Chapter 1: True Names
Mikleo knew he was in trouble. He knew because Gramps told Sorey to wait outside, the human's expression somewhat panicked as the door closed between them. He knew because Gramps kept his back turned even as he sat beside the fire and fell quiet for far too long. He knew he was in trouble but he had no idea what he'd done. He and Sorey hadn't even ventured off into the ruins that day. They'd been doing school work just as Gramps had asked them to. He could think of nothing to have caused the worried frown he'd seen on Sorey's face.
"Do you remember what I told you when your true name was revealed?" Gramps asked at last, his pipe laying idle in his hands.
This question did not illuminate anything for Mikleo. Under different circumstances, he might have considered it simply a quiz. Either way, it was an easy enough lesson to repeat. "You said true names have a special power that can bind a seraph to someone else's command and thus should not be freely disclosed. A true name is both a blessing and a curse in that it allows for very deep connections but does so through the surrender of certain powers of will. Seraphim must guard their true name to ensure it may never be used against them," Mikleo recalled, doing his best to be as precise as possible to the words used in the lecture he'd heard months ago.
Gramps nodded, seemingly pleased with his recitation. With his pipe, he gestured out towards the ash on the edges of his hearth. "Do you want to explain, then, why this is what I found Sorey practicing his penmanship on?"
Mikleo didn't even need to look. Context was enough to tell him exactly what was scratched into the ash and a cold weight settled in his gut as he waited, hands clenching against his thighs. There was nothing really to say except, quietly, "He thought it sounded pretty."
Gramps drew deeply from his pipe and exhaled the trails of smoke out through his nose. He was a very patient guardian but it was obvious it was a harder virtue to maintain at the moment. It was not anger in his face that Mikleo was fearful of, though. Gramps didn't look angry, he looked disappointed. Mikleo would have much preferred anger to that. He tried so hard to make his guardian proud.
"Do you understand what it means to give someone, especially a human, your true name?" he asked at length.
It was hard not to blush and thus Mikleo turned his head. He nodded minutely, feeling self conscious under his stare.
Gramps sighed loudly, raking his fingers through the ash to erase the trouble writings. "You're young, Mikleo. Both of you are. I don't mean to imply that Sorey would ever misuse the power you've given him, but the consequences of such actions were not meant for ones as young as the two of you to contend with."
Mikleo's face felt all the redder as embarrassment and shame uncomfortably mixed. "It's not.. I mean... it's Sorey. It would be weird not to have him know. We don't keep secrets from each other."
"Your true name is not just a secret, Mikleo. It is, at its core, you in your entirety. And you have given all of yourself to a boy who is not yet mature enough to appreciate such a gift." The older seraphim shook his head, his heavy brows hanging low over his eyes. "You are both so eager to grow up," he muttered. "And while I did not think to prepare either of you for an understanding of such intimacies, I cannot say I am entirely surprised either. Sorey and I will have words. As for you, Mikleo.... It goes no further than this. Promise me this is where it ends."
"Where what ends?" Mikleo asked, his curiosity winning out over his other warring emotions.
Gramps frowned. "Sorey will soon be entering a very trying part of his human development. Where you were granted a true name, his progression will be much more.... physical. Promise me you will not share in his physical maturity in the same way he has shared in your own progression."
Mikleo nodded even though he didn't quite understand. It seemed a serious enough request not to simply obey regardless of what it meant. He was sure it'd be made clear before too long.
His blind agreement seemed enough for the time being. Gramps puffed on his pipe again and gestured for Mikleo to rise. "Send Sorey in as you leave. He's undoubtedly waiting for you just outside the door."
Mikleo nodded again, bowing his head as he hurried to leave, his footsteps however weighed down with his guilt. It felt like an eternity before he finally opened the door into the orange light of a setting sun. Sorey was indeed standing there, looking more miserable than Mikleo had imagined.
"I'm so sorry!" he rushed to say, his green eyes brimming with tears even as his cheeks were already stained in the trails of those spent.
Mikleo forced a smile, not wanting to make him feel as though he too was upset. "It's not your fault," he assured him quietly as he held the door open. "Gramps wants to see you too, though."
Sorey took a deep breath, wiping his face off on his sleeve. He looked absolutely devastated and that, more than anything, broke Mikleo's heart. He leaned forward, his lips close to his friend's ear, as he made sure his whisper would be heard by only him. "I'm glad you know my name," he assured him. And with a hiccup, Sorey looked over and smiled.
No matter what Gramps thought or how he seemed to understand it, for Mikleo there were no regrets.
Chapter 2: Human Artes
Sorey knew he was in trouble. He knew because suddenly everyone was very keen to leave him alone. He knew because they'd given him his own house now where he was expected to live by himself. He knew because everyone had made it very clear that things were going to change from now on. He knew he was in trouble but had little clue as to what to do about it. Gramps had said it was something that would right itself given time. Time, patience, and acceptance were the key. And somehow that also meant keeping a certain distance from Mikleo.
