Characters: Jeannot, Ghislain, Luvander
Pairing: Jeannot/Luvander, because I say so
Rating: PG-13, cw: drowning
Summary: Jeannot didn't really think his brother owed him anything. But he was pretty sure he was going to die, so maybe there was some way for them to get even.
Notes: Cut quote from "Breathe underwater" by Placebo.
When he woke up all he could remember was the icy water closing around him, and darkness, and now he was on fire. The heat engulfed him, choked him, and yet he could plainly see that all that surrounded him were soft blankets, the only fire the one in the hearth on the other side of the room. At first, Jeannot thought perhaps the cold water had turned him to ice as well, and now, trapped inside, he was slowly melting. But his mother pressed a hand that seemed icy cold to his forehead and whispered that he had a terrible fever.
She asked what had happened. "I fell into the water," he numbly replied, squirming feebly. She asked him how, and Jeannot closed his eyes over the truth, over big hands colliding with his chest and the jeer which turned into an alarmed gasp as Jeannot's foot slipped on a patch of ice and he fell and fell and fell into cold darkness.
"I was careless. I was playing. I'm sorry."
"Shhh darling." She was close to tears, her voice thick and harsher than usual. "You're alive now, that's all that matters. Just hurry up and get better."
"How? I was sinking, and I don't- Everything went dark. What happened?"
"Your broth- Ghislain saw you fall and pulled you out." Her voice was shaking with the effort of correcting herself even now, the denial of her transgression not coming nearly as smoothly when her absolution had almost slipped from her hands. Jeannot still couldn't open his eyes, couldn't let her see what had really happened.
What are you looking so scared for? Don't they teach rich brats how to swim? Didn't mom show you how?
"My brother," Jeannot repeated the cut-off admission. "I want to see... my brother..."
And then sank into darkness once more.
On the third day, his fever finally broke. Jeannot remembered very little of the time that had passed, only shadows moving through the haze which surrounded him, and voices close to and far off at once, speaking words which seemed vaguely familiar and nothing more. When he opened his mouth he could feel his dry lips cracking, but though the words were heavy, cracked and flecked with blood, he managed to once more repeat his request. He wanted to see his brother. His father's mouth tightened momentarily into a hard line at that, but at the small sigh from his wife it softened into remorse. How could he deny Jeannot such a simple request, when he had almost died? How could he deny Ghislain his right to be present, when he'd been the one to save his only son?
Jeannot didn't have to close his eyes this time. He knew that the truth had sunk into the dark just like he had, and he wasn't intending to let it follow him to the surface again.
He kept insisting until they let him see Ghislain alone, and watched in that strangely detached way that follows on exhaustion as the older boy shuffled into the room. At twelve, Ghislain was already starting to show signs of manhood, shoulders broadening and muscles building, his clumsy bulkiness getting exchanged for the stature which, the maids would whisper, had won his father the favor of a noble woman in the first place. People were already talking about getting him military training, a merciful way of getting him out of a household where his existence was bound to forever cause tension.
Jeannot really didn't envy him. He was built more like the men in his mother's family, sharp and lean, promising to one day grow tall even if he wouldn't fill out quite as well when it came to width. Anything that needed brute strength to achieve had never interested him much anyway. But maybe, if he hadn't been so much smaller than his brother, he wouldn't have lost his balance quite so quickly.
Ghislain looked up and met his gaze steadily, and there was no fear there, only confusion. Jeannot lifted his own chin as stubbornly as he could manage in return, waiting for the inevitable question.
"No one's thrashed me. So that means you didn't tell them."
Except it wasn't a question, just a statement of fact. There was curiosity there, sure, but Ghislain wasn't a fool. He must've known what would've happened if Jeannot had told the truth; he must've expected it, even.
"There's nothing to tell. You didn't say anything either, did you?"
"I'm not stupid." Ghislain shrugged, a movement which caused his shirt to stretch awkwardly across his chest. He was probably getting some new ones soon. Jeannot's parents made sure that he was always well, if perhaps simply, dressed; one out of a feeling of obligation and maybe even love, the other because it would have looked petty in the eyes of society to mistreat the boy. "But I thought you would for sure. Why didn't you?"
"You saved my life," Jeannot countered, turning his gaze away. "I would've drowned without you."
"You wouldn't have been drowning at all if it wasn't for me. I pushed you in."
"You just pushed me, and I slipped. You didn't mean to."
"And if I'd killed you, would it have been fine because I didn't mean to?"
