Wang Li, most notably known as Leon Wang, had known from a young age that his life was to end with him alone.
Over the many years he had lived the sky always seemed to grow darker and become dimmer. The stars seemed to lose the sparkle that had enraptured him when he had been young, had been bright with innocence and wonder, and had lived in one of the many valleys of China. And with this darkening of the sky came a darkening of his soul; as if his very being was an untreated wound left to fester.
His family had been split apart by sheer differences and the sins of pride and wrath; his mother dead before he knew her and his father gone as nothing but a fleeting memory. This left only his eldest brother, Yao, to take care of their big and chaotic family - but the siblings were connected only by blood and that was not enough to keep them all together.
Yao had kept an iron fist that made Leon's childhood home suffocating and so they all left their familiar Chinese farm; Kiku was too quiet, too intense, too closed-off for any of the siblings to really feel loved and, even though they had tried to stay, they left Kiku to his quiet life in Japan. In the dead of night was when Meimei dragged Leon off to America and away from Lien and Im Yong and all that was Taiwan. At the bitter age of 13 Leon did not understand his big sister's choice but he soon came to realize how the touches of his elder siblings had became rough and tight rather than gentle and comforting.
When Leon finally felt like he could belong in the hustle and noise of New York City, Yao came looking for them. And while Meimei, her sweetness never-ending just as her patience was, could stand to be with Yao and his new husband, a British man that Leon hated on sight and hated even more on principle, Leon's heart had been bled dry by 17.
(Some say that, when Meimei had come to see if Leon would try just one more time, only to see his room bare with not even a note left, you can still hear her scream of desperation and agony in the walls; taste the scent of her heartbreak in the air; see her, still crouched in pain, right by the door frame.)
He made it into the deep underground of a nearby city before he was met with other teens who had nothing to lose. Yet, instead of running for help or running in fear or running at all, Leon simply smiled like a demon and asked them, "So, who's first?"
It took many years but he rose through the gang's ranks with almost no resistance. While he was young and slim, still a pampered Asian boy from a wealthy family no matter how little of that family was left, there was an ache in his chest and a fire in his eyes that told everyone around him that he was not afraid to burn if it meant you burned with him.
But that all stopped when he got a call, so many years after leaving, from his older sister. He did not ask how she found his number and she never told him, but that was never something Leon had bothered with when it was her message that left him breathless: She had found a husband and was expecting and she wanted him to know that, if her baby was a boy, she'd name it after him.
While this did not ease his ravaged heart nor soften the look of his eyes, everyone around him could see the difference in how he carried himself. The once sinful pride that had clung to him like a second skin had been ripped away and all that was left was his hereditary wrath. Yet that anger did not carry him as it does a Kamikaze pilot nor an assassin wanting revenge; that anger fueled his passion for something greater than what he had already achieved.
Leon knew from a young age that he was simply destined to be alone; that was a fact he carried in the back of his mind everywhere he went. But he also knew that this was not a fated existence he wanted to curse any other child with. So he, with his tattooed arms and pierced skin, stepped from the pit of Hell and walked among the mortals of the day. He, this 29 year old prodigy of the streets, returned as a 51 year old business mogul who knew the feel of every continent beneath his feet.
When the people of his old town heard of his return, his old gang insignia was the first thing the others looked for - for whoever could bring back this betrayal of a man was worth their weight in gold. But then, this traitor swarmed by the family he had left behind, he walked head-first into the tiger's den; a place he had once upon a time called home. The newest leader had joined during Leon's incredible reign and, blessedly, she let Leon explain before any other action.
Those outside the room were stunned to see him leave as he had came - this fire breathing dragon whose wings had long since forgotten the beat it needed to fly - and, when they asked, the simple answer was: "You do not hurt a good man."
Later they will find themselves marking their territory with their notorious brands in the form of spray paint and they will stumble across a brand new orphanage; an old building that was made to last any human war coated with new love and motivation and passion.
(When the cars go by this area, more than one always stop to peer at the stark difference, and they will wonder why this lone building is immune to the children of monsters.)
While depravity struck a deal with the devil at every corner, the inside of Leon's Orphanage For the Unwanted is a home to guardian angels - even though he believed in no such thing. The blazing inferno that even Dante would never come by was now a rumbling fireplace that seeped warmth into all parts of the home. Only those who knew Leon, which was to say no one, would have seen that his fire had never calmed, just that he had more control over it.
Any and all children, from those with family like his own to those who know of no connection to anyone of this world, were welcomed at what was soon known just as 'Leon's'. Some of the smaller children asked why he looked so different from them and he explained his homeland and then, at the begging from these children who were hungry for knowledge of places far from there, explained his childhood. When they heard the name Wang Li for the first time, Leon was 64, single and with no children of his own, which automatically made him 'Grandpa Li' to the smallest of the poor souls who made a home in a house for those who had nothing.
Eventually, as the men and women he had known personally either left or were slaughtered only a few blocks down, Leon Wang become a fairy tale and it was Grandpa Li who took care of bruised knees, broken hearts, and bullet wounds. In the street filled with chaos and prayers to higher powers that helped only those who could afford it, everyone from the sickly prostitutes to the underage drug mules to even rival gang members knew they had a place where they could sleep without fear and eat until they were bursting.
One could not say that there was no love in that home, that Leon Wang did not make it a home. This soon become neutral territory, a place filled with the darkness accompanied by a lullaby; filled with the tears of laughter and sadness; filled with promises of a future and cries for those whose futures had been cut short.
Over the years there had been questions in passing about how his family was or what they were currently doing. Leon always gave an honest answer, which varied from the exact detail of Meimei's grandchildren to a simple shrug of his shoulders. While all of his siblings knew where he was, none visited. Calls were sporadic at best and letters dwindled down to nothing. Truthfully, Leon was not surprised as he always knew he'd end up alone.
All of this carried until he was 92, his body finally failing him in the most natural death that God could give him; the sweetest kind of death to those who had never seen it yet carried the weight of a thousand souls. Never had he said a word of his own wants or needs or desires and no one pushed the kind, old man who had given them everything. So it was a parting gift when, as he laid in his bed, his skin wrinkled most prominently around his eyes and mouth and his hair a fine, powered white, he breathed out, in a voice that was not really there, "I have visited every part of this world. I am disappointed to know I will never make it past the sky."
In that moment, all the ruined children who had known the stern kindness of Leon Wang for decades looked at each other and saw their own idea shining back. Guardians returned for their children - "Give the old man some space, heaven knows he needs some right now." - only to have their hands, their arms, their shirts tugged on incessantly. The idea the many children had spread like the wildfire Leon had carried in his eyes all those years ago; and, soon, Leon saw more and more young bodies littered with paint, with soapy water, with dirt, with snow and he wondered at their makings outside of his house. Little did he know that their state of being brought more than just dirty fingerprints; it also brought in money, enough money to give their Grandpa the funeral he always dreamed about - to send his ashes into the deepest part of space, a frontier humans weren't ready for.
It had taken months of hard labor and even harder decisions within the community their Grandpa Li had once been a part of, but they had done it. All the children and the children's parents and the friends of both the children and the parents had worked together and got the money needed for Leon's space expedition. The entire time they had left Leon in the dark and made up stories of school brawling to discount the dirt and water and, if there was enough money involved, blood that had been smeared across their skin and soaked into their clothing. And Leon believed them to be nothing but simple rowdy children, so all he did was chuckle at their sheepish grins and, while he patched them up or hosed them down, asked how the other guy looked.
This ended as an unplanned downfall instead of a pleasant celebration.
By the time anyone had made the trip up the many stairs to Leon's room, the old man had passed away. The man who had taken their rough edges and smoothed them out, who had seen these young flickers of light and brought them close enough to feel his bonfire, who had kissed the foreheads of thieves and murderers and abusers, was finally gone.
Everyone was notified of this chill by the piercing screams of the young girl who had been the one sent to tell him; so excited and filled with happiness to be the one to tell her sweet and lovely Grandpa the great news. Immediately the festivities of the trembling living room fell as they could finally feel how the walls no longer radiated the warmth that had been tied to it ever since Leon had opened its doors - and that is when the crying began.
The entire town - street after street, block after block, house after house - mourned as one as every person had felt the joy Leon had brought; whether it be during his younger days as Leon Wang, The Dragon or his older years as Grandpa Li, the Father of Orphans. Wails filled the night air, sadness permeated the ground, and even the water in the nearby cities tasted less crisp. The strings of Fate plucked out a cry all on their own as the many choirs of the town crooned the same note of sorrow.
