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After a while, Arluin stepped into the room. He stopped just in front of the coffee table before giving a nod of his head to the two. Crow was still pawing through a book, though he had swapped it out for a cooking book; currently he was looking at a recipe for trout and potatoes. Will was laying with his back against Crow's arm with his eyes shut as if he were asleep.


Arluin cleared his throat. It took a few seconds but Crow eventually lifted his eyes once he was done reading a sentence about grilling the fish. Once he had some attention, Arluin tipped his chin in a smaller nod before he started speaking. “His Majesty requests Will's attendance at a banquet this evening.” Will casually tilted his head so his face was aimed at Arluin before lazily opening his eyes. “Halibut is on the menu, and there will be a dancing portion to the evening.”


Will focused on Arluin's figure for a quiet moment. Dancing means there's guests from out of country. Halibut… Clearly he's sending a private message to me. “What's the dessert?” Will asked, closing his eyes slowly.


Crow tilted his head to eye Will, smirking. “You're gonna decide to go or not based on dessert?”


He only serves halibut when he's trying to soften bad news.” Will clarified without stirring. “Based on what the dessert is tells me how bad the news will be.”


You don't know that.” Crow chuckled.


A small smile peaked into the far edge of Will's right lip as he said, “The dessert, Arluin.”


Arluin took an uneasy breath but answered steadily. “Cheesecake topped with a sweet syrup and mangoes.” Will gestured his hand out from his stomach toward Arluin with his palm as if that was the only answer possible. “There will also be–”


Red wine, hot cocoa, and…” Will cut in, then paused, tilting his head up to look at Crow's surprised face. “Ice cream with honey, and coconut and pineapple slices.” Crow could only laugh at Will's knowledge of the menu, but glanced to Arluin for confirmation. The usher only nodded, shutting his eyes without a word. “I'm guessing… he's treating His Royal Highness Prince Noire,” Will made to stretch out the title so it sounded more formal than his lax tone of voice, “to a meal before the man leaves the country without any clue in regard to the locations of the items relating to the Fountain of Youth.”


I'm missing how it's bad news for you, Will.” Crow pointed out, turning his shoulder so Will had to straighten himself up or fall into Crow's lap.


Will gave Crow a tired irritated look, pursing his lips slightly. “Arluin. That note says I'm the one to accompany Noire for the evening?”


Yes.”


Will tilted his head, then gestured his palm out toward Arluin again. “See?”


Crow scanned his eyes up the wall past Will's head while simultaneously letting out a sigh between his lips. “So, he's making food you really like so you'll show up to accompany a brat who's basically a ghost.”


Your response?” Arluin asked, straightening his back. Will glanced at him with a look of doubt briefly, then relaxed his shoulders with a simple exhaled breath through his nose. Arluin nodded and started back toward the foyer behind him.


Crow glanced at Arluin's back, and then to Will. “You're going?”


Might as well.” Will shut his eyes, turning his body so his back was rested against the sofa's back now. “Good food and a chance to hear what Noire wanted earlier.”


But he's still a snotty brat from the Threshold.” Crow pointed out, lifting his arm so it rested on the back of the sofa, but not so far so that his hand wasn't behind Will's head. “What if he tries to screw with you again?”


Without opening his eyes, Will replied in a tired voice. “Then maybe I'll hit him.” He paused to take in a breath and exhale it before continuing. “Just talking to him won't hurt.”


Crow cocked his head to the side. When he didn't respond, Will raised his brows slightly and peeked his blue eyes open to study him. Crow's facial muscles were relaxed but the stare he was giving Will was firm. “I highly doubt that.” Crow responded after a few seconds of staring at Will.


Will turned his gaze upward, thinking it over. Meeting Noire – who wanted to see me earlier and resulted in nausea at a prior dance, and then something to talk about late at night. I guess, Phyte could've done something just then with Noire – if he does have power over him.


He turned his eyes back to Crow, who was still watching him patiently. “What about Lisez? She's the same as you were, so why isn't she trying to break out of the Bind?”


Crow felt his face contort in sudden surprise, easing his weight back away from Will. “I guess … She's like Dove – it's convenient for her.”


How?” Will asked, turning his weight as he sat up straight to face Crow.


Crow shrugged his shoulders, his hand on the book moving it between his legs. “She can stay on the Threshold without problems.”


But if she's the same kind of being as Phyte and Matéas, then why does that matter?”


Crow lifted his hand from the back of the sofa to rub at his brow. “I dunno. I didn't really ask, or make friends with her.” He explained, tilting his head to the other side slightly. “She and Phyte got along, when they weren't pissing each other off. She'd steal shit for his shop.”


Will turned his body forward, looking out into the ballroom's wide open space. “It sounds odd.”


What?” Crow asked, shifting until he stood up. He set the book down onto the coffee table and then stretched his arms up. “She's probably pissed a lot of other gods off and Phyte isn't weak. So that probably keeps away most attempts at hurting her.” He paused, glancing to Will. When Will's eyes met his curiously, he smirked. “Amnesia's scary as hell.” Then he started to walk around the coffee table, toward the kitchen.


