The Story Continues

The Bonds They Share

It wasn’t often that Jhon and his guildmates received a day off with the strict orders to not go near the labyrinth and instead spend the day lazing about the city. But after a particularly stressful day in the labyrinth yesterday on a frantic search and rescue quest, Hamza made the decision that Jhon, along with Tobyn, Axel, and Lynus, were barred from entering the labyrinth today. Even barred from preparing for their next trek into the labyrinth. And to instead spend some quality time getting some much needed de-stressing rest.

After spending the last week or so predominantly in the labyrinth, the four of them were at a loss of what to do. Lynus had even been barred from the hospital so he couldn’t use the excuse of visiting the hospital to do some research.

So, after receiving their ‘orders’, the four of them congregated into the tearoom to attempt to figure out what they were going to be doing with themselves for the day.

“So what are we allowed to do?” Tobyn asked as he sat on the couch in the tea room, his arms folded tightly across his chest in a purely irritated manner.

“Why don’t we spend the day together?” Lynus suggested as he smiled warmly and clapped his hands together in front of him as he stood in front of the fire place before the three of them. “Just the four of us. It can be a double-date. What do you think?”

Hmm? A double-date? That was a novel idea. Jhon hadn’t really gone out on a date with Tobyn. Well, they lived together and did so much together already. Still, whenever they would eat out or do things together, just the two of them, they were never really considered dates. He wondered how Tobyn would react to the word.

“Sounds good to me,” Axel replied as a half-smile appeared on his lips.

Jhon, however, remained silent as he glanced over at Tobyn, waiting for his response. Tobyn peered at him from the corner of his eye before he looked away, back to Lynus. He then shrugged, seemingly nonchalantly, even though his arms were still folded tightly across his chest.

“Fine.”

“Ah, so it’s unanimous then,” Jhon said with a smile, clearly pleased by Tobyn’s willingness to participate. “What should we do?”

“Well, I’m not going to the bar,” Axel immediately stated as his half-smile abruptly turned into a tight frown. “I’m getting sick of breaking up fights all the time.”

From where he sat next to Axel on the couch, Tobyn’s eye gave a telling twitch. “Agreed.”

Lynus laughed airily at the two of them before a look of contemplation spread across his lips. “Oh, there’s supposedly a new shop opening up at the market place, one that is said to sell materials from the labyrinth in Armoroad. I would at least like to have a look at any possible gemstones. If that’s all right?”

Jhon nodded his head in agreement. That sounded reasonable. It had been a while since they ventured to the market ward of the city without on the hunt for a particular item or material needed for their exploration of the labyrinth. Tobyn was sure to be interested as well.

“Sure, why not?” Axel said as he heaved himself to his feet and stretched his arms over his head. “Haven’t needed to break up a brawl at the market place yet. Let’s hope I don’t have to today.”

Jhon honestly couldn’t help but laugh as Tobyn snorted to cover up his mirth and Lynus smiled in nervousness.

Thankful for something to do now, they left the tearoom and separated momentarily to head to their rooms to gather a few essentials. Their wallets for example. They soon gathered in the inn’s foyer and with everyone reaffirming their readiness to continue with their date, they left the inn. Chatting amicably as they did so.

As they walked down the path from the inn, Axel immediately reached out to slip an arm around Lynus’ waist and tug him to his side. And Lynus, of course, pressed himself readily against Axel, his hand reaching over to touch Axel’s hand that was pressed against his side. As their fingers idly intertwined, Axel placed a chaste kiss to the top of Lynus’ head before he turned to face Jhon, immediately returning to their previous conversation.

It was always so remarkable how affectionate Axel and Lynus were with one another. They didn’t care who was around, who would see them. Nor where they were for that matter. At the inn, at the bar, in the labyrinth. It didn’t matter to them.

And, well, it really shouldn’t, he supposed. After their painful separation as children, they deserved to be as loving and affectionate (and fluffy) as they wanted.

While he would never dream of saying it aloud, lest he made Tobyn feel uncomfortable, there were times Jhon wished that he and Tobyn could be like that. Open and affectionate, regardless of where they were. He knew why Tobyn was affection-shy, and he truly understood his reluctance. And he knew that why it were times where he could push him a little out of his comfort zone in such a public setting, there were other times where Tobyn would not be pushed.

In the privacy of their room at the inn, Tobyn was far more affectionate. And while Jhon indeed enjoyed and appreciated those moments; sometimes he just wanted to, well, let others see. See that Tobyn was his. And that he was Tobyn’s. There wasn’t necessarily a reason for them to hide, so…

Jhon was pulled from his ponderings when he felt someone nudge his side. He blinked and looked over to his left to see that Tobyn had moved impeccably close to him. Closer than he normally would out in the sight of the public. He was standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

The reason for that, though, was probably because they had reached the market district and Tobyn was a little on-guard from the crowds that were gathering around them as they walked deeper in.

