By Camile Sinensis
Characters: Ashmael and Caeru
Spoilers: “Shades of Time and Memory”
Summary: After a military mission goes wrong, Ashmael has time to reconsider his opinion of Caeru
Author email: email@example.com
Obviously, he is dead. It only remains to decide whether he has gone to hell or to heaven. Hell appears to be the odds-on favourite at the moment, because there are definitely demons torturing his body – he can feel their sharp-pronged forks and scratching claws and biting teeth tearing at his flesh, but then something calm and beautiful appears out of the red mist, something with golden hair and a halo of light around its head and for a moment he is sure it is an angel, which surprises him, because given how he lived his life he was really expecting the fire and brimstone option, but then his vision clears and he realises that hell has more subtlety than he gave it credit for, and possibly even a sense of humour, but that hardly matters now because he recognises the creature, and it is no angel, not in a million years. It is Caeru har Aralis. He is definitely in hell.
Then there is some more black, and red, and sharp-pointed things again. And when he opens his eyes once more it becomes apparent to him that he is not dead , which seems, on the whole, to be a good thing, and that Caeru har Aralis has not gone far, far away – the better to torment other souls – which is not.
For some reason The Tigrina is taller than him, which is wrong. Also at an unusual angle. He is pleased with himself when he figures out that this is because he himself is horizontal. Caeru has enough irritating traits without adding defying gravity to them. He decides to remedy this, and return the world to its natural order in which he is vertical, taller, and not in the same room (or preferably the same country) as Caeru. He regrets this decision instantly. The demons poke him with their forks again. Well – no. It’s all a bit more boring than that. That strange crunch is merely broken bones, and the hot, wet sensation just blood. Nothing to get excited about. That other noise is just his own voice, and if it sounds a bit like a groan or a scream, then who wouldn’t be traumatised by being stuck in a horizontal position with Caeru har Aralis looming above them.
Actually, he is looming a lot less now. Caeru has definitely got three feet shorter. Or is possibly kneeling down next to him, touching his hair, wearing an expression he has never seen on the face of the Tigrina of Immanion before, but that’s hardly surprising since Caeru’s default expression is one of blank stupidity.
“Don’t move,” Caeru says – and that somehow doesn’t seem to be an entirely stupid suggestion, so he doesn’t, and while it doesn’t actually improve his situation any, it certainly doesn’t make it any worse.
“Here…” A glass vial is shoved between his lips and something truly disgusting flows into his mouth, which he swallows, because he knows what it is, and sure enough, a few minutes later the demons pack up their pointed forks and set off to find someone else to poke. Things could hardly be better!
Okay, they could.
He gives Caeru an icy stare, which usually works a lot better when he is taller and more vertical and not drugged or whimpering or bleeding, but it’ll have to do for now.
“You can go now,” he says, in a voice which is usually more heroic and commanding, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Caeru blinks back at him. “No, I can’t.” he says, and while the expression is still not the default stupid, the remark more than makes up for it because plainly it is not true. All Caeru has to do is get up and walk out through the door. It’s very simple. Granted there doesn’t actually appear to be a door as such, but that’s a minor detail.
“Pell said I was to stay here” says Caeru, and suddenly all becomes clear. Pell said. Pell the Magnificent. Pell the Almighty. Pell the Centre of Caeru’s Universe. Pell said stay, so Caeru stays. What a relief to discover he isn’t here of his own volition.
It takes a minute or three for him to wonder where here is, exactly. But he isn’t going to ask Caeru. That would be humiliating. Instead, he concentrates on the moving walls and the curious lack of door to this room. No windows either. But it isn’t dark. Light seeps in from every corner. The waving walls glow with it, amber and diffuse. The air is dry and warm. Walls do not usually wave or glow. Unless they are made of fabric. Heavy fabric, woven with a subtle stripe of sand-coloured hues, billowing slightly.
The word we want here is *tent*, he thinks, and suddenly he knows where here is after all. The desert. The Kakkahaar. Pellaz, Calanthe, himself. (where did Caeru come from?) Nohar was supposed to know we were here. Secret mission. Dangerous stuff.
Having managed to put all that together by himself, he is suddenly weary and his mind refuses to supply any further details. He realises that asking Caeru is the next logical step, and while he does not relish the prospect, experience has taught him that if you end up half-dead in a yellow tent in the middle of nowhere, it is vitally important to know what happened, so you can avoid it happening in future.
“What happened?” he asks, wishing his voice did not sound like a querulous woman.
