This Is Not a Fairy Tale

This is Not a Fairy Tale
by Em

Story Notes

Author contact: emzmit@hotmail.com

Summary: Against the backdrop of events following The Shades of Time and Memory, two long separated hara find their own way of reconnecting.

Characters: Ashmael, Vaysh, Cal, Pellaz, Loki

Spoilers: Up to and including The Shades of Time and Memory.

Disclaimer: Disclaimer; All items contained on these pages are non-profit amateur fiction. The Wraeththu novels and all characters named in those books are the copyright of Storm Constantine and her publishers.
No infringement on the copyrights is intended

Prologue

A door slammed and a body was shoved roughly against it. Inside the small room two hara embraced frantically, pressing closer even than the limited space required. Hands slid across silk and exposed skin, caressing, gripping; fingers digging in sharply. Breath mingled, blending as lips pressed together seeking to taste and consume one another.

The taller of the two lifted the other against him and was rewarded with slim legs encircling his hips. He paused for a moment, enjoying the sound of his companion’s heavy breathing. He caught the other’s lips again before he thrust strongly, joining them.

The smaller har wrenched his mouth free, arching his back and crying out at the familiar feeling. They shared breath again, quickly lost in the taste of each other and the heady experience of aruna.

Their unions were always like this – fast, intense and normally enclosed and hidden; away from prying eyes. Though neither would admit it, or perhaps even noticed, the dark rooms they chose to meet in shielded their aruna even from their own eyes.

Hair was gripped in blissful fists and sharp teeth dug into a shoulder, immediately soothed by the sweep of a tongue. The tiny room, nothing more than a storage closet, was soon filled with the sounds of their bodies moving against one another and their soft cries of pleasure.

All too soon both of them felt the tingle of their impending release. The smaller gripped his partner tighter with both arms and legs, rocking against the other. He bit his lip in a futile effort to stifle his cry when he felt the ouana tongue bite deep inside, sending him over the edge.

Then all sense of anything was replaced with the overwhelming wave of pleasure. The taller har slammed his fist into the wall beside his partner’s head, but the other didn’t even hear it, lost as he was in his own ecstasy. Just before the sensations died down they shared breath again, instinctively seeking to draw it out.

As the waves receded, they lapped at each other’s mouths, eyes shut. The taller stroked the other’s face, almost tenderly. Eventually, as if waking up after a long sleep their ministrations slowed and faltered. Eye contact was made and the embrace was released. The smaller har slid back onto his feet.

Clothes were straightened, hair smoothed.

The taller har took a deep breath, pausing for a second, one hand on the door handle, as if to say something. Instead he gave a brief smile before opening the door and disappearing through it. The door closed with a soft click leaving the second har in darkness.

A muffled voice came through the thick wood –  “Ashmael! I’ve been looking for you…”- then faded.

The smaller har stood silently for a moment, catching his breath, restoring his resolve. He shut his eyes for a moment, willing for the sting he felt in them to ease and ran his fingers across his flushed cheeks. Then he set his shoulders and swiftly exited the small room, emerging into a shadowed and rarely used corridor.

His footsteps were light and even as he made his way back to the more populated area of the palace.  Long robes swept against the polished marble floor and the har deliberately avoided making eye contact with the hara he passed as he entered the busier area.

Suddenly a voice stopped him.

“Vaysh! Where have you been?”

Part One

The first time it happened was more than thirty five years after Ashmael first laid eyes upon the reborn Vaysh; after, and perhaps because Calanthe arrived in Immanion. The blond legend’s arrival had finally resolved an unanswered question and paved a way for their own reconciliation.

If it could be called that.

Neither would admit Cal’s role in events, however. That would suggest there was some kind of reconciliation, some kind of feeling involved. It would compare their ‘relationship’ to the one between Pellaz and Cal, which was redundant and quite obviously a complete exaggeration.

That’s how Ashmael saw it, of course.

Immanion was celebrating the summer solstices in style, throwing a party like only the Gelaming could and giving even Cobweb a run for his money. The week of festivities was being heralded as a celebration of victory over Ponclast’s forces, though some in Immanion thought it was also an attempt to sooth the hurt of Caeru’s still missing pearl.

Whatever the reason, the entire city went all out for the period of celebration. The city was decorated with streamers and lanterns of bright colours, and kites soared high in the bright sky, trailing shining ribbons. Bonfires lit the city at night, casting white marble and rock with an orange glow and the sky was an explosion of fireworks.

Phaonica itself did not disappoint and was practically overflowing with its own decorations; fresh flowers spilling out of every door and window.

The culmination of celebration was a masquerade ball held at Phaonica on the final night of the week and attended by high ranking hara from as far abroad as Megalithica. It was Caeru’s crowning glory, designed to be focused on celebration only with no tribal negotiations to strain the atmosphere. Unbeknown to Vaysh, the night would mark more than the turn of summer.

As Vaysh scanned the countless hara who mingled together through the many great halls of the palace that had been opened for the party, he had to admit the Tigrina had done a fantastic job. The extravagantly decorated rooms and balconies were crowded with outrageously dressed hara, all in masks as per the theme of the evening.

Even Vaysh had gotten into the spirit of things, secretly reveling in the opportunity to enjoy himself without the uncomfortable presence of knowing eyes. Tonight Vaysh could be completely anonymous, even more so than his skill at blending in allowed him to be. He knew that logically it was still possible to identify hara he knew despite the masks, but he was happy to hold onto the illusion they provided.

Surrendering himself to the celebratory feeling in the air, Vaysh took full advantage of the party which was nothing short of a smorgasbord for the senses. The partygoers drank and ate too much, laughed and gossiped and entwined their arms around each other while they danced. The throb of aruna was infused through the palace and Vaysh felt desire running through him. He welcomed the heady buzz of it instead of pushing it away like he normally might.

He accepted the glass of alcohol which was pressed into his hand by a har wearing an elaborate silver mask adorned with feathers. Vaysh smiled, as the drink further warmed his stomach and returned the stranger’s embrace.

“You’re beautiful,” the har murmured and Vaysh did not mind when he reached in to share breath.

Neither was he overly concerned when he was separated from the stranger a short time later, there were plenty of other pleasures to engage his attention. He drifted into an adjoining room, swaying partly to the music, partly due to the alcohol he had consumed. He was ready to get lost once again in the throng of beautifully decorated hara around him when one in particular caught his eye from across the room.

The har was not dressed any more dramatically than the others around him; his mask covered most of his face, leaving only his mouth and jaw bare. The mask matched the blue robes he wore which were simple, and open to expose dark trousers and a thin shirt beneath them. Flowers and feathers bloomed from the mask, dripping down onto his shoulders.

It was the way the har stared at Vaysh that made him catch his breath. Despite the mask, Vaysh could see bright blue eyes locked onto him. They seemed to glow with an otherworldly strength and Vaysh felt a shudder pass through him.

His view of the har was obstructed for a moment as someone passed between them. Vaysh let out a small sound of dismay and twisted his head. When he looked for the har again, he was gone. Frustrated Vaysh turned in circles, suddenly desperate to find the mysterious har again.

He pushed through the dancing hara around him, searching until he saw the blue feathers and mask again. The har moved through the crowd elegantly, turning his head so that his eyes never left Vaysh’s face.

Vaysh twisted with his movements, to keep that blue mask in sight. When it disappeared again, Vaysh went after it. The mask and the wine he had drunk made him feel surprisingly brave. When he spun around and found himself directly in front of the har he sought, a smile slid across his face.

The blue and silver of the har’s outfit contrasted sharply with his own deep red and gold and Vaysh felt his pulse quicken as those blue eyes stared down at him. Blinking quickly he reached up and ran one of the blue feathers through his fingers. The har did not pull away. He licked his lips, drawing Vaysh’s eyes to their fullness.

Vaysh knew those lips, that jaw. He was all too familiar with the line of the har’s neck and the long fingers that were suddenly touching his hips. He could see them all but pushed that knowledge aside, resting happily in the security of the mask he wore.

When he finally spoke, his voice was husky and spoke of another time. “Would you care to dance?”

The har didn’t say a word, only slipped an arm around Vaysh’s waist and pulling him close. They gently swayed to the music, and Vaysh explored the expanse of the har’s broad shoulders with his hands, smoothing them across the silk of both skin and robe alike.

His breath quickened and he felt heat building, intensified by the mask. His partner bent down to him and inhaled against the skin of his neck. Vaysh shuddered, gripping him tightly.

Suddenly the har released Vaysh and, grabbing his hand tightly, began to pull him through the crowd towards an exit. A small part of Vaysh’s mind considered protesting, but quickly gave up.

The har pulled Vaysh through a concealed door and into a blissfully empty room. When the door shut, his lips were suddenly against Vaysh’s in a desperate kiss. The masks made sharing breath difficult, but both their mouths and chins were uncovered so the discomfort went unnoticed. Vaysh melted beneath the har’s mouth, opening wide and welcoming the familiar taste that swept through him.

The har sat down on a couch against one wall and pulled Vaysh down on to straddle his waist. Soon hands and lips were exploring every inch of exposed skin, and tugging on clothing to reveal more. Vaysh panted, crying out as they moved against one another. Normally he would have been mortified at this sort of behavior, but the inhibition he had been experiencing all night did not fail him now. He wrapped his arms around the har’s neck, bearing down on him, and sucking his breath sharply.

Frantic as they were, they wasted no time in joining fully and the minimum of clothing was removed before Vaysh sank down on the har’s ouana-lim with a sigh of pleasure. As they moved together, the ties that held their masks in place loosened until eventually Vaysh’s slipped completely as he tipped his head back in pleasure. The mask fell to the floor, but by this time Vaysh barely noticed.

He didn’t miss the look in his partner’s eyes however. The other har’s dark eyes were devouring his exposed face and he suddenly pulled Vaysh forward forcefully and began to desperately share breath with him before placing wet kisses across Vaysh’s exposed skin. When he broke away, Vaysh looked down into the blue and silver mask. As he rocked above the other har, he reached out and gently pushed the mask back exposing tanned skin and blond hair until it fell abandoned on the couch.

Without their masks in place, the knowledge of who this har was filled Vaysh again. This time, however, instead of filling him with dread, it only heightened his pleasure. He ran his fingers through the thick blond hair, tugging slightly until the head tipped back and their lips met. Then he mimicked the caress he had received, place open-mouthed kisses across the tanned skin.

Their movements quickened as their pleasure increased, and when the moment of completion came they both cried out loudly. Vaysh was wracked with shudders as release ripped through him; he arched against the har beneath him and cried out again when he felt teeth bite down on his shoulder.

When the waves subsided, Vaysh sat panting, his eyes closed. He could feel the other har’s breath hot against his skin where his partner rested. Regretfully, Vaysh slowly opened his eyes.

Looking down into the blue eyes beneath him he slowly felt that heady inhibited feeling seep away. Dread took its place, filling his body and stiffening his limbs. Alarm filled his eyes and he let out a sound of distress, and pulled away sharply, stumbling slightly as he stood. Frantically he bent down searching for his mask before he straightening his clothes and pulled his open shirt together.

Vaysh ignored everything, focused solely on getting away and he fled the room before Ashmael could say a word.

 Part Two

The halls of Phaonica were filled with an infectious excitement that spilled out over the entire city. The population of Immanion was embracing a feeling of celebration and harmony that extended far beyond the official week long festivities. Ponclast had been defeated, and more importantly Cal had returned to the city and Pellaz was now hosting his pearl. Surely this was a sign of great things to come and the child would bring a new age of peace and enlightenment to all Wraeththu.

There was one har, however, who was unable to join in the collective happiness, even if it had been in his nature to do so. Vaysh paced his room frantically, confused and conflicting thoughts filling his mind.

Ever since he had taken aruna with Ashmael at the masked ball Vaysh had been at his wits end. He didn’t know what had possessed him to do such a thing, and was wise enough to know that there was no way he could accept that Ashmael’s mask had fooled Vaysh for a moment.

Vaysh had known it was Ashmael he embraced, and he did so anyway. Vaysh also knew Ashmael was too smart not to have known Vaysh’s identity, and yet he had allowed the events to take place anyway. That fact, more than his own actions, was what confused Vaysh the most.

He knew for a fact that Ashmael was repulsed by his new form. And why wouldn’t he be? In his darkest hours Vaysh too wondered just what the body he possessed actually was. For Ashmael, who had seen him die and had eventually burnt his old body, the effect of seeing Vaysh walking around like some kind of zombie must be double disturbing.

Pushing those thoughts aside, Vaysh paused in front of his mirror and took up a brush to run through his hair. He made some adjustments to his appearance, making sure his usual façade was immaculate – the last thing he wanted was anyhar to suspect anything was different.

Luckily for Vaysh, Pellaz was consumed with his own turmoil and so did not notice that Vaysh was less than attentive. That had to stop, however, and Vaysh was determined to continue his duties as the Tigron’s aide, deciding that the best way to deal with the mess he and Ashmael had created was to ignore it and focus his attention on work.

Besides, it was clearly not bothering Ashmael. Vaysh had learned through the Phaonica grape vine that the General had not hesitated in taking a new lover to his bed as soon as the celebration week was over. If Ashmael was able to forget they had ever taken aruna, Vaysh was determined he would too.

He exited his rooms and went straight to Pell’s, knocking lightly on the Tigron’s door before entering.

He found Pellaz seated at his vanity while Cletis and Attica fussed around him, doing his hair and adorning him with jewelry. Pellaz stared into the mirror before him, but his eyes were glazed and unfocused.

Vaysh dismissed the househar who hurried from the room quickly at his cold stare.

“Pellaz!” Vaysh said firmly.

Pellaz looked up, slightly dazed as if he had just woken. When he saw Vaysh’s disapproving look he busied himself with checking his makeup.

“Can I help you, Vaysh?” the Tigron asked.

“That is what I am here to ask you,” Vaysh said. “That is my job after all.”

Pellaz sighed heavily and stood up with effort. He was only days away from dropping the pearl he carried and it was obviously affecting him, though he did not complain openly to Vaysh. Hosting was clearly not Pellaz’s favorite pastime.

Vaysh stepped forward to help Pellaz as he grimaced.

“You mustn’t strain yourself,” Vaysh admonished, slightly harsher than he intended. His voice softened, “Have seen a healer today?”

Pellaz shrugged him away and stood up, one hand unconsciously on his stomach. “I’m fine,” He insisted. “The hegemony is waiting for me.”

Vaysh frowned, Pellaz’s pale face telling him the Tigron was not in any state to deal with matters of state today. “Where is Cal?” he asked, confused when the question made Pellaz frown.

The Tigron turned away. “I don’t know. A meeting.”

“He should be with you,” Vaysh said, already moving to the door. “I will get him.”

“No!”

Vaysh stopped abruptly, surprised by Pellaz’s fervent cry. He turned back puzzled.

Pellaz looked embarrassed. “I mean, don’t bother him. He is very busy at the moment. I will just stay here and…. Rest.”

Knowing better than to push Pellaz for an explanation, Vaysh chalked it up to some kind of disagreement between the Tigrons. Aghama knew they had enough of them. “I will advise the hegemony of your absence.”

He moved to leave but only made it to the foyer of Pellaz’s apartments before he heard the Tigron cry out in pain. He ran back to Pellaz’s bed chamber, quickly followed by the Tigron’s servants.

Pellaz was crumpled on the floor, one hand clutching his stomach. Small beads of sweat had broken out across his brow. Vaysh rushed to his side, crouching down beside him. He murmured calming words to Pellaz as the Tigron shook slightly in pain.

“The pearl,” Pellaz said softly.

Behind him, Vaysh heard Attica or Cletis let out a small sound of excitement or fear.

Vaysh straightened and turned to the identical hara. “Bring the healers immediately,” he ordered sternly. “One of you must summon the Tigrina.”

The servants quickly left to carry out Vaysh’s orders and Vaysh helped Pellaz to his feet so he could lie on the bed. Pellaz’s face looked calm, though it was pale and clammy. Vaysh could tell the Tigron was trying to hide his pain, the way he was always taught.

Gently Vaysh wiped the Tigron’s damp brow. “It is alright Pellaz, it is time.”

Pellaz let out a small whimper and turned his face to the side. Vaysh frowned, unsure why the Tigron appeared so distressed. Delivering a pearl was no easy task, Vaysh was sure, but the discomfort he felt coming from Pellaz was stemmed from a different source.

When one of Pellaz’s servants reappeared, with two healers in tow, Vaysh stepped aside and quickly left to find Cal.

***

The meeting Ashmael was supposed to be having with Cal and Arahal was intended to focus on the issue of dealing with refugees and displaced hara left in Megalithca in the aftermath of the Gelaming battle against the Varrs. Despite the important matters at hand, it had quickly digressed into a conversation first about Pellaz’s bizarre behavior and cravings while he was hosting, and then a review of the evening of the masked ball, filled with palace gossip.

Ashmael was doing his best to provide what tidbits he could, while doggedly steering clear of the scandal he himself had been involved in.

Aruna with Vaysh had definitely not been on his agenda the night of the ball. In fact, Ashmael was sure he had never seriously considered sleeping with his former chesnari again since he discovered Vaysh was alive and in Immanion.

