Other matters occupy Cassius immediately after his return, but it’s been… surprisingly pleasant. Nothing to do but “live”, yet it felt satisfactory. No longer was he a traveler, but now a skydweller in his own right. Aside from storing memories, Cassius started to take to accumulating “tokens of sentimental value”, another irrationality he’s learned about skydwellers. Beatrix gleaned in her apparent preparation as a result of such a sentimental token when Cassius had breakfast with her. Between bites of saccharine pancakes, she would tell him about her trainee days under Ilsa.
The fact that such a simple and basic object could hold so much memory fascinated him. Committing this new piece of information to memory, Cassius adopted the process of retrieving a token to “remind” him. He didn’t truly need such things. It’s illogical of him to collect them. Yet, it filled him with a fuzzy feeling whenever he looked over some of these tokens. A bottle cap of the soda he shared with Zeta… the—
A knock at the door interrupts him, but Cassius doesn’t move. “Entrance allowed,” he says instead. The visitor responds, opening the door and revealing that it’s Eustace, who’s returned from his visit to his home village with Gran, Lyria, and Vyrn. “Welcome back.” He greets without any thought, but the click of Eustace’s tongue catches his attention.
“They weren’t kidding when they said you started hoarding,” Eustace scoffs, crossing his arms as he glances at Cassius’s little growing collection on his room’s dresser. “Kind of tasteless, don’t you think? Too cluttered.”
“It is illogical,” Cassius concedes, “there is no need for me to keep mementos from each memory I make if I already have them categorized in my brain.”
“Mm,” Eustace nods, uncrossing his arms as he steps closer toward the collection. “Some of this is… junk.”
“Ah. Then that engineer ought to benefit more from these,” Cassius returns, “however, I have the feeling that I do not want to get rid of these.”
“Huh.” Eustace shrugs, “Suit yourself.” He picks up a paper card, squinting at it before sighing and putting it down. “I think you should keep this one in your wallet, though.”
“Ah, the stamp card,” Cassius nods, unconsciously brushing Eustace’s hand slightly as he picks it up again. Eustace makes an unreadable expression for a split second, but Cassius doesn’t take notice. Instead, he looks over at the stamp card. One blank square before the free item. The two stand in silence with Eustace’s gaze flickering about Cassius’s room, but he never asks for Cassius’s explanations. Perhaps he wasn’t in the mood to entertain it. Yet, he still came to see him. Why? Cassius first runs an analysis in his brain over the situation, his subject being Eustace.
“What is the purpose of you coming here?” Cassius finally asks, “it is unusual for you to seek me out without being instructed to do so.”
Eustace pauses, but his expression shows no sign of changing. “I was just passing by. Our rooms are close to each other.”
“That must be the logical explanation,” Cassius pauses, “yet, it seems like there is also an illogical reason. There is no reason for you to knock on the door. You could have passed by.”
“Protocol,” Eustace coughs, “I deemed it necessary.”
“I’m no longer a subject for you to monitor.” Cassius states, “why are you covering your mouth?”
Eustace blinks, pausing again. “... cold. It was snowing.”
“Get better soon… heh,” Cassius chuckles rather dryly, “It seems like you have no true reasonable explanation.”
“You’re persistent,” Eustace grumbles as he scratches his head. “Your information gathering methods were always so…”
Cassius flashes Eustace a smile, “I have a hypothesis. This is based on my prior observations in our interactions. Your actions toward me are usually irrational and you never provide an adequate explanation.”
Eustace pauses, ears twitching slightly for once, piquing Cassius’s attention, but these seem to consciously come to a stop. Perhaps because he acknowledges Cassius staring at them. If he could ask to touch them… for purposes he cannot quite define. Eustace coughs, ears twitching again as he pulls out his gun and rests it on his shoulder. “Let’s go on a walk.”
Cassius doesn’t remark on Eustace’s emphasis on Flamek, nodding and following the other out of the room. “Where is our destination?”
“You decide,” Eustace shrugs, “maybe not so arbitrary as last time, but… you have your favorite places, right?”
