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There is nothing.

More precisely there is a perfect absence of everything . It's not as frightening as it once seemed in another time and another place. He's warm and weightless, as if he's submerged in a warm bath. It's a crude analogy. He knows distantly that he's not just weightless. The very atoms that made him are gone and not even the infinitesimally small weight of one of them holds him down. It's actually nothing like being in warm water. Not really but it's hard to put into words. Physical existence seems like a dream that makes no sense. He's submerged in void but it's not scary. He is void. And calm, so calm. There's no threat. His state of un-being is alluring, the thick, enveloping cloak of sleepiness that descends when weariness sinks into the marrow.

“Sorey…”

A millionth of a second, or an aeon passes when a voice breaks the silence. Suddenly there isn't nothing any more. There is something.

I am Sorey, he thinks with certainty. He feels existence stir.

“Sorey.”

Shape. Form. The void shifts and undulates, particles swirling together like dust on the wind (wind. What was wind again?). Light follows. It's not bright but in the nothingness it feels like a comet streaking into view. He has no eyelids to shield his eyes from the light. The thought is an odd one. He has no eyes does he? Does he?

Thoughts begin to come more easily as the form pulls together. Nothing about it is physically real but Sorey knows without doubt that this is happening. His own sense of un-being fades, replaced by a sense of self. He doesn't know how long it takes, only that he is becoming. Perhaps even returning . Still he is not afraid.

Suddenly the form is solid. There's no preamble and Sorey has no concept of time. One moment it is energy and the next it is a young boy. He has a pleasant face in the way young boys do: soft and untested, eyes full of wonder.

“Sorey,” he smiles, features gentle.

Maotelus. Sorey smiles back. Or think-smiles. He isn't sure what his own state is currently like.

“Don't worry, you're smiling,” Maotelus laughs. The sound is surprisingly pure. “Not all of me was corrupted, although it was close. You saved the world from complete disaster, Sorey,” Maotelus responds. He casts his eyes down. His face is a picture of regret. It suits him. Sorey had a feeling from the moment that he heard Maotelus’ name that he was something good. It's welcome to see that he's capable of regret.

“I'm a seraph just like the others, you know,” Maotelus chides him, although in his small form he looks sort of cute.

“I stand before you, Lord of all this Land and you think I'm cute,” Maotelus shakes his head. “I bet you wouldn't dare say that to your earth seraph friend.”

Sorey feels a question rise within his being.

“Yes, I can hear your thoughts,” Maotelus confirms. “I don't know if you realise this but we are inside you.”

Me?

“Yes. Well technically right now I'm using your soul as a vessel and pouring my power through you to purify myself as you kindly offered. But this,” he gestures to the inky blackness that surrounds them. “This is your dream. My consciousness has joined yours, but this is your realm, Sorey.”

Sorey doesn't fully understand. 'Realm? Like Gramps’ ?

“Sort of. Well, not really. This is your world created by your consciousness as you sleep. You have all the power here,” Maotelus smiles kindly.

Sorey takes a moment to think about that. He's not sure he really gets it. He doesn't feel all-powerful, especially not with the Lord of the seraphim standing before him, albeit in the form of a young man.

Maotelus huffs. “I wasn't born a dragon, you know?”

“You weren't?” Sorey stops, eyes widening. He has a voice. He has eyes. Looking down Sorey sees his boots. Lifting his hands he sees fingers. He sees wrists poking out from blue sleeves.

“No, I wasn't. And you did it. Well done,” Maotelus smiles warmly, giving him an approving nod and a little clap.

Sorey isn't sure why, but he feels proud of that.

“You should feel proud. Sorey I am so grateful to you. You can't know how much I love humanity. Not from how much my malevolence hurt people.”

“It's not your fault,” Sorey answers. He's surprised at that. At how he seems to know this.

It's definitely pleased Maotelus. “Thank you for thinking so. I can't say that I forgive myself but the least I can do is thank you properly.” He breaks off, chewing his lip in a remarkably human gesture. “You've made a great sacrifice to save me, Sorey. There's not much I can do to return your bravery or your kindness.”

“That's okay,” Sorey answers. A face comes to mind. One he loves dearly. It provides him with a name. “If you can help me to make mine and Mikleo’s wish come true that's more than enough!”

