"Sibling Memory" is based off of the rough draft of my original novel, "Swept," in the same youko-verse as "The Willow Key" and "The Morgan Vale." Swept is only available in its entirety on tayfic.
Waking in the morning was the hardest part, with the golden light filtering in dappled patterns through the hangings that screened the windows. Koten no Kelarion stirred, running a hand over flame-touched auburn hair and honey-tanned skin, over shoulder and side and the flank of his lover until Eiri shifted as well, mumbling a query in drowsy tones.
"Ah...but I don't think we have time for that this morning," Kelarion observed, dipping his mouth to the boy's ear, then kissing the sensitive spot just below. "Get up, then."
Eiri mumbled something with a little more force, making Kelarion chuckle.
"I definitely don't have time for that...though it's nice of you to imply that I'm so flexible."
Eiri pushed himself up, golden eyes bleary. "That's funny, Toki seems to think that you can."
In an explosion of sheet and limbs and ropy length of fox-furred tail, Eiri was bowled over and pinned to the bed, rendered squirming and breathless by the touch of knowledgeable hands and the press of an ardent tongue. "You should know better than to say that name in our bed," Kelarion growled, then he was smoothing his hands down Eiri's body, making him do more than just squirm.
"Stop...stop..." Eiri's arms went around Kelarion nonetheless. "No time, remember? Unnnh...you've got to relieve Gara for the day shift."
Kelarion licked a line from Eiri's ear to collarbone and paused. "And you've got to scurry off to your day's lessons," he said, sour.
"Don't sound like that." Eiri stroked a hand down his back. "My training is important, or so he tells me. I still can't see what this pissing contest is about, between you and your uncle. My teacher," he added pointedly. "You can't make peace with anyone, can you?" He pushed his way free of the sheet and his lover and climbed out of bed.
Kelarion snapped his teeth, then rolled out of bed reluctantly, smoothing down the rumpled sheet and coverlet over the bed and flicking his tail in Eiri's general direction. "Why should I?" he replied. He bared his teeth in an angry sort of smile. "He started it."
From the closet came an incredulous-sounding snort. A moment later Eiri reappeared, pulling a pale green shirt over his head, its diaphanous material clinging to his thin chest. Kelarion joined him by the closet, copping a feel before reaching for the clothing on his side of the rack. Eiri leaned against him for a moment, then reached for his breeches.
"I wish the two of you would fight it out instead of putting me in the middle," Eiri told him, reaching to tweak Kelarion's soft-furred tail. "You and Toki, you both tell me different things. You're my Bonded and he's my teacher and I don't care if the two of you get along, I don't want you pulling me in two different directions."
Kelarion drew him abruptly close with an arm around his waist. "What sort of things is he telling you to pull you away from me?" he whispered against Eiri's bright hair.
The boy went tense in his arms. "It's not like that," he protested, and his voice cracked. "Don't ask me to tell tales, you know I don't say anything to him about some of the nasty things you've said. I just want the two of you to come to some kind of understanding." He sounded forlorn.
It was easy to forget, Kelarion mused, that his boy was still so young, only seventeen. Moments like these delineated his youthfulness, and made Kelarion feel old and tired. If they could render him so, he thought, how much older did Toki feel around his young charge? Kelarion kissed the top of Eiri's head and released him. "I don't take it personally," Kelarion said, and quirked his mouth as Eiri arched an incredulous brow. "Not entirely, at any rate. On my part it's more good-natured ribbing, you understand? I don't know what he has against me."
That wasn't entirely true. Kelarion had been surprised when Toki had stepped up to tie the knot between he and Eiri, but not overly so. He had known the boy was powerful. He had expected their traveling companion Dorrado to undertake his instruction, but Toki's intervention was a surprise for other reasons.
He knew that Toki did not approve of his Bond to Eiri, and he knew why. Eiri was too young, his uncle thought, to be Bonded to so volatile a youko, one who had lived hard and seemed unstable. Kelarion knew himself well enough to realize he could not, in fact, swear that he was not unstable. But in the two years since they'd tied the knot, Kelarion had found his balance, and Eiri had a great deal to do with that.
