Author’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web page: http://www.paranoid.nl/avalon
Pairings: Velaxis/Caeru, Vaysh/Phade, Pellaz/Cal, Cobweb/Snake.
Summary: Vaysh and Ashmael struggle with the aftermath of Vaysh being healed.
Disclaimer: Not mine. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters belong to Storm Constantine.
Warning: AU of course.
Spoiler warning: Set after book 6.
Beta read by DA, thanks sweetie!
All remaining mistakes are mine.
Phade kept a hand at the small of Vaysh’s back as he escorted the other har back into the corridor. They had sat quietly for a while and Vaysh had managed to sort out his thoughts. Phade had then realized that it was time they joined Pellaz and Cal again. They ended up in the Tigrons’ rooms and Vaysh shuffled his feet as he saw the concerned look Cal was giving him. “Thanks for staying close,” he murmured. His words were barely audible.
Cal approached and came to a halt in front of Vaysh. “I gave you my word.” He smiled as he saw Phade maintaining physical contact with Vaysh. He had been afraid that Phade might not be inclined to continue their friendship after what had happened in Ashmael’s rooms, but he had obviously underestimated the other har. “You need to find your way, Vaysh and it is a good thing that you have Phade at your side during this trying time.”
Vaysh gave Cal a weak smile. “Phade and I talked about what happened earlier.” He simply couldn’t speak Ashmael’s name yet. “We have decided to give this a chance.”
Hearing that pleased Pellaz immensely. “Does that mean you are changing rooms again?”
Vaysh gulped. Phade and he hadn’t addressed that yet. “I am not sure about that.” The redhead tried to gauge Phade’s reaction to the question from the corner of his eye.
“He is staying with me.” Phade nodded firmly. Cheekily, he added, “Maybe the Tigrons would like having the bed to themselves for a change?”
Cal laughed warmly and then leered at Pellaz. “Maybe.”
Pellaz actually felt hot beneath Cal’s smug look. It was time to change the subject. “I expect the two of you to appear for breakfast though.” He wanted to keep an eye on Vaysh.
Phade started to turn Vaysh toward the doorway, but the red-haired har shook his head and reached for Pellaz’ arm. “I need to know what happened after I left…Please…”
Guiding Vaysh away from Phade, Pellaz took Vaysh into a corner of the room. It might be best if they had some privacy. “Ashmael left, Vaysh.”
Vaysh blinked. “He left? What do you mean by that? He left his room or…?”
“He has left Immanion for now.” Pellaz knew he had to tread carefully. “Your visit unbalanced him. Oh, Vaysh, I do believe he still cares about you, but he knows that he needs to heal first before he can be your friend again.”
Vaysh swallowed hard. Pellaz had said friend and not chesnari. “I don’t know him like that. Ash usually is… He was…” Confused, he tried to find the right words to express himself.
“You have started your journey which you will undertake with Phade at your side. I honestly can’t say if the two of you will become chesna or that maybe you will just be friends. Vaysh, I don’t know the future. You are the only one who can shape it. Focus on your recovery and release the har who was trapped beneath the ice for so long. Ashmael still needs to set out on his journey. Maybe the two of you will meet again and maybe you won’t. Put your own needs first, Vaysh, otherwise you can’t possibly heal.”
Cal and Phade had listened in on their conversation and both hara agreed with Pellaz’ assessment. “I won’t fail him,” Phade whispered to no one in particular. He just felt the need to speak those words aloud.
The blond Tigron rested a hand on Phade’s shoulder and squeezed it. “You have a long road ahead of you, but I believe you can guide Vaysh onto the right path.” Phade smiled at him and Cal squeezed the other har’s shoulder again. “Take good care of him, Phade, because I have the feeling he is not yet able to do so himself.”
Vaysh felt indecisive as he looked at Phade’s bed. He really wanted to curl up and close his eyes. The confrontation with Ashmael had exhausted him.
“What are you waiting for? Lie down.” Vaysh looked like he could crumble at any given moment. Phade placed his hands on Vaysh’s shoulders and guided him toward the bed. “Sit down,” he ordered and, once Vaysh had complied, he lifted the other har’s feet onto the bed. Vaysh curled up on his side and his gray eyes followed Phade while he fetched something to drink. “Try to sip some. The water should do you good.” He supported Vaysh’s head and carefully observed as the red-haired har sipped his water. “You should try to rest. You had an exhausting evening.” He eyed the chair, which would make a good sleeping place for the night. Vaysh could have the bed to himself.
Vaysh however took hold of Phade’s arm when the dark-haired har started to rise. “Please stay.”
Phade wasn’t sure that would be a wise thing to do. “You need your privacy.”
Vaysh shook his head. “I can’t be alone right now. I promise I won’t instigate any aruna, Phade. Just hold me, please.”
Hearing Vaysh beg to be held was too much for Phade and he sat down on the bed. He rested his back against the headboard and waited for Vaysh to make himself comfortable. The red-haired har rested his head on Phade’s lap and then turned onto his side, facing away from Phade. Unable to keep his hands to himself, Phade rested one hand on Vaysh’s hip and the other took to stroking the red hair.
Vaysh fought to stay awake since he was afraid that Ashmael would haunt his dreams, but in the end, he lost the battle and drifted off into sleep.
Ashmael left Immanion in the dead of night. He felt more disturbed than he wanted to admit to himself. Running away to Forever was the only way out at the moment. Cobweb and he had been lovers once and he hoped that was enough reason for the other har to grant him sanctuary.
“Hello there,” Caeru murmured and rubbed his cheek against Velaxis’ abdomen. One look at the fair har told Caeru that Velaxis was still asleep so it was safe to continue. “I know it is probably a stupid thing to do, but I can’t help myself. I am so excited that you will come into my life shortly.”
Caeru’s voice woke Velaxis from his slumber and at first he felt confused. Who was Rue talking to? But then he realized that the other har was talking to the pearl. Smiling, he remained quiet and listened.
“I never thought I would have another son, but Vel made it all possible. I love him, you know.”
Velaxis grinned, but managed to do so soundlessly.
“And in two months time I am going to be a father. That is a strange thought. You see, I already hosted two pearls so I am a hostling, but being a father might be different. I hope that I won’t disappoint you. I want to love you and I hope you will love me back. You are very precious to me.” Caeru’s fingertips stroked the soft skin of Velaxis’ abdomen. “I will never leave you. You will always have a home with me and so does Vel. I do hope your hostling is going to stay. I am still worried that he might leave unexpectedly. I wouldn’t be able to bear that. I need him in my life.”
Velaxis’ eyes swam with tears at hearing the despair in Caeru’s voice which the Tigrina couldn’t hide. Unable to stay quiet any longer, he whispered, “I will never leave you. You are precious to me too, Rue.”
Stunned by Velaxis’ unexpected statement, Rue raised his head and looked him in the eye. “You weren’t supposed to hear that.”
“I am glad I did.” Velaxis placed his hands on either side of Caeru’s face and pulled him closer. In the end, Caeru ended up straddling Velaxis’ waist. “Rue, I am not going to desert you. I am here to stay.”
“I have trouble believing that,” Caeru admitted and rested his upper body against Velaxis’.
“I don’t blame you.” Velaxis brought his arms up along Caeru’s back and held him close. “It might take you some time to understand that I am here to stay, but in the end, you will believe me.”
“This is nice. I actually have you to myself,” Cal murmured as he steadied Pellaz who was swaying on top of him. Once Phade and Vaysh had left, it hadn’t taken them long to sneak between the covers and take aruna. Cal, being in the mood to be ouana, had cunningly manipulated his chesnari into becoming soume and had then lowered Pell onto his ouana-lim. Pellaz’ features had contorted with pleasure before the Tigron had started to work them both hard to bring them to the edge.
Pellaz wasn’t in the mood for talking, but unfortunately, Cal was. “I love it when you move like that.” He delivered a particularly vicious thrust up and Pellaz had to support himself on Cal’s shoulders. That was the moment Cal had been waiting for. His predatory side had woken up and he was eager to take charge. “Not yet, Pell.”
