This is a story written from the POV of Seel that attempts to explore how he might have struggled to come to terms with his initial attraction to Swift. In Bewitchments Swift tells us his side of the story in poignant detail, but I was curious as what Seel endured during that same pre-Grissecon period. It is neither flagrantly AU nor austerely canon and is influenced by, but not necessarily entirely faithful to, Thevina’s interpretation of the relationship between Ashmael and Seel in her story “Interpret Me the Savage Whirr.” I want to thank Elfscribe for her sympathetic and encouraging Beta. Any remaining failings are my own.
Author’s Email: email@example.com
Web page: http://heartofoshun.livejournal.com/
Pairings: Ashmael/Seel, Cal/Swift, Chrysm/Swift, Seel/Swift (none explicit, all implied or foreshadowed)
Overall Rating: R
Word Count: 2,344
Spoilers: The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure
Disclaimer: The characters, plot and setting all belong to Storm Constantine.
Seel stepped out into the last bright rays of sunlight as Imbrilim slipped from late afternoon into early evening. Looking at the banners and flags wafting in the summer breeze and the undulating movement of the multihued sides of the tents and pavilions of the encampment, he wondered how all of this appeared to Swift the Varr. He tried to imagine himself as a newly incepted har viewing Imbrilim for the first time through the prism of his own childhood. To Seel, this entire scene, part military outpost, part fantastic carnival or bazaar, would have conjured up dreamlike settings from a tale of exotic Arabian nomads or perhaps a gathering of fair knights and heroic kings.
Swift, however, was nothing like him: a pureborn, most likely woefully lacking in education and with no comparable cultural references. He wondered what Swift’s home had been like. What depravity had he participated in or witnessed? When they had come upon him at the edge of the Forest of Gebaddon, filthy, grey with exhaustion, skinny, and filled with fear, he had responded with courage. Swift had stood up to the Gelaming force that confronted him, not as the snarling half-feral harling Seel had expected, but as an intelligent young har concerned more for the welfare of his companions than for himself. In spite of everything, an air of entitlement hung over Swift, poignantly mixed with wistful hopefulness and a desire to trust. The presence of such qualities would generally reflect that one’s upbringing had included loving care and attention. None of these observations matched what Seel thought he knew of Terzian or of the Varrs in general.
Seel could not guess what lay behind those wide-set dark eyes: innocence or corruption. One thing he did know was that they had nothing in common. Seel perpetually sought peace and enlightenment while Swift surely had been schooled in violence. Seel cultivated a near-ascetic self-control while the Varrish youngster fairly crackled with arunic precocity and unselfconscious sensuality, undoubtedly encouraged by Cal. They did have Cal in common, Seel thought, but that ought to drive a wedge between them rather than bring them closer. What could Thiede be thinking to put the two of them in this intolerable situation?
As Seel drew near to the pavilion dedicated to the use of the Hegemony, Ashmael sauntered forward to greet him, his handsome face opening in a genial smile only lightly tinged with humor.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t show up.”
Seel grunted noncommittally. Ashmael laughed and slapped him on the back. “Cheer up. It’s only a small gathering, an opportunity for everyhar to view our much-discussed visitor. I thought you would like to get a better look at him yourself: rested, fed, and all cleaned up. He actually is lovely.”
“I could see that well enough before.” Seel remembered Thiede telling him that Terzian’s heir was presentable. That had proved to be another of Thiede’s sardonic understatements.
Within the tent, a long table had been set with a lavish buffet. A dozen or so of the ubiquitous impeccably clad and coiffed serving hara passed among the assembled glitterati of Imbrilim with trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. The soft music, understated yet seductive, did not require one to raise one’s voice to be heard. This was not intended to be a sybaritic party of hard-drinking, dancing, and pairing off, but a sedate gathering intended to impress without overwhelming their naïve guest of honor.
Seel quickly spotted Swift and his keepers. Clearly Swift had taken advantage of the amenities afforded him by Gelaming hospitality and groomed himself to perfection. His hair hung sleek and gleaming nearly to his waist, dark brown, almost black, like his eyes. He had pulled small twists of hair away from his face on each side, anchored only by two tiny sparkling clips, just enough to expose his high cheekbones and the elegant curve of his jaw. His large questioning eyes, remarkable on their own, had been artfully outlined in kohl.
“Let’s do it,” Ashmael said, urging Seel forward with a hand firmly planted in the center of his back.
