I was Born the Unloved Twin
Like a primary school teacher, Gable leads the way and we follow.
The boys are still tense but they come along easily enough. Especially after Gable leads them on with a vague:
"Do you want to know what this rock entails? Why it snows?"
It's not that they're fearful they're just, on guard. If anything you could say they were on their best behavior, from what I know of them at least.
They walk a little bit behind like the naughty kids in class, quietly whispering and signaling to themselves.
I'm not sure what's going on in their heads but It's too troublesome to deal with. They'll come to their own conclusions eventually, besides if I say it's fine then it's fine. Which is exactly what I told them to get them moving.
"Come on already, he doesn't bite"
They both give me a look that says there are worse things than biting.
"Hmm this isn't the way back to cave." noted Amar.
Since Gable is here, of course, I'll leave it all up to him. Indeed we're heading in another direction, deeper perhaps. I've lost track really but it's ok. It's like when you trust a parent to drive you, unquestioningly, that sort of belief in a person.
So I believe it 100% when Gable literally walks up us to a damn tree and stands there expecting us to go through ii like it's an open door. And not a whole solid tree.
"We can just walk straight through it?"
Well here goes nothing.
Surprisingly I am not allowed to go in first, the boys silently stop me and signal to themselves. They come upon an agreement and it looks like Lukas is up first. Ah so careful, they look very professional like this. I feel like a princess, or a wealthy client, with her guards.
Normally Gable's face is rather stoic but I think I'm making way on figuring him out over the days. Watching our interaction seems a bit amused and another part that I still can't read, it feels conflicted.
We all carefully watch, for different reasons I'm sure, as Lukas takes a rather exaggerated breath and essentially charges his way through the tree. It's a pretty good war charge, I'll give him that, very spirited. Seeing a person go "poof" and disappear out of thin air is really amazing! Quite Harry Potter vibes.
Since he's gone through, I'm next with Amar right behind me.
There's no need to rush up running, the supposed tree blurs and dissapates just like the earlier cave wall entrance.
On the other side is not a dark staircase, surprising it's the fireplace in the kitchen!
Amazing! What a secret entrance!
I'd be more amazed if I wasn't distracted by the fact that my quiche is still in the oven. It's a stone brick oven so it's not like it's going to get any hotter but it can still burn! Why didn't Gable take it out earlier?
"What are you doing?" asked Lukas, watching the whole thing since he arrived first.
"Just help me out."
I'm attempting to drag a kitchen chair since I'm too short to reach much and have no levitating powers.
It's much easier to use a boy to do the heavy lifting, though he does roll his eyes at me. Odd I swore Amar was right behind me, why isn't he here yet. But Lukas is more than enough to scoot a chair and help pull the pastry pie out the oven.
Ah thank goodness, it's a little too dry on top but it's not burnt.
"You really been living here for awhile?"
Asked the other boy after we managed to set the quiche out on a wooden board and wrap it up in a cloth to keep in warm. I'm technically not allowed to play with fire but I can at least boil water. I'm cold and want something to drink ok!
"Hmm, yeah I have. Why?"
"Nothing much, it's just. Wow, you even call him by his first name. Just like that."
"Have you never met Gable before, he's very relaxed. It sounded like a lot of the troops know him so I thought he would be around more."
"Maybe, not around me at least. I've only been allowed to go on a few raids so far and it's not like kids like me are allowed in the meeting halls We hear about him a lot but we've never seen him. I know we can sneak in some but what's the point, nothing interesting ever happens."
He pouts and makes a face before returning back to his original volume.
"Only Amar or Phillipe goes with me anyways. But we're getting more permissions to go on raids and stuff!"
Ugh, the mention of my cousin has me scrunching my nose.
I may not have the best history with Lukas but that hasn't happened yet. He's a fun kid, a little suspicious but an overall alright kid. The thought of him or Amar turning into anyone's lackey makes me shake my head. What a waste.
They're good kids, even without asking they automatically took the position to protect me.
But they're not like other servants that I can just pick up or some loyal hero to be that I can lure over to my side. These kids are too much of wildcards Their pasts are definitely not simple, either one of them.
Story of life, right?
I don't know exactly what to do with them, where to place them. They're on hold if they're a potential future enemy or not, especially Lukas. But it doesn't hurt to make for some friendly relations right? A little kindness costs me nothing.
Even if I can't cut them off from Phillipe I can at least make them a little more sympathetic towards me, when the time ever comes.
At this time Gable and Amar appear from the dark bricks of the fireplace. That took a while, but something must have gone on because the slight cloud hanging over Gable's expression is eased. He still must be thinking about something, taking a careful look between us. Meanwhile I can never read the younger, he always seems so happy and innocent till he holds something sharp and lethal.
Wildcards, the lot of them.
"Have you cleaned up yet Rosalia?"
