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Dissolution (FFVI, NC-17) (1/3)
Fandom: Hell Bus
first_seventhe wrote in ff_exchange
Title: Dissolution (1/3)
For: wounded_melody
Medium: Fic
Request(s): FFVI, Edgar x Sabin; first time, perhaps a bit of dub con or very heavy persuasion.

Fandom(s): FFVI
Characters/Pairings: Edgar/Sabin
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Incest (twincest). Questionable consent (dubcon). Explicit sexual activity (cocks). Underage participants in said explicit sexual activity (the twins are 17). Badtouch. This story rolled in a pile of wrong.

Feedback: I'd love any and all.
Spoilers: FFVI, Figaro twin storyline.
Notes: Thanks to katmillia and safety_caesars for gamma reading and feedback, and most of all thank-you to justira for beta, gamma, and email help: without her, this fic never would have made it.

Notes to my giftee: I would apologize for the length, but I'm hoping you'll be pleased with it rather than intimidated. This pairing seized me and would not let go.

Summary: The death of a king, the future of a country, and the bond between two brothers: the story of how Edgar let Sabin go.

- - -

    ... tonight...
    ... took a turn for the worse...
    ... theres a chance he'll...

    Sabin: B-brother...
    Edgar: So... They went and told you...
    Matron: Edgar! Here you are...
    Matron: Your father... He just uttered his last wish that Figaro be divided
    between you...
    Sabin: This is NONSENSE!! Everyone's saying that the Empire poisoned
    Dad... And the only thing on your mind is "Who's going to be the
    next King!?" You're all pathetic!
    Sabin: No-one cared when Mom passed away, either...
    Matron: That's not...
    Sabin: You were as bad as any of 'em!
    Edgar: Sabin...
    Sabin: Empire of murderers... They won't get away with this!
    Edgar: Matron... Please leave us...
    Sabin: I'm outta here! I'm forsaking this war-sick realm for my dignity
    and freedom.
    Sabin: You said you were sick of it too, right!?
    Edgar: ... freedom...
    Edgar: What'll happen to this realm if we both leave? And what would Dad
    Edgar: Sabin, let's settle this with the toss of a coin.
    Edgar: If it's heads, you win. We'll choose whichever path we want, with
    out any regrets. Okay?
    Edgar: This is for Dad!

- - -

Dissolution, n.

  1. Decomposition into fragments, parts, or elements; disintegration

  2. Indulgence in sensual pleasures; debauchery

  3. The undoing or breaking of a bond, tie, union, partnership, etc; dismissal; dispersal

  4. Extinction of life; death; decease

  5. Annulment or termination of a formal or legal bond, tie, contract

  6. A bringing or coming to an end; decay; termination

- - -

“My lord,” Matron said, as she closed the door to the infirmary behind her, and Edgar knew.

The tone of her voice said everything; when, Edgar wondered, had he become quite so adept at reading not just dictionaries and manuals, but the language of people? Emotions, inflections, implications: words upon words, buried within a tone of voice, or a face. Or was it in this case so obvious - the sorrow, regret, concern of a woman already mourning - that even a grease-monkey like himself could understand it?

“I am so very sorry,” she said, and nodded. That tiny motion of her head, confirming something so grand and profound and life-changing: Edgar could have thought for hours on the profound irony, except that her eyes were so very, very sad.

Oh, Dad.

"Thank you for everything, Matron," Edgar said, and it was amazing that his voice was still his own, breathless as he was from running the entire way, the path between his rooms and the infirmary becoming infinitely long in his haste. "We appreciate everything you've done for him these last few days." She looked more upset than he felt, yet, his heart still paused in a space-time grief couldn't touch; Edgar nodded toward the door, for her, because she needed a comfort he couldn't give.

Matron left. Edgar sat down in a nearby chair, expecting the world to crash down around him: wondering when the panic would seize, when the tears would start. Could he scream yet? How about now? At which moment would the realization set in? When would the weight fall onto his shoulders? When it crashed, would it make a sound? Would he?

After a handful of minutes, during which Edgar stared at his hands, his feet, the walls, the oil stains on his pants, his hands again, and yet felt nothing, nothing, nothing--

Edgar stood up and left the waiting room.

- - -

The basement of Figaro Castle was a precariously perilous place, no safe haven for the untrained – which suited Edgar fine at the moment. The roar of industry drowned out sound; the rumble of machinery vibrated through his bones; the hiss of steam reminded him to think only of the job, only of the wrench in his hand, avoid all other distractions and painful thoughts and awful realizations: concentrate. His focus was narrowed to only the joint he was working on right now, so much that he almost did not hear the approaching footsteps over the din of the motor and the echoes of his too-empty, still-hollow heart beating in time.

“Edgar?” His name blended in with the hum of the engines and the throbbing whine of the pumps: it was almost as if Figaro itself was speaking to him, and Edgar paused. He didn’t turn around, but not for lack of wanting: he was wedged between the winch and the wall, his feet splayed on the coolant piping as he loosened a connecting bolt. It wasn’t the safest position, and he’d been yelled at many times by the palace engineer, because all it took was one slip and—

“Get down here,” Sabin said, his voice rough and angry and thick and decidedly not part of Figaro's smoothly-oiled machinery: too organic, too raw, too fiery-powerful and human. Something in Sabin's voice caught at his heart, and Edgar dropped the wrench and slid down the wall, haphazardly, feeling his trousers catch on something rough and not really caring.

Sabin’s face was red. Edgar couldn’t tell whether it was from crying or from beating hell out of something; Sabin’s face had the same sort of reaction to most emotions.

“So… they went and told you,” Edgar said, feeling woefully inadequate. He’d gone to find Sabin, but he’d ended up taking the shortcut through the basement labs to avoid questioning servants, and of course that steam leak had caught his eye, and – the excuses sounded as lame inside his head as they would have out loud. He should have been the one to tell Sabin.

