Of Harlings, Hostlings and Chesnaris

Of Harlings, Hostlings and Chesnaris
by Morgana

Story Notes

Editor\'s PickMain pairing: Chrysm/Lisia and Vaysh/Pansea

Rating: NC-17

Summary: A party from Immanion visits Harling Gardens. Among them are Chrysm and Vaysh. While Chrysm uses the chance to further his friendship with Lisia, Vaysh also finds a new friend.
Warning: Alternate Universe.

Author’s Email: morganalebeau@yahoo.com

Web page: http://www.paranoid.nl/avalon

Disclaimer: Not mine. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters belong to Storm Constantine. Spoilers for Breeding Discontent!

Beta read by Patricia and DA, thanks sweeties! All remaining mistakes are mine.

Part 1

Lisia awaited the new arrivals in the main hall. The news that a party representing the Hegemony was arriving that day hadn’t come as a surprise. If he was honest, he had to admit that he had been expecting them to check up on him to make sure he wasn’t breaking any rules. Lisia felt confident he could master any challenges the Hegemony would throw at him.

The former breeding facility had changed into a true home for all the harlings that lived there. Only a handful of very young harlings remained since no new pearls were being created. Only One through Ten were still young enough to be picked up and carried around and that wouldn’t last for much longer at any rate.

Pansea, Lisia’s trusted aid, hurried over to his side. “They’re here, Lis.” Unlike Lisia, he *was* nervous.

Lisia gave Pansea a reassuring smile and patted the harling’s shoulder. Pansea wouldn’t remain a harling much longer. He surmised the harling’s feybraiha would start shortly. “We did nothing wrong, Pansea. There’s nothing here that will displease them.” He had done his best to make his harlings happy. Lisia had overseen the arrival of the new staff and, once he had been certain they measured up to his expectations, they had started to work together. It hadn’t taken Lisia long to realize that they had a common goal, namely making the harlings happy. Once he had realized that, working together had become easy.

Several harlings scooted aside and Lisia drew in a deep breath. He had faced members of the Hegemony before and had stood his ground back then as well. He smiled as he saw at least one familiar face among the hara who made their way toward him. During his short stay in Immanion he had talked to Chrysm and they had gotten along remarkably well.

Chrysm returned the smile Lisia gave him. He had volunteered when the Hegemony had demanded a progress report where Harling Gardens was concerned. He had been ready to head the party when Pellaz had suddenly decided to add another har to the group traveling to Harling Gardens. Chrysm had been stunned to hear that Vaysh, Pellaz’ aid and confidant, was going to accompany them.

Vaysh remained at a distance and watched Lisia greet Chrysm. He had seen Lisia when the hostling had visited Immanion to plead his case, but had stayed in the background, like he was doing at the moment. He had no desire to draw attention to his person.

“Lisia, it’s good to see you again!” Chrysm boldly took Lisia’s hands in his and squeezed them. “You look well!” The last time he had seen Lisia the hostling had been thin, pale, and exhausted looking. But Lisia had gained a healthy color, put on some weight, and the caramel hair had taken on a shine.

Lisia returned the compliment happily. “And so do you.” All Gelaming hara possessed the power to dazzle and Chrysm was no exception with his ocher-colored hair and warm chestnut-brown eyes. Dressed in gold and orange textures, Chrysm looked striking and Lisia fought the blush that was about to color his cheeks. He had liked Chrysm during his stay in Immanion and wondered if there was something more where his feelings were concerned.

Chrysm regretted having to share Lisia, but etiquette demanded he introduced his traveling companion. “Lisia, may I introduce Vaysh to you? Pellaz asked him to report on the progress you have made here.” He hoped Lisia understood how important Vaysh was and that Lisia should try to befriend him.

Lisia turned so he could greet Vaysh. He had heard rumors about the har during his stay in Immanion and realized he had to be cautious. It was said that Vaysh was Pellaz’ spy and couldn’t be trusted. The har had a reputation of being haughty, distant, and arrogant. “Greetings, tiahaar Vaysh.” Lisia inclined his head respectfully and hoped he was making the right impression.

Lisia studied the other har and was surprised at what he saw. Vaysh reminded him of how he had looked once when he had been hosting his last pearl. Vaysh looked drained, too thin, and in general, unhealthy. And yet, the har possessed a phenomenal beauty. The high cheek bones, the pallor of his skin, the lively eyes, and the har’s posture gave him a noble appearance. But then the fiery red hair registered with Lisia and seeing it reminded him of a chance meeting he’d had in Immanion. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but he had been talking to Thiede on that balcony. “I hope everything here will be to your liking. We already readied a room for you and tiahaar Chrysm.”

The Harling Gardens was the last place where Vaysh had wanted to be, but he forced himself to reply. “I’m sure the room will be satisfactory.” The fact that he was surrounded by harlings made him nervous. Even when Loki had been growing up, he had made a point not to spend any time with the harling. It was too dangerous for he had feared he might have grown attached to the child. He would never have a harling of his own. Thiede had burned him from the inside and had made him barren. Hosting a pearl or siring one had become impossible. “I’d like to freshen up now.” The curious looks the smaller harlings were giving him made him uncomfortable. Contrary to Chrysm, who had sunk onto his heels and was talking to them, Vaysh stared straight ahead and pretended the harlings weren’t there.

Unfortunately for Vaysh, there was one harling who was determined to be noticed.


***

Four stared at the newly arrived hara with big eyes. He vividly remembered how delighted he had been when more adults had started to arrive at the school. At first, there had only been Lisia. And although he loved Lisia, he was only one hostling and there were so many harlings. Maybe he was being egotistic, but he wanted a hostling for himself. He looked at all the newly-arrived hara, and one stood out as far as Four was concerned. He loved the wavy red hair. It reminded him of the sun.

His short legs carried him closer to the har and he learned that the har’s name was Vaysh. Four smiled. He liked the sound of that name. Lisia was talking to another har then that had orange-yellow hair and Vaysh simply stood there, waiting as it seemed. This was a chance Four couldn’t pass up!

He walked up to Vaysh and pressed his face into the green robes. His hands grabbed hold of Vaysh’s right leg and he looked up at the redhead. “Hello,” he whispered shyly.

Vaysh froze upon first contact. Horrified, he looked down and found a harling hugging his leg. He was about to shake him off when he realized how rude such an action would be. “Let go,” he ordered icily.

Four however had no intention of letting go. Instead, he whispered, “Pick me up.” He wanted to get closer to the adult. Vaysh’s rude reaction didn’t particularly worry him and he smiled winningly at the har. “Pick me up – please?”

Vaysh glared at the harling. “Let go,” he repeated. The fact that the harling was clinging to him made him panic. Why wouldn’t the harling let go?

“I’m sorry,” Lisia said and reached for Four. “He’s still very young and missed out on a lot of attention. He only wants to be hugged.” Lisia went to pick the harling up and hold him, but Four protested.

“Not you, Lis! Him!” He let go of Vaysh with one hand so he could point at the redhead. “I want him, Lis!”

Vaysh tried hard to maintain his frosty appearance, but it was getting harder. All his life, he had wanted to host a pearl and have a harling of his own. During many sleepless nights, he had imagined what it be like to be a hostling. But that was a dream that would never come true. /Pellaz, damn you for making me come here./ He had fought Pellaz over this, but the Tigron had been adamant that Vaysh went to Harling Gardens and evaluate the progress in person.

Chrysm observed the exchange and wondered how Vaysh could be so harsh toward the harling. The brown-haired harling was adorable as far as Chrysm was concerned. One day, he wanted to have harlings of his own and he was already looking forward to starting his own family one day. Large, chocolate brown eyes stared at Vaysh and Chrysm felt sorry for the harling. Why hadn’t the harling picked him instead? Vaysh would only give the child the cold shoulder.

Lisia didn’t know what to do. Four was holding onto Vaysh’s leg and prying him loose would result in a struggle. “Four, let go of our guest. What you’re doing is very rude.”

Although Vaysh tried hard not to grow interested in the harling, he couldn’t help but frown at hearing the name. “Why is he named Four? Why not give him a decent name?”

Chrysm’s eyes widened in surprise. He hadn’t thought Vaysh would show even the smallest amount of interest in the harling.

Lisia sighed. “We didn’t know what to do at the time. We named him that before the Gelaming found us and have been too busy to give him a new name.” Four hadn’t asked for a new name and Lisia had forgotten about it. “He’ll get to choose his own name when he’s three.”

Four knew they were talking about him, but had no particular interest in listening. He wanted to get closer to the red-haired har. “Please pick me up?” He cocked his head and gave Vaysh his most pleading look.

Vaysh felt trapped. He sensed the eyes of the other hara upon him. Chrysm, Lisia, and the other harlings – younger and older – were giving him expectant looks. He had to do something!

Four pressed closer and his tiny hands tugged at the fabric of Vaysh’s green robes. “Please?”

Vaysh caved in and bent down, picking Four up. A whirlwind of emotions blazed through him as he sat the harling on his hip. When Ashmael and he had still been chesna, Ashmael had always told him that he thought Vaysh had a natural hostling instinct and that he would do well with his own harling. The same thought raced through his mind when he felt Four shift and make himself more comfortable. The most frightening thing was that *he* felt comfortable holding Four that way. It felt right.

Lisia noticed it too. It was obvious that Vaysh was trying to hide the way he felt while he was holding Four, but the other har’s action spoke for itself. Four was comfortable, being held by Vaysh and that told Lisia all he needed to know. Vaysh would make an excellent hostling. Maybe he could interest the other har in one of his parenting courses. Sooner or later, Vaysh and his chesnari would want harlings. But it never occurred to him that Vaysh didn’t have a chesnari.

“I apologize for Four’s behavior,” Lisia stated as he gestured for Chrysm and Vaysh to follow him to the guest room. “But the little ones get too little attention. We have been too busy organizing Harling Gardens.”

Vaysh felt like every pair of eyes in the room was fastened on him. Had it been up to him, he would have bolted from the room. It scared him how easily he had picked up Four and settled him on his hip. Vaysh had been convinced that he had successfully suppressed any parental instincts he might have had left.

Lisia smiled and realized Chrysm was smiling too. He knew nothing of Vaysh’s background story and wondered why the redhead was so determined to radiate aloofness when in reality he was a very caring person. He knew Four well enough to realize that the harling had picked Vaysh from the crowd for a reason.

“I like you. You have such pretty red hair,” Four whispered. He pressed his cheek against Vaysh’s chest and smiled into the folds of the green robes.

Vaysh didn’t know how to react to that. Four’s greedy fingers pressed into his side and the harling’s head bobbed against him with every step he took. He stared ahead and tried to wipe any trace of emotion from his face. It was bad enough that they had witnessed him picking up the harling.

Lisia continued to smile as he opened the door to the room Chrysm and Vaysh would share. “I regret being unable to award you each a room of your own, but the number of teachers has increased and quarters are tight.”

“I don’t mind sharing,” Chrysm quickly said, but one look at Vaysh told him that the redhead wasn’t very thrilled to share rooms with him. “We’ll manage.”

Vaysh knew better than to protest. When there was a lack of rooms, there was little he could do about it. At the moment, he worried more about the harling clinging to him. He had to free himself of Four.

Lisia walked up to Vaysh and opened his arms. “Four, it’s time to return to your lings.” He hoped Four had been appeased since Vaysh had carried him for a bit.

Four didn’t want to part from Vaysh, but he knew the look Lisia was giving him. It meant that the hostling expected him to obey. “I don’t want to let go, Lis.” But in the end Four complied and went into Lisia’s arms.

Vaysh felt relieved once the harling was gone, but at the same time, he wondered about the fact that his arms felt empty afterwards. It was dangerous, he reminded himself, to grow attached to any harling. It was the very reason he had avoided Loki’s company. But Four, it seemed, had a mind of his own.

“Can I play with Vaysh later?” Four batted his eyelashes at Lisia.

“If he wants to play with you, you can.” Lisia doubted Vaysh would volunteer to play with the harling. For some reason Vaysh was determined to pretend disinterest.

Vaysh made it a point to not look at Four when the harling asked Lisia his question. He resolutely turned and headed for the bathroom. Closing the door behind him, he leaned against a wall and released the breath he had been holding. Too close. Four had gotten too close to him. He could never allow for that to happen again.

Chrysm gave Lisia a look of understanding for the other har’s confusion. “I’ll tell you about Vaysh when he isn’t nearby. I don’t want him to overhear such a conversation.”

Lisia nodded his head. “We’ll go for a walk in the garden after dinner. You can tell me then.” Lisia made his way over to the doorway and then turned his head to smile at Chrysm. “I’m glad you’re here.” He genuinely liked the other har.

Chrysm smiled back at Lisia. He was glad he had come too.

***

“Lis, I like that har.” Four gave Lisia a blissful smile. “Can I visit him again? I want to play with him.” He walked next to Lisia and looked up at the hostling. “Do you think he likes me in turn?” He was seven months old now, still very young even by harish standards, but he was bright enough to start looking out for himself. There were only a few adults around and a lot of harlings. For him to have an adult to himself would be quite the achievement and Four wanted that. He wanted the pretty har to himself.

Lisia ruffled the harling’s brown hair. “Vaysh is a guest, Four. We can’t infringe on his privacy. You can’t just tell him to spend time with you. He’ll be busy with other things.”

That wasn’t something Four wanted to hear. “He liked carrying me, even though he pretended not to. I sensed it.”

Four had always been very perceptive. The young harling had a talent for sensing emotions. Lisia sighed, sank onto his heels, and looked Four in the eye. “I’ll be honest with you, Four. Vaysh will have little time to spend with you. Please don’t be disappointed when you don’t see him again.” Four looked at him with a pout and Lisia stroked the harling’s hair. “I know – it’s not fair. It never is.” Maybe Four wouldn’t have latched onto Vaysh that way if the harling had had his share of attention during the first few months of his life.

“I’m not giving up, Lis.” Four stubbornly nodded. “He likes me. I know he does.” And he was going to prove that.

***

Vaysh wet his face with water and then dried it with a towel. He wanted out. He wanted to return to Immanion where there were no harlings to embarrass him.

“Vaysh? I’d like to freshen up too.” Chrysm knocked on the door to draw Vaysh’s attention. He didn’t know what was wrong with the other har, but he surmised it had something to do with the harling called Four.

Vaysh abruptly opened the door and faced Chrysm. “The bathroom is yours,” he stated icily. He tried to pass Chrysm by, but the other har blocked his path. It was obvious Chrysm wanted something from him but what was it?

“Do you dislike harlings in general? Or is this specifically about Four?” Chrysm had nothing to lose. Vaysh had no authority over him. As a member of the Hegemony, Chrysm was independent and only answered to the Tigron.

“That’s none of your business,” Vaysh hissed and pushed Chrysm out of the way so he could pass the other har by.

Chrysm stood his ground and didn’t back down. “Vaysh,” he called after the other har. “That harling likes you. You shouldn’t hurt his feelings.” Chrysm’s eyes narrowed when Vaysh suddenly spun around to glare at him. There was something odd in the stare, but Chrysm failed to identify the emotion. He had obviously said the wrong thing though. Vaysh was livid.

Vaysh wanted to lash out at Chrysm. How could the other har assume that he had hurt Four’s feelings on purpose? But he held his tongue. Chrysm wasn’t a friend and he didn’t want the other har to have too much inside information on him. No one needed to know that he was barren.

“What?” Chrysm frowned when Vaysh remained quiet. “You wanted to say something. I can tell.”

Vaysh composed himself again and turned away from Chrysm. Then he realized something terrible: he was trapped. The moment he left the room he would be surrounded by harlings. He couldn’t leave and Chrysm didn’t seem inclined to leave either. He had to find a way to chase Chrysm off. “Why don’t you join Lisia for dinner? I’m not hungry and will stay here.”

Vaysh’s actions surprised Chrysm for the other har had almost let his emotions slip, but unfortunately, the redhead had regained his composure again. Chrysm would have loved to find out what Vaysh was hiding. “You can’t stay here, Vaysh. You’re expected for dinner too. After all, we’re guests of honor. We would insult Lisia if we weren’t to share dinner with him.” Why was Vaysh so determined to avoid dealing with the harlings?

Vaysh knew Chrysm was right. He couldn’t excuse himself for dinner. Not on the first evening of their visit. “I’ll only stay for a short while.” Then he would return to his room and try to calm down again. He knew that dealing with the harlings would leave him shaken.

Chrysm nodded his head once. “You don’t have to stay the entire evening, but you *do* need to make an appearance.” Once he was alone with Lisia, he would tell the other har all he knew about Vaysh. Maybe together, the two of them could figure out what was wrong.

***

Four hid himself underneath a side table and watched Vaysh and Chrysm enter the dining hall. He was supposed to be in bed and asleep at this hour, but for some reason, he couldn’t stop thinking about the red-haired har. He wanted Vaysh to tuck him in and sing him a lullaby. Lisia was too busy these days to do such a thing.

Vaysh was still dressed in green. The long, red hair had been forced into a pony tail and the look gave Vaysh an even harsher appearance but that didn’t fool Four. He could tell the adult liked harlings – liked him. Hidden away from prying eyes, Four continued to watch Vaysh closely.

***

Feeling somewhat relieved, Vaysh realized that the main table stood a bit apart from the tables that the harlings were eating at. There would be some distance between them. As he made his way over to the main table, Vaysh did his best to ignore the looks he was attracting. Why were they staring at him?

Vaysh didn’t know it, but Four had told his lings about the red-haired har who had picked him up. And his lings had told the other harlings, so by the end of the day, every harling knew that Vaysh had carried Four for a while. They now stared at him in the hope Vaysh would notice them too.

Chrysm noticed the attention Vaysh was getting too and felt puzzled. When he exchanged a look with Lisia, he saw a similar expression on the hostling’s face.

