“Good morning, Grandfather,” Jericho Filier said.
A breeze like insubstantial hands of a gentle southerly ghosted across his cheeks, a welcome and a benediction. All around him, the roses swayed their heads as if to make their own greetings. The youth knelt among the masses of colour, fingering the slender white branches of the nearest thicket, bowed by an enthusiastic profusion of pale, immature blossoms that seemed to catch fire as his red hair trailed over their partially locked petals. However, his focus was not on the moony buds but the sturdy tree that dominated a small clearing in the midst of the roses, unchallenged by so much as a stray leaf. The grass was sparse under its spread, as if it would not tolerate the minor incursion regardless of its harmlessness. Jericho waited, counting his breaths until a bramble branch flicked out and scraped lightly against his shoulder. His greeting acknowledged, Jericho moved to stand, arrested by the catch of his hair on the thorns.
“Fuck,” he muttered and tugged tentatively at a lock. The thorns seemed to curl tighter around its catch, piqued by his irritation.
“What are you up to, Jet?” Another youth appeared, redheaded and green-eyed as Jericho was, but shirtless and barefoot, hands stained red-brown with moist soil. He stopped and tilted his head at Jericho’s plight then laughed. “Looks like your charms extend beyond the grave, big brother.”
“Shut up.” Jericho untangled himself with difficulty. “Grabby bastard.”
“You shouldn’t say that about our ancestor,” his brother said. “It’s not like he can’t hear you.”
“If I want your advice, I’ll ask for it.”
“Waspish today, aren’t you?” Corrin shook his hair out and braided it messily over one shoulder. “You’ve done the greeting?”
Jericho rolled his eyes at him. Corrin grinned and dropped to sit beside his brother, wriggling until they were half-entwined, his head against Jericho’s shoulder and looking up at the sky.
“Hello, Grandfather,” Corrin said in a more serious voice. The rose tree’s acknowledgement was almost instantaneous this time, winding a branch loosely around Corrin’s ankle then releasing. “Have you been lonely?”
A blood-red rose fell into their laps, shedding petals like tears.
“I’d say that’s a yes,” Jericho said dryly.
“Oh, hush. There haven’t been any Filiers here for a while, I think. My hands are sore from all that weeding.”
Jericho pulled on Corrin’s braid. “I distinctly remember saying that we shouldn’t have to come. I’m sure Bets would have been here eventually.”
“Eventually being the key word, Jet.” Corrin swatted his hand. “You felt the pull. And... I think he’s going to show.”
“He?” Jericho mimicked and put his arms up to protect himself as Corrin started hitting in earnest. “All right, all right – ow, fuck, you’re violent.”
“Only when roused,” Corrin said cheerfully. “And yes, he, stupid. Youko Sevarien.”
“We haven’t seen him in years. Who says he’ll show now?”
Corrin poked Jericho’s shoulder. “He always does, sooner or later.”
Closing his eyes, Jericho searched for a memory, burnished into his brain from constant playback. His ten-year-old self on the porch of the Filier house twining protective garlands to be draped around their borders, boosting the strength of the veil of illusions that kept them safely apart from the rest of the world. Youko Sevarien, tall, lithe and blond with his ears canted, loosing a soft, husky laugh at Jericho’s then-clumsy hands. The delicate gold of the youko’s skin, soft to his lips as he brushed them against Sevarien’s cheek in a farewell when wanderlust seized the youko and called him far away. A younger Corrin grabbing his waist, anchoring him to the Filier home as a physical, tangible responsibility, far more binding than anything a mother or father could say.
Of course, he had not stayed once he was in his teens and well able to take care of himself. And Corrin had followed him, as he had followed his elder everywhere since babyhood. In time, they were more than brothers, but also best friends. They come and gone from the Filier home perhaps a dozen times in the past handful of years, staying longer and longer as their parents succumbed to the vagaries of time.
Brooding, Jericho scanned the roses until he found a sweet pink in full bloom, bending its branch almost to the ground. His hand hovered over it, not quite stroking. Beside it was a darker rose, like a dusky jewel of night. After a while, Jericho realised that Corrin had started talking, his voice modulated to a soothing murmur, recounting their adventures to the family tree spirit.