Sorey could not conceive of anything more terrible.
"This stage in your human life is both difficult and important, Sorey," Gramps explained, making sure such delicate details were spoken of without an audience. "I have compiled several texts which may help explain this process better than I as a seraphim can but I want you to understand, most importantly, that this is not a bad thing to be ashamed of. It is simply a mark of physical progression as your body matures from that of a child to adolescence."
Sorey nodded, believing his words, but still finding himself disappointed to know this would set him further apart from Mikleo--from his seraphim family.
"You see," Gramps continued, his voice somewhat raspy. "Unlike seraphim, humans are the progenitors of further humans. It takes the combination of a female and male human to create a new human. All humans are created by the cumulation of intercourse and from there grow and develop over many years to become adult males and females who will continue the cycle. As your body changes you to grant you this ability to create life, it will also bestow upon you a sense of desire related to your baser instincts. This may confuse you and you may not fully understand what it is you feel compelled to do, but this is all to be expected and does not reflect poorly on you to be confused, frustrated or even scared."
Sorey nodded along but it didn't sound scary. It sounded amazing! "You mean humans get a special arte when they reach a certain age?!" he exclaimed, feeling as though, perhaps, this wasn't a matter that separated them more but instead made him more like his diversely powerful family.
Gramps chuckled, his smile calm and pleasant. "I suppose that's one way to think of it. It requires dual incantation you might say but one can operate a lesser function of the arte in private for practice and personal gratification."
Sorey looked at his own hands in awe. He was going to have the power to create life! He couldn't wait to tell Mikleo! This was so much cooler than either of them had expected given how grave the topic of Sorey's growing older and started to become. "Mikleo doesn't know, right? How long does it usually take to practice before you master the arte? I want to surprise him and show him my new power like he does with his artes!"
Those words timed perfectly with an inhale from his pipe made Gramps sputter and cough on the smoke in his lungs. He shook his head, clearing his throat, attending to his pipe in otherwise fidgety hands. "Perhaps I was too quick to agree with you," he corrected softly. "While it's perfectly okay to think of it as an arte as it is an ability that does miraculous things, it is also not something you share with most people, and certainly not at your age. Think of it like a seraph's true name. It is a powerful thing and it requires the utmost trust and understanding to be shared. It requires commitment and consent and in most cases love. And regardless of how much you may feel those things relate to Mikleo, you will not be involving him in this stage of your life," he said, his voice taking on a more authoritative tone as he looked at Sorey rather than the pipe sitting idle in his hands. "That is one rule I will state explicitly because I know you two far too well not to see a need for well stated limitations. Besides, to create life, you would need a human female. Mikleo is neither of those things. You cannot complete the arte with him. You could only involve him in a fruitless incantation."
"Oh." Sorey frowned, feeling fidgety himself now that things had become so serious all of a sudden. He wasn't nearly as excited as he'd been before. He was going to be able to do something no one else on their mountain could do but... what was the point if in the end there was no reason to ever perform it? "So... my body wants me to learn something that I can't actually use?" he asked, hoping that perhaps there was a way to opt out if that was the case.
Gramps sighed, stretching a hand out to cover Sorey's head. "I think the human authors will do a better job than I have explaining the finer details of what your body wants. And we will both read them together. I don't know how good I will be at answering your questions as we proceed with the academic side of things but, at this time, I simply wish for you to understand that this is not a bad thing and you are not being punished, though you may at times feel as if you are. Personal and private things have not been a part of your life before now. This is where you leave the comforts and ease of childhood behind you. It's simply a part of growing up. I know I will be proud of the way you handle yourself from here."
Sorey smiled brightly, finding more than enough reasons to feel better about the cryptic future with promises of kind guidance from the man who had dutifully raised him. "Thanks, Gramps," he said, not entirely swayed but certainly less worried about what lay in store.
"I think that's enough for today," Gramps proclaimed, taking his hand back with a sigh. "We'll continue with our informative readings tomorrow. For now, go play. Mikleo is waiting."
He needn't say another word to incentivize Sorey's retreat. He jumped up and hurried out, hoping Mikleo hadn't gone too far since the others seemed intent on finding reasons to pull him away. He was just outside the door, though, leaning against the wall with his head tilted back to watch the sky. He startled slightly as the door opened but soon smiled as Sorey hurried out and closed it behind him. The day was theirs now, such as it was. There were still a few hours left of sun at any rate.
"How did it go?" he asked as Sorey gestured for them to get a move on.
"It went okay," Sorey explained with a shrug, scuffing his feet on the ground. "Gramps said I'm going to learn an arte but that it only works with human ladies."
"Why only them?"
Sorey shrugged again, palms up. "I don't know. We're going to study it more later. But he said, no matter what, I definitely can't perform it with you."
Mikleo's frown deepened as he walked at Sorey's side, his cape fluttering behind him in the mountain breeze. "I guess... well, seraphim have artes which are related only to their element. Humans don't have an element but I suppose it would make sense that anything a human could perform would involve other humans."
