Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.

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This story is not my own writing. It is a co-effort between myself and another. I am updating this file from old logs.

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This is the story of two children. They are young and pure, eyes wide open to the world and unreality. In their belief is power; in their vision is truth. And in truth... in truth, there is madness. This is the story of two children, Dwyn O'Connaillan and Kieran Jishou-Aladriss, who will learn to love each other and love the pure chaos that is inherent in both of them. And so, they will become...

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Lovers in Madness

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chapter one - First Impressions Often Lie

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Kieran hummed idly to himself as he wove his way through the benches, making sure to find a seat near the front. He settled into a chair, setting down his notebook and satchel as he nestled himself into the overlarge chair. Even at fifteen, he was a tiny thing, and just as pretty as ever. Big, tufted black cat ears graced his head, and a long, twitching, and quite furry tail swayed behind him as he fished ink and quill from his bag, opening his book and craning his ears toward the podium. The best part about the ears was that no matter where he sat in lectures like this, he could hear. He supposed they might have been worth it, and then cleared his mind, patiently scribing the date and lecture title across the top of the page. He always took notes, though he never needed them again.

The rest of the class bustled in, but nobody sat around Kieran. This lecture wasn't very crowded anyway, since the spell was a low-level one, and most of those who knew the teacher in question didn't feel like sitting near the front, where they'd likely be called upon to volunteer. The lecturer had taken his podium and was clearing his throat when a bustle of black cloak and honey-brown hair appeared at Kieran's right and slid into the row with him, plunking down beside him. The boy was breathing hard, as if he'd run a long way, and his cloak was askew, the silver and moonstone triple-moon pendant that held it closed tilted at a crazy angle. He straightened it quickly and pulled his books out, smiling adorable in apology at the lecturer. He was... very attractive, but more cute than he was handsome, with full lips and a nose that quirked up at the tip and large, golden eyes. His hair was dark, lightening toward the outside, with liberal streaks of honeyed blonde, and it was clipped short on most of his head with bangs that fell over his eyes and longer locks in front of his ears. The ear Kieran could see bore a single gold earring in the shell, and his smile as he pulled out a very unusual looking spellbook - black, with a pentacle on the front in pewter - was seductively wicked, speaking of enthusiasm and impish mischeif.

Kieran spared the boy a brief, curious glance, politely shifting his satchel out of the way so as to not crowd the stranger. He paid the boy no mind, somewhat excited at the prospect of the lecture. He seemed oblivious, big black eyes fixed on the podium as one small, slender hand twitched his quill over the page, adding a twisting vine of a border to the notes that weren't there yet. He knew it was a bad habit, but he liked doodling on his notes.

The boy hurriedly flipped his book open, ragged pages in the front, pristine ones after that, attesting to which ones had already been filled with spells. He pulled out a quill and initialed the top of his page, the previous page already filled with neat, loopy writing as well as pictures of plants. These were not vines, though, but leafy ferns and diagrams that looked almost clinical. As the lecturer began to speak, he copied, eyebrows drawn together.

Kieran condensed every word the professor said, writing small and efficient and barely readable by anyone but him. His left hand was busy with a silverstick, diagramming the glyph involved with the spell on the corner of the paper. Long had he trained himself to do two things at once, and times like these were when it really came in handy.

Dwyn's handwriting was normal sized and easy to read, but he didn't bother to copy the glyph. Instead, he was taking rapid-fire bullet notes as the professor demonstrated spell after spell that one might turn up on a successful use of "Identify". At the moment, it was nothing harmful. Curses, he had said, would be attended to after class.

Kieran kept up quite easily, eyes on the tip of his quill as he scribbled down the important and key words the professor had given. If he evr read these notes again, they'd trigger the rest of them; as it was, they were already hovering in his mind as he absorbed more. The spell promised to be simple and easy, and Kieran could think of quite a few things to test it on. Yanai Lanarath, for instance.

After they had gone over and over the basic gestures for the spell, the professor finally got to the good part. He pulled a covering off a table, revealing a few weapons, a few items of jewelry, and one book. "Let's put this knowledge to practical application," he said. "Would anyone like to volunteer?"

Kieran could easily have done it by then, and he knew it. But, being his quiet, itnroverted little self, he merely peered up at the professor, eyes skimming over the items on the table as his hand again degenerated into sketching lazily, adding designs around his notes.

The boy next to him shot his hand up before anyone else could really contemplate volunteering. "I will!" he mumured, as though he had WANTED to shout it, but had stopped himself at the last minute. The professor looked amused. "All right then. What's your name, son?"

Kieran glanced over at the boy thoughtfully. Yes, he definitely seemed the type to gladly volunteer for just about anything that promised to be interesting. It reminded Kieran of Caden fleetingly.

"Dwyn O'Connaillain," the boy announced, pronouncing it "D-win". His voice was not proud, but it was steady, and he held his head high as he slipped out of the row and stepped down to the front. The proffessor offered him the usual imbibement of ground pearl and owl's feather in wine, but he waved it away. "It's all right," he said, "At least, I think so. Let me try it." He eyed the assortment of items with his arms crossed over his chest, then stepped over and lifted a necklace. His stride was purposeful - everything about him seemed to give off an air of inevitability, as though no one and nothing could stand in his way. He clasped the necklace in his hands and bowed his head, muttering under his breath. He didn't make any of the motions necessary for the spell. Once he'd finished muttering, he held the necklace in one hand, face screwed in intense concentration, as his other hand hovered over it, fingers twitching from time to time.

Kieran frowned, tilting his head. It looked almost as though the boy was using divine magic, a holy symbol of some sort. The gods had never taken special notice in him, and wizardry was enough, but he had to admit that some of the clerical magics were simply fascinating. He watched intently, now curious.

"It's for charming," Dwyn announced a moment later, holding the necklace up. "Anyone who wears it will be percieved as more beautiful... a simple glamoury effect." He settled back on his heels, his expression mostly confident but with just a HINT of anxiety as he awaited the proffessor's answer.

The man nodded. "Well done, apprentice O'Connaillain... but you didn't cast the spell the way I taught you."

Kieran bit his lip. Some professors could be horrible sticklers for having it done exactly their way. He was continually berated by such teachers to do such mundane things as 'show his work', which always irritated him, especially because any work that was usually intended by such a statement could -easily- be done in his head, without benefit of parchment or quill.

Dwyn nodded. "Sorry," he said quietly, as though he was trying to SOUND sorry when he really wasn't. "My mom taught me to do it like that. I can do it your way, if you'd rather." His head remained high, as if challenging the teacher to demand a repeat performance.

"Since most of my student's mothers aren't as adept as yours seems to be," the man said dryly, "Please demonstrate for the class the RIGHT way." Dwyn shrugged and held out a hand for the potion. Disgusting stuff, it was, and he drank it down quickly, making a face and an "EW," assertion and then stalking over to the array of weapons. His hands moved as his eyes fluttered closed and he took a deep breath, reciting the spell in a rythmic, pulsing manner as he sketched the needed sigil in the air above one of the swords.

Kieran spared a moment of pity for the other boy before looking down again, fully knowing that he could listen without watching as he turned the page in his notebook, now starting to sketch the image foremost in his mind - Dwyn triumphantly holding up the necklace. He wasn't an artist, but it was recognizable as Dwyn once he got started.

"Well, that's random," Dwyn remarked a moment later, turning to eye the professor. "Anyone who holds this sword will never get lost in the swamps."

The professor seemed both amused and a bit annoyed. "Very good," he said in a clipped down. "Take your seat." Chuckling under his breath, Dwyn did so, sliding into his seat next to Kieran with aplomb and shooting him a grin, as though they were co-conspirators.

Kieran managed a slight smile to Dwyn, suitably impressed. Doing a spell was interesting enough, but to do it in two ways was somewhat admirable. He kept drawing, eyes unfocused as he concentrated on the image in his head, the one he was sketching.

Dwyn's eyes stayed on him for a moment, then abruptly shifted away as he pulled his spellbook into his lap, leaned his seat back on two legs, and propped his feet on the table. He went to work with his quill busily, seeming to forget the professor entirely as he took volunteer after volunteer.

Kieran was in his own little world as usual, listening intently to the teacher hold demonstration after demonstration as he kept drawing. It was hard to get the smile right; it had a little crook to it that his quill refused to protray accurately.

Dwyn happily sketched away, pausing only to lean over to Kieran and mutter under his breath, "Do you have any erasing ink? I forgot mine... left home in a hurry."

Kieran glanced up, startled, and nodded slightly, making sure to drape his sleeve over his sketchbook as he dug through his satchel quietly. He offered the vial to Dwyn without a word, ears swiveling back toward the professor.

"Thank you," Dwyn told him, setting the vial between them and dipping in it as he erased, then drew again, and erased, then drew again. Or wrote, but it seemed more likely that he was drawing. He stopped suddenly and leaned back, neck craning as he seemed to be staring at Kieran's back.

If Kieran had been paying attention, he'd have surmised that Dwyn was drawing him in reciprocation, but he was quite involved with what the professor was saying as he wound them down toward their break. "You're welcome," he murmured politely, voice soft and sweet despite his lack of intent.

Dwyn smirked quickly and shifted back into his own personal space, nodding and humming quietly under his breath as he continued to sketch. Finally, he sprinkled sand over the drawing and pushed the vial back toward Kieran, resuming giving the professor his attention.

Kieran let the vial sit there, for the first time -not- listening to the professor as he shifted his quill. The tip of his tongue stuck out of his mouth and the very end of his tail curled up and twitched rapidly as he focused all his attention on getting that smile right. It kind of ruined the whole effect if he couldn't perfect the expression.

Dwyn was watching him, blatantly, not even bothering to try and sneak peeks. He had a sort of understanding, almost motherly smile on his face, not anything like the brazen one Kieran was trying to duplicate, but the general look was utterly warm.

It took a while for Kieran to feel those eyes, and when he did, he glanced up guiltity, half expecting the professor to be looming over him. But all he saw were golden eyes. He flushed as he realized that the subject of his crappy artwork was certainly aware of his attempt, and he bit his lip. How embarrasing. This was why he shouldn't draw strangers. It got him into trouble.

When Kieran looked up and met his eyes, Dwyn broke into a grin and laughed quietly, as though Kieran was easily the most adorable thing he'd ever seen. He shook his head, still laughing, and turned back to his spellbook, hand falling into the familiar rythm of writing as he resumed taking notes once the volunteering part was over.

Kieran stared at Dwyn for a long, confused moment. What the hell had that been about? Was it really so amuing to see him blush? Calliope was always teasing him that he was cute enough to make one sick. Kieran usually ignored that, but when strangers did it, it was almost insulting. He turned back to his notebook, turning to a blank page without regard for the still-damp ink on his sad sketch and starting to write something in a language that was pure gibberish to anyone but he.

Before too terribly long, the lecture broke for lunch. Dwyn didn't get up with the others, choosing instead to lounge in his seat with his head tilted back, almost as if he planned to take a nap. He had his black book clutched to his chest, the silver pentacle glimmering in the low light.

Kieran stood and stretched, tail twining around his leg as he tucked his books together. He glanced around thoughtfully, then held a hand over his things, murmuring something softly. A flicker of dark blue-violet magic swirled around the book and satchel and then faded as Kieran wandered away, satisfied that nothing would happen to his stuff. He headed outside, idly contemplating a quick kata or two. He'd been getting behind recently. So much to do, and so little time...

Kieran was headed toward an empty space beneath a tree when three rather ugly young men stepped into his path. He murmured and apology and moved to duck around them, but a hand closed on his shoulder. He looked up, startled. They were all older than he, and much larger. The one touching him wore a cold smile accompanied by equally cold, steely blue eyes. "Don't leave so fast, Aladriss," the boy crooned, chuckling evilly. Kieran jerked away, a disgusted frown on his face. "Don't you people EVER get tired of picking on me?" he demanded, sounding exasperated as he stepped back, more than ready to run or web them all to the nearest building. Their leader laughed and swung without further preamble, making Kieran dodge with a yelp. The others closed in, looking mean. Kieran spared a moment to wonder just what, precisely, made him such good bully-bait.

Even as the group of boys closed in on Kieran, as they prepared to step past that tree, there was a slight whistle and then two quick thumps. A thin line of blood opened on the bridge of the leader's nose as following the line of trajectory, two slender throwing blades had managed to implant themselves in the tree, having missed his face by a millimeter. And indeed, by LESS than a millimeter.

Kieran shot a startled glance in the direction those weapons had come from. Somebody was on his side, for once, and he grinned as he danced outof the way of another wild swing. His otousan had taught him more than how to swing a staff, and as he snapped a foot into the leader's gut, adding to the boy's wounds, he thanked his father for being such a wonderful teacher. Why waste his magic when he could kick their butts the conventional way?

As Kieran searched for his savior, he found Dwyn. The boy's head was down and his teeth showed in a grin as laughter shook his shoulders, slowly. His hands were open at his sides, and he was apparently unarmed, his cloak thrown back over his shoulders and revealing a small, tightly muscled frame. He wore a black, sleeveless tunic and pants, and his left arm was bandaged at the bicep, his right arm at the wrist. Leather wrist straps bound each wrist and he lifted his head slowly, tossing the hair from his eyes and giving the bullies a feral smile. One of the boys snarled back. "Don't interfere," he growled, "this is none of your business."

"My mother always said," Dwyn told him smoothly, his voice dangerously low, "Ever mind the rule of three. What you give out comes back at thee. What do you think? Should I hit you three times for every wound you give him?"

"Nobody's wounding me," Kieran added under his breath. He stayed out of ranger as the leader of the bullies turned on Dwyn with a snarl. "You can -try-, twiddlefingers." Kieran sighed and shook his head. People were stupid, incredibly so. It verged on painful sometimes. The third bully lunged suddenly, startling the tiny boy and grabbing him by the arm. Kieran growled and tried to pull away, but the other's grip was firm. Knowing that bruises were already forming on his pale skin, Kieran frowned. Violence was overrated, and he really would rather have simply run away, but now, that wasn't an issue. "Let go," he growled, tail flickering anxiously. The bully just laughed.

Dwyn smirked and held up his hands, beckoning. "Come on," he said. "You like to pick on the little guy. But if you've got the balls, and the brawn, why don't you try me on for size?" He sneered at them. He wasn't that big... maybe a little over five feet at the most. Taller than Kieran, but still much smaller than any of these. He stepped back, shoulders dipping almost as though he was a puppet and someone had cut his strings, and then his fists pulled back, ready. "Bring it. BITCH," he spat.

The leader, seeing that his pal had Kieran taken care of, sneered and advanced on Dwyn, hands curling into fists. He swung heartily and missed by a mile, almost hitting his friend. Kieran was busy trying to wriggle his way free, not paying any attention to what was happening elsewhere, but an excruciating slice of pain made him scream in a deafening fashion. The bully pulled on his ear harder, and Kieran snarled, vision going white as he struggled to concentrate enough. His only thought was to get -away- from the fingers that were currently yanking on his poor ear, and as he pulled one hand back, a ball of sparkling blue-black magic formed in the air.

Dwyn ignored the ones going for him. His hands were empty and then, suddenly, they weren't. A blade appeared in his hand and he flung it. The bullie's hand released Kieran's hand... he HAD to, because the blade peirced his wrist going all the way through and causing his hand to loosen out of shock.

The bully yelped and let go, tumbling over as blood poured from him rapidly. Kieran fell back, landing flat on his ass as he clutched at his throbbing ear. The globe he'd conjured swelled and launched itself at the other two, splattering over them and coating them in what quickly turned out to be corrosive acid. It was their pained screams that brought Kieran back to reality, and as he got to his feet, struggling to ignore the pain, he bit his lip. He really wished he hadn't done that, but that bully had pulled his -ear-...

The bully with the torn wrist held it, eyes glazed in shock as he watched his blood pump from the wound. Dwyn stalked toward him as the others writhed under the agony of the acid, took his wrist, and yanked the knife from it. He held it tightly, kneeling, muttering over it. "Gracious lady of the moon, grant your faithful now this boon. healing love and healing luck, I bring the power, I raise it up," he chanted quietly, hands glowing quietly. He chanted and chanted and chanted and then the wound began to slow its bleeding. He looked up, golden eyes hard, and took a deep breath before his entire demeanor seemed to become one of authority. "Go the infirmary and take your friends," he said. "Do it NOW."

The boy nodded frantically and turned, grabbing one of his friends by the sleeve with his good hand and slinging him over one shoulder, then dragging the other along by his leg. Kieran barely noticed their departure, staring at the spatters of acid on the ground, interspersed liberally with blood. Black eyes seemed distant as he rubbed his ear, tail twitching behind him. That had gotten out of hand far too quickly. What if he'd killed those boys? What if they'd hurt that other boy? He bit his lip, feeling quite guilty over the whole affair.

"What a waste," Dwyn muttered, raking a bloody hand through his hair and not seeming to care that he spread the vicious dark liquid among the honeyed strands and smeared his flawlessly pale skin with it. "Geez. You arright?" he wondered, golden eyes fixing on Kieran, holding deep and steady concern.

Kieran looked up at Dwyn and frowned. "H-hai... I mean... yes, I'm fine. Sorry... sorry you had to get involved with that. Happens a lot," he mumbled, looking down. There was blood splashed on his clothing, barely visible against the dark blue fabric, but glaring to his eyes. "Are you alright?" he asked, peering up at the other boy. He seemed to be okay, the only blood decorating him not his own, but Kieran still felt bad that other people had ended up hurt or even just disturbed by him. Being a bully magnet got a bit annoying after a while, and he didn't want to have anyone else suffer it too.

"Yeah, they seemed a bit too familiar with you," Dwyn told him easily, grinning and even laughing now that the danger was past. He seemed to have been invigorated by the short fight, and he had another thin blade in his right hand, on which he began to nibble absently. "But if you've got spells like that in your repetoire, I can't see how they dare to keep doing it. Then again, bullies are generally idiots. It's a fact of history," he said almost scornfully, snickering to himself as he extended his left hand to help Kieran up. "Come on," he said, his tone switching to kindness. "Let's get cleaned up before lunch break is over."

Was Dwyn -chewing- on a knife? Kieran wasn't sure he wanted to know, but he eyed the other boy for a long moment before taking his hand and rising. He weighed a pittance, slender frame nothing to help lift. Kieran noted that the other was quite talkative, and resisted protesting at the idea that he even -had- a... 'repetoire'. "Thank you," he said softly, black eyes dark even in the bright sunlight.

"My mom also said "help when you can," he said warmly, propelling Kieran with him toward the bathroom and pulling his knives free of the tree trunk on the way. "I have some trouble with the other part of that saying, but that part's never been a hardship." He squeezed Kieran's hand breifly and then let go of him.

Kieran went with Dwyn willingly enough, deep in thought as he wandered toward the bathrooms. They arrived there quickly and as he stepped through the door, he glanced up at the other boy. He'd heard him quote his mother twice now, and he smiled slightly. Apparently he wasn't the only person his his generation to respect his parents. What a nice revelation.

Dwyn made a beeline for the water pump and washed the blood from his hands, seeming enraptured by the way the red liquid splashed away. He bent his head and splashed water into his hair, then gave it a good shake, scattering droplets everywhere. "Sorry," he told Kieran, shooting him a wink and that same impish grin.

Kieran just stared up at Dwyn and nodded slowly. There was something very odd about the boy, and it made him wary to return that smile. "It's okay," he said quietly, not sure what the other was apologizing for. Water wouldn't hurt him. He set about washing the blood off his own skin, scrubbing even after it was gone. He didn't like the way it felt once it dried on his skin, overly smooth and confining, like tight leather.

Dwyn waited for him quietly, still watching him. His head was tilted like an inquisitive cat's, and he fidgited, seeming to have an overabundance of energy, like Caden did. "You don't have to be scared of me," he said finally. "I won't hurt you."

Kieran raised an eyebrow, looking up at him. "Just because I'm small doesn't mean I'm fearful," he said in a low tone. There were few things Kieran was afraid of, and no boy was on that list. Perhaps some men, like his cousin, but no boys, and certainly nothing not worth fearing.

"Okay, maybe 'afraid' isn't the right word," he admitted. "But you're uneasy. I can feel it. It's okay. I'm wierd... insane, some have said, but not dangerous." He flashed Kieran an adorable smile and let out a laugh that was almost a giggle, fingers drumming on the wall beside him as that knife hung from between his teeth, him speaking easily, naturally, around it. "It runs in the family."

"Un," Kieran said with a nod. Weird definitely described Dwyn, but, being Kieran, he knew many who were weirder. However, he still rpeferred to associate with as few people as possible. "Sorry bout all that. Good day," he said politely. Then he turned and fled, made nervous not so much by Dwyn's disregard of sanity, but by being forced to interact with people he neither knew nor wanted to know.

Dwyn watched him go. He seemed to change moods mercurially, switching from one to another almost arbitrarily. And right at this moment, he was hurt... but he sighed, shaking his head and emerging from the bathroom a bit later. He went straight back to the classroom and collected his things, moving to a different seat. He was used to people being... well, the best word to use was "freaked", by him. He was used to not fitting in anywhere, and to losing friends as soon as they got to know him at all. His mother had the same problem, he knew. It was the problem with being... what was the word? Non-linear. Yes, that really was the best description... none of his family had ever done anything in a straight line. He sat down in his new seat, but not before carefully tearing the page out of his book of shadows and leaving it in Kieran's place. Had the time been modern, it would have been described as SD - a charming drawing of neko-Kieran kneeling in a patch of very detailed plants. Catnip. His eyes were large and shimmery, curious and innocent, and his fur and hair were prettily shadowed.

When Kieran returned to his seat shortly therafter, he was surprised, to say the least, by the drawing there. He looked up, glancing around. Had that boy left this? What had he said his name was, Darren or something? Darwin? Something atypical. Kieran couldn't help but think that it fit him very well; the other had been quite atypical. ~Better strange than a carbon copy like the majority of the world,~ the boy mused, carefully settling the drawing into his notebook so it wouldn't get injured. For a moment, he regretted having left so quickly, but then he remembered just how stressful it was to try and socialize and be friends with people, and felt a bit better about it. He didn't want to subject anyone to his sad excuse for personal interaction. Family was one thing, but friends verged on painful. And the other had left, assumably sitting somewhere else. Kieran considered it a mixed blessing.

Dwyn's name was spelled out at the bottom of the drawing, thus ending any confusion. Dwyn O'Connaillain... the signature had flourish, strong like the hand that had signed it. And Dwyn huddled in his seat, quietly listening to the rest of the lecture, offering no more assistence to the professor, and calling no more attention to himself.

Kieran paid studious attention to the rest of the lecture as well, pushing Dwyn out of his mind. He had more important things to worry about than bullies and golden eyes.

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Chapter two: And so too shall their roots grow together beneath the surface...

Kieran hated sneezing. It messed up his work, his books, his spells - it was AMAZING what could backfire when one sneezed - and he was getting tired of it. So he'd come here, to this little shop on a side street, on the recommendation of one of the infirmary personnel. She'd told him that this shop had precisely what he needed to stop those sneezes. He looked up at the sign, hanging still in the deepening twilight. The moon hung in the sky, half full and eye-catching as he pushed open the door to the shop, stepping inside quietly.

The shop was small, almost claustrophobic, and smelled strongly of pungent herbs that weren't unpleasant, but tickled his nose even more, prompting a bevvy of sneezes before he could look around. Everything was made of dark wood and besides the jars and boxes containing unmentionable spell componants, there was jewlery, a few books, gemstones, and candles of all shapes and sizes. The counter was low and blocked off a doorway that showed a set of stairs going up, and as the door swung shut, a set of chimes made ethereal, haunting music.

Kieran sneezed into his wrist, tiny, funny sounding sneezes that left him narrow-eyed and glaring at nothing in particular. This was getting annoying, damnit, and he wrinkled his nose. The shop was fascinating, though, more than enough to distract him from his dilemma as he turned, peering around in indomitable curiosity. The shop had an air of magic, but not magic as he knew it. No, this was different somehow, and it felt heady, like there was more than just a shop here. Kind of like a temple, really.

There was a thumping on the stairs, as though someone was taking them two at a time, and then Dwyn burst into the shop, looking breathless and eager. "Merry meet!" he called. "How can I..... OH." His eyes widened and he pulled up short, but his smile returned quickly, even if it seemed a little forced. "Hi there," he said warmly, seeming to forcibly calm himself down. "Can I get you something?"

Kieran looked up, having been entranced by the loops in a knotted piece of jewelry. His eyes widened, and for some reason, he couldn't help but be glad to see the other again. His strange meeting with Dwyn had been something different in a long stretch of monotony. "Y-yes, actually," he said softly. "I'm looking for - ah... ah..." His words were lost as he sneezed again, covering his nose and looking decidedly put out. "Something for these bloody sneezes," he finished irritably.

Dwyn laughed. "Aw, looks like you've got that sinus thing that's going around," he said sympathetically, seeming more at ease when kieran didn't immedietly bolt for the nearest exit. "Here, come on over here." He motioned to the gap that led behind the counter. "Let me take a look at that."

Kieran trailed after Dwyn, rubbing his nose. It was frustrating, really. He'd already rendered three sheets of parchment useless by sneezing all over them, and he didn't really want to recall the charred remains of his lantern after he'd sneezed while trying to light it magically. He would have taken relief from a demon without complaining.

Dwyn motioned him up the stairs, bounding up them ahead of him, taking them two at a time just like it sounded like he had coming down. "MOM!" he called. "Somebody's here!"

Kieran hesitated before following Dwyn up the stairs. It felt too much like invading their home, and he bit his lip as he delicately picked his way upward.

"Customer or friend?" came the alto voice. If Kieran had had to give it an adjective, 'strong' would probably have been the first one in mind. Dwyn stopped and waited at the top of the stairs, smiling at Kieran. "Somewhere in between," he replied. "He's got the sinus thing. Where's the yarrow?"

"By the stove."

He was considered a friend? That confused Kieran, who usually had to struggle to keep the word "friend" defined in his thoughts. He really didn't do the whole friend thing. He kept going, pausing on the landing to peer toward that voice.

He was looking at a wall. The stairs went straight up and then the hallway curved around, possibly to provide a sound-trap. "Come on," Dwyn encouraged. "Come meet my mom. She'll have just the thing for that cold of yours. Yarrow tea... tastes like cat piss." He wrinkled his nose, still grinning.

"Badmouth your mother's brewing. That's a GREAT way to get grounded," that voice came back, sounding darkly amused.

"I'm.... not going to ask how you know what cat piss tastes like," Kieran murmured to himself, padding along behind Dwyn. His day had already taken on the surrealistic turn that Dwyn seemed to induce, and he found himself minding less and less. At least things were interesting when the golden-eyed boy was involved.

Dwyn motioned him around the corner. "Well, I don't know what it tastes like, but I know what it SMELLS like.... hello Bats," he said cheerfully as a tiny little slip of a black cat wandered over, stretching her lithe frame and yawning to show a little pink tongue. "We've got a bunch of cats. This is Lady Bats, and that gray and black one over there is Smokey," he said indicating an older and MUCH larger cat settled into a comfortable-looking chair. "And you won't see Oregano. He hides from everything. But this one's mine." He swept up a small tourtoishell shorthair with large blue eyes. "This is Tal."

Kieran smiled at the cat, his own tail swaying lazily as he extended a finger to the tortoiseshell. He liked cats a great deal, perhaps due to his resemblance to them; but no matter what, cats seemed to like him plenty in reply, so he didn't mind. Even Cat, in all her prissy decisiveness, allowed him to pet her endlessly. "Kawaii," the boy murmured.

"And don't ask me WHY he named the CAT Taliesin," Dwyn's mother said as she stepped away from the cheerfully burning hearth fire and the actual, cast-iron cauldron placed over it. She was a small woman, only a bit taller than Dwyn, with lucious curves and his exact features, though her eyes were such a dark brown they were almost black. In the flickering light, they LOOKED black... as black as her hair, which was so dark that it had blue undertones. She wore a black velvet bodice that pushed her breasts up and a flowing black skirt, a silver pentacle dangling on a chain just below her collarbone. Tal purred as Kieran extended a finger to him, and Bats rubbed lightly against his ankles.

Kieran looked up, startled. It was all too easy to be distracted, and he smiled apologetically at the woman. He wondered for a moment what it was like to have a mother, then discarded that thought, instead choosing to scritch under Tal's chin. He didn't know what to say to her, so he said nothing.

"It suits him," Dwyn tossed back. "Why'd YOU name the cat OREGANO?" He smirked at Kieran and then dumped Tal into the black-haired boy's arms and headed for the pot-bellied stove in the corner. "I've got it, mom, you stay right there."

Kieran squeaked and cradled the irritated cat, smoothing his fur back down as he stared after Dwyn. The boy was so abrupt, and it put Kieran on edge.

"Start treating me like a decrepit old crone and I'll take a hand to your hide," she scolded him, stirring her cauldron. her eyes were lined in Khol, making them stand out even more starkly as she smiled at Kieran. "You can sit down. Since we haven't been introduced..." she shot a meaningful glare Dwyn's way, "I'm Sabbath Williams. And you are?"

"Kieran Jishou-Aladriss," Kieran said, relieved to have some anchor here. He was highly uncomfortable, in an unknown place with barely known people. Usually, he'd have been long gone by now, but the cat that was purring in his hands made him a bit less eager to bolt. He took a seat carefully, settling the cat in his lap as he looked up at Sabbath. Tal's fur tickled his nose and he ruthlessly suppressed another sneezing fit.

Sabbath smiled kindly.... and knowingly.... at him, dark eyes flashing. She wasn't old, perhaps in her early thirties, and she looked much younger than her actual age, just as Dwyn did. A thin, ragged scar trailed from her right shoulder down her arm, about halfway to the elbow, the only mar on her pale skin. "Welcome to the Witch's Hollow," she said warmly. "Just relax for me, all right?" Her tone brooked no room for argument and she knelt easily in front of Kieran and pressed the backs of her fingers to his forehead.

Kieran held very still. He wanted to edge away, but he refrained, mostly due to the fact that the cat in his lap paid no mind to the woman. Kieran's tail twitched anxiously as he shut his eyes, forcing himself to relax and drop into a light meditative state.

"No fever. That's good. This shit's been spreading like wildfire. But you're so pale, baby," she murmured sympathetically, her words almost harsh, the ease with which she uttered swear words somewhat disconcerting, yet her tone was naturally soothing. She tilted Kieran's head up and her fingers probed gently at the back of his throat, where his jawbone ended. "Hmm. Open your mouth for me," she urged, tapping him lightly on the chin.

Kieran obediently opened his mouth, one ear flicking backward. He wanted to tell her that he was always this pale, but that would have required speaking, which could very well have skewed her assessment. That, and he really didn't want to disobey her; she seemed a quite formidable woman. Then again, any kid like Dwyn would need formidable parents.

She turned his head toward the fire and narrowed her eyes, making a tsking sound under her breath. "Good thing you came," she told him, scratching breifly between his ears before standing up and moving off. She was as limber as a teenager, and as energetic. "All the drainage will have your throat infected by the end of this week. How long have you been feeling badly?"

Kieran shook his head to rid himself of the invasive sensation of being scritched so familiarly. "I feel fine," he said softly. "It's just so annoying to -to..." He sneezed again, an incredibly comical sound, and glared at the floor. "To sneeze all the time."

"Right, and when did that start?" She asked, her tone slightly dry as she folded her arms and smirked at him, one eyebrow hiked in amusement.

"This morning," he told her, looking reassured by the fact that Tal was not offended by his sneezing, and still purred and demanded to be petted.

Her eyes widened. "This morning? Sweet Goddess." She shook her head, looking thoughtful, and plopped herself down in a deep-sinking chair behind a small table on which a few oval peices of ivory were scattered like playing peices. After flipping a few over, she began to spin them in a clockwise circle, muttering under her breath.

"MOM," Dwyn said sharply as he stepped away from the pot he was stirring on the stove. "That's not polite!"

"I so desperately need advice on ethics from you, Dwyn, thank you," she said dryly, still spinning the ivory tiles. "And I'm not peeking into anything private, so fuck off, hm?"

Kieran craned his neck, trying to see what she was doing without being too obvious about it. Curiosity was a driving force when it came to Kieran's worldview. "What about this morning?" he inquired lightly, trying to appear unfazed by the mother and son's interaction.

Despite those callous words, she was grinning, and he rolled his eyes at her and laughed, shooting Kieran a wink before going back to stirring a pot. "Excuse my mom," he said dramatically. "She was a sailor for a while and it still shows in her.... ACK!" He dodged just as his mother leaped up in her chair, spun around, and took a swipe at him over the back of the seat.

"Missed me, missed me," he crooned, backing away even as he said it, and she bounded out of the chair and set after him as he let out a rush of laughter, fleeing from, her putting furniture between the two of them.

Kieran blinked and gaped at them. Dwyn had been right when he'd claimed to be insane, and even more so when he'd mentioned that it ran in the family. He thought about running for it, but it could always have been worse. They could have been dog people.

Sabbath seized her son and threw him into a wall, and he rebounded with a laugh, hands up. "STOP! NOOO!" he squealed, sinking down and curling into a ball to protect himself as she vicious jabbed at his sides...... tickling him. He laughter helplessly. "Mom! Stop it! I'm sorry... I'm sorry.... you're wonderful and all knowing and a perfect proprietous la... la... HAHAHAHAHAH!"

Kieran pressed a hand to his lips, suppressing a giggle. He felt like an interloper for witnessing this, but it was charmingly sweet, and he couldn't help but watch. The cats ignored it as though it happened every day, which, considering, it probably did.

"You're not sorry," Sabbath declared, standing up and smacking him - lightly - on the top of the head. "You'll do it again. But for now, learn your lesson. You interupted my invocation," she muttered, tossing her hair like an affronted lady of breeding and stalking back to her chair, chin high, as Dwyn remained curled into his ball, giggling in the aftermath.

Kieran bit his lip and stretched, gaining an inch or two as he unobtrusively peered at what Sabbath was doing. He knew many forms of divination, but this one was a mystery to him, and he was fascinated.

"NOW," she said sharply, though it seemed that no matter how irritated she behaved, she was laughing underneath. "Where was I before I was so RUDELY interuppted?" She shot Dwyn a glare and he meeped and covered his head. Taking a deep breath, she gave Kieran a conspiratorial smirk as if to say, 'see how I keep him in line?' and resumed spinning the tiles. "They're runes," she explained. "The trademark of the Rus, a people who sailed the seas far to the north of here and settled deep inland, in Rashemen, among other places. Rasheman was my birthplace. They'll show me why you're succumbing so quickly to this infection."

"I'm not succumbing," Kieran protested faintly. "I've just got sneezes." He'd never really caught colds, and to be subject to one so rapidly was a bit unsettling for him. He made a mental note to investigate those runes. They certainly sounded interesting.

Dwyn scampered back to his pot, stirring it rapidly, as she worked her runes. Closing her eyes, she hovered her hands over them, just as Dwyn had hovered his hand over that necklace, and she breathed deeply. Quickly, almost shockingly quickly, she chose one and put it in front of her. Four more swiftly followed in the shape of a cross and she shoved the others away, flipping over the center rune first. "Hmm." She flipped the left and right runes, then the top, then the bottom, examining them and then eyeing Kieran. "You're a workaholic," she accused. "You need to get out a little more, my friend. I understand that the rigors of the University are difficult, but you need to push yourself just a bit less hard, understand? Your immune system is having a hard time keeping up."

Kieran opened his mouth and then shut it again. He'd been trying not to interr himself in libraries so much, and indeed, he'd been managing to keep his weapons-work up to speed with his magic. But maybe he had been pushing himself a bit, what with his tendency to read til his vision fuzzed. And he -knew- that three hours' of sleep wasn't enough, but there was so much he had to -do-...

"Sleep more," she told him firmly, giving him that 'you WILL obey me' look that all mothers had mastered. "And eat better. And we'll start now. You and Dwyn are friends?" She offered him a smile and glanced over her shoulder at her son, who glanced at Kieran, looking uncertain, but smiling anyway.

"I... I don't really have any friends," Kieran said, intimidated by her tone. He looked up at Dwyn, black eyes thoughtful. The other had claimed that they were somewhere in between.

Sabbath shrugged. "Well, either way, stay for dinner. It'll be ready in just a few minutes either way. We'll put something strong in your stomach and see if we can't get a good response out of you," she said firmly. Dwyn shrugged at the denial and turned back to the stove.

Kieran bit his lip. He really didn't want to impose, but he got the distinct impression that Sabbath was only being polite about it to be polite about it and that she'd tie him to a chair and feed him if she had to. So he just nodded obediently, eyeing Dwyn. Would it be so bad to have a friend?

She broke into a smile that outshone the sun. no, really, it was that.... that bright, that happy, that pleased, and chances were good that Dwyn could duplicate it under the right circumstances. Her eyes even lightened in color. "GREAT. You're okay with venison stew, right?"

Kieran couldn't help but smile in return. "Of course," he nodded. He couldn't really deny a woman who smiled at him like that, could he? It was hard, infinitely so.

She bounded up from her chair and spun away. "Icebox," she told her son. "Be back in a few minutes." And then she headed for the stairs. She also took them two at a time, though her steps were lighter than her son's, not as jarring. Dwyn gave Kieran a slightly embarassed, but still pleased, smile. "That's my mom," he said quietly. "She's two different people. One's a kid and one's a Mother and Wise Woman... you get used to it. Y'know... if you try."

"She's very nice," Kieran assured him warmly. He lightly stroked the head of the cat that was dozing in his lap, black eyes thoughtful. "Are we friends?" he asked randomly. "I don't... I don't know -how- to have friends, really. I don't like people."

"Well, I hate people two when they travel in packs," Dwyn told him. "But we're not people. We're different from all that. We don't think like they do." He sounded proud of that fact. "Stronger, less... I don't know. Less restrained. We can dance naked under the stars while they stare in horror and not give a damn." He was smirking now.

"Oh, well, I don't know about that. I usually try to avoid letting -anyone- see me dance," Kieran said with a slight smile. There was something to what Dwyn was saying, though, something that made a lot of sense.

Dwyn laughed. "Our dancing isn't like their dancing," he assured Kieran, golden eyes dancing as he spoke of it. "Witches don't dance just two on two. We dance in Circle, all of us together, as one connected whole. And you're not supposed to look good or impress anybody, you're just supposed to be celebrating."

Kieran stared at him in fascination, looking entranced. "How does this witch stuff go? I've heard some interesting things, but if I believed it all, I'd've ran screaming an hour ago. What do you celebrate?"

Dwyn shot him a grin, spinning in a circle with his hands out slightly. "HER," he said enthusiastically. "And everything. The sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the water, the earth under our feet... everything's sacred to a witch."

Kieran nodded slowly, a smile curving his lips. Belief was indeed a powerful thing, and Dwyn was wholly a witch in that respect. It made Kieran think, suggesting that there were things bigger than books and spells and explosives, things bigger than him that he could belong to. It was a lofty idea, and its reach gave him a sense of awe.

He spun to a stop, and his tone went serious. "No, really. Everything's sacred. We worship Hecate, the triple-goddess of witchcraft, mysteries, the moon, and the crossroads, though of course we're allowed to worship other gods. We don't force our magick from the Weave, like a Wizard. The land, the innate magick in everything, recognizes us and aids us because IT chooses to."

Kieran bit his lip, tilting his head. He'd never thought of it that way, but the way the Weave had always jumped into his hands as though it liked him laid to rest the forming suspicion that he might have forced that magic to obey him. "It sounds wonderful," he said softly, looking down. "Enlightened."

Dwyn snorted. "Maybe when I'm a crone, I'll be enlightened," he said. "Right now, I'm quite content being a novice. It's not that we're so high and mighty. Actually, it's just the opposite - we're lower than all the other spellcasters, except maybe Druids, because we're so close to them. We don't get our magick from The Weave... we get it from the world, the physical things, the spirits that inhabit them. And, of course, our goddess. Witches are bound to the earth under our feet. Wizards reach for the stars."

"So... you have to use the innate magic in things?" Kieran asked, frowning thoughtfully. That would limit one a great deal, and he could see why it made them supposedly lesser. From the point of view of a spellcaster who could dip fingers into pure power, it was a pitiful thing indeed to have to curry the favour of the ambient magic around them. Kieran saw it as being somewhat less an access to power as to how they used it, though. A witch had what they had to work with, and that was it. It was impressive, actually, what they achieved with what they used.

"Well, there's innate magick in everything," Dwyn explained. "So it's probably not as limiting as you think it is. We don't cast flashy spells, that's true. No lobbing fireballs down the street for us. But then again, we have a bit more flexibility within our confines than you wizards do. Sometimes I need to do something and I don't know the right words, or the incantation, or the correct ingredients to make it happen. And when I don't..... I can always pray."

"And She answers you?" Kieran asked, eyes wide. The concept of a goddess or god actually answering him personally was a bit frightening. He would be much happier not attracting the notice of such powerful people.

Dwyn grinned. "When I prayed to her to help me heal that boy a few weeks ago, do you remember that? She answered me then," he said with quiet confidence and a knowing smile, stirring his water as it began to boil and picking up a morter and pestle. He took a jar and uncapped it, sprinkling something green into it, and began to grind it. A few more jars added to the pestle and the scent of spearmint filled the air.

"I do," Kieran nodded. That had been impressive, to say the least. "What's it like?" he wanted to know. For a moment, he felt bad about being so nosy, but it was just so fascinating, and Dwyn didn't seem to mind.

"What's what like? Talking to the Goddess?" Dwyn shrugged and smiled. "Like touching the divine, like having the moon in your chest. Literally, sometimes, if we've Drawn Down... er, sorry. Anyway, it's like having your grandmother around to talk to all the time. She's not the nicest grandmother, but she helps you if you're good. As long as you don't bring the laws of retribution down on yourself, it's all good."

"Is that kind of like karma?" Kieran asked. He wasa beautiful boy no matter what, but he came to life when he was interested in things, learning all he could and practically devouring the subject whole before he was satisfied. His curiosity lit up his eyes from within. "What's Drawing Down? And what's it all like?" He knew he was being rude, but for once, he decided it didn't matter.

Dwyn shrugged and laughed. "Drawing Down is... something I'm not allowed to do that. It's when you become a vessel... a literal Avatar for the Goddess. And she comes into you and sometimes she speaks, sometimes she gives you gifts, sometimes she helps you with a very important working. I'm too young to attempt it but I've seen my mother do it. And yes, the laws of retribution are like Karma. We have a rule: Ever mind the Rule of Three, what you give out comes back at thee. It means that whatever you do, you'll receive that energy back threefold. So if you do evil, three times that evil will be done to you. And if you do good, like rescueing cute little cat-boys from bullies, it'll come back three times better." He grinned.

It took that a moment to process, but when it did, Kieran's eyes widened and he flushed darkly. "Oro!" he squeaked. "I didn't need rescuing, thank you very much," he said primly, trying to look as though being called cute had nothing to do with it.

Dwyn's tone went serious again, switching emotions with ridiculous ease. "I know, but they were adepts too. They would have managed to hurt you if they really wanted to. It wasn't right, and they only deserve what they got out of it - a lot of pain."

Kieran bit his lip and looked down. "But it wasn't right to hurt them like that, either," he said softly. His tail curled up and twitched, belying his inner turmoil.

Dwyn hiked an eyebrow. "They're not dead. There's no damage that can't be repaired by someone at the University. They learned their lesson... at least, I HOPE they learned their lesson. Have they come after you since then?" His golden eyes turned hard, and glinted... just a bit dangerous.

Kieran hesitated before shaking his head. "No." He -wasn't- lying. They hadn't come after him, just chased him whenever they saw him. "But it's still not right to do bad things to them just becaue they deserve it. I'm no dispenser of justice."

"Listen to what you just said," Dwyn said dryly. "If they deserve it, it IS right to do it to them. In any case, the concern wasn't whether it was right or wrong. MY concern was that they were going to kick your ass if I didn't do something, and my Witch's Intuition said you hadn't done anything to deserve it."

"I -never- do anything to deserve it," Kieran said, rolling his eyes. "I'm just little and make a good punching bag." He sounded all too familiar with the situation, having been picked on all the years he'd been in school. "And I'm not that incapable. I try not to let people kick me around."

"I didn't think you were incapable," Dwyn told him, tossing him a wink. "I just thought you might be better off if the enemy was divided. And all I had to do was hit one of them and you took care of all the rest yourself. It gave you time to get a spell off, see?"

"Aa," Kieran said. Then he smiled shyly. "I guess... we work well together, huh?"

Dwyn grinned at the implied compliment, honey-brown hair falling over golden eyes as a sort of shy substitute for blushing. "Eh... maybe. But if they're not bothering you anymore, you hardly need me around, right? And I don't attend the university anyway." That last bit was said with deep wistfulness.

Kieran didn't miss the tone in Dwyn's voice. "Well, there's all this interesting stuff about witchcraft that you have to tell me, so I -do- need you around, and besides, bullies are a chronic thing. There're always some somewhere, picking on somebody."

Dwyn glanced up at him, and the knowing flash of his eyes said clearly that he knew what Kieran was trying to do. "Mm, but if you don't want friends," he teased mildly, shrugging and dumping his mortar-full of ground herbs into his pot, holding his hands over it, and chanting quietly.

"It's not that I don't want friends. It's that... well, my books are my friends, really, and I'm not good with people, so I just kind of avoid them," Kieran shrugged, eyes on the floor.

"Well, I SUCK with people," Dwyn told him, picking up the pot and pouring it carefully into an old brown teakettle. "Probably even worse than you do. Hell, you're smart and pretty sweet-natured. You could make friends easily if you WANTED to... problem is, you don't want to."

"No, I'd really rather not. People have expectations. Friends are responsibilities. I -like- living in my own little world, and with friends... it's like I'm distracted." Kieran's tone was frank and somewhat rueful.

Dwyn set the kettle aside and folded his arms, leaning back against the counter and watching him. "I know exactly how you feel. My mom's spent most of my life trying to pry me out of one book or another. I don't like people and I've never been at ease around them. They watch you. They have all these preconceptions and they ostracize you if you don't live up to them. Who wants that kind of pressure?" He snorted disdainfully. "But friends are still a good thing to have. I mean, parents won't be around forever. Sometimes they're not around at all."

Kieran smiled slightly. Beautiful irony. "I suppose you're right," he conceded. "Though I don't have garden variety parents, so..."

"Don't suppose I'm right. I AM right," the boy told him, smiling. "And my parents aren't exactly garden variety either, especially from what I hear of my dad."

"I bet he's not a vampire," Kieran said with the slightest hint of a smirk. If there was one thing he liked doing that he shouldn't, it was bragging about his fathers.

Dwyn gave him a dry look. "Are we speaking literally or figuratively? Because I hear he likes blood. A lot."

"He likes blood," Sabbath echoed, breezing back into the room. "Especially bloody knives. And he's a psychopath with a vicious hatred of most dieties. Is that tea done yet?"

"Yes, MOTHER," Dwyn muttered.

Sabbath smiled too-sweetly and patted him on the head. "Good job, dearest."

Kieran jumped and looked up, startled. He'd meant literally, of course, but now he as distracted by Dwyn and Sabbath's banter. It was cute.

Dwyn rolled his eyes and checked the teapot. "Okay," he said finally. "Look. Medicine tastes horrible most of the time. But if you want to feel better, you have to choke it down, okay?" he looked utterly solemn as he lifted the teapot and filled a mug. A very large mug.

