High Hope

High Hope
by Morgana

Story Notes

Part 2 in the Fairy Tale Endings series. Part one was Damnation Angels. Part 3: Changes.

Author’s Email: morganalebeau@yahoo.com

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

Pairings: Vaysh/Pellaz/Velaxis, Velaxis/Caeru, Vaysh/Cal and Vaysh/Phade.

Rating: NC-17

Summary: At Pellaz’ request Velaxis helps heal Vaysh.

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 Patricia and DA, thanks sweeties!

All remaining mistakes are mine.

High Hope

Part 1

The fact that somehar was knocking on his door surprised Velaxis. Lately, the members of the Hegemony had backed off, having finally understood that he was no longer available. So for someone to visit him was surprising. Briefly, he wondered if it might be Caeru, but then dismissed the thought. The Tigrina had decided to take Darq, Loki, and Geb out and would be exploring the city for some time. So who else would dare disturb him?

Curious, Velaxis opened the door and took a step back. Pellaz was the last har he had expected to seek him out. He inclined his head in greeting and gestured for the Tigron to enter. Pellaz and he had never gotten along and he wondered why the other har had come to his rooms that day.

Pellaz entered and the fabric of his green robes moved around him, giving the impression that he was floating, but Velaxis knew that it was just an illusion. He had to admit that Thiede had outdone himself when he had created Pellaz. At first, Velaxis hadn’t been convinced that Pellaz was the right har for the job, but the Tigron hadn’t let them down so far. In a way, Pellaz had earned his respect, even though Velaxis’ had never voiced that thought aloud.

“I am surprised,” Velaxis commented first as he closed the door. He had heard about the meeting that had taken place a few days earlier in which Pellaz, Cal, and Caeru had sided with him against the members of the Hegemony. He had won Cal’s respect during their journey back to Immanion and he had Caeru’s love, but he had never been sure about Pellaz’ support. “That you would visit me,” he added as he saw Pellaz’ surprise.

The Tigron opted for the direct approach. Coming there was already hard on him. “Rue told me you had healed him and for that I am grateful.” Pellaz made his way over to the window and looked outside so he didn’t have to meet Velaxis’ blue eyes. “I tried. Cal and I had both tried, but it had never worked. It had frustrated us to no end because we knew it was supposed to work. Cobweb had healed Snake that way.”

For one moment, his shoulders slumped and Velaxis saw the true emotions on Pellaz’ face. That the Tigron was letting them show unnerved him. Maybe he had underestimated the feelings Pellaz bore Caeru. “It only works with the right har. It is the combination that makes it work.” He felt it was safe to offer that.

Pellaz’ head whipped up and he turned to face Velaxis. “Thank you for what you did for Rue.”

Velaxis nodded to show his acceptance of Pellaz’ gratitude. “But that is not why you are here.”

“It is part of why I am here.” Pellaz felt uncomfortable, nervous even. He had thought about this ever since Caeru had told him that his consort had been healed and had rehearsed this speech many times in his head. But now that he was facing Velaxis, the words wouldn’t come.

Mystified, Velaxis watched Pellaz and noted the nervous twitch near the right upper corner of Pellaz’ mouth. He had seen it only a few times. One of those times had been when Tharmifex had suggested that Pellaz and Galdra took aruna again to find the missing Loki. What was making Pellaz that nervous this day?

“I have a request,” Pellaz declared as he finally found his voice again. He hid his trembling hands behind his back and forced himself to meet Velaxis’ gaze. In the past, he had always wondered about the platinum-haired har, but had never figured him out. Like Thiede, he had found out the truth too late.

“What kind of request?” Velaxis *was* intrigued. He wondered what was so important to Pellaz that it was making him uncomfortable. It was rather obvious that Pellaz expected him to decline.

“There is another har I deeply care about and I want to see him healed too.” Pellaz nervously moistened his lips and studied Velaxis’ eyes. Hopefully he would be able to tell if his cause was a lost one or not.

Velaxis’ surprise showed when he blinked. “Another har? Who might that be?” Who meant so much to Pellaz that the Tigron was willing to plead on his behalf?

“Vaysh.” Pellaz maintained eye contact and wondered about the bewilderment in the blue eyes. “He has been damaged and only a ghost of who he used to be the last few years. If it is possible for him to heal I will do whatever you ask to see it happen.”

Velaxis’ shock mounted. “Why do you care about him so deeply?” Vaysh and Pellaz were friends, he knew that much. And Vaysh was Pellaz’ confidante, but Velaxis had never suspected Pellaz’ feelings for Vaysh might go deeper. It was a well-known fact that Pellaz was madly in love with Cal. So how did Vaysh fit in?

“How much do you know about Vaysh?” Since Velaxis hadn’t denied him right away, Pellaz grew hopeful and seated himself on the windowsill.

“Not that much. I was never that interested in learning more about him.” Realizing this visit would take longer than expected, Velaxis poured them some tea which he had just made and handed a cup to Pellaz, who immediately curled his fingers around the porcelain. It was amazing in a way to see Pellaz, the mighty Tigron of Immanion, fidget because he was afraid he was going to be denied.

“Do you know how Thiede made me?” Pellaz would prefer to not tell his history all over again since some of it was still painful. Some nights, he had nightmares about his remaking and then only Cal or Rue’s presence would soothe him.

Velaxis leaned against the wall and nodded. “I know what he did.” Pellaz didn’t know it, but Velaxis had witnessed the Tigron’s creation during one of his meetings with Thiede. He had never approved of Thiede’s methods of taking innocent unsuspecting hara and upending their lives like that.

“The same thing happened to Vaysh. When Thiede found him, he was convinced Vaysh would make the perfect Tigron.” Saying that didn’t hurt. A part of Pellaz had always wished Thiede had been successful with Vaysh because then his own life wouldn’t have been changed so dramatically. Cal and he could have been together without complications.

Velaxis nodded. “I know he had experimented with hara before he had found you.” But he had never figured out what exactly was wrong with Vaysh.

Pellaz sipped his tea and drew in a deep breath. He averted his gaze and chose to look out over his city again. “Thiede learned from his mistake as he moved on which was that he didn’t erase Vaysh’s memory. I didn’t know who or what I was until after I had been remade. I had forgotten about Cal at that time.” For one moment he wished he was drinking something stronger so he could drown his sorrow, but then he remembered why he had come to Velaxis’ rooms.

Listening intently, Velaxis had never thought that Pellaz would confide in him.

“Vaysh remembered Ashmael. They were chesna when Thiede took Vaysh or rather, killed him to be exact.”

Velaxis blinked. Certain memories which he had seen in Ashmael’s memory made sense now. During aruna, he had often seen Vaysh in Ashmael’s memories, but he had never connected the images in such a way.

“Vaysh remembered that he loved Ashmael when he woke up and, when Thiede forced Vaysh to take aruna with him in order to complete the transformation, Vaysh fought him. That must have angered Thiede,” Pellaz explained while staring into the distance thoughtfully. “Thiede never told me this. I only managed to put the pieces together from certain images which I saw in Vaysh’s mind.” He swallowed hard. “When Thiede and I took aruna, I was held down, but I never really fought him. Vaysh did. I can only imagine how Thiede must have reacted when his ‘precious’ Vaysh resisted him.” Pellaz turned and looked at Velaxis. “Did you ever bear witness to a violent and angry Thiede?”

“I did.” Velaxis shivered as he remembered those moments. If something like that had happened during aruna it would have made the act brutal and he understood how it could have damaged a har. Vaysh in this case.

Pellaz placed the cup onto the windowsill and started to twirl a lock of his raven hair around a fingertip. The gesture alone showed how uncomfortable he felt. “He raped Vaysh. It took me a very long time to realize how badly that act had damaged Vaysh.”

Something in the way Pellaz said that made Velaxis curious. “What made you realize that?”

“It was small things at first.” Pellaz shrugged. “When I met Vaysh he was hiding his feelings behind a solid wall of ice. I broke through it throughout the years and got glimpses of the real har behind it and I realized that this har was suffering. He panics easily, Velaxis. Just a touch even bestowed on him in affection is enough to make him run. He is so fragile. I remember the time when Ashmael came to my rooms and they accidentally met. Vaysh was a mess after that.”

“And you want to see him healed why?” Finding out why was very important to Velaxis.

“He is my friend.” Pellaz met Velaxis’ challenging gaze once more. “In a way, he was my hostling. He was all I had after Thiede had remade me and thrust me back into life. Vaysh knows my secrets and he guards them well.” Pellaz took a sharp breath before adding, “If Cal had never returned to me and Caeru had never found his way to Immanion I would have taken Vaysh as my consort, my Tigrina. We suit each other, Velaxis. In a strange way, Vaysh is a part of me. We share the same history and have been through similar pain. I care deeply for him and if there is a way for him to heal I want to try it.”

“What exactly is Vaysh’s problem?” Velaxis finished his tea, pushed away from the wall, and advanced on Pellaz.

“He is barren. He can’t father a pearl or host one. Thiede burned him out during that rape.” Pellaz eyed Velaxis closely to see what reaction hearing that had on the other har. “He is like Rue, Velaxis, but for different reasons.”

Velaxis shook his head however. “If what you told me is true, Vaysh’s injuries are much deeper. Rue still enjoys taking aruna. I doubt Vaysh still does.” Healing Vaysh would require more of his skill than healing Caeru. “And I am not sure I am the right har for the job.” He said this for several reasons but he couldn’t tell Pellaz the most important one because he hadn’t told Caeru yet: namely that he was hosting the Tigrina’s pearl. During aruna, he had allowed for it to happen and maybe Caeru suspected it had happened, but the Tigrina was considerate enough not to inquire about it.

Pellaz felt defeated. “You won’t do it?” He had hoped Velaxis would understand and help him!

“I didn’t say that.” Curious to see how Pellaz would react, he raised his right hand and touched the Tigron’s face. Pellaz allowed the touch and even Velaxis had to admit that Pellaz was beauty personified. There was something in the face or perhaps in the eyes that made Pellaz stand out from all the other hara Velaxis had ever met. Pellaz’ mind was strong and would never be broken. It was the very reason why Thiede had chosen him to become Tigron. “If you are really determined to do this you will have to do it yourself. I will help of course…” Velaxis failed to finish his sentence for Pellaz had stepped away from him, looking at him angrily.

Pellaz stared at the floor. “He won’t let me get close to him.”

Velaxis took Pellaz’ arm and guided the Tigron over to the couch where they sat down. “Tell me.”

“We took aruna just once and back then I was feeling sorry for myself. I wasn’t even trying to make him feel good. He was drunk and that was probably the only reason why he allowed it.”

Pleased that Pellaz was finally telling him the truth, Velaxis nodded. “And at the time you didn’t know that aruna could heal.”

“You are right. I didn’t.” Pellaz looked up again and gave Velaxis a look filled with guilt. “I should have tried after that, shouldn’t I?”

“Maybe the time wasn’t right,” Velaxis answered soothingly. He needed more information if he was going to agree to this. “Does Vaysh take aruna with other hara?”

Pellaz shook his head. “I highly doubt it. In all these years I have never seen him interested in another har.”

“Not even Ashmael?”

“Not even Ashmael.” Pellaz fidgeted with the hem of his sleeve. “I know Vaysh is suffering, Velaxis, and he has done so for many years. Is it wrong for me to want to end that?”

“Not wrong.” Pellaz’ genuine desire to help Vaysh touched Velaxis. “But if we do this, much will be up to you.”

Pellaz frowned. “I don’t understand why it would be up to me. It is you who should take aruna with…” His voice drifted off as Velaxis shook his head. “But I thought…”

“As I said before, you need the right har for the job and where Vaysh is concerned, that is you.”

“But why?” Pellaz frowned deeply and fine lines of worry appeared on his brow.

“Thiede did this to him and only Thiede can undo this…” Velaxis felt sorry for Pellaz when the Tigron flinched uncontrollably. “Your essence is Thiede’s. You know that. You can’t deny it.”

Pellaz sighed deeply. “Are you saying I need to take aruna with Vaysh again?”

“But not the way you did in the past.” Velaxis made his decision then and there. “I will be there to guide you.” In a rare show of affection he placed his hand on Pellaz’. But the Tigron was still fidgeting about. “The biggest responsibility will lie on your shoulders.” Velaxis wasn’t sure he should continue to confide in Pellaz. Maybe it would be better to leave the rest unsaid. Vaysh and Pellaz would find out when the time came. But seeing the confused look in Pellaz’ eyes Velaxis knew he couldn’t end their conversation like that.

“There are different possible scenarios, Pellaz. It might very well be that just taking aruna with Vaysh will heal him. Then there is the possibility that healing Vaysh will take more energy and, in that case, I might have to take over your body and guide you during aruna.” Pellaz swallowed hard, but didn’t speak up, so Velaxis continued. “And then there is the chance that Vaysh’s injuries are so severe that a different kind aruna will be needed – one that I will have to perform.” Velaxis knew that the fact that he was with pearl would only strengthen their aruna and make him even more powerful. “I don’t know what will happen until Vaysh and you take aruna.”

“Thank you for being honest.” Pellaz shivered at the thought of Velaxis taking possession of his body, but he would agree to it if it helped Vaysh heal.

Velaxis had one more question left. “I assume you already discussed this with Vaysh and he agreed to it?” He was surprised to see Pellaz grow pale. “You didn’t?” Stunned, he stared at the suddenly shy Tigron. “You didn’t even discuss this with him?”

“I wanted your answer first. I didn’t want to give Vaysh false hope.”

Since that answer made sense, Velaxis nodded. “Will you talk to him in private or do you want me present as well?”

“I would prefer for you to accompany me. We might have to convince Vaysh.”

Surprised, Velaxis asked, “Why do you think he will need convincing? Doesn’t Vaysh want to be healed?”

“Vaysh is a very complicated har,” Pellaz replied and left it at that. “Thank you for doing this for me – us… Vaysh is important to me and I want him to be happy.”

“I will do what I can,” Velaxis promised and then tilted his head. “I suggest you talk this over with Cal… and maybe even Caeru. They will have to do without you for a short while. I doubt we can heal Vaysh in an hour. It might take days.”

Pellaz swallowed nervously. He hadn’t told them about his plans yet. “I will do so tonight.”

“And tomorrow, we will seek out Vaysh and talk to him.” Pellaz had managed to surprise him that day. He hadn’t thought that the Tigron cared for Vaysh so deeply to come and practically beg Velaxis to help him.

~~~

Cal arched an eyebrow when he realized that Pellaz was late for dinner. Caeru had already joined him and, since the Tigrina had worked up an appetite, had already started eating. Cal loved seeing the new and improved Caeru. Ever since Velaxis had healed the Tigrina, Caeru lived with a new zest for life. The har shone from the inside and Cal was under the impression that he was seeing the same har Pellaz had fallen in love with so many years ago. The old Caeru was popping back out again. “You are hungry.” Caeru was eating his slice of pie with relish.

Caeru flashed Cal a stunning smile. “It’s been a while since I hit the city with our sons and high har in tow. I enjoyed myself.”

The blond Tigron however suspected there was more to it. He would never forget the expression in Caeru’s eyes right after the Tigrina had returned from taking aruna with Velaxis. Cal suspected the feelings involving those two went deeper than they wanted to admit. He had tried to address the matter, but Caeru had cut him off. “

“Maybe you should spend the evening with Velaxis?” Cal suggested and Caeru shot him a disturbed look before putting his fork onto the plate.

“And why would I want to do that?” Caeru wondered if Cal knew that his heart was beating like mad. Taking aruna with Velaxis had changed his life, but the Tigrina was intelligent enough to know that he had to stop these feelings before they deepened further. He was the Tigrons’ consort and Pellaz and Cal had finally accepted him fully into their lives. He couldn’t complicate matters again by admitting he liked Velaxis so much. “Do you want to spend the night with Pellaz?”

Shaking his head, Cal leaned in closer. He curled his fingers around Rue’s and smiled at the other har. “How much longer are you going to deny yourself, Rue?”

Rue froze, feeling caught. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“It took me some time to figure it out, but you love Velaxis, don’t you?”

Rue vehemently shook his head. “I don’t know what has gotten into you. I care for him, but that is it. I know my place.”

Caeru’s words made Cal sad. “Don’t make the same mistake Pell did. It took him years to admit he had feelings for Galdra.”

Caeru shivered. “You are imagining things, Cal.”

“I don’t think so.” Cal squeezed Caeru’s hand. “Eventually Pellaz understood that I am safe enough in my love for him to accept Galdra’s presence in my life. We would do the same thing for you. Rue, your life was miserable at times. I know that has changed, but you should not deny yourself.”

Caeru didn’t really know what to think of Cal’s passionate speech. “Cal, it took me so long to get close to Pell and…I… I don’t want to endanger that.”

“I understand that. I really do.” It had taken Cal a while to truly understand Caeru’s way of thinking. “But you are safe now. Neither Pell nor I will cast you out of our lives because you take a lover on the side. Pell has Galdra while I had Panthera and Terzian…” Cal’s expression became anguished when he remembered the two hara that had once changed his life. “And you are certainly entitled to have Velaxis if he makes you happy.” Relieved, Cal noticed that Caeru was blushing and was doing his best to avoid looking at him. A smile surfaced on his face. “Velaxis and you always were good friends, weren’t you?”

Caeru nodded his head slowly. “When Pell and I were at odds he was my only true friend.”

“Does he return your feelings?” Cal continued to smile, and when Caeru finally raised his gaze, he nodded encouragingly.

“I believe so.” Caeru felt breathless. “He hinted at it when…when he healed me.”

“When you took aruna.” Cal preferred being a bit more direct. “And I bet you would like to take aruna with Velaxis again.” The blush on Caeru’s face deepened. “Well, I am not stopping you and neither is Pell.” Leaning in closer, he pressed his lips to Caeru’s and shared breath with him.

Caeru readily accepted and shared some of the memories regarding his healing. It meant a lot to him that Pellaz and Cal were willing to accept this. /I will never stop loving Pellaz,/ he told Cal in mind touch. /And you know how much I have come to care about you…/

/But Velaxis is different. Had you not been blood-bonded with Pellaz, Velaxis would have been your perfect chesnari./

/You understand./ They stopped sharing breath and Caeru’s skin glowed with a golden hue after sharing that intimacy with the Tigron. /Does Pell agree with you?/

/Pell and I discussed this. Trust me, he understands./ Since they were discussing Pellaz, Cal started to wonder again. “What’s keeping him from joining us?”