Well, sure. He had ramen not long ago, but has Eustace had it? Eustace would probably complain about the line, but it seems like he’s a little different today. Cassius couldn’t figure out what. Emotions were a mystery to him still, especially ones exhibited by Eustace. They’re all new— surely for Eustace as well. He’s the type that never lets his feelings show, and only after he ate with him did he understand Eustace more. His actions speak for him more than his sharp words. His body language spoke more for Eustace when Cassius was compelled to cooperate with him and tell him everything. Both the feeling of trust existed between them along with the quiet understanding the two of them reached that night.
“Ramen,” Cassius offers, taking the lead on his own and changes the trajectory of their path elsewhere. Unfazed by the long line, he leads Eustace to the end of it and stops. “Ah, it is busy again today.”
“Always is,” Eustace crosses his arms, “this one of your favorite places? Never saw the point since it takes too long to even get a seat.”
“It’s illogical,” Cassius agrees, “but I had fun. I came here with the Captain, Lyria, and Vyrn the other day. We talked and the line got shorter. I don’t know why.”
Eustace grunts, breaking Cassius’s gaze to check out the line ahead of them, “guess we should do the same.”
“There is no need to interrogate me at this point,” Cassius deadpans, “my knowledge about Central Axis at this point may be the same as the Society’s.”
Eustace sighs, scratching the back of his head, “is this a joke?”
Cassius smiles, chuckling a bit, “yes.”
“Heh.” Eustace snorts, “Still tasteless sense of humor as always.”
They lapse into a peaceful silence, but the noisy chatter of the townspeople fills the air instead. Eustace shifts slightly, but not uncomfortably, keeping Cassius under a close watch. It’s different from before. Rather than wary and hostile, Eustace’s gaze feels warmer. More familiar.
Cassius opens his mouth to speak, but Eustace also starts talking at the same time. Realizing their error, Cassius nods his head. “You first.”
“Right…” Eustace sighs, “how… are things? Without a mission anymore.”
“What do you mean I don’t have a mission?” Cassius blinks, genuinely confused, “It still exists.”
Eustace’s eye widens, and he coughs, “really. With no affiliation with Central Axis..?”
“Self-imposed,” Cassius clarifies, “it is to enjoy my life in the sky realm to the fullest. I will continue to collect data on what makes skydwellers the way they are.”
“I see,” Eustace nods, “I suppose you’ve found yourself some new objectives. This isn’t confidential intel, right?”
“That was a joke.”
“Ah,” Cassius laughs quietly, “no, it’s not confidential. I allow myself to disclose information as the situation goes.”
“What’s the situation, then?” Eustace continues, making sure to drag Cassius further up in line.
“The situation…” The blond shrugs, “conversing with you.”
Eustace doesn’t immediately answer, and instead, glances away briefly. He clears his throat and changes the subject. “I see. We haven’t talked to each other about ourselves…”
“Ah, then allow me to gather some more information about you,” Cassius smiles, “there’s this ‘game’ Beatrix talked about called 20 questions. It was in this magazine.”
Eustace blinks, staring at Cassius blankly before sighing and shrugging his shoulders. “Alright. You can ask first.”
“Hm… Eustace, what is your favorite food?”
“... omurice, I guess. My turn. Do you like men?”
Cassius blinks. What does that mean. “Would you like to elaborate on your question?”
“Shit.” Eustace curses. He glances up ahead, and Cassius looks over and notices that the line for the ramen stand has decreased considerably. It seems like they would be next. He’ll spare Eustace the inquiry for now.
“I don’t need to explain the menu to you, right?” Eustace asks as he glances up at the menu written on a chalkboard. Everything’s clear-cut, as expected of a ramen stand.
“I come here often,” Cassius shrugs, “maybe I need to explain to you the menu.”
“Not necessary,” Eustace sighs, yet Cassius can sense relief in his voice. Relief from the changed subject or not having to explain the menu to him again? Cassius grins to himself at the thought of either result, perking up when it’s their turn to be seated.