Kieran looked up at Dwyn and smiled slightly. "I've been unfortunate enough to consume both medicine spell components and alchemical elements. I'm sure medicine can't be any worse." There was a ring of trurth to that. Iodine was some of the nastiest stuff he'd ever tasted. But he was sure cat-mint would be tasty...

Dwyn headed over and gingerly handed the mug to Kieran, watching him as if he expected him to keel over dead any moment now.

Kieran shrugged and took the mug carefully, lifting it to his lips and taking an experimental sip. That way, if it -was- so nasty he choked on it, he wouldn't waste much. It was a small price to pay for getting rid of these bloody sneezes.

Actually, Dwyn had been jerking his chain. It tasted vaguely of spearmint but otherwise tasted mostly like pungent water. No real discerable flavor at all, and certainly not unpleasant.

Kieran rolled his eyes, shaking his head, and drank it without a word. Really, making him go through all that.

Dwyn snickered under his breath. Over by the fireplace, Sabbath snorted. "Ass," she accused him. "Leading him on like that."

"Oh, don't worry," Kieran said lightly, a smile curving his lips as he lowered the mug. "I'll make it up to you." As a child with three siblings, he was -well- versed in playing tricks and harmless revenge.

"Oooh, somebody's in trouble," Sabbath cooed, stirring her cauldron.

Dwyn shrugged. "Nah, he'd have to actually see me again after tonight if me planned on THAT," he said evenly, settling into a chair. "When's dinner? I'm hungry."

"NOW, impatient hare," she scolded. "Get right back up again, now that you've so conviently sat down, and go get bowls."

Kieran suppressed a small smile and peered up at Sabbath. "Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked, remembering to be polite.

"Keep your cute little tail parked in that chair," she told him firmly, shaking the ladle in his direction. "I'm not that old, for the goddess's sake. I'm perfectly capable of dishing out SOUP. Ye gods."

"I dunno mom, you're getting over that hill," Dwyn called from near the cabinet. "You're what.... thirty-four now? That's WAY up there...."

"You," she said dangerously, eyes narrowing, "Are about to have your ass solidly and thoroughly kicked, young man."

"Gotta catch me fiiiiiiiiiirst," Dwyn sang to her. "And you being so OLD and all, I don't think you're up to it..."

"You don't -look- thirty four. Half that, perhaps," Kieran said, losing track of any sense of tact he once had. It was true, though - Sabbath could easily have passed for a woman a decade younger than she really was.

Sabbath paused in the middle of the scathing retort she'd been able to deliver, blinked at Kieran, and laughed. "Awwww, thank you!" she exclaimed. "That's sweet of you to say.... and I know it's true, anyway. When I was nineteen, you wouldn't believe what I had to go through to convince people I wasn't twelve!"

Kieran smiled sweetly, black eyes sparkling knowingly. "You're welcome." He knew all too well what it was to be mistaken for a six year old when one was thirteen.

"You didn't have much trouble convincing dad," Dwyn pointed out, offering her a small stack of deep, ceramic dishes made of thick pottery, heavy and comfortable to hold.

"Yes, well," Sabbath told him dryly, accepting the bowls and ladeling thick, savory-smelling stew into them. "I think the fact that when he met me I'd just torn the throat out of an attempted rapist somewhat convinced him that I was just a BIT more formiddable than I looked."

"Yeah," Dwyn muttered as he delivered the bowl to kieran. "That's my dad. He sees a girl with blood all over her mouth and falls head over heels."

Kieran tried not to giggle as he took the bowl. "You should be more respectful of your parents," he said softly, grinning up at Dwyn. "Although, you probably -should- just keep teasing your mother. It'd be funny to watch her tackle you again."

Dwyn winked at him. "Yeah, well, I'm stronger than she is. But don't tell her.... she might not have the muscle I got from my dad, but her soul's strong enough to make a dragon shake in his boots." he sounded vaguely proud. "As for my dad, I guess I respect him." He sat down with his own bowl, next to Kieran, and stirred it thoughtfully. "When he's here, I respect him. You sort of have to if you don't want to find yourself on the business end of a knife, even though I really don't think he'd hurt ME. And I even like him. It's just.... ah, nevermind." He let out a snort. "I babble. Which I inherited from my mom."

Kieran nodded slowly, absorbing all this. It was really quite interesting. "What's it like, having a mother?" he asked, sounding rather curious and just the slightest bit wistful. He loved his fathers more than anything, and they were good enough for him, but sometimes he wonderd how the other side lived.

Dwyn tilted his head, and over by the fireplace, where she was curled up in her huge armchair with her own bowl of stew, Sabbath's head turned in their direction. "I don't know. I guess I might as well ask you what it's like having a father," he said. "What happened to your mother?"

"I never had one," Kieran said, wondering just how much it was safe to say. Would they kick him out if they knew that his fathers were... well, both men? Most people who'd heard of it abhorred it, and he wasn't sure that he wanted to see disgust on their faces.

Dwyn nodded. "If you don't want to talk about it, it's okay. It's none of my business anyway. But... she nags me all the time, makes me do stuff - chores, and work in the store, and stuff. But she taught me everything too. And she's kind of like....... mom, get out of here, will you?" Sabbath snickered, stood, and went downstairs.

Kieran tilted his head, dark eyes thoughtful as he gazed at Dwyn. He supposed that good parents were somewhat similar no matter what gender they were; some of that sounded like 'tousan and Daddy.

Dwyn waited for his mother to be out of earshot, even though personally he knew that no matter where in the world he went, she would be able to hear him at any given time. The wind was her ears. "She's like the only safe thing in the world," he said honestly, golden eyes open. He didn't balk at telling Kieran this, as if he had no secrets. Mercurial his moods might have been, but everything he did seemed to come from the heart. "No matter what happens, no matter what I do, I can go crawl on Mom's lap and everything's okay again. She's always got the solution. And whatever she has to say is whatever I need to hear, even if all she says is "I don't have any answers". I don't know, maybe it's just her voice that makes everything all right. But she's strong and she never lets anybody walk on her or me, and she's never, EVER ashamed to be what she is. Everything about her that the rest of the world made negative, she rejoiced in and threw back in their faces. She's unstoppable. She's MOM."

Kieran pressed a hand to his mouth, not wanting to laugh at that. But that sounded so adoring, so wonderfully sweet, and the look in Dwyn's eyes as he gloated about his mother was priceless. He knew how it felt, and he nodded slightly. Daddy and 'tousan were like that for him; an eternal bastion of safety and protection. "You love her a lot," he murmured quietly.

Dwyn dropped his head and shrugged. "It's been just her and me for a long time," he said frankly, without a single note of self-pity in his tone. "And she doesn't make friends any easier than I do. So we sort of learned to circle each other."

Kieran thought about that for a moment. He was sure that if it had been just him and Daddy, or him and 'tousan, that things would be very, very different. "That makes sense," he said slowly, dark eyes fixed on a spot that probably didn't really exist.

Dwyn nodded and shrugged. "But it was probably a lot like that for you and your dad, hmm? Unless he's absolutely nothing like you."

"Well, one is and the other isn't," Kieran said experimentally, watching Dwyn closely. Already he thought it would hurt to have the other boy think his parents disgusting.

"Hm?" Dwyn's eyebrows pulled together and he looked confused.

"Daddy is... well, there's nobody much like Daddy, really. Caden takes after him a lot more than I do. But I'm a lot like my otousan. They're both taller than me, though."

"What's an otousan?" Dwyn inquired with all the innocence of the ignorant.

"It's Japanese - that's the language where he's from - for father." Kieran bit his lip, praying for tolerance.

Dwyn just tilted his head. "Like an adoptive father? Kind of?"

"...No." Kieran sighed softly. "They're married. They used... well, not magic, but -like- magic, to have us. They're both men," he added, a little part of him amused at just how obtuse Dwyn was.

Dwyn's eyes widened, then narrowed, then widened again as his mouth opened, closed, opened, and finally fell somewhat slack, as though he was struggling to find an appropriate response. "Oh," he decided on finally, looking as though he expected to be wrong as he tentetively said, "So your parents are... sodomists? No, wait, I think that's only for people who mess with kids..." He scratched at his hair.

Kieran's ears twitched back and the boy looked as though a little blue drop of sweat would appear on his forehead. "It's called homosexuality," he explained. "And..." here he blushed, "it's not as bad as most people think. It's... you know. -Think- about it." Kieran couldn't make himself put THAT into words.

Dwyn looked properly chastised, flushing slightly in embarasment at his implied thick-headedness, and settling in to go over the process arduously in his mind. His expression twitched several times, and then he shook his head. "That's just..... WIERD. I don't know that I'd say it's bad, it's just..... WIERD. I mean, I.... maybe I'm wrong. I'm just trying to picture kissing... and stuff. And what kind of conversation that must have been like. "Darling, I want to have your baby"... and.... WIERD."

"You wouldn't think it was anything but right, seeing them," Kieran said with a small smile. "They're so blatantly in love, it makes my sister sick and my brother melt. And I guess things would be a bit awkward, yes..."

Dwyn sat back, golden eyes dark with thought, eyebrows drawn together. Then, finally, he shrugged. "Well, it's not my business anyway, so I guess as long as they're happy and you're happy, it's all good, right?"

Kieran nodded slowly, his smile growing. Maybe there were people in the world who wouldn't see anything wrong with it. "Hai. Er, yes. All good. Though they -might- have been nice and not had Kagami..."

"Who's Kagami?"

"My sister," Kieran said with a roll of his eyes. "My incredibly annoying older sister."

"How many siblings do you have?" Dwyn demanded, shifting some of his attention to his stew and gobbling it before it got cold.

Kieran grinned. He always liked talking about his family. His wonderful, crazy, out-of-whack family. "Three," he said proudly. "Corus, Kagami, Caden, and then me. I'm the youngest."

"And Caden's the one who's just like your dad?"

"Well, Caden is Caden," Kieran said, a silly smile plastering itself over his face. "He's got long red hair and indigo eyes and he's always laughing and trying to cheer other people up. He goes in for the whole defend the weak and uplift the hopeless thing. And he's very hyper, like someone gave him too much sugar."

Dwyn nodded, a smile quirking his face again as he listened with almost disconcerting attentiveness.

"He's great, really. I miss him a lot," Kieran added wistfully, looking down into the untouched bowl of stew in his hands, dark eyes distant.

"Eat your strew," Dwyn told him. "Why can't you see him? You have breaks, don't you?"

"I do, but I still miss him," Kieran said softly, making no move to eat. "I live really far away from here, so most breaks aren't long enough to travel all the way home. It's hard to get a professor to send me, most of the time, and there's no way I'm EVER going to try walking it myself again."

"Well, you're going for Yule, aren't you?" Dwyn inquired.

Kieran nodded, brightening. "Hai! And it'll be great fun. 'Tousan said something about a party this year. My cousins'll be there and all my uncles and it'll be one heck of a time. I look forward to seeing my uncle Sky drunk and dancing on tables again."

Dwyn blinked. "Um... okay." He snickered. "Let's just let that one go, shall we? So how are you getting home for Yule then?"

Kieran's face fell. "I have no idea. I'll probably have to help with more meditation classes for Piers-sensei."

Dwyn's lips pursed, and then he shrugged. "Oh well. I'll bet you'll find out a way, huh? Mom and I'll be here for Solstice, obviously, since there's always a big Yule celebration. Everyone in Silverymoon goes wild over Yule!"

"What's it like, to live in a city?" Kieran wanted to know, tilting his head. "Living at school is nothing like home, and I hardly ever really see the city. The inside of its libraries, perhaps, but not the city." The boy grinned.

"Well, I can't just TELL you," Dwyn told him scoffingly. "You'd have to let me show you around."

"Oh," Kieran said, eyebrows lifting. "I guess I'll have to let you, then."

Dwyn shrugged. "Nah, you'd have to leave your library once in a while. And I don't know if I want to chase you out with my staff."

Kieran's ears swiveled forward and he tilted his head. "Staff?" That would be far too convenient. And he could REALLY use someone to practice with. Calli was horrible with a staff.

"Oh, yeah. This." Dwyn jumped up and bounded out of the room, returning after only a breif moment carrying a full-sized quarterstaff. It was made of some blackened, fire-hardened wood and carved with runes that were inlaid with silver paint. "This one's mine," he announced proudly. "It's nothing like my mom's. There's not even any spells in it. BUt it's still cool-looking."

Kieran eyed it inquisitively, the very tip of his tail twitching back and forth. "May I?" he inquired, peering up at Dwyn hopefully.

Dwyn hesitated, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully, then nodded. "Yeah.... all right." He offered the beautifully balanced staff to Kieran.

Kieran stood and set the bowl aside, gently taking the staff from Dwyn. It was noticeably taller than he was, but he didn't seem to have a problem with its weight. "Utsukushii na," he marveled, running a finger lightly over its decorations. It was truly an exquisite weapon, and he longed to give it a spin. He knew better, though, than to be so rude. His own staff was remarkably simple, the same size as this, much lighter in color, and plain elder-wood, but it was his baby.

"I don't know what you just said, but from the tone, I'll assume it was complimentary," Dwyn told him, smirking. And then, "It was a gift. The staff of an apprentice, but servicable enough."

"Oh! Sorry. It's beautiful, is what I said," he explained, still absorbing the feel of the staff. It had a tingle to it unlike any mage's staff he'd ever touched, and he frowned thoughtfully. "Has your goddess touched this?" It felt odd.

"Yeah," he said as though it was no big deal. "It's been consecrated just like most of my equipment. It's not magical itself though. This is." He flashed his hand at Kieran, showing him a silver ring set with a pentacle. "And this." He touched the moonstone brooch. "They help protect me."

Kieran nodded, offering the staff back to its owner. "That's cool. I have a robe that does that somewhere, but robes drive me crazy; I'd rather just wear leathers."

"I've got leathers!" Dwyn exclaimed. "My dad got them for me a long time ago, but my mom's great with sewing and fixing things and she let it out. It's not the best armor, but it's pretty nice. Y'know... does what it's supposed to and holds a bunch of knives. But I do like my robes. I feel... I dunno, sacred in them."

Kieran smiled. "'Tousan swore he'd get me a mithril shirt when I stopped growing. I think he was teasing," the boy added, sounding vaguely disgruntled. "It's not my fault I'm short." He was mumbling to himself, but then he looked up and grinned apologetically. "And I bet your robes don't trip you at the worst possible moment or end up as handlebars for bullies, so..."

"Well, no," Dwyn admitted. "Maybe yours need to be taken in? That's easy to fix."

"I think trying to do anything to them would result in backlash. They're somewhat ornery." If Kieran could have sweatdropped, he would have. "I'd try myself, but the instructors are still a bit cranky over the last time I set my room on fire..."

"They're just robes, aren't they?" Dwyn looked confused. "I didn't think you were progressed enough to have any robes like THAT..."

"Things kind of bounce off of them. I got really lucky when I found them, though I'm still not sure it was worth it. If anyone ever utters the words, 'They're only kobolds' to you, never, EVER trust anything they say again."

Dwyn pictured that and burst out laughing. He started to reply, but then Sabbath's voice rang from the foot of the stairs. "BOYS! COME DOWN HERE A MINUTE!"

Kieran grinned, unable to resist. He turned toward the stairs, somewhat startled, but moved to obey. He resisted the urge to say 'yes, mum'.

Dwyn was up and moving immedietly, as if that voice was the hand that controlled his puppet strings. He scrambled down the stairs to meet his mother. "What?" he demanded, looking vaguely cross as Sabbath pointed toward the shop door. It was standing open, and the air in the shop was cold.

Kieran followed him down and stopped behind him, eyes following the line of Sabbath's finger. He could have SWORN the door had shut itself behind him, but he was about to feel -really- bad for having left it open.

Sabbath, however, was smiling secretively. "Dwyn," she said quietly. "It's snowing."

Those golden eyes went wide and then Dwyn bolted out the door, letting out a whoop and spinning in wild circles. "Oh my gods, it's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing!' He exclaimed, his spins sending him in drunken circles. "Look, first snow of the season!"

Snow? Kieran was somewhat undecided when it came to snow. In the Savage Frontier, they got plenty of it; he was used to trekking around in three foot drifts at Midwinter. It was cold and wet and froze his ears something fierce, but it was -really- fun to bombard Kagami with snowballs while she was trying to practice. It was a mixed blessing, but he figured he liked it well enough and stuck his head outside, tail swaying.

Dwyn was still running around in circles like an idiot, but he seemed to be enjoying himself, laughing wildly as he grasped and snowflakes and flung his head back, tongue out, in an unsuccessful attempt to catch some. Sabbath leaned in the doorway next to Kieran and laughed quietly. "MOOOOOOM," Dwyn called, "Come ON!"

Kieran giggled, keeping his tail firmly inside. He didn't like being cold, even if the snow itself was appreciable, and so he planned on staying right in the edge of the door frame. Dwyn reminded him of Caden right then.

"Oh goddess, my idiot son wants me to go dance in the snow with him.... a mother's duty is SUCH hardship," Sabbath murmured, sarcasm making her tone heavy enough to lay a dwarf flat. Despite the fact that she wore no cloak and her bodice was hardly cover from the slight wind, she stepped out of the doorway, grabbed Dwyn by the wrists, and joined him spinning in circles, laughing girlishly.

Kieran pressed a hand to his mouth, smiling brightly behind his fingers. The two witches were like nothing or anyone he'd ever known before, and they were fascinating.

Sabbath pulled Dwyn in close to her, hugging him. They were the exact same height, and she swung him around twice. Then his arms threaded around her waist and he swept her off her feet, spinning her in tight, fast circles as she let out a shriek, skirt billowing like an ebony cloud, hair falling in a wanton tangle over her eyes.

Kieran stared, black eyes wide as snowflakes settled into his hair and melted. One dropped right into the shell of his furry, tufted ear, and he twitched, the tiny bite of cold making him wrinkle his nose. Snow was fun, certainly, and as he looked up, glancing at the cloudy, pitch-black sky, he smiled distantly.

Dwyn finally set his mother down and went spinning off by himself as she composed herself and headed back toward the doorway. "Well, the ground froze last night," she said matter of factly. "Kieran, don't you have a weekend in a couple of days?"

Kieran looked down and over at her, nodding. He lifted a hand to brush snow off his hair, not minding much, but still finding it odd. His tail curled around his leg; the cold was starting to get to him. That combined with the fact that he was already sick... He seemed about to say something when his nose curled and he sneezed several times, quite rapidly.

"Oh dear," Sabbath muttered, sliding an arm around Kieran's shoulders and pulling him back inside. "Dwyn, come back inside sometime before frostbite sets in!" She tugged him upstairs, sat him down in a chair and wrapped a heavy, thick, and oddly soft blanket around him, shoving his bowl into his hands. "Eat," she told him sternly. Then, "If you've got a weekend coming up, you should go to the river. The wizards will have frozen it and it'll be beautiful skating before the cold gets bitter."

Kieran nestled into the blanket, enjoying the sensation of being warm, and held the bowl accomodatingly. "Skating?" he asked softly, looking up at Sabbath with wide black eyes. He'd once seen Kagami on a huge patch of ice, training herself to be more agile, but why anyone would do it for fun was beyond him. The idea of using special shoes or metal blades hadn't occurred to him.

She nodded. "They have special flats of metal with bone blades on the bottom. You can glide over the ice like a sylph... or fall on your ass a lot, depending on how quickly you get the hang of it."

Kieran giggled at the imagery and nodded. It made sense now that he thought about it. He wasn't sure if it was something he'd be any good at, but it was hard for him to -lose- his balance at all, so perhaps he wouldn't be too bad.

"Dwyn loves it. He always has. I know I won't be able to keep him in the shop once the river's frozen at the bend. How about you, Kieran? You should get out and get some exercise. You'll be just fine as long as you dress for the cold."

"I get plenty of excersize, really I do. I just don't look like it," Kieran said wistfully. He had been faithfully working with his staff and bow every chance he got, and his barehanded routines were going smoothly. "But I really don't... you know... do things like that. Go places, fall over."

"You should," Sabbath told him bluntly. "You should go out and be a kid. You won't be one forever, and believe me, you'll miss it once it's gone."

"I'm enjoying my childhood," Kieran protested weakly. "I don't need to go try and skate to be a kid. I can do it just as well in a lab, or, better yet... a library. I just like books better than... well, people, for one thing."

"But you like Dwyn," she said easily. "Be careful there, little squirrel. If you let him befriend you he won't rest until he's torn you out of your safe little hole."

Kieran shook his head, ears twitching as he ducked further into the blanket. "He can -try-. My brother's been trying all our lives and he hasn't succeeded yet. I don't think Dwyn would try harder than Caden."

"Mm, I don't know," Sabbath said contentedly. "I don't know Caden. Now, eat before I sit on you."

Looking down, Kieran bit his lip. It would be painfully rude to refuse, and she probably WOULD sit on him. But he wasn't hungry. He was almost never hungry, really, and he didn't eat much.

"Lady of the moon forgive me, but it's for his own good," she said, sighing. "Kieran, baby, look at me."

Kieran shook his head and shut his eyes. "Nuh-uh." He half thought she was going to try and spell him into eating.

As it turned out, she didn't need to meet his eyes. "EAT," she told him, the simple word having the punch of the Command spell behind it.

"Or you won't get any hot chocolate for desert," she added, almost as an afterthought.

Before he really knew what he was doing, Kieran found himself downing some of the stew. It tasted quite good, and he felt a surreal urge to eat and make Sabbath happy. He finished half of it before his stomach started to complain, and he knew he'd have a hard time keeping it down later. He always did. His belly didn't like being fed after days of being ignored. It was ornery like that.

Sabbath eyed him as his stomach gurgled. "Do you have problems keeping food down?" she asked almost clinically. "Or problems with not feeling hungry when you should?"

Kieran bit his lip and avoided looking at her. "Well, I... I kind of forget a lot. And when I remember I'm not hungry. And after a few days it does get kind'a hard to actually eat anything."

She nodded, smirking. "I just got a new plant in from a very distant area," she told him. "It's a remarkable speciman. It will grow from a leaf... all you have to do is place the leaf firmly on some dirt and water it and within days you'll have the beginnings of a healthy new plant. It's a very nice plant in that it will cure just about any problem you could have with your stomach.... from period cramps to lack of appetite. Let me get you a peice and we'll see if it helps."

Kieran nodded and smiled slightly. "Thank you for doing all of this. I don't.. I'm not used to being mothered, as it were."

"Or bossed around, obviously, but you'll get used to it," she declared as she popped up from her seat and vanished again.

Kieran shook his head, somewhat overwhelmed. He wasn't sure he was ready to get used to it. He set the bowl down carefully and curled deeper into the blanket, ears twitching.

"Here," she told him when she got back, handing him a fat leaf, shaped like any other spade-shaped leaf, but fat and somewhat spongy, like aloe vera. "Chew this," she told him. "And swallow the juice, but not the leaf itself. Don't worry, it actually tastes all right"

He took it and sniffed at it curiously before putting it into his mouth. He chewed on it like she'd said, obediently swallowing. Its taste was green and very interesting, though not bad. She motioned to his empty bowl where he could spit out the other part of the leaf. Kieran delicately spat out the rest of the leaf, nose wrinkling as he leaned back into the blanket, trying not to sneeze again.

Sabbath smiled at him. "There there, you'll feel better after a good night's sleep. Speaking of which, it's dark. Unless you plan to stay the night, now would be a good time to go home. Shall I corral my son and have him put some of that overabundance of energy to good use walking you home?"

Kieran was torn. It was far too rude to impose any more than he already had, but he was a little bit afraid that he wouldn't see Dwyn again, and wanted to prolong this odd yet infinitely rewarding night. "I... um..."

"You have a weekend coming up, right?" she said again, hiking an eyebrow at him. "I can't go skating with him. Someone needs to mind the shop."

"But I..." Kieran trailed off. Was there any point to protesting? Now that he thought about it, he could always come back here to bug Dwyn if he got truly desperate for companionship, and he got the distinct feeling that he'd see the other boy again. "Alright. I think I can make it back to the school on my own." He hoped that it hadn't gotten -too- late. They might not let him in.

"Silverymoon is a safe city," she told him, "But I'll not send a fifteen year old wizard out by himself at night. There are too many nasty things out there. Believe me, I've faced them." She stepped to a small cloak rack and took down a voluminous black cloak with an intricately embroidered silver lining, which hung beside an even more beautiful speciman of the same design. "Take this down to him, would you? And don't you have a cloak?"

Kieran frowned thoughtfully, unburying himself from the blanket. "Somewhere under my bed, I think, but it's too worn to do me any good. I usually just.... don't go outside if it's that cold. I left my good cloak at home." He wriggled out of the warm cocoon, standing and carefully taking the cloak from her. He normally would have put up a fight at being escorted, but he really couldn't complain.

"Well, it's large enough for both of you," she said with a shrug, and it was. Large, thick, soft, and beautiful, tumbling from Kieran's hands. "And this." She handed him Dwyn's staff. Both items tingled with magic.

Kieran nodded and clutched them tightly to his chest. He smiled up at Sabbath, a warm, shy smile that made his eyes glow. "Thank you," he said sweetly. "I'd offer to pay you but I think you'd chase me off with a soup ladle."

"No, I'd just smack you on the head. Now, git," she told him prodding him toward the stairs.

He giggled and darted off, a fleet shadow. The last thing to vanish was his tail as he turned the corner and nearly flew down the stairs, much quieter than Dwyn.

Dwyn was still outside, breath fogging the air, shivering hard in the cold but unwilling to admit defeat as he watched the snowflakes spiral down. There was a lantern hanging outside the door to the shop, and it cast a cool, white light that was probably magical. In it, the snowflakes whirled and sparled like gems falling from the sky.

Kieran paused in the doorway of the shop, black eyes widening as he looked out. A thin layer of white had already stuck to the ground. It would probably have melted by tomorrow, but for now, everything was gilded in sivery whiteness. He smiled and ducked outside, hurrying to Dwyn's side and holding the cloak and staff out to him. "Your mother said to bring these to you. She wants you to walk me home," he said with a slight grin. His tail wound itself around his leg and his ears tried to fold themselves in as he ducked his head against the cold. "If you don't want to, it's okay." He would only be slightly dissapointed.

"Oh, no, no, I'd love to!" Dwyn told him enthusiastically, yanking the cloak around his shoulders and shivering vigorously to fill its folds with body heat. "God-d-d-d-d-s, it's chilly out here...." his teeth rattled, but he was grinning. He snuck a hand out to take the staff but seemed unwilling to keep much of his flesh outside the cloak, until.... "Where's YOURS? Oh... you didn't bring one, did you?"

Kieran shook his head,folding his arms over his chest. "No," he admitted with a rueful smile. He wasn't as cold as Dwyn was yet, but the wind was getting faster by the moment and the snow was coming down harder. Already the tips of his ears felt frozen.

Dwyn untied the cowl and swept the cloak around, pulling Kieran under it and against his body before he had a chance to protest. "Two of us.... S'warmer this way anyway. Hold it shut. Let's go." His arm resting around Kieran's shoulders, he struck off toward the University.

Kieran let out a little sound that very closely represented the meow a cat made when surprised as he was claimed by the cloak's warmth. It was much nicer in here and he gladly plastered himself to Dwyn's side, tail winding around the other boy's waist as he tucked his chin into his chest and moved.

Dwyn wasn't accustomed to walking this close to anyone, so there was a lot of stumbling involved, but eventually they made it back to campus and into the dorms where they could shut out the wind and the flurrying snow.

Kieran shut the door firmly behind them and leaned against it, shivering. It hadn't been that bad a walk, and a fortunately short one, but still. He glanced up at Dwyn and smiled. "Thank you," he said softly. "And I'd offer to have you come up and warm up before you go out again, but I think your mum would worry."

Dwyn shook his head. "No. She knows I can take care of myself. I mean... not that I want to intrude! I'm just saying, she doesn't worry about me that much." He gave Kieran a wide, disarming grin.

Kieran's smile grew. "It's alright. I know what you meant. Do you want to, then? Come up?" he asked, dark eyes hopeful. If this was what the whole friend thing was like, maybe it wasn't so bad.

Dwyn didn't answer at first, just looked long and hard into Kieran's eyes, as if studying him. Then he nodded, and smiled. "If you really want me to that badly.... I don't understand why, but I'd love to go see your room."

Kieran's ears perked. "Well, those of us who are too reclusive or too non-linear to have normal friends have to stick together, right?" He offered Dwyn his hand, looking up at him with a warm, sweet smile.

Dwyn smiled deeply, warmly, golden eyes filled with knowledge Kieran didn't have as he folded his own coldly stiff hand around Kieran's and squeezed. "You could say that," he said quietly.

Kieran beamed, suqeezing Dwyn's hand in return. "Yeah! Always look on the bright side," he advised, tugging the other boy down the hall and up the stairs. It would be easy to get lost here, every corridor seeming endless, every door the same. Kieran knew precisely where he was, though, and eventually stopped in front of one wooden panel in a hallway of wooden panels. He held his free hand over the knob and purred something; the door shimmered briefly as he turned the handle and pushed the door open. "Room sweet room." It was small and rather cramped, books covering every available surface but for one tiny table just as cluttered with bottles of odd-looking stuff and small braziers. The room was nice and warm, the window tightly shut and the bed neatly made. He'd somehow managed to fit a midget of a night-table in there, and that, too, was wearing a thick layer of books. Kieran stepped inside and glanced around, making sure that his living space was adequate for company.

"Books," Dwyn marveled, picking one up and running his fingers over the cover. "If they weren't mostly magical in nature I'd beg to stay here for months. But I can't learn magic like this, not well, anyway." He set the book back down.

Actually, only the shelf that was dangerously overflowing above his small bed was magic books. The rest were histories and stories and pretty much anything that could be made into a book, some in the most obscure languages known to any of the sentient races. There were even a few tiny, paper-bound books with writing so tiny that they HAD to be made with magic, in a language that was pure gibberish to Dwyn. Kieran tilted his head. "You like books, too?"

Dwyn made a "Psshh" sound. "My mom's always trying to drag me out of them, like SHE isn't just as bad herself," he muttered, picking up one history book and nodding. "I've read this... I always found the world of history and legend more exciting than day to day life, even in a magical componant shop," he said quietly. "It's like everybody else gets adventure except me, you know? My mom and dad adventured together for a LONG time."

Kieran shuddered and shook his head. "Take it from someone who knows. This whole adventure thing? It's a big hoax to try and get brave people to kill themselves off. It's stupid, and it's nowhere NEAR as fun and romantic as it sounds in the books. They don't mention being cold and wet at night and eaten by bugs and chased by things thrice your size, or being abducted by slavers, or just how many heroes die facing dragons as compared to dragons dying facing heroes. Daddy and 'tousan are big with the whole hero-thing, but really, it's NOT all it's cracked up to be."

"Your parents are heroes?" Dwyn smiled and sat down with a bounce on Kieran's bed.

"Ever heard of the Crosswinds and the Samhain Star?" Kieran inquired lightly. Some people hadn't.

Dwyn hiked an eyebrow. This was, after all Silverymoon. There were bards on every corner, so many of them that the city had begun to beg Foclucan graduates to move away! "I have," he said slowly.

Kieran grinned brightly. "Those are my fathers. And the only person around here I really talk to is the SummerStorm's daughter."

"The SummerStorm... " Dwyn quickly shuffled everything into the appropriate slots in his mind and let out a breath. "WHOA. That's some heavy parentage, and some heavy aquaintence."

Kieran nodded. "Yes, it is. And like I said... family parties are -crazy-. You'd be amazed at how like normal people heroes are when drunk."

Dwyn shook his head. "I don't think so. Heroes pretty much ARE normal people, just with stronger guts and more luck than most. Mom used to adventure, like I said. SHE'S special, though. Really special."

Kieran smiled brightly and moved a stack of books off his bed to the top of another, already-precarious stack to make space to sit. "Daddy'n 'tousan are special too. Maybe heroes just have a little something extra, you know? The touch of the gods, or something."

Dwyn snorted. "Hardly. The gods don't give a shit about people, not MOST of them, anyway. Some of them are all right, but most of them are overgrown children who should be cut out of the sky. Heroes have the touch of something else.... courage, I think, but love even more than that. Heroes love something."

"Love?" Kieran asked, surprised. He looked at Dwyn with a curious expression on his face, tail twitching lazily in the air behind him. "I don't understand. Wh love?"

"Because it's the strongest driving force in the universe," Dwyn said easily.

"People will do even more for love than they'll do for hate, go to further lengths, drive themselves to greater heights."

"Love for what, though? The fame? Being a defender of the weak and saviour of the downtrodden?" Kieran tilted his head, moving more books to a pile that was almost taller than he was. The bed was clear, though, and he plopped himself onto it, peering up at Dwyn.

"It doesn't matter," Dwyn told him. "But it's strongest when it's love for people. The REAL heroes, the ones who aren't conceited and who DON'T do it for glory, go farther and last longer than others."

"Do you ever wonder why people like Lady Alustriel can do one thing and have the effects of that thing reach so far across the face of the world? Do you ever wonder WHY your fathers go out adventuring?

Kieran couldn't help but smile. "I think it's got something to do with wanting to do the right thing because it's the right thing. I guess love can figure into it, though. It sounds kind of romantic, like it's something a bard would say."

Dwyn shrugged. "I think it's just true. They have more love in them, or maybe a greater love, you could say. Anybody can love a friend, or a wife, or a child. But to love other people enough that doing right by them is enough of a reason to risk your life...."

"But there are lots of people like that who never live long enough to be heroes. So what's the difference between a warrior of good with all that love and somebody who just happens to end up famous? Are they any less of a hero?" Kieran asked, thinking of his uncles and the original Heroes Inc.

"No, but there are a lot of kinds of heroes," Dwyn told him. "You can be a hero in a small way. Like helping one boy get rid of bullies. Maybe that doesn't change the whole world, but it changes things for one person, right?"

"And you do it," he continued, "Because you have love enough to want to do right by them even though there's no other real motivation."

Kieran's tail curled as he smiled shyly. "Hai. Like getting rid of one evil man, or helping to save the world. Which would just be a difference of scale, really. And if you loved everything enough, it wouldn't matter if you were doing big things or little things or if you got famous or not."

Dwyn grinned, and yes, he managed to match the brightness of that sunshine smile Sabbath had given Kieran earlier. "You've got it!"

Kieran beamed, ears perking up. "I guess I do." Then he deflaed as something occurred to him. "But I like helping people, and -I'm- no hero."

"Heroes have something else that helps them succeed," Dwyn told him slyly. "It's called confidence. You just need to learn to be as confident facing other people as you are facing down a difficult spell."

"That's not true at all," Kieran said with - surprise - confidence. "'Tousan swears he's a hopeless case and that he's only famous because bards are crazy. He hasn't got -any- confidence."

"Does he have it when he's fighting?"

Kieran leaned back, thinking about that. The very tip of his tail flickered back and forth when he was thinking hard about something, and it did so now, a flash of black against the sheets. "I... probably. He always knows what to do, and he never falters. He just denies it."

Dwyn smirked. "Right. So, there you have inner confidence. Don't worry, Kieran. Eventually you'll get out into the world and see some things and you'll realize you've got a great chance of making a difference if you just put your mind to it."

Kieran bit his lip. "I've been into the world. It's... well, in some ways it's beautiful and perfect and I'd gladly give my life to see it flourish. But at the same time, it's horrible, disgusting, and decadent in ways you'd never imagine, and it makes me want to give my life to see it end. I like the former part better," he said softly.

"You can't be rid of the moon just because it has a dark side," Dwyn said in exasperation. "Same with the world. would you have all the elves and unicorns and people like Lady Alustriel die just to be rid of the trolls and orcs and people like Obould Many-Arrows?"

"No, no, that's not what I mean," Kieran said hurriedly, shaking his head. "It's just... there's just so -much- of everything. And it's not really good or evil. It's both, and it's so mixed up that sometimes good and evil just don't apply anymore. It gets confusing. But it's beautiful, even if in a sad way."

Dwyn smiled then, and patted his shoulder lightly. "You can't worry yourself over all the troubles in the world," he said gently. "My mom says... my mom says that good and evil really only matter when your plans include violence. But when you're trying to heal as many rifts as you can, and help as many people, things like good and evil don't make any difference. I know that's unrealistic. In this world, you almost can't help someone without hurting someone else, and the best you can do is angle your actions so that they help good folk and harm bad folk. But as long as you do whatever you're doing out of LOVE, instead of doing it out of hate or fear, you can at least know that you did the thing, right or wrong, with good intentions. That doesn't count for much in some circles, but for a witch, the spirit of a thing is the thing itself. Maybe someday you'll really, really hurt MY feelings, but I would know you didn't mean to. And because I knew that, I'd forgive you. It's the nature of flawed creatures to screw up from time to time, but She watches and She sees where your heart was, so someday when everything gets straightened out, you never have to doubt that she'll know you only wanted the best thing for everybody."

Kieran looked up at Dwyn with wide black eyes. He'd heard more new ideas today than he had in the last year or so, and he was reeling. But, being wo he wa, he was more than used to assimilating more information in a day than some people assimilated their entire life, so he pulled himself under control and nodded slowly. "People are fallible. So is everything they create, but in that fallibility there is perfection, and the capacity for love."

Dwyn beamed at him. "Yep. Love was the force that created the universe, love will hold it together, and even if you really, REALLY fuck up, love is what gives you the balls to try again. And trying again... over and over and over and over.... that makes a hero too, don't you think?"

"Never giving up? Well, sometimes retreating is the best thing to do, but I once heard that the only real failure is when you stop trying. So yeah... I mean, you can make a strategic retreat, but you can always try something else. As long as you keep trying." Kieran smiled, pushing his hair back from his face.

"I didn't even necessarily mean in battle. I meant in whatever you were doing. Try again, try again, reset yourself and try again.... works as well for an army as it works for a wizard's spell search as it does for making a friend." He shot Kieran a wink.

"I didn't really, either. 'Tousan usually explains these things like a mercenary, so I kind of think of them that way. But yeah. Try til you get it right," he smiled sweetly.

Dwyn just grinned, again, as if he knew something Kieran didn't. "So, anyway, here we are," he said, gazing around the room. "You have more books than the library, Kieran. Seriously."

Kieran flushed. "Well, I -like- books. And there's LOTS of libraries here in Silverymoon and the university. It's the best part about this city. It's always less than a five minute walk to the nearest book. You can borrow some, if you like," he offered tentatively.

Dwyn smiled. "I don't want to take them away from you. Besides, I've got work to do in the store. I wouldn't have time," he protested.

"There is always time for books, but if you don't want to, it's okay. And it's not like I need all of them all the time. While there truly is no such thing as too many books, I'd hardly be desperate to have them all. It was just an idea."

"Besides, I'll be too busy on my day off," Dwyn told him, motioning toward the window. "We're going skating, right?"

"We are?" Kieran asked, eyes going wide. "But I don't know how."

"I'll show you!" Dwyn volunteered immediatly.

"It's SO much fun. Come on, Kieran..."

Kieran bit his lip and twirled a strand of hair around one finger, his tail curling in on itself. "I don't know..." He'd probably end up trampled. Sometimes, being chibi-sized sucked.

"What happened to trying?" Dwyn demanded.

"But that's different!" Kieran protested.

"No it's not," Dwyn protested right back, gold eyes wide and serious. "If you can't try for stupid things, how will you try for great things?"

Kieran just stared at Dwyn, dark eyes unreadable. Even his tail was still as he thought. "I... alright," he finally said, looking down. "You're right. I'll try."

"Oh, it's not as terrible as all that," Dwyn assured him, bouncing up and down gleefully on the mattress. "It's fun. By the Goddess, Kieran, you're more scared of fun than anybody I've ever met."

Kieran looked up at him, looking like a scolded kitten. "I am not! It's just... I don't know. It's just not my idea of fun."

"Well, you'll learn," Dwyn said with all confidence, unable to resist petting Kieran when he looked like that. "And you'll like it. It's like flying, only with your feet on the ground."

Kieran's ears twitched and he eyed Dwyn's hand, nodding slightly. "I guess. I've never flown, or sailed. But I -have- teleported... never again." What had -that- been about?

He shook his head. "Nothing like teleporting," he assured Kieran. "It's like... well, you'll find out. Come to the shop when you wake up?" His eyebrows raised in hope.

Kieran smiled softly and nodded. "Hai. But what about skates? I don't have any."

"Oh, me neither. There's a place nearby where you can rent them, a gnome who has a whole ROOMFUL," Dwyn told him.

"Really?" Kieran asked, black eyes wide. He had the air of a curious kitten, the main difference being... well, right then, there wasn't much of one. Even his tail was swaying back and forth.

Dwyn resisted the urge to scratch at the base of it, like he would have done for Taliesin. "Yeah. You can find a pair that fits you and rent them for the day."

"That'll be... well, I guess it will be fun," Kieran said with a slight smile, tilting his head as his tail swished lazily. He was completely oblivous; half the time he forgot he had a tail at all. Usually, it was a good indicator of his mood.

Dwyn bit down on his lower lip. "I like your tail," he said evenly.

Kieran blinked uncomprehendingly. Then he blushed and twisted, peering down at it. Said tail twitched teasingly. "It was an accident," Kieran explained, looking sheepish as he grabbed his tail. "I was trying to transfigure a puppy into a kitten, and I kind of got myself instead."

Dwyn gently pried his hands away from it. "You shouldn't do that," he said quietly. "Cats really hate it. I don't mind it anyway, even if it curls around me or hits me. It's normal. It's supposed to move." His nails scratched lightly at the base of Kieran's spine.

Kieran's eyes widened and he let out a little sound of surprise that well could have come from a cat. He shivered, eyes sliding shut as he melted. A low, rumbling purr rose in his throat, easily audible.

Dwyn's eyebrows raised. "You like that too?" he inquired, scratching blithely away, not seeming to realize that it could have sexual connotations as well. "The cats love it."

"Uh-huh," Kieran managed, leaning into Dwyn's hand. He didn't care if it was inappropriate; that hadn't really occurred to him yet. It just felt -so- good and it had been ages since anyone had really touched him...

"Mm-hmm," Dwyn murmured knowingly, smirking. "Lie down." He didn't wait for Kieran to comply, simply took him by the shoulders and pushed him down onto his stomach.

Kieran was in no state to resist and flopped over, still purring loudly. "What're you doing?" he asked, having the composure to twist and look up at Dwyn with glazed-over black eyes. His tail swished through the air like a furry flag, twitching back and forth.

"This," Dwyn told him easily, running his hands up Kieran's back and kneeling beside him as he dug the heels of his hands in along his spine, fingers probing and searching for knots in the muscles. He knew where he'd find them - around his shoulders and neck, from so much reading. But he worked his way methodically up Kieran's back anyway, humming under his breath as he did so.

Kieran groaned and buried his face in the pillow. "You can stop that never," he mumbled, closing his eyes and submitting himself to Dwyn's ministrations.

"Do you mind if I move the tunic up? I'll rub your skin raw if I don't, and have to stop sooner," Dwyn told him, knuckles digging with blissful pain into the muscles just beneath Kieran's shoulderblades.

In response, Kieran grabbed the shoulders of his tunic and pulled it up, exposing an expanse of unnaturally pale flesh... and a set of old, thick scars that would be from nothing but a whip in sharp relief.

Dwyn's eyes widened, but from his position, Kieran couldn't see it. He almost said something, but his intuition rebelled against that, so he bit his lip and kept his mouth shut. Instead he shifted to straddle Kieran's thighs and leaned over his back, hands moving firmly and gently from his lower back up his spine, encountering very little resistence, since those were not the muscles that were routinely abused. He continued to hum under under his breath, lips forming half-words from time to time. "'..powers of...... nd and sea, be obedient to me..... powers of ..... blade..... s the charge is ma......"

Kieran had completely forgotten they were there, as he often did, and he just whimpered softly. That felt really good, even if it felt kind of weird. His tail wound itself around Dwyn's leg and he purred softly. He might as well have been a pile of jelly. Kieran had the tendency to turn into a bundle of purring, immobile kitten when touched in the right way. More muscles than Dwyn would have expected to be were tense; Kieran spent long hours with precise experiments and books, but he also trained rigorously with his staff and shortbow.

Dwyn didn't remark on it. He simply continued to hum that haunting, smooth melody under his breath, knuckles, heels of his hands, fingertips and thumbs moving over Kieran's back as his warm weight held him down. He moved progressively up the other boy's spine, leaning into the motions, digging deep.

"Dear gods, this is better than sex," Kieran groaned, stretching out and purring madly. It really did feel good, and as a muscle twinged in his back, loosening tension, it made his whole body feel better. He was a bit too relaxed to pay attention to what he was saying, though. Ever the downfall of the cute and innocent.

"You would know?" Dwyn teased, sounding curious at the same time. He dug his knuckles into the backs of Kieran's shoulders, encountering even tighter muscles there that he worked to loosen. "REALLY wish I had some rose hip oil," he muttered under his breath.

Kieran's eyes snapped open as he realized what he'd said. "Um... well..." he hedged. Was it really that odd to have had sex? He was distracted from the rest of what Dwyn was saying; a bit sad, too, because he had some soothing oils with his alchemy equipment. Of course, if he'd heard it, it would have caused him to burst into giggles, upon which he'd have had to explain what was so funny.

"Oh, you don't have to tell me," Dwyn assured him, laughing. "It's just a surprise. Partially because we're the same age, and partially because you just never seemed social enough. But what do I know? Is there somebody back home?"

Kieran was regretting opening his mouth, but now he was committed. His throat seized up when he tried to lie, but he felt a bit uneasy. When would Dwyn stop asking questions? This was more delicate than perfecting the sigils for a major summoning. "We grew apart," he said softly. "Had to seperate. Knew h- her my whole life, so me being anti-social wasn't much of a problem." His back had tensed up quite a bit and his tail had unwound itself to swish back and forth rapidly.

"Sorry. I won't ask anymore," Dwyn told him gently as he returned to Kieran's back, working without complaint to relax all of those muscles again.

"It's okay. I'm just not really used to talking to anyone about anything important," Kieran admitted softly, systematically forcing his body back into a state of relaxation. The muscles in his back twitched and loosened much more as he put his body into a light meditative trance, a low purr rising from him once again. His tail slowed its frantic twitching and swayed teasingly, tickling Dwyn's hands and arms.

"Well, if you're not going to tell the truth, you really should just not say anything," Dwyn told him. "I don't mind if you tell me it's none of my business. I know I'm nosy," he said a little sheepishly, one hand pausing to stroke along Kieran's tail as it tickled his arms, scratching along the back of it.

"Oh, no, you'd know if I was lying. I'm absolutely horrid at it," Kieran confessed. Or he would have, if Dwyn hadn't touched his tail. Instead, he let out a little cry and shivered, tail curling itself into Dwyn's hand.

Dwyn stroked the tail gently, his other hand having found its way to the base of Kieran's neck and now digging into the sides of it.

Kieran moaned into the pillow, a throbbingly loud purr rising from him as he trembled. At that point, he was rendered completely immobile, able to do little more than breathe... and even that took effort.

Finally, Dwyn unwound his hand from Kieran's tail and pushed the knuckles of both into his neck, rubbing and digging until the muscles were forced to loosen, resuming his little song, sung under his breath as he shifted.

It was probably a good thing that Dwyn stopped stroking Kieran's tail; the boy had been about to go insane. Now he relaxed, tail twining around Dwyn's waist as the wizard let the witch rub him into oblivion.