~~~

Pellaz knew he was late, but hoped they would forgive him once they knew what had been keeping him. Caeru and Cal were chatting when he stepped into the room and he smiled at seeing them interacting so easily. It was a dream come true with the three of them finally getting along.

“You are late,” Cal stated and arched an eyebrow. “What kept you?”

Pellaz seated himself in-between Cal and Caeru and drew in a deep breath. He wasn’t quite sure how Caeru was going to react to this news. He knew that Rue cared deeply about Velaxis. “I went to see Velaxis.”

The fork Caeru had picked up dropped onto the plate. A wild, somewhat startled look appeared on the Tigrina’s face. “Why did you do that?” Although Cal had assured him that they didn’t mind Rue spending time with Velaxis, a part of him didn’t believe them. His life had changed for the better so suddenly that he was afraid they would take it away again.

“Please, don’t be worried.” Pellaz cupped Caeru’s cheek in the palm of his hand. “This has nothing to do with you liking Velaxis. I am not angry with you and neither do I want to take him away from you.” It didn’t surprise him that Caeru had little faith in him. In the past, he had made too many mistakes where Caeru was concerned. “Please don’t think so badly of me. I have changed too.”

Caeru nodded his head shakily and caused Pellaz’ fingers to caress his face. “I am sorry.”

“You have every reason to doubt me, I know that… But I hope that in the future you will gain some trust in me.” Pellaz bestowed another sweet caress onto Caeru’s face and then his hand dropped back onto his lap. “I talked to Velaxis because he healed you and there is another har I would like to see healed.”

Both Cal and Caeru frowned. “Which har is that?” Cal asked eventually.

“Vaysh,” Pellaz replied in a small voice. He looked Cal in the eye and hoped his chesnari would understand. “I could have been him, Cal. If Thiede had made a mistake while remaking me, I could have ended up being Vaysh. If he can be healed I want to try.”

Cal understood. Although he’d had only a few dealings with Vaysh in the past, he had always sensed the sadness that clung to the red-haired har. One night, Pellaz had told him Vaysh’s history and ever since then he had felt deeply for the damaged har. At one time, Vaysh had been Pellaz’ only support and he understood why Pell felt he had to try to heal his friend. “What did Velaxis say?”

Caeru was curious too. Velaxis had healed him without sharing his intentions with him and Rue had been stunned to learn what had happened. “Did he accept?”

“He accepted, but told me to talk to you first… Tomorrow we will discuss the matter with Vaysh.” Pellaz’ gaze shifted from Cal’s face to Rue’s. “Please believe me. I have no intention of coming between Velaxis and you. It is just that I care deeply about Vaysh and if there is a chance to heal him…”

Caeru interrupted Pellaz. “I understand,” the Tigrina said. “Cal helped me see the truth.”

Pellaz gave Cal a grateful look. If it hadn’t been for Cal, his life might have still been miserable. Cal had managed to heal the rift between Rue and him and for that, he would always be grateful.

~~~

Later that evening, Rue wondered about something Pellaz had said. The three of them had cuddled up in bed with Pellaz somehow ending up in the middle. Cal lay spooned up behind Pellaz and Caeru was looking at his consort’s face, which had relaxed. He had wrapped his arms around Pellaz and Cal in turn was embracing Rue. It was quite comfortable and felt intimate to Caeru. “Pell?”

Pellaz opened his eyes and looked at Rue. He sensed that the other har had questions for him, but he didn’t know what they were about. “Yes, Rue?”

Rue moved a little closer and Cal adjusted his embrace to pull him in as tightly as possible. He hoped that Pellaz, being caught up in the middle, wasn’t getting squashed. “What did you mean when you said that you weren’t trying to take Velaxis away from me?”

“Exactly that. I don’t want you to think that this is some ploy to lure Velaxis away from you and into Vaysh’s arms, for it isn’t.” Pellaz noted that the frown on Caeru’s brow deepened. “Rue, I know you care for Velaxis and I am fine with it.”

The Tigrina gasped since Cal had told him the same thing. How was it possible that they knew him better than he knew himself? “But there can’t be a future for Vel and me. You know that too.”

“There is a future for the two of you if you want it to happen.” Pellaz stroked Rue’s blond hair. “It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to deny Galdra. Cal made me see that. I hope you won’t need that long to realize the same thing. Rue, the three of us are connected in a way which we will never truly understand. That bond won’t go away if you take Velaxis to your bed.”

Cal nodded his head approvingly and rubbed his cheek against Pellaz’ shoulder. Galdra and he had sorted things out and if the Freyhellan visited nowadays Cal was generous enough to let them have a few nights of their own. He even occasionally joined in. “I am secure in my love for Pell.”

Rue swallowed hard. He would never stop loving Pellaz either.

”Stop worrying and enjoy life,” Pellaz said and kissed Rue on the lips. “If it is Velaxis you want, go and get him.”

~~~

Velaxis hadn’t counted on Caeru being there when he visited Pellaz the next morning. The Tigron had asked Velaxis to fetch him before they went to talk to Vaysh. Velaxis felt shy at seeing Rue standing there dressed in nothing but a flimsy morning robe. Memories of them taking aruna flashed in his mind and reminded him of the fact that he was hosting Caeru’s pearl. He still hadn’t decided whether to tell Caeru for he didn’t know if he was going to stay in Immanion. There was a chance he might just flee the situation and raise his son someplace else. Having Caeru’s son would cause problems, he was convinced of that.

Suddenly Caeru was in his arms. The other har had moved unexpectedly, threatening to fall. Velaxis had reacted at once, catching him.

“How clumsy of me.” Cal grinned conspiratorially. He was in the process of drying his hair and had pretended that he hadn’t seen where he was walking, effectively running into Caeru and launching the Tigrina into Velaxis’ arms.

“Very clumsy,” Pellaz remarked dryly. /You could try being diplomatic for a change, Cal./

Cal continued to grin. He had succeeded in getting Rue closer to Velaxis. It mattered little to him just how he had accomplished it.

Caeru drew in a deep breath, which was a mistake for it made him aware of just how close Velaxis was. He took in the other har’s scent and wanted nothing more than to share breath with him and take aruna.

Velaxis felt the same way, but could hardly voice that thought in the Tigrons’ presence. After all, Caeru was the Tigrina and their consort. For the first time, he started to doubt his decision to take aruna with Rue. He released the Tigrina and took a step away from Caeru. Unable to break eye contact, he looked helplessly at Caeru.

Pellaz took pity on Velaxis and said, “I hope you are prepared to do battle. Vaysh isn’t simply going to say yes.”

Cal was running his hands through his hair and was making an even worse mess of the snares and tangles in his locks by doing so.

“Oh, let me do that!” Unable to watch Cal struggle with his hair, Caeru took hold of a brush and started to detangle the mess. “Really, Cal. You should learn how to groom yourself properly.”

Velaxis couldn’t help himself and grinned. He loved it when Rue started to fuss.

Pellaz noticed Velaxis’ interest in Caeru and was happy for his consort. He knew that Caeru felt left out at times, even though Cal and he tried hard to make Rue a part of their lives. But three was an odd number and often one of them – mostly Caeru – stood at the sidelines. That was why he welcomed Velaxis into Caeru’s life.

Cal allowed Caeru to comb his hair and gave Pellaz an inquisitive look. “Why do you expect Vaysh to put up a fight?” What har wouldn’t want to be healed after having been damaged so badly in the past?

“It is just a feeling.” Pellaz had a hard time explaining the sense of foreboding that washed over him.

Part 2

Vaysh hadn’t gotten out of bed yet. There really was no reason for him to get up and hurry to Pellaz’ side these days. Pellaz was in control and had Cal and Caeru to support him. Vaysh had become obsolete and he wondered why he was staying at a court where he always feared running into Ashmael. It was obvious that Ashmael wanted nothing to do with him. And yet, every time they met, Vaysh was in emotional pain.

He turned onto his left side and curled up on his bed. Closing his eyes he tried to banish the images that tried to surface. He didn’t want to remember the days when Ashmael and he had been happy together.

“Vaysh?” Pellaz had knocked repeatedly, but Vaysh hadn’t answered, so the Tigron had entered. Since the door had been unlocked, he had come in with Velaxis in tow.

Vaysh must have been lost in thought since he hadn’t noticed his friend entering the room. And what was Velaxis doing there as well? Vaysh knew that Pellaz wasn’t particularly fond of Velaxis. “What are you doing here?” Vaysh stood and straightened his shoulders, grateful that he had dressed in warm morning robes after exiting the bathroom.

“I need to talk to you,” Pellaz answered, sensing the cautious mood Vaysh was in.

Vaysh eyed Pellaz closely from behind a curtain of red hair. “Why is Velaxis here?”

“Because I need him to back me up.” Pellaz seated himself resolutely on Vaysh’s couch. “Come here and sit with me.” He patted the space next to him. Vaysh however seated himself on the opposite couch and eyed him warily.

“What is this about? Why do you need Velaxis to back you up?” Vaysh pulled the fabric of his morning robes closer and his gaze repeatedly shifted from Pellaz to Velaxis and back again. He could tell that they were up to something but he had no idea what it was.

“Velaxis healed Caeru, Vaysh. Caeru is barren no longer. Rue is once more able to host a pearl or to father one.” Pellaz wished Vaysh’s eyes would reveal some emotion, but it was impossible to read the expression in them.

“In that case I am very happy for Rue.” Vaysh had no idea why Pellaz had chosen to tell him that. “The Tigrina can go back to hosting pearls then.”

/Or fathering them,/ Velaxis thought while carefully guarding his thoughts so Pellaz wouldn’t accidentally read them. He eyed Vaysh closely and then reached out with his mind, trying to discern the amount of damage Thiede had done. Vaysh looked over sharply at him and Velaxis nodded his head, impressed that the red-haired har had felt the probing.

“But that does not explain why you are here at this early hour.” Vaysh wished they would finally tell him.

Pellaz moved from his sofa to the one Vaysh was seated on and took his friend’s cold hand in-between his. This put Vaysh on guard and Pellaz felt sad that a mere touch could intimidate Vaysh to such a degree. “If Rue can be healed, why not you too?”

Vaysh felt shocked and gasped at Pellaz’ words. “You are mad!” There was no healing for him – he knew that. He had accepted his fate a long time ago.

“Maybe,” Pellaz admitted and grinned shyly. “But we won’t know for sure until we try.”

“We?” Now Vaysh really wanted to know why Velaxis was there too. “What do you mean when you say ‘we’?”

“Velaxis healed Rue. He agreed to help me heal you too. That is why he is here, Vaysh.” Pellaz was grateful that Velaxis was letting him do the talking.

Blinking repeatedly, Vaysh tried to catch his breath again. It took him a few minutes to compose himself. “Pell, what you are suggesting is really sweet, but haven’t you realized yet that I am beyond healing?”

Velaxis felt it was time to take part in the conversation and covered the distance between him and the two other hara. He sat down on the opposite couch and waited for Vaysh to make eye contact with him. The surprise in Vaysh’s gray eyes was mixed with the despair and affection that was aimed at Pellaz. It was obvious that Vaysh cared for Pellaz in turn. “I don’t agree that you are beyond healing. Pellaz is correct: we won’t know for sure until we have tried.”

Pellaz nodded. This was the perfect moment for Velaxis to get involved and back him up. That was why he had brought the other har along. “I really think you should use this chance, Vaysh.”

Perplexed, Vaysh stared at Velaxis. “I have no intention of trying.”

“Why?” Curious, Velaxis leaned in closer. He wanted to probe Vaysh’s mind again, but the other har had put up some considerable defenses which made probing impossible. “Why would you throw this chance at healing away?”

A bitter laugh escaped Vaysh’s lips. “Why would I want to be healed? I am not like Caeru. The Tigrina is loved by his consorts and I know that you fancy him too, Velaxis. But it is different for me. Why would I want to be healed? There is no har out there waiting for me.”

Pellaz knew he was treading on dangerous ground when he asked, “Is this about Ashmael?” Vaysh froze and stopped breathing momentarily and Pellaz rubbed the icy fingers, even though Vaysh was trying to pull his hand away.

Vaysh shook his head vehemently. “No, why should it be about him? I know he is no longer interested in me. I got that message loud and clear.”

“That is why I am asking, Vaysh. Would it make a difference if Ashmael still wanted you?”

Vaysh couldn’t believe Pellaz had asked him that question and, upset, he freed his hand from Pellaz’ hold and rose to his feet. He moved away from the couch and paced restlessly. “Ash has nothing to do with my decision to decline your offer.”

Pellaz didn’t quite believe that, but realized that arguing with Vaysh wouldn’t get him anywhere so he looked to Velaxis for advice.

“Would it make a difference if there was a har who wanted you?”

Velaxis’ question stopped Vaysh from pacing and he turned around in surprise. “There is no har who wants me. Don’t you know that I make their skin crawl? Hara do their best to avoid me at all cost.”

But Velaxis’ question had made Pellaz think. Velaxis was right, but was there such a har? He couldn’t count on Ashmael, certainly not at first. Ashmael wouldn’t take the first step, but maybe if Pell succeeded in making Ashmael jealous, then Ashmael might be inclined to move and search his feelings where Vaysh was concerned. Pellaz was convinced that Ashmael still felt *something* for Vaysh.

“I know a har who would welcome the chance to take aruna with you,” Pellaz declared, intending to make Vaysh curious, which worked. Vaysh’s eyes widened, but then the red-haired har shook his head.

“You don’t count, Pell.” Vaysh tried to smile, but failed.

Pellaz pretended to be hurt. “I thought you liked me, Vaysh.”

“You know I do,” Vaysh replied in an emotionally heavy voice.

“But I wasn’t thinking of myself,” Pellaz retorted and smiled again. “I have a different har in mind and no, it isn’t Ashmael. Don’t worry about that.”

Velaxis found the dumbfounded look that had appeared on Vaysh’s face amusing. Apparently, Vaysh found it hard to believe that anyhar would want him, but why? Vaysh was stunning in his very own way.

Vaysh stared defiantly at Pellaz. “You are wrong. There is no har who is interested in me that way.”

“Oh no, Vaysh. You are wrong. There is a har. I will prove it to you. I only need to tell him that you want to meet with him and he will hurry here.” Pellaz wasn’t lying. Phade had always been interested in Vaysh.

Vaysh stared at Pellaz for some time and realized that his friend was being serious. “Pell, there is no har…” But Pellaz merely nodded his head. “You are mad.”

“No, you would be mad to decline our offer,” Velaxis commented, realizing they needed to make some progress.

“I have been mad for a long time, Velaxis. I have become used to it. Why change the way I am now?” Vaysh didn’t think he could be healed and they were foolish for suggesting otherwise.

Velaxis was getting frustrated because they weren’t making any progress. It was obvious that talking wouldn’t get them anywhere and it was time to try a different approach. He approached Vaysh and placed his hands on the red-haired har’s shoulders. Vaysh gave him a warning look, but he ignored it. He had surmised that Vaysh didn’t like being touched, but the situation left him little choice. “What are you afraid of? Just tell me.” He set his magic to work, trying to influence Vaysh in such a way that the other har felt more comfortable around him. The magic was so subtle that with any luck, Vaysh wouldn’t even notice it.

