Inception, Inc

Inception, Inc
by Persephone

Story Notes

Author’s email:  persephone10034@yahoo.com

Characters:  Calanthe and some originals

Rating:  NC-17- rooning

Beta:  Thevina/thrihyrne  Thank you for beta, help, encouragement and SO much more!!
Any remaining mistakes are mine.

Spoilers:  Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, Bewitchments of Love and Hate, Fulfillments of Fate and Desire

Synopsis:  Cal has an adventure and encounter before he first gets to Immanion

Disclaimer:  All the characters, their world and all things Wraeththu belong to Storm Constantine, to whom I am very grateful.

This was originally posted in unbeta’d form on 3/2/08 at Raythoo LiveJournal Group

If anyone read this – thank you!  Again, I will appreciate your comments.

Also coming soon, a sequel “The Dawning”

Chapter 1

The sun was just setting, casting dark and peaceful shadows over the land.  Cal was able to make out the outline of the town he headed towards.  It was more of a city, really, or at least it must have been in the past before its decline.  He was grateful to be getting near some semblance of civilization, for that meant a drink, a meal, a bath and a bed, preferably in that order.  He’d had enough of outdoor living for a while.  As he’d been walking, in recent hours he’d noticed signs that indicated that he was nearing a town.  There had been more makeshift dwellings and a few abandoned cars in various states of decay lining the road.  Soon he saw a sign that read Welcome to Path’s Crossing.  As he entered the city, he decided to go into the first halfway reputable looking establishment he came across.  A sign hanging outside a fairly nice looking building proclaiming Pathway Inn caught his eye.

Hmmmm, looks good enough, he thought to himself, and entered.  As the door closed behind him, he stomped the dust from his boots, brushed it from his clothes and raked it from his wild blond hair.  He decided the first order of business was a drink. He went to the bar and ordered a double shot of very strong harish liquor.   He sat at a table just enjoying his drink and a smoke, and the fact that he was able to just sit for a while.  A   small commotion at the other end of the room interrupted his reverie.  A very tall, imposing har with long brown hair in a ponytail had entered with several others, who seemed to be some sort of entourage of his, and they were laughing rather loudly.  This har seemed to be someone important, at least in his own opinion, Cal mused.

After a period of laughing it up and talking to the other hara at the bar, they came sauntering over to find a table.  When they sat down, Cal immediately felt the tall har’s eyes on him. When he looked up, the har was staring right at him with a smug sort of smile on his face.  Cal quickly looked away, but it was too late, the har was already moving over towards him.  Cal continued to stare at the table top, thinking to himself that the last thing he wanted tonight was to have to fend off the unwanted advances of a super sized har with a probable ego to match.  Suddenly, another drink like the one he had appeared in the space on the table he was staring at.  He had no choice but to look up. His eyes met the other har’s.

“Greetings tiahaar.   You’re obviously new here, because I know everyone around here and I don’t know you.”  He paused and sat down across from Cal.  ”But I would like to.”

What a nerve. Cal thought. He’s completely full of himself. He wanted to tell him to shove off.   Cal had learned the hard way, however, that sometimes, finesse was the better way to go.

Before he could say anything, the tall har extended his hand in greeting and said, “I am Fariv and I’m pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Cal.”  He shook the extended hand.

“Cal, very nice to make your acquaintance.  Are you staying here a while?”

“Just passing through.”

“Pity. Where are you headed?”

“Wherever the road takes me, I guess.”

“Hmmm, a bit of mystery…most intriguing.   Well, can you tell me at least whether you’re running from something or going towards something?”

“Both, if the truth be known.”

“Ah, the truth, I’m not going to be getting much of that from you am I?”

He sat there with a grin on his face that both annoyed Cal and yet also put him a little more at ease.  Since the har was not going away without his being rude, he decided to make some conversation with him and then say he was tired and needed to sleep.  Surely he wouldn’t be offended by that.   Fariv sat back in his chair, took a swig of his drink and studied Cal with his head tilted to the side.

What’s he up to? wondered Cal.  If it was a roon he wanted, he seemed like the kind of har that would have gotten to the point by now.

Then Fariv said, “I couldn’t help but notice that you certainly don’t look like the usual kind of har we get traveling through here.”

“Looks can be deceiving,” Cal countered.

“Well, your looks are far above the usual.  And I always notice such things.”

I’ll bet you do, Cal thought to himself. His next thought was, Well here it comes, the proposition. But Fariv only asked him if he was staying there at the inn.  Cal said he was considering it.

Then Fariv said, “I only asked because I own it and maybe I could give you a deal.”

“I see.  And what exactly would this ‘deal’ require of me?”

Cal asked the question with such a look on his face that Fariv laughed out loud and said,    “Don’t look at me that way.   I’m not up to anything sinister.”

Cal finished his drink, and got up to leave.    As he was walking away, Fariv called after him, “Cal!  Please, I didn’t mean to offend you.  Please come back.  Have another drink.  I just have a business proposition for you.  Please hear me out.”

Cal stopped even though he knew he should keep going.  Curiosity got the better of him.
“What?”

“Please sit down; I have a proposition for you.”

Against his better judgment, Cal sat down.  The idea of trying to find another decent place to stay seemed like too much work, and truthfully, he just had to know what Fariv had in mind.

Fariv began, “As I told you, I own this inn, but that is not where I really make my money.  I have another little endeavor of mine that I think you would be perfect for.”

Cal eyed him suspiciously.  “Oh, really.  And just what might that be?”

Fariv sat back and steepled his hands, smiling, obviously enjoying the moment.  In that instant he reminded Cal of Thiede, albeit a bargain basement version. Fariv was a big fish in this dirty little pond and was thoroughly enjoying the swim.

“I have a little business that I like to call ‘Inception Inc.’” He said as he leaned forward.   Cal just stared at him, wondering what on earth this could be about.  When Fariv appeared to think he’d held Cal in enough suspense he began to explain.

“You see,” he said dragging out the words interminably, “For quite some time this place has been a sort of crossroads where har and human alike pass through for… whatever.” He gestured with his hands.  “ Many of the humans knew their days were numbered as Wraeththu took over.  Most of the males saw the wisdom in becoming har.  Sort of the old ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mentality.  I, being the entrepreneur that I am, found out I could cash in on this whole inception thing.   You see, it’s the tried and true situation of supply and demand, quite simple, really.  Just provide a quality service where there is a need for one.

“Why would someone pay for inception?” Cal inquired.

“Because, as many of us know all too well, inception can be, shall we say, very unpleasant?  We all know of hara who were forced into inception, or forced to go through althaia in filthy basements, alleys and such.  And of those whose first aruna experience was nothing less than pelki.   Well, Inception, Inc. does away with all that unpleasantness.   We provide our clients with a clean place with the latest drugs and herbs for pain, caring attendants, and a guarantee of a wonderful post althaia first aruna with a beautiful har of their choosing.  What more could you ask for?”  At this he smiled widely and put his hands out in a flourish to emphasize the magnitude of his self declared genius.

Cal just stared blankly, trying to take in all that this explanation implied.  “How….How does all this work?” he stuttered.

“Well, I use an old hospital.  I know, perfect, right?  Where all this can take place.  One floor is for the althaia, you remember all the unpleasantness.  And another floor is more of a hotel, if you will.  This is a pleasant place where the clients can take their first aruna.   It’s not terribly expensive, because I need clients to be able to afford my services.  I make it up in quantity.  I also have hara who go out and ‘spread the word’ if you will, and others who roam around the city proper to find more clients.  Some of the ‘advertisement’ is a tad exaggerated, I admit.  You know, tales of bands of savage Wraeththu roaming around just waiting to incept men and boys in a most unpleasant way and then use them as slaves, and of course tales of incomplete inceptions where there is no aruna leaving horribly ill and deformed hara/human mutants.  Well, you do have to convince potential clients that they desperately need your services.  All’s fair as I see it.

“But you, Cal, don’t strike me as the type of har who would be opposed to a little unscrupulosity, if there is such a word. Maybe this wouldn’t fly in another place or time, but I’ve been able to make a tidy little profit here and now.  I’ve made it work.  I also know it’s a business with a short shelf life.  With humans dying out and some becoming har elsewhere, the time for this to be useful will come to an end.  But so far I’ve been able to do rather well.”

After a quick consideration of all that Fariv had related, there was only one question in Cal’s mind.  “And how do I fit into all this?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Fariv teased.   “I have a bevy of beautiful hara for the clients to choose from for their first aruna, all gems of Wraeththu perfection. You, Cal, could be the crowning jewel.” Fariv relaxed back in his chair completely satisfied with himself and his presentation.

The first words out of Cal’s mouth were, “So I would be a kanene in your glorified version of a brothel?”

Fariv laughed heartily, and slapped the table at that. Then he said, “Cal, Cal, it’s nothing like that.  Think about it.  A kanene is almost owned, and has to do unspeakable weird sick things with anyone who fancies them.    You, on the other hand, would be having aruna with a young new, virginal har.   Just pleasant, lovely aruna, nothing weird.  You could look at it almost as a teaching job.  And you’d be getting paid handsomely for it, I might add.”

Now it was Cal’s turn to look intimidating.  He leaned forward over the table and looked piercingly into Fariv’s eyes. “How handsomely?”

Now Fariv leaned in, too, inches away from Cal’s face.  “Very,” he said.

He scribbled a figure on a piece of paper he took out of his pocket and slid it across the table to Cal.  Cal picked it up, not taking his gaze away from Fariv.  He glanced down and his challenging expression changed.

“Not bad,” he answered.

I can’t believe I’m actually considering this, Cal thought to himself.  He thought about Piristil. Is this any different?  Been there done that and if I had gotten a t-shirt, I would have burned it.

He also thought about the fact that he was nearly broke.  Seconds ticked by.   “Can I quit any time?”

“Of course, this isn’t slavery, it’s a business deal.”

“Can I refuse any client if I want?”

“Yes. You’d be the one out the money; I have other hara working for me.”

Cal looked up at Fariv, who seemed to be holding his breath.

“Okay. It’s a deal.”

Fariv stood up, raised his arms victoriously and exclaimed, “Marvelous!   You won’t be sorry, Cal.  I promise.”   He reached to shake hands on the deal.  Cal smiled blankly and shook hands.  Fariv moved around the table and put his arm around Cal and called to the bar har, “Two more drinks, were celebrating a deal!”  Cal looked around in embarrassment while the hara in Fariv’s entourage smiled widely, nodding their approval.

Fariv leaned over and said into Cals ear, “You can have your room free tonight.”  Cal looked worried.  Fariv slapped him on the back and said, “Don’t worry, no strings attached.  Just rest up,” he joked.

Chapter 2

The next day Fariv sent word that he wanted to meet with Cal to discuss getting started and that he’d meet him for lunch at the inn.  Cal had just sat down when Fariv entered the room, smiling broadly.  He sat down and asked, “How did you sleep?”

“Fine.  The room is very nice, thank you.”

They ordered their food, and Fariv said, “Well, lets get down to business.  I’ll explain the process to you.”

Fariv told Cal about the contracts and showed him an example.  Cal looked it over and concluded that there was nothing complicated or underhanded about it. It appeared to be just a simple contract with the services and the quality of said services guaranteed by Fariv and the promise to pay in full guaranteed by the client.  He handed the papers back to Fariv.

“So what do you think?”  Fariv asked.

”Seems okay to me.”

“Good. When we’ve finished our meal, we’ll tour the facilities.”

Fariv took Cal to the building that had been a hospital, which wasn’t far away.  As they walked up to the building, Cal noticed that the major parts of it were not in particularly good shape, but the sections that Fariv used  had been fixed up quite nicely.  They walked into the entry area, where there was a reception desk. The har working there recognized Fariv right away, and greeted him warmly.

They made their way down a hallway and to the steps.

“We didn’t refurbish the elevators, Fariv explained as they began to climb, “but we replaced windows, repaired walls and floors and collected all the furnishings and equipment we could salvage and scrounge.  It’s really only two floors with twelve rooms each, but it’s enough.  All in all, I think it turned out well.”

Fariv opened the door to the second floor corridor.  The floor and walls looked scrupulously clean, and the unmistakable odor of disinfectant filled the air.  The hall was rather wide with several rooms on either side.  There were only a few hara walking around, and Fariv said that it was not a very busy time for them at the moment.

Their first stop was a room whose closed door said in large red letters:   BLOOD STORAGE. Inside, there were several institutional sized refrigerators against the walls, humming loudly.

“We use preserved blood and inject the clients.  It’s a lot neater,” Fariv explained. “As you may remember from the contract you saw, the Harhune ceremony is optional and extra.  We have to keep it affordable.”

“A bit impersonal, don’t you think?” Cal commented.

Fariv shrugged, “Maybe.”   Cal concluded that Fariv didn’t concern himself about such things.