Naturally a little worried because Tobyn notoriously disliked large crowds, Jhon was about to ask him whether he was all right when he was abruptly silenced. He was honestly rather surprised when Tobyn was the one to take his hand in his. He didn’t say anything, though, and simply squeezed his hand back. He figured that Tobyn was put off by the crowds around them and chose to stick closely to his side in an attempt to avoid them. He way he was eying everyone off warily was evidence to that.

Even so, out of protectiveness or not, the fact that Tobyn was the one to take his hand first was quite significant.

Jhon glanced to his right where Axel and Lynus stood, and noticed that the redheaded landsknecht also had Lynus pressed tightly against his side, his arm now around his shoulders in a protective stance.

“Where is this new stall at?” Axel asked.

Lynus studied their surroundings for a moment before he settled in one direction and pointed. “I think that’s it,” he said before the turned to glance over at Jhon and Tobyn and tilted his head questioningly to the side. “Tobyn, want to browse with me?”

Next to him, Jhon felt Tobyn shift a little, seemingly interested in looking himself but also unwilling to release his hold on Jhon’s hand. Even as the four of them ventured closer.

So Jhon gave his hand another squeeze. “Go ahead. I’ll stand back with Axel so the two of you can have a look in peace.”

Tobyn looked at him silently for a moment before he slowly, and rather reluctantly slid his hand from his. Before he turned to move toward the stall, he gave Jhon a noticeably stern look. “Don’t wander anywhere,” he instructed.

Jhon arched an eyebrow but nodded his head. “I’ll be right here. Now, go on.”

Only when Axel stepped up beside Jhon, his arms folded casually across his chest and a that notorious half-smile on his lips did Tobyn finally step away and joined Lynus at the booth.

Jhon shook his head in fond exasperation. He may be classed as a protector, but in all honesty Tobyn was the extremely protective one out of the two of them. “Honestly.”

“Can’t blame him for being protective,” Axel said as he unfurled his arms from his chest to instead rest an arm causally against Jhon’s shoulder and leaned against him. “A handsome blond standing by himself? Definitely be pray to some people.”

Jhon shook Axel a truly puzzled look. “What could you possibly mean? You’re the one with the fan club.”

Unexpectedly, Axel rolled his eyes lightly, though his smile stayed in place. “I’m not the only one with a fan club,” he said before he shrugged and looked over at the direction of the stall. “Anyway, let’s swing by the bookstore later. I’ve got a new book I want to pick up.”

“Sounds good,” Jhon agreed as he turned to look also.

Although the stall carrying materials from different labyrinths across the world had numerous visitors, it was easy for Jhon to spot Tobyn and Lynus. They stood side by side, Tobyn curled protectively toward Lynus as they appear to chat about the different materials before them. Picking something up to both inspect it and then share a brief discussion.

It was nice seeing Tobyn interacting so positively with Lynus out in the open. Lynus was incredibly easy to talk to and he was fascinated by the same things that Tobyn was. So it was little wonder Tobyn spoke with his easily.

However, it appeared as Tobyn was starting to get a little agitated. Someone kept bumping into him. He would tense and glare at the person, but restrained himself from saying or doing anything. But if Jhon didn’t step in soon, Axel might actually have to break up a brawl. A onesided brawl, probably, but better safe than sorry.

Axel seemed to sense the tension as well as he quickly dropped his arm from resting casually against Jhon’s shoulder and took the necessary steps to reach Lynus. Jhon was, of course, a mere step behind him. As Axel pushed himself to stand next to Lynus, his hand comfortably on the small of his back, Jhon did the same with Tobyn, purposely pushing himself between him and the other customers of the store.

“Find anything of interest?” Jhon asked.

Pressing back against Jhon’s hand, Tobyn gave him a one shoulder shrug before he revealed a few stones and forest materials. “A couple of things. I should be able to improve my bow with these.”

Jhon nodded his head politely and smiled as Tobyn paid for the materials. He glanced over Tobyn’s shoulder to see that Lynus had also finished shopping. In his hand were a few gemstones and small vials that were most likely essential oils. When they were done, the four of them moved away from the booth to allow other customers to visit.

“Let’s head over to the bookstore next,” Axel said as he took the bag from Lynus and held it in the crook of his arm while he instinctively wrapped his other arm around Lynus’ shoulders once more.

Lynus curled toward him immediately and rested a hand against his chest as he looked up at him. “Looking for the latest book to your favourite series?” he asked with a smile.

“That’s right. Came out yesterday, I think.”

Heading to the bookstore was a good idea. There was something Jhon himself wanted to pick up.