Caeru is still looking at him with that strange expression.
“You were attacked,” he says, – (Really? Never have guessed!)
“Nohar was supposed to know you were here – there must have been a…..”
Caeru pauses and trails off, because he is unfamiliar with the terminology, being a professional icon. Ashmael has been a professional soldier for many years, and is able to supply the missing words;
“… breach of security. A spy.” He wishes he was able to feel more annoyed about it, but he doesn’t have the energy at the moment.
Caeru nods. He looks at Ashmael gravely. Almost reverently.
“You saved his life.”
(I did? Who?)
(damn, I’m good!)
“What about Cal?”
Caeru shrugs in a Cal-can-take-care-of-himself sort of way. “He’s okay. They’ve gone back to Immanion. They don’t want anyone to know they were here in the first place. Pell brought me here so I could stay with you until you were fit to travel back. He didn’t trust anyone else.”
Ashmael is not good at divining others’ emotional states even when he is not lying horizontal in a puddle of his own encrusted blood, but he hears the note of both pride and wistfulness in Caeru’s voice when he states this fact, and for a moment he almost feels sorry for the Tigrina. Pellaz means so much to him. He has handed his very soul to the other har. Ashmael thinks he is an idiot. Meanwhile, the Tigrina’s face has taken on the soft, dreamy look it always has whenever Pellaz is mentioned. The look which Ashmael always thinks would be best removed with a fist connecting with Caeru’s face, but obviously he cannot do that now, so he grits his teeth, and Caeru misinterprets that as being indicative of his terrible suffering, and strokes his hair again, and looks at him with concern, and Ashmael, for no reason he can think of, feels suddenly guilty.
He decides he doesn’t like that feeling, and dismisses it.
“How long?” he asks irritably, turning his head and trying – without success – to escape from Caeru’s touch.
Caeru looks puzzled and removes his hand. “How long… what?”
“How long since the Tigrons and I were ambushed? How long have I been here?”
“Three days? That’s ridiculous! Why am I still here?”
Caeru looks at him curiously, as if he had just grown an extra head and announced that he wanted to take up blindfolded flower arranging on alternate Wednesdays.
“Well – you know. The whole blood and guts and nearly-dead thing.” he says drily.
“I’m not some pathetic human who takes weeks to recover from a paper cut!”
He expects some caustic reply from the Tigrina, whose exalted status rarely prevents him from expressing himself in the vernacular, but the only response is a slight upward rolling of the eyes and a small, saintly, give-me-strength sigh, and a prodding-and-plumping of the pillow underneath Ashmael’s head, which simultaneously manages to convey an impression of both efficiency and ineffectualness.
“You’re not invincible and immortal, either – despite your obvious belief to the contrary”
“I’ve survived worse than this,” he grumbles, his fingers tentatively exploring the encrusted mess of blood on his abdomen. Caeru removes his hands firmly before he can discover exactly what this is.
“I’m not as good as Pell,” he says hesitantly, “but I can try if you like.”
He understands what Caeru means, and is slightly surprised at his own hesitation. Normally he is never squeamish – he has been in too many dangerous and unpleasant situations to worry about the who of any offered assistance, but still…. He dismisses his misgivings and nods his assent.
Caeru places both his hands palm down on his chest. They are hot, and it feels like energy, but it isn’t, it is just… heat. A memory raises its ugly little head. Blood and pain and a dark-haired har blazing with power, touching him, healing him. Caeru is right – he isn’t as good as Pell. He isn’t even as good as some wretched little aralid – in fact Ashmael is convinced that he is actually making things worse, but he grits his teeth again and allows the Tigrina to continue, even as the demons rediscover their forks and begin prodding anew. His vision begins to darken – the ambient glow from the walls is fading, turning from amber to grey, and for a moment he wonders if he was mistaken about the whole not-dying assessment of his situation, but then he realises that it is evening, and this is what happens when the sun completes its circuit of the heavens, which is a relief, but not much of one given the renewed demonic activity in his body, and the sudden and overwhelming exhaustion he feels.
Caeru looks at him hopefully. For some reason, the Tigrina is now several miles away, down a long, dark corridor.
“You should sleep,” says a voice, which sounds like the Tigrina’s, only less bothersome, and he agrees with it, and a darkness which is not evening arrives, and he slips into it gratefully and closes the door, leaving the demons and their forks banging vainly and impotently on the other side.
In the morning, he feels much better and decides to return to Immanion.
Caeru is having none of it.
