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In All Reflections

From Bloom in Me


Published: August 23, 2023
Warnings: Beginnings gets a little Horny, nothing explicit; some violence, Aryl exists
Wordcount: ~6,600w

World: Fragments / Psi Timeline
Characters: Beginnings, Cradle, Clarity, Tower, Horizons

Blurb: Prompt: "Once a week the train fares me to the city, and once a week she fares me back home. There are friends I meet in boxcars and know only by face. Each of us voyagers of different beginnings and ends, all of us sharing a journey for a moment."
Best read after reading The Poison Well and It Rots, but it doesn't technically spoil either. Each scene takes place at a different timepoint in relation to those two fics.



“You’re the new one, right?”

He startles, hard, turns like an animal under a floodlight. The other Frag’s wide smile seems genuine, but it doesn’t stop his ears from pinning back. 

Their eyes widen, too, and their expression shifts from friendly to half-concerned, punctuated with a little laugh as they lift a hand. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s fine,” he peeps out. “Not startled.”

They laugh again, sounding more relieved this time. “If you insist! I was just - simply pleased to make your acquaintance, is all! Incredibly pleased. Have you a name, yet?”

A name. “Sort of.”

Their eyes sparkle in something like glee. “Care to share it? I’d love to get you something nice with it - I could have an embroidered robe by the morning. If you’re spending the night. Finest cotton across the Originals, absolutely gorgeous work. You’d look spectacular. Stunning!”

Their eyes slide down his form, appraising, undressing. No longer was he a deer held still under a light, but now some sort of meat at market, juicy and ripe, and he could perfectly picture their hand reaching out to grasp him at the waist and squeeze and-

-But their eyes snap back up to his face, and the feeling lowers to the back of his mind. 

He swallows, stare flicks to the rest of the room, as if that’d help him. The dim lights make it hard to see. It’s not like the night sky he knows, where the moon lights the desolate landscape like a beacon. It’s not like the brimming electricity of his peers’ offices, the buzzing broken only by the shuffling of papers. It’s not like the obelisk, standing tall and resolute, quiet, held in place like a tether for their world.

And he can’t see any of the others. 

There are bodies moving, but they’re not familiar. There are dressed-up mortals weaving through crowds like water, platter and tray on arms. There are strobes of colored light across the huge hall, where he can see dancing, and he can feel the energy of the room moving through the floor and the beat of the music, but it’s choking. 

Choking him.

Trapping him.

He’s trapped. And he looks back at them, trying not to tremble, and their smile widens, like they’ve realized too that he’s trapped and have taken an entirely different thought of it. 

“You don’t need to be scared,” they say, tone too eager to be soothing, “I’m sorry if I came on too strong. I just - well, you’re a special thing, aren’t you? There hasn’t been a new Fragment in the Originals since inception - if you don’t count those strange little constructs people keep making.” they wriggle their fingers. “Nu’s thing. Qwerty, of Pi. Have you heard of-”


They both turn to Tower. He’s emerged from the crowd at almost random, tail flicking, a hand raised and lightly closed, smile not reaching his eyes but stretched all the same. His halo, sparkling, casts him in a menacing light.

“Aryl!” he repeats, the venom gone for now, “There you are! You know the dancefloor is begging for your return, no?”

“Tower,” they say, and laugh behind a hand, “dancing can wait, I was just - well, your timing is-”

“My timing?” Tower echoes, hand moving to drape over his chest in mock surprise. “Why, I wasn’t timing anything - just looking for my little friend here. You’ve kept him captive quite well with your barrage of questions!”

Aryl laughs, again, but this time it’s more nervous. “You understand my curiosity-”

“-Yes, yes, well I must insist on taking him under my wing again,” Tower says, and moves a foot between them, a wing indeed wrapping around him like a blanket. It smothers the noise of the party and he half-leans into it. “I just thought you’d like to know I just spotted Zirconia slipping in right after Czenete, in their usual formation. He’s up by your little fish bar.”

Aryl’s face is unreadable to him. Something like - like he knows what Tower is doing, but he can’t figure out how to call him out without Tower blowing him off. His arms are crossed, he’s almost pouting. 

“You’d better catch him before he finds an excuse to return to Beta,” Tower says, and they all know it’s a threat this time.