"Yeah." Sabin shifted, as if he couldn't decide which way to move: his hands clenched, his arms awkwardly stiff. Edgar had seen those fists channel enough power to splinter wood with fluid and fiery grace; now they looked taut, frayed, brittle and easily broken. He wondered whether he should hug his brother.

"Are you alright?" he asked instead.

Sabin shrugged, and looked away. "Are you?"

Edgar said nothing, again; there weren't really any words he could have come up with to describe the giant vacant hole in his chest. Sabin's eyes were like an echo of his own heart: Sabin had always worn his emotions across his face like embroidered flags, whereas Edgar had hidden them, tied up within fancy words and eloquent gestures. Now, however, it throbbed like a wound, his own heartache on Sabin's face, feelings he couldn't express worked in detail across his twin for all to see.

“Well, we have to do something,” Sabin said, and in his voice was the low thunder-rumble of anger Edgar recognized from countless years of fighting, and he flinched in surprise. He'd expected grief, and upset, and maybe even resentment, but this was the sort of frustrated rage Sabin saved up for days and then spent all at once in an explosion of outraged violence, and Edgar couldn't tell why--

Sabin must have caught the look on Edgar’s face, because he barked out one loud burst of not-laughter, the most terrible and awful sound Edgar had heard in days. “You know they’re saying he was poisoned?”

And now Edgar’s heart sank in his chest, clenching with emotion, as if a giant set of pliers were trying to pull it from his body. “No,” he said, taking a step back, still amazed at the feeling of dread and terror and anger: he was mostly surprised that such a hateful feeling was actually centered around his heart. “That, I did not know.”

Sabin shook his head, and now Edgar saw the glimmers of tears in his eyes – and the tell-tale scrapes along his chin, where some training implement must have struck back; so it had been both fighting and crying. “I figured you’d come right down here and hide from it all,” he said, almost mockingly, although Edgar could see through the bitter bite; Sabin meant no harm.

He shrugged, in reply. It was no secret that the inner workings of Figaro Castle were his safe haven, much like the peaceful solemn sands of the Training Grounds were Sabin’s. His heart did another somersault-twist. “Where did you hear that?”

Sabin shook his head. “Maids. They're a bunch of miserable, gossiping idiots,” and his voice was bitter with years of hating his birthright.

Edgar put a hand on his brother’s forearm, then thought better of it and withdrew it, wiping it instead on his pants. Trails of oil marked the lines of his fingers, like claw-marks. “We can look into it,” he said softly.

- - -

“My lord,” Matron said, her voice still softened with sorrow and pity, “I cannot say.”

Edgar glanced sideways at Sabin, noticing his brother’s clamped, unhappy mouth. “Surely you must have some idea,” he said.

She sniffled, and patted at her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. “The desert fever strikes so many, my lord. There is no reason to believe—“

"Then why do they believe it?" Sabin asked. He shifted, and the look on his face turned sulky. "If there's no reason to believe it, then why are all the little nurses running around telling everybody it was?"

Matron had been the head nurse, and still acted like it on occasion, her age and royal favor giving her authority no one argued with; she drew herself up a little, managing to sniffle and look proudly offended at the same time. "My lords, they have no right to make such insinuations."

"All we want is the truth," Edgar said, gently but firmly, including both Matron and Sabin in his quick cutoff gesture. "Let us focus on that, rather than casting blame."

Sabin grumbled a little, but he stilled, and cast a meaningful glance at Edgar.

"Rumors come from somewhere, Matron. And this was different from desert fever.” Edgar prodded with his voice, imagining Matron as a stuck bolt that just required encouragement. “This struck so fast, and so powerfully. I’ve seen desert fever linger for weeks, with no side effects so ill.”

All he needed was for her to suspect it, perhaps – a reasonable doubt, even. If someone could give him reason, then they could investigate it and figure out what had actually gone wrong; he didn’t dare do it without cause, but it made his stomach twist unpleasantly to think of even the possibility of poison. Edgar glanced again, sidelong, at Sabin; his twin’s hands were in his lap, clenched tightly.

She sighed. “We see unusual cases every year, my lord. Every year healthy men succumb to it, even with the best of treatment. Every year, there are a few for whom even the Sand Ruby has no effect.” She folded the kerchief slowly, as if lost in thought, still sniffling. “We cannot say it was not with any kind of confidence.”

Edgar shook his head again. Beside him, Sabin shifted his weight, clothes ruffling in discomfort. “We have an advanced laboratory,” Edgar began. “Is there no way we can test for anything like that?”

She spread her hands, helplessly. “I do not know, my lords. A doctor might.”

“You’re not gonna do anything?” Sabin’s voice cracked with anger as he spoke, finally, sitting up straight in his seat. “You were the last one there, Matron, and you’re not gonna do a single thing to help us?”

Edgar reached out, resting a hand on his brother’s shoulder as both solidarity and warning. “Thank you, Matron,” he said. “I understand there isn’t much you can do. Can you think of anything else we should know?”

The old nurse sniffled again, but drew herself upright, nobly. “Your father,” she said, quietly. “His last words were a wish to see Figaro divided between you."

Edgar felt his mouth twitch in a surprisingly wry smile at the sentiment; his father had often joked of it, his grand hopes to retire early and proudly watch his sons on the throne – but some strange strangled sound came out of Sabin's throat, and Edgar started, turning to look at his twin.

Sabin jumped up, the chair clattering away behind him. “Are you serious?” he cried. “This is nonsense! I can’t – everyone’s saying the Gestahlian Empire poisoned Dad, and the only thing on your mind is who’s going to be the next King?” And Edgar winced; it was just like Sabin to barrel on through this, knock over everyone’s defenses and aim for the center of the problem; as if mysterious poisons, fatherless twins, and a kingless kingdom were all things one could fix with the application of enough heat and force and sheer brute strength. Matron's face fell, and Edgar felt his heart wrench in sympathy.

“Sabin...” Edgar stood, clutching his hand more firmly on Sabin’s shoulder. He turned to Matron, giving her a wobbling smile. “Matron, thank you. Please leave us.”