They've got a system.” Will stated softly, but just loud enough for Crow to hear it. He stopped, turning on his heel to look at Will's thoughtful expression. Will had put a hand on either side of his knee, gripping the cushion of the sofa, while equally making his body appear thinner. His eyes were focused on the coffee table, but after a pause where his lips parted briefly, he lifted them up to study Crow's posture. “Don't they?”


Frowning, Crow eased his weight onto his left leg, lifting his right hand to scratch at the hair on the nape of his neck. “The so-called gods?” Will gave a small nod of his head. “Dunno. Probably?” He dropped his arm down to his side. “Probably just some super old gods, like Hydros, bossing the rest around.” Then he started back toward the kitchen. “I'm getting some toast then changing.”


You're coming with?” Will called toward the kitchen.


That's the plan.” Crow answered back.


Will looked down to his lap, adjusting his knees so they pushed together. He bowed them left then right weakly, a few times. Gods like Hydros... Gods able to boss around both Matéas and Phyte. But... why? Why is there a group organizing their actions? He lifted his eyes up slowly, scanning them over to the doorway leading to the kitchen. He couldn't hear Crow making food inside, but he was certain the young man hadn't left. For a moment, his thoughts went blank. Then, his eyes drifted right, back toward the ballroom. “It's like the Threshold is its own country.”


~*~


Arluin took a step forward, guiding Irene into a spin that would send them both around in a clockwise motion across the dance floor. Not breaking eye contact, a smile grew onto her face, speaking through her teeth, “You reek of the Threshold.”


A smile grew onto Arluin's face. “So do you.” The pair took a step to the right, continuing their waltz, never slowing down.


Irene lifted her chin a bit, keeping the placid smile on her face. “Why haven't you told Will?”


“Not even Matéas recognized me like this.” Arluin answered, with a chuckle coming out of his throat.


“That's because you cut your hair.” She countered him forward, suddenly sending him back into a counter-clockwise spin.


Arluin handled the change in direction exceedingly well. “I don't look that much different.”


“When's the last time he saw you?”


“Right after he killed Phyte.” Arluin's smile faltered a bit as he mulled over a brief thought. Without warning, he took several quick steps toward Irene, propelling her backward, and then guided her into a swift turn. “How'd you recognize me?”


Old man gods like you always have that sly look in their eye, once you learn to look for it.” She answered easily, arcing the corners of her lips higher into a broader smile. “It's the same, for you, and Matéas.”


Will stood next to the table the refreshments were resting on. He looked out to the wide open ballroom where Arluin and Irene were dancing a waltz. To his right, a small band was playing the music- a pair of violinists, a person on the flute, and someone on a cello. To his left, Crow stood without a word. They were watching the two dance a beautiful waltz, showing off their skill to Will in preparation for the party that evening.


Will's attention was hard to keep. Every few seconds he'd hesitantly look down to the floor, out the window, or toward the band; his eyes constantly darting around. Uneasy thoughts were streaming through his mind. I want to dance but I also don't really want someone to touch my back, and I don't have confidence to be the leader really. Still, it looks fun. Waltzes are relaxing in their rhythm but... His eyes darted briefly toward the window going left, almost looking toward Crow, but Will stopped himself and tried to focus back on Arluin's posture. I wonder if Crow wants to dance? Probably. He does like to, I think. I like dancing with him, but…


The visions of Phyte yanking out his soul replayed in his mind: looking up at the phantasm of himself recoiling away in sheer terror – the emotion revisiting Will's consciousness immediately. He took in a sharp breath, tensing his shoulders visibly enough that Crow turned his head to look at Will. Within a few seconds, Will recovered from the fear, and relaxed his facial muscles, but his shoulders remained tense.


Crow studied Will's face for a moment, focusing intently on his blue eyes that were still darting around. Distracted and hesitant. Crow thought to himself, a smile forming in the crook of his lip. He took in a breath, then stretched his arms, making a noise like he was bored. The sound and motion caught Will's attention, making him look over to Crow. His lips parted just a bit and something of concern washed over his eyes. “You want to talk about it?” Crow asked, dropping his arms and shoulders down after he stretched, turning his face to Will.


Baffled, Will blinked and stared at him. “…Huh?”


Crow shrugged, his smile fading away. “I'm just wondering your eyes say you really wanna dance but for some reason you're stopping yourself from asking me.”


A fresh look of surprise went across Will's face as he hung his mouth open. “H-how… How did you guess?”


Again Crow shrugged, propping his left hand on his hip. “Dunno. Experience I guess?” He paused. I'm getting good at reading him. Then he drug out his next question, “So?”


Will immediately looked away back toward Arluin and Irene, just in time to watch them spin in unison. “I just don't feel like dancing right now. That's all.”


All right, if that's really the case.” Crow retorted in a rude tone, looking to the couple on the dance floor. Will glanced his eyes at Crow without moving his head hesitantly, and then lowered his gaze to the floor in a dejected manner. Crow waited in the awkward silence between the two of them for a few seconds before looking back to Will.


Feeling his eyes on him again, Will felt the need to answer. He took in a gentle breath, then said softly, “I just don't want anyone touching my back right now.”