Maotelus gives him another approving nod, a series of fast bobs that allow his eagerness to slip through. It makes him look like a little boy. “I will. It's a dream I share with you.”

Sorey’s eyes widen in astounded wonder that he and the Lord of Seraphim could share a dream. “You do?”

“Yes,” Maotelus nods. “In time you’ll learn why it hasn't been possible until now but that dream… a world where humans, seraphs and even demons can co-exist… a dear friend of mine wished for it a long time ago. It took her nearly a thousand years, but she did it. I owe her at least the chance to finally make that dream real.”

“A friend..?” Sorey asks. Distantly he knows an answer somewhere inside him, but when he tries to grasp it, it slithers through his fingers and disappears.

“Don't worry about it, Sorey,” Maotelus reassures him. “That can be learnt in time too. As for your wish though… I can do more than that.”

“More?” Achieving his dream is enough for Sorey. What more can Maotelus do?

“If you’ll allow me to… I can help you to keep your memories.”

“My memories?” Sorey asks. Is he losing them?

“You're not losing your memories. It's more like you're losing yourself,” Maotelus explains. “No. That's not quite right. You will always be you, but you won't be the you who made this decision. The you who made such a sacrifice.”

Sorey stares at him for a moment. He's suddenly aware that he's standing on some surface or other where before they'd been floating. It felt so natural that he didn't notice. Not much makes sense where before it seemed to.

“Sorry, Sorey. I'm not making sense,” Maotelus shakes his head. He’s endlessly kind, and trying so hard to make concepts beyond the human state make sense to him. “Before. Before you were formless weren't you? You were formless inside your own dream because you were slowly forgetting yourself. And you accepted it because some part of you knew it would happen.”

Somehow Sorey knows that he is right. A conversation after a trial. Words left unsaid on a bridge. “I...did. Didn't I? Is that what's happening to me?” He asks.

Maotelus nods. “Yes. Although it happens much faster for most like you. Our circumstances are different though. You are sharing your dream with me, and I still have some power. As you help me to purify myself, I’ll grow stronger still and I will be able to do more to repay you.”

“I don't need repaying,” Sorey replies, holding his hands up.

“You do, Sorey. And my offer is to help you to keep your memories. The memories that are so precious to you and make you the you who could break me from this trap. In very special circumstances, people like you can hold onto memory, but I’d like to ensure it happens… If you’ll share them with me, of course.” Oddly, Maotelus looks a little shy at the last.

Sorey thinks it over. Un-being is still extremely inviting, but the more he recovers the fragments of himself, the less it pulls at him. There's something stronger there. A promise.

“Mikleo is waiting for me,” he tells Maotelus.

Maotelus nods. “Then help me to make his wait worthwhile.”

--


Sorey’s dream has no concept of time. Aeons feel like seconds and seconds feel like forever. Sorey doesn't sleep -how can he when he’s dreaming?- but he goes through periods of being more or less aware of himself.

Maotelus is always by his side. Sometimes they chat, Maotelus telling Sorey amazing things about the past. Often Maotelus asks for Sorey to share a memory with him. They broadcast before them both and they stand or sit, silent and invisible voyeurs to events past.

Sorey learnt to take control of his dreamscape with ease. It's natural to him, although it feels odd that in this place he has such total and complete power where the Lord of all Seraphim has little.

Presently they find themselves watching a small Sorey and a smaller Mikleo taking a scolding from Gramps. It's entirely from Sorey’s point of view. He knows of nothing else and somehow it feels like he's reliving it. The heat of cheeks flaring with shame and the churn of guilt in his belly. His mind races with fear that Gramps will take his wooden sword away and is very disappointed in him. He can think of nothing worse in the entire world than Gramps being disappointed with him. 

“It's odd,” Maotelus whispers. “Now you would laugh it off, but then it was devastating.”

Sorey laughs from somewhere else. Little Sorey is still very, very sorry. “Disappointed parents are the worst though!”

Maotelus smiles at him. “I love your memories of Zenrus,” he says. “To me he felt like such a great and noble seraph. It's refreshing to see him like this.”

Sorey feels warm all over, the pleasure of love filling his every synapse. “He was the best.”