Well, occasionally the thought might have crossed his mind. That artificial red hair held something of a special placed in Ashmael’s mind. He had wanted to touch the bright stands and see if they were as soft as they felt, see if they felt the same as they had when they were a lighter colour…

But that was irrelevant! Whatever his thoughts might have been he never intended to actually take aruna with Vaysh. The thought of it turned his stomach! He didn’t even know what Vaysh was – an abomination, surely; Thiede’s creature, definitely. The red hair alone was indicative of that.

As thankful as he was that the latest conflict with the Varrs was successfully quashed, Ashmael couldn’t help but wish for some sort of campaign that would take him far from Immanion. The few days since the masked ball and his encounter with Vaysh had left him feeling off balance, and struggling frantically to manipulate his schedule so he did not run into Pellaz’s aide.

Luckily Pellaz was otherwise occupied with the last few days of his hosting, so neither he nor Vaysh were particularly engaged with hegemonic activities.

Cal sat moodily staring out the window, a cigarette in his hand. Ashmael studied him, noticing that since Cal had returned to the city he had definitely changed. Always a commanding presence, Cal had returned from his time with Thiede looking like a magnified version of himself. He was stronger, calmer and altogether more contained. His power emanated from him in a way that it hadn’t before.

Cal had truly conquered any lingering doubts certain hegemony members had of him and had dealt with the problem of Galdra har Fereylia with amazing ease. Ashmael grimaced inwardly, wishing he could deal with his indiscretion with Vaysh half as easily. Right now he had no idea what he would say to the har if he saw him.

He had glimpsed Vaysh from a distance but the har was as aloof as ever, and if he had seen Ashmael, had made no indication of it. Clearly their encounter was not bothering Vaysh as much as it was Ashmael! Though what did he expect? For all he knew, Vaysh wasn’t even capable of emotion. He certainly didn’t seem to be.

Their highly productive meeting was suddenly interrupted when the topic of Ashmael’s musings burst through the door. His hair was tangled and his face slightly flushed as if he had run to find them. The sight reminded Ashmael all too well of the image of Vaysh that had been haunting him for the past three nights.

“Pell is dropping,” Vaysh said plainly. “You must come now.”

Cal leapt to his feet and pushed past Vaysh followed closely by Arahal. Ashmael stood to follow them and as he passed Vaysh he saw the aide’s throat convulse. Their eyes met for a moment and Ashmael felt a tingle of energy shoot out of Vaysh’s icy eyes.

He hurried on to catch up with Cal and heard Vaysh following him. Perhaps the red head was not as unaffected as he first thought.

***

Ashmael had no time to ponder the situation. Catching up with Cal and Arahal, he followed them to the chamber that had been set up in the Tigrons’ wing specifically as a place for Pellaz to give birth. The room was large, with a low bed situated in the middle of it. Pellaz lay groaning on the mattress, flushed and feverous.

Cal impatiently pushed past the circle of seated healer who were busy channeling calming energy towards the Tigron. He sat beside Pellaz, drawing him into his arms. The dark Tigron grasped Cal desperately, his eyes wild and his hair tangled in sweaty knots.

“Cal!” Pellaz groaned. “I don’t want this…. I don’t want this!”

Ashmael stepped through the circle, pushing any thoughts of Vaysh out of his mind. He scooped handful of bright blue powder from a small bowl that sat next to a small flame that had been lit at the feet of Pellaz’s bed. He cast the powder into the flame, releasing a cloud of strong smelling incense.

From the look of Pellaz’s pained face and clammy skin, this could take a while. At the signal of Pell’s healers, Ashmael raised his hands. He began to draw protective runes in the air, summoning energy through the center of his being.

He began to chant at the same time that Pellaz began to wail.

***

In a room thick with incense and filled with hara of immense power, Pellaz and Cal’s first pearl was delivered. Pellaz had been in agony for nearly twenty hours as his body sought to expel the pearl it held. Dawn light was just beginning to creep over the horizon when Pellaz’s struggle was finally over.

Vaysh had stayed by the Tigron’s side for most of the time, as Pellaz drifted through moments of lucidity and equal delirium. When Cal was reluctantly called away, Pellaz clasped Vaysh’s hands, and murmured pleading words.

He had spoken of Galdra, though Vaysh did not understand all that he said. He thought perhaps Pellaz had believed he was Cal when he was speaking because he also often murmured the blond Tigron’s name. When Cal returned, Vaysh did not mention that the name of Pellaz’s former lover had graced the Tigron’s lips.

The pearl was blessed and consecrated, treated as if it were made of gold. It ripened in a sun filled room in the Tigrons’ wing, under strict guard. No precaution would be taken with this pearl, and Ashmael himself often occupied the room where the pearl lay.

Ashmael was determined to prevent any possible harm coming to the pearl, which made Vaysh wonder if he held himself responsible for the attack on Cearu when he was hosting. This dedication was admirable, though in Vaysh’s mind unnecessary and frankly frustrating.

Pellaz arranged for Vaysh to check on the pearl, as he himself said he had no time to, but Vaysh could never know if Ashmael would be in the room or not. Every trip to check on the pearl turned into a nervous gamble.

One morning Vaysh ran into Ashmael in the pearl’s room and he had let out an embarrassing startled yelp when he saw the general. He covered it with a cough when Ashmael looked up, startled.

“General,” Vaysh said coldly as he strode over to look at the pearl.

Ashmael stepped aside, muttering his own greeting.

Vaysh reached down and lightly touched the brittle surface of the pearl. It was eight days since Pellaz had dropped it and was due to hatch at any time. Pausing for a moment, Vaysh was acutely aware of Ashmael’s eyes studying him. Heat burned his back where Ashmael stood behind him.

Unsure, Vaysh studied the pearl a moment longer, willing his features to remain neutral. He turned around to face Ashmael and was momentarily stopped short when Ashmael’s stare caught his eyes. Ashmael’s blond eyes were deep and bright and Vaysh was instantly reminded of the vivid colour of them watching him from behind the blue and silver mask.

Vaysh tore his eyes away walked towards the door. “The pearl will hatch any time,” he said. “If you’re here when it happens please call me.”

With that he left quickly, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Eventually, the pearl cracked and the harling emerged. It had large dark eyes like Pellaz and blond hair like Cal and the city embraced it with all its might.

Part Three

It was two nights after the pearl – which Cal victoriously named Loki – hatched, that Ashmael appeared in Vaysh’s room.

Vaysh was jolted awake by a crunching noise coming from the door which led to the balcony he shared with Pellaz. Cautiously, Vaysh moved towards the door, figuring there were only a few hara his midnight visitor could be. Security around the Tigron’s wing was still heightened and nohar not cleared by Pellaz’s personal staff were allowed within miles of the Tigrons’ rooms.

Pulling back the fine curtain which hung across the door, Vaysh gasped when he saw Ashmael standing on the other side of the glass. The tall blond paused like a harling caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His hair was a mess and his face flushed.

Against his better judgment, Vaysh opened the door with a furious whisper. “What are you doing here?” he hissed.

Ashmael stepped into the room, forcing Vaysh backwards. His mouth opened and closed a few times but no words came out. Vaysh glared at him, folding his arms across his chest, at the same time ensuring his robe was securely closed.

“Ashmael, its three in the morning!” Vaysh cried. He was completely caught off guard, and panicked at Ashmael’s overwhelming presence in his room.

Ashmael paced the length of the room, running his hands frantically through his hair. “I don’t know what I’m doing here!” He finally said, sounding as exasperated as Vaysh. His voice was ever so slightly slurred, as if he had been drinking.

Suddenly he lunged at Vaysh, grabbing the smaller har’s arms and Vaysh cried out.

“Let go of me!”

“What are you doing to me?” Ashmael hissed plaintively. “I can’t get you out of my mind!”

“Me?” Vaysh cried. “You seduced me!”

Ashmael frowned, and bared his teeth in a grimace. “By Aghama, you drive me crazy!” He cried, shaking Vaysh slightly. “You drift around here like a… ghost!” His voice broke slightly. “And then that night…” He shook his head and shoved Vaysh away harshly.

Vaysh was panting; having Ashmael in such close proximity was making his head spin. Normally when he was faced with the general, it was on neutral ground and Vaysh was prepared, his armor in place. Now, unexpectedly in the middle of the night, Vaysh felt inexplicably vulnerable. He was nearly naked before Ashmael, and the dim lighting and their current location in Vaysh’s bedroom, somewhere Ashmael had never been, made the entire situation seem far too intimate.

Ashmael was too large for this room. His presence filled what had been Vaysh’s sanctuary with clapping thunder.

Vaysh looked around frantically, looking for some way to get control of the situation. “Get out!” He snapped suddenly. “Get out of here.”

Ashmael, who had been pacing again, paused in front of him. “Vaysh…” he began.

The sound of his name on Ashmael’s lips made Vaysh’s stomach dip. He involuntarily took a step towards the blond. “Get out.” he repeated, but his voice came out husky rather than firm.

Ashmael stepped close to him, and took hold of Vaysh’s face. His strong thumbs tipped Vaysh’s head back, and calloused fingers slid down the pale column of his throat. Vaysh shook even as part of him screamed to shove Ashmael away.

“Vaysh…” Ashmael whispered his name and his breath washed across Vaysh’s face, filling his nostrils with an achingly familiar scent.

“Please, please get out.” Vaysh whimpered, hating the tremor in his voice.

Ashmael’s hands ran through Vaysh’s hair as his breath continued to sweep across Vaysh’s face. Of their own violation, Vaysh’s hands reached out and landed on Ashmael’s hips.

Ashmael’s deep voice rumbled through Vaysh’s chest, making his core throb. “I can’t…”

Then the dissenting voice in Vaysh’s brain disappeared, and he surrendered to the pulsing heat that flowed through him. When Ashmael tipped his head back further, Vaysh complied and he opened his mouth as the taller har bent over him. Vaysh let his breath flow out to meet the taste that Ashmael released as their lips met.

No emotion accompanied the flickering images that blossomed as they kissed, just deep desire and need. Vaysh was moaning as Ashmael molded his hands across the redhead’s body. He was lifted into Ashmael’s arms, and he wrapped his legs tightly around Ashmael’s waist, the position immediately familiar.

Ashmael carried Vaysh to the bed, shoving blankets out of the way. Clothing was quickly removed and in moments they were joined. Their passion took over, and later Vaysh would be mortified with the thought that they could easily have been overheard in the Tigrons’ apartment.

When their release came it was wracked with spasms. Ashmael collapsed onto Vaysh’s prone body, gasping loudly. Vaysh lay with his eyes shut and a faint smile on his face. His limbs were limp and his whole body thrummed with satisfaction. He wanted to purr but as they both caught their breath, the haze that had descended over them earlier dispersed. Ashmael raised his head sharply, and stared at Vaysh almost in shock. His mouth opened and closed, reminiscent of how it had earlier.

Seeing his dumbfounded expression, Vaysh’s heart clenched. He felt as if somehar had thrown a bucket of cold water over him. Ashmael’s expression turned to disgust in his eyes and Vaysh shoved him away and stood up, wrapping himself in a discarded sheet. He turned away from where Ashmael lay, his arm over his face.

He stumbled across the room and, looking up, caught his reflection in a mirror. For a moment he didn’t recognize the messy hair and flushed face. He paused, reached to run his fingers across his swollen mouth. Then his breath caught as he recalled Ashmael’s expression just moments before. Ice gripped his throat and he clenched the sheet tighter in his fist.

“I think you should go.” he said softly but firmly.

He heard Ashmael sigh behind him and the bed creaked as the blond stood up.

Vaysh remained turned away as Ashmael moved about, recovering his discarded clothes. Vaysh jumped when Ashmael appeared beside him. He spun around and returned the general’s stare evenly.

Ashmael opened his palms apologetically. “Vaysh, I’m sorry.”

“Just go.” Vaysh said coldly.

His armor was back in place. Ashmael hesitated just a moment before exiting through the balcony door.

***

The second encounter had been even more disturbing than the first and Vaysh found it altogether easier to pretend it had never happened. Luckily, the arrival of the smiling and bubbly Loki meant that there were distractions aplenty in Phaonica. Vaysh was able to fill his days with tasks until no time was left to think about Ashmael, much less talk to him. In fact, Vaysh was so busy that if the unfortunate happened, and he did find himself in the same room with the general, he almost always had an excuse to rush out again.

Not that Ashmael seemed to mind. Vaysh had definitely noticed that Ashmael had not come forward to explain his actions the other night. Probably wishes it never happened, he mused silently.

He was currently sitting on a stone bench on the side of Pellaz’s balcony watching Loki race around in the open air. The harling was full of vivacious energy and seemed to spend every spare minute rolling or jumping around and making bizarre half squeak, half chirp noises.

The harling galloped over to Vaysh and proudly dumped a handful of leaves in Vaysh’s lap. He trilled at Vaysh, who simply stared back at him, regarding him wearily. Loki did not seem to mind Vaysh’s coolness however, he simply scampered off, returning to his game which seemed to include much flopping down onto the sun warmed marble ground.

“What am I supposed to do with these?” Vaysh asked. He wasn’t sure if the intelligence behind Loki’s bright eyes equated to actual understanding of words yet, but aloud to it anyway.

Loki ignored Vaysh, so exasperatedly; Vaysh brushed the leaves off his robes.

Looking after Loki was not technically one of Vaysh’s jobs. Pellaz, who in truth seemed to want little to do with the harling, did not ask Vaysh to extend his duties to the child. However, Loki provided a convenient and believable reason to avoid running into Ashmael, so Vaysh grabbed it readily.

Loki returned to Vaysh, walking steadily which still surprised Vaysh. The harling was more like a young animal than a human baby. From the moment its pearl hatched, he could eat solid food and walk around. Disquieting intelligence lay in Loki’s eyes, though Vaysh supposed one would get used to that when they spent more time around harlings.

Loki held his arms up to Vaysh to be lifted. Letting out a small sigh, Vaysh complied. He could already tell Loki had some of Pellaz’s imperialist nature in him; the harling liked to get his own way. Loki immediately snuggled into Vaysh, wrapping a lock of long hair around his little fist. He spoke to Vaysh in his own language, babbling nonsensically.

Vaysh’s heart softened slightly as he watched Loki play with his hair. In quieter moments like this he allowed himself to simply enjoy the notion of holding a harling. He had long since come to terms with the fact that he would never carry a pearl of his own – Thiede had taken that ability away from him, as well as many other things.

Before Loki was born, Vaysh had not put much thought into whether or not he wanted harlings of his own. The initial pain he felt when he discovered the true extent of his injuries had been locked behind ice for many years, and it had hardened over time.

Now, as he held Loki in his arms, Vaysh felt a pang deep inside. He had not thought himself particularly material, though he had once. Self preservation had pushed any such feelings aside – in his position they only lead to pain. But now, he grieved what might have been.

Had Thiede not found him, and decided to take him for his own, Vaysh’s life might have played out very differently.

Running his fingers lightly across Loki’s golden head, Vaysh sighed softly. He had never fully grieved all he had lost when Vaysh took him from his first life. So Loki’s presence became both a comfort and a knife to Vaysh. With Loki to look after, Vaysh did not have to face actually Ashmael, but he did have to face the memories of the har he once knew and the dreams they had shared.

Just then, Loki displayed some of his hidden intelligence. Breaking into Vaysh’s thoughts, he reached up and patted Vaysh’s gently on the cheek in an act that felt like understanding.

 Part Four

Vaysh’s ‘forgetting is bliss’ attitude was serving him well, and it enabled him to stop himself thinking of Ashmael as long as he stayed busy. Night time was a slightly different story, but it was nothing a quickly downed bottle of wine couldn’t handle.

He had done an admirable job of avoiding Ashmael too, which was helped by the fact that the general had not felt compelled to make any more late night visits to Vaysh’s rooms.

When Pellaz requested Vaysh’s presence at an event for the hegemony, Vaysh reluctantly agreed to come along. Avoiding Ashmael would be impossible, but Vaysh was fairly certain he fortified himself enough since their last encounter to evade any sticky situations.

Vaysh stood beside Pellaz, making sure the Tigron had a drink or anything else he desired as he socialized with various members of the hegemony. He wasn’t entirely sure why Pellaz had insisted he come to the event, but in truth the Tigron had not been himself since birthing his pearl.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to check on Loki?” Vaysh asked him.

He thought he saw Pellaz’s expression darken slightly, but it was fleeting. “He is being well looked after,” the Tigron answered. “Vaysh, I want you to relax.”

“Perhaps you should take some of your own advice,” Vaysh answered a little coldly. At Pellaz’s hurt expression Vaysh relented. “You look tense.”

Pellaz tilted his chin up, “I am fine, Vaysh.” He paused then said, “Cal tells me you’ve been spending a lot of time with Loki.”

Vaysh hesitated, studying Pellaz’s expression. The Tigron’s face was blank as he studied the hara which filled the balcony on which they stood.

“Yes,” Vaysh finally answered, “Some time.”

Pellaz turned to him. “That’s good.”

He didn’t say any more but Vaysh could tell Pellaz was curious, probably wanting to know just as all the others did what Vaysh’s feelings on hosting and pearls in general were.

