Whether it was because he was still angry over the news concerning Azalie or because he just didn't want to make it look like he cared, Orphen hadn’t asked what Rai had said after he'd left the room. They'd made their way back to Hartia's quarters in tense silence.
Maybe it was the tension that had led to what followed, or maybe they were both looking for a distraction. But to Majic it seemed that, suddenly, he couldn't go another minute away from Orphen's touch. And the response he got told him the feeling was mutual.
The night ended with a passionate coupling on Hartia's bed, and they still hadn't spoken a word by the time it was over.
Majic clenched his fingers around the sheets, curled up with his back to Orphen. Neither of them liked a lot of contact while trying to sleep, but right then, he felt like he could've used it.
"You're going to have to return, whether you want to or not."
If Rai had told him he was going to die in under a week, he couldn't have made Majic feel worse.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe… Majic felt himself clinging to a false hope, trying to convince himself of the possibility. Maybe, if Oshou-sama likes me… and I think he likes me… maybe he'll come back to our world. It could be bearable if Orphen were there. At least he wouldn't have to leave everything behind.
He knew he wouldn’t have the gall to ask it, though.
Majic pressed his head into the pillow and stared at the wall until sleep finally dragged him down.
"You're awfully quiet." Orphen pulled his shirt on.
Majic shrugged, and forced a smile. He was already dressed, sitting on the bed he'd carefully made up. "I'm just thinking, Oshou-sama," he admitted truthfully, with fake cheer. "Where did Rai say the last blood crystal was?"
"The Lands of Light." Orphen frowned. "And well be going too close to the White Tower. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some sort of blockage. The crystal can't be that close without their Elders knowing about it."
"Oh." The blond tucked his knees up to his chest. "So we're cutting across the Twilight Lands, right?"
Orphen waved a negligent hand. "That'll be simple enough. There isn't any sort of organized leadership there; no hostile sorcerers or anything."
"Oh." He was repeating himself, but he couldn't seem to help it. "Oshou-sama?"
"Can we pass by the Dragon Temple?" Majic managed to dredge up a little of his old enthusiasm. "I'd really like to be able to see it, even if it's just a ruin."
"We'll be going through there anyway." Orphen shrugged. "You and Cleao can do all the sight-seeing you want while we stop at the village there."
"That's good." Majic smiled again, and tried for a little more. "What about the White Tower? You said we'd be near there, right? I wouldn't mind seeing it…"
"We're going to try and avoid it." Orphen gave him an annoyed look. "Why the sudden interest in all of these places? We'll have plenty of time when this is all over. I'll take you to see them later. After all, you're staying…"
That thought came out in a less certain tone. Majic found himself very interested in the floor, unable and unwilling to raise his gaze. His heart was pounding painfully in his chest; a desperate, hopelessly agony building at the pit of his stomach and gradually spreading out. He didn't want to say it… but it had to be said at some point. He couldn't just sneak away and never say goodbye or anything.
"So that's what the private talk with Rai was about."
Majic still couldn't meet his teacher's eyes, and he had to struggle to get the words out. "He told me… I have a responsibility to the world I was born in," he forced out, feeling numb. "That I have to go back, whether I want to or not."
Orphen seemed awfully calm about it. "So you can't stay."
"I guess not."
A moment of silence.
"Well, I guess that's the end of it, then." At the words, Majic's head shot up. Orphen met him with an impassive stare. "There's not much point in keeping this up. It's too bad about your magic training, though," he mused. "You have a lot of potential."
But… I thought… Majic bit his lip before he could voice the thought, feeling hurt rise in his chest to clog up his throat, nearly choking him. What had he thought? That Orphen had feelings for him? "Wh…What do you mean?" he managed to ask, voice barely a hoarse whisper. "It's over?"
Orphen shrugged, every casual move he made shattering a little more of his apprentice's heart. Majic wasn't sure what he'd been expecting as a reaction, but it hadn't been something this nonchalant. "Well, it's not like it was anything serious."
Then he turned and left the room, leaving Majic to stare after him mutely.
"It's going to be a lot of fun, seeing the Dragon Temple!" Cleao announced brightly, standing in the center of the clearing they'd chosen as their lunch rest stop. They were in a forest again, so finding a clearing was enough reason to stop for lunch. "I'll bet it's one of those romantic old ruins - not like back in our world." She clapped her hands together, beaming. "Don't you think so, Majic?"
"You're going to be disappointed," Oprhen told her, before his apprentice could answer. "It's just a bunch of stone rubble with weeds growing over it."
Cleao made a 'hmph' sound. "You're just not romantic at all," she told him. "I bet Majic agrees with me - don't you, Majic?"
"Uh… of course!" He forced a smile, keeping his gaze on his foster sister. "I'm looking forward to it."