Crow furrowed his brows at Will, tensing the muscles around his eyes as he thought. It took him a few seconds to run the possibilities, finally settling on Will's run-in with Phyte. Immediately, Crow huffed out air, and jerked his face away from Will in an irate manner. Freaking fucking Phyte and his stupidity− he's gone and made Will actually scared of something! Imma have to at least punch him for this when I see him. Running him through would be better- a clean slice right through his middle. He pinched his tongue between his canines then relaxed his jaw and cut into the silence, “You didn't piss me off.” It was Phyte. Hearing that, Will turned his face to look at Crow curiously. “I'm just pissed that that-that is your reason.” He let out an exasperated sigh before looking to Will. “I promise I won't touch your back. Edge of your ribs be okay?”


Will relaxed his jaw a bit, not sure really on how to answer. “I'm…not sure.” He said after a few seconds. I don't want to say yes and then have to back out because I'm feeling ill from it…


Wanna try?” Crow asked, tilting his head to the side.


Although nervous, Will gave a small nod of his head. Immediately, Crow took Will's left hand in his right and led him out to the dance floor. He stopped a distance from Arluin and Irene, and then turned to face Will. He lifted their hands together up to be level with their shoulders but away from their bodies, then he lifted his left hand to rest underneath Will's right armpit. Nervous but following the lead, Will lifted his right arm so Crow could place his hand gently in the space, and rested his palm gingerly on Crow's deltoid.


When Will looked up to meet Crow's eyes, he felt a shyness come over him that resulted in him recoiling his chest inward and tilting his chin down. But he couldn't break away from curiously staring into the pair of glistening sapphire eyes focused on him. A relaxing smile grew onto Crow's face, and then he took a step to Will's left and started to lead him in the waltz.


Will exhaled a nervous breath, glancing down to Crow's chest to see if he was keeping balance. When he looked back up, Crow smiled with his eyes, adjusting the muscles around them, and then led Will into a gentle spin.


As soon as the spin completed, Will felt a sensation of nausea rocket over his being. His throat tensed. The familiar, and alien, sensation of a hand resting on his back felt too real. Will took in a sharp breath, his eyes going wide. His legs buckled briefly as Crow continued to move in the dance, then Will's feet locked onto the floor. Crow looked at Will with surprise as he gently stepped out of holding onto Will, to watch his expression.


No thoughts were entering Will's mind. His vision was going white. Briefly, Will had the vague understanding that he thought something to himself: I'm going to faint.


A slight gagging sound echoed from Will's throat as he spaced his hands before him slowly. His knees relaxed, and he felt himself fall forward. Instead of going down, Will's cheek hit against Crow's arm. Instinctively, Will tried to regain his balance, gripping his hands around to Crow's forearm and side.


You okay?” Crow's voice cut through the deafening silence. The music the band was playing started to waft back into Will's ears. Still a bit wobbly, Will straightened up to look Crow in the eye – it luckily didn't require a lot of effort considering they were so close in height. “You looked scared there.”


Suddenly Will let out a breath through his lips, his chest caving in. I guess I did almost faint. “I'm fine now.” He paused, then shook his head. “I guess a waltz is no good.”


Wanna try a different dance?” Crow asked, taking a partial step back so there was space between them. Will straightened himself up onto his own legs, backing up equally. The expression Will wore said he was unsure, but he nodded his head. Crow smiled at him, briefly shutting his eyes, as he reached down to gently take hold of Will's wrists. “Great! This one's much slower.”


Crow guided Will's hands back around his waist so they rested on his torso just below his ribcage. Then he wrapped his arms around Will's neck, resting his wrists very gently on his shoulders while clasping his hands together loosely behind Will's head. As he closed the distance between their bodies, Will's cheeks turned a tint of pink just under his eyes.


Now, if you say this is too much, I'm going to have to voice a complaint.” Crow commented with a snicker.


Will let out a stifled breath from his throat, not realizing he had held it there. Ten counts to embarrassing ways to dance with Crow. “So, then… I lead?” Crow's smile never faltered, nodding in response.


Taking an uneasy glance to his left, judging how far away Irene and Arluin were physically as they were still dancing their waltz, Will felt like the room suddenly had gotten much larger. When he looked back to Crow's eyes, he stared at them for a moment.


It's like they're shimmering – the ocean's surface. Do my eyes do the same? Will wondered. He took a small step to the right, his hands applying a gentle force onto Crow's torso so the young man followed the motion, rather effortlessly.


Will led Crow for a few minutes, moving around in a small circle, turning them around every now and again. He was trying to match the beat of the music but it served impossible since the band was playing a waltz.


You wanna go back to the waltz?” Crow asked. Will lifted his eyes up to meet his, realizing he hadn't actually been focused on anything but the mechanical movements of dancing.


Oh, uh…”


Irene stepped over to them, smirking. “Honestly, what are we doing showing you a waltz if you're just going to hug each other and spin around?” She spoke in a teasing tone, but she also sounded somewhat miffed. Startled, Will let go of Crow and took a few steps back from him. Crow set a hard glare on Irene as she giggled at Will's bout of shyness.