“Please sit down.” Lisia had risen and gestured for his guests to seat themselves. “We don’t have Immanion’s ‘cuisine’ here, but the food should be satisfactory.”

“I’m sure it’ll do just fine.” Chrysm seated himself next to Lisia, which left Vaysh with the seat at the end of the table.

Vaysh tried to focus on the food which was placed in front of him, but he lacked an appetite like he always did. Food had lost its appeal a long time ago. He only ate enough to sustain himself.

“Wine?” Lisia lifted the carafe and offered first Chrysm and then Vaysh some wine. Chrysm accepted with a smile on his face, but Vaysh’s expression remained frozen. Boldly, Lisia filled Vaysh’s glass as well. “It’s a sweet wine. You’ll like it,”

Chrysm tried the wine and complimented Lisia on its excellent taste. Vaysh however didn’t touch his food or his wine.

“Is something wrong?” Lisia didn’t know what to make of Vaysh’s behavior. “Is the food not to your liking?”

Vaysh forced himself to reply politely. “There’s nothing wrong with the food. I’m simply not hungry.”

“Vaysh never eats much,” Chrysm commented thoughtfully. At least, he had never seen Vaysh indulge himself that way. Vaysh always nibbled on his food and that was about it.

“You’d better concern yourself with your own food intake.” In reproach, Vaysh took a bite out of the bread and forced it down. He washed it away with water, blatantly ignoring the wine Lisia had poured. Just when Vaysh thought that the evening couldn’t get any worse, a small figure appeared to his left. His stomach contracted as he recognized Four.

Four had left his hiding place and crawled closer to Vaysh. Once he reached the adult, he pushed himself to his feet and gave Vaysh a winning smile. “Hello. Remember me? I’m Four.”

Lisia couldn’t stop himself from smiling. Four had always been stubborn and had a way of winding the adults around his little finger. It seemed Vaysh was to be Four’s latest victim.

The silence was starting to feel uncomfortable and Vaysh forced himself to say something. “I remember you. Shouldn’t you be in bed?” He would have preferred to ignore the harling, but since so many eyes were fastened upon him, he knew he couldn’t. After all, the harling only wanted some attention. It wasn’t Four’s fault that Vaysh didn’t know how to interact with harlings.

Four smiled. “You’re right. I should be in bed. Will you tuck me in?”

Vaysh almost choked on his sip of water. He stared at the smiling harling in shock.

Chrysm chuckled. “It seems like you gained an admirer, Vaysh. The harling wants your company!”

“It’s late,” Lisia stated. “Four should be in bed by now. If you’ll carry him, I’ll show you the way.” Lisia wanted to make Four happy. The harling had already missed out on a lot of love.

“*You* can take him to bed,” Vaysh retorted and gave Lisia a look that said, ‘I’m not carrying him’.

But Lisia wondered about that look. Underneath the stubborn rejection was something else. “I doubt Four will allow me to pick him up. Remember earlier today?”

Vaysh wished he didn’t remember about earlier. “You’re his hostling. You take care of him.”

Lisia smiled. It was true that he thought of himself as every harling’s hostling, but the truth was that he couldn’t spend time with all of them. “Four doesn’t want me. He wants you.”

As if to illustrate the point Lisia had just made, Four raised an arm and placed his hand in Vaysh’s lap. His palm showed upward and he looked trustingly at the adult. “Tuck me in and tell me a story?” It was rare for him to get any attention before going to sleep. Lisia tried dividing his time, but there were simply too many harlings. “Please?” he added in the hopes of swaying Vaysh’s mind.

“You can’t deny him,” Chrysm whispered for Vaysh’s ears only. “He’s just a harling yearning for some attention. Don’t be so cold all the time. Don’t take it out on the child.”

Chrysm’s words hurt Vaysh more than he wanted the other har to know. Vaysh fastened his gaze upon Chrysm’s gaze and didn’t break eye contact until Chrysm looked away first.

“Please, Vaysh? I’m tired. Take me to bed.” Four was trying his best to get through to the adult. “Even if it’s only for a short while…” He knew Vaysh would leave shortly and wanted to get the other har’s attention for as long as possible. Once Vaysh was gone, he would just be one of the many harlings and there would be no more special attention for him.

The thing was that no matter how hard Vaysh tried, he couldn’t lock out the harling’s plea. “This is the last time I’m carrying you,” he stated and picked Four up. He sat him on his hip again and knew his façade was crumbling. It wouldn’t be long before Chrysm would realize that Vaysh wasn’t as distant as he always pretended to be and that prospect frightened the red-haired har.

Lisia started to rise so he could guide Vaysh to the harling’s bedroom, but then Pansea appeared. “I’ll show him the way,” Pansea declared. “Please stay and eat.” Although Lisia had gained weight and looked healthier, Pansea worried about the hostling.

Lisia smiled and nodded. Throughout the last few weeks he had come to rely heavily on Pansea and was already dreading losing the harling’s support once feybraiha started for his assistant. Then he would have to do without Pansea. Lisia had the feeling it would only be a matter of days, maybe a week before Pansea started experiencing the first discomforts that feybraiha would bring.

“Please follow me.” Pansea smiled at Vaysh and gestured for the har to follow him out of the hall.

Since Vaysh didn’t have a choice, he followed Pansea’s lead. At the same time, he glared at Four, who had snuggled up close to him. Four looked smug and content. A small part of Vaysh admired the harling for showing such courage to walk up to him and demand some attention. None of the other harlings had dared to do so. “Why couldn’t you ask Chrysm to pick you up and carry you around? Why does it have to be me?” He didn’t know what prompted the questioning except maybe for the fact that he was truly curious. Why had Four picked him?

“You have such pretty hair. It reminds me of the sun.” Four rubbed his cheek against Vaysh’s shoulder and smiled. “I like you.”

Vaysh steeled his heart to the best of his ability. He didn’t want this harling to penetrate the walls he had built to protect himself. But the truth was Four was already battering away at those walls and was winning.

Part 2

Pansea left Vaysh and Four alone once they reached the harling’s room. Since Four was the last of the harlings to move out of the dormitory, he currently had the room to himself. Maybe it was another reason why Four felt lonely.

Four refused to let go of Vaysh just yet. He buried his fingers in Vaysh’s robes and held on. Vaysh however was adamant and put Four down onto the bed. “Now let go,” Vaysh ordered and tried to pry the greedy hands off.

“No!” Four pouted and glared at Vaysh. “I want you to stay! I don’t want to be alone again!” He didn’t have any of his lings to keep him company. They had already moved on to the next group.

“I can fetch Lisia,” Vaysh offered, growing desperate as Four refused to let go.

“Lisia is busy. He always is. I know he hasn’t forgotten about me, but he has so little time. But you have time. And you’re a hostling too. You can take care of me instead.” Vaysh grew pale then, but Four had no idea why.

Vaysh blinked. “I’m not a hostling, Four, and I never will be.” The harling’s words hurt him. He knew Four hadn’t meant to remind him how incomplete he was, but it had still happened.

Four frowned. “You’re not? But you feel like one.” The harling found it hard to explain why he had thought of Vaysh as a hostling. “You seem so nice to me. Surely, you’d like a harling of your own?” To his surprise, Vaysh’s gray eyes started to fill with tears. “Don’t cry!” He didn’t want Vaysh to cry! He wanted the adult to be happy!

“I’ll never have my very own harling, Four. That’s why this is so hard on me. I don’t want to grow attached to you. I don’t want to like you.” The tears flowing from Vaysh’s eyes softened the harsh words.

“But you like me, don’t you?” Surely, Vaysh wouldn’t lie to him about that!

“I don’t want to like you,” Vaysh repeated. “But I do. The Aghama help me.”

Four pressed even tighter against Vaysh and hugged him as close as his short arms allowed him to. “I like you too,” he whispered. Secretly he hoped Vaysh might want to take him as his harling if the adult couldn’t create pearls himself. Four would love having his very own hostling.

***

“I’ve never seen Vaysh react with so much emotion,” Chrysm murmured thoughtfully. “Normally he never lets any show.”

“Maybe it’s Four’s doing?” As far as Lisia was concerned all harlings that age were absolutely adorable. “How could he possibly deny him?”

Chrysm shrugged. “You don’t know him the way I do.” He recalled his earlier plans to tell Lisia the things he knew about Vaysh. “He appeared in Immanion a few decades ago at the Tigron’s side.”

Lisia thought back to his meeting the Tigrina. He hadn’t liked Caeru much.

“For some time, we wondered who Vaysh was. Thiede explained Pellaz’ presence to us. He’d had to, since Pellaz was to be our Tigron, but he never mentioned Vaysh.” Chrysm remembered a conversation he’d had with Ashmael once. That conversation had shed some light onto who Vaysh was. “Apparently Vaysh was a different har once.”

Lisia moved closer, feeling intrigued. “Tell me more.”

“You remember Ashmael, don’t you?”

Lisia nodded. “I remember him.” Ashmael had been the one to uncover the facility. He still remembered the look on Ashmael’s face when the har had realized just how many harlings there were in the building and the surrounding gardens. It had resembled something akin to panic. “But I still don’t like him.” Ashmael had been one of the hara who had fought him over keeping the facility open and turning it into Harling Gardens.

Chrysm leaned in closer to whisper so no one else could hear them. “It appears Vaysh and Ashmael were chesna once.”

Lisia gasped. That was a hard thing to imagine. “What happened?” Chrysm had said they *had* been chesna.

“I don’t know exactly. But apparently Thiede took Vaysh under his wing and changed him.”

“Changed him? Can’t you be more specific?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know any details. The only thing I know is that after Vaysh returned, Ashmael pointedly ignored him. They’re chesna no more.”

“Such an odd story,” Lisia commented pensively. “Vaysh doesn’t have a chesnari then?”

Chrysm shook his head. “Nohar dares to speak to him, let alone touch him. Vaysh repulses many.”

“Why is that?”

“Because of his aloof manner. There’s something about him that makes my skin crawl.”

Lisia considered everything he had heard. “Like Four, I like him. I can’t explain why.”

“That anyhar would take a liking to him surprises me. I hadn’t thought such a thing was possible.”

Lisia shrugged. “Four is the youngest and the smallest. When we were low on food, he had too little to eat and didn’t grow as much as he should. He’s a lonely harling. I try to spend as much time with him as I can, but there are so many harlings that want my attention.” He felt like he had failed Four.

“Well, I don’t know what made Four like Vaysh, but I believe it’s a good thing he does. Vaysh is a loner. It would be good for him to have a friend, even when it’s just a harling.”

Lisia slowly nodded his head. “Maybe it’s good for the both of them to become friends.” Four needed a hostling and Vaysh needed a friend.

***

Since they were alone, Vaysh let down his guard a bit. It was hard to act distant in Four’s presence. The harling looked at him trustingly when he lay down on the bed. Four pulled Vaysh’s right hand with him and refused to let go. “Where are your brothers?” he asked to make conversation.

“They moved up one group. I had to stay behind because I’m still too little.” Four buried deeper beneath the blankets when Vaysh tucked him in. “I don’t like being here on my own. I get lonely without my lings.”

“I know what it feels like to be lonely,” Vaysh admitted. Shakily he raised a hand and patted Four’s hair.

“Maybe you can keep me company? That way, we won’t be lonely.” His fatigue was finally catching up with him and Four’s eyes started to close. “I don’t want you to be lonely…”

Vaysh gave in to his need to comfort the harling and stroked the brown strands. “Nohar wants to be lonely.” But it was his lot in life to be alone. At least, that was what he had thought until recently – until a harling called Four had entered his life.

***

Chrysm had asked Lisia to take him on a tour of the gardens. He hoped a moment would present itself in which he could take their conversation to a more personal level. Ever since he’d met Lisia in Immanion, the other har had been on his mind. As they walked through the rose garden, he stole looks at the hostling. Lisia’s light brown hair, together with the yellow streak in the front, moved along in the wind. The large, soulful eyes were directed at the ground and avoided his. Chrysm couldn’t help but wonder if Lisia suspected that this visit was not just about inspecting Harling Gardens.

“I’m glad they sent you,” Lisia started their conversation. “If they had sent Ashmael, I doubt the progress report would turn out positive.”

“I volunteered,” Chrysm replied and smiled at seeing Lisia’s surprise. “I always wanted to see Harling Gardens for myself and…” He paused to add a touch of drama. “And I wanted to see you again.”

Surprised, Lisia made eye contact. “Why did you want to see me again? Didn’t I explain everything satisfactorily during my visit to Immanion? If you still had questions about Harling Gardens you could have contacted me.”

Chrysm sighed. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped. “I wanted to see *you* again, Lisia…because I like you.”

A soft ‘oh’ escaped Lisia, who started to grow flustered. That was one answer he had never expected to hear. Yes, they had gotten along fine during his stay in Immanion, but Lisia hadn’t thought he had made such an impression on the other har. Seeking out Chrysm’s eyes, Lisia swallowed hard. “I didn’t know.”

“I thought you liked me in turn.” Chrysm came to a standstill and gathered Lisia’s hands in his. “I thought we might turn this into something more.”

Lisia felt nervous. He had never been in this situation before. This was the first time another har was showing an interest in him. Well, that was not counting Cobweb. But Cobweb had taken aruna with him because the other har had wanted to do something for him. Cobweb had given him a chance to be ouana just once and, although they were still friends, aruna had never happened again. “I had no idea that you…” Lisia stared at his hands, cradled in Chrysm’s. That he was allowing the touch showed just how caught off guard he was. “I mean, you’re a member of the Hegemony and I… I’m just a hostling.”

Chrysm shook his head and rubbed Lisia’s fingers. “Such things don’t matter to me.” He drew in a deep breath and smiled at Lisia. Once the other har looked at him, he added, “You’re a hostling, yes, but foremost, you’re a very attractive har.”

Lisia shot Chrysm a confused look. “I’m not attractive.” He knew he was plain looking and not beautiful like some of the other hostlings. He started to pull away his hands, but Chrysm tightened his hold on them. “What do you want from me?” he asked, feeling lost.

Chrysm hadn’t expected Lisia to be that direct and grew flustered. “I was hoping I would get to know you better and, maybe, we could take aruna together? I’d like that.” His eyes darted around, showing his unease. He would have loved to have courted Lisia for a while before voicing his intentions.

Lisia thought he had misheard. “You want to take aruna with me?” His eyes had widened and a frown appeared on his brow. Why would Chrysm want that? Suddenly he grew worried. Chrysm hopefully didn’t want him to host his pearl because he wasn’t going through that ordeal ever again!

“No! No…” Chrysm had caught an echo of Lisia’s thoughts and wanted to soothe and reassure him. “It’s nothing like that! I know what you suffered through! I would never ask you to host my pearl!” He pulled Lisia’s hands toward his chest and gave the other har a pleading look. “It’s quite simple,” he tried to explain. “I like you and I find you attractive. I thought that you might be interested in taking aruna too. I just wanted… I only meant well.” Chrysm lowered his gaze and released Lisia’s hands. “Apparently I made a mistake.”

Lisia didn’t know how to react to Chrysm’s admission. Chrysm let go of his hands and they fell to Lisia’s sides. “You like me?”

Chrysm nodded his head. “I can’t help it. I didn’t know I would, but I liked spending time with you in Immanion. It was probably foolish to think that you’d give me a chance. I must admit that played in the back of my head when I volunteered. I saw it as a chance to spend even more time with you.” Chrysm was already trying to think of a way to properly apologize to Lisia when the hostling re-established contact by taking his hands in his. Stunned, Chrysm looked into Lisia’s eyes. Why was the other har reaching out to him now?

“I’m sorry,” Lisia murmured. “I apologize for not realizing your intentions before.” Lisia nervously shuffled his feet. “I don’t have any experience in these matters, Chrysm. In the past, aruna was something that lasted for one night and most of the time I was having aruna with strangers I would never see again. This is new to me and I don’t know how to act.”

Chrysm felt encouraged since Lisia was trying to explain the matter to him. He curled his fingers around the hostling’s and squeezed gently. “I could have been more diplomatic, but your directness took me aback and I opened my heart to you. I hope my words didn’t offend you.”

Lisia smiled and shook his head. “They didn’t. In fact, they’re very flattering, Those are words I never thought I’d hear.” Lisia had long made his peace with the fact that someone like him didn’t make a desirable chesnari. “Chrysm? Can I ask you something personal?”

Chrysm nodded. “Please do.”

“Are you talking about one night or…?” Lisia bit on his bottom lip. “I don’t want to presume you’d like for this to deepen. I know what I am.”

Chrysm cringed. “Not for just one night. I’m not like that. I know that a lot of hara take aruna whenever and with whomever they fancy, but I… I would prefer for my partner to always be the same har.”

Lisia found that hard to believe. “Chrysm, you live in Immanion. You’re part of the Hegemony. You can have any har you want. Why me?”

“Because you’re different from the hara in Immanion. You’re pure. More sincere. You care about your charges and you’ll defend them to your last breath. You stood up against us – which was quite an achievement – and by doing so, you impressed me. Will you give me a chance, Lisia?”

Lisia frowned. “I don’t know what to say, Chrysm. I’ve never been in this situation before.” Chrysm continued to look at him beseechingly. “Can we work out? You’ll have to return to Immanion and I can’t leave here. The harlings need me.”

“Immanion is not that far away. A sedu can cover the distance in no time.” Chrysm made one last effort to convince Lisia to give him a chance. “I like harlings. I would love to spend my spare time here – with you.” He rubbed Lisia’s fingers between his. “I’ll stay for one week at least. Can’t we use that time to find out if we would work? Don’t you like me just a little, Lisia? I thought you did. Or am I wrong?”

“I like you.” Lisia had no reason to deny the truth. He smiled shyly at Chrysm. “This is just completely unexpected.”