Dwyn continued humming quietly. He moved over his shoulders, and then down his arms, his chest pressing very lightly against Kieran's back as he had to lean down to reach. "Feel better?" he inquired cheerfully.

Kieran nodded, still purring happily. It had taken no small amount of self control to refrain from making a somewhat sticky mess, but he'd done so and even managed to banish the budding erection that had spawned itself when Dwyn had petted his tail. "Much," he mumbled, still mostly incoherent.

Dwyn nodded and switched from rubbing to scratching. His nails ran lightly over Kieran's back, just barely touching, causing his skin to prickle in anticipation as he picked his fingertips lifting and then brushing over his muscles again.

Kieran shivered and stretched felinely, fingers brushing against the wall above his head as he purred, arching into Dwyn's touch. He really was a tactile little thing, and he liked being touched, in any way.

Dwyn moved all the way down to the base of his tail, scratching around it absently, watching and listening to Kieran's enjoyment of the action. The boy seemed to come to life when Dwyn had him like this. He didn't worry about being rude or about how he looked or sounded, he was so caught up in the bliss. It was nice, Dwyn decided, to see him without armor, so to speak.

A soft moan rippled forth from Kieran's throat and he rubbed his cheek against the pillow as his tail loosened its hold on Dwyn to sway lazily in the air. It had been far too long since he'd been petted, and he missed it dearly.

Dwyn's hand closed loosely around his tail, fingertips scratching the top of it as he worked his way to the tip, nails digging in harder so they could get through the fur at the base as his other hand stayed there to scratch.

Kieran moaned louder, the tip of his tail flicking back and forth as his purr grew louder. It really wasn't a good idea to let Dwyn do this, but gods, that felt so good... and he could make him stop before anything got out of hand... mmm... purrrr....

"Awwww, kitty," Dwyn chuckled, his hand roaming back up Kieran's back and scratching at his head gently, fingers moving through his hair.

Kieran leaned into Dwyn's hand, black eyes tightly shut. He was still in control of himself, wasn't he? He didn't want to lose control and do anything stupid. But it was rare that anyone touched his tail or petted him like that, especially now that he was away from home, and he didn't want the other boy to stop. Ever.

"So you feel just fine in them?" Dwyn inquired softly, his fingers moving up Kieran's head, nearer and nearer to his ears. "That's amazing."

"In wha?" Kieran mumbled, somehow managing to speak through his purr. One ear twitched, but Kieran didn't seem to mind. Yet.

"In the ears and the tail," Dwyn said. "You have full feeling in them, just as if they were supposed to be there." His fingers scratched between Keiran's ears.

"Actually, they're... mmm... much more sensitive... than the rest... of my body," Kieran said softly, words slurred as he melted completely, tilting his head into Dwyn's hand.

Dwyn complied with the tilt. he had lots of practice with how, exactly, to massage a cat's ears and he rubbed the base of one of Kieran's. But, heeding the statement that they were VERY sensitive, he did it gently and skillfully, thumb rubbing along the base, the muscles that allowed them to swivel and turn.

Kieran froze, his eyes opening wide. "Don't," he said helplessly, a shiver in his tone. "Gods, not... not the ears..." he whimpered, trembling. He could feel every little twitch of Dwyn's fingers, could feel the blood pulsing under the other's skin. His ears were incredibly sensitive indeed, usually to the point of pain when touched. He'd never let anyone touch them, not even Caden or his fathers, though they'd been accidentally touched, or yanked on by bullies. He was surprised to realize that it didn't hurt now.

Dwyn's hands immedietly moved off. "Did that hurt?" he asked quietly, though there was a certain tone of disbelief in his voice that said he wouldn't quite believe it if it did. After all, he hadn't even rubbed the the thinner, more delicate parts.

Kieran thought fast. He was sprawled over his bed and Dwyn was sitting on top of him. So far, he'd been completely vulnerable and let the other boy do whatever he wanted. But touching his ears was something nobody did, no matter how vulnerable he let himself be. As he thought about that, he frowned. The reason he didn't let people touch them was because it hurt. When Dwyn touched them, it didn't hurt. Didn't that make his reason for disallowing it pointless? "...No," he admitted in a tiny voice. It had actually felt quite good, and that scared him. Was it something to do with Dwyn's being a witch?

Dwyn breathed a sigh of relief, but didn't try to touch them again. "Okay, good." His hands left Kieran's head and tail and moved back to his back, thumbs brushing over the lines of scar tissue.

"What're you doing?" Kieran asked, craning his neck to look back. He felt somewhat relieved that Dwyn had chosen to let his ears alone. He wasn't sure what he'd do at this point.

"Nothing, really," he admitted, rubbing along the thick line of one scar absently. "This doesn't hurt, does it?"

"No... I can barely feel it. Almost tickles," Kieran said, sounding confused.

Dwyn nodded. "Okay, good," he said again, fingers rubbing along them, drawing his nails along them once or twice to see if Kieran felt that or reacted to it.

It did kind of tickle, and Kieran twitched once or twice. "-What- are you doing?" he demanded, struggling to bend his neck so he could see.

"Just fooliing around," Dwyn told him, sounding confused that Kieran was so adhemant about it. "Sorry. I'll quit." He eased his weight off of Kieran's legs and sat on the bed again, knees drawn up.

"No, it's okay. I'm just trying to figure out..." Kieran started, then trailed off. He sat up and twisted to look at Dwyn, an apprehensive look on his face. He'd remembered just what was on his back. "Never mind," he mumbled, looking down and pulling his tunic over them.

Dwyn's hands folded in his lap and he rocked back and forth slightly, eyeing Kieran troubledly.

After a moment, Kieran turned, peering up at Dwyn. "I..." he said. Then he realized that he didn't know what to say and shut his mouth, ears flattening back against his head. What had he done wrong?

"I wasn't going to ask," Dwyn assured him quickly. "I just..... I don't know. I was just playing with them. A restless thing."

"So what's wrong, then?" Kieran asked in a small voice, dark eyes wide as his lips curved into a pout.

"Well, it's just.... you didn't seem to mind before. So.... 'what's wrong' is kind of what I'd like to know." He looked a little guilty.

"I... kind of forgot about them. It was a long time ago. But it's... I don't know... humiliating?" Kieran sounded unsure of himself. "To have them. If I'd remembered, I wouldn't have... you know... made you..."

Dwyn blinked. "You didn't make me do anything! If I didn't want to give you a back rub, I'm old enough to SAY I don't want to. Besides, what's so humilating about them? I didn't make anything out of them."

"When I remember that they're there, I remember how I got them. It's not you, really. And it is kind of shameful... to think that I couldn't, you know, avoid it." Kieran sounded somewhat despondent.

Dwyn scoffed. "Why? You're a kid. There are people out there who are bigger and stronger than you and there's nothing you can do about it, so why care? Obviously you got away or something like that, so why not just.... move on?"

"I did," Kieran protested. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything." He looked down, tail swaying still in a rather subdued fashion.

"It's okay," Dwyn assured him, voice soft. "I just didn't know why you were embarassed. You don't have to be, around me."

Kieran glanced up, a light in those black eyes. "Thanks," he said softly, a shy smile teasing his lips. He really wasn't good at the whole friend thing.

"For what?" Dwyn asked dryly. "Treating you like a person?"

"No," said Kieran, and this time the knowing smile was his. "Just thanks."

Dwyn shrugged and smiled at him, still rocking back and forth on his bed. "Well, you're welcome," he said, accepting the lack of explanation and not pushing Kieran any harder. "Now, relax. I'm not going to bite you. Do you want me to go home?"

"Well, I.. I've had a lot of fun talking to you today, but it's getting late," Kieran said, glancing at the tiny stone whose magically-cast shadow told the time. Then he looked at it again. "Oh, dear, late is an understatement. It's past midnight. I've got a class in seven hours. But," he held up a finger, looking comically imposing, "you're not leaving here without at least one of these books. I'm sure you'll find the time to read it, ne?"

Dwyn smiled deeply. "We'll see," he said noncomittally. But since Kieran had finally given him an order, he took it, sliding off the bed and wandering through the stacks of books before selecting a history of a city he'd never heard of.

Kieran smiled brightly. "And you're still going to drag me skating, aren't you?" he asked, just a hint of a tease in his voice. "Come on, I'd better walk you out. You'll never find your way on your own." Indeed, the trip up here had been like a picnic in a labyrinth.

"Okay," Dwyn agreed, clutching the book to his chest and pulling his cloak around him.

Kieran ran a finger along the doorframe, and it sparkled with little black flashes of energy as he opened it. He nearly bounded out, wired with energy even at this time of night. His tiny body was silent on the floorboards, though, and he grinned back at Dwyn. "We've got to be quiet. It's -way- past curfew," he murmured tonelessly, gesturing down the hall. Dwyn nodded and followed him in absolute silence.

Kieran led the way, a small, fleet shadow. Only every thirteenth lantern was still lit, and it was a long way down the twisting corridors to the door. He kept quiet, and the trip there was surreal, and had no concrete sense of time. When they reached the door, Kieran frowned. They'd locked it, but it was a small side door, the lock easily picked. Or, in Kieran's case, spelled Open. He drew a fingertip down the lock and its tumblers clicked open, prompting a smile from the boy. He turned to Dwyn. "Good night," he purred softly.

Dwyn smiled at him, cloak still wrapped around him. "Merry part," he said quietly. "Until we merrily meet again." He leaned forward and brushed his lips over Kieran's cheek, then forged his way out into the snow before Kieran had time to react to it.

A blush blossomed on Kieran's cheeks. The nekojin stared out the door for a very long time, black eyes wide, flummoxed.

Chapter three: Here inside this frozen silence do two hearts become but one

Dwyn yawned, chin on both hands, his usual pose when he was minding the shop except that at this moment, his weary and bloodshot eyes were focused on the blurring words in front of him. He'd known he was supposed to sleep the night before, but he just couldn't. He read fast, but the book was a thick one, and he hated to put it down when finishing it would put another book in his hands. He was nearing the end though, even though he'd barely gotten ANY sleep in the last few days. he'd been hoping to be able to give it back to Kieran today, but it looked like he would have no such luck.

But Kieran wouldn't mind at all, and as the haunting chime over the door rang, the boy slipped through the door, prowling up to the counter and peering toward it hopefully. He'd found sleep the last night or two, though some of the strangest dreams -ever-, with he and Dwyn in a huge stone cavern whose walls danced with rainbow fires, had made that sleep fitful. Still, Kieran was accustomed to sleeping as little as possible, so he was relatively chipper that bright winter morning. "Ohayo gozaimasu," he trilled.

Dwyn jumped nearly three feet off his chair. "WHA... OH, Kieran." He let out a releived sigh, then scolded mildly, "You startled me!" He'd been deep into his reading, his eyes wide, his jaw slightly slack. His lips were a bit plumper and softer-looking when he was like that, and his entire face took on an INTENSE look of concentration that would have been frightening had it been fixed on anything other than the harmless words in front of him.

Kieran grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Didn't think you were that into it. You like?" he asked hopefully, bouncing up and smiling at Dwyn. He was dresed in at least three layers of warm clothing, all in dark blue or purple, and had braided his hair back. It hung in a thick rope past his butt. His tail was assumably uner his clothing, but his ears were free and perked.

Dwyn smiled widely and nodded, then took in Kieran's attire and laughed. "Are you going to be able to move in all that?" he asked as he regretfully put the book down and rubbed his eyes, letting out a sigh and sinking wearily into his chair.

"Of course," Kieran said. Then he tilted his head, studying Dwyn intently. "You're exhausted. Here." He held out a hand mysteriously.

Dwyn smiled wryly at him, knowledge dancing in those golden eyes, and took Kieran's hand without hesitation.

Kieran let loose on the swirling mass of energy that was always there within him, a shimmering, seething reservoir the color of night black and deep indigo, and poured it right into Dwyn, as much as the other boy could hold, without so much as a flinch or dimming of his smile.

Dwyn gasped and his fingers tightened hard on Kieran's, the way a person's might do if they gripped an electrified peice of metal. He twitched several times, his other hand shakily raising and curling into a fist against his chest.

Kieran eased off, having barely tapped what was there. He sealed it within again, rolling his shoulders and carefully releasing Dwyn's hand. "Better?" he asked hopefully.

"I've never heard of a spell like that," Dwyn told him, wrapping his arms around himself and shivering vigorously as his muscles fought to be rid of some of the excess energy. When he was tired, he was hyper anyway... Kieran had managed to overload him.

"Oh, it's not a spell. I just... I don't know, I've got lots of energy. I learned to channel it when I was little," Kieran said, shrugging. That had actually been what had interested him in magic in the first place. He knew he had that energy; he could -feel- it, and after learning to bend it to his will, magic was... well, it was a whole lot more interesting.

Dwyn hiked an eyebrow, looking immedietly keen, as if Kieran had given him an idea. "You do?"

Kieran nodded, eyeing Dwyn warily. The glow in his eyes couldn't mean anything good.

Dwyn nodded thoughtfully, then surged up off his chair. "Well, let's go! I need to get my mom.... come on." He whirled and bounded up the stairs.

Kieran shrugged and followed, figuring that if Dwyn's mother would agree, then it couldn't be anything -too- crazy and was henceforth safe. "She wasn't mad at you for getting home so late, was she?" he asked, sounding somewhat apologetic as he flew up the stairs behind Dwyn.

"Nah, I told you she wouldn't be!" Dwyn told him, bursting into the living room where Sabbath was curled up with a book of her own. "Mom, Kieran's here!"

Kieran slipped in behind Dwyn, giving Sabbath a shy smile and slight wave. "Good morning."

Sabbath shrugged. "Okay. Go get dressed then," she told him reasonably, shutting her book and standing to head for the stairs. She flashed Kieran a smile. "Yes. Good morning."

Kieran glanced at Dwyn, wondering what his friend's big idea had been. But Dwyn had never SAID anything about an idea. He simply went off to put a few more layers on, as Sabbath gracefully descended the stairs to the shop.

Of course, having lived with Caden for most of his life had given Kieran a healthy appreciation for that glint in a boy's eyes. He let it go for now, though, and decided to follow Sabbath downstairs, feeling quite uncomfortable just standing alone in their living room.

Sabbath settled herself behind the counter and smirked slightly at Kieran. "You feel nervous," she told him. Not 'you LOOK nervous', but 'you FEEL nervous'. Her smile was amused.

"Only a little," Kieran admitted, looking up at her curiously. His uncle Schuld did things like that, but he doubted Sabbath was telepathic. Perhaps something similar or related?

"Is it because you don't know how to skate or because you don't know how to socialize? Because if it's the latter, believe me, my son will talk enough for both of you," she told him cheerfully.

"It's a little but of both. I know how to socialize; I just avoid doing so. And I'm sure Dwyn will be rambling at thrice his usual speed, too. I think I gave him too much," he said with a slightly sheepish smile.

"Gave him too much what?" Sabbath inquired, black-painted nails drumming lightly on the wood.

"Energy," Kieran said absently, peering toward the stairs.

"And why did you go giving my son energy, hmm? He already has enough to power a city and drive me to distraction."

"He was tired, and it was my fault," Kieran said, glancing up at Sabbath. "So... I just did."

Her lips quirked upward at the corners as she hovered one hand near him, the backs of her fingers turned in his direction as though she was feeling for a fever. "Hmph," was her only reaction, along with the slight widening of that smile, and then she tossed her hair carelessly.

Kieran blinked and stared at her for a long moment, bemused. Apparently, it was a universal thing with women to be cryptic. Calliope was good at it, but Sabbath had it down to an art. He was confuzzled. He decided it didn't matter, though, and just smiled a little bit. Just smile and nod.

Dwyn came bounding back down the stairs then in a riot of motion and noise. He was bundled up, a knit cap pulled down tightly over his ears and a scarf around his neck alone with his silver-lined cloak. "Ready!" He announced, then swept up to his mother and kissed her on the cheek, his hand clasping hers oddly just for a moment. "Bye mom!"

Kieran suppressed a giggle as he watched Dwyn. "I don't think you're human. More like a whirlwind with legs," he teased, grinning at the other boy. "Goodbye, m'lady," he said politely, opening the door and ducking outside.

"Have a good day, both of you!" she called after them, and Dwyn waved at her with one hand. the other having closed around Kieran's wrist as he dragged him enthusiastically toward the river.

Kieran skipped along with Dwyn, well accustomed to being dragged along at full velocity by whirlwinds possessed of legs. Caden easily fit that category as well. "Off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of oz," he caroled lightly. His voice sounded like a kitten's meow, light and breathy and pretty.

Dwyn looked back at him and laughed. "What?"

Kieran laughed and shook his head. "It's a line of a song in a play," he explained. "I saw it with my uncle Schuldig. It's about this girl who gets swept up by a tornado and thrown into a magical, crazy land which then proceeds to do its best to kill her. And supposedly the wizard of Oz - that's the land she ends up in - can send her home again."

"Aw, how cheerful," Dwyn said wryly, tugging Kieran over the bride of one of the thin streams that branched off of the river and toward the main body. It was not frozen, but thanks to the attentions of Silverymoon's wizards, the actual river would be. "Wizards are good at transport," he said flatly.

Kieran shuddered. "Yes, but it's horrible. Nothing worse than a teleport to wreak havoc on the stomach," he muttered, looking vaguely disgruntled. Then he brightened, ears perking up as his breath frosted in the air. "So how good are you at this skating stuff?"

Dwyn laughed shakily. "Actually, I'm not all THAT good," he confessed. "But it's fun. I love it. And if I'm not afraid of falling on my ass, I can go REALLY fast for a stretch."

Kieran laughed. "Don't worry. I'll make you look like a professional, I'm sure," he said amusedly, bouncing along.

Dwyn laughed. "Maybe. You get the hang of it really quickly, though!"

"I hope so. My butt can only take so much abuse before it-" Kieran cut off, giggling.

Dwyn snickered. "Nah, butts are made to fall on," he teased, spotting the river and a score of people gaily dressed in winter wear already making good use of the thick ice. "Come ON!" He bolted off with renewed enthusiasm.

"I get the feeling that I'll end up regretting at least part of this," Kieran said to himself, but his tone was cheerful despite his morbid words. He swept off after Dwyn, easily passing up the other boy as he sprinted toward the river. "Last one there's a rotten egg!"

Dwyn was, indeed, the last one there, and showed some amazement at Kieran's speed. "Wow," he said, "You run fast. Good thing, though, for a wizard," he teased as he brought Kieran with him to the little gnome's shop.

"Oh, it's nothing. I -did- spend most of my life running from my big sister," Kieran grinned. He seemed to be wired himself, though on his own energy or merely happiness was a wild guess.

Dwyn snickered and sat down, picking up a pair of skates that looked like they might fit him. They were made of hardened, cured leather that laced up with well-woven cord in the front to secure his ankles, and he had thick socks on under his boots.

Kieran watched Dwyn and then followed his lead, scooping up some skates. They were notably heavier than shoes, and as he tugged off his low boots, he inspected the runner. The design was interesting, but he wasn't in that mood today, and so the skates found their way onto his double-socked feet in almost no time at all. He'd expected them to be a bit too big, but all the sock made up for it, and they were snug around his ankles.

Dwyn stood up. wobbling a bit, but mostly secure, on his own skates, and checked the tightness of Kieran's laces before giving him a grin and a thumbs-up.

Kieran stood and almost fell right back over again, but he caught himself and held still for a moment, assessing them. Like this, his center of balance was shifted a little bit, moved forward... so if he leaned forward, he shouldn't fall. When he took a tentative step, he didn't tumble, but he didn't look incredibly steady.

Dwyn offered his hand. "Come on," he urged. "Let's get onto the ice. They're actually easier to walk on out there. You slide... like you're shuffling. I'll show you."

Kieran nodded trustingly and took Dwyn's hand, clinging to him tightly. He didn't think it would be too bad, but one never knew.

They hobbled out toward the river and down the decline, Dwyn losing his balance and falling once or twice, but laughing the entire way and not at all seeming to mind. Once they got onto the ice, which was already scored all over with thin lines from the skates of others, he seemed more confident. He slid one foot forward and glided, taking a few sliding steps before stumbling to a stop and grinning at Kieran.

Kieran eyed the ice calculatingly. It was cold and he didn't want to be, so he was not going to fall. With that bit of determination, he stepped onto the ice... and promptly fell right on his ass.

Dwyn laughed braced himself to help Kieran back to his feet. "This is where all that clothing comes in handy," he joked. "Come on. You have to be perfectly still to not fall, or you have to be moving. So chose which it will be."

Kieran clambered to his feet and found his balance, leaning forward a little bit. "I think... Well, if I fall, I probably won't break anything, so whatever," he said. "How do I... go?"

"Push with your rear foot and slide on your forward foot," Dwyn told him, demonstrating. "Like this. Keep your foot straight ahead. Don't try to step... glide."

Kieran nodded and did exactly as Dwyn said, gaining momentum and moving without falling. Once he got started, it was much easier to keep going, though it was hard to turn, and he was quite agile in the skates after he grew accustomed to moving in such a fashion.

Dwyn snorted. "Make me look proffessional.... riiiiight," he muttered as he managed to keep up, not doing much better or much worse. He was conditioned as a warrior, yes, but he'd been taught to let his strength and his inability to feel pain - something he hadn't shared with kieran yet - carry the day. His father was as quick as a whippet and could move in ways no feeling human could, but Dwyn's upbringing had been quite different. His mind was only fractured, not shattered, and that fracture was a flaw that he saw as beautiful, as a part of him that made him unlike anybody else. He was not a murderer, though sometimes he had a hard time feeling guilty about causing pain to people who, in his mind, deserved it. He was not mad. He was not his father. Though there was certainly a resemblance, it was his mother that he took after most strongly, and Sabbath, he thought, had the love he'd spoken to Kieran about a few nights ago. Sometimes it was overwhelmed by hatred for a world that had long refused to accept her or give her a place to belong, but most of the times, that love kept her in check. She was touched by the Goddess, he truly believed, when even years and years of pain couldn't override a totally natural drive to care about the world, despite her knowing better.

Kieran was actually somewhat of a natural when it came to anything to do with balance. Being genetically engineered had its benefits, after all; he was incredibly dexterous, much like the cat he resembled, and that was but the tip of the iceberg, as it were. He was strong, smart, tenacious, and, of course, beautiful. He never thought anything of it, though, and as he slowly curved around in a wide arc to face Dwyn again, he was smiling brightly, ears folded over in the cold. "Look, Dwyn, no hands!" he crowed, waveringly lifting his hands into the air before him.

"And you so OBVIOUSLY need hands to skate," Dwyn shot back, grinning at him even though Kieran was doing much better than even he was - he couldn't even turn. "Try a little speed," he suggested devilishly.

Kieran eyed the ice and then smirked at Dwyn. "Alright," he said sweetly, moving faster. He got going and careened down the river at a pace that was just fast enough to be considered fast, making sure he would have plenty of room to slow down, laughing as he went.

Dwyn laughed and did his best to fall in behind him, holding back because he knew if he went too fast he'd either crash into Kieran or wind up on his ass.

Kieran turned then, a tight turn that had him curving around in a small circle. He grabbed at Dwyn's arm as the other boy went whizzing by him, pulling him into a spin to stop him and miraculously keeping them both from falling as they spun on the ice.

Dwyn let out a cry of unease, but managed to stay on his feet with Kieran's help. "Aggg..... Kieran...."

Kieran laughed, the sound echoing over the river, dampened by the snow on its banks. "What?" he inquired innocently, black eyes sparkling. He held onto Dwyn tightly, keeping him close to keep them balanced.

"I'm not as good at this as you are," Dwyn admitted shamelessly. "And you're REALLY good. Where'd you learn to skate?"

"My sister used to practice her swordwork on ice, but I've only ever walked on it. I guess it's just luck, huh?" he said with a wink. "'Cause I'm nothing special."

"THAT'S a lie," Dwyn muttered as he pulled away from Kieran and promptly fell flat on his back.

"Really! I've never skated before," Kieran insisted, eyes wide as he offered Dwyn a hand up.

Dwyn smiled. "I know you haven't, I was teasing you," he assured him.

"Oh," Kieran said sheepishly, smiling slightly. "Are you getting back up, or not?" he asked lightly, black eyes dancing.

Dwyn shrugged. "Nah, it's nice down here. Why don't you come and see?" He surged forward and grabbed Kieran's ankles, pushing him backward so he'd most likely fall forward, onto Dwyn.

Arms windmilling wildly, Kieran tumbled onto Dwyn with a little shriek of surprise. He landed smack on top of the other boy, but he hardly weighed anything, so it wasn't noticeably painful. "What was that for?" he demanded, putting his hands on Dwyn's shoulders and staring at him.

Dwyn just grinned. "Because it's so NICE down here, I just HAD to share it with you," he cooed, and promptly tackled Kieran.

Kieran squeaked and curled up, trying to wriggle free but not succeeding. He ended up sat upon, back pressed to the ice as he glared up at the other boy. "You're mean," he accused, not really serious.

Dwyn grinned down at him. Kieran might have been faster, but he was most likely the stronger of the two. "Awww, poor kitty," he said, patting Kieran on the forehead.

Kieran pursed his lips. "This kitty has claws, you know," he growled, voice low and husky. He struggled to get away, but he was indeed less puissant than Dwyn and so remained trapped.

"I'm used to being clawed, I HAVE five cats, remember?" Dwyn said contentedly, still pinning him. "Are you gonna bite me, kitten?" he inquired impishly.

Kieran finally pulled his arms free and flexed his fingers. "I just might," he said lightly. "But first... I'm going to tickle you." And with that, his hands dove for the other boy's torso, shimmying up under his clothes to mercilessly attack his sides.

Dwyn's jaw tightened and he squirmed once, then let out a shuddering breath, teeth still gritted as he stayed absolutely still under Kieran's attempted assault. "That's COLD," he managed.

Kieran pouted, an saddeningly adorable look as his lower lip stuck out and his eyes peered up at Dwyn mournfully. "So is the ice on my back," he mumbled pitifully, big, dark eyes irresistible. He removed his hands, though, and folded his arms over his chest, tucking his fingers into his armpits.

Dwyn smirked. "You know," he said conversationally, "People who try to tickle other people are most often.... ticklish themselves!" He thrust his fingers up under Kieran's clothing and drew them down his sides, wiggling them featherlight against his skin.

Kieran giggled. "I am, a little bit," he laughed, twitching. He took the chance to shift his weight, trying to buck Dwyn right off of him and writhe free.

Dwyn let him do it, rolling obligingly off of him and onto his own back on the ice.

Kieran shifted away, sitting up and peering down at Dwyn. "Hello there," he said warmly.

Dwyn grinned and stretched on the ice. "Merry meet," he said gamely. "Haven't we met somewhere before?"

"No... no, I can't say we have," said Kieran blithely, grinning brightly in return.

"Well, then, this must be some kind of luck," Dwyn told him. "I'm Dwyn O'Connaillain, Son of Hecate. Blessed be."

Kieran burst into giggles, unable to keep the charade any longer. He collapsed on top of Dwyn, falling over the other boy and heaving with laughter.

Dwyn wound his arms around him, hugging him and nuzzling into his shoulder with a giggle. "Aren't you getting kind of intimate for never having met me before?"

"Oooh, baby," Kieran managed, shortly before lapsing into giggles again as he buried his face in Dwyn's chest.

Dwyn snickered wildly. "Mmm, kitten," he purred back. "I think that's what I'll call you. Kitten."

"S'what Daddy calls 'tousan," Kieran told him, still giggling. "Koneko desu." One tufted black ear flicked backward.

Dwyn's eyebrow hiked. "Hm?"

"Koneko desu. It means kitten. Well, koneko means kitten, but still. It's nihongo," Kieran explained.

"I've never heard of that language," Dwyn told him.

"It's my 'tousan's language. He's from another dimension," Kieran informed him, smiling.

"Another..... dimension? Like Elysium? Or the Abyss?"

"Actually, it's another world, a lot like this one. Kind of like another planet, you know? Neither of my parents was born here on Faerun." Kieran shrugged. He knew more otherworlders than Torilian natives, he sometimes thought.

"They weren't? I've never heard of another world like that," he said. "How did they get HERE?"

"Interdimensional portals. FASCINATING things, really. They open up, not into the Astral Plane or back onto the Material Plane like most portals, but they reach out for places that are similar. It's like... kind of like alternate realities. It's complicated stuff, but I love it." Indeed, Kieran's eyes glowed when he spoke of it.

Dwyn nodded. "It explains a lot," he said after a moment. He was still resting on his back on the ice, oddly comfortable, with kieran nestled into his arms.

"How so?" Kieran inquired, tilting his head curiously. He was more than happy to snuggle into Dwyn; the other boy made an excellent pillow.

"It just does," he said simply, and then shifted. "Come on, are we going to skate?"

"Not until you tell me what what explains," Kieran said calmly, acquiring a death grip on Dwyn and refusing to let go, move, or allow the other to get up.

"I don't KNOW," Dwyn told him frustratedly. he probably could have dislodged Kieran, but he didn't want to hurt him to do so. "It just fits in nicely with all the other puzzle peices."

Kieran sighed and released Dwyn, shifting and getting to his knees, then his feet, and offering Dwyn halp standing up.

Dwyn scrambled up on his own, shaking himself out. "Come on," he said, skating off.

Kieran bit his lip. He hadn't meant to make Dwyn angry. He stood there, looking forlorn as he watched the other skate away.

Dwyn didn't seem angry. As soon as Kieran got off him, his frustration seemed to vanish. He was, however, anxious to move, and move he did moving in slow, tentative circles. And more circles. And more circles. In fact, as Kieran watched, Dwyn somehow managed to fall into a whole 'nother world, eyes blankly focused on continueing to circle, the ice equivalent of mindless pacing.

Kieran stared at Dwyn for a long moment before leaning forward and pushing off himself. He skated all the way to the edge of the river and stopped a yard from the bank. Then, he skated toward the corner of the frozen portion of the river. When he got there, he turned tightly and faced the long stretch of ice. He crouched and pushed off again, shooting off and picking up more speed as he went. By the time he'd gone a hundred yards, he was moving pretty quickly, and this far out to the edge, he didn't have to worry about dodging in and around other people. He laughed wildly, braid flying behind him as he zoomed down the river.

Dwyn heard his laugh and it seemed to shatter his stupor. Looking up, he laughed as Kieran flew down the river, tempted to grab his braid and see if he would be dragged along. He didn't though. His hands were firmly in his pockets as he watched, and grinned.

Kieran was quickly approaching the other end of the 'rink', as it were, and he knew he wouldn't be able to stop. So he calculated and prayed and pulled into a screeching turn at the last minute, sending up a spray of ice as he turned in place and almost fell over.

Dwyn shook his head. "If you fall into that water," he said dryly, "You're going to be a VERY sad kitten."

"Overcompensated," he said, looking a bit -too- nonchalant. "And there was -no- way I'd fall. I'd have veered into the bank first," he said, gesturing to the snowdrifts on eiher side of the river.

"Cutting it a little close for THAT," Dwyn told him, one slender brow hiking.

Kieran grinned sheepishly. "I noticed," he said, lifting a hand to lightly rub one of his very cold ears.

Dwyn smirked. "Ah, it's okay. I'd have pulled you out.... and let MOM deal with your drenched and shivering ass."

"I wouldn't have fallen," Kieran insisted. "Even if I had to cheat."

"That's a really short fall, kitten. Not long enough for spellcasting," Dwyn told him. "Believe me. I know."

"I was casting as soon as I realized I couldn't stop," Kieran said dryly. "When did -you- fall in?"

"When I was five,"Dwyn told him. "I came here with my mom. I was trying to go fast and I bumped into somebody and rebounded. They felt so guilty after she jumped in to pull me out. She couldn't reach me from the edge and she didn't cast... I guess she wasn't thinking. Anyway, like I said, they felt SO guilty, but mom never comes down on anybody when they're sorry and it wasn't their fault anyway. She took me home and stuffed me full of hot tea and made me take a hot bath."

Nodding slowly, Kieran skated back toward Dwyn. "Yup, that definitely sucked. I don't like water much at all, but ice cold water?" Kieran shivered. "No way." His ears were frozen. He knew it.

Dwyn smirked slightly. "Yeah, it sucked," he agreed pliably. "So don't fall in. Giving good advice is a useless power if nobody takes it," he said chantingly.

"Your mum says that a lot, doesn't she?" Kieran inquired, tilting his head.

He nodded. "Yep. Usually when someone doesn't take her advice and gets hurt because of it," he warned.

Kieran bit his lip. "Gomen ne," he offered, looking suitbly penitent.

"You weren't going to ignore me were you?" he said sternly.

Kieran shook his head. "No, nekkyou."

"Well, then, don't look so apologetic," he said "You should always take a Witch's advice. It's one of our thirteen," he explained, which really didn't explain anything, and then he skated off again.

Kieran shrugged. He'd pry it out of Dwyn eventually, so he could wait. He cupped his hands around his ears to protect them from the biting wind and set off to do big, looping figure eights.

They skated for hours, Dwyn never seeming to tire of the sport. "Let's go get hot chocolate," Dwyn suggested finally, sitting in the packed snow on the riverbank. "And then go sledding!"

A slow smile spread over Kieran's face, one with a bit more madness than he'd yet displayed. "Sledding?" he inquired lightly. Stonesbreach was, after all, a -valley-, and up north, where snow was plentiful. Corus had broken almost as many bones sledding as jumping out of trees, and it had been one of the few outdoor things that Kieran tackled, screaming with glee and careening down a miniature mountainside.

Dwyn nodded enthusiastically. "There's a ravine a mile or so outside the gates. Everybody goes sledding there."

"We used to set up courses down the valley through the forest. My oldest brother smacked into so many trees I think it permanently scrambled his wits," Kieran confided, grinning.

Dwyn laughed. "No trees, " he promised. "Just lots of people."

"Even better. Moving targets!" Kieran laughed. "Well, not really... but still. Takes even more skill not to smack into 'em. Did you say something about hot chocolate?"

"Mom makes it BEST," Dwyn said enthusiastically, with the fervor of the convicted. "We'll go home and warm up and then put on dry clothes and get the sled... I've got one that will seat both of us."

"Okay," Kieran said, smiling brightly. He offered his frozen-fingered hand to Dwyn. "I think I'd like to learn what 'warm' is again anyway."

Dwyn smiled and took his hand, pulling it up under his tunic and pressing it against his stomach, where burning warmth had pooled. "Don't worry, you'll be just fine in an hour," he said. "Let's go turn in our skates."

Kieran shivered, but it was not from the cold. He couldn't have said why as he nodded. "Let's, then." He made no move to reclaim his hand, enjoying the heat.

Dwyn snickered and wound his arms around Kieran. He apparently didn't care about the frozen fingers on his stomach. In truth, he didn't much feel the cold, the thing that had saved him from going into shock when he HAD fallen into the river, so long ago. He took Kieran back up to the gnome's shop and they turned in their skates, Dwyn handing the man the coins his mother had snuck him earlier to pay for the rental. Then they headed back home from there, intent on getting some of Sabbath's cocoa and de-thawing until they could move again. The river remained frozen in the air behind them, the echoes of their laughter still ringing on the wind.

Chapter Four: The first cracks, spiralling inward

Dwyn wasn't sure if he should knock on the door, but he figured that just knocking wouldn't set off any magical traps, so he raised a hand and rapped on the frame, pounding out a vigorous rythm. The book he'd borrowed from Kieran and finally finished was tucked under one arm, and his silver-lined cloak was wraped tightly around himself, hood drawn up over his honey-brown hair.

The doorframe glittered as Kieran tugged it open. "Hello," the boy smiled. "I'm just yanking my boots on. C'mon in," he said, waving a hand as he ducked into his room and grabbed up one high leather boot. "Is there anything specific I should bring?" he wanted to know, peering up at Dwyn as he tied his laces. He was dressed in dark purple tunic and breeches and a very long black coat that resembled a duster and his satchel was sitting next to him, crowded with things he'd need overnight.

Dwyn hiked an eyebrow. "Not really. Lord and Lady, what did you PACK? It's just one night. Y'know, unless you want to stay two, but you'd have to run back to school in the morning for class." He eyed Kieran's satchel, then eyed Kieran, admiring his outfit for a breif moment. It made him look.... dangerous? Something like that. A mini-neko version of dangerous.

Kieran glanced up and grinned sheepishly. "I've got a few books," he admitted, sounding as though it was something he was guilty of quite often. "I figured you'd want more. And I have one that I -think- might interest your mother." He smiles hopefully and donned his other boot, standing and hefting his satchel, which really didn't hold all that much to begin with. "You can just set that on the bed," he said, gesturing to the book in Dwyn's hands.

Dwyn nodded and put it down hastily. "So, are you ready?" He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, grinning breathlessly, twisting the point of a knife between his teeth. "I tried to get mom to let me take the broom, but she nixed that idea. Said I can't ride until I make my own.... Goddess only knows how long THAT'll be."

Kieran grinned and nodded, leaning forward to peer up at Dwyn. "Why're you always sucking on a blade?" he inquired curiously, figuring it was safer to ask about that than what the crazy Witch meant about a broom. He shooed Dwyn toward the door and out of the room, following and shutting the door behind him. It sealed with a flash of black light.

Dwyn allowed himself to be shooed, falling into a place that seemed natural to him, one step behind Kieran and one step to his left. "I don't know. It's just something I've always done. Mom says I got into the habit because my father always did it and when I was teething he gave me a knife to chew on once. Of course, I'll bet if that story's TRUE, she tanned his hide. Does it matter?"

Kieran laughed, shaking his head. "No," he shrugged. "Just curious. It's gotten me into plenty of trouble, being curious," he said lightly, leading Dwyn through the halls and out the door into the night. It was snowing again, fat, heavy flakes falling down, the wind just enough to feel as the silence pervaded, the streets verging on empty.

Fortunately, the wind wasn't as biting as the last time they'd made this walk. Dwyn bundled himself up and sang christmas carols at the top of his lungs, dancing and twirling and slipping and sliding in the snow (but never quite falling down) and swishing his cape dramatically - and generally making an idiot of himself.

Kierann watched Dwyn with a smile on his face, stepping lightly through the snow and singing softly with the other boy as they made their way through the snow. Dwyn was like an ever exuberant puppy that had the wisdom of an ancient dragon, and it was a fascinating combination.

Dwyn culminated his performance by throwing himself into a snowdrift on the side of the road with a yell, making a decisive crunch as he landed in the piled white fluffiness ad squirmed around until he was on his back, arms and legs moving. "Look, a tilted snow angel!"

Kieran just about died laughing at that, bent in half at the waist and giggling madly. "You are completely insane," he said, and the way he said it made it sound like a good thing. Like a happy thing.

Dwyn grinned. "And?" he wondered aloud, digging his hands into the snow and flinging a semi-coherant chunk of it at Kieran. "Come on, it's WINTER. Winter means YULE. Why shouldn't I be in a good mood?"

Kieran lifted a hand to bat away the snow, smiling down at Dwyn. "I didn't say you shouldn't be, just that you're nowhere near sanity. And you'll also be nowhere near health if you keep rolling in the snow..." The smaller boy smirked and bent, scooping up a wad of snow and crushing it into a ball which was then lobbed right onto Dwyn's belly.

Dwyn laughed and smacked it away, hauling himself out of the pile of snow (after a couple of unsusccesful tries) and grabbing Kieran around the waist.

Kieran squeaked and tumbled over, falling onto Dwyn. "Oh, no you don't!" he said, laughing and trying to wriggle out of his grip.

Dwyn held him up, then turned and threw them both into a pile in the snow with a kamikaze yell.

Kieran pulled Dwyn into a roll, using the other's momentum to spin them over thrice and land Dwyn on his back. Kieran perched dizzily atop Dwyn with a triumphant smile. "Gotcha."

Dwyn released Kieran and let his arms flap out. "Aww, you're too quick," he pouted.

Kieran smiled brightly. "One has to be, living with Kagami."

Dwyn grinned and planted a handful of snow in Kieran's face.

Kieran yowled in disbelief and tumbled backward, ears folded back as he brushed snow out of his eyes.

Dwyn laughed and picked himself up. "Sorry, kitten, but it was just too easy," he said, offering Kieran an apologetic grin.

Kieran eyed him balefully and hissed softly, sinking onto his knees in the snow. "I'll get you, gaki na. See if I don't." He didn't sound serious, just disgruntled.

Dwyn grinned. "You'd have to catch me first," he murmured, and then squealed and bolted off toward his mother's shop at full speed.

Kieran sighed and got to his feet and lazily sauntered after Dwyn. They'd be sleeping in the same room tonight, after all, and revenge was a dish best served cold.

Dwyn paused several times to make sure Kieran was keeping up, then flew through the shop door, barely pausing to leave his boots next to the counter. "Mom, we're here!" Then his socked feet were pounding up the stairs as Sabbath was forced to direct her question to his retreating back. "Why are you soaking wet...."

"Because he decided to make snow angels and tackle me," Kieran said cheerfully from the doorway as he de-booted himself and shut the door. "Hello," he greeted, smiling up at Sabbath before following Dwyn up the stairs, a silent shadow.

"Yule blessings, Kieran," Sabbath told him as he followed her son up the stairs, reassuming her lazy pose behind the counter.

Dwyn was shrugging off his cape. "Come on, my room's this way," he said, heading to the back corner of the living room and into the small alcove there, shedding clothing as he went.

Kieran bounced after Dwyn, tugging off his duster and resettling his satchel as he followed the other boy into the niche.

The niche was a doorway, really, and on the other side was a claustrophobically narrow hallway with two doors on the right side. Dwyn ducked into the first one. "It's really small... sorry," he said as he tugged off his wet tunic, revealing a well-muscled frame free of scars. The room WAS small, barely more than an alcove itself, with a bed and a bookshelf overflowing with books, a small wooden table with candles and a statue on it, and a few scattered cat toys. Taliesin was sprawled across the foot of the bed, the quilty of which was a gold and black design.

Kieran ducked in behind him, smiling as he looked around. "It's okay. It looks comfortable. Hello, neko-chan," he trilled, extending a hand to Taliesin and providing a wonderful little chin-scritch. He grinned, looking up at Dwyn. "I like it here," he murmured, black eyes sweeping over Dwyn's body.

Dwyn grinned. "Good. I like it too, even though it's small. It's mine. ANd the walls are thick." There was no telling WHAT on earth he meant by that as he shed his pants without a shred of embarassment... for all he thought, they were just a couple boys, after all... and went over to the little dresser to hunt for a dry pair.

Kieran couldn't help but look, but it was more curiosity and a want to assess the other's nature than any lecherous purpose. Still, Dwyn was hot. That revelation faded inconsequentially, and Kieran pulled fresh tunic and breeches from his satchel. "And you thought I wouldn't need all this."

"Well, why do you think I pushed you into a snowbank?" Dwyn wondered, rolling his eyes as he sat on the floor and rolled around some, struggling into a dry pair of breeches.

Rolling his eyes, Kieran pulled off his tunic, mostly folding it and dropping it on his feet as he shook out the one he'd pulled out, a dark green, and tugged it over his head, wiry muscle rippling under pale skin. "Because you want me to pay you back in your sleep?"

"Nah, pay me back when I'm awake. I sleep like the dead," Dwyn told him cheerfully. "Oh... shit. And I grind my teeth too. I'm sorry, I should have warned you."

"It's okay. Corus snores and Caden's been known to talk in his sleep," Kieran shrugged, a slight smile curving his lips. "And... where'll I sleep?" he asked, tugging off his wet breeches and pulling on fresh, black, loose pants that were thick and warm. Wet clothes vanished into the satchel and several books came out.

"Well, my bed's big enough," Dwyn told him, "And I don't drape." He tugged on a short-sleeved black tunic that laced up at the neck, showing off his silver pentacle necklace that hung out of the cleft.

"I'll probably end up using you as a pillow, but if you don't mind... and I sometimes purr in my sleep, too," he confessed, sounding amusedly sheepish.

Dwyn shrugged and made a dismissive sound. "Hey, I don't care. I'm cuddly enough, I just sleep on my stomach, so I don't like to have people under me. On top of me isn't a problem. And if you purr, it'll just help me sleep better." He smiled warmly.

Kieran nodded, smiling sweetly. "Okay," he agreed, holding a book out to the other boy. "I think you'll like this." It was a collection of myths and legends, some of which just may have been true. "I hope you will, anyway, and I -really- want to show these to your mother... I bet she can read them," Kieran said, eyes glowing as he held up two small, battered books.

Dwyn tilted his head and reached for them. "What are they?"

"They're in runes," Kieran told him. "And there's pictures. Acorns, trees, diagrams, pentacles..." He offered the books to Dwyn.

Dwyn shook his head suddenly. "No, you go give them to her," he said, flopping onto his bed and folding his hands behind his head.

Kieran blinked and eyed Dwyn for a moment before nodding. "Alright," he said, turning and ducking out of the room and slipping down the hall and the stairs to prowl toward the counter.

Sabbath glanced up at him and smiled. "Any idea what you boys want for dinner?" she inquired lightly, her own nose stuck very firmly in a slim book of her own.

Kieran's eyes widened. "Um," he said intelligently. "I don't mind and Dwyn hasn't mentioned anything and he said I should show these to you," he said, offering up the two abused, yellowed books.

She looked curious and took them from him, flipping the covers open and glancing over them. "These are in Rus," she murmured. "Where did you get them?"

"The vendor wanted to get rid of them, said they were bad luck, and that I could have them cheap. They looked interesting, so I said yes," Kieran said, peering up at her. "What are they?"

She smiled at him. "Lost ways of brewing, lost rituals.... that sort of thing. Idiot of vendor... but then again, people do tend to fear what they don't understand. Thank you, Kieran." She slipped off of her stool and gave him a tight, warm hug, as loving as any his parents had ever given him, but softer because she was a woman.

Kieran glowed and nodded, returning the hug happily, glad that he could do something nice for her. "You can keep them. I doubt they'll ever be up to me to comprehend. Should I ask Dwyn what he wants to eat?" he wanted to know.

She rolled her eyes and waved a hand. "Nevermind. Dwyn doesn't care. There's nothing you want?"

The boy shook his head. "Nope," he smiled. "Is there anything I can do for you before I go bug Dwyn again?"

"Such a responsible little sweetheart. Yes, you can do something for me - you can rub off on my son. So go do that, why don't you?" She grinned at him.

Kieran giggled. "I'll try," he said earnestly, scampering off up the stairs and through the living room and back to Dwyn's room. "Hey," he said, knocking lightly as he stuck his head back in, followed by the rest of his slender frame.

Dwyn was wrestling with his cat. "Hey!" he called cheerfully. "Um, just make yourself at home. The shop'll close in about an hour."

"Okay," Kieran said, grinning as he perched on the edge of Dwyn's bed. He began to encourage Taliesin with purrs and meows; Cat usually understood him, so why shouldn't Tal?

Taliesin squawked as Dwyn threw him onto his back and vigorously rubbed his belly.

Those back claws came up, batting at Dwyn's hands, but the cat's claws were retracted.

"You like teasing us kitties, huh?" Kieran asked teasingly, watching with sparkling black eyes. His tail swayed lazily behind him.

Dwyn chuckled. "I like wrestling kitties." He stuck his face in Taliesin's belly and made a brrrrrrrrapp! sound. "And teasing them and snuggling with them. Fondness for cats seems to run in the family.

"I can tell. Is that why you keep pouncing me? To wrestle?" Kieran wondered, pulling his knees up to his chest and looking like a small doll.

