Unsubtle Devotion
By SolarCat

A/N:This is another one of those 2am things, though this one started a long time ago and was only recently dug up and finished. I'm honestly not sure about it; the voice seems a little off to me. Any comments would be very much appreciated!

Warnings: I managed to slip Isaac/Ivan into just about everything, but I think that most of what's in here could be tossed under "very charismatic leader"... might be a bit much, though. So, if you get hugely offended by such things, don't bother going further. Mostly, though, it's general, and very much about Ivan, who I think needs to be hugged a lot. Yes.

Ivan couldn't remember being loved like this before.

He supposed that his parents loved him, whoever they were, before whatever had happened (or not happened) to bring him to where he grew up. And in their own ways, Master Hammet and Lady Layana had cared for him, but not exactly loved him. They had raised him, certainly, and taken care of him, but more often than not he spent his time with the master's retainers and servants than with the man himself. Occasionally one of the maids would tuck him in at night or read to him, but once he was old enough to take care of himself he was expected to, and he did. There were very few other children around; most of the children of Kalay stayed away from Hammet's palace, its impressiveness (and armed guards) keeping them from snooping around except on the odd dare.

He wouldn't say that he'd had a lonely childhood, exactly. He had never actually been lonely, so the statement would be false in that regard, but it would be truer to say that he couldn't recall if he'd had a childhood. He knew that once upon a time he had been smaller than he was now (this was Garet's cue to make a crack about his height, but Garet couldn't read minds), and he supposed that he'd been more naive.

He could remember, once, being sent into town on an errand for Lady Layana. She had ordered something from a shop... he couldn't remember what it was, anymore, but he had been so proud and excited that it was he, out of all the servants, who had been sent to fetch it. He had gone into town and run into a group of children, playing in one of the squares. He had said hello to all of them by name, asked the leader something... It should, by all rights, have been burned onto his brain, but it wasn't. Just the feeling of that day, the first time anyone had called him a freak, right to his face. He had returned to the palace, crying, the Lady's errand utterly forgotten. It had been one of the cooks who had intercepted him, coddled him and patted him and held him tightly until he calmed down and stopped crying.

When he went back out, later that same day, to finish the task he had begun, he was changed irreversibly. He was no longer a child. Lady Layana had noticed, though she said nothing to him, merely thanked him and praised him for a job well done when he returned with her package. That night, though, she commented to her husband that their young ward was growing up.

And grow up he did, though he was still painfully unaware of the world outside Kalay. Master Hammet refused to take him along on his trading journeys, always claiming that the trips were too dangerous and he was too young.

If truth be told, Ivan didn't mind so much. The palace was different in many ways, when the master was gone. The cook sang a little louder and the soldiers returned home a little drunker and flirted with the maids just a little bit more. Sometimes they would slip him some ale or teach him bawdy songs that would get his ears boxed if the cook overheard him singing them. Sometimes he would sing them anyway, if the soldiers were around, because they would laugh and ruffle his hair and slap him on the back, and proceed to teach him the second verse.

That sort of thing didn't happen as much, when Hammet was in residence. It wasn't that anyone disliked him; on the contrary, it was quieter out of a sense of respect. The master treated his staff well, and they repaid him by giving him peace when he was at home. Ivan was always a little more bored during those times, but Master Hammet always seemed to have brought him a gift, some souvenir or trinket from his travels to faraway places, and sometimes he would tell Ivan tales of the strange things he had seen on his journeys. Ivan treasured both, keeping the trinkets in a carefully hidden box under his bed and the tales stored away in his imagination -- fuel for his daydreams.

By the time he was fourteen or so, Ivan knew every shopkeeper in Kalay, and they him. Lady Layana entrusted him with the most important of tasks, and Master Hammet also trusted him to a high degree. But he had never left Kalay. Sometimes, if he had a day off, he would go sit at the docks and watch the ships come in or go out on their journeys across the Karagol. Tolbi, he knew, lay on the other side, and he had heard all sorts of wild tales about the place. Travelers came through Kalay every year on their way to Colosso, the soldiers would go to the casinos when they were on leave. Ivan had listened to every tale he heard with rapt fascination, wishing that someday he could cross the sea and experience such wondrous things himself. Imagine! To be able to see the Colosso! It was so close and yet so far away, and looking at the expanse of water separating him from such things, Ivan had never felt so trapped.

And then had come the fateful day: Master Hammet had asked him to come along on his latest journey, and Ivan had floated around the palace for days beforehand, so happy he could hardly breathe. So it was only a journey to Vault, a town that was smaller than Kalay. It wasn't the Tolbi of his dreams, but it was new and exciting and for Master Hammet to bring him along meant that Ivan was finally old enough to travel the world at his side. He had been filled with such pride, such joy. And when Master Hammet had entrusted him with the Shaman's Rod, he thought his heart would burst.

Then disaster had struck. The Rod was lost, and it was his fault. And Master Hammet left him there in this strange new place, all alone.