When Corrin had finished with his telling, they were silent for a long minute. Then, he turned and regarded the roses Jericho’s hand still strayed by. Corrin’s hand slid over Jericho’s as if to lend it strength.
“I wonder how it feels,” Corrin said. “For them. To be like that.”
“Altena, Ross,” Jericho named the roses. “Mother, father. They’re together, so they should be happy.”
“I wonder if Grandfather Filier figured it to be a blessing or a curse when he did all this,” Corrin said, waving his hand vaguely to indicate the roses. “Power and immortality of a sort.”
“Is still power and immortality,” Jericho finished for him. “So long as we weed the old man’s bed every now and then.”
Corrin shot him an amused look and stood, scrubbing his hands on his thighs. “Come on, Jet. If we want a room to sleep in, we’ll have to do some clean-up.”
The Filier house was not large by any means, but neither was it small. The sun had gone down by the time the brothers had cleared away enough of the neglect that filmed their rooms to their satisfaction. Fortunately, they did not need to do any laundry, as there were sheets to spare in the cupboards to replace the dusty covers on the beds.
Corrin hesitated as he shook out a blanket. “Should we make up a third room?”
“You’re too old to be seeing ghosts, little brother.”
Corrin laughed. “Suit yourself, big brother.”
They ate a dinner of fruit and berries gathered from the garden, courtesy of the tree spirit’s arcane meddling with the land within Filier borders.
“We’ve got too much,” Corrin said, poking at a crystalline orange, though it was too perfectly round and transparent to be normal.
“So we won’t have to forage in the morning.” Jericho shrugged.
“And we’ll have enough for three, should need arise.” Corrin’s eyes gleamed, although he restrained himself from further comment.
“Go bathe.” Jericho shoved his brother in a not unfriendly way. “You’re filthy.”
Still grinning, Corrin went. When they had both washed up and settled into bed, it was a comfortable silence that filled the room. Jericho stared at the ceiling, his mind pleasantly blank as his brother’s breathing filled his ears. Suddenly, Corrin let out a huge sigh and got up.
“What’re you up to?” Jericho asked, lifting his head a little.
Corrin grunted an unintelligible reply and dragged his bed alongside Jericho’s. Dismissively tossing aside his brother’s blankets, Corrin snuggled in the crook of his arm and wriggled until Jericho started stroking his hair.
“You’re not usually this cuddly,” Jericho said.
“I’m getting my cuddles in while the cuddling’s good.” Corrin looked up, a faint golden cast to his eyes apparent in the darkness. “I’m not looking forward to sharing my big brother with anyone.”
“Who says you’ll have to?”
“Don’t be dense, Jet. You’ve been in love with Sev since you were eight.”
Jericho expelled a breath. “And how would you know?”
“I’m your little brother. I watch you all the time. I know all your dirty little secrets.” Corrin’s smirk provoked a whack to the back of his head. “Ow! And you say I’m violent.”
“Go to sleep.”
Jericho tucked Corrin’s head under his collarbone, the steady warmth of his brother seeping into him a better inducement to sleep than anything he could imagine. He must have closed his eyes at some point, but he only knew that between one blink and the next, it was morning.
“And so they wake,” a voice drawled to his right.
It was Sevarien, sprawled carelessly in a chair as the sun rose over his shoulder. His platinum mane shone in a white-gold halo around his face, though Jericho noticed his eyes most – heavy-lidded amber, intense behind the silken veils of pale lashes. He wore robes that Jericho had never seen before; a loose, flowing garment that looked as fragile as moonlight coaxed into the illusion of cloth and about as substantial. Jericho shook the cobwebs from his mind and tried not to be too obvious in his gawking of Sevarien.
“Mmh. Oh. Morning, Sev.” Corrin shifted against Jericho’s side, scrubbing the sleep from his face. He was of the rare breed of person who could go from sleep to waking immediately on opening his eyes, perfectly aware of his surroundings. Stretching, Corrin bounced from the bed and toppled into Sevarien’s lap, tugging his head down for an affectionate brush of lips.
“You should’ve woken us the minute you got here,” Corrin said when he released the youko.
Sevarien’s expression was bemused. He licked his lips and said in a somewhat distracted tone, “You’re definitely a Filier.”
Corrin grinned. “We’ve all been a little bit in love with you from the start anyway. And you like us touchy-feely Filiers.”