He waited until they were alone, and then turned to Sabin, grabbing his shoulders now with both hands and giving him a little shake to get his attention. Sabin looked up, his face angry and wary both; Edgar shook his head. “What’s gotten into you?”

“What do you mean?” Sabin’s voice was sulky, and he looked away from Edgar – but made no attempt to break out of his grasp. “You heard her. All she cares about is figuring out who’s going to rule next – she doesn’t care about Dad, or anything else.”

“You’re not being very fair,” Edgar said, his brow creasing. “I doubt Matron's even thinking about the throne, Sabin, she - someone she cared about very much just died," and his voice barely choked on the word, barely; "and all she wants, now, is to deliver Dad's last wish to us.” He paused, and then squeezed Sabin’s shoulders. “You know she cares about us, Sabin. Don’t sell Matron short because she’s not—“

“What,” Sabin said, angry, breaking away from Edgar’s grasp. “Because she’s not Mom?”

“Because she’s not talking about poison.” Edgar took another step towards his twin, shaking his head. He’d seen Sabin angry before – everyone in the castle saw Sabin angry at least daily – but never before had he seen this sort of pent-up rage, mechanical energy storing itself inside his brother as the screws twisted over and over. “Sabin, what’s wrong? Honestly?”

“Everything’s wrong. It’s ridiculous,” Sabin said, turning away again; he rubbed at one forearm. “It’s pathetic, is what it is.”

“Matron was trying to help, not to offend you.” Edgar kept his voice low, intently watching his brother’s face for any kind of reaction. He gauged Sabin like a stuck spring; the right nudge could release all that energy safely, but the wrong tool applied in the wrong place could lose someone an eye. “You know what Dad's wishes were. You know how badly he wanted us both to have a place in Figaro. Matron probably feels honored to share that dream with her King. Be fair, Sabin."

“It isn’t fair,” Sabin snapped, and turned to leave. “This place is pathetic. Nobody cares about anything that matters.”

Edgar understood, at that, or at least thought he did; the refrain of his brother’s years as an unlikely prince, fighting at the chains his heritage had placed around his neck. “Sabin, this isn’t about you. Please don’t do this.”

Sabin turned at the door, his face bright red with anger. “Maybe if somebody else cared about me,” he said, his voice low, “I wouldn’t have to.”

- - -

“Go away,” Sabin said.

“No.” Edgar stood firm, in the doorway to the Training Grounds; it had not been hard to guess where his brother would be. “I’m not going to leave you alone to – to beat up some poor helpless thing until - until your fists hurt so badly you can't think.”

Sabin turned around, and lifted his hands towards Edgar, showing him the tarnished brass fighting knuckles he’d so recently begun to favor – and revealing the blood and bruising of the skin beneath. Edgar gasped, swore, stepped forward and reached for his twin’s injured hands—but Sabin snatched them back to his chest and gave Edgar a hunted look.

“Pain?” Sabin’s voice was low. “Do you really think this is more pain than—“ He turned away, mid-sentence, throwing a punch into the air.

Edgar dropped his hands to his sides, wishing he knew some way to give Sabin the answers he craved so badly. Sabin had always turned to the physical for release; nothing else seemed to calm him, and truthfully, Edgar missed the days he rivaled his twin in strength and a simple smack over the head could, however contrarily, make them both feel better. Even though Edgar knew the physical strain of fighting would slowly and safely dissipate that angry energy Sabin was carrying, he still hated seeing the torn skin and bloody knuckles it left behind.

“Just don’t be an idiot,” Edgar said, hoping Sabin could hear in his voice how much he meant it: how much he depended on his brother, how badly he wanted to fix things, how strongly and painfully and severely he, too, missed their father. Then Edgar turned on his heel and left, before he had to watch Sabin’s anger destroy another sandbag and the rest of the skin on his fingers.


Edgar stopped. For a moment, everything was quiet. The Training Grounds felt empty, drained of air and life; the desert sun beat down on his back. The air was thick with the heat of the sand. He thought for a moment about the sand, absorbing Figaro’s sun by day and radiating heat long after the light had faded. He thought about the heat of the Figaro crypt, where bodies honored by ceremony and packed with sand were laid to rest, forever, beneath dry sand and peaceful winds. He thought about an energy cycle: there were always losses, always, no matter how careful one was or how precisely engineered the plan. Energy was always lost somewhere; all one could do, really, was minimize the damage.

Edgar turned around slowly, half expecting to get punched in the face. Sabin stood there, his head bowed, bloody fists clenched at his sides. Edgar started as a tear fell from his brother’s face, quickly absorbed by the thirsty sand at their feet. He took a tentative step closer.

Sabin looked up. His eyes were full of angry tears. “I miss him,” he said, simply. Raw, like the sand; haunted, like the deserts.

Edgar felt his own eyes well up. “I do too,” he said, looking away – out, away from the castle, across the horizon. He was grateful; Sabin wasn’t much of a man of words, but this was as much of an apology as was needed between brothers. He glanced over at Sabin. His brother had turned to face the horizon as well, and Edgar took in his profile: strong brow, desert-blond hair, fierce chin. Sabin was still and taut with fury, his entire body tense like a pulled crossbow, but he also looked -- lost. Frightened. Resigned, perhaps. Edgar felt it like an echo, inside his own heart.

Edgar swallowed the emotion deep inside of himself, hoping he was wrong.

- - -

The door slammed open, and the bang made Edgar jump; the papers before him scattered, lines of numbers and sums fluttering through the air and re-settling like thick beige snowflakes.

“They won’t let me see his body,” Sabin said; his bloody hands were clenched into fists at his side, and his face was stone-blank and pale. Edgar recognized all of the warning signs, and stood up, slowly, resting his fingertips on the pile of documents he’d been reading.

“Close the door,” he said.

Sabin turned, and threw the door closed with force; it slammed into the frame, and Edgar was sure they could hear the echo in South Figaro, but Sabin breathed a bit easier, for a moment.

“Now quietly,” Edgar ordered softly, “or the whole castle will hear. What happened?”