“It never occurred to you that I took a liking to you when we first met? I’m surprised.” Chrysm returned the smile and his eyes sparkled with hope. “I was rather obvious.”

“Still not obvious enough for me.” Lisia offered Chrysm an apologetic look. “I’m not accustomed to these games.”

“I’ll teach you,” Chrysm replied happily. He raised Lisia’s fingers and pressed a kiss onto the tips. That innocent kiss made Lisia blush and Chrysm’s smile broadened. It looked like he had a chance with Lisia after all!

***

Vaysh decided against returning to his room just yet. Chrysm was probably already there and he wasn’t in the mood to be interrogated. It frustrated him that Pellaz had insisted he accompanied Chrysm. But at this time of night, all harlings were safely asleep in bed and only a few teachers were roaming the gardens, distracting themselves from the chores of the day.

Four was an adorable harling and Vaysh caught himself thinking of the child. He found a secluded section and sat down beneath a tree, resting his back against the trunk. He had never really made his peace with what Thiede had done to him. The fact that he was barren still affected him. If he had still been fertile, he might have sought out Ashmael to renew their relationship, but now he stayed away from the other har. Ashmael for his part had made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with him and Vaysh respected that. Things were awkward between them at best.

He rested the back of his head against the tree trunk and looked at the building that was housing so many harlings. Something Four had said came back to haunt him. Four had asked him to become his hostling. Adoption wasn’t unheard of. Some hara had taken in harlings that weren’t their own, but Vaysh had never considered that option. He felt like he had nothing to offer a harling.

“Excuse me, may I talk to you?”

Vaysh looked up and found Pansea standing before him. What had made the harling seek him out? “What is it you want to talk to me about?”

“Four…” Pansea shifted in a jittery way. “May I sit down?” When Ashmael and the Gelaming had first appeared he had been nervous then as well. Each time he talked to a stranger, his nervousness started all over again.

“Of course.” Vaysh raised his right hand and gestured for Pansea to sit down on the grass. “What’s wrong with Four that you want to talk to me about him?” He couldn’t help but feel worried when Pansea brought up Four.

“I worry about him.” Pansea hoped he had reached the right conclusion and that Vaysh had taken a liking to the harling. “He misses out on a lot of attention. His other lings already moved on, but Four… He needs more personal attention.”

“And you’re telling me this because…?” Vaysh frowned, disliking the direction their conversation was taking. For Aghama’s sake, he had only picked up Four! There was nothing more to it!

“You appear interested in his well-being… Well, Four seems interested in you. He normally doesn’t like strangers. None of the tutors here managed to get him to talk to them. That he approached you is nothing short of a miracle.”

Vaysh grew uneasy. “I’ll leave here within the week, Pansea. It would be best if Four didn’t grow attached to me.”

“You could adopt him,” Pansea blurted out and than looked away, shocked that he had actually said that. “Cobweb said he adopted a harling. You can do the same!”

“Cobweb?” Vaysh frowned and then recalled that Cobweb had adopted Tyson. But Pansea was suggesting he adopted Four? “I have nothing to offer Four. You don’t know about the life I lead, Pansea.”

Pansea wrung his hands. He surprised himself by objecting to Vaysh’s observations. “You like him and that’s all that counts. Four needs someone who cares about him. He needs a hostling – a parent.”

“Surely there are hostlings here who…”

Pansea interrupted Vaysh. “There are too few adults and too many harlings, or didn’t you notice?” Vaysh’s expression was one of hope and denial. “Or do you already have a harling of your own?”

Vaysh flinched and averted his gaze. “I don’t.”

Pansea was sensitive enough to realize he had said something wrong, but didn’t know why Vaysh had become upset. “If you don’t have a harling of your own, would you consider adopting Four?”

“No, I won’t consider it.” Vaysh determinedly shook his head.

Pansea gasped in surprise. “But why? Don’t you like Four? But I thought…the way you carried him… I thought you liked him and harlings in general.”

Vaysh did something unexpected then. He leaned in closer, looked into Pansea’s eyes, and stated, “I’m barren, Pansea. I can’t host a pearl and neither can I father one. Harlings are not part of my life. Just being here is torture for me.” Pansea paled during his speech, but Vaysh continued at any rate. “You don’t know what it’s like for me, Pansea. I always wanted a harling of my own, but I’ll never have one. Being around them, being around Four, actually causes me pain.” Vaysh thought that would shut Pansea up, but the opposite actually happened.

Leaning in closer, Pansea’s eyes colored with excitement. “But then adopting Four would be the perfect solution for you! You want a harling and Four wants a hostling! It won’t matter to him that you never hosted his pearl! He wants you, Vaysh!”

Growing increasingly uncomfortable, Vaysh glared at Pansea. “I said no and that’s final.”

Pansea shook his head. “I don’t understand you. From what you told me you’ll never host yourself. And then there’s Four who has taken a shine to you. And you like him in turn! I know you do! And yet, you deny him! I just don’t get it!” Pansea jumped to his feet.

Vaysh wanted to reply in a similar manner, but then reminded himself how young Pansea was. “You’re too young to understand,” he retorted. “And I doubt you’ll ever understand me. You’re not barren.”

Pansea didn’t know how to react to that and needed a moment to formulate an answer. “You’re using that as an excuse. That’s all it is. You’re not even considering this in earnest. How can you turn your back on that harling after all he’s been through?” Pansea turned on his heels and marched away angrily, leaving Vaysh stunned and pensive.

***

Lisia felt nervous. He was leading Chrysm to his rooms, which he had changed after taking aruna with Cobweb. That night had truly changed his life. The first thing he had done when the opportunity had presented itself had been arranging for new rooms for himself as far away as possible from his old one. Too many bad memories were associated with that room.

Chrysm coughed to clear his throat. “You didn’t learn to shield your thoughts yet, did you?”

Lisia flinched. “Am I that easy to read?”

“I’m afraid so. I’m not even trying to read you.” Chrysm let Lisia guide him into the hostling’s room and then looked about. The room was rather sparsely furnished. The only special items in the room were drawings made by the harlings. “You don’t spend much time here.”

Lisia nodded. “I don’t have much spare time. The harlings take up most of my time.” He walked toward the bed and sat down. It was a strange experience to have another har in the room with him. “I moved into this room only recently. I haven’t had much time to decorate yet.”

“I picked up some of your thoughts earlier,” Chrysm replied as he seated himself next to Lisa on the bed. “What happened in your former room that you found it necessary to change quarters?”

Lisia bowed his head and looked at his hands, which had buried themselves in the folds of his robes. “I conceived twenty-four pearls in there.” Telling his story a second time wasn’t as hard as the first time. He had lived through it all and had survived. “I didn’t know the hara I was having aruna with. They were soldiers and only there to father pearls. Taking aruna was something I had to do in order to conceive pearls, but only with Cobweb did I realize it could be so much more.”

Chrysm took the new information in stride. So Lisia had taken aruna with the illustrious Cobweb?

“Conceiving and hosting those pearls wasn’t painful, but dropping them was. Delivering them was…” Lisia’s breathing started to speed up as he remembered the pain he had suffered through. “I don’t want to host a pearl ever again.”

“Because of the pain?” Chrysm reached for Lisia’s left hand and stroked the skin soothingly.

“Partly,” Lisia admitted as he stared at Chrysm’s fingers which were moving over the back of his hand. “I never got to keep any of them. I don’t know what happened to them. I would have loved to hold just one of them in my arms. My pearls were taken away from me the moment I had delivered them.”

Chrysm sent Lisia a mind touch filled with sympathy. “They had no right to do that.”

Lisia managed a weak smile. “In my heart I knew that, but I could do nothing about it.”

The other har traced circles onto the palm of Lisia’s hand. “What happened when you dropped that last pearl?” He had picked up on something, but wasn’t sure what it was.

“I nearly died, or at least, it felt that way.” Lisia shuddered as he remembered the pain he had been in when the pearl had unexpectedly dropped. “That’s why I don’t want to host another pearl. I’m afraid I wouldn’t survive.”

Chrysm wrapped an arm around Lisia and waited for the other har to either lean in closer or push him away. “I never hosted, Lisia. I don’t know what it’s like.”

Lisia sighed as he rested his upper body against Chrysm’s and closed his eyes. “Paran, Ashmael’s second in command, offered to show me which harlings at the facility are mine.” Lisia lifted his hair to show Chrysm the code imbedded on his skin. “We’re all marked this way.”

Chrysm did his best to radiate calm and understanding when in fact he felt enraged by the things the Varrs had done to these innocents.

“I told Paran I didn’t want to know. I look upon all of the harlings staying in this facility as my own.”

“But now you’re wondering if you shouldn’t have said yes to Paran’s offer,” Chrysm whispered.

Lisia nodded his head. He felt ashamed though. “They’re all mine, Chrysm. For a while I was all they had.”

“But that changed once more adults arrived. You have started to wonder which harlings you hosted. That’s perfectly normal.” Chrysm guided Lisia’s head to his shoulder. “If you ever want to know and Ashmael or Paran are being difficult, tell me and I’ll find out for you.”

“Thank you for your offer.” Lisia’s eyes remained closed as he relished being held. “Do you still want to take aruna with me, Chrysm?”

Chrysm sensed Lisia had an ulterior motive and reacted cautiously. “Would you like to take aruna with me, Lisia?”

Lisia lifted his head and turned so he could look at Chrysm. “What would you like? For me to be soume?” He remembered the pleasure he had experienced when Cobweb had allowed him to be ouana. Although being ouana had been a lot of work, Lisia had truly enjoyed taking on the masculine role during aruna.

His instincts told Chrysm to be careful when formulating a reply. “What would you like, Lisia? From what you told me I gather that you were mostly soume?” How else would Lisia have conceived his pearls?

Lisia pulled away from Chrysm. He felt uncomfortable discussing this. “I was ouana only once – with Cobweb.”

Chrysm realized that aruna wasn’t going to happen that night, but he didn’t mind too much. Maybe the next day they would be in the mood for it. “And did you like it?”

“I did.” Lisia offered Chrysm a shy smile. “Do you have a preference?”

Chrysm carefully answered, “I enjoy taking on either role.” The fact that Lisia had only been ouana once filled Chrysm with sadness. He had read reports on what had happened at the ‘breeding’ facility, but some details hadn’t truly registered with him until that very moment. “You were raised to be soume only,” he whispered, recalling something he had read in one of Paran’s reports.

Lisia nodded. “That was all we needed to be.” He leaned into the touch when Chrysm cupped his cheek.

“I want you to be both when we take aruna. Soume and ouana.” Chrysm smiled upon seeing Lisia’s pleased expression. “You should be ouana first.” It felt right that way, knowing what the hostling had been through in the past.

Lisia stared at Chrysm in surprise. “That would be a wish come true then.” He had always dreamt of getting another chance at being ouana. In the last few weeks, he had gone without taking aruna and had wondered if he would ever work up the courage to ask one of the teachers to take aruna with him. But now Chrysm was there offering him his chance. “I’m not that experienced though,” he said, finding it only fair to warn his future aruna partner.

“I don’t mind teaching you what I know. I had to learn these things too. Though, I have the feeling everything will come natural to you once we take aruna.” Chrysm considered his next move and then made his decision. “I want to taste you.”

Lisia sucked in his breath, realizing what Chrysm was suggesting, but he still nodded his head. Chrysm knew that he hadn’t learned to shield his thoughts yet and Lisia hoped the other har wouldn’t mind being made part of his past. It was impossible for Lisia to shield his thoughts and he had no way of knowing what Chrysm would see in his mind. Sharing breath was something still rather new to Lisia. The soldiers that had visited the facility in the past had seldom shared breath with him. Only Cobweb had shown him how wonderful sharing breath could be.

Chrysm took great care not to pry into Lisia’s thoughts. He opened his mind and showed Lisia how much pleasure sharing breath gave him. Lisia’s mind was a whirlpool of emotions and memories and, although Chrysm didn’t want to spy, the other har offered him a clear insight into his mind. He pulled Lisia down with him and rolled the hostling on top of him. Smiling into the kiss, he kept a close eye on the emotions Lisia was experiencing. So far, Lisia seemed to enjoy himself. “Would you like to take aruna with me tomorrow evening?” Maybe it was only fair to give Lisia ‘warning’ ahead of time.

Lisia nodded his head. “I’d like that.” He also liked that he had some time to prepare for the event. He hated the fact that he had such little experience being ouana. Cobweb had guided him during their encounter and Lisia could only hope that Chrysm would do the same.

Part 3

To his relief, his room was empty upon his return. Vaysh wasn’t sure he could have dealt with Chrysm’s questions at that time. His conversation with Pansea had made him feel uneasy. Vaysh lay down on the bed and curled up, pulling his legs to his chest as he wrapped his arms around his knees. Hidden underneath the blanket, he felt safe and, as long as Chrysm didn’t enter, he felt safe enough to confront some of his fears.

He had always been afraid that he would remain alone for the rest of his life. Years ago, he had accepted the fact that he would never have a chesnari again and, although he missed taking aruna, there was no way he could get it on a regular basis. He still had to meet the har that didn’t feel repulsed upon meeting him. The lack of aruna was probably what made him act so cold the entire time. Anyhar that went without aruna for a long time was affected by it and he was no exception.

If he had to stay alone without a chesnari maybe he could gain companionship in a different way? The thought of adopting Four still scared him, but one part of Vaysh wanted to experience what it was like to have a harling. But at the same time he was afraid to get his hopes up. Lisia was very protective of his harlings and the odds were slim that the hostling would allow a stranger like him to adopt Four, no matter what Pansea said.

It was best to accept the bitter truth and that was that he would be alone for the rest of his life. Dreaming of adopting Four was folly.

***

Pansea didn’t feel well. He blamed his vertigo on his conversation with Vaysh, which had unbalanced him, but there were other symptoms as well that were telling him he was finally starting feybraiha. He was sweating, his skin itched, and he wanted to scratch himself constantly. He felt hot and would have loved to throw his clothes off, but he couldn’t.

He was grateful that he had a room of his own now. Lisia had made the rooms of the former staff members available to the older harlings so that they had some privacy. But Pansea knew he couldn’t hide in his room forever. He had to tell Lisia that his feybraiha had started.

***

Waking up in Chrysm’s arms felt nice. Lisia had never woken up in someone’s arms before. Although Vlaric had tried to make him feel ‘special’ in the past, Lisia no longer wanted to remember his former instructor in that way. He had done a fine job of erasing the other har from his memory. That was how betrayed he felt.

“There’s one advantage to sleeping in your bed. I can’t possibly be late for today’s tour.” Chrysm pressed deeper into the mattress and pulled Lisia closer. A strand of brown hair moved against his bottom lip and made Chrysm smile. He sensed Lisia’s nervousness, but it was a good kind of nervousness. “What plans did you make for today?”

Lisia enjoyed being held a moment longer and then reluctantly freed himself of Chrysm’s embrace. He raised himself just enough to look at Chrysm’s face, which was still relaxed. “I wanted to show you around.”

“Don’t forget that we need to fetch Vaysh. Pellaz wants him to report back personally.” Vaysh was probably wondering why Chrysm hadn’t returned to their room the other night and he cringed, realizing he had to explain matters to the red-haired har.

“Four likes him. That surprises me. He isn’t someone who easily accepts strangers close.” Lisia swung his feet to the floor and smiled. It was good to not wake up alone for a change. “If Four likes Vaysh, the har can’t be that bad.”

“Vaysh isn’t bad – he’s evil.” Chrysm followed Lisia’s example and pushed himself to his feet. Stretching his body, he added, “Vaysh is one of Thiede’s confidants. You know who Thiede is, don’t you?”

Lisia nodded. “I know who he is.” He also knew Thiede had a bad reputation, but Lisia was more inclined to judge the other har on the brief encounter they’d had on the balcony one night. “Thiede was the first har ever,” he said, showing he knew who Thiede was.

Chrysm walked up to Lisia and embraced him from behind. “Vaysh is unpredictable. Try to befriend him. If Vaysh delivers a positive report to Pellaz, you’ll have gained a very powerful ally.”

“The changes we made here will speak for themselves. I won’t have to convince him.” Lisia was convinced that his actions would speak for himself.

***

Chrysm had picked an inopportune moment to return to his room. He realized that the moment he closed the door behind him. Vaysh stood next to the bed and was practically naked, only dressed in his long, wet hair. The other har had obviously just taken a bath and was in the process of drying his skin. Chrysm used the moment to study Vaysh’s form and he cringed at what he saw. Vaysh was thin – too thin. The skin, normally hidden beneath green robes, was pale and seemed brittle. There was clearly something wrong with Vaysh, although Chrysm had to admit, all the sexual parts looked just fine. There was nothing wrong with Vaysh in that department.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know…” Chrysm didn’t get a chance to finish apologizing. Vaysh glared at him, took hold of his robes, and disappeared back into the bathroom again. “That went well,” he commented dryly. Chrysm walked over to the window and sat down on the only chair in the room and awaited Vaysh’s return.

***

Vaysh cursed privately. He had felt too safe and had made the mistake of changing in the bedroom instead of staying in the bathroom. He didn’t care that Chrysm had seen him naked. It vexed him that he had been caught off guard! He dried his skin and hair before dressing. After brushing his hair, he turned around to face Chrysm once more. This time however, his guard was up.

***

Pansea wasn’t looking forward to meeting with Lisia. He had the feeling he wouldn’t have to say much…the hostling would figure it out on his own. He still felt hot and like ants were crawling beneath his skin. He had to stop himself from scratching, knowing he would damage the skin if he did. “Lisia?” He cringed when he stepped in front of the older har. “I need to tell you something.”

