[identity profile] aphelion-orion.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] off_the_homerow
Title: Azoth
Fandom: Mana Khemia
Characters: Roxis/Vein
Rating: G
Contains: Use of the original Japanese names. Negation of the whole Vein-wishes-himself-human thing.


Azoth




His only warning is a crinkle, a slight shiver, before the page is coming apart under his fingertips, a shower of paper flakes spilling from the moldy tome and straight into his lap. Resisting the urge to sigh, Roxis tries again more carefully, lifting the page until the stiffness of age gives way, allowing itself to be turned. The umpteenth time he's nearly destroyed it just by touching, many hands and poor storage conditions turning the textbook into a fragile artifact.

Glancing through the chapters, it's easy to see why it would have been abandoned, stacked in a haphazard pile together with dozens of others, outdated lore and method from a time when alchemy was still more magic than science, a bunch of half-crazed sages groping around in the dark. Prophecies. Prayers. Drawings of herbs in the margins, the descriptions of their properties startling in their inaccuracy. Poems to the nature gods, odes to the invisible threads that weave the world, forming all living matter.

He'd feel worse about it than he does, just swiping books from the school library when they set out for places with fewer prying eyes and fewer scalpels — an act of common thievery from a Rosenkreuz, and that's disregarding dear cousin Pharamond's little forgery business — if there weren't the chance of a lead in them, non-science to explain the living impossibility he's been saddled with.

At the very least, Roxis figures, he can try to repair the books, clean the mold off their bindings and find some way to reseal their brittle edges, the wax there long since gone, scraped away by age and a lack of care. There's something soothing about this kind of work, smoothing over the old parchment, gently coaxing the pages back to their old strength. A Rosenkreuz taking pleasure in tending to worm-eaten tomes, seeking discoveries in the tangle of myths and fairy tales. The family never liked anything that wasn't guaranteed to bring results, big, marketable results that warranted speeches, publications and the envious gossip from rivaling houses.

He hasn't even decided what he wants to do yet.

Out here, a good day's walk from the next town, combing through the underbrush for ingredients, getting leaves stuck in his hair and pollen streaking his overcoat, it's enough to make him remember the overgrown grounds of his childhood, the gardens sprawling wider than they were feasible to maintain. He liked poking around there, gathering up plants to coat in preservative and sticking them under the waiting labels in his notebook, a self-made primer. Exercises, all exercises to train his memory and usher him further along the path, but at the time, it was an amusement, the way other children collect marbles and bottle caps. There was a sense of freedom in it, even though he wasn't free at all, and this new-found aimlessness is much the same, snatching up whatever he deems of interest and prodding it to give up its secrets, dirty and exhausted at the end of the day's work with little to show for it except his own satisfied curiosity.

The biggest mystery, of course, is never all that far from him, no more than a few feet at any given time, happy to let itself be studied at leisure. Right now, it is preparing burdock stew for dinner — two thirds straight, one third crooked, chop tip-to-root, not root-to-tip, and simmer for ten minutes on the dot, or they'll lose flavor — methodically running the knife down the length and lifting away nothing but a flimsy strip of peel each time. Sulfur is already devouring the fish.

"...What?"

The question is soft, laced with a smile, all of Vein's attention immediately directed at him. Never unaware that he is being watched, but after this long, the nervous flicker is gone from his eyes, leaving only inquiry.

"Nothing."

"You were looking at me."

Pushing the issue, head tilted to one side, when he was formerly content to mumble his assent and duck back to work, glad to escape the scrutiny. He always looks the part of enigma more when he is relaxed, curious, dusk turning his hair and skin a different shade of pale.

"I need a reason to do that?"

"No." And just as quickly, the whole image collapses, mana folding into boy, a bright red rising in his cheeks that not even the firelight can mask.

A snicker from the other side of his consciousness, Eital uncurling from her extended afternoon nap, always happy to watch them flush and fumble. She ignores the mind-out-of-gutter nudge he sends, privacy and dignity more suggestions to her than anything else, and stretches, winking into existence in the real world.

"Oh. Good evening."

