A/N: Okay, this is a tough beginning but I had trouble figuring out how else to get into this story. Bear with it, I'm fairly sure the rest of the story is better. As warned, this story features blatant homosexuality; as you've been warned, I respectfully ask you to keep any negative attitudes about the subject to yourself. This is also my only completed, book-length story; however, I do not have a beta for this story but I promise my grammar is really quite good as I am slightly OCD about such things. I hope you enjoy it and, like most authors, I ask for reviews, especially of the kind that will give me ideas how to improve this stubborn plot…
Arctic wind flooded through the glassless windows, bringing a few snow flurries in with it; it gathered in drifts on the floor of the tower, blown by the restless wind and outlining the old stones in lines of white. Some of the delicate flakes stuck to Zane's chestnut hair as it blew around his face in wisps and tendrils, escaping the tail he wore it in at the base of his neck. The intricate silver band I had given him for that reason glittered mockingly in his hair, shining as the faint sun hit it. I noticed how his robes billowed, how he was standing, what he was looking at, but I couldn't hear what he'd said. Or rather, I wouldn't. Instead, I stared at him, wide-eyed, through my own silvery hair that blew in strands across my face, unable to blink. The cold and snow stung my face with tiny pricks that almost went unnoticed. My fingers and toes should have been frozen by now, logically; I didn't even know for sure whether they were or not, didn't really care either way. I couldn't feel any part of my body but my heart. That I felt alternately squeezing too tight then expanding until it almost exploded, and beating far, far too fast.
Zane's breath trailed out of his mouth as he exhaled, the thin white snake trickling away in the continued wind. My eyes followed it distractedly before snapping back to his sharp profile. My own breath puffed as I tried to catch my breath and couldn't. He didn't so much as look at me, didn't turn his eyes to me so I could read there what he was trying very hard to hide; his entire being said clearly "go away." If I hadn't known him as well as I did, if I hadn't spent every available waking moment with him, I would have fallen for this charade; even our best friends probably would have. But the fact he wouldn't look at me, of all people, betrayed him; that simple act that he thought was helping his cause gave me all the proof I needed to know he was lying.
"You can let go so easily?" I asked him coolly, remembering how to speak and even do it with tones. My voice shook just the slightest as I broke the freezing, intimidating silence; Zane didn't move, didn't react in any way at all, so I stepped closer to him, fully out into the biting wind and away from the minimal shelter of the doorway, the doorway that lead back into the school where I could be safe, away from the pain that was creeping in on me, and pretending as if everything was okay. It fairly sang to me but I stepped out anyway. My robes wrapped around my legs as if seeking to stop me; my hair whipped frantically in the erratic bursts of wind, obscuring my vision. I stopped barely two feet from the boy I loved, feeling the walls he had built around himself to keep me out as if they were physical things. "You can pretend none of this happened?" My voice was stronger now, growing with the anger that was beginning to warm me from the inside out.
"Yes," was his simple, cold, final answer. He didn't turn away from gazing out the window on the snow-covered hillsides, still didn't look at me. I tried to grin and ended up with less of a smile than a snarl.
"Bullshit," I said, enunciating the two syllables clearly. Zane blinked but showed no other emotions. "You are a fucking liar," I accused him bitterly. Still he didn't move so I grabbed his arm and forced him to turn, to face me. He stubbornly looked past my shoulder, his face impassive; I threw his arm away from me in disgust. "You say you can deny everything you feel for me, and that is present tense, dammit, and just walk away but I know you're lying, Zane. And you know how I know that?" I took a step closer, anger boiling in me. "I know because you can't even look me in the eye as you say all that crap about not caring anymore!" I hissed. Zane finally sighed, his eyes closing, his head bowing forward and the tendrils of hair sweeping forward to hide his face. He looked back up a second later, his darkened hazel eyes opening to look my own that I knew were blue as ice because I was angry. The pain I felt at what I'd thought was his betrayal now swam openly in his, making him look brittle, vulnerable, and suddenly I wasn't so sure what I thought anymore.
"I should have known that wouldn't work," he whispered, his voice cracking under the force of his emotions. "You're too goddamned perceptive," he said roughly, one of the only times I'd ever heard him swear. My anger drained as fast as it had come, sadness and confusion filling its place. Tears I couldn't stop swam in my eyes, nearly freezing as they fell slowly down my face.
"Why? Why did you choose now, after all this time, to decide that you can't be with me after all?" I whispered brokenly, clenching my hands to stop the sobs that wanted to explode from me. I looked down at the rough stone floor of the tower, hiding my tears and my pain from him, as if he didn't already know it was there. He reached for me, his gentle hands resting lightly on my cheeks, his thumbs brushing my tears away as he forced me to look back up at him. A slow tear ran down his cheek as I watched and he smiled, the most heartbroken smile I had ever seen him wear.