Lisia took one good look at Pansea and then said, “Your feybraiha has started.” He smiled, as he felt happy for the harling who was about to become an adult. “I’m happy for you!” He embraced Pansea and hugged him close. “I had the feeling it could start any day now.”

Pansea suffered through the embrace and then took a step away from Lisia. Guilt radiated from his face when he lowered his gaze to avoid making eye contact. “I’m sorry. I feel like I’m deserting you. There’s so much to do still and I just can’t concentrate on any of those things!”

Lisia sighed. “Oh, Pansea. Don’t worry about me or the things that need to be done. I’ve help now. I can manage one or two weeks without you.” Pansea looked even more miserable then and Lisia realized his words had been taken the wrong way by his charge. “As long as you’ll return to my side, I’ll manage. I couldn’t do it without you.”

Pansea gave Lisia a shy smile. For one terrible moment he had been afraid that Lisia was permanently dismissing him. “I hope it passes quickly so I can go back to helping you.”

“Pansea, sit down.” Lisia guided his charge over to the chairs and waited for Pansea to seat himself before doing the same. “Feybraiha is a very important time for you. There’s no need to rush it. Work will still be waiting for you later.”

Pansea squirmed on his chair. “What should I do, Lis?” Looking for help, he finally raised his gaze. “I know what feybraiha is all about but…”

“It can take one or two weeks, you know that,” Lisia explained in a parental voice. “And once your body is done changing, you can take aruna for the very first time.” A somewhat wicked smile appeared on Lisia’s face. “Do you know a har you would like to take aruna with?” His question embarrassed poor Pansea and Lisia wished he could make things easier on the harling, but there was no other way. Instead, he offered something personal about himself in exchange. “Whatever har you chose will you teach how to be soume and ouana. It was different for me. When I went through my feybraiha, I was only taught to be soume. The first time I was ouana…” His voice took on a dreamy tone. “Let’s say I’ll never forget what it was like. I’m happy for you that you’ll get to experience the same thing.” His old instructors had lied to him when they had told him that being ouana was bad and that he should be soume only. He’d had no choice but to believe them.

“Lis!” Pansea had grown flustered and was trying to hide behind his reddish-blond hair. “Don’t say things like that!”

Lisia sighed. “It’s partly my fault for raising you the way I did. I didn’t know any better.” Lisia moved closer and took Pansea’s hands in his. The skin felt hot to the touch. “Take a few days off. The symptoms might get worse. If they do, then rest.”

“But I can’t abandon you like that! Not when the party from Immanion is here and investigating!”

“I don’t think we need worry about them.” Lisia soothingly rubbed Pansea’s fingers. “You need to concentrate on feybraiha, Pansea. Rest and think about the har you want to take aruna with. Ask him yourself or, if that makes you uncomfortable, tell me and I’ll make all the necessary arrangements.” Seeing a helpless expression in Pansea’s brown eyes, he asked, “You have thought about this, haven’t you? There must be a har you fancy.”

Shrugging, Pansea removed his hands from Lisia’s hold. “I haven’t given the matter much thought. There was always something to do… I didn’t have the time.”

Wondering if it was nothing but an excuse, Lisia decided not to call Pansea on it. He still remembered what a confusing time feybraiha had been for him. “You should be happy, Pansea. You’re becoming an adult.”

Pansea’s nervousness increased. Like Lisia, for the major part of his life he had been prepared to host pearls. But since the Gelaming soldiers had appeared, everything had changed. Now he had a lot more options, but the desire to host a pearl had remained. It had been imbedded too deeply in him. “I’ll try to be happy,” he whispered and offered Lisia a weak smile. “I’ll do my best.”

Lisia patted Pansea’s shoulders. He hoped his charge would enjoy his first aruna more than he had.

***

“Vaysh, I can tell you’re angry with me, but please don’t take that anger out on Lisia or any of the harlings.” Chrysm studied Vaysh’s expression and realized quickly that the barriers were firmly in place again. The vulnerability that he had seen in Vaysh’s eyes a moment ago was gone. “I didn’t walk in on you on purpose.”

Vaysh passed Chrysm by and headed for the doorway. “We should join Lisia so we can tour Harling Gardens. That’s why we’re here after all.”

Surprised that Vaysh was changing their subject, Chrysm placed a hand on the other har’s arm in an attempt to stop him. But he wasn’t prepared for Vaysh’s violent reaction upon the touch. Vaysh vehemently shook him off and glared at him with fire in his eyes and, for one moment, Chrysm was reminded of Thiede. Thiede’s eyes burned like that when the har was angry. He had once heard a rumor that Vaysh was Thiede’s son. He had never quite believed it, but in a way, it would make sense and explain the similarities between the two hara. But if Vaysh was Thiede’s son, he hadn’t been conceived in the usual way.

“Don’t touch me!” Vaysh tried to glare Chrysm into submission but this time the other har stood his ground. “Never touch me again!”

Chrysm raised his hands, palms up in a sign that he didn’t mean any disrespect. “I was only trying to be nice to you.”

“Then stop doing that.” Vaysh opened the door and stepped outside. He felt increasingly unbalanced and blamed it on Four and Pansea. The two harlings made him feel uneasy.

Chrysm let Vaysh go, but couldn’t help but wonder why the redhead had overreacted like that.

***

Lisia smiled at Chrysm when the other har approached. Next, he saw the sour expression on Vaysh’s face and steeled himself for possible unpleasantness. “I thought we could start here at the harlings’ dorms.”

Vaysh scanned his surroundings and felt relieved – and a bit disappointed – that Four wasn’t close. He was afraid of the feelings the harling had woken up in him, but at the same time, he yearned for those feelings to deepen. Vaysh forced himself to be objective and said, “These dorms look friendly enough. Where are the harlings at the moment?”

“They are attending class. I’ll show you in a bit. Please follow me.” Lisia led the other two hara into the next room. “If there’re any other sites you’d like to see, please let me know.”

Vaysh frowned. “I expected Pansea to be at your side again.”

Lisia smiled, pleased that Vaysh had remembered his aide’s name. “Pansea started his feybraiha today. I told him to rest.”

Chrysm chuckled and remembered his own feybraiha – his first aruna. “That harling is quickly becoming an adult.”

Lisia nodded. “I also told him to choose a har to take aruna with. I’m curious as to whom he’ll choose.” He remembered a time when a number of harlings had gone through their feybraiha at once and Lisia had been the only har left at the facility. The thought of having to take aruna with them had frightened him. He was a hostling and had had no experience being ouana at the time. He had been happy for the young hara that the Gelaming soldiers had arrived for that meant the young hara had had someone to take aruna with. “He’ll probably pick one of the new teachers.”

Vaysh nodded, accepting the information Lisia had given him. “Congratulations are in order then.”

Lisia chuckled. “I’d wait with that a little longer. Right now, he’s already fed up with the symptoms.”

“It’ll get better,” Chrysm commented. “Much better.”

Lisia gave Vaysh a curious look. From his earlier talks with Chrysm, he knew the other har was pure-born. But what about Vaysh? “Do you still remember your feybraiha?” Vaysh shot him a poisonous look. What had he done wrong now?

“I was a boy once. I never went through feybraiha. I was incepted.” It was more information than Vaysh had intended to share, but the words slipped out.

“A boy… Cobweb was a boy once. I didn’t know you were that old.” So Vaysh was like Cobweb in that aspect. “I apologize if my question upset you.”

“It didn’t upset me.” But Vaysh knew his reaction had betrayed him. He was upset and it was only getting worse.

“Vaysh!”

Vaysh closed his eyes and tried to bring his thundering heart back under control at hearing Four’s voice. A moment later, the harling ran up to him and hugged his right leg. Vaysh looked at the harling and cringed. Four had eaten breakfast too quickly and buttered crumbs still clung to the child’s lips. Four had a silly, happy smile on his face and greedy hands were already reaching for him so he could pick the harling up. Vaysh was sorely tempted to kick Four off, but knew he couldn’t hurt the harling’s feelings like that A part of him wanted to hold Four in his arms as well. “Wipe your mouth,” he ordered grumpily.

Four however wasn’t fooled. He quickly wiped away the crumbs and then tried climbing Vaysh’s legs so he could hug the adult’s waist.

Lisia failed to hide a smile and chuckled upon seeing Chrysm’s grin. It appeared the other har enjoyed seeing Vaysh in such a problematic situation. “When the Gelaming soldiers first got here, they brought weapons,” Lisia commented, remembering. “I told General Aldebaran that there was no danger here, except if they feared being hugged to death by affectionate harlings.” Lisia had wanted to put Vaysh at ease, but the other har paled. Something he had said had upset Vaysh further. Then he remembered what Chrysm had told him earlier that day. Vaysh and Ashmael had been chesna once! And there had been no harlings, if he judged Ashmael and Vaysh’s reactions to being close to harlings.

At that point, Vaysh was eager to direct the attention away from his person and picked up Four. “Aren’t you supposed to follow classes?”

“I snuck out on the teacher.” Four gave Vaysh a smug look. “I want to be with you instead.”

Vaysh sighed. “I’m only here for a short while, Four.”

“Maybe you can stay longer? Or take me with you when you go home again?”

The conversation he’d had with Pansea returned to haunt Vaysh. “I don’t think we can do that.”

“Why not? I learned a new word the other day. One of the teachers said we could be adopted if we wanted that.”

“One of the teachers?” Vaysh had an idea who might have planted that idea into Four’s head.

“Not quite a teacher. It was Pansea,” Four admitted, looking caught. “He’s always very nice to me. I like him a lot.”

Lisia listened up. Adoption was something he approved of, if the adopting hara and harling liked each other. “Pansea made a valid point. Adoption is always an option, although it would hurt me having to part from you, Four.” He wiggled his fingers at the harling, who chuckled.

Vaysh gave Lisia a horrified look. “You can’t be serious! I can’t possibly take Four with me to Immanion!”

“Hey! I want to go where you go!” Four tugged at a strand of Vaysh’s red hair. He didn’t like it when the adults talked about him like he wasn’t present. “Lis, can I adopt Vaysh if he doesn’t want to adopt me?”

Lisia smiled warmly and ignored Vaysh’s stricken expression. “That’s an excellent idea, Four!”

“Don’t encourage him!” Vaysh glared at the hostling and then at Chrysm, who was chuckling along with Lisia. This wasn’t funny!

Four grinned at Vaysh. The redhead didn’t intimidate him in the least. Vaysh acted like he didn’t like him, but he knew better. “I can show you around, if you want me to.” He would love to spend more time with Vaysh.

Lisia coughed to clear his throat. “You’re going to attend class in another moment, Four.” Four gave him a pleading look, but Lisia wouldn’t be swayed. “Say goodbye to Vaysh for now. Maybe you can spend time with him later.” Lisia opened his arms to catch Four in them. “Please excuse me while I take him to his teacher. And no more running off, understood?”

Four reluctantly let go of Vaysh and went into Lisia’s arms. Lifting his head and turning it, he smiled at Vaysh before raising his hand and waving goodbye. “I’ll find you later!”

Vaysh didn’t want to smile back, but he did. Four’s determination to be close to him touched him. His heart wasn’t as cold as he’d thought.

Chrysm had noticed that as well. Actually, he was pleased that Vaysh was ‘thawing’. He had always wanted to know the har beneath the ice.

***

Later that evening, Vaysh and Chrysm returned to their room to freshen up. They would join Lisia and the others in the dinner hall in a few minutes. Lisia had shown them most of the buildings and some of the grounds. The rest they would see the next day. Chrysm had been waiting for an opportunity to talk to Vaysh all day, but hadn’t received one until that moment. “Vaysh?” he tried and looked at the other har who was forcing his long, red hair into a pony tail.

“What?” After that day’s events, Vaysh wasn’t in a talkative mood. He fastened his hair and refused to look at Chrysm. Instead, he walked over to the table and poured some water into a glass.

“I know it’s none of my business, but…what Four said makes sense. You could adopt him.” Chrysm knew he was treading on dangerous ground, but he wanted to address the matter. “You don’t have a chesnari,” he said and watched as Vaysh tensed further. “I’ve never heard of you taking aruna and yet, you seem to yearn for some sort of companionship.”

Vaysh grew more on edge. He stared at the wall and withstood the urge to turn around and glare at Chrysm. “That’s none of your business, Chrysm. My life is mine to lead.”

“I understand that.” Chrysm took a step closer to Vaysh. “But I also understand that you’re lonely.” He held his breath, uncertain as to how the other har would react to his words.

Vaysh’s hands became fists. “You don’t know a thing about me, so keep your sympathies to yourself.”

This time, Chrysm didn’t back down like he had in the past. “Vaysh, we’re hara. Aruna is our life elixir and yet you never drink of it. How do you cope with being alone all the time? Surely, you must crave…” Chrysm didn’t get a chance to finish his observation as Vaysh spun about and glowered at him.

“Stop this!” Vaysh raised a hand and tried to silence Chrysm. “Don’t get involved in my life! I’m not getting involved in yours either! If you want to take aruna with Lisia, do so, but don’t meddle in my life!”

Chrysm’s eyes narrowed and he refused to let Vaysh get away with his distraction. “Lisia is old and wise enough to accept my advances or to reject them. Vaysh, I’m only trying to help. Don’t you ever need aruna? What happened to you that you can go without it? Surely, the lack of aruna must be getting to you. Is that why you’re always so cold? So distant?”

Vaysh actually felt speechless. No one, not even Pellaz, had addressed his behavior in such a direct way. It shocked him that Chrysm had the courage to confront him. “Just leave me alone!” Vaysh turned, opened the door, and fled into the corridor.

Chrysm smiled sadly. “I’m sorry I hurt you, but I believe someone has to confront you and if I don’t do it, no one will.” He was doing this for Vaysh’s best interests.

***

Vaysh was mad like hell. What was that pompous Chrysm thinking?! That he could get involved in his life? Vaysh marched down the corridor. The hair that had been forced into a pony tail was breaking free and tumbled down his narrow back. His green robes moved along as he stalked outside. He needed out.

Unfortunately for Vaysh, he wasn’t the only one who was in need of fresh air. Pansea was also there, enjoying the peace and quiet of the gardens during the evening. Most of the harlings and adult hara were in the hall dining and that gave Pansea his chance to be alone for a while to enjoy the gardens.

Well, he wasn’t alone for long. Vaysh suddenly appeared out of nowhere and bumped into him. He tried to move out of the way, but was too late as they collided.

Vaysh was about to lash out at the har dumb enough to get in his way, but then he recognized Pansea and started to calm down. It was obvious that the youngster was going through feybraiha. He was sweaty, scratching his skin, and looked absolutely miserable.

“I’m sorry, tiahaar. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” Pansea lowered his gaze and stared at the ground.

Vaysh had calmed down by that time and felt worried as he saw Pansea’s self-conscious reaction. “No, it wasn’t your fault.” Vaysh managed the impossible and smiled at the young har. “You’re going through feybraiha.” He desperately wanted to change their subject.

“Yes, I am.” Pansea let his hair fall in front of his face. His red hair was a few shades lighter than Vaysh’s, but his skin was just as pale as the older har’s. “I don’t like it though. I know it’s something I must endure, but… I feel guilty for deserting Lisia. I’ve helped him cope with the changes for these last few months.”

“You shouldn’t worry about Lisia and your work. You only go through feybraiha once and you should make the most of it. It’s uncomfortable now, but it’ll get better in a few days. And then you’ll take aruna. You’ll be a har in a few days, Pansea and a harling no more.”

Vaysh’s words made Pansea feel all warm and tingly inside. “I don’t like being alone though. It makes me think…”

Vaysh was sensitive enough to realize that Pansea hadn’t been thinking happy thoughts. “I’ll join you on your walk, if my company will do.” It would also give him a reason to avoid Chrysm’s presence. Skipping dinner wasn’t a problem for him. He had learned to live on very little food. That Pansea blushed at his offer surprised Vaysh. It was rare that another har welcomed his company.

Pansea raised his gaze and smiled shyly. “Will you tell me about Immanion and what it’s like?” That hadn’t been his original question though. He’d wanted to ask Vaysh to talk about his life, but Pansea had the feeling it wasn’t the right time to do so.

Vaysh started to walk and Pansea fell into step beside him. “Immanion is a splendid city. Life is far more luxurious there then here at Harling Gardens.”

Pansea shot Vaysh another look. “Do you like it here in Harling Gardens? Or do you still want to leave as quickly as you can?”

Vaysh sighed. Why had he told Pansea that he was barren? That had given Pansea too much insight into his person. “You probably understand why I don’t like being here.”

“Because you can’t have any harling of your own. Here you’re surrounded by them.” Yes, Pansea understood and to some degree, he felt sorry for the other har. Being unable to host or sire a pearl must be terrible for Vaysh. At least, Pansea thought so, since he had been raised to become a hostling.

Vaysh nodded. “They’re getting on my nerves.”

Pansea nodded. “It’s not that you dislike them. You just don’t feel comfortable dealing with them because you lack experience in handling them. But if you stay, you can gain experience and maybe one day you’ll want to adopt a harling.”

Vaysh stopped walking and looked Pansea in the eye. “You shouldn’t have told Four about that option. You fed him foolish ideas that’ll never come true.”

Pansea refused to give in just yet. Although the itching was driving him mad and he had also gained a stomach ache during their walk, he concentrated on convincing Vaysh. “It won’t come true if you don’t want it to.”

“You’re young, Pansea, very young. You don’t know a thing about the real world.”

Pansea took it in stride. “You’re right. In your eyes I’m nothing but a harling who has seen nothing of ‘your’ real world, but I fought for survival not so long ago. The harlings here depended on me and I couldn’t let them down. Maybe that counts for nothing as far as you’re concerned, but it was hard work for me.” Pansea came to a halt and scratched his throat.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Vaysh offered in apology. “Maybe we should talk about something else.”

