Will and Crow had just barely stepped foot into the ballroom before Rhys's boisterous laughter was heard echoing. The two looked over to their right immediately, watching as Rhys briskly walked toward them with his arms spread open. “Will! I'm so glad you could make it!” he exclaimed in a deliberately loud voice.
By the time he finished his sentence, Rhys had gotten up to Will and hugged him tight around the neck. Will let out a noise of surprise as the air was squeezed out of his lungs, making Crow only chuckle. “It– It's nice to see you, too.” Will mumbled out, trying to take a step back from the king.
Rhys recognized the movement and released Will, taking a half-step back, while leaving his hands resting on his shoulders. “Now, that good-for-nothing Noire is wandering around here somewhere.” Rhys stated, lowering his voice. He glanced at Crow, then leaned his face in to Will's as he furrowed his brows. “He's trying to weasel the location of the pearl outta me!”
Will blinked in surprise, making a baffled sort of sound. Crow frowned, holding up his hand toward Rhys. “Wait a minute – you know where it is?”
“Of course I do!” Rhys snapped at Crow in a hushed tone, speaking quickly.
Crow reared back, trying not to do too dramatic of a movement so he wouldn't draw attention from the people around them. Then why the hell didn't you tell me so earlier when I wanted it – so I wouldn't have to have Will help me?!
“Besides that,” Rhys continued, looking back to Will. He begun to whisper, “There's something worse.”
“Rhys!” came Adell's voice loudly over the milling voices. “Where'd you go? I wanted to introduce you to Lady Edendira!”
Rhys immediately ducked his head down, then spun around behind Will, jerking the young man in front of him. “Gotta go – bye!” He said frantically. By the time Will and Crow turned to see where Rhys had gone, he'd disappeared with his head down into the crowd – his blond fluffy hair no where to be seen.
“Oh, Will.” Adell said as he approached the two. Will and Crow immediately turned to look at him, both trying to hide their surprise on their faces by relaxing their mouths. Adell nodded to Crow, his slicked back crimson hair barely moving as he did so. He was dressed in a cream double-breasted blazer with matching slacks, trimmed in thin lines of bright blue. “Glad you could make it. I wanted to discuss your chance to attend a tutoring session with Alexander in a few days.”
Will parted his lips to reply but Crow butt in right away. “Just to assist and supervise Alexander's education, no doubt.”
“On the contrary. It's a fine opportunity for Will to brush up his education and etiquette before he ever has a meeting with the knight lords.” Adell corrected firmly, scanning his eyes around the two into the crowd. “We can discuss it later.”
“Adell!” snapped a woman's very sharp voice. Adell turned to the side as a woman stepped up next to him. She was dressed in a long peach gown that ballooned out at her hips, tight and prim up to a stiff collar, with loose sleeves from the elbows to her wrist. “You ran off and just left me!” Her chestnut hair was set around a bun on the back of her head in a thin braid. She turned a bright smile toward Will and Crow, then back to Adell. “I hope that neither of these young boys are King Rhys, Adell!”
“Huh?” Will's jaw hung open. “N-no! Rhys, he went–”
“Ran off to get in line at snacks! He's always a fan of them at parties like this.” Crow cut in. Will glanced to Crow with a worried look on his face, but Crow just smirked. Adell noticed the exchange, and settled a glare on Crow while the woman clapped her hands together once.
“How fantastic! A man who loves snacks must be yearning for children!” Her smile brimmed brightly, before she bowed at the group. “Excuse me.” Then she stepped between Adell and Will and off into the crowd.
Silence hung around the three while Adell crossed his arms over his chest, hardening his glare on Crow.
“Well.” Crow shrugged, shutting his eyes. “I did get rid of her.”
Adell mused an irritated sound in his throat, as he scanned his eyes over to Will's blue ones. “Where'd the brat go– Really?”
Will took a half-step to turn from his father, then pointed over his chest into the crowd behind him. “That way.”
A bolt of lightning struck down inside the room straight into the crowd. People shouted as a clearing formed.
“Rhys!” Adell shouted, running toward the group as another bolt of crisp white lightning shot from the ceiling toward the person at the center of the clearing.
