See Who I Am

See Who I Am
by Morgana

Story Notes

Editor\'s PickAuthor’s Email: morganalebeau@yahoo.com

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

Pairings: Pellaz/Cal/Galdra/Caeru, Vaysh/Ashmael and Cobweb/Snake

Rating: NC-17

Summary: Pellaz needs time to find himself again and flees from Immanion. In Forever he finds his rest and eventually faces Cal and Galdra. Vaysh does some healing himself.

Warning: AU – you could say it is an alternate ending to book 5.

Spoilers: – up to the end of book 5.

Note 1: Lyrics by Within Temptation.
Note 2: I know that some readers think of Pellaz as being dramatic. Well, my muse insisted Pell had every reason to be dramatic and wanted him to go all the way!
Note 3: Well, Thiede… I hope Azriel likes what I did to Thiede!

Dedicated to my muse Pell…who has no idea he is my muse in the first place.

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Not mine. These characters belong to Storm Constantine. No copyright infringement is intended.

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

See Who I Am

Is it true what they say,
Are we too blind to find a way?
Fear of the unknown cloud our hearts today.
Come into my world,
See through my eyes.
Try to understand,
Don’t want to lose what we have

We’ve been dreaming
But who can deny,
It’s the best way of living

Between the truth and the lies

See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
Let’s show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands,

This is not the end.

Fear is withering the soul
At the point of no return.
We must be the change
We wish to see.
I’ll come into your world,
See through your eyes.
I’ll try to understand,
Before we lose what we have.

We just can’t stop believing
Because we have to try.
We can rise above
Their truth and their lies.

I hear the silence
Preaching my blame.
Will our strength remain

If their power reigns?

See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
Let’s show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands,
This is not the end.

Part 1

Pellaz had had enough. He had finally reached his limits. He couldn’t take much more of this torture.

Galdra had let him know that he was on his way home and Cal hadn’t even been to visit him, leaving him there, resting and thinking for two long days. Physically he felt exhausted and even opening his eyes was too much of an effort. Emotionally, he was a mess. His last action during Grissecon had been to drag Galdra with him in the hope to atone for betraying Cal. It hadn’t worked though. Cal had called him back and for that, Pell cursed him.

Why had Cal bothered doing so? After all, he had betrayed Cal. And it wasn’t like Cal still wanted him. His chesnari wasn’t close – hadn’t even bothered to visit with him – and during that time, Pellaz had drifted deeper into a sea of dark depression that had started to take hold of him when he had lost Cal a second time. It had been Galdra who had kept his depression at bay for a while and, now that the other har was gone, his gloomy mood returned with a vengeance.

It didn’t help either that he felt utterly guilty for taking aruna with Galdra in the first place. It didn’t matter that Cal had been unavailable at the time. Cal had said it all when his lover had confessed that Pell should have never doubted him. Yes, he should have trusted Cal to pull through and do what was right for their race. But instead, he had fallen prey to doubt and depression and had allowed Galdra to take Cal’s place. It had been so easy to see Cal whenever he looked at Galdra. The two hara were much alike – physically at least.

And now he lay there – with pearl. Pellaz wasn’t certain he could ever face Cal again. A part of him wanted nothing more than to be reunited with the one har whom he loved best, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he still deserved to be Cal’s chesnari.

Maybe it was time to take a rest. He had been through too much the last few months and felt drained – physically and emotionally. He wanted away from it all. He needed rest…to heal. He needed to find himself again and Pellaz knew that he couldn’t do that in Immanion. There, he was Tigron and thus public property. What he really needed was to get away from it all and find the part of himself again which he had lost when Thiede had remade him.

Too weak to call out verbally, Pellaz sent out a mental call, knowing it would bring his trusted aide to his side.

Vaysh didn’t disappoint him and the red-haired har stepped into the room. “You called for me? What’s wrong?” Vaysh had remained close to Pellaz the last few days, having sensed the return of his friend’s depressed state. He walked over to the bed, sat down on the edge, and rested the palm of his hand against Pellaz’ brow. “What do you need from me?”

/I need you to organize transportation for me, Vaysh. I’m leaving./ Pellaz closed his eyes in order to save energy.

“But you can’t leave, Pell! You are exhausted. You are under strict orders to rest!” Vaysh disapproved of his friend’s decision and his gray eyes filled with determination. “You need to stay here and recover!” Like Pellaz, Vaysh hoped that Cal would finally visit with his chesnari so the two could discuss their differences.

/I’m leaving, Vaysh. If you won’t help me, I will find someone else who will./ He didn’t have the energy to put up with Vaysh fighting him. /I’m determined to leave. Arrange for it./

“But Pell, where do you want to go? Now, when Immanion needs you the most?” Pell’s order surprised Vaysh.

/Immanion doesn’t need me. It has another Tigron and the Tigrina to take care of them. My mind is made up, Vaysh, I’m leaving. I want to be on my own for a while./ He needed the peace and quiet. He had to get away from the intrigues at his court – and most of all, he needed to get away from Cal.

Vaysh expressed his concern by placing a hand on Pell’s hair and stroked the strands. “You can’t be alone right now. You know that. You’re with pearl.”

Pellaz’ eyes opened and glared at Vaysh. “Do you have to remind me?” He lost control over his emotions and forced the words out from between clenched teeth.

“You can’t run from Cal, Pell. It doesn’t work that way.”

“He won’t come after me at any rate! Just arrange for my departure, Vaysh!” Pellaz felt ready to faint as he used up the last of his last strength. /Go away, Vaysh, you have received your orders. Leave me alone./

Vaysh shook his head. “You’re making a mistake, Pell.”

/It won’t be the first mistake I ever made. It no longer matters, Vaysh./ Pellaz closed his eyes. /Hurry, Vaysh. I want to leave within the hour./

Vaysh drew in a deep breath and gently stroked Pellaz’ dark hair. “Allow me to accompany you, Pell. You shouldn’t be alone and you know it.”

Pellaz fought the tears which threatened to spill from his eyes. He wanted company, but it wasn’t Vaysh’s he wanted. He wanted Cal – and he wanted Galdra – and those were the two hara he couldn’t have. Not any longer. He had betrayed them both.

“At least consider letting me accompany you,” Vaysh requested instead, not willing to give up yet.

/I will. Now start working on transportation!/ Pellaz needed Vaysh out of the room for he was ready to burst out into tears.

Vaysh leaned in closer and pressed a kiss onto Pellaz’ brow. Since Pell had closed his eyes, Vaysh couldn’t read the expression in them, but in a way, he didn’t need to. Everything about Pellaz screamed need, angst, and fear of abandonment. “I promise you that we will leave shortly.”

/Thank you,/ Pell sent to Vaysh’s mind. A moment later, he dozed off again and drifted into a restless sleep.


***

Pellaz awoke a few minutes later due to someone lifting him from his bed. In spite of feeling drained, he still managed to open his eyes and looked at Vaysh’s red hair. His friend had returned and was lifting him in his arms.

“We’re ready to leave,” Vaysh announced. “I still advise against this, though.” He wanted Pellaz to rest and wait for Cal to visit with him, but Pellaz *was* Tigron and therefore Vaysh owed him his allegiance.

Pellaz’ head lolled idly against Vaysh’s chest. It would never cease to amaze him how much strength lay hidden in his friend’s frail form. /I can’t stay here. Don’t you understand, Vaysh? I can’t face him. Not after what I did. I betrayed him./

“You didn’t betray him,” Vaysh replied as he carried Pellaz to the doorway.

/He said so himself, Vaysh./

“Then Cal was wrong.” Vaysh felt conflicted. “Pell, do you really want to do this? I’m certain that once you talk to Cal these misunderstandings will clear up, because that’s all they are – misunderstandings!”

/I need to do this, Vaysh. Don’t you understand? I can’t face Cal like you can’t face Ashmael./

Pellaz had hit a nerve and Vaysh’s expression turned bitter. “This isn’t about me and Ashmael, Pell. Don’t try to distract me!”

Pellaz was too tired to argue. /Just take me to Forever, Vaysh./ Snake had told him about a little cottage close to the main house. His brother had lived there for a while and it sounded like the perfect hiding place to Pellaz. There, he would hopefully heal, regain his strength, deliver his pearl, and find himself again. If he couldn’t manage to do it there, he would never manage to do so at all.

***

Cal felt nervous as he was about to enter the room Pellaz was resting in. He was in just as much emotional turmoil as Pellaz was and the upcoming conversation would be hard on the both of them. Galdra stood between them, keeping them apart while causing an emotional distance between them.

Cal pushed down the door handle and drew in a deep breath, readying himself to face Pellaz. He had thought long and hard about what he wanted to say and had decided to not be too hard on his lover. After all, Pellaz had had no choice. Galdra had been the only har who could have performed the Grissecon in that way. /I should have been there to support and guide Pellaz, but Thiede summoned me away from his side./ There was no real reason to be angry with Pellaz and Cal already regretted the harsh words he had spoken when he had freed Pellaz of Diablo’s hold. How could he ask Pellaz to put his trust in him when had deserted Pellaz? Pellaz always appeared so strong, but Cal knew the truth. Pellaz wore a mask and beneath that mask, his lover was adrift on a sea of emotions, intense emotions at that. Pell always felt everything so deeply!

“Hi, can I come inside?” Cal thought it best to announce his presence, not wanting to startle Pellaz. His gaze, which had been trained on the floor, lifted when no answer was forthcoming. “Pellaz?” Where was his lover? The doctor had assured him that Pellaz was up to having this conversation. As far as he knew, his chesnari should be resting on the exam bed.

But, much to his consternation, the bed was empty. Pellaz was gone. His eyes widened in surprise and shock. “Pell, where are you? Where did you go?” During the last two days he had never thought that Pellaz would run away from him. He had been convinced that his lover had had enough faith to face him. Apparently, he had been wrong. Pellaz had run. And Cal felt as lost as never before.

***

Vaysh cradled Pellaz tightly against his chest as the Sedu traveled the otherlanes, carrying them quickly to their destination. Vaysh’s worries about Pellaz’ condition doubled. He hadn’t thought it possible, but Pell was weakening further. He wanted to check on his charge, but he couldn’t afford to lose control. The otherlanes could be dangerous and he needed to keep his wits about him.

Pellaz felt himself deteriorate further and his claw-like grip on Vaysh’s shirt loosened. His fingers were unable to maintain the hold any longer.

Vaysh, his trusted Vaysh. He had known he could count on Vaysh to understand; after all, Vaysh was also running in his own way…running away from Ashmael.

/We’re almost there,/ Vaysh told Pellaz, using mind-touch. /Do you want me to take you to Cobweb and your brother first?/

/I don’t know… Vaysh, I am tired – too tired to think this over. I trust you to make the right decision./

The Sedu left the otherlanes and manifested near the mansion. Forever had been restored after the battle, and although minor changes had been made, the mansion looked familiar and welcoming. Vaysh considered his options. Cobweb knew a bit of healing and could help him look after Pellaz, since his friend was determined to be stubborn and avoid dealing with Cal. But then again, who was he to judge Pellaz? Wasn’t he doing the same where Ashmael was concerned?

The blond har was never far from his thoughts and it pained him that they could not be together again. He was barren – burned out – dead inside. He was no longer a suitable mate for Ashmael and it was best to keep his distance.

“I will take you to Cobweb first. He’s the master of his house and should know that you want to stay here,” he whispered the words, but Pellaz couldn’t hear him as the other har was asleep again.

Lowering his gaze, Vaysh felt worried as he saw how pale and gaunt the Tigron looked. “You need to take better care of yourself now that you’re with pearl.” Feelings, which were hard to label coursed through him. Each har could reproduce. Each har could be with pearl – except for him that was. Barren, he could never be with pearl. “I will take care of you and the pearl.”

Vaysh dismounted and while carrying a sleeping Pellaz in his arms, he headed for the front door.

***

Cobweb frowned when he realized that guests had arrived. Until the Sedu had manifested near Forever, he had been unaware of his visitors. He knew what had happened in Immanion for Moon and Tyson had told him. He also knew that the Grissecon had drained Pellaz, who had been confined to bed after performing it. And yet, he felt Pellaz’ essence close. “Snake, we have visitors.”

Snake looked at his chesnari in surprise. “I didn’t know we were expecting someone.” His body had healed and the scars, injuries, old aches, and pains were gone. He was once more whole in body and soul. And with that wholeness, his strength and wisdom had increased.

“It’s Pellaz. Can’t you sense your brother’s presence?” Cobweb rose from the floor where he had been seated cross-legged. “He is weak. I wonder what made him leave Immanion in that state!” Cobweb raced toward the doorway, opened the door, and stepped into the corridor. He was worried that something terrible had happened, like Pell and Cal having a fall out. He had never encountered two hara who loved each other more and yet at the same time, their relationship was also the most difficult one he had witnessed.

Snake blinked, also detecting his brother’s weak presence. Like Cobweb, he grew worried and wondered what had made Pellaz leave Immanion. He needed those answers if he wanted to help Pell and to support him.

A moment later, Snake set in pursuit and followed Cobweb out of the house and by doing so almost ran into Vaysh, who was carrying Pellaz. The red-haired har looked worried and one look at Pell showed Snake exactly why Vaysh was concerned. Pell looked like death warmed over.

“Please, hand him to me. Let me carry him.” Memories of their youth returned to Snake and he vividly remembered carrying his younger brother after Pell had broken his ankle. “Let me care for my brother.” He gave Vaysh a look which was both demanding and pleading.

Vaysh relented and carefully eased a sleeping Pellaz into Snake’s strong arms. “Be careful, he’s weak.”

Cobweb, who had brushed Pellaz’ brow with his fingertips, looked at Vaysh in surprise. “He’s with pearl! How can that be?”

“It’s a long story and I would prefer to tell you once Pell is resting comfortably.”

Snake nodded. “He feels cold to the touch. He should be asleep in a warm bed.” He entered the house and took Pellaz to Tyson’s room. And since Tyson wasn’t home at the moment, no one would disturb Pellaz’ rest.

Cobweb pushed back the covers and helped Snake ease Pell onto the mattress. Snake was right: Pell felt icy cold when Cobweb brushed some hair away from the face. His fingers lingered against the chilly brow and Cobweb sat down on the side of the bed. “What happened? What’s he doing here? He should be with Cal.”

Pellaz subconsciously registered the warmth of the blankets Cobweb cocooned him in and pressed deeper into the comfort of the mattress. He turned onto his side, pulled up his legs, and slept peacefully after attaining a fetal position.

“He’s running away from Cal. He’s afraid.” And Vaysh understood perfectly. “The pearl isn’t Cal’s, it’s Galdra’s. Pell lost control toward the end of the Grissecon and is now terrified of learning Cal’s reaction to that news.”

“And you let him run?” Snake frowned at Vaysh, unaware of the red-haired har’s personal history.

“I couldn’t stop him even if I had wanted to. He’s Tigron, Snake.” But both Snake and Vaysh knew the excuse for what it was. Vaysh could have stood his ground, but had chosen to give into Pellaz. “He wanted to come here.”

“Why?” Cobweb had taken to stroking Pell’s hair soothingly and was trying to get an idea of the other har’s mental state. Cobweb understood that Pellaz had come there as Pell and not as the Tigron of Immanion. This was about the har himself and not his title or his station. “Why did he want to come here?”

Vaysh’s expression was melancholy when he fixed his gaze on Cobweb. “I believe that he is at his wit’s end. Battling Ponclast drained him and then Cal returned so unexpectedly. What made the situation even worse was the way Cal found him with Galdra still lodged deep inside him. Cal must have said something that hurt Pell. He’s wounded in many ways, Cobweb.”

“He came here to heal,” Snake said, nodding his head.

“I believe so, yes.” Vaysh felt tired himself and collapsed onto a chair that stood close to the bed.

Since Cobweb was checking on Pellaz, Snake felt the urge to check on Vaysh. He knew nothing about Pell’s aide except that his brother trusted Vaysh unconditionally. There had to be a story there and he was curious to find out more about Vaysh.

Dressed in dark robes and with his long dyed hair obscuring part of his sunken features, Vaysh seemed as exhausted as Pell. “You should rest as well.” Snake wasn’t prepared to hear Vaysh’s bitter laughter.

“No amount of rest can heal me, Snake, though I appreciate your concern. Just let me sit here for a while. I want to stay close to Pellaz.” Pellaz was the only har who understood his pain and he in turn was the only har who could identify with what Pellaz was going through.

“I will fetch you something to eat and drink.” Snake couldn’t help feeling worried for the both of them – Vaysh and Pell. And although he knew nothing about Vaysh, he could literally taste the pain and regret that accompanied the red-haired har on his journey through life.

Cobweb smiled reassuringly at Vaysh. “The two of you are welcome here and you know that. We will take care of you – both of you.” Like Snake, he didn’t know much of Vaysh’s history, but he could tell that past experiences had damaged and twisted Vaysh in some ways. Maybe there was another reason besides Pellaz’ fear of Cal that they had come there. Maybe it was also time for Vaysh to face his past and heal.

Cobweb was grateful that the two hara had come to Forever to heal. Snake and he would do their best to support them during their recovery.

Part 2

Pellaz woke some time during the night due to a nightmare. In his dreams, Cal had turned his back on him and walked away after proclaiming that he wanted nothing to do with the pearl that Pellaz was hosting. He woke up drenched in cold sweat and his hands clawed at the blankets.

“What’s wrong?”

Pellaz blinked. He had expected to hear Vaysh’s voice since he knew that his friend and aide would remain close, but instead it was Cobweb’s voice he had heard. His gaze, which had been blurry, cleared and he found the har seated on the side of his bed. Another look told him that Vaysh was also close, but his friend had succumbed to fatigue and was asleep on the chair. “I had a bad dream,” Pellaz whispered. He still felt drained and speaking hurt his throat, which felt awfully dry.

“I’m here if you want to talk about it. I’m a good listener.” Cobweb reached for the tea pot and poured Pellaz a cup. He set it aside to let it cool.

Pellaz swallowed hard. Cobweb was one of the few hara he trusted unconditionally and now his friend was offering him a listening ear. “I don’t know if I should talk about this.”

“This is about Cal, isn’t it?” Cobweb blew onto the surface of the tea and, once he judged that it had cooled sufficiently, handed it to Pell. “Sip carefully. It’s still hot.”

Pellaz had managed to push himself upright and was now reclining against the pillows which had been placed against the headboard. He took an experimental sip and sighed contentedly when the liquid began to warm him from the inside. “Of course it’s about Cal. It’s always about Cal.” Pellaz averted his gaze and stared at a sleeping Vaysh, who looked young and untouched by pain within his sound sleep.

“It’s about the pearl.” Cobweb hoped he wasn’t crossing a line when he said that. “It isn’t Cal’s. When we met in the cauldron of creation you told Moon and me that you were taking aruna with a har called Galdra. It’s his, isn’t it?” Pellaz started to shiver and Cobweb had to place a hand below Pell’s in order to stop the tea from sloshing over the rim. “You’re afraid Cal won’t accept the harling.”

“No one ever manages to hide anything from you,” Pellaz responded bitterly. He hated the way his hands shook and fought to regain control over his feelings. “Cal and I… He no longer loves me… And I don’t blame him for stopping loving me. I made one mistake after the other. Instead of trusting in Cal, I lost my faith in him.”

Cobweb chose his words carefully when he spoke next. “It’s not my place to judge you, Pellaz…and I don’t intend to judge you at all, but I would like to know why you came here. What do you hope to accomplish by running away?” He had his theories, but wanted to hear the truth from Pellaz.

Pellaz finally met Cobweb’s probing gaze and answered, “I feel broken. I lost a part of me and I need to find myself again. When Cal said that I had failed him, I knew it was the truth. I’m not as strong as everyone believes I am. Deep down inside I need…” What did he need? Did he know that himself?

“You need Cal to fight for you. You want him to prove his love for you.” Vaysh’s voice unexpectedly echoed through the room. The red-haired har had woken due to their talking and now fixed his gaze on Pellaz. “You’re testing him. The previous times, it was Cal who left – left you alone. Now you have turned the tables on him. You want him to come to you.”

Cobweb nodded his head. Vaysh’s words made a lot of sense and made him wonder if Vaysh was waiting for his own har to come and claim him.

Pellaz sipped his tea and tried hard to ignore what Vaysh had said, but in the end, Cobweb placed a finger beneath his chin and forced him to look at him. “You’re correct. The pearl is Galdra’s and I reckon Cal knows that by now. He won’t come for me. My actions disgust him… I know that.” He felt depressed, abandoned, and utterly alone and no matter what his friends said, words wouldn’t comfort him for all he really wanted was to feel Cal’s arms wrapped around him. “I threw it all away because I lost my faith in Cal.”

Vaysh left his chair and made his way over to the bed, kneeling next to the bedside. He placed his hands on either side of Pell’s head and forced the other har to turn and look at him. “You were lonely, Pell…lonely and depressed. You still are. You needed the love Galdra so willingly gave you. You still do and yet you are denying yourself the very thing that can heal you: Cal’s love.”

“I should never have allowed Galdra into my heart.” Pell swallowed convulsively. He had kept his emotions inside for so long that they overwhelmed him once the dam broke.

Vaysh shook his head. “I don’t think you had a choice in the matter. If you hadn’t allowed Galdra in, Ponclast would have won that battle… Galdra and you worked magic… You needed him…and Cal wasn’t there… Don’t make this more complicated than it is.”

Pellaz’ eyes filled with tears and he clumsily wrapped an arm around Vaysh’s shoulders. “It was so easy to imagine it was Cal… They look so much alike, Galdra and Cal…but their love is different. Galdra’s feelings are simple. His love is simple. I didn’t have to worry about him leaving me. He was there for me and Cal wasn’t… I wanted Cal to be there instead of Galdra…but he wasn’t.”

