Guess it's time to post the next Vagary cx heh, silly serah starting to post stuff without following up.
A day passed, and then a week. Jaren had fallen back into his routine; nobody realized that he was one of the boys who had been caught outside of the camp's boundary. There was also no sign of Orion. Despite trying to act as though nothing had happened, a nagging worry buzzed in the back of his mind.
Had the boy really gotten into that much trouble? He knew it was foolish to disobey rules, but this didn't feel like a simple slap on the wrist. Maybe he was hiding somewhere; Jaren wasn't brave enough to go back into the garden alone, but he had searched every classroom and dorm for evidence of him. He just wasn't anywhere; not even the other students knew where he had gone, and he found himself longing for the awkward warmth between them.
Rumors soon started that Orion had been imprisoned, maybe even died, and Jaren slowly started to accept that he wouldn't be coming back.
---- ---- ---- ----
The wind harshly tacked against the side of Jaren's barrack one night; ice shattering on impact outside, a chill leaked in through the doorway. He let out a sigh as he twisted around in bed, and his thoughts inevitably returned to Orion. Everything had become excruciatingly lonely in the boy's absence; nobody even said hello to him, let alone looked over with that sly gleam in their eye like he did.
What if he really was dead?
The door was suddenly pulled open, rocks and dust on the floor gnawing at the metal frame with an abrasive sound. In the darkness, a silhouette struggled to close it again; a great gust of icicles stormed through the air of the barrack, until finally the opening was stopped up.
Only a few boys had looked around to see what happened, but rested back on their pillows when they saw it wasn't an adult who had entered.
The figure was small and thin, to the point of where it might be considered unhealthy, but the rest of him was obscured. He shifted forward, melting ice crystals falling from his clothing and meeting the floor with a eerie drip, his shoes making a putrid squish as he stepped.
Jaren had the urge to hide underneath his blanket, but instead grew as still as possible. He wanted the shadow to keep walking, pass by without causing trouble. Shutting his eyes as tightly as they could go, an unmitigated terror crawled up his back as the silence grew more intense.
Drip, drop, squash; the sounds seemed more horrible with each ticking moment, and they were getting closer. Paranoia raked across him, his heart pounding in his ears, and his throat threatened to scream as he felt breath on his face. The figure was over him.
"Jerry?" A soft voice hummed through the blackness, and Jaren immediately opened his eyes in shock.
The silhouette was somehow familiar, yet alien. Jaren squinted through the darkness, features starting to become recognizable, and confusion edged into the borders of fear in his mind. He glanced around to make sure nobody else was up, and then blinked to clear his eyes. "Orion?"
The boy's shape was much more gaunt than before, and his curly hair had been cut short, but it was him; his shoulders quivered slightly from the cold, though he didn't outwardly seem to mind. He smiled. That lips-barely-covering-teeth, glittering-eyes, entire-face grin that only he could pull off.
Jaren hadn't seen that expression on anybody else; it was strange, and he wasn't sure why but he had missed it. "I-" His heart was yet racing, leaping in his chest as though he had been injected with absolute panic, and his mind couldn't quite figure out what he wanted to say.
"I'm not a ghost-" Orion chuckled as quietly as he could, as though he had rehearsed his words. "The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated."
Hesitation hung in the air as they just stared at each other; Jaren had to look away, hoping that he couldn't see the shame in his face. This whole thing had been his fault, after all. If it wasn't for him, Orion could've ran unhindered that day. It was his fault that he disappeared.
"Sorry, I don't wanna annoy you, but-" The boy's voice was gentle, sorrow leveling the tone. "I just had to come straight here."
Jaren didn't make a single sound. Had he even heard him clearly? Everything seemed so far away.
Orion's face fell even further, only a tiny smirk lingering on one side of his mouth. "I'm sorry- this was stupid. I'll go." He swallowed, discreetly wiping a tear from his eye as he turned.
Abruptly reaching out, Jaren caught the cuff of his sleeve. "Don't-" A single word made it passed his anxiety, and he hoped it was enough. He didn't want to be alone again; even through the entirely queasy bewilderment, Orion was still his friend. His only friend.
The boy has paused, looking down at their hands, and then brushed another tear from his cheek. His clothing was just barely damp to the touch, it had been drying quickly in the arid environment, but continued to be ice cold.