Pansea would have liked to discuss the possibility of adoption further, but he didn’t want to pressure Vaysh.

“Have you already decided what har you’d like to talk aruna with? That’s an important decision.” Vaysh hoped Pansea would tell him about some secret crush the young har had and that would lead them away from any painful discussions.

Pansea smiled secretly. “I think I’ve made my decision, yes.”

Vaysh nodded approvingly. “It’s a good thing that you have a choice.” In the past, that hadn’t been an option for the future hostlings. “And how did he react when you told him?”

“He doesn’t know yet.” Pansea blushed. “Lisia offered to ask him in my stead and I think I’ll let him do just that. I feel…shy and am afraid he’ll reject me.”

Vaysh offered the insecure youngster a reassuring smile. “No one in his sane mind would reject you, Pansea. It’s an honor to introduce a har to aruna.” He hoped that would set Pansea’s worries to rest. “I’m sure that whatever har you choose for your first aruna will feel the same way.”

Vaysh’s words *did* somewhat reassure Pansea. Now, he was a little more hopeful that Vaysh would say yes when Lisia asked him to be Pansea’s first aruna partner.

Part 4

Four found it impossible to stay on his chair. He scrambled down and made his way over to where Lisia was sitting. The hostling was talking to Chrysm and didn’t notice Four at first, so the harling had to tug hard at Lisia’s skirt to get some attention.

Feeling the tug, Lisia looked at the harling and picked him up. He seated Four on his lap and smiled at the child. “What’s wrong?”

“Where’s Vaysh?” Four looked about, scanning the hall in search of his favorite redhead.

Chrysm felt guilty. It was probably due to his meddling that Vaysh had decided against showing up for dinner. “Maybe he’ll drop by later.”

“I want him now,” Four said.

The look Four gave him struck Lisia as too thoughtful, too serious for a harling Four’s age. “Chrysm is right. Vaysh is probably only running late.”

Now that he had Lisia’s attention, Four decided to make the best out of it. “Do you think that if I try hard enough Vaysh will change his mind and adopt me after all? I want that very much.”

Lisia sighed. He hated disappointing the harling. “Vaysh is a very busy har. I doubt he has the time to look after a harling. Don’t you like it here, Four? Why do you want to leave?”

Four cocked his head. “I don’t want to leave, but I want to be close to Vaysh and he said he wasn’t going to stay.”

Lisia stroked the brown hair and wondered how he could make everything right again for Four. “I’ll try to spend more time with you. Now that the new teachers have arrived, I have fewer chores.”

Four gave Lisia another serious look. “I love you, Lis, but I want Vaysh too.”

Curious, Chrysm asked, “Four, why Vaysh? Why not another har? Why not one of the new teachers?”

Four considered the question in earnest. “I don’t really know. I like his pretty hair,” he answered and giggled. “I *like* him. It’s like I know him. And I know he likes me. I can feel it.” Four touched his temple. “I can sense it here.”

Chrysm had received his answer, but it wasn’t the one he had expected. “And you like him in turn?”

Four nodded gravely. “He needs me.” The harling couldn’t quite explain the need he sensed in Vaysh, but he knew it was there. “And I need him. Why doesn’t he want me, Lis?”

“I don’t know, Four. I really don’t.” Lisia pulled Four close enough to rock. It had become apparent to him that he had to discuss this matter with Vaysh in detail. If Four was right – and the harling was gifted when it came down to sensing emotions – then Vaysh might be inclined to adopt the harling after all. Should Four have read Vaysh wrong, then it would be best to make sure the harling never saw Vaysh again. One way or another, Lisia had to talk to Vaysh.

***

“You’re distracted,” Chrysm commented as he closed the door to Lisia’s rooms behind him. They had spent most of dinner consoling Four when Vaysh hadn’t shown up.

“It’s Vaysh and Four. I actually agree with Four that Vaysh has developed an interest in him, but for some reason Vaysh refuses to admit that.” Lisia was taking the pins out of his hair and let the caramel-colored strands tumble down his back. At one time, he had hated his striped hair, but since Cobweb had changed his life, his perception had changed along with it. He knew he wasn’t beautiful and that no longer really mattered so much to him. Chrysm liked him and that was what mattered the most.

Chrysm walked up behind Lisia and wrapped an arm around the hostling’s waist. With his other hand, he pushed the brown hair out of his way and kissed the nape of Lisia’s neck.

Lisia smiled and closed his eyes. Chrysm wanted to take aruna with him and the conversation they’d had the other day returned to him. “Do you still want me to be ouana?”

Chrysm nodded and rubbed his cheek against Lisia’s neck. “I do.” His deft fingers undid the fastenings of Lisia’s shirt and he slid the fabric down. His hands moved over the soft skin and he kissed down a shoulder blade. “I’ll be soume for you.”

Lisia turned in the embrace and cocked his head thoughtfully. “This still surprises me – that you’d want me, I mean.”

“I know it does.” Chrysm had read those thoughts in Lisia’s mind. Sliding his hands down Lisia’s sternum and down lower, he eventually encountered the soft silk of the skirt Lisia was wearing. His fingers did away with the fabric and the skirt floated down until it hit the floor.

To Lisia’s surprise his ouana-lim had already come alive. When he’d been ouana for Cobweb, the other har had had to guide him into becoming aroused. Maybe it was because Chrysm wasn’t giving him any time to think things over that he was reacting this way. Chrysm’s fingers curled around his ouana-lim and Lisia threw back his head. “You’ll need to guide me,” he whispered as he rested his head against Chrysm’s shoulder.

Chrysm smiled wickedly and guided Lisia over to the bed where he pushed the hostling onto his back. Moving seductively, he removed his own clothes and then crawled closer to Lisia on all fours. He’d become soume and craved uniting them in aruna. “Don’t worry. Enjoy…” He placed his hands on either side of Lisia’s face and leaned in closer to share breath. At the same time, he straddled Lisia’s hips. Lisia arched beneath him and the sharing of breath became the sharing of thoughts, memories, and desire.

Lisia’s mind blossomed under all the loving attention he was getting and he felt bold enough to place his hands on Chrysm’s hips. He needed aruna – he hadn’t realized that need until Chrysm had shared breath with him. Taking aruna with Cobweb had been incredible, but he had the feeling that the experience might intensify because he was taking it with Chrysm, who loved him. Love – that someone loved him was hard to believe.

Chrysm smiled as his lips deserted Lisia’s. It was time to move on to the next stage. Twining his fingers with Lisia’s, Chrysm started to lower himself onto the pulsating ouana-lim.

Drawing in a sharp breath, Lisia squeezed Chrysm’s fingers as the other har started to take him in. The sensation made his toes curl and he moaned helplessly once they were firmly connected. Lisia didn’t want to remember, but certain memories snuck up on him. Except for Cobweb, none of his ‘lovers’ had ever tried to make him feel good. The soldiers, chosen for pearl production, had been bad at aruna and the encounters had been nothing like this. And there had been Vlaric of course, but their ‘love’ had been a lie.

“Don’t dwell on the past,” Chrysm murmured as he stroked a strand of hair away from Lisia’s face. “Don’t. Not when I’m here with you.”

Lisia nodded. “You’re right.” He pursed his lips and Chrysm took the hint. Sharing breath once more, Lisia’s body started to move out of its own accord and began to thrust upwards. It was perfect. While being ouana, he didn’t have to worry about accidentally opening his seal and conceiving another pearl. He could really enjoy taking aruna and soon took the lead. Thrusting into Chrysm’s body, he took them higher.

Chrysm bit his bottom lip in order to stop himself from crying out in pleasure. They moved on wings, soared high in the air, and then the sky exploded in bright colors. He collapsed on top of Lisia and panted. Sharing breath with Lisia had literally robbed him of his breath. Lisia’s arms came up along his back and the hostling held him close. Chrysm purred and rubbed his cheek against Lisia’s chest to show his contentment.

Lisia stroked Chrysm’s back and tried to catch his breath. Taking aruna with Chrysm had been unbelievable. “Would you like to repeat that some time?”

Chuckling, Chrysm lifted his head from Lisia’s chest. “Just tell me where and when and I’ll be there.”

Raising a hand, Lisia caressed Chrysm’s face. “Next time, you can be ouana.” He didn’t want their aruna to be one-sided. He wanted them to experience both.

Chrysm nodded, understanding where Lisia was coming from. “Lis? I don’t mind being soume. I want you to know that I truly enjoy being soume for you.”

Lisia smiled warmly. “Thank you, but I want you to be ouana too. I don’t want you to feel forced into taking on the same role the whole time.” Chrysm wanted to protest, but Lisia shook his head and placed a finger against Chrysm’s lips. “You know why I said that. I need our relationship to be equal in that aspect.”

Chrysm felt ecstatic at Lisia’s declaration. Lisia thought they had a relationship then! That meant becoming chesna with Lisia had become more attainable.

***

Vaysh didn’t mind returning to his room later that evening since he knew that Chrysm wouldn’t be there waiting for him. Chrysm was probably taking aruna with Lisia and that made the room solely his. Vaysh didn’t bother undressing. He curled up on the bed and stared at the wall for a long time.

When Pellaz had told him to visit Harling Gardens, he had protested, but obviously not hard enough. The visit was causing major changes in his life and Vaysh wasn’t sure he was ready for something like that. Ever since Thiede had killed and remade him, he’d had enough of drastic changes…even if the change happening currently was a positive one.

During the few days he had been at Harling Gardens, two people had been invading his privacy. The first one was Four of course. The harling was determined to get under his skin and would continue to do so until Four had had his way. The second person was Pansea. For some reason he had confided his biggest secret to the young har. He still couldn’t figure out why.

His racing thoughts came to a halt when there was a noise coming from the doorway. Someone pushed the door open and then closed it again behind him. Had Chrysm returned after all? Vaysh disliked that particular notion. He was about to sit up and tell Chrysm to spend the night at Lisia’s room when the bed moved. Alarmed, Vaysh sat upright and looked at the pleased face of Four hovering in front of him.

“Hello, Vaysh!” Four wiggled his fingers at the adult. “I’ve found you!” It had taken him a while to figure out where Vaysh was. His instincts had led him to this room, but it had still taken him time to convince himself to actually venture inside. He climbed onto the bed and smiled at Vaysh. “Where were you? I missed you at dinner.” He had been sad all evening and had eventually decided to seek out Vaysh.

Vaysh opted for part of the truth. He had the uncanny feeling Four could tell when he was lying. “I was talking to Pansea. He’s going through feybraiha and this is a difficult time for him.”

Four didn’t know much about feybraiha yet, but he had seen Pansea earlier that day and the older harling had looked ill. “Will he be better soon?”

Vaysh nodded his head. “He’ll be back to his charming self in a few days.” He looked at Four and realized the harling didn’t plan on leaving any time soon. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

“I tried to be good and go to sleep, but I kept thinking of you and that you weren’t close. It kept me awake and I started to cry.”

Vaysh reached out at hearing that, and cupped the harling’s cheek in the palm of his hand. Four reminded him bitterly of what could have been. He could have produced a harling, be it by hosting a pearl or fathering one. But that would never happen.

“Why are you so sad?” Four had picked up on Vaysh’s depressed mood and lay down next to him. He snuggled up to the har and buried his face against Vaysh’s chest.

“I’m sad because I’ll never have a harling of my own,” Vaysh replied honestly. Tears leaked from his eyes and streamed down his face. Droplets landed on Four’s face and the harling raised his head to look at him.

“I’ll be your harling. I need a hostling.” Four gave him a hopeful look. It was a perfect arrangement. Why couldn’t Vaysh see that?

Vaysh allowed himself to dream for a moment. How would it be to care for Four? What would it be like to have a harling? “It won’t work,” he said in the end, sounding sad. “You’d have to leave Harling Gardens and you’d see Lisia occasionally.”

“But I’d be with you, wouldn’t I?” Four’s tiny hands patted Vaysh’s face in an attempt to wipe away the har’s tears.

Feeling those awkward touches only increased Vaysh’s sorrow. The harling was actually trying to comfort him! “But Immanion is no place for a harling.” That was a lie and Vaysh knew it.

“When you’re there, I don’t mind where we live.” Four hid his face between Vaysh’s long hair and his short arms tried to hug the har’s waist. “Take me with you. I need you.”

Vaysh’s heart couldn’t take any more. The harling had battered away at his defenses for days and Vaysh felt vulnerable once his guard was down.

“Lisia says he likes the idea of you adopting me.” Four grinned. He sensed that Vaysh’s emotions were shifting. “I want you as my hostling.”

Vaysh had no more protests left and caved in. Hugging Four close, he held him tight. “I never thought I’d ever have a son,” he sobbed.

“I never thought I’d ever have a hostling of my own.” Four realized he’d won the battle and sincerely hoped Vaysh wasn’t going to change his mind in the morning. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply before cuddling closer. “Night, Vaysh.”

“Night, Four.” Vaysh kept his arms wrapped protectively around the harling. It was the strangest sensation ever to hold someone so small in his arms. The parental feelings which he had repressed for so long finally surfaced and Vaysh pressed a chaste kiss onto the brown hair.

***

The next morning, Chrysm and Lisia went separate ways. Chrysm was to return to the room he shared with Vaysh and Lisia wanted to talk to Pansea to find out how the young har was dealing with feybraiha.

***

Pansea reclined on his bed and watched Lisia silently as the hostling seated himself on the edge. He didn’t feel well. He was feverish, the itching was getting worse, and he felt miserable in general. “Thank you for visiting me, Lis. I need to talk to you.” Lisia looked dashing that day and Pansea couldn’t help but noticing that the hostling was rather attractive. His body was readying itself for its first aruna and making Pansea aware that Lisia was a possible partner. Pansea however tried to repress that thought.

Lisia raised a hand and brushed some sweaty reddish strands away from Pansea’s face. The youngster’s eyes looked haunted and Lisia wanted to help. “Is there anything I can do?”

Pansea nodded. “Can you talk to Vaysh for me?”

Confused, Lisia arched an eyebrow. “Talk to him about what?”

“About aruna.” Pansea blushed and averted his gaze. “I want to take aruna with him.” Lisia drew in a sharp breath, which caused Pansea to look at the hostling. “You said I should choose a har to my liking!”

“But Vaysh?” Lisia blinked. “I expected you to pick one of the new teachers.”

“I want Vaysh,” Pansea answered petulantly. “I want him, Lisia. I’d hoped you’d be happy for me!”

“Pansea, Vaysh isn’t a teacher here. I can’t make him take aruna with you.” Lisia cringed, realizing he had worded that the wrong way. “All I’m trying to say is that Vaysh doesn’t strike me as a har willing to take aruna just like that.”

“He said the har I’d choose would feel honored and wouldn’t reject me. He said that himself!”

“I doubt Vaysh knew you were talking about him.” Lisia shook his head. He was afraid that this wasn’t going to work out. “Is there no other har, who…?” Pansea shook his head before Lisia could finish. Lisia realized he had to accept Pansea’s choice. “I’ll talk to him, but please don’t get your hopes up. And remember, don’t open your seal. You don’t want to conceive yet.”

Pansea laughed mirthlessly. “I don’t have to worry about that, Lis. Vaysh is barren. He can’t sire pearls.”

At hearing that, everything finally made sense to Lisia. Vaysh’s odd reaction to harlings in general and Four in particular had finally been explained. “And you still want him?”

Pansea shrugged. “Lis, I doubt he’ll want to become chesna with me, so… I mean, he’s the Tigron’s assistant. He can’t be interested in someone like me. I’d be honored if he agreed to be my first partner.”

“That’s one conversation I’m not looking forward to having,” Lisia commented dryly. Pansea had put him in quite a difficult situation. “But I’ll try to convince him.” He would go to great lengths to see Pansea happy.

***

Chrysm remained standing in the doorway and didn’t approach the bed which still held Vaysh and Four’s forms. Har and harling were snuggled up together beneath a warm blanket and it was the first time ever that Chrysm saw a smile on Vaysh’s face which was genuinely warm and not faked. Had it been up to him, he would have left the room again to give Vaysh and Four a chance to sleep some more, but at that moment, Vaysh’s gray eyes opened.

Vaysh tensed instantly upon seeing Chrysm standing there. The smug look on Chrysm’s face made him angry. Fortunately, Four remained asleep and Vaysh whispered, “What do you want?”

Chrysm answered in the same way, unwilling to wake the harling just yet. “I wanted to talk to you about adopting Four, but it looks like I won’t have to do that any more. The problem solved itself. I’m happy that you took this step, Vaysh. It’s for the best for the both of you.” Smiling, Chrysm closed the door behind him and walked down the corridor, whistling merrily.

***

Vaysh felt confused. Four was still in his arms and fast asleep. Chrysm had actually smiled at him and ‘approved’ of his adopting Four while Vaysh hadn’t even said he would do so. Was it that obvious then that he wanted a harling of his own?

“Morning, Vaysh!” Four had finally woken and patted Vaysh’s face. “I’m hungry! You too?”

Vaysh started to shake his head, but then realized he would be lying. He *was* hungry. It had been a while since he’d eaten.

“Let’s eat breakfast then!” Four sat upright, stretched, yawned, and patted Vaysh’s pretty hair. He’d loved sleeping in Vaysh’s arms and planned on doing the same thing again that evening.

***

“I didn’t expect you to return so quickly.” Lisia sat on a bench in the garden and was watching some of the harlings play. After his conversation with Pansea, he had needed a moment to compose himself again.

Chrysm grinned. “You’ll never guess what I just learned.”

“I’m not in the mood for games, Chrysm.” The fact that Pansea wanted Vaysh as his first partner weighed heavily on his mind.

“Four snuck into Vaysh’s bed. I found them snuggled close. That harling finally got through to Vaysh. I’ve the feeling Vaysh will seek you out sometime today or maybe tomorrow to discuss adopting Four.”