However, this all-encompassing sadness did not last as long as others did; other deaths so shocking and sudden that the dead were never truly mourned for, only their maybes and could-have-beens and if-onlys. But here, for the man they knew would die so soon, the sadness stopped at his funeral even as the event only amplified what they had lost.
Many of the townspeople remembered Leon's numerous family members and tried to call them but no one answered. Whether it was because, as Leon had been the youngest, they had all died before him or because they simply weren't family any more, no one could tell.
(Little did anyone know that if they had called five minutes later, Meimei would have answered the phone. Then again, perhaps it was better that she never found out that she had outlived her youngest brother.)
At the funeral many of the gang members, on this day of declared neutrality for that year and the following years afterward, brought out TVs and radios. They all impatiently waited for the announcement in which Leon's ashes would be shot into deep space. Of course his weren't alone, but they cared for no one else's but his.
After seeing Leon finally take his fire with him to greater places then they could ever imagine, the only regret any of them carried was that he would never know just how much they loved him. How much hope he gave to the orphans, how much light he gave to the beggars, how much stability he gave to the lost; their sweet Grandpa Li would never understand just how much white fire he gave to the people who only knew of black ice.
If only they knew that their dear Grandpa Li's adventure had only just begun.
On a planet, millions of light years away from Earth, lived a nearly identical race to humans. However, it was only the look of each other that was similar for neither planet, nor its inhabitants, could have been farther apart. Unlike Earth's vast blue oceans and lush green continents, this planet, simply known to its many species as Aurora, was filled with rolling, foamy white seas that circled and twisted around the much smaller pockets of land. And while Earth hailed towering forests and miles upon miles of sand dunes, Aurora was filled with icy crevices and atmosphere-breaking mountains. But the planet itself was not the only thing that separated them - the people who lived upon their surfaces were also different in many extraordinary ways; one of these extraordinary inhabitants was named Lukas, a young man of 27. He lived to detail the other planets of his solar system as he was a scientist, an astronomer, with a want to touch what was just out of reach.
He had gained much wisdom and knowledge from constant study and inspiration struck him like a cord in no other way than this did. Whenever he was not with his family nor with his prized instruments, he was out on his private terrace, gazing into the great beyond and wishing it gazed right back at him. Little was he aware that he was about to find more than just his familiar dwarf planets and asteroid belts.
As he looked out into the great expanse of his people's little corner of the galaxy, Lukas recalled a line from one of his elder's personal poetic collections: "The universe is curled up inside us all, it is up to us to find the stars." He thought such a line befit how the stardust spread thin and wispy, obscuring his vision as he tried to glimpse past it and towards his newest interest: Earth.
While he, personally, did not believe in the notion that the universe had any say in how their lives were made, Lukas did believe that there had to be something that had created the unique intricacies of each planet. Perhaps not a God, but something even more grand, more incredible?
Lukas shook his head at the nonsensical thoughts that plagued him and sighed before going back to his findings. He had long since gotten used to the pallet of winter that was his planet's sky: an array of icy blues, sea greens, and deep lavenders that wavered in the light of his planet's dying sun. There were nearly no clouds to speak of, just a constant and steady mist that held in the cool breeze that flowed from the mountaintops. It was true that Lukas' home planet was not in any way dry; even simple heat did not reach them most days.
Currently he was standing on one of the many extended balconies of the palace that he and his brothers lived in - being the princes of this world was a great responsibility and he was proud to hold the title - as he observed the many stars and worlds that stretched beyond his own. Even though Lukas knew such a careful look into the outer reaches of their universe was a noble profession, it was so very melancholic. There were so many other species, other lifeforms, so unique unto themselves - and yet they would never know just how very close and how very real their neighbors were.
He sighed once more before trying a final effort to catch another look at Earth. He wasn't too sure why he was so fascinated with the planet - perhaps it was because of their growth, so rapid and so sudden, even as they continually tried to kill each other? Or maybe it was because of their leaps and bounds of technological improvements for such a young society? Lukas could never really pinpoint why he liked the planet, but there was just something about its unrestrained and wild beauty that drew him in.
(However, that didn't mean that there weren't some times where he really wished he could be done with the planet of over 7 billion people.)
Lukas muttered under his breath, "All I wanted to do today was find the structure that the Minerals swore was there! If they are trying to play a game with me, they will regret it." He twisted a few of the many knobs to try and focus on the largest land mass of Earth, "I doubt there even is this giant wall - what would be the point of such a thing, anyway?"
His frustration mounting, he took his eyes away from the monstrous telescope in resignation, only to blink and quickly focus the telescope so that all he saw was his atmosphere. After switching the view multiple times Lukas finally gave up, sure that he had seen something, before stiffening at a sudden rumble. Lukas warily glanced at the sky before his eyes widened in shock and his mouth dropped at the sight of a banged up and bruised metal container falling towards his home. Lukas rushed towards the edge of the balcony before launching himself off, his power kicking in as naturally as breathing as the wind worked with him to gently lower him to the grass of the front lawn.
Not caring about how he startled the other working elementals, he yelled, "There is a space craft coming in at an accelerated rate, I need all the help I can get in slowing it down!"
The others, from visiting noblemen to working servants, rushed to help him. The Wind and Force elementals worked in tandem to soften the carrier's descent while those of other abilities stayed back in fear of causing a distraction, but close enough to spy anything that might catch their interest. Fortunately, the Force elementals managed to lessen its weight just enough so that the Wind elementals had little problem in catching it. Just as they got the carrier on the ground, Lukas felt a rising in the air as it slowly began to pulse and crackle with energy. Knowing his brother by his mere presence alone, Lukas called over his shoulder, "You're a little too late for this one, Mathias."
Lukas turned to see his eldest brother sporting a pout, though he could easily make out the eternal amusement in the Electric elemental's bright blue eyes. Beyond him came the last their brothers: Tino, a light-heart'd Nature elemental, with his husband - and therefore brother through marriage - Berwald, a steadfast Mineral elemental, and their youngest brother Emil, a quiet Water elemental.
Even though Lukas obviously had everything under control, their curiosity was almost palatable. Mathias kept inching closer to the pod, as if whatever was inside it would feel his approach and burst out to greet him. Tino was nearly bouncing in excitement, eyes wide and bright, while all of Berwald's interest lived in the tense set of his broad shoulders. In contrast Emil stood back, his eyes narrowed in poorly veiled intrigue even as his body seemed to lean just the slightest bit forward. Lukas eyed his youngest brother for a second, but was very quickly dismissed by Emil's unimpressed snort.
Lukas' attention snapped back to Mathias as the older breathed out, "Whoa, what is that thing?"
The light haired Wind elemental shrugged, "I am not too sure, though I am nearly positive it came from a neighboring planet. Which one it came from I am, again, not sure, but it cannot be too difficult to find out."
Before Mathias could gain any more ground toward the container, Berwald quickly turned to his husband and asked, "Tino, do you feel anything in there?"
While most shuddered at being addressed by the Mineral elemental's deep and heavy voice, Tino perked up and stretched to kiss Berwald's cheek, "That's a great idea, Ber!"
(Lukas and Emil both quirked an eyebrow - amusement and confusion, respectively - as the brothers knew that a press of one's lips to another's cheek was a sign of affectionon Earth. On Aurora it was signified by a simple brush of fingers, so it seemed to them that Tino was definitely reading Lukas' numerous reports on the planet.)
Ignorant to his brother's thoughts, Berwald, the great beast of a man that he was, blushed a light pink and fiddled with the cuffs of his jacket as his husband walked over to the pod. Tino closed his eyes and placed both of his hands flat on the dented surface and let his mind go free. As his eyes were closed, nothing no longer held back his sight; now, without the restriction, Tino could feel his connection with the life that surrounded him and pressed in on the metal, hoping to find something in there. Almost instantaneously Tino was struck by a feeling of wrongness and he gasped as he fell back.
His brothers were there in a flash, nearly dragging him back from the metal as Mathias raised his hand to strike the container into nothing but cinders. Thankfully, before he could, Tino struggled free and dashed back to the pod.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Tino yelled, one hand stretched toward the pod while the other was stretched toward Mathias. The Electric elemental reclaimed control over his lightning before growling, put out that he didn't get to disintegrate the thing that caused Tino harm.
