The tears don’t come until the night, when the sun passes and the world falls quiet, settling down its weary self for slumber.
Sorey can hear nothing else but the deep breathing of Mikleo at his back with the tranquility of Elysia just outside their hut door. It is a sound he has always, always known, which alone brings a strange comfort so juxtaposed from the rest of the new world around him.
Listening, straining his ear for every inhale and exhale of his bedmate, he rolls onto his back. His hands fold over his stomach. But then, eventually, his fingers find a way to his chest.
That’s where it usually begins, too. No matter how hard he presses, he can never find a pulse.
It is usually one thing such as that, that sets off the tears. And whatever begins it, other regrets and sorrows soon follow, compounded by the heavy grief inside him. It surprises Sorey every time that he could feel so, so sad.
He wonders sometimes if this is why humans who become seraphim usually and mercifully don’t retain their memories.
Sometimes Sorey gets really selfishly sad about missing out on certain parts of being human that he had, quite honestly, been looking forward to. There is a certain joy to living and growing in the way he knew that he knows he will miss, and that he’s sorry to never get to experience.
Sometimes Sorey thinks of Gramps, and cries anew with memories and sorrow that he was gone. It has been years since his passing—too many to count. But what would hit him the most would be the reminder that even though Zenrus had been a father to him, he still missed the funeral rites the seraphim of Elysia performed for him. He had slept through the entire ceremony, whenever they would have decided to do it. He never got to say his proper goodbyes.
Sometimes Sorey turns over further to touch the length of Mikleo’s hair, to see if he could measure with his own fingertips just how long it had been since he saw him—just how long it was that he had slept—and just how much time he had missed out on. Sometimes, that hurt the most: to see with real manifest evidence how much of his other half’s life he had slept through.
And sometimes, when the grief is heaviest, he wonders how many times Mikleo cried while he was asleep, with pain equally so heavy and awful, that Sorey will likely never know about. How many times, while he was asleep, was Mikleo afraid? How many times did Mikleo feel lonely?
Mikleo had to grieve Gramps’ passing alone, Sorey knew.
Sometimes, that regret alone made him sob until he couldn’t breathe, fingers pressed over his eyes and clutching to his temple. Face hidden in the night.
There were many times Sorey found himself sobbing silent apologies, gasping them into the air, fingers shaking, so utterly sorry for abandoning the light of his life when Mikleo had already lost everything else only moments before that final fight. Sometimes, Sorey felt like he had made the most horrible and selfish mistake to sleep the years away instead of find another way to achieve their dream—together.
The grief came regularly each night in Elysia as Sorey found it harder and harder to sleep with a body that no longer required rest. The more hours he spent staring into the darkness with his thoughts as his only company, tormented by memories of a five-hundred-years-ago yesterday that the rest of the world had long forgotten about—that Mikleo might have forgotten about—he felt out of place. He felt a stranger to his own home, to his own skin.
But above all, he knows he has made the gravest error of all: he abandoned the one person most important to him, most likely when Mikleo needed him most.
Sorey turns from where he stands at the cliff’s edge, a precipice along the southern skirts of Elysia that he remembers fondly from their journey together. His loose button-up flutters in the wind as he sees Mikleo walking towards him. The water seraph’s long hair is pulled back in a ponytail. When the wind lifts it up, it frames his pale, moonglow face like wings, and Sorey thinks how pure of heart Mikleo must be, that he managed to survive all he did and still stand before him wholly untainted.
Even after five hundred years.
Sorey turns back around to view the world beneath. In the break of dawn, the world is quiet and crisp. The sun has only just begun to creep over the horizon, and the sky yields to its burning hues of red and gold.
“…what are you doing out here?” Mikleo says slowly as he reaches his side.
Sorey can feel the burn of his eyes on his profile, and he doesn’t know what to say. He blinks once and bows his head. His eyes fall upon the way his fingers clutch at the cuffs of his blue sleeves.
Mikleo continues after a long pause. “Sorey?” And when he still doesn’t answer, the water seraph drops his voice. Maybe he knows. “Are you…okay?”
Sorey shakes his head.
Mikleo exhales; it’s a careful breath, but in part relieved. “Bad dream?”