Vaysh only knew that suddenly he felt like he could trust Velaxis. That surprised him, but then he simply accepted the fact.

“What are you scared of, Vaysh?” Velaxis’ voice sounded like liquid silver and it snuck inside Vaysh’s mind, helping the red-haired har relax further. “You can tell me.”

Astonished, Pellaz watched Velaxis display his power in such a way. Like Thiede, he had never realized just how far Velaxis’ powers stretched.

Velaxis cocked his head and moved closer still. His lips were only an inch away from Vaysh’s. “Tell me. Trust me. I can help.”

Feeling queasy, Vaysh wanted to confide in Velaxis and stopped wondering why. “He forced me and there was so much pain. I don’t ever want to go through that again. I don’t ever want to take aruna again.” Vaysh gave Pellaz an apologetic look. “I was drunk, you know.”

Since Vaysh’s attention was starting to drift off to Pellaz, Velaxis directed it back to his person with a finger beneath Vaysh’s chin. When Vaysh was once more looking at him, Velaxis tasted the pain that colored Vaysh’s mind. He had to convince the other har that there wouldn’t be any pain. “The only way we can heal you is through aruna.”

“I gathered as much,” Vaysh muttered. “That is why my answer is no.”

“Vaysh, there won’t be any pain,” Velaxis crooned sweetly. “I promise you that.”

Vaysh wanted to believe Velaxis, but then remembered the pain he had suffered at Thiede’s hands. “There will be pain.”

“No, there won’t be.” Velaxis hadn’t planned on taking an active part in seducing Vaysh. He had wanted to leave that part up to Pellaz, but now it seemed he had no choice. Covering the inch that separated them, he pressed his lips onto Vaysh’s and shared breath with him.

Vaysh could barely remember the last time he had shared breath, but he *did* remember with whom he had last shared breath with…Pellaz.

Velaxis smiled into the kiss as he picked up on that image. Vaysh might have been drunk when Pellaz and he had taken aruna, but he had enjoyed it. Every har craved aruna and Vaysh was no exception, but the har had trained himself to go without it. It was amazing that Vaysh hadn’t gone insane without aruna for so many years. “Yes, that is it. Relax and accept this. We are not going to hurt you. On the contrary, we are going to take away your pain.” Velaxis rested one hand at the small of Vaysh’s back and with the other he gestured for Pellaz to come closer. It was time the Tigron became involved.

Pellaz rose from the couch and approached the two hara who were sharing breath once more. He was developing a new sense of respect where Velaxis was concerned.

Velaxis curled his fingers around Pellaz’ wrist and pulled the har along while he walked Vaysh to the bed. He continued to share breath with Vaysh for it was the best way to soothe the distressed har, but he also knew that it wasn’t him who Vaysh needed. Vaysh needed Pellaz to undo the damage.

Pushing Vaysh gently onto his back, Velaxis then knelt on the floor next to the bed. With one hand he undid the knot that kept Vaysh’s morning robes in place and with the other he pulled Pellaz onto the bed. /You know what to do, Pellaz. Be ouana for him and let me do the rest./ He hadn’t planned on becoming that much involved, but Vaysh’s injuries went deeper than he had originally thought.

Vaysh, in an effort to regain control over the situation, tried to struggle free and sit upright, but suddenly he heard Velaxis in his mind, telling him that everything was going to be alright. All he had to do was relinquish control, but he fought that idea. He had been in a similar situation before and back then he’d had no say in the matter.

“This is different,” Velaxis whispered against Vaysh’s lips. Seducing Vaysh wasn’t as easy as he had thought it would be. “We are here to help you and you know Pellaz. He doesn’t mean you any harm.” Velaxis smiled secretively. “In a way you love him, don’t you?”

Pellaz’ breath caught at hearing that, but then he relaxed and removed his clothes. “Don’t worry about it,” Pellaz murmured as he straddled Vaysh’s waist. “I feel the same way about you. You would have been the perfect consort, Vaysh.” The words soothed Vaysh as the red-haired har became silent beneath him. “Let me give back to you what Thiede took.”

Velaxis stroked the red hair while crooning soothing words into Vaysh’s ear and every now and then sharing breath with the confused har. “You are doing great, Vaysh.”

Vaysh couldn’t believe he was letting them do this, but Velaxis was in his mind and had somehow managed to convince him to let them continue. “I am scared,” he whispered when Velaxis’ lips briefly deserted his. He had become soume under their joined sensual assault and he was keenly aware of the fact that Pellaz’ ouana-lim was opening up and preparing itself for aruna.

“I understand that you are scared,” Velaxis murmured and caressed Vaysh’s face. “But you will surprise yourself. You will allow for this to happen and then the change will come.”

It took some power on Vaysh’s part to shift his gaze away from Velaxis to Pellaz, who was parting his legs and crawling closer to him. He raised a hand and was relieved when Pellaz twined their fingers. He needed the contact.

Pellaz took over and shared breath with Vaysh, intent on feeding the injured har his energy and his feelings. He wanted to warm Vaysh up from the inside. /There is no need to fear me, Vaysh. You and I… We know each other well. I will never hurt you./ Pellaz eyed Velaxis for one moment, awaiting instructions. What was he supposed to do?

“Take aruna with him, Pellaz. Let me do the rest. It is Vaysh who needs to heal himself but he doesn’t know how. I will guide him.” Velaxis changed positions. He left the floor, slid onto the bed, and sat cross-legged. He placed Vaysh’s head into his lap and rested his fingertips on Vaysh’s brow. “Trust me,” he ordered while looking into Vaysh’s eyes. “Do as I say.”

Vaysh was only capable of nodding. He was completely at their mercy, but he didn’t feel as helpless as he had when Thiede had pinned him down. Their good intentions oozed out of their minds and they were a healing balm in itself.

“Sacrifice yourself to Aruhani,” Velaxis said. “I promise he won’t let you down.”

There was little Vaysh could do but surrender and follow Velaxis’ advice. “If he wants me, he can have me, though I doubt a barren har is of much use to him.”

“Hush now,” Velaxis murmured. “There is no reason to put yourself down.” He closed his eyes and focused his energy. “Pellaz…”

Realizing it was time to take the next step, Pellaz covered Vaysh with his body and slowly sank into the other har’s soume-lam. Vaysh’s essence had changed since the first time they had taken aruna. It no longer felt like he was drifting on the sea, but instead he found himself on waves of lava, which rolled madly over him. The sensation stunned him and he almost pulled out again, but then something – or rather someone – lured him deeper inside. It was Velaxis, making sure the connection between their bodies wouldn’t be severed.

Vaysh’s eyes widened. When they had taken aruna that first time, he had not been in his right mind. Alcohol had clouded his thoughts and he hadn’t really been aware of what he was doing. Things were different now. Pellaz was nestled deep inside him and he was keenly aware of the fact that he was actually taking aruna.

Velaxis smiled and opened his eyes again. Vaysh still had a tight hold on Pellaz’ hand and Velaxis now reached for the other. After twining their fingers, he brought Vaysh’s hand to his mouth and kissed it. “Your sacrifice pleases Aruhani and he has accepted. Let go of your fear and worries.”

Pellaz was too focused on Vaysh’s face to look at Velaxis, but Vaysh was looking up and saw the change that had come over the silver-haired har. The blue eyes resembled the depths of the sea and the silver hair shone like the rays of the moon were illuminating it. For one moment, he thought he was looking at Aruhani himself in his most benevolent aspect. Had the dehar himself descended from the heavens to take part in this?

Velaxis merely smiled mysteriously. “Open your cauldron of creation, Vaysh.”

Realizing that was his signal to act, Pellaz opened the first of Vaysh’s five centers and gasped at the energy that was being released. “Almost there,” he whispered. The last two seals Vaysh had to open himself otherwise it would have been rape, even though Vaysh was a most willing partner.

Vaysh moaned when the connection he shared with Pellaz deepened. Tendrils of Pellaz’ ouana-lim were already lashing out in search of release and it wouldn’t be long until a tendril would deliver its bite.

Velaxis snuck into Vaysh’s mind and together they opened the sixth center.

“Why?” Vaysh looked questioningly at Velaxis. “Why should I open up the last one?”

Pellaz groaned. It was taking most of his energy and discipline not to reach completion yet!

“Because your cauldron of creation needs to be fixed. Pellaz’ essence will be a soothing balm. I will help you. Just let go.” Velaxis leaned in closer and his silver hair caressed Vaysh’s chest when he claimed the other har’s lips. /Open up, Vaysh. You don’t have to be scared. The only thing you will conceive tonight is healing./

Unable to withstand that seductive voice, Vaysh arched his back and threw back his head while opening the his seal. A part of him was terrified of what would happen next, but another craved healing.

“Now, Pellaz.” Velaxis glanced at Pellaz and nodded. “Let go.”

Pellaz had been waiting to do so and finally found release. After the bite had occurred, aren leaked from his ouana-lim and filled Vaysh’s cauldron of creation. The sensation was divine, mostly because he knew he was helping Vaysh heal.

Vaysh himself felt scared, as he realized that he had really allowed for this to happen. Since he was focused on Velaxis’ blue eyes hovering above him, he hardly noticed Pellaz pulling out.

Velaxis crawled down the bed until he knelt near Vaysh’s feet. “You did well,” he told Pellaz. “But more is required. Stretch out beside him… Share breath with him… Fill him with affection… Make him *feel* it.”

Pellaz stretched out onto his side and raised an arm, which Vaysh moved into. Vaysh was lying on his back and panting hard. His eyes had filled with some emotion Pellaz couldn’t identify and the Tigron wondered what would happen next.

Placing his hands on either side of Vaysh’s head, Velaxis closed his eyes. He concentrated and slipped into Vaysh’s mind. This was going to be the hardest part. Vaysh had seldom been ouana and the har’s body had forgotten what it was capable of.

Vaysh gasped when his ouana-lim stirred. “What…?” He wasn’t sure who to look at, but since Pellaz was the closest and currently trying to engage his lips in a kiss, he ended up sharing breath with the Tigron.

Velaxis felt powerful – extremely powerful. The fact that he was hosting made his magic even more potent and he was convinced that once this was over, Vaysh’s injuries would have healed. He stroked Vaysh’s ouana-lim and enjoyed seeing the purple and silver petals open. Pellaz *was* right in one aspect. Vaysh was a very special har. Had Thiede not damaged him, Vaysh would have been the perfect Tigron or Tigrina. “You suffered so much,” he whispered as he crawled closer. “Know that the end of your suffering has come.” And with that, he lowered himself onto the stem the moment the petals had fully opened. It was the moment he had been waiting for.

Vaysh cried out, but Pellaz’ mouth absorbed the sound. There was not much he could do except let them have their way with him. Pellaz was sharing breath with him and Velaxis was moving seductively. The intensity of their aruna frightened Vaysh on one level, but at the same time, he realized something profound was happening.

Velaxis gathered the energy Pellaz had built a moment before and added his own magic to it. He guided it into Vaysh’s body and mind and toward the places which Thiede had damaged. He carefully oversaw the repairs necessary in order for Vaysh to become whole again.

One moment Pellaz was sharing breath with Vaysh and the next, the red-haired har fainted. The lips released his, the gray eyes closed, and the fingers that had been clutching his, relaxed. Worried, he looked at Velaxis.

Velaxis reached his climax and his power mixed with Pellaz’ aren. It became a powerful ointment that covered Vaysh’s damaged insides and made him whole again. “It is done,” he whispered and then collapsed on top of Vaysh. He had gone to the edge to reclaim Vaysh. Until that last moment he hadn’t realized just how badly Thiede had damaged him. “Let him sleep. It will be easier on him that way. All his energy is now directed at healing himself.”

“What about you?” Pellaz supported Velaxis when the other har slid off of Vaysh. For one moment, Velaxis’ mind was open and allowed Pellaz a peek inside. He was stunned at what he found there. Velaxis was hosting Caeru’s pearl? But it was not the right moment to bring it up, so he remained quiet. It might be wise to figure out first how he felt about that revelation.

“I am just tired. I used a lot of energy to make the magic work.” Velaxis curled up on his side. “I need to rest.”

“Then sleep. I will watch over the two of you. You are safe with me.”

Velaxis smiled. “I like you better than I thought…” He closed his eyes and joined Vaysh in slumber.

~~~

Pellaz had managed to maneuver his charges in such a way that they were curled around each other. Vaysh was actually holding Velaxis in his sleep and Pellaz was more than happy to hold Vaysh in turn. He fervently hoped that their plan had worked and that Vaysh was whole once more. They would probably find out once the red-haired har woke up again.

But the discovery he had made earlier occupied him the most. Velaxis was actually hosting Rue’s pearl. Why hadn’t Rue told him about that? He narrowed his eyes and wondered if Caeru actually knew. But Velaxis would surely not keep this to himself? Caeru had the right to know that he had fathered a pearl.

To his surprise, Pellaz realized he actually felt pleased and happy. He had hurt Caeru deeply during the last few years and Velaxis was the har that could heal that hurt. “I hope you will stay, Velaxis.” Pellaz hadn’t expected some sort of reaction, but suddenly Velaxis started to turn. A moment later, the silver-haired har lay facing him. Pellaz smiled and said, “I didn’t realize you were awake.”

Velaxis interpreted the knowledge in Pellaz’ eyes correctly. “I was careless.”

Pellaz carefully shrugged. “You aren’t the first. I ended up with pearl because I was careless towards the end.” A sly grin surfaced on his face. “Did the same thing happen to you by any chance?”

Velaxis carefully schooled his features. “I am not quite sure how it happened. I was focused on healing Rue and everything felt so right. You probably guessed the truth – I care for Caeru deeply. Am I in trouble now?”

Pellaz shook his head. “No, you are not. Did you think you were?”

“I am hosting the Tigrina’s pearl. That might be a bit problematic.”

Pellaz wasn’t impressed. “Why shouldn’t Caeru be allowed to father pearls? I do not want to limit him to just hosting them. And especially now… Since he can host or father pearls again I want him to experience it all.”

“You are remarkably generous and understanding, Pellaz. You amaze me.”

“We have all changed,” Pellaz replied and tightened his hold on Vaysh. “And I want Vaysh to change too. He needs to change.”

Relieved that Pellaz had changed their subject, Velaxis remarked, “I didn’t know the extent of the damage Thiede had done. If I hadn’t put him under my spell he would never have allowed us to touch him.” Velaxis sighed. “Whoever becomes his chesnari will have a hard time getting close to him.”

“I might know of a har who is willing to take the risk.”

“Not Ashmael I hope?” Velaxis shivered. “I don’t particularly like him.” He had never liked taking aruna with Ashmael. Ashmael had made him go chilly whenever he had touched him. He had only taken aruna with the blond because of the information he had needed. “They might have been chesna once, but I don’t think Ashmael is the right har for Vaysh at this point.”

“I agree with you.” Ashmael would be too much to handle for Vaysh, who would probably feel unbalanced for a long time. “But Phade will do nicely.”

Velaxis raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Phade…” He remembered the har from his visits to a very young Darq. “Doesn’t he already have a chesnari?”

“Not anymore…” Pellaz still kept in touch with Phade occasionally. “And I know he has wanted to visit Immanion for quite some time now. I will invite him.”

“It might work. That is if you are sure Phade feels attracted to Vaysh?”

“Quite sure.” Pellaz recalled the way the two hara had bantered in the past. “This will work,” he added, feeling confident that Phade was the right har for Vaysh. “You will see. It will work perfectly.”

~~~

An odd feeling washed over Vaysh when he woke up. His eyelids fluttered and the first thing he realized was that he wasn’t alone in bed. He *always* woke up alone in bed! Opening his eyes slowly, he was surprised to find himself looking into Velaxis’ face. But then he remembered what had happened only a few hours ago. Pellaz and Velaxis had come to his rooms and had taken aruna with him. At first, he had been reluctant to let them proceed, but Velaxis had somehow made him agree. Since the other hara were still fast asleep, Vaysh carefully freed himself of their embrace and swung his feet to the floor. His head reeled and his body was sending him confusing messages. He felt different, but in what way?

After pushing himself to his feet, he made his way over to the window. He didn’t look outside though, but instead turned around and studied the two hara resting on his bed. Pellaz had become his best friend – his only friend – over the years and he had learned to trust the other har, but Velaxis was a different matter. Velaxis was a mystery and he remembered Pellaz telling him that he didn’t trust the silver-haired har. So how could this have happened?

