No Other Way
Two figures crashed through a dense forest of tall trees and hanging vines, their movement startling the resident birds that cried out warning calls to the rest of the forest. Though following their own paths over roots and between tree trunks, they moved in sync and within several paces of each other, not wasting their attention to glance at the other's movements. Ahead of them was the teasing sight of the hazy blue sky and an escape from the confines of the forest that slowed their pace.
The first to emerge from the collection of trees was the taller figure, a dark-haired youth of eighteen with green-blue eyes and a deep tan that covered his body of lean muscle. Dressed simply in a brown tank top and ratty jeans, Laek Almasy slowed his pace to a fast walk and warily eyed the new terrain of rocky ground, sparse vegetation, and an incredible view of the ocean. Though nothing was in sight, his hand settled on the sword hilt resting at his right side, the leather scabbard scuffed from years of heavy use.
Seconds behind the dark-haired youth, a man of platinum-blond hair stumbled out from the forest, his breaths much heavier than his brother's soft pants. In contrast to the brunet, Adryan Almasy wore more stylized clothing including dark leather pants and a white shirt embroidered with a copper-colored wing along his left side. A leather tie held his shoulder-length hair back into a small ponytail, though several strands of pale hair hung over his sharp hazel eyes and sweaty forehead.
Laek glanced back at his struggling brother and admonished, "I told you it was a mistake for you to help that town."
Scowling at the dark-haired youth, Adryan shot back, "I wasn't going to let children die because we're hiding from Esthar."
"Sometimes people die, Dray. You can't help everyone."
"But I could help them," Adryan replied tersely, tired of the common argument between them.
"And what's our reward? A fucking Estharian hunting party on our ass."
Adryan sighed at that reality, forcing himself to keep pace with Laek's longer and quicker stride along rocky ground.
Fourteen years earlier at the age of nine, Adryan's erratic powers had taken the final form of healing energies. It wasn't a conscious decision, but one of necessity that came about when Laek was deathly ill and slowly fading away. Adryan could still remember Squall's tears of frustration while sitting with the sick boy, the exiled merman no longer possessing the fabled healing abilities of his kind. Laguna and Chale had been out of reach for months, Squall's parents forbidden to visit their child and grandchild after a clash with the so-called 'elders' and their desire to take Laek away from his family. With no other choice at that time, Adryan had focused on his memories of past dreams where he was a healer, and using that reference, he struggled to make his power work toward saving Laek from death. A day later, Laek weakly asked for pancakes, meanwhile Adryan hid the fear he held toward the healer path that laid out before him.
Thinking of those days long in the past, Adryan stared down at the bandaging that covered his left hand and forearm in stained cloths. A plague had taken hold of the last town they visited, a malicious bug that caused a living body to slowly rot away, the victim suffering in agony until granted a final death once vital organs were destroyed. Unable to sit back and watch children walk around with lost fingers, rotted flesh, and blinded eyes, Adryan offered his services which required the use of his blood, more blood than he was accustomed to sacrificing within a short time period. His hand and arm ached at the necessary cuts, a reminder that a healer's power could be used on all others, but a healer could never be cured by magic in return.
"Does it hurt?"
Adryan glanced up at his brother's question and smiled at the true reason for Laek's irritation. Since a child of five, Laek held a deep hatred for Adryan's habit of being hurt for the sake of others, something that had become Adryan's life. "It stings, just like it did this morning."
Green-blue eyes narrowed at the statement. "It's fucking unfair. Why do you have to be in pain after saving those people? There's no reason for them to have it better than you."
Adryan said nothing in return, unable to explain to his brother that it was the destiny of the healer to be in constant pain and to be abused for his powers. Worse, no matter how terrible things could get, he would continue to be overwhelmed by the need to help others. Adryan had seen it all in his dreams as a child and wanted more than anything to avoid that path, but Laek's sickness stole away that decision for him. And if Laek ever understood that reality, that he was the sole factor responsible for Adryan's current struggles, the teen would never forgive himself.
Laek glanced back at the blond's silence, but had no opportunity to speak when a cry of discovery sounded behind them. Cursing, the dark-haired teen grabbed onto Adryan's wrist and jerked the shorter man into a rough sprint.
At first not understanding the reason for the firm hand at his arm, Adryan looked beyond the brunet's shoulder and balked at the realization that there wasn't much ground left ahead of them. Laek's hand held fast despite his healer's hesitation, keeping them at a fast run when he glanced back with an expression that asked, 'don't you trust me?' Adryan swore under his breath at the teen's easy manipulation over the situation.
Behind them, a group of four soldiers dressed in alien-like body armor broke out from the dense forest, their captain yelling out for the wanted men to halt and surrender. Warning shots were fired into the air, but Adryan wasn't too concerned by their threats. The contract that listed his name specifically called for his capture and warned that no gil would be offered for his lifeless body. Esthar and its scientists wanted a living healer to play with, not a corpse to autopsy. Laek, however, wasn't a part of that bounty, and so Adryan made certain that his body was placed between his brother and the soldiers.
That care, however, didn't matter for long as they ran straight for the cliff's edge, the cries of the soldiers rising in pitch when they realized the suicidal intention of their precious bounty. Laek showed no hesitation leaping from the solid ground, his hold on Adryan's wrist ensuring the blond would follow directly behind. The healer's eyes widened at the frothy ocean that was further down than he hoped and he mouthed a curse at the reckless teen. Still falling, Laek pulled his brother close and placed a protective arm over Adryan's head.
