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The Once and Future King

Chapter Text

It was not that Mikleo had not lived his life these past seven hundred years; not as such. He had worked to make their dream a reality, worked to make sure they had a world filled with beauty and bright wonder to explore when he finally opened his eyes. He had lived, had enjoyed life – he had gone out onto the dance floor, even as half his heart waited at a window-seat table, facing an empty seat, still waiting for his partner to arrive (so fashionably late) and allow him to enjoy the rest of the evening; together, again, forever.

Mikleo was not one to pine his heart away. He had lived, he truly had.

But the hand gripping his wrist was so strong, and Mikleo’s heart felt like it was about to burst. What kind of life had he lived if it was a life without him?

Sorey finally pulled him out of the hole, and sat back heavily on his haunches as Mikleo clung to him like a limpet. He felt Sorey’s strong arms around him, and his lips against his temple, just below his circlet, and oh, Mikleo had dreamed of this as often as he could dare allow himself. He’d hoped that it would have been less embarrassing, but while the narrow miss with the pit could have been avoided with more caution, there was no helping the tears, nor the wailing. Sorey rubbed his back soothingly, his lips trailing from Mikleo’s temple, to the line of his cheekbone, to his starving mouth.

“Mikleo,” Sorey whispered against his lips. “I…I’m…”

“You’re here,” Mikleo breathed. His hands slid up to Sorey’s neck, bringing him in for the kiss he’d waited seven hundred years for. “Sorey.”

Their lips came together, electric, bright, and so worth the wait.

Crunch.

Mikleo paused, his tongue halfway into Sorey’s mouth.

Crunch, crumch.

Mikleo drew back, and stared at the mortified look on Sorey’s face, trying to parse out what, exactly was happening, and why this kiss he’d waited seven hundred years for was—

Crunch, slormp, cronsh.

--being interrupted by a small, dazzlingly white dragon, tied to Sorey’s back like a baby being carried by its mother. It was very messily eating an apple clutched clumsily between all four clawed feet. Mikleo and the dragon locked eyes. The dragon’s green eyes darted back and forth for a moment, and slowly took another bite of its apple.

Crunch.

Mikleo released Sorey’s shoulders, and allowed him to turn back around. Sorey wouldn’t quite meet his eyes.

“Um,” Sorey offered as an explanation.

“Just grabbed a snack of out the pack while I wait,” explained the dragon swaddled up to Sorey. “Just pretend I’m not here.”

As if this was a satisfactory resolution to the issue at hand, the dragon went back to crunching on its apple.

Mikleo grabbed Sorey’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, and forced him to meet his gaze.

“Explain. Fully and succinctly.”

Sorey looked hurt at the intensity in Mikleo’s eyes, and Mikleo felt the fury in his mind cool, and allowed his expression to soften. He wasn’t interested in fighting with Sorey, not now. He wasn’t interested in anything but showering Sorey in all the love he missed out on over the centuries.

The talking baby dragon was kind of throwing a wrench in the works of that last part, though, and Mikleo thought he deserved an explanation for the unexpected third wheel in their reunion.

Sorey seemed to understand, just from the way Mikleo’s touch moved to a gentle caress on his cheek. Mikleo felt his eyes slide shut, and oh, how did he ever get used to this kind of heartache?

“—well, I…he was still feeling a little weak after we woke up, and I couldn’t just leave him all alone, but I couldn’t make you wait any longer, so I thought this would be a decent compromise?”

Mikleo slowly pieced together Sorey’s explanation, his eyes growing wider by the second. He seized Sorey by the shoulders again and twisted him so he could take another look at their third wheel.

The dragon had finished with its first apple, and was laboriously digging for another in Sorey’s pack while still strapped to his back; not quite able to get a grip on anything in its position. Finally, it gave up on claws and went apple-bobbing with its face. It emerged triumphant from the pack with its jaws strained around its shiny red prize.

“He doesn’t mind being called Mao. Mao, this is Mikleo.”

“Hmmbbfbfbfbfmbfbbfff,” said Maotelus around his apple. His four feet scrabbled for purchase on the fruit, trying to pry it from where it had gotten stuck in his jaws. He finally freed himself with a pop!, sending juice and apple bits flying. He looked at Mikleo with hopeful eyes. “Sorey’s told me all about your ice cream.”

He’d gotten cockblocked by god, after getting cockblocked for seven hundred years, by god. This was definitely not what Mikleo had dreamed of.

Chapter Text

The ruin Mikleo had been exploring was a fair distance from civilization, and as such, they had a day or two worth of camping in store before they could pile into a bus and express deliver Maotelus back to the Pendrago Shrinechurch. Mikleo initially felt abashed at his failure to prepare the proper hospitality for the Lord Above Lords – as if he expected that morning, as he crawled out of his tent squinting at the morning light, hair falling out of its sleeping braid, that he’d not only be back in the arms of his one and only, but playing host to the most powerful seraph in existence.

Ancient literature on the seraphic lords alluded to their forms being that of dragons – an ironic form for such holy individuals, but such power could not be contained in anything but a cage of indestructible scales. Maotelus’ looks thus weren’t a huge surprise – Mikleo maybe expected him to be a touch larger, though. As it stood, he was about the size of a rather round housecat. He had been freed from the confines of Sorey’s impromptu baby carrier, and was relaxing on a flat stone in their camping grounds, watching Mikleo as he prepared food with an almost uncomfortable intensity.

They’d settled down for camp, and Mikleo cobbled together a respectable dinner from the supplies he’d brought and the woods around them. He’d only expected to be feeding himself, otherwise he would have packed something considerably more romantic than protein bars and trail mix that was more chocolate than anything else. Luckily, he’d also brought the necessities for ice cream. Mikleo tried to still the shaking of his hands as he mixed the base, his heart singing at being able to make this for Sorey again, his mind screaming at having to make it a dish worthy of a god.

Sorey’s brilliant smile as he accepted his portion was enough to make Mikleo want to melt on the spot. Head over heels in love as he remained after all these years, Mikleo still had his pride, and managed to school his desire to fling his arms around him and kiss him senseless. Maotelus waddled over to where Sorey sat, and sat upright on his haunches, looking up at Mikleo with a hopeful expression. His arms folded up against his chest and his tail curled around his feet politely. It was an astounding feat for a dragon to manage puppy eyes. Truly a god among gods.  Mikleo offered Maotelus’ potion to him with both hands, bowing deeply. Maotelus accepted it with his front claws, and promptly inserted his face into the bowl.

As it promptly came to light, Sorey and Maotelus were about on the same level when it came to table manners. Their bowls were both licked clean in a matter of seconds, and Mikleo was hit with a double whammy of puppy dog eyes – he could rarely refuse Sorey his snacks even back in the day, and very little about that had changed. And, well, it was just flattering that Maotelus enjoyed his cooking. His ice cream making supplies were forfeit from the start.

After dinner, they settled around the campfire to rest. Mikleo’s mind was still trying to process the events of the day, was still trying to process that, yes, that was Sorey’s arm around his waist, Sorey’s heartbeat under his ear, Sorey’s scent surrounding him. It was Sorey’s hand that reached for his to intertwine their fingers, Sorey’s lips pressing into his hair. It was all him, it was real – it wasn’t another cruel dream, to be ripped away from him in the morning light for another century of loneliness. Mikleo felt ready to die of bliss.

Maotelus stretched out on his rock, and yawned a bit too loudly to not be deliberate.

“I’ll be resting for just a bit,” he said aloud. “Just a few hours this time.”

Sorey laughed at that – Mikleo supposed he’d find it funny eventually. Maybe.

“I’ll come over and kick you if you start snoring,” Sorey said. “Sleep tight!”

Maotelus flicked his tail, and a bower of wooden vines sprang up around the rock to shield him from the night air; a blanket of moss grew to cozy up the hard surface. Maotelus settled in, curled up, and tucked his snout into the swirl of his tail. The perfect sphere he had made was obvious even to a layman like Mikleo, and Mikleo felt he had gained some level of insight into the inner workings of Lailah’s mind.

On one hand, Maotelus was of course welcome inside the tent, and by no means had to go to the trouble of making his own shelter – Mikleo was about to offer up his own sleeping bag and stay up to tend to the fire. On the other hand, Sorey was here, he was right here, and it had taken immense willpower for Mikleo to keep his hands off him all day and oh god Mikleo was about to go insane if Sorey didn’t stop nuzzling his neck like that and instead just drag him into the tent and take him from behind like an animal. Perhaps Maotelus could, in all his wisdom, sense that the tension in the air was thick enough to cut with a knife, and bowed out of the equation long enough for them to resolve it.