“Rhys?” Will shouted, hurrying after him. Crow sprinted his way to run ahead of Will.
They pushed through the crowd just in time to see a third bolt shoot down to Rhys's blond fluffy hair. The lightning crashed against a sphere of white sparkly light that shimmered in and out of existence like twinkling stars, then faded away. Rhys hadn't moved at all. He was standing there calmly with a hand on his hip and the other hanging loosely at his side– though he didn't look smug. Standing just a short distance from him was Noire, pointing his open hand at the king.
“Damn!” Noire cursed at him. He lifted his palm up, focusing electricity in the center of his palm.
“Rhys!” Adell called to the blond. Rhys nodded his head.
“If you do any more than this, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave, good Prince.” Rhys said in a very slow and kind tone.
Crow gawked, “I didn't know Rhys could … talk like that.”
“He's not demeaning him.” Will whispered to Crow. “He's trying to relax him.”
“Don't talk as if you understand!” Noire snapped. Rhys tilted his head to the side in thought.
He's figured out something. Will leaned forward with anticipation.
Lifting his hand from his hip, Rhys stretched it casually up to his shoulder. Something sparkled above the back of his hand. It shimmered once more, then vanished. Will glanced around between the two, as nothing seemed to happen. It took him a second to spot the strange sparkling orb that was fading in and out, getting closer to Noire. Within a few more seconds it touched the young man's brow through the fluff of his dark bangs and disappeared.
The electricity in the palm of Noire's hand went out and he dropped his arm, his whole stance becoming relaxed. As soon as he did, Adell ran up to Rhys's side and the two whispered an exchange. After, Rhys turned around and smiled at Will.
“Could you keep our guest company while the table is set?”
Will felt the eyes of people land on him as he realized that had been directed at no one else besides him. Something's telling me I should've not come to this party. Will took a few steps hesitantly forward. His shoulders jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. Crow smiled at Will as he stepped up next to him, then walked in front of him toward Noire.
“Right then!” Rhys laughed his very loud boisterous laugh. “Let's break out the wine! Charlotte, that table had better be set because we're eating~”
“Of course!” a maid replied from the far side of the room. She waved her hand toward the large table that was set out with center pieces of snack foods out; mostly consisting of fruits and small baskets of biscuits.
While Rhys and Adell distracted the crowd toward the table, Will stepped up next to Noire cautiously. “Noire?” Will asked softly, tilting his head forward as he leaned toward the young man. Noire glanced at Will and then at Crow, a baffled look on his face. “Let's get some air. Okay?”
“Sure, I guess.” Noire shifted his head, barely nodding.
As soon as the trio stepped outside, several maids hurried after them with lanterns on long thin iron stands. They placed them up to outline a square on the stone balcony underneath the covered area so the nighttime mist wouldn't get them. Once the lighting was set up, the women nodded to the men, and then went back inside, leaving the double doors open a jar.
Noire sighed, leaning against the stone railing across from the door. “What a mess.”
“Are you okay?” Will asked gently, frowning at the prince.
Crow crossed his arms. “Why'd you try to zap our King? That's not what the pacts are for.”
“Pacts are for borrowing power, regardless of moral intention perceived by annoying birds.” Noire snipped at him. Crow's face twisted into a hard glare. “Besides, I don't expect any form of understanding from you.” Noire lifted his head up, pointing his left hand at Crow's miffed expression. “You already hate them!”
At that, Crow stepped toward him, shoving Noire's hand pointing at him with the back of his own left hand. “Don't point at me!”
“Stop it!” Will quickly stepped between the two of them. Crow clicked his tongue as he took a few steps back, then turned around with his hands on his hips. Will looked from him to Noire and asked, “What have you been wanting to talk to me about?”
Noire's expression softened as he met Will's eyes. “Your guess is right. It has to do with why I attacked Rhys.”
“But, did you have to attack him?”
Noire smirked. “What? You think your king is all cotton and fluff?” Crow turned around to look at him slowly, his expression relaxing so he could hide his thoughts. Noire glanced at Crow, then back to Will. He chuckled at Will's genuine curious look. “You never stopped to think why the pearl miracle is a miracle, huh? Why it wasn't so easy for Crow to find?” Again, Noire chuckled, scoffing a bit this time. “Finding the pearl is a miracle in and of itself.”