As it seems to every time, the vision shifts. Suddenly he's side-by-side with Mikleo, charging towards Heldalf and the hand he presents. Towards…

He feels his sword drive home again. Feels the shock of it up his arm. Feels the bitter fury and agony of loss as he swings his sword at the apparition of Heldalf. His throat is raw with his howls of grief. All the while his vision swims with the image of Gramps, face twisted in anguish, life held on by a thread and forced grotesquely into a shameful, shambolic reflection of existence.

With a wrench of strength, Sorey dismisses the memory.

Instantly he is sitting with soft grass beneath his behind and between his fingers. It's the hills outside of Elysia: his favourite dreamscape. Gramps can be pottering about in his house if he wills it. 

“I'm sorry,” Sorey says, glancing over towards Maotelus.

Maotelus looks back at him, expression soft on his boyish face. “Please don't be sorry. Even painful memories are precious. It's made you who you are and proof you are alive. Without it you wouldn't have known that you could overcome the worst test. You didn’t succumb to malevolence, even though many wouldn't have blamed you for it." 

Sorey nods, although he is still a little glum. “I guess. I hate that memory but...I’d hate to lose it even more.”

“You treasure that memory. It hurts but it reminds you of how much you loved him. One day you’ll be able to remember Zenrus without the hurt.”

“I guess...in truth I don't want to forget the hurt though…” Sorey admits.

“You won't,” Maotelus says. “But I know from experience that when you lose someone you love so much, in time you stop feeling only sad about losing them and you start to remember how warm they used to make you feel.”

“Maybe…”

“In a literal sense it means you’ll be able to show me your good memories of Zenrus without the bad forcing its way in,” Maotelus explains with a sweep of his arms. 

Sorey smiles at bit at that, wrapping his arms around his knees and looking out over the hills. “I’d like that.”

“You'd like what?”

Sorey looks up to find Mikleo looking down at him with a perplexed look on his face.

Sorey feels warmth blossom in his chest. A huge smile passes over his lips.

Mikleo gives him an odd look. “You're being a weirdo.”

Maotelus lets out a little laugh and settles next to them on the grass. “Mikleo-memories are some of my favourites.”

Somewhere else, Sorey agrees, happiness spreading through his core. In response, the sun bursts through the cloud, colouring the world with a warm, yellow glow.

Me too.

--

 

The first time Sorey shows Maotelus his first encounter with Edna, his companion falls quiet.

Sorey falls readily into the lull of his memory, sinking into it like he’d sink into his own skin. In no time he's facing Eizen and it's so real he can feel the rush of wind from his wings and smell the sulphur on his breath. When they run, pressed on by Edna’s command, Sorey swears he can feel his heart pounding all over again.

It's not until they're pressed up against rock face and gasping for breath that Maotelus speaks. His presence has been so unusually still that Sorey is shocked back into his omniscient view.

“Eizen is suffering.”

“Huh?” Sorey looks at him, confused. It’s a safe guess that a seraph in dragon form is suffering, but the way that Maotelus spoke… There’s familiarity there, far beyond simple compassion. Somehow, Sorey understands. “You knew him.” It’s not a question.

Maotelus nods solemnly. “I did… he was a friend… no… a mentor.

Sorey breaks into a look of astonishment.  “No way! I can’t believe Edna’s big brother was your friend! What are the odds?” His excitement evaporates when he remembers himself. “Ah… I’m so sorry I…”

“It’s okay,” Maotelus smiles. “It’s fate.”

“Yeah,” Sorey agrees. “It’s too coincidental, huh?”

“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Maotelus says, eyes growing distant. They go silent for a while, Sorey’s memory still unfolding. It’s not until the ghosts of the past are safely at the bottom of Rayfalke Spiritcrest that Maotelus speaks again. “Sorey,” he says with a soft voice. "Did you grant Eizen rest?”

Sorey looks away, nodding minutely. “We did. We searched and searched for a cure but there wasn’t one,” Sorey feels tears sting his eyes. He didn’t know Eizen, but he knew and loved his little sister enough to know that he would have liked him. “Edna was really brave. She didn’t blame me for not being able to keep my promise to save him.”

“She probably knew,” Maotelus says, kindness in his voice. “Sometimes we have to make hard decisions, but if you can understand and respect the gravity of that decision, no one can blame you for it.”

Sorey nods. “I guess… I was naive to think I could somehow fix him,” he says glumly.

