The Secret Is Out

The Secret Is Out
by Morgana

Story Notes

Author’s Email: morganalebeau@yahoo.com

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

Pairing: Vaysh/Ashmael

Rating: NC-17

Spoilers up to Book 6 “The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence.”

Summary: Vaysh has been keeping secrets from Ashmael.

Disclaimer: Not mine. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters, except for Arjuna, belong to Storm Constantine.

Warning: AU of course.

Beta read by Patricia and DA, thanks sweeties!

All remaining mistakes are mine.

The Secret Is Out

Part 1

Normally Cal wasn’t that curious and certainly not where Vaysh was concerned, but for some reason the other har had piqued his curiosity that day. It was already late in the evening and all other hara had retired for the night. Vaysh however was sneaking through the palace and seemed to be headed for the stables. Cal pressed against the wall to avoid detection and soundlessly followed Vaysh down the corridor.

Vaysh had always remained something of a riddle to Cal. Ever since Cal had returned to Immanion with Darqueil and had been reunited with his ‘little family’, he had grown disinterested in matters of the state, which Pellaz and Caeru attended to most of the time. Thiede had kept a low profile lately and that meant life in Immanion had become a bit boring. Cal therefore craved a new challenge and Vaysh seemed to be providing him with one.

As he followed Vaysh into the stables, he considered the little he knew about the red-haired har. Vaysh was always at Pellaz’ side and was helping him, guiding him, and even guarding the Tigron at times. As far as Cal could tell the two hara had become close friends, but there was always something about Vaysh that made Cal wary on befriending him as well. Mystery clung to Vaysh and Cal wanted to know what secrets the other har was hiding.

“Be quiet,” Vaysh ordered as he guided the sedu out of his box. “I don’t want anyone to notice us.” It wasn’t strictly necessary for him to be this careful, but he wasn’t taking any chances with Ashmael staying in the palace as well. Ashmael seldom paid him any attention and that was just the way Vaysh wanted it, but he also knew that Ashmael had a curious streak within him and he didn’t want to wake that particular trait in his former chesnari.

He swung himself onto the sedu’s back and buried his fingers in the mane. Telepathically he told the sedu where to take him and a moment later they disappeared from the realm to appear on the Otherlanes.

Cal disliked that particular means of travel, but he had no choice but to make use of the sedim if he was to follow Vaysh. He selected one of them and hopped onto his back. Luckily for Cal this particular sedu was a pliant being and agreed to take the har to the Otherlanes. Telling the sedu to follow Vaysh, Cal kept his eyes wide open in the hope of catching sight of Vaysh on the Otherlanes.

***

Vaysh told his sedu to wait and headed for the tower that had materialized in front of him. A genuinely warm smile surfaced on his face and his whole demeanor changed with it. His gray eyes sparkled with joy and his lips curled into a warm smile as a glow appeared from somewhere deep inside his core.

“Vaysh!”

Vaysh laughed and caught the har that came running toward him. He buried him in a tight embrace and pressed him close. “I have missed you, Arjuna.”

Arjuna’s sky-blue eyes fastened on his hostling’s face and he returned the smile. “I’m glad you’re back!” Life in the tower always became boring after Vaysh left. He had his books to keep him occupied and he slept a lot, but he preferred for his hostling to spend time with him instead. That way he felt less lonely. “Come with me!” He started to pull Vaysh toward his room to show him a drawing he had made. Drawing was his newest passion.

Vaysh willingly followed his son and sat on the floor next to Arjuna so he could admire the drawing. It was a clumsy attempt at drawing Vaysh’s face, but he praised Arjuna nonetheless and his son radiated pride. Vaysh ran his long fingers through the blond hair and pulled Arjuna close. “I can’t stay for long.”

“Can’t you take me with you?”

Huge blue eyes pleadingly gazed into his and denying Arjuna broke Vaysh’s heart. “You can’t come with me. You wouldn’t be safe, but here, you are. I need you to stay here and be a good harling, Arjuna. I visit as often as I can.” Arjuna’s features contorted with disappointment. “I’m sorry, Arjuna. If I could, I would stay with you forever.”

Arjuna pouted. “But I want you to be with me at all times!” He pulled away from Vaysh and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“Do you really want to waste the little time we have by acting like that?” Vaysh’s heart contracted with anguish. Everything had gone horribly wrong and there was no way he could make amends to Arjuna, who had suffered the most.

Arjuna considered the question and then his shoulders slumped forward. “Hold me?”

Vaysh wrapped his arms around Arjuna and rocked his son as he whispered softly. “I love you, Arjuna. You’re very important to me and I’ll always return to you, I promise.”

“I always feel alone when you’re not around.” Arjuna’s eyes shed precious tears. He allowed Vaysh to rock him and wished his hostling would stay with him forever.

***

Cal felt quite the intruder as he watched such an intimate scene, more so since he didn’t know what to make of it. Vaysh and Arjuna were close he could tell that much, but the nature of their relationship was a mystery to him. They didn’t seem to be chesna.

He had snuck into the tower following Vaysh and had been stunned to see Vaysh act so warm and lovingly toward the other har. Cal didn’t know Vaysh like that.

From where he stood he had a perfect view and studied Arjuna. It was impossible to guess the har’s age, but Cal was certain he had long passed Feybraiha. He was as tall and slender as Vaysh was. Long, blond hair spilled down Arjuna’s back and the face was pleasant enough to look at. One could call Arjuna handsome, but there was something strange about the eyes. The blue eyes were clouded and something told him that was a permanent state. There was something wrong with Arjuna, but what?

Cal didn’t want to infringe on their privacy and returned to the sedim. He sat down on a rock and decided to wait for Vaysh to join him. Once the other har did, he would ask him about Arjuna.

***

Vaysh couldn’t believe his eyes when he returned to his sedu two hours later. There were two sedim standing there and a har sat on a rock eyeing him closely. That couldn’t be Cal sitting there!

“Someone has been keeping secrets,” Cal commented as he got to his feet. He brushed his blond hair out of his face and gave the other har a lopsided look. “Care to explain to me who that har is?”

Vaysh’s eyes became pools of venom and he hissed at Cal. “That’s none of your business. How dare you follow me?” This was a serious complication! Cal had discovered Arjuna and now Vaysh had to find a new shelter for his son. “You’ll pay for this!” He was about to charge and physically attack Cal when the other har raised his hand. Cal’s expression changed as the amused, teasing expression made way for a concerned one. It made Vaysh halt in his tracks.

“I’m not here to cause trouble,” Cal said. “Although you might find that hard to believe, considering my past and reputation. I was curious and followed you out here. I’ve no hidden agenda, but I’m curious. Who’s Arjuna?” Cal sucked in his breath. The fire that burned in Vaysh’s eyes reminded him of the glow he had often seen in Thiede’s eyes. He didn’t know exactly what had happened to Vaysh to make him into the har he was this day, but he would love to find out. However, he didn’t want to experience Vaysh’s anger…certainly not if his suspicion proved correct and Vaysh possessed some of Thiede’s power.

“Arjuna is none of your damn business! I demand you leave!” Once Cal was gone, he would fetch Arjuna and move him to a safe place.

Cal took a risk then. He approached Vaysh and opened his mind to the other har. “See for yourself. I mean you no harm.”

Cal’s move took Vaysh by surprise. He had been ready to attack Cal but was sucked into the other har’s mind. “I don’t want to…” He didn’t want to read Cal’s thoughts and find out the other har’s intentions, but it was too late to pull back now.

Cal remained motionless and let Vaysh examine his thoughts. Once Vaysh was done, he erected his barriers again. “I mean you no harm. Nor do I want to harm Arjuna in any way. I would just like some answers.”

Vaysh felt conflicted, which showed as he wrung his hands. His red hair danced around his pale face and he looked at the tower from over his shoulder. Arjuna was safe there. He didn’t have an alterative shelter to move his son to and he didn’t know how Arjuna would react to a change in surroundings. He had to make a very important decision: could he trust Cal to keep his secret or not?

“Tell me and I’ll keep your secret,” Cal whispered. He was dying to know about Arjuna. “Who is he?”

Vaysh collapsed and sat down on the rock Cal had vacated earlier. His hair tumbled in front of his face and he continued to wring his hands. He hated losing his composure, especially in front of another har. He had known Cal for some time now, but hadn’t resolved yet if he liked him, let alone trust him.

Cal sat down next to Vaysh and frowned. “I don’t know you like this.” Vaysh was often referred to as the ‘Ice Prince’ or the ‘Ice Maiden’ because he never let his emotions show, but this was a different har sitting next to him who felt very emotional.

“You must promise to tell no one. Not even Pellaz. No one!” Vaysh looked up and a hint of rebellion showed in his gray eyes.

“I promise.” Cal would keep his promise. He wouldn’t even tell Pellaz as long as it meant he would get to hear the truth. “Who’s Arjuna?”

“He’s my harling – my son.” Vaysh directed his gaze at the ground.

Cal sucked in his breath in surprise and his eyes widened. “Your son? But, I don’t understand… How…? Who…?”

Vaysh released a deep sigh and hid behind a curtain of red hair. “I don’t want to tell you my sordid history. The fact that Arjuna’s my son must be enough information for you.”

“But…” Cal delicately licked his lips. “Something’s wrong with him.”

Vaysh sharply looked up and glared at Cal. “I hate you,” he blurted out.

But Cal shook his head. “You hate someone, but that’s not me. Why don’t you tell me?”

Vaysh hated himself for being careless. He should have noticed that he was being followed. He should have been able to shake Cal off on the Otherlanes, but it was too late to wonder about that now. Cal had gained a certain amount of power over him and Vaysh did what he thought was best for Arjuna. He didn’t want to endanger his son by having to seek out a new shelter. It had taken him years to find this abandoned tower. “How much do you know about me?”

Cal shook his head. “Nothing.”

Vaysh didn’t want to do this. He shivered. “I was a normal har once. Much like Pellaz was when he was still traveling with you.”

Cal chuckled and immediately apologized. “Sorry, but I find it hard to picture you like that.”

“I’m not offended.” Vaysh shrugged.

“Who incepted you?” Cal suddenly asked, dying to know if it had been Thiede. “That fire in your eyes reminds me of…”

“Thiede?” Vaysh shrugged again. “Thiede didn’t incept me. Maybe if he had, the transformation would have been successful.”

Cal frowned. “What transformation?”

“I’m getting ahead of myself.” Vaysh stared at his hands, which rested in his lap and started again. “I was nineteen when Ashmael incepted me.”

Cal gasped. Vaysh had just dropped a bomb shell. “Ashmael?”

Vaysh allowed a grin to break through on his features. “Yes, Ash. He incepted me and then completed the process by taking aruna with me. We quickly became chesna. You see, there are huge parallels between Pellaz’ history and mine. Ashmael and I traveled for a while and, although we were told that hara don’t love, we were in love – madly at that.”