Sorey looked over at him and at the creases of his frown, the way Mikleo's orchid eyes looked both larger and smaller in the way they narrowed, making the purple color far exceed the white. It really was beautiful the way he blended in with the sky, all white and blue and gold like the sun, except for his bright, knowing eyes. "Yeah. That's probably it," Sorey agreed, thinking to himself that right then, even with such an expression on his face, Mikleo was beautiful.
And not for the first time, such a thought made him feel a strange sense of excitement and awkward longing for something. A race to the gate of the city was surely the answer to that strange calling. And so, wordlessly, they both fell into a run.
Chapter 3: The First Time
Mikleo hated puberty and he wasn't even the one having to go through it. It had been funny enough at the start with Sorey unable to say his name without a little crack in his voice on the first syllable but it soon stopped being quite so humerus when Sorey's behavior more so than just his body began to change. He bathed alone now which was shocking to say the least. They had loved to goof around in the water, splashing and tackling each other into the stream until, somehow, they imagined themselves finally clean. Sorey was also prone to quickly running away at any given time, no real reason afforded other than a flush of his cheeks and a stammered apology. It wasn't as though Mikleo didn't know why the embarrassment and impulse to withdraw hit him, but he still couldn't comprehend why Sorey acted on it around him. Mikleo had read the books Gramps and Sorey had studied too; he knew of the sorts of things the human body did randomly at this time according to those accounts. He didn't care. So what? Mikleo hated that things were changing just because Sorey's penis was different now. It was the worst reason ever not to still hang out and have fun. He rather missed tickle fights on the bank by the stream. He missed his face on the other side of the mattress and whispers shared under the blankets when they were supposed to be asleep. He missed a lot of things that had been deemed too childish for them now. Growing up was a terrible decision. He wished Sorey hadn't made them do it.
Sorey was truly ruining everything. Even laying on the mountain's slope, looking up at the sky could be interrupted with a hard shove and a scramble at a moments notice. Mikleo had always liked resting with his head on Sorey's stomach, Sorey's fingers carding through his hair as they argued about what the clouds above looked like. They hadn't done that in weeks now--not since the last time when Sorey had pushed him away so hard and so fast that he'd rolled more than a few yards down the mountain. Nothing was the way it had been anymore and spotty-faced Sorey made it worse every day. The sooner puberty was over the better though Mikleo was somewhat determined to make him pay. Sorey owed him big time for putting up with this sort of thing for so long. Surely it was within his power to just hurry up and make it end faster.
As it was, Mikleo hadn't really seen Sorey for most of the day. Laying in bed, trying to sleep, all he could think about was the nervous look the human had given him in passing at dinner. They hadn't spoken. Sorey didn't stand still long enough to let him even say hello. He was too busy making himself scarce again, his shirt untucked and jaw set as he walked. Mikleo hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it. Where had his best friend gone? And what was--
Mikleo sat up straight in his bed, eyes wide and pulse racing. His mind felt completely empty except for a single command that rang out, tugging at him, compelling him to get up and go regardless of the hour or the fact he was barefoot and in his pajamas. He felt grass between his toes even before he thought to remember how to breathe, his hand on a strange doorknob before his eyes could see more than stars. And then he was just there, standing in the doorway of Sorey's bedroom, looking down at a very confused young man reclining sleepily beneath his covers. As intense as the compulsion to move had been, he now felt nothing but a strange, fuzzy hollowness that moved like static through his veins. It wasn't supposed to be like this, he could sense in the way nausea clawed at him as he stood. He couldn't not stand there, though. The summons was aimless but unrelenting. He was supposed to be here but also, somehow, unwanted. He could barely breathe for all the stuttering of confusion in his chest.
"Mikle--Oh! Oh, no! Oh, hell!" Sorey uttered as he fought the blankets in a scramble, warring with his own two feet as he untangled and grabbed Mikleo's arms in his larger hands.
Mikleo had no strength with that, falling into him as though in a feint though his eyes remained wild and wide.
"I'm sorry! I take it back! I'm sorry! I shouldn't have said it!" Sorey continued, setting Mikleo on his bed with the utmost care, holding him still to look into his eyes. Mikleo hadn't a clue what he was rambling about--was only pleased to feel the conflict fade into a welcoming glow. He was wanted in the place that had been calling to him. The sense of ease washed over him like bliss.
"Mikleo? Oh, god, please say something! Please snap out of it!" Sorey begged, shaking him gently as things began to come into focus.
Mikleo blinked, staring into scared, green eyes. "What happened?" he asked, his voice breathless and sounding far away even to his own ears. The warmth of Sorey's hands holding tight to his arms was far more comforting than he'd ever expected.
Sorey's pinched smile at his lucid words was quickly overridden by the weight of his guilt. "It's all my fault," he professed. "I said your name."