"Sometimes. You don't fight back though," he said regretfully. "Oh well, doesn't matter. Pouncing you is fun anyway."

"But I don't want you hurt you," Kieran protested, hiding a smirk.

Dwyn blinked at him, then melted into an 'Oh, come on' sort of smile. "Kieran, you're not going to hurt me. Trust me on this one."

Kieran tilted his head. "Alright." He was more than willing to take Dwyn at his word, and he proved it by tackling the other boy with a whoop.

Dwyn let out a gleeful yell and bounced on the bed, one knee coming up to catch Kieran. It sank into Dwyn's chest under his weight, giving so as not to hurt him, and then Dwyn was grappling FIERCELY with him, growling under his breath, golden eyes flashing as he writhed in ways a human being should not have been able to, straining to get Kieran pinned.

Kieran laughed and twisted, wriggling in Dwyn's grip. For some reason, he didn't mind being trapped by the other boy. The flash in Dwyn's eyes should have made him afraid, but instead it just made him shiver; why, he didn't know.

Dwyn straddled his hips, grinning, his eyes a sea of tiger yellow, the pupils just the barest pinpricks of blackness. His grin... it was feral, more like a baring of teeth. Then, inexplicably, he lowered his head and took Kieran's throat in his teeth. He put the slightest bit of pressure on the bite, enough to make Kieran's helplessness blaringly apparent to him.

Kieran made a soft noise and let his head fall back, knowing that Dwyn wouldn't hurt him. He tasted like spice, cinnamon and clove, and he was warm. His hands wound around Dwyn's wrists and his tail twitched as he showed submission.

Dwyn chuckled against his throat and the dominant hold changed to a playful gnawing at the side of his neck where the flesh wasn't quite so tender. He seemed satisfied with Kieran's submission, enough at least to switch from feral beast to playful kitten himself.

Kieran arched his neck, turning his head. He found it interesting that there was a shivery sensation rippling from where Dwyn was chewing on him. It tickled in a pleasant way, and he saw no harm in just purring softly and kneading the other boy's shoulders with his hands.

Dwyn finally nuzzled down, resting his weight on Kieran. He might have been taller than the mage, but his frame was slender, fine-boned like his mother's, so despite the ammount of muscle he carried, he wasn't that heavy. His breath blushed against Kieran's neck as he made himself comfortable, letting out a little sigh as his hands wormed their way under Kieran's body so Dwyn could cling.

Kieran was used to being used as a pillow and otherwise snuggling post, and he'd been missing it during the time he'd been in school. So it was more than fine with him to cuddle up to Dwyn and just purr steadily, letting his eyes shut themselves. Dwyn was warm atop him, and his weight was comforting, not confining. Kieran did like small dark spaces to curl up in, and those that consisted of snuggleable things were the best kind.

Dwyn sighed again. "I probably should let you change for bed," he said, sounding remarkably young, innocent, and vulnerable. "But I don't want to move."

"Already changed," Kieran mumbled, cracking one eye open to peer at Dwyn. "And I'd rather you didn't, too. Good blanket," he said with a warm, sweet, and somewhat sleepy smile.

Dwyn considered that. "I guess we could get under the blanket," he murmured.

Kieran considered that. "Hai," he said, nodding slightly. The tip of his tail, sticking out from under him, twitched lazily and he yawned widely, nose wrinkling. "But you... have to move for that, too. Not as much, though..."

Dwyn nodded. "Right. Not as much. And it means more warmth. I don't want you to be cold," he said matter-of-factly as he shifted off of Kieran and pulled the covers down.

Kieran wriggled until he was under them, pulling Dwyn with him gently but insistently. He curled up against the other boy, a small, warm weight against his side, ears flicking and black eyes heavy-lidded.

Dwyn rather easily curled around Kieran, finding it surprisingly comfortable to be close to another person. he felt protective, and even as he realized that, he was pulling Kieran closer and nuzzling at his shoulder.

It was nice to cuddle with Dwyn, and to Kieran, that meant a great deal. He didn't trust many people enough to snuggle them like this, and Kieran felt that there was something pulling them together, that they were destined to be friends. Amazingly, it had not yet taken on a sexual connotation; the idea had occurred to him, but he had dismissed it to think over again in five years.

Dwyn settled in, making a contented sound deep in his throat as those golden eyes sealed shut. Doubtlessly his mother would check on them before too long, but she'd be quiet about it. She might not even bother actually looking into the room, and as long as she saw they were sleeping soundly, she wouldn't be concerned. Unless she woke them up, squealing about how cute they were - she was liable to do things like that.

Kieran purred softly as he lay there, daydreaming in and out of his own world and really not paying attention to much at all. His world consisted of warm darkness and Dwyn pressed against him, and for the first time in a long time, he felt perfectly safe.

Dwyn smelled of blood, of bread baking, and distantly of the herbs and sweet-smelling wood that the shop smelled of. It was an odd combination.

It was pleasant, though, and Kieran didn't mind. He knew that he always smelled a bit odd, a bit more spicy than proper, but it didn't really register. The sound of their heartbeats were loud, though, and Kieran wondered if Dwyn could hear it just as loudly.

Dwyn could. Dwyn could practically feel the blood running through Kieran's veins. There was a part of him that desperately wanted to taste it, to bite into Kieran's skin and eat him alive. Fortunately, that part of him was subdued, shoved into the background by the part of him that truly hated to hurt people and would have REALLY hated to cause Kieran even a shred of pain. Even though he had a hard time knowing what was painful for others, despite his mother's careful coaching.

"Ne, arekuru..." Kieran murmured softly, thinking lazily and only somewhat aware that he was actually speaking. He thought it fit Dwyn, though... arekuru. Wild... feral, only tamed by his will. And one hell of a will that was. Dwyn was iron, steel... something that would never break, but simply bend. Or maybe that was all just a fanciful analogy conjured up by his half-asleep mind. That happened sometimes.

"Hm?" Dwyn murmured quietly, half-asleep himself and drifting into that pleasant realm where everything was warm and fuzzy and Kieran smelled so nice under his cheek.

"Why are your eyes gold?" Kieran inquired faintly, not bothering to open his own eyes. He smelled of clove and cinnamon, skin soft and hot as the nekojin's tail curled around Dwyn's knee.

"My father's eyes are gold," Dwyn told him, yawning mid-explanation. "So I guess I got it from him. Why, is it important?"

"It's exquisite," Kieran corrected with a sleepy smile. "Nothing like it, ever. Seen, that is. Pretty."

Dwyn chuckled at the disjointedness of Kieran's speech. "You think so? Most people think it's... unnerving. Mom says I have a tiger's eyes. Like a predator."

"It's not. It... I don't know. It's like all the light, all the -power- in you shines through them. That's why some see it as unnerving. It's not the color. It's the look behind them, how you radiate intensity. Most people aren't comfortable with that." Kieran's voice was soft and slow, words deliberate. Thinking in this warm, snuggly state was a bit more strenuous than usual.

Dwyn nodded, turning that over in his mind. "We're all intense," he said quietly. "My mom and my dad and me. And we can all be pretty frightening in our intensity when we want to be. I like my eyes. But yours are prettier. You can see stars and colors and endless reflections in perfect black," he said reasonably.

"Nuh-uh. Yours are," Kieran corrected him with a slight grin. "Yours are suns. Mine are shadows. Gold and obsidian, ne, arekuru?"

"What does that mean?" he wondered, duplicating the word with impressive verbosity. "Arekuru?"

"It means feral," Kieran said, cracking open an eye to look over at Dwyn. "It suits you."

Dwyn laughed. "Like kitten suits you. A tame little housecat...."

"I am not," Kieran said indignantly, shifting and propping himself up on his elbows to eye Dwyn. "This neko's got -claws-, you know."

Dwyn shrugged. "Kitten claws don't bother me," he said as he rolled onto his back and looked up at Kieran.

Kieran tilted his head, ears perking curiously. "How not?" he inquired, black eyes sparkling with the endless thirst for knowledge.

Dwyn blinked. "They... don't. I like cats."

"So you don't mind," Kieran said, nodding. He stared at Dwyn thoughtfully for a moment before holding out one hand, which was completed by long and sharp nails, if not claws. He drew the tip of one nail over Dwyn's cheek lightly, not wanting to hurt him, just tease a little.

Dwyn pushed into the nail, making a pleasured sound.

Kieran blinked and obligingly pressed harder, dragging his fingernails down Dwyn's jaw and then his neck, leaving thin red lines.

Dwyn rubbed against his nails, a low 'mmmmm,' escaping his throat as his eyes drifted closed in pleasure.

"You like that?" Kieran asked, not sounding very surprised. He knew how nice a good scratch was, and it didn't really hurt. He trailed his nails further, leaving patterns that faded quickly.

"Yeah...." Dwyn groaned, eyes popping open, looking adorably plaintive. "Kieran?'

"Mmm-hmmm?" Kieran answered, peering down at Dwyn inquisitively. "What is it?" He didn't stop, tracing more fine lines up over the other's cheek.

"Could you do me a really big favor?" he asked meekly.

"Sure!" Kieran said brightly, smiling sweetly. "What?"

Dwyn rolled away from him and squirmed until he was on his back, pulling his shirt up in the process. "Scratch here?" he begged.

Kieran laughed, having half been expecting that. "Alright," he agreed, clambering onto Dwyn and sitting on his butt so he could scratch properly. He leaned over and drew his nails down Dwyn's back just hard enough, scritching all over the other's pale skin and purring softly to himself.

): Dwyn convulsed. Hard. Almost hard enough to throw Kieran off of him. And the groan he let out would have better suited an orgasming male than one getting nails drawn down his back. He gasped, fingernails digging visibly into the sheets and twisting them as he shivered under Kieran's hands and groaned loudly.

Kieran meeped and then giggled, tightening his legs on either side of Dwyn. "Does that feel good?" he asked teasingly, making sure to not miss an inch as he scraped sharp naisl over every spot of Dwyn's flesh.

"You're GOOD at it!" he marveled. "I've only let maybe one other person do this EVER, aside from mom, and they were trying to be a fucking tease and I killed them....." he writhed under Kieran, making satisfied sounds. "Well, I didn't kill them... I wanted to."

"Well, when you want scritches from a kitten, you're bound to get good ones," Kieran said, voice laced with amusement as his hands roamed over Dwyn's skin, nails leaving the slightest of welts. "Who teased you?"

"Doesn't matter," he groaned, shuddering deeply. "You're much better at it. Back scratches are sacred. You should NEVER tease about a back scratch."

Kieran giggled softly. "I won't," he vowed, never stopping in his motions. He liked the way Dwyn's voice sounded with a hint of a shiver to it. He had a dirty thought and giggled again, pushing it to the side.

Dwyn didn't notice the giggle. His attention was utterly and completely focused on Kieran's nails raking over his skin. "Harder?" he pleaded, arching up into Kieran's hands.

Kieran bit his lip and refused to laugh his ass off, obediently scraping harder. He was scratching quite forcefully now, making sure that there wasn't any bit of Dwyn's back that wasn't at least a bit reddened.

"Unnnnngh," he moaned, finally going limp on the mattress. "Thanks."

Kieran nodded cheerily. "No problem. That was fun. I'm betting you enjoyed it too?" he asked lightly, now just tracing over Dwyn's back gently, nails almost tickling.

Dwyn squirmed violently. "You said you wouldn't tease!'

"Oh!" Kieran said, instantly contrite. "I'm sorry. I didn't know that was teasing," he said, wide eyed. "And I thought you weren't ticklish?"

Dwyn hesitated. "Truth?"

"Please," Kieran said solemnly, leaning over to look at Dwyn.

"I'm ticklish. I just have the discipline to not laugh."

"Oh," Kieran said, nodding sagely. "So that means..." A smile spread over his face as he drew one fingertip down Dwyn's side, a feather-light touch.

Dwyn's teeth gritted together and he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Not moving.

"Do you want me to stop?" Kieran wondered. He didn't want to torment Dwyn, but... well... tickling was fun. He kept doing it, almost petting Dwyn rather than tickling him, but so lightly it was impossible to ignore.

Dwyn smirked. "I can withstand this all day."

"Oh. Okay," Kieran grinned, stopping and sprawling over Dwyn. He draped himself over the other boy, putting his face in the other's shoulder, and purred softly. He could tickle Dwyn some other time.

Dwyn wiggled a little, settling easily into his roll as mattress. "I probably have an unfair advantage," he said mildly. "I'm really used to it. Mom uses it to punish me since other stuff doesn't work so well."

Kieran didn't bother to move, just letting himself slide upward. He nuzzled into Dwyn's neck and purred there. "Hmmm... I guess." He was starting to feel vaguely lethargic, and Dwyn make just as good a mattress as he did blanket.

Dwyn smiled, recognizing his lack of interest as a sign of sleepiness. He said nothing, closing his eyes and drifting, finding it remarkably easy to find sleepiness himself even with Keiran's slight weight and surprisingly welcome warmth on his bare back.

"So how's that, anyway?" Kieran asked suddenly. Perhaps a bit of a delayed reaction; he was in a very relaxed state of mind. "Your advantage?"

Dwyn shrugged. "It's hard to hurt me," he said simply, face pressing into his pillow.

"What do you mean?" Kieran inquired, instantly interested. It was all to easy to whet his curiosity.

"That it's hard to hurt me." Dwyn yawned. "Don't feel it that much. S'just my unique psychosis, inherited biokinetics or some such wierdness, I don't know and I've never understood." he yawned again.

Kieran nodded and smiled sweetly. Dwyn was so cute when he was sleepy. He didn't analyze that thought too closely, instead making sure to remember to ask more tomorrow. "You're tired, aren't you?" he asked, sliding to Dwyn's side and curling against him with a soft sigh.

"Yeah," he mumbled, shifting as soon as Kieran was off of him and curling up against the other boy. "Aren't you?"

Kieran nodded against, yawning himself as he snuggled into Dwyn. "Hai," he confessed. "Quite."

"Then go to sleep," Dwyn told him. "See, logic strikes again." That seemed to amuse him for some reason and he broke out into a fit of giggling.

Kieran giggled as well, but he really had no idea why he was laughing other than that Dwyn was. "Alright," he conceded, making good use of Dwyn as a cuddling-post and burying his face in the other's neck.

Dwyn did the same and dropped off to sleep easily, falling into vivid dreams. Kieran was not far behind.

chapter Five: Through a Glass Darkly

Kieran knocked gently on Dwyn's door, but all he could hear were soft keening noises. He raised an eyebrow and wondered if he really wanted to know when Sabbath showed up next to him. "Kieran, baby, I really don't think now's a good time. Why don't you come help me shelve?"

Kieran nodded. "Oh... kay... What's wrong?" Hewandered off with her to help.

Sabbath shrugged. "We all have our episodes. Don't you worry, he heals fast," she said, patting Kieran's head and descending the stairs.

Kieran followed after her, dark eyes worried. "Is he doing what I think he's doing?" he asked softly. He trusted Dwyn completely, as became clearer with every moment , but he still didn't want to see his friend hurting himself.

"Well, that depends on what you think he's doing," Sabbath said.

Kieran bit his lip. "Something that'll take lots of cleaning up afterward.," he muttered.

Sabbath shrugged. "That's why I usually take up the carpets when he has them. Of course, he's usually responsible enough to warn me beforehand."

Kieran nodded. "Why... why does he do it?" he inquired delicately, fascinated in a dark kind of way.

She hesitated, her decorations rustling as she paused on the steps, skirt swirling around her ankles. "There are a lot of reasons."

"Are there any... is there a way to help?" Kieran asked softly, peering up at Sabbath with wide, dark eyes. He didn't want Dwyn to really hurt himself, but sometimes... sometimes release was necessary, and if it came with blood... It was something he'd have to think about.

She shook her head. "No, I don't think so. His father does it too, far too often for my comfort, so maybe it's just part of the mania he inherited. Or maybe they suffer from the same pent-up shit that just has to get out somehow. But I'm not qualified to say. You should ask him, later, assuming you don't plan to judge him for it."

Kieran hesitated, then shook his head. "No. If it... if it keeps him sane, or even just pushes him deeper... it's part of him. Not everybody can be all light. Almost nobody can. At least he hurts himself in a straightforward way... most torment themselves in much less tangible ways." It was nearly impossible to find the words to express why it wasn't really all that... wrong.

smirked slightly at him. "Come on, let's get these up," she said gently. "He'll get over it in two days at the most and, like I said, he heals fast."

Kieran nodded and bit his lip, hoping that Dwyn would be okay and deciding to not think about it then, but to just help Sabbath. Gods knew he spent enough time distracting her son and the least he could do would be to help out around the shop.

Sabbath quickly put him to work helping her string garlands around the shop and place large red bows in prominant places, then gave him a paintbrush and instructed him to paint silver snowflakes on the insides of the windows.

Kieran did so enthusiastically, smiling as he dabbed little six-pointed shapes on the windows. He wasn't the greatest artist, but snowflakes were easy, and he made them look like the big, fluffy flakes that fell outside, not at all minding getting paint on his fingers. It wasn't like they weren't already stained with ink.

Sabbath spoke out of nowhere after long silence, her voice tentetive. "He always does this after he's been.... out by the gates. And he does that every christmas. It sends him into himself and even I have no clue what's going through his head. I don't think either of us can cheer him up, so I can only pray. Which I do, always, and sometimes I'm even answered. That's the way prayers go."

Kieran listened, never stopping in the little flicks of the brush against the glass. "I guess he's supposed to. If it's in his nature, or... I don't know." He sounded unsure of himself, but he was certain of one thing, that were Dwyn sane and whole, he wouldn't have been Dwyn, nor as amazing. He didn't - couldn't - mind his best friend's dancing with death. He trusted Dwyn implicitly.

"Nature is a funny thing. Sometimes it drives you to do things you were never taught." She shrugged and cinched a ribbon tightly. "He's his father's son."

***

"You know, we probably shouldn't have gone looking for him. The chances of finding him out here...." Corus trailed off with a shrug, craning his neck to look down the long, snow-coated lane. He was dressed warmly, sword strapped to his back and boots laced up tight, and his leathers prevented him from really feeling much when Kagami elbowed him in the side.

"Don't be a dolt. He's got to be around here somewhere," she said, flipping her hair over one fur-covered shoulder as he looked back the way they'd come. "Caden's got some sort of radar for finding him, right, Cay?" Yuka stood in the snow and gazed down the street, charmed by the beauty of Silverymoon and the gilding of the snow, content to wander around. It would have been nicer were Kieran with them, but that was why they were in search of him.

"Well, I hate to be the smart one," Caden teased, "But maybe we should check at SCHOOL? Y'know... in his room? And even if he's not there, I'll bet his teachers would know where a little chibi nekojin might have run off too." he whistled as he sauntered down the road, gloved hands in the pockets of his mithril-studded jacket, a blood red scarf wound around his neck and black wool earmuffs over his ears. He turned and shot them a grin, heel contacting a patch of ice and nearly dumping him on his ass before he managed to throw his body back onto kilter and look sheepish. "Meant to do that!"

Corus burst out laughing, quick-stepping through the snow to catch up with Caden and pick him up, hefting him into the air. "Walk much?" he teased, carrying his little brother past the icy stretch of road and dumping him in a snowbank several feet high. "And besides, Calliope said he doesn't have classes today and was most likely out in the city. Which I find a bit hard to believe, seeing as how getting Kieran out of his room is nigh impossible, but hey, I don't think that girl knows -how- to lie." Kagami was ignoring Corus as he babbled on, walking on down the street, ears and cheeks red in the cold. Yuka sighed and glanced at Cross, wondering if his husband's vampiric senses included determining the wherabouts of their son. Possible, if not likely.

Cross had stopped a few feet back and had his eyes half-closed, a sort of zoned-out sort of look easily recognizable to his family as telepathy use. Meanwhile, Caden pulled himself spluttering from the snowbank and swiped a handful of cold wetness into Corus's face.

Corus ducked out of the way, managing to turn his head and get a lump of snow to the ear; he squawked and pawed at the ice crystals, trying to get the cold off him. Kagami looked back and snorted. "Get 'im, Caden," she called cheerily, stopping where she stood. Yuka chose to simply wait for Cross, pretending that his children weren't trying to kill each other with snow.

Caden obediently flying-tackled Corus, wrapping all his limbs around him and tangling his legs with his brother's in an attempt to bring him crashing down.

Cross's head turned slowly, almost as if he was scenting the breeze. "Northwest," he murmured, black eyes flicking back to Yuka. "Helping someone with Yule decorations, as near as I can tell... and worried sick about SOMETHING."

Yuka frowned. He didn't like to think that his son would be upset, but in reality, there were plenty of things to be worried about. Well, hopefully their appearance would help some. If they could find him. He turned to face northwest, a street that led crookedly through the town. Kagami wandered back to her parents' side, ignoring her brothers wrestling in the snow like a good little girl. Corus, however, was busy trying to not choke on snow, not choke on laughter, and get Caden -off- him; staying standing sure as hell hadn't been an option.

"HAHAHAHAHAHA!" Caden crowed, stuffing Corus's head into the nearest snowbank and then rolling off of him, slipping and sliding and finally gaining his feet to take off after his parents as Cross slid his arm around Yuka's waist and steered him down that winding side street.

Corus growled and got to his feet, picking snow out of his collar as he ran off after Caden, jumping on his brother from behind in a flying tackle. "EEEEYAAAAAAH!" he yelled, thinking it some sort of sophisticated war cry. Kagami rolled her eyes, wondering if all boys were this stupid or if it was just her brothers, and followed after Cross and Yuka. Yuka leaned into Cross' side and avoided stepping in snow; it was pretty, but his feet got cold easily.

Caden went down on his face and twisted, catlike, managing to land on his side and squirm part of the way out from under before Corus landed on him. One leather-gloved hand flailed desperately at the snow, found a handful, and stuffed it into his brother's hair.

Corus ignored the snow and latched onto Caden's arm, scrambling on top of his little brother and scooping up a handful of snow which was then crammed down the back of Caden's coat. Corus let him go with a snicker and -ran-, knowing that retribution was on its way.

"ARGH!" Caden shook out his jacket, writhing around on the ground a little, then scrambled to his feet and took off after Corus. "OMAE O KOROSUUUUUU!"

"BYE DAD!" Corus shouted, shooting past and careening down the road. He'd have been fine if there hadn't been ice on the street; he hit it going full speed and couldn't stop, skidding across with a shriek. He tripped over his feet trying to stop and finally slammed into a light-pole, making the lantern hung from it shake. "Ungh..." he groaned, sinking to the ground and flopping into the snow. "Pain..."

"CORUS!" Caden slipped on that same patch of ice but he kicked his own feet out from under him, sliding on his knees across the ice and coming to a stop in front of his brother. "Daijobu desu ka?"

Cross sighed and nudged up against Yuka. "And now, Corus will shove snow in his face for his trouble," he predicted dryly, pausing and eyeing a golden-painted sign a few hundred feet away. Below a shining golden pentacle, the word's "Witch's Hollow" were embossed on dark wood.

Corus grunted and sat up, rubbing the forming bruise on his forehead. "Daijobu," he said, sounding dazed. "Just a bit cronked, is all." Kagami snorted and sidestepped the ice, bending over to heft Corus off the ground. She would have checked his eyes for signs of a concussion, but when they were black all through, it was pointless. Corus had actually been about to drag Caden into the snow with him, but he was distracted by his sister.

Yuka followed Cross' gaze and then looked again. In the window there were many shining silvery specks - and a familiar looking figure with feline ears. "Ne, there he is!" he said happily. Finally, his little clan would be all together again.

Caden looked up and promptly forgot Corus's existence, making a full-speed beeline toward the store's front door.

Cross chuckled and walked toward it. At normal speed. Like most parents had finally succumbed to doing. "Seeing Caden always cheers him up," he reminded his husband. "Caden's usually good at that."

Corus laughed and dragged Kagami along at a decent pace, not making the street smoke like Caden was doing, but much faster than Cross and Yuka were walking. Yuka was satisfied to stick to Cross' side and nod with a wide smile. Keeping up with their children had long since become one of those concepts he laughed at.

Kieran hummed to himself, his world focused on the silver paint on the brush and the foggy window before him. He didn't see Caden careening toward the shop; he didn't even really see anything outside the shop. He was still busy thinking about Dwyn.

Of course, it was a bit harder for Yuka, who was aging, than it was for Cross, who was not and would always be twenty-one in body. Either way, Caden slammed into the door of the shop as his gloved hand slipped, failing to twist the knob. Shaking himself off, he thrust it open and spilled into the store. "KIE-CHAN!"

Kieran looked up, his mouth dropping open. He almost dropped the paint, but he managed to set it down with shaking fingers before he launched himself at his brother, tackling him and hugging him senseless, not seeming to mind that he was getting himself snowy and wet. "CADEN!" he squealed.

Caden caught him and spun him around, cuddling him fiercely, his face buried in Kieran's hair. "Merry Christmas! Look, we're all here! Dad found you, we wouldn't have known WHERE to look.... what are you doing here?" He set Kieran down and looked around the store, pushing his skewed earmuffs off his head. "Man, check out THIS place. Eye of newt and hair of dog..."

"I can't believe you're all here," Kieran said, veritably glowing as he peeked out the door.

Corus and Kagami came through it then, corus pulling Kieran away from Caden to hug him crushingly. "Hey little bro! How's life treatin' ya?" Kieran laughed and wriggled free, hugging Kagami to him as he glanced after Caden.

"It's spell components and witch-craft things. I'm helping Sabbath," he explained, nodding toward the counter.

Sabbath had her elbows propped on the counter (in a way that, given her bodice, really showed off her breasts, though the view was wasted on present company) and was watching all of them with a dryly amused smirk, the black-painted nails of one hand tapping slowly on the countertop.

"Sorry obaachan," Kieran said apologetically, dragging his siblings toward the counter and somehow managing to keep them from breaking anything. "These are my brothers and my sister and Daddy and 'tousan are coming and I'm -real- sorry they showed up here..." Corus chuckled and ruffled Kieran's hair, making it a point NOT to stare at Sabbath's chest but rather smile at her warmly. Kagami was busy looking around; though magic had never really interested her, there were some incredibly odd things in here, and some that didn't necessarily need to be used with magic. Why, she could have spiced a hundred cakes with the clove on that shelf... and the whole place smelled so nice.

Sabbath shrugged. "S'not like *I* care," she told him dryly. "But anybody who comes behind the counter leaves their boots out FRONT, understand?" She grinned and winked at Kieran, then turned and swept up the stairs in a graceful (and witchy) swirl of black velvet and silver lacing.

Kieran nodded and turned back to smile up at Caden. "I MISSED you," he said forcefully, grabbing all three of his siblings and hugging them tightly, with much more strength than should have been in his little body, and more than had been there the last time they'd talked. He was also taller, too, by about an inch, but that wasn't saying much when it came to Kieran. Corus marveled at his little brother, who he figured would go the furthest of any of them, and just grinned down at him. Kagami ruffled Kieran's hair affectionately. "You make interesting friends, otouto."

Cross dragged Yuka into the store, shaking snowflakes from his blazen hair. "All right, where's our chibi?" he demanded with a warn grin.

Yuka pulled the door shut behind him, smiling brightly at the tangle of chibis. Kieran wriggled his way free and threw himself at his fathers, jumping on Cross with a joyous squeal. "DADDY! OTOUSAN!" The boy tried to hug them both at once, bouncing as he crushed Cross for all he was worth.

Cross caught him and obligingly turned with him so Yuka could cuddle him from the other side and thus make a cute little neko-sandwich out of him. "Kie-chan. How's Silverymoon treating you?"

"Oh, Daddy, it's great!" Kieran gushed, latching onto Yuka and hugging him til he laughed, trying to catch his breath. "City life's not so bad, hmm?" Yuka said warmly, holding Kieran to him for a long moment before the boy pulled away to nod happily. "It's so pretty in the winter, too, with all the snow. I missed you -so- much," he said, burying his face in Cross' neck and hugging his father again.

Cross squeezed him, lifting him briefly off his feet. "I missed you too, Kieran," he murmured.

"How long are you staying?" Kieran wanted to know, looking up at his father hopefully. He was more than happy to cling to Cross and pretend that nothing could ever be wrong again.

Cross ruffled his hair and smiled down at him. "I'd say about two weeks would make it worth the trip... it's what we were planning anyway. Don't worry, we don't have to bug you the whole time... after all, your sibs haven't seen Silverymoon before."

"No! It's wonderful to have you in town," Kieran said brightly, giving Cross a sweet smile. "Bug me as often as you like." Yuka gathered Kieran to him, picking him up and hugging him tightly. The boy didn't mind being scooped up like a four year old and just held on with a bright smile.

There were footsteps on the stairs and Sabbath emerged again, having gone to tell Dwyn that Kieran's family had stopped by and now MIGHT be a good time to cut out the self-mutilation. Coal-lined, almost-black eyes peered out from around the corner accompanied by a swish of black hair and she folded her arms across her chest as she made a show of counting the people gathered in her shop.

"Yeah, Dad and 'tousan were at it like rabbits," Corus offered cheerfully, grinning at Sabbath. Kagami rolled her eyes and chose to ignore her idiot of a brother, and better yet, to warn Sabbath about him. "He's a dork. Pay him no mind," she advised, cobalt eyes sparkling. Kieran hardly noticed, busy trying to squish Yuka.

"So I noticed," she told Corus amusedly, ending her count and sighing. "Will everyone be wanting bread? I'm going to have to go to the bakery..." She descended from the stairs and yanked her silver-lined cloak off the peg, swirling it around her shoulders and tying it atop her silver pentacle necklace.

Corus refrained from drooling and answered for the assembled Aladrisses - Aladrissi? - with a smile. "Sure. We'll keep an eye on the shop for you," he offered generously. Kieran glanced at his big brother and decided to inform him that Sabbath was married as soon as possible; he suspected that Corus was drooling mentally. Kagami seemed occupied in looking all around, still intruiged by the sheer amount of -stuff-. Yuka looked up at Sabbath and smiled warmly. "That's very kind of you, as is keeping an eye on this little chaos monger," he said, affectionately hugging Kieran to him. Kieran just beamed, loving being held by his father. He'd missed them all SO much...

Sabbath paused and blinked widely at Yuka, which made her eyes look exceptionally startled. "Keeping an eye on him? Hell, all I've been doing is feeding the little sweetheart. I should thank YOU... your son's been keeping mine out of trouble." She couldn't help glancing upward, then giving Kieran a sympathetic smile. "Well, most trouble, anyway. Kieran, feel free to show them in and I'll be right back." She picked up a slender, fine leather glove - just one - and slid it onto her hand, then swept out the door.

Yuka smiled and glanced back at Kieran. "Been doing good deeds, hmm, musuko?" he inquired warmly, setting down the nekojin. Kieran nodded brightly and turned to tug on Kagami's sleeve. "Boots off," he informed them, "and we can go upstairs. Maybe Dwyn's feeling better by now," he said, sounding hopeful but not too expectant. Kagami obediently removed her shoes, as did Yuka; Corus tucked his by the door and dropped himself into a chair, declaring that he would guard the downstairs. Yuka chuckled and smiled up at Cross, happy to see that his youngest son had found a place to be welcome and people to helpa nd take care of.

Cross just observed Sabbath's entrance and exit with a slightly knowing smile, toeing his boots off and following along. Despite her well-put-together appearence, he had a strong feeling that Sabbath was a woman of strong will and a strong arm. Probably a former adventurer, or at least a very accomplished mage, to put that sort of careless confidence in her steps. Shrugging, he hung his cloak over one of the spare pegs. "Dwyn's your friend? Is he what's got you worried?" he asked gently.

Kieran looked up at his father with big black eyes that didn't say anything. He hesitated, then nodded. "Hai. He's... he's kind of sick right now," he said softly, looking down. It wasn't really a lie.

Cross hiked an eyebrow, head craning back as he looked up to the ceiling, eyes glazing slightly.

"Don't!" Kieran said, tugging on Cross' sleeve. "Leave him be. He'll be okay." He said this with the utmost and perfect confidence.

Cross lowered his head and gave his son a long, measuring look. "All right," he said finally, choosing to let it go, looking troubled, however, as he turned Kieran back toward the stairs and glanced at Yuka.

Kieran nodded, satisfied that Cross would leave Dwyn to his mutilation or whatever it was he was doing if he'd finished. He might not have approved of what Dwyn was doing, but it wasn't up to him to approve, and Dwyn had a right to privacy no matter what. Yuka just gave the slightest of shrugs and reserved judgement. Kieran distracted them all by grabbing Caden by his trouble-making elbow and leading the small mob up the stairs.

Cross's eyes were narrow as he slid his arm through Yuka's and brought up the rear, obviously deep in thought. Caden bounced happily alongside his brother, babbling about the trip down and the snow fight he'd won (by his reckoning) with Corus.

Kieran listened to Caden with half an ear, more than happy to hear the sound of his brother's voice and finding his words themselves just a bonus. Yuka found Cross' hand and squeezed it gently, catching his husbands eyes and raising one eybrow curiously. The tone in Kieran's voice when he'd spoken of Dwyn... he knew that tone. That utter trust and belief that his friend could do anything and was perfect. It gave him an interesting shiver of deja vu.

"I couldn't get into his mind," Cross murmured as he squeezed Yuka's hand in return, still looking puzzled and switching to mental communication. ~I've never met anyone who could keep me out of their head, but this kid wasn't even trying. It was like.... like there wasn't a mind there to get ahold of. Like I was looking for the sun and found a nebula and orbiting planets, but no star.~

Both of Yuka's brows now flirted with his hairline as he followed Kieran up the stairs. ~And you have no idea why it could have been like that?~ he asked gently, indigo eyes shifting to gaze concernedly at Kieran. What had his little koneko gotten into this time?

Cross shook his head. ~I've never encountered anything like it and Ice never said anything about something like this. There's plenty to read but it's all disjointed, floating around without any real cohesiveness, and too much ... darkness... for me to get a hold on anything. It's wierd,~ he concluded, scaling the stairs slowly.

Yuka shook his head. ~I hope he's alright,~ he thought softly, more to himself than to Cross. It would be very hard on Kieran if the friend he obviously trusted - and loved, if Yuka's guess was any good - were to be in any way hurt.

~He's.... I sensed darkness and I smell blood,~ he said, nostrils flaring breifly. ~But I suppose we'll see, ne koi?~

Yuka bit his lip and nodded. ~We will.~ By then, the stairs had ended, and Kieran dragged Caden into the living room, still listening to his brother babble a mile a minute.

"And I hear you went ice skating!" Caden exclaimed, beaming at his little brother. "That must have been fun.... it's really kinda unbelievable that you're out of your room. But it's a good thing! I mean, it's great, and you even look better. I was kinda afraid you'd be skin and bones by now if somebody didn't look after you, but I guess Calliope's doing that except that she doesn't EXACTLY tell us anything that's going on. Hey, did she say if her parents are going to be up here? Because then it'd be just like old times, right? All of us together?"

Kieran giggled, smiling up at Caden. "Don't you need to -breathe-?" he asked teasingly. "And yes, I went ice skating. It was fun. And Sabbath makes sure I eat, and Calli isn't -supposed- to say too much. I've been hanging out with Dwyn a lot," he finished, glancing toward his friend's door, a flicker of concern dancing ove his face.

"RIGHT. Dwyn. When to we get to meet Dwyn?" Caden bounced on the balls of his feet. "And breathing is for amateurs, man. I'm a professional babbler and an expert in all things annoying!"

Kieran sighed and shook his head. "You're impossible, Master Babbler," he muttered. "And Dwyn's kind'a sick. You might have to wait a day or two," he said, pouting at the thought that he'd be seperated from his Dwyn for that long.

"I don't get sick," Dwyn said quietly, his voice sounding strangly hollow. He was leaning in the doorframe of his room, a stark white bandages wound around both forearms. He was wearing fingerless gloves over the bandages so the overall effect wasn't... necessarily of gross self mutilation. But his eyes were predatory and there was a knife between his teeth. "Merry meet, kitten."

"Dwyn-kun!" Kieran beamed. He was about to bound over and crush his best friend in a hug, but he stopped himself, not wanting to hurt Dwyn, and just smiled sweetly. "Merry meet. This is the rest of the clan," he said, gesturing to all those behind him. "And this is Dwyn O'Connallain," he said, turning back to smile up at his fathers. "Boku no tomodatchi desu."

Dwyn tilted his head and a little bit of sanity seeped back into his gaze. For a moment he just looked around at all the people, the finally made an inane, Dwyn-ism. "It seems like a lot more people when they're actually in the room," he said flatly.

Kieran sweatdropped. Oh, yes, this would be fun. He made a mental note not to leave Caden and Dwyn alone in a room together... what kind of trouble they could get into, he simply did not wish to imagine. Corus just grinned and looked Dwyn up and down. "Yes, well, us Aladriss have presence," he grinned.

Dwyn tilted his head and examined Corus. "Is that what you call it?" he inquired with the very slightest hint of a smirk, then turned a slow, but genuine smile on Kieran. "Sorry. I was in a bad mood."

Kieran nodded. "It's okay," he said, forgiving Dwyn without a moment's hesitation. "We have our bad moods. Are you feeling better now?" he asked concernedly, stepping closer and peering up at Dwyn, biting his lip. The tip of his tail twitched and his ears were held forward, and Yuka stared at his son, a thought blossoming in his mind. He turned his gaze to Dwyn, scrutinizing the boy.

Dwyn chuckled, and it was almost visible, his progress from distant madman to intimate kooky boy. "Yeah, well, you have that affect on me." he patted Kieran on the head and stepped back against the wall. For the breifest second, he looked vaguely uncomfortable, but then a very familiar, almost-sultry smirk slid over his face and his shoulders straightened from their stringless-marrionette slump. "Are you guys staying for dinner? And where's mom?"

Kieran nodded slightly, satisfied that if Dwyn wasn't okay, he would be soon. "I think they are. She went for bread," he explained. "I'm sorry about dragging everyone up here..." he said apologetically, giving Dwyn a sweet little smile. "Gomen ne!" Kagami decided to use Caden's head as an elbow rest, it being about the right height, and peered down at Dwyn. "So this is the kid you're latched onto, huh? I pity you," she said conspiratorily, grinning at Dwyn. "He's worse than a cat on cat-mint most days." Kieran just ignored his sister with many years of practice.

"Cat mint?" Dwyn's head twisted to look at Kieran and he seemed thoughtful. "Cat mint. We should see about cat mint," he said with the air of someone getting an idea. "Cat mint tea... I know mom has it somewhere..." And suddenly, like a little rocket, he was bounding into the kitchen and rifling through cupboards, crouched up on the counter on his knees and in a rather precarious position.

Kieran's eyes widened. "Dwyn!" he protested, following his friend. "That's probably not the best idea," he said warily, resting a hand on the other boy's back to keep him steady.

"Chill, I'm okay," Dwyn told him, dropping a carboard box of teabags on his head. "Er... sorry Kitten. Hold these." He immedietly filled Kieran's arms with boxes and jars of tea.

"Sooooooo, is it just me or is Kieran's friend a little...." Caden circled a finger around his temple and eyed Corus.

Kieran took them carefully, not seeming to mind having been cronked one with a box of tea. "What -are- you digging for? You can't be serious about cat-mint..."

Corus glanced after the two of them, eyeing them in the kitchen. "Yeah, he is. Wonder what his deal is."

"Of COURSE I'm serious about catmint!" he exclaimed. "Goddess, ears, tail, who knows what ELSE got mutated? Hey, S'your fault for not wanting to change back. I mean, I OFFERED. HEY!" He yanked out a little jar full of something gray. "Found it!"

Kagami rolled her eyes. "You are -so- immature. Just because he's not firmly connected to the earth doesn't mean he's nuts." Which, looking at him, she half thought he was, but still. It wasn't polite.

Kieran bit his lip. "Well, considering that I purr and on occasion hock up furballs," he said, sounding the slightest bit sarcastic, "it can only cause so much damage to try."

Dwyn twisted around, nearly falling off the counter but grabbing onto one of the shelves, and eyeing Kagami. "No," he said flatly, "I AM nuts." With that, he turned and started shoveling jars and boxes back into the cupboard. Kieran handed the boxes back to Dwyn, gripping the other boy's shirt and ready to catch him should he fall.

Kagami stared at Dwyn for a long moment before turning and shaking her head. "Leave it to Kieran."

Dwyn... didn't exactly fall. More like he threw himself backwards off of the counter and landed smack on his back, despite Kieran's best efforts. The THUMP resounded through the floor and he rolled immedietly to his feet, sliding the jar along the counter with a flick of his wrist and yanking a lower cupboard open in search of the teapot.

"DWYN!" Sabbath scolded from the stairs. "How many times do I have to tell you, DON'T ABUSE MY FLOOR!"

"Sorry mom!' Dwyn called absently, dropping the teapot into the sink with a clatter and pumping the mini water-pump.

Kieran sweatdropped and glanced back at his family, more than used to Dwyn's masochistic tendencies. "It's a bit strange around here," he said with a grin, as though he got some sort of perverse pleasure in seeing the looks on their faces.

Sabbath came bounding up the stairs and brushed past the Aladriss clan with a few muttered "Excuse me.... 'scuse me...." Standing next to the counter, she paused, placed both hands on her hips, and whirled on them. "Why are you all standing around? There are perfectly good chairs RIGHT THERE."

Cross had to laugh. He just couldn't hlep it. He pushed Kagami and Yuka onto the couch and flopped down between them. "You're too kind, miss...."

Kieran grinned to himself, relishing the idea that his poor, sheltered family would be exposed to the pure wackiness that was this place. He couldn't -wait- to see the looks on their faces when Dwyn and Sabbath started swearing at each other, which was bound to happen at -least- twice on any given day.

Yuka shook his head, smiling up at Sabbath as he nestled into Cross' side. "Our thanks," he said warmly. Kagami just shook her head and peered into the kitchen, wondering if Kieran had managed to throw himself off a counter and perhaps hit his head and THAT was how he'd ended up associating with these whackballs.

She favored Yuka and Cross with her sunniest smile. "Oh, not at all. I've been rather looking forward to this. Don't worry about a thing.... I'm not a Witch for nothing." She waved a hand and spoke a command word and suddenly dropped a large basket of steaming bread onto the counter. "Dwyn!' She snapped. "What are you doing with my teapot?"

"I want to see if Kieran likes catmint," Dwyn told her, peeking under the lid to see if it was boiling yet.

Sabbath blinked, then gave him a dry look. "Dwyn? Dearest darling son of mine?"

Dwyn stiffened. "Um...."

"I'm not drinking that," Kieran informed Dwyn, taking a step back from his friend and his mother.

"I KNOW that since we have.. oh.... SIX cats, you are quite aware of what EXACTLY catmint does to a feline. Would that be a correct assumption?"

Dwyn stepped hurriedly away from the teapot. "Uh...."

"So tell me, if you would, what exactly is the point in turning poor, innocent Kieran, who has been so helpful to me with the shop's decorations while YOU were up here "Exploring the inner darkness" or whatever it is you and your father do with razor blades in your spare time, into a melted, madly purring, no longer sane pile of kitten goodness...." she trailed off and eyed Kieran, open mouthed, before waving a hand. "Never mind. Carry on!"

Dwyn grinned and made an enthusiastic sound, springing for the strainer.

"Hey!" Kieran exclaimed, giving Sabbath a betrayed look. "No melted, madly purring, no longer sane pile of kitteny goodness here! My PARENTS are listening to you two!"

Sabbath arched an eyebrow. "Darling, your parents are GAY. How much are you willing to bet they haven't seen, especially given how much you resemble your 'Tousan?"

Kieran turned a very interesting shade of red. "That has nothing to do with it!" he squeaked.

Cross, over on the couch, was laughing hysterically into his hands. Yuka was sitting there trying not to dissolve into giggles as well, and failing miserably, collapsed against Cross' side.

Sabbath poked his blush. "It has everything to do with everything! They were your age once too, you know. Hell, I'm a mom and I still think melted madly purring no longer sane piles of kitten goodness are cute as hell.

Corus tossed Caden a Look. "Should we run while we can?" he murmured, eyeing Sabbath warily.

Dwyn nodded rapidly and glomped Kieran suddenly, clinging to him and purring against his neck. "But maybe another time," he said reasonably.

Caden blinked. "Wow. I don't.... I mean..... Wow."

Sabbath rolled her eyes. "Right. Family gathering. Thank you, conscience mine....." She thwapped Dwyn on the head. "For ruining a perfectly good chance to embarass your best friend."

Dwyn shrugged. "Somebody's got to keep you in line, mom. You get pretty wild!"

Kieran couldn't make himself stay embarrassed, not when Dwyn was cuddling him so nicely. He purred back and looked up at Sabbath with a slight smile. "Don't scare them all at once. Save some insanity for when they think they've seen the worst," he grinned wickedly.

Sabbath thrust the buns into the oven. "I'm sorry? *I* get pretty wild? Who was it I caught trying to fly around on MY BROOM well above a safe beginner's height just last week?"

"Mom, it was just the roof!" Dwyn protested, ducking as she growled and took a swipe at him. "You jump off the roof all the time! Hell, *I* jump off the roof all the time! Just cause it was the broom, and I promise, I wasn't going to BREAK it!"

"Well, it wasn't like I thought you'd break your HEAD," she said dryly. "And as for wild, because that WAS the point of this argument at one point, need I mention... well, the ROOF.... that little fire incident, that time you and Taliesin tried to turn the LEGISLATURE BUILDING purple, the time you..."

Kieran looked from Dwyn to Sabbath and shook his head. "They're always like this. And really, if they weren't so weird, they wouldn't be half as cool," he told the flamboozled faces of his siblings. Corus blinked and shook his head, and Kagami just nodded slowly, as though she figured she'd be butchered and eaten no matter how she reacted. And Yuka was still leaning on Cross and giggling like a dope.

Sabbath's tirade went on for a few minutes, as Cross listened and laughed harder with every incident she came up with. Finally, though, she had to breath, and Dwyn was instantly in her face with "Right, mom, and who was the only woman on board a pirate chaser crewed solely by men for three years? WHO married a homocidal psychopath? WHO told a dragon he could "stick his attitude up his ass"?"

"Being a dragon doesn't make him immune to being told where to shove it!"

Kieran giggled. "Arekuru's not the only crazy one here," he said conspiratorily, grinning back at Cross and Yuka.

"His being a dragon should have given you second thoughts about telling him where to shove it!" Dwyn exclaimed.

Sabbath threw up her hands. "Yeah, well, excuse me for getting nauseous under the weight of all the antisemetic misogyny he was spouting! I mean, goddess, this is supposed to be an ELDER WYRM or some such bullshit and he's going on and on about how women aren't useful for anything other than pleasing men? PLEASE note that I believe I FIRMLY corrected his opinion..... not that he lived to appreciate his new enlightenment!" Steam was practically coming out of her ears.

"Dude," Caden murmured slowly. "Your mom kicks ass!"

Kieran pressed a hand over Dwyn's mouth. "Good time to stop," he advised.

Sabbath paused in mid-tirade to beam at Caden. "Why thank you! All the young men in this family are SO polite.... that speaks of good parentage." She shot Cross and Yuka a wink.

Cross was desperately trying to breathe and he barely managed to make a "thank you" gesture before he curled himself around Yuka and started to cry. Yuka broke down laughing again, hardly able to nod at Sabbath in acknowledgement.

Dwyn wrapped his fingers around Kieran's wrist and bit his hand. And gnawed happily.

Kieran gasped and shivered, his tail curling in on itself. "Dwyn," he whimpered.