He knew that it wasn't entirely his presence in Eiri's life that his uncle had difficulty with. Toki hadn't had a student in over a hundred years, which was why Eiri's apprenticeship came as a shock. The last apprentice of Toki had died -- not through a mistake of Toki's, but through the boy's own arrogance. That had been the last true maker that Stronghold had produced, a bright promising fire burned out too young. Though it had not been Toki's fault, the stigma still lingered.
"Best get you off to your studies," Kelarion said, smoothing a hand over his lover's hair, then swatting his bottom. "As you said, I need to relieve Gara."
Working at the Herald House of Unveild Flesh, a partnering establishment in the Azure Lily district, had been a large part of the process Kelarion had undertaken to find his balance. Kelarion had been managing the Herald House for two years now, and had discovered his skills to be well-suited to the venture indeed. It was similar to his time as courtesan and adviser to the Queen's court, albeit on a much smaller scale.
"Right." Eiri stretched up for one last kiss, laying it on him sweetly, then gave him a flicker of a smile and disappeared.
No, Kelarion pondered, Eiri had everything to do with stability. If not for him, discovering him in that field on the dreadful chase from Queensdale, he might not have survived. The larger portion of Kelarion's self had been on the verge of giving up before encountering Eiri. He would have been caught, and dragged back to the capital, and undoubtedly would have given up his life rather than endure further degradation and misery. Toki might be convinced that the boy's only purpose was something larger than bringing a single youko back to life, but for Kelarion, his partner was everything.
Slipping on a rust-brown shirt, Kelarion gave his hair a quick comb-through and descended to the lower half of Tokusan's hearth. His uncle, Tokusan, had been given over the charge of the remaining Kotens, a duty he took quite seriously. The tall golden youko was the twin of Kelarion's late father-progenitor, Tobira, though he was a more delicate copy of the robust and raging father that Kelarion remembered. With a flicker of wry humor, Kelarion considered the fact that Toki must have thought his brother Tobira had been unstable, too, in self and Bond.
Tokusan had prevailed on Kelarion to remain in his hearth for a while longer, not only because it was easier to remain in the hearth and provide for his newly-Bonded mate, but also to spend more time with the younger twins, the brothers Kelarion had never known. In the end, Kelarion had acceded because it was what Eiri wanted too.
"Morning, Kelarion-brother!" Vivo said sweetly, greeting him as he entered the kitchen. The black-haired youko, also seventeen summers, was softly rounded in face and body, plump without being too overweight. His long dark hair was threaded with lighter brown strands, gold-touched, and his eyes were sunshine yellow and always cheerful. He stood at the counter pouring the dark sweet morning coffee that Tokusan prepared, thick and strong with bitterness leavened away with sugar.
"Good morning, Vivo." Kelarion crept behind his brother, swept aside the length of his chestnut hair, and kissed his nape. "What will your course bring you to, today? More studying? Aptitude testing?"
Vivo twisted in his arms, lifting a bite of pastry to his mouth. "Try this."
"You made it?" Kelarion sniffed the airy, sugary pouf, then accepted it. "Very tasty."
Vivo nodded eagerly, then turned to the racks of cooling pastry on the counter, beginning to transfer them from rack to basket. "Varis thought so, too. I'm bringing them to market, we've engaged a booth. Varis made pan-fried sandwiches and he's already there setting things up."
"Enterprising," Kelarion complimented his brother. "You're going to market right now?"
"Um!" Vivo nodded again, finished shoveling his pastries, and dusted his hands off. He cocked his head and hair spilled over his shoulders. "I'll walk with you, Kelarion-brother."
Kelarion drained his morning coffee in a few swallows and snagged a few more pastries to the tune of his brother's squawks. "We're selling those...elder brother, we're selling those! Don't eat more!" With an indignant huff, Vivo snatched up his basket, wedged it beneath his arm, and flicked his tail at his brother.
