It rains the first day of the Septian year.
The rain pounds hard on his dorm window, a steady thump thump thump like his heart. Outside Elliot’s window, the skies are a dull grey. He wonders if it’s the Goddess’ tears.
The air in the Class VII dorms is thick and heavy, weighing on his chest. The tension reminds him of when he’d been on the run with Fie and Machias in Celdic, but tenfold and with a tinge of hopelessness. There’s a strange feeling building up in him.
Crow is dead, and Rean is working under Chancellor Giliath Osbourne, or rather, Rean’s father. The same man Crow had thrown away his whole life away to destroy.
Elliot knows that his outlook is bleak, especially for him. The red-haired musician will never be like Rean in terms of sheer optimism and belief in others, but Elliot would like to believe he’s not as jaded as Jusis. But for now, it seems impossible to do anything but stare at the truth in its face. After getting what he’d wanted to achieve, Crow had left them for a cause he didn’t believe in and paid the price.
Fiona almost did.
But what is perhaps the worst of it all is what it did to Rean. Elliot had seen the despair on his face at the end of it all, and that is perhaps the most unforgivable part out of everything. More than anyone, Rean had loved Crow. Soon he’ll be sent out to fight another war he didn’t ask for.
Elliot takes out his ARCUS and scrolls down a list of numbers. His thumb hovers over the “call” button when it finds Rean’s number. He takes a deep breath, closes his ARCUS, and throws himself into his bed, hoping to cast away his thoughts. It doesn’t work.
Elliot has been drawn to Rean since he met him. He was the first person Elliot had talked to when he arrived at Thors, and has since taken the mantle as the unofficial leader of the class. He’s a reliable person who solves problems with ease. Rean is strong, smart, and has resolve. Everything Elliot is not.
So when the image of himself that Rean has unintentionally built up for himself finally wavers, Elliot almost feels relief. Because he knows that he hasn’t been making true progress towards becoming the kind of person his father sent him here to be. If Rean can falter, then, perhaps Elliot’s lack of progress isn’t as damning as it feels.
But it’s not Elliot that’s there to reassure Rean in his hour of need. It’s Crow. It’s Crow who helps Rean take down the suit of armor in the abandoned school building basement. It’s Crow who reassures Rean that they will all love him, and that they trust he will not hurt them.
It’s no wonder that Rean falls for him.
That night, Elliot has a strange dream.
He’s standing in Mater park, watching his sister play the piano. The skies above are as blue as Ordine’s metal coating. She finishes her song, and Elliot’s hands clap with delight. She stands from her seat and is replaced by another performer, who he recognizes as one of his friends from Alto Street. He plays a slow melody, and is replaced again by someone Elliot knows. The pattern continues, and Elliot hangs on to every note. It ends with his mother, whose graceful fingers play his favorite childhood melody. It feels like a playback of an important memory.
When she finishes the song, she does not stand up, but instead shifts her body to face him. Elliot cannot see her face, but he finds his voice, and suddenly, he’s a young boy again.
“Mother, when will I see you again?”
His mother’s mouth twists strangely and creates words, but no sound comes out. The skies above are now grey and ashen.
It’s the first day of the school festival when Crow invites Elliot to join him and Rean in the Stella Garden. Elliot feels a wave of panic surge over him and declines.
“I couldn’t—I mean, don’t the tickets only work for two people? And wouldn’t I be interrupting? It’s Stella Garden, after all.” The implications are clear.
“Elliot,” Crow says, placing a reassuring hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder. “You wouldn’t be interrupting anything. Really. Rean wouldn’t have asked me to invite you if he didn’t want you to come. Besides,” Crow continues, “They’ll take one look at your cute face and decide that you deserve a free pass. And no one can say no to Rean, after all. I’m sure Rean is gathering extra tickets right now just in case.”
Elliot can’t. He can’t be there. Can’t bear to see the relaxed expression reserved for Crow on Rean’s face. “I’m sorry. I promised my sister I’d show her around, and she’s going to arrive soon.” Not exactly a lie, but he would still have enough time to go to the garden with them and greet Fiona and his father on time too.
“Hey, it’s alright! I get it. Well, if you change your mind later, I’m sure our favorite leader will find the time for you later. I’m sure he’s thought of this possibility too.”
Elliot swallows hard, pushing down uncomfortable feelings. “Thanks, Crow. I appreciate it. Just remember not to cause any trouble while you’re there.”
“You and Rean! Always assuming the worst out of me. I’m so sad,” Crow says with exaggerated melodrama. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t dare cause any trouble today. But maybe tomorrow. And the next day after that.”
Elliot finds letters in his mailbox the next day. One is from his sister, and the other is from his father.
It’s easy to predict what’s going to be in his sister’s letter. Some condolences, some words from his friends at the music academy. Maybe even a request to come home for a short while.
His father is harder to predict. Their relationship appears normal only on the most surface level. Elliot loves his father deeply of course, but also resents him inwardly. Olaf Craig is a military man in every sense of the word: he does what needs to be done and says what needs to be said, no matter how cruel it is. It’s why his son was sent to Thors against his will—not to become a military man or to lose his passion for music, but to gain some resolve. He had seen what Elliot knew he lacked. The red haired boy knows that any deep seated grudges against his father for what he’s done is long gone and has been replaced by a hatred for his own weakness. Elliot thinks he knows what his father will say.
He doesn’t read either of the letters.
Elliot considers Crow a puzzle, one he cannot solve.