Sorey’s now-white-gold hair fell to mid-back in a rough ponytail, held back with a leather tie. He’d grown over the centuries, even as he slept. His jawline was less boyish, his shoulders and chest broader. He’d even grown another inch or two – Mikleo had long since given up hope that he’d ever be taller than Sorey, but this was simply unfair. He shifted his arms around Mikleo to draw him into a hug, and rested his cheek atop the crown of Mikleo’s head.

“Go get some sleep,” Sorey said, as if Mikleo could just leave his embrace of his own free will. “I’ll stay up to keep the fire going.”

Mikleo stayed quiet. Sorey drew back and kissed his forehead, nudged his chin up with his forefinger until Mikleo would look him in the eye.

“It’s okay. I’m not much for sleeping right now,” Sorey said with a laugh. At Mikleo’s scowl, he gave him another kiss to the forehead. “Sorry, Mao and I will lay off that joke.”

Sleep was the last thing Mikleo wanted, and Sorey was the first, second, and third or fourth thing. It’d been seven hundred years since Mikleo had last felt the touch of anyone, of anything but his own hand; curled around himself, face buried in an old shirt that had long since lost the scent of the one who had worn it. But through the haze of his own desire, Mikleo tried to see sense – of course they couldn’t do anything here, not with Maotelus himself trying to sleep just a few feet away. It seemed rather inappropriate to expect Sorey to want to. Inappropriate to even ask. Mikleo would go into the tent and summon a torrent of cold water to cool his blood.

Sorey leaned in. His lips pressed against Mikleo’s, moving chastely, gently. After a long, slow moment, he pulled back to smile at him, so sweet that Mikleo’s heart skipped.

“Good night, Mikleo.”

“Good night, Sorey.”

Time for that cold shower.

 

--

 

It had been hard to sleep. The cold water he’d hosed himself with had mostly gotten Mikleo’s mind off the line of Sorey’s jaw and the feeling of his mouth on his, but there was no helping the way he kept waking in a blind panic every hour or half, crawling on shaking limbs to the front of the tent to peek out and check that Sorey was still there, awake and real, his features sharp in the fire’s light.

This was the other selfish reason Mikleo wanted Sorey to come into the tent with him that night. Mikleo loathed being like this – so clingy and needy, like an obnoxious child that refused to sleep in his own bed. He’d managed centuries apart, why was he suddenly unable to now?

Sorey noticed, of course. The first few times he heard the tent rustle open, he’d smiled and accepted Mikleo’s excuses of “hearing something” or “letting in some fresh air”. Perhaps Mikleo should demand a cup of water and a story next, and truly embrace his metamorphosis into a bratty six-year-old. Soon enough, though, he heard Sorey putting out the campfire, and the rustle of the tent flap opening.

“Guess I was more tired than I thought,” Sorey explained quietly, when he saw Mikleo’s gaze on him. “Room for one more?”

Mikleo shuffled over without a word. Sorey lay down next to him, and wrapped his arms around him – drawing him in so Mikleo’s back was against his chest, and nudging a knee between Mikleo’s legs to tangle them together there. His cheek brushed against Mikleo’s neck, and left a nascent heat behind.

“Your hair’s gotten so long,” Sorey murmured quietly. “Am I allowed to touch it now?”

That botched haircut was centuries ago. Mikleo reckoned he could finally let it go. (Maybe.)

“I suppose,” Mikleo replied, trying to salvage the remnants of his dignity.

 Mikleo tried to fight against sleep, trying to savor this closeness and warmth. But then Sorey’s fingers began to card through his hair, loosening it from its sleeping braid, and it was all Mikleo could do to remember to breathe as he drifted off to sleep.

Morning came, and Mikleo awoke; more well-rested than usual. His fingers stroked at Sorey’s wrist where it rested against his stomach. Sorey’s nose was tucked against the back of Mikleo’s neck, and his breath made the fine hairs there tickle. He snored like a sleeping boar. Mikleo thought back to all those mornings in Elysia, so long ago now, the memories squinting and blinking against the daylight as Mikleo finally allowed them to surface for the first time in centuries. He would awaken before Sorey, and marvel at his sleeping face and listen to the cadence of his breath. He would press gentle kisses to his brow, and stroke his hair, and give him all the affection he held back during the day. Mikleo had an image to maintain – a calm, collected image – and giving into Sorey every time he barreled into him at full tilt across the wildflower fields just wouldn’t do.

During all those centuries alone, Mikleo looked back on those moments with a piteous disdain, the despair of a starving man reminiscing on the memories of glorious feasts – he was such a fool to ever turn down Sorey’s affection. But now, with Sorey back in his arms (and drooling down the back of his neck), Mikleo would perhaps allow himself these indulgences, his image be damned. Mikleo would be content to stay like this forever – he supposed there was something to be said for being a bratty six-year-old after all.

After a slow, wonderful time, Mikleo moved to disentangle himself. It was all well and good to laze around in Sorey’s embrace, but he had duties to attend to – prayers from humans, inspecting historical sites for damage, and then there was now the matter of sending word to the others of Sorey’s return, and escorting Maotelus back to Pendrago safely…

…though he was quite certain that Maotelus, Dragon of Light, Silver Flame, Lord of Glenwood, was entirely able to make it without being babysat. He’d monopolized Sorey for seven hundred years; was it so much for Mikleo to ask to have a few quiet nights with Sorey? Alone?

Shaking his head, Mikleo slipped out of the tent quietly, intending to start breakfast and get the campsite packed away. He found Maotelus already up, and tending to a boiling bot on the campfire.

“Morning,” said Maotelus. “Oatmeal’s almost ready. Got some fresh maple syrup, too.”

Mikleo did not have oatmeal in his pack, nor maple syrup. The spoon in the pot was stirring on its own, being controlled by what Mikleo could sense as being very precisely controlled wind artes. The campfire was blazing with silver flames.

Maotelus peeked in the pot, and frowned. Out of nowhere, a fully-grown oat plant erupted from the ground. Maotelus plucked it clean, smashed and dehusked it with another wind arte, and added the handful to the pot, summoning just a bit more water to balance it out. Mikleo would have to look around before they left to see if any maple trees had sprouted overnight.

“Come sit down,” Maotelus said. “I wanted to talk to you before Sorey gets up.”

Mikleo obeyed. He ran his fingers through his hair self-consciously – Sorey had gotten it half out of his braid while he was petting it, and it tangled so horribly if it wasn’t tied up at bedtime. His curls had gone wild in the night. He would have tended to it if he knew Maotelus was already up.

“So,” Maotelus started. “I should start by apologizing.”

Mikleo raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Um – I’m sorry…Lord Maotelus, I don’t--”

“Just Maotelus. Or Mao. And don’t be nice about it – I’ve made your life worse in a half dozen different ways.”

Mikleo stared at his hands, clutched at his own knees. Maotelus began to count things off on his claws.

“I’ll start. I ruined your uncle’s life by allowing him to form a pact with Lailah at age twelve, allowing the Shepherd’s Burden to be placed on someone whose voice hadn’t even cracked yet. I then couldn’t even live up to my own hype and had to have him smuggle me out of the Shrinechurch like contraband liquor, and wound up still succumbing to malevolence. I was so ill, so weak, and your uncle and your mother were tending to me day in and day out – sleeping on the floors of the temple where they set me, even when your mother was nine months pregnant, even when she had you tied up to her chest. So wrapped up in feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t even lift a finger to protect that little town – from the soldiers, the fire, or my own temper. Your uncle spent his whole life serving me, sacrificing his health, his life, his very humanity, so I can’t say I blame him for finally losing patience with it all – what good is a god if he can’t be bothered to prevent harm from coming to the ones most devoted to him? I can’t say that I approve of his method of taking his revenge on me, but I certainly deserved it. Only the most terrible of seraphim can be swayed by human sacrifices, so I suppose he was giving me a piece of his mind when he drenched me in your blood. I got the message loud and clear.

“I don’t know what you think of him now, after all these years, but Michael did love you. Michael felt the Shepherd’s Burden heavily, and did not allow himself to make personal connections, but you, your mother, the town – they were the precious few things he had allowed close to his heart. I remember when you were only a few days old, how Michael and Muse brought you to my sickbed for a blessing. I wished for you to have a long life, full of love and happiness, full of the companionship that your uncle and mother had sacrificed for me. I don’t suppose you ever knew what happened to your father? …No, I didn’t think so. Well, that’s a story for another time. Suffice to say his absence from your early life is my fault as well.