That's enough.” Arluin cut in, resting his hand on her shoulder firmly. His eyes cast a dark shadow toward her when she looked over to him frowning. Then he turned back to Will, scanning his brown eyes up and down Will's pondering expression. “I'll get a light snack prepared. It'll be time to leave for the party soon.”


Will nodded without a word, almost gawking as Arluin took swift steps across the ballroom toward the kitchen. Crow and him watched Arluin quietly while Irene crossed her arms and sighed. “This was refreshing. Thanks for inviting me.”


N-not at all.” Will nodded at her, offering her a smile.


Irene, come clean up your belongings or I'm tossing them out!” Arluin ordered, calling over to the trio, as he approached the kitchen's entry.


You'd better not!” Irene shouted back to him, but didn't start after him when she saw Crow turn to Will out of the corner of her eye, just enough to distract her.


I should get home and change.” Crow nodded at Will after Arluin stepped out.


Oh, that's right. You don't have anything you can change into here.” Will said, looking Crow's dress over.


Frowning, Crow put a hand on his hip. “Yeah, well, I can't just show up to a party borrowing Arluin's clothes.” Will nodded his head a bit, his eyes drifting away from Crow.


Should we meet there?” Will asked after a moment's pause.


Nah. I'll be quick.” Crow replied.


Do you need anything else?” Irene asked Will, looking his tired face over. Will blinked, refocusing his eyes on her, then shook his head gently. “Then I'll be returning to your father's.” She said with a nod of her head. Without another word, she started toward the band, who was still playing the gentle waltz, to dismiss them.


Crow frowned at her, but shook his head without saying anything. Here half an hour and she thinks she can boss around people in place of Arluin. She's definitely related to Dove. “Anyway,” he turned to Will, “I'll wear something a little more toned down.”


Oh,” Will nodded a bit. I didn't mind what you were wearing before – the orange and blue looked good on you. “Okay…” was all he could say in a soft tone.


You sure you're not too tired to go?”


I'll be fine.” Will answered with a nod, a smile ghosting over his lips briefly.


Crow pinched his tongue at his left canine inside his mouth. He looks too tired to put up with shit. Maybe the food sounds too tempting to pass up? “All right. Get that glass of cold water.” He advised playfully, holding his index finger to point at Will with a slight grin on his lips. Then the gave a wave, turned on his heel, and started toward the foyer.


Will watched after Crow quietly without a word, but he could feel his brows furrowing slightly. What if he meets with a god on his way home? What if he doesn't come back this time? What if he does come back – then what do I do?


You should escort him to the door.” Irene said in a soft voice by Will's side.


He glanced at her; she'd stepped up to his side at some point while he was watching Crow. He immediately started after Crow before he could complete crossing the ballroom. As soon as Will caught up to his side, Crow looked at him with a bit of surprise, then smiled at him.


Will you be okay walking home?” Will asked, tilting his head to the side.


Crow pushed his right hand away from his body as a gesture with a shrug of his shoulders. “Nah, I'll take a cab.”


All right.” Will replied, feeling his hands relax together at his core. Maybe I'm so tired that I'm nervous?


Crow opened the door, turning back to Will at the threshold. Will was watching him fixated, but not saying anything. What a cutie when he worries over me! He probably doesn't even know his face is twisting around ever so slightly to give it away either!


Give me your hand.” Crow directed, waving his palm out to Will. Baffled for this reason, Will blinked his eyes along with a confused sound escaping his throat. Crow smiled, then waggled his fingers casually, “Hand please.” Still curious, Will lifted his left hand with his palm down toward Crow.


Crow took Will's fingers in his right hand, easily turned the hand over, and then lifted the palm toward his lips swiftly. When his lips made contact with the sensitive skin of his wrist, Will let out a harsh gasp, instinctively pulling his arm back. Crow held firm, opening his lips to blow hot moist air and lap the tip of his tongue in a lazy sensual manner briefly, then closed his lips again to kiss. At the strange sensation, Will made a noise in his throat that came out through his gaping mouth. Crow gave a brief suck to the skin, sending tingles and shivers up Will's stiffened figure, then he let go and straightened up, relaxing his arm back to his side.


He smiled at Will's perplexed expression as the young man drew his arm back so his hand was almost touching his cheek, his wrist held tight by his right hand – folding in on himself. His blue eyes were wide with surprise and shock, but absent of fear.


I'll be back soon.” Crow promised, widening his smile briefly, then turned and started down the path.


Will watched with wide-eyes as Crow stepped away. He heard footsteps as a person stepped up next to him, but he couldn't close his mouth or do anything.


You can relax that breath you're holding.” came Irene's voice. Instantly, Will's shoulders sagged as a heavy silent breath came out.


Are all couples like this?” Will asked aloud, still watching after Crow.


Instead of thinking of him like a crow, imagine him as a nepeta racemosa.” Irene suggested with a smirk. “Water and sunshine, and a bit of love, and he'll be fine.”


