And I Will Hold on Hope

Silver Millennium: A young Kunzite and his eight-year-old charge are hiking in the outside world on one of countless exploratory trips, and even going for a walk they ALMOST DIE.

Date: 2015-11-19
Pose Count: 12
Mamoru Chiba 2015-11-19 02:49:43 15556
With sturdy boots, nondescript and durable clothes in colors that blend in with the trees and the forest floor, and pack and bedroll on his back, the eight-year-old boy's delighted by the fact that he's already got dirty hands, bits of leaf in his hair, a rip in one trouser leg, and mud on his boots. He always is. They've only been walking for a few hours, but the place they came out of Elysion was one he hadn't seen yet, and the ground was breathing.

His pockets are full of leaves from trees he hadn't met until today and interesting rocks, and about thirty seconds ago, he dropped a vine he'd absently been knotting and started walking more slowly.

Now Endymion's watching the ground, and he takes a couple of quicker steps to catch up with his guardian and grab his hand, make them stop. "Kunzite," is all he says.

The wind's in the trees overhead, leaves drifting down in a riot of colors, and he waves his free hand at the carpet of leaves and moss surrounding them. His voice is hushed. "Did we go back to Elysion without me noticing? It doesn't feel like it but--"

Abruptly, the forest floor inhales, then sighs.
Kazuo Takeba 2015-11-19 03:25:02 15561
Kunzite would never admit it, but in his secret heart these trips terrify him.

He's the one who suggested them, yes. He advocated for them, fought for them patiently with all the reason and rhetoric and influence his teenaged mind could muster... and that influence is not as close to zero as another teenager's would be. There are reasons that a fifteen-year-old is guard and swordmaster to the prince. He put all his weight behind the matter, pushed for it as hard as he could, and on being granted the privilege, has time and time again brought Endymion home safely.

These trips are important. Elysion is the heart of the world, but it is not itself the world. Its nature is different, its laws are different. Endymion having the experience of the world he'll rule, knowing it in his own heart and gut and bones, may make all the difference in the king he'll one day be.

And the thought of Endymion being out in that world with a single guard, inexperienced and nearly unprotected, chills Kunzite's blood for weeks in advance every single time.

So: terrifying. And yet, moments like this one, when Endymion is flinging himself wholeheartedly into the minor discomforts of an almost-normal life ... terrifying or not, Kunzite wouldn't trade these times for the world's own throne.

(Of course, that's one of the qualities that won him his position in the first place.)

That they're away where no-one knows them does not make Kunzite less of a guard. He's been watching for sign of human habitation, of major predators, of sleeping snakes or unfamiliar spiders or colorful and poisonous frogs. He's been watching the skies; forests aren't his home territory, but he understands how plants anchor themselves, and if the weather worsens suddenly, the unsteady ground and the ill-rooted trees themselves may become the enemy. And he's also watching, always, for Endymion.

Who just slowed down, for no reason that Kunzite could tell.

The older boy slows in turn, half-glancing back toward his charge. Fifteen other times in the past couple of hours it's been something interesting on the ground, or in a tree, or otherwise near Endymion's eye level. This time there's something different. This time when Endymion reaches for Kunzite's hand, he's already reaching back, meeting him partway.

"We haven't gone back." Kunzite strains senses outside of the normal five, trying desperately to read the weather, the energies bound up in the movement of the wind, but the trees complicate everything, the leaves' fall is a pattern of fuzz, and even if he could get a clear picture, it wouldn't stretch far enough to tell him anything useful, not in this alien place. He shifts with the rocking of the ground. Braces himself. (Should that wind have been enough to catch at the trees that hard, to pull at unmoored roots so noticeably? Will there be more? Run back the motion in his mind -- did he catch any hint of a stable patch of ground nearby?) "What does it feel like?"

Of course his voice is calm. Endymion's hardly ever heard it any other way.
Mamoru Chiba 2015-11-19 03:59:30 15562
Inching backwards a little, unwilling to let go of Kunzite's hand, the small prince keeps his eyes fixed on the ground, scanning it as though his regular sight were peripheral vision; they're not unfocused, but the blue is distant and preoccupied. He edges back a little further, closer to the nearest tree; he stops dead in his tracks, silent.