“Then, of course, there’s the whole business of allowing that man to tether and use me to nearly end the world. Countless lives lost, endless suffering, and another young body thrown onto the Shepherd’s breaking wheel – someone who happened to be very dear to you. At the end of it all, I took Sorey away from you for nearly a millennium. Without getting into a very, very long story, I’ve also been the one left behind, losing someone important to me to satisfy the childish temper of a so-called god. I won’t pretend our experiences are the same, but if your feelings on it are anything like mine, well…there’s little I could ever do to make it up to you, other than giving Sorey back and never darkening your doorstep again.

“I could go on and on, but I hope you get my point by now. I have much blood on my hands. Your uncle’s, your mother’s, that of the venerable Zenrus. I stole your life away over and over: once to fuel my blight on the world that I myself had failed to save, another when you were compelled to form the pact, again when you sacrificed yourself to Siegfried’s barrel, and again when the responsibility of building a world without any Empyrean support fell on your shoulders. I’ve done my best to destroy your life more thoroughly than anyone in recent memory, but each time you’ve managed to stand up and walk tall again.”

Maotelus paused, and took a moment to collect his thoughts. And also to turn the heat down on the oatmeal.

“I don’t ask you to forgive me for all that I’ve done. But what I do ask is that you give yourself credit for surviving despite my best efforts.”

Mikleo was quiet, taking it all in.

“Your blessing for me,” Mikleo began, softly, slowly. “A long life, filled with love, happiness, and companionship.”

Maotelus said nothing. Mikleo continued.

“Being reborn as a seraph. Being found by Gra—by Zenrus, and Zenrus finding Sorey too, Sorey living despite being born so small and helpless, and growing so healthy and strong…us staying together despite everything, and finding people to support me even when Sorey had to leave. Finally achieving the dream he and I worked for. Finally finding each other again, Sorey coming back to me as a seraph, retaining all of his memories and everything about him, how rare that is…isn’t it reasonable to think that that blessing of yours helped me along?”

Maotelus still wouldn’t look at him. Mikleo got up and walked over, and began to scoop some of the oatmeal into bowls.

“Give yourself some credit,” Mikleo said. “Maple syrup’s not even in season.”

An especially loud grunt from the tent heralded Sorey’s awakening, and sent birds in the trees scattering into the air. In no more than a moment, Sorey was up and out of the tent, stretching and greeting the morning sunlight with a smile. Once woken up, Sorey was definitely the more morning-oriented person of the two of them – a trait as charming as it was insufferable, and one that Mikleo felt joy to the point of bursting to have to deal with it again.

“I smelled oatmeal,” Sorey said. “You guys are both up early.”

Maotelus’ tail twitched mischievously. “Just getting breakfast ready and telling Mikleo about all the embarrassing dreams you had about him over the years. His favorite was the one with the ballgowns and swashbuckling.”

Sorey blanched. Mikleo had done some high-seas travelling in his time, but it had entailed little swash, buckle, or ballgowns. He might have to reflect on that dereliction as news of Sorey’s predilections came to light.

Maotelus hmmed thoughtfully as Sorey slunk over to the fire, not quite able to meet Mikleo’s eyes. “Of course, maybe we could change gears. Mikleo, let me tell you the story of how you nearly got yourself adopted by a family of ducks as a baby. You see, when you first started crawling, you rapidly became known as the Speed Daemon of Camlann, and your mother had to keep you swaddled up with her if she didn’t want you scooting off to adventures unknown. You had a special fascination with the ducks on the pond outside your home, and one day, in a feat of athleticism, you freed yourself from your cradle and went on a journey into the depths. Rest Selene’s soul, she couldn’t swim one bit, but she dove in after you and fished you out – Muse never did let you out of her grip after that stunt.”

Sorey was enthralled by every word from Maotelus’ mouth. Mikleo immediately repented taking joy from Sorey’s embarrassment earlier and felt some modicum of understanding for his young self’s desire to go drown in a duck pond. Maotelus tilted his head to the side and gave a toothy little smile. With a flick of his tail, a few small baubles materialized from the air, glinting like glass. Earthen Historia – summoned at will. More were sure to be had. With all Maotelus’ might, Mikleo thought he would be merciful enough to just kill him directly instead of destroying him soul-first.

“I’d be happy to go on if you’d like to hear more.”

“Please!” Sorey begged, eyes sparkling.

Please,” Mikleo begged. “Go back to the ballgown thing.”

Chapter Text

They came out of the forest not far from Lastonbell, and made a brief afternoon stop at an inn to clean up. Sorey marveled at the invention of showers, and after briefly showing him the basics of operation, Mikleo excused himself from the bathroom before he could even consider the idea of showering with him. Afterwards, he watched with fondness as Sorey (a towel slung low around his waist, water droplets lazily tracing the lines of his hips) hosed off Maotelus with the extendable shower head, Maotelus shaking off the droplets and lifting up his wings like a bathing bird. After their stop, they were off to the train station for an errand.

“We’ll be stopping at one of the small farming villages outside of Lastonbell,” Mikleo said. “I’ve just heard they’re going through a drought. We should only be stopped for an afternoon while I adjust the surrounding weather patterns. Less if there’s a wind seraph around to consult.”

Sorey beamed at him. “I’ll bet you’ll have the whole place blooming in no time, Mikleo.”

Mikleo felt his cheeks warm. Whether it was praising Mikleo for summoning something as small as a rainstorm, or praising the centuries of work he’d put into honing the art of vanilla ice cream,  Sorey’s compliments never failed to make his heart flutter.

The village was a train trip away from Lastonbell, and it was a trip they had to make in disguise, being a party of 1) a quite famous water seraph, 2) his fated lover and all-around hero from ancient legend, and 3) god in the form of a lizard. Maotelus had wrapped himself around Sorey’s neck like a scarf and tucked himself securely under his long peacoat, and Mikleo had pinned Sorey’s mane of white-gold hair under a beanie. Mikleo’s own hair was secured in a bun underneath a stylish dove-gray beret, matching his custom-tailored double-breasted trenchcoat. Sunglasses for both completed the incognito look.

(Maotelus seemed vaguely put out at not also receiving a pair of sunglasses, but seemed content enough to stew about it underneath Sorey’s coat. Or content to simply make Sorey squeak and jump whenever he moved his tail around.)

The train finally arrived at the sleepy hamlet, and Mikleo lifted his head from Sorey’s shoulder, shutting his journal and tucking it away as they gathered their things. As he stepped off the train, he peered out at the dry fields with no little concern. The damage was already so severe…perhaps it would have been best to request assistance from one of his earth seraph contacts before they came charging in like heroes. With Sorey back at his side, Mikleo was starting to forget his own limits.

“…we’ll have to go see an old friend first,” Mikleo said slowly, his hopes at a quick resolution to this growing slim. “She owns a restaurant at the heart of town.”

Mikleo sidled a glance at the beady little green eyes that peered out of Sorey’s collar at the mention of food.

“Her specialty is mabo curry buns.”

The slit pupils in those dragon eyes dilated until there was next to no green to be seen. Sorey gave a yelp and peeked down his shirt.

“Mao, geez, easy on the drool!”

Small as the town was, it did not take long at all to reach the heart of it. Mikleo opened the door to the restaurant, and was immediately greeted by its proprietor: a hunched elderly woman, who felt around for her cane in an attempt to hobble to her feet. Mikleo hurried over to help her up, but she swatted away his hands and rose on her own.

“Oh Lord Mikleo,” said the old woman warmly. “It’s so good to see you. Good to see at least one thing in this crazy world staying the same.”

“It’s good to see you too, Myra.” Mikleo bent down to accept a kiss on his cheek. “I heard the town’s prayers – how long has this drought been on?”

Myra hummed, low and grave. “Too long, I reckon. Harvest for this year is done for.”

She eased herself back into her seat at the bar, with effort, and continued.

“The earth seraph that took up residence in the big elm tree did his best, but not much the soil can do when the sky dries up. I told that useless mayor of ours to petition your shrine in the city months ago, back when it was clear as day that the rain wasn’t coming on its own, but gods know that that he won’t do nothing for no one, much less us poor folk that pay his salary. Some young folk finally managed to slip through into the shrine in the city and offer up their prayers – and didn’t you just come runnin’ not but a day after they got released by the city coppers. Good to see someone still cares about our little village.”

Mikleo’s brow furrowed at Myra’s phrasing. “‘Slipped through’? Our shrines have always been open to all public requests, why would they have had to sneak in?”

Myra barked a bitter peal of laughter, and thumped her cane on the wood to punctuate it.

“You’d best pay a visit to that shrine to see for yourself. Ain’t no ordinary folk been able to get in in the last decade without a heap of paperwork. Don’t want us commoners ‘taking advantage of the generous nature of the seraphim’ with our constant whining, of course. Best to let our crops fail and keep the prayer lines open for wealthy city folk to pay ‘n’ pray for another million or two gald to drop from the heavens into their investments.”