Cal couldn’t help but smile. “It was the same way for Pell and me. I didn’t think I could feel that deeply for somehar. What I had with Zack had been special, but it didn’t compare to what I felt for Pell.”

Vaysh’s lips became a thin line as he mentally prepared himself to continue his tale. “Thiede killed me. I died in Ash’s arms.”

Cal became eerily quiet then. He hadn’t expected to hear something like that and was catapulted back to his own past. He remembered Pellaz going down, holding him in his arms as his chesnari had shed his last breath and after that – madness had claimed him. A long and grueling madness had taken hold of him and he had lost his sanity.

“When I woke up again I was in pain. Thiede had clothed me with flesh and had taken my memories concerning Ashmael away from me. His hara tended to my needs and I was fed drugs to keep me pliant. I lost my mind for a while. I don’t know how I survived. I guess Thiede kept me alive with his will and drugs.” Vaysh began to tremble violently and his eyes closed.

Cal looked at the other har and saw lines of agony etched onto Vaysh’s brow. Vaysh’s hands clawed at his green robes and Cal tasted the other har’s remembered pain in the air around them. Cal being Cal couldn’t help himself and reached out to Vaysh. He placed a hand atop Vaysh’s and squeezed the icy fingers. “I’m sorry.”

Cal’s demonstration of sympathy surprised Vaysh and the red head opened his eyes to look at the other har. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know, but still… I know what happened to Pell. Not in detail, but enough to understand the pain you went through.”

Vaysh shook his head and his red locks danced against his back. “It was different for Pell. Thiede incepted him. Thiede’s essence already flowed through Pellaz’ veins. That’s why he came out of the transformation so well. Things didn’t go that great for me. Thiede didn’t incept me.”

Cal swallowed hard. “I’m sorry I interrupted you. Please go on.” This had to be hard on Vaysh.

Vaysh’s voice became emotionless and a monotone when he continued. “Once I had recovered from my death – if such a thing’s possible – I was bathed and they rubbed oil onto my skin. They were preparing me for Thiede. I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it.” Vaysh vaguely registered the fact that Cal was rubbing his fingers. “When Thiede made his appearance, I fought him. I no longer remembered Ash, but I knew that what Thiede wanted to do was wrong – so wrong. His hara however held me down and I was defenseless.”

Cal shivered and suffered along with Vaysh. The mere thought of having to take aruna with Thiede made his skin crawl.

“It was pelki,” Vaysh stuttered and tears flowed from his eyes. “I didn’t want to take aruna with him.” Vaysh hated himself for being this weak, for showing his vulnerability so clearly.

Cal continued to rub Vaysh’s fingers and would have pulled the hurting har close, but his instincts told him that Vaysh wouldn’t allow that. An embrace might spook him.

“One moment before Thiede was going to fill me with his essence, he stared at me and then he started to curse. He had finally realized something about me, but it was too late to stop. He had hovered on the edge for too long and had to release his essence inside me.” Vaysh wanted to run away, wanted to shake Cal off and run, but his fear that Cal would extract revenge by using Arjuna against him kept him in place.

“What had gone wrong?”

“Thiede discovered too late that I was with pearl.” Vaysh’s tears now streamed unabatedly and he made no effort to wipe them away.

Cal felt shocked. “Thiede did *that* while you were hosting?” A moment later, after some careful thought, he added, “Was it Ashmael’s offspring?”

Vaysh nodded and his tears dripped from his chin onto their locked hands. “I was close to delivering the pearl. Thiede wrecked the life blooming inside me. He ruined the pearl. His essence ate at it, trying to destroy it, but he failed.” Vaysh wrapped an arm around his waist and started to rock hard.

Stunned, Cal blinked. The trauma Vaysh had gone through still showed in the other har’s behavior that very moment. Vaysh was rocking hard and trying to hug himself awkwardly since he only had one arm at his disposal. Overcome with emotion and sympathy for what Vaysh had gone through, Cal pulled the other har to his chest. Vaysh fought him for a moment, but then the red-haired har became limp in his arms. “What happened next?”

“I was a failed experiment. Thiede cursed me and left. I was in so much pain. I delivered the damaged pearl an hour later.” Vaysh remembered how traumatized he had been holding the burned shell in his arms. “I thought the harling inside was dead, but I couldn’t part from the pearl and I kept it close. Thiede’s hara had lost interest in me and they let me be. They thought I had lost my mind, and in a way, I had.”

Cal brought his arms up Vaysh’s back and rocked the other har slowly. Vaysh allowed it. “I think I know the rest.” He already regretted forcing Vaysh to tell him his tale. But he had never imagined that Vaysh’s history could be that painful!

“The pearl hatched. I couldn’t believe it at first. I had convinced myself that the harling had perished under Thiede’s assault, but… Arjuna… He’s damaged. He’s not a normal har, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love him. I love him so much it hurts when we’re apart.”

Cal drew in a deep breath and then lifted Vaysh’s face so he could make eye contact with the other har. “In what way is he damaged?” He remembered the child-like manner, the clouded eyes, and seeing them rock together.

Vaysh forced himself to finish his tale. “Arjuna’s a harling in an adult’s body. Although he’s old enough, he never experienced Feybraiha. I’m not sure he ever will. He’s not as intelligent as he should be and highly emotional. He’s like a child.”

Cal nodded. He had surmised as much during their interaction. “Why do you keep him here? Why not take him to Immanion with you?”

Vaysh felt drained, but knew he had to answer Cal’s questions. “Immanion is no place for someone like Arjuna. The scheming and manipulation that goes on there would destroy him.”

“And now give me the real reason.” Cal knew a white lie when he heard one.

“Ash doesn’t know about Arjuna.” Vaysh rested his head against Cal’s shoulder. He had bared his soul to Cal and had nothing left to lose. “I never told him. I never will.”

Cal’s expression hardened, but he didn’t push Vaysh away. “Ash is Arjuna’s father. He has a right to know.”

Vaysh felt the momentum shift. Cal disapproved. “I didn’t tell him because I need to protect both of them, Ash and Arjuna. Don’t you understand? I was carrying our pearl and I failed to keep it safe. Ash will never forgive me for that and Arjuna will pay the price if Ash ever finds out.”

“You don’t know that!” Cal shook his head. “You must tell him.”

Vaysh shivered. “I won’t. I can’t.” Vaysh freed himself somewhat of Cal’s embrace and wiped at his tears. “I don’t want to hurt them and Arjuna is all I have left. I don’t want to lose him.”

Cal frowned. “Why do you think you’ll lose Arjuna when you tell Ash?”

“Ash will take Arjuna away from me. After all, I’m an unfit parent. I let him be hurt.”

Cal understood Vaysh’s reasoning, but that didn’t mean he agreed with it. “Why does Arjuna live here on his own?”

Vaysh was grateful that Cal let him off the hook where Ashmael was concerned. “I had to get him away from Thiede. I found this deserted tower and made it into a place to live for Arjuna. He’s happy here… He gets lonely at times, but that can’t be helped.”

“Why did you have to get him away from Thiede?” Cal still maintained a loose embrace and studied Vaysh’s eyes. He saw remnants of Thiede’s fire in the gray orbs.

“You know what Thiede is like. He stops at nothing. If he ever has need for Arjuna, he will use him against me, or Ashmael. I had to get him away.”

Cal nodded. “I understand.” He did – he really did. He had worked with Thiede in the past, but would never trust him. “Thank you for telling me.”

Vaysh created more distance between them and Cal finally let him go. He got to his feet and straightened his robes. “You can’t tell anyone.”

Vaysh tried to appear calm and aloof, but Cal saw beneath the surface and sensed the fear and pain that lay there. “I’ll keep my promise, but I still think you should tell Ashmael that the pearl survived and that he has a son.”

Vaysh vehemently shook his head. “If I do that, Ash will take him away from me and Arjuna is all I have left.”

Cal decided not to push Vaysh. “Okay, but in that case, I want you to introduce me to Arjuna.”

Vaysh’s eyes widened surprised. “Why?”

Cal gave Vaysh a sad smile. “You said yourself that he gets lonely. I could visit with him and distract him. That way you don’t have to feel guilty when you can’t visit.”

Cal’s offer seemed genuine enough, but Vaysh still hesitated.

“Come on! I’m not as bad as they make me out!” He had enjoyed playing and talking to Swift when he had been a harling. He was convinced he could build a similar friendship with Arjuna.

“I don’t know…” Arjuna only knew him – and Thiede that was. Vaysh didn’t know how his son would react to meeting another har.

“I even promise to behave,” Cal said with a grin.

Vaysh had to choose the lesser of two evils. As long as Cal was on their side, he would abide by his request to keep quiet. “Please be gentle with him,” Vaysh said after making his decision. “He’s easily hurt.”

Cal nodded. “I’ll be gentle with him. Vaysh, all I want to do is talk and play with him. I’m not *that* dangerous.”

Vaysh managed a weak grin. “Your reputation works against you.”

“I know that. Thanks for trusting me in spite of that.”

“I don’t have much of a choice,” Vaysh whispered. “I only hope you’ll keep your promise. Arjuna’s safety and well-being depends on you keeping the secret.”

“I’ll abide by your rules,” Cal replied, but added a mental ‘for now’.

***

Arjuna looked up in surprise. Vaysh was back and had brought another har with him. Curious, he put down his book and got to his feet. Since he had only known Vaysh and Thiede (who had never shown any interest in him) he felt safe and approached. Cocking his head, he studied the stranger and smiled at him. “Hello,” he said and then looked at Vaysh. Had his hostling brought a new friend? Someone he could talk to and play with?

“Arjuna, this is Cal. He’s a friend.” Vaysh rushed over to where his son was standing and pulled him into his arms. After reliving his sordid past, he needed to hold his son in his arms.

Cal watched the other two hara closely and sensed the bond they shared. Looking into Arjuna’s eyes, he was reminded of Ashmael’s blue ones. It was easy to see who Arjuna had inherited his looks from. “Hello, I’m Cal.” Cal approached and smiled at the other har. The clouded expression in the blue eyes reminded him that he wasn’t dealing with a normal har. Thiede’s essence *had* damaged the pearl and affected the harling’s development.

“Do you draw?” Arjuna handed Cal the drawing pad.

“Hum, I can try.” He doubted he was a gifted artist though. He sat down on the fur covered floor a short distance from the other two hara, who sat snuggled together. While he concentrated on drawing Vaysh for Arjuna, he wondered about the change that had come over the red-haired har. It was hard to imagine that this was the same har he had gotten used to living in Immanion. “I suck at this,” he said in the end, frustrated with his inability to catch Vaysh’s features on paper.

Arjuna smiled. “You’re better at it than me!” He showed Cal his own clumsy attempts.