“But at least you tried,” Maotelus responds. “You saw a person where many saw a feral dragon.” Maotelus pauses, a wry smile on his face. “The reaper’s curse eventually caught up with him, but he fought back all the way.”

“I hope that when I wake up no more seraphim have to become dragons,” Sorey says in a somber voice.

Maotelus beams at him. “I think that is a wonderful wish. I’d like to help you make that a reality.”

--

 

Armatising is impossible to describe. It's the reassuring feeling of not being alone. It's a surge of strength and a gush of vitality. It's taking on another being’s form, being entrusted to use their power. It's a rush but so awesomely calming at the same time. It's incredible. Exhilarating.

Merging with Mikleo was all that and more. It was coming home. It was two hearts becoming one, beating strong and pumping their lifeblood. It was the final, beautiful layer of intimacy that they could cross together. Sorey never told the others, but real or imagined, he always felt his strongest when he was armatised with Mikleo.

He has no idea how to convey it to Maotelus. The sweet joy and the completeness. The sheer, perfect feeling of everything being right.

They watch the first time Sorey spoke the name Luzrov Rulay with intent. It's not the first time and it won't be the last for Sorey adores this memory. He feels it all as intensely as the first. Somewhere else, beyond the memory, he feels the sharp pang of loss, missing Mikleo all over again.

“I'm so glad I lived to see a human and a seraph love one another so completely,” Maotelus says. His voice carries a reverence Sorey rarely hears.

It's not worth denying it. Mikleo keeps Sorey’s world turning. A life without him is no life at all.

“We can thank Gramps for that,” Sorey smiles fondly, watching as he and Mikleo light up the sky with a squall of arrows. Water magic descends like wisps around them. Sorey hadn't realised how beautiful they were before.

“Perhaps,” Maotelus says. “Or perhaps it was the two of you. Who can say for certain?”

Sorey shakes his head. “No, it was everyone . They were my family and my home. I wouldn't be me without them.”

The scene flickers. They're back in Elysia, surrounded by the warm and smiling faces of his family. The best family in the entire world.

“You don't know how much you've done,” Maotelus touches his shoulder, giving him a gentle smile. “It may have been fate for you to be born to a dying village. It may have been fate that you became the Shepherd. But to these people… you just being you enriched their lives and gave them purpose and family too.”

“I can't wait to return to them…” Sorey admits, ducking his head as if he's revealing a terrible secret.

Maotelus isn't mad though. He looks understanding. “You will when we’re ready, Sorey.”

Sorey's vision wavers. Before him is Mikleo. Beautiful Mikleo with his expressive eyes, and pale, clear skin. Always so soft and delicate-looking, belying the fierce strength of heart and body that Sorey loves so much.

“He lights you up more than a fire seraph, and makes your world shake more than earth. Impressive for a water seraph,” Maotelus teases him, a coy smile stretched across his lips. “Are you going to show me some more kissing memories now?”

Despite being bodiless, Sorey feels his cheeks burn. As usual his memories betray him and he has to spend the next few timeless moments waving his arms around to try to distract Maotelus from the way that some of his more awkward memories broadcast across the landscape.

--

Memories pass by, one after the other. Sometimes they flow, sometimes they stop and start. Sometimes they are as early as Sorey can remember, sometimes they are from the days before they felled Heldalf. Sometimes they're hard to live through: a life taken when there's no other choice, although Maotelus offers no judgement. Sometimes they simply talk, and sometimes, rarely Maotelus shares some of his own memories.

Much as Sorey loves his own, he adores watching whatever Maotelus will share with him. It happens more often as Maotelus grows stronger, their link allowing Sorey to experience the richness of them. They're not like his own memories. He doesn't feel the same attachment, but he does find them more exciting. Seeing secret history playing before him, being able to feel it and smell it and taste it… It's a dream come true.

It also makes him see Maotelus through another lens. Sharing his soul with him, Sorey feels inherently safe with Maotelus. He's warm and gentle, his love for humans and seraphim alike wash over Sorey in calming waves. Seeing his memories though… Sorey sees him as a person. He ceases to be the almighty Lord of Seraphim and becomes a person with likes and dislikes, and hopes and dreams.