They went deeper into the hallways and came to a locked double door with a sign which declared:   NO ADMITTANCE   FACILITY PERSONNEL ONLY.

“This is where the clients spend the three or so days of their althaia,” Fariv said. “We keep them as clean and comfortable as possible.  Each client has his own private room, and attendants are here around the clock.  There are only a few here right now.  I really don’t think you want to see any of this do you?”

“Uh, not really.”

“Good.  I don’t think any of them would appreciate being observed in the state they’re in anyway. Let’s go on to the better parts of this process.”

They headed back downstairs and Fariv led them into the “hotel” portion, where the newly incepted would take their first aruna to seal their entry into being Wraeththu.   Fariv opened the door to an empty room.   Cal was impressed; the room was decorated well.  There were candles and incense burners on the tables, and the materials for the curtains and bed coverings were of obvious high quality.  The walls were painted a tranquil shade of green, and completing the ambiance, there were pretty throw rugs on the floor.

“Now this is really nice,” Cal said.

“Well, after all the nastiness of going through althaia, we want to leave our clients with the most pleasant memories of their stay here.  It’s good for the word of mouth business.”

Always the businessman, Cal thought.

“That’s the end of the tour!” Fariv announced.  Before Cal could comment, Fariv said, “There’s one more place I want to show you.” They left the building and headed a few blocks away.  They soon arrived at another building and Fariv said, “Here we are.”

Cal studied the building.   “It has an official look to it.  Was it a city hall or courthouse?”

“Good guesses, Cal, but it’s an old police station.  I think you’ll be impressed with my inventiveness.”

“Well, I know you are.”

Fariv laughed good- naturedly. They walked into a room where there were chairs facing a window into another room. “This, my friend, is an old police lineup room.  This is a one way window.  We can see into that room, but from that room all you see is a mirror.  So-“

“Don’t tell me,” Cal interrupted.

“Ah, I see you have already figured it out.  You beautiful hara line up in that room, and the human, soon to be har, makes his choice for his first aruna partner from here.  It would be much more awkward face to face, don’t you think?  It’s perfect!”

Cal was not convinced. Lining up to be picked still said ‘kanene’ to him.

Fariv saw the look on Cal’s face and said, “Oh come on, Cal It’ll look a lot better to you after your first pay day.  You’ll see. Come on, I need a drink.”

“Not as much as I do,” Cal responded.

They headed for the inn.  When they were seated at a table and had their drinks, Fariv said, “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot.”  He took some papers out of his coat and handed them to Cal. “I’d like you to fill out these papers, okay?”  Cal’s inner annoyance must have shown on his face, because Fariv apologized.  “Sorry, just have to keep everything official.”

Officially what? Cal wondered, thinking the documents so out of place in this backwoods town. They were papers stating that the parties were agreeing to….blah, blah blah.  Cal thought it looked boring.  He humored Fariv by giving them a quick once over.   “Hmm… rooner agrees to… roonee agrees to…”  He heard Fariv chuckle, but he signed it regardless. Cal was sure it would end up in a box or drawer somewhere and only Fariv would ever lay eyes on it.

Fariv picked up the papers after Cal had shoved them across the table and said, “Fine.  Looks in order.”  He paused.  “Calanthe.  Is that your full name?”

“Yes. It’s Cal for short.”

“Calanthe,” Fariv repeated. “Beautiful. I like it!”

“I’m so glad,” Cal said sarcastically.

Fariv laughed and got up to leave.  “Well, I’ve got to get going.  I have an appointment.  I’ll send word when we need you, should be a day or so.  Meanwhile, enjoy yourself.”

Once Fariv had gone, Cal sat for a time, thinking things over.  He’d wondered where the humans got the money for their inceptions.  When he’d mentioned it to Fariv, he’d said that some had enough when they came to the city. Others chose to work in the city until they got enough money together. Some, he said, even bartered for it.  Fariv had told him, “If they give me something I can sell for enough money, I’ll accept it as payment.”

On the surface Fariv’s explanations seemed to make sense.  But Cal still had a lot of unanswered questions.  He remembered that Fariv had mentioned that the business was, as he put it, ‘feast or famine.’ He said that they usually got clients several at a time, at least four or five, sometimes more.  Cal didn’t know why, but that fact puzzled him. And how did Fariv know that he would need Cal in a day or so?  Mulling it all over, Cal had a nagging suspicion that there was more to Fariv’s little operation than met the eye.

***

As predicted, the next day Fariv sent word to the inn for Cal to come to the old police station at an appointed time.  A har had delivered the written message to his room.

We have a few clients coming.
Look fetching.
See you at 3:00.
– Fariv

Cal was pretty sure he didn’t appreciate Fariv’s sense of humor.

He decided to wear the only decent outfit he had left; a pair of black trousers and a purplish-blue, loose fitting silky shirt.  He had hung it in the bathroom, hoping that the steam from his shower would smooth out some of the wrinkles.  It didn’t look bad.  He didn’t have any cosmetics with him, but he really didn’t need them.  He looked in the mirror.

“There,” he said to his reflection, “Fetching enough for you, Fariv?”

Chapter 3

Cal walked the short distance to the building and, with some trepidation, went inside.  He heard harish voices coming from one of the rooms, so he headed in that direction.  It was the waiting room to the “viewing room” he remembered.  He looked in the room and saw four hara.  Two were sitting quietly and two more were standing, talking to each other.  One of them looked somewhat like Fariv.  Maybe it was his little vicarious joke on himself, Cal mused.  The one he was speaking with looked rather ordinary.  One of the seated hara had a reddish bronze complexion, and was dressed in buckskin.  But the fourth one immediately caught Cal’s eye.

He was about average height, a little shorter than Cal.  His flowy, silvery-gray pants outfit accentuated and complimented his slender frame, fair skin and clear blue eyes.  His long dark hair had the sides and top part pulled back in a long braid, the rest loosely falling, showing off his delicate features.  His hair hung to just below his backside.  He looked over at Cal and smiled.  Calanthe felt a familiar stirring, that of genuine attraction.  He couldn’t tell whether or not the pretty har felt it as well, but the fact that he crossed the room indicated that he might.  He extended his pale, slender hand and said, “Hello, I’m Ilana.  You must be Calanthe.  Fariv told us there would be someone new today.”

Cal took the hand gently, somewhat lost for words—certainly an unusual state for him to be in.  He could only say, “Hi. Yeah.  I’m Cal, err, Calanthe.”

Ilana laughed self-consciously and said, “Pleased to meet you.”

Just then Fariv entered the room.  “Sorry, I’m late,” he said a little breathlessly.  “Well, it’s time.  Please file singly into the viewing room.  Just have a seat and make yourselves comfortable. This shouldn’t take very long.  There are seven clients today.  Let’s hope they won’t have a hard time choosing!   See you afterwards in the waiting room.”

As they filed into the small room, Cal couldn’t help but think of cattle at an auction, or worse, kanenes in a brothel.  There were quite a few folding chairs in a row facing the “mirror” which took up the entire wall.

Well, I guess they need a good eyeful of us, Cal thought with no small amount of cynicism.  Then he remembered, the “clients” were probably not much older than children and were probably feeling more ill at ease than the hara on Cal’s side of the window. This put Cal more at ease.

He was seated next to Ilana, who leaned over and whispered, “How are you doing?  The first time is kind of weird, I know, but it’ll be over before you know it.”

Cal just smiled back at the beautiful and thoughtful har.

Fariv’s voice blasted over a speaker, “Please would all of you be so kind as to stand?”

Cal stood with the rest of the hara as he had a startling thought. What if the next request is for us all to strip?!

He was beginning to panic at the thought of that humiliation when Fariv’s voice sounded again, “Okay, that’s fine. Please be seated.”

The process was repeated quite a few more times, before they heard Fariv’s voice again.  “We’re finished now; please go back into the waiting room.  I’ll join you shortly.  And thank you.”  They filed into the next room, and in a few moments, Fariv joined them.  He had sheets of paper for each of them.  He handed them each their paper, and then said, “Well, that’s it.  You’ll be contacted individually when it’s time for your appointments.  And thank you all.  He approached Cal, smiling fiendishly.  “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

“No, I guess not,” Cal replied.

Fariv slapped Cal on the back. “You did great! I knew you would.  Talk to you soon.  I’ve got to run.”  With a wave he hurriedly left the room.

Ilana came over to Cal and asked, “So what did you think?”

“It was weird, but I’ve been through things much stranger than that.”

“Did you get any appointments?”

“Two.”

Ilana said enthusiastically, “Wow, that’s great!”  He gave Cal a coquettish smile.  “I got three.”

“I’m not surprised.”

Ilana looked at Cal questioningly.  “Would you take a walk with me, Calanthe?”

Cal smiled. “I’d love to.”

They walked out of the building and down the street, heading away from the concrete and asphalt of what used to be the inner city, toward the greener, tree lined residential area.  As they walked along they talked.

Ilana spoke first.  “Calanthe,” he said thoughtfully.  “Like the orchids.  Beautiful.”  He laughed.  “You and the orchids, I mean.”

Cal gazed at him in genuine surprise. “How did you know that—about the orchids?”

“Well,” Ilana began, “I grow flowers and herbs and I’ve read some books on them.  I sometimes make a little extra money at it, but it’s something I really love doing.  Of course I don’t grow anything as exotic as orchids.”  He paused for a moment.  “They say the most beautiful calanthes are hybrids.  So appropriate, don’t you think?”

Calanthe laughed and couldn’t help thinking to himself, Is he really flirting so obviously with me? Cal decided that he hoped so.

“You know, the humans sometimes call us hybrids.” Ilana continued.

“Yes, I’ve been called that—amongst other things.”

“Like beautiful?” Ilana inquired seductively.

Cal couldn’t help smiling.  He rarely blushed, but Ilana was proving to be quite disarming.

They headed down a little hill and into a tranquil park.  It had a small lake and many trees of different types and sizes in varying splashes of color.  Cal decided he liked Ilana’s carefree manner and playfulness.  He didn’t seem to have a brooding or complicated bone in his body.  He was obviously intelligent as well as witty and fun loving.  All this and exotic beauty, too.  I could get used to this, he thought.

Just then they reached the shore of the lake.  They sat on the grass, enjoying the peace and quiet and each other’s company.  Cal looked at Ilana.  Sensing the unspoken invitation, Ilana moved closer.  Cal’s heart beat a little faster.

Ilana leaned in and whispered seductively in Cal’s ear, “Share breath with me, Calanthe.”

Cal looked into the blue eyes and at the pale, pretty upturned face, and seconds later his mouth was on Ilana’s.  Tentative at first, as they shared greater depths Calanthe saw a beautifully twisted tree full of blossoms.  Petals fell in a gentle breeze, landing in a clear stream.  Beyond the tree stood a house with strange pointed eaves.  Soon the petals were falling faster, swirling as they fell and the scent of jasmine filled his senses.  This har tasted exotic, tranquil, intense and sweet.  When they parted, Cal was breathless.

“I know a place.”  Ilana murmured his voice full of promise.

He led Cal to a sun-dappled glade.  There he lay on the grass, and wasting no time, pulled Cal to him.  They shared breath again, and as they did, Cal gave Ilana images of his inner essence—a vision of wild sunny fields and the smell of sweet grass.  It was what made Calanthe—Calanthe.  Cal caressed Ilana’s body, sliding his hands over Ilana’s smooth, warm skin.  He slid his hands down as his fingers found the welcoming folds of Ilana’s soume-lam. Ilana gave a deep sigh of pleasure at Cal’s first intimate touch.  Cal was overcome with desire.  Was it just that it had been awhile, or was it the truly intoxicating beauty of this har?  Cal didn’t really care.

“I’m yours,” whispered Ilana.  With such an offering, Cal greedily took his fill.

Lying together in the aftermath of aruna, Cal was the first to stir.  He opened his eyes and saw that dusk was approaching.  He looked at Ilana who lay, fully spent, and curled against his body.   Cal wasn’t surprised to find that he liked him, but he was taken aback to discover he had genuine feelings for him so soon after their meeting. Of course he knew Ilana was neither his soul mate nor his destiny, but he decided right then wasn’t the time to be pondering such thoughts.

Ilana sighed, stretched, and looking up at Cal.  “You’re a marvelous lover,” he said, smiling contentedly.  Cal just looked at him, enjoying their closeness.

Cal felt his expression became more serious.  Ilana, seeming to take notice of it, said, “Please, Cal, don’t feel bad.  I know you can’t stay here—I knew that the moment I saw you.  You’re just passing through.  You have somewhere to be.  I know, and it’s okay.  I just want to be with you while you’re here—that’s all.”

Cal wasn’t ready to think about leaving, but he felt he owed it to his companion to explain a few things.  “Ilana—“

“Shh.” Ilana placed his fingers on Cal’s lips.  “Don’t spoil it. Let’s just enjoy each other while we can.  Really—I’m happy with that.”

