"Be more careful next time!" Orphen surveyed Majic's successfully executed destruction with what looked like a small amount of satisfaction before turning a hard stare on the boy himself. "You're drawing in the energy you need at random. Focus! And if you ever try to take some from me again…" He left that threat unfinished.
Majic bent over a little, winded from the use of magic. They'd been practicing for a good hour already. "I'm sorry, Oshou-sama," he said, trying to straighten up despite his exhaustion. "I'm just getting a little tired. I'll try harder next time."
Orphen shook his head. "I don't know why you get so tired."
"Why shouldn't he?" Cleao set the small sword she'd been polishing down, across her knees. "You make him practice for hours and hours! Why shouldn't he be tired?"
"Black magic doesn't work like that." Orphen only glanced at Cleao briefly, then looked at Majic again. "You shouldn't be feeling tired, because the energy should be coming from outside of you. White magic draws on the sorcerer's strength; black magic can't touch it. That's just how it is."
"But doesn't that give black sorcerers an advantage?" Majic made an effort to stand up straight, ashamed of how tired he felt. "If we don't get tired…"
"There isn't an unlimited amount of energy out there," Orphen interrupted him. "It has to regenerate itself, just like with the human body. But drawing too much too fast is just as harmful as using too much white magic."
"Oh." Majic winced a little. That hadn't occurred to him at all. "Why do I get tired, if using black magic isn't supposed to do that?"
"How should I know?" Orphen gave him an irritated look. "Maybe you're getting some kind of backlash from drawing in and using all that energy. Anyway, there's no point in continuing if you're tired, and this lesson's gone on long enough as it is."
Cleao jumped down from the rock she'd been sitting on, sheathing the sword and tossing it back into the bag. "Lunch time!" she crowed, beyond pleased that they'd finished practicing.
She was always there to watch, though Majic couldn't figure out why. Since they'd passed through the mountains and into the Dark Lands, the conversation had started to center more and more on sorcerers and magic - which usually meant that Orphen would talk and the other two would listen. But Cleao always seemed to get bored when it got technical, so why she'd want to sit in on the actual lessons was a mystery to Majic.
Then again, I guess there's not much else for her to do.
Orphen clapped a hand down on Majic's shoulder, startling him out of his thoughts. "Next time, we'll try using some black crystal," he said, and offered a smile - one of the rare ones that couldn't be called a smirk. "That way you shouldn't have any problems with the energy force."
Weariness was suddenly not the only reason Majic's knees felt shaky.
"How far until the next city?" Cleao asked, fumbling with pots and utensils. "I can't wait to sleep in a real bed again!"
"We should be there by tomorrow night." Orphen sat down, eyeing the cooking instruments distrustfully. "I can't wait to eat a real meal again."
"What was that!?"
Majic sat down beside Orphen, smiling brightly to interrupt what looked like another fight in the simmering stage. "I like it here. A lot. Don't you, Cleao?"
"Eh?" The girl blinked, forgetting the glare she'd been directing at the sorcerer. "I guess… but it's still better staying at an inn. Why this all of a sudden?"
"I didn't mean just right here." Majic rested his elbow on his knee, propping his chin up on the upraised hand. "I mean here in general. This world. It's a lot better here than it ever was back there."
Cleao had stopped moving around; she was staring at him, open-mouthed. "Majic…"
"I'd like to stay." There: it was out. He'd been thinking about saying it for the past few weeks, in between random monster attacks and lessons and staying over in comfortable inns at small towns. "After all, there's not really anything holding me back. My parents are both dead, right?" He took in a deep breath and glanced back up.
Orphen was staring at him now, too. "What made you think this?"
"Well… it's just…" Majic struggled for words. "I've always felt… I'm sort of an outsider. I look like I fit in, and I act like I fit in… but I don't. I only ever felt real when I was with my father, and after he died…" That was too much. Majic let the thought go unfinished. "Well, I like it here. I've got something I can be here. So I want to stay." He looked around for a reaction.
Cleao was staring at him in disbelief. "What kind of idea is that?"
Majic blinked; he wasn't expecting that. "What?"