Vaysh struggled to fill the silence. “He is an interesting creature,” he said. “He looks like Cal.”

“Does he?” Pellaz murmured, sipping his wine.

Abruptly, Pellaz excused himself and slipped through the crowd to where Cal was, and Vaysh was left alone. He looked around for a moment, but none of the hara nearby were paying him the slightest bit of attention.

Ashmael is right, Vaysh thought. I am a ghost.

He turned and walked the few steps back to the entrance of the ballroom which led out on the balcony. Inside there were tables set up with a variety of dishes spread across them in delicate patterns. The room as less crowded since most hara were outside enjoying the last of the night’s warm air.

***

Ashmael had arrived late at this particular event, but as it was not strictly a formal evening, he hadn’t bothered to hurry through the organizational tasks he had been working on. He had only returned from Megalithica a few days earlier, and debriefing various military departments was taking longer than expected.

With the stress of Loki’s birth out of the way, Cal was focusing nearly all his energy on haranitarian issues still plaguing the Western continent. In the wake of the Gelaming defeat of the Varrish uprising, hundreds of thousands of hara had been left homeless or dispossessed, and for reasons not entirely clear to Ashmael, Cal had decided he was the perfect har to help him on his campaign to help impoverished former Varrs and Uiegnna hars.

Cal’s personal crusade demanded several trips to Megalithica, both for Ashmael and the Tigron, and Ashmael was finding himself a regular visitor in Galhea and other Parilisian centers.

Not that he minded. In truth, Cal asking him to help setting up recovery strategies for the war torn region was a welcome distraction for Ashmael. Before Cal had called him in for a meeting to discuss the campaign, Ashmael had spent frantic hours in the middle of the night planning elaborate routes to take through the palace to ensure any accidental run-ins with Vaysh were eliminated. Apparently, Vaysh was a hard har to avoid, connected to many of the hegemony members as he was.

Luckily, Cal provided the perfect escape route. What better way to avoid somehar than being on a completely different continent? It was perfect. Ashmael didn’t have to come up with an explanation as to why he had been lead to Vaysh’s room in the middle of the night, and he didn’t have to face the hard accusations and disgust, or worse, apathy that lurked beneath Vaysh’s frozen eyes.

Ashmael jumped to assist Cal with an enthusiasm that surprised even Cal himself. But the Tigron did not question it, and as far as Ashmael was concerned, his true motivations for going to Megalithica remained a secret.

***

So it was that the first time Ashmael laid eyes on Vaysh was several weeks after he had practically run from the har’s bedroom in the middle of the night.

Vaysh quickly headed to the large table and helped himself to a glass of wine, downing it quickly before picking up another. He remained beside the buffet table for some time, watching the others drift in from the balcony as the air outside grew cooler. The room began to fill up again and candles were lit as conversation moved indoors

Nohar spoke to Vaysh which was fine by him as he wasn’t interested in conversation with any of them anyway. He watched Pellaz and Cal slyly over the rim of his glass. They stood slightly apart from the others, talking softly. Cal had his hand protectively on Pellaz’s lower back and though the dark Tigron naturally never conveyed anything other than complete control in public, Vaysh privately wondered if something was bothering Pellaz.

Turning away from the Tigrons Vaysh picked up another glass of wine. He had just finished that when he felt a prickle at the back of his neck. Inexplicably he felt warmth spreading through his belly. Turning, he looked over his shoulder and spotted Ashmael across the room. The blond har was engaged in a conversation with two senior officials, and he nodded at whatever they were saying. His eyes, however, were locked on Vaysh and even across the distance that separated them Vaysh could see the bright blue.

Vaysh quickly turned back around and exchanged his empty glass for a new one. A little extra fortification never hurt. He was hyperaware of Ashmael watching him from across the room and the thought of it sent a flush through his system. His face, in fact his entire body felt hot, and his skin grew clammy.

Suddenly the room seemed entirely too crowded and Vaysh pushed through the hara around him to emerge out on the now deserted terrace. He barely even noticed the cool air as he leant over the side of the stone balcony. His skin still burned from Ashmael’s’ eyes and Vaysh was relieved for the darkness, sure that it must be burning.

***

When Vaysh disappeared Ashmael let out a grunt of annoyance. The har who had been yapping at him for the last half hour paused mid-tirade and looked up. Ashmael hesitated, trying to come up with a convenient excuse.

Eventually he stepped past the bewildered har with a growled, “Excuse me.”

He headed straight across the room to where Vaysh had been standing. He scanned the area but Vaysh was gone. With a muttered “Fuck!” he stalked outside determined to get the red hair har out of his mind.

Vaysh was clearly not obsessing like Ashmael was. He had barely been able to hold a conversation when he had seen Vaysh earlier, the first time since barreling into his room that night.

With a guttural “Damn it!” Ashmael stormed onto the balcony. He stopped short when he realised he wasn’t alone.

A har standing on the edge of the terrace whipped around at Ashmael’s cry.

“Excuse me, Tiahaar,” Ashmael said, quickly stepping towards them. “I didn’t realise anyhar was out here.”

The har didn’t answer, simply turning back to face the view again. Annoyed, Ashmael grimaced, realising he must have really caused offense. He stepped towards the edge of the balcony then stopped short again as bright red hair caught the flickering light coming from the party. Ashmael’s stomach dipped.

“Vaysh.”

Vaysh steadfastly studied the horizon. “Ashmael.”

***

To Ashmael, and indeed any har who may have been observing, Vaysh was like a statue carved from rock or ice – personifying the brazen nickname he had earned over the years. Inside, however, the heart most hara thought he did not possess was pounding. He gripped the stone railing beneath his hands tightly in an effort to hide their shaking, and feel something solid beneath him. His eyes were trained fixedly on the skyline.

Vaysh felt Ashmael shift beside him and the other har let out a gruff cough. A horrible silence descended over them which made Vaysh cringe inwardly. Ashmael obviously did not know what to say, and the silence spoke volumes of the general’s desire to be anywhere but here.

Right now Vaysh wished the marble beneath him would open up and swallow him.

He doesn’t want to talk to me. He can’t stand looking at me.

Eventually Ashmael pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He inhaled deeply then, resting his forearms on the railing next to Vaysh, leaned over to study the view. He sighed heavily and Vaysh could take it no more.

“You have been away.” he said abruptly, instantly wincing at how terse the comment sounded.

Ashmael glanced up, appearing surprised that Vaysh had noticed. “Yes,” he answered. “In Galhea. Cal has recruited me for his recivilising efforts over there.”

“A difficult job.”

Ashmael nodded, inhaling once more. “Yes, but an important one. Hara over there have been left to their own devices too long. The Gelaming have long considered hars of Uigenna and Varrish descent to be second class – but they had little or no choice of who incepted them.”

Vaysh almost smiled. “You sound like Cal,” he said. “You forget you’re Gelaming too.”

Ashmael flicked his cigarette over the edge of the balcony to fall into the darkness that hid Phaonica’s immaculate garden below. He ruefully rubbed his face. “You’re right, but so is he.”

Silence fell over them again and Vaysh found himself studying not the last swipes of colour on the horizon, but Ashmael’s arm beside him. The flickering light of lamps glowing around the edge of the balcony cast a shadow across the other har’s tanned skin. Vaysh could see light reflecting off the golden hairs which lightly covered Ashmael’s strong arm.

Standing so close, Vaysh could smell Ashmael’s unique scent and it filled his nostrils almost like a narcotic, forcing him to draw it deep into his lungs. Heat radiated from the form standing beside him and Vaysh was filled with an urge to touch Ashmael’s arm, to feel if the skin were as hot as he imagined.

Stop it.

He couldn’t.

Like some har going through freybrehia, Vaysh was filled with intense feelings that swelled deep in his belly. He shut his eyes, gripping the railing more tightly, ashamed and embarrassed that Ashmael could make him react this way.

When he opened his eyes Vaysh glanced up and saw Ashmael looking down at him from the corner of his eye. Quickly, Vaysh looked away, and the skyline once again became the most interesting thing he had ever seen.

When silence remained between them Vaysh opened his mouth to fill it. He shut it again. Curiosity forced him to glance back at the har beside him and he saw Ashmael was still watching.

Unable to look away this time Vaysh glared back at him, determined to defy the feelings Ashmael caused to pulse through him. Ashmael smiled ruefully but it looked painful to him and caused Vaysh’s gaze to lighten somewhat.

“I don’t know what you do to me.” Ashmael announced suddenly, running a frustrated hand through his hair, pushing his fringe back.

It was a nervous gesture Vaysh recognized from their time together…before and one he had not seen Ashmael indulge in many times since. But why would he be nervous now.

“I’m not doing anything.” Vaysh finally replied.

Startlingly, Ashmael groaned aloud and thumped his fist down on the railing. He turned an accusing finger at Vaysh. “Yes you do! You… you’re bewitching me!”

Vaysh bristled. “What are you talking about? You seduced me!”

They faced off, glaring at each other, the silence now punctuated by their panting breaths.

“Me?” Ashmael snarled. “If I remember correctly, tiahaar, you were the one flirting with me the other night with that… that mask!”

“And you were the one staring at me all night!” Vaysh snapped. He didn’t know where Ashmael was coming from but his reaction was swift. Hearing Ashmael refer to their encounters with such obvious annoyance and disgust pierced Vaysh like a dagger.

“And may I remind you, tiahaar, just who it was who came barreling into my room in the middle of the night!”

Suddenly, Ashmael gripped Vaysh’s face in his hands. Startled, Vaysh tried to jerk away but Ashmael clung on, his fingers digging almost painfully into Vaysh’s skin.

The blond stared at him with an intense expression Vaysh could not read.

“So beautiful,” Ashmael muttered and Vaysh frowned in confusion. The blond continued. “You, with your indifferent face; your frozen heart. I don’t know what you are. Your indifference drives me crazy!”

With a growl, Ashmael yanked Vaysh up to meet him and pressed their mouths together. His breath was full of confusion and desire and Vaysh immediately melted in his embrace. With a soft sound of surrender he clasped onto Ashmael’s waist and returned his frantic kisses. If physical closeness was all Ashmael was able or willing to give, Vaysh would take it. Better to have just that memory of their past alive than none of it at all.

***

Ashmael drew Vaysh’s breath deep into his lungs, savoring the taste of the red head’s kisses. Vaysh’s breath was different now, though understandably so, but underneath it all Ashmael tasted something that was familiar, and entirely addictive.

Relief rushed over him when Vaysh responded to his kisses. The other har surrendered, opened mouthed to the sweep of Ashmael’s tongue and held him tightly at the hips; both shirt and skin gripped in his fists. He had certainly not planned on this happening tonight, and had been speaking the truth when he said he didn’t know what Vaysh was doing to him. It seemed whenever they found themselves alone together, Ashmael’s mind was completely consumed with the need to touch, taste and possess the har that had once been his.

Vaysh let out a soft sound of pleasure which shot into Ashmael somewhere near his throat, and went straight down to his groin. He pulled back slightly, panting heavily and stared into Vaysh’s face which was now flushed.

“Oh, Ag,” Ashmael breathed, repeating the phrase several times as he studied Vaysh’s face.

Vaysh licked his now swollen lips then, without opening his eyes, took matters into his own hands. He released Ashmael’s hips and clasped his shoulders instead, pressing his mouth hotly against Ashmael’s own. When Ashmael was finally released, his breath was coming even quicker.

Frantically, he pressed opened mouthed kisses across Vaysh’s porcelain skin, breathing in Vaysh’s smell as the other har clutched him. When he looked down, he saw Vaysh’s eyes were now open and the sight made him still.

Vaysh’s eyes were glazed making them appear as much like real ice as Ashmael had ever seen them. He felt a shiver creep down his spine at the sight of the depthless grey. Apart from his hair, Vaysh’s eyes were the biggest visible reminder of how he had changed. When Ashmael had known him before, Vaysh’s eyes warm and glowing. They were the same grey as now, but Vaysh’s eyes never used to glimmer with the sharpness they held now.

When Ashmael had looked into Vaysh’s eyes in the past he had only seen tenderness and sincerity. Now, he saw a million other much darker emotions, none of which he could read, enclosed as they were behind a wall of ice.

Ashmael did not want to see the reproving look in Vaysh’s eyes that told him what Vaysh really though of this Angel of Immanion. He did not want to release him either, his being pounded with the need to consume.

Vaysh’s eyes told showed him plainly just how little feeling Vaysh’s being had for Ashmael. But how he wanted to pretend! To pretend that Vaysh was more than just an icy shell reacting to aruna. That there was feeling beneath – that there was feeling reciprocated!

He knew he should stop this and that continuing to go to Vaysh was only prolonging his agony. Vaysh did not and could not ever love him. But Ashmael craved Vaysh like an addict and if aruna was the only fix he could get he would take it.

He let out an anguished groan and did the easiest thing he could think of shoving Vaysh away and turning him to face the empty horizon once more. Without those eyes to swallow him, Ashmael pressed himself against Vaysh’s back and buried his face in that long red hair.

With his eyes shut, it almost felt the same.

***

Vaysh bit back a pained sound as Ashmael spun him around. He bit down hard on his lip, gasping the rail beneath his fingers.

He can’t bare to look at me, he cried silently.

He was sure Ashmael was going to leav,e and his body frantically cried out for him to prevent it, desperate for aruna as it now was. But to his immense relief the heat of Ashmael’s body returned as the general pressed Vaysh painfully into the marble banister.

Vaysh welcomed the dull ache of the rock as it pressed into his stomach and a light moan slipped out as one hand reached up to touch the head that was now buried in his neck.

For a second, part of Vaysh still despaired thinking Ashmael was only still there because he was as desperate for aruna as Vaysh now was. The emotions rolling off the general, however, made the reasoning flimsy. Vaysh could feel intense desire from Ashmael burning through him as strongly as the blond har’s hot skin warmed him.

He tipped his head forward, hair hanging over his shoulders and face as Ashmael brushed it out of the way to press kisses against his neck.

So, Ashmael wants to pretend…

And how Vaysh wanted to pretend too. To imagine they were alone somewhere old and anciently familiar, where they had never heard of Gelaming, or Immanion, or Thiede. Where they were just two hara in love.

Ashmael was pulling Vaysh’s robe up and out of the way and with scrabbling fingers, Vaysh helped. Then, finally, thankfully, Ashmael was inside him and Vaysh cried out. He heard Ashmael’s answering groan deep in his ear and felt teeth bite down hard on his lobe.

The moved together quickly and Vaysh was no longer even aware of the possibility of someone seeing them, let alone caring about the risks. He urged Ashmael deeper, rocking back against him.

Suddenly, Ashmael’s groans in his ear turned into words. Vaysh struggled through his haze of pleasure to decipher what Ashmael was saying.

“We could…. have… do this,” Ashmael gasped. “We could always have this.”

He thrust hard and Vaysh cried out, unable to answer Ashmael’s words.

The blond continued through his pants, his voice deep and husky. “Nohar would know,” he murmured. “Just us. Oh, Ag… Just us…. So good, Vaysh. So good. Don’t…. fight this.”

Vaysh realised what Ashmael was asking. He wanted them to give into their mutual desire, not to question or fight the pull that was between them. Vaysh wanted to respond but when he opened his mouth all that came out was panting breath.

Ashmael twisted his head, capturing Vaysh’s lips with his mouth and tongue. When he drew away he whispered into Vaysh’s mouth, “No analysis… No past.”

Vaysh shuddered. That was what Ashmael wanted. Aruna and nothing else, no questions or answers about their past or where they stood now. A single tear trickled down Vaysh’s check and mingled with the sweat that clung to his skin.

“Yes!” He finally managed to gasp out just as Ashmael’s inner tongue stretched out to claim him. Pleasure washed over him and he gasped again and again, “Yes.”

When orgasm released its hold on Vaysh, silence descended over them again. The only sound was their panting as they both struggled to catch their breath.

After a few long moments which seemed to hang in the air like fragile crystals, Vaysh became aware of the muffled noises of the party inside. His face flooded with heat, suddenly aware how risky their union had been. Hara were inside only meters away and could have appeared at any moment.

Hastily Vaysh pulled away from Ashmael, straightening his clothes. He wiped his face and smoothed his hands over his hair trying to detangle it. When he turned around, Ashmael was composed too.

In an impulsive gesture, Vaysh stepped up to him and kissed Ashmael. He kept his breath to himself, though their kiss lingered. He did not meet Ashmael’s eye, afraid what he might see there, when he whispered, “Nohar has to know.”

He gently patted Ashmael’s chest, pressing his forehead to the other har’s cheek for a moment before he turned away and headed back inside.

 Part Five

Sitting at the large desk in his office Ashmael growled and shoved the maps in front of him away angrily. Border disputes would have to wait as they clearly could not hold his attention today

His liaisons, a better way to describe it than friendship, with Vaysh was one simply of necessity. All hara learned in time that their need for aruna had a mind of its own. Personally, Ashmael’s drive had focused itself so thoroughly on the red headed ghost of his former chesnari that no other har could fully satisfy him. His desire became so intense at times that he thought he might be driven insane if he did not join with Vaysh.

One of his assistants appeared, breaking his reverie. He glared impatiently at the har, glad to have a figure to direct his annoyance at.