Vaysh buried Pellaz in a tight embrace, and after Pell had rested his head against the aide’s shoulder, Vaysh sought out Cobweb’s eyes. Although he addressed Pell, his words were also meant for Cobweb so the har would understand what had happened during Grissecon. “The pearl you’re hosting is a gift, Pell. It’s a reward for the work you have done. Accept this new life, Pell. Don’t reject it.”

Pellaz closed his eyes and rubbed his face against the fabric of Vaysh’s shirt. “I’m so sorry, Vaysh. If it were within my power I would do anything I could to make you fertile again. You should be with pearl…not me.” Vaysh dreamt of hosting a pearl, not Pellaz.

“Don’t say such a thing!” Vaysh chided Pell in a gentle voice. “This pearl is yours. There’s a new life growing inside you and I will be there for you every step of the way. Deliver this pearl, Pell, and love your harling… And I will do the same.” Just saying the words hurt for they reminded Vaysh that he would never have a harling of his own.

Cobweb watched the two hara and considered their confessions. They were opposites in many ways, and yet at their very core, they were the same. Pellaz’ words had told him that Vaysh was barren and he filed that information away to examine later. At the moment, he needed to concentrate on Pell. “What do you need from me, Pellaz?”

“I want to live in the cottage Snake occupied for a while,” Pellaz answered as he lifted his head so he could make eye-contact with Cobweb. “I want to live there with Vaysh.”

Vaysh sighed in relief at hearing that. He had been afraid that Pell would isolate himself, and by doing that, Pellaz’ depression would have worsened.

Cobweb nodded again. “What else?”

“I want you to tell Cal that I’m not here, should he inquire about my whereabouts. I need some time alone.”

But Cobweb shook his head, disagreeing with Pellaz. “I can’t and won’t lie for you.”

Pellaz glared at the other har. “I need some time, Cobweb. I can’t face Cal yet. Give me a few weeks, please…” The glare changed into a pleading expression. “That’s all I’m asking…give me a few weeks to find myself again.”

Cobweb inclined his head, pondering Pell’s request. “And what if Galdra inquires about you? Then what?”

Pellaz shivered. In his mind, Cal’s image and Galdra’s were shifting over each other until only one har remained and was a mixture of both hara. “You don’t have to worry about that. Galdra won’t come after me. He doesn’t know I’m with pearl.”

Vaysh frowned. “I wouldn’t be that certain, Pell. Galdra loves you…” The love triangle Pellaz found himself in was complex. But then again, who was he to judge Pellaz when he was running away from his former lover himself?

“I can’t think about this… I’m tired.” The conversation had drained Pellaz since he was still recovering from battling Ponclast. “I need rest.”

“Ease him down onto the bed again,” Cobweb said and assisted Vaysh. Pellaz instantly curled up, closed his eyes, and wrapped his arms around his legs, which he had pulled close to his chest. Seeing tears slip from Pellaz’ eyes pained Cobweb and he started to stroke the dark hair soothingly. “Give it time, Pell, and trust in Cal.” Cobweb was convinced that Cal would come for Pellaz and that the other har would set everything right.

But Pellaz sobbed softly and whispered, “That’s where everything went wrong in the first place, Cobweb… I lost my faith in him.”

“Sleep now,” Vaysh whispered. His gaze met Cobweb’s once more and he read hope in the magical eyes. “Cal will come for you.”

Pellaz sniffled, but was already dozing off. “But he won’t want me… Not now I’m with pearl – Galdra’s offspring… Not Cal’s…” Pellaz’ hand sought out Vaysh’s and his fingers curled around the other har’s limb. He had kept these emotions, these doubts and fears, cooped up for much too long. They needed out and they had burst free with a vengeance. Lulled into a sense of safety by Cobweb’s touch, he succumbed to sleep.

“Cal will come for him,” Cobweb said once he was convinced that Pellaz was sound asleep.

“And Galdra won’t stay behind,” Vaysh added in a determined voice. “No matter what Pell thinks, Galdra really loves him. That har wasn’t after a better position in the court, he simply loved Pellaz. He still does.”

Cobweb considered everything. “Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be then?”

Vaysh frowned. “I doubt Cal will accept Galdra in their lives.”

Shrugging, Cobweb answered, “Maybe Cal won’t have much of a choice… Or maybe he will realize that this is about Pellaz and what Pellaz needs – not what Cal wants or needs.” It *was* a complex situation. “I can’t see Pellaz’ future,” he added thoughtfully. “It’s clouded in the darkness of his depression.”

Vaysh understood. “I will be there for him. He will need someone close who understands him.”

Cobweb probed Vaysh’s eyes, feeling intrigued. “I want to know more about you – your history…your pain. Will you tell me?” But much to his disappointment, Vaysh shook his head.

“No, I don’t want to relive my anguish. Maybe I will tell you once Pellaz has healed.” The less people who knew about his history, the better…

“I hope that one day you will put your trust in me.” Cobweb stopped stroking Pell’s hair and raised that hand to caress Vaysh’s face. “I sense pain in you – pain, fear, longing, and an all-consuming love. But that love isn’t directed at Pell. You love someone else…and you’re hurting because you can’t be with him.”

“You already know too much,” Vaysh answered icily. “I don’t want to talk about this any longer.”

Cobweb caressed Vaysh’s face, but the red-haired har pulled away, breaking the contact. “I pray that one day you will put your trust in someone or else you will die alone, unloved, and embittered.”

“I’m already alone, unloved, and embittered. Your words mean little to me!” Vaysh lashed out; Cobweb’s observation had been accurate.

Cobweb didn’t give up just yet. “You’re not unloved… Pell cares about you and I sense another har’s love for you when I look into your soul.”

Vaysh glared at Cobweb. “Stop this!”

“I will, but we aren’t finished talking yet. One day in the future we will discuss this again.”

“Don’t count on it,” Vaysh answered in his usual bitter voice. He didn’t plan on discussing the matter with Cobweb ever again!

***

“Where is he?” Cal marched into Sheeva’s office and angrily placed his hands on the desk. “Where’s Pell?”

Sheeva blinked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He really didn’t. The last time he had seen the Tigron, Pellaz had been asleep on the bed.

“He’s gone. He left. Why? And where did he go?” Cal didn’t like this one bit. Pellaz had never done anything like this before. The other har was a prime example when it came down to dedication and carrying out his duties. Why would Pell leave now that Cal had returned to him?

Sheeva moistened his lips delicately and gestured for Cal to seat himself. “I might know why he left.” He wasn’t looking forward to delivering the unpleasant news, but since Pellaz had ran, *he* had to tell Cal. “The last time I talked to the Tigron, he was rather upset.”

“Why? What happened? What did you do?” Cal, who had seated himself, leaned in closer and glared at Sheeva.

“The Tigron is with pearl.” Sheeva hoped that it was information enough and that Cal would draw his own conclusions.

Cal paled and his fingernails dug into the armrest. He had witnessed Pell losing control toward the end of Grissecon. Why was he surprised that this had happened? “How did the Tigron react when you told him?”

“As I said, he was most upset and asked if I could remove it. But I can’t. We are not like women in that way. The Tigron will deliver his pearl in two months.”

“Galdra’s harling…not mine.” Cal blinked in shock. “What do I do?”

“Pell expects you to reject him…so you have to prove him wrong. Trust me…I know the way he thinks.” Cal looked up in surprise at hearing Caeru’s voice. The Tigrina stood in the doorway and had overheard their conversation. “I can’t say I’m surprised,” Caeru added as he approached. “I sensed their growing love for each other.” He came to a halt in front of Cal and studied the other har’s eyes. “You need to know a few things… Walk with me and I will tell you.” He didn’t want to do this in Sheeva’s presence.

Cal rose from his chair and fell into step beside Caeru when the Tigrina lead him into the corridor. They found an empty room and Cal walked over to the window. Looking out of it, he wondered where Pell had gone. It felt odd to be in this position. In the past, it had been Pellaz wondering where Cal had gone.

Caeru, standing behind Cal, rested a hand on the other har’s shoulder. “Pell was lonely, Cal, and you left him… He was withering away. Galdra loving Pell was the best thing that could have happened. You might have returned to a ghost instead. You have no idea how shaken Pell was after you’d disappeared again. There’s only so much somehar can take – even when he’s the Tigron of Immanion.”

Cal nodded and continued to stare into the distance. “Pell always retained some of his old humanity.”

“He feels things much deeper than we do, but he hides it, Cal. He doesn’t let his feelings show.”

“Orien once told him never to cry in public…never to show his emotions in public,” Cal mused aloud. His thoughts traveled back to Saltrock and the time Pell and he had spent there. Cal swallowed hard and then turned his head to look into Caeru’s eyes. “I still see them, Caeru… Pell and Galdra locked together…”

Caeru nodded his head. “Pell wouldn’t let go. Do you know why?”

“He was punishing himself…and Galdra…but I didn’t want that.”

“But you punished him – hurt him – in your own way.” Caeru had his ring of informants and long knew what had happened after the Grissecon had been concluded. “You should have visited with Pell two days ago… You should have set his mind at ease, but you didn’t. How do you think Pell interpreted your absence?”

“I had business to attend to.” But Cal knew it was a half-lie. He *should* have gone to Pell directly. “I never wanted to punish him… I needed time and I thought he did too.”

“You should know by now how Pell thinks. You gave him time to brood and he became depressed again.”

“He was depressed before?” Cal’s features contorted with worry.

“If it hadn’t been for Galdra…” Caeru left his sentence unfinished on purpose. “What are you going to do now?”

Cal shrugged. “It’s obvious that Pell doesn’t want to talk to me…”

Caeru released a bitter laugh. “Cal! Don’t act dumb! Pellaz is testing you! Haven’t you realized that yet?”

Cal’s eyes burned. “What do you mean? In what way is he testing me?”

“He wants you to find him!” Caeru shook his head. “At times, I wonder how the two of you ever managed to become chesna! Do you really know him that badly?”

Cal shuffled his feet. Caeru was right, of course. The Tigrina was always right about the two of them. “What should I do?”

Caeru’s expression softened and he smiled at Cal. “Give Pell a little time. Vaysh is with him so you needn’t worry right now. I do believe Pell needs some privacy.”

“So you’re saying I shouldn’t go after him?” Caeru’s advice confused Cal.

“No!” Caeru shook Cal lightly as if trying to shake some sense into him. “Locate Pell! Use all available resources to find out where he went and once you know where he is, contact Galdra.”

Cal scowled at Caeru. “Galdra? Why should I contact him? He’s already on his way home!” As far as he was concerned Galdra was a har who had tried to take his place and had almost succeeded.

Caeru drew in a deep breath and prayed for patience. “Cal, Pell loves Galdra in his very own way. Pell is hosting a pearl which Galdra and he created. Are you going to tell me that Galdra has no place in Pell’s life? I thought you were smarter than that!”

Cal bowed his head and his long, dirty hair descended in front of his face like a curtain. “You’re right again.” No matter how he looked at the matter, he couldn’t deny that Galdra had become a part of Pell’s life.

“Galdra is a good har, Cal. You might even like him once you set aside your jealousy.” Caeru brushed Cal’s hair aside and smiled at the other har. “Pell allowed Galdra into his heart because Galdra reminded him of you. You weren’t there and Pell was alone. Don’t judge him too harshly.”

Cal let go of the breath he had been holding and nodded his head. “You’re right. I need to find Pell…and I have to deal with Galdra.”

“Don’t ‘deal’ with him, Cal. Get to know him. Befriend him – for Pell’s sake. He will need the two of you at his side.”

Cal carefully buried Caeru in an embrace. “You’re a very special har, Caeru. I always knew there was a reason why Pell fell for you.”

Caeru had initially tensed in the embrace, but then relaxed. “I love Pellaz too, Cal, and I have made peace with my place in his life.” He had become Pellaz’ confidant and friend. It was more than he could have hoped for, considering their messed up past.

“I think you should come too once I have found out where Pell’s hiding,” Cal said as he rested his head against Caeru’s shoulder.

“Me?” Caeru was surprised. “But why?”

“Because you’re a part of this – whatever it is! – too.” Cal gave Caeru a determined look. “You’re right. It’s time for me to make amends, but I will need you there – at my side.”

Caeru remained unconvinced. “I’m not sure you do, but there *is* someone else you should take with you when you find Pell.”

“Besides Galdra? And who might that be?” Cal released Caeru from the embrace and cocked his head.

“Ashmael.”

Cal blinked. “I hardly know him.”

“The two of you have more in common than you know,” Caeru answered, mystifying Cal on purpose. “You should ask him about his relationship with Vaysh.”

Cal’s head reeled. “His relationship?”

“You have much work to do, Cal. I suggest you lose as little time as possible.”

“Right, locate Pell, contact Galdra, bury the hatchet, and talk to Ashmael.” Cal gave Caeru a thoughtful look. “I *do* need you at my side. You know Pell better than I do, at least right now.”

“If you insist I will remain at your side. Now go, you have your work cut out for you.” Caeru watched Cal leave and wondered what he had set in motion. He knew the way Pell thought and the way Cal would act, and he hoped that the two of them would sort matters out. And they needed Galdra. Cal didn’t know that yet, but Caeru did. Galdra would give Pell the strength the Tigron needed to become whole again. /Pellaz needs the two of you,/ he thought and then smiled mirthlessly. /Maybe he even needs the three of us./ After all, Cal had been adamant that Caeru joined them. And maybe, he could also help Ashmael find a way to get through to Vaysh.

Cold, bitter, beautiful Vaysh…who still loved Ashmael with his entire heart. But Vaysh was running away from the truth and Ashmael was too scared to hurt Vaysh’s feelings and so wouldn’t act.

/This must end, and if I must play match maker, I will./

Part 3

Snake carried his brother all the way to the cottage. It had been Cobweb’s decision to give in to Pellaz’ request and Cobweb had personally made certain that Pell and Vaysh had sufficient supplies to last them through the next few days.

Cobweb was already in the cottage and had started a fire to warm the inside of the house when Snake, Vaysh, and Pellaz arrived. Cobweb quickly closed the door behind them and told Snake to take Pell into the living room, close to the fireplace which would warm their guest.

Snake deposited Pellaz onto the couch and covered his brother’s shivering form with a warm blanket. “I wish he would reconsider,” Snake said, addressing Vaysh. “I don’t think the two of you should be alone out here.” He stood back and his worried gaze shifted from Pellaz’ form to Vaysh. The red-haired har also looked exhausted. “Let me stay.”

“No, but thank you for your kind offer. I know you mean well.” Pellaz had woken the moment his brother had placed him on the couch and now snuggled beneath the blanket, enjoying its soft feel. “I want only Vaysh close.” Seeing Snake’s hurt expression, he added, “But you can always visit.” It wasn’t his intention to lock Snake and Cobweb out. He only wanted time to find himself again – and to accept that he would deliver a pearl in two months time. “Don’t you understand that I need to do this?” he added as he saw how upset Snake was.

Cobweb placed a hand on Snake’s shoulder in an effort to offer his chesnari some emotional support. “We will visit with them regularly, Snake.” Like Snake, Cobweb was unwilling to let Pellaz and Vaysh out of sight for a long time. They would keep a close eye on them.

Snake gave Cobweb a questioning look. “Are the cupboards stuffed with food? Is there enough wood to keep the fire going for the next few days?” He wouldn’t leave until he was certain that Pellaz and Vaysh would be fine.

“I made certain that they have all the provisions they need.” The house had warmed with the fire in the fireplace blazing away and a comfortable feeling was building in the living room. Since it was growing dark, Cobweb lit several lamps and also added a few scented candles to create a pleasant scent in the cottage.

Vaysh sat down on one side of the couch and lifted Pellaz’ feet onto his lap. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how much Pell had been right to leave Immanion and seek his privacy there. He felt like a gigantic burden had been lifted from his own shoulders and since he didn’t have to be strong any more, he realized just how worn he felt. Like Pellaz, Vaysh wanted to close his eyes, curl up beneath a blanket, and sleep.

“We shall leave you alone for now,” Cobweb announced. Sensing Snake’s reluctance to leave their guests alone, he began to pull his chesnari toward the exit. “They don’t need us at the moment.”

“But they will need us in the future,” Snake answered.

Cobweb nodded his head. “They need time to heal.” He closed the front door behind them and guided Snake back to the mansion. “At first I wasn’t certain Pellaz had made the right decision in coming here, but now I believe he did. He‘s exhausted and needs to recharge. Even the Tigron needs time away from his duties.”

Snake nodded as well. “You’re right.” Looking at the cottage from over his shoulder, he still couldn’t help feeling worried. He would have felt better if Pellaz had allowed either Cobweb or him to stay.

***

“I thought they would never leave.” Pellaz closed tired eyes and sighed. “Vaysh, you’re worn-out too, aren’t you?” He could literally feel the other har’s exhaustion.

“I didn’t know I felt like this.”

“When was the last time you allowed yourself to rest? To really rest?” Pell opened his eyes and probed Vaysh’s gloomy ones.

“It’s been a while,” Vaysh admitted. “My life sped up once you entered it.”

“Vaysh?” Pellaz lifted the blanket and gave his friend a hopeful look. “I feel cold in spite of the fire.”

Vaysh understood the invitation for what it was, but didn’t react at once. Pellaz wanted him to hold him, but Vaysh wasn’t convinced that was a good idea. Pellaz needing comforting had been the main reason why the Tigron had ended up with Galdra.

“I will behave,” Pell promised, giving Vaysh another expectant look. “Please share your body warmth with me. The couch is comfortable and big enough to hold the two of us.” He needed to feel someone close; he wanted someone to hold him. Vaysh relented and released a sigh. He moved until he could stretch out beside Pellaz and then inched closer.

Pellaz curled an arm around Vaysh and tucked the blanket around their forms. “Thank you,” he whispered from the bottom of his heart.

Vaysh guided Pellaz’ dark head against his shoulder and tucked it beneath his chin. It felt odd being the strong one. “For what it’s worth – I believe you made the right decision in coming here. You might have made it for the wrong reasons, but we need to be here – that much is true.”

Pellaz had closed his eyes again and his breathing was deepening as he started to feel warm and safe in Vaysh’s arms. Vaysh had been the sole constant factor in his life since Thiede had remade him and Vaysh was the only har he trusted unconditionally. He didn’t even trust Cal or Galdra in the same way he trusted Vaysh. “Thank you for everything you ever did for me, Vaysh.”

Vaysh nodded and stroked Pellaz’ hair. “Thiede gave me a reason to live when he made me your aide.”

“You’re much more than my aide. You know that, don’t you, Vaysh? You’re a good friend, my confidant, and you are the only one who really understands me. Not even Cal fully understands what I have been through.”

“Cal understands you,” Vaysh said, attempting to talk some sense into his friend. “He lived it too.”

Since Vaysh had brought that subject up, Pellaz decided to address it, saying, “What was it like for you when you lost Ashmael?” He hadn’t tried making Vaysh open up to him for ages, but now he saw his chance.

Vaysh closed his eyes and swallowed the lump of bitterness which had formed in his throat. “I loved him so much… When Thiede took me, I wept because he had taken Ashmael away from me. I didn’t care about the ordeal Thiede had put me through – all I could think of was Ashmael and the way he had to be hurting.”

Pellaz freed himself of Vaysh’s hold and raised his head so he could study the other har’s face. Seeing tears flow down Vaysh’s face deeply affected him. “Vaysh, I have wanted to ask you this for a long time, but I held back because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Did you ever stop loving Ashmael? You said you did, but I don’t believe you.”

Vaysh opened his eyes and met Pellaz’ gaze hesitantly. “Even if I still loved him, Ashmael and I can never be together again. I’m not the right har for him – not anymore.”

Pellaz raised a hand and touched Vaysh’s brow, caressing it. “Ashmael has no chesnari, Vaysh. Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t ponder such matters, Pell. I don’t try to understand why Ashmael does the things he does. I stopped doing so a long time ago.” Vaysh flinched as he recognized the certain expression in Pellaz’ eyes. “Don’t, Pell. Don’t try to make me face it.”

“What? That you still love him?” Pellaz rested his head back against Vaysh’s shoulder once more. “You can’t stop loving Ashmael and I can’t stop loving Cal. We’re alike in that aspect.”

“There’s just one difference. Cal loves you back.” Vaysh placed a chaste kiss onto the crown of Pellaz’ head. He was convinced that Cal would rise to the challenge and claim Pellaz shortly. It was only a matter of time before Cal found Pellaz.

Pellaz, dozing off due to exhaustion, rubbed his cheek against Vaysh’s shoulder in a feline way and protested sleepily, “I believe that Ashmael…still loves…you…” His eyes closed, lured into sleep by Vaysh’s comforting closeness.

Hearing Pellaz speak those words actually pained Vaysh. “Even if he does, Ashmael and I can never be, Pell. A barren har is of no use to him… And if he had wanted me, he would have come and claimed me. I know Ashmael, Pell. What he wants, he takes…” But Ashmael hadn’t come after him. “I hope for your sake that Cal will come for you. I don’t want you to suffer in the same way I did – and still do. You deserve to be happy, Pell.”

***

Cal paced the antechamber. He was surprised that Ashmael had agreed to meet with him on such short notice. Cal surmised that it was probably due to Caeru’s meddling in the matter. Caeru had his ways to make hara comply.

He had seen Ashmael during the meetings he had attended, but the two of them had never talked – really talked. And now he was there to address a very personal matter. And to make matters even worse, he didn’t really know what the matter was. All Caeru had had hinted at was that he should talk to Ashmael about Vaysh.

“I apologize for keeping you waiting,” Ashmael said as he stepped into the room. “But your request took me by surprise.” He didn’t know why Cal wanted to see him; Caeru hadn’t told him much.

Ashmael took in Cal’s appearance and sensed a kindred spirit. He had the feeling that Cal and he might be more alike than he had originally thought. Although Cal had had time to clean up, his hair was still unkempt and his clothes dirty. It appeared that Cal didn’t value his appearance much. “How can I help?”

Cal studied Ashmael in turn and decided he liked the other har. There was something about Ashmael that appealed to him – a wild side… “Caeru suggested I talk to you.”