"You're frigid!" Jaren retracted his fingers quickly in surprise, scooting away on his bed.
"I know, I can be distant-" Orion grimaced.
Jaren shook his head, and then pulled the boy toward him, his fingers curling into a fist around the neckband of his jumper.
Orion cussed, hissing through his teeth as he narrowly evaded the plank above Jaren's bunk. He still didn't understand, leaning in as though he was going to listen to some sort of secret.
His words still far from his reach, Jaren hunched over to gently pick Orion up from the floor and remove his shoes, shifting him into his bed.
Confusion was yet on Orion's face, mixing with a silent chuckle as he was wrapped with Jaren's blanket. "Won't you ever talk to me?"
Jaren hadn't let go of Orion's collar, and had in fact gripped it with his other hand as well, holding it against his chest. "I-" He whimpered.
Orion smirked tenderly, and then shivered with another swear. "I'm freezing." He laughed, snuggling into the warmth of the covers and closing his eyes. Feeling immobile, and yet somehow safe, he quickly drifted to sleep.
---- ---- ---- ----
A sober discomfort hung over Jaren when he awoke the next day. Orion was gone. Had he imagined the previous night? Was it a dream? He was no stranger to night terrors, but this felt different. There were new and distressing emotions filling his mind. His heart couldn't stop pounding in his ears, but it wasn't out of fear. He knew fear. What was this feeling?
The shrill morning bell broke the wintry silence, and Jaren reacted as he ought to. He prepared himself for the morning, following the crowd into the mess hall, and sat with his allotment of breakfast. He kept his head down without a single word; he had grown accustomed to avoiding eye-contact and not looking at anybody directly, but something was making him extra uneasy.
A single sound in the large room poked his mind, his ears reflexively flicking toward it. Babbling of teenage boys was all he could pick up; something he had learned to ignore long ago. What was causing him to react this way?
There it was again; a noise jabbed him.
Deciding to pay just a little more attention, Jaren closed his eyes and really listened. Among all the mindless "and he said," "by the gods," and "did you see him today," a tiny sound trilled out from the humming chatter.
Jaren hastily turned his head, shock spreading across him in a single moment, and his eyes briefly met with Orion's not two tables away. The boy was talking with a few others. Laughing. As though nothing at all had happened.
Not having the courage to say anything, let alone bring up what may have just been a dream, Jaren spun back around. His emotions felt as though they were going haywire, and his brain was struggling to keep up.
Perhaps they needed to pretend like nothing happened. Bringing it up would only humiliate Orion. Maybe staying quiet was the best option.
---- ---- ---- ----
Time passed slowly for Jaren. He would steal glances in Orion's direction, but avoid him when he could; the boy didn't even seem to take notice either way.
The feeling of his heart being in his throat subsided somewhat, though there was still a hushed tremble in his chest. It was rather strange, but he didn't think it was serious enough to talk with a doctor about it. He had read the medical books in class, he knew the statistics, but he didn't want to bother someone with such minor symptoms.
---- ---- ---- ----
Several weeks passed, and Jaren had succeeded in staying away from Orion. He was embarrassed for continuing to run that day, he was ashamed of having that dream, and he was terrified that the boy would be angry because he had let their silence go on for so long. And what if he was passive instead of mad? What if he hadn't even noticed their disconnection? That outcome was even worse.
---- ---- ---- ----
Jaren sat on his spot again, gazing longingly over at the girl's dormitory on the other side of the canyon. He was pulled to her once more; though she wasn't there anymore, the habit yet remained. Everything seemed so distant. Intangible. Almost as though it was all fake.
"Thought I'd find you out here-" A familiar tone thrummed beside Jaren suddenly, though he took no notice. "Did you think I could just forget you?" The boy murmured, finding a spot to sit on the sharp and jagged rocks below. His hair had been growing longer, though it was less unkempt, and that wasn't the only thing that was changing about him. He had also gotten taller, and his vibrato sounded less childish, though it still held a youthful trill.
Even that sound seemed empty to Jaren right now. He had been crying, and made no move to hide it; his face was flushed with grief, yet all of his sobs had already faded.
