Mikleo twirled his staff as though it were a baton, handling it with expertise and meticulous care. Angling it against his arm he took one graceful step back and pushed his staff outwards following an unseen but perfect curve of air. A half circle of water followed, glowing and sparkling in the moonlight. He swept his staff the opposite direction in one rapid and swift motion, bending his rear leg and leaning back. A trail of shimmering water droplets danced behind his staff.
He held his staff vertically in front of him, planting it in the earth with a gentle but firm motion. His silvery hair began to ruffle and glow from an unseen wind. His slim arm tensed, reaching outward with open fingers. Pale, ethereal fingers slowly curled into a fist, softly at first then more firmly, flexing and bringing the fist towards the center of his body. His twin tailed cape lifted and flowed as the winds around the Seraph intensified. A waterspout formed in front of him that climbed with swirling motions, rotating and reflecting, reaching up to the sky. He held the spout, willing it to climb as tall as he could manage before bringing his arm to his side, tensing his fist before finally relaxing, the spout narrowing and vanishing just as quickly as it had first appeared.
“Wow,” mouthed Sorey.
The Seraph breathed heavily for a moment before lifting his staff again and swinging a quick half circle in front of him, spreading both arms wide open. He thrust the staff firmly downward against the ground. A thick wall of icicles raised in front of him, reflective and dangerous. He lifted the staff, and the icicles sunk slowly into the earth, vanishing as though they were never there. He seemed to hum with satisfaction before turning, his chest heaving from exhaustion.
“You’re watching, aren’t you, Sorey?”
Sorey let out an unexpected gasp. He had been caught. He stepped out from the tree he had been hiding behind, scratching the back of his head.
“I... uh... hey.”
“I was about done here anyway,” said Mikleo, dismissing his staff.
“Don’t stop on account of me,” said Sorey.
“What, were you enjoying the show?” Mikleo snidely retorted.
Sorey swallowed. He had, in fact been greatly enjoying watching his best friend control the flow of mana, manipulating water as easy as breathing was to him. He had always admired Mikleo, his very appearance delicate and graceful as water itself, and as just as powerful and dangerous. He would be jealous if he wasn’t so proud.
“Keep it down, the others are sleeping,” is what Sorey chose to say instead.
Mikleo hummed dismissively.
“You’re just as strong as them,” said Sorey quietly. “You don’t have to train so hard, you know.”
“Tch, it’s not about them.”
“Then what’s it about?” asked Sorey, stepping closer to the ethereal Seraph.
“I just...” Mikleo balled his hand into a fist and clenched his eyes before relaxing. “I just want to be stronger. That’s all.”
“Than who?” asked Sorey.
Mikleo sighed. “We all have to be strong, if we’re to defeat Heldalf.”
“We’re all getting stronger together, Mikleo. Come on. I’ll take you to bed.” He took another step closer to Mikleo with his fist over his heart, a silent invitation to his vessel space.
“No, Sorey... Don’t you remember? The last time we saw him, we nearly died. He’s much stronger than us, and...” Mikleo turned away, his long eyelashes lowered. Sorey took a moment to watch his concerned friend, his expression wistful and sullen. Sorey couldn’t help but notice his ethereal beauty once again and traced the line of his lips with his eyes, admiring the way they formed a cute, pouting bow.
“Is that what you’re worried about?” asked Sorey softly.
Mikleo didn’t respond, instead gazing off to the side. Sorey slowly placed his hands on Mikleo’s upper arms and pulled the smaller boy closer. Mikleo shifted under the touch, but did not reject his hands.
“Listen, I know what we’re doing is crazy. But we won’t lose. You, me, and the others... we’re going to save this world, together. And if we’re going to do that, we all need to take care of ourselves and work hard. That means resting instead of staying up all night and training.”
“But-” said Mikleo.
Mikleo’s violet eyes snapped to Sorey. Sorey’s vivid green eyes darted from his left to right, almost too lost in Mikleo’s stunning eyes to say anything.
“I... need all of my Sub Lords to be in their best condition,” said Sorey in a near-whisper. He subconsciously gripped Mikleo’s upper arms just a bit tighter, pulling him closer yet. “I need you to be well rested.”
The way his lips moved, the way his voice spoke Sorey’s name sent shivers down his spine. Sorey couldn’t help but notice Mikleo's soft hair falling over his glinting circlet, his skin nearly glowing under the moonlight. He wished he could just dive into the violet pools of Mikleo’s eyes and drown forever. He was distractingly beautiful.
“I need... you,” said Sorey, leaning forward.
It wasn’t until he felt Mikleo’s hands urgently pushing against his chest that he realized his lips were pressed to the Seraph’s.