Still, he did not hesitate to back off completely, both hands in the air, when Tino continued to stare at him. While Tino was not all that formidable looking, Mathias knew from experience that his dear, little brother had one hell of a right hook and was not afraid to prove it.
The Nature elemental smiled reassuringly at his family before taking a deep breath and slowly turning back to the metal carrier. He took a moment to recenter himself before kneeling and placing his hands on the side of the metal; he was ready for that flash of uncomfortable and foreign power. The blooming flowers of the garden reached for him and the grass ruffled with no breeze as Tino amplified his power to see if he could tell what it was that he was feeling. This time it was a steady, if not faint, pulsing beat of heat - it was less unpleasant the second time but still unnerving to behold.
Tino slowly took his hands off of the side and the strange heat vanished. He opened his eyes and looked toward his family, "There's something inthere. It's not alive, I can say that much for sure, but - but it's still there." Tino whispered, incredibility sharp in his voice, "It had a signature that stayed even after death."
There was a moment of quiet realization before Mathias excitedly boomed, "Well then, what are we waiting for?!"
The eldest of the five approached the pod with a predatory gait and placed his own hands on the metal side. Tino quickly scrambled out of the way as it almost immediately began to melt and fold beneath the extreme currents of electricity that Mathias was forcing into it. It only took a few seconds before he was able to easily pull back the sheet of metal and wiring to see a group of small urns inside of it.
With a loud groan and muttered swear words, Mathias reached in and slowly placed his hands on each ceramic container. Blessedly there was only five in total, but it took until the fourth one for Mathias to feel anything. Just like with Tino an incredibly intimidating heat radiated from it and Mathias could not hold back a shudder of discontent, however it very soon became soft enough to bear. He cautiously brought it out and showed his brothers the small urn, confusion written all over his face.
"Well?" Emil impatiently asked, "Is that it?"
Mathias nodded, still very confused, "Yeah, there is definitely something in there. I think whatever is in this thing used to be a lot bigger, though." He then motioned to the other urns with his free hand, "And I have no clue what those are suppose to be, but they have nothing on this little guy!"
All the brothers sighed at different levels of exasperation, though none were really mad at Mathias and his star-bright grin. He jumped up and handed the urn over to Lukas with a flippant warning - "It's pretty intense, that's all I can say." - and after Lukas' own acute shudders subsided he brought it into the house. While the brothers followed him in the onlookers gathered around the metal container and its many smaller containers and, after some arguing, moved it into the palace's basement.
After entering the heart of their home, Emil asked, "So why are we bringing this thing inside?"
Lukas wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders, ignoring Emil's squawk of indignation, and said, "Because, first things first: we have to write up an announcement."
Mathias groaned at the thought of doing work as Tino clapped his hands and Berwald left to find someone to be their faux announcer. Emil managed to struggle out of his big brother's hold and, after straightening his shirt, flopped onto the couch, one leg over the other with his arms crossed over his chest, and settled in comfortably; the youngest had a feeling that this would take a while.
In the end Emil had been right as the drafting, creation, and spread of the announcement kept them prisoner in their living room even after the sun had long since gone down. Eventually they had all decided on simple and straight to the point: "There has been a recent discovery at the palace and the royal family has set out to see if it is possible to recreate the body of the dead creature; if there is anyone who has knowledge of Body Creation and Soul Restoration come to the palace at dawn."
Even though Mathias was eager to let all of those in the city know about the alien they had discovered, Lukas was firm in the decision to keep the details vague lest other scientists wanted to see the specimen before himself. While his brothers rolled their eyes at Lukas' purely selfish reasoning, all them ended up agreeing that it was in their best interest to keep as many people as possible away from the palace.
(After they had sent the message out to be posted as far as their servants could easily go, the brothers retired to their suits - not that that ended up doing much, seeing as none of them could sleep with the excitement of the new day just a few hours away. Some of them just ended up leaving their rooms for a distraction - anything to make the wait less stressful.)
Thankfully, at exactly dawn, not a moment later, there was already people gathered at the door to their home. The brothers were flooded with relief, happy that the people could see the need for haste. More than enough elementals had came forth with the knowledge they had for their princes disposal. All five brothers shared a brief look of delighted surprise before setting out to ask each person what they specifically knew and, after what had to be a hundred interviews, finally boiled it down to a handful of Nature, Water, Mineral, and Plasma elementals. Lukas, Tino, and Emil lead the group into the laboratory Lukas had set up sometime during the restless night while Berwald and Mathias stayed back to speak with the local Soul Finders; if whatever they had found was a higher lifeform such as themselves, they would need as many Psyche elementals as possible.
Just as the youngest three brothers finished explaining the situation to the helping elementals, the other two returned with five of the twenty Soul Finders. They had agreed that not many would be needed as the feeling Mathias had described to them was certainly a powerful soul; if nothing else, it was strong enough to still be tied quite tightly to what remained of its body and that was all the Psyches needed to get started.
Once everything commenced, it seemed to pass by in a blur for each brother. Lukas was nearly feral in how he rushed through the examination process he had went through the night before as he dumped the contents of the urn out onto a table, telling the other Physicals that the body should be identical to their own. Tino wasn't any better as he could not stop fidgeting, his entire body trembling in unnatural impatience, and he kept fiddling with the medical supplies he had brought out. Emil was, again, distanced from the others, but the intense stare that was drilling into the table spoke volumes on how he felt; his eyebrows furrowed in concentration, his eyes narrowed in on every movement he could see. While the three slighter brothers helped the Physical elementals along, Mathias and Berwald reigned in as much patience as possible as they were the ones to accompany the Soul Finders.
Physical elementals simply couldn't grasp the complexities involved in feeling for a soul; Psyche elementals, vice versa, couldn't understand the pulse of the physical side of things. It left both at a severe disadvantage when helping one another. As such, the Soul Finders were on a completely different spectrum than either prince but the two tried to make themselves useful. This, of course, ended up with them being as far away as they could from the small circle of five as other souls could overpower the one they were trying to find.
As the Nature elementals spent precious daylight regrowing the basic bodily functions, the Water elementals worked to recreate the blood, tissues, and more important organs. They ended up finished with the base of a form they could easily change to fit the soul and what they had looked like before death. The Nature and Water elementals took a much-needed break while the Mineral and Plasma elementals started in on their own work; together they diligently manipulated the amounts of nutrients they inputted with the hopes of finding the correct amount the body needed. Soon enough they were able to level out the right amounts to keep the body healthy and stable and agreed that the peak physical age - for whoever they were bringing back - hit around 29.
While the group was slowly bringing shape back to the ashes that had once been a living thing, the Soul Finders were having about the same amount of trouble.
They had easily spotted the right tether as, apparently, the person - the soul was obviously connect to someone of higher thinking - who had belonged to the ashes was not done living just yet. They still had an extremely strong grip on what was left of them, but seemed to be asleep. Each Soul Finder was confused and hesitantly consulted one another before trying to move them - which only ended in a burst of heat and light that blinded two of the Psyches and burnt another one. Their souls slammed back into their bodies and, incredibly enough, the one who had been burnt bore the mark of a hand print on their left bicep.
Both Berwald and Mathias had rushed him off to get him healed, leaving behind a set of apprehensive Soul Finders.
One of the women, the one who had been blinded, whispered, "I've never felt anything like that before."
A man, who was still blinking away spots, grunted, "I'm pretty sure none of us have, Bella."
Bella pouted but before she could speak, the other woman in their group spoke up, "Well, I don't know about you vesztesek, but I am not giving up! There is still someone in there and I'm going to get him in that body one way or another!"
The last man laughed and sat up to shed his jacket, "Now now, our darling Elizabeta is right! Honestly Vash, don't worry about Gilen, he'll be just fine."
Elizabeta cackled, "See, Flavio gets it! Come on guys, let's do this one for Gilen!"
Bella and Vash looked at each other and nodded, Bella's grin matched by Vash's determination. The remaining four laid back down and refocused on the soul and noticed that the glaring flare they had seen before had dimmed to a softer glow. Filled with a reinforced sense of resolution the four each took turns in trying to grab a hold of the soul; the force of each push soon becoming so feeble that they didn't even feel it. Soon the light became weak enough for them to see what the person actually looked like and, after taking in as many details as they could, sent Vash to tell the Physicals the good news.
Vash settled back inside his body and laid still for a few seconds, disorientated thanks to staying outside of his body for so long, before groaning and climbing to his feet. He ran as fast as he could to where he felt the various beats of the others' souls, only to practically collapse in the doorway of the lab. One of the Water elementals - Vash hazily recalled that her name was Michelle - exclaimed at his ragged state and rushed over to help him sit down, yet the blonde man only had eyes for one of the dark haired Mineral elementals.