“You have to wait until Pell says you can” he states firmly, and that is that, since it is obvious that he isn’t going anywhere by himself at the moment, even though the blood has stopped oozing and bits of himself have stopped crunching quite so noticeably. The demons have all apparently been given new missions to prod elsewhere, leaving behind only a few imps-in-training armed with nothing more deadly than cocktail sticks. He laughs at their efforts. Or he would, if it didn’t hurt.
The walls are now a cheerful yellow, reminiscent of primroses and daffodils and other pleasant things. They are fluttering gently and the air is warm and scented. With food. Ashmael cannot identify the spicy aroma, but his stomach knows there is something edible nearby and growls impatiently, like a large dog awaiting its morning exercise.
Right on cue, the Tigrina walks through the wall. Or rather, he doesn’t – he simply pushes aside the loose flap of fabric on the opposite side of the tent which functions as the doorway, and enters carrying two plates of food. Ashmael fully expects his stomach to start barking and jumping up on the furniture.
Caeru places the plates on a low table then comes over and does some more pillow rearranging. He half-pulls Ashmael into a half-sitting position, which is accomplished with only minimal crunching, much to Ashmael’s relief. The plates are brought over and the excitable dog which is Ashmael’s stomach pounces with enthusiasm.
He looks down at the plate in front of him. There is a large pile of something yellow on it. This is possibly due to the overall yellowness of the environment, or possibly not, but he doesn’t bother to check. It could be green with purple spots for all he cares. It smells good, and it tastes even better. He shovels several spoonfuls into his mouth and enjoys the feeling of the comforting warmth filling his too-empty stomach.
Caeru has a plate on his lap too, but unlike Ashmael, he is merely pushing the food around disinterestedly. Ashmael takes no notice – that is Caeru’s usual behaviour at the decadent and sumptuous banquets held at Phaonica. Privately, Ashmael imagines that Caeru sends every meal back with the whining complaint “…oh, not caviar and foie gras again!” and thinks that a few weeks on army rations would do him the world of good, but it is not his place to tell the Tigrina what to eat, and besides, he did just bring him breakfast, or brunch, or lunch, or whatever this meal is, so he supposes he ought to be at least a little grateful.
“This is very good,” he says, with his mouth full, “Did you make it yourself?”
Caeru pulls a face, his mouth twisting to one side. “Oh please!” he says, with what may or may not be mock-disgust “I don’t hate you that much!”
Ashmael had self-deprecation in the same category as defying gravity as far as the Tigrina’s talents went, so he finds himself mildly amused, as much by the surprise as anything else.
“Don’t you want yours?” he asks, looking hopefully at Caeru’s untouched mound. Caeru shrugs.
“Not really. Here, you can have it.”
His empty plate is exchanged for the full one, and he attacks it with almost as much enthusiasm as the first. Caeru studies him as he eats, looking pleased, for no apparent reason. Ashmael returns the compliment, and scrutinises the other har back. For a brief second their eyes meet, but the Tigrina’s gaze flicks away almost instantly, as if he had been caught doing something shameful. Ashmael feels no such guilt, and continues to stare, chewing thoughtfully.
Caeru looks different. The immaculately-presented Tigrina has mysteriously vanished, and in his place is a rather messy-looking har with crumpled clothes and slightly lank hair. That, thinks Ashamael rather cruelly, is what happens when you don’t have three dozen servants to primp you within an inch of your life. He wonders what the star-struck population of Immanion would think if they could see their legendary Tigrina now. Would the chipped nail polish and food-stained clothing appall them, or reassure them that their glorious idol was as normal and mundane as any of them? What on earth did they all see in this ordinary har to worship him as they did? What on earth had Pellaz been thinking when he…
Ashmael has pondered that particular conundrum many times over the years. Caeru is very pretty, there is no doubt of that. His long blonde hair is golden in the strange yellow light, and his face, when he turns deliberately to look at Ashmael again, is soft and feminine, without any hard angles or edges. Ashmael is suddenly embarrassed to remember an inebriated conversation with a friend in which they had discussed the Tigrina’s physical assets. “Why don’t you like him?” the other har had asked drunkenly, “he’s just your type!” and Ashmael had laughed uproariously and poured himself another drink as his friend ticked off all the other pretty, feminine hara he had pursued and bedded over the years, and the list had been a long one and they were both even more drunk by the time it was finished and…
This time it is Ashmael who looks away.