Why doesn't it stop hurting? Does it ever?
He had loved Orphen; he still loved him. The thought of leaving him had been painful enough; now he was starting to think it would be even more painful to stay and endure his teacher's complete disregard. Because I really didn't mean anything to him, after all…
"What's holding up lunch?" Orphen asked suddenly.
"Eh?" Cleao blinked, glancing back and forth between the two of them. "Lunch? What about today's lesson in magic? We always do that before lunch, don't we?"
Orphen frowned. "Well, not today."
Please don’t ask… "I'm… not feeling well," Majic lied. "Just… it's nothing, really, but I won't be able to concentrate right. So Oshou-sama didn't want to waste his time." That was probably at least partially true; he wouldn't be able to concentrate, and Orphen didn't want to waste time on him.
"Oh." Cleao shrugged. "Well… lunch time, then!" She beamed again, and dove into the creation of another toxic soup.
Cold sandwiches for lunch again, I guess…
Supper was even worse.
Majic sat on his own at the far side of the fire, too tired to pretend to be cheerful any more. He was staring at the remains of his stew - which had somehow been edible - and trying to force up the will to eat the rest of it.
Emotionally drained. That was probably the best way to describe it. He couldn't remember ever feeling this exhausted, even when Orphen had been giving him lessons without the chunk of black crystal.
I guess breaking up takes a lot of energy.
It wouldn't be so bad, though, if he weren't the only one suffering.
Cleao suddenly laughed, drawing his attention back up. She and Orphen were talking about something he hadn't been paying attention to, but when he looked up…
Oshou-sama's never let her sit that close before…
"You could use magic to fight with a sword, couldn’t you?" Cleao nudged the sorcerer, eyes bright. "Make it so it never breaks, or make yourself really great so no one could be you. Right?"
Orphen smirked, meeting her expectant gaze with the same intense one he'd always used to send shivers up and down Majic's spine. "Making it never break, maybe. You can't use magic to increase your skill."
The way he looked at her sent hurt rushing up from the boy's chest. It can't be… He wouldn't…
"In that case…" Cleao leaned forward, positively beaming. "We should have a sword fight! I'll bet I could beat you! I'm pretty good, you know."
"Good? All you do is hack around!" Orphen scoffed. "Anyone can manage that; real swordplay takes practice." He leaned forward as well, shifting subtly toward the girl. "What you need is someone to teach you."
It was impossible to swallow around the lump in his throat. Does he think maybe Cleao will stay? Maybe Majic had just been a distraction, and now Orphen was ready to move on to a better prospect. I don't want to watch them… don't want to see it… But he couldn't look away.
Cleao shifted more obviously, positively elated with the extra attention. "Teach me!" she urged, and grabbed Orphen's wrist impulsively.
To Majic's horror, the sorcerer didn’t even begin to try and shake her hand off. "I'll think about it," he told her, and smirked again.
It was getting impossible to watch quietly. Majic had a sharp, jarring ache in his chest, like someone had jarred a knife in and was twisting it around. His vision was getting blurry, the images of Cleao and Orphen starting to blend into a mess of colors. I can't cry… not in front of him!
Majic stood abruptly and headed for the forest around them. "I'm going to get more water," he forced out, in a voice that cracked painfully. Hopefully they wouldn't notice that he didn't have a container with him.
He ignored Cleao, walking faster when he got past the trees, then even faster as he made it farther away. After less than a minute, he was running, the only thought making it past the hurt and betrayal being to put as much distance between himself and those two as he possibly could.
It hurts… it really hurts!
He stopped when he was sure they wouldn't be able to hear, and let go of the pitiful restraints he'd had in place up until then. Chest heaving, breath coming in painful gulps, Majic leaned forward against a tree, hot tears streaming down his face like dual rivers. He felt like this would never end: the tears… the struggling to gasp in air… and especially that burning, twisting, aching sense of loss.
How could he… how could he do it? Majic's legs gave out, and he slid to the ground, fingers scraping along the rough bark of the tree. Would Cleao get the same treatment he'd always gotten? Would Orphen run his fingers through her hair, smirk against her lips in that funny way he did, tell her she was beautiful in that breathless tone when they finished? I always thought it was just for me… how stupid am I, anyway? All the things Orphen had said in private, the things he'd done when no one was looking… every soft-spoken word, every meaningful touch… He could take them away as easily as they were given; break Majic's heard like it meant nothing at all.
How can it be so easy for him?
He nearly choked, twisting around to stare at Cleao with wide eyes. "Cleao!" He wracked his brain for an excuse. "I was just… I only… um, I mean… that is…"
She sat down beside him. "I didn't think you'd be so upset that I'm winning."
"I don't know what you mean," he admitted, vainly trying to brush away his tears. They keep coming… why won't they stop? "Winning what?"