Pellaz, who had been about to climax, released a frustrated cry when Cal suddenly rolled him onto his back. He was about to yell at Cal and ask him what had gotten into him when the expression in his chesnari’s eyes caused him to go silent. The look in Cal’s eyes told him that he was in for quite a ride.
“You are mine, Pell. You always were and always will be. I will share you occasionally but only because I know you belong with me.” Cal lifted Pellaz’ legs and rested them on his shoulders. Towering over his chesnari, he delivered one hard thrust after another. Cal was staking his claim and Pellaz knew it.
Seeing Cal like this intimidated Pellaz in one way. But in another it made him horny like hell and he met each of Cal’s thrusts with a fierce one of his own. “Only because I choose to belong with you, Cal,” he grunted from between his teeth as he was moved over the mattress until his head made contact with the headboard.
Cal slid his arms beneath Pellaz’ shoulders and held him close as he claimed his chesnari. Pellaz’ expression was one of lust and surrender and it excited Cal to see Pellaz at his mercy. A few more thrusts and they had found release.
Pellaz raised his arms and caught Cal when the other har collapsed on top of him. “You will be the death of me, Cal,” he said without considering the impact they could have on his chesnari. He was therefore stunned when Cal released an anguished scream. “What?” The look that Cal gave him spoke of the deepest sorrow he had ever seen and suddenly he realized why Cal had taken his words the wrong way. “I am sorry I brought it up. I wasn’t thinking.” He shouldn’t have made that remark for his words had catapulted Cal back into the past. “I am here, Cal. I am alive. Please, stop looking at me like that.” He tried to soothe his distraught Tigron as he became upset himself.
Cal needed a moment to compose himself again. Once he had calmed down, he continued to tremble though for a long time. He rested his head on Pellaz’ shoulder and clung to his chesnari. That had been quite the anti-climax to such passionate aruna. “I understand Ashmael, you know.”
Pellaz was surprised that Cal was bringing up Ashmael now. “If anyone understands Ashmael it should be you, Cal. The two of you went through the same ordeal.”
“But I was fortunate enough to get you back in one piece.” Cal closed his eyes and tried to cope with the memories that had surfaced. “Ashmael must have been suffering terribly during these last few years. Vaysh was close but at the same time so far away.”
The dark-haired Tigron idly stroked Cal’s hair. “I have not given up hope yet, Cal. They might still be able to sort themselves out.”
“But Phade might get hurt in the process,” Cal remarked.
“Phade is very much aware of that. He is going into this with his eyes wide open. He accepts the risk. Cal, the truth is that we don’t know what will happen to Vaysh and Ashmael. Vaysh might find happiness in Phade’s arms and maybe it would be best if Ashmael found a new chesnari as well.”
Cal raised his head and eyed Pellaz closely. “Do you really think that?”
“Oh, Cal, I know why you want them to end up together. You see us in them.” Pellaz sighed and stroked Cal’s brow, which had become creased with worry. “Thiede kept us apart for years, but we continued to long for each other and at the first chance you got – your first real chance – you came for me. Ashmael never did that where Vaysh was concerned. Their situation *is* different from ours.”
Cal rested his head against Pellaz’ shoulder once more. “I know you are right, but I find it hard to accept that there won’t be a happy ending for them.”
“Who says there won’t be a happy ending?” Pellaz closed his eyes and inhaled Cal’s scent. “Maybe their happy endings lie with different hara. Maybe Phade will provide Vaysh with his happy ending and maybe somehar will come into Ashmael’s life and help him heal?”
“You are a romantic,” Cal whispered as he started to doze off.
“I am a drama queen,” Pellaz retorted and Cal laughed. “At least, that’s what Rue calls me at times.”
“Well, I am not arguing with Rue.” Cal smiled and closed his eyes again. “This is nice just having you to myself.”
“Yes, it is,” Pellaz agreed and kissed Cal’s hair. “Very nice indeed.”
Cobweb shivered as he sensed the change in the air. He had been resting in Snake’s arms, but then sat up and stared at the dark sky which flashed with lightning. They had decided to sleep in the garden that night because it had been such a hot day. “Someone is coming.”
Snake nodded his head. “I sense it too.”
“It is Ashmael,” Cobweb muttered beneath his breath in displeasure. “He couldn’t have chosen a worse time.”
Snake rose from the grass and pulled Cobweb to his feet. “Do you know the reason why Ashmael is coming here now?”
Cobweb shook his head. “I have no idea.” They had been lovers in the past, but he had long closed that book. “Why now?” The lightning died and a sedu came to a halt at a distance from them. On its back was Ashmael. His blond hair danced around his face and cascaded down his back, surrounding his strong features which were distorted with sorrow. Cobweb didn’t want to reach out, but the anguished expression in Ashmael’s eyes made him gravitate toward the Gelaming. “We can’t turn him away.”
“We won’t.” Snake took Cobweb’s hand in his and they walked toward Ashmael together. “Don’t worry. We will find a way to divide our time once Silver has arrived.”
Cobweb wished Ashmael had chosen a different time to visit them. They had only found out about Silver a week ago. Paran had visited Forever with distressing news that they had managed to track down one of the pearls Terzian had fathered at Lisia’s breeding facility. The young har was currently on his way to Forever and, from what had they had heard, they had better expect to deal with a rather disturbed har. “You are right,” Cobweb agreed eventually. “We will worry about Silver when he gets here.”
Ashmael dismounted and walked toward Cobweb and Snake. Normally he would never drop by unannounced, but he had needed to get away from Immanion. Hopefully Cobweb would understand and offer him a listening ear.
Cobweb sensed the emotional turmoil Ashmael was in and was surprised that the other har wasn’t hiding his feelings. Ashmael’s mind was wide open and what the mystic har read in the other har’s memories made his head reel. One look at Snake revealed that his chesnari had caught the same images. Cobweb, having a better understanding as to why Vaysh visiting Ashmael’s rooms had upset the blond, realized he had to deal with the distressed har himself. This was something between Ashmael and him. Snake had no part in it.
“I understand,” Snake whispered. “I will step back when necessary.”
Ashmael had reached them by that time and stood in front of them with a bowed head. He trembled and felt physically ill. “I am going to throw up,” he announced and looked at Cobweb pleadingly. He wasn’t physically sick, but the state of mind he was in was too much for his body to handle.
“Snake, please prepare a room for Ashmael,” Cobweb instructed before curling an arm around Ashmael’s waist to steady him as the blond har began to throw up. Cobweb brushed the blond hair behind Ashmael’s ears and made sure the other har didn’t throw up on himself. “You are quite the mess, Ash.”
A series of dry heaves ended the queasiness that had spread through his stomach and Ashmael gazed desperately at Cobweb. “Please tell me I can stay.”
Cobweb nodded and helped Ashmael down the path toward the house. “Of course you can.” He had wanted to add that Ashmael’s timing was lousy but held back. Ashmael was already feeling bad as it was. “Vaysh’s visit really upset you,” he conjectured, trying to get Ashmael to talk to him. Snake had left the front door open and he helped Ashmael climb the stairs to the guest rooms.
“What did you expect? Pell fucking healed him!” After all these long years, Pellaz had managed to heal Vaysh! “But it is too late!”
“We will talk after you have rested,” Cobweb decreed as he guided Ashmael into his temporary room. Snake had already placed a bowl filled with water and a washcloth close to the bed. Cobweb smiled at his chesnari’s thoughtfulness. “Lie down, Ash.”
“I am sorry I am causing problems,” Ashmael declared dramatically. “But I didn’t know where else to go and I don’t want to be alone right now. I don’t trust myself.” Cobweb had immersed the washcloth in the water and began cleaning up his in sweat-covered face. “I was afraid of what I was going to do to myself.”
Cobweb looked at Ashmael sharply. “Don’t you dare think such thoughts. You are not harming yourself, you hear me?” Ashmael smiled weakly and Cobweb knew that that had been what Ashmael had needed to hear. “You are staying under my roof and I won’t have any of that.”