He would like to be able to say that it is not all about looks, but he knows himself too well. It’s all about looks. He likes pretty, feminine hara. Anything else is just too… complicated. He has no idea what Pellaz and Cal’s relationship is like, but imagines there must be daily power struggles and dramas, which does not appeal to him at all. Perhaps it doesn’t really appeal to Pell either. Perhaps that was why…
“Are you finished?”
The plate is still half-full, but he nods. Caeru lifts it away, then straightens the sheet which is covering him, as if he has done that many times before. Perhaps he has. Caeru has brought up a child. That must take patience. Another string to Caeru’s bow, hiding in the box marked “unlikely” along with the self-deprecation and gravity-defying.
He notices that the light is no longer primrose, it has lost its soft playfulness and is beginning to hurt the eyes with its intensity. The walls flap restlessly, and he can hear a dry, grainy sound from outside. He realises that just a few inches away, on the other side of the ochre-striped fabric, is the hot and unforgiving desert that the Kakkahaar inhabit. He also realizes that now that he has satisfied his body’s need for food, it is beginning to remind him ungratefully of its other problems. He feels sore and tired, and while the former has an obvious cause, he feels frustrated about the latter, since he seems to have spent most of the last four days doing little else but sleep. He remembers last night, dreaming that he was awake, in the dark, and another har being there, placing his hands on him, and he realises that it wasn’t a dream, it had been Caeru – whom, he belatedly realises, has more healing skill than he had given him credit for – and that it explains the rather weary look on the other har’s face today, and he supposes he should thank him, perhaps, but that feels hypocritical, so he doesn’t.
Instead, he closes his eyes to block out the harsh, illuminating light. The respite doesn’t last long – he feels a touch on his shoulder and Caeru is leaning over him again, doing the pillow-rearranging again so that he lies flat, which is pleasant. In fact, if he is being honest with himself, he rather enjoys the fuss Caeru is making of him. It is a strange feeling – to be taken care of, as if he were a child.
It’s not what we do, he thinks. We fight, we get drunk, we fornicate, we argue, we plot. Then we do it all over again. We’re like children without any adults to tell us what to do. No-one to tell us when to brush our teeth, eat our greens (or yellows) and when to go to bed.
“Get some sleep,” says Caeru, in a voice that sounds suspiciously like an adult, so how can he argue? He screws up his eyes against the brightness. The yellow turns red. The sound of the walls becomes louder, the scratching and whistling from outside intensifies. His last coherent thought is that it is impossible for anyone to sleep under these conditions.
At some point, he becomes aware of being awake again. There is no noise now – a lazy, torpid silence pervades the whole world.. The brightness has mellowed or deepened, or both – the light is now the colour of molten gold. And it is hot. The air is completely still. He can feel the dampness of his own sweat, so he pushes down the thin sheet which covers him, allowing the air to touch his skin. Lethargy still overwhelms his mind and body, and it is not an unpleasant feeling. He has nowhere to go, and nothing to do but lie here in this warm, golden sanctuary and be taken care of by a responsible adult.
Who is not here. The silence alone should have alerted him. He raises himself up, wincing slightly, to see if Caeru is also having an afternoon nap, but the tent is empty except for himself. He flops down again. Suddenly, having nothing to do seems unbearable. He is bored, and the slow, golden afternoon feels oppressive. He considers getting up and leaving the tent. Perhaps there is no-one else here but himself. Perhaps there never was anyone else. He has seen nohar other than Caeru. Perhaps he even imagined that.
He sighs. The logical explanation is that everyone is sleeping through the heat of the afternoon, which is the only sensible thing to do, but he feels vulnerable and peevish – and thirsty. He has just sulkily resigned himself to an indeterminate period of discomfort when the tent flap moves, and Caeru enters.
Ashmael briefly wonders if he should pretend that he is not pleased to see him. but it doesn’t seem worth the effort. He smiles, and Caeru arches one eyebrow.
“You’re awake, then?”
Ashmael notices that Caeru is wearing different clothing. His hair is wet too, and he is rubbing at it with a towel. Obviously he has been availing himself of washing facilities, and Ashmael feels sharply envious, and conscious of his own sweat-stained and none-too-fragrant body. The luxurious, though crumpled, garments which the Tigrina was wearing earlier have gone, and in their place he is wearing what Ashmael recognises as the traditional garb of the Kakkahaar – or, part of it, at least. The average Kakkahaar is a tall and imposing creature and Caeru… is not, therefore he is only wearing the top half of the outfit – a loose-fitting tunic of a sandy-coloured material, which comes to just above his knees. The material is flimsy, and Ashmael has the impression that he can see the contours of Caeru’s body through it, although that could just be a trick of the light. Caeru finishes towelling his hair, and flicks it back over his shoulders with both hands. It seems to glitter, and throw off sparkles into the air, as if there are metallic threads running through it.