“I’ll let you two go,” Aryl says, and it doesn’t sound entirely casual. He nods to Tower, then his eyes flick down and he offers a little smile. “Take care, yes? You can always come see me for anything. I’d love-”

“-Enjoy!” Tower says, other wing batting Aryl away a foot or so as he swings around. 

Tower’s hand plants firmly on the small of his back and pushes. He stumbles, but obeys - can’t lift his head anymore, can’t meet Tower’s eyes. Should he be embarrassed that Tower had to come save him? Should he say he was sorry he’d let himself get caught up by... Aryl?

The name was familiar. It was at the top of the enormous list Horizons had conjured for him after Cradle unanimously commanded that he’d go to Eta’s party with everyone. The list of everyone’s names he had to memorize and learn and which ones he had to avoid.

Zirconia was on that list, too, actually, now that he thought about it. Not that he could remember the paragraphs of specifics Horizons had scribbled after each Fragment. 

Tower leans down, and his entire body tenses at once. The feeling of the other’s halo, reverberating next to his head, the power in the hand that lands on his shoulder - his throat chokes itself.

But Tower speaks softly. “Are you well enough?”

“Yes,” he responds, automatically. His brain churns, and decides that he speaks the truth - or close enough.

Tower makes a hm-hm noise to himself, and straightens. He turns them to the right a little, and shoves a batch of mortals aside with his spare wing. 

Through the clearing they both see Horizons, and Horizons turns to them, eyes widening, cup slamming onto the table. It sloshes, nearly spills, but they don’t care - they’ve already taken a half-step forwards but stills as Tower herds him forwards.

“You found them!” Horizons says, both hands flying up to either side of their head, and they almost look like they’re going to cry. “Holy shit. Holy fuck. I didn’t-”

“You’re welcome,” Tower cuts in, preening. “Don’t lose them next time.”

“I didn’t-” Horizons lets out a hiss of a huff. “Whatever. Go be - whatever. Beginnings, are you okay?”

Their face is concerned. Not gentle, but concerned. He manages a half-nod, and they exhale and relax their shoulders all in one motion. Both hands land on his shoulders, and it’s not the tight grip of Tower, but still has an authority he instinctually tilts towards. 

“I’m so sorry,” Horizons says. They’re too distracted to notice Tower sidestepping them both to pluck Horizons’ cup and give it a testing sip. “I shouldn’t have let - fuck. I turned my back for two seconds-”

“It’s okay,” he says, automatically again, but it is. His stare keeps flicking to Tower, who tilts the cup to drink the rest of it. “I’m okay.”

“Good. Did Aryl-?” they turn to Tower, and squawk at the sight of the empty cup and Tower’s grin. “Hey!”

Tower gives a one-armed shrug. “Aryl didn’t touch him, no. Had him cornered, but didn’t get much further than trying to charm him. You can imagine how that went. Where’s Clarity?”

“He also went to look,” Horizons says, huffing as they pick up the cup, peer into it. “I was going to finish that. Asshole.”

“Then I’ll go get you another,” Tower says, and winks, and disappears before Horizons can muster a protest. 

They let out a sucked-teeth exhale again, set the cup down. Head goes into hands for a brief second, pushes their glasses up - before they right themself, turn back to Beginnings with concern. 

“Do you want something to drink?” they offer, a little awkwardly. “I’m sorry. I really should - I just wasn’t expecting Cradle to ask us to take you, I’m not used to - I mean -”

“Why are we here?” he asks, quietly.

“Uh,” Horizons blinks, “it’s - it’s a party. We’re here to have fun. Or, whatever stars-damned approximation of fun Aryl thinks we should have. Usually that involves -”

“Why did Cradle ask you to take me?” 

Horizons’ jaw snaps shut. Their face contorts - they don’t want to answer this - but they manage, “He wants you to have fun, too. He wants all of us to have fun.”

“I don’t see how this is fun. I’d rather stay home. In Psi.”

“Well, you don’t have to come next time if you don’t want,” Horizons says, between concern and surprise, a hand lifted to their chin, “If Cradle tells you to go, you can tell him you aren’t going. You’re - you don’t have to obey him blindly.”

