Vanyel sat curled up next to the window, humming softly to himself as his fingers moved carefully over the strings of his lute. He still wasn't fully healed, and he knew that within a candlemark, the unpleasantly familiar ache would be back.
But the day was warm and bright and a soft breeze was causing the curtains to stir, carrying the scent of sweet grass indoors. It was a good day, he thought. And Tylendel would be back soon. Perhaps he'd ask Vanyel to play for him again.
He'd practice a little more, Vanyel thought, but not enough that his hand refused to cooperate any further. He wanted to be better, to show 'Lendel what he could do, to see that contented smile on the older boy's face as he listened, and—
A loud crash interrupted his reverie, and his fingers slipped, twanging off the strings. He heard Mardic's quiet voice in the other room murmuring as he moved to open the door. That noise was apparently someone's approximation at knocking. A visitor? Now? But—
"If you'll excuse me! No need to worry, just here for a visit—"
Vanyel could hear heavy footsteps approaching. Coming to his room. The room he shared with 'Lendel—
The voice was cheerfully loud, but firm, and—
Before he could do more than jump to his feet, the door slammed open and Vanyel found himself staring up at a tall young man with arched brows furrowed over narrowed brown eyes, lips pulled back in a slight curl that Vanyel struggled to identify. He was taller even than Tylendel, shoulders at least a hand's width wider; his blond curls were cropped close, but otherwise—
A spitting image, Vanyel thought weakly, as Staven Frelennye advanced on him with the widest unfriendly smile he'd ever seen.
"You must be Vanyel," Staven stopped just short of him, leaning like he was relying on his height, his very presence to weigh down on Vanyel, with no need to raise his voice or threaten violence; as though the sheer force of his will could make Vanyel take a step back.
It worked. He did.
"I've heard a lot about you," Staven continued, taking a step forward of his own to immediately close the space Vanyel had made. "Particularly about that mouth of yours."
Oh, gods, Vanyel thought deliriously. He hasn't spoken with 'Lendel yet. He thinks I'm what I'm pretending to be. 'Lendel couldn't have sent him a letter; it'd have been too risky. What must he think? I don't dare tell him until 'Lendel—
Staven lifted a hand, and still Vanyel couldn't move, frozen with indecision, stomach twisting at the sight of this person (so very much like 'Lendel, but so very much not). He forced himself to open his mouth, to stammer out something, anything.
Staven's gaze flickered, and he paused, one eyebrow raising very slightly.
And then, the door slammed open again, this time without any knock, and Staven spun around immediately, just in time to catch Tylendel in both arms and spin him around, lifting him straight up off the ground with an uproarious laugh.
"Staven! You absolute cad! You monster! I can't believe you…!"
"Is that the kind of welcome I get, after all this time? You can't put that on me, when you're the one with the heart of ice!"
"My heart is beating out of my chest. I just ran all the way from across the field! Savil'll have my head for this, I left her hanging in the middle of a lesson."
Vanyel watched this exchange with eyes as wide as saucers, very slowly sinking down onto the bench again, feelings as though his legs weren't fit to hold him any longer. They seemed to have completely forgotten he was there, holding each other close, looking at each other with matching brown eyes, matching gleeful smiles, matching devoted expressions.
He felt a poisonous stirring in his stomach, uncoiling unpleasantly.
He tried to shove that back down, to swallow it, but it was too late. Tylendel's head jerked to the side, breaking the connection between himself and Staven just long enough for his gaze to fall on Vanyel, though Vanyel couldn't help but feel like for a moment, he still wasn't looking at him.
"…Vanyel? …oh, Havens, Staven, I need to tell you—"
Staven tilted his head back and laughed. "Do you think I haven't figured it out yet? One look at this room is enough. I sure hope you're not entertaining company often, or your secret would be out in a heartbeat." He broke the embrace with Tylendel, turning to regard Vanyel with considerably more amusement and much less menace. "Though I couldn't really help myself. Thought he might still need a bit of a taste of what happens if you mess with my little brother."
Vanyel felt his mouth drop open as Tylendel began to laugh.
Near the doorway, Donni cleared her throat.
"Everything alright in here?" she asked, gaze travelling between them with a wary look. Vanyel startled a little again; he hadn't realized the other trainee was there watching, but she stood with Mardic at her shoulder, looking very much like she'd been prepared to knock someone down flat.
"Everything's wonderful," the twins answered in unison, and Tylendel punched Staven in the shoulder, none too gently.
"I'm sorry, Donni," Tylendel said with as much sincerity as he could muster, while still fighting to tear his gaze away from the cause for his apology. "It really is alright. I'm sorry for him… do you mind giving us a little space, though? We have some catching up to do."
With one last raised eyebrow, and a pause that lasted a little too long, Donni met Tylendel's gaze, then shrugged, slipping back into the other room with her lifebonded and shutting the door quietly behind herself.
There was a moment of silence.
"…me, too?" Vanyel forced himself to say, heartbeat still thrumming so fast he could feel it pulsing in his fingertips. The back of his neck prickled; this room had felt like a safe haven for so long, and now he felt nothing more keenly than the desire to bolt.
Tylendel looked at him quickly, eyes widening slightly, then glanced back at Staven with visible uncertainty. Vanyel saw that hesitation, and felt a cold, prickling fear.