"I'm sorry- I just wanted to give you space." Orion's nerve waned abruptly and he slumped over himself, his tone falling into a whisper. "Or maybe I was enjoying the attention from the other guys. I've never had any real friends before, and they-" He broke off with a sigh. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, okay? Guess I really-" He cussed. "Things up."
Jaren sniffed, wiping his face with the palm of a hand, and then looked over at Orion. "You're not the reason-" His voice was choked as it left his lips, little more than a whimper making it through.
Orion leveled their eyes, his intense blue gaze boring a hole through Jaren. He waited, but when no more words came, only confusion shone on his face. "I'm not a very good friend, I know, but I'll try to be better." His voice was even and sober. "I'll listen, okay? Whatever it is you have to say."
Jaren brushed another set of tears away from his eyes, and then met Orion's. "I-" He wavered. "Have just learned that my sister has fallen ill."
"And the-" Orion called the supervising adults a vulgar name. "Won't let you see her?" He shook his head, slightly proud that he had immediately understood the implications. "I always knew they were stupid."
Lowering his face again, Jaren let himself continue crying.
"Good thing you know somebody who can get into the hospital." Orion flashed his eyes mischievously.
It hadn't taken but a moment to feel that flutter in his heart again. Despite Jaren's soul-crushing anguish, when Orion took his hand and pulled him up, tugging him forward just like he had months before, he found hope.
---- ---- ---- ----
The medical facility was quiet; it had taken a good few hours to walk to it, but they hadn't been caught. They wouldn't be missed at camp; everybody was simply too self-involved to notice their absence, and Orion had modest skills for avoiding adults. Jaren only had to keep up with him.
In the silence between them, Jaren let his mind go blank; his emotions had all been cried out, and very little energy was left over for him to think about or process anything. All he knew was that Orion was beside him again. He didn't know if he had forgiven him or even liked him, but they were going to see his sister, and that was something. In some way or another, he cared.
They followed a curving wall inside the hospital, and Orion briefly put a finger to his mouth to keep them both quiet. That twinkle was in is eye again, and Jaren had to glance away as he felt his heart thud loudly.
"Hey-" A voice behind them called out; it was female.
Jaren froze in place, certain that they were in trouble; his eyes staring blankly at the floor. He could feel Orion pull away, and he wished that he could reach out.
"Hello Vicirra." Orion's voice was flustered, though somehow remained smug. "Working late?"
The woman met the two boys in the corridor with her hands in her apron, an odd smell following her momentum. "Always-" She had replied with an unenthusiastic tone. "Here for another treatment?"
Orion bobbed his head slightly in an affirmative gesture.
Vicirra motioned toward Jaren. "Who's this?"
Turning his gaze on Jaren, Orion then slipped his hand back into his with a smirk. "Emotional support." His grip was tighter than before, and he pulled him along without another word.
"Stay out of trouble." The woman muttered as she spun around to go the opposite way.
Jaren swallowed. "A-ar-" Only pieces of words made it to his lips. "Y-"
"She's my nurse- or, what do you call them here?" Orion quickly mumbled an answer to the unasked question. "She's nice; nobody else ever let me bring visitors." He shook his head, glancing over at Jaren with another half-smile, and then paused at an unattended desk. "What's your sister's name?" He discreetly slid into a chair, tacking briefly at the computer.
"M-" Jaren hesitated, wiping his face. Was this legal? "Maroan."
"Got her." Orion replied within only a few seconds, and then paused to read something on the screen.
Taking Jaren's hand once more, Orion continued down the corridor; he glanced around, not wanting to be caught again, and swiftly made his way through the hospital. Adults were busying themselves, ducking through the bustle that the boy was happy to avoid, and soon his gait slowed. Numbers silently crossed his mouth as he looked for the right room.
The door silently opened before them, and Jaren was met with the sight of his older sister in a medical cot; many tubes were hooked into her skin, making it seem to him as though she was a science experiment.
He paced forward cautiously, the door closing behind them, and leaned over her unconscious figure to look into her face.
There were no words.
An eerie stillness made up the room; it was devoid of cheer and personal touch, and smelled like both chemicals and urine. The lighting was dim, and yet somehow harsh. Everything felt cold, even though the temperature was quite warm. Atrociously warm. Confining.
The breath caught in his throat as he held back tears. He had never cried in front of his sister before; she always told him to be strong.
