The soft glow of White Magic highlighted Yuri Lenkov’s skin. It was time for another healing session with the White Witch named Josh. Lance Lenkov forgot how many times Josh had done this for his brother in just half a month. It felt a lot longer than that. The nerves that always followed Lance as he watched each session made everything slow down to an agonizing speed, like the moment would never end because he was always on high alert. At least Lance could say he was getting used to it. Time felt normal today. Things were just… quiet.
Yuri’s skin looked warm and tan again, instead of the pale, clammy stretch of flesh it had become in December. Lance’s skin was naturally void of any pigment; some gave him a hard time for it, claiming he looked diseased, but those people had no idea what they were talking about. They had never seen someone laid up in bed, sweat pouring down his skin like a river that would never run dry.
It was a new year. Lance hoped those sickly details were nothing but a distant memory now.
Josh had dark circles under his eyes these days. He looked otherwise healthy, but he was working tirelessly for the Lenkovs, and Lance didn’t know how to feel about that. It was almost like the witch had voluntarily placed himself under house arrest because he never left. He had this driving need to prove he’d do everything in his power to help Yuri, to change the twins’ minds on witches or some nonsense. Well, maybe it was working. This had become their daily routine, and Lance didn’t see Josh as a threat anymore.
Lance had been going stir crazy, being stuck in small as fuck Eurio, Alaska, but he was resigned to it now. His brother came before anyone else.
Josh’s glowing hands hovered over Yuri’s forehead. Yuri lay flat on his back, hands on his stomach with his eyes closed. He looked peaceful enough, but he wasn’t sleeping. This vulnerable position was apparently the easiest way for Josh to do his witch healing thing.
The silence made Lance’s mind wander.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. He was sporting dark circles under his eyes these days too, but he didn’t know why he felt so tired when he wasn’t the one with Black Magic nestled in his brain. It was all that worrying. Stress could kill a tiger shifter as easily as anyone else, he figured.
Also, it was extremely hard to function without a goal. There was no point in sitting at his computer to read medical theses anymore. He had spent hours upon hours doing that, trying to figure out the best way to help his brother, but he was never the one who was going to fix him. Josh was the only one, after all these years, who was getting any results, and that left Lance sitting uselessly at the bedside during these sessions.
Thankfully, Lance wasn’t forced to sit around all day every day. Yuri had a new burst of energy this last week. That had preoccupied Lance more than enough—especially since he always had to divert Yuri from his bad habit of doing things that were way too questionable. Lance crushed Yuri’s usual antics because it was too much too soon. Truthfully, Lance had never exactly loved Yuri’s love for all things dangerous and often stupid anyway. He wouldn’t be able to stop him forever, but it was what it was.
Yuri flinched. Lance grabbed his brother’s hand and squeezed, doing whatever he could to reassure him of his presence. He also bit back the words he wanted to speak. Interrupting Josh wasn’t a good thing, but Lance wanted to check in with Yuri every step of the way. Yuri told him it was too much. It probably was.
Yuri was likely getting restless too. This session had almost reached the hour mark. Lying still like this, without being physically laid up, was a real feat for Yuri.
Maybe Yuri was well enough for Lance to steal a little time for himself by taking a quick trip to Fairbanks. It was a small city, but humongous compared to Eurio. It was the place Lance turned to when he needed information, seeing as Eurio just recently conformed to using the internet like the rest of the world. Fairbanks also had a library. And, sometimes, Fairbanks was good for a change of pace, a place where Lance could get away from all the shifter stuff. It was like stepping into a different world and pretending to be someone else for a day. He never intended on meeting anyone there, though, but unexpected things tended to happen in life.
Lance wondered if Ash missed him. He wondered what they were doing. He wondered if they were still playing at Tipsy or if they had moved on and forgotten all about him. They should have. It was in their best interest, and it was likely all in his imagination that they had been flirting for the past few months.
His chest hurt at the thought.
You’re being stupid, he told himself.
Yuri was the only one who mattered. He was the only one who ever mattered. Lance concentrated on his brother’s face and the light cast by the witch’s White Magic as if to remind himself of this fact. He had to look after his brother. Yuri needed him. This was his place.
“That’s it for today,” Josh said. “Ask Yuri how he’s feeling.” The magic flickered out like a candle that had been blown out. Josh reclaimed his hands as he slouched in the wooden chair that was supporting him. He was spent. He always was after administering to Yuri.