They crashed into the ocean with such force that Adryan was certain they had hit rock as well, but nothing stopped them from shooting deep into the salty waters. His breath lost at the harsh impact, Adryan struggled to swim for the surface, but Laek held tight with an arm at the healer's waist and his free hand moved to a reddened cheek. Adryan jerked back when lips first touched his, the mind-numbing fear of drowning preventing him from recognizing that salvation was closer than the glittering surface above him. Undaunted, Laek moved his hand into pale hair and gripped tightly as he leaned forward once again to press his mouth over the healer's. With the first bubble of air, Adryan was abruptly reminded of the childhood games where they would test their limits underwater, much to the distress of their parents.
Calmed while surviving on his brother's breath, Adryan surrendered all control to the teen as they slowly sank to the ocean floor. Though mostly human, Laek had several useful traits from his haidras heritage, one of which including nearly invisible gills along his neck that would flare open once introduced to the water. It had been childhood curiosity for them to discover that Adryan could stay underwater along with his brother for several minutes as long as Laek provided the necessary oxygen. Adryan never imagined that game becoming an escape strategy to evade their pursuers.
Minutes dragged onto forever as Adryan laid on soft mud with Laek above him, their breaths matching as the healer struggled to keep a firm grip on his human instinct to panic given the pressure of water all around him. Laek's solid hold at his waist helped to tame some of that fear, but it was also a source of an entirely different problem that Adryan couldn't bring himself to confront in the last several years. Adryan couldn't be certain when it began, but by the age of fourteen, Laek had gained an infatuation for his brother. Though never spoken in exact words, it was obvious in the youth's touches and actions. Unable to refuse the younger man, Adryan feigned ignorance and prayed for the childish crush to pass, but instead of passing, the crush seemed to be evolving into something deeper and more dangerous.
Lost in thoughts about the matter, Adryan was startled when a heavy thigh brushed between his legs, something that could be attributed to the movement of the tide, but there was no such excuse for the tongue that abruptly slipped into his mouth. Shocked by the bold actions, Adryan shoved the half-blood aside and curled his legs beneath him to push up against soft sand, the sharp action causing an electric-like pain throughout his right leg. Adryan lost momentum a few feet short of the surface, but a strong arm quickly encircled his waist and Laek hauled him to the surface.
Breaking the surface into blessed air, Adryan gasped both in greediness for fresh air and from the pain of his injured ankle. He wanted to push aside his brother and refuse his aid, but it was painful enough to let his leg hang limply and he didn't want to imagine attempting to swim in his current state. Even so, Adryan glared at the younger man and clawed at the arm braced around his body.
Laek avoided the gaze of angered hazel as he focused on the shore and began the swim to land. "When did you hurt your leg?"
"Jumping off a cliff would be my first guess," Adryan stated through clenched teeth, the constant movement between Laek's strokes and the tide creating a new form of agony for the blond.
"You weren't hurting earlier."
"I didn't put any pressure on my foot until you..." Adryan didn't finish the sentence, unable to put words to what had happened.
His pale full lips curled into an interested smirk as Laek glanced at his brother. "Until I, what?"
Dirty green eyes narrowed with irritation. "You know what you did."
"But I want to see if I can make you admit it for once."
Surprised by the declaration, Adryan stared at the younger man until a wave crashed against their bodies and sprayed salt water into his face. Laek chuckled at the occurrence, his focus returned to the approaching shore. Once his feet firmly touched ground, Laek moved his shorter brother in front of him and lifted the sodden blond into his arms. Laek stepped from ocean to land with less grace than typical, his wet jeans and heavy boots filled with water hindering his movements as he carried Adryan to a boulder where the healer could rest against the support.
"Damn it," Adryan breathed in pain while checking his ankle. "There's no way I can walk on this."
"That hunting party won't be fooled for long," Laek stated with concern, a rough hand moving to his water-blackened hair. "I can carry you for a distance, but that isn't going to help if we're attacked."
Adryan squeezed his leg, frustrated at their luck.
"It's going to take some time for you to heal," Laek commented further.
"In other words, you want us to go home."
With a curious tilt of his head, Laek said, "You make it sound like a bad thing."
"This is our mess. You know I hate getting them involved."
"I know you hate it more when they make you stay longer than you planned."
Adryan scowled at his brother's insight. "The longer we're with them, the greater the chance that Esthar will figure out they mean something to us."
"As if Saer and Berenas give a shit. They can take care of themselves, and frankly, we don't have many other options to choose from."
When Adryan had no further argument, Laek nodded as if they had reached an agreement. He then removed his tank top, revealing the tattoo across his back of a snake sliding through water. Tossing the soaked tank at his brother, Laek told him, "Cut it up and use it to wrap your leg. It'd be suicide to try and retrieve our packs, so that will have to do until we get home."
Adryan stared down at the dark material in his hand, but his mind was focused on the detailed tattoo of the quick and poisonous snake. "We didn't finish talking about what... had happened."
With a daring smirk, Laek said, "I'll talk about it once you admit what I did to you."
Hazel eyes narrowing, Adryan looked up at the arrogant youth. "We're brothers. Nothing is supposed to... Nothing can happen between us."
Irritated by the question any three-year-old could produce, the healer removed a knife from pants and began cutting into the seam of the tank. "You're being stubborn. Go find some lovely woman or a pretty boy, whatever is to your liking, and figure out that there's more options than your off-limits brother."
Laek scoffed at the advice. "I'll do that when you do the same," he stated before turning sharply and walking away with a muttered declaration of 'needing to piss'.
Adryan paused in the shredding of the brown shirt and stared at the teen's retreat, the dark snake at the tanned back shifting with his long stride. The blond felt something twist in his stomach as Laek's last words still rang in his ears. So lost in his responsibilities as a healer, Adyran never recognized that he was alone in the world and should reasonably seek comfort from another soul. ...But he wasn't alone. Laek had been at his side since they were children with nightmares and, subconsciously, Adryan knew there wasn't a need to look elsewhere.
