Summary: Balfour find someone playing the piano while at the Greylace mansion. Who is it and what does this mean?
A/N: SPOILER FIC FOR STEELHANDS! This is post-Steelhands, which means that if you haven't read it, don't read this fic and then complain about me spoiling you.
The room was dark and silent except for a gentle tinkling of the piano. It was clear that the player had very little experience, that whoever it was was just piddling with the piano in the sitting room. It was a half remembered tune, up and down, up and down, played in the high notes, almost whimsical. It would stop for a few moments and there was a scratch of quill on paper, and then it would start again, the same up and down.
This was a common occurrence in the Greylace manor where they now stayed, just as it was a common occurrence for four small--small only by comparison, considering their predecessors were quite large--dragons made of metal and magic would scramble through the halls, blowing fire at each other and tackling one another. Usually, they were chasing after Ironjaw, who had said something offensive. Balfour couldn't help but feel bad for the outcast dragon. It wasn't her fault that her...'master', for lack of better words, was an arrogant little snot with superiority issues. He often chastised Steelhands for chasing her, and asked her to tell the others to settle down. It didn't work too well, the telling the others part.
It also caused issues when Troius would say snarky comments to one of the others--the dragons were always quick to go to the rescue of their partners when they were upset, which more often than not ended in some structural damage of some sort. Needless to say, Adamo was never happy about that. At the moment, thankfully, all four dragons were peacefully asleep and so were most of the inhabitants of the manor.
All but two, apparently.
Balfour listened quietly to the piano playing, the tinkling notes, the hesitant way they were played, then more confident. He had never noticed this before, and it wasn't that uncommon that he was awake at night, going for a snack or going for a walk. The fresh air was nice, here. Balfour had been raised on the country air and he had so missed it during his time in the city.
He stepped closer to the door, having his suspicions as to who would be playing the piano so late at night. Only one of them--as far as he knew--had emotional ties to piano music. He liked it, yes, but...
The door creaked open at a gentle nudge from his bare foot, revealing the piano and the player to him, illuminated in the light of the moon spilling from the windows. The dark, curly hair and upright posture was all too familiar to him, having lived with the man for years.
Said man stopped playing after a moment, wrote a quick note, and turned around, looking for the intruder with a soft frown creasing his brow, chocolate eyes suspicious and pink lips downturned, his face a fragile portrait of a bereaved lover. Despite the man's stories, it was clear that he was still grieving that which he had lost in the raid on the Lapis city.
"Can I help you?" he asked when his eyes finally fell on Balfour's form at the door, the younger of the two having pushed through a little more, deciding that it didn't matter that he had been caught.
At the question, Balfour stepped even closer, walking to sit with Raphael on the bench at the piano, looking him in the eyes, then down at his hands.
"You miss him, don't you?" he whispered, wary of being overheard despite the late hour.
"What do you know about it?" Raphael snapped back, defensive, trying to keep the secret close to his heart.
Balfour only smiled slightly, reaching over to pat Raphael's hand and shaking his head. "I've known for a long time. It's just that...I don't really see a need in harassing you--or him--about something like that. Love...it's such a wonderful emotion. Why people think they have the right to say what kind of love is right and what kind is damnable is... Quite frankly, I have never understood it."
"Don't tell me..."
"That's neither here nor there, Raphael," Balfour said softly, touching the high C key, making the note ring out in the silent room, then sighing. "You do, don't you. I don't blame you at all. I was just surprised to hear the piano... For a moment, I thought we had ghosts." He laughed, but it was quiet and strained, knowing well that this was nothing to joke about.
"Yeah, well..." He shrugged, uncharacteristically quiet. It was as if he didn't want to talk about him, and Balfour understood. When one lost a loved one, usually talking about them wasn't the best course of action. "All this time, I had hoped..." Raphael whispered suddenly, touching the keys with gentle fingers, not making a sound. "I had hoped that he had survived, that he had gotten out, that I would see him again, but when I saw all of you in that room...without him...it was obvious that he hadn't made it."
Raphael, for a moment, looked like he was going to shatter, a thin hand to his lips, gasping for breath and blinking tears away rapidly.
"I'll never see him again," he choked out as Balfour wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him against him, fighting tears, himself. He had always been a soft heart, after all.
"Shh... You will, eventually," he whispered. "Not in this life, but...eventually."
These words didn't seem to help Raphael, who had been holding this pain for weeks on end, maybe longer if he had realized while in Seon that Ivory may not have made it out. He gasped again, then buried his face in Balfour's neck and just suddenly started sobbing into his shoulder, arms wrapping around his waist to cling to him.
Balfour was taken aback, not having expected this. Perhaps Raphael had forgotten that he was a man after all the years of teasing him that he was a girl? He doubted this but could find no other reason for him to be acting the way he was. It seemed that the man needed to cry, though, so he didn't stop him. He just held him, rubbing his back every once in a while, but saying nothing.
Eventually, Raphael straightened and wiped his eyes, clearing his throat with a look to Balfour saying 'This did not happen'. Balfour could only nod and pat his hand once. Yes, of course it didn't happen because then they would both have to--
Whatever he had been thinking flew out of his mind when, quite suddenly, Raphael had pressed his lips against his own, startling an undignified squeak out of him. Balfour pulled back immediately, his eyes wide, and shook his head.
"What are you doing?" he whispered.
Raphael laughed and patted Balfour's cheek. "I just thought, perhaps, that a bit of physical comfort would be nice. Clearly I was wrong, and do forgive me for that grievous misjudgment. I would love to preserve our friendship in spite of my lack of forethought on how you would--"
Balfour cut him off with a hand to the mouth, looking at him like he had gone mad. "You're babbling, Raphael," he said, remembering many times the latter had said the same to him. "And do you really think... I mean, you're just now getting over him. That probably isn't something that you'd need."
The older male brought his hand up to take Balfour's metal one, gently removing it from his mouth so that he could speak. "I...believe I knew before, but I hadn't wanted to accept it. I just felt like...like a part of me was missing. Coming home only confirmed it."
Balfour sighed and shook his head a bit. "Come, I'm going to assume that by 'physical comfort' you meant nothing but laying in bed with someone. I really... It would just feel wrong, Raphael. You're my best friend."
"Sleeping would be nice," he admitted, nodding. "Sleeping...with someone else. Very nice."
He leaned over and picked up the notebook he had been writing in, frowning at the words written there, then sighed.
So much more I wanted to give you...
Remember only the verse, song-maker's cry...
...sweet piano writing down my life.
These phrases and more had occurred to him as he had repetitively played that lilting tune, and then, he chuckled, leaning over to write one more thing:
I wish I didn't feel for you anymore...
With that, he closed the book and put his writing instruments away, nodding to Balfour to lead the way. Perhaps tonight, he would sleep well. It wasn't Ivory, but it was someone he trusted nonetheless. His mind might even trick him into thinking he was sleeping with his lover, if only for a while. And when that time was up, it was up. He was thankful that Balfour was such a good friend.
Perhaps, one day, that friendship would turn to something more. He doubted it, given Balfour's words, but it was nice to think that it could happen.
The italicised 'statements' at the end are lyrics, paraphrased or otherwise, from the song Dead Boy's Poem, by Nightwish.
And yes, "You're babbling, Raphael" is a reference to Too Late, Balfour by sweetjerry