Chapter 66: Brothers

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Some brothers are born from the same womb. Others are born from the same trials. Both are to be cherished.

-Traditional Vesperati Saying


Eleven Years Ago


Thaen didn't know how strong Laidu was until the dragon-boy saved his life.

He woke up next to the dragon-boy, as every day began. The mountain air was cold up here, and Laidu's heat-blood could stave that off.

Thaen lay there, under the blanket, listening to Laidu breathe in and out. He was older, but he didn't boast of it and hold it over Thaen's head like his cousins did. He hadn't freaked out (like his father had worried) when Thaen had curled up next to him at night, when Thaen had acted like he was Laidu's brother.

And Laidu seemed to like it.

He had gotten to know Laidu, gotten to peer inside the dragon-boy's heart and mind. He was an odd one. A son of a theologian, a man of God, and yet he looked like a demon, a monster. He was cheerful about Po Shun, about Wulan, about his friends, yet that cheer could vanish to be replaced instead by gloominess and despair.

And those nights, when he seemed like he was sick with self-loathing, those were the nights Thaen wrapped his arms around him, and tried to cheer him up. Sometimes it works; those nights, Laidu would smile and hug back. But other nights, he'd lay there, not react to anything. He might as well have been dead. 

Thaen leaned against Laidu for a moment, before sitting up. Laidu grumbled something unintelligible, yanked the blanket over himself, and turned away, towards the wall. The nine year old Vesperati shrugged, yanked a robe over himself, and stepped onto the floor.

It was cold, cold enough for Thaen to hop a bit so his feet didn't have to touch the cold. The dragon-boy's blood made him warm, and staved off the cold, but it was only for close proximity. The rest of the room remained chilly.

Thaen trudged into the main room, eyes still bleary with sleep. Janyin sat at the table, a hot cup of tea right by her, a scroll unfurled on the small table she knelt at. He sank down next to her.

"Good morning," Janyin said, not looking up from the scroll. She didn't have to. Thaen leaned against her, and she smiled and ruffled his hair. No, not his fur, but the longer fur on his head. His mother had wanted to braid it in warrior locks, a bunch of thin, cordlike braids, but Father liked it shorter. Thaen liked it short too. He smiled, and poured himself a cup of tea.

"What are you reading?" Thaen asked.

"A theology passage," Janyin said. She put an arm around him, before shutting the scroll and rising. "You want breakfast?"

"Sure," Thaen said. Janyin rose, cut him a slice of bread she pulled from a basket in a cupboard. That was joined by a piece of crimson sweetfruit, cut and dried. Thaen scarfed it down, and Janyin began to cut more slices for Laidu. Sweetfruit, five times what Thaen got, sat there, rind peeled off. Laidu got two whole ones.

Laidu walked out, yawning. "Good morning, Mom," he said, still kind of sleepy. Janyin seemed to brighten at that last word, ever so slightly. He hugged her, and she leaned down to kiss him right on his forehead. She didn't have to lean that far.

He sat down and ate. That was the thing Thaen never got about him. He ate five times what he should have, yet it never seemed to show. Laidu was wearing his pajama pants, and Thaen studied his friend's figure. He wasn't thin, wasn't starved and skinny, but he should have been fat. He wasn't all weathered muscle like Dai Lan or Father, but he wasn't what his body should, by all accounts, have been. "Were's Dad?" Laidu asked.

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