Title : Of Silence and Thievery (23/34)
Genre : humor, action/adventure, fantasy and, of course, romance
Pairings: USUK main, minor others (Seychelles/France, Spain/Romano, Prussia/Hungary/Austria, etc)
Warnings: AU, human names used, fantasy plot line ^_^ future sexy times
Summary: Arthur had a voice, a good one, but it's been stolen from him and he's prepared to do everything he can to get it back. Even traversing across the world with a bunch of lunatics with a leader who just might be his hero after all.
Of Silence and Thievery
Chapter Twenty-Three: Where Everyone Worries (About One Thing or Another)
Tino hated being separated from any of his brothers, but he'd never had to deal with a long separation before, not since they all were called to the woods and had been blessed by the Balance. Sure, Oskar liked to abscond and explore the outer-reaches of the Nords every now and then, and sometimes Nikolai or Mathias would go off on their own for a few days, but they had always remained close enough for Tino to feel them. Berwald didn't like to leave period; ice was a stationary and fixed, it preferred routine and calm. And so did Berwald, which meant Tino could always feel him nearby. Nikolai had been gone for over two moons though, the longest time any of them had ever been gone before; Tino knew he was far away because he could barely sense him anymore. None of them could, not even Mathias, and it was starting to make them uneasy.
The Balance had blessed all five of them with the elements when they'd been younger, and as such, they had become each other's family. None of them had any family they'd had to leave behind when they came into their power, which was something Tino thought the Balance took into consideration when it had been looking for new elemental vessels. Tino knew he was in the minority with his thinking, but to him, the Balance wasn't some nebulous concept that worked without thought and solely by chance. He thought, like his brothers did, that the Balance was more than just sentient. It was proactive. It was more like a higher being, what the southerners called gods, and it worked deliberately throughout the world to ensure its own safety and that of everyone under it. Most in the Nords thought this way, but Nordsmen had the benefit of always being selected to embody the elements, so their history with the Balance was different than others.
Those who kept the old ways thought this way too. The Faerie and those who practiced magic, they all knew the Balance was something more than a platitude to get children to behave or a metaphysical concept to preach about on the equinoxes and solstices.
The Balance had been clear to each of them when they'd been chosen; they were wardens of the elements and protected the north from the blackness that pressed down from the Wastelands. They were granted a shocking amount of power and a heavy responsibility—they stayed in the Nords to serve the Balance and they stayed together. None of them had been comfortable with Nikolai leaving in the first place, but now, after he'd been gone so long, they all needed him back.
Tino took a deep breath and reached deep into the earth to pull up clay from the ground; he was sitting at his pottery wheel and in desperate need of a distraction from the ache Nikolai's absence stirred in his bones. Mathias and Oskar were both close, probably down by the river, and Berwald was inside their house, cooking something for dinner for all of them; Tino couldn't help reaching down deep and feeling for Nikolai just a little. All he got was a wisp of something that told him Nikolai was alive before it slipped away; Tino sighed and frowned down at his wheel as he wet the clay and started spinning.
He knew without a shadow of a doubt that if the Balance had let Nikolai leave for so long, it was only because it was absolutely necessary. That didn't give him any sense of comfort though. If anything, it only intensified his concern for the Balance and what Ivan Braginski was doing to weaken it so badly. Tino felt it every time he reached into the earth, the cloying, suffocating decay and sickness that was getting more noticeable with each passing day. There was something very wrong with the Balance and it was starting to get serious—and the Balance wasn't standing idly by the wayside while Ivan subverted it. Because that's what Tino feared was happening; that Ivan was trying to change something so entirely fixed by the Balance that attempting to do so could only end in destruction and chaos. It was more than Ivan stealing life and Talent, more than hunting down those with greater Talent than himself and keeping them under lock and key. Sure, those were parts of it, but only a small part of the whole, the grand plan Ivan kept secret from all except a select few.
Tino wondered, not for the first time, how long the Balance had been preparing for this moment and if those preparations went beyond what Tino or his brothers could see. Ivan was much older than he looked and had been around before even their predecessors had been selected to carry the elements—Tino didn't believe the Balance was infallible and all knowing, but he did believe it saw the many paths and branches life could take and could prepare for some possibilities. He had to believe that; it was the only comfort he could find in knowing and feeling what Ivan was doing to the Balance. His frown deepened as he curved the clay into a small lip for his newest pot, careful to keep the body of the pot slick so it wouldn't collapse in on itself. His mouth loosened a little as he felt Berwald come towards him and he leaned into the hand as it settled on his shoulder. Being earth's embodiment, he felt the connection with each of his brothers the strongest whenever he was working with his element; Berwald's presence was soothing and calm against his nerves. Berwald was always exactly what he needed.