By the way he said it, Mikleo knew which name he meant. Sorey had said his other name, his true name, the one made not for him but of him. "You've said my name before and this never happened," he recalled, thinking back to the day he'd first shared it with him and the sweet way it had sounded from his lips, spoken with reverence and a hint of jealousy.
"Yeah... but..." Sorey hung his head, his hands relaxing in their comforting grip against Mikleo's arms. "I'm all weird right now... so... that probably... affected things," he tried to explain, wincing once more as his he shook his head in dismay. "What have I done? I'm so sorry, Mikleo."
"It's fine," he said, trying to console him. Ever since they took to the bed, Mikleo really had been too. It was only in the doorway when he'd felt torn by opposing desires that he'd felt anything aside from determination or the new wave of contentment at being there now. It was frightening in a way to know he felt good as a reward for having obeyed but it was so much better than what had been before and had tried to tear him apart.
"I'll carry you home," Sorey offered, his arm reaching around him to assist in picking him up.
Mikleo shook his head hard. "No!" he shouted with far more aggression than he'd intended. Something in him rebelled at the thought of it, though. Too soon. Too soon for his first time. "I mean... I think I need to stay," he tried to explain, not sure how to put the compulsion into words that wanted nothing more than to stay just there, with him, closer than they'd been in months.
Sorey's frown was near permanent, the expression so strange on a face made for smiles. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Mikleo hummed in affirmation. With that, the arm along his back shifted upwards with its new purpose, guiding the seraph back to rest his head against the pillow behind him. The pillow smelled sickly sweet of sweat and musk but Mikelo'd be lying if he said he didn't like it just a little bit. It was a human smell--only Sorey smelled like that. It was better than a breath of clean laundry any day. The blanket Sorey draped over him was more of the same strong bouquet.
With a great deal more trepidation than Mikleo thought necessary, Sorey shyly laid down beside him, his back to the wall so he could watch over the other, his hand resting in the space between them on the bed. "Please forgive me... I... I just wasn't thinking," he whispered, something about pillows and blankets making a normal voice too loud.
Mikleo smiled softly, somehow not in the least upset by anything that could have led to them being like this again now. "Stop it. I was thinking about you too, you know," he admitted, finding it safe to do so when Sorey had no way of concealing the fact Mikleo had been on his mind. He let his own hand fall to the mattress, his arm crossing over Sorey's at the wrist. It was like a secret language for them. He knew the other would understand.
Whether he did or not, Sorey still looked miserable. It was an expression he wore far too often now. If Mikleo thought his puberty was hard on the seraph, though, it only took seeing Sorey's pimpled, haunted looking expression to know it was infinitely more trying for him.
"Sorey," he whispered across the pillow, loving the fact that they were here again despite their age. "I'm still glad you know my name."
That, at last, earned him a genuine smile as Sorey blushingly ducked his head.
Chapter 4: A Time Without
Sorey hated puberty but not as much as he suspected Mikleo did, and Mikleo only had to deal with Sorey himself. He was sure becoming taller than him was ranked somewhere high on the list of grievances with accidentally being shoved down the mountain slope probably not falling much further in line. Sorey was running out of ways to say he was sorry that still felt heartfelt and real. He was sorry, though. Genuinely. Not for getting taller--that bit was great and if Mikleo didn't like it he could try advancing a bit in age as well. He was still lithe and hairless in all the ways Sorey was not any longer. Being taller was like a consolation prize. He could use a few more of them now and then considering everything else going on that seemed intent on sabotaging his entire life. Worse than anything nature had brought him, though, was the mistake he'd made all his own. There was at least some agency afforded him in that but none at all that made him in any way proud.
He'd called his true name. He'd enacted the power the right to its knowledge granted him. And he'd done it without ever consulting Mikleo. Every time he thought about it, it made Sorey feel sick. The way Mikleo had just suddenly been standing there, looking confused and conflicted, his bare feet dirty and his hair mussed by his pillow. He should have been in his own bed but he was there whether he wanted to be or not because of something Sorey had uttered without any real intent or thought. It didn't feel like he had the real Mikleo back until the morning when he'd been grumpily berated for not thinking ahead and made to run back to Mikleo's own place to get his shoes and clothes for him to save him the shame of walking back in his current state.
Mikleo wasn't mad at him for it but Sorey felt more disgusted by himself for having caused that than at any other time--erections during cloud watching with Mikleo's head inches from his crotch included in the long list. He was never going to say his name aloud again, he swore. He'd keep it inside like a precious secret or solemn oath. He'd never again find Mikleo trapped in a state of compulsory submission. He hated that it had ever happened at all.