“Suggested?” Ashmael raised an eyebrow. “That’s an understatement, I reckon.”

Cal managed a weak smile. “You’re right. Caeru was rather adamant about it. He wants me to talk to you.”

“What about?” Ashmael leaned against the wall and crossed his arms in front of his chest, probing Cal’s eyes. Something had unbalanced Cal and, although the returned har was trying to hide his discomfort, it still showed. Ashmael always easily picked up on such vibes.

“Vaysh.” Cal studied Ashmael and immediately noticed the alert expression in the blue eyes. Ashmael didn’t seem inclined to discuss the matter though, so Cal figured he might have to push it. “Caeru hinted that you and I have a lot in common.”

Ashmael shrugged his shoulders and tried to appear casual. “I don’t know enough about you to agree with Caeru’s statement.” Was this his chance to steer the conversation away from him and toward Cal’s past? “Why don’t you tell me more about you?” Ashmael moved toward a pair of chairs which stood near the window and seated himself. A moment later, Cal followed and sat down opposite him.

Cal remained cautious and continued, “Caeru also hinted that you had once had a relationship with Vaysh and hearing that made me curious. I don’t know Vaysh that well, but he always seemed distant and clinical to me.” He had seldom dealt with Pellaz’ personal aide so didn’t have much to go on.

Ashmael drew in a deep breath. It pained him to hear Cal describe his one time lover in that way and he came to Vaysh’s defense. He knew Cal was manipulating him, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Vaysh wasn’t always like that.”

Cal leaned in closer. “Why did Caeru send me here? Why does he want me to talk to you?”

Although Ashmael hadn’t intended to confide in Cal, something told him it was important he did. “Vaysh and I were chesna once.”

Cal blinked. All the information he had received so far should have pointed him into that direction, but he still felt surprised. “What happened?”

“Thiede killed Vaysh…that’s what happened.” Ashmael stared blindly at Cal as he relived the painful memories. “Vaysh was only fifteen when I happened upon him. He was homeless and without family. And yet, there was something that called me to him. You see, in spite of all the misfortune he’d had, he had remained proud and unbroken. He shone from the inside for his soul had somehow remained pure. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him. He looked different back then. His gray eyes still had specks of silver in them and his hair was blond, not red. He dyed it after…”

Cal remained silent and took in every word Ashmael spoke. When Caeru had hinted that Ashmael and he had a lot in common, he hadn’t expected to hear anything like this.

“There were no rituals for Vaysh when I incepted him. The change was hard on him and I held him through it. Once he was Wraeththu I took aruna with him and the moment I entered his body, I knew my life had changed. Vaysh had already become my life. His laughter, his smiling eyes, the easy banter between us, his love for me… All those things made me love him more.”

“I know the way you felt… I lived it too.” Cal leaned back in his chair as he remembered the love Pellaz and he had shared in those early days right before and then after Pellaz had become Wraeththu.

“Do you?” Ashmael’s eyes narrowed and, for the briefest of moments, he sensed some of Cal’s feelings. They felt familiar and genuine. “It was like that for you too.”

“I instantly fell for Pellaz. I can’t exactly explain what happened the first time I saw him… I only know I was lost. I had to have him.”

Ashmael nodded. “It was the same for me.” Realizing he should tell Cal the rest as well, he continued, “We were happy for two years. During those years we often discussed creating a pearl and, just when we were ready to do that, Thiede took him away from me. It happened in the dead of night… There was an explosion. Later, I realized someone had thrown a grenade. Vaysh was caught in the explosion and was barely alive when I got to him.” Ashmael’s face turned stony and the life in his normally vibrant eyes died. “I knelt at his side, took him in my arms, and…” Ashmael’s voice broke as the emotions overwhelmed him. “I held him close when he died.” He swallowed hard and forced himself to look Cal in the eye. What he saw there stunned him.

Cal’s eyes swam with unshed tears. Ashmael’s story had taken him back to that fateful day when Pellaz had been shot and had died in his arms.

“Vaysh died… At least, I thought he died. Later, I learned that Thiede had manipulated me into believing that.” Ashmael didn’t know what to make of Cal’s emotional reaction to his tale. What was Cal not telling him?

A lump had formed in Cal’s throat and he swallowed convulsively in order to rid himself of it. “Pell was shot…he died in my arms… I thought he was dead and I lost my mind.”

Sympathy, surprise, and understanding appeared in Ashmael’s eyes. “Thiede did the same thing to you.” Until that moment, he hadn’t fully realized just how many lives and relationships Thiede had wrecked in his quest to create the perfect puppet for his plans.

“I went mad after Pellaz died. Finding my way to Immanion took years.” Cal blinked back tears. “The first time I met Pell again, I couldn’t believe it was really him. I had seen him die…”

Ashmael understood only too well. “I still recall the first time I ran into Vaysh. I had wanted to talk to Pellaz and had decided to visit with him unannounced. Vaysh had turned deadly pale and then had fled the room.”

Cal met Ashmael’s gaze. Both hara finally understood just how much they had in common.

“But you reunited with Pell,” Ashmael said eventually. “In spite of all the problems you faced, you’re together again.”

Cal laughed bitterly. “Haven’t you heard then? Pellaz left. I don’t know where he is.”

Ashmael blinked in surprise. “But why? I *know* that he loves you!”

“It’s a long story,” Cal answered, suddenly feeling drained physically and emotionally. “Thiede summoned me away from Pell’s side and I followed. I didn’t consider what my absence would do to Pellaz. He’s so strong, Ashmael. I thought he would deal with the situation.”

Ashmael suddenly understood. “But Pellaz felt lonely and turned to Galdra.” He also knew what had happened during and after the Grissecon. “I *did* wonder why you didn’t visit with Pell straight away. I would have run to Vaysh had it been him who had been exhausted and in need of support.”

“I said things… Spiteful things… I made a mistake and Pell is making me pay for that.” But then Cal quickly shook his head. “No, that isn’t true. Pell needs something from me and until now, I didn’t give it to him. He needs me to fight for him…to prove to him that I still love him and that I accept what he had with Galdra.”

Ashmael decided to be honest with Cal. “I like Galdra. His love is unselfish. He didn’t try to usurp your position at the court. All he wanted was Pell.”

/And that makes him even more dangerous./ Cal would have preferred to deal with a power-hungry har instead of somehar madly in love with Pellaz.

“What are your plans? I hope you plan on going after Pellaz.” Ashmael cocked his head and studied Cal in depth. The love which Cal bore Pellaz was present in the other har’s eyes.

“I’m using Caeru’s informants to find out where Pellaz went. I *will* locate him.”

Ashmael nodded. “I hope you will find him and make him understand that you still love him.”

Cal sighed. “I will do just that when I find him, but I don’t know what I will do where Galdra is concerned.” Cal bit his bottom lip. Should he confide in Ashmael? Could he trust the other har? “Pell is with pearl and it’s Galdra’s.”

Ashmael sucked in his breath, revealing his surprise. “Did it happen during the Grissecon? I heard Pellaz lost control.”

Cal nodded. “He did lose control…and yes, it happened during the Grissecon.”

Ashmael finally understood why Pell had run. “He’s afraid you will reject him – and the pearl.” He shook his head and whispered, “You have no idea what I would give to see Vaysh with pearl.” *Their* pearl.

“What do you mean?” Cal leaned in closer again, feeling curious.

“Thiede burned Vaysh when he remade him. Vaysh’s barren.”

“How do you know that?” Cal’s curiosity increased.

“Velaxis told me.” He would have preferred to hear it from Vaysh himself, but his former lover refused to talk to him these days. Caeru’s confidant had told him what Vaysh had gone through during Thiede’s attempt to create his Tigron. “Vaysh will never have a pearl of his own.”

Cal considered everything very carefully. “And what about you, Ashmael? Have you taken a new chesnari?”

Ashmael’s eyes burned. “I only want Vaysh. I love him…only him. I can accept never having an heir, but I can’t accept being without Vaysh.”

Cal now saw the wisdom to Caeru’s advice. Caeru had sent him here for a reason. “Come with me when I go after Pellaz.”

“Pell took Vaysh with him,” Ashmael said as he realized what Cal was really suggesting. “Cal, I understand what you are trying to do, but I don’t think this is wise. Vaysh doesn’t want to see me. He wants nothing to do with me. For the last few years, he has kept his distance. If he still loved me, he would have given me a chance to court him.”

But Cal shook his head. “Something tells me that Vaysh is a lot like Pellaz. Pell wants me to fight for him and it might be that Vaysh is waiting for you to do exactly the same thing…they are both stubborn and won’t take the first step. Ashmael, I want to help you. Take this chance. I’m going after Pell, and I want you to go after Vaysh.”

Ashmael still wasn’t convinced. “I don’t think he wants me there.”

“Ashmael, trust me when I say that what they say they want and what they really want are two different things. I *know* Pell is waiting for me to claim him and, by the sound of it, Vaysh is waiting for you to make your move. We have to take them by surprise.”

“I often fantasized about doing that – taking Vaysh with me and not giving him a choice in the matter. And now you’re actually encouraging me to do just that!” Ashmael felt both scared and excited. Something was finally happening to force him to make a decision.

“The least you can do is try, Ashmael,” Cal said. “Don’t you want – need – to know if Vaysh still loves you?”

Ashmael drew in a deep breath. “You’re right,” the blond har mumbled. “You’re right.”

Cal smiled contentedly, but then sobered. He had confronted Ashmael, but he still needed to face Galdra and he wasn’t certain how he would handle that encounter.

Part 4

Vaysh woke up first. He opened his eyes and looked at Pellaz, whose features were relaxed in sleep. It amazed him how young and even innocent Pell looked during moments like these and wondered if this was a remainder of Pellaz’ humanity. Had he looked like that when he had still been human? Smiling at the sleeping har, Vaysh raised a hand and enjoyed stroking the long, dark hair.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Pellaz had sensed Vaysh staring at him and opened his eyes to return the gaze. Sleep still clouded his eyes, but since he felt warm and safe, he smiled at Vaysh. He was grateful that he had given in and had let Vaysh stay. At first, he had wanted to be on his own, but he realized that doing that would have been a mistake.

“You looked at ease in your sleep. It’s a pity that you woke.”

Pellaz smiled and pressed closer against Vaysh, soaking up the other har’s body warmth. “This reminds me of the time when we first met – when you took care of me.” It felt good not having to be the Tigron for a little while. He could be ‘just Pell’ with Vaysh.

“Are you hungry? Because I am.” Vaysh’s stomach growled in order to stress his words.

“Food…” Pellaz pulled a face. “I don’t know if I can keep it down.”

“You haven’t eaten much these last few days.” Pellaz had only managed some tea the other day. “Why don’t I fix us some soup? That is, if we have any.”
“Does that mean I have to let go of you? I’m comfortable like this.” Vaysh made a good pillow.

“Yes, but only for a little while.” Vaysh freed himself of Pellaz’ embrace and pushed himself to his feet. The fire had warmed the cottage so he didn’t miss the warmth the blanket had offered. Vaysh went into the kitchen and rummaged in the cupboards until he found some soup which he could heat. “Are you still awake, Pell?”

“Yes, I am.” Pellaz was struggling with the blanket, but eventually, he managed to push himself into a sitting position. He leaned his back against the comfort of the couch, tucked the blanket back around his form, and closed his eyes. That little bit of action had already exhausted him. He listened to Vaysh rummaging about in the kitchen and a smile surfaced on his face.

A few minutes later, Vaysh returned to the living room while carrying a tray. He placed it on the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to Pell. “Tomato soup,” he said while handing Pell one of the bowls.

Pellaz managed to wrap his fingers around the bowl and savored the warmth the soup radiated. “I always liked tomato soup.” He blew onto the surface and then sipped carefully.

Once Pell started to eat, Vaysh picked up his bowl and started sipping as well. “It’s nice being here, just the two of us…”

Pellaz smiled and nodded minutely. “It is. This is what I need.” He continued sipping the soup and took in his surroundings little by little. The cottage had escaped the last attack undamaged and still oozed the pleasant atmosphere which Snake had loved so much. “I’m glad that you talked me into letting you stay.” One look at Vaysh’s face told him that the other har needed this time away from Immanion as much as he did. “Maybe we can both heal here.”

Vaysh released a rueful sigh. “I will never heal, Pell. You know what Thiede did to me.” Pellaz was the only har he had ever told what had happened to him. “I will always be like this.”

Out of the blue, Pellaz asked, “Did you ever consider befriending Ashmael again?” Seeing Vaysh’s startled look, Pellaz quickly added, “I’m not talking about letting him court you, but merely befriending you. You avoid him at all cost.”

“For a reason, as you know.” Vaysh had finished his soup and placed the bowl back onto the tray. “I wish he would move on and find himself a new chesnari. I don’t understand why he hasn’t done that so far.”

But Pellaz wasn’t fooled. He saw the hope in Vaysh’s eyes. “Maybe he will finally understand and fight for you? That’s what you want… That’s what I want Cal to do. Vaysh, we are alike in many ways.”

“But not in this way.” Wondering if he was trespassing, he placed his right hand uncertainly against Pell’s abdomen, which was still flat. “You’re carrying new life. That’s something I never will.”

Pellaz inched closer and when his face was only an inch away from Vaysh’s, he said, “Ashmael hasn’t taken a new chesnari…you just said so yourself. Doesn’t that make you wonder if he still loves you?”

“Don’t say things like that!” Vaysh fought the tears which threatened to spill from his eyes. “Don’t give me hope!”

Pellaz set aside his empty bowl and used the rest of his strength to raise his arms and place his hands on either side of Vaysh’s head. The dyed hair felt brittle beneath his fingertips. “But hope is all we have, Vaysh.”

The words caused a dam to break inside Vaysh and he began to cry. The tears flowed down his face and dripped onto his hands. “Pell…hope…it’s dangerous for me to hope that…that one day…Ashmael and I…it will never happen.”

For one moment, Pellaz thought he saw a glimpse of the future in his mind, but it could also have been wishful thinking, as he saw Vaysh and Ashmael walking hand in hand. “I’m sorry, Vaysh,” he mumbled as he remembered that he had been wrong in the past. “One time, he had asked me if you would like to talk to him and I had told him no. Maybe if I had said yes, he would have come to you.”

“Don’t feel guilty,” Vaysh said through his tears. “You did the right thing. I can’t talk to Ashmael ever again. I can never be in the same room with him and certainly not alone with him.”

“Why?” Pellaz cupped Vaysh’s cheek in his hand and rubbed the facial skin which also felt brittle and dry under the tears.

“Because…” Vaysh moistened his lips in an effort to postpone the inevitable. “Because I would break down in his arms and never let go of him again.” He bowed his head, but Pellaz lifted it and made him face his friend. “Pellaz, don’t you understand? I lost my worth! If I hadn’t been made barren I would have run to him! I would have staked my claim! But I can’t!”

Pellaz drew in a deep breath. The conversation was taxing and was draining him, but he couldn’t give in to his fatigue just yet. “Can’t or won’t?”

“Both,” Vaysh admitted in a choked voice. “Please, stop doing this to me.”

Pellaz drew Vaysh into an embrace and held his friend close while Vaysh continued to sob softly. “I have been blind to your pain and your needs, Vaysh.” He should have realized just how much his friend was hurting a long time ago. He rubbed Vaysh’s lower back and guided the red-haired head to his shoulder.

Vaysh clung to Pellaz and cried. He wept until his heart stopped hurting so badly and the pain became bearable again. His eyes dried, but his face was still wet with the remnants of the tears he had shed and he tightened his hold on Pellaz. “I wish Thiede had never touched me.”

Pellaz shivered. Although being remade by Thiede had affected him as well, it hadn’t damaged him. Vaysh however had barely survived the process. Since he didn’t have a comforting answer for Vaysh, he rocked his friend instead, offering him all the silent support he was capable of.

***

Galdra was mourning a very personal loss. A few days ago, he had almost been chesnari with Pellaz, but instead, he was about to board the ship that would take him home.

Pellaz had been cut out of his life and he felt like he had lost the love of his life. He had loved Tyr, his first chesnari, but things had never been as intense with Tyr as they had been with Pellaz. And now he missed Pellaz terribly.

But he had always known that this day might arrive: the day on which Cal returned to Immanion. He had always known that he would step aside then and let Cal take his place at Pellaz’ side because that was what Pellaz had always wanted and Galdra wanted what was best for Pellaz. It was as simple as that. By leaving, he ensured that Pellaz and Cal could be together and undisturbed.

And yet, he felt lonely, disappointed, distressed, and in mourning. Not even the thought of being able to return home lifted his spirits. What he really wanted was to return to Pellaz’ side, to hold him, share breath with him, and make him happy. But that was Cal’s job now…no longer his.

Galdra drew in a deep breath and looked over his shoulder at the cliff where he had first caught sight of Pellaz. It had happened on the day that he had first arrived in Immanion. For one insane moment, he hoped to see Pellaz standing there once more, but nothing happened. Bowing his head, Galdra started to walk toward the ship.

“Please wait! I have a message for you!”

The call caused Galdra to halt in his tracks and whirl around to face the messenger. Could it be that Pellaz had sent him a parting message? But no, he didn’t think so since the last thing he had heard was that the Tigron was drained and barely able to move.

The messenger handed Galdra the paper and then excused himself again. Galdra unfolded the paper and scanned the contents. The first thing he noticed was the name signed at the bottom: it was Cal’s and not Pellaz’. Galdra’s surprise increased as he realized that Cal was telling him to return to the court so they could have a word. Galdra also realized it was more than just a simple request: he was being summoned.

/By Cal. But why?/ They had spoken before he had left court and Cal had made it very clear that the Tigron wanted Galdra gone. Galdra hadn’t put up any resistance and had simply left.

Staring at the summons, Galdra’s thoughts raced and the har realized that he was curious. Yes, he would return to court and report to Cal, but only because he needed to know if this involved Pellaz. He couldn’t help worrying about Pellaz since he vividly remembered how weak the other har had been when they had concluded the Grissecon. He knew what Pellaz had tried to do toward the end of their joining, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to be angry with Pellaz. In that moment, he had shared Pellaz’ feelings of distress and shock in finding that Cal had returned.

/It seems we will take another moment then,/ Galdra thought. He *would* find out if this was about Pellaz or not. If it was, he would stay and do whatever it took to help.

***

For Pellaz, there was only one thing missing. If Cal had been there life would have been perfect. Vaysh had found a few books and had been reading to him for the last hour. Pellaz had repeatedly dozed off, but had always startled awake again whenever Vaysh stopped reading.

They were still in front of the fire place and while Vaysh had stretched out on his stomach on the floor with the book resting in front of him, Pellaz rested against a comfortable pillow. The couch was remarkably comfortable and Pellaz felt no need to move to the bed. He liked it there. “Don’t stop,” he whispered, urging Vaysh to continue reading.

Vaysh grinned and drank some water to lubricate his throat. “You like this story.” It was a book by someone called Anne Rice and dealt with a group of vampires.

Pellaz shrugged carefully. “I like listening to your voice.”

Vaysh smiled as he pushed himself into a sitting position and studied Pellaz’ face. “Aren’t you tired? Isn’t it time for you to go to bed?” Cobweb had shown him the bedroom, making sure he knew his way about.

“Not yet…maybe in a bit. I like being here.” Pellaz snuggled farther under the blanket until only his eyes showed. “What do you think Cal is doing right now?” Pellaz bit his bottom lip. He hadn’t wanted to voice that question aloud, but it had accidentally tumbled from his lips.

Vaysh sighed, closed the book, and placed it aside. He got to his feet and walked over to the couch, where he sat down. “Pellaz, I truly believe that he’s already searching for you.”

Pellaz closed his eyes. “I don’t agree. He is probably glad to be rid of me.”

“Don’t you say that!” Pellaz’ eyes opened at hearing Vaysh’s indignant tone. “Cal loves you! He only needed some time to accept what has happened!”

“I’m afraid to believe that he will come after me.” Pellaz swallowed the next words he had wanted to say for they were cruel. /Why should Cal come for me when Ashmael never came for you? Our situation is the same./ But he remained quiet since he didn’t want to upset Vaysh. “Please start reading again.”

Vaysh picked up the book from the floor, lifted Pellaz’ feet, and rested them on his knees. After tucking the blanket into place, he began to read again, making certain that his voice sounded calm and comforting.

***

Galdra paced the room Velaxis had shown him to. He had been surprised to find that Caeru’s confidant had welcomed him and Velaxis’ presence told him that the Tigrina was somehow involved too. He paced constantly, only stopping occasionally to cast a look at the door. He was dying to find out why Cal wanted to talk to him.

He still worried about Pellaz and would have given anything to be allowed to see the other har. Would he get some answers from Cal? He certainly hoped so.

***

Cal took a moment to study Galdra. The other har hadn’t noticed him and this allowed him to study the fair-haired har whom Pellaz had fallen in love with. It had taken Cal some time to accept that, but Caeru had made him see the truth. Pellaz had loved Galdra and he probably still did. Caeru and Ashmael had assured him that Galdra was a har of honor and had never tried to attain the position of Tigron at the court, although some members of the Hegemony would have liked to see Galdra replace Cal.

Galdra appeared worried and restless and Cal understood only too well why the other har was pacing like he was. They both were worried about Pellaz. For the first time, Cal felt grateful that Galdra had been there for Pellaz when the Tigron had needed the support.

Galdra suddenly turned around and looked Cal in the eye. Cal tried to act composed when he advanced on his rival. “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.” Cal came to a halt in front of Galdra. “I wasn’t certain you would comply.”

“Your letter worried me and so I agreed to talk to you.” Galdra’s eyes narrowed. “Is this about Pell?” He knew he was being forward, but he didn’t care. He needed to know if Pellaz was all right.

“Yes, this is about Pell.” Cal circled around Galdra, eyeing him closely. “Caeru tells me you love him.”

“I do.” Galdra took a step away from Cal and returned the inquiring gaze. “I love Pellaz still.”