"You don't think my family would miss you?" She dropped the pot with a loud clang that made him jump. "We've been trying hard to make you a part of our family! Are you telling me you don't care about us at all?"
Majic sucked in a distressed breath. "I-I didn't mean - "
"Well, that's what it sounded like you meant!" Cleao was glaring at him now, mouth set in a line like it did when she was really upset. "If you really want to stay here, you should at least consider how other people will feel about that!"
"I…" He dropped his gaze, feeling horrible for even bringing the subject up. "I was only…"
"Well, don't!" Cleao snatched up the flint and angrily starting trying to light the fire. "Next time you should think before you start talking, Majic!"
But I did. Majic frowned at the dirt by his feet, disheartened by the reaction he'd gotten. And I know I'll miss everyone, but… But. He sighed. The thought of going back was more painful than the thought of never being able to. And not just because I want to learn sorcery or because I feel real…
He had to admit, his feelings for Orphen were a heavy influence on his decision.
Is that a bad thing? I mean… sure he's arrogant and rude, and sometimes abusive, and he loses his temper a lot… Majic couldn't help but smile. And he's irritable, lazy, and always so impatient…
But he's my Oshou-sama, and… I think I…
A familiar hand setting itself on his shoulder jolted Majic out of his thoughts. "Stop thinking so hard," Orphen said, when he looked up to meet his teacher's gaze. The sorcerer's voice was low enough so Cleao couldn't hear. "If you want to stay, then stay. Who cares what she thinks about it?"
Majic blinked. "Oshou-sama…"
Orphen gave him his trademark smirk. "You could keep learning from me that way," he pointed out. "You've got a long way to go before you'll be fully competent."
Something about the look in his eyes made Majic's heard skip a beat. "Y-Yeah." He could feel a huge, silly-looking grin trying to paste itself across his face, but with Orphen this close… and looking at him like that… he didn't even want to fight it! "I could…"
"Well, think about it." That ended the conversation, but the younger boy noticed that his teacher's hand lingered on his shoulder for just a moment longer than usual before sliding off.
"Mmm." Majic's fingers tangled themselves in Orphen's hair, wanting to hold him in the hot, hungry kiss they were sharing at the moment. He let out a muffled groan as Orphen responded, sucking on his lower lip teasingly. The fingers he'd just placed tightened their hold, and his tongue traced over the older man's lips, drawing them apart again to provide both him and his teacher with full access.
Majic lifted his hips off the ground to ease them against the body of the man hovering over him. He wanted more contact… more heat… more Orphen. He couldn't get enough!
The sorcerer's fingers slid up over his hip, fingers trailing around the waistband of his pants…
Majic's eyes shot open, his breath coming short. Ah! He stared blankly up at the sky, feeling his heart race. His hands were spread out to either side, blankets bunched up as a result of his thrashing around. That dream…
Well, it wasn't the first time his subconscious had done that to him. Majic sat up and ran a hand through his hair, letting out a long breath. I hope Oshou-sama didn't hear me… He glanced to the side, expecting to find his teacher still sleeping soundly - and drew in a surprised gust of air, almost choking.
Orphen's blanket was crumpled on the ground, and he was gone.
What…? Majic blinked, momentarily forgetting his embarrassing dream. Where would he go at this time of night?
There was only one way to find that out. "Oshou-sama…" Majic sighed, pushing aside his blanket and getting to his feet. "You're really more trouble than you're worth." He spared a brief moment to make sure he hadn't woken Cleao, then wandered off.
As it turned out, Orphen hadn't gone very far. Majic found him after only a few minutes of searching, half hidden by the sharp dip in the ground where he was sitting. His back was against the upraised part of the earth, and his face was turned up at the sky, hands tucked behind his head. At first glance, it seemed like he'd dozed off; his eyes were closed and his chest rose and fell steadily.
Majic hesitated. Maybe I shouldn't wake up him, he thought, and turned to leave.
"You're up late."
He froze for a moment, then spun around. Orphen hadn't opened his eyes. "Were you looking for me?" the older man asked.