"Orphen, of course!" She 'hmph'ed again. "I know you like him and all, but just because maybe he likes me instead, you don't have to run off and cry, you know."
"It's not that. It's…" He hesitated, not sure if he should break his promise to Orphen. He had said he wouldn't tell anyone about the two of them…
"What?" Cleao leaned toward him.
Majic sighed, making up his mind. "It's because Oshou-sama and I… we…"
"What?" Cleao repeated, when he paused.
"We, um…" Majic felt a rush of heat color his cheeks. "Slept together."
He pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his face in them, not wanting to face her reaction. "I guess I was stupid… it didn't mean half as much to him as it did to me. He doesn't even care that I have to leave."
"It didn't mean… Wait a minute!" Cleao sounded like she wasn't sure whether to be angry or shocked. "You're leaving? I thought you said you wanted to stay!"
His head shot up. "I thought you said that was a stupid idea."
"Well, that was before I knew you two were sleeping together!" Cleao crossed her arms, giving him an exasperated stare. "Why didn't anyone tell me? How long has this been going on, anyway?"
"Oshou-sama didn't want to tell anyone yet." He was actually feeling better, talking with Cleao. If nothing else, it gave him something to think about besides Orphen. "And it's only been about a week."
"He slept with you for a week and then dumped you?"
Majic rested his chin on his knees. "He said we should stop after he found out that Rai told me I had to go back."
"Hmm." Cleao pursed her lips in thought. "Well, you would have to stop…"
"I know." He managed a small smile, trying to sound like it wasn't that bad. "I guess it just hurt when he said it didn't mean anything."
"He said what!?" Cleao's eyes suddenly caught fire; she jumped to her feet, hands balled into fists. "Why that… that no-good, lying bastard! I'll teach him a thing or two! Just wait until I get my hands on him…!"
"Ah… wait, Cleao!" Majic sprung up after her, alarmed. The sort of disaster that would take place if Cleao were to confront Orphen in defense of his honor was not something to joke about. "He didn’t really lie… after all, he made it clear that he wasn't sure we'd stay together."
Cleao let out a frustrated breath of air, crossing her arms. "But even so…" She scowled. "If anyone did that to me, I'd make sure he paid for it! Stupid jerk!" She kicked a nearby tree for emphasis.
Majic sighed, but couldn't help smiling as he watched his foster sister rant. I'm not really sure what she's angry about: that he dumped me, or that he chose me over her in the first place.
Either way, it was nice to have Cleao to support him. In her own way… she really did know how to make someone feel better.
The three of them made an odd procession the next day - Orphen in front, with Cleao and Majic trailing behind. The girl glared angrily at the sorcerer's back, swiping at unoffending trees with a heavy stick she'd picked up along the way. The dark-haired man ignored her. His apprentice was too distracted to pay attention, and none of them said anything to anyone else if they could help it.
It struck Majic, somehow, as ridiculously childlike… but there wasn't much they could do about that.
I wish we could just get things back to normal… When Oshou-sama was teaching me, and Cleao was chattering away…
"We're stopping here," Orphen announced suddenly, signaling the halt for lunch. He waved a hand at the clearing, then leaned against a tree, waiting for his two companions to set up camp.
"Hmph." Cleao hardly waited for Majic to let the bag fall to the ground before digging into it for cooking gear.
"Ah… wait, Cleao!" He squirmed free of the straps, sighing in relief as he managed to get away. She'll be over this in a day or two… I'm sure of it.
Well, he hoped she would.
Majic sat down, and stole a glance at Orphen - to find his former lover looking right back at him. For a moment - just a moment - it seemed like there was something more in the sorcerer's gaze than just casual curiosity. Majic had grown more adept at reading Orphen's actions and expressions during the short time they'd been with the man, and it seemed almost like there was something in his eyes that was…
Maybe it wasn't anything big. Majic tore his gaze back, staring at the ground for a moment. But, when it came to Orphen, uncertainty was probably one of the most unusual things to see in an expression. Does that mean… maybe…?
He took in a determined breath. I'm sick of this. I'm here now. We won't be going home tomorrow - or the day after. And while I'm here, I want to enjoy it! "Oshou-sama?"
Orphen looked a little startled. Even Cleao seemed surprised; from behind Majic, the clanking of pots stopped. He ignored that and pressed on. "I'm feeling fine today. Don't you want to go through the lesson we missed yesterday?"
Then, with a small amused sound, the corners of Orphen's mouth quirked up. "Guess we'd better, if you don't want to forget everything I've already taught you."
"Hah!" Cleao interjected. "You're very forgettable. I've already forgotten some of things you said this morning."
"What was that!?"
"Eh? I'm sorry… I forgot what you were saying. Must not have been important."
Majic smiled, for real this time, and got to his feet.