Cal had to test him. “Do you love Pellaz or the fact that he’s Tigron?”

Galdra’s eyes blazed with angry fire. “I never cared about that! The first time I saw him I didn’t know who he was! I never envied you your position at the court!”

Cal nodded, trying to calm Galdra down. Galdra’s fury had taken him aback. “You *do* understand that I had to make certain?”

“That I love Pell and not the Tigron? If you must know, I curse the fact that he’s Tigron! If he had been somehar I could have made him mine and taken him away from all this!” Galdra turned his back toward Cal and walked over to a window.

“When I found out who he was, I abandoned my original plan to seduce him. I realized that he was your chesnari and that making a move on him would be wrong. I had almost made my peace with that when Caeru had invited me to a party in his rooms. He had hinted that Pellaz was unhappy, needed distraction, and that he would join us that evening. That was the only reason why I had agreed to attend.”

Galdra drew in a deep breath as he relived the memories. “His gaze was upon me for most of the evening and I returned his interest. Later that evening he summoned me to his rooms to tell me that he wanted me to stop flirting with him. He was fighting himself, Cal. He was fighting his feelings because he wanted to remain loyal to you.”

Cal felt strangely touched as he heard Pellaz had fought the attraction where Galdra was concerned. He felt drawn closer and wanted to learn more. He felt the same way he had felt when he had talked to Ashmael about Vaysh. “Go on.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the desk.

“I told him that I was convinced that the attraction was mutual. He continued to deny me though. It wasn’t until that day in the stables that he allowed himself to begin to *feel*.”

“What happened in the stables?” Cal was dying to know.

“He was lonely, Cal. Lonely and depressed. I talked to Caeru and he assured me that Pellaz needed somehar in his life at that very moment. Pellaz… You should have seen him, Cal. He was pale, his eyes dull, and he looked…defeated. I *had* to reach out to him.”

Cal listened to every word Galdra said. “Who took the first step?”

Galdra shrugged and turned to face Cal. “I told him to stop denying himself. He was dying inside, Cal. Had he not given in, I don’t know if he would have survived. It must have been a very long time since he had last taken aruna. He needed it, Cal.” Cal nodded in understanding and Galdra continued, “He was soume for me… I felt it had to be that way. I wanted to fill him with my love and energy, but Pell… He made it seem like he made a giant sacrifice when he gave himself to me. He wasn’t there emotionally. He denied me that part of him.”

To his surprise, Cal realized he actually felt sorry. Not just for Galdra, but for Pellaz as well. “It was never my intention to hurt him or to make him suffer.”

“Taking aruna with him like that felt…wrong.” Galdra moistened his lips. “I wanted to reach him emotionally and ease his burden just a little. He refused me though.”

“You really love him,” Cal realized in that instant. What Caeru and Ashmael had told him was true then. Galdra loved Pellaz for *who* he was, not what he was: Tigron.

“We grew close, Cal, but he never gave me his heart. That, he reserved for you.” Galdra swallowed the sudden anger that threatened to choke him. “Even during the Grissecon, he wasn’t mine entirely… No, that isn’t true. For a few minutes I felt like we were chesna and I believe Pellaz had finally allowed himself to admit his feelings, but then he sensed your presence and he… He shut down.” Galdra shivered as he remembered the painful memory. He still ached inside when he recalled how Pellaz had tried to make them pay for falling in love. “You know what he did…toward the end.”

Cal nodded once. “He wanted to punish himself – and you.”

“And you spoke those spiteful words to him.” Galdra’s expression turned icy. “Pell *did* trust in you for a long time, but even Pellaz has his weaknesses. And he needed you at his side. He needed you so much. It should have been the Tigrons of Immanion, Pellaz and you, who performed that Grissecon, but you weren’t there. He did the best he could, Cal.”

Cal was growing aware of that as well. “I wasn’t pleased to find you at Pellaz’ side, as you can well imagine.”

Galdra inclined his head. “I understand… But, do you understand in turn that Pellaz needed someone at his side? It just happened to be me.”

Cal sat down in a chair and studied Galdra. In the end, he made his decision and said, “Pell has left Immanion.”

Galdra’s eyes widened. So this was why Cal had summoned him back to the court. “He shouldn’t have done that. The last thing I heard was that he was considerably weakened. He should have stayed put.”

Cal searched his heart and made the hardest decision he had ever had to make. “Pell’s with pearl.”

Galdra looked shell-shocked at hearing the news. “But…that can only mean… Am I…?”

Cal nodded. “It’s yours, yes.” The stunned expression in Galdra’s eyes would have amused him if the situation hadn’t been so serious. “When I asked you to talk to me, I didn’t know yet if I was going to tell you about the pearl, but it seems the right thing to do since you truly care about Pell.”

“It was never my intention to create a pearl,” Galdra admitted. He sat down heavily on a chair and stared at Cal in disbelief.

“It happened.” Cal shrugged. “And I will accept this because I love Pell.”

Galdra’s head reeled. “Is that the reason he left?”

“Yes, he couldn’t face me,” Cal answered, once more feeling guilty because he hadn’t visited with Pellaz straight away. “We have to find a way to make this work, Galdra… We have to put Pell first.”

Galdra agreed. “Don’t worry. I don’t plan on officially announcing that he’s hosting my pearl. I won’t do that to you – or Pell.”

“We will discuss that later,” Cal said. “First, we need to find Pell and talk some sense into him. He can’t run away like that. He’s not only weakened, but also hosting.”

“Do you have any idea where he went?” Galdra gave Cal a hopeful look. He was relieved that Cal wanted him to be a part of this.

“My guess is that he either went to visit with his sister, Ulaume and Flick, or he might have gone to Galhea. Caeru is working on locating him. I never realized just how many informants Caeru has!”

“I like Caeru,” Galdra mumbled. “He’s sincere in his concern for Pell.” He swallowed hard as he realized that, if it hadn’t been for Caeru, Pellaz and he would have never gotten together. “Are you going after Pell once you have located him?”

Cal ran a hand through his tangled hair and gave a half-nod. “I will go after him, yes, but I won’t be going alone.”

Galdra’s heart missed a beat, hoping he had understood correctly. “You’re letting me tag along?”

“Not just you. I want Caeru there as well.” Cal had learned his lesson. “Pell has been lonely for too long. He needs *us* – not just me. I have realized that by talking to Caeru and you.” Cal shifted on his chair. “I should be grateful, I guess. You were there for Pellaz when I couldn’t be at his side. In a way I’m relieved that you love Pell for himself and not to rise in the ranks.”

“I never wanted that. I only wanted to comfort him.” Galdra calmed down as he realized that Cal was accepting this. “I never wanted to take him away from you, Cal. I always knew that your love was bigger than mine.”

“Not bigger, just different.” At that moment, Cal stepped out of the shadow of his jealousy and showed courage and understanding. “Pell needs you as much as he needs me. I can’t deny him that – not after what had happened between the two of you. I must make amends.”

Galdra rose from his chair and walked over to Cal. He sat on his heels and carefully gathered one of Cal’s hands in his, clasping it tightly. He hadn’t been certain Cal would allow the touch and felt encouraged when Cal stayed in place. “I don’t really know you, Cal, but I *do* know that Pell loves you with his entire being. So therefore, you must be a very special har.”

Cal fought the tears forming in his eyes. He didn’t want to cry, but he failed to keep them back and a fat tear flowed down his cheek. “I am such a fool, Galdra. Why didn’t I realize earlier how much I hurt Pell by disappearing on him like that?” If he had gone to Pellaz right away, his chesnari might not have run.

“But you have realized that now… That’s all that matters.” Galdra sucked in his breath when Cal raised his other hand to touch his face. The touch was gentle and exploring, so he kept still.

“I understand what Pell sees in you,” Cal admitted. “He chose well.” Galdra’s love was pure, simple, and genuine. A true treasure to behold. “Stay at my side, Galdra. I need Caeru and you to guide me.”

“I will be there for you – for Pell and you,” Galdra promised, thrilled that Cal was willing to accept him in his life. Maybe he wouldn’t have to give up Pellaz completely for he would love to see their harling grow up.

Part 5

“You should really get ready for bed, Pell.” Vaysh suspected that his charge had fallen asleep on him and when no answer came forth, his suspicion was confirmed. “No matter how comfortable you think this couch is, it doesn’t compare to a bed.” He placed the book aside and gently maneuvered Pellaz until he could lift him from the couch. He carried Pellaz into the bedroom and placed him on the bed. “It looks like we have to share.” He had no intention of sleeping on the couch or on the floor.

Pellaz, while still asleep, seemed agreeable to the idea for the har’s fingers had started to claw at Vaysh’s clothes. Vaysh had no choice but to comply and lay down on his side next to Pell. He pulled up the blanket and made himself comfortable. The sleeping har snuggled up to him and Vaysh ended up hugging his friend tightly. Pellaz looked young and serene in his sleep, but Vaysh knew reality would come crashing in on his friend shortly. They couldn’t hide there forever. Sooner or later, the Tigron had to return to Immanion, but Vaysh didn’t want to think about that just yet. Right now, he simply wanted to savor being there and holding Pellaz in his sleep.

***

The next morning, Pellaz woke first. His first thought was that Cal had returned to him when he found himself wrapped up in a possessive embrace. But once he had opened his eyes and caught sight of the red hair, he realized it was Vaysh who was holding him.

Pellaz set aside his disappointment and studied his friend. He forced himself to momentarily forget about his own worries and wondered if there was a way for Vaysh to heal. He recalled that Cobweb and Snake had found a way to work arunic magic in order to further healing. Snake had recovered in mind and body and maybe the same process was possible for Vaysh. But it wouldn’t work with the wrong har. /He needs Ashmael for this to work, not me./ But would Ashmael come for Vaysh?

Vaysh unexpectedly stirred and his eyes opened. The gray was still blurry and unfocused, but little by little Vaysh’s gaze became more focused. “Good morning,” he said remarkably good-natured. “Want me to make breakfast?” He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this carefree.

Pellaz nodded. “Yes, that’s a good idea.” But he wasn’t letting go just yet. One look at the window told him that it was going to be a warm and sunny day. “Can we eat outside?” He wanted to be outside after having been cooped up in exam rooms.

“Sure, I think I saw a terrace when we got here. I will serve breakfast there. Why don’t you rest a little longer?” Vaysh managed to free himself of Pellaz’ clingy embrace and then sat on the side of the bed. “Give me ten.”

Pellaz nodded his head and watched Vaysh leave the room. He was alone again and, with that, the feeling of abandonment returned. What was Cal doing right now? Was he securing his position as Tigron? Was he taking aruna with Caeru to extract some sort of revenge on Pellaz? Or was Cal longing to be with him?

For the next ten minutes, Pellaz gave into the depressing thoughts and almost lost himself in his grief, but then Vaysh appeared and chased away the engrossed state he had worked himself into.

“Breakfast’s ready. I will help you…” Vaysh saw Pellaz try to push himself upright, but the other har was still too weak to get to his feet unaided. “How long did Sheeva say that recovery was going to take?” he asked while guiding Pellaz out of the bedroom.

“A few days, maybe even a week.” His astral body had taken quite a beating when he had battled Ponclast and he had worsened things later by losing control during the last stages of the Grissecon. “I’m afraid I will need your help a little longer.”

“But you *are* getting better,” Vaysh said. “At least, you can walk a bit. Yesterday, I had to carry you.” Slowly they made their way onto the terrace where Vaysh assisted Pellaz in sitting down. “I made some tea, want some?”

“I would love some.” Pellaz gratefully accepted the blanket Vaysh placed over his knees and pulled it closer. Vaysh poured tea and Pellaz reached for the bread which he layered with butter and honey. This breakfast didn’t compare to the lavish meals he would be served at his palace, but Pellaz didn’t mind. It stilled his hunger and he contentedly sipped his tea. “It‘s such a strange feeling to know that I don’t have to do a single thing today…that I can sit here and watch the clouds pass by.”

“No intrigue…no demands…” Vaysh supplied helpfully. “I know what you mean.”

Pellaz closed his eyes when the sun cast her rays on his face and savored the warm sensation as it caressed his facial skin. “In the early days, Cal and I would travel from one place to the other. We lived a carefree life. We lived our own lives. And now, I feel like I am living someone else’s life.”

“The life Thiede created for you.” Vaysh sipped his own tea and nibbled on a biscuit. “I’m not sure I can ever forgive Thiede for what he did to me.” Vaysh’s eyes widened as the admission escaped him. “Sorry, I didn’t want to bring Thiede up again.”

Pellaz opened his eyes and gave Vaysh a look filled with understanding. “I understand what drove Thiede to undertake these attempts to create his Tigron, but like you, I’m mad with him for making such grave mistakes.” Pellaz cringed as he saw the embarrassment in Vaysh’s eyes. “I don’t mean you – you’re *not* a mistake! Without you at my side I would have lost my mind!” He vividly recalled the first days when his body had still been changing, undergoing that dreadful transformation. There had been days when he had thought he would remain deformed and incapacitated forever, but Vaysh had pulled him through.

Vaysh swallowed hard and wished Pellaz would change the subject.

“Vaysh,” Pellaz leaned in closer and placed his hand on top of his friend’s. “How are you going to deal with the situation when I start to show that I’m hosting? Won’t that make you sad?” He didn’t want to upset Vaysh.

Vaysh looked Pellaz in the eye and said, “I can never be with pearl myself, but I can live out my dreams through you. Please let me stay… I want to be a part of this miracle. It might be the closest I will ever get to experience of the hosting process.”

“I will never send you away!” Pellaz stated, slightly indignant. “But I don’t want you to feel sad or hurt.”

Vaysh smiled comfortingly. “Deliver this pearl for me, Pell. I want to see the harling hatch when the time has come. Will you award me that privilege?”

“Of course I will. I want you to be with me at all times! Most certainly when it is time for me to deliver the pearl!” Pellaz rubbed Vaysh’s digits and continued to smile at his friend. “It promises to be a beautiful day. We should spend it outside instead of being cooped up in the house. Maybe later today we can go for a short walk?”

“That might be a really short walk, Pell,” Vaysh said with a wicked tone coloring his voice. “You’re still wobbly on your feet.”

“I don’t care. I just want to sit here and enjoy the warmth.” The sun had reached the rest of his body as well and it now bathed him in golden rays.

Vaysh agreed with Pellaz. Sitting there and doing nothing sounded like heaven.

***

Caeru exchanged a look with Velaxis. “And you’re absolutely certain that Pellaz went to Galhea?”

Velaxis nodded his head. “My informant told me that he has been seen in Forever. He stayed with Snake and Cobweb for one night and then they moved him – and Vaysh – to a nearby cottage, where he’s staying at the moment.”

“I need to tell Cal,” Caeru said thoughtfully.

“Maybe you should wait a day or two,” Velaxis suggested. “My informant told me that Pellaz looked exhausted and that he had told Cobweb to lie should someone inquire about him. He doesn’t want to be found…”

“Yet,” Caeru finished for Velaxis. “I understand the way Pellaz thinks and I must admit that I am beginning to agree with his actions. They might have been dramatic, but they did wake Cal and made him think.”

“Regardless of what some members of the Hegemony think I believe that Cal and Pellaz belong together and we should do everything we can to get them together again.”

Caeru grinned. “Are you turning into a romantic, Velaxis?”

Velaxis’ features contorted. “A romantic? Me? Never.” He was just being practical.

***

Galdra felt somewhat nervous when he entered Caeru’s rooms. Yes, he had been there before, but back then, it hadn’t been Cal who had invited him for dinner.

“Relax,” Caeru murmured smoothly. “Cal won’t eat you.” He wrapped an arm around Galdra’s waist and guided the fair-haired har toward the dinner table. Not for the first time was he struck by the physical resemblance between Cal and Galdra. Appearance-wise, they could have been brothers. It was probably one of the things that had attracted Pellaz to Galdra.

“It’s hard for me to relax, Caeru,” Galdra said as he sat down. “You know Cal better than I do. I really don’t know what to make of him.” Though Cal *had* pleasantly surprised him the other day.

“All you need to keep in mind is that he loves Pellaz and will do anything to make him happy.” Caeru poured Galdra a glass of wine and then sat down himself. Raising his glass, he said, “Let’s hope there will be a happy end to this story.”

“Oh, there will be one. I intend to make certain of that!” Cal had entered the room and headed straight for the dinner table.

Galdra and Caeru smiled at each other. Cal had finally taken that much-needed bath and had even brushed the tangles from his still damp hair. The eyes shone and the narrow lips were pouted. The two hara distinctly felt the magical pull that had gotten Cal so often in trouble in the past.

“You look better,” Caeru said as he presented Cal with a glass of wine.

Cal sipped, but then placed the glass onto the table. He seated himself and stared into the red liquid. He came straight to business. “Caeru, have you located Pell yet?”

Caeru felt conflicted as he remembered Velaxis’ advice on the matter. “Maybe, I’m working on it. Give me another day.”

“It’s taking too long,” Cal said, nervously shifting on the chair. “What if Pell does something dramatic?”

“Even more dramatic than running away?” Caeru chuckled and stood his ground when Cal glared at him. “Pellaz is no fool, Cal. He knows that he has to return to Immanion shortly. My guess is that he will do so after the pearl has hatched.”

Galdra coughed to clear his throat and once he had Cal’s attention, he asked, “What are your plans for the harling?” It was time they addressed that matter so they knew where they stood.

Cal drew in a deep breath. He had known that Galdra would bring the matter up. “If you allow it, I would love him like he’s my own harling. I would like for him to be raised here in Immanion. That’s where he belongs.”

Galdra nodded once. He had suspected as much. “I will allow this, but I want you to understand that I want to see him occasionally. After all, he’s my child.”

“I won’t deny you that.” Cal probed Galdra’s eyes. “There’s another matter to address.” Cal decided to get it all out since they were already discussing the matter. “I would like for the child to think of me as his father.”

Galdra’s eyes narrowed while he considered the request. “If you think that it’s best for him.” Although he felt pained because the harling would never know the truth, he saw the wisdom to Cal’s words. It would be best for the child to have a steady environment to grow up and that meant having both his parents close. “Since I have no intention of separating the child from his hostling, I believe this might be the best solution. Though, I will be honest and tell you that it will pain me to see my child think of you as his father.” He wanted that for himself. What father wouldn’t?
“Thank you…” Cal felt relieved. “I do believe it will do Pell good to have a harling around.”

Caeru couldn’t help growing sad. His son, Abrimel, had betrayed them and Caeru still regretted that things had gotten out of hand. They had all made mistakes and that included Pellaz. “Yes, maybe it will do him good.” Pellaz might get a second chance with his harling.

“What are we going to do once we know where Pellaz is hiding? Do you plan to walk up to him and take him home?” Galdra asked.

Cal shook his head. “I don’t think that will work.” Pellaz and he needed to talk first.

A knock on the door momentarily ended their conversation and Caeru gave Cal an inquiring look. “I wasn’t aware of the fact that we were expecting more visitors. Would you care to enlighten me?”

“I asked Ashmael to join us. As it will be the four of us leaving shortly, I thought we should talk first.” Cal rose from his chair and walked over to the doorway, opening the door.

Ashmael stepped into the room, feeling on guard. After he had talked to Cal, he had decided to seize the moment and act, but after thinking everything over, he wasn’t certain he had made the right decision. What if Vaysh didn’t want him after all?

“Join us,” Cal said as he stepped aside to allow Ashmael to pass him by on his way to the dinner table.

A househar appeared at Caeru’s flick of his wrist and set another plate on the table. Once he had also added a glass and utensils the har disappeared again.

Ashmael seated himself, albeit reluctantly, and studied first Galdra and then Caeru. “So we are all going after Pell?”

“And Vaysh,” Cal added in reminder.

“I wanted to talk to you about that,” Ashmael said. He didn’t want to do this in public, but he had the feeling Cal wouldn’t give him a chance to speak with him in private. Cal probably already suspected that he was about to chicken out. “I don’t think Vaysh and I…” Ashmael didn’t get a chance to finish as both Cal and Caeru started to talk.

Caeru and Cal grinned at each other, finding they were both eager to convince Ashmael. “You go first,” Caeru said as gracefully as ever.

“Caeru won’t let me run away,” Cal said. “And I will be damned if I let you run away from Vaysh. The four of us are in this together!”

Ashmael sighed in defeat. It seemed there was no way out for him. Cal was going to make him face Vaysh. He could only hope that when that day came, he would find the strength and courage to scoop up Vaysh and carry him off. He wouldn’t give his former lover a chance to escape.

***

Vaysh smiled contentedly at Pellaz. Pellaz had remained on the terrace and, although the temperature had risen during the morning, the other har still clung to his blanket. Pellaz had dozed off, his eyes closed in sleep.

Vaysh couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be hosting a pearl like Pellaz did. Could Pellaz already sense the new life growing inside him or was it still too early for that? Could he ask Pellaz such a personal question?

Since Pellaz remained asleep, Vaysh used the opportunity to investigate their surroundings. He explored the cottage and then went outside again, walking into the woods that separated the cottage from Forever.

“I was about to seek you out,” Snake commented as he stepped out from the cover of the trees. “But I felt mesmerized looking at my brother.” Seeing such peace and happiness on Pellaz’ face had made him pause and stare at his brother.

“He’s getting better,” Vaysh said as he walked up to Snake. “But he still needs Cal to be with him.”

“I have the feeling Cal will arrive shortly,” Snake hinted.

“What do you know?” Vaysh studied the other har’s eyes, which reminded him of Pellaz’. He thought it was still too early for Pellaz to face Cal.

“There have been communications. Swift was contacted and asked for confirmation of Pellaz’ whereabouts.” Snake’s brow furrowed. “This means we have a traitor in our midst. Somehar in Forever is a spy.”

“What did Swift tell Cal?” Vaysh *had* to know!

“He had no choice but to confirm it, but Cobweb sent a message of his own insisting Cal visit with him first before he sets out to find Pellaz.” Snake smiled at his brother, who was still dozing. “He might be Tigron, but I still see my little brother when I look at him.”