"I have no choice," he whispered back, pulling me into his arms. I didn't resist, instead clamping myself to him, burying my face in his shoulder and shaking with the sobs I couldn't let out. His arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders, holding me together just a little bit longer. He took a deep, unsteady breath.
"Cael and his clan have won the fight. If my family doesn't withdraw me from the school and force me to cut all contacts with everyone, they'll be destroyed by the Koyens," he murmured into my ear. "I told you before, this was just another sort of war for them, to see whose son got the best grades." I stood still in stunned disbelief, caught completely by surprise; of all the excuses I'd thought he'd say, this hadn't even registered on the list.
"But that's you!" I cried after I'd regained the use of words, pulling back to stare at Zane. He shushed me and pulled me unresistingly back to his shoulder."And what do you mean, cut all contact?" I said tremulously, hoping what I thought was wrong. Zane's eyes were sad as he saw what I wanted him to say, but he couldn't lie.
"They mean everything. No letters, no calls, no visits," he replied.
"No! They can't do that!" I cried in denial, jerking back again to look into Zane's eyes and feeling the tears beginning to fall faster; he let me move rather than hurting me by trying to hold on, but he didn't let go. "I'll find some way!" Zane shook his head slowly, his eyes not leaving mine.
"There is no way, Tobi. My parents are going to be watching everything I do to make sure I'm following their rules. The Koyens have managed to manipulate my family into a corner in our business; Cael was losing and they couldn't stand the thought, so they cheated. If they don't agree to withdraw me, my family will be crushed. We will be unable to ever trade again, all respect for us thrown to the winds. Although my family hates to lose, withdrawing me is a small trade to them if they get to keep their business," he said, hugging me tightly as he said the words. "They don't know the happiness I've found here, with you. It wouldn't change anything if they did," he whispered bitterly, mirroring my position and burrowing his face in my shoulder. I reached up and tangled my fingers in his silky hair, pulling his head back so I could look into his eyes.
"When do you leave?" I whispered pitifully, my voice shaking freely now. I touched his cheek, tracing my fingers down his face as I sought to memorize it, the feel, the shape, the warmth in his eyes and tried to remember how he smiled. He dropped his eyes and I tried to steel myself for what was coming.
"Tonight," he whispered. I didn't know what to do; it felt like I was in an earthquake and the ground kept shaking itself out from under my feet every time I thought it was still. So soon, too soon… He looked back up at me quickly and caught me as I folded against him. I was not even to have one last night with him, not even enough time to properly say goodbye. My knees folded and Zane caught my weight with an oomph of surprise before he lowered me gently to the floor, cradling me in his lap as I cried.
"Tobi, Tobi, I'm sorry, so sorry," he murmured to me as he held me, rocking me like a child. "This is so wrong, so unfair, I'm sorry" he said, voicing the thoughts I didn't have the breath or the presence of mind to say. "I never should have gotten involved with you like this…" he murmured, more to himself than me, but it still evoked enough anger that I found my voice and pulled back to glare at him.
"N-never… say that!" I tried to say but it was broken up by sobs. "I r-regret… n-nothing of this… not one day, you hear?" I dissolved again as he nodded, curling up miserably on his lap. He covered us both with his cloak, wrapping me in the warmth of his body as snow and frigid air twisted around us, not even comparing to the desolation in my heart that no warmth could touch. I cried and cried till I had no tears left, though I still sobbed. I wasn't like a romance in a novel; I wasn't strong enough to make our last night "count" when all I wanted to do was fall apart, when there wasn't even really going to be a last night. It was stupid, and girlish, and completely stereotypical, falling apart like I was some sort of infatuated girlfriend when I was, in fact, a fifteen-year-old male, and I didn't have the presence of mind to care.
Sometimes, as I sat there, I felt Zane's tears join mine on my face as he cradled me and rested his cheek on my forehead. He would reach down then and brush both our tears away, not that it did any good; new ones sprouted almost immediately to take their place. I clung to him, the only thing that mattered, as sense of anything other than him fled from me, leaving me numb and unthinking. Through it all, Zane kept rocking and holding me, murmuring how he was sorry and how he loved me; I didn't even notice when I stilled, even the dry sobs stopping, focused only on his words, his voice, his touch. I panicked blindly, clinging to him, when Zane shifted me away from him, only for him to surround me with his arms again as he set me on my feet and began shuffling me forward, back inside the stairwell to the dorms.
Everything blurred then, colors and distant voices floating past, a vague burning sensation in my body telling me I'd been outside for too long. But that pain didn't matter, nor did the people I might have thought I heard. Only Zane's arms and the constant heartbeat I could hear in his chest mattered. He soon settled me in my bed in the White dorm, never taking both hands off me at once. His contact was all that was keeping me quiet now, keeping me from shattering as the truth set in, and I think he knew that. He covered me securely with my blankets, tucking me in like a child as I watched him, never taking my eyes away from him, afraid he'd disappear if I looked away. He glanced at his watch briefly, his face tightening as he saw something he didn't like and I reached out for him automatically, to stop him; the expression smoothed back out again when he saw me looking, even trying for a smile. He knelt by the bed, his face level with mine and I could only stare at him wordlessly, my gaze locked on his expressive hazel eyes.