"We going?" Kelarion dropped a careless kiss between his brother's upswept ears.
"Oh, you..." Vivo grumbled, but linked his arm through his brother's, basket swinging from his other hand. "Let's go, aren't you late?"
Kelarion flicked an ear. "That's the thing, when you're the boss...you're always on time, because the shift doesn't officially happen until you get there."
They left the hearth arm in arm. Kelarion cast a glance over his shoulder at the place he had come to regard as his home, easing into it with a kind of awkwardness he had anticipated. He had been gone from this place for a very long time, and everything had changed in the interim. It was strange to look back at the place that had been the hearth of Tobira and Donnal, now Tokusan's hearth. With consideration that might have been deliberate or not, Tokusan had given the entire hearth a complete redecorating, until there was only a handful of rooms that carried lingering reminder of the presence of one parent or another.
The room that had been exclusively theirs, Tobira and Donnal's, remained untouched -- or so Vivo told him. There were rooms in the expansive hearth that Kelarion did not dare to breach. The lingering pool of a memory preserved was something Kelarion could not bring himself to revisit, not yet for some things. For that, Toki might call him weak.
Toki was the most powerful maker in Stronghold. He had nothing to fear.
"Your ears are laid back," Vivo commented, bringing him to the present. His dark-furred tail swished softly against Kelarion's thigh, then retreated.
"I was thinking about our parents," Kelarion replied. They ambled up the lane, having settled at a pace somewhere between a stroll and a brisk trot. "I still haven't been to their room, you know."
"I know," Vivo said quietly. "Varis and I, we both know. We watch you, Kelarion-brother. And we're here for you, on the day you might set foot in those memories again."
Kelarion was quiet for a moment, absorbing that. The trust that his younger brother delivered into his hands at times was stunning. "Tell me a story," he said, almost plaintive, as his brother had in those first days when Kelarion was newly-arrived in Stronghold and they had known one another for a scant number of days. The sense of recognition was imprinted on the both of them, though, written deep in their instincts. This scent, this skin, the set of his head and gesture of his firm-fleshed hands; Kelarion knew it all in a place without words.
"About our parents?" Vivo blew air between his teeth at Kelarion's nod. "Let's see..."
The only things I knew of them were difficult, endless fighting and Tobira's legendary rages and the cowering of two golden-brown kits in hearth corners, Kelarion thought, and swallowed the words. If the parents Vivo had known were gentler, more compassionate and mellowed by age, then Kelarion did not want to recall all that he had known to his little brother.
"When we were little, much younger, Varis and I used to get into plenty of trouble," Vivo began, giving a nod to a passing youko female and her partner, an attentively hovering male. He tipped his head up and gave Kelarion a sheepish yet mischievous smile. "You know. Varis is pretty quiet but he's an instigator."
Kelarion laughed, a sharp bark of sound that surprised them both. "Yes...yes, I remember well enough. Kelvaryn..." His throat closed.
"Kelvaryn was like that, too?" Vivo prompted, tilting a bright smile in his direction. He didn't wait for Kelarion's confirmation, but continued. "There's a tree in the garden, the garden that the back of our hearth faces..."
"I remember that tree," Kelarion interrupted, then uttered a short laugh.
"You should...that's where you broke your arm for the first time!" Vivo told him, smiling up at him from the edge of Kelarion's vision. "Da told me that story plenty enough times...which is how I'm leading into my story today."
Kelarion peered down at the younger youko, still barely more than a kit. Was he being made fun of?
Vivo flicked him a glance through long dark lashes, smiled, and continued with his story. "Varis and I studied at home in those days with Tobira-da, who rarely let us out of his sight," he recounted, his sunshine-yellow eyes going faraway as he drifted into a state of recollection. "He was so protective, Da -- Connal-father -- told him often that he acted as if Varis and I were his first set of twins. And Tobira-da would retort that his first set, Kelarion and Kelvaryn, had prepared him for much worse."
Kelarion bared his teeth in a grin.