"Saw 'im," Vash gasped, his lungs burning with the strain he had placed on his body.
Michelle quickly looked toward the other Physicals before looking back to him, "Do you think you could tell us?"
Vash slowly exhaled through his nose, "They sent me for a reason. Now listen up because I am pretty sure I only have a minute before I pass out." Vash looked around and, after he made sure he had their full attention, said, "He had shaggy brown hair and brown eyes, kind of short and slight. He had definite muscle mass, that's for sure, with weird markings on the tops of his shoulders. Definitely not from around here - I can't explain it."
One of the Plasma elementals growled in disgust, "That's it, there is a much easier way of doing this!"
Her colleague, another woman, cried out, "Natalia, please, don't do what I think you're about to!"
Natalia broke away from the table and simply patted the other woman on the shoulder, "Oh, get over semantics, Yekaterina, there is no time to be gentle."
The younger of the two women crouched in front of Vash and firmly placed her hands on his forehead, her thumbs fixed right between his eyes as her fingertips brushed against his ears. Even though Natalia had pushed her way toward him, she took a second to look into Vash's eyes for affirmation. The man beneath her sighed a shaky breath before nodding and in an instant Natalia was in Vash's head. Vash gnashed his teeth at the violation he felt and curled his hands into fists as he tried to keep himself from pushing the slender woman away from him. Natalia focused in on the plasma that controlled the neurons that sparked and fired inside of Vash's brain and worked her way toward his temporal lobe.
The moment she drilled into his memories Vash violently jerked forward, prompting Michelle and a Nature elemental, a young girl named Lili, into restraining him to the wall and floor. They could tell that Natalia was almost done and neither woman wanted Vash to have to go through this any more than absolutely necessary. Thankfully it was only a few beats more before Natalia broke away, leaving a slumped and unconscious Vash with the two girls.
Natalia laid on the floor, her side pressing into the tile beneath her, as her mind swam with images that did not belong to her. The violated feeling Vash had felt echoed throughout her body and it took all of her concentration to not empty her stomach onto the floor. A brunet Mineral elemental bent to help her up, his hands pressing in the vitamins that her body desperately needed. After another set a beats passed, Natalia pushed the man off of her and slowly worked herself up to her feet, her balance off and equilibrium unsteady, but she gathered up her steel will and persevered until she got back to the table.
Natalia planted her hands on table, her knees weak, but she took a deep breath and took her hands off the table to hover them over the body. Soon enough it began to shift and form to the memories she now possessed. Yekaterina looked faint, her face extremely pale as sweat beaded at her hairline, but she closed her eyes and powered through, pretending as though she saw nothing. The Mineral elemental who had helped Natalia up turned to Michelle and Lili, "Go, help them make the body. I've got him."
The two girls glanced at each other but moved anyway. The man shifted over and gently placed Vash's head in his lap. However, before Lili could get started with the others, she looked back and asked, "What's your name?"
The brunet looked up and smiled, "Toris."
Lili smiled back, "Thank you, Toris. I'm Lili."
Toris nodded and let Lili get back to her work. Soon enough, just as the final details of the body were done, the Soul Finders came bursting into the room, Bella held up between Elizabeta and Flavio. Behind them were the princes, each in a similar state of disarray, but they soon stumbled to a stop at the force of Elizabeta's bark.
"We got the soul," the tired woman shook her currently soulless best friend, "please tell me you have the body."
Natalia, her eyes dead and icy, bit out, "Of course we do, no thanks to your friend's incompetence."
Elizabeta bared her teeth and looked ready to maul Natalia, but was stopped by Flavio's irritated snap, "Okay la puttana, enough of this! We're all very tired and none of us need this. So how about you calm your pretty faces and we can get this soul inside this super fine body and get some sleep, alright? Now shut up!"
The command in the blond man's voice had everyone fall silent and he sharply nodded once. Flavio lowered Bella to the floor and started coaxing her into placing the man's soul inside the body the Physicals were working to maintain. It lasted just a few murmured words before Bella managed to shove the man inside the body right as she snapped back to her's. All three Soul Finders ended up sprawled in an ungraceful heap just as the working Physical elementals also crumpled to the floor. Even though there was no one to keep either the soul or the body going, the figure's chest was slowly and steadily moving up and down as his heart began to beat on its own.
The brothers desperately wanted answers from the now-living human they had on their hands, but they also had a team of unconscious elementals in their home. So, one by one, each took a turn carrying them out of the room. They would move the human into a separate guest bedroom later and begin the questioning once he woke up.
If only it were ever that simple.
Leon felt like he was floating, that his entire body was weightless. There was a burning red glow behind his eyelids; strange as he just recalled an eternal darkness before everything had faded away. Leon shifted, his bed silky smooth in the places where it had ought to be worn through. He furrowed his eyebrows and tried to open his eyes, but they refused to listen to him. While his heart rate picked up, Leon centered himself - all those years at the orphanage did wonders for his patience - and began the slow process of feeling every part of his body.
Starting with his toes Leon flexed and tensed each muscle, noting that there was a strange itch on his left ankle, but as he slowly worked up his calf to his thigh, he froze. When he had gotten to his upper thigh he realized that there wasn't a single stitch on his body, including the most private part of him. Leon inwardly let loose a string of swear words in all the languages he could think of, cursing the people who had taken him to high Hell, promptly forgetting about the weird oddity on his ankle.
While he continued on making sure his body was in working order, Leon could feel that there was an innate wrongness in how his body felt. In places he couldn't have bent yesterday moved on his command like he was 20 again. Leaving that mystery to the interrogation he was preparing to have with his captors - he might have been 92 but he could still kick some ass - Leon went on. His hands, which had been placed beneath the duvet, twitched and curled inward, his knuckles no longer aching in pain. Leon smoothed his expression of any confusion as his lips turned down in displeasure at the possibility that someone had messed with his body.
'Once I get out of here I am so going to sic Alfred and Matthew on these bastards. Those two have been itching for a fight ever since they got to the orphanage,' thought Leon, a dark chuckle rumbling past his lips.
Leon rolled his shoulders and neck before taking a deep breath and tried to open his eyes a second time. Throughout his bodily examination the light behind his closed eyelids faded to a much duller glow, so when Leon opened his eyes it only took a few seconds before he adjusted. After blinking rapidly for a few seconds, Leon surveyed the room he was in.
'The main decorator really liked white, oh my God, how am I not blind?' Leon thought incredulously.
There were two floor to ceiling windows on his left, the outside veiled by pure white curtains. To his right were two arched doorways, which Leon presumed was for the bathroom and closet - though why someone wouldn't put a door on a bathroom was beyond him - and hinted at the same cream wall coloring. In between the two doorways was a vanity, in between the windows was a dresser, and a bookshelf had been pushed to the wall in front of Leon with the door to its right; each furniture piece was painted such a light blue that they might as well have been white. Besides those three items, nothing else adorned the room.
Leon narrowed his eyes and let out a low groan and waited a few more seconds. After no one came out of the separate rooms Leon finally sat up in the off-white four poster bed and stretched his arms out. He let out a yawn and smacked his lips, letting his hands shift through his hair. However, right as Leon reached the nape of his neck, his eyes went wide and he froze completely.
He murmured quietly, "Wasn't my hair shorter than this? Didn't I have less hair too?"
This time Leon placed a hand on his chest, and, in a moment of silent panic, spared a glance downwards. He set his hands in front of him and flipped them over before he gently traced the tendons of his no longer old forearm. He moved to pinch his left bicep and, after a moment of stinging pain, let his hands fall back onto the blanket. Leon could feel himself start to hyperventilate - something that he hadn't done since he started taking anxiety medicine - and forcibly made himself take deep breaths one after the other. He would not lose his composure in front of these... scientists? Doctors?
Had he been experimented on?
Leon growled, anger clouding his eyes and mind, "This had better be a sick joke - or some fucking Star Wars Jedi mind trick bullshit. I'm either dreaming or dying - and dying makes a lot more sense right about now."
However, Leon was not expecting an answer back. "Oh no, you're very much alive. You're welcome for that."
His head snapped up, his eyes wide and mouth agape at the sudden appearance of five light haired men. Whatever they had been expecting from him, whether it be gratefulness or happiness, it was certainly not the furious rage they got.