Ashmael stretched out on the bed before closing his eyes and focusing on Cobweb moving the washcloth along his brow. It felt good. Since his eyes were closed, he didn’t notice Snake coming into the room. Ashmael was adrift on clouds of self-pity and self-hatred.
“I brought tea and some water.” Snake had seen Ashmael retch and figured the har would like to rinse his mouth to rid himself of the awful taste. “Water first and tea later.”
Cobweb loosened the top buttons of Ashmael’s shirt and then sat down on the bed. “Open your eyes, Ash. You need to rinse your mouth.”
“Let me sleep,” Ashmael whispered tiredly.
“Not yet.” Cobweb could be stubborn when the situation called for it. Carefully, he pulled Ashmael toward him until the blond har rested against him. “Now rinse.” Cobweb placed the glass at Ashmael’s lips and Snake held the bowel in place so Ashmael could spit the water back out again.
Although he felt tired to the bone, Ashmael complied. Cobweb ordered a second time so he was forced to repeat the procedure. “Enough, please…”
“Drink some tea.” Snake had waited for the tea to cool and handed the cup to Cobweb. The herbs which he had used to brew it would have a soothing effect on Ashmael’s stomach.
Ashmael managed to force down a few sips, but then raised his hand and pushed the cup away. “No more.”
Cobweb handed the cup back to Snake and pulled up the blanket to tuck around Ashmael’s form. Someone should stay with Ashmael, but he wasn’t quite sure how Snake would react to such a suggestion. After all, Snake knew Ashmael and Cobweb had been together for a while.
“We can’t leave him alone at the moment,” Snake suggested and studied Cobweb’s face. “You can take first watch. I will relieve you in three hours.” He cupped Cobweb’s cheek in the palm of his hand and leaned in closer until their faces were only inches away. “Ashmael needs our support and perhaps healing. I won’t turn him away because you and he were lovers at a time.”
“I didn’t want to bring it up,” Cobweb murmured apologetically.
“You brought it up here,” Snake replied and pointed at his temple. “Don’t worry. I have never turned a har away who was in need of healing and I am not starting now. I trust you, Cobweb.”
Cobweb swallowed hard and pressed his lips onto Snake’s so they could share breath. “Thank you,” he said once they had pulled apart. “This won’t be easy. We will have two hara to care for shortly.”
“I have the feeling Ashmael will be the lesser of our worries,” Snake responded in a deep voice. Silver would present them with a bigger challenge.
Vaysh was alone in bed when he woke the next morning. The other night had been tumultuous and he still felt badly equipped to deal with Ashmael’s rejection. He had been so sure that his former chesnari still had feelings for him!
“Ah, you are awake. Good.” Phade, already dressed for the day, approached the bed and placed a tray onto Vaysh’s lap. “I thought you might prefer to have breakfast in private.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you.” Vaysh wasn’t very hungry however.
“You should eat something.” Phade worried about Vaysh and felt he could do with a few extra pounds. “Try the jam.” He buttered a piece of bread, added the strawberry jam to it, and raised it to Vaysh’s lips. “Bite,” he ordered, expecting to be obeyed. Vaysh automatically obeyed, not fully aware yet of what he was doing, but the strong texture of the jam woke him up quickly enough. “And now, have some coffee.”
Vaysh sipped some of the liquid, though he had never been fond of coffee. He was drinking it because Phade had gone to such great lengths to bring him breakfast. “You didn’t have to do this,” he said timidly.
“Nonsense. I want to spoil you.” Phade sat down next to Vaysh and buttered another slice. This time, he was the one to devour it. “Try the cheese.”
Vaysh pushed a small piece into his mouth and smiled weakly at Phade. “I probably owe you an apology.”
“And why is that?” Phade asked while nursing his coffee.
“Because of the way I acted last night. I was rather hysterical.”
“You had every right to be.” Phade cut an apple into slices and offered some of it to Vaysh, who chewed dutifully. Phade had expected Vaysh to put up more of a struggle at being fed in such a manner. “Why don’t you take a quick shower and then get dressed? I made plans for the day.” Phade’s main goal for the day was to keep Vaysh from brooding and thinking of Ashmael with distractions.
Vaysh felt at a loss and said, “I don’t have any clothes here.”
“Mine should fit you.” Phade ran his fingertips along the inside of Vaysh’s wrist and noticed that the caress made the red-haired har tremble.
Vaysh quickly pulled away, put the tray onto the mattress, and practically fled into the bathroom. He heard Phade chuckling at his retreat and rested his back against the tiled wall once he was inside the bathroom. His body had started to respond to that caress! Why was aruna all he could think of?
Caeru joined Pellaz and Cal in the apartments they shared. It was time to head for the Hegalion to attend another boring meeting. He had dressed with care and had even fixed his hair, which Velaxis had gotten tangled because he had kept running his fingers through the strands.
“Where’s Vel?” Cal inquired as he fell into step next to the Tigrina. Pellaz walked before them, seeming to be mesmerized and hardly noticed them.
“He was still sleeping when I left,” Caeru answered and blushed.
“Are you wearing him out, Rue?” Cal grinned wickedly.
“That’s none of your business,” Caeru replied cheekily. “You have your own har to wear down. So far, you seem to be doing a lousy job.”
Delighted that Rue was returning the bantering, Cal eyed Pellaz’ backside appreciatively. “I only just got started, Rue. You have a head start on me.”
Caeru turned serious and asked Cal, “What’s on Pell’s mind that he is so distracted?”
“Last night Vaysh confronted Ashmael. It didn’t go well. Ashmael has left Immanion and Vaysh… Vaysh was upset, as you can imagine.”
Caeru nodded his head once. “So it finally happened?” He had expected them to confront each other earlier. “Where did Ashmael go?”
“Forever. I hope that Cobweb and Snake will have a calming influence on him. Maybe they can help him heal.”
“I hope so too,” Caeru muttered under his breath. “And what about Vaysh?”
“Phade is taking care of him. Personally I think that he is the best thing that could have happened to Vaysh. He needs someone like Phade.”
Caeru barely knew Phade, but he did know that the har had raised Darq. His son had turned out well so maybe Cal was right and Phade would make a good companion for Vaysh.
“You will see them this evening. Pellaz has arranged for the six of us to have dinner together.”
Caeru frowned. “The six of us?”
“Velaxis is also invited of course. We don’t want him to feel left out.” That earned Cal a brilliant smile from Rue and he returned it happily. Everything had worked out for Rue and Velaxis. He could only hope things would turn out that well for Phade and Vaysh as well – and Ashmael… Cal hoped Ashmael would find some sort of closure in Forever.
Phade loved seeing Vaysh laugh. Vaysh’s guard was down and he was truly enjoying himself, which had been Phade’s intention all along. First, they had taken a stroll in the garden, since Phade felt it important that Vaysh got more fresh air and then they had gone out on two horses. Galloping alongside each other, Phade couldn’t stop staring at Vaysh and the way the red hair moved in the breeze. /He is going to be tired tonight, but it will be a good kind of tired./ Vaysh probably hadn’t done anything physically straining for a long time.
Vaysh was enjoying himself. He had forgotten what it was like to feel so carefree. One look to his right showed that Phade was enjoying himself as well. He would have preferred to keep moving, but their horses grew tired and they needed a short rest. Vaysh had his horse come to a stop and slid off of his back. Walking next to the animal, he marveled at the peace of mind he felt. The earlier night, he had felt like an emotional wreck.
A moment later, Phade joined him and walked next to him. Phade reached for his hand and Vaysh twined their fingers. “This feels like a dream,” he admitted. “I can’t believe that my life has changed so dramatically.”
Phade raised his hand holding Vaysh’s and brought it to his lips so he could press a kiss onto Vaysh’s knuckles. “I always knew there was something special about you. That’s why I had to pester you. I wanted the real you to pop out.”
The redhead blushed bashfully. The back of his hand tingled where Phade’s lips had made contact with the skin. “I was too damaged to do that. The only thing I could do was hide. During all these years, it never occurred to me that I could be healed. When Pellaz and Velaxis suggested it, I laughed at them.”