Cal smiled and noticed something odd. Ever since he had sat down close to Arjuna an inner peace had come over him. He had never felt so relaxed before. Normally he was on edge, restless at best, but that feeling was gone. He felt calm and in control. He had the feeling Arjuna’s presence had everything to do with that. “You have a comfortable home here,” he commented, trying to make conversation.

Arjuna nodded and rested his head against Vaysh’s shoulder. His fingers played with his hostling’s hair as he smiled. “I like living here.” But then his smile faded. “I just don’t like it when Vaysh has to go away. I want him to stay with me.”

Vaysh stroked the blond hair and placed a kiss on the crown of his son’s head. “I already explained to you why I can’t stay. But you also know that I want nothing more than to be at your side always.”

The love that connected Vaysh and Arjuna made Cal feel melancholy. He had never felt that deeply for Tyson. He cared about Darqueil and Loki, but he had never achieved such a bond with them. “That’s a huge book collection,” Cal stated, admiring the large amount of children books that were strewn across the room. Others sat nearby on book shelves. The room was a cozy nest consisting of blue and green curtains and a comfortable bed. Large, fluffy pillows were spread all over the place.

“I love books!” Arjuna picked the book up that was closest to him and presented it to Cal. “Will you read to me?” Arjuna decided he liked Cal and wanted to befriend him, especially since Vaysh seemed to approve.

Cal smiled and opened the book. He had never read stories to Tyson, but he had occasionally told bedtime stories to Loki. As he started to read, he let the feeling of peace and calm spread to each cell of his being, never knowing when he would experience it again.

***

Arjuna waved goodbye to them and this time, he shed tears. He had enjoyed spending extra time with his hostling and had loved making a new friend. Cal had promised to visit with him again and he hoped the other har would return shortly. Once Vaysh and Cal had vanished from view, he returned to his room and curled up on his bed. He pulled one of his stuffed toys close and smiled. Today had been a good day, in spite of the tears he was shedding.

***

Cal fell into step with Vaysh and smiled warmly. “Arjuna is treasure.”

Vaysh hadn’t known what to expect from Cal after their visit, but not that. He peeked at Cal and was surprised to see Cal so calm and smiling warmly. “He’s my life. He’s the reason I never gave up.”

Cal nodded. “I understand that you’re protective of him, but… You should give Ashmael a chance to get to meet his son.” He looked about, searching for his sedu, but it was nowhere in sight. Only Vaysh’s sedu stood awaiting them.

“I can’t take the risk,” Vaysh murmured as he advanced on his sedu. “I won’t survive if Ash takes Arjuna away from me.” Vaysh reached out to the sedu and connected with its mind.

Cal looked about again. “It appears my sedu decided to return home.”

Vaysh nodded. He had noticed the disappearance as well. “You need to bond with them.”

“I have never been fond of them…and I never will.”

Vaysh soothed the sedu when it appeared offended by Cal’s words. “You’ll have to share with me.” Vaysh mounted the sedu and reached out to Cal to pull him onto the sedu’s back. Cal accepted the invitation and slid into place behind the red-haired har.

“Remember your promise,” Vaysh reminded Cal as he prepared himself to enter the Otherlanes.

“I’ll keep my word,” Cal replied. “But please consider telling Ashmael. You don’t have to do so right away — just consider it, Vaysh. Arjuna is Ashmael’s harling too.”

But Vaysh shook his head. “You don’t understand. Ash would blame me for what happened to the pearl. I know him, Cal, trust me on this. He’ll be mad with me and take Arjuna away from me.”

“I don’t know Ashmael like you do,” Cal admitted. “But you need to take this risk. Arjuna would surely touch Ashmael’s heart too. I don’t think you have anything to fear.”

“You’re right. You don’t know Ash the way I do. This is for the best.” Vaysh guided the sedu onto the Otherlanes and looked at the tower that was now situated beneath them. He wished he could have stayed with Arjuna.

***

“Please keep quiet,” Vaysh whispered as Cal and he made their way back to the palace. “I can’t lose Arjuna. I can’t.” He gave Cal a pleading look. “Don’t take him away from me.”

“I won’t tell Ashmael, or Pell, but please consider telling them yourself. Having Arjuna live here with you doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I have the feeling Arjuna will stand his ground in Immanion.” And maybe Arjuna was just what the hara here needed

Part 2

“Where have you been?” Pellaz wondered about Cal’s relaxed expression and lifted the sheet. He had curled up in bed with Rue and, while the Tigrina had managed to fall asleep right away, he had tossed and turned because he missed Cal.

Cal shrugged out of his shirt and slipped into bed. He spooned up behind Pellaz and wrapped his arms around both hara, since Rue was asleep in front of Pellaz. “I was wondering about Vaysh.”

Pellaz tensed slightly. “What about Vaysh?”

“You told me bits and pieces of what Thiede did to you. Did Vaysh go through the same ordeal?” Cal was grateful that he knew more now. From what Pellaz had told him in the past, and Vaysh recently, he was able to put most pieces of the puzzle together and finally realized what a horrible past they shared.

Pellaz pushed back against Cal and pressed as close as he could. Rue moved in his arms and in the end the three of them were snuggled tight. “His ordeal was worse. Thiede didn’t incept him and his essence damaged him.” He disliked discussing the matter. “Must we talk about this now?”

“Did you ever try to get Vaysh and Ashmael to talk to each other?”

Pellaz felt a stab of guilt. “I never really made an effort.”

“Why’s that?”

Pellaz didn’t know the real answer to that question. “I don’t know. Part of it lies in the fact that I don’t want to share Vaysh…and Ashmael never tried to get to know Vaysh again. No, that isn’t true. He tried once. I stopped that attempt.”

Cal was careful not to judge Pellaz for what he had done in the past. The har he held in his arms was also damaged, but in a different way. “Would you try again?”

Pellaz wished he could see Cal’s face because he wondered what had gotten into the other har. “You never took an interest in Vaysh’s before. What changed?”

“I don’t know. I’m curious to see what would happen if they got together again. They were chesna once, did you know that?”

Pellaz wanted to turn in Cal’s embrace, but he didn’t want Rue to wake up. “Yes, I did, but how did you find out?” He had never told Cal!

Damn, busted. Cal knew he had to admit some of the truth or else Pellaz would become increasingly suspicious. “I talked to Vaysh. That’s why I’m late.”

“He told you about Ashmael?” Pellaz’ surprise echoed in his voice.

“Yes, he did. He told me he died in Ashmael’s arms and how similar yours and his histories are.” Cal nuzzled the back of Pellaz’ neck, hoping the caress would reassure the other har that everything was all right. “I would like to try to play matchmaker. Will you help me?”

Pellaz felt apprehensive. “You should let the past rest, Cal. There’s a reason why they didn’t reconcile.”

“And why is that?”

“Vaysh repulses Ashmael. He might still love Vaysh, but…” Pellaz flinched. He was so damn lucky that Cal had accepted him the way he was.

“Do you really think it’s hopeless?” Cal kissed and then suckled the nape of Pellaz’ neck.

Pellaz closed his eyes in bliss. “There’s always hope.”

***

Arjuna rose from his bed after swinging his feet to the floor. He walked over to the window and looked outside. This was a lovely place to dwell and the luscious vegetation always lured him outside. He loved taking long walks and playing with the animals he often encountered. They never ran away and had come to trust him. That day was a lovely day and Arjuna walked toward the doorway. He felt lonely and missed Vaysh and Cal as well, even though they had met only once.

Smiling, he walked away from the tower and watched a pair of squirrels frolic about. Dressed in his favorite sky-blue robes, he considered removing them to go for a swim in a nearby stream. It would be wicked if he did that because Vaysh had forbidden him to go swimming alone. He loved his hostling, but thought Vaysh was a bit too careful at times. He could take care of himself.

A sound coming from his right drew his attention and Arjuna looked up. A horse stood there, tall and proud. It was a magnificent animal and, in his child-like manner, he approached it trustingly. He didn’t talk. He projected his curiosity and genuine interest into the horse’s mind and was surprised when he encountered a vast mind structure which felt different from most animals’ minds. /I’m a friend./

The sedu didn’t move away and allowed the har to approach. It sensed no danger and felt drawn toward the har.

Arjuna raised his right hand and stroked the mighty head. “You’re special,” he whispered and ran his other hand down the broad neck. “Can I ride you?”

The sedu had no reason to decline Arjuna’s request and nodded his head once. The movement sent his mane flying.

Arjuna carefully climbed onto the horse’s back and smiled triumphantly. He had read many stories about these magnificent animals, but he had never thought he would be riding one someday. “I like you,” he murmured as he leaned in closer. “I like you a lot. Can you move?”

The sedu interpreted Arjuna’s request in a different way: namely as a request to take him to the Otherlanes. A moment later, the familiar surroundings faded around Arjuna. Too stunned to act or jump off of the horse’s back, Arjuna clung to the mane and pressed his knees close, hoping the horse wasn’t going to buck and throw him off. He had no idea what he was doing and, in his panic, he thought of Vaysh. That was where he wanted to be – close to Vaysh.

The sedu took the image from Arjuna’s mind and let it guide him back to Immanion.

***

Ashmael enjoyed showing Cobweb around. The other har was visiting Immanion and Ashmael was trying to spend as much time as possible with him. The relationship between them had changed, but still felt comfortable. Ever since Cobweb had taken Snake as his chesnari, Ashmael and Cobweb had deepened their friendship. For some reason it was easier being friends without aruna complicating their relationship.

“I still prefer to dwell in Forever,” Cobweb muttered. “I don’t like Immanion much.” He had accompanied Snake because his chesnari wanted to visit with his brother, the Tigron, but he already regretted leaving Forever. “I don’t belong here.”

Ashmael smiled at Cobweb. “I like Forever too, but Immanion has become my home.” He had his residence there and thought of Immanion as his home.

“I couldn’t live here,” Cobweb whispered and shivered. “It feels alien to me.”

“You’re too used to dwelling in Forever,” Ashmael said and chuckled. “Spend more time in Immanion and it’ll grow on you.”

Cobweb gazed into Ashmael’s eyes and found them troubled. “I heard something that troubles me. Is it true that you’re still without a chesnari? Are there no hara to your liking here?”

“I like you,” Ashmael hinted wickedly. He was eager to change their topic though.

“I’m taken.” Cobweb gave Ashmael a naughty smile, but then he grew serious again. “Did you ever have a chesnari?” He was genuinely curious and wanted to get to know Ashmael better. They had taken aruna together, but he didn’t really know Ashmael that well which was a disturbing thought.

“Yes, a long time ago.” Ashmael didn’t want to dwell on the past.

But Cobweb had different ideas. “Do I know him?”

Ashmael cringed. “Why do you want to know?”

“Oh, indulge me! For old times’ sake!” Why was Ashmael being so difficult?

