“Hey Big bro,” a familiar voice stated, grabbing the passing man’s shoulder. RT paused, turning around to meet the eyes of little Shen.
“Your uniform is messy,” RT commented with a raised brow. Shen’s hands flew to rearrange the lapels of his uniform and dust himself off. However, all the pins he’d earned were on the wrong sides. RT sighed before reaching for them. He pulled them free, quickly making work of rearranging before patting the boy on his shoulder. “You’re going to get in trouble with the Colonel.”
Shen sighed before looking back up at him. “Big bro, there’s something I need you to do.”
RT tilted his head in confusion. This was the first time Shen had ever asked for something.
“Uh… I’m being deployed soon to the panhandle and… I was tasked with guarding and watching Maniar. But the kid’s sick RT, and I’ve tried cheering him up but…” Shen shook his head sadly. “Maniar never gets sick, and usually he’ll play the games I bring. This time… after I told him I was leaving, Maniar didn’t even say goodbye to me.”
“It’s natural to get sick when he’s in contact with people. Give him a couple of days and it’ll pass Shen. It isn’t your fault,” RT answered, patting the boy on his shoulder. “I’ll go talk to him.”
Shen grinned at him. “Thanks. I just don’t want the other men to bully him anymore. They’ve done enough to him, haven’t they? Can’t they leave him alone?”
“Careful kid,” RT answered. “If someone hears you saying that, you could get punished pretty severely.”
“I know big bro. But Maniar is so cool, and he reminds me too much of my little step-brother. Mom doesn’t let me go home anymore to see him despite the money I send back. Could you keep him company at least? Until I get back from my mission?” Shen asked nervously.
RT nodded. He already had to help Tian get stronger, and then the Prince needed him to overlook the Kukouk project. On top of being home for his kid, he was already strung in so many different directions. Squeezing in Maniar would take the last hours of restful sleep he had, but he’d do it. The kid needed someone to, and without Shen around, Maniar would get lonely.
RT wasn’t a fool. Shen purposely broke rules so he could stay as a bodyguard instead of advancing up to earn more money. Maniar and he got along well so RT had, naturally, never worried. Shen was a spitting image of RT, just quite a few years younger. He was turning 17 this year if RT remembered right. Maybe it was the age that allowed them to get along well?
“Oh wait,” Shen commented, patting around his pockets before he pulled out a small dog stuffed animal. It resembled a wolf more than any other dog RT had seen. “This is for Maniar. I was going to give it to him, but I forgot. Make sure to give it to him.”
“Shen yan!” A commanding officer roared through the radio on the boy’s hip. “We’re deploying in an hour, where the hell are you?”
“Oh! Sorry Colonel, I’ll be there soon!” Shen shouted exasperatedly, running a hand through his bright azure hair. “Gotta go big bro!”
He tossed the stuffed animal to RT before disappearing down the hall. The larger man sighed before tucking it away. He had a few hours before he had to go meet Tian, perhaps he should drop by anyway. With that resolve, RT headed towards the castle entrance.
“Oh Captain!” One of the guards at Maniar’s door shouted nervously with a quick salute. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Dropping by to see the kid,” RT replied with a shrug before pushing his way through. He pressed his palm to the keypad and the door slid open. He stepped through, only to find the entire room in destruction.
Maniar sat near the wall, huddled with his knees to his chest. All of his drawings had been ripped from the walls and shredded on the floor. The table had been completely crushed and shredded, along with Maniar’s blankets. RT sighed, feeling the anger like a physical body inside. It weighed heavily on RT’s shoulders. Maniar was beyond upset over Shen.
“Maniar,” RT commented quietly, catching the small boy’s attention. The 12 year old turned his head and glared straight at RT. After realizing who it was, though, Maniar surged forward and tackled the man in a bone crushing hug. RT winced when he felt his bones popping from the smaller boy’s unchecked strength. “Hey bud. I heard you weren’t feeling good. I brought you something from the bakery.”