Fingers clutched around wet fabric, Adryan stared down at the rocky shore and spoke out to himself, "This isn't right. Hyne help us, this isn't right."
Rain poured down onto fields of long grass that stretched out for miles, providing no cover from water or soldiers for the two Almasy brothers as Laek supported the injured Adryan on his bare back. Giving their disadvantage, it was no surprise that the full group of ten soldiers had caught up to the brothers after only a couple of days. Eyes squinting due to the downpour, Laek stepped backwards while his hands squeezed onto the leather-clad legs at his waist, the teen's silent statement that he wasn't about to surrender Adryan to the approaching soldiers. As thunder sounded in the distance, Adryan knew the brunet was playing a risky bluff, the heavy rain already confusing the half-blood's body as the gills at his throat twitched from the splatter of water. Laek wouldn't be able to fight with his usual skill, but the cautious soldiers didn't know that.
Conflicted about their situation, Adryan kept his arms around bare shoulders while he considered the chances of the Estharian soldiers letting Laek live once they obtained their prize. It didn't take much thought for the healer to conclude that the soldiers had no intention to let Laek escape with his life, not when the swordsman had taken down too many of their comrades in the past. It was infuriating that, if he sacrificed himself or not, there only seemed to be one possible outcome to the situation.
One of the soldiers stepped forward, the captain of the group apparent by the gold lines on raised shoulder guards. In a voice distorted by her bug-like helmet, the woman ordered, "Leave the healer. We have no intention to harm him."
Laek scoffed at the command. "How does handing a him to a group of mad scientists not an intention to harm him?"
Murmurs and chuckles sounded from her party, the soldiers clearly unconcerned by a slender teenager causing them much trouble, as least when it was ten against one. The captain raised a hand to silence them, but the slight tilt to her head suggested she shared their opinion. "If I were you, kid, I'd be more concerned about what we have planned for you and not what the doctors have in mind for your friend."
Adryan was about to argue for his brother's life when Laek abruptly relaxed his shoulders and began to laugh with a slight musical ring to soften its rough edge, a quality gained from his mixed blood. The soldiers tensed in offense at the free laughter, one of them cocking his otherworldly gun in a clear reminder of who held the upper hand in the situation.
"You have no clue where you are, do you?" Laek asked with a sharp gleam to his sea green eyes.
Though the soldiers straightened in confusion, Adryan abruptly realized the reason for his brother's confidence. A sound that he had discarded as thunder could still be heard, but was growing louder in the short distance. Despite the armed soldiers in front of them and the deep chill caused by the rain, Adryan smiled with reluctant relief.
"Shit," one of the soldiers abruptly grounded out. "How far west are we?"
"What are you taking about, man?" the soldier next to him complained.
Backing away like a deer that had caught scent of a wolf, the first soldier replied, "We must be in Bloodsword territory, you idiot. Fucking armies go missing down here in Centra and everyone knows that they died at the hands of those mercenaries."
At the frightened murmurs between soldiers, their captain turned sharply and commanded, "Enough. I won't have my men panic over unconfirmed rumors. We'll collect what is ours and leave before..." The woman trailed off as she looked up the approaching roar of a motorcycle.
"Sorry," Laek started smugly, "but those guys there are the leaders of the Bloodsword group and they claimed us first years ago. I'm afraid you'll have to fight them for possession rights."
The group of soldiers managed to collect themselves in time to fire a few shots upon the nearing vehicle, but the strength of the downpour had masked the noises of the motorcycle long enough for the two riders to jump off and let the bike slide on wet grass into the mix of soldiers. Purposefully distracted by the heavy motorcycle crashing into them, the group of ten didn't notice the swift approach of a man dressed in loose clothing and wielding a curved blade. The first man to die went silently with a sliced throat, but the second wasn't so quiet when he lost an arm and the weapon he had been holding.
As chaos broke out in front of them, Adryan felt the body supporting him tense in the desire to act, but Laek wasn't about to desert his brother when the healer was unable to run away, let alone defend himself.
"So, what's the story?"
The amused voice startled both brothers such that Adryan almost lost his hold and fell to the mud, but Laek recovered in time to lean forward and give the healer the angle necessary to regain his balance.
"Damn it, Saer," Laek cursed at the smirking blond who had yet to draw his blade. "Why aren't you helping Berenas instead of scaring the shit out of us?"
Green eyes bright in the dim light of rainstorm, Seifer asked with clear admiration, "Now why in Hyne's name would I ruin something as gorgeous as that?"
Unsurprised by his father's obsession, Adryan looked to the collection of soldiers that were overcome by panic towards the single man unleashed upon them. Squall moved like a shadow within the disorganized group, weaving between them as his curved blade sliced into Estharian flesh without mercy. Despite the burn to his blood at witnessing people injured and killed in front of him, Adryan gazed with wonderment at the dark-haired merman he once remembered as someone who could hardly walk, let alone someone who could wield a blade. Many things had changed over almost two decades and Adryan envied the strength of the person he considered his one true mother.
Distracted while watching Squall single-handedly take down armored soldiers, Adryan yelped in pain when a rough hand examined his wrapped ankle.
"Damn, no wonder that beauty is so riled up," Seifer commented as he prodded the bad sprain. "How'd you get this, kiddo?"
"Pushed off a cliff," Adryan replied.
"You weren't pushed or otherwise forced off that cliff," Laek corrected in exasperation. "You jumped, just as I did."
An eyebrow lifted with disbelief, Seifer asked, "And you thought that leaping off a cliff was a good idea?"
Glaring at his father, Laek replied, "It was the best way to reach the ocean, and no matter what Dray says, it got those soldier bastards off our backs for two days. We would've been fine if he hadn't injured his ankle."
