know the severity of his damage. 

Bringing your staff forward you point it in his direction, the ice rising up behind you, spinning around to aim at Emet-Selch. You waste no time in sending forth the ice, thinking of the direction and the target and watching as each icicle speeds past you. Emet-Selch’s sword from before it back, summoned Twelves knows when, and it slices through the first couple of icicles with ease. Quickly he starts to gain ground on you, leaping up to avoid a particularly large icicle, and descends from above. Aether swirls around his blade and from this angle you cannot tell what spell he means to bring down on you.

You bring up a wall of ice, forcing it to spread over you to cover above; it’s then enough that you can see the shadow of Emet-Selch’s feet when he lands but thankfully he doesn’t come crashing through. It seems that your trick has caught him off guard as Emet-Selch stands atop the ice, feet shifting around like he doesn’t know what to do with this new development. Smirking you bring your staff up towards where he stands and prepare to encase his feet in ice. 

A sound cracks behind you and pain splits through the side of your head, sending you to your knees with a short howl. All around you the ice rumbles and shatters, fading back into the aether before it can do you any harm. You can feel the side of your face grow warm and sticky with blood and when you cast a glance up your vision is red. And Emet-Selch is gone. 

You make to look over yourself and let out a grunt when a boot hits you in between the shoulders, forcing you down into the sand. Turning your head to avoid hitting your nose you see Emet-Selch standing above you, a long-barreled gun firmly in hand. He smirks when he sees that you’ve seen him, raising a brow in mockery. 

“And with that, my dear, I do believe I’ve won.” He removes his foot, bending down to offer you a hand. 

“You cheated.” You don’t take the hand, instead choosing to just stare up at him as you roll onto your back. Emet-Selch gasps, his hand pulling away to touch at his chest like he’s offended. Smirking at him you kick lightly at his foot.

“I’ll have you know that I have never once cheated in my entire life. Cheating implies that I don’t have the skills and means to win.” Emet-Selch offers you hand once more. Taking it you relish in the feeling of his glove against his skin before you lunge forward, hand wrapping around the crux of his elbow and kicking your leg forward to hook around his ankle. 

Emet-Selch falls down on top of  you, the gun disappearing as he makes to catch himself; one hand lands in the sand and the other hits you in the middle of the chest, forcing the breath out of you. You raise an aether-filled hand, intent on claiming back the win, when the barrel of the gun presses against your temple as it reappears in his hand. He scowls down at you, teeth bared just slightly to express his displeasure.

“Now who is the cheat.” The hand not holding the gun reaches up to pat your cheek. He makes no move to get off of you. 

“You’re heavy.” You complain as a way to get him off of you.

“Quite a few people have told me they enjoy the weight.” Emet-Selch leans in close, close enough that his nose touches yours. This close you remember your bargain and your cheeks flush slightly. If asked, you know that you can blame it on the heat and the sparr but you also know that he’ll sniff it out of you in no time. 

“Alright, well, go on then.” Sighing deeply you close your eyes, waiting for it. This is not, by any means, how you wanted your first kiss to go, but you believe in keeping your word. Above you Emet-Selch laughs and you feel him adjust so that you are touching chest to chest and the hand that had touched you before cups your cheek. 

It feels like an eternity, lying there with him on you. The anticipation is killing you and you only last for a couple more minutes before you open your eyes, to see what’s taking so long.

Emet-Selch stares down at you, the gold of his eyes seeming to shine compared to the sand all around you. The smirk that normally has a place on his face is gone, replaced by a confused look that you can only see by the way his brows pinch together. He makes no move to kiss you or to encourage you to kiss him, instead choosing to just search your face for whatever it is that he wants. You don’t pretend to know what it is that he wants at this point, both in your current situation and overall. Emet-Selch makes you feel like you’re on a ride that you can’t get off, one that you think you have control of only to find out that the Ascian is at the wheel at the last moment. 

You give another minute before you patience wears thin.

“Well? Go on, you’ve won. Take your prize.”

“So much venom in your voice, hero! You’ve no one but yourself to blame for both losing and for agreeing to give away such a prize.” His eyes drift down to you lips but still he makes no attempt to kiss you.