“What is it?” he snapped.

Clearly used to the general’s moods, the aide bowed slightly announcing, “Tiahaar Pellaz wishes to remind you of your meeting…”

“Shit!” Ashmael sprang out of his chair.

He had completely forgotten his appointment with Pellaz to discuss trade with Megalithican tribes… or was it border raids?  Never mind.

Quickly he snatched up the papers he thought he might need and swept past the aide, yelling a hasty ‘thank you’ over his shoulder.

As he hurried the short distance to Pellaz’s formal offices he cursed himself for becoming distracted. There was no excuse for keeping the Tigron waiting, though Vaysh was on his mind, so keeping focus was proving difficult.

Despite the simple, physical aspect of his connection to Vaysh, Ashmael still found himself thinking about the other har often. Too often, apparently, if it was now affecting his work.

He growled under his breath. He doubted Vaysh spent any time thinking about him other than when he wanted a good roon.

Ashmael ignored the har standing outside Pellaz’s apartment and burst through the ornate doors voicing a loud apology as he went. Shoving his thoughts of Vaysh, during aruna or otherwise, aside, Ashmael focused on the dark har in front of him.

Pellaz was alone in the office, seating behind his impressive desk. He faced the large window admiring the expansive view of the ocean the room offered, but he turned, waving away Ashmael’s apology.

“It’s ok, Ash.” He gestured towards a large platter of fruit on the desk. “Help yourself.” he offered, before taking a strawberry for himself.

He sat down, and Ashmael did the same, opposite him. As he did so he realised Pellaz was in fact not alone after all. His red haired aide sat silently off to the side, poised with paper and pen in hand.

Of course. Pellaz would want Vaysh here to… assist. Right.

Ashmael acknowledged Vaysh with a quick nod, though the other har simply glanced at him before turning his attention back to Pellaz. No wonder Ashmael hadn’t noticed him— Vaysh was as still as a stone; his pale skin making him look like he was carved out of the same ice that lined his eyes.

Shifting his attention back to Pellaz, Ashmael saw the Tigron staring at him expectantly. He coughed, and flicked through his messy papers for a moment, racking his brains as to why they were supposed to be meeting.

Pellaz spared him. “Ash, the Thalerians…”

Right! “Joining the alliance,” Ashmael finished smoothly, flashing a winning smile.

“Exactly,” Pellaz pushed some papers aside to reveal a large map with ink jotted across it. “I need to know the potential military fallout, whatever track we decide to take.”

***

Vaysh listened attentively, making note of points he knew Pellaz would find important. Ashmael’s was certainly a distracting presence, but years of practice skilled Vaysh in the ability to push personal feelings aside and behave with perfect professionalism no matter the situation.

Besides, it was the only thing to do. Not only was he confronted with Ashmael on a regular basis due to their shared close proximity to Pellaz, Vaysh would never let his former partner know he was rattled when the blond was so clearly unfazed.

Nohar was aware how the deep, rich cadence of Ashmael’s voice as he discussed various military strategies with the Tigron set a strong throbbing through Vaysh’s system. Desire, yes, but that was not all. At times, when he was particularly distracted, the sound or smell of Ashmael would cause Vaysh’s throat to clench, or memories to swamp his vision. Years of practiced also skilled him in the ability to push such unwanted memories away. At least until he was alone in his rooms.

The physical side of Vaysh’s reaction was the only one he indulged himself to satisfy. Indeed, that part of his relationship with Ashmael was the only one that remained. That was fine by Vaysh, however; he didn’t think he could tolerate a deeper relationship with Ashmael, even if it were possible.

Though sometimes he wished…

Vaysh shifted angrily in his chair and was rewarded with questioning looks from both Pellaz and Ashmael. He graced them both with a brief expression that could have been a smile before busily studying the paper in front of him. To his relief, the Tigron and the General continued their discussion.

No point wishing about anything! Vaysh admonished himself angrily. The fact was it was a deep relationship with Ashmael because it was impossible. The fact that they had any< contact at all, much less the intimate moments they shared still baffled Vaysh, but he had long since stopped questioning it.

It was clear Ashmael was only interested in Vaysh for aruna, so why should he expect anything more to develop? Vaysh didn’t even want anything further to grow between them. Their relationship had died decades ago when he did. Now, Ashmael was arrogant and selfish. Much better that Vaysh accepted the physical gift his former love gave him and enjoyed the pleasure he got from Ashmael.

Suddenly Pellaz was standing up and Vaysh realised with a grimace that he had hardly noted anything down. Apparently Ashmael’s presence was more distracting than he thought. Quickly he shoved the paper into his robe and stood up.

Pellaz brushed past him with a muttered word about finding Cal and making sure nohar interrupted him. Then he was gone.

As the door closed behind the Tigron, silence filled the office. Vaysh risked a glace and saw Ashmael standing in front of Pellaz’s desk, almost at attention, though his head was bowed. The sight of his strong back and fitting trousers caused Vaysh’s breath to quicken. He fisted the material of his robe in his hands for a second, as unease shot through him.

What was Ashmael thinking? The ground between them was so unsteady Vaysh never knew what the general’s reaction, or his own for that matter, might be.

He was about to leave when Ashmael turned to face him. The dark colour pooling in the blonde’s eyes left Vaysh with no doubt as to what he was thinking. Vaysh gasped and a moment later they were in each others arms.

Ashmael grabbed him tightly, nearly lifting him off his feet as he claimed Vaysh’s mouth. One hand gripped bright red hair, the other sliding around the curve of Vaysh’s backside. Vaysh whimpered faintly, pressing against Ashmael’s strong frame. He gripped the other har’s arms tightly, nails digging into firm skin.

They shared breath frantically, tasting nothing but familiar desire. Vaysh’s head tipped back as Ashmael released his mouth and shifted his focus to the pale skin in Vaysh’s neck. He kissed and licked then bit down, savagely staking his claim on the slim har in his arms.

Suddenly a noise just outside the door caused them to wrench apart. Ashmael spun to face the large windows just as Pellaz’s servant Attica entered.

The strangely coloured har looked startled to see the room had occupants. He dropped a hasty bow, apologizing softly and looking questioningly to Vaysh to ask if he should leave.

Vaysh addressed him smoothly. “That’s fine, Attica. You may clear this away.”

Struggling to get his breathing under control, Ashmael watched astounded as Vaysh transformed back into an ice maiden. He didn’t appear to be out of breath or flushed at all. Ashmael on the other hand was frantically willing his ouana-lim to calm down.

Attica threw Ashmael a curious look as he removed the plate of fruit from Pellaz’s desks but did not dare voice any questions. Ashmael glared back at him, quite frustrated at the har’s ill timing.

When Attica left the room, Vaysh followed. A simple, an infuriating, “Good afternoon, Tiahaar,” floating back to Ashmael, who was left standing in the empty office.

 Part Six

And so things continued; Vaysh found himself meeting Ashmael in more darkened offices and secret cupboards than he ever imagined. Meetings where they were both present turned into long agonizing tests of control that had to be suffered through. Ashmael’s presence caused as much discomfort as ever but now for an entirely different reason.

Occasionally Ashmael would hand Vaysh a note, under the pretense that it was for Pellaz, outlining a time for them to meet. Or Vaysh would slip the general a discrete signal to stay behind or meet him once they were dismissed.

The whole situation was a complete turn on that stretched from days, to weeks into months.

Vaysh could barely contain the thrill that Ashmael sent through him when the general brazenly passed the aide a folded paper, asking him to pass it onto the Tigron. If their fingers accidentally brushed, Vaysh would cherish the touch like a school girl, though he would berate himself for it afterwards.

The exciting and risky nature of their meetings made it easier for Vaysh to remember that this was just about aruna – it almost felt like a game. Ashmael was an intoxicating drink that made Vaysh shed his inhibitions and let loose.

One night Vaysh appeared at Ashmael’s door and whipping off the hood that had disguised his face on his trip over declared, “We are going out!”

Ashmael, closing the door behind Vaysh, balked. “What?”

Vaysh turned, a rare smile on his face, his eyes bright. “Out!” He declared. “To a club.”

Ashmael gave him a confused look. “Where is Vaysh and what have you done with him?” He instantly regretted the words, thinking how close to the bone they really hit but Vaysh did not appear to notice.

His face was flushed. “I want to dance.” he said, striding into Ashmael’s living area and heading to the drink the other har had abandoned on the table. He downed it, to Ashmael’s surprise.

Things were beginning to make sense. “Vaysh, are you drunk?”

The red head turned, his eyes innocent. “No.” Pause. “Yes. Well, a little.”

Ashmael shook his head, a laugh escaping.  Vaysh frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He demanded, hands on his hips.

Ashmael could not keep the grin off his face; he had not seen Vaysh acting like this since…. Well, not for many years. Just how much had he had to drink?

Vaysh was still staring at him, clearly expecting a response. Ashmael raised his hands. “I don’t know, Vaysh. This doesn’t seem like a very good idea. We’re supposed to be keeping this secret right?”

“Yes!” Vaysh beamed. “But don’t worry, I’ve got it all figured out. There is a club in town.”

“Yes…” Ashmael pressed warily.

“Don’t worry, it isn’t one of your regular haunts,” Vaysh continued, some of his familiar haughtiness returning. “Nohar will recognize us there.”

“Maybe not you, but they’ll know me.” Ashmael protested.

“That’s why we go incognito!”

There was silence for a moment. “Incognito?”

Vaysh rolled his eyes. “For Ag’s sake, Ash. All we do is roon. Lets go out and do something!”

Vaysh didn’t sound drunk anymore, he sounded serious. And sincere. He sounded so like the old Vaysh that Ashmael knew that he had to relent, unexpected though Vaysh’s suggestion was.

“I have to shower.” he said.

“Fine,” Vaysh replied. “You shower, I will find us disguises. And drinks.”

Ashmael shook his head lightly but headed off to the bathroom without complaining. Vaysh was behaving completely out of character, but he was reminding Ashmael so much of the har he once knew that he never wanted Vaysh to stop.

***

A short time later Ashmael was standing in nothing but a towel as Vaysh simultaneously slurped a glass of wine and rummaged through Ashmael’s clothes to find suitable attire.

He had entered his bed chamber to see Vaysh wearing a dark sleeveless top and denim trousers – both stolen from Ashmael’s wardrobe. The pants were too big and hung low and loose on Vaysh’s hips, exposing the smooth line of his belly. The pale skin on his arms seemed to glow. Vaysh had pulled his long hair back into a sleek ponytail that hung halfway down his back. Restrained, the red tresses looked darker, though their bright colour still caught in the light at certain angles.

All in all, he looked completely un-Vaysh-like.

He looked so much like the Vaysh from his memory that Ashmael felt his throat tighten.

Vaysh held up a pair of ratty jeans that were more holes than material. “What are these?” He asked, his voice thick with distain.

Ashmael snatched them away. “Hey! Give those here.” He held the jeans to his chest.

Vaysh laughed at him. “How long have you had those? They look as if you wore them when you were human.”

“No,” Ashmael said defensively. “Not quite.”

“Well, put them on.”

Ashmael glanced down at the worn denim, fingering one frayed tear. “What?”

“They’re perfect,” Vaysh announced. “The angel would never be caught dead out in public in pants like that.”

Ashmael grimaced slightly at Vaysh’s caustic use of his famous nickname. “Give me that,” he growled, grabbing Vaysh’s drink out of his hand and swallowing the remainder of the liquid in one gulp. Then without ceremony he abruptly dropped his towel and pulled the jeans on, forgoing underwear.

Ahhh. The pants felt old and familiar – comfortable. Just like Vaysh.

The red head turned away and Ashmael thought he saw a blush darken the redness of Vaysh’s already flushed face.

Good. Maybe he’ll stop being so calm about all this!

“Now what?” Ashmael demanded.

Vaysh thrust a shirt at him and as Ashmael put it on he realised it was the one the other har had been wearing earlier. It was dark green, and fit a little tight across the chest but wasn’t bad.

Vaysh seemed pleased with his handy work, and passing Ashmael another drink, took about fixing the general’s hair. Seemingly completely unaware the effect he was having on Ashmael, Vaysh stepped close and reached up to sweep blond hair off Ashmael’s face.

His fingers slid through Ashmael’s locks as he pushed the other har’s bangs up and away. Ashmael stood absolutely still, breathing deeply but calmly, filling his nose with Vaysh’s smell. He watched Vaysh’s grey eyes, so close, as the other har studied his hair. Vaysh secured Ashmael’s hair back with a series of clips and a black band. Ashmael’s hair also looked darker when it was pulled back, most of the blond highlights hidden.

Next Vaysh attacked Ashmael’s eyes with kohl, which the General did not normally wear. He did not bother much with cosmetics. When Vaysh was done with his makeup and turned Ashmael around to face a mirror. The effect was quite good, Ashmael had to admit. The tight green shirt was nothing like what he would normally wear and the makeup and hairstyle he wore did a good job at altering his appearance.

Bit holey, he thought, eyeing his ripped jeans. But they were sinfully comfortable and the glimpses of tanned legs they provided were quite nice, if he did say so himself.

He couldn’t admire any further however because Vaysh was pushing him through the door with a demand for more alcohol. Ashmael hurriedly complied.

As he mixed the drinks, Ashmael pondered Vaysh’s behavior. The other har was either very drunk, or had severe cabin fever because Ashmael had never known Vaysh to go to clubs in Immanion. The two of them had spent many sweaty nights dancing and drinking when they had lived together – but that was years ago. While Ashmael still enjoyed socalising, Vaysh appeared to have grown out of it.

Or had he? Apparently not tonight!

Suddenly Vaysh appeared in the living room and Ashmael had to smile at the other har’s appearance. He felt heat curl in his belly as he took in kohl smudged eyes and glittering cheeks. Vaysh looked dark and mysterious, his hair and makeup contrasting sharply with his pale skin.

He was delicious.

Ashmael handed him a drink with a rueful smile. “Lead on,” he said. “I’m all yours.”

***

As he led Ashmael through twisting back streets to the night club he had in mind, Vaysh pondered the events that had resulted in them sneaking out in the middle of the night to go drinking and dancing. It was like they were human teenagers again. The thought made Vaysh smile. Ashmael’s hand was tight in his, the other har close behind him.

The bottle of wine Vaysh had drunk had made this seem like a good idea, and the drinks he had consumed at Ashmael’s place confirmed it. Lying on his bed earlier, Vaysh had lazily sipped his alcohol, listening to the throbbing beat of the music that Cal was indulgently playing extremely loudly for Loki next door.

The base line had started a throbbing low in Vaysh’s stomach and desire tingled along his alcohol filled veins. He had closed his eyes, lying in the dark and remembering a time when he had often danced in the tight confines of Ashmael’s arms, cigarettes and liquor heavy on his breath.

Quickly, the memories had turned into a brilliant idea and Vaysh found himself at Ashmael’s door, surprising the har and coercing him into coming out. It was all turning out better than he expected too. Ashmael was surprisingly easy to convince and he looked… delicious in those ripped, ratty trousers.

The disguises they wore worked a treat too, and Vaysh’s face was flushed because their slightly altered appearances reminded him so much of the masked ball. Just like then, he felt his inhibitions leaving him. That night they had both pretended they didn’t know who the other har was, tonight they could pretend they were normal. Just two hara out for a good time, pressing close, touching and hedonistically feeding their mutual desire.

When they reached the entrance of the club, there were other hara spilling out onto the brightly lit street around them. Vaysh did not recognize a single one, though he didn’t expect to this far from the palace. Here was a club nohar from the hegemony or upper circle of Immanion ever ventured. It was perfect.

Vaysh turned around and grabbed Ashmael’s other hand. The General looked nervous and tugged away to run a hand through his fringe, only to realize it wasn’t there.

“You sure this is a good idea?” he muttered.

Vaysh didn’t answer, only took the hand back and, walking backwards, pulled Ashmael into the club.

Ashmael gave up and allowed Vaysh to lead him. The other har was smiling slyly and Ashmael found it irresistible. Even that night of the masked ball, Vaysh had not acted this overtly sexual and Ashmael was slightly intimidated, though extremely pleased.

The interior of the club was dark and crowded, thick with the smell of smoke, sweat and something sweet— a dark heady scent of aruna. Ashmael shivered, stepping close behind Vaysh as the smaller har led them on a winding path through the throng of dancing and drinking hara.

Foregoing any more drinks, Vaysh led them to the middle of the dance floor where the pulsing music seemed to literally move the muggy air. Hara danced or shared breath around them, smoking and laughing. Vaysh immediately raised his arms and started to move to the beat.

Ashmael was more than willing to go along with this particular game, and Vaysh’s drunken idea of a night out suddenly seemed like the best one he’d ever heard as he eyed the other har’s swaying hips. Ashmael placed his hands on them, his thumbs lightly tracing the pale skin that was exposed between Vaysh’s shirt and his baggy trousers.

Vaysh might have purred, though the music was too loud for Ashmael to tell, as he leaned back against Ashmael. He arched so his backside nestled firmly against Ashmael and twined his arms back around the blonde’s neck.