“It’s amazing to see just how much humanity survived in the two of you.” Vaysh stepped aside and gestured for Snake to follow him to the cottage. “Do you still remember your parents?” he asked, feeling curious.

“I do… I remember my mother best…” Snake arrived on the terrace and seated himself next to Pellaz. “Pellaz is with pearl…that’s an amazing thought. He will have a child of his own shortly.”

“He already has a son: Abrimel,” Vaysh reminded Snake.

“I don’t know Abrimel,” Snake answered. “I intend to render that mistake where Pellaz’ newest harling is concerned.” He placed his large hand against his brother’s abdomen and smiled. New life was growing there.

The touch woke Pellaz and he blinked sleepily, trying to discern who had joined him. He could tell that it wasn’t Vaysh.

Seeing the confusion in the dazed eyes, Snake said, “It’s me, Snake.”

Pellaz blinked as he tried to rid himself of the last remnants of sleep and slowly nodded his head. “I thought you might visit today.”

Snake drew in a deep breath and realized it would be best to get this over with. “Cal found out where you are. He will arrive here in a few days, maybe even tomorrow.”

Pellaz felt strangely accepting of his fate. “I won’t run again. If he wants to talk to me, I will let him.” He *had* hoped for a longer break – for a real chance to recover. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Cobweb will stall Cal as long as possible and we will send word when Cal sets out for the cottage. I just thought you should know so you can mentally prepare yourself for his visit.” Snake patted the back of his brother’s hand. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Stay for a while and talk to me. Tell me about your life here in Forever…about your love for Cobweb.” Pellaz needed to hear something positive that would give him courage.

Snake reacted the moment Vaysh moved to leave. “No, stay. You need to hear what I’m going to say as well.” He intended to tell them – and Vaysh especially – how Cobweb and he had found out that aruna could help him heal. Maybe that knowledge would also help Vaysh heal when the time came.

***

Vaysh had a hard time believing what he had just learned. “Your body healed?”

Snake nodded slowly. “I healed, Vaysh.”

Pellaz finally offered the suggestion that Snake and Vaysh seemed to avoid. “Maybe you can heal in that way too, Vaysh.”

Vaysh determinedly shook his head. “I don’t believe that’s possible, Pell. Thiede burned me out. There’s nothing left to work with.” He didn’t dare hope that Snake could be right!

“Maybe you should try it, Vaysh.” Pellaz gave his friend a hopeful look. “But you will need the right har for the job.”

Vaysh glared at his friend. He knew what Pellaz was implying. “Forget about it.”

“You need Ashmael for aruna to work in that way.” Pellaz cocked his head and searched Vaysh’s eyes, which gave his friend away. He read the hope in them.

“Ashmael?” Snake knew the name and he didn’t particularly like the har it belonged to, since Cobweb had taken Ashmael as a lover for a while. “I didn’t know he’s the har who…” Realizing Vaysh might find it upsetting to discuss this, he grew silent.

Vaysh swallowed hard and admitted, “We were chesna once. A long time ago.” Raising his eyes, he sought out Pellaz’ gaze. “Much too long ago to rekindle this.”

“We will see,” Pellaz answered smugly. He exchanged a look with his brother and sensed Snake would encourage a relationship between Vaysh and Ashmael because such a liaison would make sure Ashmael posed no threat to his relationship with Cobweb.

But Vaysh was shaking his head adamantly. “Pell, you forget that I have nothing left to offer Ashmael. It’s much too late.” Too much had changed for them to be together once more.

***

Swift, Cobweb, and Snake were present to welcome Cal to Forever. The three hara had expected Cal to arrive alone and were thoroughly surprised to find Caeru, Ashmael, and a stranger accompanying Cal.

Cobweb, playing host, inclined his head in greeting and addressed Cal. “You brought guests. We didn’t know there would be four of you. I will have additional rooms readied.”

Cal gave Cobweb a grateful look. “I knew I could count on you – in more ways than one.”

Cobweb studied the stranger and reached the conclusion that this had to be Galdra, the fabled har Pellaz had been with during Grissecon. Although Pellaz and Cobweb had met in the cauldron of creation, Cobweb hadn’t seen the face of the har Pellaz had been together with.

Caeru saw the puzzlement in their host’s eyes and acted on it. “May I present Galdra to you?”

Snake’s eyes narrowed. So this was the har who had at one time replaced Cal? He was surprised to see Cal actually smile at Galdra to reassure the har. Had they become friends then?

“You already know Ashmael, don’t you, Cobweb?” Caeru smiled lazily at Cobweb. At times he enjoyed teasing the other har a little.

“We know each other, yes.” Cobweb met Ashmael’s gaze and blinked as he suddenly realized something about his former lover. When he had touched Vaysh’s mind, he had sensed Vaysh’s love for somehar. And looking into Ashmael’s blue eyes now, he sensed the love Ashmael held for Vaysh. He quickly made the connection. “You’re Vaysh’s former chesnari!”

Snake instantly felt guilty because he had forgotten to inform Cobweb of that little tidbit. He hadn’t forgotten on purpose!

Ashmael was surprised that Cobweb hadn’t found out earlier, but then again, they had never discussed his past when they had been together. “I’m here for Vaysh. I’m going to claim my chesnari.”

Cobweb laughed warmly. “Vaysh refused to tell me your name!” He sobered and settled for smiling at Ashmael. “He loves you still. He might not admit it, but he wants you to come for him.”

Snake nodded. “If I may give you some advice…” He waited for Ashmael to nod and then added, “Simply swing him over your shoulder and carry him off. Take aruna with him the first chance you get and lock the door so he can’t run when you’re sleeping!”

A mischievous sparkle shone from Ashmael’s eyes. “Do you really think I should do that?”

“Throw away the key and stay in bed forever,” Caeru said, grinning from ear to ear. “See? I told you that you were doing the right thing.”

Ashmael’s doubts were finally laid to rest. Every har thought he should do this – and that acting in that way would be the best thing for Vaysh. In that moment, determination was born and Ashmael vowed that he would have Vaysh in his bed, and even more importantly, in his arms.

Part 6

That evening, Cobweb took Cal aside, while Snake asked Ashmael for a word. To prevent Galdra from walking off in search of Pellaz, Swift volunteered to take him under his wings.

***

“Why do you want to talk to me?” Cal felt a bit edgy, though he couldn’t explain why. He had known Cobweb for a long time and knew the other har had his best interest in mind.

Cobweb sat down on the couch and studied the fair-haired har. Cal was always a bewitching sight and he understood only too well what drew hara toward Cal. There was something extremely alluring about Cal. “I want to talk to you about Pellaz.”

“I thought as much.” Cal sat down on a chair, poured himself a glass of wine, and downed it one go. “Let me have it then.”

But Cobweb shook his head. “I’m not going to judge you for what you did. As far as I’m concerned you had good reasons to act the way you did.”

“I had the best of reasons.” Cal had learned much under Thiede’s tutelage and felt he was now much better equipped to take his position at Pellaz’ side. But did his chesnari still want him? “But I still made mistakes. I should have gone to Pell straight away to reassure him, but I didn’t know how…fragile…his mental state had become until he ran.”

“We all make mistakes,” Cobweb said while releasing a deep sigh. “We can’t change the past, but we can shape the present and influence the future.”

Cal smiled. “I love it when you talk like that.” To him, Cobweb would always be the most magical har he had ever met.

Cobweb smiled a little at that. “Tomorrow, I want you to seek out Pellaz, and I want you to go alone.”

“I planned on taking Caeru and Galdra with me.”

Cobweb shook his head. “Not yet. It’s too early for that. You must confront Pellaz alone. No matter what relationship will form between the four of you, Pellaz and you are at the base. Without you two being secure in your love, you can’t include either Caeru or Galdra. Go to Pellaz alone. Once you have sorted things out, let Galdra visit with Pellaz. Then, once they have talked, you should take Caeru with you and solidify this pact.”

“You might be right,” Cal relented. “But must I wait until tomorrow? Can’t I go to him now?”

“No,” Cobweb answered resolutely. “Pellaz needs this time on his own.”

“But he isn’t alone. Vaysh is with him.”

“Vaysh won’t be with him much longer.” Cobweb rose from the couch, walked over to one of the windows, and looked outside. Between the green of the bushes and trees, he could just make out Ashmael’s fair hair. “Ashmael is already on his way to confront Vaysh. Pellaz will be alone in the house when you seek him out tomorrow. Trust me, this is the way it’s supposed to be.”

Cal rose from his chair and joined Cobweb at the window. Cobweb’s familiar scent rose into his nostrils soothingly and surrounded him. He inhaled it deeply. “Your presence comforts me.” It had taken Cobweb and him time to bury the hatchet, since they had been rivals for Terzian’s love once, but once they had done so a deep sense of trust had formed between them. “And your advice is sound.”

Ashmael’s form had faded from view and a smile surfaced on Cobweb’s face. “I’m glad he decided to risk it all. My instincts tell me that he’s doing the right thing.” He hoped for Ashmael’s sake, and because of the love they had once shared, that Vaysh would stop fighting Ashmael in the end.

***

Ashmael felt calm and focused as he made his way over to the cottage. He was set on getting through to Vaysh and wouldn’t shy away from using force to make his former lover listen and eventually admit the truth. He fully intended to carry Vaysh off and force him to listen, should the other har put up resistance.

***

Vaysh couldn’t sleep that night. He had spooned up behind Pellaz and had a loose hold on him. One hand rested across Pellaz’ abdomen and he thought he could feel the pearl actually develop and grow. It was just his imagination of course. It was still too early to feel anything like that.

After spending another few minutes awake and restless, Vaysh released Pellaz, tucked the blanket around his friend’s sleeping form, and left the bed. He slipped into a morning robe, lifted his hair, and smoothed it down his back again. Dying his hair red had been his way of closing that particular chapter of his life. A life which had ended when Thiede had remade him and a second, empty and bitter life had started for him. One without Ashmael in it. He still longed for the other har – at times, he hurt so badly that he wept. But always in silence since he didn’t want any har to know how much he was suffering.

He needed out and practically fled the cottage. Vaysh headed for the trees and walked into the woods. It was a full moon that night and the silver rays guided him through the forest. In the end, he stopped walking, placed his hands against the trunk of an ash tree, and rested his brow against it. “I can’t do this anymore.” He didn’t know where this sudden distress was coming from or why he felt this restless.

Maybe Snake talking about arunic healing had set everything into motion. And to make things worse, Pellaz had told him Ashmael would be the one har who could help him heal in that way. False hope… He hated feeling like that.

“Vaysh…” Ashmael’s heart thundered in his chest and his mouth grew dry as he came upon Vaysh looking so distraught. His heart hurt as he saw Vaysh so lost.

Shocked at hearing that familiar voice from so close, Vaysh spun around and faced Ashmael. He stared at the blond har in surprise. “You’re not here. You’re a figment of my imagination.” Snake and Pellaz had to stop talking about Ashmael! Their talks were making him hallucinate!

“I’m here. I’m no fantasy.” Ashmael was afraid that Vaysh would make a run for it the moment the other har realized that he wasn’t alone any more – that Ashmael was really close – and he advanced on the red-haired har. “I’m sorry it took me so long to understand.”

Vaysh blinked and carefully took a step away from Ashmael. At first, he had been convinced that he was dealing with a dream, but with Ashmael close, he smelled the unique, spicy scent that was Ashmael.

“Stay away,” Vaysh whispered shakily, but Ashmael continued to advance on him. Vaysh looked about, searching for an escape route, but then his gaze returned to rest on his former lover’s face. Ashmael had always been handsome in a wicked away. The lips were often curled upward in a teasing smile or pouted when he was pouting. The expression in the blue eyes was honest and open and told Vaysh that Ashmael had come there for a reason. Not ready to admit that he wanted Ashmael to be there because of him, he deluded himself into believing that Pellaz was the reason Ashmael had come here. “You can’t see him at the moment. He’s asleep.”

“I’m not here for Pellaz. I’m here for *you*.” Ashmael pointed a finger at Vaysh.

“For me?” Vaysh continued to inch away from Ashmael, but found himself backed up against some trees which blocked his escape route. “Why me?”

Ashmael moistened his lips and considered his options. “Are you coming with me out of your own accord?”

Vaysh blinked; he must have misheard! “What?”

“You’re not going back to Pellaz. You’re coming with me.”

“But… Pell needs me and you…?” Why now? Why had Ashmael come for him after all those years? “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I learned something important from Cal, and Caeru, I guess.” Once he had cornered Vaysh, Ashmael moved closer… and closer… “This must stop. This silence, this rejection of what we once were… Vaysh, you and I… We belong together and I’m going to prove it to you.”

Feeling terrified of what that could mean, Vaysh spun around and tried to sprint away.

But Ashmael stopped Vaysh in his tracks by grabbing hold of him. “I guess that answers my question. You’re not coming out of your own accord.” He promptly draped a kicking Vaysh over his shoulder and simply carried him off.

“Put me down, you brute, you oaf!” Vaysh felt stunned! He couldn’t believe Ashmael had actually done this! His world spun as Ashmael carried him and, since he didn’t want to accidentally injure Ashmael by kicking the other har, his struggling was rather subdued.

“You can call me all the names you want, but it isn’t going to help. You and I are going to talk – and if you refuse to talk, I will show you that I still love you. Now stop fighting me!” Ashmael’s heart thumped with hope and love for this most stubborn of hara. “I love you and I will prove that to you!”

Too stunned to react, Vaysh ceased struggling. He blinked in surprise and replayed the words Ashmael had just said in his mind. “Ash, you shouldn’t love me any more.”

Since Vaysh had stopped fighting him, Ashmael placed his former lover back onto his feet again. Vaysh was subdued and didn’t seem comfortable to meet his eyes so Ashmael lifted the other har’s face with a finger. “Vaysh, the moment I will stop loving you is the moment that I will release my last breath. What you’re asking me to do is impossible. I can’t stop loving you.”

Vaysh felt shocked and stared past the other har. In his heart, he had always wanted Ashmael to come for him and to declare his undying love for him, but now that it was happening, it felt surreal. Shyly, he met Ashmael’s gaze and whispered, “Thiede made me barren. Do you know that?”

Ashmael nodded his head once. “I have known this for a while. Is that the reason why you kept me at a distance?” He grew more hopeful that he would somehow get through to Vaysh since his former lover had calmed down.

“Of course it is. A barren har is a worthless har.” Vaysh pulled away and turned his back to Ashmael. He wrapped his arms around his waist and bowed his head. “You shouldn’t have come for me, Ash. I know what I am and having to say it aloud only makes me hurt more.”

Ashmael took a step closer to Vaysh and pressed his body against the other har’s back. Carefully, he wrapped his arms around Vaysh and then drew in the familiar scent. “I missed you…” was all he could say at that very moment.

“I missed you too, Ash, but… I’m barren. I can’t host a pearl and I can’t give you harlings… Don’t you understand that our relationship must be over?” But Ashmael felt so warm pressed against him, so familiar, so comfortable! In spite of his determination not to give into Ashmael, he leaned back against the other har.

Ashmael knew the surrender for what it was and felt excited when Cal’s suspicions seemed correct. Vaysh had wanted him all along. His lover had been waiting for him to make the first step and he had been so stupid not to realize that! “Vaysh, I love you. Yes, I would love to have had harlings, but the fact that you are barren doesn’t make you worth less in my eyes. Don’t you understand that it is *you* I want?”

Vaysh fought his tears and, once he was certain they wouldn’t spill, turned in the embrace to face Ashmael. “Don’t do this to us. Please, Ash.” He couldn’t allow for this to happen.

“Just answer me this one question,” Ashmael said. “Do you still love me?” He saw the anguish in Vaysh’s gray eyes and regretted putting it there, but he had to know. “Do you? It’s an easy question: yes, or no.”

Vaysh seriously considered lying, but then realized that Ash would detect a lie. There was no way out for him except to tell the truth. “I still do.” He closed his eyes, since the tears were trying to escape at any rate. “But I know that you want harlings. You’re wasting your time with me. Let me go and find yourself a har who can host a pearl. Not a shell like me. There’s nothing left of me.”

“I don’t believe that.” Ashmael placed his hands on either side of Vaysh’s head to keep the other har in place and then touched his lips to his lover’s. It was nothing but a kiss at first since he didn’t want to overwhelm the distraught Vaysh by sharing breath with him.

Vaysh’s tears flowed unabated. He couldn’t stop them from running from his eyes. “Please don’t,” he repeated once Ashmael released his lips again. “Don’t do this to me!” He didn’t know how much more of this sweet torment he could take. He loved Ashmael so much…wanted the other har so badly…and Ashmael was offering him his love. Ashmael’s love was sweet, passionate, possessive, and all-consuming. Vaysh recalled how their life had been when they had still been chesnari. Those years had been the happiest of his life. “Ash, let me go.”

“No.” Ashmael resolutely shook his head. “I don’t believe you really mean that. You want me to love you. You want me at your side. Vaysh, I want that too.”

“But Ash, I’m barren!” When would the blond har finally understand that fact made it impossible for them to be together?

“You might be barren now, but we will change that. If this really means so much to you, we will work hard to get you with pearl!”

Vaysh’s head reeled. “Ash, how can you say such a thing?”

“Snake’s injuries healed, Vaysh. They healed because Cobweb and he discovered that aruna can aid healing. Snake told me – in detail! – how they made it work and I believe we can do the same. We will use aruna to heal you.”

“Ash, I…” Vaysh felt exhausted. Emotionally, he was a mess. “That won’t work with me.”

“Won’t you at least give us a chance to find out?” Ashmael brushed Vaysh’s lips again and let a minute amount of breath float into Vaysh’s mouth. It was a first, gentle sharing of breath.

Vaysh had once been addicted to sharing breath with Ashmael. He had loved taking aruna with the blond har in the past and was afraid that he would fall in love all over again if he allowed Ashmael to proceed. But who was he trying to fool? He was still madly in love with Ashmael! The feelings had never stopped! “I can’t let you do this,” he whispered against Ashmael’s hungry lips.

“Too bad, because I’m not giving you a choice in the matter.” Ashmael deepened the kiss and opened his mind to Vaysh, offering his lover all he was: his every memory, his pain, his hope, and foremost, his love.

All the emotions and memories overwhelmed Vaysh, who could do little more than take in all the images Ashmael was pouring into his mind. After a moment’s hesitation, Vaysh began to examine the sensations more closely and he focused on the most recent ones where he heard Ashmael talking to Cal and Cal convincing Ashmael to go after Vaysh. /This is Cal’s idea?/ He hadn’t fully realized that the other har was also involved.

Ashmael gave all he was and then pulled back. This was the moment of truth. This was when Vaysh would either accept they had a future together or reject him forever. “Actually, it’s Caeru’s doing. He suggested Cal should talk to me.” Ashmael ran his fingers through the red hair and ended up cupping the back of Vaysh’s head. Massaging the scalp, he hoped the gesture pleased the other har. In the past, Vaysh had always loved that particular caress.

Vaysh stopped himself from purring to betray his pleasure as he felt that familiar touch once more. He couldn’t give in to his emotions just yet. They had a lot more to discuss! “Ash, I’m not sure I can go through with this.” Seeing Ashmael’s disapproving look, he tried to explain. “Yes, you’re right. I love you still. I never stopped loving you and Pellaz helped me realize that I was hoping you would come for me one day. On a subconscious level, that hope kept me sane. But now that you’re here that fantasy has become real and I don’t know what to do.”

Ashmael was thrilled that Vaysh had calmed down and was talking to him in a composed way. “Vaysh, I don’t think you heard what I said just now. I’m not giving you a choice in the matter. You’re with me now.”

Vaysh blinked. Why was he surprised that Ashmael thought he could get away with that? /Because he can. He always did./ Vaysh closed his eyes and savored the sensation of Ashmael’s fingertips massaging his scalp. “No choice at all?”

“I will let you decide where you want us to take aruna for the first time again. Here in the woods, or in a comfortable bed in Forever.” Ashmael wanted to keep Vaysh off guard and it was working. Vaysh’s eyes opened and they stared at him in surprise.

“You refuse to waste any time, do you?” Vaysh shook his head and enjoyed seeing the smug confidence Ashmael usually radiated. He had loved that characteristic in his lover. He still did. Since he felt insecure most of the time, it was a good thing that Ashmael knew exactly what he wanted.

“I want us to become chesna as quickly as possible. Vaysh, I have missed you! I want you… I need you… I know every inch of your body… I know where to touch to rouse you… I know how to make you scream… I want us to have that again. We have been apart for much too long! And I want to start working on healing you.”

Vaysh raised a shaky hand and placed his palm against Ashmael’s face, rubbing the soft skin there. Like Ashmael, he still remembered what touches made his former lover quiver with passion. “You amaze me, Ash.”

“In a good way, I hope?” Ash leaned into the caress and rubbed his cheek against the palm of Vaysh’s hand.

“I don’t believe that you can heal me through taking aruna with me. You can’t undo the damage Thiede did. Don’t you think Thiede tried? He failed…miserably.”

“But Thiede didn’t love you! I do. My love for you is strong, Vaysh. It always was. Please give us this chance, Vaysh…please.” Ashmael had learned how to read the expression in the gray eyes many decades ago and recognized the expression in them now. “You want me. You want us to try.”

Vaysh swallowed convulsively and quickly averted his eyes. Ashmael had always been too observant. “But we will fail.”

Ashmael shook his head, leaned in closer, and rested his brow against Vaysh’s so he could probe the gray eyes once more. “Vaysh, even if you should remain barren, I will always want you at my side. If necessary I will guard every step you take to make sure you don’t run away again. I made the mistake of letting you out of sight once before and look where it got us. We have been apart for too many years.”

Since Ashmael was so close, it was easy for Vaysh to see the sincerity in the other har’s blue eyes. Ashmael meant every word he had said. “Do you really think this will work? Using aruna to heal me? I’m not like Snake… What happened to me is different. What Thiede did…” Vaysh paused, uncertain he could continue.