“I don’t like being kept waiting.” You try, pushing your body against his to get him off. You weren’t lying before, he’s heavy, Ascian or not he’s a grown man. 

“Impatient brat.” Emet-Selch calls you. He is off of you in mere seconds, hovering over you for a few seconds before thrusting his hand down. “I will claim my prize, have no fear, but I do not want it now.”

“Then when!?” This time you take his hand and pull yourself to your feet. “I don’t want to be in the middle of the fight and have you come out of nowhere to take a kiss and run.”

“I will not surprise you, hero. If I cannot say what I want in words I assure you that you will know.” With a snap of his fingers his coat and the rest of his garments are back in place on his body, hiding his frame and giving him his all too familiar look. “You are not a lover from whom I can steal kisses.” 

“Oh? I never would have pegged you for the type of being to love anyone.” It’s a joke, you mean it as a joke, but you can see immediately that it isn’t taken as one. Hurt flashes in Emet-Selch’s eyes, quickly followed by disgust and rage. Reaching forward he grabs you by the front of your shirt, dragging you close to him with strength that’s unnatural even to you.

“You know nothing of me except what I have given to you, hero. Do not presume know anything more.” His teeth are bared and you feel something heavy move just below the surface of his aether, something horrifying and hurtful and hurting. “I have lived more lives than you will ever have the privilege of living and have done things you could never begin to comprehend.”

Shoving you away he turns away from you with a snarl, choosing to storm away on foot instead of disappearing into one of his portals. You make to follow after him, stopping after just a couple of steps. It probably wouldn’t be best to upset him more than you already have.

“I’m sorry!” You call out instead. You honestly don’t expect anything in return so when he waves at you before disappearing into darkness you’re pleasantly surprised.

Standing in the middle of the clear you let the events wash over you, trying to place everything in order in your head. You find no logic behind his actions, at least none that you can bring yourself to believe. Obviously your words had gotten under Emet-Selch’s skin somehow, though you aren’t sure how; you hadn’t thought the Ascians capable of love, of anything but hatred and malice and sadistic streaks bigger than the Holy See of Ishgard. They had no room for anything else. And yet… as you had watched Emet-Selch walk away you were felt with the idea that maybe there was something more to them, something no one had wanted to acknowledge.

Gathering up your spear you hold it close to you chest, trying to use it as a shield against the emotions that are swelling up inside you, threatening to spill out of you when you breathe wrong. You feel like you’re sick, a fire burning inside you and your ribs ache like something’s pushing against them.With a shaky sigh you nod a couple of times, more for your own reassurance than anything else, and begin your slow descent back to Twine. 

----

The Vii of Fanow throw wonderful celebrations. That’s all you can keep thinking as you spin round and round the massive pyre that they’ve set up. The Lightwarden of Rak’tika had been defeated by you and your friends, resorting the night sky and freeing the inhabitants of their fear. The Blessed sing their chants to the night sky and beat their drums in tune with the Vii, creating wonderful music to dance to. Minfilia, Ryne, she’s Ryne now, has been since Amh Araeng, had pulled you up from where you had been sitting, asking you to dance and you’d been too drunk to tell her no. Soon the others joined in and you had danced with all of them.

Urianger’s dancing was as formal as his speech, his movements controlled and fanciful at the same time. You’d only danced with him for a few minutes before Y’shtola had come to take you away, leading you in a traditional miqo’te dance, once that seemed all at once to wild but perfectly fitting for the sorceress. Soon the Vii themselves join in, one stealing away Y’shtola, and you find yourself being swung from partner to partner. Every time you step away someone hands you a drink, encourages you to drink it, and then sends you dancing away once you’re done.

You dance until your feet are sore and the fire start to dim as they run out of kindling. Slowly people start to trickle away from the center, returning to their homes or the rooms that were given to the Scions. Still, you chose to remain, no longer dancing but sitting by the fire with a bottle in hand and your feet tapping against the wood as you sing the beat of the last song to yourself. Someone pats you on the shoulder as they pass and you raise a hand to assure them that you’re fine, you’ll go to bed in just a bit. You aren’t really sure what you’re thinking, only that your thoughts aren’t in a straight line right now.