Corus couldn't resist and burst out laughing.

Caden started giggling madly. "So, what's for supper, Mrs..... um... what was that name again? It was kinda long..."

"Oh, it's just Sabbath," she told him absently, plopping herself in her kitchen where she could reach her oven and stove. "I'm not a Mrs. Anything.... makes me sound old."

Kieran was busy being eaten for dinner, but he managed to glance back at his brothers and give them dirty looks. Yuka finally regained control of himself and wiped tears from his eyes, looking over at Sabbath with a pained smile - laughing that hard hurt.

Kieran was busy being eaten for dinner, but he managed to glance back at his brothers and give them dirty looks. Yuka finally regained control of himself and wiped tears from his eyes, looking over at Sabbath with a pained smile - laughing that hard hurt.

"You ARE old," Dwyn muttered and Sabbath rounded on him with a spoon. "Say that again?"

"NOTHING!"

Kieran pressed his hand more firmly against Dwyn's mouth. "See, there's a REASON I'm trying to keep you quiet," he chirped sweetly.

Sabbath chuckled and shot Yuka a grin as warm as the merrily crackling fire in front of him, a relief after the cold. "You've got more kids," she observed dryly, "But I think my house is probably less organized."

"I won't disagree with you there," Yuka said warmly, glancing down at Cross. "Don't forget to breathe, now, kanojo," he said lightly as he looked back up at Sabbath. "So he hasn't been any trouble to you?"

"Who, Kieran? Not at all. We've been happy to have him." As Dwyn curled around his nekojin and absently gnawed at his neck, she hauled a rather large cauldron full of water from the pump to the fireplace, through their midst, grunting. "Dwyn doesn't really... have many friends... around here, so it's nice... that he can have somebody..." she hauled the cauldron up, muscles straining through soft skin, and got it hanging on the hook. "to talk to." She let out a breath and brushed her hands on her skirt. "Hang out with. That sort of thing."

Kieran melted and let Dwyn chew on him, a low, rumbling purr rising from his throat as he succumbed to his friend's teeth. Yuka would have offered to help Sabbath, but she was too quick for him and done before he could say anything. He settled for smiling up at her and nodding. "It's good for Kieran, too. He's a bit reclusive."

Corus was busy staring at Dwyn and Kieran, and he poked Caden and nodded at them. "Is it just me, or are you suspicious?"

"'A bit' would be that little thing I like to call and understatement," Sabbath said, stepping back to the kitchen and wrapping a starched white apron around her waist. "Getting him out of his room has been one hell of a struggle, but I suppose it's worth it. Dwyn! Stop chewing on him and keep an eye on your kettle."

Caden smirked. "Oh yeah, bro. I definately agree.... our little brother's found his true calling as a chew toy."

Kieran glanced at his brothers and stuck his tongue out at them. "I just taste good," he said defiantly, glaring at Caden and Corus.

Caden turned BEET red and made a strangled sound.

Yuka sighed and glanced at Kieran. "Well, alright, so he'd probably live in a cabin in the woods with twelve cats and a library if he had it his way, but..."

Kieran burst into giggles. "That's NOT what I meant, ecchi!"

Sabbath chuckled. "BUT he's done such a lovely job of keeping Dwyn occupied..." she shot Caden a knowing smirk. "... that it's been nice seeing his adorable face around instead of buried in a book. "

"I'm sure it has," Yuka smiled, looking at Caden. He wasn't sure he wanted to know why his son's face was that color...

Caden grinned. "SO. Right. Um.... hey, Mrs. Sabbath, do you need a hand with anything?" He leapt out of his seat, desperate to do something that would get his mind out of the gutter.

"Just Sabbath," she told him, and pointed a spoon at the tea kettle. "Since my son is occupied with behaving like he was raised in a barn, pick up that strainer and measure it about half full of those herbs in the ceramic jar. Yes, baby, the brown one. Close it and stick it in the teapot, and bank the fire a little.

"Recruited for duty," Corus said teasingly, grinning at Caden. He looked up at Sabbath, smiling brightly. "Got anything I can do? Hate to see my little brother outshining me in the politesse department."

Kieran turned his head, looking back at Dwyn. "Behaving like? You mean it's just an act?"

"Flirting will get you nowhere, kiddo," she told Corus flatly, then eyed Kieran. "Are you saying my house looks like a barn???"

Dwyn curled a hand over Kieran's mouth. "Now it's time for YOU to shut up," he said sweetly.

Kieran's eyes widened. "No!" he said hastily, muffled by glove. "Not at all!"

Corus sweatdropped. "And I thought parties were crazy back home..."

"Good." She Hmphed and busied herself stirring her cauldron. Her honest-to-god black cast iron cauldron.

Kieran breathed a sigh of relief and bit Dwyn's hand, figuring turnabout was fair play.

Dwyn didn't react at all to the bite, seeing as his hand was still gloved. "So maybe we ought to sit down then," he said slowly, releasing Kieran and throwing himself into his chair to curl up, dislodging Taliesin. The cat gave an angry yowl, then stalked back up into the chair and started to knead Dwyn's leg. With claws. Dwyn still didn't react.

Kieran barely noticed, having become used to Dwyn's strange tendency to pretend pain didn't exist to him, and sank down on the floor before Dwyn's chair, tail curling around his ankles as he pulled his knees to his chest. Corus, however, was staring at Dwyn with a pained look on his face. "Doesn't that -hurt-?" he demanded. Taliesin looked to be pretty pissed, and those claws looked SHARP.

Dwyn blinked tiger-golden eyes at him as Sabbath's motions slowed on the pot. "No," he said flatly. "Is it supposed to?" He looked down at Taliesin and picked the cat's claws out of his leg, holding them up in the air. Taliesin made an irritated sound.

"Well, when a cat sinks its meat-hooks into -my- leg, it usually hurts," Corus said, sounding somewhat surprised and a bit confused. Kieran craned his head around, peering up at Dwyn. He'd wondered if there was a reason for Dwyn's seeming masochism quite often since he'd noticed, and was infinitely curious as well.

Dwyn shrugged. "Cat's claws aren't enough," he told Corus. "Tali can't hurt me." He leaned in and rubbed noses with the cat. The cat jerked its head away and let out a plaintive yowl.

"Oh," Corus said, nodding like that explained it all... which it didn't.

Sabbath shrugged. "He called for a familiar, YOU came, kitty-cat. Don't tell me you regret it now, you'll get no help from me." Taliesin yowled again, sounding pitiful. Dwyn let him go.

Kieran giggled and tapped Dwyn's nose with one sharp nail. "You're silly," he said fondly.

Yuka strongly resisted the urge to go "awwwww."

Dwyn smirked at Kieran. "Crazy in a fun way.... or so I hear."

Sabbath sighed. "Yeah babe, that's us. Crazy in a fun way."

Kieran nodded enthusiastically. "Sanity is overrated," he said, winking at Dwyn.

Dwyn snorted. "Sanity is WAY overrated if it means walking around with a stick up your ass like the NORMAL people. F... er, screw that?" He shook his head vigorously.

Kieran smiled gratefully and nodded. "Precisely," he concurred.

Dwyn made a pleased sound and curled up in his chair, the back of his head resting againts the back of Kieran's head.

Kieran leaned back and purred at Dwyn, not minding at all sitting on the floor. Yuka raised an eyebrow at his son's behavior, but figured that if there was anything going on, Kieran was mature enough to go about it responsibly.

"Kitty," Dwyn murmured, petting Kieran's head. One hand wandered over and began to play with an ear. Caden almost protested, but snapped his mouth shut, the steam from the kettle brushing over his face as he watched for Kieran's reaction.

Kieran's eyes drifted shut and he leaned into Dwyn's hand, his purr growing louder as he was dragged into happy-neko-land.

Caden blinked. Kieran's ears... were WAY sensitive. It hurt him to have them played with, or so Caden thought. Or maybe some time had passed and he'd gotten used to it or something. Or maybe there were just a LOT of cats in this house, he noticed as about three of them strolled out of the hallway and began to sniff around the feet of the visitors.

Kieran's ears were indeed sensitive, but for some odd reason, they never hurt when he touched them, or when Dwyn did. Only when it was anyone else. And since he'd realized that Dwyn's touch caused no pain, he'd also noticed that the pain he felt from anyone else wasn' so much physical as internal. It was like it was -wrong- for anyone else to touch them. The boy extended a hand to one of the cats which nonchalantly passed him by and leapt onto Cross, tail a demanding flag in the air.

Cross pulled the cat into his lap and scratched along its spine cooperatively as Sabbath bustled about, ordering Caden around like a kitchen maid (every minute of which he seemed to enjoy) and getting food set out. "Dwyn, set up the table," she instructed him eventually, and he unhappily left his comfortable chair to comply.

Kieran pouted and would have gotten up to help, too, but he knew Sabbath would just tell him to sit down again.

Sabbath wouldn't have told him to sit down. Had it not been his family she was entertaining, she would have been ordering him around as well. But she had enough tact to give him some time to be with them. Hence, Dwyn doing all the work, which he didn't seem to mind so much.

Kieran shifted, crawling up into Dwyn's chair and curling into a corner of it as he watched Sabbath boss his brother and best friend around. He smiled, glancing over at his family - his FAMILY, here to see him - and knew that really, there was nothing better than having all the people you loved with you and together and all happy and crap.

"So where were you folks going to stay the night?" Sabbath wondered as she added something to her cauldron that made a puff of smoke flare from the mouth.

Yuka glanced at Cross. "We were planning on a tavern of some sort," he said. Corus nodded, craning his neck to peer into Sabbath's cauldron. Kagami, who was being very quiet, finally looked up from her hands, which had been busy doing gods-only-know what to a small, hard ball, and grinned at Kieran, who smiled back sweetly.

She shrugged and nodded. "The Halfling's Hostel is right down the road a bit. It's a popular place... famous for the service as you can probably imagine."

"Their cooking isn't half as good as Sabbath's," Kieran informed the assembled gravely.

"Flattery, little one, will get you..."

"Everywhere with me!" Dwyn finished for her. "Yeah, mom. We know."

Kieran giggled and sat up, tail swaying in the air. "Well it's -true-," he insisted.

She rolled her eyes. "Riiiiight. Quite while you're ahead, kid."

"Yes'm," Kieran said obediently.

"Mom has this self-esteem problem where she doesn't really believe any compliment you give her," Dwyn explained, dodging a swipe of her spoon that hit his forearm instead of his skull. The bandage began to slowly turn red, but Dwyn was oblivious, happily continuing. "But seriously, she's a great cook. You just have to watch out for a kitchen-witch... you never know what spells they're putting in their food."

"I think she's enchanted me to gain weight," Kieran said, hopping up from his chair and wandering after Dwyn, following him around like a cat after a man with milk or fish.

"Hey there. Since you're up," he said cheerfully, handing Kieran one of the table extensions and struggling to get his own to fit into the little holes it was supposed to fit into. "And yeah, kitten, it's AMAZING how much weight you gain when you actually BOTHER to eat. Man doesn't live by books alone!"

"Yes he does," Kieran said lightly, grinning at Dwyn and taking the extension. He bent down and peered at the table, then at the slots, and lifted the leaf and slid it into place with a light 'click'.

Dwyn ignored the ease with which he did that, flipping the next extention over as the bandage on his arm continued to redden and darken without his noticing. "No he DOESN'T or you wouldn't have been a skeleton when I found you!"

"I was not a skeleton," Kieran protested, moving to Dwyn's side of the table and taking the extension from him gently to put it onto the table. He glanced up at Dwyn and frowned, gripping his friend by the chin and turning his face so he'd notice. "Maybe you should change that," the nekojin said softly, dark eyes warm and concerned.

Dwyn eyed the bandage curiously. "Hm." He shrugged. "Must have bumped it. You're right." He turned and bound away, headed for his room, as Sabbath let out an exasperated sigh.

Caden chewed his lower lip. "Um, he didn't notice that he bumped it? And what did he DO?"

Kieran tossed Caden a rather cold look that told him it was none of his business. Caden froze under the ice in his brother's gaze, lifted his chin slowly, and then turned back to his tasks. Kieran followed Dwyn, trailing the other boy back to his room. "Do you want some help?" he asked quietly, knowing it was hard to rewrap one's arm with the other arm.

Dwyn shrugged and sat down on his own bed, pulling the bandage off to reveal a line of short, straight, and deep cuts from his bicept to his wrist. A few of them were curved, as if he'd started designs and not finished them, and all in all it was just a bloody mess. He shouldn't have even been able to use the arm after cutting it so much and so deep, but he hadn't appeared to have a shred of trouble... and his other arm was bandaged as well.

Kieran stared in fascination, stepping closer. He licked his lips, his throat suddenly dry. ~Why doesn't that scare me? Why does it look...~ His mind resisted the word, but it was there, refusing to be ignored. ~...Pretty?~ Those thoughts frightened him, but he refused to let himself worry about that now when Dwyn was less than okay. "Why?" he whispered. He wanted to know. Wanted to know why they were so exquisite, those red, oozing lines marring Dwyn's arm. Wanted to know why Dwyn didn't feel it, why he himself wasn't disgusted.

"Because it feels warm," he said absently, staring at the cuts just like Kieran was. Slender fingers poked at the edges of one, nails digging in, and blood welled from the scab to fill the cut. "It's... deep. Somehow. I don't know how to tell you. It's not straight in my head."

"I don't think it would be," Kieran murmured, perching next to Dwyn and looking at the flowing blood intently. "Does it feel right?" he wondered. "Does it hurt?" If he'd been asking anyone else, it would have been a stupid question, but with Dwyn... Kieran had his suspicions.

He shook his head. "Not this. But if I cut deep enough, if I go all the way to the bone, I can feel it and it aches." His voice shook as if that ache was some sort of thrill. "But only if I do it DEEP. Up here.... there isn't anything. Hot and cold, I know that, and I can feel the skin part, and I can feel my nails." He twisted his nails in the cut, then dug one finger deeper, veins in the back of his hand arching as his fingernail sought the bone. "But the ache is here."

"Dwyn, don't," Kieran said in a low tone, steady and utterly calm. "It's not safe. Even if you don't feel it, you can get diseases in your bones like that, and those'll kill you, ache or no." He hesitated a moment, then spoke again. "Does it... feel good?"

He nodded. "I know I shouldn't do it. The human body can only take so much abuse and it worries mom." his head drooped. "She doesn't show it much, but it REALLY worries her. And I hate to do that. But sometimes when I... feel like shit, I just HAVE to. I don't know how to explain it. I just want to get my fingers inside and dig the nastiness out."

"Why did you feel like shit?" Kieran asked, sounding as though that were what upset him. He knew he should be scared, if not disgusted, but he just couldn't be. It was... Dwyn. On some level, he wasn't surprised at all.

He shook his head. "Nah. Let's not get into that."

"Is it... were you looking for your father?" Kieran asked slowly, wondering if that was as stupid a question as it sounded like to him.

Dwyn blinked at him. "Yeah, actually. But how'd you know?"

"Well.. Sabbath said you went to the gates and you'd come back upset. The gates, he'd be coming through, and... well, I'd look at Yule too," Kieran said softly. "You really miss him, don't you?"

Dwyn slipped a blade between his teeth and twisted. It scraped across his lips and reddened slightly.

"Dwyn..." Kieran wrapped his fingers around Dwyn's wrist, pulling the knife away and lifting his other hand to wipe away the blood on his lip gently, not seeming to notice that Dwyn's hand was coated in blood. "Maybe he'll come. I'll go with you tomorrow to look, if you like, and maybe we can scry for him and send a message or something," he suggested brightly.

He shook his head. "No." Giving his entire body a good shake, he stood up, moving abruptly away from Kieran, and hunted through his desk for another bandage. "If he comes, he comes. If he doesn't, he doesn't. I shouldn't even expect him and if we try to invite him, he just makes himself harder to find. He doesn't want to be attatched to us, and really, I'm lucky I've EVER seen him."

"Do you really believe that he doesn't want to be attached to you?" Kieran asked softly. There was a lot of bitterness and a lot of pain in the issue he was poking at, but somebody had to do it, and he wanted to help.

He eyed Kieran as though that was a really stupid question. "It's not a matter of what I believe, it's a matter of what's true," he said dryly. "He's said as much. Believe me, if you'd ever met him, you wouldn't wonder why he's not the stay-at-home type. I know why mom fell for him... they're both bloodthirsty psychopaths when the urge strikes them. I mean, so am I... so I guess it might have worked if she'd kept adventuring. BUt she didn't want to put me in danger like that so she settled in one place to have me and he just kept moving. He circles and sometimes if I'm lucky, he circles back around here. He always brings me something." He smirked slightly and tugged at the single gold ring in his left ear. "He brought me this, from Rasheman. It's got runes on it like in the book you brought me, but it's not magic or anything. It's just pretty. He has earrings like this one, so I guess...I like to wear it because I know I look like him and it reminds me of him. Which is sort of pathetic, but hell with it."

Kieran nodded slightly. "I... well, that kind of sucks, really. Why don't you go with him?" There was so little he could say right now, about -any- of this, but there was so much he wanted to. He didn't like seeing Dwyn in pain, even when it was so hard for him to feel it. He lifted the bandage from the open drawer and gently steered Dwyn back toward the bed, claiming his arm and carefully rewrapping it.

Dwyn smiled at the show of tenderness. "Leave my mom?" he questioned softly. "Here, by herself?"

Kieran gave Dwyn an even look. "Your mum is -more- than capable of taking care of herself. She'll be fine, and you don't have to stay away forever." His hands were sure and deft, and it was impossible to not get them bloody. He didn't seem to mind having Dwyn's blood on his hands, though; it was almost as if he didn't notice.

"I'm not worried about her well-being. I know she's tough... bloody hell, Kieran, you've got no IDEA how tough she is. But she'd be lonely, I think. And I don't want to leave her alone when I'm the only thing she's got."

"Why don't you talk to her about it?" Kieran suggested curiously. "And I'd make sure she didn't get -too- lonely."

"Or maybe she could go with you!"

"Well, no... the shop... well, I tried."

"And leave her shop and everything she built here? I mean, I have no doubt that she could up and do it if she really wanted to, but I think she's pretty much happy here." He nodded as Kieran realized it too. "besides, my Dad's never made any indication that he'd like to have me along with him. I can't go along if I'm not invited."

Kieran sighed and knelt at Dwyn's feet, ears drooping. "I really wish there was something I could do," he said softly, eyes fixed on the floor. It hurt that there was no way to make Dwyn feel better. ~He misses his father so much and there's really nothing he can do about it...~

Dwyn slid off his bed to kneel in front of Kieran, instinctively refusing to be above his level. His fingers wrapped around Kieran's wrist even as he rested his head on Kie's shoulder, and brought those bloodstained fingers up to his lips, sliding them between his teeth but not biting, instead gently sucking the blood away from them.

Kieran started, glancing at Dwyn in surprise. The other was... licking the blood from his hands. It sent a shiver down his back and the tip of his tail twitched as he bit his lip. He couldn't say anything, so he just let Dwyn do it, finding it intimate in a strange and macabre fashion.

"Believe it or not," Dwyn said, sounding both tired and sane, "You do plenty just by sticking around. I mean, really. I'm amazed you haven't fled for the hills screaming yet. There's a reason normal people don't accept us and it's a damned good reason. They don't understand people like me. They're afraid of people like me." he paused and bit down lightly on Kieran's index finger. "They SHOULD be afraid of people like me. We're always dancing one step away from the abyss."

Kieran smiled and tipped Dwyn's head upward, meeting those golden eyes fully. "And only in madness can one find truth. I... I'm not afraid of you. I trust you. I don't want to be afraid of you," he said softly, leaning forward and kissing the tip of the other boy's nose.

Dwyn chuckled. "Heh. S'funny. That's the exact same reason my Dad never murdered my mom, like he murders just about everyone else around him.... she was never scared of him. I still don't know how she trusted him. I don't even know how *I* trust him. But I do, and I've never been scared of him either, so... we're still alive." He smiled lopsidedly. "You're not afraid of me, and you trust me. So I don't hurt you."

Kieran bit his lip and nodded slightly. "Can I tell you something, Dwyn?" he said softly, dark eyes inscrutable.

He nodded. "Yes. You can tell me anything."

"I think I'd like it if you hurt me." Even saying that sent a shiver down his spine, and Kieran wasn't sure why he was so sure of it... but he was.

Dwyn's expression didn't change from a thoughtful sort of consideration. "What do you mean?" he asked quietly.

Kieran shrugged uneasily. "I don't know. I guess sometimes... I'll bite myself or scratch myself, and it doesn't hurt. Sometimes it's good. Like, really good. And... well, I guess I wouldn't mind if you... it's good when you bite me." He was blushing, cheeks a charming shade of pink.

Dwyn continued to look thoughtful. He reached for Kieran's hands and gently took back the blade Kieran had wrestled from him earlier. His hands pulled Kieran's tunic from its belt.

Kieran held perfectly still and let him do it, not sure what he intended but still, even when this crazy little boy had a knife and was looking at him like that, those intense gold eyes... he still trusted him.

Dwyn pushed Kieran onto his back, moving his tunic up to bare his stomach. One hand inched across the pale skin , thumb brushing the edges of the whip scars that curled around his ribs. A scourge was a terrible thing. "You didn't enjoy this, did you?"

Kieran shook his head, looking up at Dwyn with wide black eyes. His heart was pounding, but it wasn't in fear. It was a sweet sort of anticipation, and it was almost frightening in its intensity.

He nodded. "You didn't like this hurt. What makes you think me hurting you would be different?" The dull edge of the blade was cold against his stomach as Dwyn moved it slowly up toward his chest, the sharp edge pointed toward the ceiling.

"Because I'd let you," Kieran said softly. He wasn't sure why, but he knew it was true.

He considered that, leaning over Kieran and straddeling his thighs. He slowly turned the knife blade, letting Kieran watch, and pressed the sharp edge into his skin just below the right side of his collarbone. The flesh dented, not bleeding yet.

Kieran shivered. He could feel that, and it was rippling out under his skin like ice, or perhaps fire - it was too foreign to tell. It didn't hurt, not as he knew pain, and his eyes never left Dwyn's, obsidian depths full of faith.

Dwyn's teeth found a bit of loose skin on his lip and tore at it as he let out a slow breath and flicked the knife down. It was a shallow cut, barely a scratch, but blood welled quickly and started to drip away from the wound. Dwyn's tongue slid along his lips.

Kieran gasped softly, nails digging into the floor beneath him. Oh, if that was pain, then he never wanted to heal. Maybe this was what Dwyn felt when he hurt himself. It was... it was finishing, like it cracked his mind and crystallized it all at once.

Dwyn leaned in and licked up the escaping drop of blood, eyes so fiercely dilated that there was barely a pinprick of pupil in the sea of gold. His lips found the edges of the cut and sucked gently at it.

Meanwhile, back in the main room where he was trying to have a parental conversation with Sabbath, Cross fell silent mid-word, eyes flying wide at the sudden RUSH of feelings that broke against his mental shields.

Kieran shivered, one hand lifting to slide into Dwyn's hair. "Kami-sama," he breathed, eyes wide. That was more intense than anything he'd ever felt, moreso than anything Caden had ever done to him. It was deeper... purer, somehow.

"What does that mean?" Dwyn lifted his head, still balanced on elbows and knees over Kieran, lips stained with his blood.

"It's... to a god. Why did you do that?" Kieran asked, reaching up to rub his thumb over Dwyn's lip, fascinated by the liquid rubies that sparkled there.

"Blood stainds are hard to remove. I didn't think you'd want your family to see it." He took Kieran's thumb into his mouth and nibbled it, the sharp edges of his teeth skating along the pad breifly.

Out in the living room, Sabbath glanced up. "Oh, goddess. I'll take care of this, stay right here...," she said, making a beeline for the bedroom. Cross ignored her words and followed her anyway.

"Oh," Kieran managed, shivering again. His eyes were wide and glazed, but it was hard to tell where pupil ended and iris began in those black depths. "Maybe we should..."

"Stop. I know." He said back slowly and pressed two fingers to the slender cut, letting the blood clot against his skin and seal the wound. "Here." He pulled his fingers away and licked the blood from them, finding a small square of gauzy material. With a brush and bottle, he brushed a sort of glue onto the edges and pressed it over the cut. "There. It'll peel off in water," he assured Kieran, tugging his tunic back down.

Sabbath would never have walked into her son's room. Her parents had irritated the living hell out of her by doing such things. Instead, she let her body thunk against the doorframe and then rapped sharply on the door. "Dwyn! We're waiting out here! Save the blood letting for a more appropriate time!"

Cross didn't call out, instead eyeing Sabbath dryly and wondering, "Should I be concerned about the word 'bloodletting' being used in conjunction with my son?"

Kieran gently touched the small white square, just the knowledge that it was there - that Dwyn had cut him - making his mouth dry. He looked up as he heard Sabbath's voice, startled, and sat up in surprise, nearly dumping Dwyn off him. "Again?" he asked softly, catching the other's eyes.

"They're almost adults, Cross," she said firmly. "They can make their own choices. And Dwyn wouldn't lay a hand on your son to hurt him. He feels... protective toward Kieran."

Dwyn considered that, tongue caressing the blade. "You want to?" he inquired, eyebrow hiked.

Cross eyed the door. "I want..."

"Later," Kieran said, nodding and shifting to get to his feet.

"I know what you want," she cut him off. "You want to protect him for the rest of his life. Well, Aladriss, it's time to stop protecting your son and start kicking his ass. It's good to have a safe place with one's family, but one shouldn't spend one's life huddled in it. When he left you, he stayed in his room... stop protecting him, LET him get hurt, LET him figure out that the world's mostly full of paper tigers!"

Dwyn nodded and tested the knot in the new bandage, reluctantly laying the knife aside and straightening his clothing. "Later," he repeated, then said, "Stay here tonight? It's even closer to where your family is staying."

"The world ISN'T full of paper tigers," Cross said quietly. "I taught all my children to have pride in themselves, but Kieran's not as physically inclined as the others."

Kieran glanced up, surprised. "Your mum's telling off my Dad. She IS brave, and crazier'n you." He looked back to Dwyn and nodded, licking his lips. That suddenly had a new dimension to it, the thought that they could be alone together and do... -that-.

"Kieran is a MAGE," Sabbath told him. "Let me tell you something, Cross Aladriss. You should be FAR more afraid when of me when my hands are empty for spellcasting than you should when I hold a blade. There are many kinds of power in this world and he wields his chosen kind WELL." Her eyes flashed dangerously.

Cross's eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm well aware of that," he said a bit testily. "But as I said, they're not paper tigers and he's just a KID. There are monsters in this world, Sabbath. I should KNOW. I thought I was immune to fear too until one of the real ones got ahold of me."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, you're a vampire, I know. And by the way, I forgot to compliment you on NOT angsting over it as most of them do. In any case, what did it do to you? Hm? Look at you. You've got a husband and a house full of gorgeous children and a name famous across the sword coast and beyond for good deeds. Who gives a SHIT what you eat for a midnight snack? You survived and you did your best with what you had. I think your son has the same capability, but going through a little adversity is the only way he's going to find out that he has it!"

Dwyn blinked, and smiled at Kieran. "I told you you've got no idea how tough she is. That bit about the dragon? I wasn't making it up."

Kieran laughed. "I wouldn't doubt it. I bet Uncle Schuld would like her for the spunk-factor, as he says. I hope he's coming out this year..."

"And really, as far as intimidation goes, my dad makes your dad look like a pansy." He looked sheepish. "I mean, no offense, 'cause your dad isn't TRYING to be mean-looking. And yeah. I hope your uncle Schuld comes out too." He smiled.

Cross folded his arms and eyed her. "Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't balk at sending your son out into the world knowing very well how many things could hurt him."

Kieran's face lost all trace of jesting. "Every moment of every day he controls an aura that makes normal people run screaming. If he lets it out... your father is a candle to the sun when Cross Aladriss is pissed."

"I WOULD BALK!" she exclaimed. "But I would do it! He's not the only one with fear to get over! You've got to get over yours, that he'll leave you! Goddess, why am I talking to you? You're hardly the worst case in the family and Kieran's NOT the one you ought to be worried about."

Dwyn thought that over. "Yeah, but does Cross Aladriss kill people for shits and giggles? I mean, it's all well and good if he's a bad-ass, but if he's a good guy, I'd have a hard time being intimidated 'cause there's only so far he'll go. Whereas I KNOW my dad would peel out my trachea with his nails if I baited him into it."

"Should we stop them?" Kieran asked, glancing at the door and really trying to avoid the mental image of the damage that could be done to the entire surrounding neighborhood were Cross and Sabbath to duke it out. He looked back at Dwyn, trying to picture that. "He could try," he finally said. "But he'd have to get through me first."

Cross wanted to be angry, but he could see the concern... and the knowledge... in her eyes so he restrained his temper. "You're right. I'm afraid of him leaving me. I'll outlive him a thousand times over assuming I don't do something stupid, and every day I have with him is precious. I don't want any of them stolen from me. But I can let him go if that's what he wants. Even if he's going to get himself hurt. And he IS the most vulnerable of all of them, I still think. He hesitates to use what he's got. He doesn't LIKE to hurt people. And that hesitation could kill him."

Dwyn smiled. "He wouldn't," he said. "I wouldn't bait him into it and I really don't think he has any wish to see me dead." He glanced toward the door. "I don't know. Sometimes my mom takes it into her head to kick people's asses and then screw their heads on straight about stuff. And maybe we'd just better not interupt."

"He'll LEARN," Sabbath insisted. "The only way he'll learn is through experience. YOU know that, you're a self-made man. But you've got other problems."

"Sounds like a better idea than making them both pissed at us for interrupting," Kieran said, gripping Dwyn gently by the shoulder and pulling him backward onto the bed, plopping down next to him. "Now, do we be good and pretend to not hear and talk about something else, or do we drop some eaves?"

Dwyn smirked. "Drop eaves, of course. She'll wind down pretty soon."

Cross sighed. "Other problems."

Kieran grinned. "So nice to see you think my way," he purred, leaning into Dwyn's side.

"Other problems. Something that makes me hurt HERE." She clenched her fist and held it just below her heart. "I couldn't tell you what it is, but my Witch's Intuition is screaming. Something's broken, breaking more every day, and it's being hidden behind smiles and laughter. Your son..."

"I know about Caden," Cross said quietly, barely a whisper. He and Sabbath stared each other down for a moment, and then she nodded and stepped back. "All right. You know. Are you going to DO anything?"

"What can I do?" he asked tiredly. "I can't touch that.... thing. I can accept him with it, I can withstand it, I can help him subdue it, but it's part of him and he'll have to figure out how to deal with it on his own. He's leaving home in the spring."

Dwyn smirked and snuggled him. "Great minds think alike," he said sagely.

She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. "All right. Now, shall we extract our children and get them to the table before dinner burns?"

Cross smiled fleetingly and rapped on the door. "Guys! Come on, get decent and get out here!"

Kieran snickered. "Decent, huh? You'd think they expect us of making out in here," he chuckled, tugging Dwyn up with him and being very careful of his arm.

Dwyn hiked a brow, got up, and yanked the door open. "I'm insulted that you think I would scandalize your son," he said dryly to Cross. "Especially in this setting. For him, I'd insist on silken sheets AT LEAST." Brushing past Cross, he bumped against his mother, half nuzzling her before returning to the living room.

Sabbath snickered.

Cross rolled his eyes and then pinpointed Kieran. "Silk sheets, hmm?"

Kieran just shook his head and smiled, shrugging to Cross as he ducked past and slipped down the hall. "Black ones, of course," he tossed over his shoulder, suppressing a giggle.

Sabbath threw her head back and cackled.

Cross blinked. "You do that WAY too well," he told her.

She showed him her teeth. "I know."

Dwyn stepped back into the main room and snapped his hip into the table to make sure the joints were tight together, spinning on his heels and heading back to the kitchen to rub elbows with Caden in the process of gathering the food preparations. Caden jostled him. Dwyn jostled him back. Caden jostled him back and Dwyn slammed into the counter, calmly picking up a bowl of some sort of thick, grainy, creamy substance and carrying it to the table.

Returning for the teapot, Dwyn jostled Caden again. Caden yelped and smacked into the counter this time. He made a face and flicked an empty tea bag at Dwyn. Dwyn showed his teeth. Caden just laughed.

Kieran walked by and stopped between the two of them. "Stop," he said softly, glaring at Caden darkly.

Caden blinked. "What? It was mutual Dwyn blinked also, giving Kieran a quizzical look.

"I'll glue you together if you can't be nice," he muttered, turning that baleful stare at Dwyn.

Dwyn picked the tea bag out of his hair. "Then you would be happy," he reasoned. "Because the he couldn't leave."

Kieran frowned. "And lock you in a basement so neither of you can annoy anyone else with childish sniping."

"But we didn't say anything to each other," Caden pointed out, grinning and patting Kieran's shoulder. "Come on, Kie-chan. Lighten up."

Kieran gave him a solemn, wide-eyed stare. "Please, just don't..." he said softly, offering Caden a soulful look.

Caden blinked, grin fading. He glanced at Dwyn, who was eyeing him evenly, a smirk hanging in the corners of his mouth, then back at Kieran. And back and forth again. Then he shrugged and let out a laugh. "Whatever you say, Kie-chan." he picked up the basket of bread and took it to the table.

Kieran nodded, satisfied, and turned to look at Dwyn. "And you won't, either, right?" he asked, looking up at him with the slightest hint of a pout on his full lips.

Dwyn shrugged. "As you wish."

"Thank you," Kieran said, giving Dwyn a sweet smile. It wouldn't be fun to see Caden and Dwyn fighting, either...

Dwyn rolled his eyes. "I would have done it anyway," he muttered. "You just have to ask." He took the teapot to the table and started setting out cups. It was catmint tea.

Kieran's nose twitched and his tail flickered in the air. Whatever kind of tea that was smelled GOOD, and he licked his lips and eyed it thoughtfully. But the catmint would have to wait. Kieran managed to refocus and look up, looking from Sabbath to Cross. They -had- to know that he and Dwyn had heard most of that conversation. Kieran glanced back at Caden, a worried look crossing his face.

Caden whistled to himself, bouncing to the beat as he moved around the table placing silverware. Sabbath joined in as Cross started pulling chairs up to the table.

Okay, so it was impossible to tell anything was wrong with Caden, but Sabbath could see right through people, and Kieran knew Cross could too. He sighed and made a note to try and talk to him about it. Caden never talked to him about anything. He listened, but he wouldn't talk. It hurt.

Dwyn poured tea swiftly, setting out little bowls of sugar and such as Sabbath went to the oven, took the door down, and removed the roast she'd had in there since the morning. It was somewhat small for the number of people there, hence the ammount of other food. With amazing alacrity and organization for such a large and disorganized group, they were seated and eating, talking amongst themselves and getting to know each other, or just catching up. Before anyone noticed it, it was time to leave, and the night was winding to an end.

***

Much later, Dwyn was yawning chronically and Sabbath had escorted their guests out graciously, summoning a combination of spells to get her dishes to do themselves, as she was simply too tired after withstanding so much company. She sent Kieran and Dwyn to bed with their teapot and an extra blanket against the winter chill, admonishing them not to do anything that would make their parents fight over them tomorrow.

Kieran was sitting at Dwyn's side, curled into him on the bed. "So what is that tea?" he inquired, finally too curious to stand the smell of it anymore. It was warm under the extra blanket and warmer so against Dwyn, the thin line on his chest hypersensitive to the slightest pressure.

Dwyn shrugged out of his tunic and belt, leaving just his pants in place. "Catnip," he said with a smirk. "And now that nobody's around except the two of us, you can have it."

Kieran looked at the teapot, eyes widening. "I... well... I guess. I've never had cat-mint," he confessed softly, wriggling out of his shirt and narrow belt as well.

Dwyn smiled and slipped behind him, leaning in to run his fingers along the scars on Kieran's back. "Well, consider it an experiment... and don't worry, I'll have some too." He reached over and poured two cups.

Kieran shivered and leaned into Dwyn's touch, nodding slowly. "Alright. Shin yo desu," he said, giving the other boy a sweet smile as he lifted one of the cups, sniffing at it curiously. Oh, it smelled absolutely delicious; he licked his lips and eyed it. ~Here's to hoping I don't set myself on fire.~ He tentatively took a sip.

Dwyn picked up his mug and drank slowly, sitting on the bed in front of Kieran, feet folded up underneath him, pale and muscled frame curled under as he cupped his hands, no longer in their gloves but still bandaged from the wrists up, around the cup.

Kieran purred softly, taking another drink. He liked tea, and it was a very nice tea. It made him feel shivery and warm, like everything was perfectly okay.

Dwyn made a quiet sound of pleasure as he smelled the soothing aroma of the hot tea, watching Kieran. "I don't want you to do anything you'd regret later," he said quietly. "So maybe it's best to tell me now what you do and don't mind."

Kieran looked up at him and smiled sweetly. "I trust you," he repeated, this time so Dwyn could comprehend. "Anything you want, you can have." It felt right to say that, and as the tea started to take effect, suddenly there was no right or wrong, just fizzyness and warmth.

"And anything you want, you can have," Dwyn told him solemnly. He pulled Kieran toward him and laid him back on that bed, getting up and selecting a few knives of varying lengths and blade types from his rather large collection.

Kieran gazed up at him and smiled again, dark eyes unfathomable. "Ai shiteru," he purred, propping himself up just enough to drink down the rest of that lovely tea before laying back again, sufficiently more fucked up.

Dwyn didn't know what that meant, but he was willing to let it go. He ran his hands slowly over Kieran's chest. The flesh was so pure, so beautifully unmarked. He could have drawn pictures on that skin with his blades and colored them in blood. And he could even have healed them before they scarred.... but for now, it was probably best to take it slow. He flicked the edge of a blade with his thumb and traced it from Kieran's collarbone down, reopening the almost-closed cut from earlier.

Kieran gave a soft little moan and stretched out, purring throbbingly as his hand closed around Dwyn's. He felt no fear, no doubt, nothing here but a perfect safety. It was incredible to give up control so completely, and the blood... the blood just made everything more -real-.

Dwyn's lips found the wound, teeth plying at the edges of it, sucking firmly along the cut as he dug the tip of the knife into Kieran's torso just below his stomach and slowly made a very shallow cut down to his navel.

Kieran gasped and clung to Dwyn's shoulder, arching into his touch, into the sweet silver kiss of the blade. His tail twitched rapidly as he trembled, eyes very wide and pupils almost entirely dilated, though it was impossible to tell.

His thumbnail dug gently into that first cut as he moved lower, tongue finding the cut down the center of his body and meandering along it before he fastened lips and teeth to it and drew hard at the skin, drawing the blood into his mouth. He didn't swallow, licking the entire length of the wound clean with languid flicks of his tongue. Gods, Kieran tasted SO good... he raised his head, blood falling from his lips to spatter on pale flesh of a heaving stomach. And he crawled up Kieran's body and hovered, lips a millimeter from his, the scent of blood strong in his nostrils.

Kieran licked his lips as a drop of blood fell and struck the corner of his mouth. It felt good. It didn't hurt... not at all. It was like Dwyn's touch -couldn't- hurt him. It felt almost as though that knife could carve away all the distractions and leave him perfectly vulnerable.

Dwyn continued to hover there, knife flat dragging slowly up his stomach, over his chest, to pry at the softly darkened skin at the edge of a nipple.

Kieran's breath caught in his throat and he shivered violently, fingers convulsing on Dwyn's shoulders. There was a hanging antici... pation that made every inch of his skin tingle, the smell of blood thick and heavi in the air making a heady perfume.

Dwyn pressed his lips firmly to Kieran's, tongue slipping the taste of his own blood into his mouth, foisting, forcing, urging, sharing. The tip of the knife he brushed over the hardened nub of the nipple over and over, rubbing the sensitive flesh raw.

Kieran's purr tripled in volume as he lifted his chin, returning the kiss sweetly. Blood and spice was the flavor there, metallic and insistent. Kieran's tail wound itself around Dwyn's leg as the nekojin arched his back, begging that cold silver to bite him again.

Dwyn's teeth closed on his bottom lip and ground it painfully between them, though with the blood already coating their tongues it was hard to say if he drew blood or not. He broke away then, sitting up, straddling Kieran's thighs and holding the knife in a measuring grip, eyeing Kieran's torso. After a moment, he made another small cut, the mirror image of the one on the other side of Kieran's chest, under his collarbone.

Kieran moaned shakily, his eyes wide as they stared up at Dwyn. He hadn't blinked yet, and he was tensed, every inch of his body trembling with the sheer pleasure of that knife, of the taste of blood in his mouth.

Dwyn's mouth was there, licking up the blood before it could stain his sheets. He sucked until the cut clotted, then moved to one of Kieran's arms, slicing thin, parrallel lines around his upper bicep in a band-like pattern, moving slowly, breathing shakily, his fingers guiding the knife with great precision.

Kieran bit his lip and tangled a hand in Dwyn's hair, pulling harshly as he shivered. He didn't know why that felt so good, or why he should want Dwyn to slide him to ribbons, but he did, and it felt good. Finishing. He felt reality crystalize again, shattering with a tinkling of glass that rippled in the back of his mind.

Dwyn started to pant as his tongue followed the blade, sometimes coming too close and getting cut, not that he noticed much. he lapped up the blood, tilting the knive and cutting new lines at an angle to the vertical ones, beginning what seemed to be liable to turn out as a very complex arm-band design.

Kieran cried out softly as the world spun; he was starting to get dizzy. He knew he hadn't lost more than a spoon of blood yet, so it had to be the cat-mint. He wanted to purr and knead Dwyn and revel in the sweet, sweet pain.

Dwyn let up on that arm, as he couldn't do any more without ruining what he'd already done. He'd have to let these cuts scar and then he could continue. But he had another arm to do, and he pulled Kieran's hand up, nibbling his way roughly from the wrist to the inner elbow and biting down on the soft skin there.

Kieran twitched and twined his fingers all the tighter in Dwyn's hair, purring loudly. He was completely uninhibited, entirely at Dwyn's mercy and loving every minute of it. Perfect faith.

Dwyn's left fingers curled around kieran's hand as he flicked the blade over his arm, each cut followed by his hungry mouth as he dug the knife in sharply, cutting just a bit of the muscle under the skin, making it hurt without causing so much damage.

The pain was slicing its way into him, deeper into his blood and his bones, but it wasn't pain as Kieran knew pain. It froze and burned and LIVED and it was Dwyn, marking him, devouring him.

"I want to eat you alive," he groaned, sounding almost pained as his tongue left a bloody streak across Kieran's chest.

Kieran's nails dug into Dwyn's scalp as he shivered again. "You can," he whispered, black eyes fixed on those molten gold orbs.

Dwyn sucked in a breath and fastened his lips to Kieran's, stealing his breath as he ravaged his mouth, teeth kissing him as much as lips and tongue did. He kept his eyes open, watching Kieran's face, drowning in endless black. His eyes were so like that abyss Dwyn danced the edge of... and fractured behind them, a fracture just like the one in his own mind. "You were my twin," he whispered, diving in to bite Keiran's neck and gnaw at the spice-scented skin.

"You were mine," Kieran said simply, voice trembling, every shimmering memory dancing just out of reach, sparkling along the edges of that fracture. His world consisted of blood, metal, and -Dwyn-, and it was perfect.

"Through a glass darkly," he murmured, nails digging into Kieran's shoulders as he tasted every square inch of that slender throat with teeth and tongue, eventually digging his teeth into Kieran's shoulder.

Kieran dragged his hand down Dwyn's back, nails scraping over his skin as the boy moaned softly, arching into those delightfully sharp teeth, a feral hunger gnawing at his tender skin. ~Arekuru...~

Dwyn arched into his nails, groaning quietly as his muscles rippled under Kieran's hands and his body shifted on top of Kieran, rubbing lightly against him before settling again. He licked the wounds his teeth had made up Kieran's neck and ran his tongue around the rim of Kieran's ear. he wasn't really sure what he was going for here. he was devoting himself purely to instinct. And so far, instinct was proving dead pleasurable.

Kieran gave a little shivering gasp and arched into Dwyn, his whole body trembling. His ear flicked backward, fur shivering with the rest of him as he clung tightly to the other boy. Usually a touch to his ears hurt, but Dwyn was different, and his tongue there was like electricity. If the blade had been clarifying, Dwyn's tongue made him just as muddy again; all he could do was moan and purr madly, rubbing up against the other boy.

Dwyn ground back down against him, feeling Kieran's hardness against his thigh, his own answering aroual moving against Kieran's hip. His fingers raked through Kieran's hair, the knife tip grazing his cheek as he continued to hold onto it, and he flicked his tongue lightly against the inside of Kieran's cat-like ear before leaving it and moving down, teeth digging in around his cheek bone as he nibbled his way back toward Kieran's mouth.

It was probably a good thing Dwyn stopped playing with his ear; it would have been all too easy to lose control completely and spend himself on the spot. As it was, he was harder than he'd ever been, he swore to himself, and it was painful. But just like the rest of the pain he was feeling right then, it was incredibly sweet. He turned his head, capturing Dwyn's lips and kissing him hungrily, needing to taste himself on those lips.

Dwyn eagerly delved into his mouth, body grinding Kieran's smaller frame beneath him, bare chest against bare chest, his skin rubbing over the cuts he'd opened on Kieran's and making them sting and ache. He wrapped his fingers in Kieran's hair and pulled, forcing his head back as he devoured his lower lip, the little bit of blood remaining in his mouth soon spending itself between their hungry tongues.

Kieran groaned softly and ground up against Dwyn just as earnestly. Nothing he'd ever felt before had been so feral, so -honest- in all its roughness, and there was something infinitely arousing about being held down, being claimed. Kieran had no illusions left and he didn't need them, forgetting the very idea completely as he wound his arms around Dwyn's neck and pulled the other boy down, wanting that exquisite flicker of pain.

"You can have," Dwyn growled against his mouth, "anything you want." He tore at Kieran's lower lip, then sucked on it more gently, breaking away and holding him by means of his hair as Dwyn's teeth trailed back down to his throat. This time they didn't stop there, but continued down his body, tracing the two smaller cuts below his collarbone, licking and nibbling at them. They found a nipple and nipped at it roughly, and then Dwyn drew it into his mouth and sucked hard, pulling at the skin, rubbing it between his teeth and tugging it with his tongue.

Kieran's hips left the bed as he cried out, voice trembling. "Dwyn," he moaned, making it sound like a prayer. Gods, but that was incredible; there was a fire rippling under his skin completely unlike that which the knife in Dwyn's hand evoked. Actually, they were not so different, but while the blade's effect coursed through his veins and all of him, the feel of his lips and teeth went straight to Kieran's groin.

"Mm-hmm?" Dwyn replied around the tortured nub of skin, rolling it around on his tongue before giving it another hard suck. He bit the skin around the nipple, then switched to the other, pouncing on it like a kitten pounced a toy ball and ravaging it just as brutally as he had its mate. His fingers tightened and loosened in Kieran's hair with the pulse of Dwyn's heart.

Another cry, louder this time as Kieran's nails dug into Dwyn's shoulders. "Please," he whispered, dark eyes wide as he stared down at Dwyn. Never had he felt this. There was no word for it; no word a sane man knew, anyway. But it didn't matter if he could name it, because he could feel it. He could feel every little shiver down his spine and every bit of heat that Dwyn's mouth bestowed upon his nipple like they were magnified a thousand times, like it was pure energy that served but one purpose - to drive him insane with arousal. He was already on the way there, tiny body taut as he struggled against the tremors that threatened his mind and body.