Wrapping his arms around his waist, Vaysh rocked slightly. It was a habit that had formed many years ago and every now and then his fear got the better of him and he would start rocking. They had taken aruna and Vaysh didn’t know what to make of that. They had promised to heal him, but Vaysh knew he had been damaged beyond all hope. But they had done *something* to him. He sensed that much.

Suddenly he realized that he didn’t feel that cold anymore. Normally he always felt chilly, but the sensation had left him. He slowly uncurled his arms from around his frame and frowned while placing the palms of his hands on his flat abdomen. Something was different alright. But what?

He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t register the other two waking up. At Velaxis’ gesture, Pellaz got out of bed and made his way over to Vaysh.

Velaxis eyed Vaysh closely and noticed the soft glow that clung to his skin. The eyes were alive again and it wouldn’t be long before Vaysh figured out what had happened. Velaxis then shifted his attention to Pellaz and reached out to him in mind touch. /He is like a newly incepted har, or a har having gone through feybraiha. You need to take aruna with him again./ Anticipating Pellaz’ next question, he added, /It doesn’t matter which role you assume, but it might be nice if you let him be ouana for a change. His body desires that the most, even though Vaysh does not realize it. I will leave the two of you alone now. You no longer need me./ Velaxis, unnoticed by a confused Vaysh, got out of bed and snuck over to the doorway.

Pellaz however had no intention of letting Velaxis leave like that. Since Vaysh was still lost in his own little world, Pellaz replied mentally, /You had better visit Rue and tell him what has happened. He has the right to know he fathered a pearl. You must understand… Rue thought he would never have more sons. This one will be precious to him./

Although Velaxis wasn’t convinced that telling Rue was the best thing to do, he nodded. Since Pellaz knew the truth and seemed accepting of it, he no longer had a real choice. If he had managed to keep his secret he could have left and raised the harling, but since his secret was out… /I will visit Rue today./

/Good, don’t forget about it./

Velaxis heard the unspoken threat and sighed deeply. It was time he left and did some thinking. He quickly closed the door behind him and returned to his rooms.

Part 3

Pellaz covered the distance between Vaysh and him and wrapped his arms around Vaysh from behind. Vaysh at first grew tense, but then seemed to relax once he realized who was holding him. Pellaz rested his head against Vaysh’s shoulder and waited for his friend to address him.

Vaysh swallowed hard when Pellaz enfolded him in a hug. The Tigron pressed his body against his back and Vaysh bowed his head. His red hair tumbled in front of his face and Vaysh desperately tried to think of anything to say.

As Vaysh remained quiet, Pellaz realized it was up to him to start the conversation. “Do you feel any different, Vaysh?”

Vaysh’s mouth felt dry and he swallowed repeatedly to rid himself of the lump of emotions that had settled down in his throat. “What happened?”

“We healed you.” Pellaz moved his hand until it rested against Vaysh’s abdomen. “In body at least. I doubt anyhar but yourself can heal your mind.” But healing the body had been the first and most important step. Pellaz turned Vaysh around in the embrace until they faced each other. “You are no longer barren, Vaysh.” The stricken expression on Vaysh’s face showed that there were other issues Vaysh was fighting with.

“You shouldn’t have done this,” Vaysh whispered in a lost voice. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“You need to continue healing, Vaysh, and I will be there to support you.” Vaysh gave him a look full of suspicion.

“What about Rue and Cal? You belong with them, not with me.” Vaysh felt conflicted. He could tell that Pellaz had told him the truth, but his head spun and he had no idea what to do with this newly acquired information. “Nohar wants me at any rate. You shouldn’t have done this.”

“That will change. I know of a har who will welcome the chance to become your chesnari and no, don’t worry, it is not Ashmael.” Pellaz had seen the panic rising in Vaysh’s eyes. “But we are getting ahead of ourselves.” Pellaz buried a hand in Vaysh’s red hair and smiled at him. “There is something we need to do now to finish the process.”

Vaysh had a pretty good idea what Pellaz was hinting of. “No, you don’t have to take aruna with me again.” He expected a panic attack to hit him, but it didn’t and that made him feel even more confused. Whenever he used to think of aruna, a cold sweat would break out and flashes of Thiede raping him would appear in his mind’s eye. But none of that happened now. Apparently Velaxis and Pellaz had done a better job than he had thought.

Pellaz wasn’t going to accept ‘no’ for an answer and rested his hand at the column of Vaysh’s neck. Slowly and without using any force, he brought Vaysh’s face closer to his until he could press his lips onto the other har’s and share breath with him. Vaysh’s mind no longer felt so cold or distant and after a few moments, Vaysh actually started to kiss him back and small puffs of feelings flowed into Pellaz’ mouth. Vaysh *was* warming up to him.

The open window allowed the breeze in and the wind cooled his skin, which was feeling quite hot. Vaysh wanted to pull away and stop the madness, but his body had been without aruna for years and since it had tasted those delights again, it wanted more. Losing control scared him, especially when he started to kiss Pellaz back and relinquished sparks of his affection for the other har.

Pellaz was content to share breath with Vaysh for another few minutes, but then moved his hand and ended up massaging and cupping Vaysh’s buttock. He took no notice of the fact that they were standing in front of the window and that hara passing below would see them. He was solely focused on Vaysh’s needs and his own.

Vaysh groaned and trembled under the kisses and touches which Pellaz was bestowing on him and he felt lost in more ways than one. Then unexpectedly, Pellaz moved a hand in-between their bodies. Vaysh expected Pellaz to reach for his soume-lam, but those fingers curled around his ouana-lim, which had wanted to hide within his body. But with Pellaz cunningly manipulating the organ, Vaysh reacted passionately and the stem blossomed within Pellaz’ hand. “What are you doing?” he asked, feeling breathless.

Pellaz merely smiled at Vaysh and cocked his head. It was about time Vaysh remembered what taking aruna was supposed to be like. Earlier that day they had already taken aruna, but then, their goal had been to heal Vaysh, not to give him immense pleasure. Pellaz turned Vaysh about and then hopped onto the window sill.

Vaysh swallowed nervously when Pellaz’ large, dark eyes searched his. “I can’t do this.”

“Yes, you can.” Pellaz placed his hands on Vaysh’s hips and pulled him closer. “I am sure you still remember how this works and if not, it will be my pleasure to remind you.” Pellaz had become soume and already ached to feel Vaysh claim him. He wondered what Vaysh was like when he was ouana. “Come to me, Vaysh.”

It was like Pellaz had put him under a spell. There was no way for Vaysh to deny this beautiful har and he moved in-between Pellaz’ parted legs. Awed, he watched how Pellaz arched against him and devoured his ouana-lim, almost sucking it inside with one powerful forward thrust. Vaysh threw back his head and released a scream.

Grinning in pleasure, Pellaz wrapped his arms and legs around Vaysh. His buttocks no longer touched the window sill as Vaysh supported him. Latching onto Vaysh’s lips, Pellaz instigated another bout of sharing breath and thrust against Vaysh, trying to tell him what he wanted.

Vaysh however was too dazed to pay attention to the signals Pellaz was sending him. It had been a long time since he had last enjoyed taking such uncomplicated aruna and his body craved more of it. Feeling breathless, he started to pant quickly and clutched Pellaz close to him. He had always suspected that Pellaz was a wanton har beneath the mask he wore, but this was the first time he was getting a taste of it himself. Enveloping Pellaz in a tight hug, he made sure the other har was set securely in his arms and only then did he dare to thrust upwards.

Pellaz became very vocal at that point. “Oh, Vaysh!” Moaning, groaning, and crying out, he buried his fingernails in Vaysh’s back. Vaysh’s thrusts became more forceful and focused and Pellaz buried his head against Vaysh’s shoulder. He opened his eyes, for he had closed them to savor the sensation, and his breath caught as he realized that they were being watched. It was Thiede, standing in the corridor opposite the window and the expression on the har’s face was one of disbelief.

Pellaz’ mind raced. Should he warn Vaysh so that they could move this to the bed? But no, let Thiede see what they were doing. Let Thiede know that he had managed to heal Vaysh, the har which Thiede had simply discarded after realizing he was damaged. Let him see their passion and Vaysh coming to power. Their gazes locked and Pellaz noticed the shocked expression in Thiede’s eyes. /Yes, I healed him. You never bothered. You gave him to me… And Vaysh was mine to heal. Leave him alone./ A strong layer of protective emotions accompanied Pellaz’ mind touch and Thiede started to walk again. Although Pellaz and Thiede were friends, Pellaz had never forgiven Thiede for what he had done to Vaysh.

Thiede vanished from view just in time as Vaysh rapidly neared orgasm. Pellaz shared breath with Vaysh again, carefully hiding any thoughts that would tell Vaysh who had been watching them and then let go.

Vaysh’s legs threatened to give out beneath him and he staggered over to the bed. Lowering Pellaz onto it, he covered the Tigron’s body with his. He panted hard when wings of ecstasy carried him higher and he wasn’t alone up there. Pellaz was at his side, soaring just as high as he did. A smile surfaced on Vaysh’s face and he clutched Pellaz to him. Satiation, pleasure, love, and contentment settled in the pit of his stomach, telling him that Pellaz had spoken the truth. He had been healed.

Pellaz guided Vaysh’s head onto his shoulder and patted the red hair. Vaysh’s breath came rapidly and the red-haired har trembled over his entire body. “That was good,” he commented and pressed a kiss onto a red lock. “More than good.” Vaysh laughed with a slight hysterical edge against Pellaz’ shoulder and then raised his head. It was then that Pellaz realized Vaysh was crying. “Dry your tears, Vaysh. Your time of mourning has ended.” With his fingertips, he wiped the moisture away. “Rejoice instead.”

Vaysh found it hard to believe that he had really been healed, but his body was telling him it was whole again. “What do I do now?” He raised his head and looked questioningly at Pellaz. The thought of being alone again in these rooms without Pellaz made him feel like the walls were closing in on him. He had the feeling that the moment Pellaz left he would fall victim to hysteria.

Since Vaysh wasn’t shielding his thoughts, Pellaz easily picked up on them. “Come with me then. I doubt Cal will mind you staying with us and Caeru…well Rue will be busy attending to his own business.” Rue might want to move temporarily to his private apartments while Velaxis was hosting. He just hoped Velaxis would work up the courage to tell Caeru.

“Move in with you? But Cal and I…” They didn’t get along exactly. Cal tolerated him at best.

“Let me worry about Cal.” Pellaz had the feeling Cal might warm up to Vaysh rather quickly.

~~~

“What’s wrong, Rue?” Cal had little trouble picking up Caeru’s thoughts. A note had been delivered a few minutes earlier and Cal surmised Caeru had gotten an unpleasant message. Moving in on the Tigrina, he wrapped his arms around Caeru from behind and tried to read the note.

“Velaxis asked me to meet with him in my private rooms. I wonder why.” Rue couldn’t help blushing. Memories of them taking aruna burned in his mind.

Cal playfully nudged Caeru’s side. “Then go and find out what he wants and take your time.” He wiggled his eyebrow meaningfully.

Caeru grinned as Cal’s enthusiasm affected him. “In that case, I will take my time.” He leaned in closer and pressed a kiss onto Cal’s brow. “Thanks for everything, Cal.”

Cal merely nodded his head and swatted Caeru’s bottom when the Tigrina didn’t move right away. “Have fun, Rue,” he called out once the Tigrina headed off. “Have lots of fun.”

~~~

Velaxis nervously paced the room. He had let himself in and was waiting for Caeru to join him. In his mind, he kept rehearsing ways of telling his friend what had happened. He had the suspicion that Caeru was clueless. The Tigrina had no idea what had happened the second time they had taken aruna.

“Vel?” Caeru stood in the doorway and watched Velaxis pace. The restlessness that lay on the other har’s face worried him. His first thought was that Velaxis had decided to leave Immanion and that he was nervous about telling him. He would miss Velaxis.

“Rue!” Velaxis turned around and his mouth went dry at seeing the har he had loved from a distance for so long. It had started the first moment he had set eyes on Caeru. He had instantly realized that they were somehow connected and had cursed the day when he had realized that Caeru belonged to Pellaz. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“Your note worried me.” Caeru covered the distance between them, but didn’t touch Velaxis yet. He somehow thought Velaxis might not want to be touched at that moment. “Are you leaving?” Caeru felt an incredible amount of relief when Velaxis shook his head. “I am glad you are staying. I don’t want to lose your company.”

Velaxis swallowed hard. “I considered leaving,” he responded honestly. “But something happened and stopped me from carrying out my plans.”

“What happened?” Caeru, wishing Velaxis would seem more approachable, hid his hands behind his back. His fingers itched to touch Velaxis and pull him into an embrace.

Velaxis found it hard to look Caeru in the eye and turned around so he didn’t have to face him yet. Velaxis turning away from him puzzled Caeru, but for the moment he decided not to address it since it was obvious the silver-haired har was struggling with personal problems.

“Something happened when we took aruna…while I was soume.” Velaxis’ fingernails clawed at the back of the chair in front of him.

Caeru blinked. “You are not making any sense, Vel. I know you healed me. Is that what you are referring to?”

“No, it isn’t.” Velaxis drew in a deep breath and bowed his head. “Me healing you was part of the plan, but me opening my cauldron of creation and allowing you to father a pearl wasn’t – not really.” Once his secret was out, he looked at Rue from over his shoulder and saw a myriad of emotions flashing across the handsome face. That was one thing Caeru hadn’t expected to hear.

Caeru blinked dazedly. “What did you say? You can’t have said what I thought I heard.” None if it made sense.

“You fathered a pearl, Rue.” Velaxis turned around to face Caeru slowly. He hadn’t known how Rue would react to the news, but the blank stare aimed at him worried him.

“But…” Caeru frowned and bowed his head, thinking everything over before shaking his head, sending his fair locks dancing on his shoulders. “But I can’t father pearls.”

“I healed you. Let me assure you that you can father pearls. There is nothing wrong with you. I simply lost control.” Velaxis started to feel uncomfortable beneath Caeru’s blank stare. “I am hosting.”

Caeru blinked, swallowed hard, and then tried to speak again. “I am confused, Vel…”

Velaxis took a chance and embraced Caeru. The Tigrina immediately nestled himself in his arms and the fair head came to rest against Velaxis’ shoulder. “I would have been surprised if you weren’t. I never planned for it to happen. It just did.” Velaxis held his breath involuntarily. “Can you accept this? Or do you want me to leave Immanion?”

The last question pulled Caeru away from his shock and he grabbed hold of Velaxis’ arms. “You are not leaving, you hear me?” He lifted his head and looked Velaxis’ in the eye. “I am confused because I am not supposed to father pearls, Vel. I am the Tigrina of Immanion. I am supposed to host the Tigrons’ pearls, not father my own.”

Remaining quiet, Velaxis gave Caeru the time he needed to sort out his thoughts.

“Vel, I thought I would never have more sons.” Caeru cupped Velaxis’ cheek in the palm of his hand and gave the other har a look full of affection. “And now you are telling me that you are hosting my pearl. It feels like the world is upside down.”

Velaxis managed a smile although he still felt insecure of Caeru accepting this pearl – this harling. Maybe he should try to make it easier on the Tigrina. “Pellaz already knows and accepts the pearl. It was Pellaz who told me to speak with you and tell you the truth. I might have run otherwise.”

Caeru fell from one surprise into the next. “Pell knows? And he doesn’t mind?”

“I think he is happy for you. He has really come a long way these last few months. He loves you enough to let you have this.” Velaxis’ smile became a bit more genuine. “I had hoped this news would make you happy.”

“It does,” Caeru replied quickly. “It is just something of a shock as well.” He pulled Velaxis close and hugged him. “I can’t believe I will have another son. Maybe this time around I will get to see him grow up and find a way for him to love me back.”

Velaxis soothingly rubbed Caeru’s back. The Tigrina had had his share of drama and pain in the past. Abrimel’s love for Caeru had changed into hatred and Darq had been out of Caeru’s reach for many years. And Loki… Although Loki loved Caeru, they weren’t related. Until now, Velaxis hadn’t realized just how valuable this new harling would be to Caeru. This was going to be the harling Caeru could fuss over, love, and watch grow up. “I promise you that nohar will come between you and our son. He is yours to love and cherish.”