"One day Tobira-da left us in the garden, playing with a couple of floating globes he'd created for us." Vivo smiled again. "He was getting lunch, I think...I hardly remember now. One of the globes escaped from Varis and drifted up into the tree."
Kelarion ran a finger along the soft flesh of Vivo's inner arm, making his younger brother jump. "Ah, I think I know where this story is going."
Vivo flushed. "Varis got me to go up after it," he continued, a hint of plaintiveness in his tone. "I was gullible back then."
"You're gullible now," Kelarion observed, taking the sting from his words with a kiss brushed over the younger youko's temple.
"Mean!" Vivo declared. He laid his ears back. "Anyhow, yes, I climbed out on a thin, weak branch, reaching for the globe. I felt the limb snapping beneath me, but of course back then I had no idea how to bolster its strength to save myself. And so down I went, taking branch and globe along with me."
Kelarion winced, recalling a similar incident quite a number of decades before.
"Tobira-da came running out of the hearth," Vivo said, his expression faraway, soft with memory. "His face was scary. He was unusually short with me that day, I remember, because I kept crying and Varis was silent and pale as milk and all Tobira-da would say was 'Quiet, you. When Kelarion was your age, he broke his arm just like this, and not one word escaped him.' It shut me up." Then Vivo smiled again and it brightened his face.
"He cast that up to you, did he?" Kelarion said wryly. He took up the thread of the tale. "My twin got me to climb into the tree after a bird's nest and I fell. Tobira didn't even realize until that night at dinner, when I ate with my left hand instead of my right. He'd been wondering why his little monsters had been dead silent all day..."
"It shut me up," Vivo repeated, glancing at him sidelong. "Thinking about my older brother with the same hurt, keeping quiet all day long."
"I was a stupid, stubborn little thing," Kelarion commented. He pulled his arm away from Vivo's and took the teen's hand instead, squeezing it gently. "I hope Tobira didn't tell you to learn from my example." The thought of Tobira, hovering protectively over young dark-haired kits, then dredging up the memory of his older sons sat uneasily on Kelarion's psyche. It knocked, disjointed, against older recollections of a tight-lipped, angry young youko father.
"It was brave," Vivo said, and changed the subject, seeing perhaps the first hints of storm warning in his brother's eyes. "Think we'll sell our booth's worth today?"
Kelarion released him to ruffle the chestnut hair between Vivo's ears, grinning tautly when his brother grunted in protest and twisted away. "You'll sell out by nooning, if the sandwiches are as good as the pastry."
"Good." Vivo grimaced in satisfaction. "Vivo's sandwiches are very tasty."
"Then maybe I'll swing by for lunch," Kelarion decided, then suddenly pointed a finger at his brother. "Little kit, what are the two of you saving up for?"
Vivo blinked at the finger leveled close to his nose. "Nothing in particular," he said, and his tone had the ring of true innocence.
For the real story, Kelarion knew, he'd have to pry words out of Varis. That one was a harder nut to crack; his other younger brother reminded him of an uncomfortable mix of Tobira and his own twin Kelvaryn. Varis was close to no one, and kept his own counsel even to the point of excluding his twin, Vivo.
"Here we are," Kelarion said in a purposefully light tone as they approached a side branch where their paths diverged. He was only a street away from the Herald House and Gara would likely be waiting with impatience near the door. "I'll see you at nooning, then."
"At nooning," Vivo confirmed, turning his pretty face up for a kiss.
Kelarion's fingers held Vivo's chin in place as he kissed his younger brother on the mouth, then parted with him on the main street of the Silver Branch district. Vivo had left him, unexpectedly, with something to think about, stirring a nest of old memories in the doing. For Kelarion, memories were layered within him dense and bitter like the peels of an onion.
"Later," Kelarion muttered to himself, hurrying along the lane that would bring him to the Herald House. He would think on it later, and talk to Vivo later as well, prompting him for more remembrances. Vivo had given him something to ponder.
His smile of the morning lingered long into the beginning of his day's shift.