The Mayor of Vault was kind to him, and he was thankful, but it didn't stop him from wanting to curl up in a corner and die. He had thought himself ready, but he hadn't been. Not at all. All he was, deep down, was a lost little child, and he had hated himself for it. Perhaps those children had been right, perhaps he was the freak they had called him. And then, just when he had been about to give up hope...

A miracle. That was all he could call it, really. These two boys simply stepped into his life as though they had always belonged there. They gave him an identity... Adept. Jupiter Adept. Not a freak, not weird, not strange... Special. Adept. Friend.

They had been his first friends. Ivan knew he could never admit such a thing to them, it seemed so shameful, and he felt like such a child next to them. They had a purpose, a quest. They were willing to follow a group of violent, crazy people across an entire continent, leaving the only home they'd ever known, on nothing more than the word of a flying rock and the hope that they could save their friends.

He couldn't forget them, no matter how hard he tried. They had helped him, though they hadn't known him, and then they had left again, their quest pressing them into action. Isaac and Garet. Garet and Isaac. And their quest... Ivan didn't sleep that night. Once he had gotten the Rod back, he had immediately gone after Master Hammet, only to find the gates of Lunpa closed and guarded. He had returned to the Mayor's house in Vault to decide what to do next. He should find a way back to Kalay. The bridge would be repaired soon enough -- it was an important trade route, and it would be the death of Vault's economy if it were impassable for more than a week or two. A month at the most, depending on the extent of the damage. He should stay in Vault, and wait for the bridge to be fixed.

But he couldn't bring himself to do it. The next morning he set out on the trail of the first two people he would dare to call "friend", and the time since then had been anything but the relatively boring life he'd led in Kalay. Monsters, Lighthouses, the fate of the world resting in their hands... They had saved an entire forest! Saved an entire town! Not to mention defeating (well, sort of, anyway) Saturos at the top of the Mercury Lighthouse and gaining themselves a new ally in the process.

Mia was sweet and kind, and Ivan enjoyed it when she would smother him with attention over some scrape or cut he'd gotten during a fight. It was a part of her nature, and Ivan was reminded of that cook who took care of him when he had come home crying. One day she would be just as good a mother as she was a healer, he knew, and some part of him was happy to know that. Sometimes, when it was her turn on watch, she would go around and tuck all "her boys" into their makeshift bedrolls. He didn't know if the other two realized she did it, but if he was on watch before her he tried to fake sleep long enough to feel her do it. She wasn't much older than him, so it felt odd sometimes that she was fixed firmly into the "mother" space in his head, but without her they probably would have starved to death a long time ago or suffocated on the smell of themselves when they completely forgot important things like the necessity of bathing. So maybe it wasn't such a stretch.

Isaac and Garet were good friends to him now, even if Garet teased a bit more than Ivan thought was really necessary. The tall boy could be a bit thick, but his heart was always in the right place, even if his head wasn't. He would tease and joke, but he was also the first to slap Ivan on the back when he managed to take down a really nasty monster, and sometimes Garet would even ruffle his hair, the way those soldiers used to do, and Ivan wondered sometimes if this was what having an older brother would have been like.

And Isaac... Isaac was quiet but strong and kind and dependable and Ivan knew from the first time they met, if he wanted to be honest with himself, that he would follow Isaac anywhere. If Isaac said that they needed to jump off the edge of the world, Ivan would be right beside him as they fell. Isaac didn't touch him, the way Garet did, he wasn't demonstrative like that. But somehow, one approving smile from the spiky-haired boy could make him feel ten feet tall in a way that Garet's affectionate punches never could, and he knew that if Isaac ever reached out and ruffled his hair like that, he would never be able to leave the boy's side again.

He was happy, here with these people on this crazy adventure. He had seen more of the world than he had ever dreamed of, for his dreams had reached little farther than Tolbi. Now he was wandering through a village where all the houses were carved into actual trees! Trees! He knew he was gaping, and that it was silly to do so, but the first time they had been here he had been so freaked out by the fate of the inhabitants and mystified by the strange Psynergetic reactions that the reality hadn't really set in.

He was so, so far away from Kalay, from Master Hammet and Lady Layana and everyone and everything he had ever known, but he realized (as Garet gave him a noogie and told him to shut his mouth unless he wanted to catch flies, and Mia clucked disapprovingly at the Mars Adept while lifting her skirts to climb the step into the items shop) that as long as he was with them, that was home enough.

And as much as he missed Master Hammet and Lady Layana and the soldiers and the cooks and the maids and the shopkeepers and everyone else, he had found his family in these other Adepts; these other children-who-were-no-longer-children. He had found a "mother", of sorts (and maybe he should be changing that to something more acceptable, like "sister", but she did mother everyone so), and a brother, and an ... Isaac. And when Isaac smiled at him in just that way, his blue eyes sparkling in the afternoon sun, and privately whispered that he thought the houses were pretty cool, too... Ivan knew that he would never be able to return to his life in Kalay after this.

He had never been so loved before.

A/N: As I said, I'm very unsure about the voice. So, any comments about that (or anything else!) are most welcome! Thank you for reading!