The soft declaration healed an old ache that had lingered in Caeru’s heart for many years. He buried his face in Velaxis’ silver hair and inhaled the other har’s scent deeply. If Pellaz was okay with this, Caeru might get his wish to raise another harling, one who was truly his own.

~~~

“We shouldn’t do this. It is a bad idea.” Vaysh was worried about how Cal would react when Pellaz simply brought him to the Tigrons’ apartment. “I should go back to my rooms.”

“No, you are not.” Their apartments were adjourning, but Pellaz wasn’t going to let Vaysh go back there. Vaysh admitting that he didn’t want to be alone was a big step and he was going to encourage his friend to continue to open up to him. “Cal will deal with it and accept it.” Not encouraging Cal to befriend Vaysh was another mistake he had made. He had allowed for the two hara to simply ignore each other.

Pellaz took hold of Vaysh’s wrist and pulled him along while he opened the door to his bedroom and called out, “Cal, are you in there?”

Vaysh felt something akin to panic building in his stomach and was grateful he had been able to drape an evening robe over his shoulders. Pellaz however was naked and didn’t seem to mind. “Pell, don’t…”

But Pellaz didn’t listen and continued to drag Vaysh along. Cal stepped out of the bathroom with only a towel slung around his narrow waist and his eyes immediately narrowed as they focused on Vaysh standing there.

“Cal, Vaysh is staying with us for a while.” Pellaz gave Cal a look that told the blond Tigron he had better comply.

Cal cocked his head and studied Vaysh. Normally the other har oozed aloofness and a perpetual chill, but now Cal only encountered confusion and a hint of fright in the gray eyes. “Is he?” Vaysh averted his eyes and was staring at the floor. The reaction told Cal all he needed to know. /You were successful, then,/ he commented in mind touch.

Pellaz nodded his head. “We healed him. Vaysh is whole again.” He saw no reason for communicating via mind touch. He had seldom hidden things from Vaysh and he wasn’t going to start now. “I thought it would be best if he wasn’t alone right now. I don’t want him to start brooding.”

Cal laughed. “You want *me* to keep him from brooding?”

Pellaz grinned. “If you want to… be my guest.”

Vaysh almost choked when he realized the hidden sexual innuendo beneath their words. Pellaz hadn’t invited Cal to take aruna with him, had he? Vaysh trembled and wondered if Pellaz would let him return to his rooms after all.

“No, you are staying. You know the location of the bathroom. Clean yourself up. I will bring you clothes.” Pellaz inclined his head in the direction he wanted Vaysh to move in.

The redhead however wasn’t looking forward to moving because that meant he had to pass Cal since the blond Tigron was blocking the doorway to the bathroom. Cal was giving him a look which could only be described as predatory curiosity and that increased his worries. Why was Cal looking at him like that?

The blond liked to take aruna with hara that Pellaz had been intimate with and Vaysh looked like a provocative challenge, one he would enjoy seducing. Cal had undergone his own rites of healing and knew that he had to let go of the past where Vaysh was concerned. He embraced the present and would support the other har. “If you want, I can help,” he offered wickedly and was surprised to see Vaysh avert his gaze rather bashfully.

“Don’t tease him like that,” Pellaz scolded and pushed Cal gently out of the way. Once Vaysh was inside the bathroom, he closed the door behind the har. Looking at Cal, he said, “We are going to talk.” He was going to make sure Cal behaved in Vaysh’s presence and would give the red-haired har the time he needed to get used to his new life.

~~~

Vaysh stood in the bathroom and didn’t move. He knew he was supposed to take a bath and clean himself up, but for some reason he just couldn’t move. He felt lost and, in a strange way, found. Vibrations which had once felt familiar washed over his body and with them came the images of the aruna he had just taken with Pellaz. Realizing that his body craved more was a shock to him. Before Thiede had gotten his hands on him, he had been a very sensual har and Ashmael had at times jokingly complained that Vaysh was wearing him down, but Ashmael had always given in to him. But Ashmael was no longer his chesnari and he had no har he could turn to with his needs.

~~~

Cal settled down on their luxurious bed and watched Pellaz, who preferred to stand next to him. He wrapped his arms around his chesnari’s waist and pulled him close until he could rest his head against Pellaz’ abdomen. “So Vaysh is temporarily moving in?”

“Would you mind if I answered that question affirmatively?” Pellaz rested a hand on Cal’s fair head and stroked the blond hair. “I fear for him. Although he has healed in body I am not quite sure how successful we were in mending his emotional scars. He might need us for a while.”

“I don’t mind. I should have known you would do something like this. It is a good thing Rue isn’t here or else things might end up crowded.” Pellaz smiled mysteriously and Cal picked up on the other har’s amusement. Raising his head, he frowned at Pellaz. “You know something I don’t.”

Pellaz caressed Cal’s face and then sat down on the bed. “Something unexpected happened when Velaxis and Caeru took aruna in order to heal our consort.” Pellaz wondered if he would need to spell it out to Cal, who was usually quick on the uptake.

Cal groaned. “Don’t tell me one of them lost control?”

“Velaxis did. Rue fathered a pearl.” Pell smiled brilliantly. “Isn’t that great?”

Pellaz’ approving reaction surprised Cal at first. “And you seem mighty pleased that happened.”

“I am. I *do* want Rue to be happy and for so long he thought he wouldn’t have any more sons. I am really pleased that he is getting this chance to see another harling grow up. The ordeal with Darq affected him so deeply, Cal. It hurt him more than it did us. We weren’t hosting that pearl, but Rue was.”

“You are right.” Cal rubbed his cheek against Pellaz’ abdomen. “One of us should check on Rue though. You never know just how he will react to hearing that Velaxis is hosting.”

“I will check on him.” Pellaz freed himself of Cal’s loving embrace and dressed in green robes. “Keep an eye on Vaysh, will you?” He was receiving confusing thoughts from his friend and he didn’t want Vaysh to be alone.

Cal nodded. “I will check on him. It seems he needs someone close.” He had received the same thoughts, which spoke of great emotional upheaval.

“And behave,” Pellaz added as he leaned in closer to share breath with Cal. “Don’t overwhelm him, Calanthe.”

Cal grinned at hearing his full name. “I won’t do anything against Vaysh’s wish.”

Pellaz sighed. Maybe it was a bad idea to leave Cal in charge, but he had no choice. He had to make sure Rue was fine with Velaxis hosting his pearl.

~~~

Pellaz knocked on the door to Rue’s private apartments and waited for his consort to allow him in. A moment later the door opened and he looked at Caeru’s face, which still showed traces of tears. Pellaz hoped they had been tears of happiness.

“Pell.” Caeru reached for his consort and pulled him into his arms. “Vel told me everything.”

Pellaz allowed Caeru to pull him inside and savored the hug. “I am happy for you.” From the corner of his eye he saw Velaxis standing close, shuffling his feet and looking rather shy. “Just enjoy this time, Rue.”

Rue released Pellaz and more tears flowed down his face, but out of happiness. “Thank you for accepting this.” Caeru reached for Velaxis and twined their fingers. “I didn’t know… I had hoped… I can’t believe you are okay with this!”

“I see no reason to deny you your happiness, Rue. May I suggest Velaxis moves into your apartments? That way you have more privacy.” Pellaz took a step away from the other two hara, but the smile remained on his face. He *was* happy for them.

Caeru’s eyes widened. “You wouldn’t mind?” The thought *had* crossed his mind, but he hadn’t been sure Pellaz would allow it. He would love to spend time with Velaxis. It would give them both a chance to prepare for the moment the pearl dropped.

“I insist.” Pellaz smiled at them. “I know what it means to find yourself with pearl unexpectedly. When I was hosting, I…” Memories and a certain amount of guilt overwhelmed him and he swallowed hard. “I didn’t know how Cal was going to react since the pearl wasn’t his.”

Caeru let go of Velaxis’ hand and embraced Pellaz again. They had been through a lot together and most of those moments had been unpleasant. “Cal loves you, Pell.”

“And Vel loves you. I *am* happy for you, Rue…although I hope that Vel plans on sharing you with me.” He did love Caeru in his own, very complicated way.

“I am not planning to keep Rue away from you,” Velaxis retorted, still trying to understand their complex relationship.

Caeru’s fingers moved through Pellaz’ raven hair. He would never stop loving Pellaz, regardless of the pain the Tigron had brought him. His heart was big enough to love both Velaxis and Pellaz…and the harling who Velaxis was going to bring into the world in two months’ time.

~~~

Cal didn’t like the direction Vaysh’s thoughts were taking. Vaysh had been in the bathroom for half an hour and still hadn’t moved. Thoughts of self-hatred had replaced Vaysh’s craving for aruna and Cal felt it was time to intervene. He didn’t want Vaysh to go back to being the bitter and distant har he had been for so long. Without knocking, he opened the bathroom door and strode inside. Vaysh, who had been motionless a moment before, spun around and eyed him suspiciously. The sudden movement also caused the robe to fall to the floor, leaving him naked and trembling.

Knowing that speaking even a single word could set Vaysh off, Cal opted for a silent seduction instead. Taking in Vaysh’s form, he realized that the other har had been neglecting his needs. He was too skinny and pale and even the dyed hair that should have shone seemed dull. He had often wondered about Vaysh and why the other har was the way he was. Pellaz had told him bits of pieces, but Cal was the kind of har who wanted to find out for himself.

Vaysh felt trapped. Cal blocked the only way out of the bathroom and he was painfully aware of his nakedness. He wanted to pick up the evening robes when Cal suddenly made his move. Unexpectedly warm lips claimed his. At first, it was just a kiss, but then Cal’s hands moved up his back to secure him in a tight embrace. Vaysh didn’t know what to make of it. Cal and he had seldom talked in the past and they certainly weren’t friends. Cal’s actions therefore made little sense.

Cal however knew exactly what he was doing. Vaysh might not be ready to admit his need to himself, but Cal sensed it clearly. Running his fingers through Vaysh’s hair, he deepened the kiss until it became sharing breath. Vaysh was off guard and it was easy for Cal to sort through the horrid memories that lurked inside Vaysh’s mind. Some of them were very similar to ones he had encountered in Pellaz’ and he started to feel a deep sympathy for Vaysh, who had lived through the same horrors as Pellaz had.

With his free hand, Cal turned on the tap and warm water started to fill the bathtub, which was big enough to hold them both. That bathtub had seen quite a bit of action since the Tigrons loved to take aruna surrounded by warm water.

Feeling entranced, Vaysh allowed Cal to guide him into the bathtub. He had no idea what was going on or what to expect, but his body made it very clear he should go along with anything Cal might suggest.

Sitting down in the tub, Cal pulled Vaysh down with him. Vaysh ended up seated between Cal’s legs with his back resting against Cal’s chest. Cal’s arms came around Vaysh’s waist and kept him in place. At the same time, Cal started to nibble on one of his ear lobes and Vaysh trembled in the embrace.

The fact that Vaysh was reacting so eagerly only served to encourage Cal. Only a few days ago, he wouldn’t have thought that the idea of taking aruna with Vaysh would appeal to him, but that had changed. When he pressed his lips on Vaysh’s shoulder blade, he could still detect Pellaz’ scent on Vaysh’s skin. Cal, eager to be in control of their situation, didn’t give Vaysh a chance to think things over. One of his hands explored along Vaysh’s chest until his fingers were able to roll a pert nipple between them. His other hand moved lower, curious to find out if Vaysh was becoming soume or ouana.

Vaysh’s body reacted instinctively to the probing fingers and became soume. He threw back his head and rested it on Cal’s shoulder. This felt too surreal for Vaysh to worry about it. It was probably just a dream from which he would wake up in bit. There was no way that Calanthe wanted to take aruna with him!

Cal grinned as he received that thought, but he remained silent since he didn’t want to break the spell. Vaysh’s eagerness and the fact that the other har needed this made him hurry up. He would have loved to play with Vaysh the way he played with Pellaz, subjecting him to hours of aruna, but that wasn’t what Vaysh needed. In a way Vaysh was like a har going through feybraiha and Cal happily obliged him. Slipping both hands beneath Vaysh’s buttocks, he lifted the other har until his ouana-lim could slide into Vaysh’s soume-lam. He entered Vaysh tenderly but determinedly and then settled the other har securely on his lap.

Vaysh’s world kept expanding. Each time he took aruna it felt like he became more real. What had started as a dream was quickly becoming reality. Cal was inside him and his body was reacting with pleasurable contractions of its own, signaling the blond Tigron how much he needed release.

The Tigron was determined to savor this however. He guided Vaysh’s back to his chest, wrapped one arm around the red-haired har’s waist, and held him tight. He didn’t thrust yet, intent on making this memorable for Vaysh. With his other hand, he tilted Vaysh’s head so they could share breath again.

Vaysh felt helpless in a way, but it was a good way, because Cal wanted to make him feel good.

A frown showing his disturbed thoughts crossed Cal’s brow. He had accidentally caught a glimpse of Thiede holding Vaysh down and that image alone was enough to anger him. He knew Pellaz had gone through a similar experience, but his chesnari hadn’t fought Thiede the way Vaysh had and in retrospect Cal was relieved that Pellaz had simply let Thiede have his way with him. Otherwise Pellaz might have ended up as damaged as Vaysh had been.

In order to counteract those horrible memories, Cal shared the pleasure he was currently experiencing with Vaysh. Maybe he hoped that those images would reassure Vaysh and encourage the red-haired har to take a more active role during aruna, but Vaysh didn’t react to the suggestions.

In the end, Cal started to thrust gently, intent on giving Vaysh the pleasure the other har had missed out on for so long. Sharing breath, Cal opened his mind up to Vaysh, creating a very intense, albeit temporary connection between them. Taking aruna with Vaysh greatly differed from taking it with Pellaz. Cal knew he shouldn’t compare the two, but he couldn’t help it. It also helped him understand just how much Vaysh had suffered since his death and remaking.

When it became inevitable that they were heading for a shared climax, Cal tried to draw it out as long as he could, but in the end, he had to give in. Pouring affection and pleasure into Vaysh’s mind, Cal tightened the embrace Vaysh was in and claimed the other har’s lips again, which had become bruised from sharing breath. Vaysh relaxed in his arms and his body shook violently.

Although Vaysh had already taken aruna with Velaxis and Pellaz, taking it with Cal was something else. Calanthe was a force of his own. Gigantic waves washed over Vaysh when they finally climaxed.

Cal rocked Vaysh slowly in his arms and cooed into his ear. Holding him close, Cal waited for Vaysh to regain his senses. Vaysh tried to catch his breath and shifted on his lap, causing them to break their temporary physical connection. Turning Vaysh in the embrace, Cal guided the redhead to his chest and wrapped arms around Vaysh’s trembling form.

Vaysh’s lips now rested close to one of Cal’s nipples and when he spoke, warm breath caressed the flesh. “You took me by surprise,” Vaysh admitted.

“Well, I always have a hard time resisting temptation and you are very tempting at the moment. Do you realize you are literarily screaming out for aruna?”

“I am not!” Vaysh said indignantly.

“Yes, you are.” Cal patted Vaysh’s hair and the gesture reminded him on why he had maneuvered them into the bathtub in the first place. “Pell will have to keep me in check.” He reached for the shampoo and started to wash Vaysh’s mane. “It is dyed, isn’t it?”

Vaysh pushed himself upright and tried to sort out the mess Cal had managed to make of his hair. Rinsing it, he nodded. “I dye it, yes.”

“Why?” Cal had a good look at the roots and realized Vaysh was blond by nature.

“I didn’t feel like myself for a very long time.” Vaysh shyly peeked at Cal. “Only now am I starting to feel like my old self.”

Cal had taken hold of the soap and was working up lather. Once he was content with the amount of lather, he rubbed it onto Vaysh’s chest. Soft giggles left Vaysh’s lips and Cal realized the other har was ticklish. “You might want to stop dyeing it.”

“Maybe I will.” Having Cal clean him up was a strange experience, but Vaysh allowed it. “Why did you take aruna with me, Cal?”

“Because you needed it and, as I said before, I am really bad at resisting temptation.” Cal hooked his arms around Vaysh and pulled the other har close once more. “I am really glad Pellaz’ plan worked, Vaysh. I should have tried to get to know you some time ago, but better late than never, don’t you agree?”

Vaysh blushed. “I would say you have gotten to know me pretty well during this last hour.”

Cal grinned. “Yes, I *did* get to know you intimately and I liked it.”

The predatory gleam was back in Cal’s eyes and Vaysh wondered if Cal was already making plans for later that evening. The look Cal was giving him hinted that there might be more to come.

Part 4

Pellaz chose to head for his private rooms rather than return to the ones he shared with Cal and Caeru since there were a few matters he wanted to take care of. First, he sent for guards to report to him. Then, he instructed the head of his household staff to prepare a feast, which would be held the next evening. He wrote an invitation for Phade, which he handed to the officer who would fetch Phade. The last thing he did was to write another invitation and address it to Caeru.