“I am glad they cured you.” Phade came to a stop and slid his arms up Vaysh’s back until he was holding him. “I want to share breath with you, but I don’t want to pressure you. So please say no when…”
Vaysh didn’t give Phade a chance to finish. He pressed his lips onto Phade’s and shared breath with the other har. It was different from sharing breath the other night. The previous night, they had shared breath because Vaysh had wanted Phade to know his life’s history. This time, they were sharing breath for different reasons. Vaysh was astonished to realize that his toes were curling inside his boots.
Phade grinned when he let go of Vaysh’s lips with a soft plopping sound. “That was extremely satisfying.” The dazed expression in Vaysh’s eyes showed that his partner had equally enjoyed sharing breath. “Maybe we should do that again to find out if it was only a one time thing?”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Vaysh heard himself say. A distant part of him wondered what the hell he was doing, but the more physical part was already hoping that sharing breath would lead to aruna. “We should try again.”
Phade didn’t waste any time and shared breath with Vaysh again. Embracing Vaysh tightly, he involuntarily crushed the other har to his chest and Vaysh’s feet no longer rested on the ground when Phade lifted him to cover the small height difference. Vaysh however wasn’t complaining.
That evening, things were rather crowded in the Tigrons’ apartments. Caeru had already arrived and was accompanied by Velaxis, while Phade and Vaysh still had to show up. Caeru enjoyed watching Velaxis taste some of the food and then kissed him to get a taste of it himself. Pellaz chuckled at their antics while Cal offered them another strawberry. Rue felt carefree and relaxed and Velaxis was beginning to feel more comfortable too.
Pellaz, Cal, Rue, and Velaxis were already seated when Vaysh and Phade arrived. Caeru smiled at the flushed looking Vaysh, who was obviously wearing some of Phade’s clothes. “I must admit, black does become you,” he purred as Vaysh seated himself in-between Velaxis and Phade.
Vaysh didn’t really know how to handle the Tigrina’s compliment since he wasn’t used to receiving any. “I had forgotten to take any of my clothes with me. I will pick some up when we leave.” It was convenient that his rooms and the Tigrons’ were adjoining.
“Don’t do that on my account,” Phade murmured. “I agree with the Tigrina. Black suits you.” He placed his hand on top of Vaysh’s and rubbed the fingers lightly.
With an amused smile on his face Velaxis watched their exchange. Phade and Vaysh were suited for each other, but he could tell that they were hesitant to take aruna, though the reason why eluded him. “Vaysh?” he said in an attempt to draw the other har’s attention. “You *do* realize what you need the most right now is to take aruna quite frequently?”
Vaysh almost spit out the sheh he had been about to drink, much to the amusement of the other hara present. Vaysh felt embarrassed and wished he was anywhere else but in the Tigrons’ rooms.
Velaxis pretended to not notice Vaysh’s reaction and simply continued. “The more often you take aruna, the quicker your body and mind will adjust to your new situation. I presume Phade is willing to take aruna with you?”
Caeru knew Velaxis well enough to realize that the other har enjoyed playing with Vaysh, and for a moment, he felt sorry for the red-haired har. It was obvious that Vaysh had a hard time dealing with Velaxis’ suggestion.
“More than willing,” Phade replied and gave Vaysh an adoring look. “Maybe we can take aruna tonight?”
About to protest, Vaysh wanted to say that they would be moving awfully quick if they did that, but then Velaxis interfered, “That sounds like an excellent idea.” Vaysh glared at Velaxis, but realized that there was nothing he could do about the other har’s cheeky comments. He just had to suffer through dinner.
Vaysh had collected some personal belongings from his rooms and felt awkward as he put them away in Phade’s closet. Their clothes were mixing, just like their lives were and that realization made him feel lost.
Phade made his way over to the red-haired har and wrapped his arms around Vaysh from behind having picked up on Vaysh’s feelings. Vaysh started at first, but then relaxed in his arms. “It is only me,” Phade remarked and pressed his lips against the skin at the junction of Vaysh’s neck and shoulder. “I didn’t scare you, did I?”
“No, you didn’t.” Vaysh bowed his head and drew in a deep breath. “I scared myself.”
“Why is that?” Vaysh turned in his embrace and Phade studied the other har’s face.
“Because Velaxis is right. I need aruna.” He averted his gaze and stared at the floor. “I don’t know how to deal with that fact.”
Phade frowned. “Deal with it? Vaysh, we take aruna. It’s that simple.”
“Not for me.” Vaysh found the courage to raise his head and make eye contact. “I shared my past with you. You know how screwed up I am when it comes to aruna.”
Tracing Vaysh’s bottom lip with his thumb, Phade shook his head. “I also saw you taking aruna with Pellaz and Cal after Velaxis had healed you. You seemed to do just fine.”
“That was different.” Vaysh trembled when the tip of Phade’s thumb caressed his lip. “They overwhelmed me. I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t need to take responsibility for it. Taking aruna with you would be different.”
“And why is that?” Phade was doing his best to understand Vaysh.
“I would be taking aruna with you because I wanted to, not because you overwhelmed me.” And Vaysh wasn’t sure he was ready to take an active role yet. “These last few years I experienced pain whenever I thought of taking aruna.”
Phade realized it was up to him to make Vaysh see the truth. “I will never hurt you,” he declared passionately and leaned in closer to brush Vaysh’s lips with his. Slowly, he moved his hands until they rested at the small of Vaysh’s back and once more lifted the lithe har until he could press the other har against him tightly. At the same time, he concentrated on radiating trust and calm and shared it with Vaysh when they shared breath.
Tears swam in Vaysh’s gray eyes as those feelings entered his mind. Phade was telling him the truth. The other har would rather hurt himself than to cause him pain. “What am I to do with you?” he whispered once Phade had stopped.
“You could touch me,” Phade murmured and then carried Vaysh over to the bed. “I crave your touch, Vaysh.” He lay down on his back and pulled Vaysh on top of him.
Vaysh suddenly found himself in a very intimate and vulnerable position as he straddled Phade’s lower body.
“You set the pace,” Phade added and smiled warmly. “Do as you please. I am at your service.”
Swallowing hard, Vaysh raised his hands and then stared at them for a few minutes. Phade wanted him to take the initiative!
“Need my help?” Phade offered when Vaysh continued to stare at his hands.
A warm smile spread across Vaysh’s features and he shook his head. “I think I want to try this.”
Phade smiled approvingly and waited for Vaysh to make his next move. It was difficult for him to remain motionless when Vaysh started to unbutton his shirt for he burned with desire for the other har. But this was about Vaysh and Phade focused on that fact.
Vaysh’s mouth went dry once he pushed the fabric of Phade’s shirt aside. He had bared the other har’s chest and his fingers explored the chest area. They moved lower and then up again until they had mapped Phade’s sensitive spots that made the dark-haired har close his eyes or moan in delight. Vaysh was relieved that Phade was allowing him to go slowly because he wouldn’t have reacted very well if Phade had gone straight to aruna with him.
“Maybe you want to give me some skin to touch too?” Phade suggested and moistened his lips.
Vaysh considered the question and then pushed the fabric of his robes down his shoulders, revealing his torso. Big-eyed, he watched Phade raise a hand and place its palm against his chest.
The red-haired har looked like a trapped deer so Phade took his time caressing the soft skin beneath his fingers and never attempted to move his hand lower. Vaysh would give him a sign once the time was right to proceed. “Share breath with me,” he requested hoarsely and his fingertips trailed up Vaysh’s spine.
Tremors washed over Vaysh’s body as he bent to share breath with Phade. The small puffs of desire that Phade released traveled into his mind and Vaysh moaned. Phade was doing everything right in allowing him to set the pace and at the same time showing him he was wanted – which was just what Vaysh needed. Shaky hands traveled toward the waistband of the trousers Phade was wearing and he slid them beneath the fabric. Phade raised his hips and Vaysh slid the material down until Phade was able to kick the fabric off. Naked, Phade was at Vaysh’s mercy and the red-haired har trailed his fingertips down the flat abdomen.