Hesitantly, Will scanned his eyes over to her as she stepped around him and out the door. She waved briefly at him, then started down the path. After a few moments, Will reached up to shut the door firmly, then turned around so he braced his back against it. He let out a heavy sigh, feeling his weight collapse onto the door and his knees.


A 'bit' of love? But that's not what Crow wants and… that's not what I want to give. A frown carved its way harshly onto his usually relaxed face as his eyes focused on the foyer's flooring. He became fascinated in tracing the grain of the wood while he thought.


I know he… loves me. But I can't place when that started. Am I the type of man he wants to love? Or did he fall in love with something in his mind, and compares me to that?


Immediately Will's frown changed to one of irritation at himself as he shook his head, shutting his eyes briefly. No. I would've seen that in his soul and all I encountered was fear and anger. And the broken dreams of a guardian …


He let out a sigh, straightening up. Will took a few slow steps forward, realizing he was still holding onto his wrist. Why'd that affect me so much? I can still feel his lips – the tingling sensation. After taking a few more steady steps, he scoffed in amusement at himself. “Oh, an artery's there. That's why.” I almost thought he was going to bite me, but that didn't scare me – it was how fast he moved. “Am I really the kind of man he wants to love? Can … Can I grow to protect him, too?”


With another sigh and weak shake of his head, Will started toward the staircase. He ran his hand through his bangs, brushing them away from his eyes.


~*~


Showered and refreshed, although still feeling groggy and ill, Will had changed into a set of clothes Arluin had laid out for him on the foot of his bed while he'd been showering. The outfit consisted of a cream long-sleeved shirt with loose sleeves, a navy vest, and charcoal slacks trimmed in gold and white, with matching black formal loafers.


As Will finished buttoning the canary yellow buttons on the vest shut, he heard Crow's voice outside his bedroom door. “Bug off already! I look fine!”


Then Arluin's. “You can't go to a formal party with your hair spiked up like a horned owl.”


Curious, Will went over to the door and opened it. Outside in the hall, Crow was batting off Arluin's hands as the gentleman was trying to comb Crow's usual owl-spiked hair down into something more tame. He looked rather indignant, like a child, swatting at Arluin's hands and diving his torso and head away from him.


He's able to protest as poorly as Alexander can to Mia. Will thought with a chuckle, lifting a hand to his bottom lip as he smiled at the sight. “Why not let him try?”


Crow stopped, turning to look at Will. “Because the last time I let some airhead style my hair, I ended up with a fat forehead and my hair slicked all the way back!”


Will thought a moment, trying to recall if he'd seen that. All that I'm picturing immediately is when we danced right before he kidnapped me. “You didn't do that?”


What?” Crow side-stepped Arluin, who was trying to take advantage of Will distracting Crow to toss a damp towel over his navy hair. “Akiio slammed mousse into my hair, practically shoving me backward!”


Hold still!”


I said no!” Crow swatted his arm at Arluin again.


Tilting his head to one side, Will crossed his arms behind him so he caught his left wrist in the palm of his right hand. “Why not let Arluin style it? I'm sure it'll look nice.”


You're on his side?” Crow gawked at Will. He stood still long enough for Arluin to step up to his side, readying the towel next to Crow's ear. Crow looked at Arluin with a glare, startled to see the towel there, and immediately countered back. “Fine.” He looked at Will, then to Arluin quickly, grabbing the towel to the side to make eye-contact. “But I'm not changing my clothes.”


Arluin rolled his eyes at him, clearly thinking an insult. “Very well.” Arluin tossed the towel onto Crow's head.


Hey!” Crow snapped, reaching up to yank it off so he could see.


As he did, Arluin caught Crow's wrist and led him down the hall toward the powder room. Will tilted his head to the other side, looking after them as he could hear Crow complaining the whole way. A shout rang out when the sound of the sink turned on and apparently water got into his hair.


You jerk! It's cold!”


Stop moving about or you'll get your clothes wet and then you'll have to change.” Arluin snapped back, sounding irritated.


Will looked out to the staircase, glancing down into the rooms below. It sounds like Arluin has been arguing with Crow for a while. I didn't think it took me that long to get dressed.


Several minutes later, after some more complaints and shouting, Crow came walking out into the hallway looking irritated with the styling that he'd been forced into. Will looked him over, a slight smile coming into the corner of his lips. When Crow looked up to Will, he noticed he was being studied and relaxed into a calmer stance, standing a few feet away from Will.


Crow had arrived in a white long-sleeved shirt with a crimson vest trimmed in gold, absent of buttons. At the shoulder seams and around the waist seams on the vest were charcoal-navy tinted straps of fabric acting like miniature belts for added style. Around his dull navy slacks at his hip was a blue belt, and on his hands were charcoal gloves that left the palm of his wrist open to the air. His slacks had matching gold trim to the vest, as did the crimson mid-calf-height boots.


Finally, Will scanned his eyes up to Crow's face. He had turned his eyes golden. His navy hair was parted in the center gently, and while it was mostly slicked back, his bangs were left to gently frame his face, tickling his cheeks before his ears.


Your eyes are gold.” Will stated. He shifted his arms behind him to trade which hand was holding which wrist, then shifted his weight slightly onto his right leg.