“You're trying to paint Rhys as some kind of villain here.” Crow cut in, crossing his arms.
“I don't have to try.” Noire shrugged. He put his hands on the edge of the stone banister behind him then hoisted himself up to sit on it, swinging his legs playfully as he spoke. “Rhys is someone who, for all of his friendship with the minis, is not outright for their reintegration to the world.”
“Wait.” Will waved up his hand. “Minis?” He lowered his voice, taking a step closer to Noire with Crow a step behind him. “Why would there need to be a reintegration...?”
“Because they're originally part of our world.” Noire clarified with ease. He shrugged his shoulders, “Humans born with unique powers – so says the documents in the Theghesalia Athenaeum.” He cleared this throat, then said in a very clear sounding voice both boys recognized as one of authority only royalty would use. “Long ago, there were none of them. Then, one by one, they were born. After the genocide, this was left in the Athenaeum: We go to where the world began, seeking our own beginning. To bring forth with our wishes the Gardenia.”
“What's that?” Crow asked, tilting his head to the side. “Sounds like a poem from one of the books in Nocturne.”
“Possible, since Phyte was involved in the world-wide spread amnesia.” Noire nodded. “It's an erratic poem from someone called Ywain. It dates from just before the creation of Gardenia.”
“Which is? A garden?” Will asked.
Immediately Noire waved his hand across his face with a laugh. “No, no. It's the world the minis created to live in safely away from the humans. A world devoid of light and darkness and even things.” He looked to Will and then Crow. His smile faded when he noticed that their puzzled expressions didn't vanish with the supplied information. “Wow. Phyte and Matéas told you nothing, have they?” He leaned forward as if hoping for a different answer. Will shook his head, turning to look at Crow, who shook his head a second time to show Will. “Not even Tengyi?”
“Nope.” Crow shrugged his shoulders this time.
“Oye,” Noire hung his head. After a moment he sighed, then lifted his head up. “I have to be heading out soon. Rhys will only let me stay so long after attacking him like that, I'm sure.” He shifted down off the banister. “I just wanted to know where you stood on the idea of reintegration of the minis to this world.”
Will's expression relaxed to one absent of any real emotion so Noire couldn't read it. I'm missing too much information on this. I'm sure Rhys is against it for a reason, and Noire is trying to convince both of us for another reason. But what is it?
“What about Ywain? Did he create this Gardenia?” Crow asked before Noire could walk around the two and back into the ballroom.
“I don't think so.” Noire answered, turning to him while also stopping his motion forward. “He only appears in the record before the creation, so he could've been the one who came up with it.”
“Was he a minis then?”
Will looked out in the darkened space of garden. The rain was starting to pick up, with a cool breeze blowing into his hair. “Creating a world… probably requires a lot of effort. Did the gods…”
“The creation gods play a part?” Noire asked. He immediately scoffed when Will nodded. “No. The dragons you're thinking of are pure myth and legend.”
“That's what they said about the god of poisons.” Crow scoffed, crossing his arms with his hip jutting out to show his snark physically. “And he's real enough to be arrogant and an asshole.”
At that, Will's eyes lit up as he spun around to meet Crow's eyes. “Oh! If Matéas is real, then the dragons should be, too!” Crow winked at Will with a smile in the corner of his lips, while Noire just shook his hand vigorously as he took brisk steps toward the doors to return inside.
“A foolish notion. I've already combed the records on them, and they're absent.” Noire said with a curt tone. “I'll talk with you later about it – the minis living with humans again.”
Will tilted his head to the side. “Why are you so dead-set that they have to come back to live with us?”
“Yeah, they are pretty deadly and not all of them like us.” Crow nodded, turning on his heel to look after Noire.
“I believe that all life born into this world belongs in this world. There should be no exclusions.” Noire stated in that firm royal voice. “Do you disagree?” He glanced over his shoulder to meet Will's eyes with an intense gaze. His one blue eye and one green eye seemed to glow otherworldly in the dim light enough to intimidate an answer straight out of Will.