Being aroused, it was impossible for Phade not to react to Vaysh’s touches and he became ouana, although he wouldn’t mind becoming soume either if that was what Vaysh desired. “Do you like what you see?” he asked, breaking the silence that had been building between them.
“You are beautiful,” Vaysh admitted huskily. “I don’t get it, Phade. You can have anyhar you want so why do you want me? Compared to you I am not pretty. I know the way I look.” Vaysh placed his palms against Phade’s chest and searched the dark eyes for an answer.
Displeased, Phade shook his head. “Vaysh, you *are* beautiful. I am the plain-looking one compared to you.” It was beyond him how Vaysh could think so little of himself. Acting on instinct, Phade placed his hands on either side of Vaysh’s head and pulled him closer so they could share breath again and sent Vaysh’s his thoughts, trying to show him just how beautiful and attractive the redhead was to him.
Touched, Vaysh rested his upper body against Phade’s and licked along the collarbone. He grew bolder once he knew that Phade desired him. Phade groaned from deep within his throat and Vaysh became keenly aware of Phade’s ouana-lim opening and displaying its green and blue petals. Phade was ready to take aruna, but was he?
“Vaysh, you don’t have to do this…” Phade buried his fingers in the red hair. Absentmindedly he noted that the dye was fading and that the blond color was showing in the roots. He would love to see Vaysh’s hair displaying its natural color.
“You are wrong,” Vaysh replied and reached for the belt that held his robes in place. “I *do* have to do this. My body won’t allow me to back out.” He needed aruna so badly that he had become soume already beneath his robes.
“Allow me,” Phade said as he saw how badly Vaysh’s fingers trembled when the other har tried to undo the knot. Vaysh nodded and Phade undid the knot and parted Vaysh’s robes. “You take my breath away,” he whispered and ran his fingertips along Vaysh’s flat abdomen. “I want you…”
Vaysh reached for Phade’s hands and twined their fingers. He needed to feel connected to the other har. “I never thought I would be able to enjoy aruna again,” he admitted and shifted on top of Phade. “I can’t believe I am about to do this…”
Phade’s breath caught. He watched Vaysh raise and then lower himself onto his ouana-lim. Closing his eyes in bliss, he trembled on the bed and stopped himself from thrusting up to bury himself in Vaysh’s soume-lam. Vaysh’s long hair descended down his body like a waterfall of red streaks and the ends teased Phade’s body, making it even harder on him to endure the sweet torture. Opening his eyes, he looked into Vaysh’s big ones. “I dreamt about this for so long…”
Vaysh nodded and his hair caressed Phade’s skin. “I didn’t realize that until recently.” He had always thought that nohar could possibly find him attractive. He moved slowly on top of Phade, rotating his hips at leisure as he rode the other har. It might not be the passionate aruna Phade might have hoped for, but it was a big enough step for Vaysh to take.
Too quickly, Phade felt his climax approaching. The fact that he was taking aruna with Vaysh was a dream come true and he found his control slipping. But before he climaxed he wanted to work some magic on Vaysh. He freed his hands from Vaysh’s hold and buried his fingers in the red hair. Pulling Vaysh down, he shared breath with the redhead and stroked the red hair.
Vaysh felt adrift on Phade’s desire and he sucked it all in – the love, the need, and the passion. For so long he had thought that he would never taste those feelings again and now he could experience them whenever he wanted. Phade’s fingers massaged his scalp and Vaysh lost himself in the sharing of breath.
Phade’s eyes twinkled wickedly when he realized he had worked his magic on Vaysh. Lovingly, he fingered a strand of the hair and let go.
Vaysh had no choice but to let go too and clung to Phade during their high. Satiation, pleasure, love, and passion swept through him and he let himself drift on Phade’s red sea of lust for as long as it lasted. Closing his eyes, he rested his head in the crook of Phade’s shoulder and released the breath he had been holding. “I had forgotten that aruna could be like that.”
Phade contented himself with stroking down the curve of Vaysh’s back, trying hard not to chuckle. He ended up massaging one of Vaysh’s buttocks and rubbed his lower body against the other har. “I am looking forward to taking aruna again later tonight,” Phade hinted wickedly. “Remember, Velaxis advised you to take aruna as many times as possible.”
“And you just love that advice.” Vaysh opened his eyes, knowing there would be a smug expression on Phade’s face when he looked at him. But before he could focus on Phade’s expression, he was distracted by something odd. Why was there a blond strand of hair in front of his eyes? Lifting a hand, he tried to find out why.
“I hope you don’t mind me working some of my magic on you.”
Raising his upper body, Vaysh stared at his blond hair in shock. “What did you do?”
“I wanted to see your natural color,” Phade admitted sheepishly. “Want me to change it back?”
Vaysh blinked and then rolled off of Phade. He got to his feet and made his way over to the mirror in the corner of the room. Staring at his reflection, he wondered what to make of this development. His original hair color was back and it shone warm and golden. “This is odd.”
Phade left the bed as well and came to a halt behind Vaysh. Finger combing the strands, he whispered, “I love you as a redhead and as a blond… You can dye your hair again, if you want to. I just wanted to know what your hair looked like naturally.”
Leaning back, Vaysh smiled as Phade’s arms came up around his waist to hold him. “It has been so many years since I wore my hair this way. I started dying it after…” After Thiede had gotten his hands on him. “Maybe I will leave it this way.” Perhaps it was fitting that he was a blond again since he had been healed.
Velaxis sat upright in bed with a start. He immediately checked on Caeru but the Tigrina was still in bed with him. Rue’s eyes opened and gave him a puzzled look. “The earth is shaking!”
“No,” Rue mumbled and pressed deeper into the mattress. “That’s just Pell and Cal taking aruna.”
Velaxis blinked. “You are wrong! It is an earthquake!” The bed was moving and so were the walls!
Rue refused to be roused. “Go back to sleep, Vel. Nothing bad will happen.” He pulled Velaxis close and snuggled up to him. But Velaxis stayed awake and wondered how Pellaz and Cal were probably responsible for this quake taking place.
“Oh, Pell!” Cal thrust one last time and threw back his head. He howled victoriously before falling forward and burying his teeth in Pellaz’ shoulder. The raven hair was spread over the delicately curved back and Cal squeezed his chesnari’s buttocks. All Pellaz could do was moan into the pillow and carry the blond Tigron’s weight as Cal unexpectedly collapsed on top of him.
Pellaz’ hands had become claws and had ripped the sheet apart beneath him. His body heaved with his heavy breathing as he struggled to hold Cal’s weight as well. Ever since Cal had taken aruna with Vaysh, his chesnari had wanted to take aruna over and over again and be ouana as well even though Cal mostly favored his soume aspect.
“You made the foundations of my world shake,” Cal murmured as he rolled onto his side so he was no longer pressing Pellaz into the mattress and pillow. Reaching for the nightstand, he lit a cigarette and managed to blow rings of smoke into the air. “Wow.”
Pellaz felt too exhausted to move, but he did manage to turn his head so he could look at Cal. “You look smug.”
“I feel great,” Cal admitted and placed a possessive hand on Pellaz’ left buttock. “Each time you are soume I am afraid I will drown within your waters.”
Purring, Pellaz closed his eyes. He hoped they weren’t going to receive any scientific reports trying to explain the latest earthquake that had shaken Immanion in the morning.
Ashmael felt disoriented when he woke up the next morning. He tried to open his eyes but then squeezed them shut again. The light coming in through the windows hurt them. He felt like he had been out drinking and partying all night, but he hadn’t had a single glass of sheh the other night. He felt miserable for a different reason.
“It’s about time you woke up.” Cobweb pulled up a chair and observed Ashmael as he struggled to push himself into an upright position. “You can lie down, Ash. You don’t need to get up on my account.”
Ashmael sighed and let himself fall back onto the bed again. Closing his eyes, he drew in a series of deep breaths. “I feel like hell.”
“You were sick last night. You threw up, remember?”
“Please don’t remind me.” Ashmael turned onto his side and curled up in a fetal position. “I am sorry that I am troubling you with my problems, Cobweb, but I had no other place to go.”
