As the Red Moon spins off into sweet infinity towards a hoped-for land (there is only hope, no promises), Bahamut can't help but feel vaguely cheated. It's a happy equilibrium, if not an ending, the best that can be realistically expected, but that doesn't seem to matter to him. He feels cheated, he guesses, on behalf of Kain, who refuses to feel cheated for himself. Kain who from up on high seems blind and stumbling, trying to flee what he fears and instead charging straight into it. Kain Highwind, last carrier of his flesh and blood on this planet called Earth.
New Earth, Leviathan and Odin call it; this Earth is the only Earth Bahamut knows.
His wings beat and he glides into a neat, well-practiced orbit; an advantage of godhood, this blatant defiance of the laws of physics and of any need for oxygen. His chosen place is with the stars - not the balls of gas, molecular links of burning hydrogen, but the stars from a distance, the stars under which kisses are given and taken, the stars cold to the touch and just as coldly beautiful. One can never attain them - and thus one needn't worry about losing them.
He used to announce his arrival with the appearance of a certain comet, which on this particular planet came to be called the Dragon's Tear. It has not been spotted for some two hundred years. Bahamut thinks perhaps it should be spotted now.
His first came from this place, from the misty valley north of what is now Baron. Her name was Iris, her temperament sweet but not overly so, and she had reciprocated, to his great relief. She died at the age of eighty-nine, in her sleep; it was one of the gentler deaths.
The name of Leviathan and Asura's daughter is Shiva. She is as beautiful and clever as her mother, thinks Leviathan, and from him she inherited command of water, which for Shiva is spun into cold prisms and diamond filigree. Rydia of Mist is their almost-daughter, and she is pale ice like Shiva, but also bright lightning and fire and all the colors of Black Magic, right up to the fiery punishments of Meteo. Their grandmother would have been proud of them, Leviathan thinks, and he is twice as proud of them in compensation.
Perhaps this does not make him a qualified judge of Bahamut's ancestral angst. But still he cannot see the fuss. He's an adult, he tells Bahamut, and you can't say Odin's raised him wrong. He ought to be able to take care of himself.
That's what you told me before, says Bahamut, and look what happened.
I'm sure it will all turn out all right in the end, Highwind, he says back, and listens to the echo of his voice even now.
Bahamut regrets the aftermath of Rydia's test of worthiness, regrets he didn't run after Kain (last name Highwind, the old nickname; there are far worse names out there) and somehow make him all better. That he didn't climb the Tower of Zot and break Golbez's spell on his own. Even, perhaps, that he didn't intercept them before they reached the village Mist and thus left his flesh and blood unsullied, undamned. Of course he doesn't say so. It is written in his face, in the inflections of his sigh.
Leviathan sits and inhales the temple incense wafting up from a planet very much like his current residence (only that planet is called, simply, the Planet) and concludes, with some embarrassment, that he screwed up on this one, that he has no right to talk. Shiva and Rydia, after all, have never done anything to damn themselves.
There are many strange things about Bahamut's children. These are the strangest two. Though Bahamut's scales are deepest blue, and his human guise's hair is the same, some ninety percent of his descendants turn out blond. This is the first strangest thing, and in comparison to the other merely a triviality.
The second strange thing, the important thing, is the nature of their hearts, their tendency to metaphorically throw them into metaphorical rosebushes. Thus there is the swordsman Strife striving to keep his appointment with a flower girl in a promised land; thus there is Kain watching a strolling pair from afar, turning away when it looks like they might embrace, except when he makes himself watch. That's no surprise, not such a horrible thing in perspective. The greatest problem of the children of Bahamut was that they often ended up tossing the hearts of the ones they loved into the same predicament.
Would it be better, Bahamut wonders, if they weren't aware they were doing so? If they knew but didn't feel guilty about it?
How he wishes he could extricate those hearts from the thorns and make them whole again. How he wishes he could keep them from touching the thorns at all, to do for them what he never seems to be able to do for himself. For it could be that the romantic troubles of his flesh and blood began with him.
In his younger days Odin prided himself on his ability to cause trouble; he has not lost his touch. Baron under his rule had always been on the verge of war, and actually slipped into it a number of times, though he committed no instigation one could point to without sounding rather silly, and he can say he had nothing to do with the battles over the Crystals.
But, he admits when there is nobody to hear his admission, you could say he was responsible.
He very well could have made short work of the presumptuous turtle. He instead made himself a weak old man who could barely lift a sword or spear anymore. One has to look at the big picture, after all. It was too bad about losing Frey Baigan; these things happened.
He had taken in the two boys, reasoning that if one turned out wrong the other surely wouldn't disappoint. So. Cecil now sits on the throne of Baron. His armor and sword are imbued with the blinding purity of a paladin's instead of the silent shadows of a dark knight, of course, but why quibble over such a small thing? Kain, of course, is a completely different matter.
They might be compared, he thinks, to figures of gold and steel. Cecil looks a golden boy, pure and malleable, but inside he is all unbending steel. Kain, now - he is totally steel to the casual observer and a great deal of the serious ones - so upright, so proud, calmly informing Odin that he was sure the Dark Sword had its advantages but all in all he'd rather be a Dragon Knight thank-you-very-much. But his heart is all of gold, tucked away so deep that even Odin had missed it. In this he is like his ancestor.