Leon's jaw snapped back into place, his teeth clenched and bared, and his eyes fell on the one who spoke, a man with a cross clip in his hair. The man did not recoil like his partners did, but his face did fall in surprise of the sheer intensity of Leon's gaze.
The Asian man hissed, "'You're welcome'? Am I suppose to be thankful for what you did to me?"
The man, who was the apparent leader, glanced back at two of the larger men that made up the five. The one with glasses came to stand next to the leader while the spiky haired one slowly approached, his hands in the air, "Look, there are a few things we have to explain first, we understand that."
Leon laughed, a horrible, mocking sound, "A few things?! I am currently naked in a body that is not mine as if I just turned 25 instead of 92!" The brunet switched back to the leader, a twisted sneer on his face that bespoke of all the horrible things he had done when he was 25, "Last I checked I was on my deathbed in the house I had built - now I'm here with no recollection of ever being moved. I would love to see you try to explain that!"
The shortest of the five slowly walked over as if Leon was a wild animal. Well, he was certainly acting like one, so Leon supposed he couldn't be offended by the treatment. The man didn't look to be a threat, but Leon could see how the tallest of the group kept a close watch on him - and how they wore matching wedding bands. The rings showed that they weren't insane psychopaths, at least. Leon relaxed a bit, his spine not as straight, his fingers no longer claws, and he could tell it had an affect on the brown eyed man.
The shorter man smiled and gently sat beside his leg, his hands folded delicately in his lap, before saying, "I know that this will sound like a lie and that we are making this entire thing up. But please know that everything I am about to say is completely true. Do not interrupt until the end and, if you still do not believe me afterwards, there is nearly 30 other people who will say the exact same thing. Before we get started, what is your name?"
Leon stared him down for a second before speaking, "My birth name is Wang Li, but I am known as Leon."
The other man smiled, pleased at the progress he had already made, "My name is Tino, it is a pleasure to meet you. Now, are we in agreement?"
The first thing Leon noticed was the awkward distortion of the man's voice along with the thick accent that accompanied it. It sounded vaguely like putting something through Google Translate and Leon smirked a bit at the thought. Before any of the five men could question his sudden amusement, Leon nodded his head and leaned back.
When Tino began to speak it took all of Leon's will to not say a single word. The entire thing sounded like something out of a science fiction novel! That he had died and that his ashes wounded up in space only for it to land on a different fucking planet. The story had to be complete bullshit, but the longer Tino talked, the more everything made sense. Leon had known that he was going to die soon and he knew that his precious children had planned on sending his ashes into space - he also knew they wanted it to be a surprise, but they should have realized that their grandpa knew everything - and this, strange enough as it was, just made sense.
The man finally told Leon their names - the spiky one was Mathias, the leader was Lukas, his husband was Berwald, and the quiet one was Emil - and explained that they were the ruling princes and brothers. At that point Leon was ready to believe just about anything they told him so he simply nodded and waited for Tino to continue.
When Tino did get to the part of the whole elemental business Leon felt like he had been dragged through an episode of The Twilight Zone. When Berwald stepped forward as Leon's entire body tensed up, the human man stared the other down. Though Berwald did not flinch and could tell that he had a serious advantage if Leon decided to attack, there was something in Leon's eyes that made Berwald pause. It wasn't so much as a dare, not like Mathias, but more like an understanding of an adversary; Leon regarded Berwald as a formidable enemy and Berwald was incredibly shaken at the thought of such a smaller man having the confidence of stating that they were equals.
(If it were anyone else Berwald would have brushed them off, but an instinctual part of him submitted to the, admittedly, much older man. Berwald could tell he would have a fighting chance but, if it would come down to it, he would not stand a chance against what Leon might do to him.)
Leon quickly reverted his attention back to Tino and Berwald took a moment to shrug off the feeling of being lit ablaze. Emil spared him a concerned glance and Berwald nodded his head before he too returned his eyes to his husband.
As Tino slowly went through the process of Body Creation and Soul Restoration, Leon had managed to accumulate an incredible headache. By the time Tino had finished his long-winded explanation, which even included the itch on his ankle being a freaking translator, Leon was pretty sure his headache had evolved into a full-blown migraine.
'Great, just great. "Migraine has joined the battle! It used Pain! Pain was effective!" This is the worst Pokemon ever.' The brunet rubbed his temples before he looked toward the ceiling and let out an undignified groan, "I'm so doooooooooone."
He covered his eyes with his hands and fell back against the pillow and let out a mixture of a soft sob and scream of overwhelming resignation. The five elementals slowly looked at each other, not sure what to do with this reaction. They had expected pure anger, not... well, whatever this was. However, before they could dwell on it for much longer, Leon threw his arms to the side and sighed.
Leon sat back up, looked to Lukas, and held up a finger, "Okay, first, I want to know everything there is to know about this planet." He bit out the word as if he still didn't believe it and held up another finger, "Secondly I want to know everything you know about Earth and," Leon held up a third finger, "lastly I want some damn clothes!"
It was as if the world suddenly started moving again. Mathias and Berwald knew they weren't all that helpful when it came to Earth so the two of them left to try and find clothes for the slight man. Leon crossed his legs in the lotus position and carefully watched the other three; now that he knew what they were or, more importantly, what they could do, Leon was hesitant to let them get too close. However Tino simply got more comfortable in the position he was already in, Lukas walked over to sit on Leon's other side with one foot firmly planted on the floor, and Emil chose to just lean against the wall next to Leon's shoulder.
Lukas began speaking first. "Well we already explained how this world is smaller than your own, though the physics are quite the same. I, personally, have been studying Earth and the translator works for your people's language - as long as you do not start speaking shortened language it will work perfectly."
Leon thought the 'your people's language' bit was a little weird, but considering English was called the 'universal language', he wasn't about to correct the guy.
"Now, as for the finer details of the elementals, you do not have to bother yourself with it unless you wish to study our abilities," Lukas continued on, his voice completely calm, "all I ask is that you do not conduct any experimentation or mutation on your own."
The brunet man held up his hands, "Wait, wait, wait - what? Mutation? Why on Earth would I do that?!"
The violet eyed man blinked, "Well I have studied quite a bit of your laws and mutation is illegal on your home planet - ."
Leon interrupted him, "That's so not what I meant. Uh, I was expressing why you thought I would want to mutate someone."
Lukas blinked again, "Ah, that does make more sense. Like I said previously, slang of any kind can get muddled through translation. Anyhow, our kind find the pursuit of knowledge, of any means, is worth any sacrifice made." At Leon's sick expression, Lukas carried on, "Of course every and all experiments are conducted on volunteers or those who have donated their body. It is not like your gruesome wars and torture: this is simple science."
Leon took in a deep breath before slowly letting it out. Even though the part about the wars did sting some, Leon couldn't fault him for saying it - it was true. Knowing that there was a ginormous difference between what he knew and what they actually did was relieving. He motioned for Lukas to go on and settled into the bedding.
The Wind elemental cleared his throat and said, "There are a few customs we've already gleamed from your own and other planets so if you are confronted with irregular culture it is simply our way of knowing our neighbors more. Tino and Berwald are examples of your marriage; we normally don't have any physical representation of a marriage but they've decided to try the rings."
Leon looked to Tino, who was grinning shyly, "Yeah, I noticed earlier. Congrats on your marriage, by the way."
Tino raised his eyebrows in pleasant surprise, "Thank you for your wishes."
Leon nodded his welcome and turned back to Lukas. In turn Lukas side-eyed Emil, causing the youngest to lightly blush and mutter beneath his breath. Emil sighed, "Well, as you know, we've been studying Earth for a while now and we've noticed that the basics of your society is the same as our own. We will, of course, be studying your own behavior as you are presented with new things, so don't be concerned if a few of our people come up to you. You do look very different from us already, such as your facial structure and weird markings, so they might want to touch you."
Leon grimaced at the information but he had already accepted the fact that he was the alien here. "Alright, is there anything else that's super important for me to know or am I free to go?"
Tino lightly touched Leon's shoulder, "Go? But where to? No, it is better if you were to stay here."
Leon smirked, amused at the confusion, "It's just a turn of phrase. I'm asking 'is the conversation over'."
The brown eyed man leaned back with a thoughtful look on his face, "Humans are such strange creatures. It's quite lovely, really."