Arahal greeted them smoothly. “Ashmael, Seel, you know Swift already.”
Swift grinned at Ashmael, grasping his outreached hand with a look of genuine pleasure and relief at greeting someone with whom he felt comfortable. His smile faded as he glanced at Seel. As Swift inclined his head courteously, his sooty lashes brushed against smooth pinkening cheeks. Clearly the young Varr was already entangled in the same mesmerizing spell that afflicted Seel. Some sort of mind coercion or hypnosis? Because Swift as yet knew nothing of Thiede’s intervention, he had made no effort to resist. Seel couldn’t bear to think of it. A chill swept over him that froze his blood and made it impossible for him to engage in the obligatory small talk.
Seel became conscious of Swift’s voice, low and mellifluous. “Tiahar Seel, have you been in Imbrilim long?”
“Yes.” The excruciating tensile silence held.
At long last, Ashmael charitably broke it. “Seel was one of the first har to join me here to help organize the layout of our settlement. No grand construction to challenge him, but his skills as planner, an engineer, have been greatly appreciated.”
Swift did not look at Seel again. Ashmael’s continued attempts at casual conversation and Arahal’s earnest pontifications insufficiently supported what ought to have been relaxed social chitchat.
Arahal finally guided Swift away to introduce him to another small grouping of Gelaming officials. Seel took advantage of the opportunity to further study the young har. He had been unable to do that with those haunting eyes fixed upon him: eyes that were unexpectedly vulnerable and distressed by Seel’s cold monosyllabic responses.
“So,” Ashmael said, lifting the corners of his mouth in a challenging smile. “What do you think of our little Varr now?”
Seel tried to control his exasperation at the teasing. “He is certainly not little. Perhaps not imposingly tall, but there is something of substance about him, despite the fact that he is not much more than a harling. Even so thin and worn down by Gebaddon, he looks every inch the barbarian princeling.”
“Your barbarian princeling,” Ashmael teased. “He seems utterly besotted with you, although you certainly gave him no encouragement.”
Swirling the liquor in his glass, eyes cast downward, Seel cursed himself for already revealing more than he had intended of his impressions or, more likely, the degree of his unwelcome obsession with the youthful Varr. He felt his face reddening but used his well-honed skills to halt the physical manifestation of his embarrassment mid-blush, not quickly enough, however, to forestall another irritatingly knowing smile from Ashmael.
Pushing Ashmael’s all too obvious awareness of his discomfort from his mind, Seel took care not to noticeably follow Swift’s progress to the other side of the pavilion. There appeared to be no outward evidence of the coarseness that Seel might have expected in a son of the sadistic Terzian. Instead the young har projected a thinly veiled, wide-eyed wonder combined with an attempt to hold onto his self-respect while faced with some of the more intimidating examples of the upper echelon of the Gelaming hierarchy.
Reaching out to place his empty drink glass on the tray of a passing serving har, Seel turned his body slightly so that he could continue to surreptitiously observe Swift. Arahal guarded his charge conscientiously amidst the circle of hara hovering around them, who, while seeming to ignore Swift, actually engaged in examining this latest novel addition to their company. The charming Chrysm, on the other hand, leaned in close to the young Varr, flirting shamelessly — to Arahal’s great annoyance. Prickles of possessiveness stung Seel’s oversensitive nerves.
Seel had heard rumors that Swift’s hostling Cobweb was exquisite and, now that he could scrutinize him closely, he did not doubt it at all. Swift’s pale striking face with its refined features contrasted with his unabashed carnality, which reminded Seel uncomfortably of a youthful Cal. In fact, in Seel’s perception, Swift figuratively reeked of Cal’s arunic self-indulgence.
Swift favored his ouana aspect, an unconsciously swaggering preference almost, despite his obvious lack of ease within this dazzling setting. Seel speculated that Terzian must have raised him in a manner that downplayed his soume attributes. Instead of finding that distasteful, as he believed he should, Seel felt titillated by the blend of blatant masculinity with delicate loveliness. Damn you, Thiede, Seel thought.
Images of the journey to Imbrilim made by Cal and his two Varrish cohorts crowded in upon Seel’s consciousness. He could picture that lazy, seductive smile of Cal’s that seemed to say, “if you want me you can have me,” and Swift responding with the look of total entrancement that Cal’s victims always wore. He wondered what was more disgusting to him: the certainty that Cal had taken aruna with Swift, his own inability to squash his lurid imaginings of the graphic details, or, worst of all, that the contemplation of how Swift might have looked undone and relaxed in post-arunal bliss flooded him with jealous spitefulness.