"You're lucky you didn't get killed," Seifer stated as he scratched his fingers through his rain-spiked hair. "Why is it that every time you boys come back home, you give me and your berenas new things to worry about? Can't you kids just visit once and awhile?"
"Tell that to Dray," Laek said under his breath, but was still heard by both his brother and father.
Green eyes soft with pride and worry, Seifer looked to Adryan and commented, "We heard rumors about one of Hyne's angels saving the people of Vincent's Port from a demon's curse." The large man poked at the embroidered wing on Adryan's shirt. "Do you wear this on purpose to confuse the people you help?"
Feeling more like a child instead of his twenty-three years, Adryan argued, "I just like the shirt."
"Hn, either way, you've gained an interesting reputation out there. In that latest rumor, you saved forty people from death."
Though Adryan was willing to leave well enough alone, Laek scoffed at the number. "If it was only forty, then we would've been out of there before the Estharians got word about our location. Instead, eighty-nine men, women, and children had that damned plague and Dray wouldn't leave until everyone was cured."
"It would've spread again if I left one person untreated," Adryan explained in frustration, not bothering to address the more stressing matter that it was impossible for him to leave those people to a disease that would make them taste death before eventually losing their lives. Despite all of their years together, Laek didn't understand the impulses that drove Adryan to what seemed like foolhardy choices. To Adryan, it wasn't truly a choice to help others, and until his death, it never would be.
A large hand settled on his bandaged arm, forcing Adryan to hide a wince when Seifer stroked his thumb across the cloths and unintentionally aggravated the infected cuts. Staring at the filthy and wet bandages, Seifer stated with a hint of resignation, "I hate seeing my boy hurt like this."
"You always did."
At the voice tinged with a musical accent, the brothers and father glanced over at the dark-haired man of bright stormy eyes that matched the surrounding rainstorm. Without looking behind the brunet, Adryan knew that none of the soldiers in the grass and mud were alive and silently thanked the merman for his consideration. In contrast to Laek's stubborn ignorance, Squall understood the curse of a healer and that Adryan would be in pain if even one person was left injured within his presence.
Normally loose clothing clung to Squall's body as he stepped close, the sight earning a pleased leer from Seifer as the man reached out for the lithe figure drenched in rain and blood. Squall knocked away the hand and directed a scolding look to the blond, a commonplace glare that Seifer often complained was proof that he meant nothing to the merman whenever his sons were around. Even so, Seifer never suggested that Adryan and Laek weren't welcomed in their childhood home.
"Laek," Squall greeted first with a hand cupped at the teen's cheek. At that contact, dark eyebrows furrowed in thought before Squall sighed and said, "You should have come home sooner."
Laek exhaled a soft laugh at the comment and leaned into the merman's touch. "We're here now."
After a slight nod, Squall lifted his other hand to Adryan's cheek. He rubbed a thumb beneath a hazel eye, a faint smear of blood appearing on pale skin. "You push yourself too hard."
Adryan smiled at the statement, both amazed and relieved that being within the merman's presence helped to soothe some of the stress that had built up in his mind. "As if you're one to talk, Berenas."
Squall accepted the assessment with a quiet smile.
"Alright, enough of that," Seifer stated as he slapped a heavy hand against Squall's back. "Let's get our boys home and out of the rain. Then you can scold them to your heart's desire."
While the large blond stepped away to collect his motorcycle, Adryan found himself holding tighter onto his brother's bare shoulders that were cold and slick from the rain. He knew Laek was hiding his exhaustion at carrying him for the past two days and it would make logical sense for Adryan to join his father on the motorcycle, but something in his chest made him feel safer with his brother close by. Laek glanced over his shoulder at the tense hold, his eyes bright with interest as he gazed at the injured blond.
"Don't make assumptions," Adryan bit out, but even as he said the words, he knew his tone was masking something more frightening. For two days, Adryan had spent too much time considering Laek's offhanded statement that neither of them seemed to care about finding another partner to complete their lives. While Laek was consciously pursuing his brother, Adryan never recognized his own disinterest in the other people they met during their travels. There was the occasional one night fling with women, but nothing that lasted until morning and certainly nothing of meaning. Instead, Adryan would leave those women behind and return to whatever room he was sharing with Laek, sometimes as far as sharing the same bed depending on the inn's vacancy. And Adryan feared the reasons why he always ended up at his brother's side.
"The bike is still good," Seifer announced as he pushed the mud-covered motorcycle close. "Laek, why don't you lose that load and help Dray onto the seat?"
As he lowered Adryan to the ground, Laek asked, "So, can I drive?"
"No fucking chance," Seifer answered without a moment's consideration as he mounted the bike and left room for Adryan to fit behind him. While Laek helped the hopping man to the motorcycle, Seifer looked to Squall and said, "I'll take Dray to the city and get the doctor to check his ankle and arm. If you and Laek aren't home by the time we get there, I'm going to hunt you down. Understood?"
Squall glared lightly at the green-eyed man. "Laek and I aren't the ones who look for trouble in this family."
With a smirk, Seifer countered, "And yet, trouble seems to find the both of you anyway."
Not allowing the merman a response, Seifer kicked his motorcycle to life, the roar deafening in the moment Adryan hurried to grab the sides of his father's shirt. With a loud whoop, Seifer released the brakes and Adryan ducked his head as mud flew up at the jerky start. Goosebumps decorating his arms from the poor mix of rain and wind, Adryan glanced back at the receding forms of Laek and Squall and hated the sense of loss that made his chest ache.