It's a longer and longer time he's silent, he doesn't answer, it's almost a minute with no acknowledgement of Kunzite's question. This has happened before. This will happen again.

His senses are slippery, still rooted in the world's heart, still oriented toward the dreams of artists and scientists and children that combine to make the beautiful and terrifying and impossible and perfect. The reality around him, though Kunzite's taken him here so many times, is still not where he sleeps for most of his nights, is still not where he lives with his hands in the dirt and his face to the weather. He can't always recognise things below the surface for what they are.

Halfway through, he clenches his teeth in frustration and crouches, arm up and up to still hang on to Kunzite's hand, and he sticks his fingers in the loose, dry, wiry-rooted soil.

Finally, "Dark. Cold. Stony. Little lives in pockets of warmth." A pause. "Dripping." Another pause, and his brows furrow, and he looks up at Kunzite. "Spiky?"

The wind gusts cold overhead, fingers of ice and spatters of freezing rain blowing through-- just a hint of the storm that's had the day overcast since morning and has only lately begun to brood across the sky, shifting uncomfortably and rolling over itself.

"There's a lot I can't see, there's nothing there to see, it's like--" With the gust also comes another inhalation from the forest floor, as though it were filling its lungs to scream.

"Like it's empty--"

The trees slouch forward all at once, rocking violently, and there's a crack across from them that echoes through the dimming light and the gathering wind, and one of the older trees, hollow in the middle, pitches forward. It's not going to fall anywhere near them, they should be fine where they are--

--and the earth gives way, shattering at the shock from the impact and falling into the Empty.
Kazuo Takeba 2015-11-19 05:13:42 15563
There are things that the prince does that Kunzite has learned not to question; things that he perceives that Kunzite cannot. Sometimes these things the younger boy doesn't have the words to explain. Sometimes they're inconvenient. Sometimes they're priceless. He interrupts them only when necessary, and this time it doesn't seem necessary as yet. The trees, the earth, the change of the seasons, are slow things for the most part. There's no hint of magic moving, no hint of human manipulations that might set things at a faster pace. Even the birds that rise in complaint are only birds, and the rush of their wings and the sharpness of their cries are perfectly reasonable, when the trees sway so sharply.

So the boy's quiet is uninterrupted. Kunzite takes a step to close the distance opening between them, once. Then a second time. Not too close; when Endymion is that still, it's best not to crowd him, not to confuse him with other human emotions. Let him learn the beginnings of these things undisturbed; there will be plenty of time to complicate matters later.

When Endymion speaks at last, Kunzite adds each item to his own mental map of the place. Pockets of warmth -- nests, dens, closing in on hibernation with the falling of the leaves. Dripping -- no stream too close at this level. Water moving underground. Elaborate the dens and the stone, perhaps.


The roots?

Kunzite pushes the memories of his native sands out of the way, makes himself consider what dirt and stone might hide. It comes to him as the earth shifts under his feet, as those great roots push upward, no longer entirely secure. And he understands that the mistake was made hours ago, when they arrived here, when he trusted the reports that told him that the place itself should be safe.

The hollow tree cracks, but it's falling that way, good enough. How to weather the storm is the question. He draws a breath, to address Endymion again, and starts to take another step to close the distance between them. If they can find one solid --

Nothing is solid.

The earth gives way beneath him, and no magic he yet knows will help him fly.

Conditioning bordering now on reflex drives him: he reaches for Endymion with his free hand, starting to curl as he starts to fall, but the fall doesn't quite work as he's expecting. His hand clasping Endymion's is in the wrong place, his arm at the wrong angle, his shins hit something hard with a cracking sound -- the echo is in the air, not in his bones, whatever broke wasn't him, not yet.

His weight tears at his shoulder.

Dirt in his eyes. He claws with his free hand, manages a moment's purchase, an instant of enough stability to recognize the situation --

There is darkness beneath him, and somewhere in the empty darkness will be dark, and cold, and stone, and -- perhaps -- spikes. Dripping. The spikes that grow in caves, some tiny, some tall as he is. The tearing at his shoulder is because an eight-year-old prince still has hold of his hand.