He had kissed Mikleo.
“Mmmph... Sorey, what the hell?” said Mikleo angrily, twisting out of Sorey’s grip. He gave Sorey one final shove, bringing him out of his daze.
A horrified look crossed Sorey’s face. He lowered his brow, looking left and right. How could he have lost control of himself like this? He looked up at Mikleo, who had already turned and had begun walking away at a brisk pace.
“Mikleo, wait! I didn’t mean to!” called Sorey.
“Don’t follow me,” said Mikleo angrily. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe.”
“I... I’m sorry!”
Mikleo flung one hand into the air dismissively in response before casting his spectral cloak, vanishing into the night.
“Mikleo...” whined Sorey. He grimaced, the pain of disappointing his friend prevalent on his face.
A red wisp floated from Sorey’s chest, moving slowly outward. Lailah appeared from the wisp, stretching her arms and yawning.
“Lailah,” said Sorey, turning away. “Now’s not a good time.”
She clasped her hands together, looking towards Sorey with concern.
“Did you boys have a fight?” she asked kindly.
“Yeah,” said Sorey, tensing his hands into fists. “Is anyone else awake?”
“I don’t believe so, no,” said Lailah, yawning again and fanning her mouth with her hand.
Sorey lowered his head further.
“Sorey, you and Mikleo are the best of friends. I’m sure you two can resolve it in the morning. But for now, please, we need our Shepherd to get some rest.”
“Sorey, he will be alright. I’ll walk you back to the Inn,” said Lailah, smiling.
Sorey sighed in defeat, beginning the slow walk back to the Inn, with Lailah by his side.
“Where’s Mikleo?” asked Rose, looking left and right.
Sorey looked uncomfortably away from the breakfast table. To Sorey’s surprise Mikleo appeared, pulling out a chair by Rose and seating himself.
“I’m here. Rose, would you mind ordering for me?” he asked, avoiding Sorey’s direction.
Sorey’s heart lept in relief. Mikleo was alright. He took a breath to relax himself, but a wave of anxiety washed over him knowing that Mikleo refused to look his way.
“Sure, what do you want? The pancakes are delicious, but you might like the parfait better. It’s more your style.”
“The parfait, please.”
“Sure thing!” said Rose, standing and sauntering to the innkeeper.
Mikleo looked away, resting his chin on his hand. Sorey tried to focus on his scrambled eggs but found himself poking the food around his plate instead, peeking up at Mikleo every few moments.
“Hey,” said Sorey, testing the waters.
Mikleo shifted his chin, slowly blinking his narrowed eyes, gazing as far from Sorey as he could manage.
“You’re still mad at me, then?”
Mikleo let out an exaggerated sigh.
“Fine, don’t talk,” said Sorey bitterly. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Mikleo rolled his eyes. “Is someone talking? All I hear is an annoying whine. ”
“That’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever Meebo say,” whispered Edna.
Lailah elbowed her. “Be nice.”
Edna grimaced at Mikleo, then Sorey. She let out an exaggerated, annoyed sigh before speaking. “You nerds feeling okay?”
No answer from either man.
Rose sat back down with the group. “Your parfait will be out soon!”
Sorey poked at his eggs, pushing them around on his plate. Mikleo continued to stare off in the distance.
“Awkwaaard,” said Edna, breaking the silence.
“Wow, what’s with the silent treatment?” asked Rose.
“Sorey and Mikleo had a fight last night,” answered Lailah, politely.
“Oh? And who won?” asked Zaveid, leaning forward.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Sorey continuing to poke at his breakfast rather than eat it.
“Oh my, these pancakes are delightful!” exclaimed Lailah.
“It’s okay, Lailah. No need to change the subject.” Mikleo folded his arms. “Our fight is not going to get in the way of our goal. That is, if our Shepherd even knows where we are headed today.”
“ Our Shepherd is headed to Lhitwerg Woods, in search of the Archaeologist Priest,” said Sorey. “And you can talk to me directly.”
Mikleo folded his arms and sneered. It was too much for Sorey to handle.
“I’m going back to the room,” said Sorey, throwing his napkin down. “Come get me when you’re all done eating.”
Rose followed Sorey with her eyes as he stood and left.
Sorey slashed at the Merciless Plantus, cutting down and purifying one annoying thorned beast after another. He raised his guard, blocking the spiked appendages of the beast in front of him, just as he felt another slam into his left side. He winced, peeking over his left side before realizing he had been wide open.
“I could use a hand!” he shouted.
“Yeah, yeah, I'm coming!” shouted Rose in return, rushing to his side.