Pale blond hair loose in the light breeze, Adryan sat on the edge of an old pier and stared down at his wrapped ankle that hung inches above the cold ocean waves. It was the day after their return home, the previous evening a whirlwind of visiting Dr Kadowaki and the doctor's subsequent plea for the healer to help a few of her hard luck patients. That was followed by Seifer's unproductive ranting that his boy needed to rest and not to waste his energy on something that could wait until morning. Adryan managed to convince him otherwise, which led to a long night of visiting families that were all wholeheartedly grateful for his aid, the experience lightening Adryan's heart after witnessing the decimation of the Estharian hunting party.
After returning home and sleeping well into the afternoon, Adryan had snuck into the kitchen to steal a half loaf of bread, a great trick with his healing ankle and an old crutch, but worth it to escape outside and enjoy his breakfast in peace. An hour later, the bread was long gone and Adryan lost his moment of solitude when light footsteps sounded against weathered planks of wood.
"I believe that's where your father likes to sit," a voice said from behind.
Adryan smiled at the memory of once telling Squall a similar line in their past. "I know," he said to mimic the merman's former reply, but then looked over his shoulder to add, "You're welcome to join me."
Squall stepped to the edge of the pier at the offer, but didn't sit with the young man. They said nothing for a time, Adryan stealing glances at the merman who kept his aura suppressed to the point of nonexistence, an skill learned by all haidras children much like human children were taught to wear clothing to prevent exposing oneself. The faint light surrounding Squall was a great contrast to Seifer's aura of heated crimson and Adryan remembered his awe when he first met the adult who hid his emotions like precious jewels.
"You're a mess."
Startled by the statement, Adryan glanced at the bandages that covered his left hand and forearm. "It's worse than it looks."
"I don't mean physically," Squall said with his gaze focused on the shifting ocean. "Your soul is battling with itself and something like that can only lead to ruin."
Adryan looked away sharply and stared down at his wrapped ankle. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Squall breathed a laugh at the reply. "And now you're pressured to the point of lying to me when you know it's useless."
Scowling at his foot, Adryan tried to ignore the ache in his chest that burned whenever he attempted and typically failed at lying to the straightforward brunet.
"I spoke with Laek yesterday," Squall said once it was obvious that Adryan wasn't about to broach the heart of the matter. "He told me about his loss of control and how he forced you to recognize his love for what it is."
Dumbfounded, Adryan glared up at the merman. "You knew? You knew that my brother felt this way?"
"I knew, perhaps before Laek himself understood what you mean to him."
Unable to believe his berenas had kept silent about something so important, Adryan demanded, "That long? Then why... why didn't you stop it?"
Squall didn't show anything in his expression at the accusing tone, his eyes unmoving from the vast ocean horizon. "It was nothing I could stop, let alone something I desired to prevent."
"Why?" Adryan asked as if betrayed. "Why would you want this to happen to us?"
"Because it's beautiful." Before the younger man could argue, Squall explained, "Love has little worth in the haidras society. The love between parent and child is honored, but there is nothing like the passion and adoration between two partners which the solas race values to the point of creating songs and art to mimic its beauty." Full lips slid into a fond smile as Squall added, "When I first fell in love with your father, I feared that it was a sickness that would kill me."
Though interested at the notion that 'love' was something the merman once feared, Adryan bent a leg against his chest and hugged it close. "While that's fine for you and Dad, it's not the same between Laek and me. We're brothers; it's not right for us to be together."
Squall looked away from the ocean to frown at the blond. "You seem to be rather fixated on that one detail."
Staring up with wide eyes, Adryan demanded, "What else should I be fixated on?"
"The reasons for your power and the weakness of your heart."
Hazel eyes widened further at the insult he never expected to hear from the merman.
"Adryan," Squall soothed with a strong musical lilt. "You are more than a boy with his family. You have been gifted with the powers of the immortal gods and their servants, but your heart is not strong enough to bear the weight of that power. I have witnessed the pain you experience whenever someone requires your healing touch, and yet I cannot begin to imagine your pain caused by a town of dying people. It's too much for a single soul to endure."
"I do well enough," Adryan argued.
With a pitying smile, Squall reached down and brushed a pale lock of hair from the healer's face. "Yeun, learn from my mistakes and understand that surviving is not the same thing as living."
"So, what, I should just give myself to Laek and hope people will understand? That Dad will understand?"
"You still don't seem to appreciate the situation," Squall said with a frustrated sigh. "Laek was born to be your protector, but while we all assumed he was only meant to guard your body, he learned through instinct that your heart was also under attack from both the strain of your powers and the weight of your responsibility. He knows it's something he cannot do as your brother and he is willing to be more than your brother to aid you in your destiny."
Staring up at the merman, Adryan said hoarsely, "I don't want to lose my brother."
Squall smiled softly at the pleading tone. "You'll never lose him, but only you can decide if there's something you want to gain."
More confused than appeased by the assurance, Adryan raked his fingers back through his hair and clutched at the pale strands. He stared at the ocean in constant movement beneath his feet, but couldn't focus on his thoughts beyond the memory of being held underwater and trusting Laek to keep him safe and alive. It was wrong to think of something more with his brother, and yet, Adryan wondered if there was truly any other person he could give himself to with that same level of trust and respect.
Sighing in a frustrated growl, Adryan grabbed the crutch lying on the pier and pushed himself to his feet. "I need to speak with Laek," he stated while hobbling off, wincing at the weight he was beginning to place on his healing ankle.
"He mentioned a nap in the room you're sharing," Squall commented without following, his gaze returned to the ocean and his lost world. "Try not to wake him. He hasn't slept well for a long time now."
Adryan scowled at the warning, holding back the comment that Laek shouldn't be allowed to sleep after causing such a disturbance to their lives.
