Frozen

Frozen
by Morgana

Story Notes

Author’s Email: morganalebeau@yahoo.com
Web page: http://www.paranoid.nl/avalon

Pairings: Vaysh/Ashmael, Pellaz/Caeru and Cal/Caeru (Pellaz/Galdra mentioned and Thiede/Vaysh as well.)

Rating: NC-17
Summary: Vaysh tells the story of his life and wonders if there is a happy ending set aside for him as well.

Disclaimer: Not mine. These characters belong to Storm Constantine. No copyright infringement is intended. If she wants my little story, it’s hers.

Warning: AU of course.

Major SPOILERS regarding book 6!

Beta read by Patricia and DA, thanks sweeties!

All remaining mistakes are mine.

Frozen

You only see what your eyes want to see
How can life be what you want it to be
You’re frozen
When your heart’s not open

You’re so consumed with how much you get
You waste your time with hate and regret
You’re broken
When your heart’s not open

Mmmmmm, if I could melt your heart
Mmmmmm, we’d never be apart
Mmmmmm, give yourself to me
Mmmmmm, you hold the key

Now there’s no point in placing the blame
And you should know I suffer the same
If I lose you
My heart will be broken

Love is a bird, she needs to fly
Let all the hurt inside of you die
You’re frozen
When your heart’s not open

Part 1

/Do happy endings really exist for people like me?

I, for one, didn’t believe they actually existed until I met Pellaz.

Pellaz…

Pell upended my life in so many ways. It started the day Thiede summoned me and told me I was to serve his newest creation, which would be his best yet. I had hoped he was right and that he had succeeded because I know what happens to the poor hara he subjected to the process in the past. I should know: I am one of those creations.

But I am a failed experiment and I know it. Thiede broke me when he tried to make me. I don’t want to remember that time. It is a time filled with pain, loneliness, panic, and a terrifying sense of helplessness. When Pellaz went through his ‘remaking’, he had me. I took care of him. When Thiede made me, I had no one except for a few silent, heartless hara that looked after me and Thiede, of course. But Thiede quickly lost interest in me once he realized that I had been ruined…and that I was barren.

Tears flow from my dead eyes and my hands turn into claws as I remember the pain he made me go through. The pain and even worse: the loss.

Pellaz lost Cal when Thiede took him. I didn’t just lose Ashmael. I had also lost the pearl I had carried. I never told Pell the real reason why I am the way I am…so cold and distant. He thinks he knows. He thinks it is because I lost Ash, but I could have dealt with losing my chesnari, and yes, I know the way that sounds. I would have tried contacting Ashmael once I had regained some measure of freedom in Immanion. But I couldn’t reach out to him…not after losing our pearl. And Ashmael never reached out to me.

I am dead to him. Pellaz told me that Ash had used exactly those words when they had talked. Do I blame Ash for declaring me dead? No, I don’t. I lost our pearl. I am responsible. I am to blame.

Ashmael is the only har I ever loved, the only one I ever wanted to take aruna with. Thiede forced himself upon me. I never wanted him to do those things to me. I fought him. I struggled, but to no avail. Maybe that is why the transformation went wrong. Maybe I wouldn’t have turned out wrecked and barren had I allowed him to do as he pleased. But I fought him all the way.

Yes, I know what you are about to say. I take aruna with Pell willingly while I declare I only ever loved Ashmael, but I was hurting. Do you understand the pain I was in?

I was hurting so badly. All I ever wanted was Ashmael back in my life, but he had declared me dead. What was I to do? Does anyone begrudge me finding momentary oblivion in Pellaz’ arms? If you do, put yourself in my position and maybe then you will understand my pain.

I lost Ashmael and our pearl because Thiede wanted to have his shot at creating a Tigron! He should have waited. Thiede should have waited to take me until I had delivered our pearl. Maybe then I wouldn’t have turned out barren. Maybe that’s it? Maybe the transformation went wrong because I was carrying a pearl? I lost it and, as a result, I became barren?

I should stop tormenting myself, but can I? I lost everything! Thiede lost nothing. He just waited for the next candidate to come along, which was, of course, Pell.

I have lived behind this mask of ice for the last few years and it served me well. Living in Thiede’s icy presence and becoming ice in turn was my only defense, but then Pellaz came along. I still remember how vulnerable he was after Thiede had burned him…how much he depended on me.

At first, I didn’t want to care for him. There was so much anger in me back then. There still is. But Pellaz needed me and, in a way, I needed him. While tending to Pellaz’ needs, I realized I *did* care about him. It was no longer possible to lock him out, to pretend I didn’t care.

And then there is Phade. I really like Phade, though I will never admit that aloud. He is every bit the rascal Ashmael used to be. Phade reminds me of Ashmael and, back then, it was hard to keep my distance. It would have been easy to return the bantering.

But I am no longer like that. I am no longer the Vaysh Ashmael loved. No, he did more than that – he adored me. He would have died for me. He tried… But that knife was meant for me and nothing Ashmael could have done would have changed the outcome. I would have died – if not that moment, I would have died the next day. Thiede wanted me and what Thiede wants, he takes. He is like a spoiled little child in that way.

Yes, the Vaysh Ashmael once loved is gone.

Dead.

Ash said it himself. I will never fall asleep in his arms again. I will never again wake to his sweet kisses. He no longer loves me.

The Angel of Immanion they call him these days… The first time I heard that I almost burst out laughing, but the mask was firmly in place and didn’t slip. But on the inside I laughed. They should know their Angel the way I know him. There is nothing angelic about Ashmael, save his looks perhaps.

I should stop thinking this way. It is making me melancholy and I don’t want to feel that way. I don’t want to feel at all. It is safer not to feel because then I won’t end up hurt again.

And it is not like I have to face Ashmael on a daily bases. Not any more. Ever since Thiede returned to Immanion, and Cal, Pellaz, and Galdra admitted their feelings for each other, I see less and less of Pell. And that in turn means seeing less of Ash because I no longer have to accompany Pellaz to any meetings. Oh, I am happy for Pellaz, don’t misunderstand me. He got Cal back and, on top of that, Galdra as well.

Pellaz has his own private harem these days, although I will be careful to phrase it like that. They all love him: Cal, Galdra, Caeru, Loki, Darquiel, and even Thiede himself, but who loves me?

I pity myself, you say? Yes, I do. But I hide it. No one will ever realize the pain that lies beneath the ice. My soul will remain frozen and so will my heart./

***

Pellaz watched Vaysh and decided he didn’t like what he saw. Vaysh had always been pale, but now he was so pale that Pellaz was afraid he might fade completely. Yes, it was true that lately, he had neglected his friend, but the last few weeks had been nothing but bliss once he had Cal *and* Galdra at his side. His lost sons had also returned to him and even Caeru was blooming now that Darquiel and he had been reunited. In the midst of all that happiness, he had forgotten his old friend and confidant.

Vaysh had always been there for him. Reluctantly at first and, from a distance, almost impossible to approach, but that had changed throughout the years. Pellaz knew that beneath the glacier was a heart that still beat with love for Ashmael. /Why did they never talk?/ He instantly felt ashamed as he recalled that it had been him who had discouraged Ashmael from seeking out Vaysh. He was partly to blame for Vaysh’s loneliness and it was time he admitted the foul part he had played in the past.

He covered the distance between them and placed a hand on Vaysh’s shoulder. Patiently he waited for his friend to look at him. Vaysh’s gaze locked with his and the empty expression that lay in the gray eyes made Pellaz flinch. /I am sorry, my friend. I failed you./

“Is there anything you need?” Vaysh was eager to leave the room. The look that Pellaz was giving him was unsettling.

Pellaz forced himself to think quickly. “Actually there is something I need you to do for me.” Why hadn’t he thought of this before? “There will be a party this evening and I want you to attend.” Normally Vaysh shunned all festivities and would only appear if Pellaz ordered him to attend.

Vaysh shook his head, but not with his usual vigor. He felt exhausted and it showed. “You can party without me. You don’t need me there. You have enough lovers to keep you company.” Although he hadn’t intended for those words to sound so bitter, they did as his voice dripped with venom. Pellaz had found his happiness and Vaysh hated Thiede even more for taking Ashmael and their pearl away from him. “I won’t attend.”

Most of the time, Pellaz let Vaysh get away with that sort of behavior because he knew that Vaysh was hurting and this was the other har’s way of coping with the pain, but not this time. “I insist you attend.” Vaysh’s icy glare would have intimidated any other har, but it didn’t have the desired effect on the Tigron of Immanion. “I insist,” Pellaz repeated firmly. “Last year, I gave you that lovely green outfit and I have yet to see you wear it.” He had long realized that green was Vaysh’s favorite color and the other har did look good wearing it!

“I am not planning on wearing it and certainly not tonight.” Vaysh froze up further.

Pellaz cringed for he could literally see one layer of ice being added onto his friend’s personality. Vaysh’s attitude was especially chilling that night. “Do this for me,” he said, trying to make Vaysh agree by pleading with him. “It would mean a lot to me to have you at my side.” He counted on the fact that Vaysh cared enough about him to want to please him. Vaysh always kept his feelings carefully hidden, but Pellaz had realized Vaysh’s true nature some time ago.

Pellaz vividly remembered Phade’s words; the other har had been right back then. Once you broke through the ice, you encountered a different person: one who was afraid of being hurt all over again and was ruled by fear and memories of helplessness.

Pellaz had tried to make Vaysh open up to him countless times over what Thiede had done to him, but Vaysh had continually and stubbornly refused to discuss his past. It was the one topic that was completely off-limits. “Please.”

It was true that through the years, Vaysh had come to care for Pellaz like a father would for a son and he *did* want to please Pellaz. “But only for a few minutes.” Then he would retreat to his rooms and brood like he always did.

Vaysh wasn’t prepared for Pell’s spontaneous reaction when the other har hugged him close. In the beginning of their unlikely friendship he had flinched away from every touch Pellaz had bestowed on him, but he had learned to accept the other har’s closeness. “But only for a few minutes,” he repeated. “Do you hear me?”

“I hear you. Thank you.” Pellaz pulled Vaysh close and placed a kiss onto his friend’s brow. Now that everyone was happy, he was going to do his best to make Vaysh happy as well.

***

Vaysh sat in front of the mirror and stared at his reflection. He had forced himself to grow accustomed to looking at his reflection all over again with his changed appearance. The first time he had caught sight of his reflection after the transformation he had been horrified. His eyes which had once sparkled with life had appeared dead. His lips which had loved to tilt in a smile at Ashmael had become a narrow line. Thiede had literally sucked all of the life out of him during his transformation.

Suddenly the brush moved through his dyed hair of its own accord and his eyes widened. When had Pellaz entered his room? And how had the other har managed to approach undetected? “What are you doing?”

“Brushing your hair.” Pellaz cared for Vaysh and seeing his friend in such emotional turmoil hurt him. It was hard to remember a time when Vaysh had appeared without emotion as he saw the way he looked at the moment: so very lost. It was all there: the unshed tears in the large gray eyes and the sorrowful curve of the lips. Vaysh had lost all hope.

“You don’t have to do that.” Vaysh shivered. Pellaz was the only one who touched him. Who *dared* to touch him. Everyone else always shied away from doing so. He had no friends in Immanion save Pellaz.

“But I want to.” Pleased, Pellaz noticed that Vaysh was wearing the green shirt he had asked his friend to wear. “You are still beautiful,” he said.

But Vaysh bitterly shook his head, uncaring when strands got caught in the brush and tugged at his scalp, causing him pain. “I am a shell. There’s nothing left of me.”

“That’s a lie.” Pellaz finished brushing the red strands and bowed forward until he could rest his chin on Vaysh’s shoulder. “You still turn many heads.” The red hair, although dyed, possessed a fire of its own. But that red color also made Vaysh look even paler. “You can’t lock yourself away forever, Vaysh.”

“I’ve managed so far.” Vaysh shrugged his shoulders. Locking himself away had been easy since no one save Pellaz had ever tried to befriend him.

Pellaz smiled at Vaysh’s reflection. “Tonight is a happy night. We celebrate the return of my sons, Vaysh. Can’t you be happy with me?”

Vaysh almost choked on the emotion blocking his throat. “Happy?” Pellaz was blessed with offspring – he wasn’t. He never would be!

“I know that’s hard for you, but…” Pellaz moistened his lips and tried a different approach while brushing a red strand of hair behind Vaysh’s right ear. “I had a look at the seating arrangement and made sure you are seated next to me. That way you might feel less out of place.” Vaysh would put on his mask, hide behind his aloofness, and brush off any who would dare address him. Pellaz knew that only too well and this was his way of forcing Vaysh to at least acknowledge and converse with him during the evening. “Caeru’s old band will even perform some songs. You liked them back then in Ferelithia, didn’t you?”

“Pell…that was a life time ago.” He was surprised to hear that Caeru’s old band had reunited. Ferelithia was nothing but a distant memory to Vaysh, but he did remember the brass bangle that Pellaz had offered him that night. And he had taken it. In a way, he had felt honored that his charge had been thoughtful enough to do so. Maybe he had even felt a little vain that night.

After all, there had once been a time when many hara had wanted him… Vaysh forced himself to stop remembering a past he no longer owned.

“Let me.”

Stunned, Vaysh could only watch as Pellaz applied the black eye liner, making his large, gray eyes stand out even more. “Why did you do that?”

“Because I felt like it.” Pellaz stretched and then raised a hand. “Come with me, Vaysh. It is time. We can be late, but not *that* late.”

Vaysh blinked. “You are to be my escort?”

“For the time being, yes.” Pellaz even gave Vaysh a wink. “My consorts can manage without me for a few hours and will entertain themselves. I’m not deserting you, old friend.”

Vaysh still felt stunned and that wasn’t a good thing. How was he supposed to go back to being aloof when Pellaz continued to act like this? His mask had to be firmly in place the moment they entered the main hall.

Pellaz observed Vaysh’s discomfort with mild amusement. /And this, my friend, is only the beginning./

***

Ashmael was bored. He had been to hundreds of these parties by this time and had only shown up out of courtesy. It would not do well to decline an invitation issued by the Tigron himself. As always, he found himself seated at the main table. Cal and Galdra had appeared a moment earlier, bantering and laughing about jokes Ashmael couldn’t quite hear. The news that Cal and Galdra had accepted each other’s presence in Pellaz’ life had traveled quickly through all Immanion and lots of curious gazes were aimed at them now. Loki, Geburael, and Darquiel preferred to move to the band’s music and Ashmael didn’t blame them.

Caeru seated himself a few chairs away from him and gave Ashmael a knowing look. “Bored, tiahaar?”

Ashmael inclined his head. “I wouldn’t be if you graced us with a song, tiahaar.” Ash enjoyed a little bantering with Caeru when the time was right.

“Maybe later. Right now I am waiting for my consort to arrive.”

Ashmael wiggled an eyebrow. “Did you lose Pell somewhere?”

Caeru laughed. “No, I didn’t. He should arrive any moment now, accompanied by Vaysh.” The laugh died on Caeru’s lips as he saw the expression in Ashmael’s eyes change. Caeru had a fair share of informants and had uncovered the sad past that bound Ashmael to Vaysh. He had never liked Thiede and after hearing what Thiede had done to Vaysh, Caeru had liked him even less. Thiede manipulated everyone as it suited him best and Caeru hated that character trait. Since there was no sign of Pell and Vaysh yet, Caeru moved up a few seats until he sat next to Ashmael. “Did you ever talk to Vaysh?”

Ashmael blinked in surprise. He hadn’t expected Caeru to address his former chesnari. “No, why should I? My Vaysh is dead. He died many years ago.” It had taken him many long and painful years to accept that his chesnari was dead, but it had been his only way to survive losing Vaysh. Vaysh had died in his arms and the impact of that experience had nearly robbed him of his sanity. “He is dead,” Ash repeated, once more confirming this truth. “Dead.”

“Are you certain of that?” Caeru selected a grape and pushed it past his lips. “I don’t have many dealings with Vaysh. Vaysh belongs with Pell and everyone respects that, but the few times I met him he seemed very much alive to me.”

“You don’t understand! No one does! No one can!” Ashmael glared at Caeru. “He died in my arms. I watched him release his last breath. He is dead. What walks these halls is an abomination!”

Caeru’s eyes widened at hearing Ashmael’s venomous tone. He cocked his head and studied Ashmael carefully. The other har panted slightly while the veins on his brow stood out clearly as the jaw set itself firmly. Ashmael was fighting with himself; that much was obvious. “I was scared when I came to Immanion. I didn’t know if Pell would welcome me and our child, but I faced him nonetheless. In the end, it was worth it. I have been through much pain since I met Pell, but in the end, it was worth it, Ashmael.” His gaze drifted off to Darquiel and Geburael and he smiled at seeing them dance.

Ashmael knew exactly what Caeru was trying to tell him. “That’s not the same.”

“I took the risk, Ash, and in the end, it paid off.” Caeru leaned back and sipped his sheh. “Don’t you want to find out what happened to him? If my lover had been ripped out of my life and had then been returned, I would want to know.”

But Ashmael shook his head. “He gives me the shivers, Caeru. You don’t know the way he used to be.”

“Then tell me.” Interested, Caeru leaned in closer. Little was known about Vaysh and he was dying to learn more.

“He was radiant after his inception. Everyone loved him. Everyone adored him. He was perfect, Caeru. Our Wraeththu blood was so strong in him and he brought out the best in all of us. When I took aruna with him… I was lost for words. All I could do was stare at him and wonder that he wanted me in turn.”

Caeru smiled at hearing the dream-like tone in Ashmael’s voice. Ashmael’s expression had changed as well and was filled with love and adoration. /You still love him,/ Caeru thought.

