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Collection III (2016 Summer Mini Challenge)

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Fina is rosy-cheeked and laughing, dancing gaily about with her arms flung wide open and delicate snowflakes frosting her hair, and Rain can't help but smile as he watches her. He's never been one to appreciate the cold, really - and he doubts he ever will - but the pure, innocent enthusiasm in her every move is something nearly irresistible, something that seems to beg all who see it to join in the fun, a temptation he nearly gives in to but for the silently disapproving presence at his back that is having none of these shenanigans. A shame really, he supposes - although some more pragmatic part of him sees the wisdom for it, knows they can't afford to tire themselves out with frivolous games before they've even started out again, but--

How long has it been since he's done something like that, he wonders?

But he hardly gets a chance to think about it. Fina's laughter is coming closer again, and almost before he can register her presence next to him she is seizing hold of his hand, pulling with all her might, trying to knock him off balance enough to drag him into her playful dance. "Rain, come on! It's so much fun!" she insists, gives another sharp tug and beams when he gives in, lets himself stumble a few steps in quiet acquiescence. "And you too, Lasswell! Come on, it'll be even better with all three of us!"

Rain automatically shoots a tense look Lasswell's way; he has so far rejected all of Fina's invitations to throw off his stern, humorless facade for a while, and there is no reason to believe now will be any different, even when Fina gazes at him with such childlike adoration and gives him her most beseeching, supplicating smile, even as she reaches for his hand as well. A hand quickly pulled away, as expected, though of course expectation makes it no less hurtful. "Absolutely not," he says, cold as the wind that dusts them with powder snow, folding his arms and eyeing them both with an expression suggesting they've lost their minds. "We don't have time for childish games. If we want to have any hope of reaching the summit before nightfall, now is the best time to go - before the snowfall gets too heavy. We've already lost far too much time to unnecessary diversions." --and he has a point there, but perhaps it didn't have to be made so callously? "So if you're quite finished acting like children..."

Fina's smile falters, only just enough to notice, and the tiniest thread of tension stiffens her shoulders, rippling down into her hand to manifest itself into an unconscious squeeze of Rain's fingers before she lets go suddenly, takes a slow step towards Lasswell and gives him the most soulfully angry look she can possibly manage. "What's so bad about acting like a child? At least I'm having fun! Unlike you," she huffs, planting her hands on her hips. "You don't even know how to have fun, do you? He doesn't, does he, Rain?"

"Well, he - wait, don't drag me into this!" Wide-eyed in surprise, Rain puts his hands up and steps away, looking between the two of them with nervous flickers of his eyes. He's fairly certain there is no actual safe answer to that question; trying to placate Lasswell will make Fina angry with him, and vice versa...and he's not sure which option would be worse. "This is between you guys, I have do with it, but..."

He trails off with realization, tilting his head. There is an answer he thinks he can get away with.

"...Okay, fine. Fina, come here and listen, alright?" He tips her a conspiratorial wink as she skitters over, lowers his voice just enough that she'll think he's being secretive, but he knows Lasswell will hear it too. "The truth is...Lasswell can't dance. At all. He's just too embarrassed to admit it." At least the first part is true, and the second is probably equally true, though he suspects Lasswell will spend the next leg of their journey thinking up creative ways to strangle him for that. "But I think he'll have fun watching us. Right, Lasswell?"

He gets no verbal answer, which is expected. The snowball that plasters itself very firmly into his face, however, is less expected.

"Oh! Lasswell, that's a wonderful idea!" Fina is all aglow with joy again, clapping her hands merrily as Rain sweeps the snow from his face with a sputter. "You don't have to have any special skills like dancing for a snowball fight! Here, let's team up - you and me versus Rain, what do you think of that idea?"

Lasswell considers it. Gods above, he actually considers it, a small but devious smirk beginning to manifest on the corners of his mouth as he does. "You know, Fina, I think that's an excellent idea," he agrees, stooping to retrieve another handful of snow and fixing Rain with a stare intense enough to stop him in his tracks as he tries to flee. "Perhaps we do have enough time to have a after all."

Rain wonders, as another snowball thrown by a fiercely giggling Fina beans him in the side of the head, why he even bothers sometimes.