“So Pellaz healed Vaysh and your former chesnari confronted you?” Cobweb saw no reason to go easy on Ashmael. As far as he was concerned, Ashmael had made his share of mistakes and ought to own up to them.
“If you put it like that then yes.” Ashmael opened his eyes again when he smelled a familiar fragrance. “You brought coffee.”
“It used to pick you up in the past.” Cobweb assisted Ashmael to sit upright and placed a few pillows against the headboard so Ashmael could recline against them. He placed the mug into Ashmael’s hands, which trembled lightly. “Why didn’t you tell Vaysh the truth, Ash?”
“I couldn’t do that,” he said in-between sips. “I am bad company for Vaysh at the moment. I would only drag him down with me. There is still a lot of anger inside me. I hid it because I didn’t feel safe letting it out, but last night, the dam broke and now I feel empty inside.” Ashmael sipped again and then sighed. Lifting his gaze, he searched Cobweb’s eyes. “Can I stay? I don’t want to be a burden, but I need to get away from Immanion.”
“You need to find yourself again.” Cobweb wished that Ashmael’s timing had been better though. “You can stay, but I won’t be able to give you my full attention. We are expecting another guest shortly.”
Ashmael welcomed the change in subject. “Anyone I know?”
Cobweb got to his feet and retrieved the breakfast tray he had brought with him before placing it onto the bed so Ashmael could feed himself. “No, you don’t know this har.”
“Tell me, Cobweb. Who is he and why is he coming to Forever?” Ashmael selected some bread, put cheese onto it, and slowly ate it. He hoped his stomach was ready to deal with the food.
Cobweb reluctantly gave in. “Remember discovering Lisia and the harlings at the Varrish breeding facility?” After Ashmael had nodded, Cobweb continued. “I thought you might.”
“I vividly remember entering that place. I was glad when I could leave it again.” That facility had been drenched in blood and pain and he still didn’t understand how Lisia could have chosen to stay there.
Pouring more coffee, Cobweb sipped the black liquid himself this time. He didn’t particularly like coffee, but he felt he needed it. “Then you might also remember that the harlings bore tattoos. Their numbers were filed and Paran has been busy linking the pearls to their hostlings and fathers.” Cobweb drew in a deep breath. “Terzian visited the breeding facility too.”
Ashmael placed his mug onto the tray and helped himself to another slice of bread since his stomach wasn’t protesting. “Did he also create pearls there?” After all, the main goal of the facility had been to produce pearls.
“He did. Six of them. So far, Paran has traced down five of them. Four of them died during the battle in which Ponclast was defeated, one remains elusive, and one pearl has been tracked down. This har is still alive.” Cobweb vividly remembered how shocked he had felt when Paran had sent him that message. “They found that har in a musenda in Fulminir. I didn’t know that Pellaz’ forces were still cleaning out that place.”
Ashmael knew however. He always received the most recent reports. “Ponclast had built an empire there. You can’t just dismantle that in a few years.” His face contorted then. “You said he had been found in a musenda?” That was the equivalent to an old-fashioned human whorehouse.
Cobweb forced himself to nod. “Paran told me that he wasn’t staying there voluntarily.” He didn’t know all the details yet. “I am expecting Paran to arrive one of these days. He promised to bring Silver to Forever.”
Ashmael eyed Cobweb closely. “Why are you doing this? Why are you taking this har in? You don’t owe him or Terzian a thing.”
Cobweb’s expression became determined. “I know that I don’t owe Terzian a thing, Ash, but I want to help this har. It isn’t his fault that his father was a sorry excuse for a har.”
Ashmael was surprised to hear Cobweb say that. For a long time, Cobweb had convinced himself that Terzian had *loved* him. Maybe Cobweb had finally accepted the truth. “You will have your hands full when this har arrives. Maybe it would be best if I left.”
“No, you are staying.” Cobweb finished his coffee and looked stubbornly at Ashmael. “Snake and I will manage.”
“If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know. I am not an invalid.” Ashmael refused to be a burden to Cobweb and Snake.
Cobweb sighed and gestured for Ashmael to finish his slice of bread. “You will bounce back, Ash. You are strong. I am not that worried about you.” He smiled warmly at the blond har and Ashmael smiled back, obviously pleased with the fact that Cobweb had such faith in him. “But I worry about Silver. Paran has warned me that he is a mess. Silver was forced to work in that musenda even before he entered his feybraiha. I shudder at the thought of what his first time with a har must have been like.”
Ashmael had finished his coffee and lost his appetite after Cobweb’s last statement. He couldn’t imagine what Silver’s life must have been like either. “I am glad you are taking him in. A har who lived through that deserves a second chance.”
Cobweb nodded. Those had been his thoughts exactly.
Vaysh snuck out onto the balcony the next morning. He had wrapped himself up in a warm blanket and sat down on the bench which stood in the corner. The rays of the sun were already reaching that spot and Vaysh watched how they traveled up his legs. After taking aruna with Phade the other night, he felt at peace. They had only taken aruna once because he had fallen asleep after it, much to Phade’s amusement, but the dark-haired har had let him sleep.
Snuggled up in his blanket, his thoughts began to drift and he wondered what Ashmael was doing at that moment. The fact that Ashmael had left Immanion so unexpectedly worried him. Ashmael and he would always be connected no matter what happened.
“Will you stop brooding so early in the morning?” Phade had woken up alone in bed and hadn’t bothered to dress before stepping out onto the balcony. For one terrible moment he had been afraid that Vaysh had bolted, but then he had sensed Vaysh’s presence on the balcony. “Ashmael is a grown har. He will find a way to cope with the changed situation.” He sat down on the bench next to Vaysh.
“I can’t help worry about him,” Vaysh admitted. “We were chesna once.” Phade inched closer to Vaysh and opened his arms so the other har could move into them. “The blond hair suits you much better than the red ever did.” He twirled a lock of Vaysh’s hair around a finger. “Maybe we should take aruna again to stop you from brooding.”
Vaysh shook his head and gave Phade an admonishing look. “Not that quickly again!”
“Why not? Remember what Velaxis told you!”
“Are you going to bring that up each time you want aruna?” Vaysh couldn’t be really angry with Phade. The dark-haired har radiated love and Vaysh felt honored that it was aimed at him. Turning around, he moved the blanket to enfold Phade in it and then wrapped his legs around Phade’s waist.
Phade rested his brow against Vaysh’s and looked deeply into the gray eyes. “How about here and now?”
It took Vaysh a moment to understand what Phade was suggesting. “You want to take aruna here? Out in the open?” Phade nodded and their brows rubbed against each other. “You can’t be serious! Everyhar can see us!”
“I don’t mind.” Phade nuzzled Vaysh’s throat and his hands descended lower, searching for Vaysh’s ouana-lim. He was a bit surprised when he found Vaysh had turned soume again. “I would like you to be ouana for me, Vaysh. I want to experience that too.”
Vaysh sucked in his breath as Phade coaxed his ouana-lim to life and his big eyes showed how surprised he was with the course they were taking. “I used to be soume in the past,” he whispered and swallowed hard since his ouana-lim decided it liked the manipulation a lot. The stem was growing firmer and the petals were already trying to open. “I was soume for Ashmael and later Thiede dictated I had to be soume too. I don’t have much experience being ouana, Phade.”
Phade crawled onto Vaysh’s lap and sank down onto the sparkling ouana-lim. He purred contentedly once he was securely seated on Vaysh’s lap. Their bodies joined and he licked up Vaysh’s neck. “In that case you need to practice being ouana a lot, Vaysh.”
Vaysh buried his face against Phade’s shoulder and savored the feeling coursing through him. They didn’t move for a long time for Phade realized that this moment was special for Vaysh. He simply stroked Vaysh’s back soothingly and, in the end, he rocked the blond slowly. If it had been up to him, he would have asked Vaysh to become chesna with him, but he knew it was much too early to ask Vaysh such a thing. So instead of pressuring the blond har, he simply rocked along with Vaysh until they neared a joined climax.