Golbez Ya, now - he had seen it, and promptly reached out and made use of it. But Golbez Ya is sleeping toward a hoped-for land, fleeing from what he fears; Odin secretly hopes he'll end up fleeing smack into that very same thing. It would serve him right.
But Bahamut refuses to place any blame whatsoever on Cecil's brother. "It's all the fault of that stupid Zemus who's dead at any rate," according to Bahamut, though he put it far more formally. This was a surprise to Odin - here was the man who had twisted Kain Highwind's heart into bitter knots, reduced him to a suicidal hermit up on Ordeals, and Bahamut declined to curse Golbez as surely he deserved.
If I blame him for what he did because of Zemus, Bahamut's reasoning went, then surely I must blame Kain, too, for what he did. So all blame must go to Zemus, the source of the trouble. And in the end Odin had to accept the logic of this.
Odin has a considerable list of reasons why he had adopted Kain Highwind; he goes over them now. Point one - Bahamut is powerful though he is young and inclined toward romantic melodrama, and Kain's father, Bahamut's descendant, was formidable in his own right - this power would likely be handed down to Kain. Point two - it would have been unethical to have done nothing for an orphan - and the son of a war hero, and Bahamut's flesh and blood, at that. And so on, ad infinitum.
But, he confesses when there is nobody to hear his confession, that series of logically sound justifications doesn't cover it.
Sympathetic magic, almost - to give young Kain what is lacking in his ancestor. A mortal revision of Bahamut. Proud but aloof also - Bahamut is not truly aloof, when one is not a stranger. Never one to rush to the rescue, to change what should not be changed. Never one to throw his heart into a rosebush, let alone do it repeatedly. So the theory went.
Odin extracts all his thoughts and memories and lays them out neatly where there is nobody to see and examines them under his cold eye, and concludes that it didn't work. All he did was hide what was there, consequences being that it came out at the worst possible time.
He can say he has nothing to do with the current state of Kain Highwind. He can say it's all the fault of Golbez Ya, or Zemus as the case may be, or even Kain himself. But he knows his own lies.
Kain Highwind bandages the day's injuries while sitting in the travelers' field. He ran out of potions some time ago and simply does not want to go to Mysidia for more. He wishes he could make up his mind - if he won't use potions, why not stop with the bandages, stop sleeping in the travelers' field? Surely that would make things proceed faster.
"Forgive my absence," he whispers, quoting the letter he wrote again and again and finally sent off to Baron before he could find another thing wrong with it. "Cecil, Rosa, I'm sorry I can't give you my blessing." The blessing of the damned; who needs that? "I can't " The words dull on his tongue. What's the point of speaking? There's nobody to hear.
He sits for a time, another bandage poised in midair. Someone steps into the travelers' field from behind him.
"Tell me," says a voice he should know, "do you remember Wyvern?"
"The guardian of the Ragnarok sword, the dragon."
A definite knowledge creeps up Kain's neck. "Yes, why do you ask?"
"I'm told that Zemus intended him, him and Ogopogo, to be mirrors of sorts. Ones that show potential for darkness."
He turns and blurts, "Your darkness, Bahamut?"
Bahamut inclines his head in a slight nod, the purple hood slipping off. "I'd always wondered what my darker side was like. How I would be if I took that path. Do you remember when young Rydia summoned me during the battle?" Kain nods. "What surprised me the most was how there wasn't much of a difference at all. How easy it would be to become him."
Kain has no reply to this.
Bahamut kneels down to Kain's level; like him, his height is composed mostly of leg. He says, "You don't have to be here."
"Everyone has darkness."
He is far from reassured by this platitude. "But not everyone listens to it."
"Oh, hang logic," Bahamut cries suddenly. "Why is it my descendants always take less of the good and more of the bad?"
"I tried it the other way once," Kain mutters, "and this is how it came out." Pause. Recall. Evaluate. Be stunned. Recover. "Did you just say descendants?"
"I promise I will explain later. Will you let me try to help?"
Kain continues his bandaging. "I don't need -" He quickly senses this won't fly, and tries a different turn of phrase. "I can't accept-"
"I would tell you to call me when needed, but somehow I doubt you ever would."
Kain winces - that much is true.
Bahamut has evidently seen his expression. "Did you think I wouldn't know the excuses my own flesh and blood would make?" He shrugs. "While the view from here is good, the sword-wielding skeletons rather interfere with any enjoyment of it, don't they?"
"I suppose so," says Kain warily. "But I'm not here for the view."
Bahamut nods. "I recall the weather of the bay near Mysidia - the Dragon's Jaws, do you remember? - as being excellent at this time of year. I thought I might have a look and see if it still is."
"Well, who am I to stop you?"
Another nod. "I hope to see you in the future. There is a great deal to tell." Kain nods in return.
After Bahamut has disappeared down the trail, he waits a minute and begins to gather together the things he brought to the mountain. He thinks he will go to Mysidia for more potions after all.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to L. Cully for beta reading.