runiclore: (Tales series)
[personal profile] runiclore
In a Perfect World
by:
Myaru
Characters: Velvet, Innominat, appearances by others
Rating: uhhh PG I guess
Word Count: too many

Summary: The way he smiled always made Velvet's heart sink. Sometimes it was all she could see--his smile, when she raged; his smile, when she could barely see anything for the tears in her eyes. Always smiling.

Inspired by Rest in Peace by Misty_Reeyus and Chronesthesia by Angelic_Ascent, but because I'm a terrible person who just can't let people have nice things...

(Posted a while ago on LJ and Ao3, but uhhh I lost my DW password for the fic journal and I'm lazy. :P)


_____________________________________________________


None of this is real.

Yes it is. We're real. We lived that life.

People don't live forever like that.

No. Your pessimism ruined a perfectly good dream.

Dreams can't be ruined. They're just a reflection of our souls, and we all know

that we aren't real and we don't have to worry about whether we'll live forever or not? Honestly... we will be happy if you'll just stop.

We aren't happy.

But why aren't we?

*

The leaves were always turning in Aball. Velvet and Laphicet grew up playing in a sea of red and gold, the trees sometimes burdened with apples and persimmons, like ornaments, and at other times flipping their green and yellow leaves in a breeze that never seemed to end. Though Taliesin was only a few hours' walk from the borders of the town, and beyond that lay a whole wide world, she couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else. Everywhere else sounded quite dangerous, in fact, when Arthur talked about traveling there for the Abbey, and Velvet had more than one nightmare of Laphi being attacked and even eaten by demons following those tales.

Her brother ate them up, of course, because all young boys seemed to want was adventure--unless they caught wind of some interesting bug or fish to chase. He clung to the stories of malakhim Arthur told them, of exorcists from the capitol who could harness their power and produce amazing artes that manipulated wind, earth, and fire. Velvet didn't have the resonance Arthur spoke of, couldn't see malakhim, but she was good at just about everything else--cooking, gardening, swinging a sword. It was Laphicet who sometimes spoke to the air when Arthur came back, who spent days on end with his nose in Arthur's books, who seemed to be the child the former exorcist always wanted. Laphicet even looked pure with his pale skin, his pale hair... the way the golden strands bled into wispy silver and curled around his shoulders. He positively glowed in the moonlight.

Velvet didn't mind that she was the dark one, the shadow. Laphicet was sweet and frail; he needed his shadow, and she tried, always, to be there when she was needed. When he snuck out of the house to sit on the cape at night, he asked Velvet to protect him. When he wanted sweets, he asked Velvet to make them. When he was frightened, it was Velvet he came to. When he traveled to Taliesin for the first time to pray at the cathedral and ask the Great Empyrean for a blessing, of course he asked Velvet to go with him.

She'd felt so cold inside when he announced this plan, but the moment he turned to her with that request, the ice melted.

Of course she would go--if he asked. Laphi would need her. He always did.

The light that day in Taliesin filtered just right through the stained glass window at the front of the shrine so it rested on his head like a halo and made his hair look especially ethereal. He liked to wear white, and it glowed against the shade of the rest of the cathedral, dust motes and shimmering smoke swirling in the sunbeams that embraced him. Velvet always expected him to get his clothes dirty, maybe stain the hem of his coat, but for a boy he was neat and careful, and always defied her expectations when they were younger. In the years since they came to Eastgand, he had become even more finicky about his appearance than Arthur.

"Did the Great Empyrean answer?" Velvet asked after an eternity of dusty, incense-laden silence. She'd decided to sit on the front pew, but the wood was hard and her thighs were starting to hurt. "Have any malakhim come to bow before you?"

"No..." Laphicet rose from his knees in a slow, fluid motion, and turned to her with a tranquil smile that brought the ice back to Velvet's chest. "Maybe I haven't been good?"

She tried to ignore the feeling, but it prickled like needles, like Melchior's ice shards.

(Melchior. Try as she might, there was no face to put to the name, but it was right. Real. Familiar.)

It was a good metaphor--and look at her, using such fancy words for such a horrible feeling. "Unless you're the one who stole the last piece of quiche..."

He hid his hands behind his back. "That was Celica."

"That's exactly what the guilty party would say!"

Laphicet skipped to her like he was still a little boy and threw his arms around her neck. "I'll help you make another one," he said into her shoulder, wedging a knee between Velvet's so he could kneel on the bench with her.

Velvet stroked his hair, watched the way it twisted around her fingers, like the long silvery ends were trying to hold on. Her body wanted to shiver, though it was warm in the shrine, with the sun beaming so intently through the windows, and Laphicet hugging her so tightly. Even he seemed hot, as if burning with fever. "We'll need to stop by the grocer," she said, as if it wasn't five hours home on foot, and getting late. As if it was totally normal for a boy whom she called brother to cling to her like he wanted to climb right into her chest.