~~~

Cal found Vaysh curled up on the bed. The har hadn’t bothered to dress and his still wet hair clung to his face. The attraction he felt toward Vaysh surprised Cal for he had never expected to develop feelings for him. But there was something about Vaysh that had pulled him in. Curling himself protectively around Vaysh, Cal wrapped the red-haired har up in an embrace.

~~~

Rue wiggled closer and giggled when Velaxis pressed a butterfly kiss onto his cheek. They had curled up on the bed and Caeru’s hand rested on Velaxis’ abdomen. He still had a hard time believing what Velaxis had told him, namely that he had fathered a pearl. His first pearl. He had hosted two, but had never thought he would actually father one!

Velaxis smiled at Caeru and endured the constant petting of his abdomen. He understood why this was precious to Rue, who was trying to convince himself that this was real. “In two months’ time we will have a precious harling.”

“I still can’t believe it.” Caeru was tempted to rest his head on Velaxis’ abdomen. He knew it was a silly human thing to do, but maybe he hadn’t shed his former humanity yet. Raising his head, he rested it against Velaxis’ shoulder. “You will stay, won’t you?”

“I will. I am not leaving you now that I have Pellaz’ ‘blessing’ to keep you. I never thought he would allow it.” Velaxis however wasn’t complaining. All he wanted to do was hold Rue and enjoy the peace and quiet as long as it lasted.

~~~

Pellaz advanced on the bed. The fabric of his robes dragged over the floor as he made his way over there. A warm smile appeared on his face at seeing Cal hold Vaysh. He had been worried that Cal might not warm up to the red-haired har, but it seemed he had worried unnecessarily. He sensed Cal’s essence on Vaysh as he sat down close to his chesnari. “I can smell you on him,” he murmured and gave Cal a reprimanding look. “Didn’t I tell you to behave?”

Cal pretended to feel guilty, but mirth reached his eyes and destroyed the so-called ashamed look. “I couldn’t restrain myself. I didn’t think it would be that hard to keep my hands off of him. I never felt attracted to him before.”

Stroking Vaysh’s hair, Pell smiled when the red-haired har snuggled closer to Cal in his sleep. “You never got a chance to get to know him,” Pellaz commented thoughtfully. “I am not surprised you like him.”

“What are your plans regarding Vaysh?” Cal watched Pellaz closely when the dark-haired har lay down on Vaysh’s other side. Pellaz turned onto his side and they looked each other in the eye.

“I have invited Phade to tomorrow’s dinner. I am organizing a party for Vaysh and, in a way, for Rue.”

Cal narrowed his eyes. “What exactly are you up to?”

“Phade was always interested in Vaysh. I want to find out if the attraction is still there. As far as Rue is concerned, I managed to find his old band and they will perform.”

“Rue will like that.” Cal possessively draped an arm over Vaysh’s waist, who miraculously enough, didn’t wake up. “And I get to escort Vaysh?” Since there would be a formal dinner before the party started, Rue had to be at Pellaz’ side. That meant Cal had his hands free to escort Vaysh.

Pellaz intercepted that particular thought and smiled while shaking his head. “You want that.”

“Why not? He fascinates me and I don’t know why.”

“I don’t blame you. Vaysh is very special, trust me.” Pellaz didn’t mind that Cal was attracted to Vaysh. In fact, he welcomed it.

~~~

Phade never expected to receive an invitation from the Tigron and failed to hide his surprise when Paran handed him Pellaz’ letter. He had often joked with Pellaz that one day he would visit Immanion, but he had never thought it would actually happen.

Reading the letter, he found he was invited to stay at court as long as he wanted and there was a separate letter which was an invitation to the next day’s party. The next day?

“I brought another sedu with me,” Paran said. “We can leave the moment you finish packing.”

Phade couldn’t help but wonder about the haste Pellaz was making with this visit. What had happened that Pellaz wanted him to join the Tigron so quickly?

~~~

Caeru accepted the letter a househar handed him and then frowned. He had spent all morning in bed with Velaxis, just holding and cuddling the other har and had been about to make plans for the rest of the day when Pellaz’ letter had reached him.

Velaxis approached, curious as to why Pellaz was sending Rue a letter.

Caeru unfolded the paper and his frown deepened. “It is an invitation,” he said, enlightening Velaxis. “For a party that will take place after dinner… Tonight? There is going to be a party tonight?” This was way too fast! “What is Pell thinking giving me such short notice? I have nothing to wear!”

Velaxis grinned. “Then let’s go naked.” Caeru shook his head, but the grin on his face showed that Rue didn’t mind the suggestion.

“I need to talk to Pell about this. He can’t expect me to organize a party on such short notice!”

From over Caeru’s shoulder, Velaxis read along. “It is an invitation, Rue. I don’t think you actually need to organize it.”

“That makes it even weirder.” Rue folded the paper and turned around. “Are you coming with me? I need to talk to Pell.”

Velaxis nodded once. “If that is what you want.”

“I am not letting you out of my sight,” Rue announced. Maybe a part of him was still worried that Velaxis might leave Immanion after all.

~~~

Caeru entered the bedroom and then came to a halt. Surprised he looked at the three hara curled up on the bed. It looked like they hadn’t moved during the last few hours. “Pell,” Rue called softly. “What is this about?” He waved the invitation at Pellaz.

Pellaz’ eyes had opened and he stretched, trying to wake up. “It is an invitation… I thought that was rather obvious!” He pushed himself into a sitting position and swung his feet onto the floor. Then he noticed Velaxis hiding behind Caeru. “I am sorry that you can’t escort Rue to dinner, but he will be free to join you once the official part is over.”

Velaxis inclined his head. “I understand. Caeru is the Tigrina after all.”

“But that doesn’t mean you have to do without his company. I will have Cal and Vaysh to keep me company.” Pellaz walked into the bathroom, leaving Rue and Velaxis standing there looking rather surprised at being left alone. But they weren’t alone for long since Cal had also woken up due to their talking.

Cal stretched in a feline manner and then tucked a sheet around Vaysh’s naked body. “I didn’t expect to see you for quite some time, Rue.” He gave Rue a heated look which told that he had thought the Tigrina to be busy taking aruna with Velaxis for the next few days.

“Cal, stop it.” Rue blushed and placed his hand in Velaxis’ when the other har moved closer.

Pellaz exited the bathroom and his first look was for Vaysh who was still sleeping. Fixing Velaxis with a gaze, he inquired, “Is it normal for him to sleep that much?”

Velaxis nodded. “He has been through a lot during the last few hours. He needs to recuperate.”

“I am glad it worked.” Pellaz gave Vaysh an adoring look. Vaysh didn’t know it yet, but Pellaz was going to make sure that he would be the belle of the ball that evening.

~~~

Vaysh’s eyelids fluttered and then opened. The first har he saw was Cal, who was sitting cross-legged on the bed and appeared to be meditating. Unwilling to disturb the other har, Vaysh tried to move soundlessly as he attempted to leave the bed.

Cal opened one eye and eyed Vaysh. “Where are you going?”

“Bathroom,” Vaysh answered softly. “How long have I been asleep?” He felt lazy and he found it hard to keep his eyes open. Shocked, he realized he was naked and quickly wrapped the sheet around his form.

“You went to sleep yesterday and didn’t wake until now. That is about twenty-four hours. It is a good thing you woke up, you know, because Pellaz expects you to join us for dinner and then a party later tonight.” Cal unfolded his legs and placed his hands down on the bed.

“Party?” Vaysh blinked and brushed his hair away from his face. “I don’t attend parties.”

“This one you will attend,” Cal retorted as he rose from the bed. “You still have a few hours to get ready.” He folded his arms around Vaysh and smiled in amusement when he saw the surprise in Vaysh’s eyes. “Don’t tell me you forgot we took aruna in the bathroom.” Vaysh grew flustered, showing that Vaysh remembered it in detail. “You don’t need to feel shy around me.”

Vaysh gathered his courage and looked Cal in the eye. “Why did you take aruna with me? I know you don’t like me. Nohar does.”

Cal understood Vaysh’s reasoning. “That is because you kept me at a distance. You are no longer the har you used to be and that will surprise hara.” Cal brushed Vaysh’s red hair behind his ears and studied the handsome face. “The way you are now, hara will flock around you. Pellaz finally got some serious competition.” He understood why Thiede had chosen Vaysh for his experiments. The same light that glowed from Pellaz’ core shone from Vaysh’s. “Rue will help you dress up. He volunteered.”

Vaysh groaned. What had he gotten himself into?

~~~

Caeru and Velaxis joined them two hours later. Vaysh had managed to calm down a bit, but he still was upset that Pellaz was forcing him to attend dinner and the party afterwards. In the past he had always eaten dinner in the privacy of his rooms.

Pellaz had excused himself since he was in the middle of receiving guests who had been invited for that specific evening.

“This is just like Pell,” Rue commented as he went through his closet to find some clothes that would suit Vaysh. “He organizes this party and then vanishes on us.”

Velaxis had seated himself close to Cal and joined the blond Tigron in watching Vaysh. Vaysh looked dazed for the Tigrina had announced that he was going to ‘fix him up’ so that Vaysh could drag off anyhar he wanted from the party.

“Oh, just admit it that you are enjoying yourself, Rue,” Cal retorted and pointed at Vaysh. “Especially now that you have a new ‘project’.” Cal himself had often been subjected to Rue’s attempts to ‘pretty him up’. Now Vaysh was Rue’s newest ‘victim’ and Vaysh was too dazed to put up much of a fight.

Rue finally made his choice and opted for several red, gold, and orange fabrics. “Let’s move this into the bathroom, Vaysh. We don’t need an audience.” Rue took hold of Vaysh’s arm and pulled the poor har along while Cal started to laugh.

Velaxis gave Rue a loving smile, but he also felt relieved that he wasn’t on the receiving end of Rue’s fussing.

~~~

“Pellaz.” Phade didn’t know if he was supposed to bow or show his respect in another way. It was one thing to play host to Pellaz and Darq. But it was another to be at the Tigron’s court where he was very much aware of Pellaz’ position and power.

“I am happy to see you, old friend.” Pellaz smiled at Phade and after a short moment of hesitation, he hugged the other har. “I wasn’t sure you would come to Immanion. I know how much you like your home.”

“Curiosity got the better of me,” Phade admitted. “There must be a reason why you wanted me to come on such short notice.”

Pellaz nodded. “You are right. I have a reason for asking you to join me so quickly. All will be revealed during dinner, Phade. Just be patient a little bit longer.”

“I don’t think I actually have a choice.” Since Pellaz wasn’t going to tell him now, he had to wait.

~~~

Phade felt cautious when he realized that he was seated at the main table. He hadn’t expected that. The rest of the chairs were empty since the Tigrons and Tigrina were fashionably late. Phade prayed that they would arrive quickly.

~~~

“Rue?” Pellaz had joined his consort and raised his hand so Caeru could place his hand in Pell’s palm. Pellaz intended to escort the Tigrina and had dressed up for the occasion.

“I love it when you wear blue.” Rue sighed appreciatively and was glad that Velaxis wasn’t around. The silver-haired har was already on his way to the hall where they would have dinner later. He would have felt guilty if Velaxis had heard that remark. Pellaz’ luxurious robes were midnight-blue and silver lined.

“You look beautiful yourself tonight.” Pellaz gallantly kissed Rue’s fingers and ignored Cal, who was giggling behind them. Dressed in black, Rue was quite a vision.

“Just ignore them,” Cal commented, trying to make conversation with Vaysh. “They are like that at times.” Cal glanced appreciatively at his companion for the night. He had curled his fingers around Vaysh’s and didn’t plan on letting go any time soon. “Rue has outdone himself,” he murmured in a sultry voice while eyeing Vaysh hungrily. “The red and gold he dressed you in make you stand out even more.” The red and gold tones enhanced Vaysh’s hair and gave him a warm and approachable appearance. “You will be fighting off hara all evening.”

Vaysh felt at a loss. How was he supposed to react to a comment like that? “You are wrong,” he replied eventually. “No one will look at me twice. I hope you won’t grow fed up with having to entertain me.” He could always retire early.

“You have no idea how you look, do you?” Cal shook his head. There was only one way to show Vaysh the truth about himself.

~~~

Velaxis stopped in his tracks when he realized that one har was already seated at the head table. Velaxis was supposed to sit down on the other end next to Caeru, but he paused and took in the har’s appearance. He knew Phade. Velaxis had been the one to deliver Darq’s pearl to Phade’s tower. Phade would doubtlessly recognize him, and yes, the dark-haired and eyed har suddenly looked in his direction. The eyes widened as they saw him standing there. The best defense was offence so Velaxis approached and inclined his head in greeting. “We meet again, Phade.”

Phade eyed Velaxis closely. “You brought Darq’s pearl to me.”

“I couldn’t give you my name back then, but I can now. I am Velaxis.”

Phade whistled softly between his teeth. “I have heard that name before.”

Velaxis wasn’t sure what to make of that and decided to seat himself since Pellaz’ party was about to arrive.

Phade’s attention was diverted to the entrance when one of the househara announced the arrival of the Tigrons and Tigrina. Pellaz was the first har he saw and he even recognized the Tigrina who walked beside him. Cal he had also met and next to Cal there was… Phade blinked. His eyes had to be playing tricks on him. Was that really Vaysh dressed in lovely warm colors and with a blush on his face? His ice-prince? His ice-maiden? How he had longed to see the ice melt so the real Vaysh could emerge from it!

Vaysh felt many eyes upon him, but there was one pair that attracted his attention. He raised his head to look at the har who was trying to probe his mind. Shocked, he came to a stop and forced Cal to do the same.

Bemused, Cal followed the direction of Vaysh’s stare and then remembered Pellaz’ plan to play matchmaker. It was Phade sitting there, watching Vaysh hungrily.

“What is he doing here?” Vaysh wished the floor would open up and swallow him. Phade had always tried to break through the wall of ice, which he had built around his heart, and although Phade hadn’t known it at the time, cracks had started to form even back then.

“I believe Pell invited him to the party. Pell has wanted to do so for quite some time.” Cal started walking again and Vaysh fell into step beside him.

With growing agitation Vaysh noticed that Cal was leading him to the chair standing next to Phade’s while Caeru was seating himself next to Velaxis. Pellaz sat in the middle and Cal took his place at Pellaz’ right side. That left Vaysh with only one chair to sit on…the one next to Phade’s.

Pellaz had once referred to Phade as a beauty and Vaysh was painfully aware of the fact of how plain-looking he had to be sitting next to Phade. Phade’s raven hair reached his buttocks and his black eyes probed his very soul. Vaysh would have sold his soul to be anywhere else but there.

“Vaysh, you look…breath-taking tonight.”

Vaysh raised his head sharply to glare at Phade. “You don’t have to lie.”

“I am not lying,” Phade retorted, feeling hurt. “I was being honest.”

Pellaz watched the hara seated close to the main table and noticed that Ashmael was staring at Vaysh. Ashmael’s jaw had dropped as he eyed Vaysh in shock. Pellaz grinned. Good, let the fool see what he had thrown away.

“When you had entered the room, I thought that you had changed,” Phade commented. “But your tongue is still sharp.”

Cal wanted to go to Vaysh’s defense, but Pellaz kicked him in the shin beneath the table. The blond Tigron glared at his chesnari.

/Let them sort this out. You won’t help Vaysh by telling Phade off. Trust me, they are equally matched. Phade is in shock and so is Vaysh. Give them some time and Vaysh’s tongue will lose it’s sting./

/I will trust your judgment then./ Cal however kept a close eye on Phade.

~~~

Ashmael couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was doubtlessly Vaysh sitting there. But the fact that he looked flustered and cornered was something Ashmael found hard to believe. During all these years, Vaysh had never shown any emotions. What had changed that?

~~~

Caeru was ecstatic when he realized it was his old band taking to the stage and he looked questioningly at Pellaz. There was only one har powerful enough to orchestrate something like that. “Admit it, you brought them here.”

Pellaz admitted to doing that. “I was hoping you would take to the stage, Rue.”

Rue suddenly felt a bit shy. “It has been an awfully long time since I sang, Pell.” He was out of practice and his voice would probably sound like hell!

“Indulge me,” Pellaz replied and kissed the palm of Caeru’s hand. “Come on, admit it. You want to.” Caeru couldn’t deny that. “Velaxis? Why don’t you escort Rue over to the stage?”

Caeru rose from his chair and with Velaxis in tow made his way over to the improvised stage.

Cal placed his hand on top of Pellaz’ and smiled warmly at his chesnari. “I like it when you do things like that.”

Pellaz returned the smile. “It took me a while, but I understand now that I want to make Rue happy.”

“You did just that,” Cal remarked as he watched Caeru climb onto the stage and grab the microphone.

~~~

“Stop staring at me like that!” Vaysh felt nervous and fidgeted with the tablecloth. He was so focused on Phade that he hadn’t even noticed Ashmael eyeing him.