“Do you need anything?” he asks, walking over towards him, still flicking his hair, as if to rid it of imaginary water-droplets
Ashmael tries to speak, but his voice is somehow missing in action. He tries again. “I could do with a drink” he croaks, realising as he says it that it is alarmingly true. He feels as if he could lick the last vestiges of moisture from Caeru’s hair. Caeru nods and fetches a jug and a glass. He pours the clear liquid from one to the other, and hands it to Ashmael, who props himself up on one elbow and raises it greedily to his lips. It is blood-temperature and lifeless, devoid of oxygen, and it is the best thing he has ever tasted. He finishes it in one long gulp, and Caeru refills his glass without waiting for him to ask. He drains that too, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, then carefully sinks down again. Caeru takes the glass from him and fills it for a third time, but puts it to one side, where he can reach it if he wishes. He smiles benignly at him, and for the second time that day Ashmael feels like he has done something worthy of praise, although he is not sure what.
I ate my greens and went to bed when I was told
Caeru squats down next to him and examines him with a professional air.
“You look better,” he says
Ashmael meditates on the state of his blood and sweat stained body, and decides that “better” is a relative concept.
“I have been in contact with Pell,” Caeru continues, “he will be here tomorrow.”
For some reason, Ashmael does not feel quite as delighted by that as he imagines he ought.
Caeru picks up the glass of water, and moves it across to where it will not be in danger of getting spilled. In doing so, he leans over Ashmael, and his still-damp hair brushes over the recumbent har’s face. Ashmael breathes in its scent. It smells fresh and clean, in a way that he knows he himself does not. He smells something faint and sweet, and he realises it is not the strong perfume he normally associates with the Tigrina, but the soft, indefineable musky aroma of a har’s body.
Caeru remains leaning over him, looking at him earnestly.
“Is there anything else you want?” he asks.
It is at this point that Ashmael’s strategic brain makes a strategic decision. He calculates the likelihood of the Tigrina undoing four days worth of healing by punching him in his stitched-up guts and decides, not for the first time in his life, to plunge ahead with the reckless decision.
“Yes,” he says, and grasps Caeru’s wrist firmly. It is narrow and fragile, and he could snap it easily if that had been his intention, but nothing could be further from his thoughts as he guides Caeru’s hand downwards and under the sheet towards his ouana-lim, which is already hard.
Caeru does not struggle or resist. He looks directly into Ashmael’s face, and although his eyes register neither surprise nor outrage, his mouth forms a perfect little “o”, into which Ashmael imagines slipping a probing finger, or possibly something else.
“Are you sure you are up to this?” he asks, with just a hint of his usual imperiousness.
Ashmael grins “Of course. It’s only my leg that’s broken”
“So I notice” murmurs Caeru casually, and Ashmael feels delicate fingers curl firmly and tightly around his erection, and he wonders how the hell he got so hard so quickly, and then realises that he has been stiff and throbbing ever since the Tigrina walked through the tent flap, and wonders how the hell he kept it hidden so long, and the then faint look of amusement on Caeru’s face tells him that he didn’t, but he doesn’t care, because the Tigrina is stroking him with consummate skill and banishing all his body’s aches in a sudden flood of pleasurable sensations.
Caeru somehow manages to push away the flimsy sheet entirely without releasing his grip or ceasing his soft, insistent caresses. He moves himself over, and Ashmael feels himself guided expertly into the other har’s body. Caeru utters a little whimper of encouragement and approval as he enters, but remains very still. There is no movement between the two, but Ashmael can feel the rhythmic tightening and relaxing of Caeru’s muscles, and his own body responds in kind. He wants to move – to do something – anything – but he knows that the stitches and fractures would not appreciate any movement on his part, so he lies still and concentrates on the feeling of being carefully and inexorably brought to climax without having to do anything.
Everything seems to be happening in slow motion. Aruna is not like this, he finds he has time to think. Aruna is fast, vigorous, noisy, energetic… And yet this… This languid, deliberate pulsing emanating from inside Caeru’s body; this yellow afternoon light all over them like slow, liquid honey, this orgasm building somewhere outside of himself, like a thunderstorm threatening on the horizon… It is almost unbearable in its intensity, yet at the same time feels as if it is not happening at all. He can no longer remember how long he has lain here, joined to this other har, sharing their mutual pleasure, and it seems as if he will lie here forever, trapped in this golden moment where time has stopped and all that matters is the slow-building pleasure.