Lisia groaned. He was happy for Four, but that meant even more complications. He’d have to talk to Vaysh about adopting Four *and* Pansea’s request.

Chrysm frowned. “I expected you to cheer.”

“I’m happy for Four. That’s not it.”

“What is it then?” Chrysm took Lisia’s hand in his and stroked the back.

“Pansea just told me he wants Vaysh as his first partner.”

Chrysm’s jaw dropped. He needed a moment to compose himself and then nodded. “I understand why you’re pre-occupied. Can’t you change Pansea’s mind?”

“No, he’s determined. Chrysm, you know Vaysh. Do you think he’d agree to this?”

Chrysm shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve never heard of Vaysh taking aruna with anyone. I do believe it would be good for Vaysh to take aruna – but Pansea? Pansea is inexperienced and I don’t know how much experience Vaysh has being ouana. Something tells me that might not be much.”

Lisia blinked. “Are you saying that Vaysh never takes aruna?”

Chrysm shrugged again. “There were rumors that he took aruna with Pellaz once, but that’s all it is – a rumor. I don’t know if they did for sure. And you can count on Pellaz being ouana, so that would leave Vaysh being soume once more. Thinking about it, Vaysh’s former chesnari, Ashmael, doesn’t strike me as someone who would agree to being soume during aruna.”

“I didn’t think I would have something in common with him, but maybe I do. Thank you for telling me this before I seek him out.”

“Tread carefully, Lis, or you might scare him away.”

***

Vaysh allowed Four to lead him to the breakfast room. He ignored the many looks he was attracting and made sure Four got his breakfast. They were about to search for an empty seat, when Four suddenly tugged at his sleeve. Vaysh looked at the harling and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“You must eat something too!” The har who was distributing the food had had the same idea and gave Four a wink. Beaming, Four placed Vaysh’s plate of food onto his tray and then carried it over to an empty table.

Vaysh felt like he was walking in a dream and followed the harling. Since the tables were smaller and most of the chairs as well, Four managed to put the tray onto the table. Vaysh pulled up one of the normal-sized chairs and sat close to Four, who started to eat.

“Vaysh, eat.” Four pointed at the food. “You must be hungry too.”

Vaysh started to eat. His movements were robot-like and a distant expression had appeared in his eyes. When had he allowed the harling to take control of his life?

Since Vaysh wasn’t reacting, Four was getting worried. He didn’t know what was happening to the har and needed help. Relieved, he caught sight of Lisia entering the breakfast room. He slid off his chair and ran over to the hostling. “Lis, help please!”

Lisia had been greeting the other harlings, but when Four grabbed his hand and started to pull him along, he went willingly. He was about to ask Four what had upset the harling, when he saw Vaysh. “Four, please get us some tea.” He needed a moment alone with Vaysh and didn’t want to hurt the harling’s feelings by simply dismissing him.

“Will tea help Vaysh get better?” Four was torn between staying with Vaysh and complying with Lisia’s request.

“Yes, it’ll help. Now, off you go.” Lisia lightly swatted Four’s behind and the harling squealed with delight before running off. Lisia made his way over to Vaysh and pulled up another chair. The other hara present had realized something was wrong and were herding the remaining harlings into the next room so Lisia and Vaysh had some privacy.

“Vaysh? Try to focus for a moment?” Lisia had to pull the other har from the entranced state he was in and placed his right hand on Vaysh’s wrist in the hope the touch would do the trick.

Vaysh blinked and then straightened his shoulders. He expected to be looking at Four, but the harling was gone and Lisia had appeared instead. “Where’s Four?”

Lisia smiled at seeing the concern in Vaysh’s eyes. “He’s fetching tea. I wanted a moment alone with you.”

Vaysh felt strange. He didn’t know how to act in Lisia’s presence and actually missed having Four close. “What’s happening to me?” He cursed himself for speaking that. He had only wanted to think them! He didn’t want Lisia to know just how deep his emotional turmoil ran!

“Can it be that you’ve been out of touch with your emotions for quite a while?”

Vaysh nodded. “That’s true enough. It’s been a while since…since I felt this deeply.”

“Four woke those feelings in you. Did you decide to adopt him then?” Lisia would be sorry to see Four go, but he wanted what was best for the harling.

“Would you let me?” Vaysh had finally managed to sort himself out. He knew what he wanted and that was to give Four a home.

Lisia nodded. “I’d welcome that decision. I’d let you adopt Four, yes.” It seemed he wouldn’t have to convince Vaysh to give Four a chance. Four had convinced Vaysh on his own. “And you might want to think of a new name for him.”

“I’ll ask him what sort of name he’d like.” The tension which had had a tight hold on Vaysh subsided and he smiled nervously at Lisia. “I still can’t believe Four wants me as his hostling.”

Lisia had a good idea what that meant to Vaysh, who was barren. “I hope you won’t leave for a few more days for I’d like to say goodbye to Four in my own way.”

“I’m not scheduled to return to Immanion for at least one more week. You have time to say goodbye to him. And we’ll visit of course. It’s not like you’ll never see him again.” Once Vaysh had finally made the decision to adopt Four, he felt more comfortable – even comfortable enough to tease Lisia a bit. “And maybe you’ll visit Immanion in turn? After all, Chrysm will spend the major part of his time there.”

Lisia managed not to blush. “Maybe,” he replied elusively. “Vaysh, there’s another matter I need to discuss with you.” Vaysh looked at him in surprise. It was clear that the other har had no idea that Pansea wanted to take aruna with him. It was up to him to introduce the subject.

What else could Lisia possibly want to discuss? Vaysh started to feel uncomfortable again, sensing Lisia wasn’t looking forward to bringing this to his attention.

“I talked to Pansea this morning and he told me who he wants to take aruna with.” Lisia cringed. He could have formulated that a bit more subtly, but he felt nervous discussing this!

Vaysh arched an eyebrow. Why was Lisia telling him this?

“He wants to take aruna with you Vaysh.”

Vaysh gasped. “What did you say?”

“Pansea chose you and he feels you’ll indulge him. Apparently you told him no sane har would reject him and he has taken that quite literally. He expects you to comply to his request.”

“But I can’t do that!” Vaysh’s expression turned scared. “I’m not the right har for the job!”

Lisia nodded and remembered what Chrysm had told him. “Why is that? Because you have little experience being ouana?” That was something he could relate to and maybe even help Vaysh with.

Vaysh actually blushed and turned his head so Lisia couldn’t see his expression. “Must we discuss this?”

Lisia decided to meet Vaysh halfway. “I’ve been ouana twice, Vaysh. One of those two times was only last night.”

Vaysh squirmed uncomfortably on his chair. “Then you have one time more been ouana than me.” He couldn’t believe he was sharing this with Lisia. Why wasn’t he getting up and marching out of the room? Because he cared for Pansea that was why and that was why he had to make Lisia understand. “I can’t do that for Pansea. He deserves better.”

“I hear myself talking,” Lisia commented. “Only a few months ago, I said exactly the same thing.”

“Then you understand!” Vaysh gave Lisia a hopeful look. “Choose a har for Pansea if you must, but make sure he’s capable and caring. Not somehar like me.”

Lisia shook his head. “I’m not buying it.”

Vaysh blinked. “What?”

“You’re scared, that’s it.” Lisia hoped he had reached the right conclusion.

Vaysh played with the hem of his sleeve as he stared at the floor. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m scared.”

Lisia cocked his head. He had grown curious about Vaysh. “How come you’ve only been ouana once? In my case, we were taught that being ouana was wrong, but I doubt that happened to you.”

Vaysh squirmed some more. “Do you really expect me to tell you?”

“I do. I have a responsibility to Pansea and since he chose you, I feel some responsibility toward you as well.”

Vaysh closed his eyes. “I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this.”

Lisia wanted to make things easier on Vaysh and asked, “Does it have something to do with you being chesna with Ashmael? He seems to favor his ouana aspect.”

“He always did.” Vaysh wasn’t surprised Lisia knew about Ashmael. Chrysm was the talkative kind. “I was ouana only once. Shortly after my inception we took aruna. I was soume, Ash ouana. He completed the inception process. After that, he allowed me to be ouana once. It never happened again. I made my peace with being soume.”

“Just like I did. We have much in common.” Lisia realized he could help Vaysh if the other har would accept the help. “Cobweb helped me. I was convinced I couldn’t possibly be ouana, but he made it easy.”

“Then you take aruna with Pansea!”

Lisia determinedly shook his head. “Pansea is like a son to me and I don’t take aruna with my children. Besides, he wants you – not me.”

“I can’t do it, Lisia. I can’t.” And why would Pansea want to take aruna with him at any rate?

Lisia patted Vaysh’s arm and said, “Pansea likes you, Vaysh. He’s about to take aruna for the first time and he wants you. If you deny him, he’ll not only feel disappointed, but unattractive also. He’ll take aruna with somehar he doesn’t care about and he’ll always wonder why you didn’t want him.” It wasn’t fair to word it that way, but Lisia didn’t care. Pansea wanted Vaysh and since he knew why Vaysh was inclined to reject Pansea, he felt he had to take action. “How long have you been denying yourself aruna, Vaysh?”

Vaysh flinched. Since his remaking he had only taken aruna once. A normal har would have lost his mind with so little aruna, but he was different. He’d trained himself to go without it and the possibility of taking aruna with Pansea frightened him. “I’ll only disappoint him.”

“Pansea has nothing to compare your performance with, Vaysh. He has never had aruna before. You can’t possibly do anything wrong!” Lisia hoped Vaysh would understand how important this was for the young har. “Why don’t you talk to him, Vaysh? Pansea deserves a fair chance.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Vaysh agreed reluctantly. “But I still believe I’m the wrong har for the job.”

“I don’t,” Lisia whispered. “I believe you’re the only har for the job and it’s your chance to grow, Vaysh. Please don’t throw that away. If you’re anything like me, you liked being ouana that one time and trust me, you’ll like it again.”

Part 5

“Vaysh, here’s your tea. Do you feel better now?” Four handed Vaysh a cup of cooled tea. It had taken the harling a while to make his way from the kitchen into the breakfast room because he’d taken great care not to let the tea slosh over the rim.

“Thank you, Four. Fetching tea was a nice thing for you to do.” Vaysh wasn’t prepared for when Four climbed onto his lap and had to quickly put the cup down. Lisia chuckled and Vaysh glared at him. His glare missed its usual sting though.

“Did Lis and you talk about my adoption?” Four gave Lisia a hopeful look.

“Yes, we did.” Lisia ruffled the harling’s brown hair. “Vaysh is going to adopt you.”

Four beamed at Vaysh and threw his arms around the har’s neck. “You’re my hostling now!”

Four’s reaction overwhelmed Vaysh, who had involuntarily lowered his guard. The harling’s joy flowed into his mind and filled him with a warm fuzzy feeling. He couldn’t remember the last time he had experienced anything like it. “You really want me? You really do?”

Four pulled away slightly and nodded his head repeatedly. “I do! I want you as my hostling!” He returned to hugging Vaysh close and in the end, the har hugged him back.

***

Vaysh left Four with his teacher since the harling had to attend class that day and then went for a long walk. His conversation with Lisia weighed heavily on his mind. The fact that the hostling had suggested he should accept Pansea’s request still unnerved him. He felt he wasn’t suited for the job.

He had loved Ashmael from the start and, since Ashmael had always stressed his ouana aspect, Vaysh had been forced to be soume during their relationship. He had grown to accept his role in their relationship, but a part of him had always regretted not being able to be ouana for Ashmael. But his chesnari hadn’t wanted that. He didn’t resent Ashmael for that – it was just the way things had been between them.

But now Pansea wanted to change all that. Once Pansea had gone through feybraiha, he had to take aruna with a har to complete the transformation. That har had to be ouana for Pansea and the young har would be soume, but could Vaysh do that for the youngster? He had so little experience!

“Vaysh?”

Vaysh froze upon hearing Pansea’s call. He’d hoped he wouldn’t run into the young har. He felt awkward and shy looking at the young har. Pansea was still in the middle of feybraiha, but it wouldn’t be long before he would leave the change behind him.

Pansea shuffled his feet. “Did Lisia already talk to you?”

“He did and now *we* need to talk, Pansea.” Vaysh pointed at a deserted room and, once they were inside, he closed the door so no one could overhear their conversation.

For some reason, Pansea felt scared. “You’re going to reject me. Why?” He thought he had sensed as much.

Vaysh sighed. “Pansea, I’m not the right har to take you through your first aruna.” He walked toward Pansea and placed his hands on the young har’s shoulders. “I’m honored and flattered that you’d want me, but…” Oh, there was no use in beating around the bush! “The truth is that I’m not very good at it. I’ve only been soume in the past. I’d greatly disappoint you.”

Stunned, Pansea stared at Vaysh. How could the other har think so little of himself? “Vaysh, I don’t know much about your past, except for the things you told me, but… I’d like to explore the future with you, if you’re willing. I know I’m only a harling in your eyes, still green behind the ears, but… I was hoping that maybe…just for this one time…that you would want to…” Pansea, feeling embarrassed, turned around so he didn’t have to face Vaysh any more. “But you don’t want me, do you?”

Vaysh’s heart contracted painfully, making him aware of the fact that he cared about Pansea. “It’s not your fault, Pansea. It’s mine.”

Pansea’s jaw set grimly and he spun around. He looked Vaysh in the eye and asked, “Are you afraid to take aruna with me?”

Vaysh felt stunned. Pansea had nailed it. “Yes,” he admitted in all honesty. “It has been a decade since I last took aruna and before that there was an even longer period of time that I went without aruna.” Sadness colored his face and he added, “You know I’m barren, Pansea. There’s little reason for me to take aruna. It’s not like I can host or sire pearls.”

“But aruna is pleasurable. We need it, don’t we?” Pansea was growing confused. “I don’t know what to think anymore. Our teachers always told us that aruna served just one purpose: namely pearl production. Then the Gelaming soldiers arrived and they told us that taking aruna was a good thing and that we need it – that we don’t need to conceive in order to have aruna and now you’re saying…” Pansea’s head reeled.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to confuse you.” Pansea presented a pitiful sight and to his surprise, Vaysh wanted to comfort him. “Certain past events made me bitter. I shouldn’t have talked that way.” He placed a finger beneath Pansea’s chin and lifted the young har’s head. “Aruna is a good thing, one that you should thoroughly enjoy. Your old teachers were wrong to tell you it’s bad to be ouana.”

“What past events made you bitter, Vaysh?” They stood close and Pansea ached for another touch once Vaysh had pulled away his hand.

Vaysh bowed his head. “I’d rather not discuss them.”

“Is it because you’re barren?” Realizing Vaysh would never take the first step, Pansea had no other choice but to grow bold. He slid his fingers into the flaming red hair and waited for Vaysh to lift his head.

“That’s part of it.” Vaysh was tempted to close his eyes so he didn’t have to look at Pansea, but he owed the young har an explanation. “A har forced aruna upon me in the past. The act left me scarred.”

Pansea gasped. “He forced you to take aruna with him?” Pansea had never heard of such a foul thing before. “Does that mean you can no longer enjoy taking aruna?”

Vaysh shrugged. “I only took aruna once after that. I was drunk. Too drunk to understand what was happening until it was too late.” He had become soume in his desire to please Pellaz and had forsaken his own needs. He had acted the way he had acted when taking aruna with Ashmael.

“Vaysh, I still want you to be the one. I won’t ask you to be soume if that makes you uncomfortable.” Pansea wanted to help Vaysh and, by doing so, himself as well. If Vaysh found the courage to take this step, the both of them would benefit from it. “What exactly are you scared of?”

Vaysh sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s…” His voice trailed off as he searched for the right words. “I’ve been without aruna for so long that I wonder what affect taking it again will have on me. What if I can’t go back to switching off my need? What if I crave more afterwards?”

“Thanks for being so honest with me,” Pansea muttered. “I can do no less. I’ll be honest with you too.” Vaysh gave him a confused look and Pansea grew flustered. “If you only want to take aruna with me just once, I’ll accept that. But if you decide you’d like to take aruna again, I’d welcome that too. Vaysh, don’t be so scared. Aruna is something you should enjoy and, with the right partner, I think you might even find pleasure in it again.”

Vaysh suddenly looked tired and Pansea knew he had been victorious. Vaysh would give him his wish and in return, he would try hard to show Vaysh that the other har could still find pleasure in taking aruna, even after all the sordid things that had happened to the red-haired har in the past.

***

“Vaysh, look what I made!” Excited, Four ran up to Vaysh, who was already seated at the dining table alongside Lisia.

Vaysh helped Four climb onto his lap and then did an commendable job of admiring the drawing the harling had made. He was touched as he realized that Four had tried to draw him from memory.

Lisia watched them with shining eyes. He was happy for them both. Chrysm’s fingers squeezed his and Lisia turned his head to look at the har. He smiled at Chrysm and thought, /I’m happy too. Who knew everything would turn out so well when the Gelaming soldiers first showed up? I for one didn’t./

***

That night, Vaysh went to sleep with Four tightly tucked away in his arms. The day’s events had exhausted him and he had the feeling he wouldn’t get much time to recuperate. Four kept him busy and then there was the prospect of taking aruna with Pansea. After standing at the sideline for so many years, all these changes were a bit too much to handle for poor Vaysh.

***

Lisia however had a perfect handle on things. He was swaying on top of Chrysm and wondering just how wonderful taking aruna was with Chrysm. In the past, when he’d been soume, he’d seldom enjoyed himself, but with Chrysm things were different. For one moment he had even been tempted to go all the way and open his seal, but Chrysm had talked to him in his mind, telling him not to. That was probably for the best. The last time he had hosted, he had nearly died.

