Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Cyrin usually felt better after dramatically jumping off a roof. So it was another reminder that there were too many problems going on when it didn’t help.
He rolled into the hallway as the window crashed around him, covering his head against the broken glass. Brushing himself off as he got to his feet quickly, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure Pia wasn’t about to follow. He doubted she would be able to, but it was worth being safe. He hadn’t been expecting her to show at all.
With a deep breath that he released as a sigh— now at a normal, non-amplified volume— he backed away from the broken window.
He spun around at the sound of Clarity’s voice, sounding faint and breathless. She was down the hall, leaning against a wall with her hands pressed firmly against it, her shoulders rising and falling as she gasped for breath. Cyrin moved over to her, slowly at first, then faster as he got more concerned, until he was running by the point that he joined her. He could read the exhaustion in her face more clearly now, and her eyes were watering.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her like this, if he'd seen her like this before at all, and a chill went down his spine.
“Clarity?” he whispered, putting a hand on her back to steady her. “What’s wrong? Why are you here?”
She leaned back against him, closing her eyes. “It’s just— I just… just need…”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Cyrin said softly, carefully lowering her to sit on the ground and wrapping his arms around her from behind. “I’m here. Let’s just take a moment, okay?”
Clarity shook her head, groaning weakly. “No, you’ve got to get in there. There’s—” She let out another gasp, and Cyrin could hear the pain in it.
“I’m not leaving you just yet,” they murmured, thinking fast. “Do you feel sick?”
Barely, she nodded, keeping her eyes closed as her face contorted.
“I’d say it’s your Hollow,” Cyrin said, releasing one arm from her so they could reach out. “Your symptoms about match it. But I can’t feel any Rationale nearby.” The snake on the roof could have theoretically been the culprit, but the magic was old enough that he couldn’t feel it anymore.
“No, it’s not that,” Clarity muttered, but they couldn’t really listen.
“There’s Salve nearby, though, and there’s something… strange about it.” Cyrin furrowed their brow, trying to sense it better. It felt like… there was something wrong from the spell, and it pulled at their senses in a bad way. There was a sickening aura about it, even to them. “Are you sure your Hollow isn’t to blame? It really looks like it to me—”
“Not that. Not—” Clarity swallowed, opening her eyes as she shook her head, and they could tell she was having trouble answering for more reasons than just her condition. “It’s not Rationale.”
Cyrin didn’t understand what she meant for a few moments— of course there wasn’t Rationale, because if they couldn’t feel it, it shouldn’t be affecting her anymore. But one thought led to another. If Clarity was sick from her Hollow, but there wasn’t any Rationale nearby, and the only other magic nearby was Salve, then…
Cyrin’s focus shifted from the hallway to her face.
“What?” they asked quietly.
“My Hollow’s not Rationale. It never has been.” Clarity shifted in their arms, her head falling against their collarbone. “It’s Salve.”
Cyrin didn’t know how to respond from the way her words sent his thoughts flying. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense. And yet, some thoughts were sticking in his mind better than others, able to be pinned down and explain it all.
How come you never offer to heal us? He’d asked the very question a few days ago, which felt like an eternity away now.
“I’ve never seen you use Salve,” he said quietly, after a long moment. “You never used it on yourself, or Mireya and I when we were in need of healing. You always said it was because I was a magic purist and would freak out over Keravara magic being used for Salve healing, which is true, but… that wasn’t your reason why.”
“No,” Clarity confessed weakly, her eyes filling up with tears again. “That wasn’t it.”
“Was there really Rationale when I thought I felt it up there on the roof the last time we were there together? For any other time I thought I noticed it around you?” There was something clogging the words in his throat, making them come out choked. “Were you just using it in secret?”
Clarity swallowed, closing her eyes again, and that was enough of an answer for him.
“Why?” he demanded in a whisper.
“Why did I lie about what my Hollow was, or why was I using Rationale?” Clarity said the words through a shuddering breath.
“Both. I need to know both.”
“They’re intertwined.” Clarity took a deep breath. “Remember when you first joined Sparrow, how you spent a lot of time around Mireya and I? You were upset, closed off, didn’t want to trust anyone there.”
Cyrin really felt like he should be shaking his head slowly for what she was saying and where it seemed to be going, but he nodded after a long pause.
“Sparrow’s always been intent on keeping you around,” Clarity said weakly. “You know about that already. In those early days, he wanted to make sure that you’d stay, so he tasked me with earning your trust. It wasn’t enough that I try to get close to you, though.” She shook her head, looking away from him. “He wanted me to use Rationale on you, regularly, so that it would work better over time. He was having me manipulate you into closeness.”
Cyrin couldn’t find the air in their lungs, or the thought to take another breath. Just a tightness in their chest, getting worse with every moment.
“You were using…?” they started to say.
They’d only be repeating after her, but they still couldn’t get out the words past the choked feeling.
“Is that all?” he asked quietly.