If Seel did not keep an iron band of control clamped securely over his mind, it overflowed with erotic imagery, both sacred and obscene, with Swift as its subject. Seel had even imaged the exact shape, colors, and taste of Swift’s ouana-lim. It was humiliating enough that he so easily slid back into such adolescent fantasies, but equally disturbing that he had no doubt that his visualizations were accurate.
Even more persistent was a vision of Swift bending over him, his sweet, nearly red lips slightly parted and his midnight eyes clouded with desire. Perhaps Cal had already taught Swift that being soume could also be powerful and ouana tenderly sweet; if not, he wanted teach him. This is wrong, just wrong, Seel insisted to himself, as he had countless times over the past few days. He had no idea to what degree his lust for Swift came from a glamour that Thiede had cast over them both or from something that lay dormant within himself. Although he was not sure what manner of psychic manacles had been placed upon either of them, the whole setup carried the unmistakable mark of Thiede. Seel had begun to think that Thiede might have more of a sense of humor than he had suspected before or, quite the opposite, was utterly oblivious to just how unruly the triggered passions of lesser hara could be.
Ashmael interrupted Seel’s troubled musings again, passing a long-fingered graceful hand in front of his eyes. “Are you there, Seel? Why don’t you just walk over and wrest him away from Arahal. He intends to keep Swift away from aruna during his caste training and it’s torturing the young har.”
“Now, you are overstepping yourself,” Seel snapped. Looking up into his occasional lover’s face, Seel understood there had been no cruel intent behind his words but an honest attempt to be helpful. He could not keep from giving Ashmael a small smile, but neither would he completely cast off his last shred of resistance. “I wouldn’t want to interfere with anyone’s caste training, even if I were so inclined, which I assure you, I am not.”
“Give it a rest, Seel. You can’t hide from me. Arahal will be mad as a wet cat, but not likely to stop you. Plus, aruna with you would probably do more to elevate his caste than listening to Arahal’s pseudo-academic yammering for months.”
“That’s not true.” Seel laughed. “You are the only person I know who can goad and flatter me in the same breath.” He couldn’t stay angry, aware as he was that Ashmael sought to reassure him. Ashmael also understood what it felt like to have one’s destiny coldheartedly molded by the hands of another.
Even so, Seel could not hold back a stiff retort. “I’ll do my duty when it is required and not a moment sooner.”
“Your choice.” Ashmael nudged Seel in the ribs, nodding in the direction of Swift. “Look. You have only a few seconds to change your mind. Some other har intends to risk the wrath of Arahal.” Chrysm had taken Swift by the arm and guided him toward the exit. Seel ferociously turned his back on the doorway, crossing his arms over his chest.
“As long as you are sure that’s how you want play it,” Ashmael continued. “Chrysm will roon him blind and senseless. Meanwhile, poor Swift will almost certainly try to pretend that he is you.”
Swiveling sharply away from Ashmael, Seel snarled, “I told you: I don’t want him.”
The feckless Chrysm had reached the exit from the pavilion, Swift still in tow. As Seel watched them, Swift turned and shot one last yearning look in his direction. Chrysm gave Seel a sly wink. Groaning, Seel twisted back around, only to meet Ashmael’s eyes again.
In a desperate whisper, Seel choked, “You don’t understand, Ash. It’s burning me up from the inside out. I know if I touch him, I can never go back.”
Ashmael threw a comforting, strong arm across Seel’s shoulders. Seel gratefully met Ashmael’s affectionate gaze, warm but infused with subdued humor. When Seel dared to look again, Swift and Chrysm were gone.
“There, there. Relax,” Ashmael said, his voice tender yet ironic. He brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen across Seel’s damp forehead. “That’s the end of it for now. If you want to come home with me, I can distract you tonight at least.”
Seel released a long, defeated sigh. He decided that, more than anything else he could think of at that moment, he would like to get drunk, but not so smashed that he could not appreciate Ashmael’s potent arunic skills.
“Thank you, I would like that. Are sure you don’t mind?”
“Ah, Seel, I think you know the answer to that,” Ashmael said, with a wicked grin. He wrapped his arm around Seel’s waist, guiding him firmly across the crowded room. “Let’s get out of here.”