Well. Mikleo had wondered why he had only been hearing such pointless requests from this area. Once Mikleo settled the drought business here, it was time to head to Lastonbell and have a talk with the people he’d allowed – that he’d trusted—to keep his shrine.

There was a yelp and a crash from the tables. Mikleo smiled, despite the grave news. It was so wonderful to have to get used to it again – Sorey being there to lighten the mood. He turned, his face going pale at the sight.

A very frazzled Sorey had lost his beanie, allowing his white-gold locks to spill over his shoulders. In his arms – or rather, draped around his shoulders – he was struggling to keep a hold on a young boy with the same white-gold hair…a young boy with the green eyes of the dragon that was supposed to be quietly napping under Sorey’s jacket while Mikleo did his errand, and was instead thrashing around as if to force Sorey to drop him on the ground. Sorey and Maotelus finally seemed to realize that Mikleo and Myra’s attention was now laser-focused on their battle, and froze in place.

Myra looked slowly from Mikleo, to Sorey, and back again. She made a soft, tender noise, her eyes beginning to fill with tears.

“Lord Mikleo…you know, I used to look at my late husband just like that. All fondly exasperated with his tomfoolery.”

Mikleo turned red, but couldn’t suppress a smile at the sentiment.

Myra was shaking so badly that she could barely rise to her feet again, but she pressed forward, creaking slowly toward Sorey and Maotelus. Sorey quickly set Maotelus on the ground and hurried forward, taking Myra’s hand and easing her into a chair at a nearby table. Myra looked at him in wonder, with the expression of a young girl meeting a beautiful being from a fairytale. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

“You’re…you’re the Lord Mikleo’s…the Grand Shepherd himself…?”

Sorey laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m not too sure what’s so grand about me, but yeah, I’m definitely the Lord Mikleo’s, I can tell you that much.”

Myra laughed and wept all at once.

“Oh, there was just no mistaking it, none at all, with all that sweetness the Lord Mikleo was lookin’ at you with. You’ve made the young girl in me the happiest little thing alive. I don’t think you know, you don’t really know, just how much—just how much that love story of yours means to us all, all us humans, and to come to an old woman like me, to see the Lord Mikleo has found you again with my own two eyes before I pass…”

Myra paused to collect herself some, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief. She put one knotted old hand on Sorey’s cheek and pinched.

“Just as handsome as all those novels and movies thought, too. Nothin’ but the finest for our Lord Mikleo.”

Sorey blinked in surprise, looking over at Mikleo. “There’s books of me? And what’s a movie?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Mikleo said. Whenever he encountered that section of every bookstore, the historical romance section, his face still burned with embarrassment – even after hundreds of years he still hadn’t gotten used to seeing artists’ interpretations of his swooning, corseted body clutched in a Sorey simulacrum’s rippling biceps . “And I’ll explain movies later.”

“Now that the matter of that handsome stranger is resolved,” Myra said, tilting Sorey’s head to the side with her cane to look at the small figure hiding behind his back. “There’s the matter of handsome stranger number two.”

Mikleo noticed that Maotelus winced at the phrasing, just a little. Myra gestured for him to come closer, and Maotelus obeyed – Myra cupped his cheeks in her hands, and turned his face from side to side.

“A spitting image of both his fathers,” Myra declared, proud as if on Sorey and Mikleo’s behalf. “The Grand Shepherd’s eyes and locks, and the Lord Seraph’s features. Lord Mikleo, while I’m over the moon at knowin’ you’ve had your own little one, I wish you’d told this old woman you’d be coming with him – I’d have fixed up some treats for the poor dear for when you arrived.”

Mikleo and Sorey were stunned into silence. Maotelus gave his best puppy eyes, and his stomach growled as if on cue. Myra tsked, and rose from her chair; taking Maotelus by the hand and hobbling toward the kitchen.

“Come on, then, dear, we’ll fix you up some mabo curry buns and custard for dessert. All the milk you can drink for strong bones. What a good boy for waiting so quietly while this old woman talked your papas’ ears off, and with an empty stomach, too. You remind me of my own son when he was just a wee one; such a quiet and well-behaved young lad…”

Luckily, Myra was nothing short of delighted at Maotelus’ appetite, and continued to heap buns onto his plate right as they came out of the oven. Mikleo couldn’t say that he was necessarily surprised at the form Maotelus took – he’d seen dog, cat, and flying pig seraphim, after all, and Edna besides – but seeing the Lord of Glenwood sitting in a chair, legs swinging and nowhere near touching the ground, devouring buns left and right while that strange little cowlick atop his head seemed to twitch in delight…well, it was certainly one of the odder feelings he’d had this century. After inhaling enough buns to annihilate an army, Maotelus set his attentions to the pot of custard Myra was stirring – Mikleo could tell that it was taking monumental effort for Maotelus to not change back into his miniature dragon form and go for a swim in the pot.

While Maotelus was engaged in a battle of wills with himself, Mikleo sat at a table, chewing absently at his pen instead of at the buns on his own plate. Lost in thought, he suddenly felt exactly half a bun prodding at his lips. He jerked away, and Sorey determinedly followed.

“C’mon, you’ll think better with something in your stomach. I thought you were the one who was supposed to yell at me about these things.”

Mikleo narrowed his eyes and kept his jaw firmly shut, even as Sorey saw fit to try to stick his fingers in his mouth. Finally, he couldn’t keep the outburst in check any longer. “Sor—mmff!”

“Open up for the Elysialark! Tweet tweet!” Sorey chirped aloud as he crammed the bun into Mikleo’s mouth.

Mikleo chewed furiously in order to free his mouth up to yell at Sorey. “Sorey! I need some time to think. That crop damage is intense, and the topsoil’s been eroded – if we don’t proceed carefully, and fast, it’ll take years before the farmers can grow again…”

Mikleo sighed and put his head in his hands. The touch of Sorey’s hand at the nape of his neck was small comfort.

“The town will be done for, and it’s all because I didn’t care enough about tending to my own shrines,” Mikleo murmured, low. “Just wandering around doing as I pleased.”

Sorey drew him into his arms. Mikleo’s eyes slid shut, and he leaned into the hearth-warmth of Sorey’s chest.

“We’ll do this together. All of it.”

Mikleo nodded. His nose nuzzled between the folds of Sorey’s peacoat, and he breathed in deep. His scent, his heat, his voice – it made Mikleo ready to take on the world. Always had. Always would.

But, it was clear they were being watched. After a long moment, Mikleo turned around to give a flat look to Maotelus. Maotelus was already half-done with his custard, and idly brought the spoon to his mouth.

“Do you really want to do this the hard way or should I lend a hand?” Maotelus asked. “Give me some credit here.”

Mikleo paused. And thought. And really, didn’t have much to say to that.

Maotelus set his bowl down on the table and reached for Sorey and Mikleo’s hands. He tilted his head to the side in concentration, and his cowlick flopped with the motion. Mikleo felt a jolt of unimaginable power shock through his body and stiffen his spine, and he fumbled for Sorey’s hand with his free arm without thinking. Sorey clutched his hand back, and the power flowing through them stabilized, harmonized, and blossomed free into the air.

After a few moments, they could hear shouting from the town outside – shouts, tears, and joyous celebration. The noise even brought Myra out of the kitchen to investigate.

“Now what in blazes is going on out there? Did we finally decide to string up that mayor by his toes in the town square?” Myra griped, hobbling to the front door. “You boys enjoy your lunch while I tell ‘em to pipe down.”

Mikleo rose to his feet and hurried over to the door (shooing Sorey and Maotelus back into their chairs as he went – it seemed there was already quite enough commotion without revealing the second coming of the Grand Shepherd and the Lord of Glenwood). Townsfolk were rushing into the streets, gaping and shouting as their parched fields and gardens grew life anew – corn and wheat grew tall as pines into the skies, vines began to twist across the pavement and up buildings, berries and gourds springing into life with audible pop!s as they went. The rice fields were heavy with fresh water and verdant green. The wilted flowers on windowsills erupted in color, and dead trees bloomed in full spring regalia. The mayor and his assistants tumbled down the Town Hall steps as their feet caught on the growth, and the mayor stumbled to his feet, his head firmly stuck in a pumpkin. The scent of petrichor fell upon them, and soon, the streets and the celebrating, weeping townsfolk were drenched in rainwater. And also berry juice.

Mikleo felt Myra’s trembling hand clutch his, and with no little distress, he saw her drop to her knees. She brought her lips to the hem of Mikleo’s cloak, reverently.

“Thank you. For everything.”

Mikleo looked at the restaurant window, where he could see Sorey and Maotelus peeking out. He saw Sorey’s mouth move as he spoke to Maotelus. I think we overdid it, he said. Maotelus shrugged, held up a mabo curry bun, gestured to it, and made a thumbs-up.