But then he sees their smiles, Fina's highlighted by cold-pinked cheeks and Lasswell's surprisingly warm under eyes bright with amusement, and that answers it all for him.

If it gets him more moments like that, then he's glad to play along.

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As he buries his face in Lasswell's hair, the scent of heathaze nectar fills Rain with dizzied intoxication.

It has been haunting him since the hills, since Fina, since their return. Saccharine-sweet and even cloying, a scent that quite accurately puts one in mind of a thick and syrupy consistency, it clings relentlessly to whatever comes in contact with it as a reminder of its presence. Its power. A power so many take for granted - and certainly he was one, but witnessing it for himself...

He realizes he has no idea where his thoughts are going; he pushes them away, breathes deeper of sweet nectar and then lifts his head to gaze down.

Lasswell is sprawled beneath him, deeply flushed and in disarray, looking nothing short of a god-given vision with his hair fanned out around him and his eyes gleaming bright with a need he'd surely be embarrassed to know was there - it is a look not often seen, even at the heights of desperation, and to see it now seems in its way nothing short of a miracle, one Rain hazily wonders if he can attribute to the heathaze bloom as well. (And he is most certainly not wondering if this effect can be replicated, of course he isn't, why would he do something like that?) He could nearly be happy simply looking all day long, but the demanding heat that pulses through him and the silent pleas in Lasswell's every movement are far too much to ignore, mingling with sweet scent to send him into what seems a sort of delirium. One where he cannot think, one where he can only act.

So act he does, teasing and opening Lasswell with slick fingers and practiced motions, and when he finally buries himself in that irresistible warmth it feels entirely like coming home.

As they lay sprawled across the bed afterwards, the scent of nectar mingling with that of sweat and sex and satisfaction, Rain finds himself feeling oddly (or perhaps, in retrospect, not so oddly) maudlin, a feeling that eventually gives him the energy and coherency to lever himself up onto one elbow and look sleepily at his bedmate. "Lasswell--" he starts, then pauses, breathes slowly - he's not even really sure what he wants to say.

A soft sigh is all the response he gets for a moment, but finally Lasswell opens an eye when the silence stretches on. "...What?"

"...I'm glad you're alright." The words are awkward, rushed and clumsy, and Rain very nearly winces but for the fact he knows the sentiment will be properly understood. "You should...I mean...let's get some rest. And don't do that it?"

That eye closes again, but not before Rain can see a glimmer of amusement spark to life in its depths, a snort of a laugh escaping Lasswell before he can stop it. "As if you would let me."

"Exactly." Rain huffs out a laugh of his own, settles back down and finds an edge of the covers, drawing them halfheartedly up.

By the time Fina comes to wake them, the scent of nectar has long since faded away.

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"Say, Lasswell," Rain says carefully, slowly, his fingertips idly tracing random patterns on the skin of his partner's shoulder. "Tell me something. you think about these 'visions'?"

Half-asleep, Lasswell is surprised by the question; he thinks about it for a few long moments, enough that Rain's fingers still from impatience, and even then he's not really sure what he's supposed to say in answer. "They seem to be the only way we can really do anything," he responds finally, a little sourly - though it's the truth, he hates to say it. "Alone, we are...more helpless than I want to admit. But with the power of visions--" and why, he thinks as he's been so often doing since that girl in the crystal appeared before them, are they possibly worthy of this power? "A boon in a time of great need. I suppose that's what they are."

Rain hesitates at that, taps his fingers raggedly and finally shakes his head. "No - that's not really what I mean. It's true they're helping us a lot, and we wouldn't even be able to hope to stand up to the likes of Veritas without them - but, I mean, in terms of us. Terms of what they do to us. You know what I mean, right? I just..." he sighs, feeling suddenly tired, leans his head down to rest on warm skin. "I guess I'm...worried. These visions give us such great power, and we're supposed to believe it won't take anything from us in return? I'm not sure I do...not sure I can believe it. What do you think?"