Tears flowed down Vaysh’s face and he raised his swimming eyes to lock gazes with Phade. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
Phade shook his head. “I think I do, Vaysh.” He *had* seen Vaysh’s past when they had shared breath that first time. Phade held Vaysh tight when they climaxed and he was thrilled to notice that this time around, Vaysh was holding him in turn.
Ashmael stalked through Forever in search of a quiet place. Under normal circumstances that would have been easy, but Cobweb’s staff was cleaning the house. In the end, he found a deserted room and settled down on the windowsill. His thoughts circled around Vaysh. He was glad that Vaysh had been healed and regretted not cleaning up his own mess in time. Maybe if he had confronted himself at an earlier stage he would have been able to be there for Vaysh. But now he had to work on himself first.
“Am I interrupting?”
Ashmael looked up and found Snake standing in the doorway. “No, you are not.”
Snake entered the room and sat down close to Ashmael. “You are still upset.”
“How much do you know?” Ashmael pulled the fabric of his blue robes closer to his body. Once he felt more focused he was going to ask Cobweb for more suitable clothes like a shirt, some jeans, and a pair of sturdy boots. Gelaming attire didn’t do in Forever.
”Your mind was open when you arrived last night and the things I didn’t understand Cobweb explained to me.”
Ashmael brushed his fair hair behind his ears so it wouldn’t obstruct his view. “I know you came here to talk about me and my problems, but can I say something to you first?”
Surprised, Snake nodded. “Of course.”
“I am happy that Cobweb and you are chesna. He deserves someone like you at his side. He might not want to admit it, but his life was miserable in the past.”
Snake inclined his head in acknowledgment. “And I am blessed to have him in my life. But you are right. That’s not why I am here. I want to talk about your problems.”
“Let me have it then. Tell me that I am stupid and a coward at that. Don’t you think I know that?” Ashmael glared at the wall, angry with himself for the mistakes he had made.
Snake rested a hand on a knee which the blond har had pulled close to his chest. “I am not here to judge you. You went through quite an ordeal when Vaysh died and you worked through it in your own way. It might not have been the best way, but for you, it worked.”
“It worked until Vaysh stood before me healed and whole again and asking me to take him back. That was when I realized that I hadn’t dealt with losing him at all. I turned him away because I was a coward.”
Snake squeezed Ashmael’s knee. “For what it is worth, I think you did the right thing.” Ashmael stopped glaring at the wall and Snake answered the blond har’s questioning look. “Take your time to work through your past, Ashmael. You can stay here as long as you want.”
“Thank you, Snake. I know that having me here is awkward for you, considering…”
“The fact that Cobweb and you used to take aruna doesn’t upset me,” Snake replied calmly and with eyes filled with wisdom. “I am just glad Cobweb had some har in his bed that cared about him. After Terzian, he needed that.”
Ashmael swallowed hard. “I don’t deserve your kindness. I was selfish back then.”
“Still, it made a difference to Cobweb.” Snake rose from the windowsill and gave Ashmael a long thoughtful look. “Don’t isolate yourself, Ashmael. Come and join us.” It was a pity that Swift, Seel, Moon, and Tyson were visiting with Flick and Ulaume for having the younger hara around might have lifted Ashmael’s spirits.
Cal pretended to be mystified when he ran into Vaysh later that day. He caught the other har in his arms and kept him there. “There is something different about you.” He grinned conspiratorially. “Is it the naughty expression in your eyes which tells me that you have been having aruna with Phade?” Cal shook his head and ignored Vaysh’s attempts to free himself. “Are the upturned corners of your mouth telling me you want to smile but are desperately trying to look displeased with me?” He shook his head again. “No, it is neither of those things.”
Vaysh lost his fight to look exasperated and finally smiled at Cal. “I am a blond, Cal. Don’t tell me you didn’t noticed.”
Continuing the act, Cal narrowed his eyes and examined the roots of Vaysh’s hair. “Yeah, you are definitely a blond.” He finally let go of Vaysh. “Care to tell me what happened?”
Absentmindedly, Vaysh ran his fingers through his mane. “Phade worked his magic on me when we took aruna. He didn’t tell me what he was going to do in advance. I was quite shocked to see blond hair instead of the red dye.” Vaysh fell into step beside the blond Tigron. Peeking at Cal, he asked, “Has there been any news about Ash yet?”
“He just left, Vaysh. Give him some time.” But at seeing the upset look on Vaysh’s face, he added, “He is with Snake and Cobweb in Forever. They will take of him. Don’t worry too much.”
“He is in good hands then.” Vaysh knew he had to let Ashmael go, but it was difficult for him to stop worrying. “I want him to heal too.”
Cal stopped Vaysh with a hand on the other har’s shoulder. “Let Ashmael worry about that…as well as Cobweb and Snake. Don’t take that burden onto your shoulders.” To his relief, Vaysh nodded.
“Phade is doing his best to support me and help me where he can. I am very fortunate to have him.”
Cal was happy to hear that. Vaysh was finally beginning to heal in mind as well.
“Do you think we need to tell Darq and Loki about our pearl?” Rue lay on his stomach on the bed and watched Velaxis get dressed. For once, they had just slept and not taken aruna.
“It might be wise to tell them, yes.” Velaxis put on his boots and sat down on the bed. “You should tell them. Maybe I shouldn’t be there when you do.” But Caeru shook his head. “Think about it, Rue. Darq is your son and Loki is… well your adopted son, but this harling will be my son. I am its hostling. They might not like this. You are the Tigrons’ consort and not mine. There is no way of knowing how they will react.”
Caeru hated to admit it, but Velaxis had made a valid point. “I will tell them,” he promised. “But I will pick the time and the place.”
Ashmael ended up helping Cobweb’s househara harvest the strawberries and apples. It was something he would normally never do, but the physical labor was just what he needed. Upon joining Cobweb and Snake for dinner that evening he felt pleasantly tired. He even ate with relish.
Cobweb however didn’t feel that relaxed. He worried about Silver’s mental state and was already trying to figure out a way to handle the har once he arrived at Forever.
“There is no use in worrying about that yet, Cobweb. We will deal with the situation when it occurs.” Snake raised an arm and caressed Cobweb’s face with his fingertips. “I am sure you will find a way to reach him.”
Cobweb sighed. “I wish they had found Silver before they had shipped him off to that musenda. He was there for a whole year.” How had that affected the young har?
“Cobweb, if anyone can help this har, it is you.” Ashmael gave Cobweb a look filled with trust and faith.
Cobweb smiled, but his eyes showed anguish. “Why does everyone always have such faith in me? I made my share of mistakes.”
“I don’t know why,” Ashmael replied. “We just do.”
Ashmael couldn’t sleep that night, even though he was tired to the bone from working all day. So after tossing and turning for an hour, he decided to head outside for a walk. The grounds of Forever seemed magical with the dark of midnight shrouding them as Ashmael found a place he liked and sat down. He rested his back against the trunk of an old oak tree and looked dreamily at the landscape in front of him which consisted of trees, shrubs, and a deserted cabin.
It was a place where he would have loved to take Vaysh to in the past. They would have sat for a while, talking quietly and admiring nature’s beauty before taking aruna all night long. But Vaysh was lying in Phade’s arms and, while Ashmael wished it had been him holding Vaysh, he was happy for his former chesnari in a way.
“You need to stop thinking about him.”
Ashmael blinked. He hadn’t noticed Cobweb sneaking up on him. It was a sure sign of how distracted he was. Cobweb stood in the shadows of the trees and only the whites of his eyes showed. “You can come out of hiding.”
Cobweb stepped out of the shadows and sat on his heels in front of Ashmael. His long, raven hair obscured part of his face. “Stop thinking of Vaysh all the time and focus on yourself.”
“That is easier said than done. I still see him standing there asking me if I want to take him back. That image has been burned onto my retina.”
“I hope Vaysh is being smarter and focusing on his *own* needs. Ash, you need to understand that the two of you are separate beings. You need to take care of yourself and Vaysh will do the same thing. Try to get in touch with yourself instead.”