“The first time we took aruna, my world shattered into tiny pieces and was then rebuilt again…rebuilt around Vaysh and the love that I felt for him. I was fortunate because he returned my feelings and we quickly became chesna. I loved only him, Caeru, and when I see him walk these halls now, I shiver. I mourn what was lost.” Ashmael closed his eyes in an effort to sort out his emotions. “He is cold now. Cold, distant, and arrogant. I love him still, but I can’t bear looking at him.”

Caeru shook his head. “Ash, I believe you are wrong.”

Ashmael glared at the blond-haired har. “I know Vaysh, Caeru. You don’t.”

Caeru wanted to protest, but then caught sight of an approaching Pellaz accompanied by Vaysh. A soft smile spread across his face. Vaysh didn’t look cold, distant, or arrogant as he looked at Ashmael. Vaysh probably didn’t realize that his eyes shone with love for his former chesnari.

Ashmael followed the direction of Caeru’s stare and quickly averted his gaze when he realized that Vaysh had arrived as well. Steering his gaze away from his former lover, he concentrated on Pellaz. Dressed in red, Pellaz looked as regal as he always did.

Vaysh’s heart pounded like mad as he saw that Ashmael was already seated at the main table. When he had given in to Pell’s demand to attend the party that night, he hadn’t taken into account that Ashmael could be there. “Pell, I want to leave,” he whispered and tugged at Pell’s sleeve.

“Too late,” Pellaz whispered back, making certain only Vaysh had heard his reply.

Vaysh did the only thing he could: he erected a wall of ice that would protect him and glared haughtily at Ashmael and Caeru.

“You look fine tonight.” Caeru rose from his chair and wrapped his arms around Pellaz, who returned the warm gesture by placing a kiss onto his lips. “Even you, Vaysh, look fine tonight.” Caeru grinned and Vaysh’s eyes shot daggers at him. Some time ago that might have put him off, but the other har no longer intimidated him.

Ashmael made a point of not looking at Vaysh. He did all he could to avoid making eye contact. This was one party he would leave early.

“Sit down, Vaysh.” Pellaz had taken his seat and gestured for his friend to sit down next to him. Amused, he waited for the moment Vaysh would register where he was supposed to sit during the evening…in-between Pellaz and Ashmael, to Vaysh’s horror.

Vaysh stared at Pellaz and sent a mind touch. /You can’t be serious!/ He wouldn’t stay long if Pellaz forced him to sit next to Ashmael, who was bent on ignoring him! Since his arrival, Ashmael hadn’t looked at him once!

Caeru finally realized what the problem was. If Ashmael had bothered to look at Vaysh just once, he would have noticed the love in those eyes. But because Ashmael was so determined not to meet Vaysh’s gaze, the har didn’t see it. Ashmael looked everywhere except at Vaysh. At this point, even engaging Caeru in conversation sounded good!

Pellaz’ eyes narrowed as he saw the effort Ashmael was making to ignore Vaysh’s presence and decided it wouldn’t do. “Caeru, why don’t you sing a song? A love song maybe?” It was the first step in carrying out his plan. In mind touch, he told Caeru, /I will tell them to dance. Then they have to look at each other!/

/It might work,/ Caeru replied. /Or it will backfire on us./ But they had to take that risk. “I know just the right song!” He rose from the chair and raised his hand to attract his band’s attention. “Those two want to hear a love song!”

Horrified, Vaysh looked up at Caeru. Those two? Caeru couldn’t be referring to Ashmael and him? Caeru wouldn’t be that cruel, would he? To his utter shock, Ashmael realized Caeru *was* referring to Vaysh and him. “I don’t dance,” he announced firmly.

The rejection cut Vaysh deep and his fingernails clawed at the armrest of his chair. Why did Ashmael hate him so much? /Because I lost our pearl, that’s why!/ He wanted to lower his gaze and drown in his feelings, but couldn’t since he was in public. So he steeled his expression and tried to radiate arrogance and cold. He wasn’t going to let anyone know just how miserable he felt.

Pellaz drew in a deep breath and then rose from his chair. “Ashmael, you are going to dance with Vaysh. I command it.” It was a dangerous move. Ashmael was known for not following orders, but they were in public and an increasing number of eyes were looking their way. Ashmael couldn’t afford to make a scene and openly defy him. Not while they were celebrating their victory and the return of the Tigrons and their offspring. Ashmael knew that as well. Had they been in private he would have refused adamantly, but he couldn’t keep that up in public.

“Yes, dance with our ice-prince!”

Vaysh’s eyes filled with poison at hearing that. He didn’t know who had said it, but it had stung nonetheless. The room began to quiet down and Vaysh was painfully aware that Ashmael’s rejection was causing the commotion. He had seldom felt this embarrassed and at the same time enraged. He was angry with Pellaz for maneuvering him into this position and with Ashmael for rejecting him.

Ashmael scanned the crowd, trying to find the har who had made the snide comment, but it was impossible to determine who had called out. He straightened his shoulders as his expression hardened and then raised a hand in invitation. He wouldn’t allow anyone to embarrass him. “Dance with me.” He shivered at the thought of having to make physical contact with this cold shell that had once housed his lovely Vaysh.

Vaysh had already accepted the rejection and was flabbergasted to hear Ashmael speak his order. He had to stop himself from looking at Ashmael’s face. Had he done so, he would have given away how vulnerable he felt. Ashmael’s hand hovered in front of his face and Vaysh realized he had no choice either. /I will get back at you for this,/ he sent to Pellaz.

Pellaz inclined his head. He was willing to take that risk. He sat down again and Caeru joined his band. A moment later, soft tones drifted through the hall and Caeru started to sing. Pellaz smiled for he had always thought of Caeru as a talented vocalist and enjoyed seeing his consort move over the stage in such a sensual way.

Vaysh had no choice but to place his hand in Ashmael’s. His hand trembled as he did so. Ashmael tried hard to remain calm and controlled when the cold fingers came to rest in the palm of his hand. Cold – Vaysh was pure ice.

Vaysh rose from his chair and continued to stare straight ahead. He already dreaded the moment they had to make eye contact. He was certain Ashmael would stare at him in disgust. Ashmael guided him onto the section of the floor which had been designated as the dance floor and noticed with distress that the other hara had moved out of the way. In the end, it was only Ashmael and he who stood there.

In spite of his apprehension, Ashmael decided to reach out to Vaysh. After all, they had been chesna at one time and his subconscious was beginning to remind him just how much he had loved the other har. Vaysh had been his life once. “They won’t eat us,” he offered in an effort to make light of their situation. He expected Vaysh to rebuke him and send another chilling glare his way, but the red-haired har meekly nodded his head and began to move to the music just like Ashmael did.

Vaysh hid behind his long hair and was grateful he had worn it loose that night. It would shield him from catching unwanted looks and made him feel just a little safer. Ashmael’s arms came around his waist and rested there loosely, awakening many memories in Vaysh. Memories of many nights spent in bliss while those arms were holding him tight. Angry with himself for letting his thoughts wander off, his lips became a thin narrow line and his expression hardened.

Ashmael knew that something was wrong with Vaysh, but didn’t know what. He had never worked up the courage to talk to his former chesnari after Thiede had gotten his hands on Vaysh. He had spent many years accepting Vaysh was dead and fate had suddenly thrust his former lover into his arms again. The red hair was all wrong and Vaysh was skinnier than he used to be. Ashmael could feel the bone sticking through the thin skin and was reminded of a time when Vaysh had felt warm and soft in his arms. And then, another memory overwhelmed him. He still vividly remembered the night when Vaysh had climbed on top of him and had then leaned in closer to whisper, “I want to create a pearl tonight.” And they had proceeded to do just that. Taking aruna with Vaysh that night had made him realize how deep their love had become and when he had broken the seal and his aren had invaded Vaysh’s body, he had known they had been made for each other.

And then Thiede had killed Vaysh. But Thiede hadn’t just made one victim. He had made three: Vaysh, their pearl, and Ashmael. Ashmael had been devastated when Vaysh had died in his arms. Vaysh’s last words had been words of love – everlasting, deep love – and then he had to let his chesnari go. Death had claimed him. At least, that was what Ashmael had believed at the time. Now he knew that Thiede had been out hunting for Vaysh and had caught his prey. When he was around Thiede, he did his best to be polite toward him, but in the depths of his soul, he hated Thiede with an all-consuming passion. That hatred had frozen his heart.

Vaysh trembled as an echo of Ashmael’s thoughts reached his. It amazed him that after all the years of being apart their minds were still somehow connected. Afraid to look up or instigate any kind of conversation, he stared at the wall behind Ashmael and mechanically moved to the slow music, blocking everything else out.

Ashmael finally found the courage to lower his gaze and look at Vaysh’s face. He was a head taller then his former chesnari and had always enjoyed the height difference since it had worked in his advantage. His first look was a quick and uncertain one, but since Vaysh wasn’t returning the look, he began to take his time to study his former lover’s face. It still possessed a reminder of the beauty it had once possessed, but the pallor and gauntness of the face reminded Ashmael that this wasn’t ‘his’ Vaysh. The large, gray eyes lined with black eye liner looked lost and mirrored the way he felt himself.

Feeling Ashmael’s gaze upon him, Vaysh’ expression grew even more guarded and he continued to stare at the wall. He cursed Pellaz and Caeru for setting him up! Ashmael moistened his lips and then plunged into the deep. “Vaysh?”

The palms of Vaysh’s hands grew sweaty as he heard Ashmael speak his name after such a long time. Once, Ashmael had spoken his name in love, now there was an emotion in that voice he found hard to label, but he was certain it wasn’t love. “The song should come to an end any moment now.”

A sad expression appeared in Ashmael’s eyes. Vaysh’s voice had always sounded like the ringing of bells, but now the voice sounded cracked and broken. It no longer possessed its original grace and in that moment, pity overcame Ashmael. Thiede should have left them alone! He frantically tried to think of anything to say to keep their conversation going. “Are you angry with Pell for setting us up?”

Vaysh was careful not to look up. “I never expected it from him.”

Ashmael felt desperate when he didn’t know what to say. Everything he could say would be meaningless blabbering as long as he didn’t address their past. But was he ready to do so? Did he want to address it? He had spent so many years in denial!

The song came to an end and Vaysh quickly broke the loose embrace he was in. It was his intention to return to the main table and excuse himself. After all, he had done what Pellaz had asked of him. He had attended the party for a few minutes! But then he realized that Ashmael was holding him in place. The blond har had placed his arm around his wrist and kept him from leaving. Vaysh had no other choice than to finally look Ashmael in the eye and demand he let him go.

And that was exactly what Ashmael had wanted to accomplish: to make eye contact. When they had started to dance, he had made every effort not to make any eye contact, but now he wanted to see what lay in those gray eyes. Nothing could have prepared him for the shock that went through him when their gazes finally locked. The last few years had consisted of occasional run-ins and conversing on the council. They had exchanged polite comments, but not once had their eyes met…until now.

Vaysh tried hard to keep his icy demeanor up, but the moment Ashmael’s warm, blue eyes met with his, the ice began to melt. This was what he had always been afraid of. This was why he had always kept his distance. When others were around, it was easy to act arrogant, but he couldn’t pull it off when it was Ashmael looking at him. “Let me go.”

Ashmael shook his head. “I don’t want to do this either, but I think Pellaz is right. We have unfinished business.” He knew why Pellaz had thrust them together like this. “We can talk on the balcony. We will have our privacy there.”

“Talk?” Vaysh’s eyes grew big. “Talk? There’s nothing to discuss!”

“You don’t believe that.” Ashmael used his hold on Vaysh’s wrist to pull him along.

Vaysh considered struggling, but then relented. Everyone was looking at them and he couldn’t make a scene. In the end, he followed Ashmael onto the balcony. His heart was beating a million beats per minute and cold sweat was forming on his brow. He was scared – deadly scared of what was to come

Part 2

After his performance, Caeru joined Pellaz again. Cal and Galdra had left during the song and Caeru had a pretty good idea what those two were up to. Pellaz’ gamble had worked out. Cal and Galdra liked each other and their feelings were deepening. That meant Pellaz could keep both lovers close and that must be a relief to his consort.

His consort… Caeru seated himself next to his consort and smiled at Pellaz. He was grateful that the days of anger and abuse were in the past. He had to thank Cal for that. Pellaz and he had become friends and he even prided himself on having become his confidante. But one regret still lived in his heart: that Pellaz so seldom treated him like the Tigron had treated him in Ferelithia. Sometimes, he yearned so much to take aruna with Pellaz and to feel loved.

“Our plan might work,” Pellaz remarked as he sipped some water. He had been offered sheh, but stayed away from the concoction since he wanted to remain clear-headed. “I hope it will.”

Caeru took an educated guess. “Suffering from guilt?” One thing he had never been afraid of was to tell the truth, uncaring if anyone got hurt by his bluntness.

Pellaz gave Caeru a look that hid nothing. “Yes, I do. I kept them apart. Tell me why?”

Caeru smiled. “In the past, it might have been jealousy. You didn’t get to have Cal back so you didn’t want Vaysh reunited with Ash either. And later, maybe you simply forgot about Vaysh?”

“You might be right,” Pellaz admitted. “I wanted to keep Vaysh to myself.” That was no longer necessary since he had Cal, Galdra, and even Caeru in a certain way. “Did you ever talk to Ashmael about Vaysh? Do you think he still has feelings for Vaysh?”

Caeru nodded. “I talked to him just now. He still loves Vaysh, although he spent years convincing himself that it wasn’t Vaysh who returned with you.”

Pellaz shrugged carefully. “It’s true. Vaysh has changed.”

“But their love has remained,” Caeru replied wistfully. He gave Pellaz an admonishing look. “And you know that.”

Pellaz felt caught. “I have always known it.” And in a way, he had changed too. He was now able to admit he had made mistakes where Ashmael and Vaysh were concerned. He should have tried to make them talk to each other years ago, but he had been jealous and even greedy. “Do you think it is too late for them?” He met Caeru’s melancholy look and felt even more disgusted with himself when he recalled how he had mistreated the other har in the past. It had never been Caeru’s fault that he resembled Cal and that he had been in Ferelithia when Pellaz had been passing through. He had to make amends where Caeru was concerned as well.

“It is never too late for love,” Caeru said and managed a smile. Oh, he loved Pellaz still, no matter with how much disgust the Tigron had treated him with in the past.

Pellaz swallowed hard and placed his hand firmly on Caeru’s. Caeru didn’t pull back, which came as a relief. “Maybe it is not too late for us either?” He knew Caeru still loved him—it was the main reason why Caeru had allowed himself to be mistreated in such a way.

Caeru’s eyes didn’t reveal the surprise the har felt. Pellaz had begun to reach out to him some time ago, but they had never actively worked on deepening their relationship. Caeru had made his peace with being Pellaz’ friend, but deep down in his heart he had always yearned for more.

“Us? Pell, there never was an ‘us’, not a real ‘us’.” Caeru hated being blunt, but it was the truth.

Pellaz swallowed nervously. “What if I want to change that?”

Caeru could no longer hide his surprise. “Change what?”

“I used you in the past, and for that I can never really make amends. I used you in Ferelithia and then I abandoned you. What happened later… My actions still disgust me. I forced myself upon you. I never gave you…”

Caeru stopped Pellaz’ rambling by placing a finger against the trembling lips. “I am to blame too. I allowed for it to continue. I could have left.”

Both hara knew it was the truth, but that didn’t make things easier. Pellaz had seldom felt this nervous in his life before, but he still went ahead. “Spend the night with me, Rue?”

Caeru blinked in surprise. “What?” He knew he looked undignified at that very moment with his big eyes and his mouth agape, but he couldn’t help reacting that way.

Pellaz gave Caeru a coy smile. “You heard me.”

Caeru shook his head. “I don’t know what you are trying to do, Pellaz. But I don’t think it is a good idea.” The last time they had been together had been years ago when they had created Darquiel’s pearl and that had been a bit of a traumatic experience for Caeru, although the first part when he had been alone with a loving Pellaz had warmed his heart.

Pellaz’ throat went dry and he felt nervous. He *wanted* to show Caeru that there was a softer and more loving side to him. It was his fault that Caeru had never seen it before. “Please give me this chance.” At this point, he was willing to beg.

Caeru was afraid he would regret giving in to Pellaz later. Pellaz had hurt him so many times in the past and scars had formed on his soul. “Pell, I am afraid,” he said, as always preferring to be honest. “I am afraid you will hurt me again.”

“I won’t!” Pellaz called out passionately. “I won’t.”

Caeru’s instincts advised him against giving in, but he *did* love Pellaz. “But this will be over in the morning. I will give you tonight, but only tonight.” The radiant smile that surfaced on Pellaz’ face took Caeru aback and he wondered what he had just agreed to.

***

Vaysh immediately headed for the balustrade and rested his trembling hands upon the stone. The material was cold, but it didn’t register with Vaysh, who always felt cold at any rate. He sensed Ashmael’s presence behind him and bowed his head. His hair tumbled forward, creating a curtain from which he could peek at Ashmael if he felt the need to do so. Why did Ashmael wish to talk about their situation so many years after he had arrived in Immanion? The past was the past and Ashmael should let it rest. Damn Pellaz for maneuvering them into this situation!

Ashmael felt equally lost. He had forced Vaysh into this situation and now that he had the other har to himself, he didn’t know what to say. In the end, he cleared his throat with a soft cough and took a step toward Vaysh. “I don’t know how to start,” he admitted in a choked-up voice. This was such an awkward situation!