As Axel led the way to the bookstore, Jhon turned to Tobyn, ready to ask him if he wanted him to carry his shopping. But once again, before Jhon could react, Tobyn quickly grabbed his hand and pulled him toward him. Jhon moved forward without any resistance and allowed Tobyn to lead him through the crowds of people as they follow closely behind Lynus and Axel.

Tobyn was actually pulling him along. But pressed against his side, subtly hiding their clasped hands. No, he was tugging him. Making it apparent to anyone who thought to look in their direction that they were indeed holding hands.

Well, that was something that was also extremely significant!

The bookstore was thankfully close to the market district, so Jhon fell into a comfortable silence and allowed Tobyn to lead the way. He couldn’t help but wonder that, perhaps, Tobyn had taken what Lynus said about a double-date to heart. He certainly was more openly affectionate.

They soon reached the bookstore, of which was reputably the most reliable in the city. There were other bookstores, sure, but some of them carried some…questionable content. This one also held the most content.

As they stepped inside, there was a brief discussion on what to do. They all had something they wanted to search for, so decided it would be best to momentarily part ways. But remain in the store and do no, under any circumstances go outside. Tobyn and Axel were the ones to issue that order. All Jhon and Lynus could do was smile and nod in understanding.

Jhon had been to this bookstore numerous times before and was currently only searching for one thing. And he knew exactly where it was. So it only took him a few minutes to locate the desired book. He spent a few moments flipping through the pages, ensuring that it was indeed what he wanted before he wandered off in search of the others.

Peering down an aisle, Jhon saw that Lynus was the sole occupant. He stood in the middle of the aisle, his head tilted back slightly as he gazed upwards. He unexpectedly had a slight frown on his lips and his hands fidgeted nervously in front of him.

“Lynus?” Jhon said as he immediately stepped into the aisle toward the orange-haired medic, a slight feeling of concern in the pit of his stomach. “Is there something wrong?”

Lynus stiffen slightly from surprise and immediately turned to face him. However, a smile of warmth and relief returned to his lips. “Oh, Jhon. Good. Could I borrow your height for a moment? There are a couple of books I wanted to look at but they are, of course, on the top shelf.”

Jhon relaxed his stance as he glanced up at the top shelf of the bookcase Lynus had been staring at when he stumbled across him. “Ah, I see.”

“Being short can be such a nuisance,” Lynus murmured and Jhon didn’t need to look toward him to know that he was pouting. He could positively hear it in his voice.

“Which ones are you looking at?” Jhon managed to ask, preventing himself from chuckling.

“The red and blue ones,” Lynus answered.

Ah, easy enough. There were only two books that were of those colours. And he didn’t need to stretch up too far to pluck them off the shelf. “Here we are.”

Lynus granted him a truly thankful smile as he retrieved the books from him. “Thank you.”

“More reference books?” Jhon had to asked after noticing the titles of the books.

“Well, kind of,” Lynus answered as he trailed his fingertips over the one of the covers. “This one is actually a series of firsthand accounts from medics and healers, detailing their most difficult or unique cases they’ve personally had to deal with. And the other one is similar, but from past explorers and their antics in the labyrinth.”

Jhon arched an eyebrow. “Ah, non-reference books that will be turned into reference books?”

“Oh, hush,” Lynus replied as a dusting of red spread across his cheeks. He soon looked at the book that Jhon had picked up and he tilted his head in interest. “What have you got there?”

“Oh, it’s a book that details some of the myths and fairy tales of Lagaard and the labyrinth,” Jhon explained with a smile. “I remember hearing some of these tales when I was a kid. Macerio asked me about some the other day.”

Lynus looked up from the book to gaze at him, an expression of warmth on his face. “He’ll enjoy sharing that book with you. So would Magnus.”

Jhon smiled in return. That would be nice, actually. Maybe he could read to the two during the nights and days that were too cold outside.

“I’m telling ya, you’ll like it.” Axel’s voice was soon heard and as Jhon turned to look behind him said landsknecht walking with Tobyn appeared, the two carrying books of their own. “The protagonist might seem like a pissant at first, but anything he touches can be used as a weapon.”

Tobyn verbally snorted in disbelief. “Yeah, right.”

“Come on,” Axel continued, completely unperturbed. “I’m sure you’d appreciate the scene where he completely paralyses a would-be rapist with a pair of chopsticks and nothing else.”

Surprisingly, Tobyn seemed to perk up at that and he turned his head to look at Axel fully. “How the hell does he manage to do that?”

Axel smirked, obviously knowing that he had Tobyn’s interest now. “You’ll have to read to see for yourself.”

Tobyn narrowed his eyes at him for a moment before turning his fact to look forward. “God, fine. How many books are in this series?”

“Well, the fourth has just come out,” Axel explained as the four of them met up again. “I have the first three back at the inn. I really do think you’ll like it.”

“We’ll have to see,” Tobyn muttered as he found his way to Jhon’s side once more.