Vein is already reaching for their packs, lifting out another bowl and placing it in front of her, more a gesture of politeness than anything else. Eital has an affinity for that kind of attentiveness, even if she can't join in. Vein is the only one of their kind who feels hunger, who will eat three meals a day if he can and for whom a wad of spun sugar on a stick is as good as nirvana. Sometimes Roxis wonders if he even has to, whether he couldn't draw his energy directly from the land the way they all do, and whether this isn't just a comfort, a part of the by now effortless guise. It's amazing that none of them ever noticed the cat eating.

Another thing an experiment could solve, but it takes an egotist to ask, to ignore the quiet joy Vein takes in food and its preparation, the only one out of their entire workshop to take the class on alchemic cooking and three follow-up courses. It's important, staying human, complaining about cold feet and waking up with bedhead and proclaiming to be famished, simply famished, all the little bits and pieces that make up a human existence. It's just as important that Roxis lets him, doesn't disrupt the deboning of the trout with the cold logic of the alchemist.

For now, it's enough if he's the one thinking about it, what Vein is or was or could be, what he can do and where it all ends, and when they'll meet the fall-out generated by the couple of hundred letters home.

Dear mom and dad, wish-granting mana tried to eat school. Am okay, I think.

It doesn't take much to imagine what the world would do to get their hands on such a treasure, and Vein hasn't got the heart to suit that fate, so willing to help, so eager to give himself up to spare others pain and suffering.

It's a shame, Roxis thinks, that he can't talk to Sulfur, ask him just how he, as a cat, never managed to teach Vein the basics of meeting the world with fangs and claws. Then again, Sulfur would probably tell him he tried, just like Roxis did, and it didn't stick. Of course, it didn't stick. Maybe he's being too harsh, and maybe he really ought to feel a bit more humbled that the boy who fought with him up and down the corridors of Al-Revis, who cringed every time Roxis stabbed him with his anger, doesn't seem to have a mean bone in his body, a single ill thought for any of them. Isolde would do well to start celebrating her second birthday, and that of the continent they all stand on.

"Here I'm being all considerate and leaving you boys some space, and then nothing happens."

Eital has taken up a spot next to the fire, her wolfish grin mocking him through the flames even without the //amateur// echoing through his mind, and wouldn't that be a wonderful world, where he could think about making out with Vein and not whether his skills are enough to stop two hundred soldiers with spears and guns and fire when the time comes. That, or convince Vein it's not morally reprehensible to wish his enemies on the moon.

"...what should be happening?"

Bless Vein and his complete inability to catch on to innuendo ninety-nine percent of the time.

"Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that. Probably some more of this..."

"...."

Two, one, blush, and Roxis returns his attention to the book, pretending it has nothing to do with him. Pretending that the heat isn't reaching the tips of his own ears, or that Eital doesn't know, her throaty chuckle echoing both outside and within.

They don't have time for this, so his own ineptitude in the romance department is just as well. Right now, it's enough to focus on getting the both of them as far away from Al-Revis as possible, preferably to places without a working military and gossiping alchemists. Most people would kill, and steal and lie and sell their own mother for the opportunity that he's got at his fingertips. Most people would not use it for the chance of a smile in the morning and a nutritionally balanced lunch and a scuffle in the grass in the afternoon, laughter ringing between the hills.

More sensible people would just get over themselves, trade the momentary peace and contentment for a blood sample and a proper lab somewhere, to figure out just where their would-be boyfriend begins and the world ends.

He had one in hand, once, when they were making blood clay in the workshop, and he got sick of pricking himself with needles, told Vein to damn well use his own blood for once. Neither of them had an explanation for what happened next, the drop of rust red changing to a brilliant silver in the vial, and perhaps adding it to the cauldron anyway should have seemed like a worse idea than it did at the time.

The explosion earned them a hole in the roof, two weeks of clean-up duty and a lecture from the vice principal on the dangers of contaminants during synthesis. It should have bothered him more, even back then, back before he knew that the boy working at his side wasn't a boy at all, how the solution in the vial had shimmered, fine tendrils twining through the water as if guided by a will of their own.

Threads. Threads that bind the world together.

Nobody has ever seen raw alchemy, that formless, primordial basis of all life, separated from the confines of matter. The unicorn of alchemical science. To bring it into existence would mean to shatter the laws of nature.