Following Vaysh’s seductive moves, Ashmael had no alternative but to move to the beat too. He could barely think, or breathe. The combination of hara pressing close all around him and the stifling heat of the club left him breathless. Or was that Vaysh pressing close in front of him?

Ashmael’s mind was full of a thousand memories of nights spent just like this, years ago, when Vaysh would make Ashmael dance with him. When Vaysh would stand with his back to Ashmael’s chest and swing his hips to whatever beat happened to be playing. When Vaysh would wind his arms up and around Ashmael’s neck to bring Ashmael’s face around so the blond could kiss his lips or throat.

It was as if no time had passed at all. The only reminder was Vaysh’s dark hair which would have been light caramel coloured back then. But in the dark, it was easy to overlook such a trivial thing – especially when Vaysh was right there, one hand twisting in Ashmael’s pulled back hair, the other running across a sweaty forearm.

How happy Ashmael was that Vaysh wanted to recreate this particular memory. How thankful. They swayed and moved together for a long time, hands sliding over bare skin. Ashmael bent his head and pressed his lips to Vaysh’s throat. He felt the skin beneath him vibrate and bent further to hear Vaysh’s words.

With his mouth close to Ashmael’s ear Vaysh said, “Just like it used to be…” and Ashmael felt a stab of pain in his chest.

He turned his head and claimed Vaysh’s mouth with his own, carefully concealing certain thoughts as they shared breath. It wouldn’t do for Vaysh to know that he was enjoying more than physical contact with another har. It wouldn’t do at all for Vaysh to know Ashmael was savoring every caress of Vaysh’s cool skin, licking up every drop of sweat and tasting every breath like a dying man in a desert. His heart contracted with every beat of the music, with every seductive sway of Vaysh’s hips.

***

Vaysh was smiling. In fact his face almost hurt from the grin that was lazily spread across his face. He did not smile much and Cal had once jokingly expressed surprise that Vaysh’s face didn’t crack when he saw a smile there once. That comment had turned the smile into a sarcastic snarl, but tonight Vaysh was happy to let the grin stay.

He gently swayed in the familiar feel of Ashmael’s arms tight around him, his eyes closed and the smile playing across his face. Since arriving at the nightclub where, as Vaysh had predicted, nohar paid them the slightest bit of attention, they had spent hours alternatively dancing and sipping cocktails and now Vaysh’s intoxicated state had lulled him into a sleepy and warm place.

With one arm stretched up and lazily twirling Ashmael’s hair, Vaysh rested his head back on Ashmael’s chest, passively accepting the kisses that Ashmael placed across his neck, chin and mouth. He was glad Ashmael had been so willing to play along tonight and indulge Vaysh. If that meant that Vaysh had to swallow the part of him that yearned to open his mouth and rain endearments and word of promise over the other har, then so be it. Ashmael was happy to pamper to the physical nature of their relationship, any words from Vaysh of how he secretly desire so much more would only shatter the illusion that had been built up. It would only push Ashmael away.

Vaysh clung to what little Ashmael gave him fiercely, disguising the tightness of his grip with a cool façade. He was used to keeping his deepest thoughts to himself.

By the time they were ready to leave, Vaysh had lost all track of time. The sky was just beginning to lighten and the stars fade away as they made their way back through the streets. It was still dark enough to hide them from any prying eyes, however, and they silently walked the streets that lead them closer to the white palace.

When they reached Ashmael’s address, he refused to release Vaysh’s hand. “Come in with me,” Ashmael murmured, still clinging to the closeness they had felt while dancing.

Vaysh’s mind was still muffled by alcohol and the taste of aruna in the club. Or perhaps he just wanted to agree so badly. He nodded and followed Ashmael inside.

Once in Ashmael’s room, Vaysh stood passively while the blond pulled the too big clothes off his body. Ashmael’s hands were faintly calloused and lightly scarred from the battles he had fought, and Vaysh bit his lip to stop the light noise that wanted to escape when Ashmael ran them over his bare skin.

Ashmael took him to the bed and their union was more like it had been before they were parted than any of their previous encounters. Vaysh felt he was being worshipped by tanned fingers, soft lips and heavy lidded blue eyes. He arched beneath Ashmael’s touch, opening, flowering and embracing his former lover tightly.

They shared breath and both were so caught up in passion that neither of them noticed it was strange that mutual feelings of affection or even love spilled forth. It seemed right and fitting with the way the entire night had been wrapped up in memories of the past.

Ashmael embraced Vaysh tightly, holding the smaller har to him with a hand on his lower back. Vaysh cried out softly as he was gently taken and they were joined in a way so different to all their frenzied and secret meetings. Sparks lit the space behind his eyelids and Vaysh felt as if he was being swallowed by Ashmael’s very being. He welcomed the hot blackness, as he arched beneath Ashmael. With any luck he would be able to curl up inside Ashmael’s chest forever and never leave.

Part Seven

Ashmael was woken the next morning by a shard of light which shone through a crack in the blinds and directly onto his closed eyes. He flung an arm up over his face in an attempt to ignore the light and deny the morning.

It didn’t work.

He groaned, twisting his legs slightly under the loose sheets that covered him. His body felt slightly sticky and cracked, covered in the residue of sweat.

With a curse he threw the arm covering his face to the side. When it landed on the bed beside him the bed let out a startled yelp.

Not the bed.

Ashmael sat up and realised there was a har beside him. That wasn’t all that unusual, as he was never short on company, however this particular har was currently pushing his long red hair out of his eyes, blinking sleepily. He had always avoided picking up hara with red hair before. Suddenly the events of the night before came flooding back.

Well, that explained his faint headache. And the fact that Vaysh was lying beside him.

Ashmael’s arm was pushed away angrily and grey eyes slowly opened beneath the red hair. Grey eyes which were at first confused, but then catching sight of Ashmael, widened in alarm.

Vaysh pulled away as if the bed was scalding, a comical look of shock twisting his sleepy features. “Ashmael!”

Ashmael grimaced. “Vaysh.”

Realising he was naked, Vaysh yanked the top sheet with him as he stood up and prudishly wrapped it around his waist. Left bare on the mattress, Ashmael jumped up too, grabbing a discarded pillow to hold over his groin as he faced Vaysh.

Vaysh was bright red. He looked frantically around the room, perhaps searching for his clothes. Seeing he was flustered, Ashmael tried to diffuse the situation. He reached across the bed and took hold of one of Vaysh’s pale hands.

“Hey, settle down,” he said softly, as if talking to a spooked animal. “Don’t worry about it.”

Perhaps Vaysh would stay. They could… have breakfast or something. Anything to keep the illusion of the previous night in tact. Their eyes met and for a moment Ashmael thought Vaysh really would stay. Then the other har was extracting his hand from Ashmael’s grip.

“I have to go,” Vaysh said coldly. “Pellaz will be expecting me.” He moved around the room picking up discarded items of clothing and quickly pulling them on.

Ashmael sat heavily on the edge of the bed, gritting his teeth. Just when he thought he had melted a little bit of that ice, it froze over again! Ashmael had never had a problem using hara for aruna and nothing more, but now that Vaysh was doing it to him… he couldn’t stand it. Before he knew it his frustration was bubbling out of him.

“Well, now that the rooning’s out of the way, you might as well go,” he said harshly. “You’ve been fantastic company.”

He looked over his shoulder and saw Vaysh freeze, grey eyes turned to ice crystals then Vaysh said in a deadly voice. “Of course, General. I would not want to taint your apartment any further with my presence.’

With that Vaysh swept out of the room and a few seconds later Ashmael heard the front door slam. He threw himself back down on the bed and put his arm back over his face, vainly wishing he could turn back the clock.

Next time he would simply stay silent and watch Vaysh sleep.

Next time? Ashmael swore again then abruptly grabbed the nearest item he could find which happened to be a heavy book beside his bed. He hurled it at away, pleased with the satisfying thud it made as it hit the opposite wall.

***

Vaysh returned to his apartment in Pellaz’s wing in a rage, though, as always, not a hint of his inner anger leaked through his pristine exterior. Only a strong exhalation of breath through his nose gave a glimpse of his true mood.

Once he was safely concealed behind closed doors his anger was released in a frustrated growl. Impulsively Vaysh picked up a small wooden bowl off a nearby table and hurled it across the room. It collided with a wall with a satisfying clang but the outlet did little to alleviate Vaysh’s feelings. He twisted his hands together, his stomach clenching icily as Ashmael’s words rang in his ears.

You’ve been fantastic company!

Ashmael’s sarcasm had hit its target hard. The harsh words haunted Vaysh, outlining Ashmael’s true feelings as cruelly as they did.

Now that the rooning’s out of the way, you might as well go.

Vaysh grimaced as he ripped off his clothes and headed for the bathroom to wash. His clothes clung to him as if mimicking Ashmael’s caresses from the night before and Vaysh flung them away in disgust.

I was a fool to even go over there, he thought. How was he ever going to face Ashmael again? But this was what he asked for wasn’t it? Vaysh had known the whole time that getting involved with Ashmael would be potentially fatal. He had let his desire for the other heart make the decision his head knew was wrong.

But Vaysh had never thought Ashmael would worm his way under his skin so thoroughly. Had never considered the ease at which Ashmael would accept and indeed encourage Vaysh to let his memories come alive.

Never again, he vowed firmly.

Living in ice might be cold but it was far safer, and far more comfortable than getting too close to the flames.

Vaysh took several calming breaths and banished all thoughts of Ashmael from his mind. His excuse to Ashmael had not just been a line, Pellaz really was expecting him.

He washed quickly and headed to Pellaz’s apartment with wearing new clothes and a pale and expressionless face. Unseen, he placed a seal back over his heart. He locked it tight. Nohar, Ashmael or otherwise, would unlock it again – he would bury the key as deep as he buried his memories of Ashmael. And hold it just as tightly as he held them.

***

Determinedly keeping himself as far from Pellaz’s apartment as possible, Ashmael Aldebaran was also attempting to keep his thoughts under control. Vaysh was haunting him and his head was equally full of images of the arunic haze they had experienced last night, and Vaysh’s cold angry face before he stormed out.

As a result, the general was particularly sharp with his staff, snapping at the slightest irritation. Eventually in the late afternoon, Cedony had taken him aside and told him to get a hold of himself. The other har’s harsh words were something of a slap in the face, as Cedony unabashedly adored Ashmael, so Ashmael had no choice but to push his thoughts of Vaysh aside.

Ashmael shuffled through the myriad pieces of paper on his desk letting out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t see how we are supposed to pay for this,” he growled. “Cal’s plans are all well and good they’re expensive. What we’re facing isn’t simply a case of disorganization. The Megalithicans simply don’t have the resources.”

Cedony was sprawled on a seat opposite Ashmael’s desk. He shrugged, ignoring the papers. “Its going to have to be staggered over several years,” he offered. “Cal isn’t expecting changes to happen over night.”

“We’ll be lucky if any changes happen at all,” Ashmael muttered. He glanced around him with a disgusted sigh. “We idle in opulence while hara there don’t have enough to eat.”

Cedony rolled his eyes, “Spare me the propaganda, Ashmael.”

“You know it’s the truth.”

“So what do you want to do?” Cedony asked. “Sell off your wine cellar and fund the relief yourself? Don’t kid yourself, Ash. You like living the way we do as much as I do.”

Ashmael made a wry face but had to concede the point. It was frustrating, however, to see costs mounting up on his desk. Hara had resources at their disposal that humans had only dreamed of, and yet they were being hindered by the same bureaucratic red tape that human politicians and struggled with throughout history.

“Everything worth it is worth fighting for.” Cedony said.

Ashmael rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re getting all idealistic. You’ve been spending too much time with our Tigron.”

But Cedony’s words made Ashmael think.

***

Approximately five and a half hours later Ashmael found himself standing in the now familiar spot in the shadows before Vaysh’s balcony door. His hand was frozen above the door handle. He wanted to turn it more than anything- to walk into Vaysh’s room and fight for what was worth it.

But the image of how Vaysh’s face had twisted into a cold dark mask in his room this morning kept filling his mind. The warm, seductive Vaysh of the nightclub had been replaced by the icy statue Ashmael had watched walk the halls of Phaonica for years. The real Vaysh perhaps?

I would not want to taint your apartment with my presence any longer.

Vaysh’s voice held nothing of the warm purr from the night before. Instead it was calculated, cold and cutting.

Ashmael let out a frustrated sigh, running one hand through his fringe. What had possessed him to say what he had that morning? It wasn’t Vaysh’s personality but his own harsh words that had caused Vaysh to flee.

Not surprising, Ashmael thought. You practically thanked him for being your whore.

So here he was, foolishly standing like a lovesick teenager under a girlfriend’s window. The concept that Pellaz or one of his staff could walk onto the balcony and see him at any moment was too cringe worthy to contemplate. He’d never live it down.

Everything worth it is worth fighting for…

Ashmael was resolved, and about to turn the handle when the decision was made for him. Vaysh appeared at the glass door, an apparition dressed in dark green. He pushed the flimsy curtain covering the door away and opened it silently. He faced Ashmael impassively, his eyes incredibly bright in the moonlight.

Ashmael just stared at him for a few moments. Were those tear tracks? Were Vaysh’s eyes bright, or wet?

Finally Ashmael opened his mouth to speak. Vaysh held up a hand to stop him.

“Don’t.” His voice was soft but firm. Ashmael tried to protest but Vaysh shook his head.

“We can’t keep doing this, Ashmael,” Vaysh said, his eyes completely liquid. “We can’t pretend.”

“Yes we can.” Ashmael breathed, the words released on his exhale before he knew what he was saying. Flustered, he ran a hand through his fringe. “Why not?” He exploded. “Nohar is getting hurt.”

“Yes, they are.”

Ashmael froze. Vaysh’s hands were clenching his robe tightly Oh, Aghama, this wasn’t going how Ashmael expected at all. He thought Vaysh would either yell at him and throw him out or maybe, hopefully, let him inside. Let them continue to… pretend.

He stared at Vaysh’s liquid eyes and felt his own grow damp. “Are you getting hurt, Vaysh?”

The redhead didn’t answer; he simply gripped himself tightly around the waist. “This is not working,” he said firmly. “We were both lonely, needing some company—”

Ashmael’s hand reached out and grabbed Vaysh’s arm of its own volition. “No!” He hissed. “That’s not what this is.”

The liquid in Vaysh’s eyes turned to ice. “Isn’t it?” he asked. “A good roon, right?”

Ashmael paled. That was right.

“What are you doing here, Ashmael? Are you feeling roony? Surely there is somehar else who can see to your emotional needs,” Vaysh paused. “If you have any.”

Ashmael frowned. “I thought this is what you wanted!”

Vaysh let out a harsh laugh. “Of course it is. I asked for this Ashmael, and you delivered so well!”

Ashmael’s mouth fell open; he shook his head in frustration. “What do you want from me?” he demanded.

“Nothing! I don’t want anything from you,” Vaysh told him. “Just leave.”

But Ashmael couldn’t get his legs to move. He gripped Vaysh’s arm tighter in his hand. Words he recalled saying before fell softly. “I can’t…”

Vaysh looked pained again. He looked away and whispered, “Ashmael, please…”

When Ashmael didn’t move Vaysh turned angry. He yanked his arm from Ashmael’s grip. “You’re going to wake Pellaz.” he snapped.

“Then let me inside.”

Vaysh let out a frustrated noise and stood his ground, blocking the doorway. He sneered at Ashmael. “You and Pellaz are just the same,” he snapped. “You think its some kind of a joke to see how far you can push me! How much chipping away does it take to break Vaysh’s ice?”

“That’s not—”

“What a challenge I must present!” Vaysh continued. He stood right in Ashmael’s face. “And how could you resist it? If anyone could break Vaysh it would be you, right General? You did it before!”

Ashmael firmly took hold of Vaysh’s shoulders, pushing the other har inside his apartment. Vaysh jerked away from him and Ashmael sighed as he firmly closed the door. He turned expecting another verbal assault but Vaysh was facing away, arms wrapped around his torso again.

“Vaysh that isn’t what I was doing.” Ashmael said softly.

Vaysh ignored him. “Get out,” he said, his voice like broken glass. “You won, don’t you see? Go and celebrate your victory and leave me alone.”

Ashmael’s stomach went through the floor. “Victory? How can you call this that? I’ve been following your rules this whole time!”

Vaysh turned and his red hair lifted, framing his face like flames. Like Thiede’s did. “My rules? You think I would make myself your whore, Ashmael?”

Ashmael shook his head firmly, taking a few steps across the room towards Vaysh. “That’s not what you are.”

Vaysh avoided his reaching hand. “No? There at your beck and call. Ready to roon with you in the nearest available broom closet! You had your way with me. And I let you.” He turned away again. “Now, get out.”

Something inside Ashmael snapped. “You’re going to pretend like you didn’t want this,”  he demanded thickly. “It wasn’t me who turned up at your place last night! I didn’t practically roon you on the dance floor!”

Vaysh’s face turned red in anger and Ashmael couldn’t help but be distracted by the sight before him. Even now, Vaysh reminded him of the har he used to know. The redhead also used to be one of his fiercest opponents back when his hair was a lighter shade.

“Get out!” Vaysh screamed.