"Yeah…" Majic took a few steps forward, still a little uncertain about intruding. "Why are you out here so late?"
The sorcerer did open his eyes at that, glancing briefly at Majic before he turned his gaze upward. "Because of that," he answered, almost thoughtfully. The reply didn't even seem to be directed at the blond.
"That?" Majic looked up, trying to follow his gaze. It was impossible to see any stars; there were dark clouds out that obscured them. The moon was a pale, thin sliver, its light dulled by those misty obstructions. "What do you mean by 'that'?"
Orphen shut his eyes again and smiled, making an amused sound with no real humor to it. "I mean the moon. That's how it was that night." He didn't have to mention which night he meant. "I can't sleep when I see it; I remember looking out the window and seeing it then. So strange that it wasn't a full moon." He opened his eyes, gazing upward again.
Majic took a few hesitant steps forward - and when Orphen didn’t make any move to either stop or encourage him, he sat down in the dipped area beside his teacher. "Do you ever wonder why?" he asked, then hastily added, "Ah… why she did it, I mean?"
Orphen's gaze slid sideways for a brief moment, before returning to its contemplation of the night sky. "Yeah," he admitted, tone completely neutral. It didn't invite further inquiry - but it also didn't warn against it.
"I was thinking about it," Majic told him, emboldened. "About why she sent the note asking you to join her." No response. "And I thought… maybe… that was her way of telling you that she knew. That you would find a way to get her out."
The older man had turned his face toward him during that speech; now his eyes widened slightly before settling, with the half smile he gave his apprentice. "That's a new one."
"Oshou-sama!" Majic protested, not liking the way his theory was dismissed. "I was serious. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this."
Orphen turned himself sideways to face him completely. "You'd be better off thinking about the lessons I go through with you," he said - not quite a rebuke. He was close enough so that the blond felt the fading wisps of breath brushing at his collar.
Majic flushed, tearing his eyes away to stare at his hands, which he'd crammed together in his lap. He smiled a little, trying to ignore the way his heart pounded at his teacher's close proximity. "I do that a lot, too," he said, honestly.
"I'll bet." One of Orphen's fingers dug into his side - without enough force to actually bruise the skin. The older man smirked. "Still some fat left. I haven't been working you hard enough." He settled a more thoughtful gaze on Majic's face, absently stabbing with the finger. "We'll have to see about that."
The younger boy's face went red-hot, and he was glad for the concealing darkness. "I already do all the work; there's nothing left for you to force on me!"
"Maybe you're right." That torturous poking stopped, and Orphen rolled over onto his back again. He chuckled, and this time there was humor in the sound. "I'll come up with something anyway," he promised, ominously.
Majic swallowed, hard. That can't be good…
Silence stretched between them. The blond boy felt himself relaxing, the sound of Orphen's breathing starting to lull him back to sleep. Would he mind if I just drifted off on him? He turned his head to ask - and bit back the words, with a smile.
His teacher was sound asleep beside him.
"That was better." The praise, as usual, came grudgingly. Orphen held out his hand for the chunk of black crystal he'd had Majic use during the lesson. "We'll use this until you're more proficient." He offered a cocky grin. "Then we'll work on that problem of yours."
The plan was do-able. "Yes, Oshou-sama." He wasn't tired this time, either - despite being woken at an ungodly hour by a cranky Cleao, who had been extremely sulky for a good portion of the morning about being left out of their "stargazing" the night before.
Majic's cheeks still warmed when he thought about it.
It's wishful thinking to imagine he returns it. He watched Orphen's back as the older man got into his customary argument with Cleao over lunch, too preoccupied to try and smooth out the disagreement. He could feel that warm shivery sensation when his teacher so much as touched him… or looked at him intently… or offered any tidbit of encouragement. But their interaction couldn't mean as much to Orphen as it did to him. Even if there wasn't the matter of their age difference, he had no evidence at all that the sorcerer was anything other than perfectly straight. He was in love with Azalie, after all.
But somehow, he couldn't stop himself from hoping.