“Then don’t. Let me go and we will pretend this never happened.” Vaysh was under the impression that Ashmael would let him pass and turned around to march into the hall again. But that was a mistake. He had misjudged how close Ashmael stood to him and he practically walked into the other har’s chest.

The collision made both hara look up and their gazes met. For one moment, Ashmael was catapulted back into the past and he raised his right hand to caress Vaysh’s face. To his dismay, Vaysh flinched away from his touch and increased the distance between them. Nervously, Ashmael said, “I remember a time when you craved my touch.”

He craved it still, but he couldn’t let Ashmael know that. “Things change.” Since Ashmael was blocking his way out, he remained in place. His gaze sought out his former lover’s and he tried hard to project all the cold and hatred he felt. Not that the hatred was directed at Ashmael. It was Thiede he hated, but now that hatred served him well.

Ashmael cringed beneath the impact of Vaysh’s glare, but he remembered the expression the gray eyes had carried when they had collided. For one moment the large eyes had shown a different emotion besides hatred. For the first time, Ashmael wondered how much there was left of his old Vaysh. “I mourned your death for years,” he forced out, feeling nauseous as the memories resurfaced. “I lost my mind. I roamed the land like a deranged idiot. Some wandering hara found me and took me in. They told me that I had screamed myself hoarse, screaming your name over and over again.”

Vaysh flinched again. He hadn’t expected Ashmael to offer something so personal. “It was for the best. You mourned my death and in the end, you found the strength to move on.” While he had been in limbo as he had been remade by Thiede, Ashmael had been the only thing on his mind. He had been unable to speak back then, but he had beseeched Thiede telepathically to let him go because he had known how much Ashmael had to have been hurting.

Ashmael studied the play of emotion on Vaysh’s face and realized something very important. The mask was down and he was seeing the real Vaysh now. “Vaysh, I lost my sanity. I lost you. How was I supposed to move on? I never quite managed that. My heart became frozen and my soul dead.”

Vaysh felt increasingly uncomfortable. He could handle an arrogant Ashmael who ignored him, but he didn’t know how to deal with this side of Ashmael’s personality. In the past, he would have wrapped his arms around his chesnari and held him. But that was no longer a possibility. He stood there, feeling as helpless as he always did. “I am sorry,” he managed in the end. “I know it was hard on you.”

A lump of emotions formed in Ashmael’s throat and he swallowed hard. Vaysh felt sorry for him? Maybe there was more left of his chesnari than he had thought. “Vaysh, you died… Thiede remade you… What happened?” He took a step closer to Vaysh and placed his hands on the other har’s shoulders. Vaysh tried to move away from him, but Ashmael didn’t allow it. The chilling expression was gone from the gray eyes and the emotion that resided there resembled fear and panic. This wasn’t the icy har he had become used to over the years. This was someone else.

Vaysh’s reaction to Ashmael’s touch was instant. “Don’t touch me!” He broke away forcefully and moved backward until his back hit the balustrade. “Don’t ever touch me again!”

Vaysh’s reaction stunned Ashmael. “I don’t understand,” he responded sincerely.

“I don’t want to discuss what happened back then!” Vaysh’s eyes had gone from gray to red and the change showed how angry he really was. Every now and then Thiede’s legacy still showed.

Ashmael wondered about the changed eye color, but wisely kept quiet about it. “I won’t touch you again if you don’t want to be touched.” In order to prove his words, he took a step away from Vaysh. “But please tell me what prompted that reaction.”

Vaysh adamantly shook his head. “That’s none of your business!”

But Ashmael had never seen such emotion in Vaysh since the other har had returned and was determined to use it to his advantage. He could deal with an angry Vaysh. It was the silent, distant Vaysh that scared him. “You are wrong. This is my business.” He then did something that actually scared him because he hadn’t known it would happen. He finally caved in. “Vaysh, we were chesna!”

Vaysh steeled his nerves and glared at Ashmael. “That was in the past, Ash!” The last word slipped from his lips unintentionally. He hadn’t wanted to call him that. It brought back even more memories: memories of whispering that name in the dark.

“But we are standing here now – in the present and I have a right to know what happened to you!” Ashmael didn’t want to pressure Vaysh too much, but if he had to push him, he would. He just didn’t want to bring up their pearl, knowing doing that would hurt the both of them deeply. “I have the right to know!”

Vaysh thought quickly. “If I tell you, will you then let me go and keep your distance?”

Ashmael’s eyes widened. “Do you want that? For me to go back to ignoring you?”

“That is the best solution, so yes.” Vaysh waited for Ashmael to make a decision. He was willing to give Ashmael the information if doing so would buy him peace and quiet.

“I have a right to know,” Ashmael replied after a moment’s thought. “I am not making promises that I can’t keep.” Ashmael waited for Vaysh to either run away or finally face him. They had avoided dealing with their past for much too long. “Tell me.”

“I don’t want to.”

The soft, pleading tone that accompanied Vaysh’s voice caused Ashmael’s heart to break. It possessed a hint of the old Vaysh, the one that had turned to him for comfort when he was hurting. “You must.” Ashmael took a risk when he stopped blocking Vaysh’s escape route to sit down on a bench. “Sit with me?” he requested.

Vaysh faced an inner dilemma. He could run and escape into the hall, but Ashmael trusted him not to do that. Looking at his former lover, his heart contracted painfully. Ashmael’s looks were angelic, that much was true. The long, almost golden-colored hair was loose and reached the other har’s buttocks. The warm, blue eyes shone with remnants of love. Ashmael had always looked good wearing gray and blue and that night was no exception. He loved him still – he always would. Eventually, he seated himself on the other end of the bench as far away from Ashmael as possible. He still used his hair to hide behind and his hands became fists while resting in his lap.

“What do you want to know?” Vaysh’s voice shook noticeably and so did his hands.

Ashmael was tempted to wrap those hands up protectively in his, but he remembered Vaysh’s panicked demand not to be touched again and he respected that. “What happened after you died in my arms?”

Vaysh really didn’t want to do this and considered fleeing again. But Ashmael was right: he deserved to know the truth no matter how painful that truth was. “I fell… I fell into fire and it burned me. My body was on fire and my mind… There was so much pain!” Remembering was hard on Vaysh. “How much do you know of Thiede’s attempts to create his perfect Tigron?” Vaysh peeked at Ashmael and found that the other har had grown pale as well. This also affected Ashmael and the old Vaysh wanted to reach out and comfort him, but he had lost the right to do that.

“Not much,” Ashmael admitted. “He keeps many secrets.” A moment ago, he had wanted to know what had happened to Vaysh, but now he wasn’t that sure any more.

“I don’t know exactly how he creates them either. But pain accompanies the process.” Vaysh shuddered uncontrollably. The time had come to face his past. “I was with pearl when it happened.” There, he had finally said it.

Ashmael couldn’t stop himself and forgot about his promise not to touch Vaysh. He placed a large hand atop Vaysh’s and curled his fingers around the cold limbs. Inching closer, he sought out Vaysh’s eyes and saw they were swimming. “Our pearl.”

Vaysh stared at their twined fingers and only now realized that Ashmael was touching him after all, but the panic didn’t return and he allowed it. “I lost our pearl, Ash. I wasn’t strong enough.”

Ashmael couldn’t believe Vaysh had said that. “Vaysh, Thiede killed you! It wasn’t your fault that our pearl… that our pearl…” His voice broke and tears flowed down his cheeks. “I wanted a harling so badly and when you offered to host our pearl… I have never been happier than that day!” And then Thiede had killed Vaysh! “You can’t blame yourself for what Thiede did!”

“You had better be careful. He might be watching us right now.” He had seen through Thiede’s eyes often enough to know that nothing ever went unnoticed.

“I don’t care.” Ashmael moved closer still and brought Vaysh’s cold hands into his lap, where he began to rub them into some semblance of warmth. “Vaysh, it wasn’t your fault that you lost our pearl.”

Vaysh’s eyes also released their tears and he stared pleadingly at Ashmael when the dam broke. “I fought him, Ash. I didn’t want to be his experiment, but he didn’t listen. He forced himself on me and…”

“What?” Ashmael thought he had misheard. “Did you just say that Thiede took aruna with you against your will?” His nausea was getting worse. The mere thought of his Vaysh being subjected to something like that caused him to grow enraged. “But why?”

“That is how he makes his Tigrons, Ash.” Vaysh felt ashamed and tainted. “That is how he transfers his energy onto us. The same thing happened to Pellaz, but he was stronger. He didn’t break. I did.” He stared at Ashmael’s fingers as they rubbed his. He was slowly beginning to feel warmer. “His essence is terrible, Ash. He burned me and it took me a long time to heal. I was a failure though. Not only did I lose our pearl, I also turned out ruined and barren.” In a softer, more thoughtful voice, he added, “I think the reason why I am barren is because I lost our pearl.”

Ashmael needed a moment to digest everything he had learned. “Thiede is a monster!”

Vaysh gave Ashmael a startled look. “You can’t say something like that aloud! He will hear it.”

“I don’t care!” Ashmael glared at Vaysh, but that glare wasn’t meant for the other har. It was aimed at Thiede. “If he sought me out right now and confronted me I would let him know exactly what I think of his dirty tricks!”

Vaysh flinched at hearing Ashmael’s poisonous voice. “There is nothing you can do to change the past.”

Ashmael calmed down and drew in a deep breath. “Vaysh, what did this do to you?” He had to set his anger aside for now and concentrate on the other har.

Vaysh shrugged and his gaze remained trained on their twined fingers. “I gained knowledge and power, but it came at a terrible price.”

“What did this do to you emotionally?” Ashmael clarified his question.

Vaysh shrugged again. “Emotionally? I remember being in pain. I remember being alone and calling out to you for help. I remember being utterly helpless. I was at Thiede’s mercy, Ash.”

“But you survived,” Ashmael said, hoping it was the right thing to say for he wanted to encourage Vaysh.

“Yes, I survived. I would rather have died though!” Vaysh’s voice was bitter and his hands shook within Ashmael’s hold. “I wanted to die when I realized that I had lost our pearl, but Thiede doesn’t let go easy. He didn’t even explain to me what was going to happen. No, he made me anew, took aruna with me, and broke me. Death would have been a kinder solution, but he didn’t grant me that.” Once he had begun to speak, Vaysh found he couldn’t stop. And Ashmael understood that only too well. He listened and offered Vaysh all the support his former chesnari needed.

“When he realized that I was weak, he discarded me. When he took aruna with me, he had planned to make me Tigron.” Vaysh laughed bitterly. “And once the ordeal was over, he told me that I was a failure and that he had no further use for me. I was assigned a room in an icy cold tower and was told to wait there until a ‘real’ Tigron had been made. I waited years and the cold of that tower seeped into my bones.” Vaysh shyly moved a finger against the palm of Ashmael’s palm. “I thought of you during all that time and I mourned the loss of our pearl.”

Ashmael shook his head, still mad as hell with Thiede for having put Vaysh through all that. “Had I known where to find you I would have come for you.”

Vaysh laughed again, but this time it sounded sad and resigned. “You don’t have to be chivalrous, Ash. I knew that everything was over the moment I lost our pearl. I knew that you wouldn’t want me after that.”

Ashmael’s jaw dropped and he stared at Vaysh in disbelief. “What?”

“Let’s face it, Ash. The day we met in Pell’s rooms you…” Unable to finish his sentence, Vaysh crumbled in front of Ashmael. He freed his hands and wrapped his arms around his shaking frame, rocking himself. “Had you still loved me, you would have caught me in those strong arms of yours and would never have let go again!”

“I was shocked! I didn’t even know for sure it was you! That har looked like you, but… you were dead! I didn’t understand!” Ashmael desperately searched for the right words which would hopefully reach the distressed har. “And later, I didn’t know what I should do. You appeared changed. You wouldn’t look at me and when we talked you seemed disgusted by my presence. I backed off.”

Vaysh threw back his head and laughed. His red hair danced on his shoulders and his eyes had regained their normal gray color when he looked Ashmael in the eye. “What was I supposed to tell you? Hello, lover, I am back, but altered by Thiede?”

“I hate what he did to you! It was nothing but rape!” And rape, or rather pelki, was something most hara abhorred. “How could he do that?”

“I was trying to protect our pearl. I knew it wouldn’t survive aruna. Thiede’s essence would have burned it, killed it. They drugged me in the end, held onto my hands and feet and left me with no choice.” Vaysh tried to move away from Ashmael, but since he was already seated on the end of the bench, there was nowhere for him to go. “Thiede wanted me and he took me. How could I possibly go back to you after that?”

Ashmael threw caution to the wind and wrapped his arms around Vaysh’s shoulders. The other har tried to struggle free and stared at him with fear in his large eyes. Finally, Ashmael understood why Vaysh was so scared to be held: because he would feel confined…trapped and caught. “I am not going to hurt you,” he whispered soothingly.

“I am sorry. The memories are very close right now.” No longer thinking rationally, Vaysh blurted out, “I took aruna with Pell once. I was so drunk that I didn’t realize what was happening that moment. It only sunk in later. I was barely conscious when we took aruna. Does that disgust you?” It was his attempt to throw Ashmael off balance and to show him how little he deserved the other har’s kindness.

“I can’t say I am surprised,” Ashmael said softly. “You are a har, no matter what Thiede did to you. You need aruna like I need it.” He couldn’t really blame Vaysh, since he had taken aruna with Pellaz once as well.

“I was drunk when it happened. It was after we met in Pell’s rooms. I panicked and got drunk. When Pellaz found me…he comforted me…but I didn’t take any real pleasure from the act. I just let it happen.”

Ashmael wiped away the tears that continued to flow from Vaysh’s eyes. The other har’s face was wet with tears and it didn’t seem like he was about to stop crying.

“I only ever wanted you, Ash. Only you.” It was the bitter truth which Vaysh offered Ashmael now. “I only ever loved you and I wanted our pearl to hatch. I wanted a harling with your eyes.”

“Oh, Vaysh!” Ashmael resolutely pulled the other har into his arms and embraced him as tightly as he dared. “I know that. And the same goes for me. I only ever loved you.” Yes, there had been temporary lovers like Pellaz and Cobweb, but it was only Vaysh who had ever touched his heart. “I need you like I need the air to breathe.”

Vaysh allowed Ashmael to hold him, which was quite an accomplishment. As he had told Ashmael, the memories were very close at the moment and he still felt helpless and nervous, but no longer alone. “I was so scared when Thiede took aruna with me. He said there would be pleasure after I had endured the pain, but it never came. There was only pain. He burned me and our pearl. I tasted ashes in my mouth after he was through with me.”

Ashmael gently rubbed Vaysh’s back through the fabric of his shirt. “I don’t know what to say. I want to comfort you so badly, but what you went through… The pain you must have been in… I lack the right words to…”

Vaysh smiled shyly against Ashmael’s shoulder. “It means a lot to me that you try to understand. I didn’t think you would. Each time we were forced to meet I sensed how disgusted you were that you had to deal with me.”

Ashmael pulled back in surprise, but he steadied Vaysh the moment the other har wanted to do the same. “No, stay.”

Vaysh tried going back to his icy appearance and glare at Ashmael, but found he couldn’t. He could no longer pull it off. Not with Ash. “You know what you wanted to know. I told you. Now let me go.” But Ashmael had never promised to let him go.

Ashmael raised his arms and rested his hands on either side of Vaysh’s head. “I want you to listen very carefully, Vaysh.”

Vaysh felt trapped, but in a good way. Feeling Ashmael’s palms press against his cheeks made him feel good. The cold that always tormented his abused body was abating.

“You don’t disgust me! How can you possibly think that? The truth is that I have been a terrible coward. I was too scared to face you. I took the easy way out and so did you for that matter. Had we been a bit more courageous, we would have had this talk a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean we have to put the blame on us. It was Thiede who took you away from me. If anyone is to blame, then it is him!”

Vaysh couldn’t believe the things he had just heard. “I was so sure you had forgotten about me and that you had moved on!”

“I never did, Vaysh. You are the only one for me. It is you I want and no one else.” Ashmael slid a hand to the back of Vaysh’s head and rested it at the nape of the other har’s neck. “Only you.” Their lips were close and Ashmael wanted nothing more than to kiss Vaysh, but he still vividly remembered the other har’s panic but a moment ago. He felt it was safest to simply voice his worries. “I want to kiss you, but I don’t want to scare you.”

Vaysh felt nervous and uncertain. Should he allow Ashmael to kiss him? “Ash, please, I can’t. Not yet.” He bowed his head and rested it onto the other har’s shoulder. “I want you to kiss me. I want to be like this forever, but only a few minutes ago, I thought you would never want to touch me. My head spins and I feel…” He felt warm. For the first time in many years, he felt warm.

Ashmael noticed it as well. The skin beneath his fingertips had warmed up. “You no longer feel cold to the touch.”

Vaysh trembled against Ashmael, but this time it wasn’t due to fear or panic. This felt comfortable, like old times. “It is your presence.” Shyly, he raised his head and looked Ashmael in the eye. What he saw there took his breath away. “I love you still, Ash.”

“As do I.” But they had to take it slow, or else he would scare Vaysh away. “Thank you for telling me what Thiede did to you. Now I know what I am up against.” Another round of tremors shook Vaysh’s body and Ashmael loosened the embrace a bit. “I won’t fail you, Vaysh. I will make everything right.”

“Can you?” Vaysh raised a shaky hand and tentatively touched Ashmael’s lips. “Can you really make everything all right again?”