“It’s not.” Clarity’s face was starting to gleam bright with streaks of tears, and even now, they wanted to wipe them away, but they couldn’t find a way to move. “I never felt good about it for a moment, but it worked. You did get closer to me, you opened up more, and you started doing the same with Mireya too. It was the start of us as a team. That would have been all Sparrow asked for, because you were less likely to leave if you had us here. But—” She broke off on a soft sob. “I didn’t stop there.”
Cyrin could feel the blood in their veins freezing. “What?”
“I fucked up, okay? At some point of getting to know you through that process, I fucked up and started to fall in love with you.” Clarity wiped her eyes. “You know about that.”
“I know,” they said quietly, but it wasn’t where their thoughts were going. There was a sneaking feeling creeping out from the back of their mind that they were about to hear something very, very bad.
“But you weren’t reciprocating. I now know it’s because you’re aromantic, and that it wasn’t your fault or mine in any way, but I didn’t then and it bothered me at the time. It bothered me so, so much.” Clarity had to take a long pause to gather her breath, and the sinking feeling in their chest got worse. “And somewhere I got the thought, if I had made you trust me with magic, could I make you fall in love with me with magic? Once I thought of it, I… I couldn’t help but try.”
Cyrin pressed their lips together, feeling a burning sensation in their eyes and their jaw as they turned their head away. They could feel the pain in their heart, crushing up in their chest even as it raced faster.
She might as well have stabbed him with an invisible knife. It would hurt less.
“It was like a new experiment, except I couldn’t get enough of it.” Clarity’s words were rushing out now, like a broken dam that she couldn’t hold back anymore. “It wasn’t that hard to make you think and feel like you loved me. The difficult part was covering up my tracks through spell after spell, and I ended up lying to you and Mireya that Rationale was my Hollow so that neither of you would think I was doing something with it. I only ever used Rationale on Mireya once to make her forget the time when I was told her before that it was Salve.” She wiped her eyes again. “I knew I was getting myself in too deep, even at the time. All I wanted back then was for you to love me, even if it wasn’t truly real—”
“I did love you.” Cyrin surprised even himself with how flat his words were. “It just wasn’t in a currency that you would’ve accepted.”
“I know,” Clarity whispered. “I learned to be fine with that, and that’s why I stopped using it for that purpose. I started seeing you confused, always in some crisis with your feelings, and I didn’t want it anymore. Not that badly. Not at your expense.”
Cyrin felt a teardrop burning his cheek. “Clarity, how much of us was a lie? How much of us is a lie?”
“I don’t even know.” She choked on a sob. “I don’t even know.”
“I was confused, panicked that I was doing something wrong, losing sleep over not having the right feelings.” He didn’t want to be speaking to her with this much bitterness in his voice, but he didn’t know how to chase it out of his words, not when it was the first thing to come out of the crack in his heart. “Because you decided to be selfish and play with how I felt for two years until I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
“I’m sorry.” Clarity squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s not going to mean a thing to you, and I don’t need it to, but I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
It didn’t mean anything to him. It did. It hurt even more that it still did.
A thought returned to him through the aching. “What about that night on the roof? What were you using it for then?”
“To make you more easily persuadable about getting the First Spell.” Clarity bit her lip. “Another request of Sparrow’s.”
“What about other times?” he demanded, and she flinched slightly. He regretted it right away, but there wasn’t the space to take it back. “What else did you use it for?”
“Just to make you forget some things. It— it was rare that I had to.”
Slowly, Cyrin pushed away the curtain of blond hair from her neck until the mark on the back of her neck was revealed. A simple, dark shape of a shield.
“Yeah,” Clarity said with a shaky nod. “Mostly that. You kept finding it.”
“You’re Oathbound,” Cyrin said quietly. “Like me. Who is it to?”
Clarity met their gaze again, blinking away tears. “I wouldn’t betray you to just anyone.”
They felt their hold on her slip. “No.”
“I told you that I couldn’t just leave.” Clarity’s words had an angry bite to them now. “You know all about impossible choices that leave you broken either way. You know how Sparrow offers them to everyone.”
“No,” they repeated, and their hands were shaking now. “He made you do that?”
“You’re not getting the First Spell tonight.” Clarity’s gaze flitted to the door to Sparrow’s office. “He found out about my plan, and he made me help him tonight. I can’t do anything more for you.”
On autopilot, Cyrin slowly let go and rose without her, backing up down the hallway. They needed to get to Kasumi and Shane, if that was where they were. Pia’s diversion could have ruined everything. They stood there for a moment, watching Clarity, stuck between saying I’ll be back for you and This isn’t over.
They couldn’t decide which one to say, so they covered the sob that wanted to form in their throat with a shuddering breath and turned around, hurrying towards the door.
“Cyrin!” Clarity shouted at them, but no matter how desperate she sounded, they couldn’t look back. Cyrin shoved through the door with more force than was necessary.