“I won’t apologize for staring,” Phade stated and resolutely placed his hand on Vaysh’s, effectively stopping the other har from fumbling with the tablecloth. “I can’t get enough of looking at you.” It amazed him that Vaysh made no effort to pull back his hand. He finally understood why Pellaz had invited him. Vaysh was the reason why he was there. Vaysh had changed and become more approachable. Phade was no fool. He knew he had a chance with Vaysh now. “Do you dance?”

Vaysh gulped and stared at Phade in shock. “Of course not!”

“Such a pity.” Phade however decided not to give in that easily. He curled his fingers around Vaysh’s wrist and got to his feet. “Maybe I know of a solution.”

Since Phade had a hold on his arm there was little Vaysh could do other than accompany Phade. “Where are you going? Let go of me!”

“Don’t make a scene, Vaysh.” Phade pulled Vaysh onto the balcony and, to his relief, saw that they were the only ones out there. “Will you dance with me now?”

Vaysh blinked and took in his surroundings. “Is that the reason you dragged me out here? So I would dance with you? You must be mad.” Vaysh gasped when Phade forcefully pulled him close. Their faces were only inches away and Phade’s strong arms encircled his waist. “What do you think you are doing? Let me go!”

Phade started to move to the music and Vaysh was forced to move along. “You resemble the ice-maiden of old,” he whispered into Vaysh’s ear. “But you never allowed me to see the fire in you before. You have changed, Vaysh.”

Phade’s words calmed Vaysh down and he willingly moved to the music. “You are right. I have changed, but that does not explain why you are here.”

“I think I know why I am here. Do you remember our bantering of old? You pretended to dislike me, but I believe you acted that coldly towards me because you *did* like me. You just tried to hide it.” Phade closed his eyes and focused on the sounds of the night, Vaysh’s scent, and the fact that they were grinding their lower bodies together. “Admit it, Vaysh. You always liked me.”

Vaysh bit his bottom lip. “I don’t like you.” But it was a lie and he knew Phade would see through it. The truth was that Phade was a har who had dared to confront him in the past. Phade *had* noticed him and their bantering *had* served a purpose. Suddenly Phade started to spin him about in a wild dance and Vaysh found himself giggling after a while. Phade was a beauty and Vaysh wondered what a beauty like that was doing pursuing him when Phade could have any har he wanted.

The music came to a stop and so did their dancing, but not before Phade pulled Vaysh closer. “You might pretend to not like me,” he murmured with a grin. “But I like you.”

Vaysh felt breathless as he looked into Phade’s sensual dark eyes. It stunned him that he wanted to take aruna again, but this time with Phade. Ever since Pellaz and Velaxis had healed him, he constantly craved aruna. It had been like that in the distant past when Ashmael and he had still been chesna. However, just thinking the name of his old chesna caused Vaysh’s desire to dwindle and he bowed his head, trying to rid himself of the memories.

Phade couldn’t quite explain what had happened the last few moments. Vaysh had seemed ecstatic one moment, but had turned depressed the next. He had wanted to share breath with the red-haired har, but realized that it would be a bad idea. Vaysh was obviously struggling with something. “Let’s sit down.” He guided Vaysh over to a bench and pulled the other har down with him when he sat down. Vaysh seated himself at a distance and Phade refused to let go of Vaysh’s hand, which he rubbed between his own. “Why do you feel so sad all of a sudden?” He still heard the echo of Vaysh’s giggling in his ears from when they had danced.

“I remembered something from my past.” Vaysh sighed deeply and raised his head. “Phade, why are you here?”

“I am here because Pellaz invited me, and no, I had no idea that you would be here too. But now I realize his agenda. He wanted us to meet again. He is sly that one.”

Vaysh had reached the same conclusion. “I know why he did it.” When Phade remained quiet, he continued. “I challenged him in a way. I told him that there was no har who would want to take aruna with me, let alone become my chesnari. He must have remembered the way we used to act around each other. That’s why he invited you.”

Phade smiled warmly. “I am glad he did. I always wanted to see you like this.”

Vaysh batted his eyelashes at Phade, involuntarily sending out signals that encouraged Phade to inch closer. “Pellaz healed me… I haven’t been myself these last few years. Thiede had done something to me that had left me…damaged.” Vaysh didn’t know why he was confiding in Phade, but he felt the other har had a right to know. “I was barren and couldn’t enjoy taking aruna. That changed only recently.”

Phade raised his right hand and lovingly fingered a lock of Vaysh’s hair. “I had always suspected that you had been hurt in the past. I knew there was a different har hidden beneath the frosty exterior, but you never let me see the real you.”

“I had to keep you at a distance. It is bad enough that Pellaz managed to take down the defenses I had built to protect me. I couldn’t let you in as well. It was too dangerous. You are right. I was made of ice back then. There is great strength in being cold like that, but at the same time it made me brittle and fragile. In the end, it took little to knock down my walls.”

Phade, feeling uncertain if Vaysh would accept such closeness, embraced Vaysh and pulled the trembling har close. For one moment it felt like Vaysh would fight him, but then the red-haired har relaxed against him and Phade tucked Vaysh’s head beneath his chin. “I’ve always wanted to do this –just hold you.”

Vaysh didn’t really know what to make of that admission. Just when he thought life couldn’t throw another surprise at him, it did. Sitting there and just listening to the music and Rue singing was nice. The tension left Vaysh’s body and he moved closer to Phade. He didn’t feel like talking. He just wanted to live in the moment. But then something happened.

Someone stepped onto the balcony.

Phade glared at the intruder. He felt protective and territorial of Vaysh although he couldn’t quite explain why. Vaysh had always seemed fragile to him, even when the other har had been acting distant and cold toward him. But since things had changed, Phade couldn’t help but feel even more protective.

Vaysh swallowed hard as he recognized the eyes staring at him from the darkness. They had haunted his dreams and waking hours for many years. Ashmael was standing in the shadows, watching them. Vaysh knew they could never be together again. Ashmael belonged in his past and could never be a part of his future. The last few years had formed a barrier neither of them could pull down. Ashmael had never tried to win him back and Vaysh had accepted that.

Ashmael abruptly turned and marched back into the hall again. Seeing Vaysh clinging to Phade had filled him with disgust.

Part 5

“What was that about? Will you tell me?” Phade instinctively tightened his hold on Vaysh. “Who was that har?”

“His name is Ashmael…” Vaysh thought it best to tell the truth. “A lifetime ago we were chesna… Before Thiede changed me.” He raised his gaze and searched Phade’s soulful eyes and came to realize that they had been dancing around each other for years. “Share breath with me and I will show you.”

Phade caressed Vaysh’s face and shook his head. “I want you to only do that if you feel comfortable in sharing breath with me. You can tell me, you know. Words will do.”

Vaysh shook his head and Phade’s fingertips rubbed against his cheek. “No, I want you to know…” He might falter if he had to tell his story aloud. He slid one hand along Phade’s cheekbone and brought the other har in for a kiss which then became sharing breath.

~~~

“Ashmael looks angry,” Cal remarked when the General marched into the corridor. It seemed Ashmael was leaving early.

“You know they were chesna once,” Pellaz responded and frowned.

“I am surprised you decided against trying to get them back together again.” From the corner of his eye Cal observed Rue, who was rocking the stage. It hadn’t taken Caeru long to find his voice.

“Ashmael isn’t the right har for Vaysh – not at the moment at any rate. Maybe they will be able to settle their differences in the future.” Pellaz drew in a deep breath and indulged himself with some sheh. “Anger consumes him, like it consumed you, Cal. The difference is that you got past the anger and healed. Ashmael never did. I am afraid there will be no happy ending for Ashmael and Vaysh. Their destinies lie with different hara.”

“Does that mean you think Phade will make a good chesnari for Vaysh?”

Pellaz nodded. “Phade is everything Vaysh needs in a har. Phade is patient, wise, loving, and mentally stabile. He is the perfect har for Vaysh.”

Cal wasn’t sure he agreed with Pellaz’ assessment, but decided not to question his chesnari’s point of view.

~~~

Phade remained quiet for some time as he tried to work through all the images he had seen in Vaysh’s mind. Vaysh had been honest with him and had given Phade full access to his mind, something which astounded Phade. Such an act implied Vaysh trusted him, which was another surprising discovery to make. “He didn’t come for you once he realized that you were alive?”

Vaysh needed to move away from Phade and inched toward the end of the bench. “I can’t blame him for that. I didn’t try to contact him either. Everything was just too awkward.”

“You still love him,” Phade whispered, wondering if opening his heart to Vaysh was a wise thing to do, especially since he now knew that Vaysh still had feelings for Ashmael.

“I doubt I can ever stop loving him. Ashmael is a part of me.” Vaysh composed himself again and looked Phade in the eye. “But I also know that we can no longer be. I have accepted that.”

Phade wasn’t convinced of that, but didn’t voice his worries. “Where does that leave us, Vaysh?” Had Pellaz made a mistake in inviting him? Maybe Pellaz should have concentrated on Ashmael instead? “You know that I have feelings for you. I hid them beneath our bantering, but I am certain they showed.”

Vaysh nodded. “They showed. I just didn’t want to acknowledge them.” Ashmael’s visit had upset him and the magic that had colored that evening had disappeared. “I want to go back inside.”

Phade rose from the bench, but didn’t let go of Vaysh’s hand. “I want to ask you something before we join the others again.” Vaysh’s gray eyes looked very young and vulnerable when they focused on him.

Vaysh swallowed nervously, having no idea what Phade was going to ask him.

“Do you want me to stay? Or should I return to my tower? I don’t want to pressure you in any way and I want you to know that you have a choice.” After witnessing Vaysh’s past he knew that having a choice was important to the other har.

That was not the question Vaysh had expected to hear, but he took his time carefully considering it. He knew that if he said yes, he would give Phade hope. It would be easiest to tell Phade to leave and that was what the old Vaysh would have done. But he *had* changed. “I would like for you to stay.” Vaysh trembled as he said that and Phade rubbed his fingers, trying to comfort him. “But understand that I can’t make any promises. Everything is new for me.”

“I understand. I will be patient.” Phade smiled and escorted Vaysh back into the hall. He had meant it when he had said that he would be patient and give Vaysh the time he needed.

~~~

Pellaz shifted excitedly on his chair when Phade and Vaysh made their way over to the main table. “Cal, they are back.”

Cal took one good look at Phade and realized the har was smirking smugly. Their conversation must have gone well, even with Ashmael dropping by so unexpectedly.

Phade guided Vaysh back to his chair and sat down when the red-haired har did. Addressing Pellaz, he commented, “I trust you can put me up a little longer? Looks like I will be staying.”

Pellaz smiled broadly. “You can stay as long as you want.” Leaning back into the comfort of his chair he felt smug because his plan was working.

~~~

Phade told Vaysh goodnight and pressed a chaste kiss onto the other har’s brow before disappearing down the corridor. Vaysh stayed behind, feeling rather lost, which Cal keenly sensed. The blond Tigron folded an arm around Vaysh and started to pull him along. “You will stay with us tonight.” He agreed with Pellaz in that Vaysh was in no condition to be alone.

“Only if I am not interrupting.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Cal and Pellaz exchanged a look. They had extra space in their bed since Rue had disappeared with Velaxis sometime during the evening. The two hara were probably taking aruna and Cal was certain they wouldn’t see Caeru until the next day. “You are staying with us.”

Vaysh decided not to fight them since Cal and Pellaz would get their way eventually. It pleased him that Cal had taken a liking to him for he had never thought that it would happen.

“You look relaxed,” Pellaz remarked once they were inside the Tigrons’ apartment. He ran a hand through Vaysh’s hair and searched the gray eyes. “I hope I didn’t offend you by inviting Phade.”

“No, you didn’t. It was a shock at first, but you are right. I like him.” Vaysh’s red hair tried to move in front of his face, but Pellaz brushed it aside so Vaysh couldn’t hide from Pellaz’ inquisitive gaze. “Ashmael was there too.”

“He left early.” Pellaz guided Vaysh over to the bed and started to strip him. “I am not going to lecture you,” he added and took his own clothes off once Vaysh was naked. “Hara kept Cal and me apart for years and I never understood why they did that.” Pellaz stretched out on the bed, pulled Vaysh into his arms, and watched Cal disrobe. “You need to follow your heart, Vaysh. Do what you need to do. Phade is the safer choice. He won’t disappoint or desert you. He is a har who loves unconditionally. But then there is Ashmael and choosing him is dangerous because he never moved on. His love might have become toxic.”

Cal knelt on the bed and crawled toward them. He spooned up behind Pellaz and looked at Vaysh, who was on his side staring at them. “Pell is right. Phade is the safer choice, but that is a decision only *you* can make. In a way I hope Ashmael and you will manage to sort things out, but at the same time, I realize that there will be pain and sorrow if you choose that path. I went through years of emotional and spiritual cleansing and healing. Ashmael never did.”

Vaysh took their advice to heart. They wouldn’t force him to choose Phade if he decided to be with Ashmael, which made him trust them even more. “I know those things…but my heart is at war with itself.”

“You have time to sort yourself out,” Pellaz reminded him and stroked Vaysh’s red hair. “You don’t need to decide right now. Phade is a patient har and will wait for you to make your choice.”

Vaysh rested his head against Pellaz’ shoulder and snuggled up to the Tigrons. He needed time and hoped both Ashmael and Phade understood that.

~~~

“You were amazing, Rue.” Velaxis snuck up to Rue, who had stretched out on the bed after performing all night. He had loved seeing Caeru in action like that.

“I missed being able to sing and perform.” Sweaty all over, Rue knew he should be taking a bath, but he was too tired to get up and head into the bathroom. Hopefully Velaxis didn’t mind having to put up with a smelly har for the night.

“I like the way you smell,” Velaxis murmured and then set about disrobing the white-haired har. “There is something intoxicating in that scent and it calls to me.”

Amused, Caeru smiled. Velaxis removed the Tigrina’s clothes within seconds and Rue’s skin welcomed the fresh air. “Now you are the one wearing too many clothes.”

“That is easily solved.” Velaxis couldn’t remember ever undressing more quickly and once they were both naked, he covered Caeru’s body with his. He ran his hands down Caeru’s flanks and claimed the other har’s lips in a bruising kiss. “I want you,” he panted heavily. “I don’t think I ever wanted you as much as I do now.”

Caeru laughed. Maybe he should stop bathing then! Raising a hand, he slid it into Velaxis’ platinum-colored hair. “And what way do you want me?”

Velaxis cocked his head and considered the question. “I love it when you are ouana, Rue.”

Caeru blinked. “You are the first har to think that.”

Velaxis laughed. “Then all the other hara have missed out on the adventure of a lifetime.”

“You are special,” Rue murmured as his body responded to the aruna-filled images Velaxis was sending him. He had become ouana and the transformation itself stunned him somewhat. For so long he had taken on the soume aspect of their race that being ouana felt somewhat unnatural to him. “The pearl you are hosting is special,” he added and, entranced, he watched how Velaxis lowered himself onto his ouana-lim. Caeru moaned and closed his eyes in pleasure. Velaxis’ soume-lam greedily took him in and he felt like he had come home.

“Open your eyes, Rue.” Velaxis wanted to see the expression in them.

Caeru complied and looked Velaxis in the eye. “It is the most amazing feeling ever,” he managed. “I am not sure I am much good at being ouana though. I lack experience.”

Velaxis rotated his hips and smiled when Caeru released a passionate scream. “You fathered a pearl, Rue. That should tell you how good you are at being ouana.”

Resting his hands on Velaxis’ narrow hips, Caeru thrust upward. He appreciated the fact that Velaxis was trying to build up his confidence, but Caeru suspected it would take some time before he felt truly comfortable being ouana for Velaxis. “I still can’t believe you are hosting. Just think about it… We will have a harling in two months!”

Velaxis affectionately rubbed his cheek against Caeru’s and then kissed him on the lips. “We had better enjoy aruna while we can. Once the harling has hatched…” Velaxis failed to finish that sentence because Caeru had finally started to set a firm rhythm which was quickly leading him toward his climax.

Caeru called out Velaxis’ name when he climaxed. They had become one being and he actually shared the ecstasy and pleasure coursing through Velaxis when they reached the point of no return.

Panting hard, Velaxis stared at Caeru then attacked those lips again so they could share breath. It took most of his strength and willpower not to collapse onto the other har before he slowly rolled off of Caeru onto his side. “It is a good thing a har can’t conceive when he is already hosting a pearl,” he commented cheekily.

Caeru actually blushed and turned onto his side so he could enfold Velaxis in a hug. “Stop it. I am not that talented. I am the Tigrina. I am supposed to host pearls, not father them.”

“I don’t like assigned roles,” Velaxis muttered. “You should be able to do what you want.” Snuggling up to Caeru, he smiled when Rue’s hand was once more caressing his abdomen. “You will have to be patient a little longer, Rue.”

A thoughtful expression appeared in Caeru’s eyes. “I hope I will be allowed to keep this one. I want to have a son whom I can raise and who will love me.” It still hurt that Abrimel had come to hate him. “Do I deserve another chance, Vel?”

Velaxis felt appalled that Caeru found it necessary to ask him that. “Of course you do, Rue!”

Rue moved about until he could rest his head on Velaxis’ lap and his fingertips continued to caress the other har’s abdominal area. He *so* hoped that this harling would accept and love him.