Maniar stepped back as RT pressed a small box filled to the brim with sweets to his chest. Maniar crouched down and started to pick through it with a weak smile before hugging RT once more. He bounded across the room, setting the box down in his sleeping quarters before rooting around for a crayon and some paper. RT followed him over before kneeling beside him.
“He won’t be gone for long,” RT stated, and Maniar froze. His hand stilled as it was scribbling a bunch of words across the paper. RT pulled out the stuffed animal, handing it over. “He wanted to give this to you so you wouldn’t be mad.”
Maniar huffed before snatching it out of RT’s hands. He turned it in every direction before setting it among the other stuffed animals Shen had snuck in for him. He tossed the paper he’d been scribbling on away before restarting. The room was momentarily filled with crayon against paper, but nothing else. RT shifted when he felt his muscles cramping, and finally got comfortable sitting criss-cross.
“Said he wouldn’t leave,” Maniar had written. “Always leave. Know not his fault, but unfair. Gotten used to Shen being here too much. Too much. Going to be lonely without him.”
RT nodded, ruffling the boy’s hair with a small smile. “It’s tough kiddo, but he’ll be back to hang with you. This old man will keep you company.”
“Busy. RT always busy. Not RT fault also, but busy. Will still be lonely.” Maniar sighed once more before gripping his crayon with a little more enthusiasm. “How Tian?”
“He’s doing well. Doesn’t like living inside like you, but other than that, he’s doing alright.”
Maniar grinned before pulling out another piece of paper. “Want to see him again. Can you?”
RT shook his head dejectedly. “Not yet, but once this stuff blows through, Tian will come and get you. Ok?”
Maniar nodded before he looked crestfallen. He turned around and was shuffling through a bunch of papers until he found two that he liked. He gave them to RT with a lopsided grin, pushing back his ratty hair.
“For you and Tian,” Maniar had written. RT looked down at the pictures and couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. The figures were messily drawn, but RT had taught the boy how to draw well. He’d drawn RT and Tian holding hands while hugging a figure that looked much like Maniar and a little blonde girl. RT paused in shock, looking up at Maniar.
“Sister not alive. Probably. But she part of our family.” Maniar wrote before sadness settled back into his deep golden eyes. RT’s heart shattered, because his sister was very much alive… and yet, RT couldn’t tell him. The chances of the two ever meeting again were so slim; his sister was only getting sicker. RT’s constant doctoring was barely keeping the little girl alive. It was wrong, but he didn’t want Maniar to know that his sister had survived that night, only to die from an illness that no one could cure. It was the same the other way around. His sister didn’t know that he was alive either. RT still didn’t know how to bring up the subject that they’d cut her brother’s tongue out, not to mention, she was still too young to understand it. He wanted to shelter her as long as possible.
But he clutched the two pictures close to his chest; the second one being a replica. He would cherish it, just as much as he cherished Maniar and Eonak.
“Hurry up and marry Tian. Maniar wants mother,” Maniar wrote with a small smile. RT tackled the boy playfully and they wrestled for quite a few minutes until both were out of breath. Maniar pulled out some of the games Shen had left for him and the two had sat and played long after the sun sank and started to rise once more. RT finally left when his eyes could barely stay open any longer. He tucked Maniar into the blankets before getting up and tidying what he could before slipping out the door once more.
He made a quick trip home to change and check on Eonak, much to Tera’s chagrin. He brushed past the woman, pushing open the door before he sat at the little girl’s bed side. The heart monitor beeped slowly and steadily, but the little girl was still asleep. Tera sighed at the door frame.
“She still hasn’t woken up, has she?” RT asked, smoothing back Eonak’s hair. The girl was once more sweating in small rivulets, draining the IV bag steadily. She shifted in her sleep, but didn’t move much.