Sorey shakes his head again. But then his face tightens. He frowns carefully, and considers whether or not his answer is true.
Mikleo waits, as patiently as ever.
And it makes Sorey suck in a sharp breath.
Like the sun shining its rays down on their sorry world below, even in the world above the world, Sorey realizes that he’s been making Mikleo wait for more time than they had ever even spent together. And all at once, he thinks how selfish he must be for doing that to him, for turning around and when the waiting period was over, expecting Mikleo to just pick him back up and accept him back into his life like nothing had happened. Like all those years didn’t make a difference; like things didn’t change after all that time. Feelings didn’t change; concerns didn’t change.
Like a waterfall, follows the thought: no more.
“I can’t believe you didn’t just—forget about me,” is the first thing he can think of to say and it’s nonsensical. Mikleo seems as surprised as him that it came from his own mouth but now that it’s there, from it, spouts so much more.
“Y’know, I didn’t dream while I slept,” Sorey says and he shakes his head. “I closed my eyes and I opened them and then suddenly, the world was different.” He looks to Mikleo, and his eyes take in how much older he looks, how much taller he is. The length of his hair. Sorey looks away, back out over the edge. He shakes his head, and the wind picks up his bangs.
He hates the way his breathing starts to get short.
Mikleo’s eyes go wide, and Sorey can’t conceive why. “Sorey…is…that what’s bothering you?”
Sorey just shakes his head, and chokes on his next words. “No!” he first says, and it’s stronger than he meant it to be. He can feel his own throat go hoarse at the single word. He clenches his hands into fists. He shakes his head again. “Yes? I—I don’t know. I just—I didn’t think it would be like this. I really didn’t.”
Mikleo stares at him. There’s a beat before he asks, just as quiet as he has been, “Didn’t think…‘it’ would be like what?”
“I didn’t think…” Sorey pauses. It’s hard to get the words out. But he says them anyway; Mikleo deserves closure and deserves release from the obligation he’s subconsciously held him to—all in the same breath. “…I didn’t think I’d wake up to a world where I didn’t fit anymore. Y’know?”
The words go out through a tight, strangled throat. Sorey stands there a moment more as the tension in his face gets harder and harder and he can’t hold the tears back. He raises his arm to cover his mouth and the first fragile ones break free.
When he next speaks, his voice is muffled, “I can’t sleep anymore.” He shakes his head, swallows and lets his arm fall to his side. The world starts to become hard to see. The tears distort his vision. “I know I don’t have to anymore, but…even if I could. I think I wouldn’t. I think I’m afraid to. I think if I sleep, I won’t wake up again. Or—when I do wake up—I’ll wake up and the world’s different again—” –and you’re different again— “—and I’m afraid this time there won’t be anything I recognize.”
This time there will be no one there in that uncertain future who still loves me.
Mikleo doesn’t say a word, but he listens. He stands there on the precipice with Sorey, his expression hard to read.
“I lost…everything, Mikleo—even who I am—and I didn’t think that would happen.” He had thought so few things when he first accepted the responsibility of being Maotelus’ vessel.
He should have thought more.
Sorey’s hands turns into a first and he sniffs. The tears come faster now, and his voice turns shaky. “I’m not human anymore. I’m not the Shepherd anymore. I don’t know what I’m here for anymore. I don’t know why Maotelus brought me back as a seraph. I don’t know why he let me keep my memories. I don’t—” –and perhaps this was the part he was most afraid of— “—I don’t even know if I’m still your best friend anymore, or if you still love me, because it’s been half of a millennia—and I don’t know what to d-do if—if I’m not—”
Mikleo’s hand touches his arm, and turns Sorey around to face him. “What do you mean you don’t know if I still love you?” he asks, like it’s obvious.
And it flows out of Sorey; he could stop the tide if he tried. “I wasn’t there, Mikleo…! For five hundred years I slept, and I left you alone right after Gramps died!”