The thought sends a jolt through his chest, down into his stomach. It churns with anxiety, a swell of it that he struggles to swallow down without trembling. Horizons’ hand splays across his upper back, trying to be comforting. After a second, though, he breathes in and the feeling is passed. 

“It’ll be okay,” Horizons says, tone low. “These parties don’t even happen that often. And Cradle will understand, I promise. He’s - he’s not like Tower. They can both be a little eccentric but he’s - it’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” he says, voice cracking.


“To think you were so nervous,” Cradle says, voice filled with the smile he’s speaking with. “No wonder you never wanted to go back.”

Beginnings glances up, arms still elbow-deep in the dough. He offers a awkward little half-smile. “Haha. Yeah.”

“I admit it’s nice to have company while the others are off,” Cradle continues, every half-phrase punctuated by the sound of the knife hitting the cutting board. “I’m not much of a drinker.”

Yeah. The image of Cradle drinking from a bottle... wrong. Repulsive, even. He shakes his head to clear the thought, and returns his smile to his face. “Neither am I, I don’t think.”

“I hope Aryl didn’t leave that impression on you with his... he can be overbearing. If you’d like to try any drinks outside of that context, Clarity has a stocked cabinet.”

“I’m good.”

Cradle chuckles as he sweeps the chopped blueberries into the bowl. “Alright. That still makes two of us, then.”

His tail wags slightly. He doesn’t blush, but the impulse occurs to him - at the idea of being able to share something with Cradle like that. Like there was a bridge between them - a walkable thing, a tangible thing. 

Footsteps echo in the bright kitchen as Cradle paces to his side to peer at the slab of dough on the counter. It’s a strange sound - normally weighed down by his crowns and jewelry, those steps are accompanied by soft clinking and a sense of grandness. But in this moment, he’s just another person.

Blasphemy, Beginnings tells himself. But he swallows it down, and looks up hopefully at Cradle.

“It’s almost ready,” he says, pulling a pinched thread of the dough free from the mass between two fingers. “You’ve got a talent in this, I think. Not exhausted?”

“Nope,” Beginnings says. It’s true, even. 

Cradle smiles at him. Sometimes, his smiles are serene, gentle, holy, half-lidded - above it all, the smile of a god to his people. But here, his smile has wide sparkling eyes and dimples and stretches across his face and reaches his eyes. 

He can’t stare at it for long - it stirs something up in him, and he ducks his head. Cradle lets out another soft laugh, amused, and steps back to the blueberries, and picks up his pristine knife again. 

A comfortable silence settles over them. There are birds outside, roosting on the flagpoles of the obelisk, and their soft sounds fill the air between the snap of the knife-to-board and the smack of the dough as he kneads it. 

It’s a wonderful sound, he thinks to himself. It’s life, isn’t it? Life and birth, existence and creation. Even here, in the poison well, it’s life. There are bird outside, and they are singing. 


His stomach churns, mind twists to thoughts of the party. Of the suffocating atmosphere of that room in Eta, of the smell of people and alcohol and drugs and smoke and the pressing of bodies against one another. 

He looks out the window, to the soft night outside. The full moon glitters against the garbage ocean, the stars dancing along its great waters. It was dark here, too, but dark in a different way. In a quieter way, like a tired world at rest, with no hidden daggers, no choking incense.

With a pause, he tilts his head, and conjures a quiet apology to Aryl. He doesn’t mean to treat Eta as others dismiss Psi. It’s just - he can’t fathom how anyone could stand that place. 

He wants to cling here. To Psi. Dunk himself in its water and its people forever. Why would he want anything else? This was his home, his identity. He had to wrap his arms around tightly and not let go.

“What are you thinking about?” Cradle asks, gentle, curious.

He half-turns, but he still can’t muster the courage to meet Cradle’s eyes. “Uh. Eta, I guess.”

“I surmise that it left a poor impression on you.”

“It... did.” he swallows, trying to refocus on the way he moves his arms, on the sensation of his rolled-up sleeves. “It feels mean to think that. Like I’m doing what other people do to Psi.”

“Having a preference is no bad thing,” Cradle says.

He doesn’t respond. Objectively, he understands that, but - people still use it as an excuse to bite at Psi. It’s the top of the slide to that kind of thinking, isn’t it? 

