He found him in his favourite hiding place -- curled up in the corner of a balcony near the mess hall. "Everyone's lookin' for you," he said as he came out and sat beside him.
"You'll tell," the boy sniffled.
"Nah." He put a hand on the small shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"Momma an' Daddy won't love us no more."
"What? Oh, because Momma's had a baby?"
The boy nodded.
Instead of the sympathy he might have expected, he got a sharp swat to the shoulder. Looking up into blue eyes -- his own dark ones huge with shock -- he saw those eyes narrowed.
"Don't be stupid," his brother snapped. "Momma and Daddy will always love us. They loved us before we became us, remember?"
"Oh, that's right, you're too little. Listen." He shifted around and counted on his fingers. "Momma had you before she and Daddy got married. Daddy had me before he and Momma got married. Now do they love you any less because I'm around?"
"And do they love me any less because you're around?"
"Well, then! This little brat -- excuse me, our little brother -- is going to be loved just as much and we're going to be loved just as much! He's a piece of Momma and Daddy -- and that means he's a piece of us, too!"
He seemed to be thinking about that. At last, he nodded.
"Good. Come on, let's go see how they're doing, okay?"
"Okay." Hand in hand, the two brothers got up and headed back inside. The three-year-old looked up at his eight-year-old brother with the kind of adoring look that only preschoolers could believably pull off. "Rodney?"
"I loves you, too."
Rodney smiled and hugged the boy one-armed. "I love you too, Torren. But don't tell anybody, okay?"
"Okay! You gots a rebulation to maindan!"
"A reputation to maintain, but I get the gist!" Rodney laughed.
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