Lance stood up, intending to touch Yuri’s shoulder, but Yuri sat up right before he did. Yuri almost smashed his forehead into Lance’s nose. His eyes were wide and wild, and Lance immediately went on red alert.
“What’s wrong?” Lance asked and hurriedly used his hands to say the same thing in American Sign Language.
“Say something else!” Yuri demanded.
A big grin overtook Yuri’s face. Yuri had always been magnetic, bright, and alluring, but Lance hadn’t seen him like this in a long time.
“I can hear you,” Yuri said. He grabbed the back of Lance’s neck and pulled him down. Lance almost squished him. He wouldn’t have worried about that if Yuri hadn’t seemed so fragile lately, but he was. So, he caught himself with his hands spread to either side of his brother on the mattress—despite Yuri applying an insane amount of pressure, as if he wanted Lance to smother him.
“I can understand you,” Yuri said. “God, it’s so good to hear your voice, really hear it. It’s different than I remember.”
Yuri held Lance close, acting like he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to understand Lance if he was just a few inches farther away. Lance was too shocked to say much at first. It had been eight years since his brother could understand his words. His pure word deafness was gone? After all this time, it was gone? It had been this big, mysterious ailment, and it was just… gone?
Lance hugged his brother rather than speak. His throat tightened, and all he could do was grab the back of Yuri’s neck in return and squeeze. He squeezed and squeezed, hoping he could transfer his relief.
Yuri roughly pushed him away after that. He slugged Lance’s arm and grinned. He was feral, and he always would be, sick or not. Static seemed to jump off his skin. “Say something else,” Yuri said.
“I can’t think of anything to say.” Lance choked back tears. God, he was such a mess lately. “I can’t even understand what’s going on. You can really hear me, understand me? Do you know how long it’s been, Yuri?”
Lance had forgotten all about Josh, but the witch was standing now, a smile on his face. He reached in his pocket for something: his cell phone. “I’ll leave you two alone. I need to tell Cedar the good news.”
The witch hurried out of the Lenkovs’ room, but Lance called to him before he could disappear. “Josh, thank you.”
Josh held on to the doorjamb as he looked over his shoulder and nodded. Then he was gone.
“I wasn’t holding my breath on this happening, but I was hoping,” Yuri said. “PWD has been such a bitch.”
Lance tried to laugh, but it turned into a choking sound. He couldn’t escape it. Oh, he was happy, but there was a pit in his stomach. It grew and sunk. His stomach got heavier, and he couldn’t stop this toxic thought from entering his mind: Yuri doesn’t need me anymore. The burning in his eyes meant tears were about to follow. Lance had never been much of a crier in the past, but that had changed in December when he thought he would lose his brother forever.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Yuri asked. He wiped away a tear that rolled down Lance’s cheek. “Stop. No crying.”
Lance tried to say something back, but his throat was swollen. No words would come. He wanted to excuse the tears as a manifestation of his relief, but that was not true. If Yuri was cured, he didn’t need Lance anymore.
Yuri had never needed Lance.
Lance had always followed in Yuri’s footsteps like a shadow. He tried to keep up with his magnetic brother, but now he had to face the reality he could ignore when Yuri started having seizures. Yuri needed him then, and he needed him even more after the seizure that left him with PWD. Not anymore. Yuri hadn’t had a seizure since Josh began working on him, and now he could communicate as well as anyone else. He would go out there, into the world. He’d find something, and he’d leave. He’d probably find a mate like Mateo, start his own family, and Lance would be alone because he would never have those things.
A horrible part of Lance’s brain replayed words he wished he could forget: “Don’t lie. You don’t love me.”
He rebuked the memory. I didn’t lie.
He wiped away another tear that had escaped his eye and was finally able to speak. “I’m just happy.”
“You’ve been doing way too much crying lately, bro,” Yuri said. He wrestled Lance down so they lay side by side on the bed and kept his hand warm and firm on the back of Lance’s neck as their foreheads connected. Lance grasped Yuri’s arm like a lifeline, almost clawing into one of the many tattoos they had gotten together. Yuri was warm, his normal warm. Not too hot. Not sweating and sick.
“I’m really happy for you, Yuri. Really happy.”