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Sons of the Lioness

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When Grandda tells him Aly is missing, Thom bolts from his room at the university and runs all the way to the palace. He knows Alan will not take the news well, and he is right.

The first thing Thom thinks as he shoves open Alan's door is that he's so very, very glad the page examinations just finished. Alan is standing before his desk, surrounded by a pile of smashed and torn objects, teeth bared in a hideous mimicry of a smile, and Thom wants so very badly to cry.

But Thom is older by two years, and so it falls to him to try and help his brother, so he holds himself together and reaches out to him.

But when Alan flinches and jerks away and looks at him with absolutely no recognition in his eyes, Thom doesn't know what to do.

"You're not Aly," Alan says, voice accusatory.

Thom can't stop the tears, this time. "No. I'm not."

This time, Alan lets Thom pull him into a hug, and cries like a baby into Thom's shirt.

***

Thom bundles Alan off to his room at the university. A word to Grandda gets the older man to make Alan's excuses to Sir Padraig, along with an arrangement to make up the summer camp if Alan misses it.

Alan is looking very bewildered and staring around Thom's room like it's going to eat him. And okay, Thom thinks, it's a little messy, but not so as to warrant such deep suspicion from his brother.

But Alan is acting like his whole world has spun off its axis, and, Thom thinks, that's pretty much exactly what's happened.

Still, when Alan looks at his own reflection and traces it like he's never seen his own face before, Thom begins to panic.

***

Aly had, somehow, left one of her dresses behind in Thom's room. He has absolutely no idea why she had a spare dress here, and he doesn't really want to think about it.

He had forgotten all about the dress, actually, until a week into Alan's stay with him, when Alan unearths it from a pile of stuff Thom thinks of as his "to be sent home" pile.

Alan strokes the dress gently for a long time, a considering look on his face.

Thom is not entirely surprised to find Alan wearing the dress when he gets back from class.

***

"I'm not Alan," Alan says, two weeks later.

Thom, frowning, leans forward and takes one of his brother's hands in his own. "Who are you, then?"

"My name is Aly," Alan says, looking him dead in the eye.

Alan is dead serious. That much is obvious; there are none of the usual tells Alan has when he's lying or teasing.

Something is very, very wrong with Alan. And Thom does not know if it can ever be fixed.

Thom bends forward to press a kiss to his brother's nose, like he had when Alan was small and came running to him over nightmares, but then Alan moves his head and their lips meet, and Thom finds he can't say no. Not to that desperation.

He fumbles the laces that run up the back of Alan's dress and pushes Alan back onto his bed, and somewhere in this mess Alan's stripped Thom of his shirt, and oh, Thom knows he needs to stop this, but one look in Alan's scarily empty eyes, lit only with frantic passion, silences Thom's last protest.

This time, when he kisses his brother's mouth, he does it deliberately.

***

Later, there is a soft but persistent knocking at Thom's door. Thom, fully dressed in his university robe, forgets himself and moves to open it.

Roald is standing at his door, blue eyes flicking from Thom to Alan, lying in Thom's bed wearing a half-laced dress, then back to Thom.

And Thom breaks.

He clutches at Roald's tunic, weeping, and Roald who, whatever he thinks of Thom now, is still Thom's friend, wraps his arms around Thom and rocks him gently, like a small child. Roald rubs his back and murmurs absent nothings in his ear, and Thom cries and cries and babbles out everything.

Roald turns and awkwardly backs himself up to Thom's only chair, dropping heavily into it and pulling Thom down onto his lap. Thom's grip never slackens, and Thom's tears never stop.

His baby sister is missing, maybe dead, maybe enslaved, and his baby brother is broken and thinks he's his missing twin. And Thom is worried beyond belief for both of them, and trying to hold his brother together even though he knows he doesn't know what he's doing, and knows he's not helping, and on top of it all is still going about his usual routine, going to classes and trying not to let on that his world has ended, too.

And Roald is the only one who thought to check on him.

So Thom cries, and Roald holds him, and as Thom falls into a fitful sleep there on Roald's lap, he feels his friend press a kiss to the crown of his head, and thinks he feels a faint wave of cobalt magic easing his way into sleep.

***

Thom is not surprised to find that Roald is gone when he wakes; that is always the way with them. The Crown Prince is a busy man, and has been married for nearly a year besides. The Scanran war is still on, and whatever business has brought Roald to Corus must be important.