"You're not going anywhere," Staven drawled, slapping Tylendel on the back so hard that the trainee stumbled towards Vanyel with a little squeak. Staven's voice was lower than 'Lendel's, Vanyel thought distantly, but still higher than Vanyel's own. That felt strange, somehow.
Staven's words caught up with Vanyel, and he drew a breath. "Wait, what—?"
Staven strode closer to him, pulling out a chair with one foot. He kicked it to face Vanyel before sinking down into it with a drop of his weight that made the legs creak briefly. "'Lendel and I have a lot to catch up on," he says, and again the twins couldn't seem to resist sharing a knowing glance. He reclined slightly, arms draped to either side of himself, fingers drumming briefly. "But somehow I'm really getting the impression this is where we should start."
Vanyel could only nod, then after a moment, he held up his lute; demonstratively, but feeling a little like he was raising a shield, peering out behind it.
"Just . . . let me get her stored."
Staven shrugged, but that seemed to be enough to deflect his attention for now, leaving Tylendel an opportunity to set in on him.
"Now, you answer me this—"
Vanyel rose, turning away from them both to head to the instrument rack, spending a little more time than strictly necessary, listening to the two voices across the room and feeling a thousand miles away.
Though, unlike Staven Frelennye, Withen Ashkevron was unlikely to hop on a horse and charge down to see what this was all about himself.
"I can't believe you!" Tylendel was doubled over, half in laughter and at least partly in outrage. "With everything going on right now…!"
The remainder of what made up that laugh, Vanyel was sure, was a sense of… pleasure. Tylendel was scolding his brother even as Vanyel sank down onto the bench near the twins again, but he could tell his heart wasn't in it.
Tylendel was thrilled.
And Staven could tell, too. He listened to Tyendel attentively nonetheless, until he abruptly decided he'd had enough of even pretending, reaching up to grab Tylendel by both arms and haul him firmly down into his lap.
Vanyel felt his cheeks go involuntarily, impossibly scarlet, hands clenching on his lap.
"Enough, enough!" Staven groaned, as Tylendel sputtered, laughing again, trying to move into a more upright position. "You're killing me! I want to talk about something more interesting! Do you know how awful it's been? You know how awful it's been. I don't want to talk about it. I want to talk about you, and the rest can come later. Indulge me before your harridan of a teacher comes back and drags me around the pasture by the ear."
"Keep that mouth off Savil," Tylendel said sternly, though with not nearly as much heat as Vanyel would have liked. "She's the loveliest woman I know. Besides, you know you'd deserve it."
"I was kind of thinking the title of loveliest belonged to someone else entirely," Staven said shrewdly.
Tylendel managed to struggle his way free, dropping down heavily onto the bench, halfway between the two of them. At Staven's comment, his lips parted on a little "oh," and he ducked his head, curls tumbling over his forehead. He looked at Staven for a moment, then looked at Vanyel again—really looked at him, and Vanyel swallowed heavily, sitting still and silent, the fierce blush thankfully (mostly) faded from his cheeks. At least, Vanyel thought, he wouldn't look as ghastly pale as he felt he ought to be.
"Staven, this is . . . this is Vanyel," Tylendel managed, finally, with an odd, unfamiliar sort of shyness, gaze meeting Vanyel's as he reached out a hand to him.
Vanyel felt himself caught, felt the prickling fear and discomfort ease away as he gazed at Tylendel's face. There it was again: that smile, just for him; the curve of his lips, the warmth of his gaze, long lashes heavy over his brown eyes. Vanyel felt himself smiling softly in return as their fingers touched, then tangled together. That feeling of something warm thrumming gently between them, wrapping around him. Safe, and just… right—
"Lady's tits!" Staven burst out, making them both jump. "You'll both drown me. Here I was, expecting some stuck-up, repressed prig that you'd somehow managed to shove face-first into a mattress regardless. Oh, I knew you had to be the one he was fucking," he waved a hand, acknowledging Vanyel's startled look but ignoring his scandalized half-protest. "But from the stories, I expected the sort that spewed poison and then drank it later, couldn't be shut up unless you stuffed his mouth full with a—"
"Staven!" Tylendel snatched his hand back from Vanyel's, launching forward to cover his brother's mouth (his entire face) with both hands. He was laughing again, Vanyel noted, even though he seemed to be trying to stay stern, perhaps for Vanyel's sake. "It's not like that! Vanyel is—Vanyel just has to… well, you remember what it was like for me," he finished, staring at Staven imploringly.
Silence stretched again and Vanyel felt it heavily, pressing at him as though he were on the other side of a locked door and could only just hear far-off murmurs through thick wood; murmurs he knew to be about him.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the twins exhaled as one.
"He seems happy," Staven said, looking at Vanyel. He, meaning Tylendel. "He has seemed happy," he corrected himself. Vanyel noticed with some curiosity that Tylendel jumped slightly, surprised. "So of course I'd have been curious. I've been crawling the walls at home, and this was just too much. I heard about you, heard about—"
His gaze darkened briefly, along with his mood; for a moment, Vanyel caught a glimpse of something deep, and heavy, and raw—
"—a lot I couldn't do damned thing about at home, so leave me be about it," Staven finished with such an air of finality that both Vanyel and Tylendel drew back slightly in their seats.
Staven caught and grabbed the end of the conversation before it could drag, leaning forward with his elbows resting on both knees, a lopsided grin crossing his features, chasing away any hint of what had been there before.
"So tell me how this all came about."