He isn't sure if that is Vein's true essence, but it's as good an explanation as any, the kind of challenge a man like Theophrastus Aureolus would have laughed at, and then upped the ante. A part of Roxis can't help the surge of awe at such brazenness, the closest thing there is to blasphemy. The rest of him, of course, would still love to squeeze the air out of Theophrastus' lungs, slowly, watch his eyes pop out and his lips turn purple, and then have him draw a breath only to do it again.

"Roxis...?"

Breathe. Think calm thoughts. Thank the stars that Vein doesn't seem inclined to evolve telepathy just yet.

"Yes?"

For a minute, Vein doesn't reply, his gaze focused on the task of cutting carrototo into paper-thin slices.

"Do you ever... regret coming with me?"

That, of course, was forgetting that Vein doesn't need telepathy, that even if he isn't trying, he can sense all the angry wishes roiling beneath Roxis' skin, a thousand deaths on Theophrastus, fire and brimstone on the armies of the world, and a severe beating on Seppl for kicking the entire avalanche loose in the first place.

"No." And then, because it never hurts to give Vein that extra bit of reassurance, "Never."

The first and only thing he never had to second-guess, never even think about. The only thing he ever wanted as himself, for himself, that wasn't steeped in duty and honor, the chains that bind House Rosenkreuz.

I guess you'll have to follow me forever.

Words spoken in jest, even if the sentiment behind them wasn't, and he'd wanted to, even before the whole mess with Isolde, wanted to just grab this boy's hand and run away with him, like in some brilliantly stupid fairytale.

//Who's the princess, I wonder...?//

Eital's tone is light and teasing as she slithers back into his mind, masking the truth, him and Vein both shackled to fates they never chose.

//I'd say you have the better hair.//

He smiles, then, watching Vein's lips twitch in response, a small, hesitant gesture. Hoping, always hoping to be wanted, and they've been over this a hundred times already, the lingering fear that this isn't real, none of this, that the reason Roxis is here and the reason his friends risked so much to save him is because he wished for it, bent them to his heart's desire.

"If you're asking whether you've managed to seduce me with your mana wiles—" Ignoring the flinch, he summons a smirk, just to make it extra clear. "Just remember, I hate you."

"...That's what hate looks like?" A glimmer of humor, Vein learning to read double entendres one step at a time.

"Of course it does."

"This can't be how you pictured your life, though. On the run with..." A freak. A trickster. A monster. Roxis runs a hand over the pocket housing his tarot deck, idly, a silent promise that he'll slap Vein silly if he says it. "...me."

"My life."

With a snap, Roxis shuts the book, setting it aside for the time being. How to make Vein understand that until a short while ago, there used to be neither a "my" nor a "life," just an existence in service to a name, and the words always come out with just a little touch of bitterness, unable to hold back what had to be left unsaid for so long.

"I don't know. You'd have to ask my parents, frankly."

Touring the world, probably. Playing the part of the golden goose, restoring the manor, promoting the family name, marrying some girl from an eminent house to ensure a ready supply of little genius Rosenkreuzes. His grandfather mentioned something to that effect in the last letter that got through, before Roxis torched the delivery egg and smelted its remains into the pendant on Vein's collar, because really, pure elemia silver is so hard to come by.

Funny, he wasn't even thinking about the collective wrath of Rosenkreuz before now, or the fact that the poor unknown girl's family is most likely out for his hide — Trismegistus? Trevistan? He doesn't quite remember, but they're sure to have the money for a decent bounty. Grandfather wouldn't have settled for less.

"You really don't like them, do you. Your family, I mean."

Vein is watching him now, green eyes intent and unreadable, rendered a bit more otherworldly by the rising steam.

"We share the same blood. Liking someone doesn't factor into it," Roxis says, shrugging. It's the smallest problem. The hate he feels for them, the real hate, not the I-can't-decide-whether-to-kiss-you-or-throttle-you-or-write-poetry-about-you hate, is the kind of thing that took years of refining to achieve that grade of purity, an essential nature that cannot be altered. Lead into gold is nothing compared to this.

He used to despise that sad, worried face, before he learned that it was empathy in its simplest form, Vein able to feel the whole ugly tangle of emotions as surely as if they were his own. Perfect for the granting of wishes.

"I could..." Vein's teeth are worrying his bottom lip, thinking. "I could give you a better one, if you like."

"...What?"