He's privileged enough to meet the people that Maotelus called his friends. He makes discoveries that amaze and excite him, and he makes discoveries that shock him to his core.

He cannot unsee or unlearn things that change his entire perspective. They make him question all he believed. They make him a richer person.

When I wake up, he thinks for one moment of timeless time, I will tell Mikleo everything.

And for the first time, he finds himself looking forward to leaving this perfect, endless dream.

--

 

It's without preamble that Maotelus looks him in the eye and asks very seriously if they can watch Eizen’s death.

Sorey wants to protest but his thoughts betray him. Suddenly he is thrust into the heart of battle. The air is thick and sweltering. The ground trembles, whether from malevolence or from the tremendous stomps of powerful feet, Sorey has never known. 

It's almost real. He can taste the sour, vinegary scent of Eizen, sharp over the burnt smell of char that has got into his nostrils. The danger makes his heart thud inside the cage of his chest and a cold sweat trickle down his back. This -Edna’s brother- is nothing like previous battles. He's nothing more than a raging beast, maddened with malevolence. There's no recognition in his eyes or his gestures. No indication of what he once was, who Sorey would have loved to have met. He bears no kindness to his old friend or his little sister in each enraged bellow.

It's for that reason the entire encounter is tinged with a heavy sadness. Either Eizen dies, or they do. It's a simple solution to a terribly hard question.

Edna hangs back. Sorey knows instinctively that she's fighting defensively, keeping her friends’ strength replenished and protecting them behind walls of earth that jut out of the ruined soil whenever a claw, or tail, or tooth gets too close. He can't blame her, of course. What's important is that she hasn't run away. She's taking responsibility, a burden that she has never wanted to carry.

Beside him, Maotelus watches, silent. When the Sorey in front of them delivers the deathblow, he offers no judgment . Instead he turns to Sorey with tears in his eyes.

“Thank you,” he says simply.

For a long moment, Sorey doesn't know what to say. It's not a happy memory, or a proud one. It was a duty fulfilled.

“You carry this memory like a wound, despite knowing it was the right thing to do,” Maotelus says softly. “Edna offered no resentment and neither do I.”

“I know…” Sorey says. “It was just… it was sad.”

“I'm glad you found it sad,” Maotelus nods, wiping his eyes with delicate, little fingers. “It means that you honoured his memory. And honestly… having been his friend I can honestly say that he would have thanked you for it. That was no life.”

“Death just seems… so final…” Sorey says lamely.

“Is it?” Maotelus gives him an odd look.

“Well… yeah? It's the end of everything,” Sorey says, unsure as to why Maotelus is looking at him that way. As if he's missing something major.

“Sorey…” Maotelus looks like he doesn't know what to say. Sorey finds himself eager to hear the words. Maotelus chews his lip. He looks worried.

“What's up?” Sorey asks, forcing a laugh.

“Death isn't final, Sorey,” Maotelus explains. “You saw how Mikleo died as a human and was reborn as a seraph. That shows you that death isn't the end,” he says softly. “We just change and start new chapters of being.”

“Maybe… I guess…” Sorey says. He's unsure though. He thinks of Edna, who will never see her brother again.

“She’ll feel him though,” Maotelus explains softly. “In the land beneath her feet and in the stone of the mountainside. Nothing ever just goes away, Sorey. We make up the fabric of the universe. It can never disappear.”

Sorey considers it for a long, long moment. Slowly a thought occurs to him. The thought shapes and strengthens until it's a certainty.

“I'm dead aren't I?” He asks Maotelus. He thought it would be scary to ask, but he feels oddly calm.

Maotelus meets his eyes. Sorey can tell that he's trying to read him. For the first time since they met, Sorey feels the power there and knows that Maotelus holds him in the palm of his hand.

The moment passes. Maotelus looks away, almost as if he's ashamed.

“I'm sorry, Sorey,” he says. Sorey realises then that he is ashamed. “You died the moment you touched me.”

Sorey nods, a little numb. “So this entire time…”

“My power flooded into you, but it was too much. It overwhelmed you and wrenched your soul from your body. I've been using it to purify myself ever since,” Maotelus affirms, sounding sorrowful.

“You don't have to feel bad,” Sorey offers. “I think I remember that I kind of expected it.”