Sabin turned back to him, and Edgar belatedly noticed another warning sign: his eyes had narrowed, angrily, and his wounded fists were still clenched. His twin took two heavy stalking steps and stood right across the table from him, so close his steely gaze burned.

“I’ll be quiet only because you asked me to,” Sabin said, his voice deceptively conversational, “but I am not going to stay quiet about it for long, so you’d better listen and help me out.” He leaned forward, bracing himself with his fists on the edge of the desk – and then glanced down, brow wrinkling in obvious disgust as he took in the pile of parchment.

“What is this,” Sabin spat, leaping backwards, “tax codes? Levies? Why the hell are you in here, going over this mess, when we don’t know what happened to our own father?” His voice cracked, and Edgar’s heart broke, again, crushed into pieces by the weight of his own sorrow and his brother’s anger; “How can you do this?” Sabin whispered, his eyes now wide. “How can you just go on like it doesn’t matter?”

Edgar swallowed, paused, and swallowed again, because his throat was tight and his eyes were stinging and he wasn’t going to let go, not here, not while Sabin needed him, not over District 18’s new boundary-line proposition, not with everything—

He tried to explain, talking slowly as to not choke on his own words. “Our –our world may have stopped, Sabin, but Figaro's has not. Business must go on.” He gestured at the stack of papers, gently, aware of every movement; also aware of the tingling sense of his brother’s fury, pent-up for now but bubbling and simmering beneath those taut muscles, the energy filling up the room. “There are still workers who need to be paid. Families who need to eat, need to survive. That doesn’t—it doesn’t stop just because we want it to.” The distraction of the work was almost a relief, but Edgar didn't say it out loud; it was hard to explain the way the ritualistic repetition of tax forms and petitions kept him from thinking, from processing, from realizing the long slow empty hole left in his life.

He turned his eyes back to Sabin. They exchanged a long look; Edgar watched as the familiar face, his-but-not-his, went through a series of contortions: anger, resentment, grief, and then resigned, reluctant support.

“I’m sorry, brother.” Sabin bowed his head; Edgar watched him clench his fists one last time, and then release, his fingers spreading wide as he exhaled slowly. Edgar noticed he’d left bloody smudges of dirt on the edge of the desk. “I’m not helping. And I should be. I’m just making things worse for you, aren’t I?”

“Not at all,” Edgar said, instantly, shaking his head. “Don’t worry. It isn’t bad at all – in fact, it’s better.” He gestured at the room, weakly. “At least this way one of us can—grieve. I’d rather have that than both of us, locked up in here all day.”

Sabin looked back up, a sad smile on his lips. “Let’s see if a dumb ox like me can help you out any,” he offered, and reached out to brush his rough, bruised fingers against Edgar’s arm, like an apology. “And then we can both go see Dad.”

- - -

"I'm not going in there," Sabin said, stopping abruptly.

Edgar paused, his hand still on the door to the infirmary. "You know," he said softly, not turning around, "if you'd just come with me, we could get all of this taken care of by someone who knows what they're doing."

Sabin shook his head, and then turned away from the door, towards the corridor leading upstairs. "I'm not going to deal with those selfish, pathetic gossip fiends any more. I don't trust them."

Edgar closed his eyes, and tried not to sigh too loudly. "You don't trust them to put a bandage on your knuckles?"

Sabin shrugged, his back still to Edgar. "This was your idea, brother," he said, his voice a low stab. "You're the one who likes all their fussing and pampering and attention. You spend enough time here, anyway."

"You trust me, but not a trained nurse." Now Edgar did sigh. "Fine," he said, pushing the door open. "I'll be right back."

It wouldn't be the first time he'd had to charm wares from the infirmary nurses – they were a young lot, pretty, and easy to flatter. Usually Edgar enjoyed his visits, sneaking out a stray roll of bandages or perhaps a tonic from the elderly matrons who ran the infirmary like a store, complete with giggles and flirtatious brushes of fingers and coy smiles. Now, he felt – bland, empty, distracted too much by the blood and bruising on Sabin's hands and the looming thunderstorm of the funeral to play any of the appropriate games.

The supply room was not, as he'd hoped, abandoned; there was a young woman there, small and dark-haired and very pretty, tucking away freshly-washed linens and towels. She glanced up as Edgar slipped inside the room, and Edgar tried very hard to summon forth something like his usual mannerism. His smile felt crooked.

Her smile, on the other hand, was welcoming: beaming and seductive all at once, and that analytical portion of his brain was already spinning: a smirk, and a bit of flattery, and she'd be all yours, said the voice in his head, and it wasn't the first time Edgar had played that game, either. And for a second he thought about it, and wondered when it had become so damn unappealing.

"My lord Edgar," she said, her voice low, and Edgar despaired: she was one of the easy targets, the kind that aimed right back and made missing a non-option. "How can I help you?" She obviously expected a response, and a special one; there was a glint in her eyes.

Edgar cursed his own reputation. Even a week ago he might have jumped at the chance, but now his smile felt mechanical, his limbs lethargic and swollen: had it been so long? How did he feel so old? "I just need bandages," he said, and his words were so obviously broken and stilted; why did her smile broaden? All he saw were teeth. "And a potion," he added, lamely.

"Of course," she said, and she stood up, leaving the pile of laundry where it sat, and he wanted to tell her not to bother, to just point him towards the right cupboard, but he couldn't even gather the energy for that. She paused, glancing at him, as she crossed the room; "My lord Edgar," she murmured, "are you quite alright?"

The concern wasn't even feigned; or he didn't think so; he couldn't even tell, and he tried to dredge up a knuckle's-worth of care and failed. It wasn't even revulsion; she was quite pretty, and seemed friendly enough, and genuine – it was just a great blankness, an empty space where once he'd felt excitement, attraction, even raw arousal. The realization surprised Edgar, and he even paused to look at her again; she tilted her head, a small smile on her lips, at his regard. Even a week ago – but not now.

"I'm fine," he said, finally. "Please."