In the back of his mind, Eital jerks, fixing Vein with a sharp stare that is twin to Roxis' own. They've never spoken about wishes before. Vein likes to avoid what he is, what he can do, likes to seek solace in the fact that Roxis will try to beat the stuffing out of him as if he were a normal boy. Being able to warp reality isn't allowed to enter into it.

He swallows. "You..."

A pause, Vein listening inside of himself for something Roxis can't even fathom. "Yeah. I'm sure I could."

He can hardly blame the cat for failing to teach morality by degrees. Drawing a deep breath, he shakes his head. "You'd change my life for me?"

"That's not—" Vein stops, realizing that yes, it is what he meant. It can't not be. "...I just don't understand. Being a family... I never had one, so I always thought it should mean something. Something special. Not... this. This isn't right. They've got no right. They shouldn't make you unhappy."

It's strange to think of his happiness as mattering that much to someone else, when for the longest time, what he wanted or needed got buried beneath what he ought to want, the person he should be for others' sake. Going from that to altering the world to suit his whims is enough to give him whiplash.

Slowly, he removes his glasses, wiping them off in a motion that is by now habitual. He needs the time to consider his options, to put this in terms Vein can understand. The thought that rises with the swipe of cloth on lenses is useless and cruel, part alchemist, part survival artist — Theophrastus shouldn't have made Vein pure, so pure that it pains him to do nothing, and pains him when the person he wants to please wishes for the wrong things. Maybe he didn't even mean to, and Vein turned out like this all on his own, as raw as the alchemy he came from, no more able to stop the urge to give than alchemy can stop itself from creating, building land and water and air. To think, a Rosenkreuz as the moral compass for the most innocent creature in the world.

After a long bout of silence, he asks, "When we fight, do you wish to win?"

"No!" Vein's face has frozen in appallment, eyes almost comically wide. "No, of course not."

"And if I win, does that happen because I wished and you wanted me happy?"

"No. No, I wouldn't do that. It wouldn't be—"

"It wouldn't be the same," Roxis finishes, nodding. "There you have it. I can't say I haven't entertained the idea, but if I take the easy way out... it'd mean they've won."

"I..."

"Tons of people will tell you that they just want someone to fix things for them, but tons of people are fools. That's why you can't just go around making people's lives perfect. Otherwise no one would have anything to do. And they'd all end up like Seppl and nobody needs that. Nobody."

"Even you?" Vein squints, scrunching up his face at the mental image.

Rolling his eyes, Roxis slips his glasses back on. "Do refrain from associating me with that man, thank you."

"He's not that bad."

No, Roxis wants to say, he's worse, but Vein also looked at him and saw someone he wanted to be friends with, and no amount of vitriol was able to convince him otherwise.

"I guess..." Vein has returned to stoking the flames, shoulders hunching forward. "I guess I just don't know... have you ever thought about what your purpose is? Why you're here?"

"Philosophy was never my forte," he admits, not to mention it helped not to wonder too much, not to think about things like destinies and purpose when there always only seemed to be one path.

Vein chuckles at his grudging tone. "It's strange. Humans can say they exist because their parents wanted them to, and mana can say they exist because the land wanted them to. I exist... because my father wanted to die."

And probably give the world the finger on the way out, but Roxis can't say that aloud.

"I just want to know what to do with this power. How to use it so I don't... cause the heat death of the universe or put everyone's heads on backwards or put a soul back into its body and have it go horribly, horribly wrong—"

Roxis shakes his head. Now that is something he doesn't like to think about, a gap of a few heart-stopping seconds in his life when he was effectively dead. Vein yanking him back from nonexistence, so suddenly, so gently that he didn't even feel a thing. "That wasn't—"

"It was. I didn't even know what I was doing."

"Still, it turned out alright, didn't it?"

It's not in his nature to play the blind optimist, but there's little else to say. No words to properly express the deed, the violation of all nature's laws, one of the most fundamental facts of life turned into little more than a possibility. Looking into Vein's eyes, he can see the same realization reflected there.

"Was it right, though? Was it right, I wonder. I wanted to, more than anything. I wanted to save you, and I wouldn't change that for the world. And yet... that's hardly a code to follow, is it." He shrugs, casting about for words. "What I want, what somebody else wants..."