Ashmael saw the fragile hope in Vaysh’s eyes. “I won’t let you down. I will do my best to recreate what we had in the past, but I can’t do that on my own. I will need you to help me.” He knew he had said the right thing when Vaysh smiled at him. “We will do this together.” Visions of the past returned to him and for the first time in all those years, it seemed he might be able to let the past revive in their future

Part 3

Pellaz followed Caeru into his private chambers, which were luxuriously furnished and decorated. Large amounts of fabric had been draped against the wall, over the four-poster bed and large, fluffy pillows occupied the corners of the bedroom. Scented candles radiated a ghost-like light and Pellaz realized that he felt at home there.

Although…his conscience kicked, showing him the terrible things he had done to Caeru in the past.

When he had talked to Caeru at the dinner table, he had thought he might be able to ‘fix’ their problem by giving Caeru one night of love and passion, but he realized then how foolish that idea had been. Caeru deserved so much more.

“You look preoccupied,” Caeru remarked thoughtfully.

Caeru’s voice pulled Pellaz from his musings and he turned his attention to the Tigrina. “What are you doing?” Pellaz asked, arching an eyebrow.

“What does it look like?” Caeru continued to remove his clothes and, once he was naked, he lay down on the bed amidst a sea of pillows. “You want me, don’t you? Isn’t that what this is all about?” What else could it be about?

Pellaz swallowed convulsively. He couldn’t really blame Caeru for thinking that. He picked up a morning robe as he made his way over to the bed and draped it over Caeru’s naked form. Next, he pulled up a silk sheet and covered Caeru up. Then he sat down next to his consort. The confused look which Caeru gave him showed Pellaz that the Tigrina had no idea what to make of his actions.

“Pell? Are you not feeling well?” Caeru pulled the fabric closer to his body as he wondered why Pellaz had done that. When Pellaz had asked him to spend the night with him, he had thought Pellaz wanted to take aruna with him.

“You are right. I am not feeling very well.” Pellaz reached for Caeru’s hand and curled his fingers around it. “I am remembering all the terrible things I did to you in this bed.” Pellaz wasn’t courageous enough to meet Caeru’s gaze yet. “There is no excuse for what I did. I came into these rooms and expected you to take whatever I wanted to deal out. I must have hurt you – repeatedly.”

“Oh, Pell!” This was totally unexpected for Caeru and he squeezed Pellaz’ fingers in turn.

“No, let me finish. Don’t tell me that what I did was all right because it wasn’t!” Pellaz finally looked up and sought out Caeru’s eyes. “I forced you, Rue and you didn’t fight me…why?”

“Because I love you, Pell. I was happy with whatever attention you were willing to give…even when you hurt me at times.” Caeru wondered what had made Pellaz bring this up right then. “Pell, I know you were angry with me and I…”

Pellaz glared at Caeru. “You shouldn’t have allowed me to abuse you like that!” But he wasn’t angry with Caeru. “Sorry, I am angry with myself for the way I treated you. Rue, I am so ashamed of my actions!” Damn, he was doing it again! “Sorry, Rue, this isn’t about me. This is about you and the pain I caused.”

Caeru offered Pellaz a reassuring smile. “That is in the past, Pell.”

But Pellaz shook his head. “I want to make amends.”

Caeru blinked in surprise. “Pellaz, you accepted me into your life. I call that making amends, considering the way you hated me when I first came here.”

Pellaz moistened his lips and then asked Caeru a question that he didn’t really want to hear the answer to. “Had you known what would happen to you, would you still have come here with Abrimel?”

The question surprised Caeru and he answered Pellaz honestly. “I don’t know.” He really didn’t. He had suffered a lot at Pellaz’ hands and he might have suffered still if Cal hadn’t interfered.

Pellaz inched closer and searched Caeru’s expressive eyes. “I mistreated you, Rue. You didn’t deserve the things I did to you.” His fingers slid into Caeru’s blond, almost white hair and he leaned in closer to place an old-fashioned kiss onto his consort’s lips. “I should have treated you with love and respect. You were nothing but a pawn in Thiede’s game. We were all pawns and maybe we still are.”

Caeru’s eyes filled with love. “I always wanted to hear you say something like that, Pell. All I ever wanted was your love and, if I couldn’t have that, your friendship. I fell in love with you in Ferelithia and I tried so hard to win your love. I was bound to fail, but I realized that too late.”

“I wronged you, Rue. When I saw you sing just now, I remembered the young har who had caught my attention in Ferelithia.” Pellaz smiled and caressed Caeru’s face. “Do you know what I wanted to do tonight? To take aruna with you and I thought that would fix everything.”

“I would love to take aruna with you.” Caeru returned Pellaz’ smile.

“And we will, but not like this.” Pellaz wrapped an arm around Caeru’s shoulders and slowly lowered him onto the bed. “You are tired, aren’t you? I see it in your eyes.” Caeru had pushed himself…they all had and since Darq had returned, Caeru had constantly been on his feet. “I always forget how much you do for me. You ease my burden and I never really noticed that. Neither did I ever thank you for that.”

Caeru had no idea what was happening. Pellaz had never been so considerate. “I like you best when you are like this.” It was true; he was tired and relieved that they had been able to retire early. Pellaz snuggled closer and Caeru could hardly believe he would be so lucky as to go to sleep in the Tigron’s arms. “Pell…” His voice drifted off and a dreamy expression appeared in his eyes.

On the inside, Pellaz wept bitter tears. The way he had treated Caeru in the past was inexcusable. How many times had he forced Caeru to comply with his wishes in this very bed? It was time to replace those bad memories with good ones. “Why don’t you go to sleep when you are so tired?”

“I don’t want to go to sleep,” Caeru explained. “I don’t know you like this and I want to make good use of this moment.” But his eyes were growing hooded. He was fighting hard to defeat his fatigue, but he was bound to lose the battle. “Don’t want to go to sleep… I want you to talk some more to me like that… I like it when you are gentle… caring like this… I want you to be like this always.”

Pellaz smiled and pressed a kiss onto Caeru’s brow. “I will make you a promise, Rue.”

But Caeru’s eyes were closing and he only heard bits and pieces of what Pellaz was saying. He had dreamt of falling asleep in Pellaz’ arms and now it was finally happening.

“I promise you that I will always treat you with respect, Rue. I will never hurt you again.” A part of Pellaz truly loved Caeru. “I already have two lovers, why not make that three? You are my consort, my Tigrina.” He wanted to give Caeru what the other har craved so badly.

But Caeru was already asleep and didn’t hear Pellaz’ promise.

***

“This is the last place I expected to find you!” Cal entered Caeru’s rooms and approached the bed. He grinned as he saw Pellaz curled protectively around the Tigrina. He had hoped that something like this would eventually happen and Cal was glad for both of them. Pellaz’ timing couldn’t have been better, since Cal had dedicated himself to getting to know Galdra for the time being.

Pellaz brought a finger to his lips in a signal to speak quietly. “I don’t want him to wake up.”

“So what prompted this change?” Cal sat down on the edge of the bed and watched them. He liked what he saw. He had always regretted that things had gone so horribly wrong between Pellaz and Caeru, even more so because he knew Caeru really loved Pellaz, even after all those long years of being mistreated.

“I don’t know,” Pellaz whispered. “Maybe it was time for me to acknowledge the mistakes I made in the past where Rue is concerned.”

“That is about time,” Cal said approvingly. “You are going to stay for a while?”

“I owe Caeru to do this right, Cal.” Pellaz knew Cal would understand and his lover didn’t disappoint him. Cal nodded his head. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Cal gave Pellaz a reassuring smile. “I approve of this, if that is what you want to know. I have a soft spot for Caeru, even though it doesn’t always show.” He had done his best to bridge the distance between the two hara when he had arrived in Immanion. Cal understood why Pellaz had been so cruel to Caeru, but he didn’t approve of Pellaz’ past actions. Pellaz had been angry with Thiede, Caeru, and Cal, and Caeru had gotten the brunt of that rage and for that he pitied Caeru. “Take your time with him, Pell.”

“I will. Thank you for understanding, Cal. I knew you would.” Caeru stirred in his sleep and Pellaz tightened his hold on the Tigrina. “There is no need for you to wake up. Stay asleep, Rue.” Caeru did just that and continued to sleep.

Cal gave Pellaz a wink and then rose from the bed again. “I will be with Galdra if you need me.”

Pellaz smiled. “I am pleased that you like him. I had hoped that would happen.”

“I know you did. You planned that dinner and hoped I would warm up to Galdra. And you were right. I like him a lot.” Cal walked toward the doorway and raised a hand in farewell.

Once Cal closed the door behind him, Pellaz returned his attention to the sleeping Caeru. He was looking forward to spoiling his consort rotten.

***

Vaysh felt nervous once silence had descended on them. Still locked in a loose embrace with Ashmael, the red-haired har felt warm for the first time in years and the truth was that he didn’t want to let go ever again. He couldn’t help but wonder though what would happen next.

Timidly, Vaysh raised his eyes and locked gazes with Ashmael. He had always loved looking into the blue eyes, which always radiated warmth. Ashmael’s loving soul was visible in those eyes and his former lover’s mind called out to him with a familiar longing.

“Would you like me to walk you to your rooms?” Ashmael had quickly deduced that Vaysh wouldn’t want to return to the party, at least not with the way he looked at the moment with a tear-streaked face and large, wondering eyes. Ashmael didn’t want to return to the party either, preferring to spend this precious time with Vaysh instead.

Vaysh wasn’t sure how to react to the question. It was all so unexpected. “Do you want to walk me to my rooms? I know a short cut. That way we don’t have to cross the main hall where everyone would see us leave.”

Slowly, Ashmael rose to his feet and pulled Vaysh carefully with him. “Show me the way.” His fingers remained twined with Vaysh’s. Thiede could have descended onto them in all his might and he would not have let go of those precious fingers which finally felt warm.

Vaysh hid behind his red hair once more, but this time it wasn’t because he was afraid. This time, he felt nervous since Ashmael was escorting him to his rooms and maybe even *into* his rooms. What would he do then?

Ashmael had a pretty good idea what was going on in Vaysh’s head for the same thoughts kept him busy as well. He decided to let fate take its own course and didn’t make any plans for what could happen once they were in Vaysh’s rooms. He would let the red-haired har set the pace.

Feeling Ashmael’s fingers rub his, Vaysh peeked up at his former lover and even managed an encouraging smile. He had never dared to hope that Ashmael would open up to him. Ashmael returned the smile and Vaysh quickly lowered his gaze. He felt giddy and that feeling took him aback. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt like this.

Ashmael walked Vaysh to his rooms and then came to a halt. It was up to Vaysh to invite him inside or not. He wouldn’t impose himself, but his heart was already breaking at the thought of having to let go of Vaysh’s fingers.

Vaysh swallowed repeatedly as his nervousness got the better of him. “Do you want to come inside?” He stared at the floor as he made the request.

Ashmael’s heart missed a beat. “I would love to.” He squeezed Vaysh’s fingers encouragingly. Vaysh gave Ashmael a quick look that betrayed his agitation and then pushed down the door handle. The door swung open and revealed Vaysh’s quarters to Ashmael. Ashmael’s features contorted when he saw how sparsely furnished Vaysh’s quarters were. They were bereft of any personal belongings and a window stood open, letting the cold wind inside. “Oh Vaysh!” Spontaneously, Ashmael pulled his former chesnari close and hugged him tight. Luckily, Vaysh didn’t panic and Ashmael even rocked Vaysh for a few moments. “How empty your life must have been!”

Vaysh didn’t want to weep again. He just didn’t. Not now that Ashmael was back in his life again, but the tears came anyway. “Everything I needed to remember – you – I kept close in my heart.”

Hearing those words caused a deep ache in Ashmael’s soul. “I never forgot you either, Vaysh. No matter who I took aruna with, I always wanted it to be you instead. You were never far out of my thoughts!” Vaysh pulled Ashmael inside and closed the door behind them. To his surprise, Ashmael released him and made his way over to the window, which he closed. “Do you have any candles?” The sharp electric light that Vaysh had switched on was not to his liking.

“There should be some over there.” Vaysh pointed Ashmael in the right direction and, once the other har had retrieved some candles, Vaysh handed him matches.

Ashmael placed the candles strategically throughout the room and then lit them. There was a fireplace in the corner of the room, but Vaysh hadn’t made use of it in the past. Ashmael sat on his heels before piling on some logs and then started a fire which would quickly warm the ice-cold rooms.

All Vaysh could do was stare at Ashmael and the warmth the blond har had brought to his rooms. But not just to his rooms, to his heart as well, causing the smile on his face to grow bright.

Ashmael sat down on the rug that lay in front of the fireplace and raised a hand, signaling Vaysh to join him there.

Vaysh’s breath caught as he remembered a moment in the past when Ash had done exactly the same thing, but that had happened many years ago. “I still can’t believe you are here with me.” Vaysh gingerly sat down close enough to Ashmael to signal that he wanted the company, but still at a distance to show that he was hesitant to be touched. He pulled his knees close to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs before peeking at Ashmael from behind his hair, managing a weak smile.

Ashmael inched closer, keeping a careful eye on Vaysh. The moment the other har moved away, he would stop inching closer. But Vaysh remained in place and in the end, Ashmael asked, “May I take you into my arms?”

“I am nervous,” Vaysh explained. “It has been a very long time since someone…since you held me like that.” He observed Ashmael’s reaction closely and saw that the other har wouldn’t pressure him into accepting an embrace. Once he realized that, Vaysh shakily nodded his head. “I want that so much.”

Ashmael wrapped an arm around Vaysh’s shoulders and pulled him close. He felt thrilled when Vaysh rested his head against his shoulder and smiled brilliantly. “I was convinced I would never hold you like this ever again. We have Pellaz to thank for that.”

“I was angry with him,” Vaysh admitted as he closed his eyes to enjoy Ashmael’s warm closeness. “But that has changed. I understand why he did it.” Vaysh drew in a deep breath, and by doing so, also inhaled Ashmael’s familiar scent. “I have missed you so much.”

Ashmael tightened the embrace and reached for Vaysh’s hand. He established his hold on the limb again and rubbed the long, thin fingers. Vaysh was much too skinny for his liking. “There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t think of you.”

Vaysh’s anxiety increased as he worked himself up to asking something very important. “Will you hold me tonight? I don’t want to be alone tonight. Not when I know I could have you close.”

Ashmael’s features contorted with sorrow. “You already spent too many nights alone. I would never willingly add to that pain. I will stay and hold you.” That Vaysh wanted him to stay for the night warmed his heart. He hadn’t known how to bring up the suggestion.

“Vaysh?” He waited for the red-haired har to lift his gaze and then continued in a slow, soft voice, “I don’t ever want to leave your side again. I have been without you for much too long.”

Vaysh’s throat felt choked up with emotion. “I want that too. I want you close – always…but…”

“But?” Ashmael wondered what troubled his former – and hopefully future – lover.

“But will Thiede allow this?”

Vaysh nibbled on his bottom lip, unable to keep his apprehension inside and Ashmael was once more reminded of the past. Vaysh had always nibbled on his bottom lip when he was nervous. “I won’t allow Thiede to stand in our way.”

Vaysh shook his head. “You know what he is like. You know how powerful he is and if you don’t, I can tell you.” His eyes took on a distant expression. “The things I have seen…”

Ashmael moved until he was in Vaysh’s direct line of sight. “Listen to me, Vaysh. I will fight for you. We will be together again. No one will stop us and Thiede least of all. He owes us.”

/And should he find a way to keep us apart, I will end my life. I can’t live without you, Ash./ Vaysh hadn’t planned on sending Ash his thoughts, but the moment the expression darkened in the blue eyes, he realized the blond har had heard them nonetheless.

The first thing that came to Ash’s mind was to contradict Vaysh, that he shouldn’t think that way, but he knew Thiede…knew the games the Aghama loved to play. /If he finds a way to separate us again, I will die with you, Vaysh. I refuse to live this life without you at my side./

It was the first equal exchange of thoughts between them and Ash felt Vaysh’s barriers weaken. Their formerly strong mental bond was reforming all over again and not even Thiede could stop that from happening. “I will stay at your side, Vaysh. I won’t leave you ever again.” As far as Ashmael was concerned they would be joined from the hip from that evening on.

***

Sometime during the night Vaysh fell asleep snuggled close to him. Ashmael decided that the other har couldn’t possibly be comfortable in such an awkward position and carefully woke him. Had it been up to him, he would have simply carried his former chesnari over to the bed, but since he didn’t want to spook Vaysh, he judged it safer to wake him first.

Vaysh’s eyelids fluttered and then opened. He had been peacefully asleep and had felt warm and those were two things that had seldom happened lately. Looking into Ashmael’s radiant eyes, Vaysh felt overwhelmed. “You are real. You are still here.”

“Of course I am. I told you I won’t leave you again.” Ashmael brushed the red hair away from Vaysh’s face and smiled at him. “I am not comfortable with going to sleep on the floor when there is a perfectly good bed in the room.” Their old bed which they had shared during their ‘first’ life time had been a warm nest accompanied by fluffy pillows. Vaysh’s current bed was a plain twin, bereft of any comfort. Ashmael was determined to change that or, if possible, move Vaysh to his rooms, which breathed a warmer and more comfortable atmosphere.

“I don’t have a problem with moving to the bed.” Except for the fact that it was warm in front of the fireplace and his bed was icy cold.

Ever since they had exchanged their first thoughts, Ashmael continued to receive bits and pieces of what Vaysh was thinking. “But you would prefer to stay here.”

“It’s warm here. The bed is cold.” Vaysh looked at Ashmael in surprise when the blond har got to his feet and stalked over to the bed. He was about to rise from the floor as well when Ashmael gestured for him to remain where he was. He watched as Ashmael collected the pillows and blankets and then made his way back to the fireplace. He smiled as he finally realized what the other har was up to.