"I think it's unlike you to worry so much," comes Lasswell's prompt answer, his tone one of sudden, great concern as he twists slightly, tries to dislodge Rain off him enough to make eye contact. (It isn't really working; Rain makes an excellent mimic of a barnacle.) "Rain - has something happened? If the visions have--"

"No! No, nothing's happened." Not yet, anyway, Rain thinks, but keeps it silent so as to continue trying to assuage Lasswell's concern. "It just seems like there ought to be some kind of catch to this. I thought since you've been teaching me about visions, you might know if there's anything...I didn't mean to worry you. I'm sorry. Everything's fine, honest."

Lasswell huffs softly, finally manages to shift out from under Rain and turns over to face him, studying his face intently as if trying to find some lie. Of course, he doesn't, so he has to be satisfied with the terribly unsatisfactory answer. "...I trust you would tell me immediately if something did happen. That would be the absolute last thing we need."

"Of course I would," Rain nods emphatically, pushes himself closer to Lasswell and slips one leg round both of his in what can only be described as a terribly unmanly cuddle. "So just - never mind the question. Alright? I really didn't mean to worry you."

"Yet you seem to be excellent at that very thing." A dry smile manifests on Lasswell's lips as he says it, and he's relieved when Rain snorts out a laugh and settles against him. "Fine. Consider it forgotten. Now can we get some rest?"

"Yeah. Sorry. Sleep well." Rain smiles, pecks a kiss to Lasswell's lips and closes his eyes to the sight of an amusingly adorable blush on his partner's cheeks.

Chapter Text

Rain's hair, bright gold in the sunlight, reminds Lasswell of unity.

They've been together as long as he can remember, rarely out of each other's sight for even an instant, and so it is something blessedly familiar. He supposes he's come to think of it as something he can rely on, maybe even take for granted - though of course he'd never take Rain for granted, he knows all too well what happens when you fall into the trap of wholeheartedly believing someone will always be there, and he also knows Rain would be telling him off quite soundly if he ever did fall into that trap - and so it's become a comfort, a sight he can always relax to, knowing everything is fine because Rain is there.

Yes, the bright shimmershine has become an unspoken signal for togetherness, and that's how he knows they will prevail. No matter the situation facing them, they're together.

He draws closer to Rain, reaches out before he even knows what he's doing. Bright gold sifts through his fingers, nearly gleaming, sun-warmed and irresistibly soft.

"Lasswell?" Rain doesn't quite startle, nor does he turn his head and dislodge the searching hand. It feels too pleasant to stop. "What are you doing?"

"I don't know..." At least it's an honest answer as Lasswell keeps carding his fingers gently through Rain's hair. "Do you want me to stop?"

Rain does turn then, faces Lasswell with indignance writ large on his face, snatches both hands and plonks them unceremoniously atop his head. "No."

"Good. Because I'm not going to--" working his fingers deeply into silky strands, letting them caress his skin, Lasswell sighs softly in contentment. "You think I'm crazy, don't you."

Murmuring a negative sound, Rain leans against him, wraps an arm round his waist. "Why would I think that...if it helps you relax, I'm not going to stop you." And there he is, once more being shockingly on point without even realizing it. "...'sides. It feels good to me too."

The only response Lasswell can think of is to ghost a small, hesitant kiss to Rain's temple, to continue running his hands through soft bright hair. Perhaps, he thinks, it's his way of expressing how thankful he is to have Rain, and how much he loves him--

Rain snorts suddenly, as if hearing that, and wraps his other arm round Lasswell as well. "...Love you too, you overprotective oaf."

"What - I didn't..." Lasswell's hands still from shock; he cranes his neck enough to look at Rain's face. "...I am not an oaf."

"Still love you anyway. And it's your body language. You're so obvious." Rain grins, raises his head for a proper, full-on kiss, silencing any further response.

Lasswell sighs through his nose, leans into it and closes his eyes. Maybe obvious isn't so bad if it gets him things like this...

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Lasswell has been telling Fina stories all day, and Rain can't take it anymore.

The stories began innocently enough - tales of their childhood, of their young adventures and what it was like to grow up together. But then, just as Rain had feared, the subject had shifted - sliding away from strictly "them", bringing in memories of others who had surrounded them in the earlier years. Memories of fellow knights, friends and enemies.

Memories of his mother - of his father. What he wants to overhear least.