Concern and disappointment warred in her eyes, but he was the prince – the king – one of them, anyway – and she handed him a roll of bandages and a potion with cool, formal disdain.

He caught up with Sabin on the staircase to his room.

"Well," Sabin said, as he sat in the window-seat on the landing, and Edgar took a look at the bruising. "That didn't take you nearly as long as I thought it would."

"What, to get bandages?" Edgar tugged Sabin's hand into the direct sunlight, so that he could see where to dab with the potion; of course, Sabin's hands were dirty, grains of sand in the open wounds. "They're just sitting on a shelf. You could have waited."

Sabin shrugged. "I saw there was only one girl in there, and I thought I'd give you two some time alone." The words were teasing, but just barely: Sabin hadn't ever shared his brother's flirtatious tendencies, but he hadn't ever shown any ill will towards Edgar's favor in that matter.

Edgar shrugged. "Not really important, is it?" He dipped the edge of a strip of cloth into the potion and began to clean it out; Sabin hissed as the cloth touched torn skin, and his hand jerked. Edgar simply yanked Sabin's hand back into his lap. "What are you, twelve? It's just a potion." He wrestled Sabin's arm under his other elbow, and continued to dab. "If you'd just come in with me, you could have had a real nurse."

"I'm done with that place," Sabin said, flatly.

Edgar glanced up, surprised at the vitriol in Sabin's voice. "What did the infirmary ever do to you? They're skilled healers – all properly trained. And I've always found them kind and helpful."

"I don't want to be in the same room as any of them," Sabin spat, angry and certain. "They can gossip all they want and tease me about the Empire's poison, tease me about Dad, but then they refuse to cough up any kind of useful information that might help us catch the murderous bastards who did it."

It suddenly clicked into place, in a terrible way that made Edgar's heart sink, hollow and distant and sick. He turned his attention back to Sabin's hand, wrapping the bandages around his brother's knuckles, trying to think of it as sealant tape on a pipe rather than blood and bone. "Is there anyone – do you remember who it was?"

Sabin shook his head. "I never got to know them like you did," and now there was a faint hint of bitterness, for Edgar had known all the infirmary girls, some multiple times. "If you'd been there, you might have known."

"We can ask," Edgar said hastily, releasing Sabin's hand and grabbing the other one; Sabin let him have it, no longer fighting his brother's grasp. "If the girls heard something from a doctor or a nurse, we could—"

"Forget it," Sabin said; his fingers clenched, a brief spasm against Edgar's thigh. "It's not worth it. None of them'll tell us the truth anyway. They don't care about the truth – they don't care about Dad, or about us, at all. I'm done with it."

Edgar poured a quick splash of potion over a particularly nasty bruise, and tried to gently rub it into Sabin's skin with his thumb; when he glanced up, there was an odd look on Sabin's face, one he didn't recognize. "Sorry," Edgar said, "does that hurt?"

Sabin shook his head. "No," he said quickly.

"Sabin," he said, or tried to say, wanting it to sound like a joke, "I doubt you're going to be able to avoid the infirmary for the rest of your life. Not with the way you punch things."

Sabin laughed at that, as he was meant to, but it didn't seem to reach his eyes.

- - -

Edgar could feel his father’s absence, like a physical force, or an ache. The council was too old, too strong, too set-in-their-ways, and he and Sabin were just too young, too new, and too distracted by grief to do anything productive or useful. His father was like a missing part, a broken pipe, and he and Sabin just weren’t yet the right size and shape to fit into the mechanics of such a well-refined system.

The argument continued around him, voices blurring in his exhausted mind into a wave of sound, seeping in through his clothing, filling his pores. He leaned back in his chair, pressing fingers to his temples, and caught sight of Sabin – on the edge of his chair, face furious and growing steadily redder - oh, no, Sabin, Edgar meant to say, but the words were already too late –

Sabin surged up, out of the chair, roaring: “What the hell is wrong with all of you?” Cultured faces turned, powdered wigs spun, and Sabin stared it all down with the unstoppable, unchained force of a firestorm. “This is pathetic!” He threw his hands up in the air.

The Chancellor of Finance carefully removed his monocle and pierced Sabin with an icy look, eyebrow raised in cold, offended question. “Excuse me, my lord prince?”

Sabin jumped off of the dais and slammed his fists into the table, making pens jump and papers ruffle. “Look at you. You sit around this table, bickering about golden pennies and wondering which great new invention to invest in now, when my father’s rotting dead from poison – and you’re talking about giving money to his murderers! You’re a war-crazy bunch of filthy politicians!”

Edgar sat very still, gripping the arms of his throne tightly, trying to fight the panic in his chest, trying to argue against the growing feeling that he was losing his brother before his very eyes. He’d lost his father, and now he was losing the realm, losing his twin, everything gone, broken into pieces, all of the potential energy dissipating into steam and regrets—

Another chancellor stood up and shook a rolled-up piece of paper at Sabin. “Now look here, young prince,” he said sternly. “There's no evidence that the Gestahlian Empire had anything to do with—“

“No evidence?” Sabin bellowed, and he slammed a fist into the table again, his face fierce with anger and grief. “Nobody’s even taken a second to look into it. No wonder there's no proof! But nobody cares, right? As long as it’s business as usual with the Empire.”

Sabin stalked to the door, and then turned to give the room one more raking gaze. “Pathetic,” he said, and Edgar wondered whether anyone else could hear the tears in his brother’s voice, or if it was only obvious to him, the twin, the only one equipped to translate these emotions. “They won’t get away with this,” Sabin said, and then he left the room, slamming the double doors behind him.

Edgar sat in the throne for one more second, one more long and dragging second, fighting every urge he had to run after Sabin and cry, ask, demand to know why he was doing this, why he was lashing out against every single thing in the castle that could help them, why he was turning on everything their father had believed in and worked for and left for them, like a polished treasure all wrapped up and ready. Edgar’s heart broke, again and again, torn between a throne unfilled and a kingdom unruled and a brother he needed more than anything else, angry and hurtful and lost—

--but he couldn't think about it, because then he'd break, along with his heart and everything else around him. Edgar took a long, deep, rattling breath, and tried to quiet the rush of his blood and the pounding in his chest, barely hearing the mumbling of the council deep in the background.