He glances up. Cradle’s head is tilted, appraising him. His ears pin back - mostly from embarrassment. Cradle isn’t stupid, of course. He knows that Beginnings isn’t convinced.

But where Tower would press, Cradle instead asks, “Have you seen the new hospital yet? It was finished early last week. Though I think we had the opening ceremony when you and Horizons were out at sea....”

His ears perk back up. “Oh! Yeah! It’s really nice. I can’t believe how big it is.”

Cradle’s smile returns. “Yes. Clarity did an excellent job as head of development. He was running around quite haphazardly near the end there.”

“I remember,” Beginnings says, distantly, “it was, um, they found some nysil right? Growing in the walls.”

“Oh yes. It was safely relocated, but it put a damper on construction.” Cradle chuckles. “He had to evacuate the entire city block while the mages dug up the source. Clarity couldn’t believe his misfortune.”

Yeah. He could see in his mind’s eye the deserted street, the empty houses, the skeleton of the hospital against the stars and moon, a thing of steel and teeth. Blitzes of magic rose from its superstructure now and again, and he’d sat there across the way on a bench watching, feeling uncertain and useless all the same.

He remembered Clarity walking past, levitating a flurry of papers to his left, half-listening to someone at his right talking a mile a minute, glancing occasionally to the hospital. He’d looked stressed, exhausted, but he still carried that mantle of authority he wore so well. 

It was hard not to be jealous. It was hard not to leap to his feet and ask Clarity, what can I do to help? It was hard not to simply instinctually obey whatever he thought Clarity wanted.

But he’d sat there on that bench, and Clarity passed him, and he remained a wallflower. 

“He’s begun preliminary surveys for a school building near Shoreway,” Cradle says.

Beginnings’ ears rotate to him, and he steps back from the dough. “In Shoreway?”

“Mmhm. It’s why I insisted he go on a little vacation before work really begins. They’re going to give him a run for his money.” a light laugh. 

“Is he going to have to put it far away from the town? Are they really going to let him build in the city itself? I thought....”

“There’s a few loopholes he’s willing to pull,” Cradle says, procuring a rolling pin. Beginnings reaches for it, and he hands it over - though not without a hint of surprise in his face. “You’d like to?”

“...If it’s ok,” he manages, wide-eyed.

Cradle’s smile widens. “Of course,” and the pin is relinquished. 

Beginnings sets to work. It’s not all too different from kneading, takes just as much effort, really. Presses down hard on the pin and pushes, and back-forth-back-forth over and over. A repetitive, soothing motion.

It takes him several repetitions to notice the way Cradle is staring at his hands. 

There’s a glimmer in their eyes, a sparkle. It’s unfamiliar on his serene face, and Beginnings freezes from the uncertainty of it before his mind supplies the proper reading: keen interest. Keen interest, boxed in by one of Cradle’s hands laying flat on the counter and the other crossed into his elbow and tapping, like he’s waiting in anticipation.

Cradle’s eyes flick to meet his as the pause lasts longer than it should. A breathless second holds itself in the air. 

Then Cradle averts his head, smile now small and - and sheepish? - soft white fur tinted gentle pink. Embarrassed? He’s embarrassed? About - about what?

“Sorry to have made you uncomfortable,” he says, in his serene, divine voice, “I was just - enraptured by your hands.”

“E-enraptured by my hands?” Beginnings manages. 

“You have wonderful hands,” and Cradle turns back to him, gesturing towards him, “and the way you work is-”

He cuts himself off. His eyes almost bore into Beginnings, like he’s - like he’s searching for approval. Cradle? Searching for approval? From him?

He must be misreading something. He didn’t know Cradle that well yet, after all. They’d barely talked, right? Barely saw anything of each other, right? Just passing smiles in the group of all of Psi’s Fragments. 

Beginnings holds that stare.

Or did Cradle see him for who he was? For what he was? Did Cradle sense the magic brimming under his skin, the concepts emanating from his soul? Could he read them as easily as a book? 

Is that why they never handed him off to the COR? Had he known the entire time Beginnings’ true identity?

Cradle’s cheeks are pink. He’s blushing. 


No, Beginnings tells himself, before the thought completes. That’s not right.

But the little snake in his mind continues, unperturbed. Cradle is blushing, it says, little snakish tongue flicking out and reminding him of Horizons. You’re not an idiot, are you?

