"You know, you're really something." Tzadkael's drawling voice floated into the room from behind him, and Zafkiel jumped a mile, drawing a huge scrawl across the middle of the picture he'd been working on.
He hit the undo button, and then turned his chair slowly around. Tzadkael was standing in the doorway, leaning casually against the doorframe, looking as suave and confident as usual, one hand on his hip. He raised an eyebrow at Zafkiel.
"...why do you say that?" Zafkiel said, once he'd gotten over the startlement and actually processed Tzadkael's words. He refused to acknowledge his own jumpiness, because he knew how much Tzadkael got a kick out of it.
His brother smirked at him. "You're just one single person, and for all we're related, I can't say that you inherited any of the remarkable genes that got passed along to me. And yet... somehow you're single-handedly capable of making almost a dozen largely unrelated individuals decide to up and move to an entirely different country just to be with you."
Zafkiel blinked at him. For a moment, he was unable to entirely fathom Tzadkael's meaning. But slowly it sunk into him. It was true, that Raziel had sat him down and gleefully told him that he and Gavrael would be following him to Japan. It was true, that Hanael had come to see him and let him know that he, his brother, and Khamuel, their constant tagalong, would also be joining him in Japan. But... he'd never really quite thought about it like that.
For a moment, it felt sort of nice, to be loved that much by the people closest to him. Then he remembered Mikael, and his shoulders slumped.
"...except the one person I want to follow me most." The words were out before he'd even realised who he was talking to. He twisted his hands in his lap, not enjoying showing such vulnerability in front of Tzadkael, of all people.
Tzadkael crossed his arms. His eyes were narrowed almost to slits.
"That says a lot more about him than it does about you."
Zafkiel didn't even know what to say to that. He couldn't even imagine why Tzadkael would care. He still remembered very clearly how Tzadkael had tried to impersonate him to take advantage of Mikael; how Tzadkael had seemed to try to take every opportunity to come between them. Surely he wasn't really implying that Mikael was in the wrong, now?
He realised that Tzadkael was staring at him, waiting for a response. He bit his lip. Sometimes, when he was feeling vulnerable, his brother's gaze still had a strong effect on him, and now was one of those times.
"...I'm sorry. I really don't want to talk about it right now." He turned his chair around to face the computer again, putting that discomforting gaze firmly behind him.
There was silence, and then he heard footsteps moving towards him. He tensed.
His chair shifted a little, and he realised that Tzadkael had put a hand on the chair back, rather than on his shoulder. He breathed a silent sigh of relief.
"We're apparently following you too." There was wry amusement in his brother's voice. "I, and the ringleted one, and even that insipid brat friend of his, who has sworn to work himself to the bone to pay back the cost of his fare so long as we'll just let him come. Unfortunately, Hanael was in the room at the time, so I couldn't say no."
Zafkiel remained silent, wondering why Tzadkael was telling him this.
He felt warmth at the side of his head, and realised that Tzadkael had leaned closer. He tensed, expecting... something... but his brother remained where he was, still not touching him.
"Does that bother you? Us following you?" Tzadkael's voice was softer, more serious than it usually was.
And Zafkiel wondered how much Tzadkael had changed, on the inside, over the last year. On the outside, he still appeared the same; his humour was as derisive and mocking as ever, and he still made a point to ooze blatant sex appeal, to drink himself to stupor regularly, and to annoy as many people as possible. And yet... he wasn't entirely the same as he used to be anymore. And his attitude towards Zafkiel hadn't been entirely the same, either.
For all Zafkiel had asked Rafariel to try and change him, it was possible that much of his attitude was just too ingrained for it to be changed. But if even some of his ways of thinking had been changed for the better... that was enough.
Zafkiel dared to look up at him. Tzadkael's face was hovering right at his shoulder, far too close to be comfortable, yet right now, he didn't feel the fear, the uncertainty, that he'd used to always feel when his brother got this close to him.
"....not like it used to," he replied finally, meeting Tzadkael's gaze head on. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Tzadkael's lips quirked into a smirk.
He backed off, standing up straight again, and put his hands on his hips.
"Ahhh, you're so much less fun when you've got backbone." He rolled his eyes and headed for the doorway, and Zafkiel watched him go, wondering how much of Tzadkael was just for show, and how much was really who he was inside. He wondered if anyone knew the answer to that; if even Tzadkael himself knew.
His brother stopped in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder at him.
"We've already booked the plane tickets, you know -- so you'd better not back out at the last minute, you'd put us out a fortune." He smirked, and then he was gone, leaving Zafkiel gaping at the open doorway, wondering if that was Tzadkael's way of telling him not to back down when it came to Mikael.