yours the only face

“Congratulations,” Bastien tells him, when he emerges from the final hallway. “You did well.” He is smiling as he says this — that same serene look that has always been his, and will always be his first. Frau looks at him and resists the urge to scuff his toes against the ground like a kid.

“Yeah,” he says. “Guess I did.”

+++

Their graduating class is small: there’s only six of them left of the seventeen candidates who went in. His partner is one of them, already deep in conversation with the proctoring Bishop. The light glints sharply off his glasses, obscuring his eyes, and his expression is serious as always. It doesn’t even surprise Frau that he passed — it was an inevitable thing, from the moment they split up. Frau considers kicking him, because the bastard’s absolutely one hundred percent composed — there’s not a single hair out of place, like facing his final trial had been nothing at all. It pisses him off.

Not that he’s bent out of shape or anything. Of course not. He’s just tired because he’s been awake since dawn, running around and blasting Kor and trying to remember the answers to a hundred stupid questions on church dogma. There’s nothing more to it than that, no catch like maybe he’d seen something to disturb him during the course of the test, nothing that could rattle his cool–

(“Of course they won’t come for you,” said the thing with Bastien’s calm smile and deep voice. “You’re not worth anything to them — you abandoned them by living.”)

The impulse for violence dies away into a sullen glow. He says nothing to anyone on his way out.

+++

Naturally, Bastien finds him. Frau tells himself it’s because he wanted to be found: this is Bastien’s favorite part of the garden, where the tallest and oldest of trees stand tall together. It’s only to be expected; he’s lucky he had a whole ten minutes to himself. He stabs a stick into the ground and drags furrows in the rain-damp earth and doesn’t look at Bastien’s feet, standing patiently at the edge of his peripheral vision.

“When I passed,” Bastien says finally, “I had to face the head matron of my boarding-school.”

Frau tugs the line into a curve and stabs two deep holes for eyes. It’ll be that stuffy partner of his, he thinks, squinty-eyed without those omnipresent glasses.

“She died during my last year there,” Bastien says. He sounds more thoughtful than upset, but that memory is years-old for him, not hours-fresh. “An illness of some sort. Rather unpleasant. She didn’t like me much, I wouldn’t be surprised if she died cursing me.”

The stick snaps in Frau’s hands. Silent, he begins picking shreds of bark from the broken edges with his fingernails. From the corner of one eye, he sees Bastien’s feet move closer. There’s a rustle, and suddenly there’s Bastien’s knees and then Bastien’s face, with that lopsided serene smile that Frau is pretty sure he hates more often than he doesn’t. He looks away first.

“None of us are perfect,” says Bastien. It’s like the bastard doesn’t care that he’s being ignored. “The fact that you passed, though, means that you’ve at least accepted your own darkness.” His voice grows quiet, reflective; Frau glances up briefly and sees that Bastien is looking off into the distance now, gone contemplative with his own memories. “Any man can use zaiphon if the talent is within him. But in order to follow the Bishop’s road, you must go beyond that. You cannot save another person from darkness without knowing your own.” And then he turns his head, looking at Frau again. “Which you have. You know what its face is.”

(“You only lived because it wasn’t worth killing you. Who wants to put that much effort into a brat that won’t amount to anything?”)

“Maybe,” he says. If his voice drops to a mutter and he pulls more tightly in on himself, that’s nothing, he’s just tired — he’s actually pretty damn exhaust–

Bastien’s fist comes down hard on the top of his head; he sees stars for a moment. “Ow, the fuck–”

“Language,” Bastien chides. He stands and looks down at Frau, and only in that moment he looks impossibly tall, impossibly good, all the things Frau knows he will never be. There is sunlight filtering through the trees, and it frames his dark head like a halo. He holds out his hand. “On your feet, Bishop Frau. You have work to do.”

Frau stabs down with the broken stick. Almost viciously, he digs in, until his fingers ache from holding on too tightly. “We’re going in different directions,” he says. “Aren’t you tired of this? I’m sick of it, I want none of it–”

It was your face, he doesn’t say, it was your face and your voice, you’re the darkest part of me–

–which was ridiculous, because this was Bishop Bastien, fast on the track to Archbishop, who cared enough to pay attention to a rescued brat to raise him to something that could actually matter, in the eyes of others who weren’t long-dead–

–and he tips his head back until his neck strains. Bastien’s expression is still quiet; Frau’s outburst hasn’t changed anything. He’s not surprised. Now tired, he reaches up and takes Bastien’s hand and lets it pull him up — first to his feet and then, unexpectedly, into a hug. The man smells like dust and dirt, nothing overly special, but his chest is broad and his arms are warm. Frau bristles at once: he’s too old for this, he’s not a kid any more, Bastien himself just acknowledged his new role as Bishop Frau

“Beloved child,” Bastien says warmly, “I’m glad to see you on the next step of your great journey.”

Frau pauses. He swallows. He lifts his hands and rests them on Bastien’s back, and wonders if he’ll be this tall, someday. Which doesn’t mean he’s a kid still, but if there’s room to grow, he’d be this tall, he thinks, and he’d be someone for kids to climb on, just like he did once upon a time to this man–

“Come back inside,” says Bastien, and lets go. “The ceremony is waiting.”

+++

“Do you think Bastien-sama knew before — everything?” Teito asks once, as the world around them blurs past; Capella is dozing and there’s nothing else but wind and silence between them. “About you being–”

Frau shrugs. He doesn’t look back; he keeps his eyes focused straight ahead. There are still long hours between now and when they can stop for the night. “I never asked,” he says. “Neither did he.”

At his back, Teito says nothing more, but still presses closer, a small bright spark of warmth against him as the world rolls on.

+++

“I’m glad,” Frau says later. It’s honest as he knows he’ll ever be, and he doesn’t even feel ashamed. He closes his eyes and turns his face to the sun and breathes in deep. The world smells bright green. “I’m glad.”

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