“You thought it was a possibility,” Maotelus says slowly. “But you also thought you might just sleep for a long time,” Maotelus sighs. “I needed a pure vessel, Sorey. Your soul was the purest vessel I could ask for.”

“So this place..?”

“It's a place between states of being. It’s simpler to think of it as your dream,” Maotelus explains. “I brought us here when I gripped your soul just as it was about to be stretched beyond recognition.”

“So I would have died in every way?” Sorey says sadly.

“No,” Maotelus shakes his head. “A soul like yours is too strong, too pure. You would have been reborn as a seraph, but all of the things that make you you , your memories and your experiences… they would have been eroded until you were something new.”

“So…” Sorey says, absorbing all this. “When we first met… that was me dying?”

Maotelus nods. “Yes. You were being unmade to be made anew. I stopped it. Gripped onto you. Even in my malevolence, enough of me existed to regret that you'd had to sacrifice your life for me. I knew that I had to make things right for you before I started righting the wrongs I'd done to the rest of the world.”

“So I'm still me, huh?” Sorey wonders aloud, sitting down heavily on his arse. He thinks back to when being nothingness seemed so appealing. He feels a strong pull at his core and understands that now he wants to be himself. He wants to stay himself. The Sorey who lived and laughed and bled and cried alongside the greatest friends and family a human could be gifted with.

“It was the least I could do,” Maotelus says softly, sitting beside him. “And it allowed me to share in these wonderful memories. Memories that showed me that my own dreams came true.”

“So...what will happen when we wake up?” Sorey asks. For the first time since becoming aware of himself he feels afraid.

“You’ll be like me. Like Lailah and Mikleo, and Edna and Zaveid. Like your Gramps and all your family,” Maotelus says gently.

“A seraph…” Sorey whispers. A thrill goes through him. He has never, ever been made to feel like he was less because he was a human. He had a warm and happy childhood, and as an adult, he met a world full of humans who were kind and innovative and capable.

But underneath it all, secretly there had been times where Sorey had wondered. When he'd watched his Seraph family dry his clothes with a little puff of wind, or light the fire to warm his bath water with a flick of their hand. When he’d marvelled as Mikleo’s magic grew and grew until he could do things that were beyond Sorey’s power to ever do. At those times, Sorey had wished he could know what it was like. Just for a moment. He'd never resented being human and he knew it was something precious that made him who he was. But deep down… deep, deep down… he'd always wondered.

“I loved being human,” Sorey says aloud. He knows that Maotelus can read his thoughts, but something about speaking is affirming. “I wouldn't change anything… I know I was special, but being human meant I could do something. I'm kinda sad that my life as a human is over, but I was also always kind of scared that I was gonna get old and die in front of Mikleo. Not for me, but for him. It would have been a burden, and watching my die would have been sad for him…”

Maotelus looks understanding, but let's him speak. He knows that Sorey thinks it's selfish to have felt that way. Those feelings are human though, and beautiful for being so.

When Sorey meets his eyes, he gets what's unspoken. They have a bond, after all. The strongest. Sorey laughs at the realisation. He knows as Maotelus knows that when this dream is over and they both wake up, they are probably going to be the very best of friends.

“We’d better wake up soon, huh?” Sorey says with a stretch and a smile. “The world is waiting for you, and Mikleo is waiting for me.”

Maotelus laughs and nods. “Don't you know, Sorey? Good things are worth waiting for?”

Sorey smiles widely and flops back onto the soft, green grass of Elysia. “Well we’d better hurry up because Mikleo is going to kick my ass if it's been a long time.”

--

 

One day Sorey stops remembering times gone by and gets to his feet. He won't see these memories again. Not like this. He's more certain of that than he was ever certain of anything in his entire life or death. 

Maotelus is at his side, standing close to him. He doesn't even reach Sorey’s shoulder, but Sorey can feel his power. It feels strong. Complete. Pure.

“It's time, Sorey,” he says, smiling. His enormous strength is all-encompassing. It's like the fizzy grape juice he and Mikleo drank as children, expanding out and out, pushing at the boundaries of his dream. Tiny cracks appear at the edges of their world. White light stabs inwards in shafts, lighting the landscape, saturating the richness in the colour.

Sorey is ready and unafraid as the world starts to wash away in white. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Maotelus turns to him and grips his arm in a hug.