“Do I get a kiss from you too, then, Jericho?” Sevarien asked, a smile twitching up the corners of his mouth.
Corrin prodded Jericho forward. “Of course you do, Sev. It’s tradition.”
Jericho slanted a murderous look at his brother but allowed himself to be harried to the edge of the bed, his feet planted against the floorboards to resist being pushed off and his knees just touching Sevarien’s. Their eyes were almost on the same level, and the youko’s expression seemed to gain a touch of gravity. He reached up for a tentative touch of lips to lips, holding on the chasteness. A spark bloomed into a steady flame within him the longer he held, diffusing in his blood as a wordless longing and rightness he had always searched for unconsciously. The playful flicker of a tongue on Jericho’s bottom lip startled him, and he drew back to see amusement in Sevarien’s eyes. Somehow challenged, he steadied his hands on the youko’s shoulders and kissed him in earnest. Sevarien’s arms slid around his waist as they explored each other’s mouths, the youko’s unhurried confidence gradually encouraging Jericho to boldness. It seemed a long time before Jericho could bring himself to pull back, reclaiming contact immediately by touching their foreheads and sharing breaths.
“Aww. Sweet,” Corrin said behind them. There was honest affection and feeling under the gentle mockery, so Jericho let it pass.
Sevarien laughed softly. “I don’t remember you being so talkative, Corrin.”
“Eh, well, humans are all about change. Breakfast?”
“Please,” Sevarien said.
Corrin nodded. “There ought to be plenty of fruit and berries left in the larder since we picked more than we could eat yesterday – help yourself. You know where everything is. We’ll catch up.”
As the youko stood, Jericho’s surroundings faded out, his vision focused solely on Sevarien. Every nuance and gesture was noted and recorded automatically, down to the tiniest twitch of an ear. The swaying glide of hips in particular mesmerised him as Sevarien exited the room.
A hand dropped on his shoulder and Jericho felt himself tugged back a little. “Lovesick,” Corrin whispered in his ear.
“Fuck you,” he muttered half-heartedly.
Corrin snorted and began making up the beds. For the briefest of moments, Jericho sensed sadness hovering over his brother’s head, but it was gone too quickly for it to fully register, and Corrin looked up with a bright smile. “So! Breakfast. You go ahead, Jet. Someone has to entertain the youko before he starts poking his nose into corners he shouldn’t.”
“I’m sure he’s learned his lesson not to,” Jericho said dryly. “Filier magic recognises him anyway, so he isn’t in any danger.”
Still, he followed Corrin’s suggestion and found Sevarien at the table with plates of fruit neatly laid out. He lingered at the doorway, debating the merits of seating himself opposite or beside the youko. Sevarien raised an eyebrow at him and pushed back his chair, unfolding his legs. Choosing to take it as an invitation, Jericho settled between the youko’s thighs unaccountably warmed as Sevarien wrapped a casual arm around his waist. It was comfortable, yet completely unlike the careless embraces of his brother and sister, incomparable against his parents’ arms. There was an added element of sensuality and a strange excitement that Jericho felt he should understand.
“The last time I had you in my lap, you were a lot smaller.” Sevarien’s breath tickled his ear. “You were a lovely boy then. But I definitely prefer you now.” The youko’s fingers twitched apart a lock of Jericho’s hair, stroking from root to tip, making his scalp tingle. “You grew your hair out.”
Jericho turned to look at him, but only managed a glimpse of pale shoulder and hair. “So you’re telling me you’re in love with my hair?”
A muted rumble of laughter rolled through them both. “Your hair, your eyes, your voice – everything of you, Jericho.”
“You’d get him into bed a lot faster with the direct approach, Sev. Subtlety’s wasted on my big brother,” Corrin commented as he wandered in.
“Shut it,” Jericho hissed at his brother, tendrils of mortification coiling through him.
Corrin bowed as if to invisible applause, smirked and grabbed an apple. “I’ll leave you be, then.”
After he left, Jericho found his gaze riveted to his clasped hands pressed hard on the table. Sevarien’s fingers teased them from the tense tangle before reaching up to turn Jericho’s face to him.
“Am I going too fast?” Sevarien murmured. “I do love you and have for a while. We’ve both waited enough. I think.”