Jeannot frowned, staring fixedly down at the cuffs of his nightshirt. His eyes were burning, he was just that tired. He wanted to sleep. But somehow, talking to Ghislain first was really important. "You're my brother."
"I know that." Ghislain's voice was still just as steady, and it was really unfair, because Jeannot was having increasing difficulties speaking through the thick tangle of dark, confused thoughts stuck in his throat. "That's why I pushed you in the first place, you know."
"Are you angry with me?"
Jeannot heard a brief, wry little laugh, and then the creak as Ghislain sat down in the chair next to the bed. "I almost killed you," he pointed out in a far too reasonable tone of voice, "and you're asking me if I'm angry?"
"I didn't mean now." Jeannot tossed his head in annoyance, once more fixing his gaze on his older brother so he could glare at him. "I just meant... are you usually angry? Are you angry with me for- for being your brother and-" He made a vague gesture at the room around him, at all the privileges Ghislain would probably never have, at the world which had branded the elder of the two with the word 'BASTARD', written where it would never scrub out.
Once more, Ghislain shrugged. "Sometimes. I was when I pushed you. But... I don't think I'll be angry much anymore."
"Why?" Jeannot demanded, puzzled and tired and irate, not understanding why he'd felt he'd needed this talk when all it was doing was making his head hurt.
Ghislain smiled then, a strange little smile which his brother never managed to understand, and answered: "Because now I owe you. That's a special kind of situation. It means we've both got to forgive each other, and I've got to make sure I pay you back." And then, when Jeannot was at a loss for how to answer, Ghislain simply got up and left.
Jeannot honestly couldn't tell for sure why he hadn't told his parents what happened, and he never really managed to figure it out. Only two years later, Ghislain was sent off to start training, and everyone was saying he'd probably make it far in the army one day. They didn't stay in touch, and Jeannot only found out just how far four and a half years later, when he was chosen by one of the dragons to become an airman. He'd entered the common room and there, grinning like the bastard he quite literally was, his brother was waiting.
By then, trying to make sense of what had happened between them as kids seemed pretty redundant to Jeannot, and Ghislain seemed to feel the same. At the very least, he never brought it up.
There was that first time when a couple of the other men hassled Jeannot so that Ghislain could see it, though. Jeannot had seen his older brother start to stand up out of the corner of is eye, as if to interfere, and had quickly shaken his head in his direction. He was going to deal with it on his own. They'd told no one of their kinship, and since Jeannot certainly didn't relish the idea of being thought of always as a more senior airman's little brother, he didn't want anyone to figure it out. The moment Ghislain got involved in his fights, people were going to start to wonder.
Ghislain had settled back, nodding his understanding, and that had been that. But Jeannot sometimes wondered if Ghislain still thought about the 'debt', and if he was waiting for his brother to reclaim it whichever way he thought was best.
He never stopped being afraid of water. He didn't dare make it down to the docks for that reason, didn't dare follow a couple of his friends down on trips to the seaside when the weather was clement and there was a lull in the war. He never saw the ocean at anything closer than a dragon’s height
One day, however, he'd thought that perhaps the best way of curing that fear was to use the invincible feeling while he was flying to his advantage. He dove down low to touch the water's surface, glittering in the light of the dawn, and-
-and instantly the darkness was there, rising up from the depths to swallow him, the cold seeping into his bones and making him numb, making his grip slip, making him overbalance so that only the harness prevented him from falling off. And then the water hit, not like a plunge into silent darkness but like a wall of steel and noise and pain. Al Atan let out a sceech and veered sharply, trying to right herself and gain height, but Jeannot was numb and shaking and wet and slipping further down her side, one of the straps in the harness snapping loudly. Below he could still see the surface of the water, hungry and deep, and he knew for sure that this time he would die. Ghislain wasn't with him, and there was no one to save-
There was the scream of another dragon passing by, a loud thump, and a litany of curses. He could hear the sound of boots scrabbling for purchase on metal, and then there were hands gripping him, much smaller than Ghislains but nonetheless strong, slowly pulling him back up.
"You fucking moron!" That was the screech of a dragon, and Jeannot thought himself able to identify it as Yesfir's. And that would mean-
"You know, I appreciate that you might just barely have the brains of a fish, and therefore long for the company of your brethren in the great deeps. But maybe you should have applied your brain to considering whether or not it's wise to achieve this by taking a dive from a fucking dragon in mid-flight?" Luvander's voice was a heated, strained hiss in his ear as he got his arms around Jeannot's waist and hauled him back into the saddle. Jeannot twisted around to stare at him, even as the smaller man slumped backwards and appeared to be trying to catch his breath.