“Everyone done here?” Axel asked as he reached for the books in Lynus’ arms, taking them before he turned to take the books from Jhon and Tobyn, too.

Jhon was about to politely protest, stating that he should pay for his own items but Axel just took the book from him without a word and grabbed the one that Tobyn had, getting no complaint from the blond.

“Be right back.”

“Hamza gave him some pocket money to spend today because we’re such good little kids,” Tobyn was the one to explain, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

Jhon laughed as he gently rested a hand against the small of Tobyn’s back, immediately noticing the lack of tension from him. He truly was feeling rather affectionate today, wasn’t he? Perhaps they should go on these double dates with Axel and Lynus more often.

A moment or two later Axel returned with their paid for items and they headed back outside into the streets of Lagaard. As the question of what they should do next sat on the tip of their tongues, Lynus turned to face everyone.

“Let’s head to the park for a while,” he suggested. “It’s such a nice day out; it would be a shame to waste it.”

Very true. The brutal winter months were just around the corner. Would be best to relish in the outside world while they still could. And they could possibly get into those books they just bought.

With another unanimously murmuring of agreement, the four of them headed in the direction of the park that was situated near the centre of town. Where a large and elegantly designed water fountain resided. And, once again, Tobyn was the one to initiate the two of them to hold hands.

Quickly finding a quiet area to have all to themselves, they sat themselves upon the soft grass, under the shade of a tree. Axel placed their shopping in the centre of the small circle they created, grabbed a book from the bag and then unashamedly plopped his head down on Lynus’ lap. Lynus, of course, laughed as his hand immediately moved to thread his fingers through Axel’s hair.

Jhon leaned back on his hands as he stretched his legs out in front of him. He turned his attention to Tobyn as he, too, pulled a book from the bag and sat down next to him. He was about to ask what it was that he bought when, once again, Jhon was surprised into silence.

As Tobyn sat himself down on the grass, he unexpectedly turned his back toward him and then, even more unexpectedly, flopped back carelessly so that his head was resting upon Jhon’s lap and thigh. Much like with Axel and Lynus.

With a light blush to his cheeks, Tobyn didn’t look up at him as he got himself comfortable. He tried to appear nonchalant as he picked up his book and held it toward his face in an attempt to read it. But his eyes flickered toward Jhon, his gaze holding a sense of uncertainty.

“What?” he asked.

Jhon realised he must have been openly gaping at him. But really, he was surprised. He just had to comment on it. “I didn’t want to comment on this earlier, but you’ve certainly been more affectionate today.”

“So?” Tobyn returned almost defensively, but thankfully didn’t attempt to move. “It’s a double-date, isn’t it?”

Jhon felt his gaze soften as a gentle smile slipped across his lips. “Hm. I’m certainly not complaining,” he said as he threaded his fingers through Tobyn’s long blond hair.

“Besides, it’s only Lynus and Axel. They don’t care,” Tobyn added.

Ah, so that was the reason? He was comfortable with showing affection in front of Lynus and Axel now. He was glad.

Emboldened by Tobyn’s new level of comfort, and wanting to give affection in return, Jhon Twisted slightly and leaned forward so that his face was close to Tobyn’s. He stilled for a moment, but Tobyn didn’t move. Instead he lifted his chin up slightly, indicating that it was ok. That he was ok with this. So Jhon closed the small distance between them and kissed Tobyn softly on the lips.

The kiss was gentle, their lips moving softly against one another’s. Jhon had kissed Tobyn outside of the inn before. But never before ensuring no one else was around. So this was also a significant moment for them. Tobyn often lamented that he wasn’t able to show Jhon the affection he thought he deserved. But he was trying. He was opening up.

It was a good thing. No, it was a great thing. Jhon was proud of him, and happy as well.

“Wait, did he just dislocate someone’s arm with a toothpick?” Lynus’ incredulous voice caused Jhon to pull back and glance over at him.

Axel and Lynus had shifted their positions. Axel was no resting his back against the tree as Lynus snuggled up beside him, resting against his chest. With one arm around Lynus’ waist, the other holding his book in front of the both of them, Axel laughed as Lynus continued to stare disbelievingly at his book.

Jhon arched an eyebrow, a bubble of trepidation appearing in the pit of his stomach when Tobyn murmured “toothpick, huh?” under his breath, his head still resting on his lap.

Axel wanted him to read the other books of the series. God, he hoped it didn’t lead to Tobyn being more…creative in his protectiveness towards him.

He wouldn’t complain, mind. He just felt sorry for the hospital staff. But that wasn’t of his concern at the moment. There were more important things to think about. And indulge in.

As Jhon gently carded his fingers through Tobyn’s long hair, he mused that this double-date was proving to be a success. So there was a fair chance that they would have more of them in the future. Which was definitely something to look forward to.

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