Soren had been determined to live a normal life despite being Branded. For the first four years after the war, it had been easy with restoration in the capital city taking place. But now that things had calmed down a bit, he was left jobless and the Greil Mercenaries were planned to go back to their base within the month.
Reluctantly, he had told Ike what he was and being the man he was, Ike hadn't thought any differently, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding for why being Branded was so wrong. But now people were noticing and whispered rumors were flying through the capital city of Crimea. While beorc and laguz were starting to co-exist peacefully, the Branded were still considered taboo.
And that was why he was leaving. Four years ago, before the war had ended, Stefan had told him he had friends in Grann Desert, and that they would welcome him. As much as it pained him to leave the Greil Mercenaries behind, he knew it had to be done before his secret was out. While Ike accepted him, he doubted the others would. If he stayed and they did accept him, he would only be able to stand by and watch death sap their strength and eventually claim them.
It was better to cut himself off now. Without goodbyes. Quick and painless.
Soren sat up and grabbed the pack he had filled with cloths and provisions the night before. He had sent a carrier pigeon to Stefan a fortnight ago and Stefan had replied that he would be waiting outside the city gates when he was ready.
As Soren stole out into the empty cobblestone streets, he glanced up at the moon. At least the moon wouldn't change. It would be the same moon, no matter where he went. Just as he was about to continue, a voice stopped him.
"Soren? Where are you going?"
He cringed. He could've handled it if any other member had come out and stopped him. But of course, it just had to be Ike.
Soren refused to turn around. He knew that if he saw the look on Ike's face, his resolve would crumble and he wouldn't be able to muster the strength back up to leave.
"You know why."
"Soren, no one cares!"
"Yes they do! People are already talking about how I'm not aging and how I still look like I'm only fifteen! You're a good man Ike, of course you'll accept me. But no one else will."
"You don't know that. Stay here Soren."
"I have plans already organized. I decided to go two weeks back. This is for the best Ike...I don't want to bring myself pain by staying here," Soren said.
"Would you please turn around?"
Soren did so, slowly, keeping his gazed fixed firmly on the ground. He heard Ike step forward and soon his leather boots were almost touching his own, the heat of his body radiating off of him and wrapping Soren up in a cocoon of familiar comfort.
"I guess if I'm never going to see you again, I should say this now so I don't regret never saying it."
His heart was in his throat as Ike's warm and calloused hand, weathered by years of training and fighting, tilted his chin up gently. He didn't get a chance to look at Ike's face because the next moment, their lips were pressed together firmly. Soren wanted to weep. Of course, something he longed for, for over five years was granted to him on the night of his departure.
His throated seized up tighter as Ike's arm twined around his waist, pulling him close. Ike pulled away briefly but Soren couldn't help but press into him again, wanting to burn the taste of the man onto his taste buds so he would never forget it.
When they pulled back, Soren whirled away, shaking slightly.
"I'm sorry Ike. It's for the best."
"I know. I'm sorry too. I wish you wouldn't leave."
"Maybe...I'll come back to visit."
Ike sighed, his hand patting Soren's shoulder. "Don't fill me with false hope Soren. I know you won't come back. It's just the type of man you are and I should respect that. You're saving us both pain I just...don't want to acknowledge that you're right again, like always."
"I love you Ike. I always will," Soren murmured, lips in a frown.
"I love you too, Soren. Goodbye."
Soren stepped away, all of his limbs feeling like pudding, screaming at him to turn around and walk back into a life that would be filled with happiness, however short lived. But he kept moving on relentlessly, feeling his heart tug with every step until finally he was outside of the gates. Overwhelmed with a sense of utter despair and loneliness, he fell to his knees, his throat tight and eyes wet.
"There you are."
Soren tried to compose himself as Stefan's voice sounded to his right and he stepped out from the trees. Stefan looked sympathetic though and he knelt down in front of Soren, looking him directly in the eyes, unflinchingly, absorbing the pain there without judging him.
"You'll forget him soon enough. Don't worry. We have all been what you're going through but where we are headed is a place for wounds to heal. You aren't alone," he said softly.
Soren nodded and wept.
They rested that night in a small encampment Stefan had prepared and then left at the crack of dawn, wanting to get a head start on anyone who might decide to come after them.
"Where are we going exactly?" Soren asked, packing up his bedroll.
"A port city to the west. There's another Branded we need to pick up that's camped on the coast of Gallia," Stefan answered, shouldering his own pack and readjusting his sword so it rested more comfortably on his hip.
"I see. How big is this group?"
"About thirty in all," Stefan replied as they began walking. "Would you like me to tell you about them?"
Soren nodded, willing to try anything to get his mind off the festering discomfort within him.
"The most interesting are Cain and Zachri. They're twins, and their father was a Goldoan dragon. There's also..."
Soren examined Stefan as they walked, barely paying attention to what was being said. As he stepped over logs and weaved under branches, the bright green hair would occasionally move enough for Soren to catch a glimpse of the birthmark that signified what he was.
"How do you tell their heritage?" Soren interrupted.
"We go by basic features. And some of them did know their parents before they were...discarded," Stefan replied.
"So what are you?"
Stefan's expression grew wary and closed off abruptly and Soren regretted saying anything at all. "That is something I am not willing to discuss. My apologies."
"No, it is my fault for asking. May I ask what you think I am?" Soren asked, quickly changing the subject.
Stefan looked him over, gaze thoughtful. "Your hair color makes me want to say dragon heritage but...you're a little on the pale side for that. You can ask Mina when we arrive. She's the best at identifying heritages and has never been off the mark to my knowledge."
Soren looked down, unsure of what else to say. He had never been good in social situations and was usually more content with silence, awkward or no. But silence now meant thinking and thinking meant Ike. All things he wanted to avoid currently.
"You'll get over him. And the life you have left behind. Who knows, maybe you'll see him again?" Stefan said quietly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Soren said.
"A blind person could tell that you were in love with Ike," Stefan sighed. "But you might meet him again. You might have to."
Soren looked at the sword fighter, alarmed. "What do you mean?"
"I'm planning on turning us into a country. There's only thirty of us now, but our numbers will continue to grow and soon, Tellius will have to recognize us as a people and not beasts that need to be killed," Stefan said firmly. "And countries need allies and to be honest, I think Crimea is our best bet."
"I...don't know what to say..." Soren said.
Stefan looked down at him, smirking. "Well, I was hoping maybe you could be our tactical genius that helps us negotiate. But if you don't want it, I can-"
"I'll take it. I'll have to make myself useful somehow if I live there with you and I can't say I'm a good physical worker," Soren said, flushing a little for admitting a weakness so readily.
Stefan threw his head back and laughed. "Oh don't worry. Your wind magic is plenty enough of a strength to protect you in a fight. I've seen you in action Soren, and you are quite powerful."
"I try," Soren said, trying not to sound too smug at the compliment.
"We all have our places in society. Yours will just be to help negotiate peace alliances when the time comes and before that...well you could always teach some of the others how to use magic. You'll be the only magic user there; the others are more inclined to use weapons and brute force. It'll be nice to have something else for a change," Stefan said.
"I will help in anyway I can," Soren promised.
"And that's all I'm asking."