A/N: Hey, folks. So I bet you're confused again.
This piece of work has taken over three years to complete. That being said, I have improved as a writer in that time and am reworking the first half, one chapter at a time. Hopefully a chapter a day, seeing as how I've got the outline there and just need to re-word a few things. Overall I just want this up to snuff with the rest of the chapters.
Enjoy the new, improved, and slightly sexier version of Yaoi Emblem: Path of Raunchiness.
Ike faltered slightly. This brief moment of hesitation was all it took for Boyd to catch the opening and disarm Ike. The practice sword went flying and buried itself neatly into the wall next to an agitated-looking Shinon. Ike tried to look innocent as Boyd cackled in the background.
"When?" he asked his sister, briefly wondering how he would get his practice sword back. The look Shinon was giving him could have killed a small animal.
"A few minutes ago," Mist replied, shrugging. "You were too caught up in sparring to notice. He's inside now."
Ike nodded, suppressing a smile. "I suppose I ought to say hello, then, shouldn't I? It's been months."
"Wait!" Mist latched onto his left arm. "I'll come with you. He said that he's got bad news."
Frowning, Ike paused. "Like what?"
His sister shrugged. "I don't know. He didn't even look at me when he came in, just told me to get everyone." She turned and shouted to the front yard. "Everyone get inside! There's a meeting right now!"
Grumbling came from Shinon's general direction, and Mist huffed as she led her brother and Boyd inside.
As soon as they entered the briefing room, Ike felt his pulse quicken. The mage looked the same as ever, still in dark robes and with his dark hair tied back with three different ties. Still pale, still with that strange birthmark standing out brilliantly on his forehead. Still too skinny to be healthy.
How he had noticed Ike's presence without turning around would forever be a mystery.
"H-hey, Soren." He smiled just slightly and stood near the mage. "How have you been?"
"Busy," Soren replied, finally turning to look at the ranger. "I've learned much about tactics, thank you. I've spent the last three days riding like mad from Melior. Things aren't looking good for the capital."
Greil frowned. "What do you mean? We're all here. Spit it out."
Soren's crimson eyes narrowed just slightly. "Crimea and Daein have gone to war."
Mist was the first to get words out. "W-what? It can't be!"
"Hush, Mist," Ike murmured, placing his hands on his sister's shoulders.
"That's why everyone's here," Greil was saying. "Soren has more information than anyone does."
The mage nodded and pulled a map down from the wall. "Look. This is Melior. Our base of operations is roughly…here," he concluded after a moment. "Three days ago I was in the library when the scream from a beast rent the air. A wyvern, perhaps. The entire building shook. I rushed outside and saw wave after wave of knights, cavalry, and wyvern riders, all clad in armour as black as night."
"The Daein army," Greil murmured.
"Was there any provocation?"
Soren took a moment to tuck his hair behind his ear. "Relations between Crimea and Daein have been…rocky, at best. But in the past there have been only minor skirmishes. This attack was brutal, massive, completely without warning. The capital was burned to the ground. I've never seen destruction of this scale before."
"A swift attack, devastating and brutal…" Titania sighed and leaned on the table next to Greil. "Quite a daring gamble."
"But if it succeeds, a well-chosen one," the commander replied. "What happened next?"
"The king ordered his people to flee before any more were killed. Fearing the worst, I stole a horse and made my way here."
Ike smiled; Soren's eyes had caught his as he had spoken.
"So we don't know how things are now, do we?" The commander paused, and then the barest hint of a smile grew on his face. "Well, word of war cannot have traveled far. We may very well be the first to know of it. As such, we're prepared. Thank you, Soren. I know that you risked a lot to get here."
"Of course, sir." The mage nodded and took a step back, allowing the commander to call full attention to himself. Ike smiled and let one of his hands brush the other man's. Soren's gaze softened just slightly and his pinky wound around Ike's. Mist pretended not to notice.
"What are we going to do?" Ike asked.
"That's the question of the day," Greil replied. "Titania?"
The paladin nodded. "Sir. Crimea is the closest thing we have to a homeland. We've been given many jobs from both the royal family and the nobles in the surrounding area. From a moral standpoint as well as a business one, it's in our best interest to aid Crimea."
"We are mercenaries, not Crimea's private militia. No coin has crossed our palms. We should stay out of it."
"You would have us sit and watch as Crimea is overrun?"
"I would. Daein is superior in both numbers and morale. The chances of a Crimean victory are slim."