“Look at you, hero, drunk as a skunk and all alone.” His voice cuts through your thoughts and when you look up Emet-Selch stands before you, slouched forward so that his face is half hidden in the shadows. You can see the smirk on his face even from here and the little voice in your head that isn’t drunk tells you that he’s mocking you but honestly? You think that smile is all for you.

“I am drunk!” Throwing your free hand up you let out an enthusiastic sound. “We’ve been drinking all night! Where have you been?” 

“I did not think I would be invited. After all, cooperation aside, your victory is not mine.” Despite his somber tone he sits down next to you. You’re surprised when you bump your knee against his and he doesn’t pull away. In fact, to your great surprise and joy, he offers you a subtle bump back. 

“You’re my friend!” You declare it loudly, not caring who hears you. Thancred would grab you by the ear and drag you away if he was here right now but that’s fine, you want to speak the truth right now. “I mean… we aren’t close friends but whatever! A friend is a friend and I consider you one!”

“Such sentiment for your enemy once upon a time. And when did you decide that we were friends, hmm?” 

“Just now.” You say proudly, leaning against him. A laugh escapes you when he blinks in confusion, and you push off of him. Apparently you push too hard because you feel yourself start to tip off of the bench and it’s only by Emet-Selch’s quick reflexes that you don’t go sprawling on your arse. “And look! You saved me just now! We’re friends!”

“I simply did not want you to make a joke out of yourself just now, try not to read too much into it.” His smile takes on a sad undertone to it and you are overcome with the urge to make him smile, an actual smile, one that’s filled with actual joy. You wonder if his eyes shine when he’s happy or if it’s only when he’s hiding secrets.

“You should smile more.” You say softly. Emet-Selch lets out a soft chuckle at your words, a hand coming up to pat your head. “I’m serious! It’ll look good on you!”

“There are many things that look good on my, hero, a smile least of all.” Looking at him you think of all the adventures that he’s been around for and how much fun it’s been. There are several things that you fundamentally disagree on but you think you’d like for him to stay around after all is said and done. Perhaps you could work with him and him with you on how to deal with the Hydaelyn and Zodiark situation. You also realize that you’d love nothing more than to see him naked.

“I think,” Leaning against him again you poke him in the chest. “That I would look good on you.”

“Oh, Zodiark above,” Emet-Selch lets out a huff, standing up so quickly that you fall forward, dropping your bottle and smacking your face against the bench. You let out a giggle. Deft hands fall upon your body, turning you over onto your back before scooping you up, carrying you like a princess or bride. You curl into his chest, a hand slipping under his coat to rest against his undershirt. Like this you can feel the body heat coming off of him, though it is lower than the average hyur’s; you had seen how well built he was from your spar in Amh Araeng but to be up close and touch it is another experience. You like it.

Emet-Selch carries you back to your room, huffing and puffing and throwing a fit without actually saying any words the whole way. He drops you unceremoniously in your bed when you reach it and you giggle when you bounce a bit.

“You should sit down,” You prompt, using your foot to signal where he should sit. That’s when you realize that you still have your boots on and you twist your body around to get at them. Emet-Selch sighs, you hear it, and suddenly his hands are on your boots, pulling at laces. Taking your boots off he sets them beside the bed as he settles down on the edge.

“You’re going to be the death of someone, I hope you know that.” He pats your leg condescendingly. “Stubborn, annoying, bothersome thing that you are.”

“I could bother you,” The last word comes out sing-songy and you sit up, pulling your knees up and using them as a headrest. “Could bother you lots.”

“You’re drunk, hero, lie back down and go to sleep.”  Emet-Selch reaches over and gives you a small push but you hold your ground.

“No! No, no, I’m being serious!” You lean forward, coming down on your hands and knees. “I want- I want you, and I owe you a kiss!” 

“I would rather you be sober for that.” He bats your hand away when you reach for him, smacking the back of your hand when you do it again. You pout at him, rubbing your hand, and in return he wags a finger at you. “Were you a lover or spouse of mine I might consider it, but you are not.” Emet-Selch makes to stand and you make your choice.