“Yes, you know him. It’s Vaysh.”

Cobweb’s eyes widened. “Vaysh? But he’s… He’s so…?” He was at a loss for words. How should one describe Vaysh? Beautiful, but cold?

“He wasn’t always like that. He was full of life and love once.” Ashmael was thinking of a way to change their topic when a sedu and its rider suddenly materialized right in front of them.

***

Arjuna panicked and the moment his surroundings ‘normalized’ he jumped off of the horse’s back. He stumbled over his feet, fell on his bottom, and stared at the animal. “You’re *not* a horse!” He didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t a horse!

Ashmael and Cobweb took in the scene and frowned. The har that sat on the marble floor was a stranger, but Ashmael had recognized the sedu. Someone had stolen Nanya, his sedu, from the stables.

Arjuna, feeling dazed and wobbly, simply stared at the horse-like creature.

“Did you hurt yourself?” Cobweb took the first step and offered to help the har back to his feet.

The strange voice pulled Arjuna from his musings and his gaze shifted from the sedu to the har standing near him. A waterfall of black hair framed an elegant face and the hand that reached to touch him possessed long and agile fingers. “Who are you? Where am I?” He wanted Vaysh!

“I’m Cobweb,” Cobweb replied, expecting the har to recognize his name, which had become legend among his race.

Arjuna blinked. “Cobweb? That’s a strange name. Did you choose it because you like spiders?”

Ashmael couldn’t help it but laugh. He wasn’t even sure Cobweb liked spiders!

Arjuna’s gaze changed direction again and found another har standing behind Cobweb. This har’s hair was as fair as his and the blue eyes mirrored his. Those were two reasons to like this har as far as Arjuna was concerned. “And what’s your name?” He accepted Cobweb’s hand and allowed the other har to pull him to his feet.

“I’m Ashmael.” He smiled at the younger har, who could have been a younger version of himself. “I’ve never seen you around though.”

Arjuna, trusting as ever, smiled and shook his head. “I don’t know you either.” Looking about, he realized the tower and forest were gone. He should have felt afraid, but didn’t. These hara seemed nice and were friendly. “Do you know where I am?”

“You’re in Immanion,” Cobweb said and frowned. The other har’s mind felt odd. “What’s your name?”

“I’m called Arjuna.”

Ashmael’s smile froze and his eyes hardened. That name… He had never thought that name would come back to haunt him one day. When Vaysh and he had still been chesna, they had jokingly declared that they would call their firstborn that. It had happened during an arunic high and it had been Ashmael who had come up with the name.

Cobweb sensed the change in Ashmael and gave him a puzzled look. What had happened just now?

“Can you please tell me where Vaysh is?” Arjuna wanted to be reunited with his hostling and impatiently looked about. He had the feeling Vaysh was close – he thought he felt his presence.

Ashmael suffered another shock. “Vaysh? Did you say Vaysh?”

“Yes, Vaysh. My hostling.” Arjuna smiled at the other two hara and was oblivious to the shock they felt.

Ashmael’s world crumbled in that instant. He moaned and threatened to collapse into a heap, but Cobweb moved quickly and caught the fainting har in his arms. “Ash!”

Arjuna started to feel scared. Something had gone wrong and he had the feeling it had everything to do with something he had said. “I didn’t mean to cause problems!” He started to back away from the two hara and frantically searched for a shelter where he could hide. He wanted Vaysh! He needed Vaysh!

Breathed heavily, Ashmael had a hard time accepting the things he had just learned, but he couldn’t deny that this har was called Arjuna and had referred to Vaysh as his hostling. “Impossible. It’s impossible.” But… His head shot up and he *really* looked at the other har. The hair…the eyes…the voice… the name… And Vaysh *had* been carrying their pearl when Thiede had taken him. Ashmael had been a coward in the past and had never addressed the pearl. He had pretended nothing had happened between them in the past. Not once had he asked Vaysh what had happened to their pearl. “Can it be?” Could it be that this was his son? The harling that had come forth from *their* pearl?

Ashmael’s fears, hopes, and his anger slipped into Arjuna’s mind and the young har recoiled, sensing the horror Ashmael was experiencing. Vaysh had taught him to protect his mind, but he was inexperienced in maintaining his defenses around strangers and they had slipped. Experiencing an anxiety attack, Arjuna made a run for it and disappeared around the corner.

Shaking his head, Ashmael tried to shake off his stupor. The warrior inside him surfaced and he realized that he had to act now or he might never see his son again. “We can’t let him out of sight!” Ashmael broke into a run and ran after Arjuna. Cobweb followed a moment later.

***

Arjuna knew they were on his tail and that only heightened his panic. “Vaysh!” He called out his hostling’s name in blind panic. “Vaysh, where are you? I need you!”

Ashmael and Cobweb heard the cry and the blond har came to a halt. “We’re scaring him.” That wasn’t his intention.

Cobweb shook him. “You can’t afford to lose him. Keep running!”

Ashmael felt torn. He didn’t want to scare his son – his son!!!! — but at the same time, he also didn’t want to lose him! He forced himself to start moving again and he ran after Cobweb, who seemed to know where Arjuna was headed.

***

The blood in Vaysh’s veins froze when he heard a cry for him. He had been sitting in front of the mirror at the vanity brushing his hair when his name had echoed throughout the corridors. The brush dropped from his fingers and he gathered his robes around him. He started running down the corridor. “Arjuna?” His son couldn’t be in Immanion! There was no way Arjuna could travel the distance! Then shivers ran down his spine as he remembered: Cal’s sedu. It hadn’t returned home as they had thought. It had stayed near the tower and Arjuna must have found it.

“Don’t let him run into Ash… Please, don’t…”

***

The screams also woke Pellaz, Rue, and Cal. Pellaz, feeling disorientated because he had been sleeping so deeply, released Rue and turned to look at Cal.

Cal gasped for, like Vaysh, he had realized what had happened. “Arjuna.”

“What?” Pellaz sat upright in bed and gave Cal a puzzled look.

Caeru tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes and felt equally confused. Why was someone calling out Vaysh’s name?

“I’ll explain everything,” Cal said and jumped from the bed. “We need to find him!” He had to find Arjuna before Ashmael did.

Pellaz reached for a morning robe and Caeru shrugged into a shirt. “Cal, start making sense!” Pellaz didn’t like being kept in the dark.

But Cal was already through the doorway and the Tigron and Tigrina had no other choice but to follow.

***

Arjuna had run out of breath and crashed into a wall. He tumbled forward and ended up in a heap in the corner. He pulled his knees close to his chest and tried to curl up in a ball. Tears of fear flowed down his face and he started to rock while whispering his hostling’s name. “Vaysh…please come for me… I’m scared… Vaysh, please come for me… I’m scared…”

***

Vaysh rounded a corner the same time Cobweb and Ashmael did. He stared into his former chesnari’s stunned eyes and then shook himself. Arjuna came first. “I’m here… I’m here.” He sat down next to Arjuna and pulled him into an embrace. “What are you doing here?”

Arjuna clutched Vaysh tightly and vowed to never let go again. “Stay with me! Don’t leave!” He wept bitter tears and rocked back and forth.

Ashmael felt shocked to the core when he saw how his ‘cold and distant’ Vaysh changed into a compassionate caregiver. It was a transformation he had thought he would never see again. He stayed at a distance and let Vaysh calm Arjuna down.

At the same time, Cal arrived on the scene. He hoped that Pellaz would let him take charge and wouldn’t try to intervene at that point. “Pell, please do as I say.”

Pellaz exchanged a thoughtful look with Cal and then nodded his head once. He had no idea what had happened, but Cal seemed informed. He would take his lead from Cal in this case.

Cal quickly assessed the situation. Arjuna was still upset and needed Vaysh close. Ashmael however hovered close and tried to approach, which was understandable, but highly undesirable as it would only further upset the young har.

“Vaysh? I demand some answers!” Ashmael bellowed his demand at Vaysh and then flinched upon seeing Arjuna shrink further into himself. That hadn’t been his intention! But he was so mad – so howling mad at his former chesnari!

Vaysh glared at Ashmael. “Get out!” He needed to focus on his son, but at the same time, Ashmael’s thoughts battered against his defenses.

“I’m not leaving! When did you plan on telling me that I had a son?” Ashmael refused to back down. “I want answers and I want them now!”

Cal intervened and placed his hands on Ashmael’s shoulders. “You’re scaring Arjuna. You need to give them some breathing space. You’ll have plenty of time to ask your questions later. Let Arjuna calm down for now.” Ashmael gave him a lethal look, but Cal didn’t back down. “I mean it. You need to give Arjuna time and space.”

“I’m not letting them out of my sight!” Ashmael continued to glare at Vaysh.

“Cobweb? I need some help.” Cal hoped Cobweb agreed and would help him restrain Ashmael.

Cobweb, always quick to deduce what was happening, nodded and steered Ashmael away from Vaysh and Arjuna, who were rocking back and forth. “Cal’s right. Give them a moment to compose themselves.”

Ashmael remained angry, but allowed it as long as he was still able to see his son.

Cal turned and looked to Pellaz for assistance. “Can you arrange for a private room? I don’t want any bystanders.”

Pellaz had no idea what was happening, but nodded. He would do as Cal asked. “Rue, come with me.”

Now that Pellaz and Rue had left to arrange for rooms, Cal sat on his heels next to Vaysh and Arjuna. “Hey, everything’s all right now. Vaysh’s here, isn’t he?”

Arjuna peeked at Cal and managed a weak smile. His tears were drying, but his fingers were still clawing at Vaysh’s robes. “I didn’t know where to go when they started to run after me.”

Vaysh directed his glare at Cobweb and Ashmael. “Did you have to scare him?”

Ashmael was about to lash out at Vaysh again when Cobweb stopped him. “Ash, don’t jump to conclusions. The two of you should talk first.”

Ashmael shook his head. “I don’t want to talk to him!”

“How else are you going to find those answers you’re looking for?” Cobweb tried to remain calm and reasonable. He had no idea why Vaysh had played games with Ashmael and was curious himself. “Calm down.”

Ashmael repeatedly drew in deep breaths and started to calm down. “You’re right. I want those answers.”

Vaysh ignored Ashmael for the moment and concentrated on reassuring Arjuna. “Feeling better?” He wiped the remaining tears away with his sleeve. Arjuna nodded weakly and Vaysh noticed the scared expression in his son’s eyes whenever Arjuna peeked in Ashmael’s direction. “Don’t worry. He’s not going to hurt you. No one will.”

“I’d never hurt my son!” Ashmael was about to lose it again. He didn’t want to let his rage rule him, but Vaysh’s words had gotten to him.

Arjuna gave Vaysh a surprised look. “His son?”

Vaysh gnashed his teeth. “Don’t listen to him.” He pulled Arjuna to his feet and tried to shield his son from Ashmael’s curious looks.