Lisia bent from the waist and took Chrysm’s lips when they climaxed. Sharing breath with Chrysm allowed him to experience the other har’s emotions as well and he felt deeply touched as he realized that Chrysm really loved him. Accepting and believing that was still hard for him.

They snuggled close in the afterglow and Lisia smiled when Chrysm patted his hair. “I’ll probably end up scratching at your door to let me in when you return to Immanion.” They had only taken aruna twice, but he already yearned for more.

“I’ll leave my door ajar then.” Chrysm chuckled and kissed Lisia’s brow. He was going to savor each moment he could with the hostling

***

The next few days passed by rather uneventfully. Vaysh took care of Four, who now lived in his room. The har had asked Four about his choice for a more suitable name and the harling had assured him he would think about it. Four’s expression had been grave when saying that and Vaysh surmised the harling was taking his question very seriously. He couldn’t help but wonder what name Four would decide on.

Pansea went through the last stages of feybraiha. Lisia and Colden, the local healer, tried to make the transition as pleasant as possible, but Pansea suffered in silence. However, the fact that he would take aruna with Vaysh shortly helped him through it.

And then the day came that Colden proclaimed Pansea was an adult. Lisia volunteered to deliver the news to Vaysh, who had grown nervous during the last few days. Maybe he needed to have another conversation with the redhead.

***

Vaysh sat on the windowsill while Four played with some toys on the floor. Suddenly Four raced over to Lisia upon seeing the hostling and hugged his right leg. Lisia picked him up and studied the harling. With each day, Four looked happier and a glance at Vaysh revealed that the red-haired har also was improving. Had Vaysh gained a little weight? Or were his eyes playing tricks on him? Lisia carried Four with him and placed him on his lap as he seated himself opposite Vaysh.

Vaysh drew in a deep breath. “Is it time?”

Lisia nodded once. “Pansea is ready for you. I suggest you go to him either tonight, or tomorrow. Don’t make him wait too long.”

Realizing that this was grown up talk, Four busied himself by finger combing Lisia’s hair and didn’t try to draw their attention. He knew he had to share Vaysh at times.

“Pansea likes you a lot, Vaysh. Try to make this as good for him as you can.”

Vaysh felt guilty for not being more experienced in the matter. “I’ll do my best.”

Lisia chuckled and that sound made Vaysh look at him. “I dreaded the idea of having to take aruna at one time as well. I was so used to being soume and thought of aruna as the first stage of a painful delivery, so I didn’t think it could make me feel good. It took Cobweb convincing me that I could still enjoy taking aruna.”

Vaysh felt jittery. “I’m afraid of what taking aruna will do to me – of the feelings it might cause to rise. I did my best to deny I still had any and now… Pansea is going to change all that and I don’t know how to cope with it. What if taking aruna with him changes me?”

“It’ll change you,” Lisia answered honestly. “But it’ll change you for the better.” In a way, Vaysh was as inexperienced as Pansea was. “Why don’t you simply decide to enjoy what is going to happen?”

“I’ve seldom felt joy in the past.” But that had changed when Four had entered his life. Vaysh opened his arms and the harling moved into them. Four pressed close and Vaysh tucked the harling’s head beneath his chin. “These feelings scare me. I would stop at nothing to know Four happy.” And at the same time, he felt scared. How would the hara in Immanion react when he brought back a harling?

Four buried his fingers in Vaysh’s hair and felt content being held that tight.

Lisia nodded his head. “I know what you feel. I feel the same way. These harlings bring out the same feelings in me.”

“I can deal with these parental feelings. I always wanted a harling, but… It’s different with Pansea. What Pansea wants from me is… I don’t know if I can give him that.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Lisia said and rose from the windowsill. “Don’t postpone it, Vaysh. The longer you put it off, the more difficult it’ll become.”

Vaysh knew that. The question however was did he have the courage to find out?

***

Vaysh knew that Lisia was right. Putting it off would only make it harder. For some reason Pansea had chosen him to complete his transformation and he couldn’t desert the young har. Standing in front of the door to Pansea’s room, Vaysh drew in a deep breath and tried to calm down. His destiny lay on the other side of that door. Pansea would change his life one way or another. When he pushed down the door handle, he knew there was no turning back.

Pansea looked up when the door opened and inched closer toward the edge of the bed. Knowing that Vaysh would appear shortly, he had taken great care to make himself as attractive as possible. He had taken a long bath, had rubbed oil into his skin, and had combed his reddish-blond hair until it shone like the sun. He hoped his appearance would please Vaysh.

Stepping into the room, Vaysh closed the door behind him. No har had ever asked this of him and he felt nervous in knowing that he would be Pansea’s first. That knowledge placed a great burden on his shoulders. He raised his gaze and his breath caught as he saw Pansea kneeling on the bed. The sun-kissed hair reached below Pansea’s waist and the expression in the young eyes told him just how much Pansea wanted him.

“Vaysh…” Pansea sighed the name and then raised his hand to beckon Vaysh closer.

Vaysh needed a moment to deal with the fact that Pansea was already naked. The young har’s body was flawless and Pansea was becoming soume in preparation for what was to come. Vaysh however found it harder to make the necessary change for aruna to take place. He was so used to being soume that he found it difficult to become ouana.

Vaysh made his way over to the bed, all the way hoping that his body would change and become ouana. When it didn’t, he started to feel scared and was about to flee the room when Pansea’s hands reached for him and pulled him down onto the bed. Vaysh wanted to warn the young har that he wasn’t able to take aruna with him because he had also become soume, but Pansea didn’t give him a chance to voice his concern. Pansea’s lips suddenly covered his and the young har’s breath mingled with his own.

Pansea’s mind resembled fire and for one moment, Vaysh almost panicked, remembering another har burning him. But this fire was different. Pansea’s fire consumed him in a whole new way and Vaysh surrendered to it.

Pansea was bent on getting Vaysh out of his clothes and it took him only a minute to accomplish that. Both hara were kneeling on the bed and their hair, while different shades of red, became entwined. Vaysh was skinnier than Pansea had thought and the older har acted ashamed, like he was afraid his appearance might displease Pansea.

“I want you,” Pansea whispered into Vaysh’s ear when he realized that it was up to him to make this work. “I want you to become ouana and make me yours. I want to feel you inside me. I want to feel that connection.” His words were definitely having some affect on Vaysh as he started to groan. The gray eyes grew clouded with emotion and Pansea leaned in closer to share breath again. This time he fed Vaysh images of how he wanted the older har to move above him.

Vaysh moaned into Pansea’s mouth and gripped the young har’s shoulders firmly. The images that flowed into his mind were affecting his body. Pansea’s desire fuelled his own and, to his surprise, his body started to change again. His ouana-lim came alive and opened like a flower, revealing gold and red petals. “Pansea…” He wanted to say more, but the younger har wouldn’t let him. Pansea pulled him along as the younger har lay down and Vaysh suddenly found himself on top.

“I want you… I need you… Make me yours, Vaysh.” Feeding Vaysh more images of them moving together, Pansea reached for Vaysh and pulled him closer. He parted his legs, slung them around Vaysh’s waist, and opened himself up to the older har. Feeling Vaysh slide inside him made him yelp and his eyes widened at the invasive sensation. “Yes, just like that.”

Vaysh felt adrift on the images which Pansea was feeding him. His body reacted to the sensory overload and he started to move. Sliding his hands beneath Pansea’s shoulders, he lifted the younger har closer. Pansea wrapped his arms around Vaysh and moved along with him.

Vaysh lost control when Pansea started to meet his thrusts and he buried his face against the younger har’s shoulder. Flexing his hips, he tried to make Pansea’s fantasies real.

Closing his eyes, Pansea gave himself completely to Vaysh. The next moment, they reached the top and their bodies trembled with release. Pansea called out Vaysh’s name and bit his bottom lip. Not even in his wildest dreams had he thought taking aruna would be like this!

Spent, Vaysh felt exhausted once he had brought them to their high. Pansea’s transformation was complete since they had taken this last step. He blanketed the younger har’s body with his and continued to tremble over his entire body.

Pansea stroked Vaysh’s hair and held him close. He wondered about the tremors that shook Vaysh’s body, but didn’t address it. This wasn’t the time for talk.

Vaysh was trying hard to stay in control of his emotions. Pansea’s passion had woken a part of him he had thought long dead. What was he going to do now? Taking aruna had felt so right. What if he wanted to take aruna again and nobody wanted him?

“We’ll do it again,” Pansea whispered. “I’ll never get enough of you, Vaysh.”

Vaysh managed to lift his head. His eyes showed confusion. “I don’t understand. This was a one-time encounter…” Or wasn’t it? Taking aruna had changed things between them, Vaysh realized. He could read Pansea’s mind and what he found there shocked him.

“I hope you’ll consider becoming chesna with me, Vaysh. I’d really want that.” Pansea caressed Vaysh’s face and was dismayed to see tears start to fill up the grey eyes. The lingering after effects of aruna allowed Pansea to peek into Vaysh’s mind and that insight told him what to say. “You’re certainly worthy of being loved! No matter what somehar says!”

“But there’s so little left to love.” Vaysh did his best not to weep so shortly after taking aruna. He didn’t want to spoil the experience for Pansea.

Pansea realized what he had to say. He couldn’t simply act like he hadn’t seen certain images in Vaysh’s mind. “Ashmael was a fool, Vaysh, to force you into a certain role. He missed out on something.” He smiled and pressed a kiss onto Vaysh’s forehead. “I liked you right from the start. You have a bewitching effect on hara, Vaysh. First, Four falls for you and declares he wants you as his hostling and then I fall for you too, but in a different way. I want you as my chesnari.”

Vaysh looked at Pansea wide-eyed. “You’re still overwhelmed because you just took aruna for the first time. You need to take aruna with different partners, Pansea and only then should you make the decision to become chesna with one of them.”

“You became chesna with Ashmael right away. Don’t deny it. Why can’t it be the same for us?”

Vaysh tentatively touched Pansea’s face. “I can’t be that lucky.”

Pansea smiled to show his relief. “But what if you *are* that lucky?” He looked trustingly at Vaysh. “Believe it. I want you.”

Vaysh rested his head against Pansea’s shoulder and the trembling started all over again. Pansea held him close and Vaysh had to close his eyes because he felt like he was going to cry after all, but this time, it was due to happiness.

***

Lisia left Four, who had been whining to be reunited with Vaysh, in Chrysm’s care. He had been surprised to find out that Chrysm actually liked harlings and had still been entertaining Four when Lisia had left. Lisia headed for Pansea’s room and knocked. When no answer came forth, he tried to push the door ajar and since it wasn’t locked, it opened. One quick look inside showed him that the two hara were holding each other in their sleep. Vaysh’s face still showed evidence of tears, but the red-haired har was also smiling in his sleep. Satisfied that all was well, Lisia closed the door again and returned to Chrysm and Four.

***

“You’re good at entertaining harlings.” Lisia smiled at Four, who had fallen asleep curled up at the foot of their bed. Chrysm sat in a comfortable chair and Lisia felt the other har’s gaze upon him. Turning around, he cocked his head. “You don’t have any harlings yourself, do you?”

Chrysm shook his head. “I never found the har I wanted to have harlings with – until now.”

Chrysm’s words hit Lisia like a cold shower and his smile froze upon his lips. “Do you want harlings then?”

Realizing what conclusion Lisia had reached, Chrysm rose from his chair and went to stand in front of Lisia. “When the time comes, I’ll host our pearl. I already told you that I don’t want you to go through something like that ever again.”

“That would be wrong – letting you host the pearl.” Lisia bit his bottom lip and tried hard not to show his nervousness. “That’s my job.”

Chrysm enfolded Lisia in a hug and looked him in the eye. “You almost died when you hosted your last pearl. I’m not going to take such a risk and neither are you.” He sensed Lisia’s relief. The hostling would have had a really hard time had he been asked to host their pearl. “I don’t want to put you at risk. I’ll host our pearl.” Why were they discussing this when it wouldn’t happen for a very long time?

“Because we need to discuss this now. We need to know where we stand.”

Chrysm was right of course. Lisia completed the embrace and leaned in closer until he could rest his head against Chrysm’s shoulder. From the corner of his eye he watched Four sleep. He had delivered twenty-four pearls and they had been taken away from him before he could hold one of them in his arms. It would be nice to be able to see their harling emerge from the pearl. It would be nice to be able to keep just one of them.

***

Pansea had briefly dozed off after taking aruna for the first time and when he opened his eyes again, he saw Vaysh looking at him. A wondrous expression lay on the handsome face and the lips were bruised due to the passionate kisses they had shared. “I want to taste you again.” Pansea leaned in closer and pressed his lips onto Vaysh’s so they could share breath. Vaysh’s mind was in turmoil and Pansea had to break it off.

“I’m sorry,” Vaysh mumbled, feeling bewildered. He was still trying to accept that Pansea wanted to be chesna with him.

Pansea however had other plans and crawled atop of Vaysh. “I want to feel you,” he whispered into Vaysh’s ear. The tip of his tongue dashed out and he licked his way down Vaysh’s throat. Vaysh quivered beneath him and Pansea realized Vaysh was becoming soume for him. “I’ll only do this if you really want it.” He placed his hands on either side of Vaysh’s face and searched the grey eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you in whatever way.”

Vaysh swallowed hard. He knew there was pleasure to be found in being soume, but he also remembered the pain Thiede had given him when the har had taken him. And then there were the memories which featured Ashmael moving on top of him. “Can you make me forget?” he asked after sharing the memories with Pansea.

“I can try.” Pansea buried his fingers in Vaysh’s hair and claimed the har’s lips again. This time he concentrated on sending Vaysh new images. He showed Vaysh what taking aruna would be like.

Vaysh closed his eyes to savour the sensation. He wanted their aruna to be like that. But what he was seeing was just a fantasy. Could Pansea really make it come true?

Pansea straddled Vaysh’s waist and placed his hands palm down against the har’s chest. Rubbing the skin there, he bent from the waist and kissed the sensitive skin of Vaysh’s neck. He dragged his tongue down Vaysh’s sternum and licked his way further down. He bestowed a teasing lick onto Vaysh’s belly button and then moved on.

Opening his eyes again, Vaysh wondered about the hungry expression in Pansea’s eyes. Ashmael had once looked at him like that, but only in the beginning and it was a different kind of hunger in the young eyes.

Pansea sat cross-legged on the bed and pulled Vaysh upright. His ouana-lim shone in gold and orange colours. He was ready to take aruna this way…another first for him. “Vaysh, crawl on top of me.”

Vaysh blinked, but complied. He sat on his haunches, placed his hands on Pansea’s shoulders, and shivered. The next thing he felt was Pansea’s hands cupping his buttocks, guiding him down onto the young har’s ouana-lim. Vaysh had taken aruna many times, but this was different. Pansea had chosen a position that allowed Vaysh to be in control and Vaysh appreciated that. Vaysh threw back his head and cried out when the ouana-lim slid into his soume-lam. Wide-eyed, he looked at Pansea, who was smiling at him.

“Let go, Vaysh,” Pansea murmured and buried his face in Vaysh’s neck. He nuzzled the skin there and then attached his lips to the soft skin. Suckling the skin between his teeth, he wrapped one arm around Vaysh’s waist, while one hand came to rest at the small of the older har’s back.

“I’m not sure I can.” Vaysh squirmed against Pansea. His body had been dead for a long time and now it was being lured back to life. That he could still react so passionately shocked Vaysh.

“Let go,” Pansea repeated. He thrust upwards for the first time and supported Vaysh when the other har swayed. He kept his hold on Vaysh loose, not wanting the older har to feel confined. “Let go, Vaysh.”

Pansea’s pleading was more than Vaysh could take and he did just that: he let go.

A wave of lust and passion rolled over Pansea and he sucked in his breath sharply. Vaysh felt like liquid fire around his ouana-lim and the pleasure almost overwhelmed Pansea. But he stayed in control and they rocked together, slowly at first, but then faster until Vaysh was readily raising and lowering himself onto Pansea’s ouana-lim. Vaysh purred, growled, sobbed, and then yelped when Pansea exploded inside his mind and his body. His head came to rest on Pansea’s shoulder and he heaved as he joined the young har in completion.

Pansea tightened his hold on Vaysh, not wanting the older har to slide off his lap. He inhaled the sweet scent Vaysh emitted and smiled into the red hair. Vaysh was a dead weight in his arms, but Pansea didn’t mind. Aruna should be like that, he thought. Aruna should be exhausting and at the same time replenishing. He was convinced that Vaysh would feel better once they took aruna regularly. “You let go. Thank you.”

Vaysh nodded against Pansea’s shoulder. He felt different. Something had changed. His body vibrated with energy, his mind felt less clouded, and the perpetual depression that had made him suffer had lifted. He felt light-headed and free.

Smiling, Pansea rubbed Vaysh’s back. “I feel the same way,” he said after receiving those thoughts from Vaysh. “It’ll be like that each time we take aruna.”

Vaysh chuckled and turned his head so he could look at Pansea. He felt afloat on a cloud of happiness and wasn’t afraid to fall back to earth. He had the feeling Pansea would catch him. “Will you come to Immanion with me?” He had stopped fighting the inevitable. Pansea was just as stubborn as Four.

“Gladly.” Pansea pressed a kiss onto Vaysh’s lips. “I want to be where you are, Vaysh.”

His rooms were big enough to house a small family. Pansea and Four could move in with him. Vaysh rested his head back on Pansea’s shoulder and fingered a lock of the sun-kissed hair. The only thing he needed to do now was to think of a way to tell Pellaz that he had gained a family.

Part 6

“Chrysm? What kind of animal is this?” Four pointed at a drawing in the children’s book he was reading. He was still displeased that Vaysh was unavailable, but Chrysm made a good substitute. The har loved to play with him and had even read to him.