After struggling on the beach sand and on the climb up to the remodeled orphanage, Adryan stepped as lightly as possible through the backdoor of the house to avoid his father's interference. The scent of roasting turkey in the air, Adryan thanked his luck that the man was busy preparing a big dinner for his boys' return home. Moving to the back end of the house, he pushed open the door to the room he had shared with his brother since Laek first moved from a crib to a bed. Little had changed about the room in all those years aside from their beds becoming larger and the posters changing from colorful monsters to local rock bands, but little was the same about the boys who grew into men.
Not moving from the doorway, Adryan gazed at the dark-haired teen stretched out diagonally across the bed that was too small for his height. His plain white shirt was scrunched up to below his chest, leaving his toned stomach bare down past his navel and until the waistband of the long black shorts that he wore low across his hips. Short hair of dark chestnut naturally spiked forward and framed his face that was tranquil in light sleep, his dark eyebrows relaxed from their typically furrowed expression. While one arm was bent behind his head, the other hung off the mattress and seemingly reached out for the second bed that still had messed sheets from Adryan's escape more than an hour earlier. Despite himself, Adryan had the desire to take that callused hand into his and hold it tight.
"Dray?" Laek murmured in half sleep, the wrinkle between his eyebrows deepening as he woke.
"You should've stayed asleep," Adryan complained after catching the sight of drowsy blue-green eyes and felt his resolve waver.
Laek blinked at the accusing tone, but said nothing as he pushed up to a seated position and raked a hand through his thick hair.
Closing the door for privacy and leaving his crutch next to the doorway, Adryan hopped to the small bed and smirked when Laek visibly restrained himself from offering to help. He settled on the edge of the mattress near the foot of the bed, and with a brush of hair from his face, he looked to his younger brother and enjoyed the confused gleam to typically serious eyes.
"I spoke with Berenas," Adryan stated as the easiest starting point to the discussion he'd rather avoid.
Understanding lit Laek's expression before his eyes shifted warily, clearly wanting to look away, but the teen was rarely that weak. "I thought you didn't want to talk about this."
"I don't," Adryan admitted, "but I can't continue to pretend that nothing happened."
Laek frowned at the defeated tone. "I can. I've pretended this long, and if you--" The rest of his suggestion went unheard when Adryan shoved a hand against his mouth.
"Don't do that," Adryan said with some anger. "You have to stop doing these things for my sake. The idea that you were born for me and for no other reason... I refuse to believe that. You're better than that and you don't have to... to have feelings for me because you think..."
At the healer's loss of words, Laek grinned against the palm pressed firmly at his mouth.
"This isn't funny, Laek," Adryan argued. "Both you and Berenas seem to think you're meant fulfill some role for me, but I don't want that. Our shared blood aside, it's not right for you to be... expected to become my..."
"Your...?" Laek prompted mockingly from behind his brother's hand.
Hazel eyes narrowed, Adryan said, "Don't make me say it."
Laek wrapped his hand around the healer's wrist and gently pulled aside the barrier from his mouth. "Dray, do I look like I'm being forced into anything?"
Adryan tried to take back his hand, but Laek held on firmly. "How am I supposed to know? I didn't even know that you had these deeper feelings in the first place. Only you and Berenas can hide your auras from me and you can't imagine how frustrating that is."
Blinking as if surprised by the concept, Laek said, "You never mentioned it bothering you before."
"It never mattered before," Adryan shot back out of frustration.
Sea green eyes bright with thought, Laek leaned in closer to his brother while still holding tight onto the man's wrist. "Why does it 'matter' now?"
Startled to the point of not breathing for several seconds, Adryan simply stared at the dark-haired teen without replying the question. But in his mind, Adryan knew the exact reason why it mattered to him. For most of his life, he had watched his parents together in both calmer times and during battle, and though Squall's aura was invisible to him, Adryan was constantly in awe of the bright silver energy that would surround his father whenever the man's thought were focused on Squall and Squall alone. The idea of being with a partner and never being able to see that indication of absolute love... it didn't settle well with Adryan.
Worse, even though Laek's love was wrong and corrupt, a part of Adryan hungered to see what color of silver enveloped the dark-haired teen whenever sea green eyes would glance his way.
Laek sighed at the lacking response, but didn't press for an answer. "Dray, what do you want here? You can't convince me to stop wanting you, but you also won't let me pretend that nothing has changed. How does that work exactly?"
"If you can't change, then maybe... I should."
His gaze wary, Laek lifted his free hand and brushed his fingers against a pale cheek. "You don't mean that."
"Maybe, maybe not. I don't know anything at this point, but I can't lose you."
"And you won't. I swear you won't," Laek pledged without a moment's hesitation.
Gazing into clear eyes, Adryan was surprised when a flicker of silver shone in the aqua depths, much like a coin shining in clear water. He then recalled Squall's words that he would never lose his brother, but there was the chance to gain more. With the realization that Squall most likely had the greater skill to read suppressed auras, Adryan wondered if the merman had witnessed the extent of Laek's love and that was the reason Squall said it was something he couldn't prevent.
The fingers at his cheek twitched and Adryan stared in surprise when the hand shook slightly before it moved back into pale blond hair and held strongly.
"Maie solas, don't play with my heart like this," Laek stated in a desperate whisper.
Adryan lost his breath at the endearment Laek had never uttered before, but with the words spoken, the blond was abruptly reminded of the dreams he had as a child where they had called each other by 'haidras' and 'solas'. Though it was something he promised to Squall, it had never actually occurred as foreseen in his dreams. Never, until that whispered utterance and Adryan struggled to not blush at the realization of what he was dreaming about at the innocent age of four.
Laek growled under his breath as he strengthened his hold on pale blond hair and forced the stunned healer to fall back onto the mattress. Leaning over his brother, Laek demanded, "Stop this now before I do something you'll regret."