Then he stood up. Some things were still within his power.

Every eye in the room turned to him as well, but unlike his brother, Edgar could hold his anger and grief in check. He nodded, because he could not smile: a smile would break his face, break his composure. A nod was safe.

“My lords,” he said, his voice surprisingly calm and even as he swept his cape in a deep bow. “My deepest apologies for the disruption. We are all still grieving, and grief is a powerful emotion. It does not settle easily, nor quickly.”

Heads began to nod in relief, and Edgar took the two steps down from the dais carefully, pausing at the end of the table to rest his fingers upon the wood Sabin had struck. He imagined it tingled, still warm and ringing with the force of his brother’s anger. “My lords,” he said, stronger this time, and the room dropped to silence as the faces of the council turned curious and wary.

“Just because Sabin is grieving does not make him wrong.” Edgar spoke clearly and forcefully, putting all of the weight of his own hidden frustration into the words. “He too is a prince of this realm, and I do not think I need to remind anyone of my father's wish that we share Figaro between us." He took a small bit of satisfaction at the widening eyes of the chancellors, the gaping mouths of the heads of district: oh, if only Sabin had stayed! “He has as much right to speak his mind to you as I, and I will not apologize for my brother’s words or actions. Although I will apologize for his manner of delivery.” He rapped a knuckle against the table, and to his relief, one or two of the men laughed.

“Remember who you serve,” Edgar said clearly, now, slowly looking around the table, letting his gaze fall on each man in turn. “We will look into this, although we will do it with caution, tact, and common sense. All rumors come from somewhere, and I cannot be the only one in Figaro who wants to put this one to rest with the truth.”

He walked to the door, relishing the silence that followed him. “I thank you in advance for your attention to this matter,” Edgar said, with a small selfish bit of glee; his father had used those words often on his children, and oh, how he loved being able to turn them back on the council. “I am going to find my brother. Let us reconvene in the afternoon to discuss your plans.”

- - -

It wasn't hard to find Sabin. Edgar knew, like an instinct, where his brother would have run; and he knew, like an instinct, what he'd need, even though they hadn't sparred in years – not since Edgar had developed a preference for the long-range protection a spear would give his face, and Sabin had rebelled by experimenting in the brutalities of unarmed combat. But the door to the Training Grounds was open, and Edgar picked up the first weapon he found: a wooden sword, discarded by the chest which held training weapons, as if it were waiting for him.

Sabin was hacking away at a training dummy with a greatsword obviously too big for him, and when he heard Edgar's footsteps he turned. His face was red, and pained, and he looked ready to argue – but then his eyes fell on Edgar's wooden sword, and something clicked. The anger on his face was replaced with a raw, fierce gratitude – but then he leapt, and Edgar swung the sword to block Sabin's forceful strike, scrambling to angle the wooden blade enough; their weapons met with the crackling of splintering wood.

Edgar hadn't fought his twin like this in years, and he should have been angry about it, furious and raging at a brother who couldn't control his own emotions, but – it was exhilarating, and the feeling sat oddly in his stomach as he lashed out with the wooden sword again, striking away Sabin's next blow.

They'd always been equals, in sparring, matched fairly well; Sabin's strength gave him an advantage, but Edgar was often too level-headed and calculating to cede it to him, and nothing had changed. Sabin came forth with an onslaught of furious blows, and Edgar simply concentrated on parrying, sending enough force back with his own blocks to keep Sabin coming. Sabin had always sparred with an unstoppable intensity, and Edgar found himself sweating and breathing hard as he strove to keep up with the fury and frustration - but he knew as long as he could match it, as long as he could endure, as long as he could continue to draw out all of Sabin's anger one fierce blow at a time, eventually Sabin would stop.

Finally, Edgar caught Sabin's greatsword in a parry and rather than thrusting it aside, he slid down to lock guards, and held - and locked his eyes with Sabin's through the stalemate of their swords. "Are you trying to make our lives harder?" he asked, an echo of Sabin's frustration burning in his own veins, his voice thick with it. "Sabin, you cannot treat the council like that, even if they deserve it."

Sabin twisted, suddenly, tearing the sword out of Edgar's hands – and releasing his at the same time, so that they soared through the air, crashing and clattering into the ground out of Edgar's sight. He stood there for a moment, disarmed and panting, his eyes on the ground.

"I'm sick of it," Sabin said finally, and his voice was the low growling prelude to an antlion's roar. "I'm sick of dealing with them. I'm sick of having to play nice. I can't sit there and look them in the face and say nothing when I know they don't care about Dad."

"Sabin, life goes on in this kingdom," Edgar said, his heart twisting and crashing like the wooden swords, stiff and tangled at once; "it isn't that they don't care," he continued, "they simply know they have things to do, and for them, the grief is more distant and easier to set aside."

"I don't care!" Sabin spat, and this was even closer to the roar, animalistic and primal. "I don't know what's happened to this place, but it's turning into a nightmare. They're all a bunch of selfish politicians who hate me."

"Sabin," Edgar said, astonished. He took a step towards his twin. "When you lash out at Figaro, you cannot be surprised when she takes a step back." He took another step now, frustration channeling through him into surprisingly articulate anger. "You can't keep doing this." Now he was only inches away from Sabin's face, holding his gaze, unyielding: he couldn't let Sabin break; it would break them, break this, all of this, their proud nation and living castle.

"No," Sabin gasped, "I can't." He turned his face away from Edgar's, briefly, and Edgar realized just how close they were: fingerwidths apart, both of them breathing hard from sparring. Sabin looked back up, and the anger had melted from him, replaced with a desperate sorrow as easy to read as a book. "I can't do this, Edgar," Sabin said, softly. "Any of this."