Ashmael grinned. “I hope you find this a little bit romantic, camping out here in front of the fireplace.” Ashmael arranged the pillow and blankets around them and threw a few more logs onto the fire. Sitting down close to Vaysh, he pulled the other har near once more. “Rest against me. I want to feel you close.”

Vaysh complied and allowed Ashmael to pull him down with the blond har as he lowered himself onto his back. The flames in the fireplace were reaching higher since the fire had been fed and warmed them further. Vaysh stretched out on his side and snuggled up to Ashmael, resting his head on the other har’s shoulder. Would they become chesna again? Was such a thing possible?

“Are you comfortable?” Ashmael let his fingers slide through the dyed hair and discovered a few blond hairs in the process.

“Uhuh,” Vaysh mumbled while burying his fingers in the fabric of Ashmael’s shirt. “Very comfortable.” His eyes were actually closing due to the warmth which surrounded him. He had been too cold for much too long. Ashmael’s arms enfolded him in a warm embrace and Vaysh smiled, feeling warm and whole. “Don’t ever leave me again, Ash. I won’t survive losing you again.”

“I will always be with you,” Ashmael promised and pressed a kiss onto the red hair. “I will never let you go again.” Vaysh drifted back into sleep while hearing those words. Those were the best words he had ever heard.

***

The first tentative rays of the sun woke Caeru the next morning and he blinked once, twice, before trying to wake up fully. A new day had started and his duties as Tigrina awaited him. He went to push himself into an upright position, but then realized that something was holding him down. Looking to his right, he found that Pellaz was still in bed with him. He smiled warmly at the other har who was officially his consort. That Pellaz had been so kind and understanding the other night had warmed his heart.

“Wake up,” he whispered. “You can’t sleep in late either.”

Pellaz reluctantly opened his eyes. “I don’t want to get up yet.”

Caeru wondered how much of the mortal boy that Pellaz had once been still resided inside the Tigron of Immanion. “If it were up to me I would let you sleep in late.”

“Looks to me like it is up to you, Rue.” Pellaz was determined not to get up yet. What good was being Tigron if he couldn’t sleep in once in a while? “If you keep quiet, I can go back to sleep and who knows…maybe you will fall asleep again as well.” Pellaz grinned.

“I hardly recognize you!” Caeru looked at Pellaz in surprise. “I know you have mellowed and that you are less angry with me, but… Are you seriously telling me you enjoy sharing a bed with me?”

“I want to share more with you than a bed.” Since he was awake and Caeru wasn’t going to let him go back to sleep, Pellaz figured he should make the most of it. “Will you share breath with me?”

Caeru involuntarily sucked in his breath, speechless. Their history was a sordid one, but lately Pellaz had been trying hard to befriend him. Sharing breath however was something they had only done in Ferelithia all that time ago. “You want to share breath with me?” he repeated, unsure he had heard correctly.

Pellaz cupped Caeru’s cheek in the palm of his hand and moved closer. His long, dark hair glided over Caeru’s chest as he leaned in to press his lips onto Caeru’s. Caeru tensed beneath him and Pellaz regretted abusing his consort in the past. It should never have happened. It wasn’t who he was or what he was about.

Caeru was afraid to allow the touch. Sharing breath often also meant sharing thoughts, feelings, and memories, and he was much too upset to properly shield his mind from Pellaz. But his eyes widened when he realized that Pellaz wasn’t holding back either. The Tigron’s mind was wide open and he could see everything. He tasted Pellaz’ anger, his regrets, and the love the Tigron bore him. It was the strangest realization ever that Pellaz did love him in his very own way. Caeru took it all inside and cherished the gift, realizing how precious it was.

Pellaz in turn examined Caeru’s memories which were filled with misery and pain. He flinched as he saw all the times he had mistreated Caeru and experienced it from the other end as well. Caeru’s pain, his fears, doubts, and anguish became his and he truly understood how much he had wronged his consort.

Sharing breath lasted longer than it should have as they sucked the memories and emotions out of each other and made them their own. In the end, Caeru had gained a better understanding of why Pellaz had acted the way he had and in turn, Pellaz finally realized the full extent of the damage he had done. As they stared into each other’s eyes, both hara seemed hesitant to speak. It was Pellaz who eventually took the first step. “I will make amends.”

Caeru smiled. He couldn’t help himself. In spite of all the things that Pellaz had done to him, he still loved him. “I fell in love with you in Ferelithia. My feelings for you never really changed, you know.”

“And that is amazing considering the way I treated you.” Pellaz rolled Caeru beneath him and straddled the other har’s waist. Leaning in closer, he touched his lips to Caeru’s to share breath once more. It wasn’t as traumatic as it had been before and Caeru relaxed beneath him. “Do you still want to leave this bed?”

Caeru smiled lazily. “I don’t. I want to stay.” A part of him would always be sensual and, since he desired Pellaz, his lust oozed off of him in waves, which he hoped wouldn’t leave the dark-haired har unaffected. “I want you, Pell. I want to take aruna with you.”

“Now?” Pellaz asked teasingly.

“Yes, now.” Caeru smiled at Pellaz as he hovered above him. Their clothes however presented a barrier which they had to overcome if they were to take aruna.

Pellaz sat up and slowly slid his robes down his shoulders until they pooled around his waist. “I am not wearing anything beneath this,” he whispered seductively.

Caeru swallowed hard in surprise. “Did you plan this?”

“Maybe just a little bit.” Pellaz placed his hands against Caeru’s chest and then unbuttoned his consort’s shirt. “Are you wearing anything underneath your jeans?”

Caeru swallowed hard again. He was growing increasingly nervous since he wasn’t used to Pellaz being playful and didn’t really know what to make of the Tigron’s behavior. “I don’t know what to do,” he admitted eventually.

“Then let me take the lead.” Pellaz had already unzipped Caeru’s jeans and was sliding them down the narrow hips. Caeru lifted his hips and Pellaz deposited Caeru’s shirt and jeans onto the floor. He grinned: Caeru wasn’t wearing underwear either.

Caeru’s breath caught. He had always wanted Pellaz to be this loving and cheeky, but in the past, he had often seen his consort’s abusive side. “What are you going to do?” he asked as he slid his fingers into Pellaz’ dark mane.

Pellaz rested the palm of his hands against Caeru’s chest and cocked his head. “What would you like me to do?”

Caeru’s mouth went dry. “I don’t know.” The only thing he had ever wanted from Pellaz was his love. Caeru had never imagined Pellaz would ask him such a question. “I want to know you like Cal does…and Galdra. I want you to love me just this once.” Admitting that was hard on him after having been hurt so deeply in the past. “Just this once, Pell…give me something good to remember?”

“I will do better than that. After we take aruna, I will make you a promise…I promise.” Pellaz felt in control of the situation and was determined to make this as good as possible for Caeru. Bending forward, he slid his hands into Caeru’s blond hair and pressed his lips against his consort’s in a passionate, old-fashioned kiss. Caeru responded with a passion equal to his and Pellaz deepened the kiss, making it more intense until they were sharing breath. This time, he didn’t hold back either. Through sharing breath, he gave Caeru everything the blond har had always wanted: love and attention.

Caeru trembled under the intensity of Pellaz’ mind touch. Their thoughts began to mingle and Caeru eventually smiled as he realized that Pellaz was being sincere. “I want you,” he whispered when Pellaz released his lips. “Love me just this once.”

Pellaz let his fingertips slide down Caeru’s chest and his palm settled against his consort’s belly. Caeru had hosted Pellaz’ and Cal’s pearl and Diablo had crudely cut it from Rue’s womb. Leaning in closer, Pellaz placed kisses onto the flat abdomen. Back then, it had taken a lot of his strength to bring Caeru back from the dead, but he had persevered and the Tigrina had survived the assault. That fact alone should have told him how much he loved Caeru, even though he wouldn’t have admitted it aloud back then.

Caeru’s eyes filled with tears as he felt Pellaz’ lips caress his abdominal area. Lifting his hands, he buried his fingers in Pellaz’ dark mane. “I love you,” he said, speaking the words aloud in the same way they lived in his heart. “I always did. I always will. All I ever wanted…was…this.”

“I am sorry that it took me so long to understand and accept the truth about us, Rue.” Pellaz reached for Caeru’s hands and pressed them down onto the mattress. Keeping their fingers entwined, he used them to support himself. He raised himself and then slowly lowered himself onto Caeru’s ouana-lim.

Caeru released a choked groan, voicing his surprise. Pellaz had never before been soume for him and the experience quickly overwhelmed him. He didn’t know if Cal or Galdra experienced the same thing when they took aruna with Pellaz, but the love that wrapped itself around him caused tears to surface in his eyes. “Oh,” he whispered slowly when Pellaz began to lead them to their climax.

“Don’t worry anymore, Rue. Don’t worry about anything.”

Caeru lost the ability to think rationally once Pellaz was moving around him. Not even in his wildest dreams had he thought this would ever happen! “Pell, please…”

Since they were so intimately connected, Pellaz effortlessly fished the right thought from Caeru’s sea of thoughts and leaned in closer. Sharing breath with Caeru, he offered his consort everything he was. The truth seeped into his soul and it was that he had always loved Caeru, but because of his anger, he hadn’t allowed himself to feel that way. He had directed his anger at Caeru when he should have been angry with Thiede instead.

Caeru could no longer hold back and quivered beneath Pellaz. He released another groan and suddenly, his world exploded in bright colors and scents just as Pellaz’ world did. Pellaz wrapped Caeru’s mind in a protective blanket of thoughts and took their pleasure to the next level. Caeru screamed, his eyes widening before closing as satiation began to set in. He had never experienced everything like that before!

Pellaz smiled and pressed a kiss onto Caeru’s brow before resting his upper body onto his consort’s. After placing his head against Caeru’s shoulder, he closed his eyes and savored the waves of pleasure that still echoed in his body and his mind. “Remember that I said I would make you a promise?” Raising his head, he stared into Caeru’s dazed eyes and grinned. Cal had taught him a few things about heightening arunic pleasure and it looked like he had done everything right where Caeru was concerned.

“What promise?” Caeru felt pleasantly sedated. His body refused to move and he savored the feeling of Pellaz embracing him. He grinned at Pellaz in a silly way and giggled.

Pellaz smiled back. He had wanted Caeru to feel like this! And he had enjoyed it as well…enjoyed it very much and wouldn’t mind doing it again at all. “I promise you that each time we take aruna it will be like this. I will never hurt you again. When we take aruna, it will be like this…loving and tender.”

The tears which had been swimming in Caeru’s eyes flowed down the har’s cheeks. “Pell…” He tried to smile at Pellaz through a curtain of tears. “Do you really mean that?” His most cherished wish would come true!

“I mean it.” Pellaz ran his digits down Caeru’s cheeks and caught the precious teardrops on his fingertips. “I won’t give you any more reason to cry, Rue.”

Caeru pulled Pellaz close and kissed him sweet and slow, which led to sharing breath with his Tigron again.

Pellaz pulled away and searched Caeru’s eyes. He had healed his consort’s hurts just a little bit, but it was a start

Part 4

Vaysh felt mesmerized as he woke up the next day. He had fallen asleep with his head resting against Ashmael’s shoulder and the other har had his arms still wrapped around him. During his first life, he had never really appreciated how blessed he was to have Ashmael’s love, but the ordeal he had been through later had opened his eyes. That Ashmael still wanted him was nothing short of a miracle.

Raising his head just a little, he smiled and wondered if he would get away with kissing those pouting lips. Since Ashmael was asleep, he looked at peace and Vaysh desired his former chesnari even more. Vaysh grew bold and pressed his lips against his future lover’s.

Ashmael had woken up when Vaysh had, but had chosen to pretend to still be asleep. His hunch had paid off when he felt Vaysh’s lips gently press against his. He remained motionless and let Vaysh do as he pleased. There was no doubt in Ashmael’s mind that he would win Vaysh’s love again. They had already made a start to renew their relationship and he was determined to rebuild their old level of intimacy. He wouldn’t rest until they were chesna again!

Vaysh lifted a hand and trailed it along the outline of Ashmael’s bottom lip with a fingertip. He smiled happily and sighed as he laid his head back to rest on Ashmael’s chest.

Ashmael waited a few minutes and then stirred, signaling to Vaysh that he was waking up. “Good morning,” he murmured as he savored the sensation of having Vaysh in his arms again. “Did you sleep well?”

Vaysh raised his head once more and nodded. “I did. It must be because you are near.” The smile didn’t leave his face and he knew he had to look silly as he stared at Ashmael. “I love waking up close to you. I always did.”

Ashmael stroked Vaysh’s red hair. “I don’t want to leave you for the day.” But there were certain duties he had to attend to and he was certain that Vaysh needed to attend to his. “Will you come to my rooms tonight to have dinner with me?”

Vaysh blushed delicately. Sweet warmth spiraled upward from his groin, making his blush deepen further. He desired Ashmael and wanted to take aruna with him so badly, but there were always the unsettling memories of Thiede forcing him. “I will be there,” he said eventually. After all, it was just dinner.

“I will be waiting for you.” Ashmael kissed Vaysh and was tempted to adjust it into sharing breath, but then reconsidered. Vaysh should be in control. He was about to let go of his future lover, but then halted in his move. “Vaysh, will you spend the night with me? Will you allow me to hold you again like I did last night?”

Vaysh lowered his gaze. “I am not ready to take aruna yet,” he admitted honestly. “But I would love to sleep in your arms again.”

“We have a deal then.” Ashmael stared at the red-haired har. “I don’t want to let you go!”

Vaysh smiled understandingly. “I don’t want you to let go either, but Pellaz expects me to join him.”

“Pellaz.” Ashmael grinned and stalled. “Are you going to lecture him?”

Vaysh shook his head. “His actions brought the two of us together, Ash. I can’t possibly be angry with him now.” He trembled when he pressed close to Ashmael and twined their fingers. “Ash…?”

Ash felt breathless as he gazed into Vaysh’s questioning eyes. “What?”

“Ash, do you want us to become… to be… ches…do you…Oh, I can’t do this!” Frustrated, Vaysh averted his eyes and tried to get to his feet again.

Ashmael however wouldn’t have it and took Vaysh’s hands into his, keeping the other har from rising from the floor. “Look at me,” he said softly but decisively.

Feeling entranced, Vaysh did as Ashmael had said and stared into those baby-blues. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have addressed that just yet.”

Ashmael shook his head again. “No, I am glad you did because I want to tell you something.” Ashmael moved until he was on his knees in front of Vaysh, who was also kneeling on the floor.

Vaysh moistened his lips and stared pleading at Ashmael. What was the blond har going to say?

“As far as I am concerned you are my chesnari, Vaysh. You never stopped being my lover. We are chesna. We always were and we always will be.” Ashmael gave Vaysh a brilliant smile. “Does that answer your question?” Vaysh’ reaction took him aback. He had expected joy, maybe even jubilation, but not the pallor that settled onto the other har’s face. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, you didn’t,” Vaysh explained. “It is just…” Vaysh removed his hands from Ashmael’s hold and wrung them. “I am not sure I can ever be your chesnari in every sense of the word. You know what Thiede did to me and I don’t know if I can ever take aruna with you again.” Maybe if he got drunk again, but something told him Ashmael wouldn’t want that.

His lover’s misery affected Ashmael and he resolutely pulled a tensing Vaysh into his arms. “I know that we will overcome those problems. Our love was – still is – deep and in time, you will grow more comfortable.”

“But what if…what if I can never take aruna with you again?” Vaysh felt miserable.

“Vaysh, don’t worry about that. Our love will see us through. I have faith in us.”

Vaysh crumbled and rested his head on Ashmael’s shoulder. The blond har embraced and rocked him. “I hope you are right. I so want you to be right. I want to be your lover again – your chesnari. I want to give you all that and more.”

“You will.” Ashmael rubbed Vaysh’s back soothingly. “Give it time.”

Vaysh nodded against Ashmael’s shoulder. “I will try to be patient.” But it was hard having Ashmael so close and wanting to take aruna with him and yet being unable to do so.

***

The air in the corridor grew chilly as Vaysh encountered Velaxis there. He had never trusted the other har because he knew only too well that Velaxis was Thiede’s spy at the Immanion court. Every fact that Velaxis learned was immediately also known by Thiede. Vaysh carefully shielded his thoughts as Velaxis walked up to him.

“You look different today,” Velaxis remarked as he studied Vaysh. “You look…better.”

“Keep your sympathy to yourself, Velaxis.” Vaysh wanted to pass the other har, but Velaxis blocked his way. “Move out of the way. Hasn’t your master yanked your leash yet?”

Velaxis’ eyes widened. “What has gotten into you?” Vaysh had never talked to him in such a way before!

“Nothing that concerns you.” Vaysh stepped around Velaxis and left the other har standing there looking rather bewildered.

Vaysh had already rounded the corner when the door to the har’s rooms opened again, giving Velaxis his answer as he saw Ashmael step into the corridor.

“Good morning,” Ashmael said cheerfully, unaware of the fact that he was addressing Thiede’s spy.

“Good morning,” Velaxis replied and watched Ashmael walk in the opposite direction. It had finally happened then: those two had stopped dancing around each other.

***

To his surprise, Vaysh found Pellaz’ rooms empty. There was no sign of the Tigron and he wondered what he was supposed to do. The answer came in the form of Cal, who strode inside.

Cal wiggled an eyebrow as he saw Vaysh standing there rather lost. He had heard that Vaysh and Ashmael had retreated onto the balcony the other night and hoped that those two had finally talked. “Looking for Pell?”