Right there, between her ribs, straight to the heart. She wove her hand through his hair to feel the back of his neck.

He lifted his head, rested his knuckles against her forehead. "You're too warm. Are you feeling alright, Velvet?"

She hadn't met the golden amber of his gaze this close since-- "No." Velvet meant 'yes,' but the wrong word came out and her heart was beating too fast.

Laphicet smiled.

*

The night of their return from Taliesin was humid and dark because of the new moon. Velvet spent most of it staring out the window from her bed, tossing the covers off, pulling them back up again, Laphicet's smile burned onto her eyelids so it was all she could see or think about when she tried to sleep. He smiled all the time. What was the big deal? She hadn't been able to look him in the eye the entire way home, and when Laphicet grabbed her hand at the town gate, her gut twisted like a mad snake. They always held hands, and it suddenly felt wrong.

None of this is real.

Walking across town felt like being on stage again (but when had she ever been on a stage?). For once she wanted to hide behind her brother. He had none of it, of course, and teased her all the way home. What's wrong, afraid they'll be disappointed you didn't buy any makeup? Poor sister...

It wasn't real. Nothing was.

But she remembered the dry smoothness of his palm, and the warmth under his skin that meant he was alive.

(Of course Laphicet was alive. Anything else was inconceivable.)

Instead of pretending to sleep--Velvet wasn't good at pretending--she got up as soon as Arthur's brass clock chimed five and stalked into the kitchen to stoke the fire, measure flour out into a bowl, and start working butter in to make crust for a quiche. She'd promised after all, and preparing it pulled her into a sleepy rhythm: first, parbake the crust; then cook the bacon first (fried, cooled, chopped), measure the cream (barely warmed), eggs (six, whisked with the cream), and sharp cheese she shaved into fine curls with a knife. No spinach (because Laphi must have slipped it out of the basket before they left the grocer), but curls of broccoli shaved from the stems instead (revenge). Pour the goopy, unappetizing sludge into the pie crust. Bake. Baking was like magic. The hot, custardy goodness that came out of the oven was better and more delicious than any overrated malakh art.

Velvet chewed her knuckle and contemplated what else she should serve. Apples? It was the season, barely. Maybe some fresh herbs from the garden? She noticed Laphicet drift out of his room and pretended to be oblivious. What kind of fruit they should have for breakfast was an easy problem. All the had in the basket were some early apples, red plums, and summer squash. Her brother would never know how close he came to getting a mouthful of gushy--but healthy!--vegetables with his quiche.

"No squash," he said, coming up to the stove.

"Aren't you demanding," Velvet replied.

Laphicet sidestepped right up close and said, "You'd have to spend extra time cooking it, and I was hoping..."

She watched his eyes drift in the direction of the door, and then back to her.

"Celica will be making soap today. I thought maybe some princessia..."

It was a wonderful idea, of course, if they could find enough flowers to yield a decent fragrance. Their stinginess was the only bad thing about them; the blossoms were beautiful and vibrant, and their scent on the wind always lifted Velvet's spirits. "Sure," she said, "once I bring the quiche out to cool."

Laphicet smiled.

She liked making him happy. Only, the smile never seemed happy.

They walked out to the cape in the crisp-cool air of the early morning. Fog drifted over the forest loam like an ocean of dreams, swirling around her feet and Laphicet's and clinging to Velvet's bare legs. She tried to think about anything else--about pulling her winter clothes out of the attic, about the goosebumps prickling up and down her legs, anything but her brother's fingers curled around hers and holding tight. A bracing wind met them when they crested the hill leading up to the cape, chasing the mists back down into the forests. The sight of the ancient ruin settled like a boulder in Velvet's stomach.

Over there, Laphicet said, and pulled her to the east cliff, where a cluster of pink and white flowers waved in the wind, petals still closed. Their eyes were closed, closed forever, she thought.

"What's wrong, Velvet?"

Contrary to his tone, Laphicet didn't look bothered when she glanced down at him, and realized he'd harvested the blossoms already. He lifted his eyebrows, his smile inquisitive, and Velvet said on a hunch, "This isn't real."

The smile faded.

Velvet was right--had to be right. She flipped her blade out and sliced her left hand, gritting her teeth at the flare of pain.

Laphicet bolted to his feet and seized her hand, squeezed it until she gasped out. "Stop it! Stop doing things like that!"

She'd never done anything like that before that she could remember. All she did was stare at him, wondering why her eyes felt hot.

His hair danced on the wind, silver and gold, made of sunlight. For once he frowned, glared, his brows slashing downward. "Do you want to be miserable? Do you want me to be a dream? I should be dead, isn't that what you're thinking?"

That question knocked the air out of her. "No," she gasped.

"What do you know of reality? How do you know you dream? Do you even know what dreams are?"