Mikleo helped Myra to her feet, and guided her back inside, away from the warm showers. With a wave of his hand, Mikleo summoned a dazzling rainbow – just to make sure he wasn’t completely shown up.

“No thanks needed.”

Chapter Text

Mikleo wasn’t the only one with an errand list. Maotelus outlined a list of items he wanted to see to before returning to his post in the Shrinechurch, and all seemed fairly reasonable – most, indeed, were stops that he and Sorey needed to make before they returned home to Elysia to rest.

“I should like to check in Lailah at Ladylake to discuss the current state of Shepherd affairs,” Maotelus said. “And Rayfalke Spiritcrest, to pay my respects.

Both along the way to Elysia. But first, there was the matter of checking in at Lastonbell – a matter Mikleo should have tended to ages ago, it seems. Though the damage had already been done, the culprits would stand to his judgement before the sun set.

Lastonbell had always been a city of the arts. It was only a matter of time before Sorey saw all the ridiculous paintings and sculptures and poetry and three-part freeform zither pieces that had been dedicated to Mikleo over the years, and Mikleo felt dread grip him. It’s a phase that all artists have!, his friends told him, over and over. Every artist has to get over that phase where they’re mooning over unattainable beauty and moonlit nights and landscapes and stuff and you and Lailah are just easy targets.

It was easy for them to say. They didn’t have to deal with entire wings of art museums dedicated to lovingly-painted portraits of themselves in various states of undress, bathing in crystal ponds, bathing in twilight streams, bathing in sun-dappled oceans, bathing in porcelain clawed bathtubs, lots of bathing, lots of gazing longingly into the middle distance as birds held up his robes while he was riding a clamshell or some nonsense. He certainly never agreed to pose for any of these and certainly never rode a clamshell, nor had birds in his employ. The more he tried to hide from the public eye to discourage further ridiculousness, the more they obsessed over him. The worst part was, some of the most embarrassing pieces were so old that they were now historical artifacts in their own right – never in Mikleo’s wildest dreams could he have imagined that his duties as an archaeologist, scholar, and general lover of history would force him to help preserve and defend softcore porn of himself. Or of himself and Sorey. Or of himself and Zaveid, or a thinly-veiled artist insert, or a squid. Mikleo wasn’t sure which of those three were worse.

As they approached the Lastonbell Center for Seraphic Administration, Mikleo tried to hold onto that same feeling of revulsion. Humans would falter, and misuse seraphic power and blessings. It had happened before and would happen again. But Mikleo had let it happen here, in a place where he was meant to lead, in a time where a bright new future had dawned – Mikleo felt sick that Sorey had to awaken to watch this unfold. He’d tried to make Sorey and Maotelus wait at the inn, but…

“I’m coming with you. I want to see everything you guys have built – no matter what.”

And Maotelus, well. Mikleo was in no position to order Maotelus to do anything – he had no idea how many more embarrassing baby stories he had up his puffy sleeves.

Administrative Centers were a feature in nearly any large city, and served as shrine collectives for humans to offer up prayer and worship to seraphim who handled certain blessing specialties. They were quite convenient for all involved – Mikleo was on the move a lot, and back in the day he felt simply terrible when he came across petitioners on continent-spanning quests to track him down and obtain his blessing for something that he could have handled in an afternoon. With modern advances in technology, the Administrative Centers had gotten even more streamlined; with itemized spreadsheets of requests and petitioner offerings emailed to him daily.

Mikleo had gotten complacent. This kind of corruption never would have happened when he had been more involved with managing his duties.

The Center was lovely – the intricate stained glass and splendid murals showcased Lastonbell’s status as the artistic center of the continent. However, it was quiet; far too quiet. It was not the silence that came from introspection and quiet devotion, it was a silence that came from crushing bureaucracy. Scattered petitioners were bent over long forms instead of offering prayers to the various shrines dotted around the walls of the Center – shrines that were now gated off and guarded by uniformed security guards and dour-looking government officials, seated at desks, stamps at the ready to accept or reject petitioners’ submissions. Few, if any, of the petitioners appeared to ever make it past this stage. The shrines were nearly barren of traffic.

Mikleo wondered if it was possible to make it past these gatekeepers without greasing the wheels with a fistful of gald. Well, he wouldn’t find answers just by wondering.

“Pardon me,” Mikleo said, low and cold, to the official gatekeeping his own shrine.

“Yes, your form please,” the official idly replied, not even looking up from his computer.

Mikleo handed him a piece of paper he had prepared a few moments earlier. The official sighed as if he was being bothered, and snapped the form from Mikleo, slapping it onto his desk. He stared at his computer for another minute or so before he finally looked down at what he had been handed.

It was a piece of journal paper, with a single line on it:

What did the government toady say to the Grand Seraph?

The official glared up at Mikleo. Mikleo held his glare measure for measure. Recognition came slowly to the official. And then it came quite quickly. Within moments, the official was red-faced and sputtering.

“I—I apologize, Lord Mikleo, f-for my—w-what brings you to the Center, personally, in your person, may I ask? Have you been experiencing issues with our electronic request delivery service?”

“An apology? Well, I suppose that’s a decent enough punchline,” Mikleo said, his voice still carefully measured with cold fury. “Who administrates this building?”

Sorey gazed at him adoringly from beyond the cordoned-off waiting area, and sighed.

“He’s so gorgeous, you know?” he said to Maotelus. “I’m just so happy that everyone can see him now. See him and appreciate how amazing he is, and how hard-working, and how kind, and…”

Sorey trailed off, sensing that Maotelus wasn’t listening. Indeed, Maotelus was not listening, as he was too busy working over a vending machine, trying to shove his arm up the dispensing chute to steal the delicious candy within. He locked eyes with Sorey, and made an educated guess on the topic of the conversation.

“Uh, yeah, Mikleo is amazing,” he said.

Sorey beamed. “I know, right?”

Maotelus felt quietly relieved. Sorey got so snippy when he didn’t think you were listening to his Mikleo Raves. Seven hundred years and he still hadn’t run out of steam.

“I think you’re supposed to use gald to get that to dispense the stuff inside…” Sorey said, watching Maotelus as he worked. “Remember? Mikleo showed us those at the inn.”

“Fuck the Man,” Maotelus explained. “What do you think this place is spending the profits from this thing on?”

Sorey sighed. Why did he always find himself in a position where he had to argue about moral relativism? He guessed stealing from a vending machine was lower on the cosmic scale than murdering people, though.

Oh, Rose. Sorey wished he could have spoken to her one last time. He hoped she had lived a happy life.

Mikleo had the government administrator for the building on his knees in the idiomatic and literal sense. Sorey stared at him more, and felt his soul lift. Mikleo was so responsible and devoted. And so hot when angry. So hot all the time, really. He should see if Mao felt the same way, and ask if he had ever seen a seraph so responsible and devoted in all his many years. Sorey had asked him this a few times in the past but he was sure Mao wouldn’t mind discussing it again – Mao was good to chat with, he wasn’t as interested in debating as Mikleo was, sure, but –

There was someone having a throat-clearing fit over by the door. Sorey glanced over, briefly worried that he’d need to ask Maotelus to jimmy loose a bottled water in addition to whatever else he was knocking around in there. That brief glance prompted a double-take, as he saw Zaveid posing in the doorway, wearing a ridiculous outfit; tight and flowing all at once, covered in jewelry, and it all somehow made him look even more naked than usual. He saw how Zaveid’s eyes kept darting Sorey’s way as he cleared his throat again.

Sorey’s smile threatened to make his jaw ache.

“Zaveid! Over here!” Sorey called, breaking off from Maotelus’ anti-capitalist shakedown to jog over to where Zaveid stood.

Zaveid, acting like he hadn’t been posing for a solid five minutes without being noticed, gasped theatrically as Sorey approached. “Sheps! It can’t be! Ol’ Zaveid heard some whispers on the wind that you’d finally woken up, but this tender heart of mine couldn’t bear to get its hopes up for nothing. More to the point, I heard you already knocked Mikky up, you old dog--”

Maotelus wandered into view, using the hem of his robes as a makeshift candy sling with his backpack already filled to near-bursting. He locked eyes with Zaveid.

“Lil’ big man!” bellowed Zaveid, dashing over to him. “Safe and sound!”

Sorey had seen Maotelus smile before, but he’d never seen his smile look so young. Maotelus released his grip on the hem of his robes to accept Zaveid’s bear hug; candy bars, soda cans, and gum spilling onto the floor in a clatter as Zaveid hoisted him into the air.