Jericho shook his head slowly. “No.” More words crowded in his throat, but he could not seem to push them out. He looked at the fruit. He looked back at Sevarien. “Come on,” he said, standing, grabbing a bowl and tugging the youko up with his other hand.
Sevarien’s curiosity was a palpable sensation on his skin, but the youko came willingly and without question. When Jericho drew him back towards the bedroom, he laughed.
There were other ways of answering.
When they had sated themselves on each other, skin on skin and warmth, Jericho raised himself on an elbow and studied Sevarien’s body. He catalogued the differences between them, memorising the new scars and fingerprints of time he had not seen before. He ran a hand down the graceful hollow of the youko’s back, then again with just the tips of his fingers, varying the pressure.
“Mmmmm.” Sevarien flexed under his hands like a lazy feline. “I like that.”
Jericho snorted in amusement, but continued rubbing. “What was the fancy get-up supposed to be for?”
Sevarien opened one eye. “I’ve come to pay court.”
“I didn’t notice much courting going on.”
“It’s the thought that matters.”
“Or the sex?”
Sevarien rolled over and braced himself on top of Jericho. His smile was slow, hot and sweet. “You know me so well.”
Giving in to desire, Jericho bridged the gap and caught Sevarien’s mouth with his own. They slid under the sheets, moving in an unhurried rhythm. The heavy, lazy sensuality curled around Jericho like another form of seduction and he let the tide bear him away.
Eventually, they were content to simply cuddle, listening to each other breathe, though their hands still hungered for skin.
“Corrin says I’ve loved you since I was eight,” Jericho said.
Sevarien’s soft puff of laughter stirred his hair. “Corrin is a smart boy.”
“Somehow, I don’t feel it’s fair you both knew before I did.”
“That’s not important,” Sevarien said, dropping a kiss on his head. “Just that you do.”
“I don’t know why this doesn’t scare me more.”
“What’s there to be scared about? This isn’t something new to us. Just a little different.”
Sevarien’s eyes gleamed. “Yes.”
“You can wipe that smug smile off your face.” Jericho clambered atop Sevarien’s hips, hampered by the riffs of laughter shaking the youko’s body. “Sev.”
“What?” Sevarien breathed as their foreheads touched.
“You took too long.”
“Well, you certainly look pleased with yourselves.”
Jericho cracked open an eye to find Corrin’s amused expression. He buried his face in his pillow with a groan. “You should know the meaning of privacy by now, little brother.”
Corrin sat on the edge of the bed. He was half-serious, but seemed to be mostly trying very hard not to laugh. “Not where you’re concerned.”
Sevarien muttered something and burrowed under the blankets, nestling into the hollow of Jericho’s hip. Hastily, Jericho grabbed at the sheets before they could slip off the youko’s flanks. Corrin grinned.
“I thought you’d wait at least the day.” Corrin shook his head in bemusement. “I suppose it makes all the difference when you both know what you want and neither of you are shy about it.” He poked the youko. “Oi. Sev.”
“What?” Sevarien asked grumpily, once he had been persuaded to surface.
“Hurt my brother in any way and I’ll be forced to end you in a highly unpleasant way. So don’t. You can go back to sleep now.”
Sevarien tunnelled back down, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like, “Filiers.”
“You know how much I detest these little speeches,” Jericho said.
Corrin shrugged. “Someone has to do them. You’re going to follow Sev, aren’t you?”
Jericho looked down at the silken fall of hair spread across his thigh, swallowed and nodded. There was a suspicious burn in his eyes.
“We knew he was going to take one of us away. It just happened to be you, lucky boy.” Again, there was that faint hint of sorrow shadowing Corrin’s voice and eyes. “You’ll have to renounce the family bond.”
Jericho shrugged. “I know.”
“Grandfather Filier isn’t going to be particularly pleased.”
Corrin leaned over carefully so as not to disturb Sevarien and hugged his brother. “I’m going to miss you.”
Jericho hugged back. “I wasn’t born for the roses like you and Bets. I can live without the power.”
“And the responsibility, lazy ass.” Corrin’s grin was fragile. “You always ducked out.”
“What normal person likes to talk to a dead relative and weed his grave?” Jericho muttered. “Anyway, it’s not like I’m denying the Filier name. I’ll still be able to come back.”