"They're not real!" Velvet said harshly. Tears distorted her vision, made him a slash of light.

Laphicet loosened his hold on her hand, stroked the underside of her wrist. "But I am real. You know I am. This shrine is real," he said, a graceful sweep of his arm including the ruin and the horizon of the vast sea beyond. "And--" His smile returned, tinted with condescension. "You know how much I love you, don't you, Velvet?"

Her chest hurt. She'd never doubted Laphicet's love before. He whined, he snuck out of bed, he hardly ever listened--but he loved her. Velvet's world was built on that foundation.

Liar, she whispered.

"I'm hungry," he said softly, tugging her fingers, forcing her hand open so her blood glistened and streaked pathways across her palm. She heard it drip into the grass. Laphicet pulled harder, until it felt like the wound tore and stretched and crept across her skin, until she was positive her hand would break in half, and his mouth closed over it, hot and demanding.

I'm hungry.

Velvet's heart slammed in her chest and her tears made her blind. His teeth--his tongue-- he'd suck her life away. She'd fall, slide over the edge of the cliff and die, and the jittery, shivery, horrible giddiness in her veins would splash on the rocks and be washed away.

I'm hungry, Velvet. Don't go--don't you dare leave me--

Velvet screamed, and turned, and fled.

*

You can't run away.

*

Velvet never told anyone, but her brother's smile frightened her.

Laphicet had been gone for years now, though she couldn't remember how many years, or why he left, or when he'd return. There was a void in her gut bigger than the ruin on the cape because she could see his smile whenever she closed his eyes, even feel it the way she felt fire when she stood too close to the stove, and yet she was horrible enough to forget everything else about him. Celica never noticed; Arthur was never home. It wasn't until she and Velvet were outside harvesting rosemary, one autumn evening, that Celica said, "Laphicet wrote that he would come home when the summer turned," and when Velvet's head shot up, she added, "I'm so sorry, sis, it must have slipped my mind..."

The leaves had already turned, so he was late. "Nice of him to forget about us while he's away," Velvet said.

"Oh...?" Celica smiled. "So you are jealous that he found that Eleanor girl."

"What? No!"

(Eleanor?)

Velvet's face felt as red as the beets in her sister's basket. "How could I be, anyway? He's my brother." Her voice came out more sullen than she would've liked.

"And your brother has always needed you and loved you more than anyone else." Celica got up, brushed the dirt from her knees. "Until now."

Velvet stared at the bunch of rosemary she'd gathered, and wondered if Laphicet smiled at this Eleanor the way he smiled at her--and why on earth anybody else would bear that expression. Or why Velvet bore it, why she wanted to see it--see him smile (without tears in his eyes) and come to her, leaping over the grass, gliding like an angel to throw his arms around her, whisper into her hair (I'm hungry) that he loved her. Well no, when she put it like that, of course Velvet knew why. Laphi was her reason for doing everything. She perfected their autumn soup for him; she found a way to take the spinach out of everything for him. She let Niko teach her to arrange her hair and do her makeup--for him.

Then she shoved it all into a drawer and swore never to take it out again unless they heard Laphicet was finally coming home, but the point was, Velvet had spent some of her hard-earned money on a bunch of useless cosmetics so he wouldn't worry about her romantic prospects. If that wasn't love, what was?

This... Eleanor?

That didn't seem right.

And she had better not be.

Velvet walked to the cape the next day to harvest what her family couldn't grow--red sage, and verbena for Celica's soaps. They'd become popular in Taliesen, so they'd started making bigger batches and Velvet took them along when she went to town with Niko to sell quiches and pies at the market. Verbena, lavender, and even rosemary were a big hit. Niko tried to convince them to sell the princessia scented bars, but Velvet didn't want to share it. She didn't say it that way, but it was theirs; hers, Celica's, Laphicet's. Anyway, she always said to finish the argument, it's impossible to make a decent-sized batch. The flowers are too rare.

With her satchel full, Velvet ambled over to the cliffside behind the dark well, where the princessia always grew against the ruined wall, creeping between the bricks and peeking out from beneath fallen slabs of stone. The wind hit full force, catching her hair and waving it like a banner when she knelt to cut a few flowers. One for Celica, one for the baby on the way...

"I thought I'd find you here."

Velvet jumped up and had her blade out before her eyes registered what her ears should've known: Laphi, taller than she'd ever thought she'd see him, but still somehow looking like a child. Must be the hair, she mused, because men either cut theirs or tied it back somehow, and his flowed loose like it was sunlight gilding the wind.

She flicked the blade back in and shifted on her feet like she was the child. "There aren't many places to go around here."

Laphicet's smile was the one she loved to remember: sweet, narrowing his eyes like he wanted to laugh. "What about the outlook in Morgana Woods? Or the treehouse, or the river shore..." His lips moved, curled slightly, and the smile changed. "I brought Eleanor home with me. I'll have to show her later."

