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Playing with Fire

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The first time Orion turned his back on Leon, he brushed it off with perfect indifference. Strangers were not obligated to make nice, after all, and they were both in a rush to pack their things and make ready to sail, first thing in the morning. There would be time for social pleasantries later, or so he had thought. So he packed light and made ready for a day's sail each way. Hopefully his mysterious errand would be brief, and pave his way into Luca Imperion's good graces.

The second time was at the docks, the next morning, if indeed it could be called morning when the sky was mostly dark and even the birds and the fishmongers were too listless to make their morning cries. Not even a simple acknowledgment came off the elf as they both stood waiting for the captain to wave them onboard. Leon could feel his hands clench slowly into fists at his side, but perhaps it was only because his eyes were still cobwebbed from sleep, and he hadn't so much as eaten his packed breakfast.

"Come on," said Orion brusquely, and Leon realized he'd allowed himself to get lost in his own thoughts.

A beginner's mistake, which was beneath him. He shook off his reverie and shamefacedly trotted up to follow the elf up the gangplank, to where the captain was waiting on deck to greet them.

That was when Orion turned his back on him for the third time. As he watched him march, straight-backed as any soldier in formation, into his cabin, Leon felt a growl of frustration gather at the pit of his throat.

"Someday very soon," he said, clenching his hands once more into fists, "I'm going to pound that elf into the ground."

The captain was amused. "Oh?" she said, grinning. "What kind of pounding do you mean to deliver?"

Heat rushed to his face, and he turned on her to say with all due vehemence, "That's not what I meant!"

"Really?" asked Ruby. "Shame. If you meant the first kind, then I doubt you could take him. Have you seen that man's body? He's a wall of muscle. Don't let that elven slenderness fool you into complacency."

"Yeah, well, I'm faster than him," muttered Leon resentfully.

"Doubt that too," said Ruby cheerfully. "Come on, let's change the subject. This one obviously isn't good for your health. You've gone red all over! Hey, you never gave me your name, did you?"

It went on rather like that for the rest of the day-long voyage. At first he thought their time on the island would be all the same. Worse, really. Once he'd seen Orion emerge from his impromptu swim it became impossible for Leon to hide his attraction even from himself, inconvenient though it obviously was. He tried to be businesslike about it and focus on the mission and the rewards that would be forthcoming, but his head twisted everything around for him.

When he worked hard to unravel the mystery of the box, a treacherous voice whispered in his head that he was only working so hard to gain scraps of Orion's approval. When he fixed his mind on Lord Imperion and the future prospects he could offer, his thoughts slipped into wondering whether working for Imperion would allow him to bump into Orion again. He should have grown worried the more convoluted the mystery of the island grew around them, but instead found himself thrilling at the prospect of stealing a few more hours in the company of a man who clearly didn't care for him.

What should have been a simple retrieval job ended up threatening both their lives, and the whole town of Sordwin. And Leon had no way of returning to Lux without putting matters to rights. The count of people he would have risked his life to save had been, for the past two years, exactly one: his baby brother. Finding that number threatening to climb up, and all for the sake of a sour-faced monk, however beautiful he might be, was disconcerting. Was it worth it? When he thought of the feeling of Orion's rapid heartbeat fluttering under his hand...

"I'm doomed," he muttered to himself as he glanced again at the statue of the god with eyes and mouth stitched shut.

Even exhausted as he was from the unbelievable day they'd both had, Leon had a hard time falling asleep. Moira was only too willing to volunteer rooms for the town's saviors, but the dark and the quiet were not as comforting as they had once been. He punched his pillow when he realized what was keeping him awake: he could hear very soft footsteps from the other side of the thin plaster wall.

The footsteps stopped, and after a moment he heard a murmur.

"What's wrong?"

How could he hear him across the wall, thin though it was? He hadn't even turned over in bed, let alone got up.

"Nothing," lied Leon.

Silence.

"Can't sleep," he admitted, sighing. "Too dark."

Silence.

"Breathe,” said Orion. “Relax. You need sleep.”

Leon snorted softly. “You don’t sound like you’re trying to fall asleep.”

He could almost picture the frown on Orion’s face.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Orion and added, again, “Try to get some sleep.”

Eventually the exhaustion of a day that had begun before dawn overwhelmed the lingering fears, and he fell into an uneasy sleep. And woke what felt like moments later, in a mussed bed with sweat-dampened sheets. Pale sunlight poured in through the open shutter. A sharp knock broke the heavy early morning silence.

Without needing to be prompted again, he scrambled out of bed and pulled on his clothes as fast as he could. He laced his binder in record time. Hadn’t he practiced it enough to work the knots in his sleep? Or as near as possible to it, really, since he didn’t feel truly awake until the cold morning air struck his face. Anything to get off Sordwin’s shores, and the sooner the better.

“What took you so long?” asked Orion when he existed the empty barroom. “They’re waiting for us.”

Leon swallowed his sighs. Nothing had changed. Why would anything change?

Nothing had changed. Orion was taciturn during the farewells that Sordwin’s people pressed upon them, while Ruby graciously accepted their gratitude. She was only too glad to accept gratitude, even if she would have preferred more monetary compensation, and the recently-awakened hailed her as a hero. Ruby accepted it all as her due, though her smile was strained. She’d been in their position, however briefly.

She would have stayed and accepted their accolades indefinitely, if Orion had not grabbed her arm and put a sharp word or two in her ear. She pulled her arm out of his grip easily and rolled her eyes, but soon protested that the tide waited for no dwarf, not even a heroic one like Ruby Redburg. Leon began to suspect that Sordwin hadn’t seen the last of the jovial pirate captain. Which might be better news for Ruby than for the town.

All the noise and furor at least served as a distraction from the many uncomfortable thoughts that Leon tried in vain to shove down into the dark back recesses of his mind. His brother back in Blackstone. Imperion and his job offer, and his lies, and his manipulations, and his ties to a competitors’ organization. The faceless nightmares, and whether they would keep visiting him at night. The quiet voice that was not his, that had spoken for him when all was lost.

And, of course, Orion.

He can open doors for me, thought Leon as he trudged up to the Phoenix’s gangplank. I have my brother back home to think of. Deep down, though, he knew that if he accepted whatever offer of employment Luca Imperion might have for him, it would be for one reason over any other.

Orion would not come when called and would not stay when asked. He was not in love. He did not want to be in love. He wouldn’t stay for him.

Except that he did. When Leon asked, he stayed. And it was the thinnest, flimsiest of victories, but he would take it. Although he couldn’t put into words the magnetic draw that pulled him always into Orion’s orbit, no more could he resist it. Though he would have been wise to turn his back and walk away, and even Orion himself told him as much, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. And Orion, after all, seemed to be more afraid of Leon than for him.

After that display at the observatory, Leon could hardly blame him.

Maybe they were well-suited, after all.