The grasslands are restless tonight. Mikey can feel it, pitched whispers caught within currents, and fragments of emotions that tickle his skin. All around Other are calling, enemies and friend both, words and cries made tattered by distance as Mikey keeps moving and stares into shadows.
Hemmed in on all sides, this small clearing is a space perfect for hiding. But perfection comes at a cost. Safety is a cage that makes Mikey nervous and itch to take flight.
Close by -- an arm's length, a frantic jump at the most --- Gerard walks too, but slower, like his feet are already tied to the earth. Without looking at Mikey he says, “You should go.”
“No,” Mikey says simply, and already he knows what is coming, what tack Gerard’s about to try next.
“I could order you to go,” Gerard says, taking a step back. Arms crossed against his chest he’s unnaturally still, command there in the tilt of his head as he stares Mikey down. “You’d have no choice but to leave.”
“You could,” Mikey agrees, “But you won’t.”
Mikey would stake his life on that truth, that as much as Gerard remains leader, right now he’s just brother, in blood and kin both.
“If I get seen....”
“I’ll protect you,” Mikey says, and he will, in feathers and skin, attacking with beak and hands. Until then.... Mikey steps close to Gerard, ignoring the feelings of wrong that makes unseen feathers ruffle. “Sit, you have to be tired.”
Briefly, Gerard resists, stands unmoving and then folds to the ground. It’s yet another sign of how fucked up this all is, Gerard bent forward, his hair hiding his face. “I need to keep looking.”
Mikey agrees, but not now, when daylight is fading and Other are starting to circle -- movements in the darkness and high above, the caw of flocks in mid-flight. “Tomorrow, at sun-up.”
Gerard shivers, his hands fisted as if ready for wings. “It might be too late then.”
If he could Mikey would give his own skin -- but he can’t, they found that out a lifetime before, and all Mikey can do is drop to the ground. Body heavy, gravity takes hold as Mikey kneels behind Gerard, arms wrapped around him and holding him close. “We’ll find it. They won’t know what they’ve got.”
“Yeah, we’ll find it,” Gerard repeats, confidence shaken but there. He turns his head toward Mikey, “You’ve called out to kin?”
Mikey’s cheek is against Gerard's, feathers replaced by smooth skin, and as much as Mikey’s sure Gerard will retake his coat, right now he mourns for its loss. “They’re coming. I can feel them.”
And Mikey can -- barely -- an itch of awareness that makes him want to cast off his temporary skin and take flight.
“Go,” Gerard says and places his hand over Mikey's. “I know that you want to.”
“I do.” Mikey’s not going to lie, not to Gerard who’s shared a lifetime of changing from skin to feathers and knows the exhilaration and freedom that comes with each flight. At the same time, leaving Gerard alone isn’t an option. “But I’m staying.”
“For now,” Gerard allows, shaking his head when Mikey opens his mouth to protest. “No. If they find me, you go. That’s not an option.”
“If you say so,” Mikey says in return, and he’s not lying, he can’t be when no actual promise was made. “We’ll go to the keep tomorrow. Together they can’t touch us.”
“No, they’ll just trick us,” Gerard says, his hand tightening over Mikey’s. “I should have known better.”
“You were trying to help.” It’s what makes Gerard such a good leader, compassion there always, but it’s also a weakness, and one that today, was exploited. “It’s what you do.”
“Not anymore.” Deliberately, never looking directly at Mikey, Gerard says, “They’ll always distrust us. They’ll always hate us and hold up wards when they see us. I’m done trying.”
As statements go, it’s something that would make their lives easier. It’s just simpler to stick to kin only, but Mikey knows Gerard doesn’t mean what he says. Seamlessly, moving together in a way that’s been easy forever, Mikey crawls around Gerard, settling so he’s sitting on Gerard’s lap, face to face as he says, “No you’re not.”
“If I hadn’t stopped to help they wouldn’t have tricked me,” Gerard says, gaze locked with Mikey’s and anger white-hot. Until it breaks, exposing raw hurt. “They took my coat, Mikey.”
“I know.” Mikey doesn’t know what that feels like, but it’s not hard to imagine, and Mikey’s chest is tight as he rests his head against Gerard’s. “We will find it. Promise.”
Gerard says nothing, just takes a deep breath, his eyes closing, and then, “If we don’t I’ll leave the grasslands and step down. A one-form can’t lead.”
Instantly, Mikey says, “I’ll come with you.”
Mikey brings up his hand, the tips of his fingers against Gerard’s mouth. “I’d walk to the end of the earth with you and fly to the sun. Wherever you go I’ll follow.”
Gerard laughs, abrupt and brittle. “I suppose Frank, Ray and Bob will come too.”
“We’re kin,” Mikey says simply, dropping his hand. “You don’t get to leave us.”
It’s just the way that things are. Gerard their leader but more than that too -- he belongs to them, is part of them. Mikey needs to remind Gerard of that, and intends to do so, in both actions and words.
Legs crossed at the ankles, Mikey’s completely surrounding Gerard, pinning him down as Gerard stares, eyes wide and darkened. It’s a position that could easily go further, but this isn’t about that. Keeping things slow Mikey rests his hand against Gerard’s jaw, keeping him from looking away as Mikey moves even closer, his lips brushing against Gerard’s. “You’re ours. Whatever happens you don’t get to leave us.”
It’s a kiss there to be taken, and Mikey presses his mouth against Gerard’s, licks into Gerard’s mouth and tastes blood and dry feathers, every nerve in his body tingling as Gerard returns the brief touch.
Reluctantly Mikey pulls back. He wants more, always wants more but not now and not here, when already the moon is high in the sky. A last lick of his lips -- a last taste of Gerard -- and Mikey looks up, eyes narrowed at the first sight of Other.
They’re far away now, scales dull but flaming breath bright, Mikey’s heart speeding as he starts to move and then.... “Do you feel that?”
In skin and coatless Gerard’s eyesight is dulled, still, he looks up, tense as three birds appear, barely seen against the night sky. Gerard reaches for Mikey’s hand, holds on and says, “Kin.”
The birds turn, black against black as they dive, never slowing for branches as all three change in midair. Feathers melting into skin and features taking shape in an instant, their coats flowing behind them as Ray, Bob and Frank gracefully land and run forward, stopping inches away from Mikey and Gerard.
Frank grins, adjusting his coat so it hangs straight, the interior pockets hidden. “You started without us. Impatient bastards.”
“We’d have got here earlier but were at that bakery Frank likes,” Ray says, rubbing under his hair before opening his coat. Taking a stale loaf from out of a pocket, he throws it to Gerard. “The baker hit Bob with a broom.”
“He caught me off-guard,” Bob says, scowling as he stares at Mikey and Gerard. “Eat. You’ll need the energy.”
Gerard tears off some bread, chewing it once before handing it over to Mikey and then says, “I lost my coat.”
“Someone stole your coat,” Mikey corrects. Taking the bread he eats the mouthful, all too aware that around them, Other are waking and walking the night. “And we’re going to find it.”
“We are,” Frank agrees, no hint of a smile apparent as he presses his hand against the side of his coat, no doubt feeling the knives he keeps hidden. “And whoever took it will regret fucking with you.”
“Fucking with us,” Bob says, taking guard behind Gerard and Mikey. “Sun-up we’ll go.”
“Sun-up we’ll find it,” Ray says, head tilted to one side as he stares up at the sky. Feet apart and stance ready.
“Sun-up they’ll pay,” Frank growls as he circles the clearing.
Gerard nods, and Mikey says softly, “Told you,” as he holds on and settles in, prepared for the long wait till morning.