Tera huffed before tossing a small book into his lap. “If you were here enough, you would have seen her wake up this morning. She told me not to show you her diary, but she’s asleep now.”
RT flipped through the pages slowly, chuckling at her recent entry. She’d listed almost every breed of pony she could think of, and yet, RT still hadn’t gotten her one. Her handwriting was finally starting to develop beautifully, however her spelling and punctuation was horrendous.
“I thought you were teaching her the basics of English?” RT commented, glancing up at his sister.
“Thought you were her father?” Tera snipped back. “Are you going to be here tonight? Or are you heading back?”
“I have to head back… just came here to see her,” RT answered before pulling out one of the drawings from his pocket. He tucked it into the drawer gently before sliding it shut. He set down a couple of vials he had hidden beneath his armor. “And this. It’s still a prototype, but it’ll give her more energy in the day. Until I find a cure.”
“Never your sister, huh?” Tera spat, shaking her head. “Family man you are. Do you even know that I just got into a fight with my wife about where I spend most of my time? Even if you’re paying me for all this, she still thinks I’m cheating on her! If my wife divorces me because of you, I’ll kick your ass. Ah, nevermind. I’ll give it to her.”
RT got up before pushing the woman back through the door. He shut it quietly behind him before looking up at Tera. “I have a day off tomorrow; I’ll stay home with her. And your wife loves you too much to ever divorce you.”
“You better,” Tera huffed before squeezing back to the living room. She plopped down on the patch couch, kicking her legs out. “I’ll steal your bed at this rate.”
“Go ahead,” RT commented as he disappeared into the bathroom for a quick change of clothes. He tied his hair back once more, making sure to brush through every single knot. He pushed open the door and came to sit beside the little girl once more, brushing back her platinum colored hair. Where Tian had golden blonde, Eonak bordered on almost snowy colored hair.
“I still haven’t figured out how to make your sicknesses stop,” RT whispered, shaking his head. “But I wish I could drain my energy and give it to you. You’re 7 now, and yet you can only play for an hour before you have to sleep for the rest of the day. I hope the vials will help, little one. Give it a couple days and you’ll start to feel better for awhile.”
Eonak shifted in her sleep, but she was quiet. Her fists clenched the side of the bed. Whatever nightmare she was fighting must’ve been scary. RT pressed his palm to the center of her forehead.
“You’re going to relieve her nightmare again?” Tera asked quietly, sneaking back into the room. Perhaps she’d never left. RT nodded simply before closing his eyes. “You don’t have much energy left RT. With Tian around now, you’re not going to be as strong as you once were.”
It was no secret that RT was starting to weaken and age. He’d lived for so long, living on borrowed energy and borrowed time. What was once boundless power to invade Tian’s head whenever he was in danger, or protect the boy with a corporeal body, was now small, fleeting wisps. He could wiggle his way into Eonak’s nightmare, but invading her consciousness world would be impossible now.
“It’s alright,” RT replied. “I don’t mind. The energy and power was a gift.”
“You’ll be a regular human someday,” Tera sighed. “Without all that inhuman strength and wisdom, you’ll be just like me. What a day that will be!”
A ring of gold encircled RT’s dark pupils as he entered Eonak’s nightmare once more. She was somewhere dark, and he could hear the warriors behind her. They whooped and hollered like they were hunting deer instead of children.
“Come on!” Maniar shouted ahead of her. Even on her older brother’s shoulders, they were both so small and weak. Maniar couldn’t outrace the men, even with his superior strength, they found themselves at the edge of a cliff.
The warriors were in front of them with long swords modified to slice through their soft flesh. Eonak was in tears as RT formed a white stag, drawing the energy out from his very soul. It stood in front of the two before charging with its huge antlers. The warriors disappeared in wisps and as RT retreated, Eonak’s dream started to change to something softer.
RT gasped when he resurfaced, clutching the headboard to keep himself from collapsing. Tera was at his side immediately, helping the man up to his shaky feet.