Cradle is attracted to. His hands. The way he’s moving them? The way he’s - working?

Almost out of body, almost uncomprehending, he rolls the pin. Cradle’s eyes snap to it, then back to his face when he stops. 

He’s not just attracted. He really is enraptured.

And, and weirdly enough, the very idea is... making his gut flutter, in response? He rolls the pin, again, harder, and keeps rolling, and his stomach flips when it instantly catches Cradle’s attention again.

Here he is. The lowly mouth and hands of Psi, basking in the presence of its angel, and entertaining him with the simple act of pressing dough flat. 

It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s different from the way Aryl stared at him. Stared at him, at him like he was a dressed-up mannequin lashed in skimpy fabrics and alluring gems. Staring at him like he was, at the same time superimposed, a particularly delicious and innocent cut of meat. 

But Cradle’s different. There’s almost - he doesn’t want to call it innocent, because it isn’t. It isn’t innocent like he was. They both know what the blush is from. But it’s more subdued, more personal. Cradle wouldn’t look this way at just anyone.

Ah. Holy fuck. Cradle wouldn’t look this way at just anyone. He was looking at Beginnings because he was. Because he was. Because he was-

His brain can’t even comprehend it. 

Their angel. Their beautiful, holy angel, the source of all Psi’s stability, the light keeping their Timeline together, communer with its heart, mage with no equal, guided by unending patience, laden with eternal kindness, the moon in all its phases, the jewel of their quiet religion.

That angel is looking at him like he’s the most wonderful thing in existence. 

“I think it’s flat enough,” Cradle says, and looks away, and he almost sounds disappointed, with his beautiful eyes half-lidded and a quiet smile.

Beginnings looks down. The dough has been flattened, barely above too thin to bake properly. He sheepishly removes the pin and steps back, suddenly plagued with uncertainty. 

What could he even follow up that moment with? What things could he say or think? It was like something precious slipped through his fingers as sand, gone before he could think to grasp it. 

His instinct is to return to the dough and slam the pin back into it, say fuck it to sense. But that’s astronomically stupid.

“They’re going to love this pie,” Cradle says, voice filled with affection. “Especially knowing you helped. You know that, don’t you?”

Beginnings looks to him. “I. I’m glad.”

“I appreciate you being here,” Cradle says, the color still spread over his face. “I’m grateful you took my invitation. We should have more little moments like this.”

Does he mean the whole visit, or just the last moment? That was a question that, in his gut, Beginnings feared the answer to. He swallowed, and only managed, “Yeah. I’d like that.”

Cradle reaches. His hand alights, gently, on Beginnings’ clutching the pin. He opens his mouth, but then doesn’t speak.

He’s lost for words. Cradle, of all people, is lost for words. 

Beginnings’ other hand snakes up before he can stop himself. It grips Cradle’s, tightly, holds it against his. It’s asking a question, quietly, in a way that he can only ask through touch. 

Cradle smiles. Cradle looks relieved. And Cradle squeezes his hand back, and steps a step closer, and there’s suddenly nothing between them.

His hand moves again, the cursed thing, without a modicum of thought in his head. It finds Cradle’s thin waist, under the layers of clothes, and pulls him in tight, presses their warm bodies against one another.

This is blasphemy, his mind hisses to itself. Cradle will level unto you a most disgraceful frown. 

But would it really be so bad, if Cradle knew what he really was? If Cradle saw his Timeline’s hand wrap an arm around him and hold him close?

He startles, hard, when Cradle’s arms slip around him and pull him in even tighter. It’s - it’s close, almost suffocating, but incredible at the same time. 

He can feel the other’s bones pressing into him, the shape of his ribs and his sternum, the cushioning of his thighs, the tempo of his chest’s breathing, the grip of fingers in Beginnings’ shirt, the sheltering of his head against Cradle’s chest. It all coalesces; his mind once again thinks a sinful conclusion.

Up this close, body to body, Cradle is just a person.

A person he actually really really really wants to touch. It’s actually fire under his skin, now. He wants to - to push Cradle against the counter, hands at the edges of his clothes, mouth to mouth, and-

The oven beeps.