He lets that sit in a hanging, awful silence, before it all tumbles forth, with a sudden fire and ringing pain that wasn’t there before. “Right after your mother died again—and then me—” It’s a hard sob that breaks free. “I don’t know how you don’t hate me. I wonder if you do. I wonder why you don’t. I tossed the responsibility of the world on your shoulders when I decided to sleep, and I left you alone for—for forever, and I’m sorry! I wasn’t there for you! I missed so much of your life—I missed countless birthdays—I missed Rose and Alisha dying—I missed—!”
His throat gets too tight to talk, and he barely gets out, “I missed everything! I’m so sorry!” before he shakes too hard he can’t say another word.
It’s unlike any other cry he can remember in his human life. It feels supremely inhuman, the way he feels like he’s crying from the depths of his soul and on out. He can’t remember crying this hard before, at a loss so deep and so grave and so sweeping.
But Mikleo doesn’t remove his hand from Sorey’s arm.
Instead, he pulls him closer. He wraps his arms around Sorey.
And for the first time since waking up in this new and unfamiliar world, Sorey feels something like home.
“…I wasn’t alone, you know,” Mikleo whispers to him.
And Sorey clings to Mikleo, his arms wrapped tight around his one anchor. He can’t form the words to respond back, but Mikleo continues on anyway, as if not expecting him to.
“When Gramps died? After the final fight?” He shakes his head and Sorey can feel the soft movement of his chin against his shoulder. “You don’t have to feel like you abandoned me, because you didn’t, Sorey. Because of you and because of our journey together, I had friends who helped me afterwards to grieve him….and to grieve you. Rose, Alisha, Lailah, Zaveid—even Edna.” There’s a small rumble of a laugh in Mikleo’s chest. It’s so familiar, Sorey feels more tears bubble to the surface. “They were there for me. And I wouldn’t have had them if it weren’t for you.”
Sorey shakes his head, but Mikleo doesn’t let him pull away. He tightens his hold, and he said again, “Yes. If you can believe it, I am grateful for you, and I don’t resent your decision, Sorey.”
He holds on for a moment longer, a beat of silence drifting between them, before he admits quietly, “I mean, yes, I was sad to not have you. Yes, I missed you.” Missed you so much that words cannot span the depths of that ache. “But I would never hold or have held that against you. Not in five hundred years. Not even in a million years.”
Sorey can feel Mikleo take his next breath, and he holds on to hear it. To feel it against his own chest. “You going to sleep was the only way to achieve what we’ve been dreaming about for all our lives up until that point. And you know, maybe the reason you didn’t dream in all that time and maybe the reason it’s so hard to sleep right now, Sorey, isn’t because you’re afraid to wake up. Maybe it’s because now, you have nothing to dream for.”
Mikleo loosens his hold and pulls back. Sorey looks up, lifting his head and tear-stained cheeks.
And Mikleo’s gentle smile that greets him is like the sun.
“…gosh, there’s so much more I want to tell you,” Mikleo confesses to him, and he raises his hands from Sorey’s back to his face, to cradle the lines of his jaw with his own palms. His thumbs wipe away Sorey’s tears.
Sorey sniffs. He raises a hand to cover one of Mikleo’s own, holding it to his cheek. Hope kindles in his chest at those words, a soft and light-winged burn. Something to dream for, huh? “…y-yeah…?”
Mikleo’s smile widens. “Yeah,” he breathes back. “After all, it’s…all I’ve been dreaming about for the past five hundred years. Talking to you again. Sharing space with you again. Having the other half of me back.”
Sorey sucks in a sharp breath at those words. “…yeah?”
Sorey swallows hard. Despite all that Mikleo has said so far, despite all the promise of more that Mikleo wants to share with him too, the Shepherd-turned-seraph finds himself asking, “You—you mean still—”
“—Sorey.” And the single, familiar, chiding call of his name means so much more than any other word could. “I never stopped.”
A shuddering, shaky breath. A wet, incredulous laugh.
Sorey brings his forehead to meet Mikleo’s own, the risen sun warm on their faces and their backs. And ironically, it’s him who feels released. It’s Sorey who feels finally free of guilt and worry and shame.
“Not even in five hundred years?” he asks, breathless with the impossibility of it.
But Mikleo always could do the impossible. And he always did.
“Not even in a million,” Mikleo promises.
The kiss they share tastes of home.