“Why don’t you tell me?” Ashmael remained the way he was. His brow rested against Vaysh’s and his hands against the back of the other har’s head.

“He remade me, like he did with Pellaz. It hurt so much, Ash. I didn’t think I would survive the process, and when it became clear that I was bound to survive, I… I learned that… Thiede told me that he had failed. That the balance inside me had shifted during the transformation. There was too much soume in me for me to ever become Tigron… Maybe he would have still tried making me Tigron if I hadn’t been barren, but… He abandoned me and then found Pellaz. With him, Thiede succeeded and he made me Pellaz’ aide.” Vaysh couldn’t help himself as he wrapped his arms around Ashmael’s form and pulled the other har closer. “I like Pellaz a lot, Ash. I respect him and understand him, but in the beginning, I disliked him. After all, he was Thiede’s masterpiece and I was nothing more than a failure.”

Ashmael prayed for patience and strength because at that moment, he felt like going after Thiede and confronting him with his foul deeds. But Thiede was the Aghama and so much stronger than he was. Such a confrontation wouldn’t be pretty. “That has changed, Vaysh. For me, everything about you is perfect, don’t you know that?”

Vaysh managed a weak smile. Ashmael had told him that many times in the old days and for one moment he allowed himself to believe that. “You’re a stubborn har.”

“Just as stubborn as you.” Ashmael brushed Vaysh’s lips with his lips before asking, “Did you already make up your mind as to where you want me to claim you? On the cold earth or in a warm bed?”

Vaysh laughed and this time his voice was genuinely warm and filled with mirth. “I prefer the bed.”

“You always did.” Ashmael felt breathless since he had won this battle. “Vaysh, come with me and be with me. Let me make everything right again. Believe that our love can make you whole again.”

Vaysh blushed for the first time in decades. “I love you, Ash, and I believe in our love…but I’m afraid I can never be healed.”

“It’s a start that you acknowledge our love,” Ashmael said encouragingly. He pressed a kiss onto Vaysh’s lips and then pulled his former and now new lover with him in the direction of Forever.

***

Cobweb grinned as he saw Ashmael pull Vaysh into the corridor. The red-haired har appeared reluctant or he merely was just being shy, but Vaysh didn’t look too pleased at having to cross the room while being watched. Cobweb’s gaze followed his guests as they crossed the room, and his fingers idly stroked Snake’s hair. Cobweb gave his chesnari a conspiring look.

Snake, who was stretched out on his back on the couch, looked straight into Cobweb’s mystical eyes. He had rested his head on Cobweb’s lap and felt extremely comfortable resting that way. /What is it?/ he asked in mind-touch.

/Vaysh’s here,/ Cobweb answered.

Snake raised his head and saw Ashmael pulling Vaysh with him. Snake smiled with how their plan seemed to be working. Ashmael closed the door behind him and Snake chuckled, hearing Vaysh yelp in surprise. “I told Ashmael all he needs to know. He should be able to guide them during aruna. He can show Vaysh how to open the cauldron of creation…and then they can start working on undoing the damage.”

The personal and rather intense discussion which he’d had with Ashmael the other day still occupied his thoughts. It had made him understand why Vaysh had been reluctant to share his history the day Pellaz and Vaysh had arrived. “Vaysh must feel terribly depressed because Thiede made him barren.” He hoped that Ashmael could work the same magic on Vaysh which Cobweb had worked on him.

Cobweb brushed Snake’s brow with his fingertips and cocked his head. Looking into his chesnari’s eyes, he said, “If Vaysh can be healed in that way, Ashmael will succeed. He’s as determined as he can be to make this work.”

Snake looked at Cobweb dotingly. A few months ago, he had believed that no har could love him because of his injures, but Cobweb had changed that. He hoped the same thing would happen for Vaysh.

Part 7

Vaysh had never felt this nervous before, not even the very first time when he had taken aruna with Ashmael after becoming Wraeththu. Back then, he hadn’t had the time to be nervous and he hadn’t really known what to expect, but now he did.

“Why don’t you sit down on the bed? I’m going to light the fire and then I will join you.” Ashmael turned the key and locked the door. He then removed it and slid it into a pocket. No one was going to disturb them tonight.

Seeing Ashmael slip the key away made Vaysh chuckle nervously. Until that moment, he hadn’t fully realized how serious Ashmael took their reunion.

Sensing Vaysh’s nervousness, Ashmael gave the other har a moment to compose himself while he busied himself building a fire in the fireplace. Once the fire had started, Ashmael walked over to the bed and sat down next to a nervously, fumbling Vaysh. Vaysh’s fingers had buried themselves in the blanket and at times clawed at the fabric. Ashmael took control and gathered his lover’s hands in his. “It’s okay. I’m nervous too.”

“You don’t look like it.” Vaysh stared at the floor, trying hard to avoid making eye contact with Ashmael. “What if this is a big mistake?”

“No mistake…” Ashmael gently pushed Vaysh onto his back and moved to straddle the other har’s waist.

Vaysh’s mouth went dry at the familiar sight hovering above him. Ashmael’s blue eyes shone from between a sea of blond hair and then the other har leaned in closer, sharing breath with him. Upon the intimate contact, memories and emotions floated into his mind. Vaysh moaned. The memories were familiar: Ashmael was reminding him of what their first time ever had been like. Vaysh recalled feeling a sense of rightness at that time and that sensation was back. It took possession of him and reminded him how much he loved Ashmael. /Should we do this?/

Ashmael had no doubts and deepened the sharing of breath by projecting images of them taking aruna in the past into Vaysh’s mind. /I love you… You’re mine…/ Vaysh had always been soume to him and his chesnari’s mind opened to him. Ashmael was granted free access to each painful memory that was stored away in Vaysh’s fragmented mind. Once more his anger at Thiede rose, but he quickly pushed it away when he sensed Vaysh’s growing distress.

In order to distract his lover, Ashmael unbuttoned Vaysh’s shirt and he pushed the fabric aside, bearing his chesnari’s hairless chest to him. His fingers had mapped the body squirming beneath him decades ago and he knew exactly where to stroke, squeeze, and even pinch to arouse Vaysh until his lover thrust up at him in desire.

“Let me,” Ashmael said and his hands moved lower to unzip Vaysh’s trousers. Once he had had done away with the annoying fabric, he took in his lover’s body. Vaysh was skinnier than he used to be, and the skin was very pale instead of tanned like it had been in the past. But still, the skin beneath his fingertips felt familiar.

Vaysh had a hard time believing this was really happening. He had wanted this for so long, but since Ashmael was there with him, he didn’t know what to do or how to act. Thankfully for Vaysh, Ashmael knew exactly what to do.

Within seconds, Ashmael rid himself of his own clothes. He then lowered his body onto Vaysh’s to make them both aware of the close contact. Wrapping arms and legs around Vaysh, he maintained eye contact at all time. “Are you ready for me?”

Vaysh didn’t trust his voice and merely nodded. He wanted this. He had wanted this for so long. /Make us one,/ he said in mind-touch, sending his desire along with the mental whisper.

But Ashmael also sensed Vaysh’s insecurities which drifted along on the wave of desire. /Trust yourself to me like you did in the past./ One hand moved between Vaysh’s legs and caressed his lover’s soume-lam.

Vaysh closed his eyes in bliss. He loved that invasive touch and wanted to feel more of Ashmael inside him. Ashmael sensed his lover’s keenness and readied himself to swim in Vaysh’s essence.

Vaysh cried out the moment Ashmael entered him. They had taken aruna so many times before and each time it had been good, but this…this was different. Ashmael was also in his mind and was working his magic there. Entranced, Vaysh grabbed hold of Ashmael’s waist and stared at the magical vision moving above him.

Ashmael’s part was the more difficult one. Snake had told him how to remain in control and how to guide them toward the cauldron of creation where Ashmael could work on healing Vaysh, but once they were lost in arunic pleasures, Ashmael found it hard to control their union.

Vaysh moved beneath him – with him – urging him on, and it took all of Ashmael’s discipline not to give in and tumble toward orgasm. He had to draw this out. Remembering Snake’s teachings, he concentrated on opening Vaysh’s seals until he finally reached the six seal that would grant him access to his lover’s cauldron of creation.

Vaysh had been lost in bliss and hadn’t registered what Ashmael was doing until a shock moved through his body. Fire burst from deep within his center and tried to engulf that part of Ashmael that was lodged deep inside him.

Ashmael groaned in pain. His eyes, big and surprised, sought out Vaysh’s. “What’s that?” The fire licked at his ouana-lim and Ashmael bit down the agony that coursed through his body. Yet, he refused to give up.

“I told you that Thiede burned me…” Vaysh’s eyes filled with tears. “And now I’m burning you… Stop this!” Only Ashmael could stop the pain by pulling out.

“No, I refuse to give in!” Ashmael called upon his inner strength and started to put into practice what Snake had taught him. The fire raging around him tried to burn him, but Ashmael used the energy which had been set free to calm the raging fire. The flames began to die down and the discomfort became bearable. Ashmael placed his hands on the bed on either side of Vaysh’s head and probed the watering eyes. “Don’t cry…”

“But I’m hurting you!” The bliss, the pleasure, which Vaysh had felt but a moment ago was quickly dwindling.

But Ashmael wouldn’t have it and rekindled the arunic ecstasy by sharing breath once more. Moving deeply inside his lover, he managed to recapture the magic of the moment and he used the bliss Vaysh radiated to aid him in his quest to heal the other har.

But since Ashmael was inexperienced in working arunic magic in this way, he failed to maintain their union for long and both toppled over and drowned in a sea of rapture. The waves inside Ashmael, cooling and steady, washed over the remaining fire that burned Vaysh. Once that tidal wave had passed, all that remained in Vaysh’s cauldron of creation was ash. The water had drowned the fire and they had taken the first step toward healing.

Vaysh caught Ashmael when the blond har collapsed on top of him. Instinctively, he tried to protect his lover by wrapping his arms around him. “What did you do?” He felt strange…Sensations which he had never felt before swirled inside him and caused him to feel adrift.

“I did…what Snake…suggested…I should do.” Ashmael felt crushed. Although he had experienced an orgasmic high like never before, he also felt drained. It made sense in a way though since he had poured much of his own energy and essence into Vaysh in order to smother the unholy fire that had been raging inside his lover.

Vaysh swallowed repeatedly, trying to discern what he was feeling. He felt odd. Something had changed. His body had changed. “I don’t know what to make of this!” A hint of panic echoed in his voice.

Ashmael lifted his head and managed to look into his chesnari’s eyes, which shone with fear and distress. “I subdued the fire that was raging inside you.”

Vaysh blinked. He felt calmer – more at peace – a bit more whole, if that was possible. He had witnessed Ashmael’s fight to put out that fire, which had been odd, since he’d had no idea it was raging inside him in the first place. “What do you think it was?”

Although utterly exhausted, Ashmael managed to answer his lover. “I tasted Thiede’s essence in that fire. I put it out.” His love had vanquished Thiede’s legacy. “I told you I loved you.” His love had been stronger than the Aghama’s meddling. Ashmael had found a way to undo the damage that Thiede had done when remaking Vaysh.

“He was careless,” Ashmael said and rested his head back onto Vaysh’s chest. “He left something behind that didn’t belong inside you. He should have put that fire out.” He was convinced that extinguishing that fire had been the first step toward healing Vaysh.

Vaysh cherished holding Ashmael in the afterglow of taking aruna. He felt different – that much was true. Something inside his body had first been turned off and then on again, but in a different way. “I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you when you said that your love would make a difference,” he confessed during the intimate moment. “I never doubted your love for me. I was just too afraid to hope that you…that we…that I…”

“That we could be together in this way again,” Ashmael finished for Vaysh. His lips brushed against an erect nipple and he gave in to temptation by letting his tongue dash out and licked the nub.

Vaysh chuckled. Although the flick of Ashmael’s tongue had been meant to be seductive, the wet caress had only had a tickling effect on him.

“And we will be together again,” Ashmael said, pleasantly dozing in the afterglow of aruna. “I intend to claim you again once I’m rested.” And then he would work again on healing the damage Thiede had done to Vaysh’s body. He smiled, realizing something important. “You feel warm.” When they had gotten into bed together, Vaysh’s skin had felt cold.

“I feel warm,” Vaysh confirmed and pressed a kiss onto the crown of Ashmael’s golden head. It seemed everything had turned out for the best for him and he could only hope that Pellaz and Cal would sort out their feelings like Ashmael and he had.

***

Cal made his way over to the cottage at dawn. The first rays of the sun accompanied him on his way and their warm glow encouraged him to follow through. For the last few days, he had been waiting for this moment.

Cal stepped into the cottage and halted a moment to get his bearings. Cobweb had explained the house’s layout to him and he made his way into the bedroom, expecting to find Pellaz there. His instincts didn’t fail him: there at the center of the bed curled around a pillow was Pellaz. The long dark hair lay fanned across the sheets and the eyes were closed in slumber. The blanket had moved down and revealed a naked torso. Long strands of dark hair moved along the chest and shoulders with each inhale of breath.

Pellaz had never looked more beautiful before and Cal’s heart swelled with love. At that moment, he forgave Pellaz everything. Cal forgave his chesnari for losing faith in him, for running away from him, and being suspicious of his reaction when Cal would learn about the pearl.

After drawing in a deep breath, Cal advanced on the bed, removed his clothes, and lay down on his side. He opened his arms and Pellaz promptly moved into them. In his sleep, Pellaz didn’t seem to register the fact that it wasn’t Vaysh holding him. The dark-haired har affectionately rubbed his cheek against Cal’s shoulder.

A sense of peace descended onto Cal and at that moment, he knew that they would overcome their difficulties.

***

Pellaz purred softly. The rays of the sun touched his face, telling him that morning had come and that it was time to wake up. Opening his eyes, Pellaz began to smile, but that smile froze the moment he saw it wasn’t Vaysh who was holding him. Cal’s eyes were probing his and an easy smile appeared on the other har’s face. “You found me,” he said, feeling breathless. He had thought it would take Cal longer to locate him!

“You didn’t exactly make it hard for me to find you,” Cal answered. It pained him to see apprehension in Pellaz’ eyes. They had to move past that if they wanted to rebuild their trust. “That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? For me to find you.” He could have started their conversation off with accusations and putting the blame on Pellaz, but he didn’t. Making Pellaz feel guilty for running away would make him clam up. This shouldn’t be about guilt – this had to be about love.

Pellaz realized that he had wrapped his arms around Cal in his sleep. Their limbs were entangled and there was no way he could free himself and take off. The moment of confrontation had come. “Yes, I hoped you would come after me.” Pellaz sucked in his breath when one of Cal’s hands moved lower until it rested against his abdomen. Cal stroked the skin there and Pellaz felt emotional, knowing why Cal was doing that. “Sheeva told you about the pearl.”

“Yes, I know about the pearl.” Cal stopped himself from saying, ‘You should have trusted me to accept this,’ for it wasn’t Pellaz’ fault that there was still so much of the human boy left inside the Tigron. He should have realized that before. Cal regretted not realizing earlier how vulnerable Pellaz really was. If he had, he wouldn’t have made certain choices. “I’m looking forward to having a harling running around. If he takes after you, he will drive everyone insane.”

Pellaz felt at a loss. Cal was there and talking about the harling like he was welcoming the new life. “But it’s Galdra’s.”

Cal remained calm and moved his other hand so he could rub Pellaz’ lower back. “I know that.” Pellaz’ nervous expression told him that his lover needed more reassurances. “I will love the harling like he was my own flesh and blood.”

Pellaz sucked in his breath. “Don’t lie to me! You will never accept this!”

Cal moved his hand away from Pellaz’ lower back until he could brush his chesnari’s lips with his thumb. “And why is that?”

“I betrayed you! You said so yourself! I should have had faith in you and I didn’t! Instead, I gave in and allowed Galdra to take your place!”

“You needed him at your side. I understand that now.” Cal smiled reassuringly at Pellaz. His chesnari could go through dramatic fits and throw impressive tantrums, and thankfully, Cal didn’t mind. Those episodes served to remind him of the fire and determination that had kept Pellaz going in his first life and in his second. As far as Cal was concerned, Pellaz was entitled to being dramatic at times. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. Until now, I didn’t fully understand just how much you needed me…how badly you need my support.” He truly hadn’t seen how much Pellaz needed him!

Pellaz was struck speechless and could only stare at Cal.

“I always thought of you as strong, Pell, so much stronger than me! You died, were remade, became Tigron, fought your enemies, and you never seemed to need me.”

“But I *do* need you! I need you so much!” Growing frantic, Pellaz buried his fingers in Cal’s fair hair and pulled the other har’s face closer to his. “You don’t know how much I need you!”

“Let it out,” Cal advised and tightened his hold on Pellaz.

“You don’t know how many times I cried at night because I missed you! Orien always told me to hide my tears and to never cry in public and I always heeded his advice. I always waited until I was alone. Cal, everywhere I looked, I hoped to see you. In my dreams, I heard your voice, felt your body pressed against mine, and when I woke up, I was alone. I’m not as strong as you think! I’m weak!” Pell had seldom voiced his feelings and doubts in such a way and as a result, he felt exhausted. He still hadn’t recovered from battling Ponclast and this emotional outburst had drained him further.

“Cal, I’m so sorry for failing you. I failed you in so many ways. I understand that you can never forgive me for turning to Galdra. Why did you come after me in the first place? You would be happier with Panthera!” He closed his eyes, since he didn’t want to see the expression in Cal’s eyes.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Cal said and brushed Pellaz’ brow with his lips. “I loved Terzian… I fell for Panthera… I’m not perfect either, so why should I expect you to be infallible?” Cal’s fingertips ghosted over Pellaz’ eyelids. “Look at me, Pell.”

Pellaz still felt nervous when he opened his eyes to look at Cal.

“I love you, Pell. It’s as simple as that. We all make mistakes and I made my fair share as well.” Cal inched closer and pressed his lips against Pellaz’ ear. “I didn’t realize how much you needed me, Pell. I didn’t know that you think of me as the strong one in this relationship.”

“But I do,” Pell admitted in a soft and vulnerable voice. “I need you. I always did… I always will. Without you I’m nothing.”

Cal felt relieved as he braved the emotional storm and pressed his lips against Pellaz’. “I love you, Pell, and I will love your son. We will be happy.” He thought it still too early to bring up Galdra’s presence in Forever. He would do that later.

Pellaz’ hand trembled when he reached out to touch Cal’s face. “Thank you, Cal… Thank you for coming after me and understanding why I ran. Thank you for accepting this…” he said and moved Cal’s hand back to his abdomen. “I’m scared, you know. I never hosted a pearl before.”

“I will be there for you all the way,” Cal promised. Judging the time was right to take the next step, he rolled Pellaz on top of him. The blanket glided down Pellaz’ body and revealed more bare skin. Cal didn’t mind one bit. He relished running his fingers down Pellaz’ chest. “We need both this, Pell… We need to take aruna…and we need to do it *now*.”

Pellaz nodded his head. He still felt nervous though. “Are you sure you still want me? After what happened with Galdra?”

“I will always want you.” Cal pushed his hands beneath Pellaz’ buttocks and lifted him until his chesnari hovered about his oauna-lim, which was ready to slither into Pell’s body.

Pellaz’ heart missed a beat as he realized that Cal was really going through with this. “I hoped it would be like this.” He threw back his head and moaned the moment Cal lowered him.

Cal brought his hands up behind Pellaz’ back and pulled his chesnari close until Pell rested his head against a shoulder. Normally, he wasn’t one to talk much during aruna, but he had to ask, “Why does this feel different?”

Pellaz looked Cal in the eye and forgot to breathe. What had he done wrong?

Cal blinked. Being with Pell felt much more powerful than it had ever before. It was a novel experience and one which Cal failed to label.

“Maybe it’s because I’m with pearl?” It was the most likely explanation, but Pellaz hated having to voice it aloud. It made it once more clear just how much he had betrayed Cal.

Since they were joined, Cal easily caught Pellaz’ thoughts. /It will take you a long time to forgive yourself. You blame yourself for something you shouldn’t feel guilty about. You did what you had to do. If you hadn’t become close to Galdra, you wouldn’t have been able to perform Grissecon and Ponclast might have won. You falling in love with Galdra was meant to happen./ The moment he thought it, he knew it was the truth.

/I can’t believe that./ Pellaz clung to his guilt because it was the only link he had with Galdra and, although he loved Cal so much that it hurt, he also cared about the other har.

/I can accept this, Pell,/ Cal said in mind-touch. He enfolded Pellaz in a tight embrace and then let go, releasing his love and desire.

Aruna with Cal had always been intense, but now, Cal was taking it a step further and all Pell could do was to surrender to the emotions coursing through him. Cal offered him his soul to explore and although Pellaz was hesitant to explore at first, he did so later, after Cal coaxed him into probing his feelings.

Pellaz found love, desire, acceptance, and a measure of regret. Cal experienced a certain amount of guilt as well, because he hadn’t realized just how much his chesnari had needed him. “I’m only strong when you are at my side,” Pellaz said, needing to voice the words aloud as well while pouring them into Cal’s mind. “I draw my strength from you.”

“I never realized that,” Cal replied, still feeling surprised. “You’re Tigron, Pellaz… I never felt like I deserved that title. I did nothing to earn it.”

“You put up with me,” Pellaz retorted, only half joking. “That should earn you the title.”

Cal’s heart burst with love for Pellaz as they managed to sort out their feelings. “Then let me make you happy.” Cal wanted nothing more than to ride those waves of passion with Pellaz.

Pellaz shared breath with Cal, let go of any doubts he might have had, and trusted himself to his chesnari. And this time, Cal rose to the challenge, enfolded him in love and trust, and together, they soared on wings of lust.

***

“Did they show themselves yet?” Caeru, who had joined Galdra and Swift for breakfast, cast a curious look at the door to Ashmael’s room. Nibbling on some bread, he grinned at Cobweb and Snake when the two hara approached the breakfast table.