At fifteen, Kunzite is nearly half again Endymion's height, and as broad of shoulder as half the adult guards. The pack that weighs down his back just adds still more mass to the muscle he's already carrying.

His handhold disintegrates, and even as he reaches for a new one, his reactions are dominated by a fear far worse than falling. "Endymion! Let go!"
Mamoru Chiba 2015-11-19 05:33:51 15564
The black-haired little boy's blinking dirt and dust out of his own eyes, gaze unfocused as he concentrates on healing the wrench of his own shoulder, the fracture of bone, strained muscle and stressed ligament; his hand's gripping Kunzite's like a small vise, dry, solid and steady like the stalagmites waiting below, fathoms deep. There's nothing wrong with the strength of his grip. He's certainly not as strong as his guardian, his mentor, his brother-- but he's strong enough.

The problem is one of mass and mooring.

One boot's hooked in a root, toes splayed out and ankle cocked to keep the boot from slipping off; the other's digging into the loose dirt. His pack is still on his back, which helps a little, but still, still, dirt continues to sift down from beneath his shoulders, his neck, the top of his chest. Slowly but surely, he's sliding-- or perhaps the earth is still crumbling steadily despite the will of its prince, its protector.

"Do you," the small boy asks disparagingly, strain in his voice, "think I'm stupid? Unsling the low side of your pack. Cut the high side's strap. I'm anchored."

He can't hide the taste of a partial truth from the channel their contact creates. Nonetheless, his words get sharp at the end, fierce and biting. "If I let go, you'll fall, and you'll die."
Kazuo Takeba 2015-11-19 05:50:46 15567
It would be a good plan. If Kunzite could get purchase. If there were anything to get purchase on. Roots thick enough to take /his/ weight are back further within the earth. He tries anyhow, and more dirt showers down beneath him, whispering on its way with a sound like rain. For an instant, the toe of one boot finds a rock. It's too small; it tears out of its anchoring. He doesn't hear it land.

"If you don't let go, we'll both fall, pack or no pack." The calm he lost a moment before -- that he can almost get purchase on. Almost. "I won't die." A partial truth that he sets about trying to make less partial. If he can control the fall, if he can use the pack (that he hasn't gotten rid of, not in those first seconds, not yet) as a kind of armor against any stalagmites that might be beneath, if he can concentrate hard enough -- the analysis doesn't give him control of the situation, but breaking it down lets him think past the adrenaline flooding his system. He tries to find his knife, prays wordlessly that it was secure enough not to be somewhere below him now. And as if repeating it would do any good: "Endymion, I need you to let go."
Mamoru Chiba 2015-11-19 06:00:33 15568
"NO! I need you," Endymion says through his teeth, glaring at the teenager from behind dusty eyelashes. There's no fear in his blue eyes, only that same stubbornness that's been his curse and his blessing through all his short life. "I'm not letting go. I won't let go of you!"

More dirt, more grit sifts down; there's a tiny but noticeable shift as one of his boots loses purchase, and he shuts his eyes and lifts that foot to kick it back into the ground, hard. This jars the foot caught in the root, and they slip a little again.

He's thinking a million miles a second, examining possibilities and angles, keeping the thought of what would happen to Kunzite if he let go or lost his hold far, far away, hanging hard onto his indignation and aggravation with the white-haired older boy. His other arm, with nothing to hang on to, appears over the side. "Climb up me!"
Kazuo Takeba 2015-11-19 06:28:50 15573
Sometimes, Kunzite decides, a little fear would not be a terrible thing. There's the knife. He drives the blade hard into the crumbling earth, feels the point grate on something that gives a moment later, hopes that's a good sign. Tries to take a little weight on that hand --

Nearly stabs himself in the side when the hold gives way. That trick always works in the stories, damn it. Planting the knife in the dirt again and leaving it with only its own weight works better. Against his own judgment, he reaches up for Endymion's hand.

And can't reach it.

Gravity's pulling him down. That shoulder's lower than the other one. He can brush fingertips. One foothold, just one, and this might work -- if it didn't wrench the prince's hip out of the socket. One foothold, and cut the pack, and reach his hand, and swarm up in a shower of debris.