"Well, you didn't exactly leave me much of a choice, did you?" Luvander gave him an incredulous look from where he was practically lounging now, looking awfully relaxed for a man perched on a dragon he wasn't actually strapped to. Jeannot glanced sideways, and in the half-light he was just able to see Luvander's own harness flapping loose on Yesfir's back. The smaller dragon was darting in protective circles around Al Atan, and he could hear her hissing further abuse at her reckless rider whenever she ended up upwind. Luvander waved a lazy hand at her. "You go on ahead, girl," he shouted. "You're almost out of fuel. You can slap me silly once I've landed."
It looked for a moment as if Yesfir was going to disobey and linger - Al Atan certainly would have - but the swift had always had a very pragmatic way about her. She tossed a few choice words about the beating he was going to get at her rider, and then sped on ahead, a flash of copper and matte green in the very first rays of the sun.
"Now would you tell me what in the name of the bastion you thought you were doing?" Luvander demanded, giving Jeannot's already aching leg a sharp prod with his foot. At first, Jeannot only mutely unfastened one of the clasps of his own harness, handing it over to Luvander, who rolled his blue eyes at him but nonetheless took it. A second or two later there was a sharp click as he secured the clasp to his belt. "There. Now out with it!"
"I wanted... to touch the water." It sounded stupid, and Jeannot wasn't sure exactly why he'd said it. It had been a long while since he needed to close his eyes to be able to lie, after all. Luvander let out an explosive breath behind him.
"You know, that's the kind of inane thing I'd expect to hear from Niall, but not from you. Obviously my expectations of you are far too high." Jeannot snorted, and saw a brief flash of a smile cross Luvander's face in turn, but he soon turned far too serious once more. It was disconcerting to see him like that. "That aside, it doesn't really explain why you suddenly went as limp as a fish - unless you really were planning on trying to live the rest of your life as one. Did you faint?"
The last question didn't have any of the characteristics of a taunt; it actually seemed to be an honest question and nothing more. It was the sort of thing that sometimes happened if you ended up hanging upside-down for too long. Nonetheless, Jeannot felt his cheeks burning, and a flash of irritation caused his shoulders to tense. "I didn't faint. I just- I don't like water. It's why I usually don't get close. I just thought..." The sentence trailed off as Jeannot caught up with what his mouth was actually saying, the truth spilling out in all its garbled, embarrassing stupidity.
"You thought it'd be easier on dragonback," Luvander finished for him, sounding matter-of-fact, surprised and just a little bit curious, but surprisingly not amused or derisive. "I see."
"Hey! What the fuck is going on here?" Compagnon appeared to have caught up with them, and was flying right above them, peering off the side of his dragon down at them. Jeannot sent Luvander a sharp, warning glare which the other man didn't appear to notice at all.
"Jeannot just flew a bit too close to the water. No worries, I've got this covered." A small hand gave Jeannot's wrist a reassuring squeeze. "Fly ahead and tell the others, will you? I doubt Yesfir will be all that reassuring."
Even over the sound of the slipstream, Jeannot imagined he could still head Compagnon giggle, and sneered after his back as Al Atan gently coasted on the breeze to save fuel. With two riders, even if one of them was fairly short and not that heavy, she would still be burning more, and she couldn't fly as fast as she normally did. With her wings only beating once or twice every minute, there was absolute silence for a short while; rather unusual circumstances in the presence of Luvander, really. Maybe he was waiting for Jeannot to speak, and after a bout of internal tussling, he also managed to do so.
"Thanks." He practically ground out the word, but the important thing was that he'd said it.
"Don't worry about it," Luvander replied lightly. "I've got my own secrets, after all, and they're a lot bigger. A tiny little one like that isn't going to bother me much to carry around for you."
"What secrets?" Jeannot demanded, surprise dragging the words out of him before he had a chance to think them over. Luvander always seemed to say just about everything that crossed his mind, no matter how strange or private or downright inane it was. The idea of him keeping secrets was both mind-boggling and just a little bit intriguing.
Luvander laughed richly, once more giving Jeannot's leg a light prod. "If I told you that, they wouldn't be nearly as secret, you know." But there was a sense, as they flew on in silence, that a barrier had somehow been broken, and that maybe one day he would.