"I'm fine, just thinking." Tino tilted his head up and gave Berwald a soft smile as the other man looked down at him with concern. When Tino had first met Berwald at the tender age of ten, he'd been scared out of his mind because it wasn't natural for any child to be as tall as Berwald was and he had been so cold at first. Still, it hadn't taken him long to realize that Berwald, for all his size and intimidation, was one of the kindest souls Tino had ever met; his only crime was that he was painfully shy and didn't always know how to interact with people. He scooted forward a little bit to make room for Berwald to join him on the bench; Berwald didn't hesitate and Tino sighed in contentment has Berwald wrapped an arm around Tino's waist, holding him close.
"U'r wr'rd." His words stilted and skipped every other letter, his jaw unable to pronounce them properly after his encounter with Ivan in the woods three years ago. It killed Tino to think that he would never be able to speak normally again, especially because Ivan had been looking for him that day, not Berwald. His speech didn't bother Berwald though. Tino understood him, so did his brothers, and he had protected Tino and the Nords from Ivan; that was all he cared about and worth his speech issues, he'd told Tino on countless occasions. Tino sighed, and shrugged at Berwald's observation.
"I am worried. I'm worried about a lot of things—Nik mostly, but the Balance too. What it means for everyone if the Balance collapses. The end of the world as we know it and what if the Balance knew it was coming and chose us because of it. You know, those sorts of things." Tino shrugged as he stopped pedaling his wheel, letting the half-finished pot come to a lopsided stop. His hands were covered in clay, but that didn't stop Berwald from taking one into his own. "I know, not the brightest of things to think about."
Berwald made a noncommittal grunt and squeezed Tino's hand warmly. "W'n Nk's b'ck, 'tl be b'tr."
"I know, I just wish we knew when he'd be back—he's so far south, I can barely feel him, even covered in earth. I bet the warm oceans down south are driving him crazy. You know he hates even being a little bit warm." Berwald smiled just a little and Tino chuckled as he leaned away from the wheel and settled fully into Berwald's side. "You're worried too. About him and everything else."
"'F cr'se. L'ke y'u s'id, Bl'nce dsn't f'l r'ght." Tino nodded in agreement.
They were silent after that, soaking in the other and letting the other's presence help soothe some of their fears for at least a little while. Tino could feel Mathias and Oskar heading back to the house; he glanced up at Berwald from his shoulder. "Do you think the Balance is prepared enough to stop Ivan? Do you think we are, or Feliks is, or the Evangeline's crew? I can't help but think that we've all been brought together in a way no other Talent-born people have before. I know our predecessors had little to no contact with anyone outside of the forest, let alone the rest of the world and yet we have, with the same groups of people—it's almost like the Balance wants to set everything right, reverse all the damage Ivan has done and stop him from doing whatever he's trying to do, and we were picked to stop him. If Nikolai was anything like his predecessor, he would never have been able to handle the separation for so long, but Nikolai is so strong. It all seems like a perfectly constructed puzzle set to me."
Berwald met his stare before he looked over at Tino's concaved pot on the wheel. "I th'nk th't s'nds bo't r'ght. 'Lrd'y t'ld y'u wh't I th'ght wh'n 'Van 'ttck'd the 'Rth'r."
Arthur Kirkland—if Tino had needed any sort of confirmation that the Balance was sentient and knew exactly what it was doing, it would be Arthur Kirkland. He had a frightening Talent, something that was more powerful than anything Tino had ever heard of before, and in the wrong hands, there was no telling what a Talent like that could do. But, the Balance had given that power to a man who had no interest in using it and lived in a country that was once rife with magic and had forgotten about it entirely. A man who viewed it as a nuisance that had ruined his perfectly ordinary life and thrown him into a whole new world he'd hadn't been prepared for. Who knew how Arthur's view of his Talent may have changed since Tino had last seen him, but the point remained; the Balance had given an unfathomable Talent to a man who had little, if any interest in it at all. Tino had already discussed this topic to death with his brothers after Nikolai and Mathias had witnessed Arthur use his Voice—that the Balance seemed to have just the person up its sleeve to stop Ivan.
But, that begged the question what cost the Balance expected in return. There was always a cost, no matter what.
"W're str'ng, T'no. So 're th'y. Th' Bl'nce kn'ws wh't's b'st." Tino smiled and pressed a swift kiss to his cheek in response; he did trust in the Balance and they were strong, stronger than most others before them. He pushed up to his feet and offered Berwald a clay-covered hand; he took it without hesitation. They were just about to head inside so Tino could clean up and help Berwald finish dinner before Mathias and Oskar got back, when they both felt it. Tino's breath caught in his chest and something that felt like relief, only a thousand times better, flooded down his veins like cool spring water in a stream.