“No!” Ashmael roared back. Seeing Vaysh flinch made him deflate a little. He hesitated before asking softly, “Is that really what you want?”

Vaysh didn’t answer straight away which gave him hope, but then he said softly, “Yes.” He took a few tentative steps towards Ashmael. “This can’t continue, Ash. You know it can’t.”

Ashmael felt a lump form in his throat. He coughed and clenched his jaw. “I know,” he admitted and the pretense finally shattered. He looked down at Vaysh’s wide eyes. “Is it wrong that I want it to?”

Vaysh’s features softened and he reached a hand out to touch Ashmael’s face. He shook his head lightly, “No. Who doesn’t like to remember their past?”

“The past,” Ashmael echoed dejectedly.

“I’m not the same har,” Vaysh said. “Neither are you. We were foolish to pretend we could be. We have to wake up, Ash.”

Vaysh’s use of his nickname stirred Ashmael’s heart even as his words broke them. He found himself pressing his forehead to Vaysh’s. “If things were different…” he muttered.

“But they aren’t,” Vaysh said. “I can’t give you what you want, Ash. If you even know what it is.”

Suddenly, Ashmael pulled Vaysh into his arms and embraced him tightly. He closed his eyes, struggling to hold onto the last remnants of their joint deception. “I want you.” he said desperately and felt Vaysh shake his head.

Vaysh’s voice was muffled. “No you don’t. You don’t even know me, how could you?”

Ashmael let out a frustrated cry and pressed his mouth against Vaysh’s red hair. He ran his hands down the length of it. Ag, it felt the same, even though it looked so different.

“Let’s pretend, Vaysh,” he whispered thickly. “One more time.”

He felt Vaysh freeze in his arms and knew the other har would object. He’d be right. Why prolong the inevitable? Ashmael would be going home alone tonight.

“You’re not my whore, Vaysh,” Ashmael said bitterly. “As if you ever could be.”

Vaysh pulled away and placed his palms on Ashmael’s face. The redhead’s hands were smooth and cool. Ashmael felt himself dissolving beneath the other har’s touch.

Vaysh stroked his skin lightly. “You broke me, Ash,” he whispered. He studied Ashmael’s face for a moment before rising on his toes. “Just one more time. Nohar has to know.” he whispered and closed the distance between their mouths.

 Part Eight

Vaysh had never been a morning har, or a morning person for that matter. He did not feel that the early morn held anything spectacular he was missing out on while he slept. Nor did he think there was anything wrong with needing a good cup of coffee in order to think clearly.

This particular morning, Vaysh was woken far earlier than he would have liked. He tried to ignore it for a few desperate minutes, but it got harder and harder to pretend that there wasn’t a small blond harling standing mere inches from his pillow.

Loki admirably tried to keep quiet but eventually let out a little mewling, “Yayshee…”

Vaysh groaned and opened his eyes a crack to take in the harling’s beaming smile. He covered his face with his hand. Loki’s small fingers appeared to try and pry the hand away.

“Yayshee!”

Vaysh relented, letting Loki pull the hand away. He attempted to frown at the harling, but was actually just trying to make his eyes adjust to the light. “Too early, Loki,” he croaked.

Loki chortled. “Not early, Yayshee!” He held out his arms in his demanding manner wanting to be allowed into the bed, fists opening and closing.

Vaysh sighed heavily; there was no way to get rid of Loki now. How had the harling got into his room anyway? Loki was truly his hostling’s son and was more than apt at getting his own way. He reached out to help the hostling up, realising with a shock as he moved that he was naked beneath the sheets.

Naked?

Oh Ag, Ashmael was here!

Loki was struggling to climb up on the bed, little legs kicking. Vaysh swooped in to get the harling’s full attention. He grabbed the harlings arms, keeping his still. “How did you get in here, Loki?”

“Balcony,” Loki said, squirming in Vaysh’s hold. “Door was open. Yayshee, up!”

Vaysh bit back a curse. Ashmael must have left the external door open. He sat up, carefully keeping hold of the sheet and pulled Loki into his arms, hoping to distract the harling from Ashmael who lay like a dead weight on the other side of the bed.

Loki bounced happily. “Wake up, Yayshee!” He sang. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Vaysh couldn’t hold back the wistful smile the golden harling drew out. Loki was a ball of radiant energy and there was nohar in the palace who was not affected by him. The harling’s eyes were flittering around the room and Vaysh began to panic. He jostled Loki in his arms to keep his attention.

“Loki, some hara like to sleep longer than others.”

“Sleep?” Loki snuggled into Vaysh’s arms, resting his head on the har’s chest. “Yes, alright.” The harling shut his eyes, letting out a little snoring sound which had Vaysh rolling his eyes.

Why the harling had taken such a liking to him was beyond Vaysh. He had spent a lot of time with Loki, true, if only because as beloved as the harling was, his parents were very busy hara. Loki became something of an adopted harling to all the people in Phaonica, but for some reason, he liked Vaysh more than most.

Vaysh took advantage of the harling’s closed eyes and glanced over his shoulder at the sleeping har beside him. Ashmael lay on his back, one arm hanging over the other side of the bed, the other across his face. His chest rose and fell in a simple rhythm that told Vaysh he was still asleep.

Perhaps he could get Loki out without either the harling or Ashmael noticing each other? Vaysh wasn’t sure what Ashmael’s reaction to Loki discovering them would be and he didn’t really want to find out. He also wasn’t particularly keen on facing the blond har and having to go over their conversation from the night before. It would be much easier to let things enforce on their own and then avoid Ashmael for…. Well, forever.

He reached for the silk robe that hung off his bed head and pulled it on, Loki resting on his lap. He helped Loki down, then turning the harling to usher him away from the sleeping Ashmael, he stood and belted the robe to cover his nakedness.

This just might work. He nudged the harling forward, managing to take a few steps before Loki’s demanding nature took over. The harling dodged around Vaysh’s legs and leapt towards the bed, obviously bent on playing in the warm covers.

Vaysh flailed, trying to catch the harling but it was too late.

Loki let out a surprised, gleeful sound. He reached the edge of the bed and shouted, “Ash-ma-el!” thumping his little fists on the mattress with every syllable.

Ashmael jolted awake and slowly lifted his arm. He peered at Loki through one bleary eye. Vaysh stood frozen behind the harling, pure terror across his face. Ashmael simply stared at Loki, who grinned back, for several silent moments. Then suddenly he reared up with a loud gasp that would have been comical in any other situation.

“Ashmael!” Loki repeated, letting out a gleeful squeal. Unfortunately the general was another of Loki’s favourite hara in the palace.

Ashmael turned to Vaysh with a look of horror. Vaysh simply shrugged and waved his arms. No help there.

Loki was trying to cut up on the bed again and frustrated with his small stature let out a frustrated wail. “Yayshee! Up, up!”

Vaysh gave in and lifted Loki onto the bed. Immediately the harling scampered over to Ashmael and jumped— his landing on Ashmael’s stomach releasing an “Ouff!” from the general.

“What are you doing here?” Loki demanded, thumping Ashmael’s chest similar to how he had the mattress earlier.

Ashmael seemed at a complete loss as to what to say. Able to command whole armies and stand down the entire hegemony, the general was speechless at the sight of the bright eyed harling. He opened his mouth but no words came out and his face was still twisted in a comical expression of dread.

Vaysh came to the rescue, sitting on the edge of the bed and reaching out to Loki. He patted the harling’s head and was rewarded with a wide eyed smile. “Loki, it’s very early. Ashmael wants to sleep.”

Loki bounced on Ashmael’s stomach, causing a grimace.

Thankfully Vaysh pulled Loki away from Ashmael and into his arms. Loki immediately grabbed a lock of Vaysh’s bright hair and started to chew it. Ashmael rose on one elbow, and watched with a faint smile on his face as Vaysh talked softly to the harling.

“Perhaps we should leave him to it,” Vaysh was saying. “He’s lazy and likes to sleep late.”

“But you like to sleep late too, Yayshee!” Loki protested and Vaysh frowned.

The look on Vaysh’s face made Ashmael laugh and Vaysh turned his glare across the bed.

“I’m not lazy, Loki,” Vaysh said carefully. “I was just up late, that’s all.”

Loki grinned, still chewing and nodded. Vaysh jiggled him lightly. “Do you want breakfast?”

The harling let out an affirmative sound and wiggled around so much that Vaysh had to release him, letting him down onto the floor. Loki immediately ran for the door and Vaysh dashed after him.

He caught Loki at the entrance to the balcony and bent down to meet his eye. “Loki,” Vaysh looked at him seriously and the harling turned solemn. “This is our secret that Ashmael was here, ok?”

The harling’s eyes sparked at the word secret. He nodded enthusiastically. “Secret, yes, Yashee.”

Vaysh let out a small sigh of relief. “Don’t tell anyhar, it’s our secret.”

Loki let out a happy laugh then ran out onto the balcony, disappearing in the direction of his hostling’s room.

Before he followed him, Vaysh looked over his shoulder to where Ashmael was watching him from the bed. He smiled grimly at Ashmael’s bemused expression. “Damage control,” he called before heading after Loki. He paused then said softly, “You should go, tiahaar.”

***

After the close call with Loki, Ashmael had spent a long time pottering around Vaysh’s apartment. He wasn’t snooping exactly… just looking. If he had to pick certain things up or open a few draws in order to see better, then that’s what he did. He wasn’t sure what he was hoping to stumble across – a hidden diary? Perhaps a secret box full of old photographs of the two of them?

Not really. He was really hoping Vaysh might come back in but the other har never did, so Ashmael satisfied himself with lying on Vaysh’s rumbled bed and breathing in the smell of the redhead from the pillow he had slept in. When he decided he had been acting like a stalker for long enough he took a quick shower in Vaysh’s bathroom.

Vaysh’s apartment was nice, but that was to be expected as it was so close to the Tigrons’ rooms. Ashmael had not seen much of it the other times he had visited because he always made sure he was gone before daylight.

He had just exited the bathroom when one of Pellaz’s servants appeared out of nowhere. Ashmael nearly fell over when he saw the multi coloured har standing there with an equally shocked expression on his face. The shocked expression on the servant’s face only lasted a moment before he dropped his head respectfully.

Ashmael’s mouth opened and closed for a second and he gulped. Then he coughed loudly and straightened his back and strode past the silent har.

“Tell Tiahaar Vaysh I was looking for him.” he ordered, saying the first thing that came to mind.

The har answered with a respectful nod and Ashmael virtually bolted out of the apartment and down the corridor outside, striding fast until he was a safe distance from Vaysh’s apartment. He swore under his breath. Somehow Loki’s appearance that morning had made Ashmael complacent. He should never have lingered in Vaysh’s room!

He probably shouldn’t have been there at all, but that was another matter.

He didn’t even know which one of Pellaz’s mysterious servants that har had been! It could be the same one from the Tigron’s office, or his twin!

He was trying to calm his jangled nerves when he spotted Cal walking towards him. The blond Tigron held a dark cigarette in one hand and was talking lazily to several hara who walked with him. When he reached Ashmael, he smiled.

“Aldebaran.” Cal drawled.

Ashmael smiled, pushing any thoughts of his thus far disastrous morning aside. “Calanthe.”

Cal motioned for Ashmael to join him. “Shall we? I know you’re going to help me out with this one.”

Ashmael fell into step beside the Tigron. “As always, Tiahaar. I’ll do my best.”

Part Nine

Throughout the long meeting that Cal had asked Ashmael to help him with, the general was growing more and more frustrated. Members of the hegemony had been debating for hours and the room had grown increasingly confining as Ashmael struggled to keep his thoughts from drifting. It would be hard enough on a normal day to focus on work with Loki’s discovery this morning hanging over his head. It was worse than usual this morning however, as he and Cal were forced to fight with the hegemony over the budgeting and resource problems of their work in Megalithica.

Cal was clearly frustrated too. He sat moodily in his chair, inhaling on his twentieth cigarette of the morning, occasionally interrupting the proceedings with a comment or question. Pellaz and Caeru sat a few seats over from him, and were whispering together, appearing not all that concerned with the proceedings.

In fact it was the apparently apathy of the members present that was annoying Cal the most. Providing relief for struggling hara in Megalithica was something of a pet project for Cal – or a personal crusade. Ashmael knew the blond had had strong views on the treatment of hara seen as barbaric or lower class since the beginning of Wraeththudom. Now he had a chance to help those less fortunate than the Gelaming and the roadblocks they faced infuriated him.

Suddenly, Cal stood up and slammed his hands on the table in front of him. The slap of his hands seemed louder than it should have, and Ashmael was startled to literally feel power radiating from the Tigron. He glanced down at the glass in front of him and saw the water inside rippling slightly from the power Cal was radiating.

The har stood with his head down, palms flat on the table. When he spoke his voice was firm a low, but it reached every ear in the room. Conversation died away instantly.

“Is this a joke?” Cal asked. He looked around the room, glaring at the hara who looked away sheepishly.

Tharmifex got to his feet and made a placating gesture, but Cal held up his hand for silence. “We might as well all leave if we aren’t going to achieve anything this morning,” Cal snarled. “I know I certainly have better things I could be doing with my time.”

A few eyes narrowed at Cal’s implication but nohar raised their voice. “All morning I’ve listened to you sprouting off numbers and statistics to explain why we are not getting the resources we need to Megalithica in time. These are hara we are talking about, not statistics!” He spat the last word.

Cal straightened, power still emanating almost visibly from his tall frame. “I am sick of hearing your excuses! If these hara were in Almagabra we would not be facing this resistance.”

“Please, Cal,” Tharmifex said calmly. “Geography alone dictates—”

Cal shook his head and said frostily, “The Gelaming can get an entire army to Megalithica in a few days, but they can’t get their resources to clean up the mess they left behind?”

“It isn’t that simple.”

“No, of course not,” Cal snarled. “We have the best minds of all Wraeththudom here so solve our problems. So there must be something pretty big getting in the way, hmmm?” He looked disgusted. “We are in a position to help those less fortunate then ourselves, and we let petty elitism stand in our way.”

“We have resistance from tribal leaders,” one har said, tentatively speaking up. “Hara don’t want our resources going to Megalithica if they are needed here.”

“Needed here?” Cal spat, turning on the har who had spoken. “We sit on balconies of marble, tiahaar. We sleep in silk. Surely we have something we can spare?”

“They are Varrs.”

“Ahh, no longer Parsic when they cause trouble, right?” Cal let out a sarcastic laugh.

The room was full of angry murmurs.

“The harlings of the Uiegenna should take precedence over Gelaming families?”

Cal’s face turned even darker. “You forget yourself, Tiahaar,” he hissed. “You forget I am Uiegenna too. I’m sure you don’t think my own harling is second class too?”

The mention of Loki drew Pellaz’s attention and the dark Tigron spoke for the first time. “Cal is right,” he said from his seated position down the table. “We cannot abandon the hara left in Megalithica.”

An angry voice protested. “Should we have to bail them out?”

Cal finally lost his temper. “And leaving them to destroy themselves is the way to fix the problems?” he shouted. He shook his head in frustration, visibly trying to calm himself. “I’m not the only har here of unsavory origins,” he said softly. “Why should we be the only ones to benefit from our positions? Most of us had no choice who we were incepted by – more so in Megalithica than anywhere else. If the legacy of the Varrs and the Uiegenna continue to haunt hara there, it will haunt us all.”

“Look at us!” He shouted. “We are falling into the same traps of prejudice that humans created. We are better than that. The world is ours for the shaping and we can do nothing less than fight to make it a better place than when humans inhabited it. Everything worth it is worth fighting for.”

Ashmael’s head jerked up and he studied the Tigron closely.

Everything worth it is worth fighting for.

Cal’s beautiful face was wide open in appeal, his eyes blazing. “This is worth it. We are the rulers of all Wraeththudom and we cannot let our power idle. We are wonderful, but if we do not help those less fortunate then us, we are truly terrible.”

With that final plea Cal sat angrily in his chair. A moment later Pellaz stood up and suggested a break and for those present to make a concerted effort to supply the necessary information for the afternoon session.

As hara filed from the room Tharmifex stood, a stern look on his face and promptly ordered Pellaz, Cal and Ashmael into his private office. Velaxis and Vaysh joined them and when they were enclosed inside the large office Therminfex let his annoyance be known.

“I can see what you are trying to do Cal, but this is not the way to go about it.”

Cal collapsed angrily into a chair facing the chancellor’s desk. His lip curled in a sneer. “We have been tiptoeing around this issue for nearly a year,” he growled. “I respectfully suggest that your way of doing things is not working.”

Tharmifex sighed through his nose, throwing some papers onto his desk. He crossed his arms firmly. “You want to further alienate the cause?” he snapped. “Attacking them like that is hardly going to win support.”

Pellaz sat gingerly beside Cal, but did not speak. Ashmael couldn’t be sure if the Tigron agreed with Calanthe or not; Pell had been surprisingly withdrawn from hegemonic debates since Loki had been born.

Cal flung his arms dramatically. “It is your job to rally the troops, tiahaar. I shouldn’t have to lobby a cause as important and urgent as this!”

“Be that as it may,” Tharmifex said calmly, obviously trying to defuse the situation. “The fact remains that we need the support of the other tribes to do this, and frankly some of them are not as concerned about this as you are.”