Bellies full and Cassius satisfied, they leave the stand. When it came to payment, Cassius reminded Eustace about the Society's promise to cover all his funds, but he muttered something about not wanting to eat on their rupee and paid himself. Strange, that fosters a tingly sensation in Cassius. Fascinating. The feeling isn't fleeting but only grows as he walks around the town with Eustace. The marketplace was about as lively as ever, skydwellers running around to the different shops and scoring deals or waiting in line for other food stands. A prime example of a thriving town. As they walk, he drifts through everyone's conversation, picking up bits and pieces without entire context. If something caught his attention, he would stay in one space and listen in for longer before Eustace nudged him to move.
He notices a delicious smell tickling his nose, and changes his footing to follow the scent. Soon after, Cassius feels a gentle, yet firm grip on his wrist.
"Don't wander off," Eustace reprimands, "did you think you can get past my blind spot?"
"I just smelled something good," Cassius mutters, "I had no intention of leaving you behind, Eustace."
Eustace pauses, "... I don't care about that—"
Cassius smiles, using his other hand to undo Eistace's grip on his wrist, and instead wraps his hand around Eustace’s. "Does this make you feel more secure?"
"... Tra— Cassius…" Eustace sighs, his expression for the most part unreadable. He glances away, seemingly to hide his facial expression from him. Eustace's hand is warm, Cassius decides, and he notices Eustace squeezing their intertwined hands.
"Whoa! Whoa! Zeta, look!" A familiar voice exclaims as she runs over to Eustace and Cassius. She's fitted in more casual clothing than her usual uniform and armed with several shopping bags. Zeta follows up behind her with a flushed face and flustered disposition. "Eustace, are you and Cassius on another date?"
"What do you mean another," Eustace immediately fired back, almost wriggling his hand out of Cassius's hold except for the fact that Cassius only strengthens his grip on him. "This isn't a date. We are on a stroll."
"Uh," Zeta begins with a laugh, "that's a date, buddy. What, are you calling this a platonic male outing?"
Eustace clicks his tongue.
Zeta smirks. She hums and then grabs Beatrix and links her arm with hers, taking some shopping bags off her left arm. "Hmmm. Don't be shy, Eustace. Cassius is…"
"Kinda dense!" Beatrix chimes in with a giggle, eyes flitting from Eustace and back to Zeta. "Ah, crap! We… have things to do! Let's leave the happy couple to it!"
"Roger that, Bea!" Zeta hums, mock-saluting as she drives Beatrix away from the scene.
Cassius stands there, a little dumbfounded that they took their leave before he could even respond. Honestly, he was trying to process the word "date" in his brain. Another term of "platonic male outing" he tries to register in his brain, but he doesn't feel as if he could process his hanging out with Eustace as a platonic male outing. Zeta and Beatrix were not on a platonic female outing. Their behavior resembled that of a flirtatious couple in the restaurant. More data would be needed to confirm this, in any case.
"Let's head back," Eustace finally says quietly, his gaze focusing on their hands. "Are you…"
"Do you mind?" Cassius asks at a similar volume, his thumb stroking Eustace's hand.
Eustace hesitates for a split second, but shakes his head, "... it's fine."
Eustace has heard things about the nighttime bar Ladiva ran called Raduga. However, the idea of being known and perceived in such a space scared the shit out of him, so here he is, standing outside on the Grandcypher's deck staring at the moon like an idiot. The night isn't chilly for once, but rather a pleasant cool breeze.
The full moon shines on him tonight, illuminating the worn and dependable floorboards of the ship's deck, confirming to him that no one else was out right now as well. These nights, most people either went to Raduga if they were troubled or were fast asleep in their rooms. Eustace lets out a sigh.
Eustace feels too much. He hates it. He repressed it all usually, so when his emotions came out too heavily, he becomes consumed by them. His revenge. He glances at his hands, remembering that day so freshly when he shot the man who destroyed his village down. It didn't feel amazing. It didn't give him that catharsis. He kept living and pushing on for that purpose, but once he's done that… the peace he felt was relative. He just wonders what other purpose he had in life. Paying back Ronan? Helping the captain reach Estalucia?