They both startle. He can feel Cradle’s breathing quicken, then still as they both stare at the oven in unison and recognition replaces the fear. 

Fear? Cradle? Fear. Cradle. Beginnings squeezes - trying - trying to be comforting. 

Cradle lets out a laugh. It’s light, airy, gentle, just like him. “We didn’t finish making the filling.”

Beginnings looks up at him. His tail wags - just a bit. “It’s okay. I’ll help you.”

Cradle’s grin is radiant. “I’d love that.”



He loves being on stupid boats.

It sways underneath him, in soft rolls as they drift through the listless swamp. Gentle fairy lights strung across its sides cast blips of color against the black water, illuminates bits and bobs of trash and algae both as they glide past. Great roots of trees and their boughs bode in the darkness as bastions of shadows, and the ship dutifully slinks underneath their reaching branches.

It’s not the open ocean of Psi, littered with garbage stolen from other Timelines. No, these are its musty and deep swamps, pockmarking the coastline as the ever-encroaching poison well gorges on the grass and trees and land.

But on the wind he can catch the scent of the mold, and the taste of the depths, and the deep and dark and familiar place he had been born out of all that time ago.

The only unfamiliar thing is the chatter, of course.

Mortals pass by him, hands full of clipboards or crates or rope, murmuring to one another, reminding each other of their orders. The older ones don’t glance his way as they walk, polite enough to ignore him - their focus is on their job, not him.

The younger ones, though - they can’t help but stare, undisciplined, uncertain, unfamiliar. 

Part of it digs under his skin a little. Isn’t his face recognizable enough by now? Can’t they recall him standing at Horizons’ side when they cut the ribbon in front of the infant school building, clapping?

But he doesn’t say anything. He takes a little breather, and lets the frustration and confusion go. It oozes out of him like sludge, and he can picture it dripping into the swamp and the putrid water of Psi, one and the same.

Instead, he watches as the poles go up in the bayou, thin and elegant slices of metal hoisted by teams of mortals knee-deep in the murk, faces contorted by effort.

The energy in the air is too palpable to call upon the swift work of mages, and so they must dig their heels in and pull as one, splattered in mud and straining with sweat. They heave in unison, to a great cry. 

In a word, he supposed it was admirable.

“People-watching?” comes the quiet voice from behind Beginnings.

He turns his head, lets a smile emerge on his face at the sight of Clarity’s lidded eyes. His shoulders are still rigid, in authority around his soldiers, but Beginnings can see the exhaustion tugging at his pretty features. 

“It’s interesting,” Beginnings says, offering a sheepish smile. “Seeing them work.”

“You’re always free to come out here more often,” Clarity says, as he steps up beside Beginnings and pats the edge of his yacht. “I’d welcome it.”

“That’s tempting. I’d like that, I think. I just worry I’d get in all your... yours... everyone’s way.”

Clarity’s expression doesn’t flicker, but there’s a pause before he speaks again. “I don’t think so.”

“Aw,” Beginnings says, “it’s okay. You don’t have to spare my feelings. I don’t have a second clue on how to order people around. I’d look silly.”

“You’d only look silly because you haven’t had practice,” Clarity says, amused. “This sort of thing is low-stakes enough, isn’t it?”

“That doesn’t sound like a joke coming from you, but it is, right?”

Clarity laughs. “It’s just a router. We mess up one of these every two weeks, I swear.”

Beginnings glances to the swamp. In the distance, over the heads of trees, are a few other poles, blinking quietly in the night. Their placement is deliberate, careful, though it seems random at first understanding. 

“Maybe I’m just scared of messing with ley lines, actually,” he says, after another minute.

“What part about them?”

Beginnings gestures, holding his hands apart to approximate a distance. “They’re just... scary. Big currents of magic? I don’t care that they’re. Whatever Horizons calls them. Big currents of magic.”

“They call them ‘the latticework our Timeline is held together by’,” Clarity says, tapping the railing with a palm. “I understand, though.”

He’s glad, honestly. The air is alive with the radiation pouring out from the invisible river, makes the fur on the back of his hands stick up a little too straight. He stares at the swamp, but he knows he can’t really see it.

He can sense it, though. The veins of Psi itself, coursing through its Core, weaving in and out and between and through, constantly in motion, constantly changing. 