Corrin lowered his head. “As a visitor. Can you stand that? Never to hear the roses speak to you again?”
“You had to ask the hard questions.” Jericho sighed. “For Sevarien... Yes. I wasn’t sure before, but now I am.”
“He must be terribly good in bed,” Corrin said cheekily, dispelling the serious mood for an instant.
“Shut it,” Jericho said but smiled. “... I suppose he is.”
“He won’t be allowed in after this,” Corrin said softly. “Sev was given passage for one reason only – to find you. The borders will seal up once you set foot outside.”
Jericho stroked the youko’s ears, eliciting a pleased purr. “I don’t think he’d want this patch of land anyway.”
“And we’re not exactly known as happy homemakers,” Corrin said wryly. “But the call home is in our blood. You don’t want that to get between you and Sev – a first blood loyalty to the Filiers.”
Jericho tapped his knuckles against Corrin’s cheek. “My loyalty to you will never change, regardless.”
“Yeah, I know, big brother.” Corrin wrinkled his nose as Jericho ruffled his hair. “But he’s going to take you so far away.”
“We’re of the original stock of survivalists. I’ll be all right.”
They both looked at the dozing youko.
“Well, now’s as good a time as any,” Corrin said. “I don’t think Sev’s going anywhere for a while.”
Jericho slipped back hours later, tired to his bones. Sev opened his eyes as the bed gave and Jericho slid in with him.
“You were gone awhile,” Sevarien said.
“I had to do something,” Jericho mumbled. “I’m sure you weren’t all asleep when Corrin and I talked.”
Sevarien pulled Jericho’s head to his chest. “Not entirely. But I’ve learned not to pry into Filier matters. So when can I finish my task of stealing you away, lovely?”
“Not now,” Jericho groaned. “I won’t last longer than a step outside of the borders.”
“I could carry you.” Jericho could feel the youko grinning.
“You can try. Down, and let me sleep.”
“There are more interesting things we could do,” Sevarien murmured.
Jericho smothered a laugh. “Do all of you have such a one-track mind?”
Sevarien pouted enticingly and ran a finger down Jericho’s bare arm. “Of course.”
“Sev...” Jericho captured his fingers and mouthed them. “Keep your hands to yourself or I’ll bite. You can wait until after a nap.”
Conceding with good grace, Sevarien shifted his hands to Jericho’s hair and back instead, a comfort instead of a tease. Still, it seemed any sort of contact made Jericho’s heartbeat accelerate. He schooled his mind sternly, thinking of sleep. The ceremony unbinding him as a true son of Filier, such as it was, had closed all connection to the enchanted roses that held their power and all the spirits of the departed. The Filier blood in him still allowed him magic, but it was little enough and unused to providing as a sole source without the garden supplanting it.
The rose tree spirit had been displeased, as Corrin had predicted. Jericho did not envy his brother the task of calming it down again.
“You’re not sleeping,” Sevarien said into his hair.
“I can’t with your hands all over me.”
“I can’t stop touching you,” Sevarien purred.
Jericho snorted. “You’re just after the sex.”
“Mmm... Will you indulge my one-track mind?”
Jericho swatted Sevarien’s tail as it curled around his thigh and considered resisting. He still wanted that nap. He looked into Sevarien’s eyes. “Oh, what the hell.”
He slept hard after that.
Later, Jericho unstuck himself from Sevarien’s side to venture back to the garden. Corrin was still there, thorned brambles threaded through his hair and encircling his limbs. He looked up at Jericho and quirked his mouth. There was a wild light in Corrin’s eyes and the taste of old power was heavy on the back of Jericho’s tongue, prickling his skin.
“I haven’t quite persuaded Grandfather Filier that it’s only you that’s leaving. Which it is,” Corrin said, slanting his attention at the tree on the last words. The brambles stayed obstinately looped around him, though the thorns never seemed to catch on skin.
Jericho sat. “He’s a tough old bastard.”
“Language, dear brother.” Corrin tilted his head. “You should go back to Sev. It’s not like I can’t handle things here. And you no longer have to.”
There was a long pause before Jericho finally said, “I worry.”
“Well, don’t. I’ve been a big boy for ages now, and you have a sweetheart who’s probably looking for you now.” Corrin smiled. “It’s all right, Jet. The world will go on even if the Filiers are less a blood-son.”