He doesn't know. He's restless, even more so after his encounter with that otherworldly being imitating his brother back at the village.
He's long accepted that they're never coming back, but sometimes… it hurt. He has others he cherishes deeply and tries to protect now. Maybe the Society has become his new family, along with the captain and their crew.
Nights like this made him desire another body beside him. Someone to calm his restlessness and stare at the moon with him. Of course, there are strange associations with that now, knowing the moon still is planning its eradication of the skyrealm, but he could appreciate its beauty better now. It wasn't like he was on the moon, but judging from his cohorts— no, friends' thoughts about the moon in its beauty…
For now, it remained breathtaking, even if its dwellers were their enemy.
He loves the peace and quiet, but it seems like the solitude is chipping away at him. He may be yearning, so what. The touch of another. When he held Cassius's hand earlier. The surprising warmth of his hand. How it lingered when they parted ways to their rooms on the ship.
Boots clack against the floorboards, alerting Eustace of another person's arrival. He scans the deck for any other clues of the other person, but he's too slow. The one he was just thinking of. "You're up late." Eustace remarks slowly.
"I should be saying that to you. It seems like my energy levels are still high, so I came to get fresh air." Cassius shrugs, "a logical explanation would be… or should I say in skydweller logic…"
"I wanted to see Eustace, but he was not in his room," Cassius continues slowly, stepping right next to him against the deck’s railing. He then glances up. "The moon."
Eustace blinks, red tinting his cheeks, "why did you… want to see me?"
"It's illogical," Cassius chuckles, "yet I cannot stop myself from having that feeling. I enjoy your company."
Eustace grunts, but turns to Cassius, staring at him with an indescribable feeling. "Me too."
"It just occurred to me. Eustace, what were you asking about earlier? If… I liked men? What did that mean?"
Eustace freezes but then sighs, "that was an impulsive question. I would ask you to forget about it, but…"
Cassius shakes his head.
A groan. "Alright, I meant as in… if you had any romantic preference in partners. Or if you sought that at all."
"I am not opposed to it," Cassius smiles, "I don't mind learning more."
“You didn’t answer the question,” Eustace returns, the blush on his face growing.
“If it matters…” Cassius pauses to think, seeming to sort through his memories and thoughts of the other people he’s interacted with. “It does matter. The only one I would pursue a romantic relationship with is you.”
Questions like why clam up in Eustace’s throat, and there’s a strange flow of emotions that he can’t quite express that well. It crashes down on him at an alarming speed, and he realizes. He sucks in a breath and speaks again. “Then, hold out your hand.”
Cassius blinks but does so wordlessly.
Eustace touches the other’s hand so delicately and so gently and wraps his hand around it. He enjoys the feeling. He enjoys his touch. A shockwave pulses through him when Cassius tightens his grip around his hand in response. Reciprocation. Acknowledgment of these feelings.
Cassius smiles again, the same beautiful and ethereal smile that Eustace has started to grow fond of. He turns to face Eustace, and then with his other hand, he cups Eustace’s face. It’s an inquisitive hand that squishes Eustace’s cheek and rubs at it, and Cassius stares at him as if asking for permission to touch his ears. Eustace lets him.
Embarrassment flickers and never quite disappears on Eustace’s face, but he has no choice but to keep facing forward. While the night provided a sense of calm serenity, his heart couldn’t stay silent. It starts beating an annoying amount, at a pace similar to when he’s in the throes of combat. It’s different, though. It’s fluttering.
It’s pretty disgusting.
Yet, he revels in the feeling. The quiet understanding between the two, and Eustace is grateful that Cassius will communicate with him through their actions.
I love you.
“I’m enjoying the peace and quiet with you,” Eustace says instead, face still flushed and the smallest of smiles, leaning into Cassius’s touch.
Cassius nods and continues to caress Eustace’s cheek. “Me too.”