They’d bore this tower into the ground and capture a line. String it up in the huge network their angel directed them to, the network he used to keep Psi stable. And Cradle would sit in his obelisk and meditate, and channel his magic through that network and soothe Psi’s needs.

He still hadn’t told anyone he could feel it. In his own blood, in his own body, every time Cradle let a breath of comfort through the ley lines. A Timeline given flesh, a Timeline cradled and pacified. 

It always helped him sleep better. 

“Did you hear?” Clarity asks, and it shakes Beginnings back to reality, “Horizons found more of those pearls in the ocean. I think they’re out there right now, even, looking still.”

“Ah, oh, those things.” Beginnings frowns. “I wish Psi had been clearer to me. I still don’t know what they are.”

“I wanted to talk to you about that, actually. I was going over some of the records Tower took from the COR; there’s some talk of ‘pearls’.”

“What? Really?”

Clarity nods. Beginnings turns to him, and is suddenly struck by how handsome he looks in the moonlight. “There’s a very small division that works for the COR regarding them. Or, maybe they’re just allies? It was unclear. Either way, they treat them as... infant Fragments. They develop into them.”

Beginnings’ muzzle scrunches. “That... I don’t know if that’s the same kind of pearl, then. The ones we were fishing up seemed... a lot more inert, didn’t they?”

“I didn’t really think they were the same, but it’s nice to have confirmation. I figured you’d be the authority on any life coming out of those waters,” Clarity says, with a knowing smile. 

A grin breaks over his own muzzle, and a laugh bubbles out of him. “Okay, maybe. Is that why you’re asking me first?”

“I think Cradle would have a heart attack if I approached him with this before getting your counsel. Imagine his face if I told him we have a dozen or so baby Fragments.”

“Clarity, I can’t think of him that way. That’s blasphemy.”

“Mhm, and the way you two giggle over each other isn’t?”

“That’s. Uh. Hm. I don’t know actually.”

Clarity laughs. “If anyone here’s a sinner, it’s Tower. Maybe you could knock some sense into him.”

“Define knock?”

“I probably shouldn’t, in earshot of mortals.”

Beginnings grins. “Is that blasphem-”

The snap of cables fills the air. 

Beginnings swings around. 

The central spire’s support ropes are cascading, whipping the air like snakes as they fall, knocking away several handfuls of mortals. They lash at the smaller poles around the titan, which creak at the stress. 

The superstructure itself sags under the strain and loss both. Plates of metal are already buckling, shearing from each other as bolts audibly pop and shower down. 

His chest squeezes. His eyes remain wide, helpless. 

There are noises of panic. Screaming. People are scrambling.

There is a rush of air beside him as Clarity vaults the side of the ship. 

The splash of the water snaps Beginnings back to the moment, but he only inhales sharply, his mind still struggling to process. 

Clarity, though, moves as lightning. An arm swings through the air as he bolts towards the pole, fingers threading through invisible ambience and yanking it forcefully into the palm of his hand. 

The ley line itself chokes as he manhandles it, grasps it firmly by the throat, and beats it into the shape of a tool in one motion. The air seems lighter, briefly, at its sudden coalescence - a weight of smog lifted from the swamp, unfastened and released. 

His arm comes down, hard, into the water, sends a wave of mud out like a flood. The magic crackles through the air, lights it up with a boom of thunder, surging electric down into Clarity’s horns out through his arm, obeying him. 

And out it rockets from the ground, at the base of the spire, and shoots up it like a spiderweb, strings attached to strings attached to make a net, squeezing the metal together. 

Beginnings’ mouth opens. He wants to scream “Stop!”, as if Clarity’s pulling the metal too tightly, like it’ll squeeze too hard and burst out the sides as shrapnel instead of plates. But his voice catches in his throat. 

The tension in the air surges again, Clarity’s other hand pushing against the tide to slam down beside the first. And with this command, the ley line’s strung magic shudders and squirms, throbs almost like real veins.

From the base to the tip, in a wave, the magic cools and solidifies. The latticework becomes metal, one and the same with the spire’s structure, glues it back together. The last of the cables fall to the ground, harmless. There is a heavy silence over the swamp. 

It’s over.

It’s over? Beginnings breathes.

It’s too surreal to think it was over all that fast.