“Shoo.” Corrin gestured with a hand and the garden seemed to come alive, the creeping twines crowding Jericho back.
“You play dirty,” Jericho yelled over the encroaching mass.
“You worry too much,” Corrin replied from behind the wall. “Go on, stop cheating Sev of your time.”
The vines escorted Jericho all the way back to the house where Sevarien was leaning on the patio railing. The youko had slipped into his garment, the cloudy material floating softly around his lithe form. He was barefoot with the weight of his hair braided over one shoulder. Jericho was struck by the sudden realisation that his brother had copied that particular mannerism from the youko.
“How was your esteemed ancestor?” Sevarien asked by way of greeting.
Sevarien’s eyes twinkled. “I’ve learned to be polite.”
Jericho huffed. “He thinks you’re taking Corrin away, too.”
“I would, but I’m rather attached to my hide.”
“You’re damned lucky I don’t do jealousy, youko.” Jericho gripped the railing and leaned up for a quick kiss. “My brother’s going to be out there for a while.”
“In that case.” Sevarien licked his nose. “Shall we go inside?”
“You are insatiable,” Jericho said, punctuating each word with a tap of his finger to Sevarien’s chest.
“I live to please.”
Later on, Corrin returned to the house still trailing persistent vines. The wildness had not left his eyes although he was not drastically changed in his behaviour. He was a little more restless and talked faster, charging the air with the excess energy leaking from his hands as he gestured.
“Is there something I should know?” Sevarien asked when he found the brothers curled up like puppies on the floor for the umpteenth time.
“It’s the Filier magic,” Jericho said.
“Since I’m in direct contact with Grandfather Filier, he’s overloading me with power,” Corrin explained. “Jericho grounds me so I don’t lose my way or start growing trees inside the house.”
“The old man hasn’t got any sense to speak of,” Jericho muttered.
“He’s devious, you mean.” Corrin pulled leaves from his hair. “You won’t leave until this mess is fixed.”
“You shouldn’t have to deal with these kind of things,” Jericho said a tad snappishly. “That damned greedy bastard. It’s not like I was anyone special.”
“You are special.” Corrin poked him in the side. “Tell him, Sev.”
“Corrin’s right, of course.” Sevarien slid between them, settling Jericho in his arms so he could still maintain the skin contact with his brother. “Why is your ancestor so adamant on keeping Jericho here when he allowed me in to take him in the first place?”
“Whoever said spirits followed any design of logic?” Jericho said.
“You shouldn’t let me hold you up like this, though. I wish Bets were here,” Corrin said.
“She isn’t, and it’s no big deal.” Jericho bumped Corrin’s shoulder.
“How is your lovely sister?” Sevarien asked.
“Breaking hearts everywhere she goes, I should think,” Corrin said cheerfully. “Much as we love her, Bets can be a bit dense in the romantic department.”
Jericho shrugged. “She’ll figure out the difference between family kisses and real ones eventually.”
Bets showed up the next day, as if summoned by the discussion.
She was a delicate-looking creature despite being slightly taller than her brothers. Her hair was a shade darker, more russet than flame but her eyes were the typical Filier green. “Okay, what gives? I was having a perfectly nice time bar-hopping with my friends when Grandfather Filier yanked.”
Corrin hugged her. “I think he’s feeling the empty nest more than usual. Hey, sis.”
“Hey, bro.” She hugged back, and then stepped back. “You’re sparking all over the place. What gives? And are those vines from the rose tree?”
“The old man’s feeling possessive,” Jericho said dryly.
“Jericho!” Bets squealed and hurled herself at him. She peered around. “Is Sevarien here too?”
“Right here,” Sevarien said, gliding up.
“Tone it down, Bets-baby,” Corrin advised. “Jet and Sev finally got together.”
“They did?” Bets blinked. “When? How? Why?”
The brothers shared a look over her shoulders.
“Dense,” Corrin mouthed at Jericho, while Sevarien looked away and made a peculiar sneezing sound into his fist.
Bets turned to look at him suspiciously. “Did you say something?”
They ended up pushing all the beds together and piling on top to trade stories of what each sibling had been up to since they saw each other last. Sevarien shared some of his more interesting anecdotes when begged, although he stayed quiet so the siblings could enjoy their reunion.
