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Emet-Selch approaches Hythlodaeus during an idle moment. The rest of the small company preoccupy themselves a short but, and this he chooses as key, out of earshot distance away. Hermes runs diagnostics on yet another creation with a pair of researchers nearby, his familiar ever present by his side. What mysterious places Azem's familiar disappeared to, Emet-Selch doesn't wish to hazard a guess. For his continued sanity.

He supposes he should be continuing his observation of Hermes's qualifications for the office of Fandaniel. The entire reason Emet-Selch and Hythlodaeus, then joined by Azem's familiar, traveled to Elpis in the first place. It's easy to become distracted from that purpose however, even for Emet-Selch, when he takes in the natural beauty of this outpost at the edges of the heavens.

When he feels the crisp, light breeze ruffle through his hair. Against his skin. Hears the pleasant rush of waterfalls cresting off in the distance. Flap of winged avian. Thunderous hooves clomping through dirt. And more creations besides, all around. Easy to become distracted especially when Emet-Selch turns his golden gaze and espies amethyst hair drifting slowly free of its messy side braid.

Emet-Selch tuts to himself, thinking of what Azem's familiar most recently revealed to him. Pulled him aside while they were walking and proceeded to lecture him. Him. The audacity! Emet-Selch and Azem would most certainly be having words upon his return, but first…

Hythlodaeus glances over his shoulder, sensing Emet-Selch's presence even as he plucks at his friend's hair with exaggerated disdain.

"Come here," Emet-Selch murmurs, tugging lightly on the thick cable.

Hythlodaeus turns to face him without comment, letting Emet-Selch swiftly undo the simple twine that secures his braid. He follows through the motion unraveling the entire affair, more effort than a few stray strands need. But Emet-Selch needs something to focus his hands and it may as well be on this.

"Tell me," Emet-Selch begins, combing through Hythlodaeus's hair with his fingers, "you do not truly believe that nonsense."

Hythlodaeus tilts his head to the side. Or attempts to, halted by a look that sees such an impish grin curve his lips. Emet-Selch rolls his eyes, returning to threading Hythlodaeus's hair back into his preferred side braid.

"That your greatest contribution to our star lies only through supporting mine and Azem's efforts."

Hythlodaeus hums. "Ah, I see a certain familiar adopts his creator's penchant for meddling."

Emet-Selch huffs, but Hythlodaeus laughs quietly, knowing the both of them only think wistfully of when Azem will next return to Amaurot each time he departs. Even if Emet-Selch refuses to admit his longing.

"Why should it vex and displease you? I am full of naught but the deepest abiding respect and awe for the natural capabilities of my friends. Is that not one of our guiding principles," Hythlodaeus asks him, "that we should cooperate for the betterment of all?"

Emet-Selch ties off his braid, laying it over Hythlodaeus's shoulder. He says nothing.

But Hythlodaeus persists. "Surely you see the wisdom behind one, as ordinary as myself, wishing to elevate those who might strive to make our world a better place?"

Emet-Selch grasps Hythlodaeus by the shoulders. Startling him, because this truly is more physical contact than his friend typically chooses to show in public. Hythlodaeus blinks at the fierce gaze leveled his way.

"You are anything but ordinary."

Oh. Hythlodaeus smiles, placing a hand against Emet-Selch's chest but not to push him away. "You need not concern yourself so, Hades. I --"

Emet-Selch frowns, abruptly releasing him and instead pulling him by the hand away from Hermes and Meteion. Away from most others entirely, into an open patch of field abundant with petalouda of various hues.

"Wait here," he says shortly, stalking off in the direction of a particularly vibrant petalouda. Curiously, the same first choice Azem's familiar made as well.

Emet-Selch ignores calls of his name, making quick work of the Ianthine petalouda and then a kokkine specimen. Next he converts them into a floating mass of aether that he drifts back toward Hythlodaeus with a snap of his fingers.

And then stops in front of his friend, crossing his arms. "Use it."

"For what? Hades," Hythlodaeus looks between Emet-Selch and the mass of aether, a little helplessly, "this sort of misuse of aether not only surprises, but is wasted on me."

Emet-Selch huffs, taking hold of him yet again, hands tightening around Hythlodaeus's shoulders almost like he wishes to throttle him. But then his grip slackens, sliding down his arms and resting over Hythlodaeus's wrists. Where Emet-Selch smoothes his thumbs over the back of his hands.