Dwyn took the nipple between his teeth and tugged it up from Kieran's chest until it could go no further and snapped back, scraping against his teeth as it did so. "Please what?" he inquired almost innocently, head tilting as the hint of a smirk hung in the corners of his mouth, eyes large and hungry. His hands dislodge from Kieran's hair and moved slowly up and down his body, caressing him gently, moving feather-light over his pale marble skin.

Kieran opened his mouth to respond and found that he was clueless. What would he have Dwyn do to him? Everything, but he knew that the other either didn't know or wasn't ready. He refused to do to Dwyn what he had done to himself and was rather apprehensive about asking him to do anything at all. "I... I don't know. Own me," he said impulsively. "Claim me. Whatever you want."

"I already claim you," he said reasonably. "You bear my mark on you, now." His fingers traced the scars, then dug into them. "Do you want me?" he inquired, again, almost innocently. Golden eyes flicked up to meet Kieran's, mostly even, but a little bit apprehensive. Whether he was apprehensive about being accepted or being turned away, Kieran couldn't know.

Those words sent a shiver through Kieran. He licked his lips and was perfectly still for a moment, the only sign that he lived the heaving of his chest. Finally one slender hand lifted to caress Dwyn's cheek, ever so gently but with the promise of more. "I do," he said softly. He knew those words were true in a way he'd never known truth before, and he could not make himself regret them. "Do you want me?"

He turned his head and brushed his lips over Kieran's palm. "Yes. Which is, really, sort of funny because I'm not entirely sure what to do about it." he smirked slightly, his eyes losing a little of that predatory gleam, but only a little. "Mom and I had a talk, after you told me about your dads the first time. She explained some stuff to me, but.... it was a lot to take in."

Kieran smiled, a heartbreakingly sweet smile as he cupped Dwyn's face in his hand, thumb caressing that immeasurably soft skin. "Lucky for you that I know how it works, hmm?" he said softly, a jesting tone in his voice. He wasn't teasing, though; he never would have teased anyone about something this important. Which it definitely was, at least by his standards. "And we don't have to do it all at once. Save the best for last, and all."

Dwyn nuzzled his inner wrist, nibbling gently at it as one hand caressed its way up Kieran's arm to entwine with his fingers. "We can do as much as you want to do. I know my own heart," he said matter-of-factly. "And really, it's not like it's a hard decision - you're the only person who's ever touched it."

Kieran melted, his lips never giving up that adorable smile, if not widening further. "I do believe that's the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me," he said softly, squeezing Dwyn's hand. "I don't want to push you or anything. How about you just stop me if you want me to stop?" He would gladly have spread himself beneath Dwyn and let the other boy fuck him senseless, or even vice versa if that was how things were going to go, but he did NOT want to rush Dwyn. He couldn't do that to this beautiful, innocent boy. Corrupting him would be MUCH more fun if it was done gradually.

Dwyn kissed his palm and nuzzled into it. "I told you," he repeated for the third time. "Anything you want, you can have. You aren't the only one here with implicit trust," he murmured.

"I don't... I don't want to pressure you into anything you'll regret later, even if..." Kieran trailed off, looking deep into those golden eyes. Suddenly it clicked and a thousand things made a million times more sense. He laughed softly and twisted, pulling Dwyn up to kiss him lovingly. "Shin yo desu. Ai shiteru," he purred, tail winding itself around Dwyn.

Dwyn's head tilted curiously as he sank into the kiss, not biting this time, simply tasting and enjoying the softness of Kieran's mouth against his. His fingertips ran down Kieran's face softly.

Kieran reveled in that sweetness, adoring the way Dwyn tasted. It was so pure in its blood-tinted way, and he couldn't help but slide his tongue deep into Dwyn's mouth, memorizing every crevice there, purring the whole time.

Dwyn's lips and teeth parted willingly, letting him in, letting his tongue move across Dwyn's scarred and ravaged one. His eyes drifted closed as his fingers slid back into Kieran's hair, sliding through the silken strands, not wrapping in them to pull or tear, but simply feeling.

Kieran wound his arms around Dwyn's shoulders, fingers smoothing over the other boy's infinitely pale skin. There was something different about this, something that he'd never even remotely felt with Caden. Perhaps it was a rightness; perhaps it was a shared state of mind. Maybe it was just DWYN and he should stop thinking and just feel. That sounded good, he decided, kissing Dwyn until he had to breathe and only then pulling away with a little pant.

Dwyn was panting too, propped on his elbows but with most of his weight stretched along Kieran's body, still moving liquidly back and forth against him in that grinding motion that felt so good and so right. He shifted so that their erections rubbed against each other through their pants, gasping slightly at the new friction.

Kieran laughed shakily. "You sound really good like that," he said lightly, grinning at Dwyn. He -liked- seeing that look in those golden eyes, liked hearing that little gasp more than most anything. He ground up against Dwyn in return, shifting his thigh against Dwyn's erection with a knowing smile. He suddenly realized just how much he looked forward to disillusioning Dwyn and making him scream.

Dwyn saw it, saw the sudden lust come into Kieran's eyes and the sudden inflamed desire. His eyelashes dropped in anticipation and he ground against Kieran again, groaning quietly as he drew his hands down Kieran's neck and across his shoulders, down over his chest as he rose up on his knees, and over his hips and stomach. His fingers wandered lower experimentally, dancing across the taunt cloth over his groin.

A shivery little cry escaped Kieran and he arched up into Dwyn's touch, black eyes opening wide. "Dwyn!" he gasped, fingers scrabbling for a hold on the other boy's forearms, more for stability than any discouragement. He wanted to drive Dwyn crazy, surely, but he wouldn't mind being driven a bit himself. At least they'd be taking the scenic route, as it were. That thought flickered through his mind and away as his tail slid across Dwyn's belly, furry and tickling as it showed its appreciation.

Dwyn giggled as the tail moved ticklishly across his stomach, his fingers sliding down and rubbing it fondly. The way Kieran gasped his name... it made Dwyn want to pleasure him just so he'd do it again and again and again. He slid his hand further down and squeezed gently, thumb massaging Kieran's erection through the thin cloth. It was HOT, and that heat tempted Dwyn severely, made him want to tear Kieran's pants off and explore his naked body.

Kieran was rendered mindless by the double contact, his tail winding around Dwyn's hand as he moaned again. He was a shaking little kitten, sprawled out before Dwyn, those big black eyes locked onto Dwyn's face and not hiding anything. He couldn't close his eyes - didn't want to at all. He wanted to see everything, even that which wasn't there, but especially Dwyn, over him and next to him and - it made him tremble to think about it - maybe inside him. He rocked his hips upward, wanting to reach out and make Dwyn feel what he was feeling, but not having the presence of mind to pull himself together right then.

Dwyn wasn't able to settle for wishing. He unlaced kieran's pants with a few quick tugs of his fingers and worked his pants down over his hips, wrenching them out from under him and then shifting back to slide the material off his feet. He paused a moment to nibble ticklishly on one of Kieran's toes. Then those gold eyes shifted to his erection, upright against his flesh, and his tongue slid across his lips lustfully.

A dark blush spread over Kieran's cheeks. He wasn't exactly body shy; he'd shared a room most of his life. It was the predatory gleam in those golden eyes that made him want to whimper. He wasn't sure if he had, but he thought he might've. He didn't -think- those noises were coming from him... but they probably were. He shifted, sitting up and reaching for Dwyn, wanting to see all of the other.

Dwyn caught his wrists and brought them in to his mouth, teeth skating over the veins, tasting his skin as he nuzzled up into Kieran's hands and then watched him expectantly, grip loosening as his fingers trailed down Kieran's arms to the elbows, then up to his biceps.

Kieran smiled slightly, a shadow dancing behind his eyes as he moved, drawing closer to Dwyn and sliding his hands down the other's side, fingers slipping under the waistband of his pants. He pushed them down slowly, hands skimming over Dwyn's ass as he divested the other boy of his pants, a sexy little smile that he was completely unaware of curving his full lips.

Dwyn sucked his own lower lip into his mouth and shifted, helping Keiran divest him, his own hands finding Keiran's shoulders and using them for support as he balanced on the firm mattress. His eyes remained locked on Kieran's and he shivered as the other boy's hands trailed over his ass and thighs, heat pooling in his groin. He lowered himself and, completely on impulse, rubbed his erection against Kieran's. The contact of hot skin against hot skin made him convulse.

Kieran's breath caught in his throat at that touch. "Dwyn," he moaned, shivering. He pulled Dwyn tighter against him, making that contact much more solid and tugging the other boy into his lap. He gripped Dwyn's hips, grinding up against him with a choked moan, dark eyes wide. He half thought he'd come on the spot.

Dwyn groaned also and let himself down into Kieran's arms, letting the other boy guide his hips partially, and letting instinct take the rest. He was straddling Kieran's thighs, and he nuzzled in his neck as he sank into him, dropping kisses and soft bites there as his arms slid under Kieran's body and held himself tightly to him.

Kieran's tail wound tightly around Dwyn's waist, a soft, furry little stripe of heat that was NOTHING compared to the way their erections were pressing together. Kieran likened it to a brand and then forgot completely about labelling it as he threw his head back, hair a dark shroud behind him.

Dwyn purred against his neck, nuzzling down into him as he rubbed his body long-wise against Kieran's and dug his nails lightly into his back, slowly drawing them down, the pressure of Kieran's body on his hands making them sink into his skin and scratch it.

Kieran purred back heartily, sounding like a veritable motorboat as his fingertips pressed into Dwyn's hips, leaving little red marks that would most likely bruise. He barely noticed, rocking up into Dwyn and pulling him down as hard as he could, desperate for that painfully delicious friction, crushing their erections between them.

Dwyn gasped and ground down harder, roughly, against Kieran, sensitive skin grinding hard against sensitive skin. His nails raked up Kieran's back and his teeth dug into his shoulder as quiet, feral cries escaped his throat. This was good, but it wasn't enough. he wanted to spend more time touching Kieran, exploring that column of flesh so much like his but, apparently, so much more responsive.

Kieran moaned softly, his little body a heated, pliable mass of madly purring kitteny goodness. The cat-mint was irrelevant by now; this was long past the realm of the expected or the warned against. Kieran shifted then, slowly stopping their movement. He felt a shiver of wanting from Dwyn and agreed wholly. He wanted more of his Dwyn.

Dwyn kissed his cheek and sat up and back, shifting down Kieran's legs and sitting on his thighs as he ran his hand down the sides of Kieran's body. His fingers brushed the head of Kieran's erection, thumb digging slightly into the slit as he scraped his nails over that wetted bit of flesh. he slid his hand down and wrapped his hands around Kieran, giving him an easy stroke and moving down to caress his balls.

Kieran jerked and let out a strangled cry, black eyes as wide as they could possibly get. Dwyn's hands were a blessed flame, or maybe a cursed one; either way, it burned so deeply it froze him within, a pulsing rippling in his body as he moaned helplessly, nearly flopping back a his muscles turned to complete jelly. WHERE had Dwyn learned to do THAT?!?

Kieran jerked and let out a strangled cry, black eyes as wide as they could possibly get. Dwyn's hands were a blessed flame, or maybe a cursed one; either way, it burned so deeply it froze him within, a pulsing rippling in his body as he moaned helplessly, nearly flopping back a his muscles turned to complete jelly. WHERE had Dwyn learned to do THAT?!?

He hadn't learned, he had been experimenting. And that experiment was an unequivocal success. Despite his lack of knowledge, then, it was only natural what he did next... he liked to chew on things, and so he slithered down Kieran's body and nuzzled between his legs, drinking in the scent of him, tongue trailing up his thigh as his hands continued to explore the softness there.

Kieran arched into Dwyn, the back of one small hand pressing to his mouth as a flush dusted itself over his cheeks. "Dwyn," he moaned softly, tensed and trembling. He wanted to feel everything, have every nerve be burned alive and reborn from the ashes, but more than that, he wanted to make -Dwyn- feel that. Right now it was pretty hard to be selfless, though, and so he just let Dwyn explore, whimpering like a kitten.

Kieran tasted even better the closer to center that his tongue wandered, and finally he slid it over Kieran's balls, toward the base of his erection. The skin there was enticingly soft and he sucked it between his lips, nibbling at it. The he ran his tongue slowly up that vein on the underside of his cock, from base to tip, pausing to nip at the little grooves in the flesh from moment to moment.

Kieran convulsed, clutching desperately at the quilt beneath him. It was amazing, to feel that tentatively tantalizing touch against his cock, and he struggled to keep from rocking down against Dwyn, knowing it wouldn't do him much good at all. His tail curled in on itself and lashed out wildly, snapping through the air crazily as Kieran trembled.

Dwyn noticed how much Kieran was liking it, revelled in how much Kieran was liking it, and licked his lips hungrily just before digging his nails into kieran's hips and attacking his cock, hot, wet mouth closing around it as his teeth scraped over the head and down the shaft and his tongue soothed the rawness left by their passing. He couldn't hurt himself doing this, and as a side affect of his condition his gag reflex wasn't as active as a normal person's, so he thrust his mouth down on Kieran's erection until his lips found the base and rubbed his tongue along it, tasting every inch.

Kieran squeaked and tensed even more, his legs curling up and spreading out to allow Dwyn better access. He let out another strained cry and tangled his hands in Dwyn's hair, desperate to feel that. It hurt just enough to send slivers arcing into him, but it felt soooo good no matter what. He somehow managed to keep control - probably the idea and knowledge that there was better yet out there - and not finish right then and there, but it was a close call, and he was still a quivering mass of moaning nekojin.

Dwyn sucked his way slowly up that length of hard flesh, teeth digging in at intervals, nails dug into Kieran's skin. The hands in his hair didn't hurt him, merely spurred him on, and Kieran's whimpers and moans send fire through his veins. He made it to the tip and sucked hard, winding his tongue around it and paying a little extra attention to the part that felt softest under his lips.

Kieran's back arched as the boy rocked up into Dwyn's mouth, adoring that divine heat and craving more of it. Flickers were sparkling in his vision, and he didn't know or much care if they were real or just induced by the sparkles he was feeling. He panted for breath, black eyes staring down at Dwyn, those obsidian depths glazed over as his tail slashed back and forth wildly.

His mouth finally popped off and Dwyn panted for breath as his fingers eased out of Kieran's skin, gold eyes locking onto ebony ones. "Like that?" he inquired impishly, tongue darting out and flicking across the head of his erection again.

Kieran's only response was a trembling moan that helf no traces of coherency. He gazed down at Dwyn, gasping as his hands tightened in Dwyn's hair. He tried again, this time pulling off a nod. "H-hai," he murmured, licking his lips as control slowly bled back into him.

Dwyn bit down on his hip bone. "Should I do it some more?" he inquired lightly, walking his fingers up Kieran's stomach ticklishly.

Kieran twitched. "Whatever you want," he managed, nowhere near sane enough right then to decide what he wanted, much less articulate it.

Dwyn smirked and slid his lips slowly down over Kieran's erection again, sucking firmly at the head before twisting his neck and bearing down, nipping at the ridge just beneath it as his lips slid over inch after inch of throbbing skin.

Kieran cried out, his lips halfway forming Dwyn's name as he bucked up into Dwyn's mouth, midnight eyes infinitely wide as he shook helplessly, loving being brought to nothing and desperately wishing that he could feel that way forever, and moreso that he could make Dwyn feel this for just as long.

Dwyn wasn't the least bit bothered by Kieran's bucking and wasn't feeling mischevious enough to hold him down for spite, so he tilted his head and took Kieran deeper into him, swallowing reflexively when the fit of Kieran's length in his throat became awkward. And that felt... GOOD, soft heat and musky, spiced flesh filling an emptiness he hadn't known he had. He twisted again, trying to take him deeper, lips pressed firmly against his balls as one hand wandered down to caress them.

Kieran's tail lashed and curled around Dwyn's neck, a soft and furry weight that didn't apply any pressure, just twitched as the nekojin moaned uncontrollably, arching into Dwyn's mouth and thrusting into that soft, hot cavern, reveling in the feel of those hands on his skin and those lips - GODS those lips, those teeth, that MOUTH - and feeling as though he could die, his very life bleeding out through every singing nerve and synapse of his body. He didn't want to come now, not yet, but if Dwyn kept that up, he damned well would.

Of course, Dwyn had no way of knowing that Kieran didn't want to come then, that he wanted to do anything else. And until Kieran summoned the intelligence to tell him that, he'd happily keep doing this for as long as it took to grow dull to him. And with as wonderful as his kitten tasted, that was liable to be never. He withdrew a bit, swiping his tongue over Kieran's erection and slicking it liberally to help his lips glide from top to bottom in an easy suck and slide motion.

Intelligence was a vague concept to Kieran by now, but he did have enough thought processes active to tug at Dwyn's hair. That didn't last for long, though, and he tensed, convulsing and arching into Dwyn. "Dwyn!" he cried, voice strangled as he came, exploding into Dwyn's mouth. He shook, wound up in a haze of pure, sparkling fizz that swamped his mind and reduced him to nothing but a quivering blob, mind blown as he floated in the ecstasy.

Dwyn didn't know to swallow until that musky, bitter taste swamped his tongue. He almost recoiled, but quickly realized that this was no worse than having to drink unmitigated Yarrow. So he stayed, swallowing a bit experimentally, then finding that the texture was pleasant on his throat and enthusiastically sucking Kieran clean of the last traces.

Kieran finally regained some amount of mental control, enough to command his fingers to unclench slowly, enough to give a tiny, shivery moan. "Dwyn," he breathed, blinking down at the other boy as his tail slid over Dwyn's cheek. He wanted to sprawl back and wait until he could think straight (that made him giggle internally; he didn't have the energy to do it for real) but instead he stretched, skin still hypersensitive.

Dwyn continued to lick him, finding it amusing and endearing how Kieran softened in his mouth and how his tense muscles slowly relaxed. He rolled Kie's flaccid cock between his teeth. For an instant, he was struck with the urge to bite down, to sever that soft flesh and feel it give beneath his teeth. But the urge passed quickly as he imagined the agony on Kieran's face and he quickly released him, nuzzling up against his stomach and making low sounds of pleasure.

Kieran purred softly, pulling Dwyn up and winding around him in a decidedly feline fashion, rubbing against him affectionately as he purred into the other boy's neck. "Ai shiteru," he said happily, black eyes sparkling as he licked at Dwyn's neck, nibbling lightly and laying heated kisses along the skin there. He was nowhere near ready to go again, but he knew he could be soon enough, and besides... Dwyn looked good enough to eat whole as it was, and he wanted to smirk at the very idea of sucking Dwyn off. It sounded like a postitively delicious idea, but at the moment, his throat was tasty enough.

Dwyn groaned and shuddered as Kieran molested his throat. "You've said that twice now," he managed hoarsely. "What does it mean?" His throat felt rough, but he didn't mind it. His hands were too busy wandering over Kieran's body, drinking it in and memorizing it.

Kieran hesitated, lips pressed against Dwyn's ear. Would he frighten the other away by saying it, -really- saying it? He knew he felt it - even if it wasn't true love (and he damned well thought it was) then it was love of a sort - and he wanted Dwyn to know, but... would it change things? No more than they'd already been changed today, he realized (and had all this really only happened today? time flew when you were having fun) and prompty discarded his fears. He trusted Dwyn. "It means I love you," he murmured, holding his breath as he waited.

"Ah," Dwyn breathed, squirming as Kieran's breath against his ear tickled him. "I love you too," he whispered after a breif hesitation, the words having stuck in his throat.

Kieran relaxed all at once, leaning back o smile up at Dwyn, a sweet, loving smile that transcended the sun and beauty. "And now, mei no tsuyo, it's your turn." He beamed, looking adorably impish as he pushed Dwyn back, lying atop him and nipping at his earlobe.

Dwyn fell back onto the mattress with a little grunt of surprise which quickly turned into a pant as Kieran's teeth found his earlobe, the gold of his earring brushing the bridge of his new lover's nose. A flash of apprehension trickled down his spine, but it vanished quickly as he tilted his head back, showing Kieran his throat. He had owned, and now he wanted to be owned. Kieran belonged to him - and may the gods help anyone who ever tried to refute that claim because Dwyn would kill them messily and take a long time doing it - and vice versa, he belonged to Kieran and let no one else ever dare to touch him this way or they would find themselves swiftly disemboweled. He realized suddenly that they had to seal this pact, if they both meant it, and for him, a witch, that meant a ceremony. A handfasting, perhaps, or maybe just a private vow until they were old enough to be recognized as mates. Either way, his scars marked his claim on Kieran's body now, but he wanted something else. Something mutual.

Kieran wasn't thinking about any of that right then, though if he had been, he'd have agreed wholly. He hungrily nibbled on Dwyn's ear and then shifted down to his neck, licking, sucking, and gnawing until he left a dark bruise on the little patch of skin under his ear. He lavished kisses on every inch of Dwyn's throat before he moved on, purring the whole time as he worked his way down Dwyn's chest, making sure not to leave any speck of flesh undampened. The nekojin's tongue was just the slightest bit rough like a real cat's, but it was hardly noticeable. Kieran's hands slid down Dwyn's sides and onto his hips, gripping him and holding him relatively still so Kieran could rub his belly against Dwyn's hard cock, his tail a ticklingly furry touch that danced along Dwyn's thigh.

Dwyn arched into his mouth and hands, a low groan escaping his throat as his fingernails dug into the sheets beneath him. He felt like a god, an odd thought, but a very real one, as though Kieran was worshipping him in a way. And it was all right because he'd worshipped Kieran already, and would do it again many times in the future. He was already looking forward to it.... he could recognize ache, though it didn't necessarily pain him, and he ground himself up against Kieran's stomach to releive the pressure and throb just a bit, muscles rippling under Kieran's attentions as he moaned.

Kieran smiled and glanced up at Dwyn, dark eyes sparkling behind their cloaks of obsidian. There seemed to be a stripe of darker black down the middle, if it was possible, and it became apparent then that Kieran's eyes had the pupil's of a cat's, slitted down the middle. It was veritably impossible to tell at any time but those like these, and even he could barely tell. He grinned then, dipping his head to draw one hard nipple into his mouth, suckling and licking and never taking his eyes off Dwyn, wanting to see every nuance that shimmered over his lover's - his LOVER, what a fucking thought - face.

Dwyn bit down on his lower lip as Kieran took that nipple into his mouth, eyes closing tightly as his head fell slowly back and a trickle of blood ran down his chin. His groan seemed to come from somewhere near his feet, as did the shivers that wracked his body as Kieran played with him. he slowly disentangled his fingers from the bedsheets and ran them through Kieran's hair, clenching them as a stab of sharp pleasure assaulted his nerve endings.

Kieran's ears folded back, warm fur brushing against Dwyn's hands as the delicate appendages protected themselves. Kieran trusted Dwyn, but there was such a thing as accidents, and better safe than sorry. He wasn't really doing it consciously, either; all his attention was focused on the wonderfully fun activity of drawing out Dwyn's soul through his nipple. Eventually he decided that was enough of nibbling on one and switched to the other, happily purring.

Dwyn wasn't offended and wouldn't have minded even if he'd noticed. But he couldn't notice, what with the exquisite work Kieran's mouth was doing on his flesh. "Harder..." he gasped, a quiet pleading as he arched harder, back bending almost double as he sought the feel of warmth, pressure, and teeth on his skin. His fingers ran through Kieran's hair from root to tip, tangling in the silken strands, releasing, only to tangle again, tug, knot, and release as his moans turned into breath cries from a throat still hoarse from abuse.

Kieran obeyed readily, gnawing and scraping his teeth along that nub of flesh ruthlessly. His nails dragged down Dwyn's hips and thighs, leaving long, raised red lines in their wake. He growled playfully and shifted, biting at a tender bit of skin underneath the other boy's ribcage, teeth digging in harshly as he moved one hand, wrapping it around Dwyn's cock and stroking him slowly, reveling in the texture of that hot skin beneath his fingers.

Dwyn threw his head back and keened, not really giving a damn if his mother could hear his loud cries of exstacy. He didn't feel the pain as Kieran's teeth assaulted his skin, only flashes and sharp jabs of pleasure that tore more sounds from his throat, and more spasms from his body. "Kieran.." he moaned as that hand closed around his cock and stroked slowly, finally easing some of that too-tight pressure. "Goddess...."

Kieran was greatly encouraged by this response and he lifted his head, grinning up at Dwyn. "I think we have a winner," he purred, sliding his hand up and down slowly, dipping his head to leave a bite mark on Dwyn's hip, teeth applying themselves as vigorously as his lips before he shifted again, lapping at the head of Dwyn's cock like a cat at the cream.

Dwyn's hips twisted sharply, and he let out a keening cry, hips bucking up against Kieran's hands and mouth. The kittenish way he used his tongue was just TOO ironic given his appearence and Dwyn forced himself to calm down, think straight, and massage the base of Kieran's ears gently, rubbing the short fur around them with the pads of his fingers in encouragement.

Kieran moaned throatily, tilting his head into Dwyn's hands as he stuck his tongue into the slit and wrapped his lips around the head of Dwyn's cock, suckling lightly as he scraped his teeth over it teasingly. He was still purring happily, a motorboat running in his throat as he ever so slowly moved downward, mouth hot and wet around the other boy's length as his nails dug into the skin of Dwyn's hips.

Dwyn let out a strangled scream as that hot, wet mouth enveloped his length. Unlike Kieran, he'd never had this done to him before and was totally unprepared for the rush of sensations, and for the sheer STRENGTH of them. It was all he could do not to grab Kieran's hair and fuck his mouth desperately, but Kieran felt pain, and Kieran could strangle, and he while he would most certainly wield pain as a method of dancing on his kitten's nerve endings, he wouldn't injure him. Not like this. Instead he massaged a bit more firmly around the base of his kitten's ears, scratching over his scalp, rewarding him in a tiny way for the excruciating pleasure he was experiencing.

It might have been a good thing that Kieran was somewhat distracted by the feel of those hands on his ears, caressing and making him want to curl up and purr himself stupid, or else he would have been concentrating several years' worth of experience on poor Dwyn and it would have been curtains for his little wild one. Kieran still managed to stare up at Dwyn with a smile not on his face but in his mind as he slid his tongue over the rigid length in his mouth, finding the musky, vaguely metallic taste to be nothing but delicious. He purred happily, his tail swishing in the air behind him. He liked doing this, whether it was acceptable or not. It was fun in its own perverted way.

Dwyn couldn't have given a damn whether it was acceptable or not. Kieran was ON him and he was IN Kieran and his motions quickly became mechanical as he gasped for breath and lost track of anything other than the hot mouth and soft tongue caressing his erection.

Kieran knew what he was doing, and as he sucked all of Dwyn's length into his mouth, his teeth were there, hard enough to hurt and more than enough to cause plenty of delicious spikes of pure ecstasy. His purr throbbed through his throat as he slowly moved his head up and down, tongue sliding up the vein on the underside to wriggle under the ridge as Kieran's hands turned, nails no longer prominent as his fingers started kneading Dwyn's hips in a remarkably feline fashion.

Dwyn's head slammed back into the pillow and his fingers tightened in Kieran's hair as he let out a choked scream, the warmth in his groin surging forth under the uncanny skill of Kieran's teeth. He had no experience and thus, no real training and wasn't able to hold back... a few thrusts of Kieran's mouth had him keening in climax, body writhing madly against the mattress as he fought the twin impulses to get the hell away and never ever leave.

Kieran moved his head with those thrusts, having long since figured out how to avoid being choked, and slowly slacked off, still suckling hard as he swallowed every drop, thoroughly enjoying the bitter, salty taste as he pressed his knuckles into Dwyn's hips. His tail twitched, showing his satisfaction as he finally let go, lapping lightly at Dwyn's softening member.

Dwyn collapsed with a groan that might have been Kieran's name, panting, eyes so fiercely dilated that he could FEEL the stress on the irises. His hands smoothed over Kieran's hair and brushed across the backs of his ears as his muscles shuddered one by one into relaxation.

Kieran sat up, smiling cutely down on Dwyn as he purred happily. He stretched, arching his back as his tail curled up and making sure to bump his head into Dwyn's hands, and then slithered up the other boy's body to snuggle him fiercely and kiss him sweetly.

Dwyn kissed him back gently, fingers still running through his hair, as his heart rate slowed and his breathing evened out. He nipped at Kieran's jawline and held him tightly. "You belong to me," he murmured quietly.

"As do you," Kieran said softly, smiling at Dwyn. "How'd we end up here again? I mean, I'm sure as HELL not complaining, but I'm a bit fuzzy on where we crossed the line." Then a thought struck him. "Can we do away with the whole lines thing? It simplifies matters."

Dwyn eyed him. "There were lines?" he inquired seriously. "I didn't notice them. Or the warning signs, assuming there were any."

"Usually there're lines. They're most often drawn sometime before the knives come out." Kieran glanced down, at the lines across his skin, and smiled slightly, dark eyes shimmering with a newfound love.

Dwyn shrugged. "Well, I drew them on you, didn't I?' He smirked slightly.

Kieran beamed. "Hai. They're pretty. Do I get to draw on you?"

Dwyn broke out into a sudden smile. "Yes. If you promise to make it pretty."

Kieran lifted his chin and nodded solemnly. "I promise." He smiled sweetly and nuzzled into Dwyn then, purring happily. "Ai shiteru."

Dwyn nodded. "I love you too, kitten." He stretched out against Kieran's body, rubbing and purring.

Kieran shifted, wrestling the quilt out from under Dwyn and pushing the other under it and then following him under the cover, snuggling into his side and cuddling him happily.

Dwyn nuzzled him, pressing the length of his naked body against Kieran's, wanting to feel him. "We should bandage the cuts I gave you," he said quietly. "I don't want them to become infected."

Kieran nodded languidly. "They most likely wouldn't, but okay." He wanted to feel them, but he was already kept aware by the sheer, unforgettable knowledge that they were there. They didn't hurt... just tingled. Deliciously. Was that wrong? He decided he didn't care. Pain was something that hurt; if it didn't hurt in some way it couldn't be dangerous. And it didn't, not at all. It FELT right. He loved it. He wanted to give that to Dwyn.

Dwyn reluctantly moved away from him, slipping out of bed and padding naked to the small chest where he, by necessity, kept his first aid supplies close at hand. He extracted a length of bandaging and brought it to Kieran, tearing it in two with his teeth and carefully bending over him to wrap his upper arms.

Kieran held still for Dwyn and watched him with a somewhat vacant smile. It was so odd to see the other boy doing this, to see that -look- on his face and the light in his eyes. "Does this scare you?" he asked softly, peering up at him. He meant... well, he meant all of it. The pain, the sex, their confessions of love.

Dwyn looked at him confusedly. "Does what scare me?" he inquired, even though his stomach was currently doing flip after flip and threatening to let him revist his mother's wonderful dinner in a slightly less wonderful way.

"Us? All this happening and... so -fast-?" Kieran asked, sounding slightly apprehensive. He wasn't sure if he was afraid. He didn't know if he could be when came to Dwyn. He suspected that a part of him had known all along that it would lead to this.

Dwyn placed a hand on his stomach. "I feel sick," he said quietly. "But it's probably nerves. That was.... a lot of excitement." He smiled at Kieran. "It was the best thing I've ever felt though, so I think I'll be okay. And no, this doesn't scare me. It's natural, isn't it? You and me, together."

Kieran broke into a smile and nodded. "Hai. It is. I've had dreams of it," he said thoughtfully. "I never really understood 'em. Still don't. You don't... -mind-, do you?" he inquired, tilting his head. He didn't think so, but better safe than sorry.

Dwyn chuckled. "No. Should I? How could I mind someone as perfect as you?"

Kieran blushed. "I'm nowhere near perfect. I'm too short," he said, making a face.

"No, that's an element of your perfection," Dwyn said matter-of-factly. "It makes it easier to protect you. And work around you in a fight while you spellcast."

Kieran peered up at him and smiled slightly. "Really? I mean, well, I guess it's got good stuff... and I can see -really- well in the dark..."

Dwyn chuckled. "Yes, really."

Kieran smiled sweetly, looking absolutely adorable as his ears perked up. "Thanks," he chirped, leaning in to kiss Dwyn lightly.

Dwyn kissed him back contentedly. "How do you say 'I love you' in your language?"

"Ai shiteru," Kieran said clearly, making sure to pronounce it correctly but slow enough that it could be reproduced.

Dwyn tilted his head and repeated it slowly. "Ai shiteru."

Kieran nodded and grinned. "Ai shiteru," he purred. "Boku no tsuyo-mei."

"What does that mean?" he inquired, fingertips running lightly up and down Keiran's body, wandering down toward his thighs as Dwyn's stomach settled and he began to be interested in exploring again.

"It means eyes of the sun," Kieran said lightly, stretching out and sprawling back, allowing Dwyn to touch him and setting up a soft but steady purr.

Dwyn smiled. "Eyes of a tiger," he murmured, kissing Kieran's jaw and nibbling at it. "Eyes of a snake."

Kieran laughed softly. "Actually... look real close." He smiled down at Dwyn warmly, those black eyes wide and inviting. They were indeed black, but the iris was slivered with lines behind it, almost impossible to see except for the cat-slit pupil cutting it vertically. Dark as night were both, but it was visible where one ended and one began.

"I was talking about mine," he said fondly, kissing Kieran's nose, but he looked at his eyes all the same. "You have the eyes of a hell-cat.... endlessly drawing one down into the abyss. Or into here..." his hand pressed against Kieran's chest. "I think I would like to drown in your soul," he whispered.

"I think I would like to let you, and to drown alongside," Kieran replied sombrely, a slight smile curving his lips. "I never realized how much there is beyond reality, what -lies- in that abyss." It shimmered now at the edges of his vision and he felt the Weave more keenly than ever; was it love singing through him, or insanity cracking him apart? Did it even matter?

Dwyn kissed him firmly, lustfully, lips binding and claiming his. "It's in everyone," he murmured. "They try to beat it down..." He writhed sensuously against Kieran's side. "They try to hide it, try to deny that it's there. Some people call it a beast or an instinctive soul, but it's the abyss, the darkness that makes demons and it's in EVERY HUMAN BEING." His teeth closed on Kieran's neck. "If you're afraid of it, you stifle it and you stifle yourself. But me, I like the darkness. I like it in me and I love it in you. In you, it has color and it tastes like your skin and your blood and it sounds like your voice."

Kieran wound his arms around Dwyn and returned that kiss passionately, only breaking away to breathe and try to speak. "I... I've never been able to hide it. It's always there for me when I need it. I can't mistreat that sweet shadow when it's never been but kind to me. I don't care if it takes away my mind, or my perceptions, or my name. It gave me you, and for that I am infinitely grateful. I see it in you, too, behind those eyes of yours, and it's not wrong. It's pure. It's right for us."

"Like nighttime," Dwyn said reasonably, against Kieran's lips as he indulged in kissing him. "So many fear the dark, but it's as natural as the light and even more beautiful if you can just SEE it." He pulled Kieran even closer to him, pressing them breathlessly together and devouring his mouth. He decided that he had a particular fondness for kissing Kieran and that from now on, he would do it at every opportunity.

Kieran adored touching Dwyn, tasting Dwyn, and kissing was just a pleasant way to express that. He melted into Dwyn's arms, all his (not so impressive) weight atop the other boy, all that bare skin pressed flush together. Kieran's tail slid up Dwyn's side, soft and furry as thee nekojin purred happily, tongue engaged.

Dwyn easily rolled back and took Kieran's weight onto him, moaning quietly at the blissful warmth. An idea popped suddenly into his head and he turned it over for a moment or two, then decided it was worth his time... now, if he could only find a secluded hot-springs....

Kieran purred and snuggled into Dwyn, rubbing against him lazily as he kneaded the other boy's shoulders with the heels of his hands. His tail swayed languorously as Kieran buried his face in Dwyn's neck, nuzzling him lovingly.

"Is it too fast for you?" Dwyn asked suddenly, head tilting back as he held Kieran on top of him, legs spreading to let him settle comfortably between them.

"Nuh-uh," Kieran said, shaking his head. "Everything's perfect when it comes to you. Because of you."

"Then, would it be too fast if I told you I want to keep you?" he asked a little breathlessly. "With me, as mine?"

Kieran peered up at him and smiled slowly. "I would gladly be yours, and were you mine," he said sweetly, leaning into seal his words with a kiss.

Dwyn kissed him firmly. "I am yours," he said simply. "I never wanted anybody else anyway."

Kieran wished that he could say the same and then realized that not only did he not give a crap, but that Dwyn wasn't likely to either. He smiled and kissed Dwyn deeply, lingeringly. "Boku no, anata no. Mine, yours," he mumbled.

Dwyn nodded, fingers brushing Kieran's hair back from his face. "I don't care who you had before," he said haltingly, almost as if he was listening to a little voice in his head. "You're mine now. I want to bond with you."

Kieran leaned into Dwyn's hand, dark eyes fluttering as he purred. "I will gladly bond with you. In every way and position possible," he said cheerfully, with a promising smile.

Dwyn kissed his forehead. "You'll find a willing student," he said humorously, chuckling at his own lack of experience. "And whatever else you say, I'm glad one of us knows what he's doing."

"It's safer that way, if nothing else," Kieran said amiably, smiling. "And for some reason, I look forward to corrupting you," he said with an impish grin.

"I've already been corrupted," he murmured. "From the minute I first saw you I thought you embodied the shadows and I wanted to be near you. Your personality seemed so at odds with what I felt in here." He slid his hand between their stomachs, curling it into a fist at his gut. "But I wasn't wrong."

Kieran smiled and nuzzled into him, pressing the length of his body against Dwyn's side, purring. "I looked into your eyes and I knew you'd be my downfall. At first, that... that frightned me. Not you, but the change you represented. It's not a downfall at all... perhaps a downfall of a child, and the birth of me. It was a decision I will never, ever, ever regret or want to."

Dwyn nodded. "Let go of your regrets," he said meaningfully, grinding up against Kieran as his teeth found his lower lip. "Completely, I mean. Let them go."

"Is it... that easy?" Kieran wanted to know, rubbing against Dwyn with a hopeful look and a warm, rumbling purr.

He sighed. "I don't know. I don't have many regrets so far. But I think it is... you just tell yourself it doesn't matter anymore and you feel it slide away from your caring. You feel peace." He slid his hands over Kieran's back and kissed him hungrily. "I'm here. I'll be your peace."

Those words send a shiver down Kieran's spine. He curled into Dwyn. He wanted to fall into the sweet oblivion that Dwyn was offering him, and he would. It was no harder to dismiss regrets - foolish ones, no less, and he didn't have a lot - than it was to love or to give away oneself. And that was -so- easy. He nodded determinedly and clung to Dwyn, telling himself it didn't matter until it was true.

And it was Dwyn's arms around him, those lips upon his... that was what let him do it.

Dwyn kissed him repeatedly through it, hands smoothing over his skin and his hair, breath blushing warm against his skin, body hot and firm against his.

Kieran finally relaxed atop Dwyn, returning those kisses sweetly. There was something about beingin Dwyn's arms that made nothing else matter half as much as it used to. It gave him a perspective on the world. He wouldn't regret, and he would open his eyes.

Dwyn caressed him, shifting again under Kieran until he had as much of his body pressed against Kieran's as possible, skin hot against skin. Kieran was soft and light, like an angel come to rest in his bed, and his thumbs smoothed over the scars on Kieran's back even as he slung one leg around his legs and nuzzled at his shoulder.

Kieran purred happily, wriggling his arms under Dwyn and snuggling into him, rubbing against him enthusiastically. He thought that he was recovered sufficiently by now, and wouldn't at all mind more. And Dwyn was ever so sweet, hot and pure in a heady way.

Dwyn nuzzled him, wrapped his other leg around him, and clung endearingly to his kitten as he bit down on Kieran's shoulder. That abused section of flesh was raw by now and marked with the shape of his teeth in several places. His canines slid easily into a groove they'd made earlier and he put pressure on them until he'd drawn blood, savoring the spice of Kieran's skin with the heat of his life-force.

Kieran arched into Dwyn's mouth with a little cry. It hurt, but pain wasn't what it used to be. It meant something new altogether, something sweet, something dark. One of those things that lurked around the edges of you and teased you mercilessly. Kieran welcomed it warmly, purring and flipping his fail over Dwyn's legs as he rocked into the other boy's hips.

Dwyn made a slightly startled sound as he felt himself hardening again. His nails dug into those scars, raking down their lines. Someday, he would take a knife to those scars and claim them all, and the memories and worries they held, for his own. Someday, Kieran would have no marks on him except for Dwyn's own. But for now.... for now, he was more interested in the warmth and grinding of their bodies together and of the slow ache he could actually feel throbbing again in his groin.

Had Kieran been aware of it, that idea would have been quite valuable to him. But, oblivious, he just laughed breathlessly, the sound breaking into a shivery moan as he threw his head back, the tips of his fingers and their sharp nails digging into Dwyn's back as he clenched at the other boy. The warmth was foremost in his mind as well as he rubbed happily against the other boy.

"I want you again," Dwyn growled as he undulated his body beneath Kieran's, teeth ravaging his throat. "Want to be close to you..." He dug his nails in fiercely, as well as his teeth, seeking more blood, more closeness, a merger of bodies but not realizing that there was a less damaging way to do it.

Kieran nodded slightly and slowly pulled back a little bit, moving to caress Dwyn's cheek as he stared down at the other. "We can..." he said. Then his throat seized up and he tried to swallow, his cheeks suddenly a fetching shade of pink. "We can go all the way." Kieran's voice was a whisper.

Dwyn tilted his head, letting it fall back, golden eyes fixed on Kieran's. "All the way," he repeated, remembering what his mother had told him that that entailed. "We could be inside each other."

Kieran frowned thoughtfully and contemplated the mechanics of that. "I don't think we'd be able to do it simultaneously," he said slowly, "but we can trade off." He was still thinking about that, wondering if it could be physically achieved.

Dwyn shrugged. "I didn't necessarily mean at once," he said.

"More like... just the concept..." He smirked. "I have NO idea. Come here." he yanked Kieran's head down by the hair and crushed his lips to his, biting down on his lower lip and giving his head a good shake.

Kieran had honestly known better, but it had been interesting to think about, but those ponderings went flying as he meeped and then melted, biting back as he gripped Dwyn's shoulders tightly.

Dwyn ground up against him hungrily, fingers curling in his hair, gasping between kisses as he tried to meld into Kieran, tried to devour him from the lips inward.

Kieran moaned throatily, returning the kiss passionately as he rocked down against Dwyn. He knew that they wouldn't actually get anywhere like this, but it was fun enough then. Only after a while did he slow, gently pulling away, dark eyes glazy. "Do you want to fuck me?" he asked huskily. A tiny voice in his mind wondered at his use of the f-word, something he'd actually never said before, but right then, that didn't matter at all.

"Fuck you?" Dwyn's entire body convulsed, for some reason, at the way Kieran's lips shaped those words. He considered it for a moment, the way Kieran's ass would feel under his hands as he moved him, how hot his body would be around him. "Will it injure you?" His mother had said that without proper preparation, this sort of liason could result in severe injury, but he didn't know what 'proper preparation' entailed.

"Not in any way I won't enjoy, and not if we take a few precautions. Usually," and here he struggled to hide giggles at actually saying this, "you want to use lubrication. Makes it go in easier." Admirably, he refrained from laughing while saying this, and managed a straight face as he peered dwon at Dwyn. The shiver in the other boy's body when he'd said that went a long way to sobering his juvenile side, but a blush refused to leave his cheeks.

Dwyn nodded. "Use WHAT for lubrication?" he wondered, peeking out from under Kieran to look around his room. He didn't know if he had anything, but knowing what was appropriate would help.

Kieran tilted his head thoughtfully. "Oil of some sort, usually," he said, knowing that there would surely be some sort of oil in a witch's house. "Or water, but you need a -lot- of it and it doesn't work too well unless you're actually submerged."

Kieran tilted his head thoughtfully. "Oil of some sort, usually," he said, knowing that there would surely be some sort of oil in a witch's house. "Or water, but you need a -lot- of it and it doesn't work too well unless you're actually submerged."

Dwyn nodded. "I have oil," he said. "For dressing candles, for magick.... let me up." He squirmed out from under Kieran and fell off the side of the bed with a THUNK, wiggling his way over to his desk and sliding open one of the bottom drawers. "And in a variety of scents, no less," he said, then burst into laughter.

Kieran stared at him, a grin curving his lips. "What?" he asked curiously, craning his neck to see if it was anything specific or just the general, surreal strangeness of this whole situation.

Dwyn muttered under his breath as he pushed vials aside. "Rose, rosemary, honey, ca....." He looked up and grinned. "Catmint..."

"You have cat-mint oil," Kieran said dryly, eyeing him in disbelief. "Nuh-uh. Lemme see..." He stretched out one hand, batting at Dwyn playfully as his tail swayed. Cat-mint was fun enough.

Dwyn handed him the vial, smirking slightly. "Catmint's good for a lot of things," he said. "I like using it in candle magick because it keeps Tal's attention. He likes to wander off... stupid cat. Crappy familiar."

"Maybe I'm cat enough to be your familiar, hmm?" Kieran said with a wink, fully teasing. He lifted the vial and peered at it intently, sniffing interestedly. "Mmm, no wonder it keeps his attention. Smells great."

Dwyn smiled deeply. "Want to use it?" he inquired almost innocently, sitting back on his hands and grinning at Kieran.

Kieran shivered and blushed, biting his lip as he nodded slowly. "Hai," he murmured. Just the idea of having Dwyn inside him made him want to moan himself silly.

Dwyn nodded and picked it up, standing to his feet. As fun as it would have been to fuck Kieran mercilessly into the carpet, there was a dramatic (and slightly romantic) part of him that wanted his first time to be.... better than that. More respectful toward Kieran, somehow. And in any case, he'd have plenty of times to fuck Kieran in interesting places later, especially if he held to that idea he'd had earlier... he took Kieran's hand in his free one and drew his lover to him, crushing him to his body and leaning down to claim his lips.

Kieran wound his arms around Dwyn and pressed against him heartily, loving the feeling of being held so close that he could never fall away. He returned the kiss sweetly, rubbing against Dwyn arousingly. He wanted to make this special, too; he wanted to make sure that Dwyn was nothing but happy afterward and would stay that way. There were only so many says to ensure that, though, and the best was simply to love him as he made love to him.

Dwyn pushed him toward the bed, hooking a foot around his ankle and bearing him backwards onto the mattress as he fumbled with the little vial. Naked flesh pressed to naked flesh and he panted quietly as he ground against Kieran, so much smaller than him when they were standing. So easy to envelope and possess.

Kieran fell over without a bit of complaint, certainly not averse to being laid upon, especially when they were so delightfully grinding. The smell of the cat-mint oil sharpened his senses, making his ears twitch as he purred and wound his legs around Dwyn's waist. He truly was tiny, but there was plenty of personality packed into that slender frame, and more than enough shadow.

Dwyn chewed his lower lip as he uncorked the vial and pressed it into Kieran's hand, settling back to observe and learn, since he felt a little nervous about trying this himself.

Kieran took it and eyes it thoughtfully. Then a truly mischevious smile spread across his face, accompanied by a slight blush. He grabbed one of Dwyn's pillows and dropped it on the bed behind him, leaning back until his shoulders were propped up by it. He smoothed the oil over his fingers, biting his lip as he watched what he was doing. He was trembling slightly, but he knew he had to at least explain something. "Works better if you... stretch first," he said softly, sliding one (great smelling, to him) hand down to his entrance.