There weren't words, there never were when they communicated like this, but Tino didn't need them to understand what his brother was trying to say. Tino blinked and then Nikolai faded from him, leaving him strangely empty, but in a comforting way. Nikolai would be coming back soon and then the emptiness would go for good; he glanced up at Berwald and shared a brief, sad look with him before they headed inside. It was hard to remain happy for Nikolai's return when they knew the reason why he was coming back.
Alfred and his group knew about Matthew.
"Are you sure you're fine to head back? It took you two months just to get here; surely you could do with more than two days rest before traveling back to the Nords." Arthur watched as Seychelles' face pulled into a frown as she addressed Nikolai. The Nordsman looked unruffled, as usual, and waved off her concerns with a curt nod.
"I need to leave—I've been gone long enough as it is. I promise the rest you offered me aboard your ship is more than enough to get me home. It only took so long to find you in the first place because I kept stopping to search for you. I know my way back just fine." Nikolai glanced to the north and his lips upturned just a little; Arthur thought that was the closest thing to a smile he'd probably ever see on his face. Seychelles didn't look like she agreed but she nodded and called for her crew to get ready to pull up the anchor after Nikolai had left, striding down the deck with purpose and leaving Arthur alone with Nikolai.
Honestly, Arthur didn't know what the man wanted to discuss with him. He'd asked to speak with Arthur specifically before he left, but wouldn't say what about. Arthur's only interaction with the man, apart from delivering truly awful news, involved getting carried out of a forest after being attacked (not Arthur's finest moment). He hadn't really talked with him while he and Alfred had healed after the encounter with Ivan, and the little he had, it was mainly about why his Voice still worked, which Arthur had little information and even fewer theories about. He didn't have any more answers as to why it still did now than he did then, but since Nikolai had requested to speak with him directly, it only seemed polite to accept.
Plus, it allowed him to focus on something else for the moment, instead of Alfred and his brother and everything in that mess.
Nikolai met his eyes for a few silent moments before Arthur huffed silent and waved his quill imperiously at the Nordsman. It wasn't like Arthur could start a conversation or anything (he really despised having to write everything out, even after all these months…he'd taken to just leaving Alfred to translate for him lately—not so much an option now). Nikolai didn't react to Arthur's irritation, but he did start talking.
"I ran into your fairy friends in Spandow. They gave you that pendant, yes?" Arthur blinked and his fingers automatically went to the cool metal of the pendant. He nodded and narrowed his eyes in question.
Yes. What of it?
"I don't meet many people who've spoken with the Faerie outside of sorcerers and elders in the north, never mind someone who's been given a Faerie made gift. Did your family hold the Old Ways?"
Arthur hadn't the foggiest idea what Nikolai was referring to. The only real theocracy he'd grown up with in Britannia was that of the Lady and the way of Keeping Bloody Normal Lest You be Stoned to Death. Britannia barely followed new ways, let alone whatever you're referring to.
Nikolai nodded and inspected his fingernails. "I find it odd then that they presented themselves to you when you come from a land that despises the Balance and all its gifts and your family was not particularly connected with their world or traditions."
Oh, blast it. Arthur should have never taken the bloody thing, no matter how useful it was; he was getting sick of everyone and their mother commenting about how 'odd' and 'unusual' it was that a couple of bloody fairies (who had been rather irritating to tell the truth) had given him a stupid necklace. His annoyance must have shown on his face because Nikolai held up his hands in the universal sign of 'calm down, I didn't mean to offend.' Arthur sighed and scribbled messily on his tablet. Why does everyone keeping harping on this bloody thing? I was under the impression that the fairies were on our side of this whole Ivan mess.
"The Faerie don't give out gifts without a cost. What was yours for that pendant?"
To stop Ivan. They said he was harming the earth. Funnily enough, I didn't think their conclusion that far-fetched. Arthur flashed Nikolai his message and began scribbling down more. Should I not have taken it? The way you all react…
"And that's all they wanted, to stop Ivan? They didn't ask for anything else or word it differently?" Arthur rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders to signify he didn't know. It had been months ago, did Nikolai really expect Arthur to remember exact wording? They wanted help and Arthur had figured why not, since stopping Ivan had been his goal anyway (never mind that had been when he'd struggled most with his silence and was desperate for something to make him not so helpless, like he'd been in the Nords). Nikolai frowned, just enough to wrinkle his forehead, but he didn't press any further.