"You used materials present to create robes for Azem's familiar earlier, yes? Yet you forget Azem's signature satchel in the process?"

He speaks, of course, of the ragged, battered traveling bag Azem insists on dragging with him no matter to which distant lands he travels or how arduous his adventures. Even through Emet-Selch's repeated nagging it shall one day burst from its seams with all the objects Azem crams within its confines. Because it was the very first creation Hythlodaeus struggled to bring into the world, then barely able to manipulate aether at all.

Emet-Selch raises one lofty, white brow. Impatient. As always.

Hythlodaeus sighs, fixing in his mind the image of Azem's bag as it was brand new. Or, well, dubiously new. The stitching always stretched, giving too easily. Leather scuffing and attracting dust like it was its very purpose in life. But the fact of the matter meant that a similar enough bag rests in the grass nearby when Hythlodaeus opened his eyes again, lightly winded after his second attempt at creation in one afternoon.

Emet-Selch reaches up and wipes away the gleam of sweat trickling down his temple.

"That is not nothing," he says, quietly. "My role might devour more of my time than I'd prefer, but we will return to these practices anon. The more you strengthen this muscle, so to speak…"

"The greater flexibility and range of aetheric density I inherit?" Hythlodaeus gives him a look, as if reciting from memory. "I didn't realize you took Azem's exercise regime so close to heart. But I will still never match your ability. Or his. And that is fine."

"It is not. Do you honestly believe the Architect's Bureau accepts merely anyone? That you were elected its Chief by, what, process of elimination?"

Hythlodaeus pulls away from him, tugging on the end of his braid. Fraying at both hair and twine until Emet-Selch captures his fingers again. Away from ruining earlier efforts.

"We vouched for you as well, you fool. Azem and myself. Did you realize? Azem especially, in his usual over enthusiastic manner." Emet-Selch snorts, though his gaze soon softens. "But rest assured I drafted the Bureau a more formal overview of your exact qualifications for the position until I emptied an entire receptacle of ink. And," he adds with a haughty sniff, "I daresay we were not alone in so doing either."

Hythlodaeus stills in his grasp, blinking slowly at Emet-Selch who seems to demand something of him through his stare. But he proves unable to hold it for long, looking first at the ground and then away.

Emet-Selch exhales, frustration audible. "How? How are you one of the singular most intelligent, exceedingly resourceful, and exceptionally cunning individuals I know, yet you hold such a starkly low opinion of yourself?"

"You see," Emet-Selch insists, to the top of his head, because Hythlodaeus avoids every attempt to meet gazes face to face. Unusually so, never before shy. And now…"You see what others do not. What I do not. Why do you think I insisted you accompany me here?"

Hythlodaeus's attention swings back up and Emet-Selch nods, stepping towards him. He cups the side of his face so that Hythlodaeus might not escape him once more. But keeps his touch gentle, fingers threading their anchor through amethyst hair and brushing featherlight against Hythlodaeus's cheek.

"I'll admit I needed little assistance locating Hermes, even despite our disparity in soul sight. You might then assume I merely desired the...pleasure of your company, instead."

Emet-Selch coughs. Delicately. His cheeks tinge the palest pink. It fascinates Hythlodaeus.

"Not incorrectly. Yes, in no small part. Our responsibilities of late see us spending much less time together than we once did. I…" Emet-Selch pauses, lips pursing together in a thin line before he sighs. "I have found myself left bereft in the absence of your nigh incessant chatter. Your tendency to occupy my shadow as though it were your own."

"Your habit of draping yourself over my lap in my office chair," he continues, more words than Hythlodaeus has heard from Emet-Selch in some time. Impassioned, and in such rush. "Taking your rest there, nestled in the most awkward of fashions. Your...everything."

Here Emet-Selch breaks off, clearing his throat. He snaps his free hand, summoning a shallow skin of water to quench his thirst. When finished, Emet-Selch dissipates it again, still staring intently at Hythlodaeus.

"I trust you find great enjoyment in this admittance. But beyond personal matters, your insight proved invaluable in my observations of Hermes."

"I hardly present the most impartial outside view," Hythlodaeus manages, at a fraction of his usual wry charm. "Few Chiefs work together more closely than he and I. Is that not --" Hythlodaeus stops, brow furrowing briefly. Then he chuckles quietly, pressing on, "is that not the very reason I function as such an appropriate guide for your esteemed personage, Emet-Selch?"