“Thanks,” he said in relief, catching Mikleo out of the corner of his eye, fighting a different Plantus far off. Mikleo usually covered Sorey’s left, but today he was absent. Was this punishment for what he had done?
He wrinkled his nose, and continued fighting.
Sorey swung his sword high at the Scylla, casting an arte. The Scylla swiped in retaliation, Sorey quickly backstepping the attack. He had dodged the attack, but his right ankle knocked against something hard. He lost his balance briefly, but caught himself.
“Watch where you're going!” shouted Mikleo, pulling his staff away from Sorey’s ankle.
“You’re out of formation!” said Sorey, heated. “Are you trying to get us killed?”
Mikleo shot him an icy look cold enough to have frozen him in place before taking a few steps backwards and raising his staff to cast. Rose and Lailah looked on awkwardly, attacking the Scylla from behind, and finally purifying it.
Sorey stepped towards Mikleo, standing directly in front of him.
“Why weren't you in formation?” He asked angrily.
Mikleo turned away, once again refusing to look at Sorey.
“Mikleo, please,” begged Sorey, moving in front of him again. “The formation-”
“Formation works in theory,” snapped Mikleo. “This is real life. It’s not the same as-”
“You’ve never had an issue with it before, is it so much to ask-”
“It is, thank you very much. I fight my way and you fight yours.” Mikleo turned and started walking away.
“Oh no you don’t,” said Sorey, grabbing Mikleo’s wrist. “I know what this is about, and we’re going to resolve it right now .”
The group watched, somewhat amused as Sorey began dragging Mikleo off to a clearing by the side of the road. Mikleo struggled against the action, digging his heels in. He was no match for the larger boy, stumbling and awkwardly following Sorey as he yanked at his arm. They reached the quiet clearing, far enough to be out of earshot of the group.
“Alright, Mikleo,” said Sorey, letting go of his friend’s wrist. “I know you’re still mad at me for-”
Sorey’s words were interrupted by Mikleo’s left hook, his punch connecting cleanly with Sorey’s cheek. Sorey staggered, holding his hand to his face in shock. Before he could react, Mikleo spoke.
“That’s for kissing me without asking!” shouted Mikleo angrily. “And this, this is for messing me up!” He reared his hand back for another punch.
This time Sorey was ready, catching and grabbing his fist. He yanked Mikleo’s arm downward and spun the smaller boy, pinning his arm against his back.
“Let... me... go!” yelled Mikleo, swatting blindly against Sorey’s chest behind his back with his right hand. Sorey grabbed his wild arm, holding him in a pinned bear hug.
“Stop it!” said Sorey, grimacing and holding Mikleo tight. “Stop trying to hurt me!”
Mikleo raised a foot and tried to kick Sorey’s leg.
“You didn’t care if you hurt me !” shrieked Mikleo. “Selfish, stupid human !”
“Mikleo, stop! I said I was sorry! I don’t want to fight with you anymore!”
“Why did you do this to me? Why did you mess me up?” he said, every few words punctuated by his foot blindly kicking against Sorey’s leg.
“Why are you getting so hysterical?! I’m trying... to... apologize!” said Sorey, lifting the smaller boy in an attempt to stop his kicking. Sorey instead lost his balance and both men tumbled to the floor. Mikleo escaped his grip, stumbling away before sitting on the nearby floor, his face tucked into his knees.
Sorey watched Mikleo for a moment, considering what to do and how to react. He sat nearby to Mikleo’s left, far enough that the Seraph couldn’t reach him.
“Why did you do this to me...” whined Mikleo, more to himself than Sorey.
Sorey felt his heart twist in his chest.
“I’m so sorry,” said Sorey. “It just... it just happened, okay? I never meant to hurt you. I would never.”
“Well you did, and now I’m messed up.”
“Messed up?” asked Sorey.
“Stupid human. You-” Mikleo stopped. “You messed me up,” he repeated.
“Mikleo what are you-”
“You don’t understand!” said Mikleo. “I was pure, and you, you tainted me, and now I’m messed up, now I’m... I’m...”
“What are you saying? You’re not tainted.”
“Then why am I having these... disgusting thoughts? You poisoned me, you poisoned my mind, you stupid human...”
“Mikleo, please. Please stop calling me a stupid human. It’s hurtful.”
Mikleo buried his face further in his knees, his circlet bumping and lifting slightly off his forehead.
“Do you want to talk about what’s going on? What do you mean poisoned?” asked Sorey gently. Sorey gave Mikleo the space and silence he needed, giving him the opportunity to take his time before answering.
“Ever since you... did what you did... it’s... it’s all I can think about.”