“Sorey,” he says in a rush. “I won't forget what you showed me. I won't forget our time together.”

Sorey laughs, delighted. “Well thanks to you, I won't forget either…” he trails off to look down at the boy attached to his arm. Instinctively, he turns, wrapping his arms around him in a hug. Maotelus freezes for a moment, before trembling and squeezing him back. “You'll always be my friend.”

Maotelus grins and shakes his head to hide his tears, pressing his face to Sorey’s chest. “And you can always call yourself mine.”

In an instant, everything is gone. There is nothing but white, but unlike before in the dark, Sorey doesn't feel nothingness. He feels everything. He doesn't want to sink this time. He fights and pushes, clawing his very essence upwards, seeking form and life.

Just as the light begins to fade, just as the world around him begins to come into focus, Sorey hears a distant thank you. And he knows he’s come home.

--

 

Mikleo’s vision fills with tears. He can't see much beyond a silhouette, but he knows it so intimately that he can tell that it's smiling.

The moment is broken by a suspicious crumbling sound. Too late, Mikleo darts waterlogged eyes to the spot where his saviour is kneeling. Sees the dust fall like waterfalls. Hears the thud of a rock dislodging and falling into the cavern he's dangling over.

Then they’re falling. For a moment that feels like forever, Mikleo is weightless, suspended in the air.

Sense kicks in. Mikleo turns gracefully in the air like a fish leaping free of a stream and calls up his staff. When the metal fills his palm, he twists his fingers around it and aims it at the fast-approaching floor. His other hand yanks on the hand around his wrist, dragging the other closer to himself. Water surges forward with his shout of twin flow, and the next thing he's aware of is being soaked to the bone. His arse is aching from impact and he has a heavy lump on his legs.

The lump looks up at him, bedraggled and wet, looking at him with the most beautiful green eyes in the entire world.

“Sorry about that,” he says. “You're heavier than you used to be.”

Sorey doesn't get a chance to say much more. He's cut off by Mikleo throwing his arms around him.

It's not unusual for Mikleo's thoughts to be filled with Sorey. But it's been such a long, long time since his senses have been filled with the scent and the feel and the sound of him. So when they are, when all he can smell is a scent so familiar he can't believe he forgot it, and the sound of Sorey’s gentle laughter fill his ears he finds himself overwhelmed. His joyful grin quickly descends into sobs that are utterly unbecoming for a man of his years. Especially when the one holding him is technically the baby between them.

“You idiot!” Mikleo bawls. “You're so lazy! Making me wait so long!” He doesn't mean it. He’d wait until the end of time for Sorey. He’s just so overwhelmed. Everything makes sense again. The world is Sorey, Sorey, Sorey.

“I know, I'm sorry. We had a lot to fix,” Sorey says gently, nuzzling his hair.

Mikleo goes to speak and realises that the static energy in the air isn't tangible excitement. It's literal static.

Slowly he pulls back, unwilling to peel himself from Sorey, but needing to see.

His eyes widen as he takes in green-tinged blond hair. “You're..?” He gasps, not daring to finish his sentence. The thought hadn't escaped him that after waiting all this time, he may have to watch Sorey grow old and die before him again.

Sorey nods. “I think so. Maotelus told me I would.”

“Maotelus did..?” Mikleo asks.

Sorey nods. “I think I'm wind too… I can't quite tell but I seem to be making sparks. A last gift from Gramps maybe..?” Sorey laughs. “Anyway enough about me… look at you . You look-”

Mikleo sobs and cuts him off, wrapping around him like a starfish and squeezing him close. They can't merge together any more, but it won't stop him from trying. “You remember ,” he wails. “How do you remember? I always prayed- but we were told- Sorey!

Sorey smiles and simply holds him close. “How could I see the things I saw in my dreams and not tell you about them?”

Mikleo pulls back and gives him a tearful smile. “I've got a lot to tell you too.”

“We’ve got time,” Sorey laughs. “Lots and lots of time.”

Mikleo stands beside him, a hair taller now, but still Mikleo, and takes his hand.

As they set off together, clinging to each other, both unwilling to let go, Sorey looks heavenwards and thinks of his friend.

See you around, Maotelus,’ he says within the confines of his mind. Somewhere out there, he knows that Maotelus is thinking the same.