Emet-Selch pulls Hythlodaeus nearer, unresisted, until he's pressed right up into his chest, head tucked under his chin. "I know what you wish to achieve, Hythlodaeus. My title now? Esteemed? Really."

Hythlodaeus turns his face into his friend's warmth and ignores him, fingers clutching into his robes. Above him Emet-Selch strokes his hair, wrapping an arm around his back. How terribly transparent both.

"You located the ambystoma for Hermes without complaint. Thought to watch after his charges when he abandoned them all for the sake of merely one life. Badgered me into assisting the flight of the charybdis despite having a much easier, expedient method at hand."

"It twas an idea born of Hermes's mind," Hythlodaeus murmurs into his chest, muffled soft, "truly."

"Hermes would have transformed in front of everyone and the stars above," Emet-Selch sniffs. "You, as ever, suggested the more prudent course of action, loath as I am to admit."

Hythlodaeus tries, he really does, to swallow past the sudden lump in his throat. Blink through blurred vision. "You found just as much enjoyment in flight as that charybdis." He allows Emet-Selch to pull away from him, but never far, fingers tightening in his robes preventing it so. "Admit it."

"I admit to nothing." Emet-Selch responds, tilting up his chin, thumb wiping away at unshed tears. "Nothing but this."

It's terrible manners to cry in the middle of a kiss. Especially when Emet-Selch holds him so, so gently. Yet supportive as ever. The strength that ties Hythlodaeus down to earth else he might float off into the sky, composed of little else but cloud mallow and wistful daydreams.

Warmth seeps off the line of Emet-Selch's arm bent around Hythlodaeus, tightening and slipping lower to catch his swaying melting forward. Always forward. Inexhaustibly drawn to this man like no other, this man who wears power and impact like a mantle draped around his shoulders. And yet always seems terribly lonely.

Hythlodaeus finds something tragic in that dichotomy. And if his presence should offer Emet-Selch some small balm, can Hythlodaeus not open under the lips pressing against his, allow Emet-Selch swallow down his soft sighs, eyes closing involuntarily?

When they part, Emet-Selch reaches up, smoothing stray hairs off Hythlodaeus's forehead, some quiet amusement upturning the corners of his mouth. "All my stalwart efforts at maintaining distance so easily surmounted and you remain ever oblivious to your allure. A truthsome terror, you are," and nothing but affection in the gaze that regards him, the touch across his cheek. "But we support each other, Hythlodaeus. Were Azem among us he would surely assent the same. Cuff you upside the head besides."

A precious admission indeed. Deliberately free of Emet-Selch's usual stumbling blocks when it came to expressing himself through words and not deeds - words chosen carefully for their intended recipient - something Hythlodaeus well understands intuitively, being so full of them. He wants to tell him that he understands, assuage any fears Emet-Selch might yet hold Hythlodaeus isn't as undeniably smitten with him as inexplicably he seems to find himself the reverse and --

"There you two are. Hermes has been ready to move on for the past half-bell but we couldn't find…" S'idos comes to a halt in front of them, really the spitting image of Admetos were Azem's ears transfigured at once furred and fluffy atop his head. Were he blessed with the cutest, swishiest tail. "Are you two having a moment?"

Predictably, Emet-Selch's mellow mood evaporates the moment he hears Azem's familiar speak. Much less sees the charming creation.

"Are we having a moment?!"

S'idos blinks, catching the bag tossed at his head with surprising aim, considering the actual marksmen among the three of them. He looks down at it for a moment and then glances quizzically at a glowering Emet-Selch.

"What's wrong with my old bag?"

Hythlodaeus smoothly inserts himself before Emet-Selch can decide later facing a displeased Azem preferable torment to one more continued moment spent in the familiar's company. Truly remarkable, the fire S'idos brings out in Emet-Selch almost merely by breathing alone.

As though Azem never frequently left their side for parts unknown. As though they were a trio again. The sun and the stars and an endless expanse to buoy them ever higher. As though they had made that same old promise - always together, never apart - in spirit and in soul, if not physical location.


Emet-Selch calls from the crest of a nearby hill, half turned in his direction. His scowl softens, just a hint, beckoning him over. Yes. Hythlodaeus smiles, lowering fingers halted just short of brushing lips still faintly pleasantly tingling. Where Emet-Selch would lead, he would follow.

At his side. Forevermore.