“This guy--!” Zaveid said, settling Maotelus in the crook of his arm and ruffling his hair. Maotelus’ curl stood proud and unaffected by the assault. “Got himself mixed up with another Lord of Calamity and made us a mess of trouble, didn’tcha? Hope you regaled Sorey with all the tales of our thrilling adventures together!”

“I told him about all the times you got sloppy drunk at Katz Korner and started table-dancing unprovoked,” Maotelus said. “And then started crying because Eizen wouldn’t wrestle you.”

“Well rest his soul, that was his loss.” Zaveid ruffled Maotelus’ hair again. “Thanks for snapping out of your funk. Third time’s the charm when it comes to ol’ Zaveid’s pals going dragon.”

There was an uncomfortable silence at that. Zaveid broke it up in the way he knew best.

“Enough about your big sleep, time to talk about what I’ve been up to!” Zaveid struck another pose, and Maotelus only narrowly managed to avoid being knocked off his arm by a lucky grip on his bicep. “I’m the lead singer of Glenwood’s most famous all-seraph idol group, and once the Mikster is done kicking around that chump over there, I’ll bring all of you into the studio for a live concert. In fact, let’s grab him and head over now, we’ll do a livestream and properly announce both of you coming back into the land of the living, and get the word out about the little bundle of joy that you’re expecting--”

The air around them dropped several degrees. Mikleo was done chatting with the building administrators, and was surveying the damage done: one sputtering vending machine, a lot of stolen merchandise strewn across the floor, and Zaveid, in general. Sorey gave him a crooked, abashed smile.

“So, uh, how did things go?”

“They went,” Mikleo said. “I’ll get the word out to the other seraphim who have their affairs managed here, and we’ll have to keep a closer eye on it. For now, I’ll take care of the legitimate requests for people who’ve already filled out those nonsense forms – I’m afraid I’ll be here most of the rest of the afternoon, so I’ll pass on your livestream.”

Sorey stepped forward to set his hands on Mikleo’s shoulders, and leaned in to kiss his cheek. Mikleo allowed it. Good – that meant he was just annoyed at the situation in general, instead of Sorey and the others, specifically. But still.

“Can’t we help out? I mean, I know they’re requests meant for you and other seraphim,” Sorey said. “But we can help out with the little stuff. I really want to try giving out blessings.”

“I got us refreshments,” Maotelus added.

“I’ll call the band over, too!” Zaveid whipped out his phone and started tapping away. “We’ll be done with the busy work in no time, and then it’s off to the bars…”

Zaveid blinked, then looked at Mikleo and his midsection.

“No drinks for you, though, but I know a bunch of places that make a lot of great virgin mixes--”

Mikleo beaned him with a soda can and stormed off to help petitioners.

Chapter Text

Initially, Mikleo wasn’t certain why Maotelus would want to visit Rayfalke, of all places – even after all these years, the only seraph in consistent residence was Edna, who had not mentioned a friendship with the Lord of Glenwood in the past. Though, well, neither had Zaveid.

Before they reached the mountain range, thankfully Sorey briefed him on the situation. Mikleo should have known Edna’s brother would have had something to do with it, but wasn’t sure how Edna would react – she had never been fond of visitors, human or seraph, on her mountain, and while time had dulled the pain of loss, Mikleo could still never predict when her temper would flare. If anyone was high enough on the seraphim pecking order to escape an umbrella to the gut, Mikleo supposed it would be Maotelus.

Edna sensed their presence the moment they set foot on her territory, Mikleo was sure of it. She knew Mikleo’s aura, and Sorey’s aura was little changed from when he was a human – his presence alone would be reason enough for her to come investigate. As for Maotelus…well, as much as his aura could even be sensed (as far as Mikleo could tell, it was indistinguishable from the aura of the land itself), she’d come out complaining and shaking her umbrella at the brats on her lawn like the old granny she was.

They didn’t have to walk long before a pillar of earth sprang up to block their path. Sorey smiled brightly at it, and called out for Edna – it disappeared back into the ground, revealing Edna behind it; not facing them, twirling her umbrella idly. She was putting on a good show of indifference, but then Sorey lumbered up behind her to sweep her into a hug and she very nearly launched them both off the cliffs in shock at the brusque treatment.

“Is this how you treat a lady!?” Edna grumbled, trying to whack at Sorey’s knees with her umbrella. “Didn’t even think to call when you woke up. I always knew that Meebo was a terrible influence on you.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Sorey laughed, finally putting her down. Edna bristled and made a big show of straightening her dress, then making sure to un-straighten it just so, making sure one strap fell down her shoulder. (“It’s called couture,” she’d explained haughtily one time. “And I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”) Once she was finished strategically ruffling herself, she cast a critical eye at Maotelus.

“Knocking each other up before you’re even five hundred,” Edna scoffed. “Young people are so irresponsible these days.”

“I’m over seven hundred, and why does everyone keep assuming that he’s our child!?” Mikleo could never keep his temper in check around Edna, even after all this time. Seven hundred years, to be exact. “Last I checked, I don’t have an earthpulse in my stomach, so giving birth to a seraph child is quite impossible--”

Maotelus tilted his head to the side. “Well, never say never. If you and Sorey are ever interested, I can see what I can make happen for the two of you.”

Sorey gave a shy, hopeful little smile to Mikleo. Mikleo wanted to storm off the mountain.

Edna smiled beatifically. “That’s the spirit. You will bear the world the nerdiest little bundle of joy there ever was. Meebo’s got the childbearing hips but Sorey will probably keep that post-baby weight off better. Anyway, you with the antenna. Who are you, why are you with these brats, and why are you in my house?”

Maotelus smiled tightly and stepped forward. “I am Maotelus.”

Edna rose an eyebrow. “Obvi. And I’m a purple spotted dinosaur.”

“No, really,” Sorey said earnestly. “He’s Maotelus, we’ve been travelling together for a while to--”

“Whatever. So you’re Maotelus,” Edna said. “What business do you have with me?”

“I want you to know that I’m responsible for what happened to Eizen.”

Mikleo’s eyes went wide, and his gaze snapped to Sorey, who simply shook his head, his mouth drawn into a thin, frustrated line. Edna didn’t break eye contact with Maotelus, and Maotelus showed no indication of backing down.

“Eizen is responsible for what happened to Eizen. He’s the idiot who decided to charge a Lord of Calamity head-on,” Edna said calmly. “I’d like to know what you think you could have done to make him not go through with his boneheaded little plan. You could have chained him to the ground and still not managed.”

Maotelus faltered, but steamed on. “I should have loaned more power to the Shepherd he pacted with. Then he wouldn’t have fallen in the line of duty, leaving his seraph companions vulnerable to malevolence--”

“Shoulda woulda coulda. A Shepherd could have the powers of all five lords and then some, and still not know the first thing about using it properly. They’re only human,” Edna said.

Maotelus was quiet. Edna sighed and continued on.

“So did you go out and apologize to the descendants of that Shepherd? The friends and family of the other seraphim that went down in that fight? Why not go back in time and apologize to that Lord of Calamity for not making sure their life goes so perfectly that they never have a chance to make any stupid decisions? Can’t take responsibility for everyone in the world.”

Edna walked up to him. “Listen. If you want me to yell and scream and curse your name while swooning into an overstuffed divan, you’ve caught me on a bad day. I’ve gotten too laid-back in my old age. However, if you’re up for a walk, I’ll take you up to his gravesite so you can pay your respects. Maybe his ghost will show up and do the swooning thing for me. I’ve never seen him come around, though.”

Maotelus smiled, despite himself. “I’d like that.”

“Hold on to your little bloomers then.”

With that, Edna summoned pillars of earth to rocket them off to the mountain peaks. Sorey scratched the side of his chin, watching them disappear off into the sky.

“He probably could have flown them both up…”

“You know Edna,” Mikleo said, motioning for Sorey to follow him. “Come on, we’ve got a hike ahead of us. She’s probably going to make us come get him at the peak.”

Chapter Text

Curse Zaveid and double curse his damn gossip. It was hard enough for Mikleo to travel in peace as it was, and now that Zaveid had let the winds of gossip loose (in the form of announcing it full blast on every social media site he was on, which was all of them – and here Mikleo thought all Zaveid used those accounts for was to post mostly-naked mirror selfies), it was almost impossible to travel incognito. He’d perfected his spectral cloak technique over the years, and Sorey begrudgingly consented to travelling permanently under its mantle – it was a hassle, sure, but was better than being chased down by every person and seraph who wanted them to bless their marriage, bless their children, bless their lucky penny, bless their first edition copy of that goddamn play Rose wrote about them and got filthy rich off of. Mikleo never wanted to have to fake another smile in front of someone’s phone for at least another seven hundred years.