He took him star gazing to make it up to him. Mikleo professed with no shortage of irritation that there was no reason at all to do anything for his sake though he never said he didn't want to either. They brought snacks and a few waterskins to the cliffs beside the prominent ruins and laid out on blankets with books of star charts between them. The best part of star gazing was the inaugural argument as to which map was most correct for the current time of year. Second best was trying to convince the other that the brighter stars were planets instead with minutes to hours spent flipping through pages to check and double check each celestial body. The night sky played an important role in some of the temples now turned to ruins that were said to be scattered around Glenwood. It was integral to their interests that they have a decent enough grasp on the clues shining above. Besides which, they were beautiful. And it was wonderful to out there with Mikleo.
Moonlight did truly amazing things to Mikleo's body. He honestly seemed to glow given how pale he was, an ethereal halo seemingly blurring the hard lines where other bodies might simply end. Catching a glimpse of him unprepared was a staggering experience that probably made even nature hold its breath. At least, that's what Sorey felt. Everything on the mountain was so quiet in the dark, he was pretty sure he could find enough evidence to support a hypothesis on the effects of Mikleo's beauty on the world at large. It was nice, though, in a way to know in that moment, it was his alone to admire. Especially the way his narrow eyes held a grimace as they argued.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Mikleo asked as he held the corner of a book's page in the delicate grasps of his thin fingers.
Sorey chuckled nervously, making sure his own book sat neatly in his lap. "No reason," he lied, not wishing to embarrass Mikleo with aesthetic praise.
The seraph rolled his eyes and advanced through his pages to the quiet rub of paper. "You're so weird, Sorey," he teased. And there was zero room to argue the point. Sorey generally used the words himself to explain the generic affects of his 'condition'. Even according to the books on the subject, he wasn't entirely normal.
The books had said it was normal to start feeling a certain way about females. Sorey had imagined they specifically meant human females and so didn't think too much about not gaining any of those particular inclinations as time went on. He was pretty sure he knew what the books described though: sweaty palms, an excited pulse, a desire to be close and to touch. Those weren't strange feelings to Sorey at all. He felt them frequently in fact, just not in the presence of females of any sort. Neither was it females he found himself thinking about while alone, trying to deal with some minor, annoying but pleasant necessities. And the dreams? Oh, he certainly had those too. But there were no females there either. His subconscious was, perhaps, very unoriginal and offered up no invented persons as an object of lust. It was just Mikleo, sadly. Always Mikleo. And those dreams most especially were never to be spoken of.
The books were really quite insistent it should be a female he desired, though. Sorey often wanted to ask Gramps if it was okay not to; if there was an option to just... not. He didn't want him to worry about him, though, if it turned out there was simply something wrong with Sorey after all.
Mikleo gave a short, triumphant 'ha!' as he held his book open for Sorey to see. "I told you it was too early to see the Lovers constellation. It won't be in the night sky for another month!" he proclaimed, his smile gigantic with his victory on display.
Sorey leaned forward to see for himself and nodded appreciably at his find. On the opposite page, the illustration of the constellation as conceived of and not as a simple linking of dots, depicted a man and a woman in an embrace. "I guess you're right. Though I bet a few of the stars aren't too far off the horizon. It's just the full picture we're not seeing just yet."
Mikleo shrugged, not all that interested in whether a few stars were present when the debate had been about the constellation as a whole. "Either way, those stars right there was definitely not The Lovers. They may be part of The Shield, though," he surmised, flipping through the pages again.
The image of The Lovers constellation still hadn't left Sorey's mind, though. Whether it was in art or in science, everything seemed to circulate around the idea of opposites, male and female being among them, and of their integral, mystical connections. It was wonderful to know there existed historical proof that humans and seraphim once lived in an integrated society. But as far as he'd seen, there wasn't much of anything that spoke of males and males in the same way they spoke of males and females.
"Um... Mikleo?" Sorey asked, still surprise sometimes by the tenor of his own voice. "Do you ever thing about... I mean... if you were to... huh."
"Spit it out, Sorey," Mikleo sighed, his irritation feigned with his lips still tucked with a grin.
Sorey rubbed at the back of his neck. "Okay, so, you know how in all the books the hero saves the damsel or returns home to start a family or... or, well, how humans almost always just.. end up together? Men and women. Specifically," he started, hoping it made at least some bit of sense given how jumbled his own thoughts seemed to be. "I was just wondering if you ever thought about girls. Like that."
"Like a hero returning from an adventure?" Mikleo asked, looking confused to the point of bewilderment. "Why would I be thinking about a girl at a time like that? I'd have much more important things to think about. Like making sure you didn't end up in trouble."
Sorey started out wanting to correct him and to steer him back to topic but forgot all about that the moment he stopped speaking. "Me?" he asked.
Mikleo shrugged. "Obviously. If I'm on an adventure, you're there too, right?"
Sorey nodded as his heart drummed in his chest. That wasn't at all what he was trying for but... well, he wasn't going to argue with it either. "I.. yeah, of course. I was just... I mean, The Lovers is a man and a woman. Not a... not like... two men, or..."
"I guess it is," Mikleo responded with a shrug, his interest only half intent on his friend's little ramblings and hypothetical forays. "I didn't really notice."