Sticks and stones. Human beings are so terribly used to having their headspace to themselves, to be as mean or envious or longing as they want without ever thinking twice about it. In that sense, having a mana is humbling, someone to poke at the threads of pettiness and vice and laugh at them, but it still doesn't come close to Vein, for whom a stray thought is as real as a stick.

"No, perhaps not," Roxis concedes, trying to figure this out.

Metaphysics at the dinner table. The fates of worlds and souls crammed between momentary distractions like Vein dipping his spoon for a taste-test, and licking away a drop of sauce from his upper lip. It beats the conversations in the dining hall of Manor Rosenkreuz by a few miles.

"I don't think it's wrong, though, either."

Blinking, Vein lowers the spoon. "I thought you hated selfish people."

"I hate those who don't care that they're being selfish." He doesn't say that he doesn't know where the not caring begins, whether it doesn't start with the small but furiously firm thought that the world owes Vein that much, owes them both that much, a tiny slice of space to figure themselves out, do a bit of what they want.

Answers. What he needs is answers. And time, and peace, and a lab. Funny how that's exactly what Al-Revis wanted to do to Vein in the first place.

//I think that is a little harsh.//

Eital again, nudging against his frustration to herd it back into his own soul space. He's still not very good at keeping errant emotions on his side of their shared consciousness, his mana clucking to herself as she plays the part of upstairs housekeeper.

To Al-Revis?

//To you.//

In the physical world, Roxis blinks, not quite able to believe his ears. He can count the times Eital has thought to comfortingly intercede with his fatalism on the fingers of one hand, usually all too happy to delight in his teenage torment. Then again, this is a little different. Teenage torment over boyfriend's capacity for rearranging the space-time continuum.

Inwardly, he shrugs his shoulders. Isn't there anything you can do? Any advice you can give?

It's foolish to ask, he knows even before Eital shakes her head. //He is... different from us. Unbound from the world. There would be nothing I could teach him.//

...I just don't know what else to say.

//You seem to be forgetting one thing.// A smile, one of the slow, toothy ones that always look a bit too devious to be truly gentle, even if that is her intent. //A mana is not the only thing he is.//

With another nudge, she settles down again, urging him back to the outside where Vein is scooping stew into two bowls, glancing at him with an apologetic quirk of his lips. Forever convinced that it's wrong of him to speak his mind, that sharing too much will make his friends turn on their heels and walk away.

Drawing a breath, he resists the urge to reach for his glasses again. "I can't tell you why you're here, or what you should do. I can just tell you why I'm here."

Silence, Vein regarding him expectantly.

"I've grown rather fond of the whole beating-you-into-a-pulp thing."

Soft enough to get lost in the crackle of the campfire, the laugh is still enough to startle them both. It's a rare thing, Vein laughing, the sound so light and full of genuine amusement that it's clear his meaning has been caught, and understood.

"You'd consider that a calling?"

It's not an answer by far, nothing that can erase the reality of Vein's birth, but for the moment, a bout of terrible romanticism will have to do.

You were the one who offered me forever.

"Why not?" Roxis says, though it comes out even less sarcastic than he hoped because Vein is giving him that smile. "Beatings to curb your rampant stupidity. It's certainly a full-time job."

"Hmm. I guess that means I have to keep being stupid, or you'd lose your calling?"

"...Yeah, I guess."

Most people would have taken graduation as an incentive to get away with any number of things, or at least improve on their technique a little. Roxis isn't sure how much longer he can keep using the end of the world as an excuse for not knowing how to kiss properly, but Vein doesn't seem to mind all that much, no more than a muffled noise when Roxis ends up squashing his nose against his cheek. It's inadequate, like most of the things he can think of doing, new enough that it's easy to pretend that the world is no bigger than the two of them, Vein threading fingers through his hair and mumbling, "Hey, what about dinner?" in a protest that is about as insincere as they come.

Come tomorrow, he'll be thinking about it again, how to keep running and hiding and finding answers to all the questions that could kill or save them, but for now, it's enough to close his eyes and wish that they can keep living like this for a little while longer.





-Fin-

-------

A/N: Hoo boy, I am so behind on everything. Ah well. XD Happy new year, everyone!



This is just to say

Date: 2012-01-21 08:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] laryna6.livejournal.com
Wonderful as always. And so sweet.

I could paraphrase the plums/icebox poem, but it's late. Would be well worth the effort, though.

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