Even under the cloak’s mantle, they heard the whispers of the excited town and city folk, and saw the frothing headlines on every news outlet. The Grand Shepherd has returned! Travelling once more with the Lord Seraph Mikleo, these legendary lovers have wasted no time – sources say they’ve been spotted with a little bundle of joy! What are the Lord Seraph’s secret hacks for losing that post-baby weight? We’ve got ten weird tips doctors don’t want you to know!

Maotelus, on his part, didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that the populace didn’t immediately recognize him for what he was. Zaveid showed remarkable restraint to that extent, and allowed the gossip train to simply plow Sorey and Mikleo over while Maotelus enjoyed the relative anonymity. “Relative” was the key word – Maotelus was milking his newfound position as the lovechild of the “legendary lovers” for all it was worth, that being all the free food he could stuff into his mouth and his backpack. Zaveid clearly found the case of mistaken identity hilarious, and was stoking the flames as if his life depended on it.

Speaking of flames, they had finally arrived at one of their last stops: Ladylake. The Old Quarter still bore some resemblance to the first human city he and Sorey had ever set foot in in their journey, but the rest…well. Humans pressed ever forward, and the towering skyscrapers and river-spanning structures undoubtedly had transformed Ladylake into a city wholly unrecognizable to Sorey.

But, of course, instead of being cowed or daunted, Sorey took the changes in with the same awed expression he’d worn since – well. Had he never not worn that expression when looking out at the world? It was hard to say.

A visit to Lailah was the first order of business. It would have been hard for her to miss the rumors of Sorey’s return, and she certainly would be overjoyed to see him – and Mikleo hoped she would feel the same about Maotelus. She had struggled for the first few decades, back then, with Maotelus’ dampened influence. Surely she had struggled during their journey as well, with Maotelus corrupted and bound, but she had hid it from them so well that Mikleo, in his youthful ignorance, hadn’t suspected a thing. Had she felt Maotelus’ power return, stronger and clearer, in the past few decades? Had she known of his imminent return before all of them? So many questions, and—

“Sorey!” Lailah gasped tearfully, dashing from her seat at the head of the Sanctuary, but then screeching to a halt at the sight of Maotelus next to him. The wheels in her head visibly turned for a moment. “…what splendid weather we’re having!”

-- they could expect precious few answers. Maotelus smiled and nodded.

“I’m glad to see you well, also, Lailah,” Maotelus said. “Please forgive me for forcing you to bear the burden of the flame all on your own.”

Lailah hmmed an aimless tune to herself, and pulled a piece of paper out of her skirts to fold. “Yes, yes, the weather has been so pleasant; we’ve had some storms in the past but the trees and the bees need the water and a rainstorm is made so much easier to bear with good friends at your side.”

She’d folded the paper into a bee. She smiled at it, then set it on the floor, deliberately-but-not-too-deliberately in front of Maotelus. Maotelus picked it up and idly breathed life into it, watching the newly-minted creature bumble confusedly up and down his index finger. While Maotelus was occupied, Lailah redirected her attention back to Sorey and Mikleo. She pressed her hands together in front of her face, trying to hold back tears.

“Oh, I’d heard the rumors, but…” She couldn’t stop the tears from falling. “Oh, Sorey. You did it, all by yourself, for so long, and…”

“I’m here now,” Sorey said, gently. He offered his arms for a hug, which Lailah accepted. “And I wasn’t so alone. Maotelus snores, but he’s not a bad bunkmate otherwise. And Mikleo and you and the others visited so often.”

Lailah drew back from the hug with a watery smile. “I wish I could have visited more often. I’m so sorry. Rose was—she took up the mantle easily enough, but the Shepherds after her weren’t always such quick learners.”

Lailah paused, and gestured for Sorey and Mikleo to follow her to the foot of the empty sword platform. Shepherds these days, with the world’s increased resonance, did not have to shoulder anywhere near the burden Sorey and Michael did, back then. While Lailah still served as Prime Lord, she allowed herself to take the occasional respite. She had probably shooed her latest Shepherd out to enjoy the sights of Ladylake for the afternoon while she awaited their arrival – Mikleo was quite certain at this point that she could sense Maotelus’ approach, all to better prepare her stock of non-sequiturs and various origami distractions.

Even back then, Mikleo had not taken up another sub-lord pact. For most of Rose’s tenure, he had been busy with – obsessed with, they had accused him – securing Sorey’s sleeping area with various seals, barriers, puzzles, guardian constructs, pitfalls, big nets, strings of tin cans, stick-and-box traps, and whatever else he could think of. (Then that moronic fox-creature decided to crawl out from his rock and try testing his pathetic hand at interrupting Sorey’s work – he didn’t even make it past the first round of Mikleo’s seals before being stopped in his tracks. The others helped Mikleo clean up the remnant chunks and giblets, but only Mikleo could re-set the spells that that shrieking waste of time had set off.) He’d loaned Rose his power when he was needed, of course…and he served as a consult to the other Shepherds, when she passed…the idea of sharing his true name with anyone else made his stomach turn uncomfortably. Of course, as humans began to see the seraphim, this reluctance to pact with anyone only seemed to add to Mikleo’s mystique in their eyes. Poems and ballads and clamshell surfing thusly followed.

Lailah brought out a small engraved box, and unlocked it with a wave of her hand. Inside were various personal effects – precious mementos Lailah had gathered over the years from the Shepherds she had guided. She carefully took out a yellowed letter, and handed it to Sorey.

“From Rose and Alisha,” she said. “To you. They were happy together until the end.”

Sorey took the letter in hand, and Mikleo’s heart twisted at the pained smile on his face. “…thank you.”

After the letter was safely secured in Sorey’s belongings, Lailah clapped and gave the two of them a bright smile.

“Has Mikleo shown you around the city yet? You simply must experience it at night. And the hot springs are as relaxing as ever!”

It was true – Ladylake was a sight to behold, and Mikleo’s bones ached longingly at the mention of the hot springs. Moreover, this was rare form for Lailah: being subtle in her hints to make themselves scarce so she could speak with Maotelus, instead of babbling nonsense and then spontaneously trying to teach them how to do the flamenco. Whether Sorey realized he was being told to buzz off for a while or not, his eyes went bright at the mention of a city tour.

“That sounds great! Mikleo, can we--”

“We’ll head out now,” Mikleo assured, and offered Sorey his hand, readying his spectral cloak. “Come on, let’s go. We’ll get a room at the inn to drop our things off.”

Sorey pouted as he felt the mantle of the cloak fall, but squeezed Mikleo’s hand regardless.

As they left the Sanctuary, hand-in-hand, Lailah gave a huge sigh of relief, and stared at Maotelus’ head with something akin to hunger. Maotelus rolled his eyes and walked over to Lailah to allow her to indulge her needs. One shaking hand pressed to her racing heart, she patted the perfect curl of hair atop his head with awed reverence.

“So, Shepherd business?” he asked, once she seemed like she was finally done.

Lailah untwirled the curl, and watched in fascination as it re-twirled in a flash. “Hmm? Erm, falalala, the weather--”

“No one’s around. You can stop that.”

Lailah looked around – the priests and Uno had taken her request to keep the Sanctuary clear for important business seriously.

“…I picked up your things from the Shrinechurch when everything first started to go down. I think you still owe me two hundred gald on blackjack.”

Maotelus’ eyes narrowed. “You’re on. And no card pocketing or dealing stunts. I swear you cheat worse than the criminals I used to run with.”

Lailah dragged out a wooden box from a hidden compartment in the sword’s shrine; labeled in childish script with “Phi’s Cool Stuff: Don’t Touch!”. Maotelus unsealed the box by melting the locks, and cooed blissfully as he took out an aged bottle.

“Silver Dragon, vintage, plus an extra seven hundred years or so. Perfect for a little celebration, don’t you think?”

Lailah popped out her phone and put on some appropriate tunes to blare over the Sanctuary’s speaker system. “Just don’t get too blackout drunk. You’ve been out cold for long enough.”

Blissfully ignorant of the gambling and drinking currently debauching the Sanctuary’s holy walls, Mikleo and Sorey set off to explore the city.

 

--

 

Mikleo collapsed onto the inn bed, thoroughly exhausted. It had been a long day – Ladylake was a huge city, and keeping the spectral cloak up for so long was more exhausting than he was willing to admit. He’d barely managed to get out of his coat, much less get into his sleeping garments. Sorey’s enthusiasm still hadn’t flagged, though once he had finished pacing the room a few dozen times to work off the lingering excitement, he too sat down heavily next to him; making the bed jump with his weight. He was murmuring bits and pieces of things to himself – already starting to pick up some of the new languages he’d heard since he woke up, no doubt.