“That’s just it!” Cal shouted, causing Pellaz to flinch. “I don’t give a shit if they are concerned or not. This is not up for debate.”

The chancellor’s aide stepped forward. “Perhaps tribe members could travel to Megalithica?” Velaxis suggested smoothly. “Maybe they need to see first hand the devastation that remains there.”

Cal gestured to Velaxis approvingly, but did not look at the silver haired har. “Exactly!” He stood up and took a deep breath. Calmer, he said, “Look, I don’t care how we get this done. Funds should not be an issue – this is more important than that. Empty the fucking Phaonican account if you have to. Cut out hegemonic expenses.”

Tharmifex blanched. “They will never agree to that.”

Cal gave him a look of contempt. “No, of course not. We must still celebrate in style mustn’t we?”

The chancellor glared back at Cal. “I’ve told you before, Cal. I’m fully behind this initiative—”

“Then act like it!” Cal exploded.

His shout caused Tharmifex’s face to turn red in anger. Before things could deteriorate further however, Pellaz stepped in. His firm posture as he stood and calm face belied the fact that he had obviously been under personal strain in the past few months. His voice was clear when he spoke.

“This is not going to solve things either.” He put a hand on Cal’s arm, which seemed to calm the blond somewhat. Pellaz turned to Tharmifex. “This has idled for too long, chancellor,” he said, holding a hand up when Tharmifex tried to protest. “If there is one thing we have learnt from Gebaddon it is that simply pushing away our problems and forgetting them is not the solution. They end up growing bigger and more deadly.”

Tharmifex released a sigh of defeat.

Cal stepped away from Pellaz and lifted his chin. He seemed to radiate the same amount of power he had in the chamber earlier. The light in the room seemed to brighten.

“Now is the time for us to truly decide who we are,” he said softly. “This is not about battle, not about a show of domination or strength. We did that already. This is about putting aside differences and using some of our own fortune to help others. We must be prepared to fight not only when there is a specific enemy, but when there is not. They need our help.”

He looked around the room, a sincerely pleading expression on his face. “Who are we to turn away? Who are we to deny them? To deny ourselves? Most of us began in Megalithica, or places like it. We are fortunate we are not there now.”

Ashmael’s eyes flickered to Vaysh who stood across the room, his eyes trained on the floor. He could not help but recall his own life as a newly incepted har. Memories of that time were closely twined with those of his time with Vaysh. Was the red head remembering that time too? Vaysh did not look up.

“If we truly wish to honor what we are trying to do here, we have no choice but to fight for this,” Cal continued. “We know this is right. This is the future we want for Wraeththu – we cannot let it slip away! This has been placed in front of us, we can either do what is right or we can turn away. We must struggle with this – anything less is an insult to who we are and how far we have come.”

Anything worth it is worth fighting for. Anything less is an insult…

Again Ashmael felt his eyes drawn towards the red haired aide standing to the side. Cal’s words were stirring something inside that caused the general to clench his teeth and force himself to breath around a tightening in his throat. Vaysh still looked down, though his hands were clenched into fists.

That is what I want! Ashmael wanted to shout. He wanted to push everyhar else aside and shake Vaysh until he admitted he wanted it too. Anything less is an insult…

Tharmifex was watching Cal with resignation. When the Tigron stopped speaking he nodded respectfully, though this time Ashmael could see that Cal’s words had struck a chord. “I will do what I can, tiahaar.” Tharmifex said softly.

Cal seemed to accept this, and he nodded. Ashmael continued to watch Vaysh as they all moved to file out of the chancellor’s office. At the last minute he saw the icy eyes flick upwards and meet his own before Vaysh was gone.

Once the meeting was over Cal cornered Ashmael. The general was only just out of Tharmifex’s office when the Tigron cornered him.

“That was an amazing speech.” Ashmael complimented.

“Hmmm. Lets hope it has the desired effect.”

The Tigron leant against a polished wall and stared at Ashmael with his arms folded and a faint smile on his face.

Ashmael stopped walking and asked warily, “What?”

“I have a fantastic bottle of wine chilling in my room.” Cal replied.

Ashmael straightened. “Well, that’s great tiahaar, but it doesn’t explain the smug look on your face.”

Cal’s mood seemed to have improved immeasurably and his grin expanded. “Okay, there some gossip floating about. I want some details and you’re just the har to tell me.”

Ashmael kept his expression neutral. “Gossip? I’m sure somehar else, like Velaxis could fill in the gaps far better than me.”

Cal leaned in conspiratorially, “Ah, yes. But see this particular juicy piece of information concerns your former chesnari.”

“Vaysh? What is it, shattered an icy nail, has he?”

“Your former chesnari and you, Ashmael.”

Ashmael froze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Maybe you could explain why you were staring at him throughout that entire exchange?”

Ashmael frowned and said immediately, “I was not.”

Cal raised his eyebrows and sighed dramatically. “Well, I guess my source got it wrong then. I guess you don’t know anything about the two of your being closer friends than you lead everyhar to believe?”

Ashmael’s stomach was somewhere around his knees. “Just who is this source of yours?”

“Loki.”

“Shit.”

Cal nodded. “Mmmm. You should know that harling tells me everything. I’m his closest confidant!”

Ashmael rubbed his hands over his face, exhaling sharply. “I wasn’t exactly planning on having this conversation, Cal.”

“Indeed,” Cal said, a slight reprimand in his voice. “Though it explains a few things, not least how distracted you’ve been of late.”

“I thought I had everything under control.” Ashmael groaned, Cal’s words hitting him sharply.

“You have,” Cal assured him, turning to watch the other har who were filing out of the room. “I don’t think anyhar else noticed. You just haven’t been quite as involved in this as I had hoped.”

“I’m sorry, tiahaar,” Ashmael sighed. “And you’re right. This thing has been stealing a lot of my attention.”

“This thing?” Cal asked. He cocked his head. “What exactly is this thing?” Noticing Ashmael’s cautious expression he raised his hands in submission. “I’m not asking for gossip this time, Aldebaran. I’m concerned.”

Ashmael raised his eyes to the ceiling, his head tilted back. “I don’t know what it is.”

“You know I’m one of you two’s biggest fans,” Cal continued. “But are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, do you two even talk?”

“What’s the big deal?” Ashmael snapped defensively. “We’re grownups, Cal, we know what we’re doing. Nohar is getting hurt, so you can withdraw your concern.”

“That’s what does concern me,” Cal pressed. “Is nohar getting hurt?”

“You think I’m hurting Vaysh.” It wasn’t a question.

Cal raised his hands again, “I don’t know what you’re doing. I just—”

“I can assure you, tiahaar, that Vaysh is more than happy with our arrangement.” Ashmael interrupted.

“What, aruna – no strings attached?” Cal’s lip curled in contempt. “That hardly sounds like Vaysh.”

“And you would know?” Ashmael snapped.

“Would you?”

Furiously Ashmael shook his head and stormed past Cal down the corridor. Cal caught up with him after a few steps.

“Aldebaran, wait.”

Ashmael stopped and sighed angrily through his nose.

Cal came round to stand in front of him. “I was out of line in there, I apologise.”

Ashmael shook his head. “You don’t understand. If anyone is losing in this thing, its me. All Vaysh wants is aruna, nothing more. He doesn’t think of me in any other way. He can’t think of me at all.”

Cal looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

“I know what happened to that har!” Ashmael shouted, startling the few har who walked down the corridor. He lowered his voice. “Thiede took Vaysh from me, and he took Vaysh from himself. The har that lives now looks the same. Ag, he feels the same, but he’s a ghost. He doesn’t feel.”

Ashmael moved to walk around Cal but the Tigron stopped him. “Is that what you think, that Vaysh is incapable of feeling? He’s not dead, Ash.”

“Isn’t he? Funny, I burnt his body.”

Cal’s eyes were filled with compassion. “I know,” he said softly. “But a miracle happened.”

“Thiede was the one who took him away, Cal. I’d hardly call him deigning to bring him back to life again a miracle.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Cal agreed. “But Vaysh is alive. That icy exterior he has – Thiede didn’t give that to him. Vaysh created that himself. It’s a shell, a shield. Beneath it he’s as har as you or me.”

Ashmael shook his head, unable to accept Cal’s words. “It’s a nice concept, Calanthe, but we both know Vaysh is not the same har he was before.”

“No, he’s not,” Cal said softly. “Thiede changed him by what he did, but Vaysh isn’t the walking dead, Ashmael. He’s just wounded. He freezes everyhar out as self protection. Thiede damaged him. Hurt him.”

“Yes, yes,” Ashmael said impatiently. “I know that. Vaysh was the rough draft. But you can’t have a Tigron who has no emotions, no empathy. So Thiede created Pellaz.”

Cal studied him closely. “How much do you know about what happened to Vaysh?” he asked suddenly.

Ashmael shrugged. “I know enough. I lived through half of it.”

“I think you should come back to my apartment,” Cal said. “There are some things we should talk about.”

 Part Ten

Despondently, Ashmael followed Cal back to the Tigron’s office and accepted a drink from one of the numerous hara whose job it was to make sure the Tigron had everything and anything he desired.

Ashmael could feel a headache forming behind his eyes. He did not want to have this conversation. He would much prefer if his arrangement with Vaysh was left to continue the way it was going – they were both benefiting, though Ashmael perhaps not as much as he wanted to… Besides, curious hara should keep their noses out of his business!

Cal studied him from behind his large desk his face resting on his palm. He remained silent for so long with nothing but a passive, thoughtful expression on his face that Ashmael snapped, “What?”

Cal sat back. “I’m just trying to decide what to tell you.”

“About what?” Ashmael asked.

“About Vaysh,” Cal insisted. “There are some facts that might make you reconsider your position.”

Ashmael folded his arms defensively. “For Ag’s sake, we’re roon friends! If that.”

“Rather more than that from what I hear.”

Ashmael narrowed his eyes. “With all due respect, it’s none of your business.”

Cal wasn’t offended. “I know,” he said. “But all the same, its stuff you should probably know. I’m surprised nohar has ever told you.”

“What’s to tell?” Ashmael snapped. He disliked the subject of Vaysh’s death and subsequent “rebirth” immensely. “Vaysh died. Thiede raised him from the dead. End of story.”

“Not quite.”

Ashmael looked up at the succinct tone of Cal’s voice. Cal studied him intently, his purple eyes strangely bright and almost glowing.

When Cal finally spoke again his voice was soft, but his words clear. Every syllable seemed to strike directly onto Ashmael’s eardrum. He felt each word hit him like a drop of water – slowly the words accumulated until he was drenched by them as Cal’s message sank in.

“You are right in that Vaysh was something of a rough draft for Thiede,” Cal said. “He was the first at any rate – whether Thiede intended Vaysh to be Tigron or a consort for Pellaz, I don’t know. Perhaps he got to Vaysh before I even found Pell. It’s not important.

“I don’t know the mechanics of what Thiede did, I doubt anyhar but he does. Ash, you need to know. Pellaz doesn’t remember what happened to him while he was…dead.” Cal coughed slightly over the word before hesitantly continuing. “But from what I understand, Vaysh does.”

Ashmael stared in stunned silence for a moment. “What do you mean?”

Cal waved his hands dramatically. “Life after death, the afterlife. You know, he remembers that bit. Pellaz just woke up again, or something.”

“Okay…” Ashmael nodded. That didn’t sound so bad… although not exactly a walk in the park. “So, Vaysh has the secrets of life after death?”

Cal shook his head. “I’m not sure how detailed his memory is of it, he doesn’t talk about it. Anyway, that’s not the point. After Vaysh woke up so to speak, Thiede took aruna with him – another kind of althaia if you will.”

Ashmael involuntarily shuddered, picturing a distressed and confused Vaysh – alone, frightened and faced with Thiede.

He shrugged away his distress. “Not exactly a pleasant thought, I’ll grant you.”

Abruptly, Cal stood up and slammed his hands down on the desk. Ashmael jumped.

“It was pelki, Ashmael.”

Ashmael froze. He felt as if all the air in his chest, the room, had been sucked out. Eventually he managed to ask, “What?”

Cal’s expression softened somewhat. “He fought him,” he said softly. “Perhaps it was too soon after he had been taken from you. I don’t know. The fact that he was aware of what happened to him after his body was killed made it different from Pell. He fought Thiede and it hurt him. Badly.”

“What do you mean?” Ashmael’s voice was barely a whisper and his face covered his hands.

“Thiede’s essence is very powerful,” Cal began, moving around the table to stand over Ashmael. “It was a risky thing for Thiede to do in the first place—”

“Yes, yes!” Ashmael snapped, suddenly standing up. “Besides committing pelki on him, what else did Thiede do to Vaysh?”

Cal took a step back, hesitating. “Thiede’s essence scoured Vaysh from the inside. That’s why he never became Tigron – he is barren.”

For a second Ashmael thought he had lost his hearing, the room went totally silent but for a slight ringing in his ears. He could still see the image of Vaysh struggling against Thiede, his pale arms and legs spread wide and held down by other hara, a room full of candles. He imagined the essence of Thiede, burning like fire as it washed through Vaysh, searing both flesh and spirit until his open mouth and eyes glowed red. Ashmael turned away from Cal for a moment, unable to take the sight of Cal’s understanding violet eyes.

“Did he feel any pain?” He asked suddenly, turning. His jaw was set and emotions locked away.

“I don’t know. Probably.”

“So that’s why he’s the way he is,” Ashmael stated. “He’s empty inside.”

Cal emphatically shook his head, arms folded in frustration. “No! No, that’s not what I mean. Inside he’s the same har you lost – that consciousness stayed with him his entire journey. His body is different—” Cal let out a harsh laugh. “Of course it is. But the icy Vaysh you see is simply the frozen wall he’s put up to protect himself from the fire of Thiede’s essence, from the pain he felt – he feels.”

Ashmael shook his head. “I don’t know Cal, this sounds very…. extreme.”

“More extreme than somehar rising from the dead?”

“Touché.”

Cal placed a compassionate hand on Ashmael’s shoulder. “It’s not his fault,” he said softly. “Thiede took everything from him, for nothing. At the end of it all Vaysh was a failed project. And isn’t one of the most wondrous things about Wraeththu the fact that we can reproduce? Vaysh cannot do that.”

“I don’t care,” Ashmael said immediately.

Cal shrugged and continued, “He encased himself in ice so he did not have to remember or acknowledge what happened to him. He lost everything you did, remember.”

Ashmael recalled hearing Vaysh’s laughter, the light he occasionally saw in Vaysh’s eyes when he caught the other har in an unguarded moment. Vaysh’s gripping hands and breathless moans during aruna.

He let out a bewildered laugh. “I thought he was dead.”

Cal smiled. “Life exists even in the most frozen forest.”

***

In his apartment, Vaysh stood staring with unseeing eyes out at the view beyond his balcony. As soon as he had been dismissed from Thermifex’s office he had hurried back here, eager to escape Ashmael’s burning gaze.

It was no wonder hara like Cal were having trouble getting their jobs done when others like Ashmael were clearly not focused on their work! Vaysh exhaled angrily. He had to admit that he had been less than the perfect aide to Pellaz in the past few months. He was as distracted as Ashmael.

The disappointed look Ashmael had sent him when Vaysh left him in bed this morning had tugged at Vaysh’s heart. But his dismissive words the other morning still echoed in Vaysh’s mind and he could no longer keep up the charade of indifference.

Not only were there most definitely feelings involved where Ashmael was concerned, they were the most potent, most heart wrenching emotions Vaysh had ever experienced. They were feelings that lay at the very back of the vault Vaysh created within himself; those under the strongest guard. They were too destructive otherwise; too painful.

With Ashmael out of the picture, things would be easier. Vaysh could continue as he had before – with things in order and under control. The minute things slipped out of his control they started to get chaotic; they started to cause panic. A tidal wave of emotion threatened to engulf Vaysh every time he set eyes on Ashmael. Better to keep that at bay, and if that meant keeping other hara at arms length, so be it.

Vaysh had been staring at the view for sometime when his sanctuary was suddenly shattered. Ashmael came barging in through the front door of his apartment, completely indifferent as to who might see him. He appeared before Vaysh, flushed and out of breath. Vaysh took a started step backwards, one hand on his throat. He expected Ashmael to shout but when the other har spoke, his voice was broken.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ashmael he asked, his voice dragged over broken glass.

Vaysh stared open mouthed, completely confused and more than shaken at seeing Ashmael so emotional.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ashmael repeated. He stepped forward, lifting one arm in question and like a skittery colt, Vaysh jumped back.

“Tell you what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ashmael ran his hands through his hair, staring at Vaysh with wild eyes. He seemed entirely too big for the room. “God! If I had only known!”

The panic started to set in. “What are you talking about?” Vaysh demanded, gripping his sides with trembling hands.

Ashmael stepped up to him, and Vaysh found he had nowhere else to step back to, his back pressed against the glass door of his balcony.

“Your death!” Ashmael hissed. “Why didn’t you tell me about how you died?”

Vaysh froze as he felt the floor fall away from him. “You know how I died.” he said shakily.