“How do I do that? Tell me?”
Cobweb gifted Ashmael with a heartfelt smile. “Go to your core and search your feelings. You know how to do that.”
He did, but was he ready to follow through and confront himself?
During the next few days Vaysh settled into a routine with Phade. He became comfortable sharing rooms with the other har and even enjoyed wearing the dark-haired har’s clothes because they carried Phade’s scent. And Phade was the happiest har alive since he had Vaysh’s love.
Cal and Pellaz tried to be a bit more discrete when they took aruna and for the next few days no more reports on earth quakes were presented to them.
Rue however didn’t feel that pleased as he still had to find a way to tell Darq and Loki that Velaxis was hosting his pearl. He decided to postpone it for the time being until the opportune moment presented itself.
Ashmael stared at his reflection in the water, determined to do this. He had been running from himself for three days and Cobweb’s admonishing look told him that he shouldn’t put this off any longer. After all, he had come to Forever for a reason.
Sitting down cross-legged he glanced at his reflection one last time and then closed his eyes. He drew in a deep breath and focused within. He went down to his core and almost recoiled when he saw the ugly images there. He saw himself watching Vaysh and shying away from talking to Vaysh each time they met. Looking at it in retrospect, he realized he had always seen the pleading in the gray eyes, but had chosen to ignore it.
He had taken the easy way out at the time by looking the other way and telling himself that *his* Vaysh was no longer alive and that the present-day Vaysh was nothing but an abomination.
He had been there when Cal had come to Immanion to reclaim Pellaz and had witnessed Thiede’s demise. That had been the time when he still could have made amends to Vaysh. It had been the time for him to reach out to Vaysh and try to bridge the distance, but he had once more looked the other way. He couldn’t blame this on Vaysh, although he had tried to do so for a long time. Vaysh had been hurt – damaged – and Ashmael had been the sane and capable one. It had been up to him to make the first step, but he had never admitted that to himself – until now.
Self-hatred came to the surface of his soul and Ashmael gritted his teeth under its attack. If he truly wanted to move on, he had to accept what he had done and when the time came he should make amends. But it was time to look his demons in the eye and they were ugly. “Yes, I did those things and I admit to doing them… I made mistakes and when I get the chance I will apologize to Vaysh, but I need to move on.” Ashmael felt the urge to physically hurt himself in order to contain the anguish he was experiencing, but that was one road he wasn’t willing to take. He wasn’t going to injure himself on purpose.
“Stay strong, Ash. Don’t give in to this dark side of yours. It controlled you for many years. At its foundation is fear. Don’t give in.” Cobweb had followed Ashmael and had revealed himself when he had thought the other har had needed his support the most. He placed his hand on Ashmael’s shoulder and knelt next to him. “Fear is at the base of all negative emotions, Ash. You need to acknowledge that.”
“What am I afraid of?” Ashmael asked and looked at Cobweb pleadingly.
“You are afraid of many things. You are afraid that you failed Vaysh in the past, but you couldn’t prevent his death. You didn’t know Thiede’s plans. You are afraid that you are no longer the har you were and that is true. You have changed and so has Vaysh. You are afraid that, should the two of you get together again, that you will disappoint each other and the relationship will fail. You already made that happen when you turned him away. Let go of those fears, Ash. Free yourself of them.”
“How do I do that?” Ashmael wanted to let go but had no idea how to do that.
“I will make it easier on you,” Cobweb said and leaned in closer. “I will show you.” His lips found Ashmael’s and he coaxed those fears from Ashmael. They left the blond har’s mind in small huffs of breath which Cobweb collected in his mouth and then released by breathing them into the air. “Better?”
Ashmael smiled. He felt lighter – less burdened. “I think so.”
“Good.” Cobweb took Ashmael’s hand in his and guided the blond har into mediation. They remained like that for hours as Cobweb cleansed Ashmael’s soul of all the hatred, fear, and pain which had been a part of the blond har for so long. Ashmael had finally taken his first step on the long road of spiritual recovery.
“You sent for me?” Rue rushed into the Tigrons’ apartments, eager to find out why Pellaz wanted to talk to him. Surprised, he noticed that Cal, Darq, Loki, and even Geburael were also present. A queasy feeling formed in the pit of his stomach as he suddenly suspected why Pellaz had summoned him.
“Yes, I did.” Pellaz gestured for Caeru to sit down on the chair next to him. The other hara save Cal had already seated themselves on the couches. Cal stood close to the wall, resting a shoulder against it. “I believe there is something we need to tell our sons and high har, don’t you, Rue?”
Caeru hated being forced into this, but he also knew that he might not have found the courage to tell them otherwise. It was best to get it over with now. “Pellaz is right. I need to make an announcement. One which I hope you will welcome.” Caeru looked at Pellaz for help. It might make a difference if Pellaz was to make this announcement.
Pellaz took pity on his consort. “I will tell them,” he said and smiled at the Tigrina. “I must admit that I am happy to tell you this. Don’t think I am displeased with this news.”
Darq frowned and wondered what was going on. A glance at Loki and Geb showed that they had no clue either.
“There is going to be an addition to the family,” Pellaz declared, opting for the direct approach. “Rue fathered a pearl.”
Darq blinked in surprise and Loki’s jaw dropped. Geb was the only har who seemed unaffected by the news. “You fathered a pearl?” Loki asked Caeru.
“Yes, I did.”
“But I thought…” Darq bit the tip of his tongue. He wasn’t sure he was supposed to know that the Tigrina was barren.
“That I was barren,” Caeru finished for his son. “I was until recently. Your friend Zu, or Velaxis as he is known to me, healed me. He didn’t tell me though. I didn’t know it had happened until he had completed the process. And apparently, I fathered a pearl.”
Darq grinned. “That sounds like something Zu would do.” He had never stopped liking Zu and he loved his hostling so why would this news upset him? “Zu is hosting your pearl?”
“Yes, Velaxis is hosting my pearl,” Caeru confirmed. “You look pleased,” he added in a puzzled tone.
“I like both of you and I don’t mind having another brother. It would be nice to help raise that harling.”
Caeru sighed, relieved. One down, two to go. “And what about you, Geb?”
“I don’t mind,” the young har answered. “This doesn’t really concern me.”
“But it does,” Loki corrected his chesnari. “Guess who will end up watching the harling in the end?” Realization dawned on Geb’s face and the resulting surprise on Geb’s face made Loki smile. “I am happy for you, Rue,” he stated and got to his feet. He covered the distance and pressed a kiss to Rue’s brow. Although Pellaz was his hostling, the Tigron had often been distant and in Rue Loki had found a good substitute. He loved Caeru as much as he loved his hostling and his father.
Cal smirked at seeing the relief in Caeru’s eyes. Like the Tigrina, he was glad that this meeting had gone well.
Vaysh sat down opposite Phade and watched him. Phade, curious, raised his gaze and looked at the blond har who had changed immensely during the last few days. Aside from the obvious new hair color, Vaysh had gained some weight. A mild tan colored his features and the har smiled more often. All those changes pleased Phade. What also pleased him was the fact that they had aruna every night and that Vaysh was growing more comfortable with being ouana.
“You look happy,” Vaysh commented as he reached for his cup of tea.
“That is because I *am* happy.” Phade raised his cup and sipped. Leering at Vaysh from over the rim of his cup, he took another step into solidifying their relationship by reaching out to Vaysh in mind touch. /You make me happy./
Vaysh’s hands shook from Phade’s voice in his head and he smiled at the other har. /You make me happy too./ He placed the cup onto the table and exchanged his seat for the armrest of Phade’s chair. Balancing precariously, he ran his fingers up Phade’s shoulder. /You want us to become chesna. I have sensed it./
/That is true, but I am not going to ask you yet./ Phade felt encouraged since Vaysh was bringing up the matter. /I will be patient./
Vaysh pressed a kiss to Phade’s brow. He couldn’t make any promises yet, but with each passing day, his feelings for Phade deepened and maybe one day in the future, he would be able to let go of Ashmael and become chesna with Phade instead.