Gable asks unnecessarily, he can see how I must have just put down the pot holder. Lukas over here looks as dusty as ever. A real rough and toughing it boy, not so different from Amar's current state. As messy as they look they seem so used to it and are nowhere near as bad I was when Gable first found me.
With a wave of his hand, a basin of water fills up and lands in front of us along with a bar of herbal handmade soap.
"Ladies first, then the rest of you."
Gable mutters before going off to rummage in his cabinets.
This isn't any of the strange but lovely bath products Gable already has but something from a batch we made together one spare afternoon. He was curious after telling him of my previous soap making adventures. Guess it really isn't common knowledge in this world.
I got to test more soap recipes with local plants and according to Gable making my soaps was "much easier" then getting his hands on whatever he was previously using. They were nice though, must have been costly.
Still, I think my soap bars are turning out quite well as a cost effective alternative. This herbed one was simple to make, has antibacterial cleaning qualities and smells quite nice. I lather up and wash my hands well in the slightly warm water.
Surprisingly the boys either learn quickly through my example or they both have experience using soap. It should be a luxury item not commonly seen or used by most people, yet they don't look curious or intrigued by it at all. Instead, they wash up not only their hands but thoroughly up their arms, necks, and heads.
Is standard soap another thing grampa already brought along to the troops? Do I not have a monopoly in this market? Oh where is that old gramps anyways?
"Gable, where did my grampa go? He's been with you this whole time right?"
"Yes, well, I made him go take a bath. He's even filthier than all of you children combined."
"Ah, I see.
A little strange but whatever. Ack, I almost forgot the reason why we came looking for them in the first place, sorry Yuna!
"Gable! Outside there's a strange venomous bug and it bit someone, just a kid or well teenager. No one knows what to do."
"Hmm, yes I saw. I already sent some medicine their way, not much to do with that one really. The boy should be fine after a lot of sleep. "
"You know what that thing was?" asked Amar, half soaked over the bin.
Gable gives a half wave, indicating it's still in research. Which is fair given no one's ever heard of a fanged jawed butterfly, ever.
Clean towels float over, one for each of us, though I think the boys' towels have a mind of their own as they rub them dry all over.
"Uh I think we're good?"
"Hey! Get this thing to stop attacking already!"
Eventually, they're freed from the floating towels and hairbrushes, hey where did those come from? They're as clean as they'll get for now and actually look pretty decent. They were already some cute looking children but clean faces and freshly washed hair makes a lot of difference.
Gone are the dusty though still very rambunctious boys. It's like giving a street cat a bath, they're so fluffy! Luka's platinum silver blonde hair is looking more like the snow we just played with. Now clean his features resemble a haughty pedigree cat, sharp like a bengal. Meanwhile the contrast between Amar's tender face, dark curls and bright green eyes were a pop of color compared to Luka's paleness. When not caked in mud and dust his natural olive skin tone was hard to place, shades too something to be native to this land.
Overall they clean up very nicely, I'm surprised.
The bar soap wasn't meant for hair but it did a pretty nice job lathering and washing on two different hair types. Potential for shampoo bars perhaps?
While I'm thinking of my future business prospects the table sets itself and there are 3 steaming mugs, of something milky sweet, waiting for us. If I didn't know any better I'd say Gable was showing off.
Ok maybe he is doing that, just a bit. This honey milk is some good shit.
He is using his levitation magic quite a bit more than usual. It's very Alice in Wonderland tea party in here. The boys aren't hiding their amazement either, though it's more of the shocked silly by power kind than their earlier ooos and awes. Setting some kitchen tools to chop and fry up some vegetable Gable takes a seat, chairs gathering up whoever wasn't at the kitchen table yet.
The boys are still awkwardly silent and Gable's own stoicism is not helping. It's an adult and some kids but why is every eyeing each other back and forth?
I take another loud sip of my warm drink, ah it's so damn awkward. Just get on with it.
"It smells wonderful in here! I'm starved- eh, when did these munchkins get here?"
" Lord Commander?"
"Hello to you too grampa."
Cue the ice breaker, grampa stomps like he just came from a relaxing sauna and soak. His face is freshly shaved and skin all glowing, hey hey what products did you use?! Tell me, was it one of mine? Also why are you leisurely just taking a bath now of all times?
"So mean Gable, I thought it was going to be just us- ooompf"
A couple of towels smacks into gramp's face and wipes him much more violently than it did Amar and Lukas earlier. Effectively shutting him up.
I get that grampa is annoying and all but I really feel that I'm missing something here, hmmm. Gable gives a not so forced cough.
"You've gathered some rather...talented disciples here Ronald."
The towels are still attacking so grampa settles for a shrug.
"They're not only skilled but quite mature for their age, in fact what are you doing taking in children so young hmm? Just where did you pick them up?"
The towels may be suffocating him but before any of the boys can get a word out the quiche floats over and serves itself on separate plates. Vegetables fried with chopped ham pours on the sides straight from the frying pan and if the sight wasn't enough of a distraction the smell definitely is. I hear someone else's stomach growl.