Cal was filled with tremendous gratitude for Ilana’s seeming understanding.  If only hara could stay happy with the simple delights, Cal said to himself.

“I’m starving!”  Ilana said, lightening the tone of their conversation.  “Let’s go and have dinner—my treat.”

“Okay,” Cal said, “But next time, it’s on me.”

“I’m just happy to hear that you’re planning on a next time,” Ilana replied, smiling warmly.

They got dressed and headed into town. As they walked, Ilana took Cal’s arm and rested his head happily on Cal’s shoulder.  When they got further into town, Ilana led Cal into a tavern.  “The food’s good here and it’s quiet,” he said.

They sat down and ordered drinks.  Once they arrived, Cal started thinking about his first appointment.  Evidently it showed on his face, as Ilana asked, “What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, just what it’s going to be like at my first ‘appointment’ as Fariv refers to it.”  Cal made the quotations gesture at the word.

Ilana laughed.  ”You’re hardly inexperienced.  I already know better,” he teased.  “Given your looks and charm, I have no doubt you’ve been with a har for his first aruna, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” Cal said, “But it was always someone I knew.  I’ve been there for a first aruna after feybraiha, too.   This just seems completely different to me.”

“It isn’t really,” Ilana insisted.  “It’s mostly just a matter of putting them at ease.”

“What do you do?”

“I just take it slow, answer their questions, and do what comes naturally.”

Cal was still a bit uncertain. “What questions do they ask?”

“Well, a common one is ‘Will it hurt?’  After althaia some hara are fearful of any more pain.  Sometimes I’ll ask them if they ever had sex before, when they were human.”

“And if they say yes?” Cal asked.

“Then I tell them that aruna is a thousand times better!”

“And if they say no?”

“I tell them to trust me and I promise them they’ll enjoy it.  The clients aren’t told enough about it before they come to us, in my opinion.  But I guess they figure we ought to do some of that as part of our job.”

“Fariv did tell me to think of it as a teaching job,” Cal added.

”Some hardly say a word, and others are full of questions.  When it’s all over, usually the only question I get is, ‘Can we do it again?’” Ilana said, laughing.

The melodious sound was infectious and soon Cal laughed as well.  “How long have you been doing this, Ilana?”

“Oh, several years,” he answered.  “Before that I worked in the marketplace for a har who made things.  You know—tools, utensils, drinking vessels; anything he thought he could sell.  Fariv saw me there one day and asked me if I’d like to work for him.  It was a lot more money and less work, so I said yes.”

“Did it ever bother you?  You know…taking money for it?”  Cal had to ask, even at the risk of offending Ilana.

Ilana seemed as though he’d been expecting that question eventually. “No, honestly, it didn’t.  There aren’t a lot of opportunities in a place like this, and I thought it seemed noble, in its own way.”   He looked down and asked quietly, “I hope you don’t think less of me now.”

“Of course not,” Cal assured him.  “I’m sorry.  I don’t even know why I seem to be stuck on this issue.  It’s silly.”  Just then their food was served, and they spent the rest of their meal in pleasant conversation.

Once outside again, Cal took Ilana’s hands in his and said, “Thank you for dinner.   I really enjoyed all our time together today.”

Ilana beamed.  “So did I.”

They stood for a couple of minutes in awkward silence before Cal said, “I’d better get back to the inn.”

“Yes, I need to get home, too.”  Ilana didn’t hide his regret.

“Would you come to the inn tomorrow, say about noon?” Cal asked, faintly disgruntled at himself for assuming Ilana had no other plans, or hoping he’d ditch them if he did.  “We could spend the day together if you’d like.”

Ilana moved closer to Cal and said, “I would love nothing better than to spend the day with you, Calanthe.”  With that, he kissed him sensually on the mouth right there in the street.  They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then parted.  Ilana waved, Cal smiled and they parted ways for the night.

***

On the walk back to the inn, Cal began to sort out his thoughts about his current situation.  Oh, he could deal with the job he was going to do, even though for some reason the whole thing still didn’t sit well with him.  He wasn’t completely sure why he was unsettled about it; it was too tidy and neat, somehow.

The other issue on his mind loomed more importantly—Ilana.  He had met him only hours ago, but he was surprised at how he felt about him, or more accurately, how Ilana made him feel.  He felt relaxed and at peace in Ilana’s company.  But he could tell that Ilana was very enamored of him already, and he didn’t want to hurt him.  He had said he knew Cal was not staying, and that it was okay with him.  But Cal couldn’t help but be concerned that Ilana would grow more attached to him the more time they spent together.  What also concerned Cal was perhaps he would grow more attached to Ilana, too.  He was not only beautiful, but he was so good natured, open, honest and fun to be with.  He was so easy to be around and aruna with him had been something else!

Inevitably, Cal’s thoughts turned to Pellaz.  Should he tell Ilana about him?  He should probably at least tell him he had a chesnari, although Ilana seemed perceptive enough to have already guessed that.   Cal believed he would eventually be reunited with his soul mate, Pellaz, but would it hurt to spend some time with this lovely har along the way?  Taking aruna with other hara wasn’t a problem.  The problem, Cal concluded, was that he actually cared about Ilana.  He hadn’t really seen that coming. It was the fact that he cared about Ilana that made him feel guilty.

By the time he’d reached his room, he was very tired.  He decided just to play the next few days by ear and see what happened—it was how he approached much of his life, and it had worked thus far.  He fell into bed and decided to think about nothing, and soon he was asleep.

Chapter 4

The next day he was awakened by a knock on his door.  He opened it and there stood Ilana.

“Oh, no!”  Ilana exclaimed.   “I woke you up.  I’m sorry.”

Cal yawned through a smile. “No, it’s fine.  Besides you’re a lovely sight to wake up to.”  His charm was second nature, even when half asleep.  “Come in,” he quickly added. ”What time is it?”

“About twelve thirty.”

“I’m sorry,” Cal said, running his hands through his hair, “I asked you to meet me at noon…”

“It’s okay. I’ll wait downstairs for you.”

“I’ll be right down. I’m sorry.”

“No problem,” Ilana said, smiling.  “You’re so very worth waiting for.”  He blew Cal a kiss and sauntered away.  Cal stood, watching him, enjoying the view.

Soon Cal had bathed and rushed downstairs to meet Ilana.   “Sorry,” Cal apologized, yet again.

Ilana gave him a sultry smile. “You look good wet,” he teased.

Cal couldn’t help but grin in return.

When they were drinking some much-needed coffee, Ilana said, “I thought after lunch maybe we could go to the market area and look around.”

“Sure, fine with me,” Cal said, stabbing a large slice of ham and putting it on his plate.

When they finished their meal they left the inn and stepped out into a glorious day.  It was one of those perfect days when the sun is hot and the air is cool, all under an intense, cloudless, azure sky.  Cal’s heart felt light for the first time in a long while.  He and Ilana looked at each other, happily anticipating their day together.  Ilana took Cal’s hand and said, “Come on.  It’s this way.”

As they walked past the buildings and dwellings, Cal thought that the town itself wasn’t much to look at, but the hara here lived in peace and relative safety.  They were just normal hara living normal lives without all the uber-drama that had been a key element in his own life.  They seemed to be able to eke out a decent living for the most part.

That seemed obvious when they got to the market area.  There were some shops, but most of the hara had their wares set up in tents or on tables, or scattered and displayed on colorful blankets.  Some sold trinkets and jewelry.  Others offered incense and candles.  Further down were more practical items.  And at the far end, produce, herbs and flowers were sold.

“Is the har you used to work for still here?” Cal asked.

Ilana thought a moment. “I don’t know.  I doubt it. I haven’t seen him in quite a while.”

Suddenly Ilana’s face lit up.  “Oh! Come on, Cal!”  He quickly dragged Cal over to a booth that sold sweets.  He got himself and Cal a bag of some kind of candy.  Cal thought it was tasty, but as Ilana ate his, he seemed to go into some kind of sweets-induced ecstasy.

“Mmmmmm,” he said as he seemed on the verge of passing out.

Cal looked on, amused and a bit turned on.

Ilana saw his look and purred, “My weakness.”   He added, “Well, one of them.”

Cal laughed at that.  He was actually having fun.  Then he saw a sight that took the carefree smile from his face — Gelaming soldiers.  There were only two of them, buying jewelry, but Cal knew that where there were two, there were probably more.  What were they doing here?  What could they possibly want or do in this place?  Also, Cal wasn’t sure where he stood with the Gelaming.  He didn’t think he’d be recognized by these two in particular, but hara, especially Gelaming soldiers, had a way of  “sensing” things.  Cal wasn’t ready to be “sensed.”

Ilana gave Cal a worried look.  “What’s wrong?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”

Cal snapped out of it and glanced over into Ilana’s surprised eyes. “Nothing.  I…I thought I….broke a tooth!”
“What?” Ilana said, confused.

“Yeah, it felt like it cracked, but I think it’s okay.”

“Let me see,” Ilana demanded.

“It’s on the right, near the back,” Cal said, opening his mouth.

His face was turned into the sunlight as Ilana peered closely.   “No, your teeth look fine.  No broken tooth.”  Cal hoped Ilana believed him.  He didn’t want to spoil their day.

Ilana smiled, relieved.  Whew, I guess he bought it, Cal thought to himself.  He wanted to change the subject.  “Let’s get a cold drink,” he suggested.  They sat at a small outdoor café and drank sweet iced tea, the broken tooth incident forgotten.  They were engaged in pleasant conversation when a har came over to them.  Cal didn’t recognize him, but Ilana seemed to.  When Ilana looked at the har, he said, “Ilana, I’m glad I saw you here—saves me a trip out to your place.  Here.” He handed him a piece of paper.

As he took it the har turned his attention to Cal.  “Hey, aren’t you Calanthe?”

“That’s right,” Cal said cautiously.

“Here’s one for you, too, then.  See ya.”  He quickly took off.  Cal soon realized the har had been Fariv’s messenger.

The notes indicated that they would be needed at their appointments in two days.  It included the room numbers and the time of the evening they were expected.

“Well,” said Ilana, folding his note carefully, “Looks like the newly incepted will be needing us.”

“Yeah, looks like it,” Cal said, a bit of wariness in his voice.”

Ilana smiled and reached across the table to put his hand on Cal’s.  Then he said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”  He gave Cal’s fingers a gentle squeeze, and smiled deviously at him. “I have it on good authority that you are an excellent lover.”

Cal laughed.  “Guess I’ll need to prove that one more time. And you know what?  I’m ready.”

“Good,”  Ilana said.  It’s really not a bad way to earn a living.”  His face brightened.  “I’ve got an idea.  Would you like to see my home?”

“Sure.”

Ilana added, “How about I buy something I can cook us for dinner?”

“You can cook, too! I’m impressed,” Cal teased.

Ilana giggled and said, “You wait here.”

He came back shortly with two bags.  “What are we having?” Cal asked trying to look into the bag.

“Chicken with potatoes and carrots.  And something sweet for dessert.”

Cal smiled slyly. “Well, if I get to watch you eat sweets again….”

Cal took one of the bags from Ilana and they headed away from the busy part of town.  When they had gone a short way, the dwellings got further apart.  Soon they turned off the main road and down a long lane.  Ilana said, “We’re almost there.”  When they rounded a turn in the lane, a small cottage came into view.  The lane was wooded on both sides and the house stood in a large cleared area.  It was small—only four rooms on one floor Ilana had said, but it looked neat and inviting.

Cal commented, “This is really nice—close to stuff but still private.”

“Yeah,”  Ilana said.  “That’s what I like best about it.”

Cal was thoughtful for a moment, considering how he could delicately ask his next question.  “How did you buy this place?”

“I didn’t have to. I came here when fixing up and living in a place pretty much made it yours.  The town was probably invaded by marauding hara who killed or drove off the humans here.  They probably pillaged the place and moved on.  Most of the houses were long abandoned when I got here.”

Cal was impressed.  Ilana must have done a lot of work to make his place this livable.

When they reached the porch, Ilana unlocked the door and they went in.  “Well, this is it—home sweet home.”

The front door opened to a fairly good sized dining and cooking area.  There was a wooden table and chairs.  Cal noticed an electric stove and a small refrigerator.

“You have electricity here!”  he said, faintly shocked.

“Yes, I’ve had it for about five years now—running water, too.  I had to pay someone to get the electricity going, but a friend did the water.  I’ll be lost if anything goes wrong.  I have no idea how it all works!”

He motioned for Cal to sit as he began to prepare dinner.  Cal looked through the kitchen door to the other rooms.  He could see a small sitting room, and partially into another room he assumed was Ilana’s bedroom.  Ilana went to a cupboard and brought over some sheh and two glasses.  He also served up some cheese and bread.  He’d started things cooking, so he sat at the table with Cal.  Then Ilana said, “I’ll show you the yard, garden and the rest of the house, but first—I’m starved!”  Ilana reached over and tore off a large hunk of the fragrant herb sprinkled bread for himself.   They sat awhile eating and drinking, then Ilana said, “Come on, I’ll show you the yard first.”