Vaysh was so used to retreating behind a wall of ice that it happened automatically. He glared at Cal and said, “I don’t need your help.”

“It’s frosty in here all of a sudden.” But the grin remained on Cal’s face.

Vaysh’s glare hardened. “Shouldn’t you be with Galdra?” He had noticed the deepening interest on Cal’s side.

Cal ignored the sneer. “Pell is with Caeru. I doubt you will see much of him today.” Cal eyed Vaysh more closely. “You can spend your time with Ashmael instead.” The change that suddenly came over Vaysh amazed Cal and his grin became a warm smile instead.

Vaysh blushed. The Dehara help him, but he blushed fiercely. “How did you know that…?”

“I have my sources… We all do, don’t we?” Cal shrugged. “For what it’s worth, I hope the two of you are getting back together again. Pell told me bits and pieces about what happened to you and, what he didn’t tell me, I could guess.”

Vaysh turned his back on Cal and fidgeted with the fabric of his sleeve. “Who else knows?”

Cal shrugged again. “Pell, of course…Rue…”

Vaysh lowered his gaze and stared at the floor. Cal was someone who had also had dealings with Thiede and might be able to advise him.

Cal sensed some of the inner battle that was waging in Vaysh and took a step toward the red-haired har. “I know we are not exactly friends, but if I can help I will. You supported Pell when he had no one else.” Cal felt a measure of gratitude toward Vaysh, who had always seemed like a troubled and lonely soul to him. “I mean well.”

Vaysh turned around and hesitantly made eye contact. The friendly expression that lay in Cal’s eyes reassured him and he asked, “Do you think Thiede knows as well?”

Cal nodded once since he saw no reason to lie to Vaysh. “And that worries you because…?”

“Do you think he will try to separate Ashmael and me again?”

Vaysh’s pleading and helpless tone affected Cal. He vividly remembered the long nights during which Pellaz had confided the horrors to him which he had suffered during his ‘remaking’. He also understood enough of the matter to realize that Vaysh had gone through the same process, but the red-haired har had come out of it scarred and barren.

“Honestly? I don’t think he has a reason to meddle.” Ashmael and Vaysh were of little interest to Thiede, who concentrated his scheming around Pellaz and his lovers. “I don’t believe you have to be scared,” Cal added, offering more reassurance.

Vaysh wanted to protest and assure Cal that he wasn’t afraid, but the other har would immediately realize the lie. “How much did Pellaz tell you?”

“Enough.” Cal took a step closer to Vaysh, but the other har immediately took a step back to keep some distance between them. “For what it’s worth, I hope you and Ashmael get together again.”

Vaysh swallowed hard. “Thank you.” Since Pellaz wasn’t going to join him that day Vaysh walked toward the doorway. He felt confused and didn’t know what to do next. Just before he pushed down the door handle, he turned and looked at Cal. “I died in his arms. In Ash’s arms. He lost his mind after that had happened and it took him years to accept I was dead.”

Cal’s eyes widened at hearing the admission and he instantly recognized the similarities between Vaysh’s history and Pellaz’. He needed a moment to realize that Ashmael had once been in his shoes and Vaysh in Pellaz’. “I know how he felt,” he offered in the end.

Vaysh nodded. “I guess you do. Ash and you have a lot in common.”

Cal studied Vaysh and wondered why the other har had chosen to confide in him.

Reading the question in Cal’s eyes, Vaysh replied, “I am glad that Pellaz got you back and that the two of you are happy again. I always wanted that with Ashmael, but there is a difference. Pellaz can still host a pearl, or sire one, whereas I am barren.”

Cal realized he had to tread carefully. “Do you know why you are barren?”

Vaysh had never expected the question, but in the end, he replied. “I carried Ash’s pearl when Thiede killed me. I lost our pearl.” That had to suffice for he wasn’t going to elaborate. The matter was too painful.

“I am truly sorry,” Cal whispered. “I know what it feels like to lose a harling. When Diablo kidnapped Darq, I…”

“But you knew Darq was alive and well-hidden. There is a difference.” But Vaysh still managed a weak smile. “Thanks for trying to understand.” He pushed down the door handle and went to leave, but then Cal addressed him one last time.

“Does Pell know you lost a pearl?” Pellaz had never mentioned it to him.

Vaysh shook his head. “He doesn’t need to know.”

Cal felt touched that Vaysh trusted him in that way. “I wish you the best, Vaysh.”

“Thank you.” Vaysh finally stepped into the corridor and closed the door behind him. Discussing his past with Cal had been less painful than he had thought and, in a way, he was relieved Cal knew the truth now. Maybe Ashmael would need someone to talk to as well. Standing in the corridor, he wondered what to do with his unexpected spare time.

***

Caeru couldn’t stop grinning. His whole body vibrated with life and energy and he had Pellaz to thank for it. The dark-haired har was still in bed with him and had snuggled up to him. Pellaz had fallen asleep again after they had taken aruna and Caeru didn’t have the heart to wake him.

“Morning…”

Caeru immediately recognized the voice and a maelstrom of confused feelings swept through him. What was Cal doing in his rooms unannounced?

Cal strode over to the bed and sat down on the side, but he was careful not to wake the sleeping har. His gaze lingered on Pellaz for a long moment before seeking out Caeru’s face. “You look happy.”

Caeru felt at a loss. What was he to say to that?

“I never agreed with the way Pell treated you. That is why I worked so hard to mend the rift between the two of you.” Cal raised a hand and patted Pellaz’ hair.

Caeru nodded once. “I know you tried and in a way you succeeded. He stopped hating me.”

Cal shrugged. “I don’t think it was you he hated, but it *was* easier to vent his anger on you than on Thiede or me. You suffered because of Thiede’s scheming, Rue.”

Caeru met Cal’s gaze and asked, “Are you okay with this?”

“With Pell taking aruna with you?” Cal laughed softly. “You don’t know how many times I suggested he take aruna with you and give himself completely. But Pell isn’t like that. He needs to do everything on his terms.”

“Are the two of you done discussing me?” Pellaz had opened his eyes and was looking at Caeru, since he lay facing his consort. “Can I go back to sleep now?”

“Since when do you sleep this much?” Cal kept a close eye on Caeru as he lay down and spooned up behind Pellaz.

Pellaz wiggled about until he was comfortably wedged between the two of them and then sighed contentedly. There was only one thing missing that would have made him perfectly happy: Galdra. But he reminded himself that this was about Caeru and no one else. “This is nice,” he commented and rubbed his cheek against Caeru’s shoulder. He quivered now that they were skin-on-skin.

Cal realized Pellaz needed to spend some time alone with Caeru and would leave after delivering the latest news to his lover. “Did you know that Ashmael and Vaysh finally talked?”

Caeru smiled, for he had hoped that it would happen.

“I saw them go onto the balcony,” Pellaz commented and then yawned. He really *was* tired. “Did anything else happen?”

“They really talked, Pell. I think they are going to try again.”

“I like that idea.” Pellaz squeezed his eyes closed and was determined not to open them again any time soon. He wanted to continue his nap. It was so rare that he got time to relax!

“Vaysh looked different. More alive.” Cal smiled and buried his face in Pellaz’ hair. He wanted a sniff of his lover before he left. “He is not our ice-prince any more.”

“He never was,” Pellaz whispered. He was already half asleep. “He uses the chilly exterior to keep everyone at a distance. He is a very scared, very lonely har deep down inside.” And now he was done talking.

“Go back to sleep,” Cal whispered and pressed a kiss onto a dark tress of Pellaz’ hair. I am going to check with Galdra.”

“I am glad you like him…” Pellaz pulled Caeru closer and continued to use his consort’s shoulder as a pillow. “Sleep now.”

“Yes, sleep.” Cal slipped out of the bed and smiled at the two entangled hara. “We will talk later. Bye, Rue.”

Caeru managed a smile and watched Cal until the other har had left his rooms. Then he concentrated on Pellaz and the feel of his consort against him.

***

Vaysh couldn’t believe where his feet had eventually carried him. He had roamed the palace for an hour and had then ended up in front of Ashmael’s rooms. He shouldn’t visit since he knew that the other har was probably tied up in a meeting or still out. But his hand didn’t listen and knocked at any rate.

“Enter!”

Vaysh carefully pushed down the door handle and then peeked inside once the door was ajar. To his relief, he noted that Ashmael was alone in the room, sitting close to the fireplace and reading. “Am I interrupting? I can come back later.”

Ashmael instantly looked up at hearing Vaysh’s voice and rose from the chair. The papers glided to the floor, but he paid them no attention. “Vaysh!”

In the next moment, Vaysh was enfolded in a tight hug and lifted into the air. He couldn’t help, but chuckle and locked his arms around Ashmael’s neck. “Put me down!” It was so easy to forget the trauma he had been through. For the moment, he could pretend that Thiede had never gotten his hands on him and that he was still whole.

Ashmael reluctantly put Vaysh back onto the floor. “I wasn’t expecting you so early!”

“I can go away again if I am too early,” Vaysh offered.

But Ashmael quickly shook his head. “Oh no, you are staying!” He had already attended the most important meeting for the day and could miss the others. Since Vaysh was there, his lover came first.

Vaysh noticed his surroundings for the first time and smiled. “These rooms are just like you.” They were luxuriously furnished and warm rays of the sun entered via the large windows. The bed was a vision of decadence with its red, silk sheets.

“I hope you approve?” Cheekily, Ashmael wiggled an eyebrow. Keeping an arm folded around Vaysh’s waist, he pulled the other har toward the bed.

Vaysh arched an eyebrow when he realized their destination. “Isn’t it a bit early to go to bed?” The noon hour had only just passed!

“It is never too early to snuggle up in bed with you.” Ashmael lay down atop the covers and pulled Vaysh along with him.

Vaysh gave in with some trepidation since he didn’t know what the blond har was up to. In the end, he stretched out on his side buried in a tight hug. He buried his face into the blond hair and smiled uncertainly. It was a good thing Ashmael couldn’t see his expression at the moment, for he would have read a lot of insecurity there.

“Don’t you have to attend to Pellaz?” Ashmael stroked the red hair and grinned secretly as he found that the roots were blond.

“Apparently Pellaz is with Caeru. I didn’t know they had grown close until Cal told me.” Vaysh bit his bottom lip and then blurted out, “I told Cal I lost our pearl.”

Ashmael blinked, but understood what had driven his lover to do so. Pellaz’ and Cal’s history mirrored theirs. “That’s okay.”

Vaysh timidly raised his head and sought out Ashmael’s eyes. “I can never carry a pearl again, Ash. I am not even sure I can work up the courage to take aruna with you either. But that has nothing to do with you. There are simply too many painful memories.”

“I will never hurt you, don’t you know that?” Ashmael’s fingertips slid along Vaysh’s upper lip, making his lover tremble with emotion. “I would rather kill myself than cause you pain.”

“Don’t say that!” Vaysh banged a fist onto Ashmael’s chest to get his point across. “Your well-being always comes first!”

Ashmael smiled sadly at Vaysh. “No, yours comes first. I have already been remiss in looking out for you.”

“You didn’t know Thiede wanted me. It wasn’t your fault.” Vaysh moved a little bit until he could rest his chin onto Ashmael’s chest so he could continue to look at him. “And no one can stop Thiede.”

“Maybe,” Ashmael admitted. “But the way I acted when we ran into each other is inexcusable. Why didn’t I reach out to you then?” The truth was that he had been shocked. His world had been upended again. He had spent so many years accepting that his Vaysh was dead that he couldn’t accept the fact that Vaysh had returned. Ashmael tightened the embrace and pulled Vaysh as close as he possibly could. “Vaysh, can you forgive me for being a coward?”

“You are no coward!” Vaysh shook his head. “If anyone is a coward, then it is me. I could have contacted you once Thiede had lost interest in me, but I was scared.” Vaysh grew pale again. “We both messed up.”

“Yes, we did, but we are done with that now. From this moment on, we are going to work on rebuilding our relationship. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Vaysh said happily and snuggled up to Ashmael. He giggled. His lover was right. It was never too early to snuggle up in bed

Part 5

Caeru snuck out of their warm nest to ask a househar to bring something to eat. He seldom was hungry these days, but that day he had worked up an appetite. He suspected that it had everything to do with taking aruna with Pellaz.

When he returned to the bed, Caeru sat down on the mattress and studied Pellaz, who was still asleep. Pellaz and he had been through a lot and most of their history was extremely painful.

Caeru had been able to deal with Pellaz coming to his rooms and taking him while he was drunk. He had even coped when Cal had returned to Pellaz’ life. But the one thing that had affected him the most had been Diablo’s attack. The mad har had cut his pearl from his body and had left him there to die. Caeru had wanted to die and had even stopped fighting. There had been so much pain and so much blood…Caeru had been convinced he would die.

But then…then Pellaz had reached out to him. The dark-haired har had given him part of his life energy to recover. Caeru had fought Pellaz for he had wanted to die, but Pellaz had been determined to ensure he survived. In the end, Caeru had lost his battle and had regained consciousness only to find Pellaz slumped over him, the dark head resting atop his chest. Pellaz had exhausted himself in order to bring his consort back.

“Rue, don’t torment yourself like that.” Pellaz’ eyes had opened and his gaze fixed on Caeru. His consort’s troubled thoughts had woken him from his slumber. He raised a hand and curled his fingers around Caeru’s, which trembled as Pellaz closed his fingers around his consort’s.

“What use am I to you?” Caeru’s heart went a million beats per minute as he finally addressed the painful topic. “I can’t host another pearl and…” Angrily, he wiped at the tears that flowed down his face suddenly. “It hurts when…when…”

When Caeru couldn’t say the words, Pellaz took them from his consort’s mind. “It hurts when you are soume?” He should have known!

“It hurts, yes. I don’t think I ever healed properly.” The attack had left many types of scars physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Pellaz knelt on the bed and pulled Caeru close. “You should have told me.” It was a good thing he had been soume the other night. “I don’t want to hurt you unintentionally.”

Caeru smiled through his tears and looked Pellaz in the eye. “You are finally the way I always wanted you to be. Please don’t take that away from me again.”

Pellaz nodded to show he understood. “Don’t worry. Those days are in the past.” He brushed Caeru’s hair behind his ears and smiled at him. “I want to go out tonight.”

Caeru grinned in surprise. “You never do.”

“Things have changed. Why don’t you take a long hot bath and dress up? I want to show you off tonight.” Pellaz’ fingertips glided down Caeru’s back and the other har quivered at the touch. “Do you mind if I invite Cal and Galdra as well? Galdra will leave for Freygard tomorrow and I would like to say goodbye to him.”

“I don’t mind.” He wasn’t greedy. He would share Pellaz with Cal and Galdra. After all, he owed Cal a lot.

***

“We should eat something. Let’s head for the kitchens.” As far as Ashmael was concerned, Vaysh was much too skinny. “Do you ever eat?” he asked while releasing Vaysh from his embrace.

Vaysh pushed himself into an upright position and rubbed at his eyes with his hands.

Remembering Ashmael’s question, Vaysh said, “Food doesn’t really interest me. I eat as much as I need to function.”

Ashmael’s features contorted. “That will not do.” He jumped from the bed and, once he was back on his feet, pulled Vaysh along. “That has to change.”

Vaysh smiled in a silly way as he remembered how Ashmael had loved to feed him delicacies in the past. Once, they had plucked strawberries and Ashmael had delighted in feeding them to him. He allowed the blond har to pull him toward the doorway, but froze as he saw a certain item lying on the desk. “Is that…?”

Ashmael’s gaze followed Vaysh’s and he flinched. “Yes, it is.” He watched Vaysh pick up the digital camera and access the pictures they had taken many years ago. They had happened upon a deserted house and had found the camera inside, then had used it to take pictures of themselves smiling and kissing.

Vaysh trembled at seeing the first picture. He had changed so much! Back then, his hair had been blond, his face full, and his eyes alive with the love he bore Ashmael. He hadn’t been so skinny and had radiated contentment. In the first picture, he was kissing Ashmael and the memory caused a wave of pain inside his heart. “We were so happy back then.” At that time, they had started discussing the possibility of creating a pearl. The next day, their pearl had been conceived and only a few weeks after that Thiede had destroyed their lives. “I no longer look the way I used to,” Vaysh remarked bitterly. “There is nothing left of me.”

Ashmael rested his hand on Vaysh’s and placed the camera back onto the desk. “You are wrong, Vaysh. Trust me. All will be well in the end.” He cursed himself for having left the camera out in the open. During many lonely nights he had stared at those pictures which had been the only proof that Vaysh had once existed and that they had been chesna. “I will delete them.”

But Vaysh shook his head. “It doesn’t really matter.” He smiled at Ashmael and said, “You are back in my life and that is all that counts. I will even eat more food for you.”

Ashmael felt grateful. “I won’t let you down. I promise.”

***

Vaysh’s greatest fear was that they would run into Thiede on their way to the kitchens. Thiede had returned with Loki, Darq, and Geburael and now resided somewhere in the palace. Maybe one day in the future, Vaysh would feel up to facing Thiede, but not yet.

They reached the kitchens and, to their surprise, noticed that they weren’t the only hara there. Cal and Galdra were also there, stuffing themselves with roast, bread, and all kinds of sweet treats.

Cal looked up first and stared straight into Ashmael’s eyes. Ever since Vaysh had opened up to him, he felt a kinship to the blond har. “Sit down and join us! There is plenty of food!”

Galdra decided to stay in the background since he didn’t really know Vaysh and Ashmael. He would let Cal handle this.