It's not that I disagree… I just feel like I'm being pressured into saying whatever he wants as he's tugging me along while keeping my horizon limited. “Not quite.” Will answered softly as Noire turned and went back inside.
After he was gone a moment, Crow let out an exasperated sigh. “Good god of gods, I thought he'd never freakin' leave!”
“Do you think he's really leaving?”
“Gosh, I hope so!” Crow chuckled, taking a few steps around in a circle as he laughed. Will watched him quietly, folding his arms behind his back. “I thought he'd never shut up – he was just going on and on all gravely about how special the gods were!”
“You mean to say that Phyte isn't special?”
“Hm,” Will tilted his head gently to the side. “Don't you think that powers to create amnesia and protecting lost memories is pretty special?”
“Yeah, but I can also see how it's terrifying.” Crow nodded. “I can see why humans feared them.”
“Something he said bothers me.” Will stated suddenly. Crow's smile faded as he looked to Will's grave face. “He made it sound like, the minis weren't always with us. He said, 'one by one' they appeared.” He paused, lifting his blue eyes to meet Crow's. “Where'd they come from? Matéas was very clear that they can't die.”
Crow shrugged, going quiet a moment. I'd never thought about that honestly. Just focused on trying to get away from Phyte. “Do we have to know? Or are you just wanting to know?”
A small smile snuck its way onto Will's lips as he let out a soft guilty laugh. “Maybe I am just being curious. Still, it'd be nice to know?”
The two returned to Will's estate well into the night. Both of them were exhausted from having to deal with Noire, and only getting re-heated dinners.
“That sucked,” Crow groaned as he trudged his way, dragging his toes, into the foyer. “So much for a delicious kingly meal.” He turned right, going into the sitting room. He stopped at the doorway suddenly, Will half of a step behind him, looking tired but he wasn't sulking. Crow glared at the figure sitting on the sofa looking smug and comfortable. “The hell do you want?”
Arluin snickered a bit, putting down his book while unfolding his legs. “Just wanted to make sure Will got back safely.”
“Why?” Crow asked, leaning his head back to show his suspicion.
“Did you make any food perhaps, Arluin?” Will asked hopefully in a tired voice.
“I did.” Arluin nodded. “I have some bread readied to be made into toast with olive oil on it paired with some apple and cheese slices. A perfect meal before bed when you're exhausted.”
“Great,” Will nodded to him with a smile, then he turned and started through to the staircase. “Bring it up in a bit please. I'm getting ready for bed.”
“Hey!” Crow started after Will right away. Will stopped half-way up the stairs to look down at Crow sleepily. “I was wondering if you minded if I stayed the night?”
“No.” Will shook his head. “I'm sure Arluin can set up a bed for you in a guest room.”
“N-no.” Crow clarified in a shockingly hesitant voice. He took a few steps up the staircase, resting his hand on the banister. He made sure to stop a few steps below Will to give him space before continuing his question. “I meant, stay as in, with you.”
Will stared at him for a few seconds. I'm not sure what he's asking. Wait. Is he asking to do something perverted? Tonight?! Tonight of all nights? W-well I mean, I guess we have been and I have said – but wait, no no. I'm not really ready for this kind of jump right now without any sort of warning ahead of time. I'll have barely minutes to prepare mentally!
As if sensing Will's mind running wild, Crow took a step up and added in a softer voice than before. “I don't mean anything indecent, Will.” His cheeks flushed as he tried to clarify himself more when he saw Will's cheeks get stained pink by that statement. “I just wanna extend our time together. If you wanna boot me out when you're falling asleep, that's fine.”
Will's eyes widened a bit at that. Nervously he looked down the staircase away from Crow's direction. “You wouldn't be offended if I shut you out like that?”
“Nah,” Crow whispered without pause. “If I'm coming on too aggressive you can always shut me up. Put the breaks on it.”
“N-no.” Will shook his head. “I was just…” He paused, as if worried Arluin was listening to their intimate conversation. “I don't want you to be disgruntled.”
“Unlikely.” Crow scoffed with a smirk on his face.
“Let's head on up then.” Will answered softly.