Orion took a step forward, his expression sober as he reached out to touch Jaren's shoulder.
Reflexively pulling away, Jaren's facade broke for a split second, and a sob slipped through his lips. He quickly straightened himself back up, sending Orion a slightly spiteful look, and walked across the room to find her healthcare report.
Orion let out a sigh, glancing backwards as he wondered how long they would have before being disturbed, and sat on a bench against the wall. Folding his arms, the tiniest smile prodded one corner of his mouth as he watched Jaren's eyes dart about on the papers he had found.
Several minutes passed, and Jaren had resorted to pacing while he muttered to himself. He understood many words he was reading, but some remained a mystery. "It says here she had a sqehnos- squenohshic episode?" He murmured, only speaking certain things aloud. "-neh nohsi." He hummed, pondering with all the energy he yet had in him.
It was almost an hour before Jaren put the papers down, and sat next to Orion with a huff. He, too, folded his arms, unknowingly mirroring him.
"I wish I could tell you it'll be okay-" Orion's grim tone thrummed in the silence. "But I dunno what causes someone to live or die."
Breathing out to try and calm himself, Jaren listened but didn't look over.
Orion smirked mournfully while letting his gaze fall. "When my baby sister was born, she was sick; nobody thought she'd make it." He mumbled. "Then she lived-" He shook his head. "Only to be killed by some freak with a sword four years later."
Jaren glanced up, staring into the boy's face. "Y- you have not spoken of this befo-"
"No, I know-" Orion elbowed him teasingly, meeting his eyes. "There's a lot of stuff I don't talk about." He hesitated. "Besides, I wasn't there; my parents sent me away, remember?"
He blinked, and then continued. "I guess I mean to say that I get it. That pain. The need to do something- when you know you can't."
Jaren leaned toward the boy, letting his head fall against his shoulder.
"And I get not wanting anybody around because you're sad, though needing someone to be there."
Listening to the boy's words, Jaren turned his head, and then lifted it again; hope suddenly edged into the corners of his mind. "Grasping your previous thought-" He spoke with more assurance than he expected. "You are a healer; could you not do something?"
Orion grimaced in a troubled way. "I'm sorry-" He whispered. "I promised my dad I'd keep living." His chest lifted calmly, accentuating the duality in his mind. "My 'superpowers' don't come from nowhere; it's an equal trade, energy for energy thing." He pressed his lips together in uncertainty. "I'm pretty sure I'd die. And I promised him- I'm really sorry."
Jaren's expression fell again; he hadn't even considered that aptitude would have to come from somewhere. He thought it was limitless; given by spirits, or a god, but the idea seemed a little silly to him now. If it were easy to heal, there wouldn't be any sickness, and also no need for doctors. If magic were around, science would be obsolete.
He let his head fall back against Orion's shoulder, and the boy tucked his arms around him, placing a gentle kiss on his forehead like his mother used to. It was kind of strange to be held like this, but also made him feel protected. Despite the uncertainty and grief racing through his mind, for the first time in a long while, he felt safe.
The world seemed to fade around them, blurring into detached greys and whites, and Jaren didn't realize that he was falling asleep.
"Hey-?" The woman from before had walked in the room to find the two boys lying on the bench, Jaren yet in Orion's arms.
Orion had looked over at her, his face flushed.
Vicirra snickered. "That's not allowed in here."
"Give us a minute?" The boy replied coolly.
Jaren stirred, hearing the voices, and glanced up to see the woman leaving. "By the gods-!" He jolted up from Orion's touch.
"Calm down-" The boy muttered softly, wiping his eyes as his hands were freed. "You just took a nap, okay?"
"Rion?" Blinking, Jaren let his drowsy gaze rest on him. "Are you crying?" His voice was small, barely audible.
"Yeah." Orion smirked slightly, only one side of his mouth turning up.
Jaren paused, hoping the boy would elaborate.
Orion met his eyes for a second, and then smiled again before his face fell with sorrow. "I just keep thinking that-" He took a breath. "It'll be me in that bed one day."
"Are you ill?" Jaren whispered, his tone whimpering.
Glancing down in an ashamed way, Orion's mouth hung open for a moment. "Yeah- why did you think I was taken away?"
"I don't-" Jaren then shook his head in a bold gesture. "I will not allow that to occur."