“You’re not taking him away from me!” Ashmael made an effort to sound calm and controlled, having finally realized that his temper tantrum was the main reason Arjuna was scared of him.

Vaysh continued to ignore Ashmael. “Cal, I need to take him someplace safe.”

At that moment Pellaz returned. “We found suitable rooms.” Caeru had stayed behind to send for refreshments. “Follow me.”

Vaysh considered protesting, but in the end, he did what was best for Arjuna and followed Pellaz. Once they were inside the room, he guided Arjuna to the bed and helped him sit down as he raised his son’s feet and eased him down onto the bed. After covering him with a light blanket, he sat down and took his son’s hand in his. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

“Let me go,” Ashmael said when Cobweb tried to stop him from making his way over to the bed.

“Only when you promise you’ll behave!” Cobweb’s eyes shot daggers at Ashmael. “I don’t want you to scare that har again.”

“I’ll behave,” Ashmael promised eventually. “Now let me go.”

Vaysh watched Ashmael’s every move as the blond har made his way over to the bed. Ashmael sat down on the other side and stared at his son. He managed a weak smile and hoped Arjuna would forgive him for scaring him like he had. But then again, Arjuna’s reaction had been exaggerated.

Arjuna felt drained. First he had traveled the Otherlanes and then he had run, exhausting himself. “Am I safe now, Vaysh?”

“Yes, you’re safe.” Vaysh leaned in closer and pressed a kiss onto Arjuna’s brow. “I’ll sit with you. You can rest.”

Ashmael held his tongue. Vaysh’s gentle manner shocked him. For the last few years, he had only seen a cold and distant har. This har however resembled the one he had loved so many years ago.

Arjuna’s eyes closed as his breathing deepened and slowed down. The young har had succumbed to the pressure he had been in.

“We need to talk,” Ashmael stated, keeping his voice low so he wouldn’t wake Arjuna accidentally.

“I’m not leaving his side.” Vaysh refused to look at Ashmael. He had been so afraid of this moment!

“Caeru and I will sit with him,” Cobweb offered. “Ashmael’s right. The two of you need to talk.”

“But not unsupervised,” Cal added. “Pellaz and I’ll join you.” He didn’t trust Ashmael to remain calm when talking to Vaysh.

“I’m not leaving his side,” Vaysh repeated. He was going to fight this.

Ashmael was about to lecture his former chesnari, but held his tongue when he saw Pellaz move closer and whisper into Vaysh’s ear.

“I came clean with Cal and he accepted me the way I am. Maybe Ashmael will do the same?”

“I don’t want to do this.” Vaysh’s gaze remained locked on his son’s face.

“You must do this. You owe it to your son and to Ashmael. I *will* make you do this.” Pellaz gave Vaysh a stern look and then took hold of his friend’s hand. He pulled him to his feet, giving Vaysh no choice at all.

Vaysh didn’t want to do this, but had no choice. He could have struggled, but that might have woken Arjuna from his sleep. In the end, he followed Pellaz into the next room.

Ashmael rose from the bed after giving his son a last look. It was hard to accept that he had a son and that Vaysh had kept this from him, but he was determined to get to know his son. He wanted to follow Vaysh into the next room, but suddenly Cal blocked his way.

“We’re going to have a little talk before you go inside.”

Ashmael was tempted to shove Cal aside, but in the end, he didn’t. Part of him was curious as to why Cal was getting involved. “You knew his name. You knew my son’s name.”

“I found out only earlier today.” Cal didn’t care if Ashmael believed him or not. He just wanted to get his point across. “Don’t condemn Vaysh before you know the truth. He had his reasons for keeping this from you. And no, I’m not saying he made the right decision, but he had his reasons and I understand why he did it. Give him a chance to explain.”

“I can’t believe you’re pleading on his behalf!” Ashmael wanted to storm past Cal, but Cal stopped him.

“Pellaz still finds it hard to talk to me about the things Thiede did to him…and Pellaz came out of it in one piece. Vaysh however, was severely damaged. Think about Vaysh’s pain for a moment. I know you’re hurting because you just found out you have a son and never knew about it. But Vaysh is hurting even more. He’s afraid.”

“Afraid? I didn’t get the impression he was afraid.”

“That’s because you’re so busy being angry with him that you never noticed his fear.” Cal hoped he was getting through to Ashmael. “Vaysh’s afraid that you’re going to take Arjuna away from him and, in a way, Arjuna’s all Vaysh has left. He loves him.”

Listening to Cal had caused Ashmael to calm down and he was now able to really hear what the blond har was telling him. “I don’t understand. Why would Vaysh be afraid of me? I…” The truth almost slipped out.

“You still love him. I know that,” Cal whispered. “But Vaysh is convinced you hate him.”

Ashmael blinked. “Why would I hate him?”

Cal hoped Vaysh wasn’t going to be angry with him for confiding in Ashmael before the red-haired har got a chance to talk to his former chesnari, but Cal felt it was important Ashmael knew what he was up against. “He was with pearl when Thiede took him. As a result that pearl was damaged. You might have noticed that Arjuna isn’t as…bright…as he should be considering his age. He’s like a child and has never gone through Feybraiha.”

That was something Ashmael hadn’t expected to hear and he looked at his sleeping son. “Thiede damaged our pearl?”

“It wasn’t Vaysh’s fault, but he blames himself for it nonetheless. Don’t add to his guilt, Ashmael.” Cal felt relieved now that Ashmael’s eyes were clear and lucid again. The anger had gone.

Ashmael drew in a deep breath and appreciated Cal’s intervention. He felt much better prepared to face Vaysh now. “Thank you.”

Cal stepped aside to let Ashmael past and hoped Pellaz had managed to calm down Vaysh as well.

***

“I can’t talk to him, Pell. I can’t. You must stop this.” Vaysh paced the room like a caged tiger and looked at his friend. “Stop this.”

But Pellaz merely shook his head. “You must do this, Vaysh. For your sake and your son’s. But you don’t have to do this alone. I’ll be at your side.”

Pellaz’ words did little to reassure Vaysh and, when he turned about to finally face Ashmael, shivers traveled down his spine. Would Ashmael take Arjuna away from him? Or would the other har forgive him?

***

Ashmael was a lot more subdued upon entering the room than he had thought possible. He had *really* calmed down after talking to Cal and was able to meet Vaysh’s gaze without hostility in his eyes. He had always wondered what had happened to his former chesnari and it seemed he was finally going to find out.

Vaysh stopped pacing and endured the look Ashmael gave him. Since the other har was calm again, it was much harder to glare at him.

“What happened, Vaysh? What happened after you died in my arms?” Ashmael had wanted to ask about Arjuna first, but that question had slipped out.

“Thiede remade me.”

In the back of the room Pellaz flinched and Cal immediately took the Tigron’s hand in his. This conversation was bringing back bad memories on Pellaz’ part as well.

“How does he do that?” Ashmael remained at a respectful distance. He didn’t want Vaysh to feel trapped.

“He clothes us with flesh and numbs our minds until we’re ready to take aruna with him.” Vaysh’s voice had lost all emotion and so had his eyes. For a moment, it looked like only an empty shell was standing there. “His essence was too powerful and our pearl was damaged in the process. It made me barren. Arjuna’s the only harling I’ll ever have.”

Ashmael swallowed hard and took one step closer to Vaysh. “What’s wrong with Arjuna?”

Vaysh surprised himself with his being able to discuss this is in such a calm and rational manner. “He’s like a child – in mind and body. But that doesn’t mean he’s worth less than any other har. I love him.”

Ashmael nodded his head. Vaysh’s words confirmed his suspicions. “But he’s special too. I felt it.”

A hesitant smile formed on Vaysh’s face. “He’s very special. He loves unconditionally. Thiede hated that about me.” He bowed his head and stared at the floor.

Ashmael was at a loss. What was he supposed to do next? He no longer felt any anger toward Vaysh. If anything, he felt a deep sympathy and some of the love he had once felt for Vaysh was making a come back. “Why didn’t you come to me?”

Vaysh shivered and forced himself to answer. “I didn’t remember you for a long time. Thiede had erased those memories. It was only when I began to grow stronger that his barriers shattered. And when I did remember you, I was too scared to seek you out.”

“Why were you scared? Didn’t you know that you had nothing to fear from me?” Ashmael took another step and looked over at Cal, who nodded his head encouragingly.

“Our pearl was damaged. I was damaged. I didn’t think you would take kindly to the news that our son was…less than a normal har. I was afraid to face you.”

Ashmael’s throat had tightened up. “Vaysh, I…”

Vaysh raised his head, trying to figure out Ashmael’s strangely mellow reaction. Stunned, he realized that the blue eyes were swimming with unshed tears. “I’m not the Vaysh you knew, Ash. I’m different…barren, burned out.”

“I don’t care.” Ashmael crossed the last few inches that separated them. He took Vaysh into his arms and hugged him. “I always wanted you – only you!”

Vaysh started to weep. Tears of relief and happiness dropped from his chin and onto Ashmael’s shoulder where he rested his head. “I was so afraid,” he whispered into Ashmael’s ear. “I was afraid you would be angry with me – that you would take Arjuna away from me and call me an unfit hostling. But I need him, Ash. When I’m with him, I feel alive… I *feel*. Most of the time I just feel empty.”

Ashmael held Vaysh close and rubbed the red-haired har’s back. “I understand. I have seen you cold and distant but I never realized that you needed my love…” Vaysh was warm in his arms and the body shivered against his. “What you needed the most was my love…my closeness and I denied you that. No wonder only Arjuna made you feel alive.”

Vaysh was about to collapse because he had received absolution and his knees gave way beneath him. Ashmael went down with him and held him. They wept together, holding each other as they rocked together and, in the end, they comforted each other and dried their tears.

“Our work here’s done,” Cal whispered and guided Pellaz back to the room where Arjuna was resting. Vaysh and Ashmael deserved some privacy

Part 3

“The two of us are going to talk once this situation has calmed down,” Pellaz said and gave Cal a meaningful look. “I want to know where you learned that Vaysh had a son.”

“I’ll tell you,” Cal replied and kissed Pellaz’ brow. “But later, agreed?”

“Agreed.” Pellaz looked at the har that was still asleep on the bed. “Ashmael’s right. That har’s special. Do you feel it too?”

Cal nodded. “There’s a certain quality about him.”

Cobweb overheard their conversation and agreed. Arjuna *was* special.

***

Ashmael smiled into his tears when Vaysh finally returned the embrace. Vaysh’s sobs were becoming less frequent and Ashmael hoped his former chesnari was strong enough to deal with the rest of their conversation. “I’m a father,” he declared happily. “Will you let me get to know my son?”

Vaysh nodded his head against Ashmael’s chest. “Just don’t take him away from me.”