"Yes, you can," Edgar said, and he reached out to clutch at Sabin's shoulders. "Dad had faith in you, didn't he? And I do too. Figaro needs you, Sabin."

Sabin shook his head. "Not now." He moved to the side, but Edgar wouldn't let him go, and the same odd look passed over Sabin's face as he glanced at Edgar's hands and then back up, at his face - a knuckle's-width away, if that. Edgar paused, surprised at the strange unreadable expression on Sabin's face: his twin, wearing a strange mix of emotions he could put no name to, something steeped in desperation and despair but otherwise unrecognizable, when just moments ago his face had been an echo of Edgar's own heart.

Then Sabin leaned in, even closer, and the look vanished. "Let's go away," Sabin said, his voice hushed, so close to Edgar's ear it was almost a lover's-whisper. "Just for a while. Let's go somewhere else; I hear Narshe is installing some new fancy steam engines. You could help. We both could."

Edgar simply looked: Sabin's face was alight, his eyes bright with it. Sabin breathed, almost closer, and Edgar sighed, because he looked so intent on – on something.

"Sabin," Edgar said softly, and it was almost all he needed to say. Sabin flinched.

Edgar's heart rose in his throat; he couldn't bear to hurt his brother, and so he started talking: "I don't know if that would help at all," he said slowly. "Would it help you?"

"Just for a while," Sabin urged. "I just – I can't be here, with everything going on, and Dad—" His voice choked, and now he looked away from Edgar, shame coloring his cheeks. "I just need to go somewhere, but I'm not going to leave you here by yourself."

Edgar dropped his hands from Sabin's shoulders, suddenly awkward and too-close with the admission. "Thanks," he mumbled, and Sabin took a step backwards, shrugging.

A long pause dropped between them. Edgar felt like he'd forgotten something, as if there had been a million questions he'd had for his brother just a second ago, but now his mouth and mind were empty.

"Anyway," Sabin said, his voice rough. "Think about it."

- - -

Edgar stared down at the piece of paper on his desk, and sighed. The top was a series of black cross-outs, each one darker than the next, some with blossoming swirls and curlicues added to the edges; the bottom was blank. It was midnight, and his candles had almost burnt to the bottoms, and every word he wrote hurt like a stab to the chest, and yet he had nothing to—

There was a knock at the door; Edgar set down the pen, stood up, and opened it. Sabin was standing there, a familiar-looking bottle in his left hand and two small glasses in the right. Edgar paused, surprised, his hand still on the doorknob; Sabin looked back at him, his face shadowed, pleading. “Please, for the love of the Goddesses,” Sabin said, his voice dark and guttural, “tell me I’m not the only one who’s absolutely miserable right now.”

“Come in,” Edgar breathed.

Sabin settled on the floor, leaning against Edgar’s bed, and set down the glasses; he poured a generous serving of brandy, and handed one over to Edgar.

“This is Dad’s, isn’t it,” Edgar said, sniffing – and then catching himself, with a lump in his throat: “I mean was.” The funeral was tomorrow, and he still hadn’t stopped talking about his father as if he were still alive.

“Does it matter?” Sabin’s grin was a flash of pale teeth in the fading candlelight, and it wasn’t a happy one.

Edgar settled back against his desk, stretching out his legs before him. “Have you written your speech yet?”

Sabin shrugged. “What would I say? Dad’s dead, and nobody cares that he was murdered? It doesn't get any better over time, and you’re all a bunch of bastards?”

“I don’t suggest that,” Edgar said darkly. The brandy burnt peach smoke across his tongue and throat. “Funny,” he said eventually, after a silence. “I keep expecting Dad to knock on the door and yell at us to go to bed, like he always did.”

“I know,” Sabin said sadly, and Edgar felt something nudge his leg as Sabin shifted across the floor. “I was half expecting the lecture on pilfering the brandy again, when I was down in the kitchens.”

They drank in dark and silence. Edgar listened to the sound of Sabin’s breathing, and felt closer to his twin than he had in days – they’d done this before, Sabin with something stolen from Dad’s stores and Edgar flirting his way into a picnic basket and then meeting—

“Hey,” he said into the darkness, his heart lifting in surprising joy. “Let’s go up on the roof.”

The trip was intent and solemn. They made their way through the castle side-by-side, glasses of brandy still clutched in their hands as they weaved through the hallways and passages, slipping up the side staircase and one-handedly climbing the ladder. The night air was fresh, crisp with the onset of night. Edgar sat down, leaning back against the still-warm stone of the turret. Sabin sat down beside him, their shoulders just touching. He rested the bottle of brandy between them.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep at all,” Sabin said, finally. His eyes were on the horizon; Edgar’s eyes were on his twin, drinking in the sight of Sabin’s sadness, wondering how he could fix that. It wasn’t as if he could take a wrench to his brother’s heart, no more than he could tighten his own.

“It’s alright,” Edgar said. “Don’t worry about your speech. You can stand with me, and I’ll read – something.” Maybe the words would just come to him tomorrow. All the words in his heart now were for Sabin, and although it did make him feel a little guilty, he was convinced his father would have rather he care for his brother, in truth.

Sabin hung his head and chuckled. “You just don’t want me to speak.”

Edgar's hands twitched in frustration; he fought the urge to clench them into fists. “You can say whatever you’d like, Sabin. You're right about more than you'll admit, you know. You shouldn't give up so quickly.”

“Yeah.” Sabin grumbled a bit into his glass as he drank. He set the glass down and looked at Edgar sidelong. “I heard about that. They’re going to start looking into it, huh?”

"That's one of the things I think you're right about," Edgar pointed out, and was thrilled to see the expression of surprise flicker across Sabin's face for a brief moment. "We need to either confirm this, or lay it to rest. So I told the council to do it, and that I - we - expected it done well." He paused. "It's our job to do right by Figaro, in the end."

“Hmm.” Sabin leaned back against the pillar. His shoulder was warm against Edgar’s. Edgar said nothing; just waited, feeling and hearing the rise and fall of his brother’s breath beside him.