They went out the front door and around the house to the back.  There was a table with two benches, so they set the drinks there.  Ilana explained, “I don’t have a back door.  I really should have someone put one in.  It would be a lot more convenient.  Ilana led the way, and they walked further from the house “This is the backyard,” he gestured, waving his hand. “And beyond”—he pointed—“is my garden. It’s a little far but there isn’t enough sun here close to the house.”

They walked to the garden.  There were some tomatoes and peppers growing.  Also in neat rows there were cabbages and onions, not yet ready to be harvested.  Beyond them there was a large garden of flowers that had pretty much finished blooming. “I can’t get water out to here so I’m at the mercy of the weather.  So far I’ve been pretty lucky. Come on back and I’ll show you the rest of my house.”

They picked up the glasses from the outdoor table on their way in.  When they got to the kitchen, they set the drinks down and Ilana went over to the stove and checked on the progress of their dinner.  “There,”  Ilana said with a satisfied look as he stirred the pot. “It’ll be done in an hour or so.”

“Smells good,” Cal said, standing behind Ilana at the stove.

Ilana smiled back at Cal over his shoulder. “Come with me.”  He led Cal down the short hallway that led from the dining area.  They entered the room on the left.  “This is my living room.”

Cal looked around.  It was small but cozy.  Ilana pointed out a few pretty things he’d collected over the years.  There was a colorful oriental throw rug on the floor, a small couch, and a comfortable looking chair.  Sun came streaming in through the two windows, casting a mellow light on the room.  There were some lamps and some candles on the coffee table and small side tables.

There was a drawing in a small frame of an attractive, light-haired har.  Cal studied it, and then asked, “Did you draw this?”

“Yes.”

“It’s good.  Who is it?”

Ilana replied, “Oh, just a friend I used to know.”

“Really?” Cal asked, “Just a friend, no one special?”

Ilana looked out the window and answered, “We were close, but I’ve never really had anyone special.”  He looked a little sad.

Cal decided to change the subject.  “What’s this?” he asked as he touched a small potted tree.

“That’s a hibiscus.  It gets beautiful blossoms on it in the spring.”  Then Ilana said with a smile, “Let’s go across the hall.”

They walked into a room that was darker than the living room.  It had a bed, dressing table, and a dresser.  One whole wall was nothing but bookshelves, completely filled with books.  “This is my bedroom,” Ilana cooed.

He grabbed Cal’s shirt and pulled him close to share breath.  He stepped back and hurriedly removed his clothes, never taking his gaze from Cal’s eyes.  He stood back in front of Cal and unbuttoned his shirt as they shared breath again.  Cal embraced Ilana eagerly as he let first his shirt then his trousers fall to the floor.

Ilana broke off the kiss and went to the bed.  He lay on his side smiling seductively at Cal over his shoulder.  Cal quickly lay behind him.  He smoothed the hair from Ilana’s neck and planted kisses up and down his neck and shoulder.  Ilana sighed with delight.  Cal eased his hand around Ilana caressing his taut chest and stomach. He slid his hand down to find that Ilana was already soume. Ilana squirmed and moaned at Cal’s expert touch.  When he could stand it no longer, he turned to face Cal.  He slid his hand up into Cal’s hair and pulled him close to share breath.  As their lips touched, he reached for Cal’s ouana-lim, stroking and caressing him.  As they pleasured each other, their breath came faster.

Ilana finally panted, “Take me now, Calanthe.”

Cal straddled him and as he entered Ilana, a wave of searing pleasure shot through them both.  As they moved together and shared breath, Cal saw a velvet darkness punctuated by bright flashes of colored light. Ilana closed his eyes as Cal breathed into him his wild, sunny quintessence. When they reached their peak together, Cal felt the universe stop, explode, and then melt into liquid completion.  He cried out and Ilana emitted a long, low moan, shuddering in ecstasy.  For long moments they lay exhausted and satisfied, relishing the ebbing waves of bliss.

After a while, Cal began to look around at Ilana’s room.  He was studying his book shelf, when he heard Ilana sigh contentedly. Cal looked over and into Ilana’s eyes.  He sighed again and cuddled close to Cal, resting his head on his chest.  Cal kissed Ilana’s hair and began to smooth it through his fingers.  Ilana looked up into Cal’s eyes with a sleepy gaze that told him he could have stayed there in bed next to him forever.  Ilana reluctantly got up from the bed with a heavy sigh, “I guess I have to see to our dinner.”

Cal smiled lazily at him as he left the room.  He was pretty boneless himself, but he didn’t want to be an ungrateful guest.  He got up out of bed, dressed and joined Ilana in the kitchen.

They shared a pleasant dinner and Cal helped Ilana clean up.  When they were done, Ilana said, “Come outside. There’s another place I want to show you.”

They walked on past the garden and onto a path that led through some more woods.

“Is this yours, too?” Cal asked.  He was more than a little surprised at how much land    Ilana had, all for free, apparently.

Ilana shrugged.  “I really don’t know if it originally went with the house, but I like to think of it as mine.  It’s mine to enjoy anyway,” he added good-naturedly.

Soon Cal heard trickling water as they came to a small stream.  A cool air rose from it and there was a soft grassy area nearby.  “I like to come here to think, to be alone with nature or just enjoy the peace.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Cal.  They sat quietly for a while, and then Cal broke the silence “Ilana,” he began.

Ilana turned, his gaze expectant.  He seemed to be bracing himself.

“There’s something I should tell you.  I have a chesnari.”

A melancholy smile found its way to Ilana’s lips and he looked down at the grass.  “I can’t say I’m surprised to hear that,” he said softly.  “May I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Why aren’t you with him?”

Cal took a deep breath and looked away.  “We got separated.  It’s a long, complicated story.  I can’t tell you everything.”

“I’d like to know everything you can tell me.  But I won’t pry,” Ilana added.

Cal turned back to Ilana and took his hand.  Ilana glanced around and Cal was suddenly aware that night was falling.

“We’d better head back to the house,”  Ilana said, echoing Cal’s thoughts. They started back, Ilana’s hand still in Cal’s.

”We were separated because he died—at least I thought he died,”  Cal said, continuing his line of thought from before.  “But I found out later he was alive.  I’ve been making my way to find him.”

They walked silently into the kitchen.  There they sat at the table and Ilana refilled their wine glasses. “Do you have any idea where he is?”  Ilana finally asked, obviously unable to keep the burning question to himself.

“Yes, I do.  He’s in Immanion.”

Ilana’s eyes widened.  “Immanion?  You mean where the Tigron lives?”

Cal tried to keep his face emotionless.  “Yes,” he replied steadily, “Where the Tigron lives.”

“That’s a long way from here,” Ilana said, staring into his glass.

“Maybe so, but I’m going to get there someday.”

Ilana was silent for a few moments before asking, “How long have you been apart?”

“Many years.”

“Why has it taken you so long?”

“Well, partly because I’ve been delayed by circumstances beyond my control. And partly because,” he hesitated.  He looked back at Ilana, whose expression was warmed with love and empathy.  Bolstered, Cal went on.  “Partly because I’m petrified. He’s been through a lot and I’m scared to death that he won’t love me anymore.”  Tears filled Cal’s eyes.  “In fact he may not even recognize me.”

Ilana got up and moved over to Cal’s chair.  He knelt down and took Cal’s hands in his.   “How could he not love you?  If he doesn’t recognize you, believe me, he’ll look into your beautiful eyes and fall in love on the spot.”  Cal sensed Ilana’s unspoken words, “Like I did.”

Cal smiled gratefully at Ilana through his tears.   Ilana rose and settled himself on Cal’s lap and relaxed into his arms.  They sat awhile as Cal stroked Ilana’s hair.  He felt as though he was taking advantage of this har’s giving nature and his obvious deep affections for him, despite what Cal had just said about his own chesnari.  After a time, Ilana looked into Cal’s eyes and asked, “Why don’t you stay here tonight?”

Cal looked lovingly at Ilana and said, “On one condition.”  The curious, anticipatory look on Ilana’s face was priceless.  Cal pushed back Ilana’s hair, kissed him on the neck and whispered into his ear, “Be ouana for me.”  Ilana gave Cal a smoky gaze and they shared breath tenderly.

Cal lifted Ilana in his arms and carried him to the bed. They took aruna together in a slow and tender manner, which Cal had almost forgotten could be so intense.  Ilana, with his almost feminine beauty in the ouana role was a completely exquisite and totally intoxicating contrast.  They lost themselves in each other and all their troubles, worries and sorrows disappeared for a while.

As they lay contented in each other’s arms, Ilana was soon asleep.  Cal looked at him pondering how things had changed so much for him in less than three days.

In the early morning hours, just before dawn, Cal was awakened gently by the sound of Ilana sighing and stretching.  He was on his side turned away from Ilana.

Ilana cuddled up to Cal’s back and hooking his chin over Cal’s shoulder he whispered, “Are you awake?”  He began to kiss and lick Cal’s ear and neck.  Cal nodded with a contented sigh and smiled, keeping his eyes closed.

“Mmmmm you taste good—salty, tangy. Mmmm delicious,”  Ilana murmured.  He moved his mouth to Cal’s ear. “Are you awake enough to roon me?”  He whispered, caressing Cal’s chest as he asked.  Cal guided Ilana’s hand down to his ouana-lim, smiling, his eyes still closed.  Ilana smiled against Cal’s neck and whispered, “I’ll be soume then.”  Cal began to sigh and moan as Ilana’s slender hand pleasured him.  Ilana planted kisses over his back and neck.  Suddenly Cal turned and his mouth found Ilana’s as his hand found his soume-lam.  They shared breath deeply, worshipping each other’s bodies, alternating stronger and softer touches of tongue, lips and fingers.  Their sharing was deep and intimate.

Cal moved on top of Ilana, predatory and sleek as a puma.  He moved his hands up Ilana’s chest, drinking in every inch of his body with his eyes.  He whispered, breathing heavily, “Ilana, you’re so beautiful, so beautiful, so perfect.”  He looked into Ilana’s eyes, his very soul, it seemed, flickering and desperate with desire.   Ilana took Cal’s ouana-lim in both his hands and whispered,”Flower for me.”

Cal closed his eyes and let his head fall back as Ilana caressed his ouana-lim.  With Ilana’s skilled fingers, it flowered in his warm hands.  Cal groaned, devouring Ilana with his gaze.  Ilana guided Cal into him, moaning breathlessly.

“Fill me completely,” he begged.

Cal rushed to put his mouth on Ilana’s, greedily sharing breath.  As they gave each other intimate mental images, Cal began thrusting slowly and deeply, Ilana parted their lips, as Cal’s thrusting elicited his low moans.   As their movement became more heated and urgent, Cal breathed Ilana’s name and Ilana gave short, breathy cries of pleasure.  As Cal filled Ilana’s body, he also filled his soul.  Their release seemed to go on forever.  Finally Cal collapsed, panting, on Ilana’s prone body.  Ilana lay limp beneath him.  Cal sprawled out beside Ilana, facing him.  He pulled him into an embrace, burying his face in Ilana’s neck.

“Ilana,” he whispered, still breathless and kissed him all over his face, neck and lips.

Ilana smiled in ecstasy, eagerly accepting his kisses.  Then they lay together close, silent, satisfied.  Ilana was soon asleep again in Cal’s arms, but Cal stayed awake looking at him for a while.  He regarded him in wonder while he slept; marveling at this beautiful creature that had so enchanted him in such a short time. He certainly had made up for his dry spell in the wilderness with no aruna partner.  He and Ilana couldn’t get enough of each other, it seemed.

But what did he feel for Ilana?  Lust?  There was that, certainly, but there seemed to be more than that alone.  Love, in such a few days?  Cal shook the thoughts from his mind.  He was spoiling the moment.  He gazed at Ilana’s face, drinking in the sight of him, and was soon asleep.

When Cal awoke, the room was bright, even with the curtains closed.  He was alone in the bed; Ilana must have woken earlier, careful not to wake him up.  He got up, dressed and headed for the kitchen, the smell of coffee leading him there.

Ilana was at the sink.  Cal came up behind him and slid his arms around his waist.  Ilana sighed and leaned back into Cal’s embrace.  Cal kissed his face and asked, “Mmmm, what’s for breakfast?”

“I thought I’d make us some eggs.  The coffee is over there.”

Cal went to get some.  He came back with a cup for Ilana.  He took a sip.

“Mmmm lots of milk and sugar.  How did you know?”

Cal smiled.  “Well, I’ve seen your reaction to sweets.  I thought you’d like your coffee that way.”  Ilana laughed as Cal sat at the table sipping his own sweet milky concoction.