While Emil and Lukas both agreed, Leon looked up in bemusement. Before any of the men could say another word, Mathias and Berwald both reappeared with what seemed to be a mixture of Emil's and Tino's clothing. Mathias chirped, "I hope you guys are okay with our little friend wearing your clothes because he definitely won't fit ours!"
Berwald gave the sack to Leon with a quiet, "I will get you more clothing by tonight." and retreated behind Tino, his hands on the other man's slender shoulders. Leon looked at all of them, waiting for them to leave, while the others looked at him, wondering why he wasn't get dressed.
Lukas suddenly straightened, a soft exclamation leaving his lips, before turning to his brothers, "Human modesty dictates that only a romantic partner or a family member may see another unclothed." He turned back to Leon, "We will wait outside, call for us when you are ready."
The five of them filed out one by one and, in a matter of seconds, Leon was finally alone. The Asian man sighed and mulled over everything he had learned as he dressed himself. The shirt was a little tight and the pants a hair too short, but he knew it was just a temporary fix.
Leon murmured, "God, I really need some fresh air."
Still, even if what he wanted was a basic need, Leon doubted the brothers would just let him wander off without at least one of them. Leon refused to stay with Mathias or Berwald, he would definitely end up putting them on their asses, and Lukas was too weird for Leon to be comfortable. And while Tino was perfectly normal, he was also very talkative and Leon wanted some peace and quiet - which left him with the antisocial Emil. Leon shrugged; it wasn't like Emil would bother him too much.
"Not to mention he's pretty cute." Leon snickered to himself, "Man, it's been far too long since I've messed with someone; being old definitely dampened that part of me. This should be plenty of fun."
Leon twisted his back and was satisfied at the horrible cracking sounds. He did the same with his neck and was pleased to find that his headache had already lessened somewhat. The Asian man confidently strode over to the door, surprised at how comfortable this new body was, only to grow uneasy at the phrase 'his new body'.
'All of this is going to take a lot of getting used to,' Leon thought as he opened the door. 'But I might as well accept it and screw with as many people as possible.'
He immediately sought Emil out and asked, "Would you mind showing me what your planet looks like?"
The five brothers shared identical looks of shock and confusion, but Leon only had eyes for the slowly reddening Emil who eventually got enough bearings to stutter, "I guess that would be acceptable. But don't expect a grand tour or anything like that!"
Leon smiled, the epitome of charm, and nearly purred, "Oh, I wouldn't dream of it."
While Leon's smile widened as Emil's blush crept down his neck, the other four were questioning the abrupt shift in Leon's demeanor. But all questions were answered when, as Emil lead Leon toward one of the balconies, Leon looked back toward the stranded princes and winked.
Just as the two left the hallway, Mathias doubled over in laughter, "He might be an old geezer, but he's going to give our little brother so many issues!"
Tino smiled, "Well at least he found something to entertain himself with."
"However," Lukas huffed, his arms crossed over his chest, "I'd much rather he distract himself with something that was not my youngest brother."
Even Berwald cracked a smile at that and Mathias slung an arm over Lukas' shoulders, "Come on, Lulu, the man's been taken from his home and now has an awesome new body; let him have some fun!"
Lukas said nothing as he jammed an elbow into Mathias' stomach, causing the older man to tumble to the ground, "I told you to never call me that!"
All while this was happening Emil was scurrying down the many corridors that made up his house. When Leon had first opened the door Emil could steadily feel his body temperature rising at how the other man filled out his own clothing. While he had previously taken biology lessons Emil had never personally had this particular reaction before - and it seemed as if Leon knew that. Emil muttered a few curse words to himself before he stopped and threw open the doors that connected the drawing room to the second floor terrace; specifically, where one could see the city, garden, and sea all at once. At first Emil wasn't sure why he was showing off this particular view, but once he saw all of Leon's cocky smugness melt away, he found that he had a pretty good answer. Leon took one step at a time until he was finally outside and braced his hands against the edge's railing.
When he had lived on Earth he had never had the pleasure of living in the North, though he did visit Scandinavia multiple times, so he never caught a live look at the Northern Lights. But here, on this strange planet so far from home, it was as if the sky had taken the most beautiful picture Leon had ever seen and made it real. It made him feel like a child again, so warm and safe even though nothing about it could be called familiar. The sky was awash with streaks of light green that swelled and faded to a bright blue, only to shimmer and darken into a deep, heavy lavender. Leon could remember times where the sky looked like it was on fire with oranges and reds and pinks that would streak across the morning sky as if a painter was testing their colors; but never had he seen a sky frozen and dipped in the very qualities of winter.
After drinking in his full of the rippling sky, Leon could feel the air leave his lungs at the sight of the sea. It was frothing and shifting from every variation of blue and green imaginable; almost as if the entire thing was one giant fairy pond. He knew there was nothing like it on Earth, nothing so untouched by pollution and humankind. It almost seemed to reach up toward him, as if saying hello, as if asking him if he thought it was pretty, as if wondering if Leon liked its dancing. There wasn't a single moment of stillness and Leon felt that any picture or painting would never do it justice.
But what really had him thrown was the garden; one look simply made his knees weak in reverence for its overwhelming beauty. The blooms, ranging from the deepest black to the brightest yellow, seemed to be intertwined with one another. Each and every vine and root was wrapped around a partner's, even if they were not of the same type, as if it was a giant mass of dancers who found love and just still continued to move. It looked like chaos and was soon spreading up the sides of the house, but Leon had the distinct impression that that was the point. Some flowers reached for the sun, some for the moon, and others for the sea - Leon could firmly believe that this was a fairy tale. There was no order to the colors, no set defining trait that separated them, and Leon wondered if this is what Aphrodite's garden would look like.
The human man breathed out, "Wow. I've never seen anything like this."
Emil, antsy at his slack-jaw'd expression, could not recognize the tone of his voice, "I do not understand your feeling, may you please elaborate?"
Leon had to visibly rip himself away from the scene before asking, "What do you mean?"
Emil fidgeted with his collar, not prepared for the intensity of Leon's gaze, "I do not believe I am familiar with the emotion you are experiencing at this moment."
Leon blinked, and marveled once more at the stark differences that cleaved the two of them in half, "Uhm, I guess... awe? In English, the word you're looking for is awe." Leon tilted his head a bit and nodded, "It means to be filled with - with wonder. When you see something amazing or breathtaking, you're filled with awe and wonder."
The light haired man shifted his weight and huffed, "Seems like an unnecessary emotion."
Leon looked at him in disbelief, "Really? Haven't you ever stepped back and just been breathless?"
"No," Emil shook his head, "but I suppose that it could be a facet only to humans."
The dark eyed man continued to look at him before letting out a low whistle, "Well that's a damn shame because it is one of the best things in the world; any world. I consider it amazing that there are so many things that can still take my breath away after all the years that I've lived."
Right before his very eyes Leon seemed to finally soften. Before he was all sharp edges and anger, then he was the exemplar student, and soon afterwards seemed to derive great amusement from messing with him. But now the Leon he was seeing before him was relaxed, carefree, and filled with so much - so much awe. The elemental wondered if this was Leon's true form and had a sudden urge to find out.
Emil smiled fondly, "You humans are so very sentimental."
"Yeah," Leon replied as he looked back toward the sky, "we really are."
The both of them spent what could have been days in each other's presence as they admired the view. Even though Emil was far more used to it and thus simply appreciated the intricacies his brothers and the gardeners had gone through to create it, Leon was filled with nostalgia at the thought of his mother's much smaller garden that had once upon a time dominated his childhood home. The echo of loss sent a pang of pain to his heart and, before he knew it, Leon had started to cry.
His head bowed and fingers tightly gripping the wrought-iron rails, Leon let loose all of his emotions that had plagued him until now. At first he had had his anger to fall back on and when that ran out he used his shock and when that ran out he accepted the wonderment of the world. But now everything just came back to the thought he had when he had first woken up: Leon would never again see his family, blood or otherwise.
Emil would have been completely oblivious had Leon been quieter, but once he heard Leon sniffling, he was a mess. "Oh - oh, uh, are you okay? I'm sorry, why are you crying? Is there something saddening here? Do all humans cry when exposed to the elements or is there something upsetting you?"
Leon simply shook his head and began to laugh, filled to the brim of the absolute insanity that was his life. However, that didn't help Emil any as the poor man resorted to just staring as Leon cried and laughed and cried and laughed over, at what he could tell, absolutely nothing. As Leon started to wind down, Emil finally remembered a piece of human acquaintanceship and reached over to hug him.