And then suddenly it feels like the knot which has been holding everything back snaps, and everything unwinds in an instant and rushes forward to catch up with itself and even the thick, honeyed air which cocoons them becomes liquid and releases them from its grasp, and there is a cry – it is his own, he thinks – as the circuit closes, and for one brief fraction of a second they are joined not merely in body, but in mind and soul and eternity.
Predictably, his body takes advantage of his mind’s absence and does what it wants. And what it wants is to move. The moment of ecstasy is followed by an equally eye-watering moment of pain, but he finds himself laughing, almost, or swearing, or something, but it’s all the same thing, and he would do it again, yes. He utters another cheerful obscenity and finds Caeru looking down at him anxiously.
“Are you alright?”
He would swear again, but Caeru is trembling slightly, and he is not sure if it is from the effort of keeping himself propped up on his hands, so he doesn’t, he just smiles and tells him yes. And it’s true anyway. Caeru looks relieved and carefully dismounts to one side. He sits cross-legged, and Ashmael can see the mixed essences of their bodies leaking from him, adding another stain to the already filthy sheet below them. Caeru’s complete unconcern is somehow very pleasing, if unexpected.
He watches Caeru for a few moments. The Tigrina has that heavy-lidded languor of sexual fulfilment; his lips are reddened and swollen. Ashmael is pleased, although, were he to admit it, concern for his partners’ satisfaction is not usually uppermost in his mind at times like these. He touches the other har’s knee gently.
“You were very good”
Caeru straightens his back and produces his best haughty look.. “Good?” His voice is indignant. Forcefully so.
“Is that the best you can manage? How about fantastic? Or even amazing? Or magnificent? Yes, I like that. Magnificent. I get that a lot, you know!”
He leans back, tossing his tangled hair imperiously. A stray strand remains stuck over the front of his face, falling across his eyes and mouth, caught by the dampness of perspiration still visible there. He blows at it noisily, trying and failing to remove it. Ashmael does the right thing and does not laugh. Instead, he reaches over and moves it away with his finger.
“Okay, magnificent You were magnificent. Happy now?”
Caeru shrugs, feigning disinterest. “Maybe.”
“I bet Cal and Pell tell you that all the time!”
There is a slight, almost imperceptible change in Caeru’s expression. Ashmael is not sure what, if anything, to make of this, so wisely he says nothing. Caeru is obviously well-practiced at keeping his outward appearance neutral, because his face remains calm and unaltered when he delivers his next words;
“I don’t really take aruna with them very much.” He shrugs again, somehow more a gesture of defeat this time.
“They have each other.”
He looks away, somewhere into the middle distance again. Ashmael can see his profile, perfectly outlined in glowing yellow, as if surrounded by a halo of light. He wants to say something, but knows it will be futile. He isn’t even sure what it is he wants to say – whether the tight feeling which suddenly grips him inside is anger or sympathy or just too-tight stitches.
He thinks of Pellaz, and how he has everything anyhar could ever want, and yet half the time does not even want what he has. He thinks of those who don’t have what they want. And those who don’t even know what they want. And because he is a soldier and not a priest or a healer or any of those useful professions, he has no idea what should be done about any of these things, so he grasps Caeru’s arm and pulls him towards himself, and the other har resists for only a moment before he turns and lies down on the stained sheet beside him, curled up in a small ball as if the golden afternoon was suddenly cold, and he lays his arm over him and they both lie in silence until evening comes.
In the morning, Caeru is still asleep, still curled, still beside him. Ashmael can feel the warmth of his breath on his bare shoulder. The light in the tent is clear and limpid, with the texture of water. The air is cooler and the faint breeze is not yet enough to stir the walls into life. It is almost dawn.
Ashmael lies still for a while. He knows that later in the day, Pellaz will arrive and they will return to Immanion. He will be taken to his house, where he will spend the next few days recovering, and Caeru will return to Phaonica, and this whole incident will never be mentioned again. Immanion will go about its business, as it always does. It will sparkle in the sun, its towers gleaming, full of beautiful hara, who all have each other. Who all have what they want. Except for those who don’t. Those who live alone in empty rooms in palaces or mansions – but who may have one long gilded, glowing afternoon, a moment preserved like an insect in amber, timeless and golden, which will last longer even than Immanion itself.