“I have no intention of taking him away from you. Vaysh, please look at me?” Ashmael waited for Vaysh to lift his head and, once they had made eye contact, he added, “I have every intention of taking Arjuna *and you* home with me.”

Vaysh blinked, feeling stupefied. “What?”

“Did you really think I was going to let you go? Or my son?” Ashmael’s fingertips glided over Vaysh’s face in a caress. “Now that I know you still care I’m keeping you.”

“But I thought…” Vaysh didn’t understand any of this. “Don’t I repulse you?”

Ashmael flinched and felt guilty. “Your manner repulsed me. You always acted so cold, so arrogant. I didn’t know how to deal with that.”

Vaysh searched Ashmael’s eyes and found no lies in them. The other har was being honest. “And what about Arjuna?”

“He’ll come with us. We’ll finally be a happily family. Just the way we always envisioned our future would be like.” In his mind, Ashmael was already taking Vaysh and Arjuna home.

“But Ash, you can’t do that.” Vaysh’s voice was barely audible.

“And why is that?” Ashmael cocked his eyebrow questioningly.

“I am… You know what happened to me?” In a way, Vaysh hoped Cal had told him.

“Cal told me. I never knew… I never thought you had been traumatized so badly. To be forced to take aruna with Thiede…” Ashmael shivered.

“I didn’t remember you anymore. I didn’t know I loved you.” Vaysh felt guilty for forgetting something that important.

“You had no choice. Thiede manipulated your mind.” Ashmael slid his fingers into the red hair. He had never really become used to seeing Vaysh with that hair color, but he tried hard to accept it. “What did it do to you?”

Vaysh blinked again. “What do you want to know?”

“Do you love me still?” Ashmael thought he knew the answer, but he had to hear Vaysh voice it.

“I still love you, Ash. I never stopped loving you.”

“May I ask if… if there were any others?” He knew he was being indiscreet but he had to know.

Vaysh blushed. “It happened only once…with Pellaz.”

Ashmael was relieved to find he had no contender for Vaysh’s love. “There were several for me.”

Vaysh smiled a little sadly. “I know. I watched you over the years, you know.”

“But none of them compared to you, Vaysh.” Ashmael buried Vaysh in another hug. “I only want you. I want us to go back to being chesna.”

Vaysh sucked in his breath. “Ash, I…”

“Don’t you want that?”

“I do, but…” What if he wasn’t good enough for Ashmael? What if Ashmael got fed up with Arjuna’s child-like behavior and started to hate him?

“That won’t happen,” Ashmael murmured reassuringly. Reading Vaysh’s mind was easy since all of his defenses were down. “Give us this chance.”

Vaysh didn’t know what to say to that – or no, he did know, but he was afraid to take that step.

“Say yes, Vaysh. You know we’re supposed to be together.”

Vaysh sighed deeply and then nodded his head. “I want us to be chesna again, but give me time, Ash. You always move so fast.”

“I’ll give you time,” Ashmael vowed. “All the time you need.”

***

Cobweb stroked Arjuna’s brow and smiled at the sleeping har. “His mind is open. It’s that of an innocent.”

Caeru agreed, but there was more. “He’s powerful in his own right.”

Cobweb nodded. “In simplicity lies strength.” He also relished in tasting Ashmael’s legacy in Arjuna’s mind. The textures of their minds were similar. Caeru and Cobweb looked up when Pellaz and Cal entered the room again. “Did Vaysh tear Ashmael apart?” Caeru asked.

Cal shook his head. “Both of them quieted down. They reconciled.”

“They did?” Cobweb had hoped to hear that, but was still surprised everything had happened so quickly.

“Ashmael never stopped loving Vaysh,” Pellaz explained wistfully. “And once he knew that Vaysh still returned his feelings, everything was quickly sorted out.”

“It helped that they have a son to look after,” Caeru commented as he was reminded of his own. “I’m happy for Vaysh.” He really was. Since he had found happiness, he didn’t begrudge Vaysh his.

Cal walked over to the bed and smiled. “We should leave them now. Vaysh and Ashmael will want to be close to their son once they’re ready to come out.”

Cobweb rose from the bed and fell into step with Caeru. “I’ll return to Snake.”

“Tell him I’ll visit with him tomorrow.” Pellaz wanted to make the most of his brother’s visit.

“I will.” Cobweb left the room.

Caeru waited for Pellaz and Cal to catch up with him and the three hara made their way to Pellaz’ rooms. For some reason they had taken to sleeping together in the Tigron’s bed. Caeru was comfortable with that and cherished each moment he was able to spend with Pellaz and Cal.

Once they had reached Pellaz’ rooms, they slipped between the covers and spooned behind each other with Pellaz in the middle and Cal behind him once more wrapping his arms around the other two hara. “I’m happy for them too,” Cal whispered. “But mostly, I’m happy for Arjuna. He deserves to know his father.”

Pellaz agreed and so did Caeru. It was a good thing that this young har would get to know his father.

***

“Are you ready to meet your son?” Vaysh stared at Ashmael’s fingers, which were tightly curled around his.

Ashmael nodded enthusiastically. “You must tell me everything about him.” Vaysh led Ashmael over to the bed where they sat down with Ashmael’s arm wrapped around Vaysh’s shoulder. “He’s perfect as far as I’m concerned.”

“Thank you for accepting him the way he is,” Vaysh whispered and brushed a strand of blond hair behind Arjuna’s ear. “I always saw you in him when I looked at him. He has your eyes.”

“It was the first thing I noticed when I saw him for the first time. I thought I was looking at a younger version of myself.”

Their talking woke Arjuna. His eyelids fluttered and he stared in rapture at his hostling when he found Vaysh at his side. “I found you.”

“What were you thinking, riding that sedu?” Vaysh smiled at his son and shook his head. “It’s a miracle you ended up in Immanion and not somewhere else.”

Arjuna’s blue eyes sought out Ashmael’s and he remembered what he had heard earlier. Was it the truth? Was this har his father? Could he ask Vaysh that question?

Sensing that particular question in his son’s mind, Ashmael took the first step. “You’re my son, yes. I’m your father.”

Arjuna’s gaze shifted from Ashmael back to Vaysh. “Is that the truth?”

Vaysh nodded and helped Arjuna to sit upright when his son elbowed himself into a sitting position. “Ash is your father. We were chesna once.”

“And we’re chesna again.” Ashmael felt proud that he had conquered Vaysh’s heart again. “We’re family, Arjuna.” He grinned then. “I still remember the night when we came up with that name.” Vaysh and he had just found out about the completion aruna could bring and the name had seemed appropriate for their firstborn.

“You’re my father?” Arjuna felt nervous. “Vaysh never mentioned you before.”

Vaysh sighed guiltily. “It’s true. I never told you about Ash.”

“Why?” Arjuna asked in his innocence.

Ashmael gave Vaysh a look full of warning and Vaysh heeded it. “Because I wasn’t sure you would ever be able to meet him.”

Arjuna accepted the explanation without reservation. Vaysh had never lied to him. His hostling was always truthful. “Will I be spending time with you in the future?”

Ashmael nodded. “We’re going to live together, Arjuna.”

“The three of us?” Arjuna liked that idea. “That means I won’t be alone any more!”

Vaysh felt guiltier with each passing moment. He had been a bad hostling, denying Arjuna his father, but he had felt like he’d had no choice. Suddenly Ashmael’s thoughts echoed in his mind.

/Don’t feel guilty. You did what you thought was best for our son and I’m not holding that against you./

Vaysh smiled thankfully at Ashmael. “Yes, we’re going to be a family.” He only hoped he wouldn’t disappoint Ashmael once his former chesnari found out that in some ways, he was still damaged.

***

Everything happened very fast during the next few days. Ashmael requested leave as did Vaysh. Ashmael was going to move his family to his residence where they would have some peace and quiet. He wanted some privacy so he could deepen his relationship with his son and reclaim his chesnari.

Vaysh found it hard to adapt to the new circumstances while Arjuna welcomed the change with open arms. The younger har had taken a liking to his father and tried to be close to Ashmael at all times.

“This is your room,” Ashmael said once Arjuna and he had entered the room. The bedroom was next to the apartment which he shared with Vaysh. “That door connects our rooms.” He opened the door to show Arjuna where Vaysh and he were staying. “Is it to your liking?”

Arjuna liked the bright, spacious rooms which were filled with books. He suspected Vaysh had told Ashmael about his fondness for books. “I love them!” The fact that his hostling and father had reconciled thrilled him.

“Why don’t you explore a bit? I need some time alone with Vaysh.” He gave Arjuna a wink.

Arjuna returned that wink and grinned. He wanted them to be happy. “I’ll manage.” There were hundreds of books for him to read!

Ashmael closed the door behind him and smiled. Arjuna’s needs were easily satisfied. Stepping into the suite he shared with Vaysh, his smile faded a bit. Vaysh was trying hard to cope with all the changes, but he could tell the other har’s mind was troubled. Vaysh wasn’t dealing with the changes at all. Ashmael prayed he would find a way to reassure Vaysh. “Do you like your new home?”

Vaysh, who was standing in front of the window and had been overlooking Immanion, spun around. He hadn’t heard Ashmael approach and felt tense. Back in the palace, everything had seemed so simple, but now that he had to make it work, he didn’t know if he was the right har for Ashmael. The mere thought of being intimate with Ashmael made him panic and he wasn’t just thinking about taking aruna with Ashmael. The slightest hint of being alone with the blond har made him tense. It showed how little he had recovered from the trauma Thiede had inflicted on him. He pulled his green robes closer to his body and hid behind his red hair. “The rooms are fine.”

Picking up on Vaysh’s discomfort, Ashmael remained at a distance. He had to remember not to put any pressure on his chesnari. “Would you like to share the bed? Or do you want me to put in a spare?”

Vaysh bit on his bottom lip. He couldn’t ask Ashmael to do that. After all, Ashmael wanted them to become chesna again. But the truth was that he wasn’t ready to take that step. “Your bed will do.”

Ashmael cringed. “Vaysh, I don’t want to force you into anything. You always have a choice.”

Vaysh shook like a leaf. “There was a time when that choice was taken away from me. Thiede did as he pleased.”

“I’m not Thiede. I’m Ashmael.” Taking a risk, he approached and tried to pull Vaysh close.

Vaysh however moved back so Ashmael couldn’t embrace him. “Please don’t touch me. I can’t bear it right now.”

“Why is that? Please tell me. I need to understand.” Ashmael was prepared to be patient and to treat Vaysh with respect and great care.

“The memories are very close…” Vaysh wrapped his arms around his waist and turned away from Ashmael. “I don’t know if I can go through with this, Ash.”

Ashmael’s heart missed a beat. “Why do you doubt our love?”

“I don’t doubt your love for me. I know you never stopped loving me. I doubt myself.”