"Tobi, I'm going to get you something to drink. It'll make you feel better right now, but I have to leave to get it," he said as if speaking to a child, squeezing my hand reassuringly as I clutched at him. He soothed me again when I didn't let go, smoothing my hair from my face with his free hand and smiling as best he could. "Love, I'm not leaving you. Yet," he whispered, his hand warm on the side of my cold face. "I promise, I swear, I will come back. Trust me," he said. His eyes held mine and I could see his honesty in them. That promise just barely gave me the courage to release his hand; the panic was there, hovering just behind the edge and he was the only thing holding it away. Muscle by muscle, I forced my fingers to release his hand; he was away in an instant, my door shutting softly behind him as I stared into the space he had occupied a moment ago and fought with my remaining strength against the panic threatening to wrap me in its arms and smother me. I could hear every tick and every tock of the clock in my room, each movement seeming a lifetime before the next started. Voices reverberated up the stairs from the common room, the happy and eager sounds as foreign to me as the language of another era, another world.
As my energy waned and an eternity passed and still Zane didn't return, the panic drew nearer and slowly began to throttle me, closing my lungs and making me gasp for air. The room was too big and I was drowning in it, alone, without anyone to rescue me. I clung to my bed with trembling hands, shaking as my vision turned sparkly around the edges. Vaguely, I recognized that this was a panic attack, that I should try to breathe normally, but the thought slipped away in the overwhelming crush of emotions; logic had no place anymore and I sought only to hold on.
The door finally opened and closed and quick footsteps crossed the room. Zane's face reappeared in my vision, something clunked, then his hands were cradling my face. "Tobi, shh, I'm back," he said, reassuring me. "Breathe, easy, slower," he instructed, demonstrating. I tried, I did, but I had no fight left and I was scared, so very scared. Zane climbed hastily into my bed, kicking his shoes off and wrapping himself around my curled body. I pressed my face into his chest and heard his slow breathing. "Listen," he whispered above my head. "Breathe with me." I heard his heart, a stable counter-rhythm to his slow breaths and felt my own body respond automatically, slowing to match his rhythms. Soon I was breathing normally again, my eyes closing as exhaustion hit me and the familiarity of the situation evoking an instinctive response; so many times we'd fallen asleep like this that it was already a habit.
But Zane stirred, rousing me from sleep with an abrupt jolt. I grabbed him, holding on until his voice penetrated my stupor, until he reassured me he wasn't leaving; then I released one hand and let him reach out for the cup he'd brought back with him. It was water and with all the tears I'd shed, my body desperately demanded I drink it; my throat felt like it had become part of a desert. Wordlessly, Zane helped me sit, supporting me on his shoulder and brought the cup to my lips when my own trembling hands proved too unsteady; I drank it all with a speed that nearly made me choke, only noticing the aftertaste when it was gone. Zane lay me back down as I fought to put the pieces together, knowing now that something was off but almost too tired to keep thinking about it. I struggled, suddenly too determined to let it go, and missed when he got out of the bed; finally, the pieces went together and I understood.
"Z-Zane, you drugged that, didn't you?" I accused blurrily, my voice barely a rasp in my throat. "W-What was i-in that?"
"Zephyr leaf," he replied quietly, setting the glass down and walking back to me. He sat
along the edge of the bed, running his fingers through my hair. There was that awful attempt at a
smile again, the one that made me want to hit him to make him stop but I was rapidly losing the
battle to move, to even stay awake. Zane's voice floated to me quietly. "Tobi, you're so broken, I had to. It'll knock you out for about eighteen hours if my Medicines class was right, giving you time to recover and adjust a little."
"B-But you'll be gone by then." That was the first part. What was the second? Oh, right. "You don't want me there," I accused muzzily, knowing I should be angry but unable to muster the energy. He chuckled softly, the sound almost the happy sound I loved hearing.
"Perceptive till the end, love. I don't want you watching me leave you; I'm afraid of what that will do to you. God knows just this was hard enough," he whispered, enough pain in his voice to start me crying again without even realizing. He scooted down closer to me, pulling me to him and holding me, kissing the tears away. "Sleep, love, don't fight it. Sleep for a while, and remember that I will always, always love you," he murmured, his breath stirring my hair.
"Love you," I echoed as my eyes drifted closed against my will, holding onto Zane with all the remaining strength I possessed as if that alone could keep him by me, my last memory his loving eyes and his fiery hair tangled with mine on the pillow.