"If it were two men, do you think you'd notice?" Sorey asked, his chest almost aching as his heart continued to thunder against his ribs.
Mikleo sighed, putting his book down as he leaned back on his palms. "Probably not. I mean, it's not called 'The Man and the Woman'. I might notice there were two men in that case but it's just The Lovers."
If it was possible to die of hope, Sorey was pretty sure he was standing on the edge of such a fate. It wasn't as though he'd ever seen Mikleo show interest in anyone and he certainly valued his happiness above such things as whom he was with or.. or.. well, he wanted Mikleo to be happy above pretty much everything, but to hear him say things that rang true to Sorey's own feelings on the subject... Sorey reminded himself to breathe and not to stare as he forced his attention to the star lit sky. Mikleo thought like he did, or at least it sounded like he did. It made him almost feel invincible. Like he could take on anything.
But, oh, that crippling self doubt that feared the difference was in their nature--as human and seraphim. It could be that too. They experienced the world so differently after all. Sorey took a deep breath, wiggling his toes inside his shoes, as he forced himself to find the answer his heart insisted on excavating. "So.. is it that you just don't think about things like kissing, uh.. people, or...?"
"Not particularly," Mikleo interjected, seemingly deaf to the intent behind the words. "Why, are you wanting to practice?" he asked.
Perhaps not so much deaf as terrifyingly blunt. Sorey inhaled so quickly he nearly choked on his tongue. "I... p-practice? Why w-, I... Uh."
"I've never kissed anyone either but I bet I'd still be better at it than you are," the seraphim challenged, wiggling his feet at the ends of long, outstretched legs.
Awkwardness be damned when Mikleo got to talking all high and mighty. "Whatever," Sorey scoffed. "You're so sensitive, I bet you'd go stiff as a board."
"I am not 'so sensitive'!"
"Oh yeah?" Sorey leaned over with a devilish grin, his fingers pressing in along Mikleo's side and dragging down across the pinch of his waist with a barely there touch.
The seraph immediately collapsed over his side to protect himself from the attack, smacking Sorey's hand away with an undignified yelp. "That's not the same thing!" he professed, his cheeks burning red.
Sorey: 1; Mikleo: 0. He beamed at him, his grin crooked and sly. "How would you know?" Sorey teased, loving everything about the way Mikleo reacted to that touch, from the perceivable shiver down his spine to the creep of warmth that stained his body red.
"I just do!" he professed, his elbows tucked in close to ward off further attack. "Besides, I'm not the one with a stiffness problem here."
It was a low blow but not one Sorey couldn't roll with. He lifted the book from his lap, showing that he was perfectly calm in all physical respects thank you very much. He stuck his tongue out at him for added effect. He was still winning and he knew Mikleo knew it too.
Mikleo's face only grew redder having indeed looked down to check the status of Sorey's lap, his mind slower than his movement as he looked away in a huff, arms crossed over his chest. "Grow up," he barked.
"I am," Sorey reminded him. "That's basically the problem."
Mikleo tried not to smile but was pretty terrible at looking put off. He was having fun. Sorey was having fun. It was a wonderful night and the stars weren't really even a part of it.
Feeling a little bolder, Sorey scooted closer, not looking at Mikleo anymore but rather the moon as it hung heavy above them. "So," he proposed. "You really want to kiss me?" It was hard not to tease.
Mikleo leaned in close enough to jostle him with his shoulder, giving him a hard bump for being an idiot. "It's you who wants to kiss me," he corrected. His eyes were averted too.
He wasn't wrong. Sorey wanted to kiss him very much. But... Gramps had said Mikleo was off limits for lack of a better phrase. Anything that had to do with the stuff in the books was for academic purposes only. He wasn't allowed to kiss Mikleo. Not while Gramps thought them too young and Sorey himself too... weird. It felt wonderful just knowing that maybe, if he weren't being such a prideful jerk, Mikleo might actually tell him he felt the same way. Might actually think and feel the same way. That mattered so much more than what some silly books had to say about love. Maybe it didn't matter if someone wasn't a male who passionately loved females. He knew without a doubt that it wouldn't if Mikleo agreed.
And for the first time, such a thought made him feel a strange sense of excitement and awkward longing for something that now he understood and had a name. And better than just a name, it had a definition in Mikleo. And a bit of hope that glowed like the moon.
It was hard not to admit that, as much as the years it had taken had annoyed Mikleo, Sorey had become a very handsome young man. He was broad and thick with a toned physique, his face had lost most of its boyishness with new angles where it had once been round. He stood tall and smelled earthy and Mikleo couldn't even begin to pretend he minded the extra hair. He looked like a heroic statue stained dark like clay and brought to life. Not that he'd tell him. He was sure Sorey already knew he was no less adorable but infinitely more attractive now. There was nothing quite like watching him walk up the maintain with a dead prickleboar yolked over his shoulders, his loose clothing still somehow doing nothing to dismiss the imagery of shoulder muscles flexing and thighs bulging due to the incline of each step. It was ridiculous how stupidly manly he'd become. And that perfect stupid face that always smiled back at Mikleo as though he'd been looking forward to seeing him all day. Sorey really had no business growing up to look so good. But since Mikleo was the only one around to truly appreciate it, he supposed he could let it slide.