Ashmael carefully embraced Vaysh from behind and tried to soothe him. “I’ll take my lead from you. You’ll tell me when you’re ready for the next step. I won’t put any pressure on you.”

Ashmael didn’t have to put any pressure on him. Vaysh was already doing that himself.

***

“Look! Ashmael gave me a present!” Arjuna showed Vaysh the kitten. He loved holding the little fur ball in his arms and constantly petted it. Thankfully it was a docile kitten that enjoyed being held.

Vaysh smiled at his son, although, on the inside, he didn’t feel like smiling at all. Although Ashmael was true to his word and never forced Vaysh to take a step the har wasn’t ready for, Vaysh still felt nervous and uncomfortable. “It’s a lovely kitten. Treat him well.”

“I will!” Arjuna repeatedly nodded, but then he sobered. “You feel sad.” Vaysh’s mind had never been closed to him and he sensed his hostling’s grief. “Can I help?”

“Thank you for the offer, but you can’t. It’s something only I can do.” He had to step out of his shadows and leave the trauma behind him, but could he do that?

***

Ashmael admired Vaysh’s naked form when the other har joined him in bed. They were making progress. During the first few nights, Vaysh had been adamant in keeping his robes on. Lately though, Vaysh had grown more comfortable falling asleep skin against skin. “Let me hold you?”

Vaysh shivered, but forced himself to lie down in front of Ashmael. The blond har spooned up behind him and enfolded him in a loose embrace, but the touch still made his skin crawl.

“Vaysh…” Ashmael, overcome with passion and need for aruna, kissed Vaysh’s neck and let his fingers glide down the other har’s flanks. “I’ve missed you so much. I need you so much.” He sensed Vaysh’s tension, but since his chesnari wasn’t telling him no, he thought it was okay to proceed. He rolled Vaysh beneath him and straddled his hips. “I love you.” High on desire, he failed to catch the expression of despair in the gray eyes and pressed his lips to Vaysh’s.

It was too much for Vaysh. Once Ashmael’s weight pushed him down, he felt helpless and flashbacks of Thiede pinning him down returned in full force. “No!” he screamed wildly and kicked until he had managed to throw Ashmael off. He rolled away from the blond har, grabbed hold of the sheet, wrapped it around his body, and left the bed. Stumbling backwards, he frantically searched for a way out.

Ashmael’s passion had dwindled when his chesnari began to panic. “I’m sorry. I thought… You didn’t… It’s my fault.”

“No, it’s mine! Don’t you dare take the blame for this!” Vaysh would have loved to scream the words, but since Arjuna was in the next room, he kept his voice down. “I’m useless! Worthless! I can never be your partner, Ash! I can’t be chesna with you! I’m scared of…”

“Of me?” Ashmael’s heart broke.

“No, not of you,” Vaysh whispered. “I’m scared the memories will grow in strength. Sometimes…” He broke down and turned around. He went down onto his knees and wrapped himself up in the sheet. “I had no choice back then. You said I had a choice now.”

“You’ll always have a choice with me. You can always say no to me. I won’t hold that against you.” Ashmael’s head still reeled. He had been so certain Vaysh was ready to take this step. “No matter what you say, this *is* my fault.”

But Vaysh shook his head and started to cry. “Please let me go. I can’t do this. I can’t.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you go. I love you too much.” Ashmael left the bed and made his way over to the troubled har. He knelt in front of Vaysh and tried to gain his attention. “Please come back to bed with me. I won’t touch you again.”

Vaysh’s head shot up. “I want you to touch me, but I can’t bear your touch. I’m truly doomed.”

Ashmael slowly raised his arms so Vaysh could see what he was doing and then wrapped them around the trembling har’s shoulders. He helped Vaysh to his feet and walked him back to the bed. “Sit down.” Once Vaysh had complied, he raised his chesnari’s feet and then lay down at some distance from the red-haired har. “Please calm down.”

Vaysh stared at Ashmael guiltily. “You’re too good for me, Ash. I don’t deserve you.”

“Don’t say such things.” Ashmael caressed Vaysh’s face and was reassured when the other har allowed it. “I love you. I’ll wait for you.”

But what if he would never be ready to share breath with Ashmael again? What if he could never take aruna with the blond har? He didn’t have the right to lead Ashmael on. “It would be best if you’d let me go. Cut me out of your life.”

Ashmael shook his head. “Never. You’re upset at the moment. Once you calm down you’ll be able to put everything into perspective.”

Vaysh however didn’t agree. He was afraid he would never live up to Ashmael’s expectations and suddenly he knew what he had to do. Arjuna was safe with Ashmael. Ashmael would look out for him and take care of him for the rest of Arjuna’s life. He no longer had to worry about his son. He was ready to do something he had thought he would never be able to do – to let Arjuna go.

***

During the next few days, Vaysh began to distance himself from Ashmael. Vaysh was always cordial in Arjuna’s presence, but it didn’t fool Ashmael. He tried to raise the subject with Vaysh, but the other har denied anything was wrong. The tentative touches they had shared during the last few days became spare and it confirmed Ashmael’s suspicion that something was terrible wrong. Vaysh also slept dressed in his day robes and always balanced precariously on the side of the bed, sleeping as far away from Ashmael as possible. Ashmael was at a loss and knew he had to take charge if he was to prevent worse.

***

Vaysh arranged for his departure in secret. It pained him that he couldn’t say a proper goodbye to Arjuna, but it was for the best. His son had a father now – a proper parent. He disappeared into the night, leaving no trace behind.

***

Ashmael panicked when he couldn’t find Vaysh anywhere. He had searched the house and the gardens, but there was no trace of the elusive har. He didn’t want to alarm Arjuna just yet and reassured his son that everything was all right when Arjuna asked why he seemed so troubled. Arjuna stopped asking questions after that, but Ashmael wasn’t sure he had managed to convince his son.

“Vaysh, why did you leave?” he whispered into the night after another day of fruitless searching for his chesnari. “Why couldn’t you have faith in me?” He had to find Vaysh, but how was he going to accomplish that? “I need help,” he realized and there was only one har who could help him find Vaysh – Pellaz.

***

Vaysh only knew of one place to go…one place where he was safe and where no one would find him. He knocked on the door to the tower and waited for one of the househara to open it.

***

Phade raised an eyebrow. “Vaysh, what brings you here?” He had wanted to go back to teasing the red-haired har, but one look told him this was a changed har. Vaysh looked defeated. Gone was the Ice-Maiden cocoon and he was finally allowed a look inside and what he found was a wounded har who was still bleeding on the inside.

“Just allow me to stay. Ask no questions. I won’t bother you.” Vaysh passed by Phade and headed for the rooms he had occupied when Pellaz and he had stayed at the tower.

Too stunned to act, Phade let him pass. What had happened to his favorite Ice-Prince?

***

Vaysh placed the few belongings he had taken with him on the nightstand and then collapsed onto the bed. One of the things he had taken with him was a drawing Arjuna had made. His son might have some talent as an artist after all because the drawn face bore a striking resemblance to Ashmael. “I’m sorry, my son. But I had no choice. Things would have worsened if I had stayed.” Ashmael would have come to hate him.

He lay down on his back and stared at the wooden ceiling. He had always liked staying at Phade’s tower. It was peaceful there and Phade was one of the few hara who liked him, even if they always bickered. Vaysh however didn’t feel up to any bickering when Phade knocked at his door. “Go away. I’m tired.”

Phade refused to be dismissed that easily and opened the door. He stepped inside and observed the other har. Vaysh pushed himself upright and the look the red-haired har gave him was one of desperation. “What happened to you?” He walked over to a chair which stood close to the bed and seated himself.

Vaysh lacked the strength to put Phade in his place. “You always wanted to break through the ice. Well, someone did and this is the result.”

Phade frowned. It was true that he had always wondered about the ‘real’ Vaysh. At times, he had seen hints of him. “Who hurt you?”

Vaysh turned onto his side and stared at Phade. In a strange way, he considered Phade a friend, although he would never admit to it aloud. “My former chesnari did. Are you happy now?”

Phade left his chair to sit on the side of the bed. “I never wanted you to get hurt. I just wanted you to feel.”

“I feel too much. That’s what you wanted, didn’t you?” When Phade lifted his hand to stroke his red hair, Vaysh allowed it.

“I don’t like seeing you like this. I enjoyed our bantering.” Phade was more worried than he wanted to show. “Why are you here?”

“I’m running, Phade.”

“And you ran to me?”

“Your tower was the only place I could think of where I would find peace.” Vaysh closed his eyes and savored Phade’s gentle caress. This wasn’t Ashmael and he didn’t feel so tainted any more. It was only with Ashmael that he felt worthless. “You always wanted me…” he whispered. “What if I would let you have your way with me?”

Phade sucked in his breath. “Such temptation,” he muttered. Vaysh was beautiful in his pain, but it wasn’t the kind of beauty he was attracted to. “I liked you better when you fought me over everything.”

Vaysh opened his eyes. “I no longer have the strength to do that. I’m not fighting you, Phade. I’d let you have me…”

But Phade remained adamant. “Not like that.”

“I’m har. I need aruna too.” Vaysh didn’t play fair and he knew it.

Phade pulled back and searched Vaysh’s eyes. “You shouldn’t be here. You should be with this har who loves you.”

“Ash only thinks he loves me. He’s finding out right now how bad off he is with me as his chesna.”

“Ash? As in Ashmael?” Phade whistled softly. “I didn’t know that you and him were chesnari once.”

“As far as he’s concerned, we still are.”

“You shouldn’t have run from him.”

“Phade, you don’t know… Do you remember how damaged Pellaz was when I brought him here? I was like that once, only I never really recovered.” Vaysh closed his eyes again. “I’m so tired.”

“Then sleep.” Phade resumed stroking the red hair since Vaysh had stopped making advances. He waited for Vaysh to be asleep before whispering, “I never wanted you to get hurt, Vaysh. I just wanted you to feel again.”

***

“He left? Vaysh left?” Pellaz stared at Ashmael in disbelief. “But why would he do that?”

“I don’t know. I thought everything was going well.” Ashmael sighed and paced Pellaz’ bedroom. Cal was on the bed, watching him closely. He felt like he had failed Vaysh. “I tried so hard to make it work!”

“Maybe you tried too hard.” Cal understood Ashmael’s pain, but if he was honest, he had to admit he had thought something like that might happen. “You need to find him.”

“Don’t you think I looked for him? Not even Arjuna knows where Vaysh might have gone!”

“How is Arjuna coping with the fact that his hostling has left?” Pellaz inquired.

“I didn’t tell him in so many words. He believes Vaysh will return any day now. Pell, I must find him!” Ashmael was growing desperate. “Do you have any idea, any idea at all, where I can find him?”

Pellaz considered the question very carefully. “How long has Vaysh been gone now?”