The Asian man wasn't expecting an arm full of cute alien and promptly flushed a deep pink. It was a little awkward, Emil was way too tense for it to feel natural, but Leon just smiled and draped his arms around Emil's waist.
Emil muttered into Leon's chest, "You are incredibly warm."
Leon chuckled into Emil's hair, "Yeah, I've been told that before. So, can I ask why you're doing this?"
Emil tensed up even more, but Leon refused to let him pull back, so he sighed into the side of Leon's neck, "I have seen that you humans like to squeeze one another in a show of friendship or reassurance."
This time Leon leaned back to laugh, his chest rumbling with the noise, which caused Emil to blush even harder, "Yeah, but we just call it hugging. But thanks."
At the other man's appreciation, Emil finally relaxed into the hug. Maybe he could get used to weird Leon and his many quirks. Maybe.
After months, or whatever it was the inhabitants used to calculate time, he still hasn't figured that out, of being on Aurora Leon could finally call the place home.
Every brother seemed to have accepted Leon into their weird, mix-matched family. While Leon had spent quite a few hours just detailing the similarities between the five of them - even big Berwald acted like he had been born just to be with the others - he had noticed more differences than not.
Mathias was the eldest, but he certainly was not the big brother Yao had been; Mathias was actually the one Leon could connect with the most. While Leon was always the youngest of his family, he also knew what it was like to be the big brother, to be the father, to be the grandfather. However, that didn't mean he had ever lost his mischievousness or his childish streak and Mathias was practically nothing but childish. Leon always felt like Mathias was willing to give him the childhood he never got to experience - even though the both of them were looked up to and have been told countless times to 'act like their age'.
(That didn't mean Mathias wasn't sometimes just too much for Leon - too loud, too extravagant, too bold. The Asian man could not discredit how young Mathias made him feel but, at the same time, it also showed Leon that there needed a balance between the childish and the mature. Leon was still an old man at heart; a very old man who loved to sit down and watch others be the child instead of him.)
When Leon had sated his inner child, his first thought was to turn to Tino and, in consequence, Berwald. Both were very quiet people, not in a way that they disliked the noise, but in that they were comfortable if there wasn't any. Tino, Leon had found on his first day there, was the real big brother; he had been the one to sing the lullabies and to make the food and to calm the crying. It wasn't because the blond had told him, not at all, but Leon could see it in the way he carried himself. Tino walked with a calm confidence, assured that in the most dire of situations there was always something he could do to help.
Berwald, in contrast, was Tino's shadow. Leon wouldn't dare say that Berwald went unnoticed, hell, he was always the first thing one saw if he was in the room. Yet that didn't stop the man from attaching himself to his husband. Where one went, the other was not too far behind. And, though Leon could tell that this was something that should have bothered him, Leon never really minded that if he were to seek out Tino, he would get Berwald as well.
(Leon would never tell them that - even after all of his years surrounded by children loving children, children loving parents, parents loving parents - he had never seen anyone who loved each other as much as they did. Who moved with each other as they did. Who simply were and were happy to do nothing else as they did. Leon had a feeling that they would ask him how he knew and he did not know how to answer that or if he could to begin with.)
Of course Leon didn't really get to choose who he saw most days, however. As he was a live and healthy being of a different species, Leon was usually stuck with Lukas poking him for hours on end. They would occasionally discuss facts Leon recalled about Earth - the Wind elemental oddly serious about the existence of the Great Wall of China - whenever Lukas showed interest and Lukas would, in turn, provide the same about Aurora. Leon knew that being held hostage by Lukas wasn't the worse thing that could have happened and he slowly got used to the intensity of Lukas' eyes and the subtle emphases of meaning on certain words. If Mathias was a younger brother and Tino was an older brother, Leon likened Lukas to the middle child; not unapproachable, but distant all the same. That didn't really phase Leon however, and the older man was happy to learn about the differences between humans and elementals as Lukas continued on with his poking and prodding.
Soon they were able to learn that a human's body and an elemental's body were physically identical; it was how their bodies were tuned to their planet's magnetism that created the ability to bend it and elementals were simply more sensitive due to their planet's smaller size. And while Leon liked Lukas, the guy was intelligent and Leon had forgotten the last time he had a scholar's conversation with someone else, he could not understand why Lukas kept him at their home for 'examinations' when all of his questions had been answered.
What the man didn't know was that Lukas refused to give him over to other scientists so that Leon had a reason to stay in their home; Lukas would not let the fire in Leon be recorded by anyone other than he. Even though it would take years to find a way to increase Leon's sensitivity to magnetism, Lukas knew it could happen naturally, and he feared what this alien he housed might be capable of.
(Leon had brought fire in its most basic form to a planet covered in ice. Lukas could feel his fear to the very pits of his soul; this human was a raging inferno filled with so much anger and passion that Lukas swore Leon glowed sometimes. If that power managed to work its way from his veins to the very air, there was a good chance that everything his people had made could go up in literal flames. But, filled with a quiet sort of resignation, Lukas knew the only way to really know was to wait.)
The only one Leon didn't consider family was Emil. It wasn't for lack of trying, the youngest of the brothers reminded him - almost painfully - of all the young teenagers he had once take care of. Emil tried so hard to impress everyone he met, tried to be older than what his slim 22 years gave him, tried to argue away all of his childish and immature tendencies. While the man was not in any way a child, he seemed to strangely resent the fact he was the youngest of the family, no matter that Emil couldn't actually control that part of himself. Leon could obviously see how Emil tried to become his big brother Lukas; how the younger man emulated all of Lukas' mannerisms from the way he walked to how he took his coffee - and Leon knew that Emil detested coffee.
(Okay, it wasn't actually coffee but Leon couldn't stop calling it that seeing as Lukas and Tino were menaces before they had some in the mornings. It was alien coffee.)
Leon simply couldn't wrap his mind around wanting to be older, wanting the weight and responsibility of such a thing on his shoulders. This is why, instead of treating Emil as another baby brother, he treated him as a friend. Being the oldest for so long, and now possibly forever, Leon knew what it was like to physically not be able to be childlike. Bad hips, groaning joints, aching back, unsteady balance; as Leon got older he slowly came to the horrified realization that he would never be able to keep up with his children anymore.
Now with everything working perfectly once more Leon used every opportunity to be the child he never was: he set off small explosions at random places whenever he wanted, he happily trashed room after room with the biggest blanket forts he think of, he ran through all the rooms and slid down the hallways in the fluffiest socks Berwald could make him. And along the way he tried to include Emil, whether it was scaring him with firecrackers or getting him to dance down the polished floors with him. Leon wanted Emil to give in to his inner child, even if it meant pushing the poor boy straight out of his comfort zone multiple times a day. Some days Leon would catch the boy pursing his lips as he tried to keep from smiling and, every time, Leon would have to catch himself from leaning in and kissing the younger boy.
(At first Leon was disgusted with himself and his behavior but as he spent more time with Emil - with that not-yet-smile - Leon found himself caring less and less. He had gone without a partner the first time around, and he was not about to screw it up a second time.)
Soon enough Leon was able to calm down the playfulness his soul had never gotten to fully unleash and, even though Emil would rather jump off a mountain than admit it, the Water elemental felt a bit lonely without Leon's constant presence. While he rationally knew that Leon would just be in the garden or in the library, Emil could not explain away the twinge of disappointment when he wouldn't get a knock on his door; wouldn't get Leon poking his head in with a grin, asking for his assistance in another game. Emil had soon began to seek Leon out himself and had even suggested, lips twisted in a scowl and cheeks tinted pink, if Leon wanted to try his hand at taming one of the many gardens - with Emil at his side as a watchful eye, of course.
If it just so happened that Emil knew how much Leon loved the gardens and that his eyes would brighten in happiness or that Leon would most likely bounce up from his seat and fold Emil in his arms, well, he wasn't going to say a thing.
In response to Emil's small suggestion was a craft of beauty even Mathias had to stop and appreciate. Unlike the garden the brothers had created and grown to flourish as one entity, Leon had put obvious thought into exactly where each plant resided. The trees that bore fruit brushed against one another near the back while those that bloomed flowers had settled so that one would always have the sweet scent of nature close by. Flowers, heavy in color, hugged close to the house and to the trees, but some twisted along makeshift walls. These walls helped the allusion of the garden being sectioned off - each part having its own bench, adding to the faux privacy. No matter where one wandered throughout the garden there was a subtle peace hanging in the air.