Why did that name curl and twist around in her chest like a snake? "You could've warned us," Velvet said, and jerked her gaze away. She didn't want to snap at him, but-- "I didn't know we needed enough food for four." Because that was all she did--cooked, cleaned. Run when called.

Laphicet came closer, but not in arm's reach. Hands behind his back, head tilted, he said, "Selfish as always. I don't know how I ended up with a sister like you. We really couldn't be more different."

He was dressed like an exorcist, and it clicked in Velvet's head--that he'd gone to Loegres to train as an exorcist, and he'd done really well. But how well--legate, praetor? There was a lot of blue in his cloak, and gold decorating his collar, and the clasp at his throat, even his gloves. Maybe there was a malakh standing beside him in plain sight, some other, better companion than even Eleanor, whom Velvet couldn't hope to see with her own eyes. "Then why did you come back?" She couldn't hide the lump in her throat. "Your new friends can run and do your bidding, now."

(If cooking and caring for Laphi were all Velvet had the chance to do with her life, she would have been happy.)

"Maybe you're right. I came home to see if I could help my poor, provincial sister find a husband, but I don't think that problem can be solved after all."

If anyone else had said that, Velvet would let them have it. She'd never gotten into a brawl before, but those were fighting words, even if she had never cared about getting married or being attractive. The boys in town knew that she could kick their tails. "Good." Her head snapped around again so she could glare at him. "I don't need your help. All you've ever tried to do is twist my feelings for your own ends. I hate you--"

Velvet choked on the last word. Innominat's eyes went round.

*

That's right. This isn't real.

Nothing is real.

*

"I didn't mean it," Velvet said under her breath, sure every word was lost on the wind.

"That's why Arthur always said we should strive to be reasonable," Laphicet said, stepping over the bed of flowers between them, and he was twelve again, so light on his feet he might have walked on air instead. He reached up, framed her face with his hands, and they were cold as ice. "If you let your emotions get the better of you, you're liable to say things you don't mean."

Velvet tried to take a deep breath and let the tightness in her chest go. It stayed. "You say things like that all the time."

Night fell on the cape, devoid of stars. Laphicet--not Laphicet--said, "I mean it every time I say that I love you."

Liar.

"It's true. I was just teasing you. There's no such person as Eleanor." His hand stroked her throat, his fingertips lingered at the jucture of her neck and shoulder. "No one could ever replace you. I don't even mind it when you rage." The wind stopped, but it pooled beneath his feet and lifted him up so she couldn't look away from his large amber eyes. "Don't leave me."

"I would never leave you." It's true.

Not-Laphicet tilted his head, stared at her throat, and the silver and gold of his hair framed his face in a loose wave. "You tried."

"You frightened me."

His gaze lifted lazily to meet hers, and his smile chilled her spine. "I'm hungry."

A single shudder swept down Velvet's body. She closed her eyes. "I know." And she'd thought hunting prickleboars through the night had been the hardest it would ever get to provide for her Laphi.

Laphicet curled his arms around her neck and pressed their cheeks together. "Aren't you? Aren't you hungry, Velvet?"

Her stomach was a deeper void than the well behind them. She held onto him tightly, afraid for a split second he would fall, or leap away, or disappear and leave her. "I'll live."

His sigh is a puff of air that makes her ear tingle. "Why won't you let me do this for you? It could have been fine, all of it. It could have been the world we always wanted."

But it wasn't real. The grass beneath their feet was a memory. The ocean that lay flat as glass beyond the cliff was paint splashed across the black canvas of creation, and the boy she held in her arms wasn't the Laphi she remembered.

I wanted so much to make you happy, to make a perfect world where you could knit scarves with Niko, and make Aball famous with your amazing cooking, a world where you wouldn't have to wear make-up if you didn't want to. I want a world where we never have to be apart, where even death won't separate us.

For someone who loved logic it was a silly, idealistic goal to put his hopes on.

You're right, you'll never get away without wearing make up eventually.

Velvet wanted to laugh, but couldn't get it past the two fists clenched in her heart.

I love you, Velvet.

She felt his lips on her throat. I love you, Laphi.

I'm so hungry.

Everything would feel better if she gave in. Velvet knew that. Another dream would be born, another perfect world, another knife in her heart, over and over again.

Velvet.

"I'm here, Laphi."

His teeth sank into her, sharp and sudden, and the pain drained away.



____________________________________________________________________________

Notes.
I had to write it. It may not be good, but it crawled into my head and wouldn't let me concentrate on anything else - school work, work-work, other stories, sleeping, eating - until I got it out onto paper, so to speak. Out of sight, out of mind-- I hope. In fact, I'm throwing up earlier than I should (i.e. before I can do extensive editing) in the hope that I'll finally be able to get my damn work done.

.
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