“That’s a fox and its cubs.” Chrysm smiled at the harling. Four was inquisitive and it was a joy to look after him. Four then gave him a serious look and Chrysm started to wonder if he had said something wrong, but then Four’s face became as radiant as the sun.

“I need to talk to Vaysh. Can I?” He had to tell his hostling something important.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

***

Vaysh and Pansea took a bath together and then dressed. They both were giggly and grew flustered whenever they looked at each other. The change that had come over Vaysh astounded Pansea and made the older har even more desirable where Pansea was concerned.

A knock on the door stopped their giggling and Vaysh straightened his robes. It was back to normal – however, normal had greatly changed during the last few days.

Pansea opened the door and took a step aside when he saw Chrysm and Four standing there. “Hello, Four!” He lowered himself onto his heels and opened his arms. The harling went into them and hugged him tight. Pansea had always been very fond of Four and the feeling was mutual.

Four gave Pansea a conspiring look and declared, “I need to tell Vaysh something important. I thought of a name!”

Vaysh quickly covered the distance to the doorway and ignored the grin Chrysm threw at him. He wasn’t letting himself to be baited that way. It was bad enough that Chrysm knew what had happened in this room during the last few hours.

Pansea lifted Four in his arms and turned around so the harling could make eye contact with Vaysh.

Chrysm remained quiet, happily absorbing the scene in front of him. If he hadn’t known it was Vaysh standing there, he might have mistaken the har for someone else. Vaysh glowed and the blush that coloured his cheeks was an unusual sight.

Vaysh rubbed his thumb softly against Four’s cheek and the harling’s smile brightened further. “What did you say?”

“You asked me about a new name! I know what I want to be called!” Four was so excited that he couldn’t stop wiggling in Pansea’s arms. “It’s Fox!”

“Fox?” Vaysh ruffled the harling’s hair and considered the name. Eventually he said, “Yes, it suits you.” Four could be as sly as a fox if the harling wanted to.

The harling happily clapped his hands and reached for Vaysh. Pansea was forced to let go and Vaysh caught the newly-named harling in his arms.

“I knew you’d like it too!” The harling tugged at Vaysh’s hair and cried, “I’m Fox!”

“Yes, you’re Fox. You’re my son.” Vaysh caught a mind touch from Pansea and when he looked at the younger har, he saw a question in those eyes. /Isn’t it too soon to be asking me that?/

Pansea shook his head. /No, I know what I want. Do you?/

The steadfast look Pansea gave him made Vaysh give in. “Fox, would you like to be our son? Pansea’s son too?”

The harling had to consider that in earnest. He liked Pansea and having a father and a hostling would be even better. He nodded and then smiled at Pansea. “Yes, I want that.”

Pansea exchanged a pleased look with Vaysh. /You have gained a family./

Vaysh nodded and wondered, /How am I going to explain this to Pellaz.?/

/I have faith in you,/ Pansea sent and curled an arm around Vaysh’s waist. /You’ll find a way./

***

A few days later, Chrysm had to say a temporary goodbye to Lisia since he was returning to Immanion. “I’ll be back in a few days. And if you can’t do without me, come to Immanion. Just tell me here,” he said and pointed at his head. “And I’ll send a sedu to take you to Immanion.”

Lisia nodded his head once. “I might keep you to that.” Saying goodbye, even though only for a few days, was harder than expected. “I care deeply about you, Chrysm.”

Chrysm took Lisia’s hand in his and twined their fingers. He didn’t want to leave, but duty called. “Keep the bed warm during my absence. You never know when I’ll decide to pay a surprise visit.”

They shared breath and then Lisia had to let go of Chrysm, who mounted his sedu. Lisia looked to his right and found Vaysh had also appeared. The red-haired har looked nervous and Lisia understood why. Vaysh had been alone when he had left Immanion and now he was bringing a chesnari and a harling along with him. /I know you can do this,/ Lisia thought and hoped Vaysh would pick up on that thought.

Vaysh nodded once to show he had heard, but he was too nervous to smile back at Lisia. He placed Fox on the sedu’s back, mounted, and then pulled Pansea into place behind him. “Wrap your arms around me. I don’t want to lose you when we travel the Otherlanes.”

Pansea did as he was told and held on tight to Vaysh. Vaysh in turn curled an arm around the harling and, once he was certain everyone was set for travel, he linked his mind with the sedu’s, telling it to head home to Immanion.

Lisia raised his arm and waved goodbye. Vaysh’s sedu disappeared first, while Chrysm seemed to linger a moment longer.

“I’ll be back, Lis!” Chrysm called out and then directed his sedu onto the Otherlanes as well.

Lisia stayed behind alone, but he didn’t feel sad. Chrysm would be back shortly and, should his longing overwhelm him, Chrysm would know and send him a sedu. Turning around, he grinned. Two harlings were mud wrestling each other. “You two! You need to be cleaned up!” Lisia rolled up his sleeves and stalked toward them, still enjoying being hostling to all the harlings.

***

Vaysh installed Pansea and Fox in his rooms. He made sure that they had everything they needed. He supplied toys and books for the harling and bought new outfits for Pansea so he could dress according to his new station. The only thing he hadn’t done yet was tell Pellaz that he hadn’t returned alone.

***

Chrysm leaned back into the comfort of the chair and grinned. Pellaz, Caeru, Cal, Velaxis, and Ashmael were in the room with him and they were chatting and drinking some sheh. To Chrysm it seemed the perfect moment to bring up Vaysh. “Pellaz, tell me, did you meet Pansea and Fox yet?”

Pellaz, who had been sipping tea, looked up and frowned. He was happy to have both Chrysm and Vaysh back in Immanion and, while he had already talked to Chrysm in depth about Harling Gardens, Vaysh seemed to be avoiding him. “Who are they?”

Chrysm grinned wickedly. “Vaysh’s chesnari and their harling of course.”

Ashmael, who had been about to swallow a mouthful of sheh, spat the liquid out again and stared at Chrysm in shock. “What did you say?”

“Vaysh gained a family during his stay in Harling Gardens. I’m surprised you didn’t know that yet.” Chrysm sipped his water and continued to grin like mad. Ashmael shot him a dirty look, but that only cheered him on. “Pansea chose Vaysh as his partner after going through feybraiha and the two have been practically inseparable since.”

Ashmael couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You mean that there is actually a har alive who can bear being touched by Vaysh?” Vaysh repulsed him. What walked the halls wasn’t his former chesnari but some sort of abomination.

“Oh, they’re quite happy together.” Chrysm intercepted Pellaz’ inquisitive look and added, “You’re wondering about the harling.”

Pellaz nodded. “It can’t be Vaysh’s.”

Chrysm wondered briefly about that statement. Pellaz didn’t know Fox was too old to be Vaysh’s son, so how did the Tigron know the harling wasn’t related to Vaysh? “Vaysh adopted the harling. Fox was rather determined to have Vaysh as his hostling. Vaysh never stood a chance.”

Pellaz clapped his hands and one of his servants appeared. “Tell tiahaar Vaysh to join us. And tell him to bring Pansea and Fox as well.” The house har left to do Pellaz’ bidding and the Tigron focused on Ashmael. He knew Vaysh and Ashmael had been chesna once and some part of him had expected them to work out their differences and become chesna again. But now Vaysh had brought home a different chesnari.

“I can’t believe somehar would want Vaysh,” Ashmael stated, baffled. “You know what he’s like.” But Ashmael also knew how Vaysh had been once. Could it be the old Vaysh had resurfaced? But no, that wasn’t possible!

“Oh, they’re in love,” Chrysm replied and gave Ashmael a wink. “Pansea might be young, but he knows what he wants and he wanted Vaysh right from the start.” He had always wondered why Ashmael had never made a move toward Vaysh. If they had really loved each other, Ashmael would have tried to win Vaysh back. It wasn’t Vaysh’s fault that something had gone wrong when Thiede had gotten his dirty hands on him.

Ashmael glared at Chrysm. He didn’t believe Chrysm. Nohar wanted anything to do with Vaysh – nohar!

***

Vaysh knew that this had been bound to happen. He had been fortunate to put off the summons for so long. Pellaz and he had briefly talked about his visit at Harling Gardens, but Vaysh hadn’t brought up either Fox or Pansea. He had lacked the courage to do so and now they were being summoned to appear before the Tigron.

“You knew this would happen,” Pansea commented and embraced Vaysh from behind. The moment the summons had reached him, he had changed his clothes and had dressed in the finest red silk Immanion had to offer. His long, golden hair spilled down his back, unbound and dancing freely. He didn’t wear any jewellery even though he had found the finest accessories in Vaysh’s dresser. “We can do this.”

Vaysh wished he shared Pansea’s optimism. “Ashmael will be there.” He had interrogated the servant before the har had left and had been given the names of those present in Pellaz’ rooms.

Fox, dressed in simple brown trousers and a grey shirt, raised an arm and caught Vaysh’s fingers in-between his. “Doesn’t this Ashmael like you?” How could anyone not like Vaysh?

Vaysh drew in a deep breath. The harling was too young to understand what had happened to Ashmael and him in the past. “He used to like me,” Vaysh replied and picked Fox up. He sat the harling in his arms and gave him a sad smile. “You must be strong now. I’m going to introduce you to new hara and they might not be very nice to you and Pansea.”

Pansea straightened his shoulders and gave Vaysh a proud look. “I can take whatever Ashmael throws at me.”

Vaysh nodded his head once. “Let’s do this.” Stalling would only make this more difficult.

***

Ashmael couldn’t take his eyes off of Vaysh when the red head entered the Tigron’s rooms. Vaysh had changed and Ashmael was reminded of the har he had once been chesna with. The harling seated on Vaysh’s hips glared at him and the young har that walked beside Vaysh kept his head high.

Pellaz rose from the couch and walked toward Vaysh. He smiled warmly at his friend and then nodded a welcome to Pansea. “You should have told me,” he mildly chided Vaysh. “And you must be Fox. What a pretty name that is!”

The glare vanished and instead a smile appeared on the harling’s face. He didn’t know who the other har was but decided he liked him. “I think it’s pretty too! What’s yours?”

“I’m Pellaz,” the Tigron answered and stroked the harling’s hair. “Do you like living in Immanion?”

The harling nodded his head and then looked at Vaysh. “Can Pellaz hold me?”

Vaysh cringed, uncertain that Pellaz wanted to hold a harling he hardly knew.

“It’s all right,” Pellaz commented. “I’d like to hold him for a while.”

Vaysh let Fox slide into Pellaz’ arms and then watched the Tigron chuckle at something the harling had said. He felt relieved as one thing he no longer had to worry about was Pellaz accepting his family.

Growing aware of Ashmael’s stare, Pansea fixed the blond har with one of his own. He squeezed Vaysh’s fingers harder when he felt his chesnari crumble underneath Ashmael’s amused look.

Having no choice, Vaysh met Ashmael’s gaze. He didn’t know what he expected to see in those eyes, but the expression he found surely wasn’t one of them. Ashmael looked bemused and about to burst out into laugher at every moment.

Ashmael shook his head. “He’s just a child!”

Pansea took offence to that and would have charged at Ashmael if it hadn’t been for Vaysh holding him back. “I’m no child!”

“That reaction proves it,” Ashmael retorted with a chuckle.

Pansea’s gaze filled with loathing. “I might be a child then, but at least I’m no fool. I didn’t let Vaysh slip through my fingers. You’re jealous that Vaysh is my chesnari now. All those years you were too much of a coward to approach him and guess what: it’s too late now!”

“Pansea!” Vaysh shot the young har a look. /You can’t speak to him like that!/

“As long as the Tigron isn’t stopping me, I can!” Pansea’s free hand turned into a fist.

Cal looked appreciatively at Pansea. He liked the young har who stood his ground.

Pellaz, who had been entertaining the harling, realized it was time for him to get involved. “Ashmael, respect Pansea. And Pansea…” Well, what could he say? As far as Pellaz was concerned, Pansea had spoken the truth.

Ashmael placed his goblet down with a loud thud onto a side table and rose from his chair. “I’m leaving,” he announced. Pansea’s words had stung for they had held some truth.

“Ashmael…” Vaysh didn’t say ‘Ash’ on purpose for that would have been too personal. Ashmael turned to face him and Vaysh swallowed hard. “I was hoping we could be friends.”

Realizing Vaysh was reaching out to him and that they would have dealings in the future, Ashmael surmised it would be best to accept the offer. “Maybe.” He turned around and left the room. Seeing Vaysh with a harling on his arm and his chesnari holding his hand upset him. He had made the decision to let Vaysh go a long time ago, but it still hurt.

“I don’t like that har,” Fox stated and stared at the doorway. “I’m glad he’s gone.”

Rue, who had been trying to distract the harling by pulling faces, finally made eye contact with Fox and the harling chirped in delight. Since Pellaz was seated on the same couch as Caeru was, Fox freed himself of the Tigron’s arms and made his way over to the Tigrina. “You, I like,” he stated and buried his fingers in Caeru’s blond hair.

Cal smiled and shook his head. “Vaysh, you *do* know what you’ve gotten yourself into? That harling is a handful.”

“I know, Cal. Fortunately, I have Pansea to help me raise him.” Vaysh allowed himself to relax since Ashmael was gone. It also helped that the unholy trinity had taken a liking to the harling. He was sure Caeru especially would spoil Fox rotten.

Epilogue

“I’m glad you could come to bear witness.” Lisia looked at Vaysh, Pansea, and Fox, who was no longer a harling. Nine years had passed by since Vaysh had adopted Fox and had taken his family to Immanion with him. Nine years during which Vaysh and Pansea had become chesnari in every sense of the word. Nine years in which Lisia and Chrysm’s relationship had deepened until they had felt ready to have a harling of their own. Chrysm had hosted the pearl Lisia was now curled around and the two hara looked happy.

“We didn’t want to miss this.” Vaysh seated himself on the edge of the bed while Pansea stood behind him and placed his hands on his shoulders. Fox eagerly expected the harling to come forth from the pearl. He had never seen a harling hatch before and wished the harling would hurry.

Lisia, who was laying face to face with Chrysm with their pearl in-between them, was impatient as well. During the time Chrysm had been hosting, Lisia had worried about his chesnari. Like no other, he knew about the discomfort hosting could bring and the pain that dropping the pearl entailed, but Chrysm had delivered the pearl with only a minimum of discomfort. “The three of you look well,” he said as he waited for the harling to hatch. “I hardly recognize the harling I once held in my arms.”

Fox, who had turned into a stunning har, smiled at Lisia. Vaysh and Pansea had visited Harling Gardens regularly after moving to Immanion and he still felt at home there. He still loved Lisia for having taken care of him when he had been very little. He had gone through feybraiha two years previously and, although the har introducing him to aruna had done a splendid job, Fox still had to choose his chesnari. “But I remember you, Lis. I could never forget about you!”

Lisia smiled contentedly. Chrysm had given him the greatest gift by hosting their pearl. For the first time in his life, Lisia was holding a pearl in his arms and would see the harling emerge from it in a few minutes. His prior pearls had all been taken away from him and he didn’t know what had become of his harlings.

“Look!” Excitedly, Fox pointed at the pearl. “Something’s happening!”

Lisia sucked in his breath and stared in wonder at the shell, which was showing cracks. First one finger and then another pried itself a way through the small opening. It was finally happening! Chrysm curled his fingers around Lisia’s and both hara stared at the cracks, which continued to grow larger. “Oh.” Lisia’s eyes filled with tears when the harling finally emerged. The harling had brown hair and light-brown eyes with golden specks in them and, when he directed them at Lisia, he reached for his father.

Lisia tucked the harling in-between them and placed the shell onto the floor. “Look, it’s our son!” His tears flowed freely as he kissed the harling’s face.

Chrysm, knowing only too well why this was such an emotional moment for Lisia, simply watched them. One of the reasons why he had wanted to host their pearl was because he wanted Lisia to experience this. The hostling had lost so many harlings that Chrysm had wanted to give this to Lisia.

“He’s beautiful,” Pansea said. “Did you already think of a name for him?”

“Or are you going to call him One,” Fox added with a grin. “Nohar knows how many brothers this harling will get.”

Chrysm coughed to clear his throat. “One is quite enough for the moment.” He didn’t plan on hosting another pearl any time soon.

“Keeping with tradition, I’d like to call him Larch, if that’s fine with you,” Lisia stated and gave Chrysm a hopeful look.

“Larch.” Chrysm smiled. “Why not?” Lisia had never had a chance to name one of his harlings and he wasn’t going to spoil the moment by protesting. Larch was a good name.

Lisia cradled Larch against his chest and smiled. “You know,” he addressed everyone present. “I never thought I’d ever hold a harling of my own in my arms.”

Chrysm blushed. “I want to make you happy.”

“Thank you so much,” Lisia whispered and pressed his lips against Chrysm’s to share breath with him.

Vaysh gestured his chesnari and Fox to follow him out of the room so Lisia and Chrysm could have some privacy. While Fox went off exploring, Vaysh pulled Pansea close and hugged him tight. “We’re both lucky to have found a chesnari who understand us,” Vaysh said. “Lisia needs Chrysm as much as I need you. Without the two of you…”

Pansea cupped Vaysh’s cheek in the palm of his hand. “What you seem to forget is that Chrysm needs Lisia in turn. And I need you, Vaysh. I love you. I always did.”

Leaning in closer, they shared breath and in doing so drove away any remaining ghosts that might have still haunted Vaysh.

The End

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1 Comment

  1. mystic87 said,

    April 27, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    This was a wonderful take on the story! I really enjoyed reading this and the chemistry between the characters was perfect and natural. Thank you for sharing this! It is one of the first Wraeththu fanfictions that I have read and it was wonderful!


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