Dwyn was suddenly incredibly lightheaded. He didn't know why, but something about Kieran sliding his own hand, ever so slowly, toward his own groin was.... unbelievably sexy. He was instantly, demandingly hard and clenched his thighs together to ease the throbbing ache that shot up his spine, lips parting as his eyes glazed slightly in lust. Watching and waiting for Kieran to do... something. Something that would make Dwyn lose his reason altogether.

Kieran knew Dwyn was watching him with all the intensity of a starving hawk. It made his stomach flutter and his cock bob against his belly as he took a deep breath. He rubbed his fingers over his hole, spreading the oil around, and then pressed the tip of one finger in. He gave a little cry, slowly acclimatizing himself to the intrusion that felt very good. Dwyn would feel better, he knew, and that made him shiver harder.

Dwyn shuddered hard, muscles going slack as Kieran's face twisted in pleasure from touching himself. Touching HIMSELF... why was THAT so erotic? He had no clue, but it was, and watching Kieran stretch himself and whimper and purr, legs spread so wantonly, cheeks flushed, just BEGGING to be molested, was making it damned hard for him to breath.

Kieran's eyes were wide and completely dark as he gazed at Dwyn, mouth open so he could pant. He didn't mean to be so very crazy about doing this, but it was amazing and from the look on Dwyn's face, it had been a good idea. Putting on a bit of a show was fun in its own way, and he gasped again, legs spreading wider as he pressed another finger inside, fucking himself shamelessly.

Dwyn shuddered again, breath hissing through his teeth as Kieran made a delicious little display of himself, tail twitching, ears folded. Gods, but he wanted to... and suddenly, he could put a name to exactly what he wanted. He wanted to shove his cock into Kieran's body and fuck him until he screamed, feel his nails in his back, his lithe body under him, his teeth in his neck. He wanted Kieran's legs and tail wrapped around him and soft whimpering cries in his ear and hot, tight warmth surrounding his erection. The erection which, if left alone, would quickly cause him to pass out from blood loss if he let this go on much longer.

Kieran continued, oblivious to what was running through Dwyn's mind. All he could think of was what it would be like to have Dwyn inside him, fucking him senseless. To feel that ferocity, all that wild hunger consuming him whole, in a way far more satisfying than any other he could think of. He added a third finger, knowing that it would work better if he was well prepared, but desperate. After what felt like an age to him, he stopped, trembling as he drew his hand away. The smell of cat-mint was all around him and he put more of the oil in his hand, meaning to apply it to Dwyn.

Dwyn was panting quietly, utterly still, watching Kieran with baited breath to see what he would do next. Was that all? If it wasn't, he didn't want to risk it. He wanted Kieran SO badly, but he refused to get ahead of his lover. He REFUSED to cause him lasting damage just because he couldn't wait. So, kneeling between Kieran's thighs, he brought his hand up and shakily caressed his knee, dropping a kiss on it as he watched.

Kieran smiled and leaned forward, kissing Dwyn gently as he wrapped his dripping hand around the other boy's erection. He slid his hand down, slicking Dwyn's cock liberally. That was easy enough, and he could do that while sucking face, which he happily did, purring madly the whole time.

Dwyn shivered in Kieran's hands and reached out, arms sliding around him as he pulled the other boy in close and ravaged his mouth. His cock was marble-hard, hot and throbbing in Kieran's grip, already dripping just a little. He pulled away with a gasp and practically snarled, "I want you...."

"Un," Kieran agreed with a short nod. He plastered himself against Dwyn, scrambling into his lap and guiding the other's cock to his entrance. He desperately wanted to drop himself on it, but that wouldn't have been half as fun as what he did do. Instead, he chose to lift himself up enough to press the head of Dwyn's erection ever so slowly into him. It hurt deliciously and he moaned shakily and nearly lost control. He was immeasurably tight, hot and pulsing around Dwyn as he sank himself down.

Dwyn gasped, shuddering, NEEDING to seize Kieran by the hips and sheath himself inside him more than he'd ever needed anything in his entire fucking LIFE. But the mantra repeated in his head - ~No lasting injury. No lasting injury~ So he brought his hands up slowly and arched into Kieran's blessed, tight (oh, GODS so tight) heat and groaned as he fought for his self control.

Kieran cried out, dark eyes wide as they locked onto Dwyn's face. He wanted to badly to forget caution and forget sanity altogether and just rut like an animal, but that wasn't really satisfying. He let himself sink all the way down, whimpering as he did so. His tail curled around Dwyn's waist, as did his legs. He pressed himself tightly to the other boy and shivered, tightening around him deliciously.

Dwyn's hands found Kieran's hips. "Kieran," he ground out, shifting and letting out a keening cry as Kieran's body shifted around him with the motion. "Can I....?"

"Please," Kieran moaned, clinging to Dwyn's shoulders. He couldn't move much himself; he half thought his muscles would atrophy right then and there.

Dwyn gasped as his hands dug bruisingly hard into Kieran's hips, lifted him, and brought him down... eliciting a yell from Dwyn as his head snapped back that was pure lust, and pure satiation in one. He did it again, grinding Kieran's thighs down against his hips this time, in him up to the hilt. Then he slung an arm around Kieran's lower back and surged forward, bringing Kieran down against the mattress with him and driving hard into his body.

Kieran nearly screamed, biting it off as it threatened to escape his lips in a frantic wail. He instead chose to thrust up against Dwyn, trembling wildly as his hands scrabbled for purchase on the soft skin of Dwyn's back, nails digging in. His tail lashed wildly, twitching in the air as he looked up at Dwyn, cheeks still flushed and his hair in wild disarray.

Dwyn set a hard, fast motion growling in Kieran's ear as his teeth found his throat and sank into it, his nails digging cruelly into his lover's hips as he shifted up, forcing Kieran's hips to tilt further up and let him deeper, and drove into him again. Kieran's nails in his back made him snarl and he worried at his lover's throat as he slammed home, again and again, pulling back before his hips crashed into Kieran's ass.

Every muscle in Kieran's body was pulled tautas the nekojin writhed, moaning his pleasure. It didn't hurt, or, if it did, it didn't matter; pain was just another state of mind now and besdies, nothing Dwyn did to him could hurt him. And that felt amazing, that uncontrolled ravaging. Caden had never done anything of the sort; he'd always been gentle, as though he were worried about hurting Kieran. He felt dirty for thinking of anyone else right then, though, and (easily, with Dwyn's frantic motions helping out) discarded those thoughts to claw at Dwyn's back.

Dwyn's nails raked down Kieran's thighs, drawing blood, as he drove himself into Kieran again and again. Belatedly, he felt the warm hardness of Kieran's cock pressed between their stomachs and slid one hand under Kieran's lower back, pressing them together with his erection locked between them and making his thrusts long, sliding motions as their bodies rocked together on his bed. His teeth made their way from his shoulder up to his jaw and he bit the soft skin behind it.

Kieran let out a strangled cry and thrust back against Dwyn, black eyes wide as his nails dragged down the other's back, carving lines in his skin and letting a few drops of blood roll free. He was blown away by the feeling of Dwyn pounding into him, by the friction on his cock between then... by all of it. But mostly it was the knowledge that it was DWYN doing this to him. That almost made him come on the spot, but he tried to hold out, moaning wildly as his ears twitched in on themselves.

"Yes," Dwyn growled against his skin, folding Keiran over even more as he tried to find his way deeper with cock and nails and teeth, abusing his prostate violently as their skin smacked together again and again. "Kieran..." he ground out through gritted teeth as that warmth pooled and then swelled, threatening to overwhelm him.

Kieran arched into Dwyn, his whole body jerking as he shook. "Dwyn!" he cried, clinging to the other boy with all his none-too-easily-dismissed strength. It curled inside him and exploded outward, pouring out of his body as he keened loudly, dark eyes staring up at Dwyn. He came so hard he thought his mind would go flying right out his cock with the rest of him, and it continued to feel that way as fire rippled over every inch of his skin. He was alive and dead and living and dying and everything was perfect in the world for that one timeless instant, and it was all thanks to Dwyn. He tightened to the point of pain as his nails dug bloody furrows into Dwyn's back.

He was keening, a steady, animalistic noise that barely served to express the tension he felt coiling tighter and tighter and tighter. And then Kieran clung to him, dug into him, tightened around him and he let out a wildcat's scream as all that tension exploded from his body, sending firecrackers of pleasure through his head that literally made him see stars and yanking every bit of tension he might have had in him out along with it. It was so good, and like before, he couldn't stand it, couldn't stand to take anymore but he kept thrusting and driving it higher because he just couldn't stop and he felt he might sink into Kieran and become one flesh with him if they got any closer, and no one, however powerful, would be able to seperate them for the rest of their days.

Kieran couldn't stop shaking. He held on tightly to Dwyn, every point of contact a little frozen flame in its own right as he whimpered piteously. He couldn't move - not that the wanted to or ever would want to - and he wondered for a moment if they could just stay like this forever. He wanted to, and that thought grew clearer as the golden haze drowning his mind slowly drained away, leaving him with the warm fuzzy knowledge that Dwyn had just fucked him, come inside him, and that owned and was owned.

Dwyn finally shook, slowed, and sank into Kieran's arms, panting with exertion, still pressed deeply into Kieran's body with his nails dug into his hips. He wanted to say something, but he had nothing to say - no words would do justice to what they'd just done. Kieran was so tiny under him, so perfectly formed and beautiful, that he pressed down a little trying to be closer to him, trying to cover him better, as he tried to get his wits back.

Kieran smiled, purring as he nuzzled into Dwyn, rubbing his cheek against the other boy's shoulder. His tail slowly wound around Dwyn's thigh, caressing his skin softly as the nekojin curled up into Dwyn. Inhaling all those cat-mint fumes had almost made his mind a bit fuzzy, but the sheer adrenaline rush from... from... gods, from making love with Dwyn (and oh, that mental phrase carried so much, all of it perfect and shimmeringly sweet) had banished its effects completely.

Dwyn slowly released his hips and slid his arms around him, nuzzling his shoulder and kissing it instead of biting. "My kitten," he murmured hazily. "Love you."

Kieran meowed softly, grinning lethargically at Dwyn as he wriggled under the other, shifting to twine himself around the other boy and snuggle him clingingly. "Ai shiteru."

Chapter six : Forgive me Father, for I have Sinned

It was earlier than they needed to get up, though later than they would have been allowed to sleep in on a school/work day, but Sabbath had a damned good idea what, precisely, had gone on in her son's bedroom the night before and she also had the idea that it would be a bad thing if Kieran's parents found out about it before he could tell them. A vampire's senses were acute. And while there was nothing she could do about the telepathy, she could help rid them of the smell of blood and sex. Dwyn didn't lock or enchant his door because Sabbath almost never barged into his room, but today she opened it and strode in, not at all surprised to find them curled up and still carnally entwined beneath the thick blankets she'd put on his bed for winter. Grasping the bedcovers at the bottom, she gave them a good YANK and sang cheerfully, "Good morning, boys! Up and at 'em!"

Kieran really, -really- wanted to curl in on himself and pretend that Sabbath's voice was part of a cruel nightmare. His subconscious mind obediently shuffled her voice into a dream, and the nekojin curled into Dwyn with a tiny whimper, desperately not wanting to leave that warm cocoon. He was ensconced in his own world and ignoring anything he didn't want to exist there.

Dwyn, however, was awake like a shot, bolting upright and out of Kieran's arms (from surprise, he immediately returned once he realized what was happening) and glaring at his mother even as his cheeks flushed just slightly. "MOM!"

That jarred Kieran into wakefulness and he started, his head snapping to the side to regard Sabbath. His sleepy look of puzzlement quickly changed to embarrasment as a dark red stain spread over his cheeks. ~Well, at least she looks like she's about to laugh at us rather than yell, so that's a plus,~ a part of his brain cheerily told him.

Sabbath folded her arms and grinned at them. "Bathtime, boys. Get up."

Dwyn groaned. "Mooooooooooom!"

"Dwyn, I think we're -stuck- together," Kieran said dryly. "I think we'll survive... er... cleaning up some," he finished, ears folding back.

Sabbath's eyes narrowed. "Do you REALLY want Kieran's father to be able to smell blood and sex all over you? I've run a nice, hot, pungently scented bath. You can share the tub for all I care, but you're taking a bath. Now, SCOOT." She smacked her son on the ass, turned on her heel, and strode out of the room.

Dwyn meeped at the smack and wiggled until he could safely extricate himself from Kieran.

Kieran delicately untwined himself from Dwyn, albeit reluctantly, and sat up. "I guess that means your mom's okay with it," he said brightly, taking that as a good sign for the day. Realistically, he figured that his parents would most likely tolerate it if they didn't like it, but he wasn't sure. He glanced back at Dwyn and a smile broke across his face. It didn't MATTER what anyone else thought. He was young, in love, and the world was his for the taking. And with Dwyn at his side, ANYTHING was possible.

Dwyn was scraping Kieran's semen off of his stomach and looking oddly happy to be doing it, examining the caked whiteness under his nails. "Yeah, well," he said, flushing slightly. "I mean.... she's had ME, so it's not like she's a stranger to sex, right? I mean, the whole virgin pregnancy thing just doesn't work these days." He slid off the bed slowly, testing his balance and finding that only his perceptions and emotions had been knocked out of whack by their activities. "You okay?"

Kieran laughed softly and bounced to his feet, feeling more energized than ever. All that excess energy was leaking over, sparkling in the air palpably as he smiled sweetly, eyes dancing. "I am better than okay," he purred. "I have you." He held out a hand to Dwyn.

Dwyn took it and pressed the backs of Kieran's knuckles to his lips. "That you do," he said matter-of-factly. "And, now that I think about it, that hot bath does sound good. And assuming the curtain is drawn, promising."

Kieran laughed, stepping closer to Dwyn and winding arms around him. He stretched up onto his tip-toes and kissed Dwyn lightly, pressing against him. "I think I'll make it a point to draw the curtain, then," he smiled.

Dwyn smiled and kissed him back passionately, then settled back on his heels. "Okay then. Let's go... we can take a while, so my mom can wash your clothes. Since they'll smell too," he explained. "Unless you brought a spare set."

Kieran shook his head regretfully. "Nope. Maybe I could borrow something of yours. You're not... that much bigger than me," he said wistfully. It really kind of sucked being the size of a ten year old.

Dwyn kissed him. "Of course you can. You'll look adorably small swamped in my clothing. That, and mom still has some stuff I outgrew before I wore it out. I think she always meant to give it to a starving orphan or something, but starving orphans aren't starving for long around here."

Kieran laughed softly and nuzzled into Dwyn, nibbling on his collarbone. "Nothing like the universal joy of boyfriend clothes," he murmured contentedly. He purred happily, tail swaying lazily behind him.

Dwyn smirked and nodded. "Nothing like," he agreed dryly, taking Kieran's wrists and pulling him toward the waiting tub. It was a large brass deal, easily big enough for both of them, an old-fashioned clawfoot that steamed and smelled absolutely heavenly. Something pungent and earthy, while at the same time spicy. Something Kieran had probably smelled on Sabbath now and again. Something that seemed to relax him and energize him all at once.

Kieran's nose twitched and his tail flicked up like a furry periscope. He tugged Dwyn toward it, peering into it and licking his lips. He liked water pretty well, as long as it wasn't too cold. And he really liked being clean. "C'mon. Let's get slippery." He tried to say it with a straight face, but he had to giggle.

Dwyn giggled too and climbed in, slipping on the slick bottom and falling with a yelp and a splash. He caught himself on the rim of the rub and raised his head above the water, laughing. "S'nice," he purred, shivering as his skin acclimated to the heat. "Come on, join me?"

Kieran nodded and stepped over the rim gracefully, keeping his footing in the water and sinking down with a pleased purr as the water surged up his skin. "Umi no ashi..." he murmured lightly, sinking into the water, hair sinking around him.

Dwyn tilted his head, watching Kieran's hair float and spread with the water. It was pretty. Then again, Kieran was pretty enough to make him drool rather consistantly now that his thoughts took a sexual vein toward him. He sank into the water up to his eyes and let out a breath through his nose, reveling in the comfortable warmth.

Kieran stretched felinely, tail swishing through the water, fur a sloppy weight. He did look a bit funny when wet, and he absolutely HATED getting the insides of his ears wet. His ears folded back then to protect themselves in advance. He sat up and rubbed a hand over his belly lightly, purring. He did like a good belly rub, even if he did it himself.

Dwyn ducked all the way under the water and shook his head as his hair moved back and forth in slow motion, a golden-brown cloud until he popped back up, still breathing easily, as though he hadn't even held his breath. He reached for a thick slab of tallow soap with ground herbs worked into it and began to rub his body down from neck to toe.

(some time later...)

Sabbath gave the ceiling a long-suffering look and shook a spoon at them. "You two will have to tone it down today," she warned them. "break the news to your families GENTLY."

Kieran smiled sheepishly up at Sabbath and nuzzled into Dwyn's side. "As much as it pains me to let go, I've got to agree. While my family's pretty good at accepting stange things... they still freak sometimes. 'Specially 'tousan. He's way too high strung."

Sabbath smiled warmly at them. "I've got porridge cooking. Dwyn, show Kieran where the brown sugar and milk are and then you boys can sit down. Hopefully we'll manage a quiet breakfast before my house is overrun."

Kieran tried not to giggle as he stuck close to Dwyn, taking note of the sugar's location and seating himself next to Dwyn. He surreptitiously slid the chair over enough that he could rest his head on Dwyn's shoulder, purring softly.

Sabbath didn't seem to care about their proximity, except to smile in an "Awwww, kawai!" way at them almost constantly. Her cat, Mikoto, leaped into her lap and settled down, purring as he kneaded his silken black feet on her legs and she rather quickly ate her porridge. Dwyn ate voraciously. Not only was he a growing boy, but he'd expended a lot of energy on Kieran in the past couple of days.... energy well-spent.

Kieran ate enough to satisfy Sabbath, having long since learned that saying 'no' did him a great little of good. He was actually hungry for once, too; maybe it had been all that... exertion. He almost giggled as he thought of it as 'exertion' and tried to clear his mind and eat his over-sugared porridge, but Dwyn was so close and there was really no reason NOT to think about him. Abous how lovely last night, this morning had been. About... well, okay, maybe there WAS a reason, he conceded, shifting in his seat with the slightest hint of an embarrassed smile.

Across the table, Sabbath giggled, and Dwyn's hand slid down and over Kieran's thigh. He continued to eat rapidly, as though nothing was happening, even as his hand slid between Kieran's legs.

Kieran kept a remarkably straight face as he slid one leg up over the corner of the chair, reminding himself not to purr. He only flushed the slightest bit, and it was hard to see; however, his tail was quite anxiously twitching in the air behind him, a dead giveaway to his mnetal state.

Sabbath just ignored them. Let them play - they were young and had the energy to do so. She knew very well how it was to play when you were young. She'd had Dwyn when she was nineteen. Dwyn, meanwhile, massaged Kieran's groin slowly and methodically as he ate seconds and then thirds.

Kieran slowed noticeably from then on, having one interesting time trying to concentrate enough to keep eating. It was a delicious torment and he was quickly rock hard under Dwyn's hand, struggling to keep from pushing into that hand. Even if Sabbath knew, as she undoubtably did, there was no reason to make it blatantly obvious. And if he started whimpering like he wanted to, well, that would be a bit of a hint.

There was a skittering sound above their heads and Dywn's hand went still as both he and Sabbath looked sharply upward. It was the only sound though, and Sabbath folded her napkin and pushed her chair back. "I'm going down to the shop," she said quietly.

Kieran's eyes were as firmly fixed upward as Dwyn's, and he frowned thoughtfully. He relaxed after a moment, though his ears were still swiveled upward as he glanced back at Dwyn. It had most likely been a squirrel or something equally harmless.

Dwyn was stiff, golden eyes fixed on the way that led to the stairwell as Sabbath rounded the corner. He didn't eat anymore and though he didn't have a neko's ears, his own seemed oddly perked. His fingers scraped slowly across the tabletop.

"Dwyn?" Kieran asked softly, resting his hand atop Dwyn's. The look on the other's face wasn't half as frightened as it was... hopeful? Now what could to that to Dwyn? He was thinking about it quite intently.

Dwyn looked like a cat eyeing a mouse, ready to attack at the slightest provocation. For a long while, though, there was no sound. He didn't relax. He knew this routine already, far too well.

Kieran frowned and pushed his spoon further back onto the table as he leaned back, murmuring a spell to himself lightly until every sound in the shop was as amplified as though he were smack in the middle of the dwonstairs, neko ears twitching.

He could hear Sabbath moving around downstairs. Her steps were slow, with long pauses in between. He heard the door swing open and the chimes sing. He heard Sabbath gasp and then metal rang against metal and Dwyn was up and headed for the stairs like a shot.

Kieran was close behind him, almost tripping over him as he slipped down the stairs silently. Something wasn't right here. He couldn't say it was -wrong-... just... hypertense?

The clang and scrape of blades, ringing off of one another in amazingly quick succession, was audible to normal hearing when they were at the top of the stairs and Sabbath's low grunts when they were halfway down. The scene they burst in upon was.... odd, to say the least. Sabbath, looking very out-of-place in a warriors stance with a floor-length skirt, held twin knives and was struggling to hold off a taller, slender but brutally muscled man with short-cropped, frost-white hair and only a single remaining gold eye. He knocked her back, his strength, skill, and speed rather obviously superior to hers, and she let out a coughing yell as she threw herself at him again. For a blinding moment, silver flashed in just about every concievable direction.

Kieran's mouth dropped open. He'd only ever seen metal move that fast when his fathers were sparring with each other, which, while one hell of a display, was nothing like this. This reminded him of a street-fight in all its ferocity and wildness. There were two reasons that he did't try and help Sabbath with a cast spell. One, she wasn't casting herself; had she been in dire straits, he suspected she'd rely on her magic and to hell with the knives. Two, the little voice of memory was whispering in a pale copy of Dwyn's voice. ~I get them from my father.~

His foot caught her and threw her back. She slammed into a supporting pillar with an audible crack and slumped to the floor, gasping and holding her side. Dwyn took that opportunity to fly the rest of the way down the stairs and pounce the male. "DAD!"

Kieran tried not to stare, knowing it wasn't polite, as he scurried to Sabbath's side, hoping she wasn't permanently damaged. He was a bit distracted as he offered her a hand up, wide black eyes locked onto the Dwyn's father. Now what the other boy had said about him made sense... was obvious. That man was a hunter if he'd ever seen one, predatory to the bone and beyond.

Sabbath flashed him a grim smile as she hauled herself up, patting his shoulder and taking a few deep, pained breaths. "I'm okay, baby," she reassured him. "This old woman's got meanness in her that ain't even ingrown yet..."

Meanwhile, the man didn't drop his knives but he DID catch his son in midair and spin him in a circle as Dwyn clung to him with all four limbs and made excited sounds against his chest.

Kieran didn't doubt that at -all- and just nodded slightly, watching Dwyn and his father with a slight smile. It was cute to see his lover (thinking of Dwyn like that -still- sent a shiver down his spine, not that he minded much at all) latched onto someone and squeaking like a four-year-old who'd inhaled helium.

The man set Dwyn down and eyed him through his single remaining orb, which exactly matched Dwyn's in color. And to be honest, they were built the same, and had similar facial features. Of course, this person's face was bisected by three long scars. He looked at Dwyn appraisingly, then said almost accusingly, "You are taller."

"Yeah, well, he hit a growth spurt some time within the last two years," Sabbath said caustically, rolling her shoulders and folding her arms across her chest to glare. "How considerate of you to show up just in time for breakfast."

Kieran decided to watch and not say a word. It wasn't his business and what's more, he didn't really want to get into it. Only the twinge of anger he felt at the very idea that anyone could leave Dwyn for two years made him want to speak, but he wisely suppressed that urge, choosing to instead stand beside Sabbath (as inching over to Dwyn would be fun, but potentially dangerous) and chew on his lip.

Sabbath seemed to share Kieran's irritation that Dwyn's father was away so much, but she was swiftly burying it under a mask of courtesy as Dwyn pulled away, babbling a mile a minute. "Where have you BEEN? Did you ever get to Gashmen like you said you wanted do? How's everybody on the Scimitar? How long are you staying? OH...." He seized the man's bandaged wrist... the man wore bandages in the same places Dwyn did... and dragged him toward Kieran. "Dad, this is Kieran. Kieran, this is my dad."

"Better known to his terrified victims as Farfarello," Sabbath supplied. "Better known to his family as Jay O'Connaillain."

Farf shot Sabbath a half-reproachful, half curious look, then turned that liquid gold eye on Kieran.

Kieran managed a slight smile, overwhelmed by the rate at which Dwyn was speaking, the sarcasm that was rolling off Sabbath, and that highly unnerving gaze. He dipped his head graciously. If he hadn't been afraid of Dwyn, he wasn't going to be afraid of his father. It might have been a stuid decision, but Kieran was the type who usually learned the hard way due to sheer optimism. "Hello," he said softly, curiosity glinting in the boy's obsidian eyes.

Farfarello eyed him for a long moment, then glanced at Sabbath. Sabbath made a sound of pure exasperation, seized Kieran's hand, seized Dwyn's hand, and smacked them into interlocking. "Should I spell it out for you?" she demanded. "Your son found a mate."

"I somewhat gathered that when you spoke of him as though he was family," Farfarello told her just as dryly.

Kieran's cheeks darkened but he held up remarkably well under Sabbath's unique brand of pressure. He couldn't really do much but smile in a vaguely apologetic (and somewhat lovestruck) way, saueezing Dwyn's hand lightly. Some strange part of him hoped that he'd be liked by this wild, primal man.

Farfarello tilted his head, then eyed Dwyn again. Whatever he was thinking, he kept it to himself, hidden behind an almost hungry smirk. Sabbath took control of the situation immediately, shooeing all of them back upstairs to finish breakfast and informing Farfarello that he'd have to eat with them. To which he shrugged and seemed neither opposed nor inclined, but merely aquiescent.

Kieran let himself be herded, accustomed by now to Sabbath's tendency to command anyone within hearing range of her commands and a few outside if she felt she needed to, and trained to obedience. By the time he was done dissapearing the porridge, he had spaced out slightly, dark eyes unfocusing as they stared at something that wasn't real.

Farfarello sat down and rather laconically answered most of Dwyn's excited questions. Which proved interesting, despite itself. He had been adventuring, after all, and had a lot of tales of his travels and struggles and the crew of a ship called the Scimitar.

Large black cat ears twitched back and forth between Dwyn and Farfarello as Kieran absorbed what the other two were saying. He repressed the childish urge to ak stupid questions and let his eyes forget about working, giving him a glazed look as he listened intently.

Dwyn was animated and flushed, obviously thrilled at his other parent's presence and seeming to mostly miss the looks Farfarello and Sabbath exchanged over the table. Mostly cool ones, with slightly narrowed eyes or the quirk of lips in a smirk. What, exactly, they were telling each other by such behavior was a mystery, but breakfast was quickly polished off and Sabbath hauled the dishes off to clean them so she'd have enough to entertain with later.

Kieran liked seeing Dwyn lit up like that and couldn't help but smile. It was so obvious that the boy adored and worshipped his father. He wasn't too curious about what Farfarello and Sabbath were telling each other in the mysteriously universal language of Parent; he got enough of that from his fathers. And considering that Daddy usually used telepathy if he needed to communicate with Yuka privately, he didn't think he had a snowball's chance in hell of figuring out just what they meant. Instead, he watched Dwyn with a slight smile, tail swaying.

"Kieran, come help me with the dishes, would ya?" Sabbath summoned him, elbow-deep in sudsey water, distracting Kieran from watching Dwyn has he hadn't ceased to do since that morning. it was rather obvious to anyone who looked how Kieran couldn't take his eyes off her son, and Sabbath, with her Weave-attuned senses, could practically see the silver chord humming strong between them. None the less, she didn't want Kieran to feel neglected. She had no problem with Dwyn's choice of mate, so she'd done the only logical thing.... accepted Kieran as her son in advance.

Kieran wouldn't mind at all. There were times that simple labor could be satisfying, and he prowled over to Sabbath's side, not knowing why he made it a point to walk gracefully and with perfect silence. Rolling up Dwyn's far-oversized (on Kieran' tiny body, anyway) sleeves, he wished for a moment that he had one of 'tousan's cloth strips to tie around the tunic, but such luxuries were far away. He got over it quickly and set to helping Sabbath, humming idly as he stared blindly at the dish in his hands. It was heavy, but that was about all his mind was processing except for the sound of Dwyn's voice.

Dwyn's voice quickly dropped low as chairs scraped and he and his father got up and moved toward the crackling fireplace. Now Farfarello seemed to open up... his low, accented, lyrical and hypnotically musical voice was heard, just barely, as often as Dwyn's. Sabbath smiled at Kieran - always willing to help out, and so ADORABLE in her son's too-big clothing.

Kieran beamed up at her. "So I get to call you mum, right?" he inquired impishly, making sure the cup he was holding was spotless before rinsing it off. His tail twitched sporadically.

"Well, as long as you keep helping with chores, I suppose there's no reason why not," she told him evenly. "Especially since you practically LIVE in my house." She patted his head and scrubbed the large pot she'd cooked the porridge in.

Kieran beamed and flicked a soap sud from a fingertip as he nodded happily. "I don't mind helping out, really. And it's such a nice house, so much more comfortable than my dorm room, that I guess it's no so surprising that I spend more time here than there."

Sabbath laughed. "AND you shower me with compliments. Who wouldn't want you around?" She handed him the heavy pot and swished her hands through the water, making sure she hadn't missed any silverware. Finding none, she pulled the drain plug and the water began to swirl away.

Kieran set the pot down and looked up at Sabbath thoughtfully for a moment before nodding with a smile. "I suppose you're right," he murmured, dark eyes distant as he made sure the pot was rinsed and dry.

Sabbath paused and eyed him. "That was a distant response," she said bluntly. "Kieran, are you okay? Something's been bothering you... and you know you can talk to me about it."

Kieran looked up at her with wide eyes, looking quite innocent. He entertained the idea of lying, or of just saying nothing, but Sabbath could see through anyone, damnit, and she'd just drag it out of him anyway. He sighed and glanced down. "I'm worried about Caden." He knew that his brother was on the edge; Caden almost always was. And what hurt the most was the feeling that Caden didn't trust him enough to tell him about it... that his brother wouldn't let him try to help.

"As well you should be. He's falling apart at the seams, mentally," Sabbath said matter-of-factly, as though this was no surprise to her and should come as no surprise to Keiran.

"I know," Kieran said softly. He didn't really want to admit that it was possible, that the brother he'd always looked up to and worshipped was anything but perfect, but reality was harsh when it finally broke into his little world and he well knew better. The way Caden was, as Sabbath had said, falling apart rocked the foundations of Kieran's world. It was a bit like being told that his parents had gone straight and had girlfriends.

Sabbath eyed him. "Well, good," she said quietly. "Everyone seems to KNOW. But nobody seems to be doing anything about it." Being insane herself, having taken an insane lover and raised an insane son, Sabbath knew the glint in a person's eyes that occurred when their soul fractured. She'd seen it in Caden right away, lurking there in the indigo depths. A handsome boy, with a smile that could melt the coldest heart and a lot of genuine good will. She would have been truly confused by his seeming unwholeness had she not witness that little display between Caden and Dwyn.... and Sabbath was as sharp as a tack.

Kieran narrowed his eyes. "He won't LET me do anything about it," he growled. "He just pretends that nothing's wrong and tries to distract me when I ask him about it. And I -know- part of it is because of me." And that hurt like nothing he'd ever known; that it was his fault that Caden was in this state.

She nodded. "Do you then?" She washed the bubbles out of the sink and was silent for a long moment, then finally said, "It's really not my place to interfere, no matter what I know, or what I feel. If you need help with this, you can ask, but until you do, this is as far as I go."

"What can I do? I can't even knock sense into him," Kieran grumbled, glaring at nothing in particular. It was really too much for him. The look in Caden's eyes, hidden behind that ever so well created smile, cut right into him. It made him want to curl into himself and pretend that nothing was wrong, that Caden wasn't lying when he said it was alright. But this time, reality wouldn't let him hide himself away. It knocked quite forcibly.

"Honestly?" She sighed. "Do you know WHY it's happening?"

"I have ideas, but I'm not certain." Kieran said softly, all the anger draining out of him as he looked up at Sabbath soulfully. "Do you?"

"Yes, but let's hear yours first," She told him, turning, taking a half-step, and hopping up to sit on the long stretch of cutting board that made up a section of the counter. She patted the space beside her.

Kieran bounced up next to her and twined his tail around his waist, tucking his hands between his knees as he sighed. "I think... he's lonely. And hopeless. I know that it hurt him a lot when..." he trailed off. Was that why Caden had cracked? Because of losing him? He didn't want to be responsible for Caden's utterly fragile state of mind.

"When?" Sabbath prodded gently, sliding an arm around his shoulders. She was soft to lean against and smelled like darkness and magic.

"When we stopped." It was really all he could say, and he didn't want to say that much. A vague dread warned him that Sabbath would likely figure it out herself, but he was really hoping that wouldn't happen. And if she didn't get it, she'd make him explain, which would be thrice as bad. Damned if he did, and damned if he didn't.

"When you stopped what?" she inquired softly. Half the catharsis wasn't just in Keiran knowing it, but in him sharing it with somebody else. She had a vague idea, but she hadn't realized that it might be requited....

Kieran hesitated, and then decided that it didn't much matter. If Sabbath was going to judge him, she'd have done so already. "We had an affair of sorts."

She nodded, chewing absently on her lower lip. So.... there was actually a decent reason. "How long?" she asked. The longer this had been going on, the harder it would be.

"Almost three years," Kieran sighed, eyes fixed on the floor.

She nodded and looked sadly at the floor. "That explains a lot," she said quietly.

"I would have stayed with him, you know. But he told me that we couldn't... that no matter how much we loved each other, it wasn't right. It felt right," he murmured, sounding distant. "You're not supposed to fall in love with your brother." He'd escaped that, but Caden hadn't, and now that he could look at Dwyn and fall all over again he knew that the love he'd felt for Caden hadn't been the kind of love that transcended all things.

"And were you, really in love with him?" she asked gently, her eyes half-closed as she listened both to Kieran and to her own intuition and tried to read between the lines.

"I thought I was. I did love him, and I could have fallen in love with him, but..." But now that he'd seen love, seen the look in Dwyn's eyes when the other boy smiled... Now he really knew what love was, and what he felt for Caden wasn't less powerful, simply different.

"But. And he's the one who pushed away from you?" she confirmed, casting a glance toward her son, where he was rocking back and forth in his seat.

Kieran nodded miserably, ears folded back along his skull.

"I wanted to. I would have, to hell with what anyone thought or said... but he told me it was for the better. And those were the days I believed him when he told me nothing was wrong." The memory of the pain he'd felt when Caden had called it off surged forward; for a while he'd been convinced there was something wrong with him, that it was his fault. But if Caden wanted them apart, he would honor the other's wishes, no matter how much pain it caused him.

"Well." She shook her head slightly. "That's interesting. Very interesting." She actually broke into laughter, but somehow, it didn't sound at all amused.

"Isn't it though," Kieran said emptily, sounding as though he knew exactly why she was laughing. Beautiful fucking irony.

"Well...... " She shrugged. She would withhold her opinion until it was asked for, but this much she had to say. "He loves you very much. VERY much indeed."

"I know. And... I'm afraid." He didn't want to imagine what would happen when Caden found out about he and Dwyn; it would likely be the straw that broke the camel's back and shattered his mind thoroughly. But he could never, ever regret loving Dwyn, and the urge to tell the world (complete with song and dance routine) was only somewhat dimmed by the grim realization that he could very well destroy Caden.

Sabbath squeezed his shoulders gently. "Afraid of what, baby?"

"That when I tell him he'll break entirely." Kieran's voice was tiny as he leaned gratefully into Sabbath's side.

"For the best," Sabbath repeated quietly. "Who's best, I wonder? It obviously wasn't his."

"I'm an idiot," Kieran muttered darkly. "I shouldn't have ever said yes in the first place." He seemed to be talking more to himself than to Sabbath, dark eyes unfocused as his tail twitched anxiously.

"Said yes to what? Leaving him or bedding him?" Her tone was slightly dry. If Kieran just needed a sounding board to ask the hard questions, she could do that.

"Bedding him. Maybe then it wouldn't have gotten so out of hand. If I hadn't..." he trailed off, soundly reminding himself that hindsight was twenty-twenty and whimpering about ifs would do him very little good now. "Doesn't matter if I hadn't, because I did, and it's done and I've driven him insane and there's nothing I can do about it." That was the stinger. Caden wouldn't let him help.

"Does my son make you happy?" she inquired almost idly, still watching his honeyed hair as the firelight shone off it. He was slightly flushed when his head turned slightly and her lips twitched. From the heat of the fireplace or the topic of discussion? As little as he deigned to show it in public, Farfarello WAS protective of his son.

All the despair fled Kieran's eyes as he looked over at Dwyn, a remarkably stupid smile blooming over his face. "Gods yes. Happier than I can ever remember being."

"hm." She nodded slowly as if that was very important information, her other hand slid between her thighs, mostly just to hold it there while she swung her feet gently, heels thudding against the cabinet behind them.

"I want to feel guilty but I can't," Kieran said with a soft sigh as he gazed at Dwyn. "I should feel bad about what it will do to Caden. I -do- but I can't make myself feel guilty when I look at him. It's like all my cares fade away."

She was nodding slowly. "Then," she said frankly, "Your brother was right after all. Which doesn't change the fact that it might well be killing him, but he WAS right..."

"I know, but it IS killing him." And that said just how much Caden loved him right there, that his brother would throw himself away just so that Kieran could be happy.

She smiled, knowing that Kieran had just realized the entire point behind this somewhat ill-advised "sacrifice" of Caden's. Of course... it was the right thing to do. And he wasn't looking for accolades over it... to everyone who asked, he put up a brave front and refused to taint Kieran's happiness by acting like HE was anything but happy. A martyr complex? Maybe, but it was one he was holding close to his chest. And she was rather certain that he was doing it for the right reasons. but that didn't mean it didn't hurt him terribly. "Kieran," she said slowly. She was about to truly overstep her bounds but this had to be asked. "You were never IN love with him?"

Kieran wanted to say yes. He wanted to justify having slept with his brother, having broken Caden, but now that he knew what love was, he couldn't make himself lie. "I thought I was, but... no." It hurt to admit that, on a hundred different levels. And he had a dark, looming suspicion that if Caden were asked that question he would not have been able to answer it the same way without lying.

She nodded then and rubbed his back. "I see," she said quietly. And really, for her, that was all that needed to be said. Because she DID see. And she finally understood all the nuances, all the little secrets, all the reasons behind the glances.

Kieran sighed and curled in on himself, leaning into Sabbath's touch out of a distraught need for comfort. "I just wish that there was something I could do. Some way I could help. That he'd let me."

"I think," she said quietly, "that you're the last person that needs to help him. That's not an insult to you, baby. It's just that you're the source of his pain. He'd willingly crawl naked on his belly over broken glass to see you happy and if you imply that you're not happy because you suspect the truth of HIS unhappiness... he'll feel he's failed and do something VERY unwise." Her fingers meandered slowly through his hair. "And I don't know what to tell you, except for this: BE happy. Flaunt to the world how happy you are. Because even though that WILL hurt him, he'll feel like he's succeeded and feel, rightfully, as though he did the right thing letting go of you. And that might help, even if it's just a little."

Kieran sighed. "And I'm just supposed to pretend that I can't tell that he's breaking?" He wasn't that good an actor, was he? If Caden's happiness depended on it, he damn well would be. A little part of his mind began to devise methods of making Caden happy, foremost among them crazy ideas of finding Caden a boyfriend or making a copy of himself, but they were frivolous and stupid and would most likely never leave the dark recesses of his mind.

Sabbath sighed. "I know it's hard. You do love him. But believe me, I think it's best if you're happily oblivious to his mental state. Let him think that you think everything is right with the world. Kieran, your brother wasn't MADE to be broken. Don't imagine that you're the only issue here, because you aren't. You're just the nearest and dearest to his heart. He has other problems, I'm fairly sure, and they're not yours to solve."

"I'll do what I can," Kieran said disconsolately, tone dull. There was only so much a boy could take, and he knew that Caden had taken more than anyone should have to. He knew it wasn't all him; he knew that the world didn't revolve around him and that there were other things making it worse. But why was it that the people he wanted most to comfort and help were beyond his ability to aid?

She sighed and pulled him into a hug. "My advice?" she muttered callously. "Fuck Dwyn senseless and get your mind off of it. In fact, I have a suggestion... a little game his father and I used to play..." she couldn't hold back a wicked grin.

Kieran's cheeks turned a quite impressive shade of red and he squeaked unintelligibly. "Gwaack!"

She threw her head back and laughed, poking him in the ribs. "Oh, come on. It's fun. It's called "One Thousand Public Places"...."

Kieran blushed darker as he gibbered, somehow managing to stop babbling incoherently. "You're not supposed to give us ideas," he accused faintly, ears folded back. Only the actively twitching tip of his tail said that he was entertaining the idea. ~Twice the shock value, seeing as we're both male...~

Sabbath blinked at him. "Why on earth not?"

"Because when we get caught and blame you for encouraging us, you're the one who gets in trouble, not us... Hey! Maybe that's not such a bad idea after all," he said slyly.

She laughed. "Well, you'll just have to not get caught then. Besides, if someone comes to me complaining that you two were sneaking sex in public fountains, I'll..... set them straight on exactly WHAT they should think on the matter."

Kieran laughed, shaking his head. He was still rather red, but there was something about Sabbath's manner that made it impossible not to return her sallies in kind. "I'm certain you could," he said affectionately, butting his head into her shoulder felinely.

She chuckled and scratched between his ears. "Idiot mortal races," she said evenly. "Who WOULDN'T see the two of you attatched to one another and suddenly develope a streak of lustful voyuerism? I'm teasing you, baby." She patted his head. "Now, I think he's done telling his father all about you. Are you okay?"

"As good as I can be," Kieran said with a nod. Even if Caden was having problems, he knew that his brother would eventually be alright. He was as his name, a fighter through and through, the kind who never gave up and even after breaking kept going, happiness or no. He couldn't let himself worry too much about his brother; he had to have faith. Other than that, everything was going bloody well. He glanced at Dwyn and smiled stupidly, black eeys dancing. "As good as I will be."

She smacked him lightly between the shoulders. "Good, then. Go get him. I need to drag Farf off and talk to him anyway." She slid off the counter with a bounce.

Kieran nodded obediently, hopping down and landing lightly. "Thanks, mum," he said with a sweet smile up at her before he scurried off toward Dwyn.

"Oh, don't mention it," she murmured. "But don't forget the game, either." She smirked and followed him, albeit more slowly. Dwyn looked up from where he sat, golden eyes shining at Kieran. He thought about making some shrewd comment about how long 'dishes' had taken them, but he had a feeling Sabbath had needed to discuss something with Kieran. He had no idea what that something WAS, but he trusted his mom. "Why don't you boys go downstairs and wait for Kieran's family?" Sabbath suggested. "Jay, let's talk."

Again, Farfarello looked a bit perturbed by Sabbath's use of the name.

Kieran blushed again and nodded, trying not to grin as he slid up to Dwyn's side. Just the look in those eyes made him want to snuggle Dwyn to they were glued together... or, better yet, fuck him senseless until they were glued together in a much more literal fashion. He offered a hand to his lover, glancing somewhat nervously at Farfarello. The white-haired man didn't so much frighten him as make him a bit twitchy, like there was a hungry lion in the room that just hadn't really noticed him yet.

Farfarello eyed the hand and smirked slightly. "Don't forget," he told Dwyn quietly, then rose and approached Sabbath. She folded her arms and eyed him... one slender, white-skinned hand reached out and wrapped in her hair at the back of her head, dragging her along with him toward her room where there would be some privacy. She made a growling sound and drove her fist into his ribs. He didn't seem to notice.

Dwyn chuckled. "They're.... kinda wierd. I still can't tell whether they actually like each other or not. Sometimes I think they do, sometimes I think it's the barest form of tolerance."

Kieran eyed Sabbath and Farfarello thoughtfully. "I think they do. It's... cute, in a rather twisted way," he said cheerfully. "So did you have fun with your dad? What were you talking about?" he inquired curiously, tilting his head. He was always interested in... well, pretty much anything, really, but especially anything Dwyn was interested in.

Kieran eyed Sabbath and Farfarello thoughtfully. "I think they do. It's... cute, in a rather twisted way," he said cheerfully. "So did you have fun with your dad? What were you talking about?" he inquired curiously, tilting his head. He was always interested in... well, pretty much anything, really, but especially anything Dwyn was interested in.

Dwyn grinned wickedly. "You," he answered, and after checking to see that his parents had left, he seized Kieran around the waist and dragged the boy down onto the couch with him.

"Me?" Kieran squeaked, dark eyes going wide as he tumbled onto the couch, landing squarely atop Dwyn and making no move to move away. "Why me?"

"Because you're mine," Dwyn said blithly, as though this explained everything perfectly. He cuddled Kieran tightly.

Kieran melted and snuggled into Dwyn, burying his face in the other boy's neck. "What were you telling him about me?" He genuinely wanted to know.

"I told him I'd marked you and that you were mine. I told him I knew what it meant. We're... two of a kind, sometimes. There's a lot that we just sort of understand about each other that nobody has to say. He knows, and so he'll respect it, because.... well.... like a pair of lions, I guess, we sidestep each others' territory. But he's proud of me. I think he likes you. That you let me blood you and liked it... goes a long way with him, says you're not afraid of what you're looking at when you look at me. We both value fearlessness."

Kieran nodded slowly, digesting that as he purred softly, tail swaying in the air behind him. It was a good thing to meet the approval of his lover's parents, and as much as he liked Sabbath, there had been no doubt that she'd accept him. But Dwyn's father had been a complete unknown, and it was nice to know he'd passed that test, as it were. It was a long stretch of thought before he spoke softly. "I don't think I could be afraid of you if I tried," he said, voice pensive.

"You were in the beginning," he said quietly, reaching around Kieran to scratch at the base of his tail. "You ran away from me. But that wasn't because of me. I know... it was because of you. You thought I was like everybody else."

Kieran gave a contented little purr and his tail flipped up, hovering in the air. "Not quite," the boy corrected. "I wasn't afraid of you. I knew... you represented something, a change that I had no idea was coming, had no time to prepare for, and I saw that. It was like flipping over Death in a normal deck of cards. That's what frightened me... the change that you stood for. But now, I wouldn't have it any other way. And I knew you were different the first time I saw you smile.

Dwyn tilted his head, feeling a strange urge to be spoken of. "You did?" he probed, resting his chin on Kieran's shoulder and snuggling into him contentedly, almost submissively.

Kieran nodded, a smile curving his lips. "Mmm-hmm. That smile said you were fearless, confident, and above all... you, really. I can't find a word for it. I tried drawing it, but it didn't work too well. It's just as hard to capture you in words as it is on paper. Although I've noticed that a tail works well enough to trap your attention," he grinned, kissing Dwyn lightly.

"You trapped my attention from the beginning," Dwyn said evenly, arching up into the kiss. "But I have a question..."