"Well, if that is the case, then I would count yourself a very fortunate man, Arthur Kirkland." Arthur didn't feel fortunate, but he nodded to Nikolai's words anyway, taking the opportunity to exit the conversation for what it was. Nikolai inclined his head once more and headed up the deck towards the front of the ship, leaving Arthur alone with nothing but a whole new onslaught of thoughts and doubts (as if he needed anymore of those, bloody hell). He watched Nikolai give terse goodbyes to most of the crew, and he watched Kiku hand him something with a small, kind smile. Probably food or something in a water-proof bag—Nikolai nodded to Kiku before he accepted the bag and continued towards the bow of the ship. Alfred was there, arms crossed and expression stormy, like it had been the last two days, and he clapped Nikolai roughly on the shoulder before stalking off; Arthur sighed and watched him go until he stomped into the ship.
Nikolai stepped onto the railing and held out an arm towards the waves, calling forth a column of water effortlessly, and Arthur watched as it began wrapping itself around Nikolai until the Nordsman looked like some sort of water nymph. And then, he was gone, back into the ocean and only the white waves gave away that Nikolai was speeding back home; Arthur felt an irrational pang of jealousy that Nikolai didn't have to think very hard about where his home was (but he shoved it down because, honestly, how old was he? Five?). He continued to watch Nikolai until he faded from sight, leaving nothing but blue, open waters to stare at. Seychelles began shouting orders and the crew slipped back into their familiar roles, the ship erupting into the usual curses and yells as everyone got back to sailing, got back to their mission. Arthur stared out at everyone and fingered the pendant around his neck.
He didn't want to feel like he'd made a huge mistake in taking the pendant and using it, because the pendant had brought about so much good. Being able to 'speak' to Alfred, it had done more for Arthur than he cared to think about. He wasn't suited for silence, and after how easily he had been overtaken by Ivan in the Nords, it had scared him how much he relied on his words to protect himself. The pendant had helped with that fear and being able to 'talk' without the stupid tablet had been a relief. It had also helped Arthur get over his bloody self about his relationship with Alfred. The pendant had done good things.
And there was a but, because now, Arthur was wondering if the potential 'bad' the pendant brought, and no one was very clear on what that could be (beyond cryptic warnings that made little to no sense), outweighed the good. He was wondering if he'd been tricked into believing two fairies that maybe hadn't about his well-being, despite how they claimed they treated those who could see them with respect. He was wondering if there had been more to his promise to help than he remembered. He was wondering if putting the pendant on and using it had been the worst mistake he'd ever made. He was wondering why he had even seen the fairies in the first place—and more so if that had anything to do with his Voice and how at of all the people in world, he'd been the one to get his Talent. He let out a long breath and let the pendant drop back to his skin, turning to head back inside to the navigation room where he could at least distract himself with something useful, something he had control over.
He was coming to realize that he had control over little else in his life.
Alejandro was a quiet man, but that did not mean he was stupid.
So often, being quiet and keeping to himself meant that others assumed he had no opinion of his own, because he did not voice them. That he had no beliefs of his own, because he did not flaunt them in everyone's faces. That he had no deep thoughts of his own because he was more talented with a sword than he was with numbers. That was the impression everyone made of Alejandro, and generally, it was one he didn't bother to fight because if everyone thought him an idiot, no one expected anything from him until it was too late. It was a convenient feint, one he didn't need to practice, and it was useful in all kinds of battles. It kept him alive when Ivan had found him and ripped the fire-breath out of his throat, when Ivan had been convinced he was a dumb brute who would never try to hunt him down so hadn't bothered to kill him when Alejandro had been defeated.
But, of all the people Alejandro had met in his travels, only Matthew Jones had seen through the feint. Sure, his current band of companions knew him now and knew he was more than a large man with a sword, but he knew they'd thought little of him at least once before realizing they were wrong. Not Matthew though—Matthew had been more aware than anyone Alejandro had ever met and had seen him without even knowing him. Had looked straight at him when they'd first met and dispelled any preconceived notions he'd had over what kind of man a brother of Alfred Jones could be. He was kinder and smarter and stronger than anyone gave him credit for, and for that, he understood exactly who Alejandro was without being shown anything but a big man with a sword.
Alejandro had never been with a man before, and if he was being honest with himself, he knew he would always be more attracted to a woman's curves and softness than a man's hard muscle, but Matthew was different. Alejandro still wasn't sure whatever he felt for Matthew could even be classified as romantic, but it was more than he'd ever felt about someone in his life. They weren't really even anything official, despite what most of the crew thought, but Alejandro had never minded; he was content to discover whatever they were slowly before diving into anything without thinking things through (like Alfred and the mute, Arthur, had). Finding what exactly they were without the complications of sex was a nice change of pace for Alejandro, and the more he grew to know Matthew, the more he began to think that maybe they might just be a good match for one another.