“Not yet,” Cobweb said as he seated himself. “That’s a good sign, don’t you think so?”

“I do,” Caeru answered, agreeing with Cobweb. “Though, I must admit to being surprised that Vaysh allowed himself to be conquered that easily. I assumed it would take Ashmael days, if not weeks, of wooing Vaysh before he would give in.”

Snake shrugged his shoulders and then sipped his tea. “Vaysh loves Ashmael and they have been apart for a long time.”

Caeru inclined his head. “You’re probably right. I’m happy they’re back together again. Ashmael has always been a good friend and a trusted ally and Vaysh…there was always something sad beneath his cold and bitter exterior.” His gaze shifted to Galdra and he became aware of the worried expression in those eyes. “What are you thinking of?”

Galdra blinked and focused when Caeru addressed him. “Pellaz and Cal, of course.”

“I wouldn’t worry about those two,” Cobweb said in-between bites of bread. “They will sort things out.”

“Do you expect Cal to contact us to let us know what has happened?” Galdra looked at the food, but didn’t feel hungry. He was too worried to eat. “I want them to be together again. I would gladly disappear if that would get them together again. I still don’t understand why Cal brought me here. I have no business here.”

Someone delicately cleared his throat and Galdra’s gaze traveled to the doorway. He smiled as he saw a rather disheveled and shy Vaysh standing there, dressed in a morning robe. Vaysh had a deep love bite on his throat and tried to hide the mark beneath his hair, but it still showed. Galdra chuckled. It was obvious that Ashmael had gotten his way with Vaysh.

“Cobweb is right,” Vaysh said in a remarkably tender voice. “Pellaz and Cal love each other. They will be all right.”

“And what about you?” Snake inclined his head and gestured for Vaysh to take a seat at the table. “You look like you’re hungry.”

Vaysh let his hair fall in front of his face and hid behind it when he seated himself next to Caeru since that was the only vacant chair. “I’m hungry, yes.” And he felt shy. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this shy.

Cobweb piled a large amount of food onto a plate and placed it in front of Vaysh. “Eat!”

“What did you do to Ashmael that he allowed you to leave his room? Tie him to the bed?” Caeru asked teasingly. To his amusement, Vaysh’s blush deepened. “You didn’t, did you?”

“No, of course I didn’t!” Vaysh felt embarrassed.

“Pity,” Cobweb deadpanned.

Vaysh’s head shot upward and he stared at the har. “What did you say?”

“We’re teasing you!” Swift said quickly, trying to reassure the flustered har. He didn’t know Vaysh like this!

“Then stop doing that!” Vaysh peeked at the doorway from behind a curtain of red hair and, as expected, saw Ashmael standing there with only a blanket wrapped around him. If Vaysh looked scruffy, Ashmael looked drained, but in a good way. The blue eyes twinkled with love.

“There you are! You picked my pocket!” Ashmael pointed a finger at his chesnari.

“I was hungry! I needed to eat something and you locked the door! I needed that key!” Vaysh didn’t back down and returned Ashmael’s glare. His lover had never intimidated him. He knew Ashmael too well to fall for the display of mock anger.

“You should have collected some food and then have returned to my room!” Ashmael made his way over to Vaysh and leaned in closer to whisper into Vaysh’s ear. “You *know* what I intend to do to you now that you’re awake again and I’m rested.”

Caeru chuckled at seeing Vaysh’s eyes widen with embarrassment. “Don’t keep Ashmael waiting, Vaysh.” Vaysh gave him an icy glare and for one moment Vaysh resembled the bitter har Caeru knew so well. But then Ashmael licked along the curve of Vaysh’s throat and the ice thawed.

Ashmael took hold of Vaysh’s filled plate and curled the fingers of his other hand around his chesnari’s wrist. “Come with me. We’re going to take aruna again…and again…” He was going to do it as many times as was necessary to see Vaysh whole again.

Vaysh thought it best to give in and save face by following Ashmael willingly. Ashmael closed the door behind them, but not before giving them a conspiring wink.

Part 8

Cal showered Pellaz’ face with kisses and then his lips descended lower to treat his chesnari’s throat to the same amount of kisses. He didn’t want any part of his lover’s body to feel neglected. Pellaz had dozed off after they had taken aruna and Cal used the opportunity to really study Pellaz’ face. He had been displeased to find that tiny wrinkles were etched onto Pellaz’ brow. They hadn’t been there when he had left to do Thiede’s bidding.

Pellaz shifted and squirmed once Cal’s lips moved lower still and the sweet kisses roused him from his sleep. He opened his eyes and smiled lazily at Cal, whose tongue left a wet trail all over his abdomen. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” Cal gave Pellaz a predatory look and then placed another, this time sloppy, kiss onto the abdomen, where the pearl was growing. “I delivered a pearl once… I will guide you through it, and then there is also Cobweb. He knows best how to guide you through the hosting process.” His fingers wickedly curled around Pellaz’ ouana-lim, trying to rouse this part of Pellaz as well. His efforts paid off: Pellaz was ready for him.

Pellaz placed his hands on Cal’s narrow hips and guided him when the blond har lowered himself onto his ouana-lim. Cal in his soume aspect was a bewitching sight and Pellaz would never get enough of having his chesnari in that way.

***

Later, while taking aruna had left Cal feeling invigorated, Pellaz had grown tired once more. They had cuddled up together beneath the blankets and had wrapped arms and legs around each other. Pellaz lay contentedly in Cal’s arms and listened to his lover drawing in deep breaths. His hand rested on Cal’s chest and moved up and down with each inhalation and exhalation. He had missed this – being so close to Cal.

“I’m happy,” Pellaz mumbled, running his fingertips over Cal’s chest.

“Excellent, then I did a good job,” Cal answered, chuckling softly, but then sobered. “Pell, there’s something which we still need to discuss.” Pellaz tensed against him and Cal moved in such a way that they were lying on their sides and facing each other.

”What? I thought we had already discussed everything.” Pellaz cringed. Something was clearly still wrong and he had been under the illusion that they had sorted everything out!

“We’re fine, Pell. The two of us are in love and we’re fine,” Cal said quickly to reassure the other har. “But we need to discuss Galdra.” Pellaz tensed further against him and Cal took to rubbing soothing circles on the other har’s back.

“There’s nothing to say. I made a mistake… And Galdra paid the price.” He knew that Galdra truly loved him and he hated himself for denying the other har, but he had made his choice. Cal had to come first.

“Galdra’s here. I brought him to Forever with me.” Cal sucked in his breath as he saw Pellaz’ eyes widen. His chesnari was shocked to hear this. “Pellaz, did you really think you could cut him out of your life like that? He made you with pearl. Once our harling is old enough he will need to know the truth.”

“And what is that truth?” Cold fear spread through Pellaz’ body.

“That he has one hostling and two fathers,” Cal answered. He knew he had spoken the right words when Pellaz relaxed against him. “You must speak with Galdra.”

“And tell him what?” Pellaz closed his eyes so he didn’t have to look into Cal’s. “I could apologize to him… Tell him to sail home and forget about me.”

“Pell, you haven’t heard a single word I have said!” Cal shook Pellaz until the eyes opened again. “You need Galdra as much you need me.”

Pellaz shook his head. “I need only you.” But in his heart, he knew it was a lie.

“Pellaz, I don’t feel threatened. I talked to Galdra and I know he feels guilty for what happened, just as you feel guilty. But what the two of you seem to forget is that I decide what I feel and I don’t feel angry with you – or Galdra – not now that I understand why it happened.” Cal caressed Pell’s face. “It wouldn’t be fair to the harling to cut Galdra out of his life.”

Pellaz resigned himself to the situation. “What do you want me to do?”

Pellaz’ question surprised Cal, but after thinking it over, he seized the chance to influence his chesnari’s decisions and said, “I want you to keep an open mind when you talk to Galdra. And I want to be present when the two of you meet.” He had the feeling things would go wrong if he left Pellaz in charge of that conversation. Pellaz just didn’t seem to understand that Cal was okay with including Galdra in their life!

Pellaz felt relieved at hearing that request. “I want you to be there because I have no idea what to say to Galdra.”

“I will help you,” Cal promised. Now that he realized that Pell depended on him in emotional matters, he would guide and support Pellaz wherever he could.

***

Ashmael couldn’t even lift his little finger at the present. He had taken aruna with Vaysh four times and each time he felt more exhausted, but they were making progress. Each time they entered Vaysh’s cauldron of creation the room looked more balanced and a warm, golden glow had welcomed them the last time. “You’re getting better,” Ashmael whispered into Vaysh’s ear.

Vaysh knew it was the truth. He felt different. He felt like the har he had been decades ago. He felt balanced, whole, and his skin felt warm instead of cold. Idly, he ran his fingers through Ashmael’s tangled mass of hair. “We should take a bath…” They had been in bed for hours and their bodies had become layered with fine sweat.

“Not on my account. I love the way you smell right now.” Ashmael nuzzled Vaysh’s throat and encountered the love bite he had left behind there. “Mine,” he growled possessively.

The word, the tone, and the growl made Vaysh’s toes curl and reminded him of the happy times when they had been young and carefree. That had been before Thiede had entered their life. “Ash?”

Ashmael reluctantly stopped nuzzling and licking Vaysh’s throat and raised his gaze to look into Vaysh’s gray eyes. “Yes?”

“I love you, Ash…” The next admission wasn’t so easy to make though. “If we fail…if you can’t heal me and I can never be with pearl… Ash, I find it so hard to believe that you want me in your life even if we can’t have harlings…”

Ashmael placed a finger against Vaysh’s lips and forced his chesnari to stop talking. “I want you in my life, with or without pearl. But, Vaysh, don’t worry too much about that. Each time we enter the cauldron of creation, it looks more welcoming and it feels warm in there… Like it’s preparing to host new life. Don’t give up. We’re making good progress.”

Vaysh sighed. He wished he shared Ashmael’s faith, but if he was to believe the blond har, it didn’t matter if he got with pearl or not. Ashmael wanted him at any rate.

“Yes, that’s it…” Ashmael whispered. He had caught the echo of Vaysh’s thoughts and smiled. “I want you at any rate. Don’t think I’m letting you get away from me again.”

Vaysh leaned in closer, pressed his lips against Ashmael’s, and they shared breath. This time, he poured his love into the kiss — his unconditional love — and Ashmael reacted in the same way, sharing his feelings as well. Maybe Ash was right; maybe being chesna was enough…

***

Galdra felt uncomfortable upon entering the cottage. He didn’t want to confront Cal and Pellaz, but Cobweb had assured him it was necessary. Cobweb had received a mind-touch from Cal, telling him to send Galdra to the cottage. Galdra had protested at first, but Cobweb had been persistent and had told him to leave.

Standing on the threshold, Galdra felt like his life was going to change forever. Inside the cottage, Cal and Pellaz were waiting for him and the conversation they were going to have would greatly impact his life.

“Good, you made it here!” Cal walked toward Galdra and pulled him along. For one brief moment, strands of their blond hair reached for each other and tangled. Cal merely laughed and separated his hair from Galdra’s. All of Pellaz’ lovers sported fair hair…and he doubted it was a coincidence. Pellaz had chosen lovers who resembled Cal in appearance.

Pellaz had curled up on the couch. He looked miserable and was only doing this because Cal wanted him to. He didn’t have to make eye contact with Galdra to know that the other har had entered the room. A fresh sea breeze suddenly engulfed him and the song of sea gulls echoed in his ears. He had experienced those sensations whenever he had been intimate with Galdra.

“Sit down,” Cal said and took charge of the situation. Pellaz wasn’t exactly pouting…or being dramatic by being silent. Cal had the distinct impression that Pellaz didn’t know how to handle the situation. He had never fully realized that Pellaz was somewhat emotionally handicapped. The younger har just didn’t know how to act.

Galdra seated himself at some distance from Pellaz. Out of concern, he studied the somewhat haggard face. It was obvious that Pellaz had gone through rough times and was still recovering. He wanted to pull Pellaz into his arms and hold him, but didn’t dare make such a move with Cal present. It didn’t look like Pellaz would welcome such an embrace.

Cal sighed and shook his head. It seemed neither Galdra nor Pell was going to take the first step. Looking closely at Galdra, Cal noticed how the other har’s fingers opened and closed. He correctly interpreted that gesture and said, “Galdra, why don’t you hold Pellaz? I believe he needs the contact.” He didn’t ask Pell to reach out to Galdra, knowing instinctively that his chesnari wouldn’t comply. Galdra however might. Galdra exchanged a look with Cal and, after Cal had nodded his head, moved closer to Pellaz. Pellaz tried to move away from Galdra, but had reached the end of the couch. He had to stay put.

Galdra made good use of this and slowly raised his arms to envelop Pellaz in a hug. After all, Cal had given him permission!

“Don’t,” Pellaz hissed and then raised an accusing gaze to look at Cal. What had possessed Cal to give Galdra that order?
”Galdra, do it.” Cal moved closer and squatted in front of Pellaz. He stood his ground and returned the angry glare. Galdra finally folded his arms around Pellaz and pulled the other har close.

Pellaz’ resistance melted. Galdra smelled of the sea, of salt, and wind. The waves of the ocean vibrated in his ears and he yielded to the storm of Galdra’s love.

Galdra was thrilled to feel Pellaz press closer. Caught up in the moment, he forgot that Cal was present and raised Pellaz’ head until they made eye contact. He saw anguish in those eyes and was determined to sooth the distressed har. “It’s all right,” he whispered and brushed Pellaz’ lips with his. Sharing breath had always been special with Pellaz. Sometimes, sharing breath had felt even more intense than taking aruna, and this time, it was even more powerful because Pellaz instantly yielded to him.

Amused, Cal watched the two hara share breath. He sensed Galdra’s surprise and Pellaz’s need. This need was different from what he felt when he was with Pellaz. It was strong and overwhelming and Cal realized that Galdra had become a source of strength for Pellaz. The fatigue that had tormented Pellaz the last few days left the large eyes and Pellaz practically crawled onto Galdra’s lap in an effort to be closer to the other har.

“Pellaz…stop this…” Galdra had become aware of Cal’s scrutinizing look and tried to pull away.

Pellaz however refused to release Galdra. He needed more. He still felt weak and Galdra’s essence was strong and promised healing.

“Pellaz, stop it!”

Galdra’s firm tone shook Pellaz from his trance-like state. Horrified, he realized what he had done and pushed Galdra away from him. He tumbled onto the couch and crawled back toward his end. He sought out Cal’s gaze and desperately tried to think of an excuse for his misbehavior.

“Pell, it’s all right. I understand.” Cal moved forward and gathered Pellaz’ hands in his. “You chose well. There’s great strength in Galdra and you need that strength. I can see that.”

“But…” Pellaz tried to make sense of what Cal had just said. “I lost control again. I didn’t want to share breath with him!” He didn’t want Cal to think that he was disloyal to his chesnari.

Cal decided he had to take action and he did so by releasing Pell’s hands and reaching for Galdra instead. He pulled the other har close and kissed him on the lips.

Galdra was too surprised to push Cal away and the kiss became sharing breath.

All Pellaz could do was sit there and stare at Cal sharing breath with Galdra. He felt bewildered and wondered if everyone had gone mad.

Cal pushed Galdra onto his back and deepened the sharing of breath to the point where he exchanged memories and emotions with Galdra. Once he was convinced that he had gotten his point across, he broke off contact. “Do you understand?”

Galdra nodded once. Cal was secure in his love for Pellaz and trusted Pellaz unconditionally. As far as Galdra was concerned that was a tremendous gift, especially considering what Pellaz and he had done during Cal’s absence.

“Strengthen him, Galdra. You have done so before. We compliment each other in that way.” He had helped Pellaz recover emotionally and it was Galdra’s vocation to do so physically.

Pellaz felt lost. Confused, he looked from one har to the other. He must have misunderstood! But suddenly Galdra was atop of him, the other har’s lips claimed his and Pellaz once more floated on that immense sea of Galdra’s love. Dazed, he realized that Cal was parting his legs and that Galdra’s ouani-lim was entering him. The next moment, Cal was sharing breath with him and Galdra was moving deep inside him. Both sensations felt so familiar that Pellaz let go of his fears. He buried his fingers in Cal’s mane and surrendered himself to Galdra.

Galdra, who also felt dazed, saw when Cal finally released Pellaz’ lips. The blond har then grabbed hold of his head and pulled him close. Galdra still tasted Pellaz’ essence on Cal’s lips and during the sharing of breath it felt like Pellaz was kissing him and not Cal.

In the end, Pellaz couldn’t take any more and a large amount of power gathered in his center. It was too much to contain, even for Pellaz, and he had no choice but to release it.

***

At the mansion, Vaysh and Ashmael clung to each other. They had once more entered the cauldron of creation and were doing their best to create a pearl. But taking aruna that many times had exhausted Ashmael and his attempt at creating this pearl was half-hearted. He needed time to recover before they could try again.

Suddenly, a surge of energy shot through them, making their bodies glow and quiver. Ashmael growled, feeling empowered and then it happened. An arrow shot from his ouana-lim and into the cauldron of creation. Aren shot from his ouana-lim and, at that moment, they both knew what had happened. They didn’t know *how* it had happened. They only knew they had succeeded. They had just created new life… Vaysh was with pearl.

***

Pellaz still felt dazed long after aruna had ended. Galdra hadn’t even bothered to take his clothes off and Pellaz had found his morning robe torn. What exactly had happened during those frantic moments remained a mystery to him when he found himself lying in between Galdra and Cal. Sometime during aruna, they must have tumbled from the couch and had ended up on the rug.

Cal felt bemused, seeing Pellaz’ stunned expression. Maybe Pellaz was beginning to understand what kind of future Cal had in mind for them. “I won’t ever begrudge you Galdra’s presence, Pellaz.”

Galdra, although feeling calmer than Pellaz, was still surprised at what had happened between the three of them. Never, not even in his wildest dreams, had he imagined that *this* was what Cal had in mind for them.

“I don’t deserve you,” Pellaz whispered the words in an adoring voice and ran his fingertips along Cal’s jaw. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but…” Some sort of foreboding told him that Cal hadn’t revealed all of his plans to them.

“Yes, I brought Caeru too. He’s still wondering why I insisted he joined us.” Cal fingered a lock of Pellaz’ dark hair and smiled. “I know that there are still some unresolved matters between the two of you and, since the three of us know where we stand, it has become necessary for you to find out what your feelings are where Caeru is concerned.”

Galdra listened, but didn’t speak.

“Cal, I don’t understand any of this,” Pellaz admitted.

“Cobweb told me that our love is at the base of this relationship, Pellaz. Your love and mine. We are the foundation.” Cal smiled at a bewildered looking Pellaz. “Galdra, Caeru, and I, you need us in order to complete you. I don’t pretend that I understand the mechanics, but one thing has become clear to me. Now that we know where we stand, we can include Galdra and Caeru in our lives.”

Pellaz was amazed to find that Cal’s words made sense to him. “I should talk to Caeru alone. I owe him that.”

“You owe Caeru a lot of answers,” Cal said thoughtfully. “I will tell Cobweb to send Caeru to the cottage.”

Pellaz gazed into Cal’s eyes and, at the same time, caressed Galdra’s hair. “When I left Immanion, I never thought this would happen.”

“We have Caeru to thank for these insights and, in a way, Ashmael.”

“And Vaysh taught me a few things too,” Pellaz said. “Send for Caeru then. I should do this now.” Cal was right: he did owe Caeru a lot and it was time to make amends.

***

Caeru didn’t know what to make of Cal’s ‘summons’ to join them at the cottage. Of all the hara involved, he had the least right to be there. He knew that Pellaz loved Galdra and that he adored Cal, but why would Pellaz need him, Caeru, there? During the last few years, they had begun to build a friendship, but the tension had always remained.

From the way Pellaz was shifting on his chair, Caeru surmised that the other har felt as uncomfortable as he did and that they had both been forced into this situation. Trying to break the ice, Caeru asked, “Where are Cal and Galdra?”

“They went for a walk. Cal wanted us to have a moment in private.” Cal had also told him that it was up to him to make this work and Pellaz knew that he owed it to Caeru to make things work.

Hearing that didn’t reassure Caeru and his anxiety increased. “Maybe I should look for them and tell them to join us?” Caeru rose from his chair. He was eager to flee the tense situation, but then Pellaz was beside him and had curled his fingers around his wrist, stopping him. “Pellaz, what do you want?” Caeru asked eventually, preferring to deal with things directly.

Pellaz went down on his knees in front of Caeru and stared into the other har’s eyes. “Do you remember that you wanted to die after they stole our pearl?”

Caeru sat down again and shivered. Yes, he remembered those dreadful nights. Someone had cut the pearl out of his body and had left him to die. He would have died if it hadn’t been for Pellaz, who had used his healing powers to pull him through. Pellaz had given everything he was to stop him from dying while he had only wanted to die!

“Must you remind me?” Caeru asked bitterly. He still mourned losing the pearl, even though he had never been comfortable hosting it. The attack had changed his life in many ways. That attack had made it impossible for him to ever host a pearl again…but it had also brought Pellaz and him closer together. Even after all this time, Caeru wondered why Pellaz hadn’t let him die. Once the Tigrina was dead the Tigron would be free.

“I still owe you an answer,” Pellaz answered and rested his head on Caeru’s lap.

Caeru gave in and soothed Pellaz by stroking the dark hair. “All you told me was that you didn’t want me to die. You never gave me a real reason for keeping me alive.”

Pellaz closed his eyes and savored Caeru’s gentle touch. “I didn’t want you to die because I still love you, Caeru. I tried to hate you, but I never quite managed that. I hated myself for the way I treated you. Caeru, why must everything be so complicated? Why can’t things be simple?”

“You’re Tigron. Your life will never be easy, Pell.” Caeru didn’t know how to react to Pellaz’ admission that he still loved him. “Pellaz, is it true? Do you still love me? Tell me, I deserve the truth.”