“Three days. My search was fruitless. Pell, if you know something, please tell me.”

Cal crawled over to where Pellaz was sitting and started to massage the other har’s shoulders. “Think, where could Vaysh have gone?”

“You know him best,” Ashmael admitted in a pained voice. “I thought I did, but…”

“Don’t blame yourself for what happened,” Pellaz said. “Vaysh’s demons are powerful and have a tight grip on him. Thiede is never out of Vaysh’s thoughts. You will have to find a way to rid Vaysh of him, Ashmael.”

“I’ll find a way. Just tell me where Vaysh is, Pell.”

Pellaz frowned. “I can’t be sure of course, but I know of a place where he might have gone.”

Ashmael approached and sat on his heels in front of Pellaz. “Tell me where.”

Pellaz closed his eyes and thought back to a time almost forgotten. “After Thiede remade me, Vaysh took me to Phade’s tower to recuperate. Phade and Vaysh constantly fought, but in reality, they liked each other. Phade’s tower is the only place I can think of where he would go.”

“Will you take me there?” Ashmael felt excited since he had a chance of finding his elusive chesnari.

“We’ll leave tomorrow when we’re rested,” Cal ordered, ignoring the frustrated look Ashmael gave him. “You need to rest too.”

“I want to go there now.”

But Pellaz agreed with Cal. “We’ll go there tomorrow.”

***

“You need to eat and drink.” Phade placed a tray with food on Vaysh’s lap. The red-haired har hadn’t moved for the last hour. He just sat in his chair, watching life pass him by through the window.

“I’m not hungry.” Vaysh looked at the food with disdain.

“You need to eat,” Phade repeated. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to Vaysh. “Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“You’re going to love this,” Vaysh retorted bitterly. “You always wanted me to fall apart.”

Phade tentatively rested his hand atop of Vaysh’s. “I never wanted for you to fall apart.” He squeezed the fingers. “Look at me, Vaysh.” The gaze that locked with his was empty and made him shiver. “What are you afraid of? What are you running from?”

“You always wanted to know what happened to me, didn’t you, Phade? Well, I’ll tell you. Thiede had aruna with me against my will. He forced me. By doing so, he damaged the pearl I was hosting. My harling is…different.”

Phade listened calmly. “Go on.” He was a good listener and was determined to be there for Vaysh.

“Ash finds out and decides he wants me back. He declares we’re chesna and wants to take aruna with me. I can’t bear his touch, Phade. I loved taking aruna with him once. Now I freak out when he tries to share breath with me.”

“Why? What makes you panic?”

“I don’t know,” Vaysh mumbled in a confused voice. “I took aruna with Pellaz once and I didn’t feel so tainted back then. I could take aruna with you, Phade.” His vacant gaze locked with Phade’s. “But you denied me.”

“It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but taking aruna wouldn’t be right. You need to sort this out with Ashmael. You need to stop fighting his love.”

Vaysh laughed bitterly. “I don’t understand how he can still love me.”

“That’s your problem, Vaysh. You have somehow convinced yourself that you’re not worthy of being loved. That’s wrong.” Phade raised a hand and caressed Vaysh’s face, which was damp with tears. “You went through a lot. You need aruna so badly, but you’re afraid to take that step. You need to be strong, my friend.”

Vaysh shivered violently. “It would be best if I never saw Ash again.”

Phade shook his head. “That would be the wrong decision, Vaysh. Ashmael loves you and, from the sounds of it, you love him back. Don’t let Thiede hold such power over you. You’re stronger than that.”

Phade’s words started to register with Vaysh. “You’re right,” he admitted. “But how can I rid myself of these memories?”

“You let Ashmael create new ones.”

***

“I hope you’re right about this and that Vaysh’s really here.” Ashmael looked at the tower and stretched out his mind in the hope of finding Vaysh close.

Pellaz hoped he was right for Ashmael’s sake and for Vaysh’s. Cal walked beside him and his hand reached for the other har’s. “The last time I was here I didn’t even know you existed, Cal.”

“Thiede has a habit of erasing certain memories, doesn’t he?” Cal spat venomously. Pellaz squeezed his hand and Cal calmed.

The door opened and Phade appeared in the doorway. Pellaz immediately noticed the pleased and relieved expression in his friend’s eyes. “Vaysh’s here, isn’t he?” Phade nodded. “Ashmael, go find him. Talk some sense it to him, but do so gently.”

Phade’s gaze sought out Ashmael. So this was the har Vaysh was running away from? “He loves you. He’s just afraid that he’ll disappoint you. Don’t let him get away with it.”

Ashmael nodded. “Thank you for your advice and be certain that I won’t let him get away with it. I’m going to confront him right now.” Ashmael marched inside and let his senses guide him.

“It’s good to see you again, Pellaz.” Phade smiled at the Tigron and stepped aside to let Pellaz and Cal enter. “I always believed you were meant for great things.”

Cal snorted and Pellaz gave him an admonishing look. “Phade’s a friend. Give him a chance and you might find you like him.”

Cal inclined his head. “I’ll give him his chance then.”

***

Vaysh started to tremble when he sensed Ashmael’s presence. He hadn’t thought Ashmael would find him so quickly. Pellaz must have helped him. Vaysh felt betrayed. He steeled himself for the upcoming confrontation.

Ashmael didn’t bother to knock and simply opened the door. A quick look around located Vaysh in the corner of the room where a tray still filled with food stood on the floor at his feet. Vaysh looked pale and exhausted and the anger Ashmael had felt toward the other har disappeared.

Vaysh didn’t know what to expect and prepared himself for the worst in case Ashmael threw a temper tantrum. But Ashmael surprised him – in a good way – by calmly making his way over to him.

Ashmael took Vaysh’s cold hands in-between his and pulled the other har to his feet. Vaysh complied, even though he felt wobbly.

Ashmael surprised Vaysh again when he pressed his lips onto his chesnari’s instead of addressing the other har’s flight. He simply hugged him close and eased Vaysh into sharing breath.

Vaysh didn’t fight it. He no longer had the energy to do so and a part of him didn’t want to fight Ashmael any longer. Phade’s words echoed in his ears. He couldn’t let Thiede have so much power over him.

Sensing the surrender, Ashmael knew he had to instigate aruna immediately or it might never happen at all. He eased his arms beneath Vaysh’s back and knees and lifted the har.

Vaysh allowed Ashmael to carry him over to the bed. He was still dazed after sharing breath with him.

Ashmael didn’t speak. He lowered Vaysh onto the bed and then stretched out on his side next to him. His fingers glided through the red mane and he touched his lips to Vaysh’s once more. This time, sharing breath felt more intense and Vaysh finally opened his mind to him. Ashmael took it all in and tried to ease the pain Vaysh was in. “Give it to me,” he whispered when he realized that there was so much anguish in Vaysh’s mind that it constantly threatened to overwhelm his chesnari. “Trust me, I can deal with it.” Rolling Vaysh atop of him, Ashmael steadied the other har by placing his hands on his chesnari’s hips. “Let me carry part of your burden.”

Once he was on top and not pinned to the bed, Vaysh relaxed. “I don’t want to cause you pain.”

“Your pain is my pain.” Ashmael started to undo the buttons to Vaysh’s robes. “Your pleasure is my pleasure. My passion will fuel yours.” It sounded like a prayer.

Vaysh’s eyes filled with tears, but he didn’t shed them. “I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you. I’m no longer the passionate har that you once knew.”

“You can’t possibly disappoint me.” Ash pushed the robes down Vaysh’s shoulder and slid his hands down his chesnari’s chest. “You need to guide me, Vaysh.”

Vaysh frowned, but his hands were busy exploring Ashmael’s skin beneath the waistband of his trousers. They had a mind of their own. “In what way?”

“You always were soume to me, but I wouldn’t mind reversing our roles, if…”

Vaysh quickly shook his head. “No, I want to be soume for you. I need you to be ouana for me. You’ll give me strength that way.”

Between the two of them, they managed to rid themselves of their remaining clothes. Ashmael then reached for Vaysh and pulled him close until his chesnari’s body covered his. “I’m hungry for you.” Greedily, he attacked Vaysh’s lips and tried to lure most of the remaining pain out of Vaysh’s mind and into his.

Vaysh realized what Ashmael was doing, but was helpless to stop it. He wanted the pain gone and Ashmael made it happen. Everything happened quickly after that. It was true: Ashmael’s passion fueled his and he was soume for Ashmael. They fit together like they always had and Ashmael blossomed inside Vaysh. Both hara gave everything they were and didn’t hold back and, when pleasure took them, they clung to each other.

Ashmael quickly wrapped his arms around Vaysh and pulled him close. He tucked the blanket around their forms to keep them from cooling too rapidly and Ashmael watched how Vaysh’s face shone in the afterglow. “I remember you like this,” he muttered as he placed light kisses onto Vaysh’s face. “I remember you surrendering to passion and moving like that against me.”

Vaysh rested boneless atop Ashmael and panted softly. “I was so afraid to disappoint you…” That fear had been unnecessary. Once he had remembered their love and had surrendered to passion, everything had gone smoothly. There had been no pain, no discomfort, no force, and no fire burning him. “I love you, Ash.”

Ashmael smiled and crushed Vaysh against him. “Don’t you dare forget that.”

***

By the time they left, Cal had to admit Pellaz had been right. He liked Phade’s sense of humor. “Maybe we should visit here again,” he said, giving Pellaz a wink. He knew Pellaz would like returning there.

“Yes, we should.” Pellaz was happy that Cal had befriended Phade.

The three of them waited for Ashmael and Vaysh to join them and when the two hara at long last descended the stair case, it was obvious to all three of them that they had finally taken aruna. Ashmael and Vaysh’s faces were radiant with joy.

“It finally happened,” Phade remarked. “The ice has melted.”

Vaysh managed to chuckle and momentarily freed himself of Ashmael’s hold to embrace Phade. “You were a good friend. You kicked my ass when I was drowning in self-pity.”

“I only told you not to let Thiede have so much power over you,” Phade muttered.

“It was the right thing to say.” Vaysh released Phade and returned to Ashmael’s side. It was time for them to return to Immanion and check on Arjuna.

***

Arjuna was thrilled to see his hostling and father again. He embraced first Vaysh and then bestowed a hug onto Ashmael. Then he returned to Vaysh to hold his hostling’s hand. “You look different.” Vaysh’s mind also felt different.

“That’s because I’m so happy.” Vaysh pulled his son close and rested his brow against Arjuna’s forehead. “We are a real family now.”

Arjuna’s smile broadened. “I always wanted a real family.” He peeked at Ashmael and smiled. Everything had turned out all right. He had gained a father and Vaysh a chesnari. “I love the both of you!” He extended the embrace to include Ashmael and held on tight. His days of loneliness were over. He had a family now.

The End

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