As he watched Ilana, he pondered what exactly had happened between them.  What was it about their aruna this last time?  They had connected deeply somehow.  Cal couldn’t explain it.  He kept his gaze trained on Ilana, who seemed similarly pensive.  When Ilana shook his head as though to rid himself of some irksome thought, Cal noticed it and tried a light mind touch.  Ilana quickly shielded his thoughts, but didn’t comment.

After breakfast, Cal decided to take a bath.

Relaxing in the tub with a cigarette, Cal found himself wandering circles in his own thoughts.  Something had deepened between Ilana and himself during their last aruna.  It had started for Cal as just being incredibly turned on, but somewhere in that perplexing realm where emotion and physicality meet, the connection had become undeniable.

Taking aruna after just meeting a har was not unusual for Cal.  In fact, it was pretty much his mode of operating.  But feeling something for that har—well, that almost never happened.  He thought back and remembered being instantly attracted to Ilana.  And after their first encounter he had felt more than lust alone.  He’d wanted to be with him, spend time with him, not just roon him.  Hadn’t he been the one to invite Ilana to spend the next day with him—right after they had met?  Cal was at a loss.  This was new territory for him, outside of one very particular har.

As though conjured, his thoughts drifted to Pellaz.  He knew his only true love was Pell.  After all, they shared a soul.  In some ways, Ilana reminded Cal of Pellaz—the beautiful, innocent Pellaz he remembered.  Was he just substituting Ilana for Pellaz?  No, he liked Ilana in his own right.  Ilana didn’t look like Pellaz…

”Augggh,” Cal groaned as he rubbed wet hands on his face.  What was he going to do?
He felt guilty, like he was cheating. But we’re hara! he thought.  Who was he cheating on, if such a thing were possible?  Pellaz?  Ilana?  Both?

He murmured his frustration and slid his head under the water.  Too late he remembered he still had a cigarette in his mouth.  He spat it out and tried to gather his thoughts.

“Okay, here it is,” he said to himself.  “Pell’s in Immanion.  I love him with all my heart and soul.  I’m on my way to be with him—come what may.  Ilana is here. I like—love? him, too.  I enjoy being with him, and he feels the same about me.  I’m going to spend time with him because I want to.  It doesn’t take away from Pell.  Ilana knows I’m not staying and he’s okay with that.  Sooo…It’s all good.  I’ll make the most of my time with him.  I’m not using him—I care about him.  And he knows I’m already chesna with somebody else.  If that quits being okay, he’ll let me know.

Cal heaved a heavy sigh.  “There.  I think I’ve got it.”  Cal then noticed his fingers were pruny and figured bath time was over.

***

At that same moment, on a balcony in Phaonica, Pellaz har Aralis, Tigron of all Wraeththu, was looking pensively out to sea.  It was a blustery, overcast day, and as his hair and robes were whipped by the wind, he had only one thing on his mind—Calanthe.

Where was he? How was he?  Why wasn’t he here?  Pellaz had tried mind touch hundreds of times, but something always seemed to block him.  Was it Thiede’s doing or did Cal not want to hear him?  He decided to banish such thoughts from his mind.  His reverie was broken by a familiar voice.

“Pell?”  He snapped out of it and turned to face the voice.

“Yes, Vaysh, what is it?”

Vaysh was dressed in his customary green.  His long red hair had been neatly tucked behind his ears, and fell down smoothly behind his shoulders to below his waist.  Right now, however, the wind pulled it wildly in all directions.  He tried vainly to smooth it as he approached Pell and gently touched him on the arm.

“The Hegemony is waiting…”

“Yes, I know,” Pell answered.  “Tell them I’ll be there presently.”

“Yes, Pell,” Vaysh replied, patting his arm and giving him a concerned look.  Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“I’ll tell them you’re on your way then.”

Vaysh turned and walked away.  Pellaz called after him, “Thank you, Vaysh.”  Vaysh smiled back and disappeared through the balcony doors.

Pellaz sighed, collected himself and set off for the meeting, putting his personal feelings and thoughts on hold as he was forced to do so often.

***

Cal dried off, dressed and went to the kitchen to find Ilana.  When he saw he wasn’t there, he looked down the hall where he could see him through the hall window sitting outside.  Cal went out and sat down across from him.   Cal gathered from Ilana’s pensive look that he had been thinking things over, too.  After a slightly uncomfortable silence, Cal spoke up.

“Something happened between us this morning.”

“I know.  I felt it too.  It was a good thing wasn’t it?”  Ilana asked, looking up and into Cal’s eyes.

“Yes, I think it was,” Cal replied gently.

They were silent a few moments.  Then Cal said, “Ilana, I don’t know exactly what’s happening, but I know I care for you and want to be with you.  We both know I have to leave here, but I want to spend time with you all I can… if…if that’s really what you want.  Don’t answer too quickly.  I want you to know what you’re saying.”

Ilana smiled serenely. “I know exactly what I’m saying.  And, yes, I want that, too.  I’ve tried to come to terms with what getting closer to you would mean for me, and I know without a doubt that that’s what I want. I want to be close and have our time together, as much as we can, without worry or regrets.  I’m at peace with how I feel.  Truly, Cal.”

Cal stood up and went around the table to Ilana., who’d also stood away from the table.  They embraced and held each other for a long time.  When they parted, Ilana said, “I want to take you somewhere today.”

“Okay.” Cal still had plenty of curiosity about the area.

“It’s a beautiful lake, about a twenty minute walk from here.  We can swim and have a picnic.”

Cal laughed.  “Swim?  I’m already pruny from the bath I took.”

“You’ll dry out by then.  Come on!”

They went into the house.  Ilana got some refreshments, while he sent Cal for some towels.  After getting everything together, they set off.

They headed onto the main road and walked along for quite some time.  The houses got even fewer and further between.  After passing fields, both wild and tended, and past an area wooded with pine trees, they turned down a well-worn foot path.  The path ended at an open area and the lake was right there.  It was a decent- sized lake, its clear water rippling in the breeze.

They sat their stuff down under a tree, and took their towels down to the lake.  For a time, they simply sat in the sun, soaking up its warmth like sunflowers.  Then Ilana said, “Let’s go in!”

They stripped and waded into the water.  It was cold, but not too bad.  Ilana was swimming already, but Cal was still getting used to the water.

“Come on!” Ilana called, “it’s not that cold!”  With that he splashed Cal.

Cal made an annoyed sound and dove under.  He swam over to Ilana and pulled his feet from under him, causing him to go under.  They both came up whooping, spluttering and laughing.  Ilana pointed to a wooden platform in the middle of the lake and yelled, “I’ll race you!”

They swam out like a couple of harlings.  Cal won, but he’d deliberately started splashing more as he passed Ilana.  When he reached the platform he yelled, “I win! Yeah!”

“You cheated!” Ilana said, laughing.

Cal shrugged and tried to look innocent.  As they hung onto the dock, Ilana raked the wet hair off Cal’s face.  “I’ll beat you back,” he said, smiling and pushed off for the shore.  He got back first, but Cal really didn’t seem to be trying.

They headed for the towels, invigorated and out of breath.

“Whew!” Cal said as he flopped down. “I haven’t done that in a long time!”  He shook out his hair all over Ilana, who giggled and began to dry his own on a towel.

“I used to come here to bathe sometimes before I had running water.”

“Too cold for me!” Cal stated.

They sat awhile, drying off, then Cal pulled on his pants.  Ilana put on a robe.  Ilana sat leaning back on his hands, eyes closed, his face to the sun.  Cal looked on fondly, thinking how Ilana reminded Cal of the simple pleasures, and how fun they could be.

Cracking open one eye, Ilana said, “We can’t stay too long.  We have our appointments tonight.”

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  Maybe I wanted to,” Cal joked.

Ilana looked at him, squinting. “I thought you said you were ready”

“I am, I guess….No really, I am,” Cal said looking at him earnestly.

“We’d better eat.”

They moved to the shade.   Ilana had brought sheh, of course, also bread, cheese and apples.  They ate heartily.  After a brief rest to let their lunch settle, they went back into the water and swam some more.  Once dried off, they headed back to Ilana’s.

“It’ll almost be time to head into town when we get back to my place,”   Ilana said, his voice resigned.

“Well, at least I know I’m clean!” Cal exclaimed.  “Waterlogged would be a better word!”

They made their way back to Ilana’s house where they went inside.  Cal sat at the table for a while, as Ilana took some time to prepare himself for the job that evening.  A little later Cal asked, “What time is it?”

“Time to go!”  Ilana called from his room.

He came out dressed in an emerald green shirt and loose black trousers, his hair unbound, shiny and flowing.  Cal stared. Ilana smiled, his expression radiant.

“You take my breath away,” Cal said, and then added, “I’m jealous of the har you’ll be with tonight.”  He was only half joking.

Ilana came over and put his hands on Cal’s hips.  He leaned up and kissed him.  “I only have eyes for you,” he said, kissing Cal’s nose.

“I have to go to my room at the inn to change.”  Cal reminded him.

“We’d better get a move on then.”

They set off together down the road to town.  When they got closer, Ilana handed Cal a small bag, saying, “It’s a sandwich and an apple.  We won’t have time for dinner.”  They ate as they walked.

When they got to the inn, they went to Cal’s room.  He changed into his only good clothes and brushed his hair.  He came out and said, “Well, I’m ready.”

Ilana looked at him and smiled approvingly “Beautiful—as always.”  He cocked his head to the side, still munching on his apple and said, “I can’t decide if I like you better all neat and tidy or a little roughed up.  It’s a tough decision,” he teased.  Cal laughed as they headed out.

When they got near the former hospital, Cal asked, “Do I stay the night or just leave, afterwards?”

“I usually stay, but just do what you feel.  You’ll know.  Relax, just do what comes naturally.”

Cal took a deep breath.  “Okay,” he said uncertainly.  He just wasn’t sure this whole inception business was on the up and up.  Also, the emotional sting from his stint in Piristil was still in his mind because of it being such a low point in his life.  In reality he realized this was completely different, but his feelings on these troublesome issues ran pretty deep.  He decided to do his best to push them out of his mind.

They got to the row of rooms and Ilana said, “This is it. Mine’s way down there.” He pointed to a door near the end of the corridor.

Cal said, “It’s weird, thinking of you down there and me here…”

Ilana smiled ruefully.  Cal knew by Ilana’s expression that he would rather be spending the night with him.  He patted Cal’s cheek. “See you tomorrow.”  He kissed him quickly on the lips and headed down the hall.  Ilana knocked on the door, where his client was waiting, and with a wave to Cal, went in.

Cal stood in front of the door.  He hesitated a moment and made sure he was at the right number.  He knocked on the door and heard a faint, “Come in.”

When he stepped in he saw a room bathed in soft candlelight.  It smelled of burning incense and he saw a small har sitting up in the bed with a nervous, hopeful look on his face.  He seemed to be clad only in the sheets, which covered him from the waist down.  Cal moved slowly towards the har and smiled warmly at him.  The young har smiled back.

Cal said, “Hi. I’m Calanthe…Cal.”

The younger har looked relieved that Cal had broken the ice.  “Hi, I’m…well, I don’t have a har name yet, but my human name is…was…Jody.”

Cal felt compelled to put the new har at ease so he decided to make some small talk.  He said the first thing that came into his head.

“So! How are you feeling?”

Jody answered, “Oh, MUCH better.”

“Yeah, althaia is a nasty business.”

There was an awkward silence, until Jody broke it, blurting out, “Wow, you’re even more beautiful close up.”  Cal laughed a bit self-consciously.

“I picked you for your looks,” Jody went on, beginning to ramble. “I didn’t really have anything else to go on.  It seemed weird to me, picking a male.  I mean I know you’re both…we’re both.  Well…it’s just… when I was human I… you know…liked girls.  But now I don’t feel weird at all about being with you.”

“Well…that’s good,” Cal answered, not really knowing what to say.

“I wasn’t exactly what you would have called good-looking—before, I mean. When I look at myself now, I can’t believe it’s me!  I look so different and I’m….”

”Beautiful.” Cal finished the sentence for him.

The boy blushed, his head down, smiling.  He looked up at Cal and said, “I know.”

They both laughed.  Cal removed his jacket and sat on the bed next to Jody, taking a few moments to look into his big green eyes.  Jody really was beautiful, his sandy hair brushing his shoulders, a look of youthful anticipation on his lovely face.  Cal touched the boy’s cheek gently.  Jody closed his eyes and reached up to touch Cal’s hand.  He then opened his eyes and Cal could see the spark of new desire there.  He cupped Jody’s face with both hands and they shared breath.  Cal saw a bubbling spring in a pristine forest, with the sound of a waterfall.  He could smell only freshness in this new har’s soul.  Cal gave him visions of his sunlit essence.

When they parted, the boy whispered breathlessly, “What was that?  That was way more than a kiss!”