Today he had a very good view of Sorey tending the garden, Mikleo's presence at his side excused for now having been called away by their guardian. It was fascinating to watch someone without elemental artes tend to the earth and carry water in a can. Mikleo loved how Sorey tucked his bottom lip under his teeth when he worked on the delicate unearthing of root vegetables to see if they were now done. He wanted very much to be allowed to rejoin him. Gramps was taking his time, however, with his request.
He seemed to call Mikleo aside a lot now. Sometimes to ask him a favor, sometimes for a quick word about the communal goings on. He gave Sorey much more space and let him carry on much as he wanted. It was a little annoying to be the only one held under thumb. But with his pipe between his lips and his eyes also glancing down at Sorey as he toiled with the small patch of crops, it seemed he hadn't forgotten what he'd asked Mikleo to come to him for so much as was appreciative of his other ward's hard work.
"It occurs to me that for you this is all very normal," he interjected into the silence, the cool breeze embracing them as they both stood in the open air. "Gardens and homes and a neighborhood of sorts. The interactive presence of a human. Everything we seraphim have made ourselves adjust to, you see as just the way things are. I worry it has been a disservice to you."
Mikleo scowled, his arms crossing tightly over his chest. "I'm not confused if that's what you think. I've heard enough from the others to know this is rare and uncommon. But I also know you're all used to it now. I don't think I'm any worse off than Sorey is. This is what we are so this is just fine being normal."
"And what of when the crops die and the houses fall apart?"
None of this was actively making sense. "Sorey's not going to let the crops die, and neither will the others. Sorey needs food to live. And with our artes, there's no reason for our houses to be lost to disrepair."
Gramps breathed in deep from his pipe then turned to go inside, a trail of smoke proceeding him as he gestured to be followed. "One day soon Sorey leave us for the human world," he said with a sigh felt though it was not heard. "Without the excuse of helping raise him, I doubt all will continue with unnecessary things like food and shelter. You should prepare yourself, Mikleo. It is not a matter of chance but of certainty."
Mikleo followed him in but failed to understand why such words warranted a tone of remorse. Neither he nor Sorey had ever been quiet about their aspirations. They were going to travel the world and see the ruins they'd read about all their lives. Everyone knew that--Mikleo most of all. "When he leaves, I'll be there with him. Whatever you all care to do in Elysia after that is fine by both of us," he assured his guardian. It really was a silly thing to show concern about. If Sorey was gone, who cared about the garden? Certainly not them. They both understood.
Gramps shook his head, the wooden slats of his shoes making hollow thunks as he continued across the floor. "The world he travels to is not one that will welcome you. Resonance is rare and for the first time Sorey will be among other humans who understand him better than we can ever hope to. He deserves to join them without the weight of our expectations. We shall let him go, Mikleo. All of us. Because that is what is best for him."
What was best for Sorey? Mikleo clenched his fists at his side, trying to keep his temper in check. "I'm not letting him go alone when I've dreamed of going too," he bit out through a tight jaw, hating the easily read implications that Sorey was free to go but not him.
"Such a path will surely lead to malevolence," Gramps cautioned with a calm and patient voice. "I can accept losing a human ward to the land of his ancestors but I shall find it much harder to simply permit such reckless behavior from you. I know you, Mikleo. Your feelings will prey on you as you come to understand just how impossible it is for your relationship to exist down below. Humans will ignore you, walk through you, speak over you, and be unconcerned with sharing Sorey's time. He will develop new friendships which you will not be capable of being a part of. You will lose those perfect memories of youth to the poison of resentment if you follow him. You're not human, Mikleo, despite how we raised you, and most of the world has no way of knowing you even exist. Don't invite heartache where it can be avoided. Learn to say goodbye and let him go forward with our wishes for his life to be blessed."
"How can I let him go alone?" Mikleo barked, losing the battle with his temperament with each assertion on which his heart disagreed. "He'd be utterly lost without me, Gramps."
"He's a kind and a clever man. I know you have more faith in him than that."
"Well, what about me? When do I get to leave Elysia if not with Sorey?"
Gramps groaned as he lowered himself to the floor, the hearth crackling with a dull fire snapping at its embers. "In this age of chaos, it would be best for you to stay here," he said. "You have many more years in your lifetime to look forward to adventures if that is your desire. You're very young. There is no rush to begin that life."
Mikleo knew it would be disrespectful not to kneel on the floor but his quiet rage would not have him sit while his future was being withheld from him. "I'm the same age as Sorey and you're perfectly okay with letting him go!" he challenged, trying to keep his voice down even if the words were more or less shouted. This was intolerable and he could not kindly accept it. And surely Gramps had known that when he'd asked him aside.