But Clarity is already standing, barking orders. He wants a headcount. He wants the ropes investigated. He wants the team on the ground to get back to the boat and get showers. He wants a team of mages from the mainland here to monitor the changes he just forced into the ley line’s wavelengths. 

The same sense of relief washes over Beginnings as it does Clarity’s soldiers. They leap into action, orders already ingrained, and arrange themselves like insects in lines and communication. They’re hauling comrades out of the mud, and some are snapping magink photos, and some are checking others for wounds. 

And a younger few are stealing awed glances at Clarity from the corners of their eyes. The ones who’ve never seen a battle, a war, a disaster, an accident, a fight beyond a scuffle. 

He understands their amazement. Clarity is beautiful like this.

Beginnings still can’t speak as Clarity finally hauls himself over the side of the yacht again. His energy has subdued, but his authority has not - head still high, shoulders rigid, but his breathing is subtly jerking.

Still. He stands tall. Beginnings’ feet peel themselves from the floor and approach, rests a hand on his companion’s arm. Clarity gives him a small smile, but doesn’t return the gesture, nor close his wide-open hands.

Beginnings looks down. Clarity’s palms are charred from the radiation, fur blackened, strings of skin hanging.

His hands clamp over the other’s, and he pumps healing magic. Not enough to disturb the shaken magic in the air, but enough that the burnt flesh sloughs off and is replaced anew.

“Kind of you,” Clarity says, somewhere between genuine and awkward.

There is a brief pause. Images of Clarity’s heroics oscillate in his mind. Warmth, at the mere thought, fills him. 

Warmth? No. Pride. 

Pride, and satisfaction, and dignity, and gratification. 

“You were amazing,” Beginnings says, smile on his face.

Clarity waves him off with the healed hand, lets out a light sigh. He glances around, as if ensuring none of his mortals are listening - then says, “It’ll only be amazing if I didn’t disrupt the ley line. Might have just set us back twenty years, thirty, if I did. Should’ve....”

His voice falters as his thoughts overtake him. Alternate solutions, like he wasn’t reacting-within-seconds to a disaster-in-minutes. Like there was time to think through anything else. 

The guilt of an overachiever. Their Clarity of the Wheel.

For a long moment, in Beginnings’ mind, he can only see the flash of magiclight as Clarity corralled the structure, as he channeled those foreign and alien magics, as he warped them to do his bidding, his authority so absolute that nature itself bent the knee. 

“It’s fine, isn’t it?” he says, with enough conviction that Clarity starts, “You saved plenty of people here. That’s worth more. In my opinion anyways.”

Clarity laughs. It’s somewhere between an amused scoff, a tch, a chuckle. “Well, I appreciate the support. I hope Cradle feels the same way.”

“He absolutely would,” Beginnings says, without a breath of hesitation.

“Do you want to be the one to write the report to him then?” Clarity asks, voice still mired in humor. He gently pries his hands away, both now healed, and thumbs over his fresh palms. 

“Yeah, sure,” he says with a perked, casual smile, “I think I remember the right formatting. If not I think I have the template somewhere back at the capital. Probably.”

Clarity’s eyes flick to him, and he holds up a hand, “Oh, Beginnings, sorry, I didn’t meant to imply you sh-”

“Sorry!” he says, and winks, and starts jogging backwards, and Clarity stares wide-eyed, “I can’t hear you. I’m already walking away! Er. On my way! I got this!”

“Beginnings, you don’t have to-”

“Ooooh, don’t have to what?” he holds up a hand to his ear, grin widening, “oh man you’re breaking up the ley line’s too strong still. Guess you’ll just have to let me help you with this! Maybe you should go finish off your soda and try again later to see if the connection’s improved!”

There’s a second - and then Clarity half-quirked smiles back, shoulders relaxing, “Okay, okay, fine. Just let me review it after you’re done writing it.”

Beginnings gives him two thumbs up, and ducks below deck towards the yacht’s teleport pad.

The only feeling in his chest is happiness. No, beside it is satisfaction and glee, security and comfort. The realization of his place, in this strange Timeline, forgotten and hated, despised and spat upon. 

Despite it all, it was his beloved home. And these were his beloved Fragments. 

And he was their beloved Beginnings and Endings. 

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