So, really, when Emil left his room in search of Leon, he wasn't at all surprised to find the human man sitting among the Pink Petals - though Leon stubbornly referred to them as Sakura to the brothers bemusement. Emil took a second to soak in the image of the dark haired man: his knees drawn up and in their familiar cross, his expressive golden eyes closed as his spine curved to fit alongside the bark of the tree, his chest steadily rising and falling to his quiet breaths. After the moment passed Emil slowly exhaled before sitting on the opposite end of the bench.
Even though Leon looked to be completely asleep, Emil knew better than to accept that. Yet, while Emil had openly admired Leon's features just a second before, the younger man simply didn't have the nerve to do it up close. Instead Emil was forced by timidness to glance at the other man. Leon's much darker complexion had made him exotic to the much lighter citizens of the city and that, in turn, made him desirable to both the women and the men. And, as Leon was now technically family, the initial interest in his new older brother had Emil nauseated every time someone brought it up. However, that didn't stop a small part of Emil from agreeing; Leon's rich brown hair always seemed soft to the touch, his eyes bright and attentive - attention sorely on the person he was speaking to, and Emil knew Leon's physic was extremely sought after. If he added in the strange permanent ink that darkened his shoulders and arms to pitch black and blood red along with Leon's dedicated drive, Emil could safely say that there was no one like Leon on the entirety of Aurora.
Almost unconsciously Emil whispered, "You are the most unique person in this galaxy."
Proving Emil's early conviction correct, Leon snorted, "That's nice Emil, but it's probably because I'm a human who is a) not on his planet and b) notdead."
Emil flushed at the condescending tone and huffed, "Perhaps it is not you who is unique then, but your contribution to our relationship certainly is."
At that Leon opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow at Emil, his back arching away from the tree, "I'm sorry, but what?"
The younger man fidgeted with his fingers for a bit, his mouth opening and closing in frustration, before he noticed the hidden amusement in the quirk of Leon's mouth. Emil glared at the other man, pouting as he crossed his arms against Leon's soft snickering. "You know exactly what I am saying!"
Emil turned back to Leon, his eyes serious and beseeching, and said, "I do not believe that there is a word in my language for... this kind of relationship."
Leon sighed, his laughter dead in his throat, knowing that he could either have this conversation now or later. He chose now. "You're in luck, 'cause there's one in mine."
The elemental's spine straightened in interest. "Oh? I have scanned the English language and it appears that you humans - ."
The Asian man chuckled, "I said my language, not English. Humans are so diverse that they don't have just one. We have hundreds."
"Really?!" Emil's jaw dropped. He had thought humans used only one language - well, at least, that's certainly what Lukas thought.
"Yes," Leon's earlier amusement shined in his eyes, "I am surprised that you 'smarter lifeforms' never looked past English. The language I'm talking about is Mandarin."
Emil completely ignored the jab at his species as he tried, and failed, to pronounce the new language. "Man-dar-in? From which country does this language come from?"
"My homeland, China," if there was a bit of sadness in Leon's voice, Emil didn't notice.
"I see." Emil's eyes wandered away from Leon's for a second before snapping back into focus. "You said that you have a word for this relationship, yes? So, what is it?"
"I doubt you could pronounce it, but it is yuanfen," Leon seemed unnerved by speaking the ancient language but, again, Emil took no notice.
Emil, this time, was the one to laugh, "Your lack of faith in my abilities is accurate. What does it mean?"
"It means a relationship bound to happen by fate," Leon spoke slowly, with uncertainty. "I think it works for the both us."
Emil simply hummed, "Mm, yes, I do believe it would."
Leon almost couldn't believe that Emil's inquiry had been completely innocent. It was almost disappointing, really. After all, Leon had hoped that this time around he would be able to die knowing that his lover would join him soon; and he had hoped that lover would be Emil. Little did he realize that Emil was just getting started.
"So...," Emil drawled, "It's like... a best friend? But forever?"
Leon wasn't sure to say, so he simply nodded.
"I'm not too sure about the whole fate thing, but I do know what a best friend is and how long forever is, so I suppose I'll have to say yes," Emil turned his bright eyes to Leon, the sincerity in his voice rendering Leon mute. However, before Leon could have a chance at recovery, Emil pulled together as much confidence as he could muster, and blurted out, "But what about love?"
Leon's face blanked and, his voice a flat monotone, asked, "What?"
Immediately Emil's earlier blush came back in full force and he ran a hand through his hair - a habit he definitely caught from Leon. "Well, being bound by fate is quite a heavy meaning. So, would the term 'best friends' cover it? Wouldn't 'love' be better?"
While Leon could understand that Emil was nervous, the elemental always reverted back to his formal speech when he was anxious, Leon couldn't find it in him to care. It wasn't that he didn't, but Leon felt so out of depth that the first thing he could say was, "Shut up, you don't know what you're saying."
Emil kept his eyes on his twisting fingers, "But is love not an intense feeling of care for another?"
"Yeah, but it means something more than simple caring!" Leon knew he should stop, but his mouth apparently didn't recognize the damage it was doing. "Don't say you love me unless you mean it."
The elemental clenched his teeth and, finally, with a fire Leon didn't know he possessed, hissed, "Why can't you just understand that there just might be someone who could love you?!"
Something snapped in Leon, whether it be in his mind or in his heart, but suddenly he was on his feet, his hands fisted in Emil's shirt. The blazing anger Leon had locked away for years had resurfaced and it planned on burning everything it could. "Because people don't love me! Why can'tyou understand that there is nothing in me to love?! I am the youngest of six children and not one was able to do it, so why should you be exempt?!
"My oldest suffocated me, the second didn't care at all, the other two thought love could be beaten into a child, and my older sister couldn't realize that love could hurt as much as it could heal. You can't understand that there is no love on the streets, just a frenzied need you'd do anything to satisfy. Even after that there was almost no one who ever wanted me; it was either my name, or my status, or my money. So I am so fucking sorry if I can't believe you - you've never gone a day, never had to die, just get the love you wanted!"
By the end of Leon's tirade, his cheeks were so red he could feel the heat, and he could taste the salt of his tears. He shoved a stunned Emil away, as he laughed, a broken sound that reminded Emil of the painful first day they had met. "I am an old, old man, Emil. I've had children and grandchildren and great grandchildren; but they were never really mine. I tried to love them like it, I did, but I never could. I can't love anyone and loving me is impossible. I really am sorry, but I can't believe you. Why should I?"
That seemed to get Emil running again, though his voice was shaking, "I'll prove it to you! I'll - I'll prove it in the most human way I know."
Leon roughly wiped away his tears before making that horrible choking sound that tried to pass for a laugh again, "Oh, yeah? How?"
While Leon wasn't sure why he needed such concrete proof, Emil seemed to get it just fine. The smaller man jumped up from his seat and grabbed Leon by his shoulders before pressing their lips together. Leon didn't move, didn't breathe, even though he was sure Emil was going to bruise his mouth with the pressure. Luckily Emil let up soon enough and all Leon could do was blink.
Of course that was before Emil breathless said, "I can see why humans do that now. It's quite nice."
And just like that it was like a spell had been lifted. Leon snorted before chuckling before he had to clutch his knees to keep from tumbling to the ground in laughter. It wasn't like the mocking sound from earlier, no, Leon could practically feel his anger dissipate into the air. When he was able to keep it to a mild chuckle, Leon stood up and just barely managed to not go down again. Emil had just stood in the same spot, uncomfortable at the reaction, for the entire time Leon had been laughing. However, when the Asian was able to straighten, the elemental found that he couldn't care that much if it meant Leon would never lose that glow.
The feeling of a longing ache settled deep into their bones. Leon never knew that there could be anyone to extinguish his flames so thoroughly in a matter of seconds while Emil couldn't believe that anyone of any world could light up an area with just their happiness. Because, for once in Leon's life, the warmth that softly radiated from him wasn't the anger he had always felt, but a sense of content that left him speechless.
Whether it was a second later or a day later, both of them would not be able to tell who leaned in first for their second kiss. It was softer than the first one, less desperate to prove itself as it reveled in the feeling of the not-quite love that plagued the two men sharing it. The two were such opposites of each other, but they supposed that only made more sense as to why they fit so well together; even if they were never meant to meet at all.
Wang Li, most notably known as Leon Wang, had known from a young age that his life was to end with him alone, and he had been right. However, when the second time came around, it seemed like one Emil Steillson simply couldn't leave him be.
Strangely enough, Leon found that he could live - and die - with that.