"He is a human man and you are a seraphim child. I know you understand the difference."
Mikleo stomped his foot. "It's not a difference! I'm just as smart and as capable as Sorey. And I'm more mature, and much more level headed!" Which was true even if it wasn't on display. "If he's a man, I'm a man too! And if he's going anywhere, I'm going with him!"
"And when he falls in love, what then?" Gramps asked, his voice becoming angry for the first time since they'd began. "What happens when he finds a human who is capable of giving him everything you as a seraph cannot? Will you still remain with him even when your presence is no longer needed? Will you be happy for him and take your leave or will you impose yourself on him in further petulance?" The elder seraph shook his head, age weighing him down in ways Mikleo had never noticed before. "For his sake as well as your own, learn to say goodbye. I know you will suffer heartbreak either way, but at least here I can protect you while you work through that pain."
Mikleo slowly lowered himself to the floor, sitting on his feet as he took his customary place. Sorey falling in love? With a human? With... well, anyone honestly? That... that was only too likely, he had to admit. Who wouldn't fall in love with the handsome man with all that genuine charm and kindness in his heart? Sorey would be quite a catch even if he didn't have a name, a title or property. He was a hard worker and he was fantastic at following through with every insane idea that popped into his head. Of course he'd fall in love. Of course he'd win someone over with just how amazing he really was. And they'd be human. Because he was human. Because... that's just how those sorts of things worked. "Because humans need humans?" he asked, though the answer had already been instilled in both the man's pupils for a very long time indeed.
"Yes," Gramps replied with soft regret. "Very much so. In ways no seraphim can truly hope to understand."
Mikleo felt sure he could, though. If any seraph could understand a human being--understand Sorey as a human being--surely it would be him. "I don't want to say goodbye. That's not the way it's supposed to be. Not for us."
Gramps puffed on his pipe and let the silence speak. His words echoed their message without change. "You will one day understand the wisdom of letting go of even that which you cherish above all else. I'm not asking for you to understand, only that you accept the eventuality and prepare yourself for that day." He tipped the herbs from his pipe into the fire, pulling out a tin from his own pockets to refill the golden depression. "In the meantime, I will work harder to give you a better understanding of what it means to be a seraphim. In this, as of now, I have failed you. Sorey's needs were simply more pressing. With you, at least, there will always be time."
Mikleo shook his head, his bangs hanging low in his eyes. "Maybe I don't want to be a seraphim who lives apart from humans."
"In another age, perhaps that might have been. But I worry about you, out there, without guidance, surrounded by those who do not know you are there. That is not a life you have been prepared for. The consequences of my failings in that are far too dire for either of us to bear."
More than just a fundamental disagreement with his words, Mikleo hated that they were spoken with a sincere regard for himself. Gramps really was worried about him. Gramps absolutely did think this was in his best interest. He was a wonderful man but in this he simply had to be wrong. How could there ever be anything the matter with Mikleo and Sorey continuing life as they had known it all along: together. "You don't need to worry about me, Gramps,' he promised. "I'll be fine with Sorey."
His pipe refilled, Gramps sought next to light it, pulling a half-charred stick from the boarder of his fire. "His human life will be but an instant in the breadth of your own. Do you really think you can base a lifetime's wellbeing on such a short time of influence?" he asked, taking a moment to puff through the end of his pipe until smoke once again blossomed from the end and from his lips. "No, Mikleo. This is not an argument you can win. I know, when you have taken the time to consider what I am telling you, you will see that I am only trying to do what is best for you. So let us say nothing more for the time being. You have much to think about and there is still time to reflect. But this will not be the end of it. So do not imagine this topic is retired."
"Yes, Gramps," Mikleo conceded with a bow, slowly rising back up onto his feet, feeling somewhat directionless now that he was allowed to go free. Normally he'd hurry back to Sorey. Always he would go to join him at his side. If, for whatever reason, Sorey wasn't there anymore, though, what then would he do? Where would he go? What purpose did his time have if the one he cared for was not there to share it?
It was, perhaps, the most terrifying thought he'd ever conceived of. A life without Sorey? His gut felt cold just at the mention of it. He took himself out of Gramps' sight as quickly as possible just to keep that terror a secret from him for now. Sorey meant far too much to him to just accept he might one day be gone. And Gramps had meant only from Elysia. If Sorey were to die...
He was standing in the garden before he'd even realized he run the whole way there. Sorey had soaked through parts of his black undershirt with sweat and looked up with a smear of dirt caked across his forehead.
"What's up?" Sorey asked, shielding his eyes from the sun as it hung high behind Mikleo's shoulders.
He was not going to miss out on a second of this man's life. Not a moment of it. Not the man to whom he'd shared his true name.
Puberty is over and thus so is this fic. I may continue with them in a related series of stories, though. Not rated G. Because reasons. Follow me on tumblr to be kept in the loop.