Yeah.” Crow shrugged his shoulder barely. “Creating a calm air for myself. Arluin's pretty pushy. And, I don't wanna snap at Noire.”


Is it working?”


Yeah, I feel less nervous.”


Good.” Will nodded his head slightly. Then, a soft smile creeped into the corner of his lips, barely visible. “You look good.” He said softly. It's not as vocal as the burnt orange and blue, but it definitely has a… Crow-style to it.


Then I'm ever so pleased you find it suits me.” Crow smirked at Will, tilting his chin to the left as he took a step closer to him. Although he sounded sultry, the compliment had left a pink stain on Crow's cheeks just below his eyes, beneath his navy bangs, but Will caught sight of it as he moved.


Before you two make out, I'd like to remind you that the carriage you are to ride to the palace is ready to depart.” Arluin cut in firmly with his voice, stepping around the two of them. Will took a half-step away to look at Arluin's expression, but it was plain and devoid of any judgment. “There's apple slices inside for a snack there should you get hungry.” He continued, then started down the staircase. “I'll have the house ready for your return this evening.” He spoke as he went down the stairs. Halfway down, he turned back up to smile at the two.


At seeing that smile, Will's face flushed pink. He-he saw… us… flirting. That was flirting, right? Urgh, I didn't think I'd be missing Matéas in my head to answer these weird questions for me.


Crow stuck his tongue out at Arluin. “Yeah, yeah. Keep it toasty.”


Shutting his eyes with a nod, understanding the order about the temperature for Will's room, Arluin smiled at them. When he re-opened his eyes, he said, “Have a good night.” Then he turned and went back down, turning into the kitchen.


Well,” Crow turned to Will's blushing face. Heh, cutie. All embarrassed from Arluin being a spectator. “Shall we?” He asked, smirking at Will. Steadily, Will lifted his eyes to meet Crow's. As soon as he did, Crow darted forward and gave Will a peck on the cheek with his lips. “Remind me to lecture the lords and shit about not educating their kids about basic flirting. No wonder Rhys doesn't have a kid yet.”


Will gawked at him, barely able to stammer out his reply. “Adell's always been the better flirt anyway.”


Oh?” Crow turned and started down the stairs.


That's what Rhys has told me.” Will nodded, starting after him.


Crow stopped mid-way down the stairs, putting his hands on his hips as he glanced up to the chandelier. “Wonder why it didn't rub off on you.”


I – I spent more time with my mother!”


And she was bad at flirting?”


I… never… saw her flirt.” Will replied, frowning at Crow, completely confused. What kind of conversation even is this? Geeze. I'm all hot and worried now that I'm doing something weird.


Huh.” Crow mused. He paused, shrugged his shoulders without a care and then reached up his hand open to Will. “Whatever. You're cute enough on your own– Let's go.”


Will shut his eyes, and went down the stairs past Crow without taking his hand deliberately. “I think you'll find that statement to be lacking in truth after tonight.”


What? You mean cause you're a wallflower and dislike socializing at big parties and shit?” Crow asked, smiling as soon as he caught up next to Will's side.


Will glanced at him as they entered the foyer. “Saying I 'dislike' it would be overestimating it.” Will answered, furrowing his brows slightly. Crow stepped ahead of Will, opening the door for him.


You'd just rather stay home and read, or something, right? Peace and quiet; no loud music, boisterous laughter.” Crow nodded at Will, his smile not fading.


Will's firm quizzical expression toward Crow softened to one of surprise. Huh. I guess… he does understand what kind of man I am. He stepped outside, looking from the carriage down to the ground for a moment while he listened for Crow to step out beside him, shutting the door. “… Yeah.” Will answered slowly. I wonder if it's the wrong answer when we're about to go to a party.


That's fine, Will.” Crow cut into his uneasy thoughts. Immediately Will looked up to him standing beside him. Crow didn't smile to reassure him, just nodded. “Not everybody likes gatherings and parties, for different reasons. If they're loud, or too busy, or you can't relax, that's a good enough reason to dislike them.”


Will nodded a bit, stepping ahead toward the carriage. Seeing him approach, the footman jumped down to open the door, bowing his head politely to them. “Too bad the food this time will be good.”


Crow chuckled, shaking his head. After Will got in and seated, he climbed in and sat across from him. He propped his elbow up onto his knee, balancing his chin there as he slouched forward. He watched as Will looked to the apple slicing, picking out carefully which one looked the most appealing in the dim light, then lifting it up to take a bite out of it.


Maybe it's cooking I should get into.”


Huh?” Will asked, lifting his blue eyes to gaze across to Crow's. As he focused on Crow's eyes, they turned from shimmering gold to soothing sapphire steadily, taking only a few seconds to change.


Cooking. Instead of gardening.” Crow clarified, smiling with the right half of his lips. “Then I can cook you all sorts of delicous meals – halibut, salmon, cod, beef, vegetables, and fruit salads.”