I'm feeling pretty ravenous and I actually had breakfast. I don't know about the boys but from the look of things I doubt they've had much of a proper meal through their camping trip. 5 year olds should have chubbier cheeks no?
Their eyes shine but they hold themselves back with extreme discipline, gazing back and forth between Gable and the grampa, who is still incapacitated.
"Go ahead and enjoy, there's plenty of food. We're just going to have a quick word between adults."
The moment Gable walks out, dragging grampa along with him, its a free for all. While Amar is a little bit better about table manners, they both wolf down their food. As concerned as they are for their 'Lord Commander' it's clearly out of their hands. It's an 'adult' matter, which means absolutely nothing to us.
"It's so good, do you eat like this every day?!" Lukas chokes out between bites, absolute stars in his eyes.
"Something like that, this quiche is just something we're just testing out. Gable lives by himself so he's a pretty good cook. "
Hmmm these vegetables are a fried with something fatty. Not very healthy but oh so tasty. This growing body can afford the fat and calories.
"Qu-iche? The egg pastry pie thing? It's very big and fluffy?" exclaims Amar, plate clean until another slice of quiche floats by and plops itself down.
A pitcher of that hot milk thing refills my mug. Damn how does this levitation magic thing work and how do I get some?
The rest of the meal passes by an comfortable chatter, the boys relaxing back to their usual state around good food and the knowledge that their companion outside is relatively ok.
The plain rock still sits on the counter, undisturbed but for a faint icy blue glow on the bottom.
In another room but a few feet away from a certain band of children, it is silent. Even without the muffling spell that protects this space there is a tense silence, the quiet after a disaster, of grieving. Though the room is not very large there is no need for two grown men to be crowded in the corner.
Gable puts face in his hands, tightly grasped and shakily slides down the wall. As if his long legs can no longer support him.
Ronald goes with him, steady and supportive. There's a part of him that wants to pry Gable's hands out of his face, another part that wants to keep apologizing till he makes it all better, even though that won't help. He knows better but he can't help feeling that he has to do something, even after all these years.
Really, he can only wait it out. Wait with bated breath, steady and strong as ever. That's all he can do.
The mood has is vastly different than any of their earlier interactions on this day.
"So will you take him?
Ronald breathes, eyes pleading even though he knows the other can't see him. Not with closed fists and teary eyes. Gable fails to hold back a sob and half chokes on it.
"I can't, god Ronald you know I can't. I'm not- I can't face- I'm not strong enough."
Battered hands come up to rest and cover on Gable's own hands, he can feel their heat radiating.
"I know you and I know you're more than strong enough. But you don't have to if you don't want to."
"That's not fucking fair Ronald."
It's never fair, goes unspoken. For a while there's nothing but heavy breathing on one side and silent support on the other.
"They won't kill him."
Gable finally manages, his voice hoarse, wavering.
"No...not anymore at least. They were going to."
"No, my sister wouldn't have let them."
"Only because she'll damn him to a fate worse than death, her and her husband."
Gable finally looks up out of his hands, eyes red and emotions fully on his face. He gnaws on his lip, an old nervous habit, and looks the broader man in the eye, despite the little tremors running through his body.
"I can't do this, I'm not you."
Ronald shakes his head, softly breaking into a full blown smile, just because he can't do small ones. He's all or nothing in more than one way and Gable feels himself caving to this man. Like he's caved time and time again no matter how much his pride says otherwise.
"Hey...that's a good thing you know."
"...I can't....I can't save people like you do. I can't, especially not him. I can't even save myself."
"Bullshit. I never saved anyone, not really. I can stop the jaws of a beast or liberate a city under seige but saving someone? What does that even mean? What comes afterwards is more important, the recovery. "
"If we're talking about saving then you're stronger, you saved me."
"I can't Ronald, I can't even look at him without seeing-god what does it matter. If they find us, find him, it will be even worse. I would make things worse. "
"They won't Gable, I promise they won't."
"You're already too close, what are you thinking? Why tie your Rosalia up in all this when you know what they are. Why put us back in this? I can never tell what you're really thinking."
Gable finally relaxes from his ball, hands and body going limp. Like this Ronald can intertwine their fingers, the gesture familiar and comforting.
"That's the problem my prince, you think too much when I don't."
"Stop calling me that already."
"But my prince, I swore a vow!"
"Stop, I'm disgusted already, god you're not even a knight."
Gable pulls his hand away sharply, purposefully smacking a laughing Ronald in the process. But he soon returns them, softer this time.
"...I'll think about it. Give me a little more time."
"I knew you could do it."
"I didn't say yes!"
"You can do it, we both can. I watch your back you watch mine, just like always."
"Hey Gable....it's good that he still has you as family. He thinks he's all alone out there."
"I doubt it, I'll be the shittiest uncle in the world. "
"Maybe but he'll love you, we all do. Don't worry Gable, Lukas will just love you."