~~~

Cal woke when something in their sleeping arrangement changed and upon opening his eyes found Vaysh gone. “Pell, wake up! Vaysh has left!” He shook Pellaz, who was still fast asleep, and swung his feet to the floor. He didn’t know why he felt alarmed, but he knew it was important that they found Vaysh.

Pellaz blinked a few times when he woke up and then sat upright in bed. Cal’s panic affected him and he got to his feet too. “Where do you think he went?”

“Let’s hope he didn’t go to Ashmael to talk. I don’t think that would be wise – at least not alone.” Cal put on the robes which he had worn the other night. They were the closest thing to the bed that he could grab.

“I will check Ashmael’s rooms. And Phade’s,” Pellaz added in second thought.

“I will check Vaysh’s rooms… You never know where he went,” Cal said. Now that they had a plan, the Tigrons left in search of Vaysh.

~~~

Cal found Vaysh in his private rooms, which surprised him. The Tigron had been fairly sure that Vaysh had sought out either Ashmael or Phade, but instead Vaysh was sitting cross-legged on the bed. There was a drawing in front of him of Ashmael’s face. Cal slid onto the bed next to Vaysh, not attempting to touch the other har yet. Vaysh was still wearing the kohl which Rue had applied to his eyes the other night and it had smeared all over his face from his crying. “What are you doing here?”

Vaysh forced himself to acknowledge Cal’s presence, though he would have preferred to isolate himself. “Visiting my past.”

“This is about Ashmael.” Cal wondered if he was the right har to have this conversation with Vaysh. Pellaz knew Vaysh much better than he did.

Vaysh sighed and his fingertips moved over the lines of the drawing. “Phade knows I still love Ashmael and yet he is willing to take his chances with me.” He tore his gaze away from the drawing and looked at Cal. “In my world, Ashmael is you, Cal. He was there when I died. I died in his arms and he went mad with grief.”

“Sounds familiar.” Cal swallowed hard. “Aren’t you being a bit hard on yourself? You don’t need to make a decision now, you know. Phade told you he would wait.”

Vaysh shook his head. “I need to make my choice now. Don’t you understand that?”

Cal didn’t really, but he still nodded. “You need to talk to Ashmael, Vaysh. You need to find out where the two of you stand.”

“I know that, but at the same time I am afraid to do so.” Vaysh bowed his head. “He made it rather clear during the last few years that he wanted nothing more to do with me. I don’t want to beg him to take me back.”

“If he won’t take you without begging then he is the wrong har for you.” Cal got to his feet and extended his hand. “You need to talk to him now.”

“Now? But it is the middle of the night and…” Vaysh was desperately searching for excuses to postpone the inevitable conversation.

“Now, Vaysh. And don’t worry. I will stay while you talk to him. You won’t be alone.”

Vaysh placed the drawing aside and got to his feet. “I don’t want to do this.”

“I know you don’t, but you need to.”

~~~

Since Phade’s room was the closest to the Tigrons’ apartment, Pellaz decided to check there first. Phade opened the door looking like he had just woken up, so Pellaz quickly ruled out that Vaysh had visited with Phade.

“Pell? What are you doing here at this hour?” Phade rubbed his eyes in an effort to rid himself of the remnants of sleep.

Pellaz chuckled and then cleared his throat. “You might want to put on some clothes before you answer the door.” Phade was naked and Pellaz couldn’t help but admire the har’s beauty.

Phade grunted something unintelligible and shrugged into a morning robe. “Then don’t knock on my door during the night!” Phade’s mind had cleared by that time and he frowned. “Pell, just why are you knocking on my door in the middle of the night?”

Pellaz actually wasn’t certain he should tell Phade the truth, but in the end his conscience won the fight. “Vaysh disappeared.” The shock that appeared on Phade’s face caused Pellaz to feel guilty. “I shouldn’t have told you. Now you will worry.”

“Wait here. I am joining you on your search.” Phade made his way back into the room and dressed in black trousers and a grey shirt before joining Pellaz again. “Where do you think he went?” But then he understood. “You thought he had sought me out? That’s flattering…”

“I thought it would be either you or Ashmael. Now I am afraid he sought out Ashmael instead.” Pellaz didn’t want to waste any time and headed for the rooms Ashmael occupied whenever the General was staying at the palace.

Phade tried to rid himself of the lump of emotions that had manifested in his throat. “I don’t think he is ready to face Ashmael.”

Pellaz eyed Phade closely. The way Phade had said that implied the dark-haired har knew of the delicate relationship between Vaysh and Ashmael. “How much did Vaysh tell you?” It surprised him that Vaysh had opened up so quickly to Phade, but then again, maybe he had been right all along and the attraction hadn’t been lost on Vaysh as much he had thought it had been. Maybe Vaysh had accepted the truth.

“He showed me by sharing breath with me. I know what he went through.”

Pellaz arched an eyebrow. “He must trust you unconditionally.”

“That surprised me too. I never gave him much reason to trust me. He was always at the receiving end of my sharp tongue.”

Pellaz shrugged. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you kept challenging him. You never accepted his cold demeanor. That probably earned you his respect…although Vaysh might never admit that aloud.”

Phade was growing increasingly nervous. The previous night he had thought he’d had a chance to win Vaysh’s love, but now he wasn’t so sure anymore.

~~~

Ashmael had given up on getting any sleep. Too many thoughts, memories, and images raced through his mind and they kept him awake. All of them featured Vaysh in different stages of his life. There was his loving chesnari, the cold and distant aide, and the har he had seen earlier that night who had resembled his chesnari in a way. Ashmael felt at a loss and he needed to sort out his feelings and thoughts.

He had heard about Pellaz’ attempt to heal Vaysh and rumors had it that the Tigron had been successful. Upon hearing that, his first reaction had been that he might be able to get his chesnari back, but then he had realized his folly. How could he bridge so many years of ignoring Vaysh? It was foolish to think that they could go back to being chesna. Both of them had taken the easy way out and had ignored each other. Neither Vaysh nor Ashmael had tried to bridge the distance.

It was painful, but Ashmael had realized that he no longer had any claim on Vaysh. He had to let the other har go. On a very deep level, he still loved Vaysh and would probably never stop loving him, but the hatred and self-loathing were stronger than that remnant of love. Claiming Vaysh now would be an extremely selfish act and he would be doing Vaysh wrong. Letting Vaysh go was the only right thing to do.

The pain that lingered inside his soul would never leave completely, but maybe he would find solace in the fact that Vaysh had another chance at happiness, even if that meant seeing him become chesna with a different har.

~~~

“I can’t do this,” Vaysh muttered and looked toward Cal for help. “I want to go back to my rooms.” They stood in front of the door to Ashmael’s rooms, but Cal was blocking the escape route to the corridor. The blond Tigron’s face carried a determined gleam and Vaysh was scared that Cal was going to make him do this at any rate. “What if he doesn’t want me?”

“You will only find out by talking to him.” Cal moved quickly and knocked on the door as Vaysh remained frozen.

Vaysh shot Cal a startled and somewhat angry look, but it was too late to back down now.

“Enter.”

Vaysh swallowed nervously at the sound of Ashmael’s voice. “Stay close, Cal. Please don’t leave me alone with him.”

“I will stay close. I promise.” Cal followed Vaysh into Ashmael’s rooms.

Ashmael straightened his back and steeled himself for the upcoming conversation. The moment he had seen Vaysh enter he had realized that this would be their most important conversation ever and he couldn’t make any mistakes. He had to do what was best for Vaysh. “What are you doing here?”

Vaysh flinched and his gaze searched for Cal. The blond Tigron stood behind him, so Vaysh drew in a deep breath, collecting the courage necessary to have this talk with Ashmael. “Ash…” Just speaking the name caused his insides to flutter. He wanted nothing more than to throw himself at Ashmael and bury himself in the strong arms, but he didn’t. Ashmael’s posture told him that the har wouldn’t welcome such intimacy.

“What do you want?” Ashmael took great care not to speak Vaysh’s name. He didn’t trust himself if he did so. He might cave in and throw himself at Vaysh’s feet.

“I want to talk to you. I need to know if…” Vaysh’s hand shook when it reached for Cal’s. He needed the support and Cal gave it to him. The Tigron curled his fingers around his hand and squeezed gently. “Do you want me back?”

Ashmael felt shocked. He had wanted Vaysh to say those words for so long! But now that Vaysh *was* saying them, Ashmael knew he had to decline. Being with him would be the wrong thing to do for Vaysh. Ashmael was an emotional mess and would drag Vaysh down with him. He didn’t want to hurt his former chesnari. “No, I don’t.” His voice was emotionless as he replied. “Take a hint. Why do you think I avoided you all those years?”

Cal glared at Ashmael for being so cruel, but then frowned. When he probed the General’s emotions, he didn’t find disgust or hatred. He was getting something else and it made him stay quiet.

None of them noticed Pellaz and Phade entering the room for the two hara remained near the doorway. They didn’t want to disturb the conversation, no matter how mean Ashmael’s answer had been. Phade especially felt angry with the blond har for hurting Vaysh’s feelings.

Vaysh felt devastated. He had hoped that Ashmael would want him back but instead he was being rejected in the worst possible way. “I still love you,” he offered in a tiny voice.

Ashmael’s expression hardened and he tried his best to radiate cold and hatred, but the careful onlooker would have seen his hands becoming fists behind his back. His self-discipline was the only thing that stopped him from begging Vaysh for forgiveness. “I don’t love you. You are not the Vaysh I loved. Just get out.”

Managing to keep his tears back until he had turned around, Vaysh stormed out of the room. Cal wanted to go after him, but Pellaz grabbed his wrist and stopped him. “Let me go!” Cal ordered determinedly.

But Pellaz merely shook his head. “It is not you who needs to go after him.”

Cal frowned, but then understood. Phade had already left the room in hot pursuit of Vaysh. Cal forced himself to calm down. Vaysh was in the best hands with Phade and he needn’t worry about the red-haired har. That meant he could vent his anger on Ashmael. “You were cruel to him. Why?”

Once Vaysh had left, Ashmael crumbled. He collapsed to his knees and slung his arms around his waist, bowing his head. He had really done it. He had chased Vaysh away.

Cal, who had been advancing on Ashmael, came to a halt at the unusual display. Desperation, self-loathing, and pain rolled off of Ashmael in violent waves and it almost made Cal feel nauseous.

A sad light shone from Pellaz’ eyes. “I understand why you did it,” he said and knelt next to Ashmael. “You did what was right for Vaysh.” He raised Ashmael’s face with a finger beneath the blond har’s chin. “But you told him lies. You love him still.”

“Of course I do!” Ashmael spat the words at Pellaz and glared at Cal, who towered over him. “But what we had belongs in the past!”

Cal finally caught on and shook his head. “You shouldn’t have done that. You chased him off.”

“That was the idea!” Ashmael glared venomously at Cal. “I wanted him to leave!”

Pellaz stroked Ashmael’s hair and felt deeply sorry for the other har. “It won’t comfort you to hear this, but you did the right thing. Vaysh needs to be with Phade for the moment. Your love would have devastated him.”

Composing himself, Ashmael wiped away his tears and raised his head so he could make eye contact with Pellaz. “At least you understand why I did it.”

The Tigron nodded his head. “Ashmael, you did what was right for Vaysh. Now you need to take care of yourself. Vaysh isn’t the only victim here. You need to heal too.”

“You won’t fix that by taking aruna with me.” Ashmael pushed himself to his feet again and his old pride mixed with stubbornness appeared on his face.

“I know that. Maybe you could leave Immanion for a while,” Pellaz suggested.

Cal had been thinking along and realized that Ashmael had been cruel on purpose. He had put Vaysh’s well-being before his own and he respected Ashmael for making such a painful decision. “Pell is right. You need to get away from all this.”

Ashmael straightened his shoulders and glared at the Tigrons. “Are you sending me away?”

Pellaz shook his head. “Look at it as an overdue vacation.”

“Where do you want me to go?” He couldn’t stay at any rate, not now that Phade would become chesna with Vaysh. He didn’t want to witness their happiness.

It was Cal who came up with the solution. “Go to Forever.” Snake and Cobweb were skilled healers and he had a feeling that they were better equipped to deal with the emotional turmoil Ashmael was in than Pellaz and he.

“Forever?” Ashmael frowned and looked questioningly at Pellaz to see what the dark-haired har thought of Cal’s suggestion.

Pellaz actually liked Cal’s idea. “Forever would be a good choice.” Ashmael turned, obviously wanting to leave as quickly as possible, but he couldn’t let Ashmael leave like that without offering him some hope. “Don’t give up on yourself, Ash. Hope is all we have during times like these.”

Cal drew in a deep breath and stepped up to Ashmael. “It took me years, but eventually I regained my sanity. You can do the same.”

Ashmael gave Cal a gloomy look. “No, I made my choice. Vaysh’s destiny now lies with Phade.” After that, Ashmael turned his back on them and left the room.

Cal and Pellaz stayed behind feeling dazed and sad because Ashmael’s life wouldn’t have the happy ending theirs had had.

~~~

Phade caught up with Vaysh and slowed him down until the red-haired har came to a halt. Vaysh’s face was wet with tears and the gray eyes spoke of anguish. “I am sorry,” Phade whispered and resolutely pulled Vaysh into his arms. Vaysh struggled for a moment, but then gave in and clung to Phade. “I know you still love him and for your sake I’d hoped that he still loved you back.” Phade knew that words offered little comfort in times like this, but words were all he had to offer.

“I was so sure he still wanted me,” Vaysh whispered while weeping into Phade’s raven hair. Raising his head, his features contorted. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough.” Phade soothingly rubbed Vaysh’s back. “He doesn’t deserve you, Vaysh.”

Vaysh sighed deeply and shook his head. “I am sorry you had to witness that.” He bowed his head and let Phade guide him into a room where they would have some privacy. “I know witnessing that scene must have been hard on you.”

“Only because he hurt your feelings.” It was beyond Phade how Ashmael could deny Vaysh. He raised Vaysh’s face and searched the swimming eyes. “I don’t want to see you in pain.” Not fully realizing what he was doing, he leaned in closer and brushed Vaysh’s lips with his. The desire – the need – to take away some of Vaysh’s pain made him share breath with the red-haired har.

Vaysh was completely unprepared for the intimacy and, since his defenses were down, Phade easily entered his mind. Phade’s soothing presence covered his turmoil like a balm and he buried his fingers in Phade’s long mane. Sharing breath was dangerous at that moment because Vaysh needed more than just that. He needed to know that somehar wanted him and was willing to take aruna with Phade in order to feel needed.

It took a lot of effort on Phade’s part to break off the contact, but in the end, he managed and relinquished Vaysh’s lips. “No, taking aruna now would be wrong.”

Vaysh felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. “You don’t want me?”

“I want you, Vaysh, never doubt that. But I don’t want you to do this because you are hurting. Don’t do this because of Ashmael. I want to take aruna with you. What fool wouldn’t? But I want you to take aruna with me because you care for me.” Phade hoped he had said the right thing and that Vaysh would truly understand what he was trying to say.

Vaysh drew in a deep breath and sat down next to Phade on the couch. He rested his body against Phade’s and closed his eyes. Pellaz and Cal were right. Phade was the safer choice and, at the moment, Phade was the only har who wanted him. “What if I can’t love you back the way you care about me?”

Phade shook his head and embraced Vaysh tightly. “Then we will have tried and if it doesn’t work out we will go our separate ways. We are old enough to understand how these things work.”

Vaysh moved closer to Phade. “I am scared.”

“So am I,” Phade admitted. “I always wanted to get to know you and now that I have the chance to do so I wonder if we have a future together. Opening up my heart to you is easy, but accepting the possibility that I might end up hurt isn’t.”

“I don’t deserve you, Phade.” Vaysh twined their fingers and drew in another deep breath. Phade was right. They didn’t know where this would end, but the fact that Phade wasn’t idolizing their relationship soothed and reassured him. Accepting Phade as his chesnari would have been much more difficult if Phade had been convinced that the path in front of them was free of obstacles. “I will try,” he whispered against Phade’s chest.

“That’s all I can ask for,” Phade whispered back and kissed the crown of Vaysh’s head.

The End

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1 Comment

  1. April 19, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    […] 3 in the Fairy Tale Endings series. Previous part was High Hope. Next (last) part is Silver […]


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