Titania frowned. "But Crimea is ruled by King Ramon, who is known for his wisdom. And Duke Renning is said to possess peerless valour and courage. Daein may not find victory so easily."
"Valour and courage are for children's tales," Soren replied. "Victory will inevitably hinge on numbers and supplies and Daein is superior in both. The outcome is painfully obvious."
The paladin's fist slammed down on the table. "Curse you, Soren! Crimea is not doomed! If they can turn aside the initial thrust and turn it into a test of endurance—"
"Crimea is ill-prepared and demoralized. They will not be able to hold out that long."
"That's enough," Greil interrupted. "I hear what you say. However, we need to observe the situation before we decide on a plan of action. We'll send a scouting party to get a closer look at Melior. Ike, you're in charge of this. Assemble your men and get going."
Ike raised an eyebrow. "What? Me?"
"Titania will accompany you as an advisor. Get a move on."
Shinon stood. "Commander, you must be joking. He's just a boy. He's barely had more than a taste of battle. What do expect him to do?"
Greil smirked. "Well, since you're so concerned, you can go as well. Take Gatrie with you. Rhys and Soren, you'll go as well. Titania, I'm going out for a bit. Give Ike some direction."
"Understood." The paladin smiled gently. "Come, Ike."
Ike nodded, still in something of a daze. "…yes."
"I missed you."
"Not now, Ike." The mage ducked behind a tree as a lance whistled toward his head. He cast a spell as Ike lunged toward the soldier. The man fell, dead. "Save it for if we survive."
The ranger paused. Soren made a face. "And stop faltering every time someone says something as you fight. You'll die at this rate."
Ike nodded and his face fell slightly. Soren sighed.
"I still like you, moron," he murmured. "Now focus."
Ike smiled. "…yes."
Ike frowned, opening one eye. "For what?"
Soren didn't turn away from his books. His quill didn't stop scratching the parchment. "For what I said before I left."
It took Ike a moment to remember. The fight the night before he had left. The argument. The insults. He smiled and walked over to Soren's chair, wrapping his arms around the mage from behind. Soren jumped and dropped his quill.
"It's alright," he murmured, absently twisting a strand of Soren's hair around his finger. "We were upset."
Soren smirked and he replaced his quill carefully next to the inkwell. He shrugged off Ike's arms and stood. The taller man frowned slightly.
The mage immediately shoved Ike down onto his bed, straddling his waist. Ike grinned and wrapped his arms around Soren's body. Their lips met almost tentatively. A faint, gentle brush. Soren flushed.
"I love you," Ike murmured. "I missed you so much."
Soren kissed him again, hard. Furiously. Ike gripped the mage's hips, kissed him back. Undid the buckles holding his robes closed. The mage flushed.
"I-Ike! What are you doing?! If anyone walks in—"
"It'll be Oscar," Ike replied smoothly, pulling the outer layer of Soren's robes open. "And he knows to keep everyone out when we're alone together."
"Did you miss me, too?" Ike smiled and tugged Soren's collar open, pressing kisses along his neck. Soren gasped.
"Of course I did," Soren gasped. "Every night you were all I could think of." He looked away. "I love you."
Ike smiled and gently kissed the mage. "I love you, too."
They kissed. Slowly removed clothing, gently tormented each other. Remembered at the last moment to bar the door and pull curtains over the windows. Ike smiled and gently kissed the mage.
"I love you," he murmured. "I'm so glad you're home."
"Yes, well…I did my best to get here. Wouldn't do me any good if you'd been killed or something." Soren smiled gently. He never smiled for anyone but Ike. It was endearing, really. Ike gently nuzzled the mage's neck, drawing a contented sigh.
"I'm glad you're safe."
Soren nodded curtly, sitting up, gently pushing Ike down and straddling the other man's waist. It was Ike's turn to flush.
The mage grinned that feral little grin of his. "Eyes closed."
Ike obeyed, smiling. "I love you," he murmured.
Soren's bare chest pressed against his and the mage's lips brushed against his neck. "I love you too, Ike."
It was a mark before dawn when Soren woke him up, placing his already-folded clothes in his arms and smiling just slightly. Ike groaned softly, but as Soren pointed out, they couldn't get caught. Goddess knew what the others would think.
"I love you," Ike murmured, kissing Soren gently.
"Mm." The mage smiled, wrapping his arms around the taller man's waist, letting their naked bodies press together. "I love you, too."