Sorey gave him pause. “Okay.”
“And it’s worse, there’s other things.” Sorey once again gave Mikleo ample time to form his words. “I never thought about... other things before.”
“It’s okay, Mikleo.”
Mikleo squeezed his arms tighter around his legs. “If I’m tainted, then you should find another Water Seraph.”
“Mikleo, you’re not tainted, it’s perfectly natural.” Sorey scratched his head. “I’m a little surprised to hear that you’ve never had a thought like that before.”
“It’s not natural, not for me!” snapped Mikleo. “Maybe for you, because you’re human- ”
“I didn’t say you were stupid. Just different.”
“But we’re not different, Mikleo.”
“Yes, we are.”
Sorey shook his head. “Mikleo. How do you think I learned that it was natural? The Seraphim in Elysia taught me it’s just part of growing up. Natalie and Mason told me about it. Melody and even Gramps taught me. Look at Zaveid. It’s normal, I promise.”
Mikleo shifted once again. Sorey took the opportunity to scoot a little closer, resting his elbow on one knee, his other leg straight across the grass.
“Seraphs just grow a little slower than humans,” said Sorey. “What you’re feeling is natural. It’s perfectly normal to have thoughts like that. I guess what I did just... triggered a reaction.”
Mikleo seemed to still his anxious movement.
“So I’m sorry, I’m sorry I kissed you. It will never, ever happen again, I promise.”
Mikleo meekly reached out his left hand. Sorey took the opportunity to place his hand in Mikleo’s, desperate to regain the closeness they had lost since yesterday. Mikleo pulled Sorey’s hand back towards his body, tucking it close between his chest and knees. He ran his thumb over the detail on Sorey’s glove, dipping his fingertip between each bead and stroking the feathers from base to tip.
“I’ll never do it again,” said Sorey, more to himself. “I’ll never do it again with you. I’ll forget about... I’ll get over it. And one day, maybe I’ll get to do it again, with someone who wants me to.”
Mikleo squeezed Sorey’s hand.
“Does any of this make sense? Are you feeling any better about it?”
“Yeah...” said Mikleo.
“So can we please put this behind us? I hate fighting. I’m a stronger Shepherd with you by my side. And I...” He sighed. “I miss you. I don’t want to fight with you, now or ever.”
Mikleo hummed in acknowledgement.
“Come on, Mikleo. Say something.”
“Yeah.” Mikleo shifted. “But...” He pulled Sorey’s hand closer to his body.
“Hmm?” asked Sorey. “Was there something you wanted to ask?”
“Sorey, do...” Mikleo paused, his voice quieting. “...do you love me?”
“Of course I love you,” said Sorey kindly, without hesitation. “We’ve known each other forever. I love everyone in Elysia.”
“No, Sorey. Not like that.” Mikleo squeezed his hand again. He paused. “Are you in love with me?”
It sounded more like an accusation than a question. Sorey furrowed his brow, blinking slowly. A pause grew more pregnant between them with every passing moment.
“I don’t know,” he finally admitted.
Mikleo ran his thumb across the back of Sorey’s wrist. “It felt nice though, right?”
Sorey looked over to Mikleo, spotting his violet eyes peeking up over his knees at him. There was something Sorey didn’t recognize, a curious sparkle in his eyes.
“Yeah,” said Sorey, smiling warmly. “Soft. And close.”
Mikleo hummed. “I guess I don’t mind being that close to you.”
Sorey took the invitation literally and scooted closer to Mikleo, their boots and knees touching.
“Is this okay?” asked Sorey.
Mikleo hummed again in warm agreement.
“We’re a lot closer in the Armatus,” said Sorey, leaning his head towards Mikleo.
“We are,” said Mikleo. “But it’s not the same. I lose myself and become part of you.”
“No,” said Sorey. “It’s not the same as the others. We become us. I can feel you guiding me stronger than anyone else. It’s more natural, and it feels right.”
“It does feel right,” agreed Mikleo.
Sorey leaned further into Mikleo, nudging his cheek with his nose, dangerously close. Mikleo watched him closely, darting and flitting his focus to Sorey’s relaxed eyes.
“And it feels right to be this close to you,” said Sorey. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
Mikleo squeezed Sorey’s hand. “Not at all.” He paused. “Are you going to kiss me again?”
“Are you going to punch me again?” asked Sorey, daring to cradle his free hand around Mikleo’s cheek.
“No,” said Mikleo, tilting his head and leaning forward.
“Then yes,” said Sorey.
They leaned in to each other, meeting their chaste lips against each other in a shaky, but intentional kiss. They pulled back, meeting each other’s eyes for approval before leaning in again, this time with more urgency.