Weeeeghhhh, I’m Sorey, I taught myself Ancient Avarost at the age of five, Mikleo thought to himself with no little fondness.

Sorey curled himself against Mikleo’s side, nuzzling his face against his shoulder. “Can we go see that one place tomorrow – MagicaLand? It looked like so much fun…”

MagicaLand was Ladylake’s premier theme park, and was the number one date location in the city. Couples bought matching hats from the vendors when they entered, shared sweets and snacks from the carts, and rode the attractions and watched performances until the fireworks show and light parade at night – Mikleo’s heart began to race at the thought of experiencing it with Sorey. He noticed Sorey’s hand on his chest, and was sure he could feel the beat. He turned his head away from Sorey, and tried to maintain his cool.

“I suppose,” he said. “I mean, you’d probably enjoy that kind of thing.”

Sorey leaned in close, his mouth nearly touching Mikleo’s ear. “You wouldn’t enjoy it?”

If Sorey couldn’t feel his heart racing before, Mikleo was certain he could now. “I…it’s, it’s not something I--”

Mikleo cut off with a yelp as Sorey took the opening to tickle him. Seven hundred years had dulled his reflexes, as well as his defenses – it was too obvious what Sorey had been lining himself up to do, and Mikleo left himself wide open for it. How Sorey still had the energy after today, and the day before, and the day before to still do this, well, Mikleo didn’t know. He almost didn’t care to know; simply basking in the closeness and the sight of Sorey’s wicked little smile even as he shrieked and tried to kick himself free. Mikleo flung out an arm to try and jab at Sorey’s stomach, and quickly found himself pinned to the bed under Sorey’s weight.

Mikleo heaved for breath. His cheeks burned, and his hair had gotten loose from its ponytail in their struggle. He was sweaty and smelly from a day of walking around. He looked a mess, he was sure of it. But still Sorey stared down at him, looking at him as if he was the most marvelous thing he’d seen on their journey so far.

Maotelus was at the Sanctuary with Lailah. They had a whole deluxe inn suite to themselves. It had a jacuzzi and unlimited private hot springs time, plus a room service menu with a great dessert selection. All of these were things that could be experienced in just a little bit.

Mikleo tilted his chin up and closed his eyes, wordlessly asking for something he knew Sorey wanted to give. Sorey made a needy little sound and pressed his mouth to Mikleo’s.

It had been so long since someone had touched him like this. There had been offers over the years – offers and temptations, from Shepherds and scholars with tan skin and bright smiles and broad shoulders. With the real thing here, searing hot and moaning at the brush of Mikleo’s fingers against his nipples, such surrogates were the furthest thing from his mind.

They’d barely managed to get their clothes off; Sorey’s shirt half-unbuttoned and yanked down one shoulder, Mikleo’s trousers unfastened and shoved down his hips. Sorey broke away from Mikleo’s lips, and very nearly dove between Mikleo’s legs to redirect his kisses there. The first swipe of Sorey’s tongue on his cock was almost enough to make him come right then and there – he wouldn’t last long, not now, not with Sorey here, Sorey’s mouth and hands on him, Sorey, Sorey, Sorey.

Mikleo yanked at Sorey’s hair to get his attention. “Come back up,” he pleaded.

Sorey gave a pitiful whine of protest, and swallowed down Mikleo’s cock, moaning as if he could come just from the taste of it. He had his own trousers undone, and his own hand working hard and fast inside of them. Mikleo’s shaking hand came up to cover his mouth, and his head lolled back onto the bed.

Sorey,” he begged. “Please. I need you.”

Sorey moaned desperately again, pulled off with a lewd slurp and scrambled up to Mikleo’s lips. Mikleo twined his fingers into his hair, sighing in relief as he felt Sorey line up their cocks and take them both in hand to stroke. Mikleo slid his hand down to join Sorey’s. Seven hundred years starved of touch, and an eternity ahead of them to make up for it.

It was wonderful, and over far too quickly. Mikleo curled on his side into Sorey’s chest, catching his breath. Sorey’s boundless energy seemed to have finally run dry; one heavy arm flopped over Mikleo to keep him close, but further movement appeared to be beyond him.

“Let me know when you’re up for a trip downstairs,” Mikleo murmured against his skin. “I’ve been dying for a hot springs visit for ages.”

Sorey chuckled, squeezing Mikleo closer. “Same here.”

 

--

 

“D’youuuuu think they’re like…done and stuff yet?” Maotelus slurred. He was draped across a rafter in the ceiling of the Sanctuary, half-in and half-out of his dragon form. “I was like…sooooo done with them. Like sooooooo done. D’you know how many times I had to hear about how beauuuuuuuuty-full and wonderrrrrrrrrr-full that Mikleo kid is? Seven hundred…thousand times! Like can you actually!? Guess!? I’m just like…I was like, sexual frustration has a name. And it’s. Those two. Their names.”

Lailah fruitlessly threw another paper airplane at him. Maotelus smacked it away with his tail as he took another swig directly from the bottle.

“Stop hogging the good stuff!” Lailah yelled up at him.

“S’named after me!” Maotelus countered. “Silver Dragon! Thass me!”

“Whooooooo do you think they named this city for? Ladylake! I’m the lake lady!”

Maotelus scoffed. “How’sa fire seraph get that name anyway!? Must’ve been another lake lady.”

Maotelus’ eyes went huge.

“…maybe it was me all along…” he whispered, in revelation. A paper airplane landed squarely in the swirl of his curl, and Lailah screeched from below in rapturous delight.

 

--

 

As…things went, Mikleo and Sorey came back around to the Sanctuary the next day. Lailah and Maotelus greeted them there, looking a bit worse for the wear. Lailah did have quite a lot of Shepherd business to catch him up on, Mikleo supposed. Maotelus glared at the sunlight coming through the windows as if it offended him.

“Sorry we’re late! The hot springs were great,” Sorey said, offering Maotelus and Lailah coffee, as they had been instructed to do by a curt message delivered by an origami carrier pigeon that morning.

“Oh I’ll bet,” Maotelus muttered. “If this isn’t a triple-strength brew I am blighting the land it was grown on.”

The hot springs were great. So was the jacuzzi. And the shower. And the bed. And the floor. And the bed again. Also the tiramisu was simply splendid.

“We’re going to MagicaLand today!” Sorey went on, seemingly ignorant of Maotelus’ current frustration with existence at the moment. (Mikleo prayed they wouldn’t be stopped for pictures at the park – he hadn’t brought a turtleneck or scarf, and wearing his hair down did precious little to hide the hickies down his neck.) Lailah poured a small bit of liquid from a bottle into her coffee, lit it on fire with silver flame, steeled herself, and swallowed it down in one gulp. “If you guys want to come along, we can get a group discount--”

“Nope. Nope. No. Big business. Big Shepherd business still. No more talking please.”

Sorey was too excited to be hurt by Maotelus’ brusqueness. “Okay! We’ll have to all go together some other time, then. Mikleo and I have to get going for the morning breakfast with Slappy the Frog and friends.”

“Go to the frog. Please,” Maotelus mumbled.

“Thanks! We will!” Sorey said happily. “Have fun, guys!”

With that, he took Mikleo by the hand and dragged him out the door, out into the bright morning sunlight.

Chapter Text

“Thank you again for escorting me. I think I’m ready to take off my wandering boots and start being responsible again. I’ll head off to the Shrinechurch on my own now – no, don’t worry, I think they could do with having a scare with me appearing before them; in all my radiance et cetera. I heard Morgrim has been covering for me all of these years – she’s probably bored out of her mind at this point. Please don’t be a stranger. I’d love to visit MagicaLand with the two of you.

Sorey, I will forever be in your debt.

Mikleo, I hope I’ve repaid some of the debt I owe to you as well.

Please, both of you live happily with the ones you love.

…also, before I head out, I just wanted to pick your brains for a quick minute. What would you think, hypothetically speaking, about setting free an archdaemon and facing off against a bunch of ancient precursors with a longstanding grudge? Be honest. You don’t have to make a decision now – this is a multi-year plan kinda thing.”

On that touching and mildly bizarre note, Maotelus had bid them farewell at the Sanctuary. From there, it was only a short trip to Elysia, where Sorey could decompress and the rest of Elysia could welcome him home. Mikleo had so much to show him once they were back in their own house, their own bed – carefully-kept journals documenting ancient ruins that had fallen to the march of time before Sorey awoke, first-edition books of prose and poetry that he knew Sorey would devour in a single night, records of every argument he’d had with scholars over the years over the specifics of their journey. And he would be there for Sorey when he decided to read the letter from Rose and Alisha.

Then there was the matter of introducing Sorey to the internet, and television, and he was certain Sorey would be fond of video games—

Well, they had all the time in the world to spare.