“You’re right, Corr. They’re making moony eyes at each other all the time,” Bets said eventually, after watching Jericho and Sevarien for a while.
Jericho turned red. “Shut up, Bets.”
“Meanie.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “So why are you toting bits of Grandfather Filier’s tree around with you, Corr?”
“He doesn’t want Jericho to go,” Corrin said.
Her head swung to their elder brother. “You’re going somewhere?”
“I’m going back with Sev,” Jericho told her gently. “It’s not like he can stay here.”
“Not even we stay here, and we’re Filiers,” Corrin chipped in. “And it isn’t so strange, Bets-baby. Remember how Jet used to follow Sev around everywhere? He’s just taking the next step.”
“Oh,” Bets said. She seemed to process for a while. Then, she leaned over and poked Sevarien. “Hurt my brother and I will hunt you down.”
Sevarien gave an amused cough. “Bets, lovely, Corrin’s already given me that speech.”
She frowned at him. “Well... I can still kick you after he’s done if you hurt Jericho in any way.”
“I’m touched by your concern,” Jericho said dryly, “but I do prefer Sev all in one piece.”
“We know which piece in particular you prefer,” Corrin said wickedly.
Jericho slammed a pillow into his brother’s face. Corrin sputtered and wrestled him down, laughing, until Bets and Sevarien tugged them apart.
“Much as I love seeing two beautiful boys rolling around and having fun,” Sevarien drawled, “perhaps we should finish with the talking.”
“What piece?” Bets asked, sounding lost, and obviously saving the question.
Corrin choked, giggled and managed an almost normal voice to say, “It’s not important, Bets-baby.”
“Not at all,” Jericho seconded fervently.
Sevarien laughed. “It seemed fairly important to you last night.”
Jericho tapped his knuckles against the youko’s pale shoulder. “Sev. Shut up.”
Bets pouted. “You never tell me anything.”
“You’ll figure it out eventually,” Corrin assured her with a grin. “But we were talking about Jet’s getaway plan.”
“What plan?” Jericho asked wryly.
“The one we’re making up right now,” Corrin said.
“Why doesn’t Grandfather Filier let Jericho go? He’s never stopped any of us from wandering before,” Bets said, picking up the original thread.
“Because this time it’s forever,” Jericho said. “Corrin and I cut my blood-binding to the garden.”
Bets stared at him. “I didn’t think you hated weeding that much.”
Corrin tugged on a lock of her hair. “It’s not that, Bets-baby. You know it’s impossible to give our love away fully when Grandfather Filier demands total devotion. You can’t have two firsts in your hearts.”
“But doesn’t that mean you’re never coming back?” Bets hugged Jericho’s knees, suddenly upset. “If you don’t come back I’ll pour muck in your boots again.”
“Do that and I’ll dye your hair ribbons blue,” Jericho said. He lifted her by the shoulders into a warm hug. “Of course I’ll come back, Bets. I’m still a Filier, even without the blood-bond.”
“And you don’t need to do any more work,” she muttered into his shirt. “No fair.”
“You’re definitely still the Bets I remember,” Sevarien said from the side. He leaned down and laid a chaste kiss on her cheek. “Don’t be too upset with me for stealing your brother.”
Bets smiled up at him. “I still have Corrin. It’s okay. I know you’ll be good to Jericho.”
Corrin tugged idly at the vines looped around his neck. “So what shall we do about our esteemed ancestor?”
Bets tilted her head. “He’s afraid of Sevarien taking all of us away, isn’t he?”
Corrin ruffled her hair. “Got it in one, Bets.”
“Well, why don’t you?” Bets asked.
All three males blinked at her.
“You might want to explain a little more, Bets-baby,” Corrin finally said.
She giggled. “Well, there’s nothing Grandfather Filier can do about Jericho since he’s definitely going anyway. But maybe if he sees that he really might lose all of us, he’ll stop being stupid.”
After a short pause, Corrin grinned. “That’s a great idea, Bets.”
Corrin took a deep breath. “Ready?”
“As we’ll ever be,” Jericho said, angling his hip against Sevarien.
“Go for it, Corr!” Bets bounced on her toes.
Corrin grinned. “Actually, Sev’s doing the leading. Do the honours, Sev?”