“You’re beautiful,” whispered Sorey, his words tracing over Mikleo’s lips. “I’ve always thought so.”
Mikleo let out a tiny laugh through his nose, smiling and blinking slowly. Sorey watched his long eyelashes, finally allowing himself a moment to stare and drink in the beauty of the Water Seraph without trying to disguise his action as a passing glance. He ran his thumb over Mikleo’s cheek, smiling as Mikleo leaned further into the touch.
Sorey closed his eyes and leaned back. “But I think I lied to you.”
“Huh?” asked Mikleo, confused.
“I think I’ve always been in love with you,” said Sorey. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.”
“Idiot,” said Mikleo, pulling Sorey close to him for another kiss. “I love you too.”
“So? What’s the consensus?” asked Rose.
“You sure you want to know?” asked Zaveid, tipping his hat.
Rose nodded. If she needed to start looking for another Water Seraph, she had to know now.
“Well, they were fighting before. Mikky was kicking his ass. Gave him a good shiner.”
“Yikes,” said Rose. “That doesn’t sound good. And now?”
“They’re, uh, how would I put it delicately for a beautiful flower like you? They’re making out.”
“They’re WHAT?” said Rose.
Lailah smiled coyly to herself.
“You know, rolling on the floor, tongues down each other’s throats- ow!” said Zaveid, interrupted by an umbrella in his side.
“I guess that means they made up,” said Rose. “I wonder how long they’ve been keeping that from us.”
“I’m inclined to believe this is the first time,” said Lailah, clasping her hands together. “Ah, youth, blinded by passion and guided by love itself!”
“Gag me,” said Edna.
“If the thought of love is getting our lovely Lailah so heated, I’d be happy to- ow!” said Zaveid, receiving yet another jab to his side from Edna’s umbrella. “Will you quit that?”
“Keep it down,” said Rose, “They’re coming back.”
Sorey stepped out from behind the bushes, returning from the clearing. Mikleo appeared a few steps behind him.
“Welcome back,” said Rose. “Did you settle your differen- whoa! What happened to your face?”
Sorey reached up to touch his cheek, which had begun to swell. He smiled sheepishly. “Mikleo packs a mean punch,” he said.
“Idiot. You deserved it,” said Mikleo.
“I did,” admitted Sorey. “I said I was sorry.”
Mikleo sighed, summoning his staff. He cast a healing arte, recovering the damage he had caused to Sorey’s face. Sorey reached up and touched his cheek again, pleased to feel it was no longer tender and had been restored to its normal shape.
“Sorry to worry you, Rose,” said Mikleo. “We just had to fight this one out.”
“With your tongues?- Ow!” said Zaveid, receiving his third umbrella jab of the day.
Sorey and Mikleo looked to each other. Mikleo’s face turned mad with blush, unable to hide his reaction. Rose and Lailah watched the boys carefully.
“You guys knew?” asked Sorey.
“You can’t hide from the winds,” said Zaveid, cautiously watching Edna to see if she found reason enough to jab him again. She was still, for now.
“Well then there’s no use in hiding it,” said Sorey, stepping closer to Mikleo and snaking his arm around his waist. Mikleo playfully pushed away, which made Sorey only want to hold him closer. He quickly dropped his resistance, finding his forehead pressed against Sorey’s, their eyes meeting once again.
Rose hooted. “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”
Sorey smiled at Mikleo, asking permission with his eyebrows. Mikleo raised his chin ever so slightly, blinking slowly in approval. They moved closer, arms wound around each other. It felt natural. They’d never needed words before. What had taken them so long?
“We shouldn’t,” said Sorey, his breath tracing across Mikleo’s lips. “We’ve got to get going and find the Archaeologist Priest.”
“I’d love to hear about where he’s been,” said Mikleo, blinking his relaxed eyes slowly. “Do you think he’s seen the Seven Wonders of Glenwood?”
“I’d hope so. I wonder if he has any theories he’d share with us?” pondered Sorey, repositioning his hands on Mikleo’s body, one on his upper back and one set of knuckles travelling up and down his belted waist.
“I’d love to hear them,” said Mikleo, swaying with Sorey, leaning into his firm, warm hands. “We can compare notes.”
“Yeah,” said Sorey, nudging Mikleo’s nose with his own. “We should get moving.”
“Right,” agreed Mikleo, not daring to escape Sorey’s embrace.
“You’ll stay by my side in combat?”
“I told you, formation only works in theory.”
“But I’ll see what I can do.”
Sorey stole a kiss, this time sure that Mikleo would not retaliate.
“Barf,” said Edna.