"W-what are you talking about?"
"The silver close to your heart," Laek said as he placed his free hand against Adryan's chest and clutched onto the shirt.
"The 'silver'...?" Adryan muttered in surprise before hazel eyes narrowed sharply. "You bastard, you told me years ago that you can't see auras!"
"No, I said that I can't read other people's emotions. You, however, are not 'other people'."
"It's not lying to withhold information that gives me an upper hand over someone who underestimates the pain he is feeling."
Staring in disbelief, Adryan asked, "You know about my pain?"
Laek bent down and brushed a kiss against the healer's chest. "I feel it every time I strike down someone who is determined to hurt you and every time we step into some Hyne forsaken city that needs your help."
"You know... Then why do you fight me all of the time when I want to help people?"
"They don't deserve your sacrifice," Laek said in a near growl, followed by him tonguing the thin cloth such that Adryan felt the wet press against his skin.
Shivering at the touch, Adryan watched with morbid fascination as the teen continued to kiss through the material of his shirt. Unable to see his own aura, he asked somewhat hesitantly, "Is it truly silver?"
"Just your heart," Laek replied as he glanced up. "But Berenas says that's where it starts."
Lost in the depths of sea-colored eyes, Adryan thought about the truth of the statement and the other reality that love of the heart could fade over time, but he knew Laek wouldn't let the sparks of silver extinguish into ash, not when he had waited for so long. Reaching out, Adryan placed a hand at the brunet's cheek and stroked the cool flesh much to Laek's surprise. "This... is very new. I need to ask you to be patient with me."
Laek smiled with a cheshire's grin as he leaned forward until they were nose to nose. "I think my record proves I can be patient."
"No, it proves that you're a spoiled brat who wants all or nothing. You've had nothing for years, and now you're going to want everything."
"Hn, at least you're prepared for that," he purred while lowering further. "And now that you've mentioned it, I believe you owe me something."
Adryan didn't have the chance to stop the kiss that was an apparent repayment for the one broken only days earlier. The crushing press of lips and the near thrashing of an eager tongue made Adryan choke with laughter at the inexperience of his brother, but once recognizing that inexperience, his heart burned at the idea that Laek had been waiting too long for something that should have been impossible. Adryan placed a hand at Laek's chest and pushed the taller youth back, earning an anxious look from Laek that didn't suit the skilled swordsman.
Smiling with soft encouragement, Adryan moved his hand to stroke his fingers along the side of the brunet's neck. "This isn't a fight with a winner and loser, Laek. Treat it like a dance - light steps and move together."
A childlike grin spread across Laek's face, the teen pleased that he hadn't managed to screw up everything within a matter of minutes. He lowered back down with a far softer press of lips, an incredible gentleness that Adryan knew others rarely witnessed from the passionate young man. Laek's tongue had been tamed to the point of hesitant licks, as if afraid of hurting his partner with too much force. Adryan raked his fingers up from Laek's neck and into dark hair, steadying the brunet as he lifted up to initiate a proper kiss. Laek jerked at the tongue that pressed against his, but quickly surrendered as Adryan took control and encouraged playful experimentation as he stroked the side of Laek's tongue with the very tip of his own. Laek whimpered at the new touch and his body lost its strength as he practically dropped on top of the smaller man.
Breathing a laugh between presses, Adryan felt lightheaded at the possibilities that laid out before them. He was still afraid of what it meant to be with his brother, but for the first time with a partner, there wasn't the anxious need to get the physical acts done with before leaving in a hurry... leaving to be with Laek. It was almost ridiculously obvious that he never wanted anyone else, but Adryan knew to step lightly and make certain that his feelings were true before endangering his closeness with the one he trusted to keep him safe while never denying him the freedom to help those who needed him.
"Maie benua solas," Laek whispered as he snuck a hand beneath the healer's shirt and massaged the man's side. "Ea niede ouve, menegh denn ouve neu."
Adryan shivered at the melodious words that his human vocal cords could never properly imitate. "I have some idea," Adryan replied to the statement that he didn't understand how much Laek needed him. Using his hand still buried in dark hair, Adryan lifted up to lightly bite the man's lower lip, and then licked the sensitized flesh.
As their tongues met for another kiss, they never heard the sounds of socked feet on hardwood nor the soft click of a turning doorknob, the door soundless as it swung open.
"Hey kiddos, dinner is rea--"
Though they had jerked back from the kiss, Adryan and Laek were frozen in place as they stared with fearful gazes at their father standing in the doorway. Equally stunned, Seifer didn't move with his hand still on the doorknob, but bright green eyes took in the sight before him - Laek lying on top of his shorter brother, a tanned hand slipped underneath Adryan's shirt, and Adryan's pale hand buried into spiked hair. A strange breath left Seifer as the door creaked from pressure being placed against its hinges, sounds Adryan almost didn't notice as his father's aura flickered with black lightning.
Abruptly, Squall ducked into the room, and after a cursory look at his boys, he grabbed onto Seifer's shoulders and pushed him out of the room, the man's death hold on the knob causing the door to close with a bang behind them. The slamming door seemed to break Seifer from his frozen state, his yells easily heard from beyond the door - "Laek! I know this is your fault! Once Squall looks the other way, you're dead! You're dead, you horny fuck!"
The yells gradually lowered in volume as Seifer was pushed down the hallway by the one person who could control him. When the man's voice could no longer be heard, the brothers took their first breaths while Adryan relaxed back onto the mattress and Laek pressed his forehead against the healer's chest.