I'm going to get hurt - really badly hurt. Majic had to keep himself from smiling; the thought shouldn't amuse him. It was serious. First love was always the hardest to get over, wasn't it? Anyway, an unrequited emotion like this shouldn't be so irresistibly sweet.
So why am I so happy to feel like this?
"Majic! Aren't you going to eat?"
He started, blinking at the bowl Cleao was holding up obnoxiously close to his face. "Ah! Sorry! Yes! Food!" He grabbed the bowl without even thinking, and spooned a healthy mouthful in past his lips.
Orphen just sat there as his apprentice dropped to his knees, clutching his throat in a wide-eyed fit of spontaneous agony. "This is why so many daydreamers die young," he commented blandly, and shook his head.
I didn't really believe Cleao was trying to poison us until today. Majic let one arm dangle over the side of the double bed in his room at the inn, the other draped over his eyes. At the moment, the idea of putting any sort of food in his mouth was enough to make him queasy, so he'd opted to skip dinner and take advantage of Orphen's absence to rest somewhere other than the floor.
That was the most lethal thing I've tried to eat since I outgrew the notion that stink bugs were edible!
Orphen had been shooting speculative glances his way all afternoon, which gave Majic the feeling he should be alarmed. The comment from the previous night was still fresh in his mind, and hung over him ominously. He should be frightened. If only his hormones would agree with his common sense.
One way or another, his teacher would be the cause of his death. He was certain of it.
The door opened. "You'd better not be sleeping." And closed.
Majic pulled his arm away from his eyes and levered himself into a sitting position. "I'm not. I guess you want me to get off the bed, huh?"
Orphen pulled off his boots, negligently kicking them to the side. "No," he said, and his apprentice froze in the act of turning to swing his legs over the side. "You might as well stay there."
"Eh?" Majic blinked - once… twice. It was still his teacher standing there… "You're going to sleep on the floor?" he asked, incredulously.
"Of course I'm not sleeping on the floor!" Orphen gave him a scathing look. "I paid for that bed!"
This made no sense. "But you said - "
"I said you might as well stay there," Orphen repeated, irritably. "I never said anything about me or the floor. But if you can't put that much together, maybe you should get off the bed."
That statement hung in the air for a moment.
If I can't put… Majic swallowed. Hard. "Oh." It didn't seem to be sinking in. Wait a minute… this can't be real… "Y-You mean…?"
Orphen sighed. "Get up."
"But - "
"I said get up."
"Good." The older man crossed the room, set a hand under Majic's chin to tip his face up, and pressed his lips against the blond's with deliberate firmness.
It wasn't his first kiss - there had been a girl in his class one year who had prayed on his fascination with it - but the shock made it almost the same. Majic's eyes widened, and he went rigid with his surprise. Fortunately for him, Orphen apparently decided it was worth it to be patient. The younger boy felt his knees start to shake as the warm reality of the kiss eased into his system. He slung his arms around Orphen's neck for balance, pressing up into his teacher's embrace eagerly. This is real… not just another dream…
They broke apart after a moment, breathing heavily. Majic's face was warm, but it wasn't hard to meet Orphen's eyes. "Oshou-sama…" Embarrassingly enough, his voice cracked; he tried to ignore that, fighting for the right words. "I…"
"I know," Orphen told him, after waiting to see if the blond would get it out himself. He smirked, and leaned down. "I know," he repeated, against Majic's lips. "So shut up." And then they were kissing again, the sorcerer's arms firmly tucked around his apprentice's waist.
"I'm not promising too much," Orphen breathed between increasingly deep kisses, mouth barely parting from Majic's to form the words. "You take full responsibility for yourself while we're together."
"Mm-hm." 'While we're together'. That implied more than just one night. Majic smiled into the kiss, elation cutting through the haze of desire setting over his mind.
"And we keep this separate from your lessons. Understand?"
"Not a word to anyone else, either."
"And - "
"Oshou-sama." Majic interrupted the pointless stream of warnings, and borrowed his teacher's smirk while tightening his hold on the taller man. "You talk too much."
Then he fell backwards onto the bed, pulling Orphen down on top of him. Rational thinking was no longer popular in that room - and wouldn't be for quite some time.