Ashmael pulled Vaysh down onto a chair with him and the red-haired har ended up sitting on his lap. Ashmael smiled, but Vaysh wiggled, feeling nervous. The wiggling however only made Ashmael even more aware of the fact that he had his lover back. As a result, his body was waking up and starting to crave aruna. “Open up.” Ashmael selected a slice of apple and offered it to his lover.

Vaysh complied and ate the fruit. “Are you going to feed me?” he asked, momentarily forgetting that they weren’t alone.

“If I need to.” Ashmael cut off a slice of the beef and offered that as well to Vaysh.

Vaysh momentarily recoiled, but then forced himself to start chewing. It was true that he had neglected his needs, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about Ashmael feeding him in such a way!

Cal laughed softly. He was seeing sides to Vaysh’s personality he had never thought existed and he approved of what he was seeing. The love that Ashmael and Vaysh bore each other was palpable. Cal could even taste it in the air. /No matter what you do, Thiede, love always finds a way./

***

Caeru had done his best to please Pellaz and had dressed up. He was wearing his tightest jeans, which showed off his body perfectly and had matched it with a black shirt. His long, fair hair danced against the small of his back and he had even used a little make up. Everything he had done, he had done to please Pellaz and he hoped he had succeeded.

Pellaz had left for his own rooms an hour ago so he could bathe and change into clean clothes. Seated in front of his mirror, Caeru wondered if this bliss could last. If Pellaz were to change back into the har who had hurt him so much, Caeru wouldn’t survive. It was startling to realize how quickly he had become used to Pellaz doting upon him.

“I like the way you look.” Pellaz had soundlessly entered Caeru’s rooms and stood behind the blond har. He rested his hands on Caeru’s shoulders and massaged the tense muscles beneath his fingertips. “What is wrong?” He had hoped Caeru would feel less suspicious of him by that time, but the Tigrina was still on his guard.

“I am afraid you will take it all away again like you did in Ferelithia.” He had been happy for a few days in Ferelithia and then Pellaz had left, fully aware of the fact that Caeru had been with pearl.

“I won’t. I won’t make the same mistake again.” Pellaz pressed a kiss onto the crown of Caeru’s blond head. “Are you ready to leave? Cal and Galdra are already waiting for us.” Caeru rose from his chair and turned around. Pellaz frowned at seeing Caeru’s eyes swimming with tears. “You can believe it,” he said as he carefully hugged his consort. “This is for real.”

“I pray it is.”

***

“Have mercy on me!” There was no way he could eat more! Ashmael had offered snacks to him all throughout the day and he felt stuffed. They were back in Ashmael’s rooms and Vaysh had settled down amidst the large pillows that decorated the four poster bed. Ashmael put the tray aside, which held even more delicacies. “I will grow fat if you keep that up.”

Ashmael gave Vaysh a cheeky smile. “I love having something to hold onto.” He stretched out on his side near Vaysh’s feet and studied the red-haired har. He loved Vaysh so much that it hurt. Unfortunately, he had to bring up an unpleasant matter. “You do realize we will walk into Thiede sooner or later?” It would be best if they were prepared upon meeting Thiede.

Vaysh instantly grew depressed. “I know that.” He just didn’t want to think about it.

Ashmael placed his hand on Vaysh’s left foot which peeked out from beneath the blankets Vaysh had wrapped around himself. Rubbing the toes, Ashmael said, “We must be prepared.”

“There is no way to prepare for a confrontation with Thiede. Don’t you know that? We can’t stop him from doing whatever it is he wants to do.” Vaysh wished Ashmael hadn’t brought Thiede up. “We can only hope that he isn’t interested in driving us apart.”

“I can talk to Thiede in private, if that makes you feel more comfortable,” Ashmael offered.

“No,” Vaysh replied firmly. “I should be at your side when we face him.”

Ashmael decided that changing their topic might be wise. “What do you want to do this evening?”

Vaysh shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Ashmael perked up since he could make some suggestions. “We can go for a walk in the gardens or go dancing. Or we can stay here and play chess.” Vaysh had excelled at the game in the past.

Vaysh peeked timidly at Ashmael. “Can we stay in?” He didn’t want to venture out since there was always the risk of running into Thiede.

Ashmael allowed it and hoped Vaysh would grow more confident in future.

***

Pellaz didn’t have to pretend to be interested in his consort. Caeru was moving on the dance floor, working his hips in a most sinful way. Pellaz remained in the background for the moment, preferring to watch Caeru and then Galdra dance.

Cal moved behind Pellaz and slung his arms around his lover’s waist. Pellaz leaned back into the embrace and rested his head against Cal’s shoulder. “Do you think it would work out if the four of us took aruna?”

Cal arched an eyebrow in surprise. “The four of us? I would like that very much and I doubt Galdra would object, but what about Caeru? Do you remember that evening in Forever when you invited Caeru to stay with the three of us? He backed out.”

“Our situation was different back then,” Pellaz mused aloud. “Caeru and I talked. We are deepening our relationship. Oh Cal, I was so angry with Thiede and you back then and Caeru suffered for it. If I could turn back time and undo the damage, I would.”

“You can’t. But you can shape Rue’s future.” Cal smiled as he saw Caeru and Galdra dancing closely together. “Rue needs you. He has always needed you. You need to spend more time with him and you know it.”

Pellaz nodded. “He told me that he is still in pain occasionally…all because of Diablo’s attack. When we took aruna, I was soume for him. In retrospect, I am glad I assumed that role.”

Cal hadn’t known that Caeru had never completely recovered. “I will remember what you just told me.”

Pellaz turned in the embrace and kissed Cal. “What do you think? Should I invite all three of you to my rooms tonight?”

Cal smiled warmly. “You want to take aruna with Galdra, don’t you?”

Pellaz nodded. “He is leaving tomorrow, Cal. Yes, there will be visits, but I will not see him for a while. I would love to say goodbye to him in that way.”

“I am not stopping you,” Cal whispered. “Does that mean I should take care of Rue?”

“Why do you think I told you that Caeru can’t be soume?” Pellaz gave Cal a wink.

Cal snorted. He had known Pellaz had been up to something.

***

It had taken Ashmael most of the evening, but in the end, he convinced Vaysh to go for a short walk in the gardens. “You could do with a bit of fresh air,” he had said in addition to the fact that Pellaz’ palace was surrounded by beautiful gardens.

“The flowers are in bloom,” Ashmael remarked as he led Vaysh down the path. They had encountered a few hara during their walk and all of them had given them odd looks. Sometimes, Ashmael forgot that only a few hara knew Vaysh and he had been chesna once.

Vaysh leaned heavily against Ashmael and rested his head against his lover’s shoulder. Their fingers were entwined and Ashmael had wrapped him up in an embrace. Vaysh felt protected and warm, but his fear remained: what if they ran into Thiede?

“You aren’t listening to me,” Ashmael remarked playfully. Everything was perfect as far as he was concerned. Vaysh was in his arms, the night was heavy with sweet, flowery fragrances, and even the moon appeared every now and then from behind heavy clouds. “Wait…” Ashmael commanded and stopped walking. Since Vaysh was so close to him, the red-haired har had no choice but to come to a halt as well. “Look up!” The clouds had moved out of the way and had revealed a myriad of stars.

Vaysh looked at the sky and smiled. Ashmael’s arms were still wrapped around him, so he grabbed hold of his chesnari’s wrists and curled his fingers around them. “I am happy,” he whispered.

“I am happy too.” Ashmael turned Vaysh in his embrace and guided his chesnari’s arms around his neck. “I want to share breath with you.” Stating his intention like he did made things less romantic, but he felt it was important to tell Vaysh what he wanted to do.

Vaysh’s breath caught, but he nodded his consent anyway. “Please do.”

Ashmael leaned in closer and shared breath with Vaysh until they both felt high on endorphins. “I missed kissing you.” He caressed Vaysh’s face and wanted nothing more than to take the next step, but how did Vaysh feel about it?

Vaysh trembled with desire as well. “I want to take aruna with you,” he admitted shakily. “But I remember the pain.” His body remembered something else as well, such as how it had felt to dive into arunic ecstasy with Ashmael.

Ashmael moistened his lips and fingered a strand of Vaysh’s hair. “You don’t have to be soume when we take aruna, Vaysh. Don’t you know that?”

The problem was that Vaysh had always loved being soume. He had loved feeling Ashmael shift into place inside him, but now Ashmael was suggesting something that scared him. “You can’t possibly be soume for me, Ash.”

Ashmael blinked. “And why is that?” He preferred being ouana that much was true, but with Vaysh he would love being soume as well. As long as it meant they could be together in that way.

“You are not like that.” Vaysh peeked nervously at Ashmael. He couldn’t believe Ashmael had really suggested such a thing!

Ashmael placed his hands on either side of Vaysh’s head and rubbed strands of red hair between his fingertips. “I would love to be soume for you.” Did it matter what role they assumed as long as they could be together in that way?

“Do you mean that?” Vaysh’s large eyes stared wonderingly at Ashmael. Ashmael had never been soume for him before!

“I do! Why do you doubt that?” Ashmael pulled Vaysh close.

Vaysh hated the fact that he was going to cry again, but he couldn’t stop the tears from leaving his eyes. “Oh, I want that. I want to take aruna with you and remember what it was like.”

Ashmael wiped away the tears and then kissed the moist face. “Come to my rooms with me and I will show you what it was like. You will remember. We will remember together.” And in a way, taking aruna would be new…just as new as the first time they had taken aruna…because Ashmael was going to be soume and not Vaysh.

***

Caeru wondered how he had gotten himself into this situation. Ah yes, Pellaz had taken his arm and had pulled him along to his rooms. Caeru had obeyed and followed, but had also grown a bit apprehensive when he had realized that Cal and Galdra were tagging along as well. What was Pellaz up to?

Seated on a thick rug in front of the fireplace, Caeru kept his distance while Cal guided Galdra over to the bed. Pellaz joined them there. Caeru flashbacked to that one evening when Pellaz had risked it all and had invited Galdra to have dinner with the three of them. Much to Pellaz’ relief, everything had worked out and Cal and Galdra had become rather close during aruna. Caeru had left prematurely, not wanting to infringe on their privacy and scared of what would happen if he had stayed.

Cal exchanged a look with Pellaz and then rolled to the side of the bed. Already naked, he strode through the room and seated himself next to Caeru, who gave him a wary look. Apparently, Pellaz hadn’t told Caeru what was going to happen. “Galdra leaves tomorrow.”

“I know.” Caeru understood why Pellaz had brought Cal and Galdra back to his rooms. He wanted to say goodbye. “Then I should leave for my rooms and award the three of you some privacy.”

Cal stopped Caeru when the Tigrina went to get to his feet. “No, stay.”

Caeru’s eyes narrowed. “Why should I?”

“Because Pell wants you to stay and I don’t want you to return to your empty rooms. Stay with us.”

“I can’t.” Caeru stared at the floor and tried hard to remain calm, but the pleased moans coming from the bed distracted him. Pellaz and Galdra were taking aruna.

Cal tried to be as tactful as he could, but knew the matter had to be addressed. “Pell told me that it hurts when you are soume. Why didn’t you ever tell me?” Caeru and he had taken aruna in the past, although only a handful of times after that disastrous attack, but during each of those times Caeru had been soume for him.

Caeru felt cornered and shrugged. “I am har. I need aruna too.”

“You should have told me.” Cal’s dexterous fingers moved until they had unbuttoned the shirt Caeru was wearing. Once he had bared Caeru’s upper body to him, Cal moved the palms of his hands down the chest until they rested on the other har’s abdomen.

Caeru didn’t know what to make of Cal’s actions. “What are you doing?” His breath caught the moment Cal unzipped his jeans. The sounds coming from the bed were growing louder.

“I desire to take aruna with my consort,” Cal said slyly as he lay Caeru down on his back. “Will you deny me?” He read the fear of pain in Caeru’s eyes and commented, “Give me a little credit. I am not going to demand you are soume when I know it hurts you.” Cal stretched out onto his side and placed a hand on Caeru’s hip. “Move closer, Rue.”

Entranced, Caeru did as he was told. Cal began to kiss him and soon they were sharing breath. They had taken aruna before and Cal had memorized those spots which made Caeru tremble with mounting desire. “Cal…”

Cal smiled in understanding. Caeru had been without aruna for a long time and now the Tigrina was finding himself courted by his consorts in a most sensual way. “Just allow for this to happen.”

Caeru began to pant softly as Cal’s fingers guided his ouana-lim deep inside the other blond har’s soume-lam. “Oh…” Caeru’s eyes widened in surprise and bliss spiraled through his body. Cal draped his leg on top of Caeru’s hip and used it to pull the Tigrina even closer. Their bodies had connected and became one, but Cal wanted more. Caeru quivered as he felt Cal touch his mind as well. The lust that rolled off of Cal in waves affected Caeru as well and made him thrust upward. Cal wrapped his arms around Caeru and they moved together.

“Look at me,” Cal requested since Caeru had closed his eyes. Caeru opened his eyes and stared dazedly into Cal’s. “Does it feel good?” Cal asked. Caeru was only capable of nodding his head once. Taking aruna with Cal this way was mind-blowing! And Cal knew it. He knew how much he excelled at making the other har feel special when taking aruna this way. Focusing his mind, touch, and attention on pleasuring Caeru, he pushed them toward their climax. Caeru cried out and his voice was hoarse when he did. Snuggled close to Cal, he tried to steady his breathing again. Cal, feeling equally sated, held Caeru close. “Maybe the next time it will be the three of us…Pell, you, and me? Would you like that?”

Caeru’s head still reeled. Cal had done everything right and he felt fulfilled resting in Cal’s arms. “I would like that, yes,” he replied eventually. That way they would come full circle – the Tigrons and the Tigrina locked in sacred aruna.

Pellaz, who had spooned up behind Galdra, overheard their last words and smiled into Galdra’s hair, which still smelt of the sea. He would make Caeru and Cal’s wish come true.

***

Sometime during the night, Galdra left their warm nest. After taking aruna, Cal and Caeru had joined them in the Tigron’s luxurious bed and the four of them had cuddled up together. Galdra had been careful to lie down on the edge of the bed so he could leave easily. It was time for him to return to his tribe, even if it meant leaving Pellaz and Loki behind.

“Do you have to go?” Pellaz had woken when Galdra had left the bed and now reached for the other har with his hand.

“I can’t stay. You should understand that.” Pellaz needed to be there for all hara, Galdra merely for his tribe, but in that way, they were similar. “You will visit me shortly, won’t you? And bring Loki with you.”

“I will.” Pellaz cupped Galdra’s face in the palm of his hand. His eyes revealed the anguish he was experiencing at being separated from someone who had become so dear to him and he made no effort to hide his pain. He had done away with wearing the regal mask in the bedroom. “Don’t forget me.”

Galdra chuckled softly. “How could I possibly do that?” He leaned in closer and shared breath with Pellaz one last time. Then he got to his feet and walked toward the doorway without looking back. The notion that Pellaz still had Cal and Caeru to look after him had made saying goodbye less painful. Galdra was convinced Pellaz and he would meet again. Their fate was entangled as well

Part 6

Vaysh was just as nervous as he had been the first time they had taken aruna. Ashmael had instructed him back then, completing his transformation to har and, as far as Vaysh was concerned, it had been love at first sight. He had been a romantic when he had still been human and had failed to shed that quality when he had become a har. Fortunately, Ashmael was just as much a romantic as he was and they had quickly become inseparable.

“What are you thinking of?” Ashmael had filled up the large bathtub and was already seated in the warm water. Raising a hand, he reached for Vaysh, hoping his lover would join him quickly.

But Vaysh was taking his time taking off his clothes. He felt nervous. He knew Ashmael thought him too skinny and was afraid his body wouldn’t please his lover.

Seeing the insecurity in Vaysh’s green eyes, Ashmael smiled warmly. “I love you, Vaysh, no matter what you look like. All I want is for you to move into my arms.”

Vaysh gathered his courage and dropped the green robe onto the floor. He fought the urge to cover up his private parts and lowered himself into the tub. He ended up facing away from Ashmael, safely wedged between his lover’s long legs. Ashmael pulled him close and Vaysh rested his back against his lover’s chest. Ashmael’s fingers moved through his hair and Vaysh realized belatedly that the blond har was working shampoo into the strands.

“Can’t believe I am going to take aruna with a red-head!” Ashmael chuckled, though part of it was to cover up his nervousness. Vaysh was even skinnier than he had thought and his first priority would be to fatten his chesnari up a bit.

Vaysh chuckled as well and felt glad that Ashmael was trying to ease his nerves. “Do you like the color?”

Ashmael rinsed Vaysh’s hair and finger combed the long strands. “It is a dark red… I like it, yes.” He would have disliked the color if it had been Thiede’s fiery red. He finished with Vaysh’s hair and then asked, “Will you wash mine?”

Vaysh nodded. “Of course.”

They moved about until it was Ashmael who sat wedged between Vaysh’s legs. He closed his eyes the moment Vaysh began to work the shampoo into his blond strands. “Feels good,” he whispered, hoping to encourage Vaysh to touch other parts of him as well.

Vaysh however decided to treat Ashmael to a scalp massage and then rinsed the strands which shone like matte gold. “I love you,” he whispered into Ashmael’s ear and slid his fingers down Ashmael’s chest. They encountered erect nipples and then glided down to Ashmael’s groin area. “I was so scared I would forget what it was like touching you.”

Ashmael knew the feeling. “I felt the same way.” Turning around, he moved and rested his long legs alongside Vaysh’s. “Do you feel comfortable?”

“Yes, I am comfortable.” Ashmael’s presence kept memories concerning Thiede away and for that he felt grateful. “Come closer?”