Like a song that changes time signatures, he switches beats when it suits him best. Some days it’s impossible to even narrow him down to words. Today he’ll be playing hooky and tomorrow he’ll be taking charge of leading the injured miners out of the caves.
Crow’s voice is a strange sound. It’s nice to listen to, like a pleasant breeze. Similar to how Gaius can read the wind, Elliot can read a person’s sounds. But sometimes Crow sounds unusual. He should not sound like he wears happiness to cover his pain.
Crow is a man who commits selfish acts with equal selflessness. Rean had believed that upon hearing his story, his actions were inevitable. Incredibly selfish and entirely the result of Crow’s choices, but inevitable. Elliot believes himself to be a kind person, but he knows otherwise about Crow. He knows Crow’s last words were not just for them, but for himself. A reassurance that they would move on without him.
“You’re still working on that? Sheesh, if you applied that energy to the books you’d give Emma and maybe even Machias a good run for their mira.”
“Shush. I’m trying to focus.”
“There’s no need to put that much effort into every single note. I’m pretty sure half the class is going to be improvising at some point during the performance, they’re all begin—please don’t look at me like that. It’s too scary on you.”
“Mmm. I thought so.”
“Go to bed, Elliot. I know the date’s getting close, but we’ve still got time. We’re gonna need you tomorrow, especially if—if something happens tomorrow. Plus, these beds feel great. Damn. Can’t believe Alisa would leave this behind for the Thors’ beds.”
A contented sigh. “This is almost perfect. The only thing missing is a cute musician to snuggle with.”
“Are you asking me to share a bed with you?”
A laugh, then a yawn. “You’ll have to try a little harder than that. Well, I suppose you’re right about going to bed. Good night, Crow.”
“...Good night, Elliot.”
Elliot hates Crow. He hates Crow for breaking Rean’s heart, for betraying them all, for breaking all their hearts and leaving a piece of them incomplete.
But he is weak. He is weak because he forgives Crow.
He is weak, because a very large part of him loves Crow too.
The funeral is a small, solemn affair. Thanks to the nature of Crow’s involvement in the war, only select individuals were permitted to attend under the watchful eye of the Ironbloods.
Most of the Thors’ faculty comes, but not all of the students, only those aboard the Courageous. Elliot feels numb when he realizes he hadn’t expected them to all come.
It feels like a strange, heavy burden that Elliot is one of the chosen to carry the last of Crow’s true self in his memory.
Most of class VII have already been sobbing or are still crying. Only Millium’s face is completely dry, but her face is expressionless.
Rean’s face is warped in pain, his eyes red, but he isn’t crying.
Elliot moves like a machine, letting himself get escorted to a black vehicle. Rare clarity comes to him when he realizes who he is sitting next to. Millium. Elliot had assumed that she would be sitting next to Lechter or Claire, but it seems like she’s chosen to stay with Class VII.
“I feel so out of place,” Millium admits, upsetting the silence of the car. “Everyone’s crying and all, but my face is totally dry. Is that normal?”
Elliot squeezes her hand assuringly. “Don’t force yourself. We know you’re grieving in your own way.”
Millium squeezes his hand back so hard it hurts. “Thanks, Elliot. It’s just—I dunno. I’m sad, but we’ve already lost him already, haven’t we?”
Elliot’s heart stings. We’ve already lost him. “Yeah, I guess we did. It’s just time to say goodbye.”
“Oh,” Millium lets out, strangely soft for such a hyperactive girl. “Goodbye, huh?”
The rest of the ride is silent. They arrive at the outskirts of Heimdallr cemetery, and it’s then that Elliot realizes what the strange feeling he’s had this whole time is. It’s the same feeling he had when his mother was buried years ago.
A priest sends a prayer to the goddess. Behind Elliot, he feels Gaius’ hands supporting his shoulders. Or perhaps it is the other way around. The noon bell at Heimdallr cathedral tolls a loud, rich sound. It saves no one.
A man in a black suit picks up a shovel, and beside him, Rean splits like a dam, finally letting out a torrent of sobs that Elliot will never forget. The first shovelful of dirt covers Crow’s casket, and Elliot lets a small part of himself get buried too.
Two days later, Rean is sent out to Crossbell. The days bleed into months until their graduation, and slowly but surely, the rift in their hearts turns into years.
The distance between them grows, and slowly, Rean’s back fades from his vision.
Watching everyone’s back is like second nature to Elliot. He’s not a fighter, preferring to cast arts from the back. That sometimes presents problems, however. Rean is like the wind, whipping back and forth across the field, sometimes too far out of casting distance.
“Rean,” Elliot sighs, raising his staff to cast Tearal on the black-haired teen before him. “You did it again. Please, stop moving so far ahead of us. It makes it difficult for you to stay in breath range.”
Rean laughs nervously, sheathing his katana from the previous battle. “Sorry, Elliot. It’s just—when I’m at the front, I focus on the battle even more, but I forget where I am with respect to everyone else—does that make sense?”
It’s fine. When you’re at the front, I can watch you from behind. I’ll protect you, and I know you’ll always protect me.
Elliot sighs again, but this time with less exasperation. “It’s fine,” he replies, watching the water magic seep into Rean, stitching up his skin. “I just don’t like seeing you get hurt.”
Rean looks even more apologetic at that. “I’m sorry, Elliot,” he apologizes again.
You’re always looking ahead, Rean. I’ve always admired that. I’m fine watching your back, but is that enough?
“I’ll always have your back, Rean. But please, stay where I can see you, okay?”
“Of course. You too, Elliot.”