He knows Lasswell means no harm by it, but the worshipful adoration in his voice with every word makes that knowledge a very hard and bitter pill to swallow. It often seems that the Raegen in Lasswell's memories and the Raegen in his own are two different people - one a devoted and caring man who delighted in sharing knowledge, the other a neglectful man who would rush off at the slightest provocation with no thought given to his waiting family. He's biased, he knows, thinking bitterly about how his mother had simply seemed to fade away more and more each time; but bias or no, the fact remains that he just can't stand all this endless idolatry and he doesn't know how to stop it. Lasswell would certainly be angry if he interrupted, and he doesn't want to disappoint Fina, who is obviously greatly enjoying the stories...but even so, even so...

He's sunk so deep into this smothering loathing that he doesn't notice when Lasswell quits speaking, doesn't notice him coming closer till hand on shoulder makes his presence known. "Rain. Is something the matter?"

"No," he says automatically, dully but laced with vitriol, and immediately feels bad when something dark briefly shutters across Lasswell's eyes, quickly moderating his tone into something a little less painful. "...No. I'm just thinking. Don't worry about me." Though he knows that's only likely to cause more worry - but what else is he supposed to say? "...Sorry."

"Thinking about Sir Raegen?" As gently as Lasswell says it, the question seems to pierce Rain right through the heart, and he finds himself biting his tongue to stop an acid retort as he pulls away. This might be even worse really, no longer just a bystander to the conversation but pulled into it - and now he's just overreacting, he tries to tell himself, because he knows in the deepest parts of his mind that he is even though that doesn't change his feelings. He's overreacting at the same time he feels he's downright justified to do so and it's a poisonous pain within him, one that forces him to close his eyes and breathe deeply as he tries to push it away. He can't give in to it, he can't break. Not here, not now.

A touch on his arm startles him from the downward spiral, and he opens his eyes again to see Fina there, looking terribly concerned indeed, one hand now squeezing his arm and the other hovering near his face as if to touch, perhaps soothe. "What's wrong, Rain? look like you're in pain. Are you okay?"

Strangely, he does feel a little soothed when her fingers brush his cheek, softly, uncertainly.

"...I'll be fine." A sort of compromise; he knows he can't say he is fine but now he isn't lying. He will be fine, once this godsbedamned funk passes. "Sorry, Fina. I wasn't trying to worry you. Really...I'll be fine."

She doesn't quite look like she believes him; she squeezes his arm again, releases it and then suddenly wraps him in a tight hug, leaning her head against his chest. "...Are you sure?"

"Yeah." She's warm against him; it's melting away the horrible ache, pulling him out of the mire that is his memories and back into the present time, and he can't help but wrap a grateful arm around her as the tension slowly leaves his shoulders. "Thank you..."

Fina hums soft response, looks up at him and offers a smile. "You're my friend. I don't want to see you upset. So..." she pauses there, looks just the smallest bit awkward. "This was a good thing to do, right?"

"It was," Lasswell answers before Rain can, and much to his surprise, there's suddenly another set of arms around him and the two-person hug has expanded to three. "Either of us would do the same for you. Isn't that right, Rain?"

Rain nods emphatically, finally able to offer a smile of his own, suddenly glad they're both holding him up as the release of all that negative emotion is making his legs feel weak. "Of course we would. It's like you said, Fina. We're friends."

Fina giggles and hugs him tighter, then lets go, takes a step back and tilts her head at him inquisitively. "Oh, by the way! Why don't you tell some stories for a while, Rain? I'm sure you know some good ones that Lasswell doesn't!"

"Me? Well..." It's not a half-bad idea really; he can at least be sure there won't be any inadvertently painful subject matter that way. "I can do that. But just for a little while, we still have to get some decent rest before we head out again, alright?"

Fina claps her hands happily, rocking up onto her tiptoes in something not quite a happy jump. "Alright! Tell me about...oh, Lasswell mentioned something about chocobos when he was telling stories, what was that all about?"

Rain glances automatically at Lasswell, sees his face briefly contort in a quickly-hidden wince, and can't help but grin. Maybe it's a little mean of him, but now he can get some lighthearted revenge.

"Well, you see, we were exploring one day..."