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It's Hard to Be Brave

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Saren woke up screaming.

He couldn't say why. The nightmare had disappeared into the darkness the moment he opened his eyes. All he knew was it had been dark, darker than his room, with its little varren nightlight next to his bed. It had been dark, and Mama had disappeared, and Daddy had vanished, and Desolas had been nowhere to be found.

Desolas was in his room before his throat even started to hurt. "Hey, hey!" he barked, deep voice cutting through Saren's shrill cries. Large hands clasped Saren's torso, and he instinctively quieted as Desolas lifted him out of bed and nestled him against his keel. "Relax, buddy, it's okay. I'm right here, I've got you."

Desolas didn't wear a shirt to bed. There was nothing between Saren and the low, rolling subvocals thrumming comforting-protective-loving against his tiny frame. "It's okay," Desolas repeated, quieter now, starting to pace and rock Saren back and forth. "It's okay. I'm here."

Saren could only whimper and try to curl closer to him, rubbing his face against his brother's keel and breathing in his scent. Bone and metal and blood, like all turians, but also meadowgrass and laundry and those odd fuzzy, skittering creatures on base he and the other children who had to be there sometimes were asked to hunt.

Desolas let him sniffle for a while, just rocking him and making soothing noises. That was nice. Desolas was loud, and got excited a lot, but he knew when to be quiet, too. Saren liked that.

After a while, Saren stopped his whimpering, and took a deep, gulping breath. Desolas chuckled a little. "Easy, buddy," he said, and sat down on Saren's bed. "Don't choke yourself."

Saren twisted to look up at him, lowering his brow plates. "You can't choke on air," he protested.

"Sure you can," Desolas argued, his mandibles tilted up. "Why, I knew a guy once who tried to breathe too deep after running, and he just up and passed out, 'cause he choked on all the air."

Saren considered this, then grimaced. "You're teasing me."

Desolas simply grinned and moved him so he was sitting on his lap. "Nothing gets past you, huh? You're too smart."

He tapped Saren's nasal plates, and Saren's heart soared. Desolas said he was smart! And Desolas was twenty-five, so he knew a lot of things. Desolas was very smart.

He trilled his delight, and Desolas gave him a little one-armed hug. "That's my guy," he said, and his subvocals sang proud-affectionate.

Then he settled back so his hands were behind him, propping him up as he asked, voice more gentle now, "So, what seems to be the problem, Tiny?"

Saren stilled, then lowered his mandibles, pulled his head into his cowl, and kicked his feet. "I dunno."

Desolas was quiet for a moment, then asked, somehow even more softly than before, "Did you dream about Mom and Dad again?"

Saren whined, then nodded. It was a recurring dream, but he only ever remembered flashes of it when he woke up. Mostly, he just knew it ended with him all alone.

Desolas hummed, then shifted his weight so he could reach up and run a talon along the small stubs that, in a few years, would begin to grow into Saren's crest. "Can you keep a secret, Saren?"

He'd used his name. Desolas only used his name when it was important. He nodded quickly.

Desolas was quiet for a long moment, then sighed. "I've been dreaming about them a lot, too."

Saren waited, holding his breath. Desolas never talked about what had happened to their parents. When Saren asked, he only said he'd tell him when he was older. Whatever had happened that day, it was Desolas's secret, and his alone. But it had to be something terrible. Some nights, when Desolas thought he was asleep, Saren heard him crying, and there were a lot of empty bottles in the bin that smelled like the rotten-fruit drink he wasn't allowed to have.

Desolas's mandibles moved in and out slowly, then he sighed again. "I always end up looking for you again, only I keep getting lost, or you're not where you were, or... or worse. Guess I'm afraid I'll lose you, too."

Saren's gizzard churned. "You won't!" he cried, putting his hands on his brother's keel. "I'm right here!"

Desolas tensed under him, then relaxed again and pulled him into a tight hug. "Yeah, I know," he mumbled. "Can't get rid of you that easy, huh?"

Saren pressed closer into the hug, chirruping his agreement. Desolas's low, affectionate chuckle rumbled through his chest. "Didn't think so."

Desolas pulled him away then, putting one hand on the back of Saren's cowl and leaning down to look him in the eyes. "Let's make a pact, okay? A promise. We'll always be there for each other. No matter where the galaxy sends us, no matter how many stars there are between us. We'll always have each other's backs. Does that sound doable?"

Saren nodded solemnly. Of course it was. They were brothers.

Desolas studied him for a moment. "It's just the two of us now, Saren," he said, quiet and soft again. "We have to look out for each other. Think you can handle telling me when I've got a rock-stupid idea in my head?"

Saren blinked, processing what that meant, then told him, "You should eat breakfast more."

Desolas blinked, then laughed and moved his hands to the unplated skin on Saren's sides. "That's the spirit!"

Saren squealed and writhed against the sudden tickle attack. "Des, no!" he managed to shriek despite his wild giggling.

Desolas mercifully stopped after a moment and headbutted him affectionately. "You and me, buddy. We're a team now. Desolas and Saren, the brothers Arterius. Nothing's gonna stop us, right?"

Saren settled back into a normal sitting position, then chirped, "Right!"

"Good." Desolas reached around to scratch Saren behind his left mandible, and as Saren leaned into the touch, he hummed, "What do you say the two of us go sleep in my room tonight? Protect each other from our nightmares."

Saren let out a low trill, then sat up and leaned over to grab his stuffed varren. "Can Varri come?"

"Of course Varri can come. Why shouldn't Varri come?"

Saren giggled and hugged the toy close as Desolas cradled him against his keel again and stood up. As his brother carried him out of his room, he quieted again, then asked, "Promise you won't leave?"

Desolas paused for a second, then continued onward. "I promise, Saren. The Spirit of Palaven itself couldn't haul me away. Even when we're apart, I'll always be with you."