Cal answered, “It’s called sharing breath, and it IS way more than a kiss.”

“Can we do it again?”  The boy asked, his voice still a breathless whisper.

Cal smiled and shared with him again.  This time when they parted, Cal asked, “What do you know about taking aruna?”

“Just that it will seal my transformation into Wraeththu.  And that I’ll enjoy it,” Jody answered, obviously trying to convince himself more than anything else.

Cal pursed his lips and sighed. “Boy, they didn’t tell you much, did they?  Okay, first you’ll be soume and I’ll take the ouana role.  You know what that means?”

“Yes, I think so.  I’m female, you’re male?”

“Something like that.”

“How do I do that?”  Jody looked pointedly down at his ouana-lim.

“Well,” Cal began, “I’ll stimulate the sikras in your soume- lam and, well, just relax and leave it to me.”

Cal shared breath with him again and gently got them to a lying position.  He kissed the boys neck, shoulder and chest while he slid his hand down to find his soume-lam.  After a few moments under Cal’s practiced fingers, Jody’s ouana-lim receded.  He caught in his breath, looking very surprised at what happened.  Cal soothed him, saying, “It’s okay; it’s supposed to do that.”

The boy relaxed a bit and as Cal pleasured him, his breath came faster. Jody began to moan and move with Cal’s touch, and he put his arms around Cal’s neck.  As the fires Cal had lit in him began to burn in earnest, he grabbed Cal’s face with both hands and pulled him close to share breath again.  Cal shifted position and gently guided Jody’s hand to his ouana-lim.  He soon felt the boy’s desperation, so he moved on top of him.  As he entered him, the young har gave a breathless cry of pleasure.  He threw his arms and his legs around Cal.  Cal moved slowly drawing out their pleasure.  When he could sense the boy’s release was imminent, he made his movements more urgent and deliberate.  Jody moved with Cal, his panting and soft cries becoming more punctuated.  Suddenly Jody’s breathing stopped for a few seconds, and then he let out a low, sustained moan and went limp.  Cal reached his climax very soon after and he, too, groaned in completion.  Once the aftershocks of pleasure had subsided, Cal relaxed, making sure not to put his whole weight on the smaller har.  Finally he withdrew and lay beside Jody.

The boy said happily, “That was really awesome.”

Cal laughed.  “Well…thanks.  I had fun, too,” he teased.  He reached to his jacket for a cigarette.  He lit it with one of the candles and took a deep drag.

Jody turned on his side, propped his head in his hand, and studied Cal.

“What’s it like—being har?” he asked.

Cal turned to him and joked, “I think you just found out.”

“Yeah!”  Jody said emphatically, “I really liked that part!  But I mean, you know, the rest of it.  Like, I heard we never get sick, we never age, we can read minds—stuff like that.”

Cal looked at him thinking, He’s really clueless, poor har. Aloud, he said, “Well, sometimes we can get sick, and we certainly can be hurt or killed.  Don’t forget that!  We do age, in a way, I mean by virtue of being alive for years and having experiences.  Our bodies don’t age nearly as quickly as humans, though, that’s true.  And as far as mind reading, it’s called mind touch and you have to learn and practice it.”  Cal decided an explanation of caste progression would just overload the young har’s brain.

Jody looked thoughtful.  He finally spoke.  “There’s a lot to learn, isn’t there?”

Cal smiled and answered, “Yes, but learning and exploring for yourself is half the fun!”

Jody gave him a trusting smile and looked over at him.  Cal thought back to his own inception in a dark, filthy place, so far removed from this comfortable and inviting room.  The memories of his own first aruna also came flooding back; memories with elements of a frightening, invasive experience with a har that wanted to make him his property.  Cal was thankful that this lovely young har didn’t have to go through anything traumatic for his first experience.  Cal wanted to make Jody’s memories pleasant ones.

Cal then said, looking intently into Jody’s eyes, “I think it’s time for more learning and exploring right now.”  Jody looked at him inquisitively.  “You need to learn the fine art of being ouana.”

Jody smiled widely and said, “If it feels anything like being soume, let’s go!”

Cal laughed and pulled Jody closer to him.  He began by gently moving his hand to the young har’s ouana-lim, as he guided Jody’s hand to his soume lam.  Jody caught on right away as Cal had become soume.  As Jody’s fingers explored Cal’s soume-lam, the young har became excited quickly.  They kissed, caressed and shared breath passionately, then at the right moment, Cal coaxed Jody on top of him.  The young har was eager and quick.  He entered Cal and they moved together until the boy suddenly arched his back threw back his head and they both reached their peak and cascaded over the edge.  Jody collapsed on top of Cal, who was still in the throes of ecstasy.

Cal lay on his back, spent and satisfied.  Once he’d caught his breath, he said, “You catch on fast.  Had you done this before—as a human?”

“No, but I sure fantasized about it!”

They laughed together as the young har rolled off.  He cuddled close to Cal.  They lay there silent and content until Cal noticed the boy’s slow rhythmic breathing.  He was exhausted and asleep.  Cal wondered if he should go now, but he decided to stay the night, and soon sleep claimed him, too.

Calanthe awakened to a room dimly lit by morning light diffused through heavy drapes.  He looked over at Jody, who was still sleeping.  He quietly moved off the bed and into the bathroom for a bath.

When he returned, the young har was awake.  He gave Cal a contented smile and said, “Good morning.”  Cal smiled back, thinking fondly of their night together, and of how this new har looked so young and fresh, with his whole life ahead of him.

“I guess you have to go now, huh.”   The regret hung in Jody’s voice.

“Yeah,” Cal replied, “I guess so.”

Jody hesitated, and then said, “I’ve been thinking.  Can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure. Ask away.”

“Well, I really need a harish name.  Could you give me one? You know, it would sort of give me something to remember you by…and it would really mean a lot to me.”

Cal was a bit stunned and really touched by the young har’s request.  He also felt rather unqualified, and with good reason.  After all, he hadn’t even named his own son, leaving that duty to the inimitable and far more nurturing Cobweb.  He walked over and sat on the bed.  He looked at Jody kindly and said, “I’m really flattered that you would ask me, but your name is pretty important and I’m not sure I—“

“Please Cal?” he interrupted.

Cal sighed helplessly and looked into the beautiful, pleading jade green eyes and…Suddenly it hit him.  His face relaxed into a victorious grin and he said, “That’s it!  I’ve got it!”

Jody waited, expectant.

“Jade,” said Cal decisively. “Like your eyes.”

Jody smiled excitedly.  “Jade.” He laughed.  “I like it!  It’s perfect!  Thanks, Cal!”  He flew at Cal and hugged him, almost knocking him over.  Cal smoothed his sandy hair and held him a few moments.  When they let go, the newly named Jade was still smiling—a little sadder now.  “I’ll never forget you,” he said.

“Sure you will,” Cal said gently.

“No!” Jade said emphatically, “I won’t.”

Cal put on his jacket and headed for the door.  Jade called after him, “Thanks, Cal—for everything.”

Cal turned to him, giving him an encouraging smile as he was halfway out the door and said, “Good luck, Jade.  Now, go break some hearts.”  He winked at Jade’s shining face and closed the door behind him.

Cal leaned back against the door and sighed.  His experience hadn’t been at all what he expected.  He hadn’t expected it to be so…intimate.  It certainly was nothing like being a kanene.  It was more like being a teacher, or even a friend.  Cal wasn’t used to letting himself be so emotional.  He had closed the door on that part of himself many times in his life, particularly since he lost Pellaz.  But now…now what?  He wasn’t sure.  He’d changed since coming to this place and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with it all—at least not yet.

He left the building and headed to the inn for breakfast.  As Cal was finishing his breakfast, his thoughts went to Ilana.  He figured he’d head out to Ilana’s after breakfast, but when he looked up a few minutes later, Ilana was walking towards him.  He kissed Cal on the lips, and then sat down across from him.

“I was just thinking about you,” Cal said.

“Good,” Ilana cooed.

“I was just about to come see you, in fact,” Cal continued.

“I couldn’t wait.  So.  How did it go?”

“Well, good I think.  Yeah.  Good.  Definitely.”

“I told you so!”  Ilana stated happily.   “Though I’m glad you didn’t say earth-shattering or the best, or anything like that.”

Cal was about to protest, insisting that no newly incepted har could be as skilled as Ilana when he heard a familiar voice.

“Well, Ilana and Calanthe!  What a beautiful couple you make.”  It was Fariv. “I thought I might catch you here, Cal.  I have your first payment.  I knew you’d want it as soon as possible.”

“Thanks.” Cal gratefully took the proffered envelope.

“You’ll receive yours as usual,”  Fariv said to Ilana, who nodded.  Fariv had told Cal that he usually paid the hara after all their appointments, if they had several in a row, which they usually did.

Cal paid the serving har before they all walked out of the inn.

“I’m glad you two got together,”  Fariv said.  “I heartily approve.”

Cal gave him a wry smile.  He had no doubt that Fariv hoped it meant he’d stay longer than Cal had any intention of doing.  “Well, we wouldn’t think of being together without your approval.”

Fariv laughed heartily, then said, “You would sure make gorgeous harlings.”   He winked at Cal.

Ilana looked embarrassed and somewhat horrified.  Cal put his arm around Ilana’s shoulder and guided him away from Fariv.  He shot back over his shoulder, “We’ll name the first one after you!”

Fariv waved and laughed, going on his way.

Cal leaned over to speak low into Ilana’s ear. “The harling would have a hell of a time going through life named ‘asshole’ wouldn’t he?”

Ilana laughed til tears ran down his face.

Chapter 5

As time passed, Cal and Ilana got into a sort of routine.  They spent almost all their time together.  They usually lived at Ilana’s, but Cal kept his room at the inn.  He did so in part to remind himself that the life he had here couldn’t be permanent.  A few times after drinking too much in town, Cal and Ilana had stayed in Cal’s room, feeling too tipsy to make the trek to Ilana’s.  They also met there on the days after their appointments if they had them at the same times, which happened more often than not.

On one such morning Ilana came to Cal’s room.  He looked thoughtful and a bit quiet.  Cal studied him and asked, “Something bothering you?”

Ilana looked at Cal and began to speak, then sighed and said, “No, no, I’m fine.  It’s nothing.”

Cal waited, expecting Ilana to continue.  When he didn’t, Cal let it drop.  They went down to breakfast and then to get some food to take home to Ilana’s.  Ilana seemed ill at ease and Cal thought he saw a har staring at them in the market area.  Ilana looked behind them several times on the way home.  He just didn’t seem his usual, carefree self.  When they got inside, Cal stood there in the kitchen as Ilana put things away.

“Well?”  Cal asked his arms out, palms up.  “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

Ilana sighed heavily and turned to face him. “I guess I’m not very good at hiding my thoughts.”

“That was hiding them?” exclaimed Cal.

Ilana laughed.  He plopped down in a chair at the table and Cal sat across from him.  Ilana began, “It’s going to sound so stupid when I put it into words.  It happened to me once before.  Sometimes a client will sort of well… get stuck on you.  You know, one of them will get ‘attached.’”  He sighed.  “They think they’re in love with you.”

Cal looked searchingly at Ilana, “So…the new har you were with last night is in love with you.”  He smiled.  “I can’t blame him.  Well,”  he continued, teasing, “are you in love with him?”

Ilana laughed, a pained expression on his face.  “Cal!  Be serious!  I just feel bad.  I feel sorry for him.”

Cal smiled more warmly.  “I’m sure he’ll be okay.  You said it happened before.  What did you do?”

“Nothing.  The har left town and that was it.”

“Well, maybe this one will leave too.”

“No, he lives here.  He works in one of the shops.  He told me quite a bit about himself.  And I saw him watching us at the marketplace.”

“Yeah, I saw that!  He’s real skinny with shortish dark hair, right?”

“Yes,” sighed Ilana.

“Don’t feel bad.  It’s not your fault you’re irresistible,” Cal said, smiling broadly.

“See!  That’s why I didn’t want to tell you!  It all sounds so silly!”

“Can’t Fariv do something?”

“No.  There aren’t any rules about this sort of thing.”

Cal came over and put his arms around Ilana from behind. Ilana continued to sit still.  “Well, I can set him straight if you want me to.  I’ll tell him you’re mine and he can shove off!”

“Oh, no!”  Ilana said laughing, a pained tinge to his voice. “Cal! We shouldn’t make jokes!”

“Why not?” Cal said, until he realized Ilana felt true strife about the situation.   Okay, fine.  I’ll stop.  Maybe you should talk to him.  You know, clear the air in a nice way.”

Ilana didn’t appear to be convinced.  “I don’t know,” he fretted.  What could I say?  No, no, I don’t want to do that.  Let’s just forget it!”

So they did.  All seemed to be forgotten until one day, quite unexpectedly, the har showed up at Ilana’s door.  Cal and Ilana were in the sitting room when they heard a knock.  Ilana went, and Cal heard him gasp when he opened the door.  He went to see what was happening.