Why not do both?” Will asked, straightening his back up. Crow's eyes widened a bit, surprised. I guess he hadn't considered doing both. Will thought to himself as he finished the slice of apple. Just as he spoke next, the carriage started moving forward, pulled along by the three horses he'd seen hitched to the carriage's front underneath the coachman's step. “Having multiple hobbies is perfectly okay.”


Crow chuckled as he straightened his back up. “Try sayin' that without the formal tone.”


Will blinked, surprised at him, but then glanced to the apples as he pondered it. “If you want to do more than one thing…”


Bzzzt,” Crow mocked, then smiled when Will looked up to him. “Try again.”


Uh.” Will lifted his hand to his lips, glancing out the window this time. No formal tone. So… how would Crow say it? “Oh.” He looked back to meet Crow's eyes. “Do it all.”


Yep,” Crow laughed, leaning his weight back. He lifted his right leg to cross over his left knee at the ankle, turning to look out the window as the city went by in the darkness. The streetlamps were giving off warm light, making the cool damp air feel more like spring than the end of the autumn season.


I wonder if he'd be offended when I told him I'd used his own way of communicating for a basis as something not being formal? Will thought to himself, taking another bite of apple. “Does… a formal way of–”


No.” Crow cut him off instantly. When Will refocused his eyes from spacing out to Crow's figure, he was being stared at by his blue eyes intensely. “It's etiquette and that's how you're raised. I spent more time with regular people. That's just how you speak. So, no. It doesn't make me uncomfortable to hear it. And no, I don't want you to change it.”


Will frowned, gently cocking his head again. “I don't understand then. Why did you insist I rephrase it?”


For yourself.” Crow answered, not looking away from him.


Oh. Will thought, shifting his weight back against the cushion. Feeling stumped on the conversation, Will spent the rest of the ride in silence, thinking it over. He's talking about what I want to do with my life. Don't think about things I don't want to do, but focus on things I do.


Crow helped himself to a few slices of apple, and by the time the ride was over, between the two of them, they had finished the whole plate. When the carriage stopped, Will glanced up to Crow. He was slouching back, his chin tilted up as he was looking down the bridge of his nose out the window into the glum, looking out the side not facing the palace. It didn't seem like Crow was in thought at all. Still, Will cleared his throat quietly before speaking. Hearing the gentle noise, Crow focused his eyes, turning his face down to look at Will.


I want to put on another concert. And I want to play a piano King Sky has.” Will stated as firmly as possible. To him, it felt like his voice was shaking in the silence, as if it was a squiggly line on a paper instead of being solid and smooth.


Cool,” Crow smiled at him. “Gonna open it to everyone again?”


Yes.” Will nodded. “I was thinking, if there's a way, opening the windows or doors, so the sound can carry out into the streets.”


Chuckling, Crow nodded. “That sounds like it'll be a way to bring in just about as many people as you can.” Pacifist, and caring about other people. You've no idea how much that makes me want to keep protecting you, Will.


Again, Will nodded, looking down to his lap shyly. He answered without making his voice small. “That's the idea.”


The two waited a moment, listening for the footman to open the door. When he didn't come, Crow shifted his weight forward, moving his legs so he was crouched to look out the window toward the palace.


A frown came over Will's face as he asked in a hushed tone, “Is it Hydros again?”


Don't think she can do this.” Crow answered, opening the door. He jumped out, then turned back to watch if Will needed help. Will balanced his hands on the door jam as he jumped out carefully, neither one minding about the foldout step.


When they could look, ahead of them was … a world of black and white. Crow looked back into the carriage, seeing color there. He reached his hand in, Will watching, as the pale color in the dim light ghosted back over his skin, but vanished back to a shade of gray when he withdrew his hand again. Around them was a thick white fog, making it impossible to see anything else around them, as if everything else was gone.


Crow looked over toward the palace, scanning his eyes carefully. Will stepped ahead of him, then waved Crow to follow him. “Might as well continue.”


I guess.” Crow grimaced, but followed without complaint.


As they walked forward through the fog toward the palace, the thickness of the fog dissipated to reveal a bunch of ruins. Walls had crumbled, the floors were cracked solid stone – no evidence of cobblestone or the modern decorations Will had become accustomed to. Parts of stone walls still stood tall, but they had slow growing ivy creeping up them. Everything seemed to be cracked, broken, chipped, and aged – full ruins.


What happened here?” Will asked, stepping across the courtyard into what would be the entryway of the main building. There was no ceiling, and no archway to show the divide, just stumps of the archway, crumbled blocks to the side.


Something tells me we're in a god's realm.” Crow mused, looking around them at the structures as he followed a few steps behind Will. He dropped his gaze to Will's back, as the other was curiously peeking over a large pile of rubble down what would be the west hall. “Let's continue straight. That path isn't blocked. If we have to, we can come back around.”


All right.” Will nodded, taking his hands off the aged stone. He patted his hands together to dust off the dirt, then walked back to Crow's side.


Together, the two started forward through the building. Going off of memory, Will figured this was the way to the throne room. They had to walk around pieces of stone larger than them, over a few smaller ones, and side-step around a large hole in the stone floor that led down several fit to a ditch of dirt with small weeds growing in it.