Thom is also not surprised to find that Roald has tucked him into bed; it would be the most convenient place to put him, after all, when Roald had to leave.

Thom is mildly surprised to see that Roald apparently had dressed Alan in his nightshirt and healed the bruises Thom had, in his shameful passion, left on his brother's flesh. Roald had tucked Alan in, too, and Thom doubts that Alan ever woke.

Alan stirs in his sleep, fussing like he had as a little boy, and Thom flushes. He is deeply ashamed.

He vows that he will not touch his brother in such a way again.

***

Thom's vow lasts until that evening.

Alan greets him at his door, once more wearing Aly's dress, a flirtatious smile on his face that is an eerily perfect rendition of Aly's own.

There is no more recognition in Alan's hazel eyes today than there was yesterday, or the weeks previous. Thom gives in to Alan's pleading touches and kisses him, trying to ignore the voice that tells him that it doesn't matter that Alan doesn't seem to remember, that Alan is still his brother.

Alan's body feels terribly right beneath his hands, right like Roald had, and Alan's kisses are sweet and heady.

Thom does not want to do this, but he does.

This evening, Roald comes by while Thom has his brother on his lap, and the laces of Alan's dress tangled around his fingers. Last night might have been ambiguous, but this was not.

Roald, who has let himself in to Thom's room quietly, stands and watches and waits for Thom to notice him.

Thom does, when Alan leans forward to trail kisses down his neck. With a start, Thom jerks back, and Alan, confused and distraught, turns to see what caught Thom's attention.

Smiling coyly, Alan slips off Thom's lap and approaches the Prince.

Roald watches warily, blue eyes seemingly intent on Alan's face. But Thom knows his sometime lover well, and sees the tiny telltale glances at Alan's bared shoulders, at the silk skirts clinging to Alan's legs.

Alan sees them, too, and his smirk grows wider. He presses himself boldly against Roald's chest, looking up into Roald's face, running one flirtatious finger along Roald's jaw.

Alan is very good, Thom thinks, at seducing people. Scarily good, given his current state of mind.

Roald cracks, like Thom knew he would.

The night finds all three of them in a tangle of limbs on Thom's narrow bed.

***

The weeks of that summer pass like this: No word comes of Aly.

Alan falls deeper and deeper into his delusions, telling Thom, when he asks, that of course Aly's fine, Aly is right here.

Roald, quietly ruthless, tells anyone who asks that Alan says Aly is unharmed, and that he would, of course, know.

Thom gets steadily more and more frazzled, throwing himself into his studies during the day, coming back later and later at night.

This is how the nights pass: in a tangle of sweat-slick limbs, in gasps and moans and kisses and caresses, counted by the fading of the bruises they all leave on each others' skin. Roald joins them every night he can; Thom cries every morning when he wakes, the shame and the burden of necessary secrecy slowly shattering something inside of him.

Roald takes to staying until Thom is awake, just to hold him when he cries.

Thom goes to the Swoop for word of Aly a few times, and each time comes back with no word and more dresses stolen from his sister's closet and secreted away in the bottom of his bag.

Roald brings Alan face paint, once, and to Thom's mixed bemusement and horror, teaches Alan how to apply it.

Thom throws himself, during the free study periods, to researching spells for mind repair.

Roald, when he finds out, murmurs that maybe this is a bad idea, that maybe Thom ought to just help Alan slowly recover his sense of self, but Thom is desperate, and ignores the advice.

He is desperate because he knows what Roald does not: he has fallen in love with his own brother. If Thom does not fix Alan, now, he will never be able to let Alan go.

Thom spends the weeks not thinking of how easy it would be to make Alan love him.

***

It is the last week of July, and Da is away in the Copper Isles, when Thom decides to fix Alan.

Roald is back at the palace; Thom bolts his door.

Alan, curious, is sitting on Thom's bed, toying with the hem of the cheery yellow dress he is wearing. Thom sits in front of him and takes his hands, and takes a deep bracing breath, and draws up purple fire.

Alan flinches back, but Thom is already in his mind.

It is a mess.

***

When Thom surfaces, hours have passed, and Roald is there.

"How…?" Thom croaks.

Roald presses a cup of water into Thom's hands and maneuvers him so his back is up against the wall. He doesn't answer, but it doesn't matter; Roald is always able to get in. Thom sips the water.