But now Matthew was gone, taken by Ivan, and Alejandro felt a cold, sick twist of regret in his stomach. He may never be able to say all that he wanted to say but couldn't find the right words for before. He could understand why Feliks had been so irrational after Toris had been taken now. Everyone had seen those two dance around each other for months, clearly besotted but never saying a word until it was too late. He had thought Feliks a fool then, for letting his emotions lead him to abandoning his companions and for never saying anything; now, Alejandro felt the fool. For the first time in a long while he felt that maybe his feint wasn't so much of an act the longer he kept it up.
He knew they were heading towards Ivan's hide-out, and he trusted the mu-Arthur enough to believe him when he told them Ivan was hiding out in Ruthenia, and that Matthew in all likelihood was there. The captain had spoken with him and promised him that if Matthew was being held in Ivan's mountain fortress, they would rescue him, free him and keep him safe. She cared about Matthew too, but he doubted Matthew would be kept safe once Ivan realized they were invading his mountain, assuming he didn't discover their intent before then. Ivan had taken Matthew because he wanted to cause Alfred pain—he did not think Ivan would leave Matthew unguarded the moment he discovered they were coming for him.
There was something unnatural about the way Ivan Braginski focused on Alfred Jones—that had only been one of many things Alejandro and Matthew had agreed on.
Alejandro had been glad when the Nordsman left; with him there, all Alejandro could think about was the news he brought with him. All he could think about was Matthew's warm, open smile being crushed by ice and an iron fist until all that was left was a hollowed-out shell. Alejandro knew Matthew was much stronger than that and wouldn't give up so easily, but logic had little to do with dreams. With the Nordsman gone, Alejandro could focus; he could put aside all of his regret and fear and channel it into something useful. He could function again. Matthew would never wallow; Alejandro knew he was likely doing everything in his power to escape on his own, even if it was futile. And if Matthew could persevere, he could too.
Alfred, however, was not as strong as his brother was.
Alejandro watched Alfred as he trained in the weapons room, watched the young man hit and duck and parry and hack with all the rage he felt, all the rage he made sure everyone knew he felt. His brother's abduction had hit them both hard, but Alejandro suspected he was dealing with the fall-out better than Alfred was. He watched him train in silence for a bit longer, and then cleared his throat as he stepped into the room as well. Alfred was not wearing his glasses and his eyes were too bright and too angry without them; he looked almost feral, like the wild javelinas from his homeland, who were always ready to charge simply because it could and wanted to. Alejandro met his stare and wrapped his fists in the protective tape Kiku insisted they always have on board.
Alejandro did not like Alfred Jones, and he suspected Alfred would never like him either, but they always had at least one thing in common. And that one thing had been stolen away from them right under their noses. Alejandro knew that Arthur had tried to calm him down the same way the captain had tried with him, and he also knew that he'd had probably as much success as the captain. They didn't need comfort and false promises. Alejandro was not a dumb man—he knew exactly what both of them needed, even if one needed it more than the other.
"If you wish to spar, a partner is more useful than an unmoving dummy."
Alfred stared at him, but then moved to put the practice dummy away after a moment's deliberation, clearing the small training ring for them to spar. Alejandro nodded his head and stepped into the space without another word. He rolled his shoulders and neck until he felt them shift and pop; Alfred stepped back in front of him and stared at Alejandro with the intensity an owl would have when hunting for rabbits at night—Alejandro relaxed and waited for whatever words Alfred wanted to say.
"We're going to get him back. I don't care if it's dangerous or hard or if it means we have to travel all over the damn world again to find him. I'm not leaving Mattie to him. Are you in?" Alfred's eyes sparked in anger and despite Alejandro's control over his emotions so far, he felt the same anger ignite in his blood. He grunted out a yes and dipped his head forward; Alfred's returning smile was hard. Alfred dropped into a fighting stance and Alejandro mirrored the action, a grim, almost-smile snaking its way across his face.
"Good." And, with that, they flew at each other.
Sorry for the delay. I took an impromptu hiatus from writing for a bit. I am back now and have a few of these chapters stockpiled so there should be a more regular posting schedule to the end of this story. I'm shooting for once every 1-2 weeks or so until complete (this is subject to change, I'm still wrapping up the story and my ability to meet this posting schedule depends on how much time I have to write, but it shouldn't be as long as the most recent gap was).
Reviews are lovely. If you like, you can follow me now on tumblr! My url is osco-blue-fairy