Even drunk you are fast, faster than most everyone you know. You climb into his lap, wrapping your legs around his hips and throwing your arms over his shoulders, locking your hands. If he wanted to you both know that he could displace you with ease, either with his magic or by hand, but instead he freezes, his hands hovering just over your hips like he doesn’t know if he should touch you or not. But he’s not pushing you off. So you reach down, covering his hands with yours and move them to your hips.

“I want you, Emet-Selch. Even if it’s just for tonight.” You lean forward, eyes slipping close as you lean forward to kiss him. Your lips touching. Cloth, not skin, and so you open your eyes. One of Emet-Selch’s gloves has been raised to block you. His golden eyes are narrowed at you in a mix of emotion, anger and fear and so much more.

“You are drunk, hero. I am many types a monster but even this I will not do.” Those hands on your hips push you until you fall onto the bed, spread out on your back.  Staring up at the ceiling you can only blink slowly as it spins. 

“Will you at least kiss me?” You call out when you feel him get off the bed. 

“No, I’m afraid not, but if you come to me while you’re sober I’m quite sure we could work something out.” His voice curls inside your head with that familiar laughter.

“I’m going to come find you tomorrow.” You promise. You raise your head and look around the room but cannot find Emet-Selch.

“I hope you do, hero.”

When you go to look for him tomorrow Emet-Selch is nowhere to be found.

----

The Light burns inside of you. It burns so much.

Vauthry cries somewhere off in the distance but you can hardly hear him over the pounding in your head.You can hardly hear anything. Noise echoes somewhere above you. People are shouting, arguing, and you want to stop them. It’s okay, you want to say. You hear the Exarch, G’raha, talking and people still arguing and then a sharp sound cuts through the noise. Everyone starts to talk at once now, shouting and their words full of hatred. 

Black boots cut in front of your line of sight and when you look up you meet the golden eyes of Emet-Selch. His smile is brief, fleeting, and full of sorrow. He speaks though you can barely hear his words. He does something and the Exarch is gone, spirited away to Twelves knows where. 

“I pity you, I do.” His voice echoes through your head as you watch him float up, up, up into the sky. He tilts his head towards you and mentions his home in the Tempest before fading away.

You don’t know if you’ll ever see him again, honestly.

----

You’ve been through so much to get here. You’ve done so much.

You hadn’t realized how tired you had been until you had walked through the streets of Amarout, looking at all the ghosts that walked with you. Was this what Emet-Selch had been keeping inside him for so long, keeping himself going by remembering the shade of what he once had? You felt for him, you did, but was one city really worth the lives of so many? Maybe Emet-Selch just saw things differently than you did.

The two of you stand before each other, once more in an arena, only this time the fight is long since over. A giant hole has made its home in the middle of Emet-Selch’s chest, placed there by the axe made of Light given to you by Ardbert. His fingers linger on the edges of the wound as he looks between it and you.

The sight of it hurts your heart. You walk towards him, stopping just in front of him. Slowly you reach out for him.

“I’m sorry.” You whisper, fingers brushing against his hand. “I wish it could have gone differently.”

“As do I.” He responds with a laugh. Gently he reaches out to take your hand in his and brings you close. Cupping the back of your head he rests your forehead against his. You’re shaking you realize. “I wish so much had gone differently.” 

The hand on the back of your head moves down your neck, urging your head up and back. His lips find yours in a gentle kiss and your eyes slip close at the feeling. It’s everything you wanted and yet it feels hollows. When he starts to pull away you grab onto his robe, not wanting to let him go. He manages to get you to let go and steps back.

“Remember… Remember us.” His voice cracks as he looks at you, offering you one last smile. “Remember me.” In a shock of light he is gone and the world around you starts to part to allow your friends to enter.  You don’t turn to look at them as your shoulders start to shake.

“My friend,” Alphinaud calls softly. “Are you well?”

You nod your head even as your knees start to give, forcing you to the ground. Ryne is the first one to come you and wraps her arms around you as you cry, the rest soon to follow. You are surrounded by love but it feels hollow.

You cry for Emet-Selch, for Hades, and all he had been. For the Amaourtines and all they had lost. For all that you and your friends had suffered. You cry and you cry and it doesn’t seem to be helping but it’s nice and you’ll be okay.

You have to be.