Ashmael inched closer and wrapped his legs around Vaysh’s waist. “Like that?”

“Yes, like that.” Vaysh carefully enfolded Ashmael in an embrace and for a while, they sat there, wrapped up in each other and looking each other in the eye. In a way, it felt even more intimate than taking aruna had in the past. During the long moment their spiritual connection deepened further. “I am not as scared as I thought I would be.”

“I know that… I can feel it…” Ashmael kissed Vaysh and then smiled at his chesnari. “Do you want to take aruna in the tub or do you prefer the bed?” It was his way of telling Vaysh that he craved taking the next step.

“Definitely the bed.” Vaysh slowly disentangled himself from Ashmael and, together, they rose from the water.

“Vaysh?” Ashmael had unfolded a large, fluffy towel and gestured for his chesnari to step up to him. Desire rose in Vaysh’s lower body and his ouana-lim showed Ashmael just how interested the red-haired har was in having aruna with him. Seeing his chesnari ready to take aruna with him took most of Ashmael’s worries away. Vaysh wanted this as much as he did, but they had to do it on Vaysh’s terms. Ashmael had no problems with that.

Vaysh had to close his eyes and fight for control when Ashmael started to rub his skin dry. The touch was strangely sensual and he ached to finally become one with Ashmael. “Are you doing this on purpose to drive me out of my mind?” Vaysh opened his eyes again and searched Ashmael’s gaze. The blue eyes sparkled with mischief.

Ashmael quickly dried himself off and then pulled Vaysh into the bedroom. Vaysh followed willingly and Ashmael sat down on the bed. The silk sheet moved sensually against his skin and he pulled Vaysh closer. He parted his legs and caught Vaysh in a tight embrace.

Vaysh patted the blond hair. “You were right. We can do this. We will remember together. I trust you, Ash. You know what to do… I don’t.” Maybe that was the wrong way to say it, but he was confident Ashmael would understand.

“I know what to do.” Ashmael lay down on his back and pulled Vaysh atop of him.

Vaysh nervously licked his upper lip. “I remember the feel of you,” he whispered as the palms of his hands moved over Ashmael’s chest. “You haven’t changed much. You still feel the same.” Vaysh blushed as he realized that he was straddling Ashmael’s waist. Ashmael’s ouana-lim was erect and glittering attractively. In the past, Vaysh would have taken Ashmael inside and they would have moved together. But he couldn’t take that step now. He was too afraid the pain would return.

Ashmael took the matter quite literally into his own hand and curled his fingers around Vaysh’s ouana-lim. He lifted his hips and guided Vaysh inside.

Vaysh sucked in his breath. It was so unexpected that he had no time to worry about disappointing Ashmael and that was probably the very reason why Ashmael had moved so fast.

“You feel good inside me,” Ashmael whispered seductively and slid his arms up Vaysh’s back. He pulled him close so their lips could meet in a kiss.

Vaysh buried his fingers in the golden hair and panted hard into Ashmael’s mouth. Sharing breath with Ashmael was always intense and this time was no exception. Besides love and lust, Vaysh also received thoughts of gratitude; Ashmael was touched that Vaysh trusted him to take care of him. “This is new,” Vaysh whispered and lowered his upper body onto Ashmael’s. Ashmael probably wanted him to move, but Vaysh wanted to savor the experience for as long as possible.

“Do you trust me? Really trust me?”

Ashmael’s question almost angered Vaysh. Hadn’t he shown how much he trusted Ashmael?

“Hush, I didn’t mean it like that.” Ashmael was in a very problematic situation. His body demanded they moved and took their pleasure, but Vaysh wasn’t moving.

“I trust you with my life.”

“Then move.” Ashmael rested his hands on Vaysh’s buttocks and pushed him deeper into his body. “Move with me.”

Vaysh felt the same pull. There was no way he could stall. Ashmael thrust upward beneath him and Vaysh moved along. It took him a while to get the rhythm right for it had always been Ashmael being ouana. Ashmael arched beneath Vaysh and coaxed his chesnari into moving faster.

Vaysh finally caught on and got the rhythm right and they rocked together. Their lips locked and emotions exchanged owners as they shared breath again. Both hara felt afloat on a sea of love and tidal waves of lust and desire were trying to drown them. They managed to stay on top of the waves for the first few moments, but then they were pulled under. They lost each other in the sea of emotions and no longer knew where they ended and began within each other. In the heat of aruna, Ashmael rolled Vaysh beneath him and took control. He moved snakelike atop of the red-haired har and rotated his hips seductively. When they finally found release, Ashmael threw back his head and screamed Vaysh’s name.

Vaysh quivered under the impact of the arunic ecstasy that coursed through his body and reached for Ashmael. He forcefully pulled Ashmael’s face closer to his until he could touch his lips to his lover’s. Sharing breath at the height of their arunic union almost caused them to lose consciousness. Their bodies trembled, their eyelids fluttered, and, in the end, they ended up holding each other tight.

It took the both of them a few minutes to regain control over their senses and Ashmael was the first to search Vaysh’s eyes. “That was…” Had taking aruna with Vaysh ever been like that? Yes, it had been extremely satisfying, but had it ever been so powerful?

Vaysh was unable to label the experience just as Ashmael couldn’t. Somehow he didn’t remember it being so intense – so… breathtaking. He caressed Ashmael’s face and then guided the blond head onto his chest. He wrapped his arms around his lover as he tried to calm down his breathing. Vaysh grinned.

“Why are you grinning?” Ashmael peeked at Vaysh’s face and was relieved to see it relaxed.

“We need to take another bath.” Vaysh placed his hands on either side of Ashmael’s face and guided his lover’s brow onto his forehead. Staring into the blue eyes, he smiled. “Thank you. You gave me back my life.”

“And you gave me back mine. How could I ever live without you? I need you so much. I love you so much!” Ashmael sighed deeply. “Move into my rooms and when I leave for home come with me. We will make it *our* home.”

“But what about…?” Vaysh was loath to speak Thiede’s name while they were in bed together.

“If he attempts to separate us I will show him that he isn’t as powerful as he thinks he is!” But the sad truth was that Thiede was more powerful than any other har and could part them if he desired so. “Pell will back us up,” he said in an effort to offer more reassurances.

“And Cal.”

“And Cal,” Ashmael agreed. Staring deeply into Vaysh’s gray eyes, he sighed again. “No matter what happens next, what Thiede throws at us, we will deal with it.”

“We are together now. We can take whatever Thiede deals out.” But Vaysh didn’t really believe that. If Thiede wanted to destroy their happiness, the powerful har would find a way to do so.

***

The next morning, Pellaz, Cal, and Caeru decided to be social and headed for the breakfast room. To their surprise, they found Thiede there, enjoying a mug of steaming hot coffee. Pellaz ignored him at first, but Cal being Cal couldn’t. “You!” Cal pointed an accusing finger at Thiede. Caeru wisely remained in the background. He wasn’t going to get involved.

Thiede raised an eyebrow and sipped his coffee. “What about me?”

“I talked to Vaysh! How could you do that to him? It was bad enough you killed Pellaz, but Vaysh?” Cal walked until he stood in front of Thiede as he rested his feet on the breakfast table.

“I had to try. Vaysh would have made a good Tigron if it hadn’t been for a small problem.” None of these hara would ever understand why he had done the things he had save for Pellaz…maybe.

“Problem?” Cal exploded. “You call Vaysh hosting a small problem?”

Pellaz sucked in his breath. He hadn’t known Vaysh had been hosting when Thiede had taken him. “What? Vaysh was hosting a pearl?”

“Ashmael’s,” Cal explained to Pellaz. “Vaysh thinks it is the reason why he is barren. He lost that pearl due to Thiede’s manipulation.”

Pellaz shook his head when he looked at Thiede. “Couldn’t you at least have waited for the pearl to leave Vaysh’s body?”

“I didn’t have much of a choice. The moment to take Vaysh had come. At the time, I was convinced he was the har I had been waiting for.” Thiede shrugged. “I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Cal had worked himself into quite a tantrum and was about to scold Thiede ferociously when another har entered the breakfast room. Cal immediately became silent and stepped aside to let Ashmael pass. Another look showed him that Vaysh was nowhere in sight, for which he felt grateful.

Thiede offered Ashmael an apologetic look, but knew better than to expect mercy from the angered har. “I did it for the good of our people.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Ashmael answered. He did his best to rein in his anger, but since he was finally face to face with Thiede it was hard not to give in to his rage. “You destroyed three lives that day: Vaysh’s, mine, and that of our pearl. You took away our harling, Thiede and you hurt Vaysh! You hurt him repeatedly! I will never forgive you for what you did.”

Thiede figured he deserved that lecture. “I regret that things went so badly.”

“You regret?”

Ashmael spun around at hearing Vaysh’s voice. He had left his chesnari asleep in bed, but Vaysh must have woken up and gone in search of him. “Vaysh, let me handle him.”

But Vaysh shook his head resolutely. He had to face Thiede as well or the powerful har would always haunt his dreams. He walked up to Ashmael and took hold of his lover’s hand. Hand in hand, they stood in front of Thiede and presented a unified front, something that not only impressed Pellaz and Cal, but Thiede as well.

Thiede knew he had made a fair share of mistakes, but he had made them in the hopes of creating the Tigron that would unite all tribes. But that mattered little to Ashmael and Vaysh, whose lives he had destroyed.

“I want to know – I demand to know! – if you are going to plot against us. Do you intend to part us?” Vaysh’s voice sounded remarkably calm when he addressed Thiede. Ashmael squeezed his fingers and Vaysh realized his lover had wanted to confront Thiede instead. Ashmael wanted to protect him, but Vaysh didn’t need protection. Ashmael didn’t know it, but Vaysh was as powerful as Pellaz was and, in his very own way, Vaysh had inherited even more powers from Thiede than the current Tigron had. Vaysh just never showed them off.

“It is of little interest to me what the two of you do,” Thiede said, getting fed up with the situation.

Ashmael flinched, but at the same time his anger rose to new heights. He had to get out of there before he would try to harm Thiede.

Vaysh sensed that. “We no longer have any business with you, Thiede. You will leave us be and that is it. If not…” His voice trailed off. He suspected he wouldn’t survive facing Thiede in battle, but he would try to beat him if necessary. “You are not keeping me away from Ash.”

Thiede shrugged again. “I don’t care about what happens to the two of you. Go away and let me finish my coffee.”

Ashmael turned on his heel and pulled Vaysh along with him. He had to leave now or he might physically attack Thiede.

Pellaz studied Thiede for a long time after Ashmael and Vaysh had left. Thiede tried to appear unfazed, but Pellaz detected the small chinks in his armor. Thiede felt uncomfortable and maybe was even suffering an inkling of guilt for what he had done. Pellaz turned to Cal, who had seated himself in-between Caeru and him. “I didn’t know Vaysh was hosting when that happened. Did Vaysh tell you?”

Cal nodded. “Yes, he did. I don’t know why. Maybe he thought I would understand.”

“He never told me… I wonder why?” Pellaz looked thoughtfully at Thiede. “What happened to Vaysh’s pearl? Did it die?”

Thiede flinched.

Pellaz’ eyes widened and he drew in a deep, hopefully calming breath. “What happened to their pearl?”

“I managed to keep it alive.” Thiede didn’t know how to explain his past actions. At the time, everything had felt right.

“The pearl, where is it?” Pellaz rose from his chair and stalked toward Thiede. He could be just as uncompromising as Thiede when the moment called for it. “If you want Immanion to be your home, you’d better tell me now.”

Thiede actually felt embarrassed and couldn’t recall the last time he had felt like that. “I froze it in time. I didn’t know what to do with it.”

“Is the pearl still alive?” Cal couldn’t believe the things he was hearing, but then again, why was he surprised? This was Thiede they were dealing with!

“It might be. I…forgot about it,” Thiede admitted reluctantly.

Pellaz shook his head and raised his arms in disbelief. “You forgot about the pearl?”

Thiede sighed deeply. “Let me guess… You want me to retrieve it?”

“And then what? Vaysh can’t carry it to term.” Pellaz tried to come up with a solution.

“The pearl was ready to hatch back then… No har needs to carry it to term.” Thiede suddenly liked the idea. “I shall return the pearl to Vaysh and Ashmael.” Maybe that way he could make amends and show them that he had no intention of driving them apart.

“You are going to drop the pearl in their bed or what?” Caeru asked, feeling quite bewildered.

“Do you have a better idea?” Thiede asked and fixed Caeru with a gaze. Caeru instantly lowered his gaze and turned quiet.

“Do it,” Pellaz said. “Right your wrongs.”

Thiede realized that he didn’t really have a choice and rose to his feet. “I will,” he said and then left the room.

Pellaz sat down again and blinked. “That felt surreal.”

Cal reached for Pellaz’ hand and curled his fingers around it. “I am proud of you. You did the right thing.”

Pellaz nodded absentmindedly. By chance, he looked over at Caeru and noticed the sullen expression on the handsome face which had appeared when Thiede had addressed Caeru. Leaning forward, he managed to take hold of Caeru’s hand. “Don’t let him get to you. He can be a bully when he wants to be, but he isn’t as evil as you think.”

Caeru managed a weak smile. “I hope Thiede will return that pearl to Vaysh and Ashmael.” He felt a deep sympathy for Vaysh whose pearl had been taken away from him.

“So do I,” Pellaz said, though he couldn’t help wondering how the two hara would react upon finding a pearl ready to hatch in bed with them.

***

Thiede materialized in Ashmael’s rooms and startled both hara. Ashmael quickly stepped in front of Vaysh to protect him if necessary. Vaysh was about to push Ashmael away to prove that he could take care of himself, but both hara froze on the spot when they saw what Thiede carried in his arms.

“What do you want?” Ashmael asked shakily. His eyes were trained on the pearl that Thiede held in his arms. Vaysh moved forward, but Ashmael took hold of his lover’s hand and kept him in place. /This is Thiede we are dealing with. We must be careful!/

/But what about the pearl he has with him?/ Vaysh couldn’t explain his need to touch the pearl and to cradle it in his arms.

“I want to return something that belongs to you.” Thiede raised his arms and presented the pearl to Ashmael and Vaysh. “The pearl didn’t die as Vaysh thought it did. I managed to save it and froze it in time.”

“It survived? That is my pearl? Our pearl? Ash’s and mine?” Vaysh couldn’t take his eyes off of the pearl and felt magically drawn to it. “That can’t be.” But his heart told him the truth: that it was his pearl indeed!

“Why didn’t you return it to Vaysh earlier? Why now? Why wait so long? If that really is Vaysh’s pearl.” Ashmael was afraid to believe their pearl could have survived.

“I forgot about it,” Thiede admitted and quickly averted his gaze when Ashmael’s furious eyes met with his. “I had other things to worry about!”

“Give it to me,” Vaysh said determinedly. “You have no right to hold onto it.”

Thiede nodded once. “This is your pearl, Vaysh. And I regret what happened. I didn’t know at the time that you were hosting. That was the very thing that made the transformation a failure.” Thiede carefully placed the pearl into Vaysh’s arms and noticed how much the har had changed. Vaysh was changing back into the har he had once been. The ice-prince was gone. “I shall leave now.” The loathing that rolled off of Ashmael in waves made it very clear that he wasn’t wanted there.

Ashmael waited until Thiede had left the room and then turned to face Vaysh. His lover was staring at the pearl and tears of happiness streamed from the gray eyes. “Are you sure? Are you sure that Thiede spoke the truth and that this is our pearl?”

“I am certain of it. I sense it.” Vaysh walked over to the bed and sat down, clutching the pearl in his arms. “Ash, quickly…I might be wrong, but I think it is about to hatch.”

Ashmael found the whole situation surreal, but then again, Vaysh had also returned from the dead. He sat down on the bed and opened his arms, which Vaysh moved into.

“Look!” Vaysh sucked in his breath. The pearl was moving about in his arms and the skin was about to crack open. “Ashmael, trust me…believe me, this is the pearl I was carrying. I sense it.”

Ashmael gave up his resistance and stared at the wonder taking place in Vaysh’s arms. “Vaysh, just when I had accepted that it would be just the two of us this happens.”

Tears of happiness flowed from Vaysh’s face and dripped onto the pearl. The skin cracked further and a tiny harling crawled forth. “Oh, Ash, look!” The harling had blond hair, the same color Vaysh’s had been all that time ago before he had dyed it. The next moment, the harling opened his eyes and looked at his hostling. “Oh, Ash, he has your eyes.”

Ashmael sensed it too: this was their offspring. The harling had Vaysh’s natural hair color and Ashmael’s eyes. Thiede had spoken the truth. “I am so happy, Vaysh,” he whispered into his lover’s ear. “So very happy.”

Vaysh placed the useless shell aside and wrapped their harling up in his arms. The harling shakily raised a hand and touched Vaysh’s face – or his tears, to be exact. “I am happy. That’s why I am crying.”

“We need a name for him,” Ashmael said and slowly pulled Vaysh down with him until they could curl up around their harling.

“Vamash,” Vaysh answered and smiled. “When I was hosting I wanted to name our harling Vamash.”

“I still can’t believe this has happened,” Ashmael murmured as he thought of the miracle that had taken place a moment ago.

“But it did,” Vaysh said and gave Ashmael a look full of love. “We are a little family now.”

Ashmael embraced Vaysh and, in doing so, Vamash became safely wedged in-between them. Ashmael’s heart was no longer frozen for it beat a cadence of love for his chesnari and their little harling.

The End

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1 Comment

  1. hdheidisofttail22 said,

    January 18, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Morgana, this story brought tears to my eyes! Superb!


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