"I have an answer. Let's see if they match," Kieran said cleverly, purring into Dwyn's lips.

"Did my mother, by any chance, mention "One Thousand Public Places...."?

"Yes, she did," Kieran said with a bit of a blush.

"Sometimes I think they're telepathically connected," he grumbled, then leaned up to nibble the blush. "But it's okay. I had my own plans anyway.... which will, alas, have to wait because we're supposed to be keeping an eye out for your family."

"He told you to try it too, huh?" Kieran said, shaking his head. "Well, I've got to say, at least craziness makes things interesting. And what plans are those?" he wanted to know.

Dwyn just grinned and winked at him. "Oh, you'll see," he said darkly. "Let's go downstairs?"

Kieran raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure I will, and of course," he said, sitting up and sliding off Dwyn's lap to tug the other boy to his feet and then down the stairs.

Dwyn followed along happily, taking the stairs two at a time, at breakneck pace and catching himself on the very pillar Sabbath had almost cracked her skull against. He seated himself in the sturdy chair behind the counter and propped his feet on it.

Kieran flowed down the stairs in a rather feline manner and followed Dwyn behind the counter with a flick of his tail. After thinking for a moment, he slipped into Dwyn's lap and nuzzled against him.

Dwyn smiled warmly and arranged Kieran so that he was curled comfortably in his lap, bringing his feet down and gladly entwining around him. He liked holding Kieran, liked how small the other boy was in his arms. It made him feel protective. Possessive.

Kieran purred happily and snuggled into Dwyn, quite content to curl into his lover. He gave Dwyn a sweet kiss, tail winding around the other boy's wrist in its own possessive way.

Which was how Cross found them as he shoved the door of the shop open and leaned in the door frame, arms folded across his chest, black eyes knowing. He stepped aside politely for the rest of the Aladriss retinue and cleared his throat, as though the door chimes wouldn't have been enough to announce his arrival.

Kieran twisted, blushing slightly as he realized that that was indeed the rest of his clan walking through the door. "Hi Daddy," he said sweetly, with a hopefully innocent smile on his face. He didn't want to have to disentangle himself from Dwyn, but it was probably a good idea...

Dwyn was giggling quietly against his shoulder, face hidden. "We got exiled downstairs," he said evenly, as though Kieran's parents HADN'T just walked in on them being cuddly. "My dad's here!"

Corus ducked through the door, eyes locking onto his little brother and Dwyn. He blinked twice and then chuckled, shaking his head. "Damn, Kagi, you were right," he admitted to his sister as she walked in behind him. Kagami smirked at Kieran and held out her hand, into which Corus shoved a few coins.

Kieran nodded happily, deciding it didn't matter and that he wanted everyone to see just how much he loved his dear, darling Dwyn.

Caden slipped in behind them, taking the opposite side of the doorway from his father and smirking quietly at Kieran. He'd avoided betting. He had too much riding on the outcome.

Yuka paused right next to Cross and stared at Kieran for a long moment before he smiled broadly, not needing to say a word.

Dwyn shrugged. "SO. My dad's here and I'm supposed to go tell them you all showed up. Which I might or might not. Just once," he mumbled to Kieran, "I'd like to see them caught. But it'll never happen... did I ever tell you they're in the seven-hundreds?" he asked Kieran, smirking.

Kieran looked up at Caden and gave his brother a smile that said a thousand things, foremost amongst them 'I'm sorry' and 'I love you'.

Caden shot him a sunny grin and a wink back, lingering by the doorway and looking around the shop again. He hadn't had much time to get a good look before, and there were so many hidden and interesting things.

Kieran squeezed Dwyn tightly before distentangling himself from his lover gracefully and slipping down from Dwyn's lap. Once he was firmly on the ground, he bounced toward his family, beaming with a smile bright enough to put a star to shame. He managed to wrap Yuka and Cross in one squishing hug at once, Yuka laughing and ruffling his hair.

Corus poked Kagami quite impolitely and nodded to something on a shelf, muttering something in her ear. She rolled her eyes and smacked him lightly upside the head. "Don't be a dope," she ordered, and proceeded to iignore him.

Kieran squeezed Dwyn tightly before distentangling himself from his lover gracefully and slipping down from Dwyn's lap. Once he was firmly on the ground, he bounced toward his family, beaming with a smile bright enough to put a star to shame. He managed to wrap Yuka and Cross in one squishing hug at once, Yuka laughing and ruffling his hair.

Corus poked Kagami quite impolitely and nodded to something on a shelf, muttering something in her ear. She rolled her eyes and smacked him lightly upside the head. "Don't be a dope," she ordered, and proceeded to iignore him.

Dwyn got off his chair and scampered up the stairs... on all fours... leaving Kieran to greet his family again as he went off to warn his parents that they had company.

Kieran beamed up at his fathers. "Well, I was going to tell you, but I guess it's a moot point by now," he said with a slight hint of a smirk somewhere in his broad smile.

Cross chuckled. "Well, I suppose that's also a good enough way to tell us. Though I forgive you for not doing it earlier... seeing as you didn't even know yourself." He smirked at his son knowingly.

Kieran blushed slightly, but only smiled wider. "A lot can happen in one day," he said succinctly.

Yuka couldn't help but grin nostalgically, remembering one hell of a crazy day involving a cellar, a dragon, and one fucked up cavern.

Cross rolled his eyes. "Yes, so we're aquainted," he said dryly as he slung his arm around Yuka's shoulder and squeezed. Dwyn came bounding back down the stairs then, looking windblown. "Okay, who wants to go upstairs? I mean, it's SO fascinating and everything," he added with a chuckle.,

Kieran laughed and shook his head. Daddy and 'tousan were so.. well, cute together. He giggled and turned, tugging at Yuka's wrist to drag them all upstairs. Kagami pulled Corus away from an astrolabe and steered him toward the staircase, reaching out to shoo Caden up too.

Caden sidestepped her deftly, evading her touch, and brought up the rear, jogging up the stairs after them.

Kagami shrugged. She hadn't been trying to haul him upward, just motion him in the right direction, but Corus seemed to be intent on annoying the crap out of his sister. She finally got tired of his teasing refusal to move and picked him up and carried him. Kieran noted this and burst into giggles as he rounded the landing and ducked into the living room.

Caden also burst into laughter. "That's gotta be great for your sex life, Corus." he teased. "Imagine if people should... just HAPPEN to hear that your little sister hauls you around..."

Corus was busy squawking and flailing ineffectually at Kagami, who set him down at the top of the stairs. He glared at his brothers coldly. "My little sister is also the butch-est sister on this side of the planet," he said dryly, earning a sound smack to the head from Kagami.

Caden smirked. "Yeah, and stronger than you. Tsk tsk."

"I wasn't expecting it," Corus said loftily, wandering away from his annoying little siblings. Kagami rolled her eyes and followed, stepping into the living room behind Corus. ~Men.~

Caden shrugged, darted forward, and grabbed Corus around the waist, picking him up and spinnning him around while laughing maniacally. "Gotcha!"

Corus grabbed Caden's wrists and bided his time until he could set his feet. He finally got them on the ground and yanked hard on Caden's forearms, jerking his little brother right over his shoulder. Holding his wrists together with one hand and holding him on his shoulder with the other, Corus walzted right back down the stairs and outside, where he threw Caden into a pile of snow. Then he turned and walked back inside and right back up the stairs, leaving Caden in the snow.

Kagami sweatdropped. "Dad, can't you do something? I know four year olds more mature than those two..."

Caden rode him rather cheerfully on the way down, happily making cowboy noises and wrapping his legs around Corus's waist. Which he used to hold onto him as Corus tried to dump him into the snow, making it a difficult proposition at best.

Cross shrugged. "Better each other than some poor sap off the street," he said absently as he strode into the living room and sat down. Sabbath was nowhere to be seen, but Dwyn was lying across the floor by the fireplace with Taliesin perched on his chest, nose to nose.

Corus resolutely shook him off and ran away, knowing retribution was not only swift, but rather creative.

Yuka settled down next to Cross, Kagami on his other side. Kieran claimed a spot right next to Dwyn, sitting on the floor and petting Tal lightly. He was veritably glowing, ears perked.

Farfarello was the first to re-enter the living area, his presence like a living shadow or a hungry lion as he found himself a spot against the wall to stand and look utterly blank. Sabbath trotted in just after him. Despite Dwyn's apparent suspicions that they would have tried to sneak a quicky, neither of them looked flustered or mussed in the least. Sabbath smiled at all of them. "Hey y'all. Glad you could join us. So, what exactly IS on the agenda for this Yule? I'll understand if you want to do your own thing, though you might have a difficult time prying the boys apart," she joked, nodding toward Dwyn and Kieran where they sat together on the floor.

Kieran blushed and gripped Dwyn's hand. Difficult was an understatement. Yuka laughed, winking at Kieran before glancing up at Sabbath. "I haven't the slightest clue. Cross, did we have any special plans?" Kagami was distracted by Farfarello, but, remembering it wasn't polite to stare, refrained from satisfying her curiosity.

Farfarello settled in with a knife between his teeth as Cross shrugged. "Well, I was thinking about a gift exchange of some sort... but then again," he said teasingly, "Maybe the kids are too old for something like that..."

"Presents are -always- good," Corus said as he turned the corner, grinning at his father as he found a seat, having mercilessly left Caden outside. Kagami nodded in agreement and Yuka just shook his head with a smile. Kieran's ears twitched as he scritched Taliesin's chin lightly. He'd already gotten the best Yule gift he could ever have asked for, and its name was Dwyn.

"There's sledding and Ice Skating and.... hell, it's SILVERYMOON. Anything you want to do is out there,

" Sabbath said dryly, waving a hand.

"Sledding's fun. Especially if you start up on Suicide Hill," Kieran said brightly. He always was a crazy one when it came to careening down a small mountain on runners, screaming his head off and loving every instant of it.

Yuka eyed his son evenly. "Kieran, just remember..." he started, but his admonition was finished by not only Kieran, but Kagami and Corus. "That you can get hurt and need to be careful," they chorused.

Dwyn smirked from his prone position on the floor. "I'll be your landing pad," he offered with a totally innocent tone of voice.

Kieran turned a quite impressive shade of red and squawked something unintelligible as Corus burst into laughter at his brother's expense.

"What?" Dwyn asked. "I'll sit up front. So if we crash, you'll land on me and everything will be good."

"Kieran no ecchi," Kagami said, grinning. Kieran pretended he hadn't heard her and nodded, smiling adoringly at Dwyn. It was so sweet of him to say something like that, especially because Kieran knew he meant it.

Dwyn smiled back, shooting him a wink meant only for his eyes as if to say his comment suited either way.

Kieran's smile only grew as he sprawled over the floor in a decidedly feline manner, more than happy to snuggle Dwyn and not really caring if anyone else minded. Corus cooed teasingly, and was, as usual, ignored.

Cross rolled his eyes at Corus and patted his shoulder.

Corus grinned at Cross reassuringly, knowing full well that constantly poking fun at his siblings was a necessary part of life and one that he has a responsibility to fulfil. Kagami kept glancing toward the landing, wondering just what Corus had done to Caden to keep him away so long.

Cross reached over and ruffled his hair just to irk him. "Well, I'd like to say this is rather abrupt," he said dryly. "But I know how things go among our family, and it's almost NOT. So I suppose we get to welcome a new branch of the family?" he eyed Kieran.

Corus allowed it with the slightest of playful growls before turning his smirk on Kieran. "Yeah, Kieran, what's all this about?" he demanded curiously. Dwyn was whacked, but he got a feeling that the nutcase would take good care of his littlest brother.

Kieran nodded with a shy smile. "I... yes. Expand the clan some," he nodded, black eyes sparkling.

"Oh, great, more parents," Dwyn murmured.

Sabbath hiked an eyebrow at him. "ExCUSE me? With ME for a mother, you ought to jump for JOY at the thought of more parents. Unless you think it's been a BAD EXPERIENCE..."

"Hey, I -like- your mum," Kieran informed him, sounding cutely prissy.

Dwyn tilted his head back and laughed at her. "Gee, I dunno, mom. Looks like I'm in the market for a couple more dads, but Kieran's the one who needs a mother. Obviously nobody fussed at him until you did... he's gained twenty pounds or so."

Farfarello hiked an eyebrow, but otherwise held his peace.

Yuka glanced at Cross, indigo eyes sparkling, and whispered, quite audibly, "Are we really that intimidating still?"

Kieran glanced down in horror. "I have not!" he protested, poking at his belly.

Dwyn giggled. "You HAVE and it's a good thing. Otherwise I'd be terrified of breaking you." He showed Kieran his teeth.

Sabbath blinked. "And who do you think you're intimidating? I've seen worse. No offense, Cross."

Cross looked dry. "None taken, Sabbath."

Yuka snorted and tried not to dissolve into laughter. "But -my- father hadn't..."

Kieran raised an eyebrow and smirked at Dwyn, draping himself over his lover and purring in his ear. "Break me."

Dwyn convulsed sharply and bit down on the nearest part of Kieran he could reach.

"Your father didn't what?" Sabbath asked curiously.

Kieran bit back a cry and arched into Dwyn's teeth, the sharp points digging into his collar with a pleasant twinge.

Sabbath glared at them. "Oh, boooooooys?"

Kieran glanced up at Sabbath sheepishly, grinning. "Uhhh... yes?" His smile said 'I'm too cute to be mad at!'.

She smirked. "You DO realize your parents are watching."

Cross was an interesting shade of red, but he was laughing under his breath, face turned away.

Kieran considered that for a moment before looking from Sabbath to Cross. "And those parents haven't done the same?" he asked, sounding vaguely incredulous. Yuka blushed at that, pressing his forehead into the palm of his hand. Why him?

Sabbath threw her head back and LAUGHED, loudly and for quite a while. Farfarello chose that moment to speak, his voice melodic and accented. "The fact that they have done it doesn't mean that they're eager to think about their son doing it. It is, sometimes, difficult to allow a child to grow up."

Kieran looked up at Farfarello, dark eyes wide and guileless. "I didn't think of it that way," he conceded. "Although perhaps if more parents saw, it would help them come to terms with the fact that their baby's not a baby anymore." He said this with a pointed glance at Yuka, who opened his mouth and then shut it again.

Farfarello smirked. "When you're grinding against another boy in front of them and making that sort of noises, you are essentially smacking them in the face with it, don't you think?"

Kieran blushed, but refused to look away. "Y-yes." He didn't know how to explain that when he was near Dwyn, thinking of Dwyn, touching Dwyn, that the rest of the world faded away and he was entirely oblivious. It couldn't be said that he'd forgotten they weren't alone, more that he had forgotten reality entirely.

"Well, does it count as a public place if there are other people in it?" Dwyn countered, hiking an eyebrow.

Farfarello grinned sharply around the knife. "Yes."

"Don't give him -ideas-," Kieran whimpered, burying his face in Dwyn's shoulder.

Sabbath looked aghast. "I don't want to see that!" she told Farf, who simply smiled at her.

"I'm starting to worry about this game of yours," Kieran murmured for Dwyn's ears alone, not bothering to disentangle himself from his lover.

Dwyn smirked at him. "Don't. I'll be careful."

"Careful of -what-?" Kieran demanded, sounding slightly agitated as he stared at Dwyn with huge black eyes. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Not getting caught."

Kieran frowned and thought for a moment before smirking and pressing his lips to Dwyn's ear. "Isn't that the point?" he whispered, breath a shadowy ghost over Dwyn's neck.

Dwyn smirked. "Actually, no. The point is to do it in as many public places as possible WITHOUT getting caught. And if you do get caught, without getting punished for it."

"You're insane," Kieran said fondly, making it sound more like a compliment than anything disparaging.

"And you know where he got it from," Sabbath told Kieran blithely, though she was eyeing Farf as she said it.

Kieran glanced up at Farfarello and smiled shyly. "I can guess," he said softly, ears twitching.

Farfarello shrugged. "Aye, and who was it that bore him?" He smirked at Sabbath, who harumphed.

Kieran giggled. At that moment, they reminded him strongly of his own parents, and with a glance around the room, he smiled brightly. This was happiness, he thought as he curled back into Dwyn, more cuddling than molesting.

Cross had decided to curl up next to Yuka and be content, and so was half-heartedly listening, but not really paying attentiion to what they were saying.

Yuka was more than happy to snuggle into Cross' side and observe quietly, one hand trailing through his husband's hair as he watched Kieran and Dwyn.

There was a loud noise from the downstairs, and cursing in a guttural language rippled up the staircase. Kieran's ears turned backward and the boy sat up, peering toward the stairs. He knew that language, and he knew that voice. He disentangled himself from Dwyn and darted down the stairs silently, hoping that maybe, just once, telepathy or not, he could sneak up on his uncle.

Dwyn hiked an eyebrow and followed at Kieran's heels, being rather quiet. Of course, Sabbath came right after them, drawn by the sound of breaking glass.

Two redheads were in the shop, one much taller than the other and obviously older. The larger of the two had his back to the stairs and was muttering to himself in German as he set a leather pouch back on a shelf, glad that nothing had managed to break itself. A green duster graced broad shoulders, black boots sticking out from beneath it. The other redhead looked up as Kieran, Dwyn, and Sabbath came down. It was a child, perhaps twelve or so, with large green eyes and a stick of incense in one hand. "See, Dad, I -told- you we shouldn't have done it the cheap way. It gets you in trouble," Orion informed his father quietly. Schuldig turned and blinked, a smile breaking out over his face. "Kie-chan! Knew I'd be able to track you down..." The tall man trailed off, looking from Kieran to Dwyn as he caught the mental nuances between the two. "Grew up quick, huh, kiddo? Mind introducing me? Sorry about the shift, they don't get the idea of altitude in a spell," he said, giving Sabbath a charmingly apologetic smile. Her shop seemed undamaged, and Orion neatly set the stick of incense back in its spot, peering out at the people warily. There were far too many minds here that he couldn't get into, and that was highly atypical.

Sabbath folded her arms across her ample chest and looked dryly amused. "Which is why teleporting into the shop is generally such a bad idea," she told him. "Kieran, does your family, by any chance, own their own continent? Because there are certainly enough of them and more just keep..." she coughed slightly. "... Appearing..."

Kieran looked up at Sabbath and laughed. "No, we don't. He doesn't count as real family. He just won't go away," he said teasingly, bouncing up to Schuldig and glomping him in a hug. The German chuckled and ruffled his hair fondly, grinning at Sabbath warmly. Kieran disentangled himself after a moment and gestured from Schuld to Sabbath. "Mum, this is Schuldig, one of many uncles. Uncle Schuld, this is Sabbath. She's really cool," he informed him with a nod. Then he stepped back and peered curiously at Orion, who blinked at him, appearing rather stupid.

"Uncle Schuld," Sabbath said dryly, "This is Kieran. Who has suddenly showered me with so many compliments that I'm not sure I believe them anymore. AND, this is MY son.... Dwyn O'Connaillain." She patted Dwyn's head. Dwyn, for his part, was very engrossed studying the ceiling. It seemed he'd chosen that moment to let his mind drift away from reality.

Schuld raised an eyebrow, leaning over to eye Dwyn. ~Hey, kiddo, wake up,~ he sent somewhat politely (for Schuld, at any rate). Kieran twined himself around Dwyn and grinned. This would be such a nice surprise for Daddy, he reflected, knowing full well that Cross didn't appreciate Schuldig much. Orion still said nothing, used to his father being distracted and having a lump of silver that had once been a handful of coins and was now quite malleable in his hands.

Dwyn slowly tilted his head to eye Schuld, intense golden eyes fixing on his face as he rather calmly tilted his head. Sabbath let them be, smiling at Orion. "Have you had breakfast?" she inquired, even as Dwyn woke up enough to slide an arm around Kieran's waist.

Orion frowned, looking up at Sabbath. He was about to say something incredibly rude, but remembering that he had to be at least somewhat nice he sighed and said, "I don't have a mother and I'm grateful for it, so please don't try to act like mine." Apparently that wasn't polite enough for Schuldig, who thwopped Orion soundly on the shoulder without looking away from Dwyn. The boy looked rather put out and mumbled a quick apology. Kieran watched this exchange with interest, having been told quite a few stories of this strange cousin of his by his uncle but never having met him. Schuld kept eyeing Dwyn, seeing something strangely similar in the boy. He was reminded strongly of Farfarello for some odd reason.

Sabbath eyed him. "Yes, and it's OBVIOUS you're lacking," she said sarcastically, even though it was true. "But you know what you are? You're a guest in my home. Guests in my home are treated with courtesy. Courtesy demands that I inquire as to whether you're hungry because it's MY kitchen and you're not going near it, buster. So get rid of that superiority complex and come back down to earth with the rest of us mortals, hmm?"

Dwyn eyed Schuld right back, ignoring his mother's tirade entirely. Those golden eyes didn't blink, though the full lips parted slowly.

Orion folded his arms over his chest and glared at the floor. "Whatever. Sorry." Usually, he didn't stand down to anyone without a fight, but he knew someone more stubborn than he when he saw them, and Sabbath was one of them. Jade eyes went vacant as he held a mental conference with his father, whom stared at Dwyn with a smirk for a very long time before tweaking his nose and straightening. "You've got good taste, Kie-chan," was all the German bothered to say.

She didn't think for a moment that he was really sorry, but she figured there had to be one in every family, so she let it go. "All right then, upstairs," she said, making a shooeing motion.

Dwyn released Kieran and made a beeling for the stairway. He'd already decided he didn't like this branch of Kieran's family. Of course, thanks to the disorganized, burning mess his mind was, that thought was blissfully his own and no one else's.

Kieran followed Dwyn, carrying on a rather fast-paced conversation with Schuldig, who seemed more than interested in what had been happening recently. Orion followed silently, once again involved with nothing but the verging-on-liquid silver in his hands. How he kept it that hot was a part of his racial powers, as was his telepathy; like his father, he was a full-blooded Pathogen, and a rather powerful one.

Dwyn released Kieran and made a beeling for the stairway. He'd already decided he didn't like this branch of Kieran's family. Of course, thanks to the disorganized, burning mess his mind was, that thought was blissfully his own and no one else's.

Kieran followed Dwyn, carrying on a rather fast-paced conversation with Schuldig, who seemed more than interested in what had been happening recently. Orion followed silently, once again involved with nothing but the verging-on-liquid silver in his hands. How he kept it that hot was a part of his racial powers, as was his telepathy; like his father, he was a full-blooded Pathogen, and a rather powerful one.

Dwyn stepped back into the room with a simple, "be careful of the cats" admonition and instead of returning to the fireplace, sat down close to his father. his father who had one foot braced against the wall and seemed utterly engrossed in studying the tip of the dagger he was holding.

Sabbath sighed and went to the door of the shop to take the lantern in. She wouldn't be able to mind the store with all these people around. A coil of resentment twisted in her gut but she sighed and let it go. As she stepped outside, though, she noticed a familiar sunset-head attatched to a well-insulated body sitting against her wall.

Kieran bounced into the room after Dwyn, fearlessly sitting next to him. Farfarello unnerved him, but he refused to be too creeped out. And besides, he'd rarely seen Dwyn -without- a blade in his mouth or hand. Schuldig progressed more slowly, slipping into the room with a grin. "Yo, Kreuz. Didja miss me?" he inquired devilishly, well prepared for the ball of Yuka that crashed into him for a hug. Orion hung back, nervous but completely unwilling to show it. Corus grinned and waved to Schuld cheerily; Kagami just sighed. Schuldig was far beyond her comprehension and she would gladly keep it that way.

Cross tilted his head back to smirk at him. "Of course, Schuld. As much as I miss urinary tract infections." He dissolved into an actual smile watching Yuka tackle him, since Yuka was one of the cutest things the world had ever known. Even pushing forty.

"Ouch," Schuld grinned, not taking offense in the slightest as he released Yuka, who beamed up at him. "I didn't know you would track us down," Yuka said warmly. Schuldig shrugged. "We can't be staying long." Noting Yuka's confused look, he glanced behind him. "They don't bite unless provoked, really," he said, sounding amused. Orion looked disgruntled as he stepped up beside Schuldig, giving a stiff wave and a quiet 'hi'.

"What constitutes 'provoked'?" Farfarello wondered from his spot on the sidelines.

Dwyn slid his arms around Kieran. "And then there's comprimising situations..."

Schuld looked up and blinked. "Farf?" he demanded incredulously. "What the FUCK..." he trailed off, glancing back at Dwyn.

Farfarello's attention was quickly caught as his head swiveled and he narrowed a single, predatory golden eye at Schuldig. His fingers worked the knife into an offensive grip.

Kieran nuzzled into Dwyn and twisted, eyeing Farfarello warily. He liked his Uncle Schuld well enough, but he was plenty of fun living and whole...

Dwyn tilted his head back and looked at his father upside-down. "Know him?" he wondered.

Farfarello didn't look at him, but he did reply. "No."

Schuld opened his mouth and shut it again. One long, pale finger lifted to point at the white-haired man. For the first time in his life, the German was completely fucking stumped. Orion frowned. That was -not- Farfarello, and he succinctly informed his father of that mentally. Schuld gibbered incoherently before uttering a bevy of curses regarding interdimensional travel and time-space probabilities, most of which no one but he and Kieran understood. Finally the German realized he had to placate Fa- the man somewhat, if he was really this plane's version of the Farfarello he knew. "Sorry, but I'm from another world, and I know you there. That world's you, anyway." Like that made any sense.

Farfarello hiked an eyebrow, then shrugged and backed down.

Orion looked around, glad that he had managed to escape most notice, and put his back to a wall, playing with liquid silver.

Kieran relaxed, nuzzling into Dwyn again with a soft purr. He really was quite comfy.

Dwyn shot his father a slight smile, stroking the sleeves of his borrowed tunic where the bandages covered Kieran's arms from prying eyes.

Kieran shivered delightedly and leaned into him, smiling happily.

Dwyn was SORELY tempted to make a snide comment, but he refused on the grounds that a witch must show courtesy to everyone. Instead, he scratched at the bandages. He'd forgotten to tell Kieran to pick at the scabs once they formed, to make them scar, make them stay... but there would be time later.

Kieran was the kind of boy who had always taken an animalistic pleasure in scraping off old scabs. It was something he'd been doing, and he glanced up at Dwyn with a sweet smile, completely unaware of what the other boy was thinking.

Dwyn didn't kiss him. But he DID nuzzle him, cat-like, affectionately.

Kieran cuddled Dwyn and purred at him, rubbing his cheek against Dwyn's lovingly.

Schuld eyed Farfarello in fascinated confusion. If the Farfarello he knew had different memories than this one, it was highly unexplainable as to why he was actually Farfarello and not... "Jei," Schuld muttered, shaking his head and running a hand through his hair. What a fucking day.

Farfarello shot him a look. "Yes?" he asked testily, beginning to be truly irritated that EVERYONE seemed to be bantering his real name around when he hated it so much.

Schuld shook his head. "Sorry," he said with a shrug. "I'm just a bit outof it right now. Ori, don't do anything stupid," he commanded, bowing slightly before striding back down the stairs, boots clomping loudly as he made his way through the store outside.

Orion looked up from the puddle in his hand and frowned, glancing at Cross and Yuka. Were they really such good friends of his father's? There'd been a notable hint of animosity from Cross.

****

Sabbath was outside, crouched in front of Caden, who was sitting with his knees drawn up against the wall of the store. They both looked startled when Schu stepped outside.

Schuld raised an eyebrow and nodded to Caden. "Yo, kiddo. Must be cold," he said, and with that, kept walking, finding it obvious that the two were involved in something that simply was not his business.

Caden blinked. "When'd YOU get here?" he demanded, struggling toward his feet.\

Kieran cuddled Dwyn and purred at him, rubbing his cheek against Dwyn's lovingly.

"I didn't see you come in," he explained as he used the wall to haul himself up.

"Appeared out of nowhere a lil while ago, as I'm sure the lady here can tell you," Schuld said, pausing and turning. "What're you doin' out here?"

Caden shrugged. "It's pretty," he said, dusting snow off his coat. "And Corus threw me in a snow bank. It just took me a while to get up the motivation to get out." He shot Schuld a grin as Sabbath shook her head knowingly, as if to say, 'kids these days....'

Schuldig laughed. "You wanna come for a walk with me?" he inquired, tilting his head. There was something screamingly wrong in Caden's mind, but he wasn't sure he -wanted- to fuck around with the boy, or the boy's head.

Caden broke out a grin. "Sure! Sabbath, will you tell dad?" She nodded and shooed him off, brushing snow off her skirt and stepping back inside.

Schuld waited for Caden to catch up before he started walking again, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and igniting it with a thought. "So what's up with you?"

Caden shrugged. "Eh, the usual stuff. Hanging around the house like a deadbeat mostly. This spring, though, I'm probably gonna take off. Y'know, see if I can catch the horizon and maybe get a ballad or two written about me." He skip-stepped in the snow.

"That sounds cool. Which way're you headed?" Schuld wanted to know, taking a drag off his cigarette and clomping determinedly through the snoe.

"West and then south. I figured I'd stop in Luskan and see if I can't get more current news on what's going on down the coast. Rumors come up, y'know? And I think my dads know what's going on, but they don't exactly talk news with us a whole lot." He shrugged. "I might catch a boat to somewhere. Always kinda wanted to do that, after listening to Uncle Sky..."

Schuldig shuddered. "Any man who willingly gets on a bunch of flimsy wood on a HUGE fucking ocean of water is completely insane," he declared. He -really- didn't like water, whether it was due to his pyrokinetic mindset or his complete lack of ability to swim.

Caden laughed. "Dude, this is Uncle Sky you're talking about!" he ribbed gently. "Of course he's insane... he married Uncle Lethe."

"He's not insane, just a fop," Schuld said. "But it's still bloody insane. Who'd want to see nothing but water for... gods only know HOW long? I'd probably drown still on the dock," he muttered.

Caden chuckled. "Which is why I'm going and you're not," he pointed out. "Some of us ain't scared of a little old thing like water.... "

"I'm not SCARED," Schuld said defiantly, again breathing of his cancer stick. "I just know better. I don't do water, but you're more than welcome to it. Bring me back somethin' cool, huh?"

He shrugged. "We'll see." He paused to pick up a lump of snow and idly started to shape it. "So, you guys came all the way here for christmas? How'd you know where we'd be?"

"Tuned in on Yuka-chan," Schuld explained. "I've known him since he was fifteen and the cutest little merc I'd ever seen... it's easy to pick up on him, even from across dimensions. And Cross is loud no matter what, and I've known him just as long. Longer, in fact."

"Oh yeah?" Caden tilted his head thoughtfully. "Dad doesn't talk about you. 'Tousan does sometimes, but it just seems to never come up. I mean, not like we don't love you... I mean, stuff about way back when you guys first met."

Schuld shrugged. "There's a lot of bad blood back there. I once locked your parents in a cavern system together, and Cross never forgave me, even though it's what got them back together."

"Did you apologize?" Caden wondered. He knew his dad had a hard time not forgiving someone who was genuinely sorry.

"I did," Schuld said, running a hand through his hair. "You know, the first time I met your dad... shit. You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Was Caden mature enough to know these old events, left buried for a reason?

Caden smirked. "I dunno. I might believe more than you think." He shrugged and sped up a little, tossing his snowball from hand to hand. "Then again, maybe not."

"Well, I'd just gotten the shit knocked out of me, and the prick who did it left me locked in a room in a tavern. Kreuz saved my ass and took care of me like a fuckin' stray puppy. We actually had an affair back then. Bet he never told you that," Schuld said smugly.

Caden shook his head, but he didn't seem overly surprised. Inside his shields, which very much resembled a wildly fluctuating energy barrier that varied in thickness in different spots from moment to moment but somehow was still fairly strong, Caden figured that for his Dad to still feel resentment toward Schuldig like he did now, they would have had to have been lovers. Things were always more complicated when sex was involved.

Schuld could have broken through Caden's shields, but he would have had to actually bother to put some energy into it. In his old age he'd gone soft, too, and now respected that thing known as privacy. That, and he was too lazy to make the effort of cracking that shifting shield. "And then there was the whole thing with Yuka, and that was what did it." He shouldn't tell Caden this, shouldn't disillusion him. But he was an adult now and the world couldn't give him pretty lies all the time.

"You and 'Tousan too?" Now Caden sounded a little bit surprised.

Schuldig sighed. "You're going to hate me, if you believe me," he muttered, eyes on the snow beneath his boots as they walked.

Caden thought about laughing that off, but Schuld actually sounded entirely serious, so he didn't. Instead, he scrunched his snowball in one hand. "Well, you don't have to tell me," he said reasonably.

"Naw. Might as well." Schuld sighed and took a deep breath. "When I was younger I was... well, a fuckload more evil, to be honest. I used to pick up pretty little things and take them, hurt them, rape them, break them. Their fear and pain was fun to me. And then when I was done I'd put them back, let them live in fear and horror that I'd return, hating themselves for giving in. for they all gave in at one point. Except..." He paused for a moment, taking a drag from his cigarette. "Except for Yuka Jishou."

Caden nodded, listening. He was looking elsewhere, though, mostly at the snow around them as he packed the powder in his hands into a ball again.

"That was one of the things that turned me soft, you know. That little Yuka was my favourite victim for a long, long time, and he forgave me entirely. It takes a lot to forgive like that." Schuld seemed to be talking more to himself than to Caden by now, but it was still audible. "I was killed on Yuka's account once." And how odd -that- sounded...

"So basically, you raped 'Tousan and Dad's the one who's never really forgiven you for it?" he inquired, cutting through Schuld's narrative.

"Pretty much. That, combined with me stealing his freedom and sending him through the Hall, gave him good cause for his grudge, I think."

"Stealing his freedom..." Caden repeated quietly. Remembering. ~Cay, one of the only things mortals have going for them in this world is free will and free choice. The greatest crime you can commit against another person is to enslave them, to deny them the right to run their lives. I know sometimes you might want to knock the idiots unconcious and MAKE them do the right thing, but you can't. Do you understand? You can beg, plead, cajole, and advise, but you can't force. Always remember... they have their choices and you have yours. So try to make them wisely.~

"That is -exactly- what I did. Knocked him unconscious," Schuldig nodded, picking up on Caden's precise repetition of Cross' voice. "Locked him and Yuka into a basement and when they came out, my purpose was achieved. Although I must say, getting the Hall to cooperate was no mean feat."

"Your purpose having been.... to get them together," Caden said slowly, trying to brush away the coil of unease in the back of his mind.

"Back together," Schuldig nodded. He paused, looking up with a frown and glancing at Caden thoughtfully.

Caden pulled his own musings behind his shields. Really, they were closer to the veils Cross had always so easily dropped over his thoughts. The strength wasn't in the thickness of the shields, it was in how they disoriented and turned you around as you tried to find your way through them.

Schuld was a master of sliding through the most confusing of shields; he had been the first to anchor his shields in the astral and set them spinning to absorb intrusions. He wove his way through, taking a long moment to slip into Caden's mind and see where that emotional surge had stemmed from.

~So he forced them back together and Dad just... aquiesced? Doesn't sound like him. But everybody has their limits. But did he really do it because he loved 'Tousan or did he do it because he thought he had to? What did he want so badly to do that didn't involve 'Tousan? Did he.... does he love him at all or is he just sleepwalking, trying to avoid a mental war? And why in the gods' names did 'Tousan forgive Schuldig? Which he obviously has. They're too close to be harboring resentment between them.....~

"He didn't want to be in love. He avoided it like the plague," Schuld shrugged.

Caden shot him a sidelong glance that seemed curious, but was really suspicious. "Poking around in my head?" he chuckled.

"Of course," Schuldig said, giving Caden a winning smile. "I think you'd have to ask them about it if you doubt their love."

He shrugged. "Nah. You went off to another dimension. If Dad was unhappy, he would've left... he can be really bitchy when he's mad."

"Yeah he can. He threatened to kill me quite sincerely when I locked 'em down there," Schuld chuckled.

"Well, he didn't," Caden said, then did a double-take. "Right? I mean, he didn't."

"Nope. Only been killed once, and that was by a different vampire Ice hangs out with."

"Oh yeah." Caden rolled his eyes. "Ice. I've heard more about HIM... never met him, though."

"Count yourself lucky," Schuld said sincerely. "Imagine Dylanae after several hundred millenia of practice. Make it about a dozen times worse and quite a bit less foppish, and you have Ice. Not a nice guy. He's cool to sit around with," Schuld grinned, remembering many long party-nights spent with the vampire.

Caden chuckled. "Wonder if Dyl's met him..." he mused, then shook his head. Even as he did so, the steady train of his thoughts shattered into so many sparkling fireflies and dissappeared. "So if Dad's always been so cold to you, why did you give him us? I mean... you've got to know that he was the one who REALLY wanted children." ~And how could he not forgive Schuld when WE were the gift of apology? He says he loves us...~ Again, his thoughts were meant to be his own.

"Because even if he holds a grudge, he taught me something I never would've learned otherwise, and I owed him. It made Yuka happy, too, and your otousan's sure worth the effort. Besides, I was making you guys before he asked," Schuld said. Then he snapped his mouth shut, not quite sure if Cross and Yuka had ever told their children about all of that.

Caden hiked an eyebrow. "You were, huh? Yeah, I head that 'Tousan didn't actually bear Corus..."

"Nope. It's a long, twisted story, but the short version is that I'd been working with genetics - a highly advanced science, which, after a while, is indistinguishable from magic - and I was going to keep Corus. Did til he was two and your sister was born. And, of course, then I cracked and handed him over. Cross was... well, a bit pissed," Schuld said with a slight smirk.

Caden was silent, thoughtful. His boots crunched the snow as he debated with himself, thoughts flying in and out of that fluxing shield and vanishing half-formed. "Does Corus remember?" he asked finally.

"I don't know," Schuldig said honestly. "I gave him the best shields I could make when he was born, and I've never needed to get past them." Corus was very close to Schuldig. "Could always ask."

He shrugged. "Nah. S'none o'my business... and I don't think he'd take it well."

"That's cool," Schuldig nodded. "But what makes you think he wouldn't take it well?"

He shrugged, but he didn't vocalize his own thoughts, and, knowing that Schuld was prying, he carefully disbanded every flicker of idea that took form in his mind before it could be recoginized.

"You're getting pretty good at that," Schuld said with approval, ruffling Caden's hair. "Illithids don't stand a chance."

Caden ducked away swiftly from his reaching hand, but covered it with dancing footwork and a teasing grin. "Maybe I'll see one when I'm out and around," he said slyly. "I mean, I wasn't PLANNING on going to the Underdark, but now that you mention it, seems the whole place could use a good laugh."

"Better'n going to -sea-," Schuld grumbled, shaking his head disdainfully. "Anything's better than delayed drowning."

"Oh no, I'm still going to sea. Hell, maybe I can find Dyl and see if he'll REALLY shove me overboard," he chuckled.

Schuld laughed and ran a hand through his hair. "You're a masochistic little puppy, you know that?" he said teasingly.

Caden shrugged. "Nah. It just doesn't scare me. I mean, why should it? They can only hurt me until I'm dead."

"Not half as bad as Kie-chan, though, never figured him the type to be into the kinky shit. You ever do anything real kinky, or just the regular?" Keeping anything of magnitude from Schuldig was effectively impossible, the chances of his finding out exponentially increased with each person that knew.

Caden paused, looking plainly confused. "Kie-chan.... kinky?" he repeated as if the words didn't belong in the same sentence. Which, in his mind, they did not.

Schuld glanced at him and smiled slyly. "I'm not surprised," he said, sounding amused. "But you'd be amazed at what he and his little friend have been up to. Didn't think he had it in him, really..."

Caden blinked and then laughed. "Oh yeah? Anything interesting?" he inquired in a teasing, deceptively light tone.

"Nothing you'd find interesting," Schuld chuckled, jade eyes glittering. The mental image of Kieran and Dwyn was a rather pleasing one, actually, especially when blood was involved. Some things never changed.

"Hey, it's my brother!" Caden sounded hurt. "Everything he does is interesting. Besides, I want to know... I just can't see him doing... well, a LOT of things I'd think of as kinky."

"There's a lot in that katzchen-eared head that nobody knows about," Schuld shrugged. "Like the desire to be spanked, for one," he snickered. It was cute (in a deliciously sick way) to steal Kieran's fantasies and replay them to him in his dreams.

Caden twitched. "Okay, maybe it's better I don't know," he muttered, kicking a clump of snow and crushing his snowball again.

Schuldig snorted. "You still fucked up over breaking up with him?"

Caden hiked an eyebrow. "Hey now, let's PRETEND that's a secret, okay? I'd rather not have his reputation ruined. He invites enough torment as it is, it'd be worse if anybody around here figured out he was bi, worse yet if they found out he'd been in it with his own brother."

"What about you, huh? You okay?" Schuld sounded honestly concerned, and though he knew Caden wasn't, there wasn't much he could do unless the boy let him.

Caden shrugged, the very picture of negligent distance. "Sure. Why not? I mean, we both knew it wasn't gonna last anyway. And I guess if you think about it, the timing's kinda perfect."

"Just remember, kid, no matter what you go through or how much shit you have to take, there's always somebody out there meant for you. The fun part is finding them. You'll find yours. I can see it in the stars," Schuld proclaimed dramatically, waving a hand at the sky.

Caden snorted. "Yeah, right. Schuld, you and me, we're just specks down here. We don't shine, so we're invisible to those stars and somehow, I don't think they give a shit about us. We make our own way, stars be damned, and then we go back to dust and they keep shining." He shrugged and tossed the snowball... at a nearby building, not at Schuldig. "You wanna head back? It's kinda cold."

"It's not the stars so much as the Weave making sure there's hope for everybody," Schuldig shrugged. "And I didn't really see it in the stars. The faeries told me." He stopped where he stood and stretched. "On returning, then." He pulled off his duster, revealing a much-scarred pale torso, and offered it to Caden. It was easy enough to raise his body temperature to keep warm.

Caden shook his head, shoving his gloved hands in his pockets. "No thanks. If anybody sees us walkin' down the street like that they're REALLY gonna wonder," he said flippantly, turning and sauntering back in the direction they'd come. He tried to recall if he'd ever seen Schuld's skin before and realized he hadn't. "So, what's with the scars?"

Schuld craned his head back and shrugged. "Long years on the streets, and longer with Estet. Had a hard life, took a lot of beatings." He said it like it didn't matter at all, like his being the victim was completely inconsequential.

Caden chuckled, his amusement at that washing through his mind and turning it orangish red.

"So you sure you're going to be alright? There might not be anyone around to glue you back together if you crack and boil over, you know," Schuldig said lightly, pulling out a cigarette.

Caden looked at him, confused. "Say what?" But despite his rather flawless acting, there was a flicker deep in his mind. Something black.

Schuld sighed. "I know you're not doing too good. You know you can always talk to me about it, right?" He wouldn't delve all the way into Caden's mind unless it was really necessary, but there was a point at which privacy was tossed aside in favour of mental health.

Something welled up inside him at that, but Caden quickly threw a tendril of mental discipline at it, shattering and dissolving it, his face flickering in the attempt with the effort as he tried to wash the residue from his thoughts. Whatever the something was, it was strong... exceptionally strong, and certainly not positive. Either way, Caden blinked at Schuldig as if the man was crazy. "I'm FINE," he stressed. "We were just screwing around anyway. You guys put WAY more importance on it than it had."

"That's not the only thing I'm talking about. You're breaking apart in there and there will come a time when you won't be able to hide it anymore. I know. I've been there," Schuldig said quietly, watching Caden intently and keeping a close mental check on that pulsing dark ball way down in there.

Caden let out a laugh. The black thing coiled again, whispering brokenly, angry, but he shrugged it off and it seemed to have no real hold on him. "Yeah, well, maybe it's not always easy being me. But I can deal... no time to mope about it, y'know? Got things to do." He spun in a circle around a lamptpost. "Especially if I want to leave anything when I'm gone 'sides dust."

"Look, Caden, I've seen Yuka lose it, and frankly, I sure as HELL don't want to see you snap. I don't think the nearby landscape would survive," he said dryly, sounding perfectly serious. "Go kill a shitload of orcs or something, some homocidal therapy, but let it out before it destroys you."

"You're stuck on this, aren't you?" Caden shook his head. "Man, you ever think of how easy you've got it being able to read other peoples' minds? You never have to wonder if they mean what they say. You never have to wonder if... and you can annoy the hell out of a lot of people," he finished, abandoning a previous train of thought for a slightly less linear one. "Anyway, come on. We're almost back." he broke into a cautious jog, not necessarily wanting to slip and land on his ass.

Schuldig laughed. "Like a dog with a bone, I am. You can't lie to a telepath. And if Ori gives you any shit, smack him and tell me. He's not supposed to be rummaging through people's heads," Schuld said, striding along at an impressive pace.

Caden shrugged. "Ori won't give me any shit. I'm not interesting to him."

"You never know with him. He gets pretty mercurial. Just like his da," Schuld chuckled, shaking his head.

Caden shrugged. "No reason to pry. Not much goes on in here anyway," he joked, tapping his own head as he reached for the door to the shop. What was it about this claustraphobic, pungent, darkened place? He felt safer here, as though it was a refuge.

Schuld laughed and followed Caden into the shop, making sure to stomp his boots off outside before going in. "I think it's got something to do with the aura of the place. Blessed, and all." They were indeed on a sort of holy ground.

Caden just shrugged, toeing off his boots and shedding his coat as he left the garments where Sabbath had instructed them to leave them. He slipped his hands in his pockets and trudged up the stairs, manageing to make noise despite socked feet.

Schuld followed, leaving his boots downstairs this time and slinking up the stairs behind Caden. At the top of the landing, Orion, who had barely moved but to wrap his fingers in silver and play with liquid metal, grinned and waved shortly. Yuka was telling Kagami something and Corus was snickering at Kieran, who was still attached to Dwyn.

Usually, Caden drew as much attention to himself as possible upon entering a room. This time he sidled to the side, offering his family a cheerful grin from underneath his bangs but no sound from his normally unclosable mouth.

Schuldig stopped next to his son and used the boy's head for an armrest. Orion ignored him good-naturedly, two pairs of jade eyes glazing as they conversed mentally. "We're going to head out," Schuld finally announced. "Find a hotel or something." Corus peered up at Schuld and grinned. "We're at the halfling-run place down the road. You might as well stay there." Schuld nodded and winked at Cross. "See you later, all," he said, scooping Orion off the floor and onto his shoulder. The boy meeped and clung, trying to look serious and not laugh..

Cross shrugged and smiled rather genuinely. "Sure. Later," he waved. Once Schuld was at a safe distace, Caden fixed his father with a hard stare that would have frankly shocked anyone else who'd seen it, coming from him. ~We need to talk.~

Yuka raised an eyebrow at Caden but didn't say anything, figuring it was none of his business at this point. Kieran hardly noticed, as he was busy trying to chew through his finger, not paying attention to much at all, and Corus and Kagami were quietly bickering between the two of them.

Dwyn quietly removed Kieran's finger from his mouth for his OWN chewing pleasure, hooded golden eyes shooting Kie a promising smirk. Cross nodded, rose, and brushed his hair back from his face. "Try to stay sane without us for a minute?" he reccomended, shooting Yuka a wink and slinging an arm around Caden's shoulders as they went back downstairs.

Yuka laughed softly and smiled. "We'll make the effort," he said lightly, turning his eyes to Kieran. The nekojin was busy purring, not minding at all being gnawed on by Dwyn, and oblivious.

And that was exactly as things should be.

.

THE END.

.

Thank you.