He saw the har stand there a few moments, then say to Ilana, “Ilana.  I’m sorry to upset you.  Please, may I speak with you?”  Ilana just stood there.  Cal noticed that the har was painfully thin, but still attractive.  He had an exotic beauty and looked to be of Asian descent.

Cal walked over to them and said to the har from behind Ilana, “Come in.  I was just going out back for a smoke.”  He brushed past them both and gave Ilana an encouraging nod from behind the har’s back.  Ilana stuttered out, “Well, yes.  Ummm, come in.”

Cal went out to the outside table and lit a cigarette.  As he sat there, he was full of curiosity about what was happening in the house.  He wondered what the har could possibly say, and even more so, wondered how Ilana would handle it.  He knew Ilana to be a kind, thoughtful har, so he assumed he would let the har down as easy as possible.

Quite a bit of time passed and Cal still sat at the table outside, on his sixth or seventh cigarette, when Ilana came out to him, looking somber.

“Well, finally!  I was ready to come in and suggest a threesome just to get it over with!” Cal joked.  Whoops, Cal thought when he saw Ilana didn’t react.  In fact, he seemed so deep in thought, Cal realized he hadn’t really heard him.  He sat down silently.  Cal waited, studying his face.  Ilana finally looked up and said, “That was strange.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“It wasn’t bad.  I thought it was going to be bad, and then I thought it had gone badly, but then—”

“What the hell happened in there!?”

“I’m not really sure,” Ilana said, staring. “But I think it’s okay now.”

He told Cal the whole story.  Cal listened, and then at the end said, “Well, I guess that’s settled then.”  Ilana was still staring blankly toward the garden, obviously in need of a distraction.  “Let’s take a walk,” he suggested.

Ilana snapped out of it and said, “What?  Oh.  Okay.”

As they passed the garden, Cal said, “While I was sitting there smoking, I had an idea.  You should build a greenhouse out here.”

“A greenhouse?”

“Yeah, then you could grow flowers and stuff all year.  The winters are plenty mild enough here.  You could make a living out of it.  Fariv’s little business won’t last forever, you know.”

Ilana looked thoughtful.  “A greenhouse, that could work.”

“Maybe more than one”

“Yes, maybe I’ll do that,” Ilana said smiling, as he took Cal’s arm.

“I could help you,” Cal offered.

“What do you know about building?”

“Not much,” he admitted.

They laughed as they headed on through the woods.

Chapter 6

Life continued on as usual for Cal and Ilana, at least as usual as they were growing accustomed to.  They had their appointments and spent their other unoccupied time together happily.  Cal had saved quite a bit of money, but kept telling himself that it wasn’t enough for him to leave, not yet.  He began to have more and more thoughts of Pellaz, but he was so enjoying his time with Ilana that he tried to put them in the back of his mind most of the time.

One night, however, he had a startling result of all his thought repressing; he had “the” nightmare.  He’d had it several times before, but not for ages, and not once since he’d come to this place.

Cal and Ilana had been asleep for hours when suddenly Cal started awake, gasping and in a cold sweat.  Ilana also woke, and was immediately in a panic.

“Cal!  Cal!  Are you okay?  Are you sick?!”

Cal sat up, still breathing heavily.  He managed to speak, though it was barely more than a whisper. “No, no, I’m okay. Just a dream, that’s all.”

Ilana took him in his arms.  He smoothed his hair and rocked him like a child.  “It must have been some dream! You scared me to death, I thought you couldn’t breathe.”

Cal had calmed down, but he enjoyed the comfort of Ilana’s arms.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Ilana asked.

Cal thought about it for a moment, then said, “Yeah, okay.”  He thought maybe if he related it out loud, it wouldn’t happen again.  With a wan smile he raked the damp hair from his face.

“Well, it starts off with me coming to a large hall of some kind.  I walk into a huge room with enormous marble columns.  The floor is so polished, that I’m not sure if it’s wet.  It looks like you could fall into its polished depths and never be heard from again.  I take a tentative step, and when it proves to be solid, I start walking down a long aisle.  There are, toward the end, hara on either side of the walkway.  They stare coldly and seem to be of high caste, dressed elegantly.  There at the end, my chesnari sits on a large ornate chair.  I approach him and he’s silent, staring through me.  I stand silent for a few moments, and then he finally looks into my eyes.  They’re empty. I start to feel terrified.  He says, ‘What have you come to ask of me?’  I stand there, petrified.  I say, ‘What do you mean?  It’s me, Cal…Calanthe, YOUR Calanthe.’  He stares blankly at me.  Then he shakes his head and says, ‘Do I know you? Have we met?’  I feel panic, fear, and despair.  I start ranting, ‘It’s me!  It’s me!   Don’t you know me? I’m your chesnari, your lover, your soul mate!’  Then some guards come at me.  I back away still shouting, screaming, and crying.  They drag me away kicking and screaming.  I look back and all I see is the cold unfeeling eyes.  Then I wake up in a cold sweat.”

Cal took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Then he added, “I’ve never told anyone about it before.”

A sympathetic, comforting smile came to Ilana’s lips as he touched Cal’s face. “You mean you’ve had this same dream before?”

“Yes, several times.”

Ilana looked concerned, then somewhat saddened.  Cal could tell by Ilana’s expression that he didn’t want to say what he said next.  “Cal, I believe the dream will only stop for good when you’re back with your soul mate.”  His eyes filled with tears, but he soldiered on. “I guess I’ve been selfish, wanting you to stay.  Perhaps if I’d encouraged you to go on to him, you wouldn’t be suffering this now.”  He began to weep.

Now it was Cal who did the comforting.  He took Ilana in his arms, and kissed his face over and over. “No, no, shhhh,” Cal whispered, “Don’t ever think that. I’m right where I want to be now.  I’m the one who has to decide when I need to move on.  It’s my responsibility.  You’ve been nothing but the most wonderful friend, lover and companion.  You’ve made me very happy; happier than I’ve been for a very long time.  If anyone is selfish, it’s me.  I didn’t…I don’t want to go.  I’m sorry for making you feel bad.  I’m sorry.”

They held each other for a long time.  Cal knew in his heart that even though their relationship had to come to an end, neither of them was ready to let go yet.

The next morning things looked brighter.  As they ate breakfast, Ilana reminded Cal that they had appointments that evening.  They spent a quiet day at the house and in the evening after dinner, they headed into town for their appointments.  Cal had bought himself some new clothes, the style influenced by Ilana’s opinion, and kept some of them at Ilana’s.

When they got to the building, they headed to their rooms.  They kissed goodbye in the hallway.  Ilana said, “See you tomorrow at the inn.”

Cal smiled and nodded.  He waited to watch Ilana disappear into his room.  As he did, he blew a kiss to Cal, who smiled at him and waved.  Cal knocked softly on the door in front of him.  When he heard the familiar words, “Come in,” he opened the door to the now familiar sight of a young, nervous, newly transformed har sitting up expectantly in the bed.  This one had straight golden hair that fell just below his chin and tucked behind his ears.  He had deep blue eyes and clear, glowing skin.  The only thing that gave Cal some pause was the lovely har’s somewhat melancholy expression.  Cal smiled warmly at his client and introduced himself.

The young har said, “My name is Ocean.”

“That’s a lovely name. Did you choose it for yourself?”

“Yes. “When I was human, my family lived near the ocean.”  He looked down and said quietly, “I was happy there.”

Cal sensed that Ocean was not as thrilled to be har as some were.  He sat on the bed near him and said in a confidential voice, “So, I’m guessing this whole inception thing has still got you feeling a bit unsure?”

Ocean looked up and his face brightened ever so slightly.  From his expression, he was relieved that someone else, a harish someone else, understood that this wasn’t always a dream come true for every young male.  “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I know this is a precious gift, to be har.  It’s just…” His voice became shaky,   “I’m really only here now because I— I lost my family.”

Cal felt badly for him.  “Do you want to tell me your story?  I can be a good listener,” he said, flashing his best smile.

Ocean smiled back weakly. “Yes, I think I would.  As I said, I had a family—my parents and two sisters.”  He got a bit choked up, then he took a deep breath and continued, “We lived in a coastal town north of here, I think.  We knew about Wraeththu, but we just thought, ‘Okay, good for them.’ You know; live and let live.  Anyway, one day out of nowhere an army of them descended on us.  They killed almost everyone and took about twenty of us with them.

“At first I was too shocked, but later I noticed all of us who were taken alive were males, probably between 12 and 25 or so years old.  I didn’t understand why.  Well, they just tied us together at the waist and dragged us with them like cattle.    We had no idea why or where we were going.  Sometimes one of us would hear them talking to each other.  One boy heard one of them say they were taking us to a camp where their tribe lived.   Later another boy thought he heard them joking about us being infected and making us slaves.  Later I realized they must have said ‘incepted.’  We were all really scared.  At the time I hoped I would be infected—and die.  I’d lost hope.

“One day as we trudged along, we thought we saw a flash of lightening.  There was a clap of thunder and a strange smell in the air.  I remember looking up into the sky, but it was clear and sunny.  Suddenly we were surrounded and greatly outnumbered by what looked to me like angels.  They seemed to appear out of thin air.  They were beautiful—dressed in black silky leather with shining silver decorations.  They rode horses that were as sleek and beautiful as their riders.  In only a few minutes they’d chased off or killed every one of our captors.  We stood in stunned shock.

“Their leader descended from his horse and approached us.  A few others joined him and got us untied. ‘Don’t be afraid.  We’re here to liberate you,’ he said, or something like that. He said they, too, were hara—Wraeththu, and that they would take us to Path’s Crossing.  We could choose to remain human or become har. After that we’d be free to live as we chose.  They fed us and tended to any who were hurt or unwell.  Then we were brought to this town where we were taken to a place where we could take a bath and sleep and were told to make our decision.  If we chose to remain human, we were free to return to our homes, stay there or whatever.  I had no home and no one so I chose, sort of, to become har.

“Those of us who chose that were taken to a hospital.  I remember one of the hara who rescued us talking about donating blood, and several others also volunteered.  I didn’t understand then, but now I know we were injected with their blood.  They told us it would be unpleasant for a few days, but well worth it in the end.  I felt really awful for, I don’t know. Three days?  Afterwards,   I couldn’t believe it.  They cleaned me up and gave me some clothes and when I looked at myself, I was shocked.  It was me, but I looked different—better really—more grown up, but…” he hesitated.

Cal broke in, “Do you have to work to pay for your inception?”

Ocean looked at him for a moment, puzzled. “No, Fariv told us it was all taken care of courtesy of the Gelaming, which I assumed were our liberators.  You know.  The angels.”

A smile of realization had been forming on Cal’s lips as he listened to Ocean’s story.  The Gelaming!  They’ve got their hand in everything! He shook his head. I should have known, he thought. So that was it.  The Gelaming go around saving hara from renegade tribes.  They donate their blood so everyone they save is incepted as Gelaming, and Fariv reaps the monetary benefits.  It all makes sense now.  They’re determined to rule the world in their benevolent but insistent and pervasive way.

Cal had to admit that all the incepted hara who had come here through the Gelaming’s rescue were certainly much better off, but the Gelaming just had a way about them that didn’t often sit well with him.  He was deep in thought when he heard his name being spoken tentatively.  Cal snapped out of it. “Yeah, sorry, I was just thinking.  The angels…well, lucky they came along when they did.”

”Yeah, I’m lucky, I guess.”

“You do know why I’m here, don’t you?  I mean you picked me.  You must know what for.”

“Yes,” Ocean replied, his face flushed. “I know what aruna is and why it’s important for me now.”

“I promise you’ll enjoy it,” Cal said gently, tipping Ocean’s face up with his fingers.  It’s the most beautiful part of being har.”  Ocean seemed to be at a loss.  “How old are you?”

“I was almost thirteen when all this started.”

Cal sighed, thinking to himself, So they’re incepting children now. Then he remembered he had not been much older at his own inception.  Still, he knew he’d not been nearly as sheltered as Ocean.  Cal couldn’t hide his worried look.

Ocean put on a brave face. “Cal I… I trust you.”   He looked into Cal’s eyes, pleading, yet calm.

As he smiled tentatively, Cal told him, “I’m going to share breath with you.  Do you understand?”

“I think so. It’s like a kiss, right?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

He moved close to Ocean and when their lips touched, he could tell Ocean was still tense.  As they shared breath, however, he relaxed.  Cal saw a mist, but behind it shrouded but still discernable, not surprising, a sparkling ocean and a fresh sea breeze.  When they parted, Cal asked Ocean what he perceived as they shared breath.

“I saw golden fields of grass and smelled something sweet and fresh.  Sorry I’m vague.” He apologized.

Cal told him what he had seen, adding, “You certainly chose the most perfect name for yourself.”