He has a feeling that's a plan that always works in the stories, too.

It's even harder to get a breath in that position that it already was. "Endymion," he tries, and the word doesn't carry right. Tries again. "Endymion." There. Steady. He can't quite manage calm; the shallow breaths prevent it. He can manage steady, and enunciating every word. "I won't leave you alone. I swear it." He has no idea how he'll manage that if he dies; but in this particular moment, he has no doubt that if he needs to, he'll find a way. "I need you to trust me. I need you to let go."
Mamoru Chiba 2015-11-19 06:48:37 15575
For all that he's the Crown Prince of Earth, for all that he's the inheritor of the Golden Crystal, for all that he's not afraid for his life and stubborn as a mule, Endymion is eight years old. He's eight, and the person who makes him feel safest in the world, his brother and friend and guardian, is telling him to drop him into a pit so deep they can't hear fallen stones, a yawning cavern that his own sense of the land told him has spikes in the bottom.

The dust on his face is getting wet, and it's not from rain, and all Kunzite can feel from him is white-hot anger and desperate need.

"I can't!" he says with a hitch, his high young voice catching as he chokes down the lump in his throat, as his eyes burn. "I trust you but I don't trust this stupid hole in the ground! I can't let go of you, I don't want to, I don't WANT to! You'll DIE! Stop being so-- such a--"

His free hand's trying to grasp, still, and is catching nothing but air; crying now, he shoves his elbow at the dirt to loosen it, and pushes more of it into the hole, gouging a channel for his arm to reach through at a lower angle.

In another instance, this would be very clever. His small brown hand's in reach of Kunzite's, now.

The problem is, it jarred him further and destabilized more of the edge, and the dirt between the roots is crumbling, and it's all so dry, and the roots protest with cracks and creaks, and then there's a pop that echoes down and down into the blackness of the cavern.

All at once, the edge completely gives way.

Endymion's foot is ripped out of his boot, and the tree belonging to the root it's caught in starts to slowly, creakily tilt in after them, and the rest of the tenuous system of roots crackles and snaps like the sound of a shower of hail and there's nothing below either of them, nothing holding them up.
Kazuo Takeba 2015-11-19 07:16:06 15576
And Kunzite moves.

His hand in Endymion's hold shifts, fingers wrapping around the boy's wrist, redoubling the connection that anchors them to one another. He pulls, hard, and his other hand can finally reach -- too late to be a rescue, but not too late for this. Touch glances at Endymion's hand, at his arm just above the elbow, at his back; his guardian pulls the prince in against his chest, curling his body around the smaller, slighter figure.

At the speed they'll be falling when they hit, it won't make a difference. Unless.

He reaches out with his own power, stealing energy from everything he can reach, everything but Endymion. That's mostly air, and the air is already cold, but it chills harder. The strength with which they're falling through it -- he can blunt that a tiny bit. Everything counts. It starts to set them tumbling, and he struggles with that, forcing their fall to keep /him/ between Endymion and the stone below, to keep his pack as much between both of them and the drop as he can. And he empties his mind of everything but the boy whose hair his cheek is pressed against, and the defenses he's building, patching together desperately out of shadow and light --

Maybe if Endymion had let him fall, if he hadn't had to take the second or two to secure him, he would have gotten far enough to walk away from the impact. Maybe the prince was right, and that was never possible at all.

The sound when they hit is something no eight-year-old should have to hear.

But the broken body that protected him is breathing.
Mamoru Chiba 2015-11-19 08:46:14 15579
All throughout, from the time everything gave out below them all the way down, Endymion doesn't make a sound. He's still crying, but it's silent, chin crumpled but eyes open until the only thing he can see is the rapidly shrinking white circle above them. It doesn't take long at all, and it doesn't matter because he's pulled in close to Kunzite's chest, enfolded and enclosed and shielded-- and planning, Kunzite is planning, he's still planning and Endymion can feel it, the cold hum of effort and calculations of angles and velocity--

He cries into Kunzite's shirt and he's finally afraid, finally, but he still trusts Kunzite. Just not this stupid hole in the ground. But Kunzite, he trusts Kunzite, he'll always trust Kunzite even if he disagrees with him--

He doesn't let the knot of emotion inside him interfere with his guardian's concentration. He just prays, just believes, as hard as he can.