“You need to stop using it!” Tera growled, but her touch was comforting. “Or you’re going to die!”
“It’s ok, just need to sit down for a while,” RT whispered before lipping his way into his room. He slid into his chair, but the shakiness didn’t disappear. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for Tera. RT didn’t have much energy left. He was growing weak. His favorite form, the stag, was now draining him of energy even in a dream.
Once he’d returned to the living room, Tera was already asleep. RT tiptoed to the door, slipping out once more into the night. He boarded a bus and headed towards the Castle as the first hints of the sun started to peak out across the bay.
RT knocked quietly on the door, but there was no response. He checked down the hall before slipping inside. The candles had all been snuffed out by now, and RT had to carefully tiptoe towards the desk where Tian was slouched over. He pulled the book out from beneath the boy’s face, slipping a piece of paper inside before closing it and setting it back down.
“Sorry I didn’t get you tonight,” RT whispered before he gathered the smaller boy up into his arms. The boy subconsciously curled into his chest, gripping the hard chest plates of RT’s armor. His head lay on RT’s shoulder comfortably as he carried him over to the bed, pressing his knee into the soft mattress before he wrestled Tian underneath the covers. He tucked the boy in before sitting beside him.
RT stroked the boy’s tender cheek, tracing the black lines down his neck. Tian curled inwards on himself, trying to escape the ticklish pressure on his skin. RT scratched the boy’s scalp, smiling when Tian practically purred under his ministrations. Tiny canines peaked out from his closed lips, curling downwards as the smaller boy shivered.
“You’re so beautiful,” RT sighed, running his fingers through Tian’s golden locks. “Your hair’s starting to get long. You never like your hair long.” RT tapped his temple. “I remember that well.”
RT removed his hand and made to get up when Tian’s bruising grip latched onto RT’s wrist, keeping him in place. The boy unconsciously pulled RT towards him, manhandling him down onto the mattress as well. RT sighed, quickly unlacing his armor and letting it slide to the floor before he kicked his shoes off. Seconds later, Tian latched onto his side like a tiny koala. The boy’s head lay contently on his sturdy chest and an arm wrapped around his large waist. RT ran his fingers through the boy’s hair, reveling in just how soft.
“Hmm,” RT whispered, pinching the smaller boy’s cheeks. “When you’re this cute, it’s hard to remember how mighty you are.”
That was the truth. If he made Tian angry enough, the boy could snap his spine with ease. His tiny stature meant nothing compared to his durability and strength. His stamina was higher than any other human. Perhaps, stronger than any other Kukouk RT had ever known.
“Go to sleep,” Tian mumbled, pinching RT’s side hard. The man jumped in surprise as crystal clear blue eyes met his own. “You move too much.”
“You’re awake, huh?”
Tian hummed tiredly, snuggling deeper into the man’s chest. “And your thinking is too loud. Sleep. Or I’ll bite you.”
“I should be doing other things than sleeping,” RT commented absentmindedly. “You can’t keep dragging me into your bed, or people will talk.”
RT didn’t see the hand, but he felt the slap against his own cheek. He cried out in surprise, trying to push Tian the Koala away. However, once Tian latched on, he didn’t let go.
“You don’t sleep unless you sleep with me. I know how you function, can’t get away from me,” Tian yawned, before yanking the blanket up over both of them. “Don’t worry, no one will notice you’re gone, and you need to sleep. Plus, I kinda like you here. Not because of the kiss, but… just because it’s you.”
RT sighed, his actions already decided. He should still be able to sneak out in a few hours and still get things done before a Colonel notices his absence. With that, RT closed his eyes and reveled in Tian’s overbearing body heat. It warmed him all the way to the bone.
He didn’t expect to wake up around noon, with the sun blaring through the window. He was finally able to slip out from beneath Tian’s grip and sneak off to the bathroom before leaving. Tian didn’t even stir.