Ocean seemed very happy at that.  He was a lot more comfortable, though Cal did not perceive even a stirring of desire in him.  This was a new experience for Cal, and he was utterly flummoxed. The other inceptees had had their desire kindled without any real effort on Cal’s part.  In fact, he’d yet to run into a har who he couldn’t work his charms on in pretty short order, Panthera having been a challenging exception.  He wasn’t sure how to proceed.  For a crazed few seconds, he even considered going down the hall and asking Ilana what to do!  He quickly decided that would be very inappropriate.

Looking around, he noticed that the room hadn’t been made conducive to the experience as it usually was before he arrived.  As Ocean looked on curiously, Cal proceeded to turn off the lights, lit some candles and burned some incense.  The mood in the room changed dramatically.  Then Cal spied another item he thought would help them a lot—liquor.  He looked at Ocean and asked, “Have you ever had alcohol before?”

Ocean said he’d tasted wine at some special occasions.  A smile of realization came to Cal’s lips as he poured them each a glass of sheh.  This should do it then, he thought.  “Here,” Cal said, handing Ocean the potent drink.  “This and the ambiance in the room should help us to get in the mood.”

As they sat drinking, Cal could tell his client was relaxing a bit.  He didn’t want it to seem as if he was in any way forcing himself on the young har, but this was going to have to be done somehow.  Cal soon realized that he needed to relax as much as Ocean did.  Cal downed his sheh and went to get some more as Ocean sipped on his.

“Do you like it?” Cal asked.  Ocean nodded. “Good. “Drink up!” They sat a short while, Cal drinking, Ocean sipping, Cal trying to make pleasant conversation.

Once Ocean finished the last of his sheh, he set the glass down and said, “Well, I guess we better do it.”

Cal almost spit out his sheh as he laughed.  “Nothing like getting to the point!”

“Well, that is the point, isn’t it?”  He laughed, too, obviously feeling way more relaxed.

Cal quickly gulped the last of his drink.  He began to unbutton his shirt, feeling the young har’s attentions focused on his chest.

Ocean looked on a bit drunkenly.  “You’re really…HOT!” he said, giggling.

“And you’re really drunk!” Cal teased.

They laughed.  Cal hadn’t heard that term for a long time.  Hara didn’t use it to his knowledge, which made him chuckle again to himself.  Ocean watched as Cal removed his pants and slid into bed beside him.

“I want to share breath again,” Ocean stated.

Cal moved in and said in a seductive voice, “I think that can be arranged.”

As they shared breath this time, Ocean participated with no small amount of enthusiasm.

Now we’re getting somewhere, Cal thought to himself.  When they parted, Cal whispered into his ear, “I’ll be ouana and you’ll be soume.  It has to be that way the first time.”

Ocean whispered back, “I don’t think I know how.”

“I’ll show you.”

Cal began to caress and kiss the nubile body pressed up next to him, and Ocean’s desire came alive.  As he eased his hand down to the heat between Ocean’s legs, Cal found he’d already become soume, which surprised him.  “You have good instincts,” he said as he nibbled Ocean’s ear.

“I think you made it happen,” he said back, breathlessly, arching into Cal’s touch.  He began to moan and sigh with pleasure as Cal did what he did best.

When it was all over, Ocean lay happily: exhausted, satisfied, and relieved.  He looked sleepily at Cal and said, “Thanks, you made it….wonderful.”

Cal smiled and leaned over to kiss Ocean’s forehead as he gathered him in his arms.  Ocean relaxed into Cal’s embrace and was soon asleep. Cal lay thinking that Ocean hadn’t had the chance to be ouana, but he figured that the experience and the sheh had taken a lot out of him.  He needed to sleep.

Cal woke up a few hours later, finding himself under Ocean’s hungry gaze.  Ocean reached over and caressed Cal’s face.

“So,” Cal said, “are you rested up enough for,” he paused, smiling slyly.  Ocean just nodded and grabbed Cal to share breath until Cal pulled away.   “You should be ouana this time.  You need to exper—”  Cal was silenced by Ocean’s mouth on his.

He guided Ocean’s hand down to his groin, to the warm depths there so he knew he’d become soume.  Cal hoped this would encourage Ocean to be ouana.  He took to it all quickly and was almost overwhelming in his eagerness.  He passionately kissed, nipped and licked his way from Cal’s lips to his soume-lam.  Soon he had Cal writhing and moaning, not a common occurrence Cal had experienced in the beds here.  Just before Cal had to beg him to stop before things got out of hand, Ocean moved on top of him and their fiercely ardent motion brought them to a delicious climax.  Afterwards, Cal was left breathless.

When they’d recovered, Cal said, “You remind me of an old saying: Still waters run deep.  You’re…you’re amazing!”

Ocean flushed and replied, “Only because of you.”

They lay together contentedly until sleep claimed them.  Cal’s last thought before he sank into sleep was,  Well, this shrinking violet has fully blossomed.

***

In the morning, Cal gathered his belongings to dress and leave.  Ocean watched him with a look that said he wanted to have Cal for breakfast.  Cal paused, but Ocean looked away, so he continued toward the door.

“Well, good luck, Ocean,” Cal said, his hand on the door handle.

Ocean looked up. “Thanks, I think I really like being har now.”

Cal teased, “I know your next aruna partner will be happy about it.”  Ocean laughed as Cal left him with a broad smile.

Cal walked out into a sunny morning as he headed for the inn to meet Ilana.  Yet again he was thinking about how different this ‘job’ was from what he had expected.  The new hara were always intriguing and sometimes surprised him.  Apart from the obvious rewards, he felt a true sense of accomplishment by sealing these newly incepted hara into the realm of hardom and introducing them to one of the most important, necessary and certainly the most delightful aspects of becoming Wraeththu.

Cal was also thinking about how he seemed to have softened a little since coming here…and that wasn’t all bad.  It felt good to get in touch with his less forceful side and he knew he had Ilana to thank for it. However, as had become usual, whenever he thought about being happy here, he immediately thought of Pellaz and how he couldn’t allow himself to get too comfortable here.  He reached the inn and went to order coffee from the bar har.  He turned around and his not so happy mood faded as he was greeted with a lovely sight—Ilana walking toward him.

Cal smiled warmly and went to meet him, taking him into a tight embrace.  Ilana melted into his arms, his eyes closed, smiling contently.  Then his expression transformed.  Cal knew Ilana well enough to intuit his lover’s sudden change; he felt Cal was holding him so close because the time was approaching when he would have to let go.

Cal sensed Ilana’s thoughts and told him by mind touch,  Soon, yes…but not yet.”

Ilana clutched him even closer, in an obvious fight to hold back his tears.  When they parted, Cal smoothed Ilana’s hair, took his hand and led them to a table for their breakfast.  Ilana sighed deeply, and then said, “How did your appointment go?”

Cal laughed. “It was surprising.”  He related the whole experience while they enjoyed their breakfast.

One night a few weeks later, while Cal lay in Ilana’s bed, he dreamed of Pellaz.  Not the empty unfeeling Pellaz of his nightmare, but the beautiful, innocent and real Pellaz he had first known and loved.  The Pellaz for whom he’d refused Terzian.  The Pellaz of his heart, the one he knew he belonged with and could never live without.  The Pellaz he knew he must go to.  He remembered everything about Pell, the one he had killed for and would die for.  Now reality would seem like a dream, and he would only awaken when he found himself again in the arms of his beloved Pellaz.

This time when he awoke, it was not fearfully, in a cold sweat, but resolved in his realization that the time had truly come for him to move on.  To move on to Pellaz.  His fears were still there, but something made him recognize them as just that–fears, nothing more.  His heart and soul told him Pell was waiting, still the same, still his chesnari, waiting for his true love to come to him.  He had once declared his love for Pellaz against all odds, so long ago.  And now, after losing him, he had a chance to regain him and all they’d had together.  He would never delay again.  He had to resume his journey to Pellaz, his journey of the heart.  It was time.

He looked over at Ilana, who was still sleeping and it seemed a knife sliced into his heart.  He really loved him and hated to leave him, but he knew there was no choice, if he was to be true to himself.  Tears filled his eyes as he looked upon the beautiful and wonderful har who meant so much to him and who had so captured his heart.  As he looked at Ilana, he knew a part of his heart would always belong to him.  Cal rose heavily from the bed, greatly burdened by his thoughts, and spent a long time standing, looking out the bedroom window.  He heard Ilana wake up and then come to him, embracing him from behind.  Cal sighed heavily and leaned back into Ilana’s arms.  Somehow, they both knew the time had come for Cal to leave.

They stayed that way for a long time, and then Ilana asked, “Cal, will you promise me something?”

Cal nodded, his eyes closed.

“Please, don’t tell me exactly when you decide to go.”  Cal turned to him to speak, but Ilana put his fingers to Cal’s lips.  “Shh, I mean just don’t tell me ahead of time.  I know you need to say goodbye.” He choked up a bit before continuing on. “I need that, too.  Just please do it quickly without a lot of preliminaries.  It’s the only way I’ll be able to stand it.”  Tears rolled down his face.

Cal held him close, salty tracks on his own face.  He kissed Ilana’s hair and whispered, “I promise.”

Chapter 7

For the next couple of weeks, Cal and Ilana went on as usual, but underneath they both knew their time together was borrowed now and the inevitable parting was just over the horizon.  At the next influx of clients, Cal had an appointment one evening when Ilana didn’t.  This was unusual and Cal knew this would be his only chance to leave as he had promised Ilana, without telling him the day, even though he knew Ilana would be thinking along those same lines and sense that this was going to be it.

The next morning after Cal’s appointment, he went to his room and gathered his things.  How long had he been here?  Three months?  Four?  He wasn’t exactly sure.  As he took one last look around the room, it occurred to him that there was only one thing he would really miss about this place; Ilana.  He had grown fonder of him with each passing day they had spent together and though he could never feel for any har the marrow-deep passions he felt for Pellaz, Cal again thought of how he had come to love Ilana.  Leaving him would be hard and in spite of Ilana’s acceptance of his leaving, Cal knew he was going to be terribly hurt.  He closed the door behind him, his heart heavy and headed downstairs.

He settled up with the bar har, who wished him a safe journey, and left the inn.  He had already said his goodbyes to Fariv, who, of course, tried to talk him into staying longer.  But he, too, had picked up on Cal’s intentions to leave, and so reluctantly he’d said goodbye and wished him well.  Cal headed through the town toward the other end, where the road would take him on his way.  There was one more stop he had to make.

As he headed down the lane to Ilana’s cottage, the prospect of never again seeing the beautiful har he had come to love filled his mind and wrenched his heart.

Ilana opened the door as Cal stepped onto the porch.  Ilana smiled sadly, mirroring the melancholy look on Cal’s own face.  Cal willed himself not to get closer to the door, so Ilana stepped out, picking up on Cal’s body language that he wasn’t coming in this time.  They moved toward each other and embraced.  Cal loosened his hold on Ilana and looked into his eyes; like his own, they were far from dry.

“Please, Cal, promise me you won’t feel bad.”

“I can’t promise you that.”

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Ilana said, strength in his voice.  “I’ve treasured our time together, even knowing it had to end.  I’ve made myself ready for this day.”

Cal answered,” I wish I could say I had.”  He began to weep openly.  Ilana embraced him again and they shared breath.  Cal could feel Ilana’s sadness, but there was happiness there, too.

He whispered to Cal, “I’ll never forget you and…” He paused.  ”I love you.”

Cal buried his head in Ilana’s hair and whispered back, “I knew we couldn’t stay together, but I couldn’t help loving you either.  And I do, Ilana.  I love you.”

He clutched tightly to his dear companion as they both shed tears, but after a time, they slowed and he was able to loose his hold.

Ilana said softly, “I’ll pray always for you.”

“I’ll need it.”  Cal gave a tearful smile.

Ilana smiled back and stepped away.  Cal reluctantly turned and stepped off the porch.  He walked on, but when he got to the turn in the lane, he couldn’t help looking back.  Ilana was there.  He raised his hand and Cal waved back.  Then he moved out of sight.

Cal walked in tears awhile, then finally, wiped them away, took a deep breath and walked determinedly on through the town.  When he reached the end, he took one look back and then walked on the way to his destiny.

***

At the same moment in Immanion, Pellaz was reading in his garden.  Suddenly a breeze stirred up, fluttering the pages of his book, causing him to lose his place.  He looked up at the trees to see their leaves blown about, showing their silvery undersides.  Then it died down as quickly as it had started.  But a thought had entered Pell’s mind as if someone had put it on the wind.  He felt it was Calanthe’s voice in the wind telling him nothing would now keep him from his journey home to Pellaz’s arms.

The End

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1 Comment

  1. June 23, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    […] is the sequel to my first fic, Inception, Inc.  You don’t have to read the first one for this one to make sense, but I hope anyone who is […]


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