“If you could do anything in the world,” Sabin said, “what would you do?”

Edgar paused for thought, and then reached for the bottle, refilling his glass and then Sabin's. "What do you mean, anything?"

Sabin nudged him encouragingly. "Anything," he said. "Forget about Figaro for a second, forget about being Prince or King or any of that. Anything in the world. What would you do?"

Edgar inhaled peach smoke and looked upwards into the star-specked sky, considering the question carefully. These were dangerous thoughts, subjects he'd only contemplate half-awake or half-asleep, freedoms he rarely wanted to acknowledge he didn't have because then—

"Ah," Sabin breathed. Edgar blinked, and turned; Sabin was watching him intently, a strange sort of humorless smirk on his face. "So there are things."

"Sabin," Edgar said slowly, carefully, because this was the crux of it, wasn't it? "Sabin, we cannot just forget about Figaro. She isn't the kind of thing that easily daydreams away – nor does she deserve it."

Sabin nudged him again. "Humor your cranky brother, Edgar. What would you do if you could do anything?"

"Anything?" The word welled up in his throat, and Edgar sipped again, letting the burn of the brandy scour away the emotion. "I suppose I'd actually go to school, rather than just importing professors and scholars. Set up a little factory, work on – inventions, you know? Bring in some of the most brilliant minds, get them all together, and see what we could come up with. Start encouraging a real industrial revolution – the kinds of things that could really improve people's lives." He gestured with a hand, the words failing him in his enthusiasm. "There are things out there that could really help people, just waiting to be discovered."

"A noble dream." Sabin was still watching him, something intent and hot in his eyes that Edgar couldn't place. "But Figaro isn't really standing in your way, is it?"

"Not entirely." Edgar swirled the brandy in his glass, choosing his words carefully; it felt like they were having multiple conversations, multiple meanings on many levels, and he so feared saying something to push his brother over whatever edge they were dancing upon. "In fact, she'd make it easier in some ways. An instant source of funding, and a long-standing credential, for example. But finding the time might be difficult."

Sabin looked away at that, turning his face back out towards the horizon. Edgar watched him, now, intently. "So what would you do, brother," he said, trying to keep his voice light, "if you could do anything? With Figaro or without?"

"I'd leave," Sabin breathed, still looking out into the desert, and the words were so painful Edgar's heart wrenched: it was one thing to think one understood, and yet another to hear one's brother so easily forsake –but that wasn't it, either, entirely; underneath his voice was a raging current of emotions. Sorrow and regret warred with longing, all in two words, sent winging to the horizon.

"And go where?" Keeping his voice balanced was harder than anything else Edgar had ever done; it was like working with a dangerous chemical, where one uncontrolled vibration could set off an explosion.

"Everywhere." Now Sabin's face cleared, and lit up; he glanced over at Edgar, and something spasmed in his chest at how young and beautiful his brother looked in that one moment. "I'd travel the world, learn to live on my own, without all of this—" A handwave incorporated some collection of things Edgar couldn't even guess: the castle, the kingdom, the throne. "Nothing tying you down," Sabin continued, his voice dropping to a low murmur. "Freedom, Edgar. The freedom to do whatever we wanted. None of these responsibilities that don't make sense."

Edgar blinked, trying to construct his sentence carefully. "Figaro isn't a cage keeping us in, Sabin; she's a path to the things we do want. We have opportunities here that other people don't have, would love to have, would give anything to have half of the chances—"

"No." Sabin shook his head, the word plain and blunt. "This is a cage, Edgar. Figaro takes and takes, and it gives nothing back. We're boxed in here, and the only place we can go is where it wants us to go."

"That does not necessarily make it a bad place," Edgar pointed out. "We're in a great position, here."

Sabin shrugged a shoulder. "Wouldn't you like to come? We could just wander the world, for a bit." He glanced down at the glass in his hand, and sighed. "I'd always thought… I thought maybe we could go, together, when we turned eighteen. Do a lap around the world. See one of those famous operas, visit a beach, get good and drunk in Zozo." He chuckled. "Get mugged in Zozo, and have to wash dishes for a month before we can afford the ship back. Something real, Edgar." His voice dropped. "Something we did, ourselves. Not Figaro."

Edgar could say nothing. The thought of the two of them, together and alone, using only their wits and arms to make their way around the world: it was tempting, alluring, the promise of all the things out there beyond Figaro's sands. Why had Sabin never said anything like this before?

Sabin laughed, again, an unhappy sound. "And I want to go now, before Figaro latches onto us both."

Edgar shook his head, again, slowly; "I would love to go with you, Sabin." A deep breath—

Sabin sighed, and looked upward, at the sky. "Don't say it," he murmured, his voice low.

Edgar said nothing; the words were caught in his throat, and he wanted so badly to offer some kind of – comfort, or hope, or maybe even just old-fashioned commiseration. But the words weren't coming forth, and nothing was coming to mind as he'd intended.

Sabin turned, then, the hurt and fear obvious in his eyes. "Do you hate me?" he whispered.

"No," Edgar breathed. He set his glass down. "Sabin, no, how could I ever—?"

"You should." Sabin's mouth twisted, an unhappy grin. "I'm supposed to be getting myself ready to be a king, with you, and all I can think about is getting the hell out of here." He picked up his glass and drained it all in one long gulp. "I look into the future," he said, his voice rough with brandy and frustration, "and all I see is a long, dark, empty hallway. There's nothing for me here."

"That's not true," Edgar said, on his knees now with some strange sudden sense of urgency, glass of brandy forgotten as he gripped Sabin's arm. "It doesn't have to feel like that. The kingdom is what we make of it, remember? Dad always said—"

"Dad said a lot of things." Sabin slumped against the turret. "It's alright, Edgar," he said finally, his voice low. "You can't fix everything. Just let it go."

"Yes I can," Edgar said, his voice so low and intense that he surprised even himself – but Sabin must not have heard, for he simply leaned forward and refilled his glass, offering the bottle to Edgar.

Dissolution (2)


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