The youko bowed gallantly and passed over the magical border that cordoned off Filier land. There was a faint ripple in the air, as if Sevarien had stepped through a wall of water so thin it was transparent. He had his fingers twined tightly with Jericho’s, gently leading the youth out with him.
“So far so good,” Corrin said, keeping a hold of Bets’ hands himself.
“You’re grounded okay?” Bets asked him.
“No problem,” Corrin said cheerfully. “A Filier is a Filier is a Filier. Now, do you want to go first?”
Bets nodded happily.
“Go for it, sis.”
She stepped over the border and took Sevarien’s free hand. At a nod from Corrin, Jericho tugged Sevarien’s face down and kissed him thoroughly. There was a sullen flare from the magic veil protecting the border, but Corrin quelled it with a lick of power. Next, Bets bussed the youko with affectionate enthusiasm, their mouths pressed together a little too long to be one of the usual family kisses. The brambles around Corrin’s limbs started to wave about with little hissing noises as he stepped up to Sevarien. Corrin’s kiss was quick, finished with a lick to Sevarien’s nose.
“Cheeky,” Sevarien murmured.
Corrin laughed. “I learned from the best.”
“You’re glowing, Corr.” Bets poked her brother’s elbow, where a trailing vine tried to snag her fingers.
“Let’s take it as a good sign,” Corrin said.
Bets took a step toward Jericho and Sevarien, halted and looked back. Corrin seemed similarly arrested, an odd look flickering over his face.
“What?” Jericho asked, touching Bets’ shoulder.
Corrin shook himself. “Ahh, it’s just our esteemed ancestor kicking up a fuss.”
Bets slid over the border as if her feet were magnetised and grabbed Corrin’s hand. “Blood-calling.”
“We hear you, Grandfather Filier,” Corrin said, formally addressing the ancient spirit as its disembodied tantrum manifested in the land as dozens of black roses breaking out from the soil.
Bets crouched on the ground, flattening her palm on the grass and began murmuring in an almost sing-song manner. Corrin followed suit, leaning partially against her shoulder.
“With Grandfather Filier fully awake, they can communicate directly with him,” Jericho explained for Sevarien’s benefit as they watched the siblings. “Bets is probably telling him about her little master plan.”
The black roses abruptly reddened into flaming charcoals, disintegrating as white ash. A flicker in the border wall broke up the image of Bets and Corrin among the flowers, like a mirage revealed.
Corrin looked up and grinned. “I think it worked.”
His words buzzed oddly in Jericho’s ears. “Corrin?”
“It’s Grandfather Filier,” Bets said. “He’s going to want to sulk for a while, Jericho.”
“But he won’t stay mad forever,” Corrin said. He waved. “Sev, you take care of our big brother.”
Sevarien nodded, drawing Jericho closer to himself, away from the static discharge of the border as it locked down. “I will.”
“Remember you promised to come back!” Bets was little more than a faded blur, her arm describing a wavering arc as she waved. “Remember Jericho!”
Anything further was cut off as the border sealed itself completely, and the Filier lands vanished as if they never were. Stepping forward, Jericho reached out with his fingertips. If he concentrated, he could feel a faintly silky wall shrinking under his touch, familiar as memory. Behind him, he could feel Sevarien standing patiently, waiting for him to finish his farewells.
“I’ll see you both again,” he said. “I promise.”
For a moment, the air rippled and Jericho caught sight of his brother and sister, looking directly at him with identical smiles, a little sad but filled with shared joy and hope. They seemed to wish him luck with their eyes.
Sevarien lifted a hand by his side. Jericho looked at him. “You can see them?”
The youko nodded.
“Huh.” Jericho turned back, but his siblings had disappeared. He was surprised to feel nothing more than a faint pang, the knowledge that they would always be there cushioning the pain of parting. Curling his hand around Sevarien’s he said, “I suppose it’ll be my turn to visit your family.”
“Yes,” Sevarien said. He lifted Jericho’s hand, turning it palm upward and brushing his lips against the sensitive hollow. “I love you, my Jericho-Rose.”
Jericho leaned into the natural embrace, a greatly peaceful feeling stealing over him. “Yes...”
They remained like that for a while, until Jericho whispered, “And I you.”