Our Little Manipulations
Kael slouched in the sofa, keeping his expression completely neutral, completely free of anything he was actually thinking or feeling. But he was already pretty sure he knew what this entire conversation was going to be about, and how exactly the whole thing was going to go... and he wasn't in the mood for it.
Hanael had gathered the three of them here -- him, Rafariel, and Xon -- and then bade them sit down on the sofa while he alone stood before them, like a single actor ready to give a monologue for his audience to react to. And that was just how it would play out... Kael felt like he'd already read the whole script.
"I think some of you might already know this..." Hanael's gaze moved to Kael, as if seeking confirmation. Kael stared back at him silently, his expression bland, and after a moment, Hanael sighed a little. Kael wondered if he could sense his objectionable mood even through his poker face. There were few who could really read him, but Hanael was likely to be one of them.
"...but Zafkiel has managed to get a job in Japan and will be moving back there in about a month."
For a moment, there was silence.
"No way!" However Xon, of course, could never keep his mouth shut for long. "What kind of job?"
Hanael smiled a little. "He'll be working for Square Enix."
Xon nearly leaped out of his seat.
"You're kidding me?! No way! That's like... too good to be true!"
"Which is why he's prepared to leave so many things behind to take the job." Hanael fidgeted a little. Kael wondered if Xon was ruining his script.
"And you're telling us this because...?" Rafariel's question was sharp, and Kael hid his smirk. Unlike Xon, Rafariel had immediately intuited that the job itself was not the focus of the discussion. And yet Rafariel wondered why Kael had no interest in the kid?
Hanael quietly folded his hands behind his back, his gaze on Rafariel.
"Because I, and Kash, and Kham, are planning to follow him to Japan."
And there was that silence again, but this time it was deeper, and colder. Kael focused his attention on Rafariel; the boy's lips were pursed together, pressed so tight they were almost white, but in contrast, his eyes were wide and quivering. He swallowed hard several times. Then he opened his mouth, taking a deep breath, a sound that echoed in the stillness of the room.
"...you're going to leave us?"
Hanael was silent for a moment, and still himself, his expression calm as he met Rafariel's gaze. Then he tilted his head to one side, and smiled, just a little.
"Only if you decide to stay here."
And there it was. The magic line that Kael had known was coming all along. He pursed his own lips, and counted silently in his head. Sure enough, three heartbeats later, Rafariel swivelled around to face him, eyes still wide, but entreating now; silently begging him.
For all Hanael's supposed good intentions, for all the kindness he portrayed... sometimes Kael thought he knew how to play people better than Kael did himself.
He narrowed his eyes, staring into Rafariel's clear, beautiful gaze, that sweet gaze that always had so much more damned effect on him than he wanted.
"So you want to go back to Japan," he said sourly. Rafariel nodded once, silently.
"Even though you were so desperate to run away from everything chasing you."
Rafariel swallowed loudly again, but he nodded once more.
Kael's lips twisted. "And I imagine you want me to foot the bill."
Rafariel's shoulders tensed, and that entreating gaze fell away at last, dropping down to the hands clenched tightly in his lap. Out of the corner of his eye, Kael could see Xon's furious expression, glaring at him from beyond Rafariel's shoulder... but thankfully, the kid seemed to have enough common sense this time around to keep his big mouth shut for now.
"...I'll... work. I'll pay you back." Rafariel mumbled the words, but they were clear enough.
Kael blew air out through his nostrils. "You've never worked a day in your life."
The fists in Rafariel's lap clenched tighter together, and wrinkles appeared on his broad forehead. But his gaze remained lowered.
"I... I'll do it. It just needs... learning, right? I can do anything if I learn how. I'll work. I'll pay you back."
He raised his head finally, and there was such fierce determination in his eyes; that spitfire strength that he never even seemed to realise that he possessed, but which always pulled him through.
"Please..." His voice was soft, and gentle, and full of longing, and for a moment Kael just wanted to close his eyes and enjoy it.
"What about university?" he said aloud, determined not to lose his stride.
Rafariel's gaze faltered for a moment, then focused on him again.
"There are universities in Japan."
"And if 'they' come after you again?"
Rafariel's shoulders began to tremble.
"We're moving to Kyoto, not Tokyo." That was Hanael's soft, lilting voice intruding, and Kael pursed his lips again. But sure enough, it was enough to still Rafariel's quivering.
"They won't come so far to find me. They've probably forgotten me already."
"You're prepared to believe that?" Kael raised an eyebrow at him, and Rafariel's brows lowered in response -- defiant, determined.
Their gazes locked, and Kael wondered at the strength in the gaze that met his, that waited for his response. So he played his final card.
"And if I decide I want to stay?"
It was so simple, and so effective. In an instant all the strength wavered and was gone from Rafariel's expression, and his wide eyes widened further still, suddenly flooding with tears. He stared up at Kael, tragic and disbelieving, and Kael simply waited, and watched, silently, letting him process what that meant. Letting him make up his own mind.
At last, his shoulders slumped, as if all the energy driving him had gone out of him. But his gaze never left Kael's, even with the tears that must have been blurring it.
"....then I'll stay too."
Honey syrupy sweet, and thick with tears, and yet, it was all his.
He hadn't forgotten Rafariel's inability to choose him over Hanael when pressed -- he'd never forgotten it. But this time... this time Rafariel was being given a clear choice. A choice where choosing one meant losing the other for good.
And this time, he'd chosen Kael, all of his own accord. That was all Kael needed to hear.
He watched as Rafariel lowered his head at last, his eyes closing, a few small tears dislodging to trickle down the sides of his face.
"Then I guess we can go after all." He laid a hand on Rafariel's head, only to have it almost thrown off again a moment later as Rafariel's head snapped up, his eyes wide with disbelief all over again, but this time a searingly hopeful disbelief.
"You... you mean it? You're not just playing with me?"
There was a cutting edge to his words, but Kael couldn't deny that he deserved it.
"I mean it."
It was enough to afford him a chokehold hug, almost knocking the breath out of him. But he smiled, and slipped his arms around the boy's shoulders. This was his victory, and never mind if it meant moving across countries. He hadn't intended to stay anyway... but Rafariel need never know that.
"...I'll work too!" That was Xon's reedy, piping voice, this time quavering with uncertainty, and more than enough to wipe the smile off Kael's face. He couldn't even get a single moment of enjoying his triumphs without the little brat interfering.
He raised his eyes, meeting Xon's wide, insistent ones, and he narrowed his gaze.
"I'm not forking out cash for you, too," he grumbled, and Rafariel pulled back suddenly, looking up at him, and then turning to look at Xon, the happiness in his expression discoloured with unease.
"You may not, but I will," said Hanael softly, and all three of them turned to look at him at once. He smiled, his usual gentle, kind smile.
"I know you can't afford it right now, Xon, but we're not just about to leave you behind."
Xon collapsed into his seat all at once, with a big loud "whew!", before sitting up again suddenly. "I mean, thank you!"
Hanael laughed, and then Rafariel laughed as well, letting go of Kael to grab ahold of Xon's hands.
"It'll be great, you'll love it there, I promise!"
And Xon beamed in return, his gaze focused on Rafariel alone.
"I will so long as you're there!" he replied happily.
Kael shoved his hands into his pockets and silently clenched them into fists.