Ashmael gripped his arms and shook him slightly. Vaysh winced and tried to pull away, but the general’s grip was strong. “I want to know what happened to you,” Ashmael demanded. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Why should I?” Vaysh shot back, the topic making him turn defensive and instinctively attack. “I don’t have to tell you anything. Its nohar else’s business. Besides, I don’t like to talk about it.” Ashmael continued to grip his arms even as Vaysh struggled to break free. “What does it matter?” Vaysh snapped. “It’s in the past! It is best forgotten!”

A pained look crossed Ashmael’s face. “Is it one of the things you shut away, Vaysh?” He whispered.

“What?”

Abruptly Ashmael released him and turned away. Vaysh could tell by his heaving shoulders that Ashmael was trying to calm down and catch his breath. Vaysh felt like the room was spinning beneath his feet. Ashmael’s words were forcing long repressed memories to the surface. For some time Vaysh had challenged what happened to him, demanding explanations, retribution, anything but eventually it got too frustrating and painful to throw himself against the solid and unrelenting form of Thiede. Eventually Vaysh learned that to stem and muffle his questions and his pain was easier. Vaysh had learnt that forgetting his trauma made it easier to continue with the life he had been given. Forgetting he had had a life before Thiede at all was the only way to continue but Ashmael now seemed intent on forcing him to remember every little detail!

When Ashmael finally turned back his eyes looked like wet rot. “Why didn’t you fight him?”

Vaysh shook his head slightly. “Fight who?”

“Thiede.”

Vaysh’s hands flew to his neck as his mouth dropped open. He didn’t even realise he was shaking his head. How does he know?

Ashmael pressed forward. “How could he do that do you?” he said softly.

Oh Ag, his pity was the worst! “I couldn’t stop him!” Vaysh retorted, his strongest armor held up against Ashmael’s onslaught.  “I didn’t exactly have a choice about him shooting me!”

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about!” Ashmael cried. His voice softened. “He raped you—”

“I know what he did!” Vaysh screamed. He gripped his hair tightly. He wanted to tear it out by the roots. “Don’t talk to me about that!” The spinning intensified. The ground seemed to lurch and Vaysh nearly fell to his knees. Flickering candles and a suffocating heat filled him. He could see a red head har leaning over him, eclipsing everything else. A remembered voice filled his ears, Come now Vaysh. This fighting is pointless and I’m afraid will only hurt you…

He let out a keening groan and Ashmael reached forward, alarmed. Vaysh yanked himself out of Ashmael’s grip. “Don’t touch me!” He hissed. His eyes were wild, his fingers claws.

Ashmael started to speak Vaysh’s name, hoping to calm him but Vaysh interrupted. “Who told you?” He demanded.

Ashmael hesitated. He never thought Vaysh would react so violently and now regretted bringing the subject up at all. If he’d ever needed proof that Vaysh was a living being with emotions in was in front of him now. Tears of anger and pain ran down Vaysh’s face.

“Who told you!”

Eventually Ashmael released the name and with a grimace admitted, “Cal…”

Vaysh’s face twisted. He let out a frustrated growl then covered his eyes with his hands. “He had no right!”

“Vaysh, I’m sorry…”

But Vaysh didn’t appear to hear him. He was muttering to himself in a pained whisper. “No right. How could Pellaz tell him? How…. My own…. No right!”

Ashmael reached out a tentative hand and touched Vaysh’s shaking shoulder. Instantly Vaysh pulled his hands away from his face and looked up. His expression brought tears to Ashmael’s eyes. The naked pain he saw in Vaysh’s eyes was a million times worse than any ice that had been there before.

“I’m sorry,” Ashmael whispered. “Cal was just-”

At the Tigron’s name Vaysh’s face turned hard again. “Calanthe!” He spat. “I know what he was trying to do!” With that he wrenched himself free of Ashmael’s hold and angrily yanked open the door to his balcony. He slammed it behind him, turning towards Pellaz’s room. As he disappeared, Ashmael could still see tears shining on Vaysh’s face.

 Part Eleven

Vaysh burst into Pellaz’s apartment through an exterior door, startling all three members of the triad and Loki who was rolling on the floor in front of them. Pellaz jumped to his feet at the site of his red headed aide standing panting in the doorway. Vaysh looked furious. The afternoon sun pouring through the glass wall behind him silhouetted the light around him and turned his red hair into a fiery halo.

“Vaysh! Are you alright?” Pellaz rushed forward, alarmed at seeing his friend in such a state.

The Tigrina expressed similar sounds of shock and concern; but Cal, standing across the room, remained still. His wine glass was frozen halfway to his mouth and he studied Vaysh with a look that had all the markings of a harling caught doing the wrong thing.

Vaysh ignored Pellaz and stepping around him, he pointed a finger at Cal and snarled, “You!”

Cal sighed through his nose and put down his glass. He raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Vaysh, please—”

“How dare you!” Vaysh shouted.

Loki began to whimper, frightened by the powerful emotions rolling off Vaysh and confused as to why this familiar har was so angry and upset with his father.

“You had no right!” Vaysh was hissing furiously at Cal. “You think you can talk about me like that? Like I’m just idle gossip!”

Pellaz tried to take Vaysh’s shaking arm. “Vaysh, what is this?” He threw a questioning frown at Cal, but the blond ignored him.

“I know you’re annoyed at me, Vaysh,” Cal said smoothly. “But you shouldn’t take it so personally.”

His casual tone caused Vaysh to snap. He lunged at Cal with a furious growl and before anyhar could stop him, smacked Cal across the face. Caeru let out a startled cry. Pellaz grabbed Vaysh and yanked him back just as Loki began to wail in earnest. The harling scurried to get as far from Vaysh as he could and ran to the comforting arms of Caeru.

Cal straightened, holding one hand to his cheek. “Feel better?” he asked.

Vaysh almost went for Cal again, but Pellaz held him back. The darker Tigron shook his friend. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded.

Vaysh slumped in Pellaz’s hold and a miserable sob escaped his shaking frame. “How could you?” He repeated. “You had no right to tell him that. That was mine to tell!”

“Would you have ever told him?” Cal asked softly.

It began to dawn on Pellaz just what Cal and Vaysh were talking about. It appeared that Cal had taken it upon himself to get involved in the disaster that was Vaysh and Ashmael’s previous relationship. He turned his questions to Cal.

“What did you do?” he demanded.

“Nothing that shouldn’t have been done a long time ago,” Cal said quickly, still watching Vaysh carefully.

The words made Vaysh seethe. “It has nothing to do with you!” he snapped. “I’m not another cause you need to get your hands on, tiahaar! We are adults!”

“You two are behaving like harlings!” Cal exploded. He gripped the side of his head. “Somehar from the outside needs to bang your heads together!”

“And naturally that har would be you!”

Suddenly Loki struggled out of Caeru’s arms and ran across the room. He angrily shoved at Vaysh’s legs letting out a high pitched wail of rage. “Leave him alone!” Loki demanded shrilly. “Leave Cal alone, Yayshie!”

Vaysh blanched as he looked down at Loki’s furious face. His anger faltered.

Pellaz swiftly scooped Loki into his arms and the harling turned to bury his head in Pellaz’s dark hair. The Tigron held him close and said softly but firmly, “This is neither the time nor the place. We are due back shortly.” But both Cal and Vaysh ignored him.

“You know I’m right, Vaysh,” Cal insisted. “This has gone on long enough.”

“What has?” Vaysh demanded angrily. “It is none of your business, even if there was something there for you to stick your nose into!” Before Cal could reply to that, Vaysh continued furiously, “As if your help was needed to make this situation more humiliating than it already is!”

“Humiliating?” Cal scoffed. “Spare me the martyr act, Vaysh. What the hell are you talking about?”

Vaysh nearly screamed. “It’s bad enough that Ashmael will only look at me when he wants to roon, I don’t need—”

“You are so clueless!” Cal shouted, causing Vaysh to flinch. “Both of you— as bad as each other. Completely blind!”

Sick of being left out of the loop, Pellaz released Vaysh . “Would one of you explain what the hell is going on?” he demanded.

Vaysh whirled on him. “You are just as bad!”

Pellaz frowned, thinking this mess was entirely Cal’s fault. “Excuse me?”

“How could you tell him?” Vaysh demanded. “How could you tell him about Ashmael? I told you that in confidence, Pellaz. I can see how highly you regard my feelings on the matter! I thought you would understand.”

Pellaz’s mouth dropped open. He had no idea that even after all these years Vaysh held such a hurricane of emotions towards Ashmael inside. But should he have been surprised? Pellaz realised Vaysh was right, he should have guess the extent of the other har’s feelings for Ashmael. After all, Pellaz had harbored a love that bordered on obsession for Cal for decades. Clearly he had underestimated Vaysh. They all had. He moved forward, set on taking Vaysh in his arms again but the red head pushed him away.

“You’re all as bad as each other! All set on unlocking the challenge that is Vaysh. Why can’t you let me be? I’m not a puzzle to be untangled, or a lock for you to pick. I’m the way I am because I like it that way!” Vaysh stood defiantly before them, panting angrily.

Cal shook his head, seemingly entirely unfazed by Vaysh’s completely uncharacteristic outburst. “I don’t think so.”

Vaysh could not even find the words to respond. He settled on a death glare instead.

“You’re not the unfeeling har you wish we all thought you were,” Cal continued. “You want to be close to Ashmael. Why else would you have let this go on for as long as you have?”

“Let what go on?” Pellaz asked, confused.

“Oh, they’ve been rooning for months.” Cal said carelessly.

Pellaz let out a startled exclamation at the same time that Vaysh released a mortified, “Cal!”

Vaysh covered his face with his hands to hide from Pellaz’s questioning eyes.

Cal continued as if nothing had happened. “My question is, why? Why would you be happy to just take aruna with him when you can’t tell him you love him?”

“Because he doesn’t want to know!” Vaysh cried before he could think. He took several panting breaths before his muffled voice escaped. “Ashmael can’t bear to look at me under normal circumstances. He thinks I’m some kind of zombie. It’s pathetic, but am I wrong to want to keep the only thing he’ll give me, even if they are just scraps from his table?”

“He thinks you’re a zombie, and yet he touches you in the most intimate of ways?” Cal whispered. He gently pulled Vaysh’s hands away from his face and held them tight. “Why can’t you show him how alive you are?”

Vaysh’s face twisted in agony. “It’s easy for you, isn’t it? Everyhar falls in love with you without you even trying! Not all of us have it so easy.”

Cal shook his head but was no longer angry. “I had to fight every step of the way to get to Pellaz,” he said softly. “Can you honestly say this is what you want with Ashmael?”

“No,” Vaysh brushed his tears away. Now that his immediate anger had been quelled it was fast being replaced by a growing embarrassment. He couldn’t believe how he was behaving. “I told him that last night, it ends here.”

Cal cocked his head, watching Vaysh carefully with intent eyes. When he didn’t speak Vaysh flushed again. “He doesn’t want me!” he snapped as explanation.

“Yes he does.”

Vaysh stilled. For just a moment hope and delight bloom in his chest, but it was almost immediately extinguished by a wave of despair that came over him. He stared at Cal for a second before he began to shake his head. “No… No, you’re wrong. This is not a fairytale, Cal.”

Cal gripped Vaysh’s hands tighter in his own. “He loves you.”

Vaysh tried to break away but Cal would not let him. “No!” he cried. “Stop it. He does not. Shut up!”

“Why don’t you want to hear it?” Cal asked. “Spring is here, Vaysh. You can’t stay frozen over forever.” A wide grin split his face, “It’s the truth. He’s taken a long time to realize it, but he does.”

“He never came for me.” Vaysh whispered.

“He thought you were dead.”

A single tear dripped down Vaysh’s cheek. “I was.”

Cal smiled again. “Not anymore.”

***

When Vaysh appeared at Ashmael’s front door, the sky had turned to a rosy gold and the breeze had died down. Whether the scheduled meetings had continued through the afternoon or not, Ashmael had no idea. After Vaysh’s escape, he had waited a few minutes in the other har’s apartment for him to return. When he didn’t, Ashmael had returned to his own home, a sickening feeling of dread enveloping him.

With the help of a few glasses of strong whisky though, that dread had turned to a dull numbness. Ashmael sat staring out into his yard, rolling his glass in his large palms. He didn’t hear Vaysh approach, so jumped slightly when the other har appeared beside him.

Vaysh looked pale and tension strained the area around his mouth. Ashmael met his eyes and glimpsed the same naked emotion he had seen earlier before Vaysh looked away.

Vaysh cleared his throat. “I’m sorry for running away…”

Jolted out of his stupor, Ashmael jumped to his feet. “No, I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to confront you like that. It’s none of my business.”

To Ashmael’s surprise, Vaysh shook his head. “No, it’s probably good that you asked.”

They stood in awkward silence for a few moments until Ashmael finally asked. “Would you like a drink?”

Vaysh let out a small sound and flashed a relieved and familiar grin. “Yes, that might make this easier.”

As he poured Vaysh a glass of whiskey Ashmael privately wondered just how many drinks they might need before this became easy but he remained silent.

Vaysh thanked him for the drink and sat gingerly on the couch next to Ashmael. He winced a little as he sipped, but downed half the drink quickly. Ashmael studied Vaysh’s hands as they gripped the glass tightly. They were the same hands he had known in the past; the same hands that had touched and caressed him and tended his hurts. Suddenly he reached out and grabbed one, gripping it tightly.

Vaysh looked up, startled.

“It killed me too,” Ashmael whispered hoarsely. “When you died…. I thought it had. I was sure I was in hell.”

Vaysh’s fingers squeezed his and Ashmael looked up to meet clear, grey eyes. Ashmael felt like he was breathing through smoke but pushed on. “When I saw you…. God! I can still see you standing in Pellaz’s apartment.” He blinked a few times. “My heart stopped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! And then you were gone, scared away by me.”

Vaysh murmured a protest but Ashmael continued, cutting him off. “I convinced myself it wasn’t you. How could it be? You had died in my arms. Even when I found out it was you… what could I do? I didn’t know how to take you, the har that had my beloved’s face.”

Vaysh grimaced, his mouth twisting downwards. “I know what I do to hara,” he whispered painfully. “They are repulsed by me.”

Ashmael shook his head. “No. You are a beauty Vaysh, even more so now than before.” He sighed heavily. “I told myself I couldn’t touch you because of what Thiede had done. But now… I think that’s just what I wanted to believe.”

He watched Vaysh then reached out to catch the tear that slid down the other har’s cheek. The tear was warm, not icy cold like Ashmael imagined it would be. “You were so aloof. The ice maiden,” he said bitterly. “I could never go to you. I was terrified you would turn me away. I had lost you once, how could I do it again?”

Vaysh studied their entwined hands closely as he took a deep breath. When he finally spoke his voice was soft. “Do you know what I saw when you walked in that day?” He lifted his head. “The Angel of Immanion. General Aldebaran. Beautiful, shining… whole. So fantastically alive! Our separation became you; you were more than I had remembered.”

Ashmael heaved a shaky sigh, knowing where Vaysh’s line of thinking must have gone.

“You were wonderful,” Vaysh continued. “And you were terrifying – everything I had tried to forget standing right in front of me. And you didn’t feel any of it.”

Ashmael wanted to protest that, recalling how horrified he had been when he stumbled over Vaysh that day so long ago.

“I didn’t see a har who missed me, or who needed me,” Vaysh whispered. “I didn’t expect a mourning widow, but… You were so full of life, Ashmael. I knew you were alive, but… you never came to me when you found out I was. What more proof did I need?” His voice cracked. “You never came, Ashmael. You forgot me.”

“I’m sorry,” Ashmael breathed the words he had longed to say for so long.

Vaysh gave a teary smile. “Me too.”

“I never forgot you,” Ashmael said mournfully. “I think that was the problem.”

“I know… now.”

Ashmael groaned sadly and pulled Vaysh into his arms. He embraced Vaysh tightly, feeling the other har grip him back just as strongly. Ashmael could feel Vaysh’s damp face pressed against his neck. He ran his hands through the red hair that reminded him so often of what had happened to them.

He pulled back and studied Vaysh’s damp face. He cradled it in his palms, smoothing Vaysh’s skin with his thumbs. Vaysh stared back, emotion clearly flittering across his usually blank face. It was a sight that made Ashmael smile.

“We were so blind,” he said, disbelievingly.

“And now?” Vaysh asked. “This is not a fairytale.”

“No,” Ashmael agreed sadly. Things might never be the same between them, but they could at least be honest with each other.

When their lips met, Vaysh let out a sigh of relief. Their kisses were gentle, exploring and covering new territory, they tasted of tears and years of restrained frustration and pain, but they also tasted of hope. Ashmael pulled Vaysh close and breathed in both what was familiar and new in the har in his arms.

Things would not be the same, but Ashmael knew they were no longer trying to recapture their past – they were trying to forge their future.

The End

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2 Comments

  1. Kyo said,

    August 14, 2008 at 3:10 am

    This has got to be my favourite fanfiction 😀

  2. EmilyS said,

    August 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    So, so beautiful ;_;

    I wish this was canon. Every time in the books I come across Vaysh or Ashmael thinking about what might have been, I get heartbroken. To ease the sadness, in my mind they found their way back to each other, and it just wasn’t mentioned.


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