Pellaz gathered his courage and raised his head. He met Caeru’s stunned gaze and nodded his head once. “I never stopped loving you.”

Caeru’s hand froze in its movement and then dropped into his lap. “Why are you telling me this now? It would have been best if you had kept this to yourself.” He had never stopped loving Pellaz in turn and Pellaz knew that.

“Because Cal taught me something.”

“What did he teach you?” Caeru cocked his head and felt entranced as he looked at Pellaz’ face which seemed to glow with affection.

“He taught me that loving you doesn’t mean I love him less. I don’t know how Cal accomplished this, but he made me see that love can co-exist. Caeru, I have been cruel to you in the past and I know that apologizing for my actions means nothing to you.”

“Don’t say that. It means something to me that you’re sorry.” Caeru wasn’t certain any of this was really happening, but when Pellaz pulled him onto the floor, he obeyed and knelt next to the other har.

“Pell, what do you think you’re doing?” He had seen that look in Pellaz’ eyes once before, but that had been many years ago. That night, they had taken aruna and he had ended up with pearl. Even after all this time, Caeru found comfort in the fact that Pellaz had loved him once. “You say you still love me, but…”

Pellaz now knew how Cal must have felt when he had made Cal come after him. Caeru had been waiting for him to come to him all this time and he had been too blind to see it. “Let this be about love, Caeru. Let this be about healing, and maybe a new beginning, if you want that.” He laid Caeru down on the rug and covered him with his body. “I want to make you a promise,” he said. “I promise you that I will never be cruel to you again and I will make amends for all the pain I caused you in the past.”

“All I ever wanted was for you to love me back,” Caeru whispered. He was only faintly aware of the fact that Pellaz was removing their clothing. Skin-against-skin, they inched closer, sharing breath like they had that first time.

Pellaz was trying hard to recapture the magic that had taken hold of them that first night. Caeru had trusted him unconditionally and only that had made it possible for Caeru to become with pearl. But since Caeru could no longer host a pearl, it wasn’t Pellaz’ intention to create one. He intended to heal and soothe, to make amends, and to make things right between the two of them.

“You’re a part of me…like Cal and Galdra,” Pellaz said as he claimed his consort in a gentle and tender way. Caeru had already known too much agony in the past and he didn’t want to add to the other har’s anguish. He wanted this union to be about love and forgiveness.

Caeru’s eyes filled with tears. They flowed down his face and dripped onto his chest. “Pell, I…” Things had been like this the first time they had taken aruna, but Pellaz had never made him feel like that ever again – until now. Moving together, Caeru surrendered to Pellaz.

Pellaz took good care of Caeru’s needs and did everything he could to make this encounter good for his lover. Not simply because he owed Caeru, but because he still loved that har that had enchanted him so many years ago.

Part 9

Vaysh sat upright in bed and moved his hands over his abdomen. “This is impossible, Ash. This can’t be.” But his body told him that his dearest wish had been fulfilled. He was with pearl, Ash’s pearl.

Ashmael sat with his back reclined against the pillows that he had piled against the headboard of the bed. The expression on his face was smug and pleased. “I told you it would work,” he said proudly. The bewildered look in Vaysh’s eyes told Ashmael that his lover needed a bit more time to accept that they had succeeded, but he didn’t mind that.

Vaysh shook his head. “But I’m barren.”

“You *were* barren.” Ashmael moved closer and pulled Vaysh into his arms. The red head came to rest against his shoulder and Ashmael hummed softly in an effort to calm his chesnari. “You’re hosting our pearl now. Just like you wanted.”

Vaysh couldn’t help it as he began to sob softly. “All these years we could have been together… We could have tried this earlier, but instead, I kept you at a distance!”

Ashmael stroked the red hair and smiled ruefully. “It’s not your fault, Vaysh. I could have made more of an effort to get you back. I took the easy way out too.”

“What’s going to happen when we return to Immanion?” Vaysh was realistic to know that their life in Forever couldn’t continue. Reality would claim them quickly enough. After all, Immanion’s two Tigrons and the Tigrina were all in Forever. Tharmifex had probably had several fits when he had realized ruling Immanion was up to him.

Ashmael pulled away so he could make eye-contact with Vaysh. His smile changed from rueful to pleased. “You will live at my estate. It will be your new home.” Ashmael indulged himself and ran his fingers along Vaysh’s bruised bottom lip. He had gotten carried away during aruna and his kisses had become possessive – not that Vaysh had minded though. “I will look after you and after our pearl has hatched, I will be the best father to our harling and the best chesnari you could wish for.”

Vaysh leaned into the caress by cocking his head and Ashmael’s fingers left his bruised lips to caress his cheek. “I’m so happy that I’m afraid something terrible will happen.” Vaysh didn’t have to speak his fears aloud, knowing that Ashmael already knew his thoughts.

“Thiede will leave you alone, I promise you that. I won’t let him get close to you.” Ashmael still felt angry with Thiede. Thiede could have told them that Vaysh could be healed!

Vaysh grew pale when he caught Ashmael’s thoughts. “I doubt I’m that important to him that he worries about my well-being, Ash.”

“That’s unforgivable!” Ashmael gently pushed Vaysh onto his back and once his chesnari was stretched out, Ashmael rested his head against Vaysh’s abdomen.

The gesture made Vaysh chuckle. “Ash, it’s much too early for you to detect our pearl in that way! Maybe you will hear or feel something stir in a week or two!”

“That’s not it… You feel soft and warm, that’s all I care about.” Ashmael placed his hands around Vaysh’s waist and snuggled up to him. “Feels good,” he mumbled as he finally succumbed to fatigue.

“Feels perfect,” Vaysh agreed.

~~~***

Vaysh, unlike Ashmael, had been unable to go to sleep and was still awake when the sun started to set over Forever. His body had changed and he was aware of the fact that those changes had led to him hosting a pearl. He didn’t really understand how Ashmael had made that happen, but he accepted it nonetheless.

The door was pushed ajar and Cobweb appeared in the doorway. The dark-haired har remained motionless and waited for permission to advance since he didn’t want to intrude on a private situation.

“You can come closer. Ash’s asleep,” Vaysh said. He actually welcomed Cobweb’s presence because it gave him a chance to talk to a har who had hosted before.

Cobweb, perhaps sensing the questions Vaysh had for him, approached and sat down on the side of the bed. He moved carefully so as to not awake Ashmael. He greeted Vaysh with a smile and let his hand hover above the other har’s abdomen. “I am right then. I thought I had sensed something…” Cobweb, who had been taking aruna with Snake during the time that Pellaz had released that overflow of power, had sensed the power going instead to Ashmael’s bedroom. “You’re with pearl. You’re no longer barren.”

“Thanks to Ash.”

The love that shone from Vaysh’s eyes made Cobweb smile brilliantly. “You have changed since your arrival. When you got here, you were bitter and distant. Now your eyes are filled with love and desire.”
”It’s Ash,” Vaysh said softly. “I love him and he loves me.”

Cobweb nodded his head once. “And now you’re hosting his pearl.”

“Cobweb, what must I expect? I don’t know what will happen once it’s time for the pearl to be delivered.”

“The birthing can be painful,” Cobweb answered honestly. “But trust me…that pain will change to bliss the moment your pearl hatches and you can take your harling into your arms. It was like that for me with Swift. Once I held him in my arms and he smiled back at me, I realized everything had been worth it.”

Their voices had woken Ashmael, but he kept his eyes closed and pretended to sleep since he didn’t want to accidentally put an end to their conversation. He was just as curious as Vaysh.

“You might crave more or less aruna… But looking at you, I’d say taking aruna with Ashmael does you good and you will crave more.” Cobweb chuckled.

Vaysh had the grace to blush. “I already exhausted Ash.”

“Don’t worry. He’s strong and will recover.” Cobweb reached for Vaysh and brushed the red hair behind the other har’s ears as he wanted to see the face. Vaysh’s features were no longer sunken, his skin had gained color, and the eyes glowed with love. “Finally, it’s the way it’s supposed to be for the two of you. That makes me happy.”

Ashmael’s eyes opened and his gaze fastened on Cobweb. There was something he had to say after all. “I couldn’t have done it without Snake and you. Your advice that aruna could heal Vaysh… It sounded unbelievable to me at first, but Snake is the living example of the fact that aruna can heal.”

“I’m glad Snake and I could help.” Cobweb patted Vaysh’s abdomen and then rose from the bed. “I hope you will stay a few more days.” He turned to make his way for the doorway, but then stopped, turned around, and added, “And when the time for the birthing comes, you’re more than welcome here, Vaysh. Maybe it will help when you get away from Immanion at the time.” In Forever, the birthing might go smoother.

“Thank you,” Ashmael answered. “We accept.” One look at Vaysh had told him that his lover was agreeable to the idea.

Cobweb left and closed the door behind him. The thought that a new harling would grace Forever with its presence shortly filled him with happiness.

***

Galdra used the walk as an opportunity to discuss their current situation with Cal. He still felt insecure regarding his position in Pellaz’ life, but Cal waved his worries away with the flick of his wrist.

“It’s already working – this arrangement,” Cal said. “Why are you still worried?”

“Because…when Pellaz talked about you he made you seem larger than life. It doesn’t feel right that I should be included in his life in that way. I always thought there was only room for you.”

Cal shook his head. “Pellaz needs all three of us.”

“Three?” For one moment, Galdra felt confused, but then he understood. “Caeru.”

“Each one of us has something different to offer, which Pell needs.” Cal felt at ease with that. Cobweb had been right: Pellaz and he were the foundation of the house and Galdra and Caeru had moved into different rooms of Pellaz’ heart. It helped that Cal liked Galdra and Caeru. Having them in his life would enrich it and he was secure enough in Pellaz’ love for him to accept all this.

Upon approaching the house, Cal smiled. Everything was at peace and quiet. Had Pellaz managed to handle the situation successfully after all? Cal had had doubts when he had left Pellaz to sort out his feelings where the Tigrina was concerned, but he had put his faith in Pellaz. All four of them had learned and grown mentally. “Let’s be quiet,” Cal said as he snuck into the cottage. He was curious to find out what had happened.

Galdra followed Cal, but shook his head at the same time. What if they were intruding? But that possibility didn’t seem to bother Cal.

“Oh, look at that!” Grinning, Cal leaned against the doorway and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Galdra followed the direction of Cal’s gaze and smiled as well as he saw Pellaz curled around a dozing Caeru. Since both hara were naked it wasn’t hard to deduce what had happened.

Pellaz, who was awake, looked up and saw Cal and Galdra standing there. At long last, he too understood how things were supposed to be. “Join us.”

Galdra blinked at hearing that, but Cal was already moving toward Pellaz and Caeru. Cal didn’t bother to undress. He lay down in front of Caeru and pulled the sleeping Tigrina close. Raising one hand, he rested it on Pellaz’ hip. “Galdra?”

Realizing he had no way to fight this – and Galdra didn’t really want to fight this – he complied and spooned up behind Pellaz. The four of them moved closer and Caeru’s eyes suddenly opened and revealed surprise.

It didn’t take Caeru long to figure out who had joined them. Looking into Cal’s sparkling eyes, Caeru swallowed hard. “You planned this from the start. That’s why you insisted I accompanied you.” Although he felt somewhat upset at realizing Cal’s plans, he didn’t plan to oppose them.

“I plead guilty,” Cal answered. He stroked Pellaz’ hip with one hand, rubbed his fingers against the smooth skin, and smiled at Caeru at the same time.

Pellaz also didn’t find it within himself to be upset with Cal. He had gained faith in Cal again and simply decided to trust Cal in this matter. He would accept this arrangement. Teasingly, he mumbled, “Cal, we need a bigger bed.”

Cal laughed and nodded his head. “Yes, we do!”

***

That evening, Cal, Caeru, and Galdra convinced Pellaz to visit Forever. Pellaz let himself be convinced in fact since he wanted to see Vaysh again. Caeru had already told him that Ashmael had reclaimed his chesnari and he couldn’t wait to see if Vaysh had changed once he had been reunited with Ashmael.

They made their way over to the cottage at a slow pace. Although taking aruna with Galdra had strengthened Pellaz physically, he was still far from being in shape. Since matters had been resolved, Pellaz realized that he should return to Immanion. He couldn’t really trust Tharmifex to make important decisions. He even said so to Cal and Cal agreed. It was decided that they would leave Forever in a day or two. That Cal wanted to linger here a bit longer didn’t surprise Pellaz. Cal had never felt at home in Immanion – not really.

“Are you tiring?” Galdra inquired in a concerned voice. “I don’t mind carrying you, you know.”

Pellaz smiled at Galdra and, at the same time, caught Cal’s amused look. Cal seemed taken with Galdra, a fact which still amazed him. “I will manage.” It was good to be on his feet again, even if his sluggish pace was slowing them down. “You will stay for a while, won’t you, Galdra?” Pellaz didn’t want to part from Galdra upon arriving in Immanion.

Galdra gave Pellaz a reassuring smile. “Of course. I want to see our pearl hatch.”

Cal nodded and said, “Our pearl… In a way that harling has four parents.”

That thought cheered Caeru up, being barren himself now. “I would like to spend time with him.”

“You will,” Pellaz said as he reached for Caeru’s hand and squeezed it.

***

Pell and Vaysh’s reunion was rather emotional. The hara embraced tightly and Pellaz instantly noticed the changes which had even altered Vaysh’s appearance. Vaysh looked healthy, glowed from the inside, and was pressing a hand against his abdomen while giving Pellaz a conspiring look. Pellaz’ eyes widened as he realized what Vaysh was telling him in that unique way. “But, I thought…”

“Ashmael made it happen! I don’t understand it myself!” Vaysh took Pellaz’ hand in his and guided his friend to a pair of chairs where they sat down and started discussing their current condition. Both Vaysh and Pellaz felt relieved since they had each other to turn to because both hara were hosting.

“This will bring them even closer together,” Caeru said, feeling left out.

“This is new and exciting,” Cobweb said, addressing Caeru. “Don’t worry, they will turn to you in time.” Cobweb took in Caeru’s appearance and found that his friend looked better – happier – even though Caeru looked disappointed at the moment. “Come, we will join them.” Cobweb took hold of Caeru’s hand and pulled the Tigrina with him.

Within the minute, Vaysh and Pellaz were talking to Caeru and Cobweb as well, asking them for more advice and so Caeru’s wish came true: he had become a part of their circle as well.

That left Galdra, Cal, and Snake standing alone. “Cal, you birthed once. Why don’t you join them too?” Snake gave Cal a teasing wink.

“Oh, no, it’s not something I like to dwell on. I’d rather talk to the two of you!”

Pellaz heard that and gave Cal a thoughtful look. He knew that Cal and Tyson had become close when they had battled Ponclast and that thought reassured him. He had never really understood why Cal had had so little interest in his child, but it seemed Cal was finally making the effort to befriend Tyson. Pellaz also realized it was the best he could have hoped for.

Their lives – Cal’s, Caeru’s, Cobweb’s, Vaysh’s, and especially Pellaz’ – had been full of pain and sacrifices, but it seemed that things were about to change. Pellaz smiled. Maybe happy endings existed after all!

Epilogue

A year later, Forever buzzed with life and activity. Cobweb was as busy as ever providing food and drinks for his guests. One thing he thankfully didn’t have to worry about was entertainment. The two harlings who were playing together already provided that.

“Sit down and relax! You’ve been on your feet all day!” Snake pulled Cobweb onto his lap and wrapped his strong arms around him. “Just enjoy,” he said and inclined his head in direction of the playing harlings.

Loki, Pellaz’ harling, tried hard to be good and not to get into trouble. But that was difficult since Rumael, Ashmael’s offspring, had located some mud and was considering throwing it at Loki.

“Behave!” Vaysh said and pointed a finger at the harling. It was too late, though. Rumael was already trying to shape the mud into a ball which he could throw at some unsuspecting har. “That’s your offspring. Your influence!” Vaysh said and tried to glare at Ashmael. He failed though since the harling’s antics amused him as well.

“My influence?” Ashmael gave Vaysh the most innocent look ever, but he also knew that it wouldn’t fool his chesnari. “I believe we both had a part in creating him!”

Rumael chuckled happily. As far as the harling was concerned, he had the best parents he could hope for. He took after Ashmael in a lot of ways. He had inherited his father’s blue eyes, the blond hair, and Ashmael’s mischievous smile. Appearance-wise, he had inherited little from Vaysh, but in character, he was a lot like his hostling. One thing Vaysh had taught him – even at such a tender age as his – was to love unconditionally. Rumael was happy and so were his parents.

Loki, not trusting Rumael to behave, inched away from the other harling and walked over to Cal. After grabbing hold of the fabric of Cal’s trousers, he began to climb onto his father’s lap. Although Loki was Pellaz’ harling, he didn’t look like his hostling at all. His hair was fair, much like Cal’s and Galdra’s. The harling never questioned why he had four parents instead of just two. To him, it meant that he got the double amount of love and attention other harlings got.

In spite of their different characters, Loki and Rumael got along quite well. The only times that Loki distanced himself from his playmate was when Rumael had hatched another wicked plan to annoy the other hara.

Pellaz had stretched out on a blanket which Galdra had spread onto the grass. Galdra lay behind him and had placed one hand on Pellaz’ hip. They laughed when the ball of mud broke apart. The mud ended up all over Rumael’s clothes and the harling decided that acting indignant would get him the most attention. He opened his mouth and released a displeased sob.

“Your son,” Ashmael said, enjoying his son’s antics. “You take care of him.”

Vaysh scolded Ashmael, but then picked Rumael up and carried him toward the little stream so he could clean the harling up. “You shouldn’t play with mud.” He began to remove his son’s shirt and frowned, feeling something hard in one of the pockets. “What’s this?”

“A gift.” The movement of the water had already caught Rumael’s attention and therefore he didn’t see the worried look on Vaysh’s face.

Vaysh had uncovered something that resembled a crystal ball. Inside, he saw a lake of flames, but there was more. Waves of clear water curled around those flames and the flames and waves seemed to chase after each other as if they were caught up in a game. “Who gave you this?” Vaysh lifted Rumael’s face and probed his son’s eyes.

“A har with red hair… Much redder than yours.”

Vaysh’s heart missed a beat. “Did he tell you his name?”

Rumael frowned and tried to remember. “Thiede?”

Vaysh’s hands trembled. Pellaz and Cal had told him that Thiede had returned, but so far, Thiede had kept his distance where he was concerned.

“He told me that he felt guilty.” Rumael shrugged. At the time, the har had made little sense to him, but he still remembered what Thiede had told him. “He said that he was happy that you now had me and that he wanted to give me a present. He gave me that.” Rumael pointed at the sphere in Vaysh’s hands. “It’s the strangest thing. I don’t know how it works.”

“What do you mean when you say that?” Vaysh had collapsed onto the grass and tried to slow down his racing heartbeat.

“The images change when I’m alone. When you’re not close, it shows me where you are and what you’re doing. I can also see Ashmael in that way.” Rumael gave Vaysh a blinding smile. “That way, I’m never alone.”

Vaysh didn’t know what to make of any of this. Why was Thiede meddling? Was he planning on taking Rumael away? But why?

“It’s nothing like that. I’m not a monster.”

Vaysh’s head snapped up and the har found Thiede standing beside him. “Why are you meddling?”

“I don’t mean you any harm, Vaysh.” Thiede squatted next to Rumael and ruffled the boy’s blond hair. “It is my way of making amends.”

To his surprise, Vaysh realized that Thiede looked sad. “Amends?”

“I wronged you, Vaysh. I discarded you the moment I found Pellaz. I should have tried harder to undo the damage I did.”

“But only I could do that.” Ashmael, never feeling comfortable with Vaysh and Rumael out of his sight, had followed his family to the stream. “You could have told us, though.”

“I know… It’s no excuse, but I had other things on my mind.” Thiede rose and gave Ashmael a probing look. “For what it’s worth, I’m grateful that Vaysh and you are together again. Your harling is a true blessing, even if he shows your wicked streak, Ashmael.” Ashmael and he had been close friends once, but Thiede had broken off contact once Ashmael and Vaysh had become chesna again. He still missed his friend though and he also missed Vaysh.

What other hara seldom realized was that he felt lonely most of the time. He had made too many mistakes to ask for them to extend their friendship to him, and so, he didn’t make that request. “You have nothing to fear from me, Vaysh.” Thiede began to walk away from the stream, but a hand coming to rest on his shoulder, stopped him. Surprised, he looked at Vaysh, who had walked up to him.

“You don’t have to leave,” Vaysh said. “You don’t have to be alone.” Reaching out to Thiede was something he hadn’t planned and, until that very moment, he hadn’t known he was capable of forgiving Thiede. But Ashmael’s love and Rumael’s birth had made it possible.

Thiede blinked in disbelief. “You forgive me?”

Vaysh managed a smile. “I can forgive you because I’m happy now. I have Ashmael’s love… I have a son… I can forgive you for making mistakes, Thiede. I know that you tried to do what was best for our race…”

“I’m sorry I failed you. It was never my intention to burn you. I had great plans for you. In my own way, I cared about you.”

“I believe you,” Vaysh replied. One look at Ashmael told him that his chesnari had gathered their still dirty harling in his arms and was making his way over to them. “Come with us. Pellaz will be delighted to see you.” Pellaz had always – in spite of all the mistakes Thiede had made – loved Thiede like a father.

“I would like that. Thank you, Vaysh.” Thiede smiled at Vaysh and gave Rumael a wink. This encounter had gone better than he had hoped. It was a start, and maybe, in time, he would be forgiven and allowed to become a part of their little family.

The End

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1 Comment

  1. EmilyS said,

    January 7, 2013 at 2:16 am

    *long, contented sigh* Now that’s an ending. Lovely closure. To this day I still wish that Storm had written Vaysh and Ashmael getting back together.

    Also, it was nice to read about Galdra being a part of Loki’s life from the start =)

    Bravo, finely written.


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