Crow took a step up, then stopped. Will noticed he was waiting for him to go first, so he went up slowly. Will paused after a few steps to see if Crow was still following him up, which he was. AT the top of the stairs, they turned left and went the short distance to Will's bedroom door. Inside his room, Crow sat himself down at the far point from the door at the sitting area. Then he straightened his back, turning in the chair to look at Will as he was collecting his pajamas from the wardrobe.
“I can sit somewhere else. Or in a different room till you're ready.” Crow offered, making a subtle note of how the chair was located near the bathroom's door.
Will chuckled, grasping the clothes folded in his arms. “It's funny how you're so polite and shy about this now, when before I know you've seen me naked and doors mean nothing to you.”
“Hey, I'm trying to be considerate here!” Crow argued back.
Will smiled at him, walking over toward him, but staying closer to the wall where the bathroom door was. “I'm just teasing.”
“Oh.” Crow frowned, then smiled a bit. Wow. That I'm not used to. Annoying cutie.
“Don't eat everything Arluin brings up.”
“I will if you aren't out soon enough!” Crow threatened back as Will disappeared in the bathroom, shutting the door behind him with another laugh.
A short time later, Arluin delivered the toast and treats to Crow. He made no comment about how Crow was in Will's bedroom. He simply turned down the bed's quilts for Will, pulled the drapes shut, and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
“Rich people sure live in a different world~” Crow whistled appreciatively before tossing a cheese slice into his mouth, looking after Arluin.
“You say that as if you've never been exposed to it.” Will stated, opening the bathroom door. “Aren't you considered a knight?”
“I grew up in barracks, basically, Will.” Crow chuckled, leaning back to look at Will in his fresh change of clothes.
Will had changed into a short-sleeved pale yellow shirt with pastel stripes running vertical down it, paired with a matching set of long pants. He'd combed his hair to relax it, almost fluffing it up, but it was still slightly damp– obvious that he had taken a shower while Crow had waited patiently. A few stubborn curls that weren't normally apparent were stuck his forehead, cheek and neck in a sexy manner.
“I can have Arluin fetch you something to change into?”
“Nah.” Crow's eyes widened as he immediately waved his hand dismissively at Will. “I'm over him helping me change my appearance.”
“All right, but you aren't climbing into bed with those boots and gloves on.” Will pointed at Crow's hands and feet before he sat in the chair across from him.
Crow laughed, peeling off his layers while Will helped himself to some apple. Both of them were too tired to continue talking into the night. Will finished eating, then went and sat down in bed. He sat with his hands folded in his lap ontop of the blankets, watching as Crow undressed himself from his boots and gloves.
Crow smirked at Will when he noticed he was innocently being stared at. “Lookin' fer somethin' sweet?” Crow asked after he pulled off his vest and belt, starting to unbutton his shirt.
“What?” Will asked, blinking his eyes as a confused expression came onto his face.
“Huh. Didn't notice you were staring?” Crow pulled open his collar, walking over to the open side of the bed. Will watched him as he approached with no comment. “Hoping to get a peek of my pecs?”
“M-more like your abs,” Will admitted after a moment. “But that's only since you brought it up.”
Laughing, Crow undid his shirt, then slid into bed next to Will. “Well, look all you want.” He undid his shirt, yanked it off one arm at a time, then swung it off toward the foot of the bed, letting it slide right off to the floor. With a sigh, he flopped back, slamming his head against the pillows. “Man, what a freakin' day.” He shut his eyes as he released another sigh, his chest caving in.
Will turned to look at him, studying his tired and yet relaxed expression before his eyes started to wander lower to his neck. Then to his collarbone, then down over his chest to either of his nipples. Just as Will was starting to take in the savory sight of Crow's upper abs, Crow took in a sudden deep breath, reached down and yanked up the blanket to his chin, rolling over to face Will.
Startled by the sudden movement, Will found himself spitting out “Hey.” in a rather indignant manner.
“You can drool and stare all you want later. I'm cold.” Crow snaked his arm out, beckoning Will to lay down next to him with his hand. “Sleep~”
“F-fine, fine!” Will replied, shifting his weight down before laying down on his side to face Crow. He pulled up the blanket to the crown of his head, then snuggled his face down into the edge where the pillow and mattress met.