The sound echoes in the pitch blackness and Endymion is thrown from Kunzite's suddenly slack hold, and the implication hits him at the same time as his bounce lands him on the ground.

The wind's knocked out of him and it's an inconvenience he brushes away without a thought, sucking in a lungful of the cool, damp cavern's air and letting it out with a sob as he scrambles over to the white-haired teenager, slipping in blood and nearly pitching into the broken body, twisted unnaturally and ripped through the side by the damned 'spikes', by low stalagmites that were still tall enough to get through the pack and sink teeth into his brother.

He doesn't, though. He doesn't fall, and his hands are on Kunzite's skin, and he almost can't focus enough, almost can't get his mind to stop screaming and screaming with all the sound he hasn't made, echoing through his skull, gouging at his heart

(he never doubts his decision)

(if Kunzite fell and he hadn't been with him then Kunzite would be dead, would really be really dead, he's sure of it)

(he can fix this)

(he has to)

With everything he has, the tiny prince pours his own energy into maintaining his Shitennou's vital functions, seals the bleeding-- there'll be more damage when he lift-and-rolls Kunzite off of the stalagmite buried deepest, removes the pack one-handed (he won't let go, he won't let go)-- but he'll fix that too.

It's complicated. It's a lot of things he doesn't know how to do yet, only in theory, only in his imagination. It's a lot of energy, which he pulls up from the Earth continually, in greater and greater measure, maintaining himself and Kunzite for the hours it takes him to work, painstakingly, and learn as he goes.

It's arduous. The lack of sight is a blessing, his eyes can't see what his mind and his magic are working on, and that makes it easier. As long as he can feel the teenager's heart beating, as long as he can feel his soul glowing in the back of his awareness, he doesn't have to think about what his hands are doing, what's below his fingers, what he'd be seeing if there were light.

It's a blessing.

His focus is steady for hours, and he works without stopping until he faints from fatigue, quite literally spent of even the strength to pull more energy from his planet. His head falls on Kunzite's chest, his grip on the bloodied fabric of the older boy's shirt slack.
Kazuo Takeba 2015-11-19 09:40:31 15581
(There will never be an argument about that decision.)

(There will never be recriminations. Never a lecture about listening to one's elders' judgment. Never so much as an angry look. Unless Endymion brings it up, it will never be mentioned at all.)

(Kunzite might, if pressed, have claimed that was because a prince needs to learn such things: the making of choices, the understanding of their consequences, the living with them, the awareness that some factors will never be in their own control. If anyone ever presses him on it, it is not where Endymion hears. And Kunzite would have been lying anyway.)

There is, in all of this, a promise kept. Even in those terrible moments between the impact and finding the body, Endymion can hear the damaged sounds of breathing. And after that -- yes, he can feel the heartbeat, even if he needs to fuel the heartbeat as well for a little. He can feel no emotion, but this is Kunzite; that's only a small difference from his usual conscious state. But most importantly, he can feel the soul, the life, silent and weak but slowly, slowly steadying.

Even in the darkness, Endymion is not alone.

And even in his exhaustion, something in him is faintly aware when that small difference in emotion registers. When the body he leans on moves, however painfully. When Endymion's tiny form is drawn up off the cold stone, not to separate him from the earth -- his fingertips are left to trail against it, instead -- but to keep him just a fraction warmer.

It doesn't matter to Kunzite if breathing still hurts. It doesn't matter if his clothes and his hair have more clotted than dried. It doesn't matter that he barely has the strength to wrestle with Endymion's own forgotten belongings. He takes his turn again, shielding his brother from the cold with his body, wrapping the bedding that survived about the both of them, cradling his prince with his own head resting against the exhausted boy's hair. And even unconscious, Endymion knows once again what he's known for years now, that tiny difference that sets Kunzite's waking moments apart.

That his guardian would do anything to protect him. Anything. If it were what he needed, his brother would burn the world.