Lying there, Adryan was interested that his first thought wasn't to end everything in that disastrous moment, but rather to hope that Squall would explain it to Seifer and make him understand one way or another. He actually felt bad for his father, knowing that the merman wasn't going to make it easy on the blond. Angling his head, Adryan looked at his brother and smiled at the teen hiding his face, Laek most likely assuming that he had lost everything because he wanted too much.
His hand still in dark hair, Adryan massaged his fingers through the soft spikes. "You know, I probably should be offended that I'm somehow always the baby of the family when it's usually the youngest child who gets that privilege."
Laek slowly uncurled from his position, his sea green eyes bright with worry as he gazed at his brother. "You're not...?"
"Embarrassed, ashamed, and terrified?" Adryan questioned with a weak smile. "I'd have to say that I'm all of that and more, but... it's not hopeless when this happened because I'm with you."
Eyes wide at the response he wasn't expecting, Laek said nothing while staring in disbelief.
"You're not going to let something like this stop you, right?" Adryan asked, his tone amused, but the words held a deeper meaning that he wasn't about to attempt a relationship with his younger brother if everything was about to fall apart at the first complication, one of many to come.
Though delayed, full lips slid into a rebellious smirk and Laek lifted onto his forearms to gaze down at the shorter man. "Saer is going to kill me, you know."
"That's because he knows you're too much like him and that my body is in extreme danger," Adryan stated with a suggestive grin. "Luckily, Berenas won't let him kill you, but knowing Dad, he'll no doubt find a torture loophole. If I were you, I'd keep a sword on me at all times."
"Or I could use you as a shield. You wouldn't mind sitting on my lap for dinner, would you? To prevent thrown knives and other sharp objects aimed for my neck?"
"I don't think me on your lap will help to win over Dad," Adryan commented as he lowered his hand to Laek's cheek and brushed his thumb across swollen lips.
"So much for Plan B," Laek sighed as he lightly nipped at the blond's thumb.
"And what was Plan A exactly?"
"To not get caught."
An amused smile faded to a solemn expression and Adryan stared at full lips to avoid the teen's gaze. "Laek, I'm serious about moving slow with this. I don't want us to go too far, too fast, and not be able to go back to being brothers. No matter what, I can't lose you."
Laek said nothing for a time, eventually lying down on Adryan's chest to meet the evasive stare of hazel. "I don't know how to explain this to you, but there's no other way I can love you. If we 'go back to being brothers', that's your choice, not mine."
Staring at the open expression that hid nothing, Adryan felt his chest constrict with the same ache as if he were drowning.
"Whether or not you chose someone else to love and marry, my sword and life are yours. You can't lose me, even if you don't want my love."
A piece of Adryan screamed out that, no, nobody else could replace the love of his brother, but the rest of him only felt pain at the lonely existence Laek had prepared for himself. Adryan could almost imagine that future, him with a wife and children while Laek served as the supportive uncle without a word about his grieving heart. With a strong blink of his eyes, Adryan forced the vision out of his head and silently swore that he wouldn't let that happen to his brother, not after learning of the passion Laek held for him alone.
Wrapping his arms around Laek in a strong hug, Adryan clutched at the thin shirt and thought about the tattoo of the water snake beneath his fingers. "I'm poisoned," Adryan muttered though he was uncertain Laek would catch the reference. "You're in my blood and no other person can cure what you've done to me."
Laek stared for a long moment before a slight smile formed, one Adryan had never seen before from the young man and the hairs at his neck prickled at the predatory smirk. Before Adryan could say anything, Laek abruptly pushed off the bed and adjusted his clothing before offering a hand to his brother.
Adryan glanced up from the hand and looked at the teen's face to discover the fond smile that he was far more accustomed to seeing from his brother. Half doubting his previous observation of the harsh smirk, Adryan returned his gaze to the hand covered in calluses and felt there was something significant behind the offered help. It was ridiculous to think so, especially considering his healing ankle and Laek's doting nature, but Adryan couldn't shake the suspicion that accepting the hand would take him further than he was prepared to go. And yet, despite his panicked thoughts, his hand seemed to move on its own as it reached out and rested on rough skin to be enveloped by the large hand and held tight.
With a strong jerk, Laek pulled Adryan off the bed and against his body where his free arm circled around the blond's waist. "Will you escort me to my execution?"
Adryan breathed a laugh at the joke, some of his apprehension melting away at the melodious hint to his brother's voice. "Dad may surprise us and listen to our reasoning."
Laek snorted at the unlikely chance of their father granting them patient understanding. He supported Adryan as he walked with some weight on the weak ankle, but when they came to the doorway and the crutch leaning there, Laek pulled Adryan close and prevented him from reaching the crutch.
"I've got you," the dark-haired teen said when given a questioning glance from his brother. "You don't need that when I'm around."
Adryan continued to stare at his brother as he was encouraged to move forward past the doorway and into the hallway, the crutch left behind. Though he said nothing in argument, Adryan thought he could see within Laek's gentle smile a ghost of the smirk that had worried him earlier. It should have concerned him and make him question the teen, but with cool hands on his body and Laek supporting his every step, Adryan felt something within him surrender and he could only think - 'There's no other way for us to be.'
Author's Whining -- So yeah, there are the boys for you. It turned out wholly different than what I first imagined for them, but I like this a lot more than what I originally had planned. Laek is very much his father's boy, but he also got Squall's devoted and sacrificial love, which ended up in a very strange mix of patient, but domineering love. I hope you liked, Leira, and I'm sorry to not getting to smex. I did plan it, but then Adryan got extremely wary about the whole thing. But for those curious, these boys have a strange set up - though Laek will always be the dominate personality within the relationship, he can't bear to have Adryan in more pain, thus Laek typically bottoms. I swear, the children of SxS never seem to keep things plain and simple. If there's one solace, it's Seifer being pissed at once again knowing something long after Squall knew about it. ;)