Finally, climbing over a small bit of rubble, Crow stopped at the top of the stone, looking ahead. “The throne's up ahead.”


Why do you think all of the color's gone?” Will asked, taking Crow's hand for help as he climbed up onto the stone next to him.


Crow shrugged, turned on his toe, his boot making a scratching sound against the stone, and then started down the other side. “Gods do weird shit? I unno.” Once down, he reached up both his hands for Will. Will took both his hands with his own, then slid down the unsteady rocks carefully.


What's that?” Will asked, pointing around the other's shoulder. Crow turned around to look, just in time to see a young man with dark red fluffy hair place something on the throne's seat. Then the young man, dressed in pale green, jogged toward the right and disappeared through a cracked hole in the stone wall. “Was that…”


Noire.” Crow finished. He looked back to Will perplexed, then started toward the hole. Will went forward to the throne. “He's gone.” Crow confirmed, looking through the gap. It led outside to a white world of fog, making it difficult to see past a field of grass and few trees. “Huh. I can't even smell the ocean. It should be near.”


It's a lyre.” Will called.


Crow turned, then started over to Will's side. As he got up to the throne, he looked it over. It didn't look regal like it's supposed to. Instead, it was a solid piece of carved marble, rather plain in variance, polished and smoothed. It's high back was cracked, part of it fallen off to be rubble behind it. Sitting on the seat of the throne was the bone lyre Crow immediately recognized as the one from Will's room.


What's that doing here?” he asked, reaching down to touch it. Instead, his fingertips phased right through it til they touched the cold stone. Slowly, he lifted his palm, looking at it confused. Will tried to reach out to touch the instrument, but his hand did the same.


Humans…,” came a sweet woman's voice. Startled, both boys turned around to look at the center of the ruined throne room. Standing just ten-feet away, Hydros gave them a nod. Even inside her robes were appearing to shift like the surface of water. “…can be so violent.” she continued, gesturing her hand out to the room around them. “This was once a great city, a palace for a kingdom that stretched far.” She lifted her eyes to meet Will's. Noticing he was being watched, Will took a slight step behind Crow's shoulder. She smiled at that, tilting her head gently to the side so her long hair swept like smoke. “Murderous intent and yet, a child's soul seeking ultimate peace was forged.” She dropped her hand from being outstretched back to her side, the movement causing a ripple in her gown.


Will frowned, leaning his chest forward with his lips open to question her, when suddenly she vanished. White washed over them instantly, blinding their vision of everything, including each other. Will blinked his eyes to refocus. Color was back.


Are you alright?” came a young woman's voice.


Will looked to his side to see a maid dressed in a uniform matching the pale green and cream colors of Rhys's inner palace workers standing next to him. She had a concerned look on her face. “Do you need medical attention? Or food or water? His Majesty would insist on you not attending if you're unfit.” As she questioned him, he looked around. Crow was standing next to him, looking just as confused.


Around them, the palace was normal. It was nighttime, the courtyard lit up by a stream of vanilla candles in glass containers, creating a long path to walk down toward the inner courtyard. It was dark, but everything had color; there was no fog, no cracks, no broken stone, no ruins.


When one of the horses whinnied behind them, both turned to look at it and then slowly back to the maid. “Do you need to sit down?” she repeated, frowning at them.


Will leaned back to look at Crow's equally confused face. Crow met his eyes and then looked over him to the maid. “We're fine. Where do we go for the party?”


Straight ahead,” she said, waving her right arm toward the path of candles. “We're just preparing to serve dinner now.”


Oh,” Will looked to her with a simple expression on his face, then nodded a bit. “Perfect. Thank you.”


Of course.” She nodded to him, then folded her hands on her stomach and stepped backward away from them.


Without another word to her, Will started toward the path. Crow followed him kiddy-corner on his left quietly. After they were a distance from her, almost to the threshold of the courtyard, about to cross under the archway, Will slid his eyes over to Crow's face.


That was weird.” Crow stated flatly without being prompted.


You saw it, too?”


Noire left your lyre on the throne and then Hydros appeared to tell us some creepy epitaph or some shit.” Crow clarified, glancing to Will's face. He's got no expression, but his eyes look worried. “I wanna say it was nothing.”


But if it was Noire.”


You can ask him tonight.”


Will looked ahead of them. They followed the curve of the lighted pathway down a hall, going toward a wide arched doorway. Soft music echoed from within, a tune played by violins and horns, and warm light spilled onto the floor before them in an inviting manner.


This is nice.” Will stated, attempting to change the subject.


Crow sniffed the air as they stepped up to the lighted doorway. Inside they could see a long table already set and a group of people milling about to take their places. “Smells good.” Crow answered. As he looked over the crowd, almost forty people, he grimaced.


See your father?”


Crow raised a brow, giving Will a half-hearted glare. “See yours?”


Will blinked in surprise, then started frantically looking over the crowd for the crimson mop of hair.



Charmandar Dizzy 

hahaha i've gotten into the habit of long chapters. but this chapter just couldn't end on a boring note!!!!

GaMERCat Like static  but it's amazing so! so! i'm so happy i got it done!
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May 31, 2016
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