"How did it go?" Roald asks finally, motioning gracefully to where Alan lies, curled up on his side and sound asleep.

That is typical Roald, Thom thinks wearily, all grace and silence that he uses to shape meaning from nothing. He slumps against his lover and Prince, and Roald shifts to accommodate him.

"His mind was shattered," Thom says finally, drowsiness making a muddle of the words. It doesn't matter; Roald always understands him. "Shattered into bits and pieces, like the glass he'd smashed back in his rooms. I don't know how it happened," Thom says, almost defensively, rambling now and too torn up to care. "I wouldn't have thought even Aly's disappearance would be enough to do that."

Roald hums, thoughtful and noncommittal, and Thom sighs, enjoying the way the sound vibrates in Roald's strong chest.

He is in love with this man, too, Thom realizes, in some surprise.

"Go on," Roald says, a soft order, when Thom fails to continue.

Thom gives a half shrug. "That's it, really," he says. "I put his mind back together, piece by piece, and then I pulled out of it and you were here."

Roald tucks Thom's head under his chin and hums again, and gently strokes Thom's hair until he falls asleep.

***

Roald has had the foresight to change Alan out of the dress. Thom kicks himself mentally for forgetting to do so himself; then again, the repair had been horrible and exhausting.

Thom knows he will see the shattered core of Alan's mind in his dreams for the rest of his life.

Roald comes in a few minutes after Alan wakes, eyes bleary but sharp like they haven't been since April, and Thom wants to laugh and scream and cry all at once.

He settles for smiling at his brother, and at his Prince, and quietly asking how Alan feels and what Roald is doing here so early in the morning.

"I brought you two breakfast," Roald says.

Alan perks up, deftly catching the apple Roald tosses him, and the whole thing is so Alan that Thom has to turn away.

"Do you know what day it is?" Roald asks Alan softly.

"Of course I do," Alan says, and something in his tone sends foreboding shivers down Thom's spine. "It's July the thirty-first."

***

Alan's room in the page wing is cleaned and repaired; even the slashed picture of Aly is mended and re-framed, hanging neatly in its place on the wall with the other family portraits.

Thom looks at Roald, who smiles faintly and steps out, leaving the brothers alone.

Alan grins at Thom, sly and wry and all Alan, and Thom can think of nothing to say.

Alan's grin slides into a coy smirk, and Thom stutters and flees, Alan's soft laughter drifting down the hallway behind him.

Roald grasps his shoulders and forces Thom to sit, to put his head down, to breathe properly. Roald asks what's wrong, is something wrong with Alan, and Thom says yes and no and I don't know, I may have imagined it.

He may have imagined it. Roald does not seem to have heard anything.

***

All of Aly's dresses are gone from Thom's room by the time he gets back. Filled with foreboding, Thom dives for his to-go-home pile and rummages through it.

He flinches back. Aly's old mint-green dress, the one she'd inexplicably abandoned in his room during her last visit here, is resting near the bottom of the pile, right where he'd stashed it all those months ago.

He holds it to his nose. It smells of Aly, and of storage.

Thom weeps.

***

He is no longer sure what to make of things. Relief comes in the form of Da, with news of Aly, and later news of her happy and settled in the Copper Isles.

Alan finishes page training, and goes off to squire for Sir Raoul, and Thom goes to Alan's assigned room when his brother is out and runs a finger over the scar in the painting of Aly.

It is the only concrete thing in his world, now.

Roald comes to him only rarely. He has Shinkokami now, and has for a while, and she can give him what Thom cannot: a family, an heir, a lover he can show off to the world.

Thom tries not to hate her for it. He tries not to hate Aly, either.

He cannot hate Alan. Not with the memories, not with the dreams as vivid as memories that plague him every night, from the time his eyes shut to the time he wakes, shivering and utterly bereft, in the early morning.

Thom has almost convinced himself, as the months turn into years, that the whole thing was a dream, but then Alan returns to Corus, and passes his Ordeal, and turns up at the guest room Thom was given so he wouldn't have to walk all the way back into the city for the night.

Alan is wearing a dress, and smiling flirtatiously.

Thom lets him in.

***

It is relief, later, that makes Roald laugh so hard when Alan turns up to a ball on Owen of Jesslaw's arm - relief, and hysterical despair.

For Thom, the relief and despair is this: Alan has found three lovers, and none are redheads.