The Dawning

The Dawning
by Persephone

Story Notes

Author: Persephone100

Author’s email: persephone10034@yahoo.com

Characters: Cal is featured throughout in flashback, memory and focus of my primary original character. There are also several other originals.

Rating: NC17

Beta: Thevina/thrihyrne. Thank you so much for all your help and hard work! Any remaining mistakes are mine.

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

Synopsis: A har who has had a several month relationship with Cal tries to deal with their inevitable parting and tries to heal his broken heart.

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

This 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 interested will read the first one, too. Many thanks to anyone who reads either one! Comments are very welcome!

Ch.1

Ilana sat at the window watching the droplets of rain collect and trickle down the window pane. His thoughts, as usual of late, ran to Calanthe. It had been over a month since he had left; he’d traveled onward following the guide of his heart and soul, continuing his journey to Pellaz, his chesnari and soul mate.

Ilana had so enjoyed his time with Cal, and had tried not to fall in love with him. But as many a har before him had found, it’s hard, if not impossible, not to fall in love with Calanthe. Ilana was no exception. Even though Cal said he’d felt love and had even given part of his heart to Ilana, his heart and soul belonged to his true, forever love, Pellaz. Ilana had known that from the first, for Cal had told him. He’d known that Cal had to find his chesnari and had to go to him and that it was his destiny.

Ilana had decided to take whatever time he could have with Cal and enjoy it to the fullest. They had been lovers, companions, friends and so much more to each other. But now Cal was gone and Ilana felt empty. He wished only good things for Cal and prayed that his dream of reuniting with his soul mate would bring him happiness and an end to his wandering.

Ilana was lost in thoughts of Calanthe when he remembered that he had an appointment. He was going to initiate another newly incepted har into Wraeththudom. He would be his partner for his first aruna; the one to complete the inceptee’s transformation. The har in question wasn’t a friend of Ilana’s. He was a client.

Ilana worked for a har named Fariv who ran a business he called Inception, Inc. Fariv worked with a group of Gelaming who rescued humans from renegade Wraeththu. These rogues captured them, hoping to incept them into their tribes and either enslave them or force them to fight for them. The Gelaming sought out these renegades in the area, killed them and took the humans to Path’s Crossing, where Ilana lived.

The Gelaming always gave them the choice either to remain human or become har. If they chose to become har, they were injected with donated Gelaming blood, essentially making them Gelaming after their transformation. Some hara were “recruited” by Fariv’s other means, but the vast majority came to Path’s Crossing courtesy of the Gelaming.

Fariv had quite a few beautiful hara he employed as first aruna partners for the newly incepted. The humans chose for themselves which har they wanted for their first aruna. Ilana was one of these hara. Cal had been one, too. That was how they’d met. At first Cal had told Ilana he had misgivings about the job, thinking it made him no better than a kanene. But later he told him that he realized the job was more akin to being a guide; a guide into one of the most beautiful and essential aspects of the transformation.

From the moment they had met, Ilana had been smitten with Calanthe. Cal had been attracted to Ilana right away, too. They’d spent about four months or so together; always together, really becoming close, even though neither came into the relationship meaning for that to happen. They both had known, however, that Cal’s destiny was with his chesnari. Ilana sighed, knowing only time would heal his bruised heart and knowing someday he would be able to look back on his encounter with Cal as a lovely adventurous interlude, but for now—it just hurt.

Ilana’s thoughts then turned to Immanion, Cal’s ultimate destination. He had only heard tales of Thiede’s sparkling city by the sea. At first Ilana and many other hara considered Immanion a myth; a legend that had grown out of a need for one. Hara had come through Path’s Crossing claiming to have seen or to have met a har who had seen the pale towers and lush gardens of the shining city. Ilana considered these tales doubtful, but when Cal told him that his chesnari was there, Ilana instinctively knew that Immanion actually existed. Immanion; where Calanthe would find his true love and his purpose.

Once again Ilana’s thoughts flickered back to Cal. He sighed again. How could they not? Calanthe was unforgettable.

Ilana got himself together, dressed for his appointment and walked down the long lane from his cottage to the main road into town. It had been raining steadily for hours, causing a stream to form and run down the side of the road. He pulled the hood of his coat tighter around his face, trying to find further protection from the wet and the cold, wishing it could also afford him protection from his sorrow and loneliness. When he arrived at the appointed room he knocked and entered. There in the bed, a newly incepted young har waited expectantly.

Ilana closed the door behind him, hung his wet coat on the doorknob, and smiled warmly. “Hi, I’m Ilana. What’s your name?”

The young har seemed to be losing his nervousness. “I’m Onyx.”

He answered Ilana’s question as he stared rather blatantly at him. From Ilana’s experience he found it obvious that the new har was thinking about what it was going to be like to take aruna with him.

He first studied the beauty of Ilana’s face; his alabaster skin, blue eyes and delicate features. Next he looked his slender willowy body up and down. Ilana approached the bed and sat down next to Onyx. He reached over and took a strand of Ilana’s hip length, dark, silky hair and ran it through his fingers. He seemed at a loss for words as he looked back to Ilana’s face, mesmerized.

Ilana laughed softly and reached out to stroke Onyx’s cheek.

“I think you’re beautiful, too.” And he was. He had a mop of wavy black hair and engaging hazel eyes.

Soon they both relaxed, feeling more comfortable with each other. Ilana had a way of putting hara at ease. It wasn’t skill; it was just the way he was. He was chosen as a first aruna partner for his outer beauty, but later on, the clients found his inner beauty equally alluring.

Ilana glanced around the room to see that it had been made ready. Candles were lit, incense was burning and a bottle of sheh with two glasses was on the table. Ilana rose from the bed and poured a glass for each of them and, as he handed Onyx a glass, he could almost feel the intensity of his stare. Onyx sipped his sheh as he drank in Ilana’s loveliness.

Ilana sat down on the bed next to Onyx once again, held up his glass and said, “A toast to you; a new and beautiful har.” Onyx clinked his glass to Ilana’s and drank it down.

“You‘d better take it easy,” Ilana warned him teasingly.

Onyz gazed into Ilana’s eyes, lust seeming to overtake him. Ilana saw the desire and impatience in the young har’s face, so he put his glass down and started to disrobe.

Suddenly Onyx said, “No! Let me.”

Ilana looked at him surprised but he complied. Onyx, with trembling hands, slipped Ilana’s shirt off him, looking into his eyes with aching desire. Ilana moved toward the young har to share breath and he could taste the intensity of that passion. He pulled back somewhat overwhelmed as Onyx seemingly tried to control himself.

“I’m sorry,” he breathed, “You’re just so….so…”

“It’s alright,” Ilana said, catching his breath.

They looked into each other’s eyes a moment, but Onyx appeared to be unable to help himself. He grabbed Ilana into a lustful embrace, kissing him fervently on the mouth. Ilana felt the strong desire and urgent need in his kiss. They shared breath as Onyx reached to remove Ilana’s pants. He parted their lips, and then knelt on the bed in front of Ilana, who could see that Onyx was not soume, but full on ouana! He was experienced enough to tell that Onyx was absolutely still thinking of himself as male and Ilana as female. This, of course, was not unheard of, but the degree of this young har’s ardor was more than Ilana had heretofore experienced with a client.

Most new hara Ilana had cared for had left it up to him to initiate aruna. What should he do? Would it hurt a new har to be ouana first? Ilana didn’t know for sure. He’d never done it that way before. He didn’t want Onyx to be harmed, and he knew the young har needed Ilana’s essence in him to complete his transformation. That torrent of thoughts rushed through Ilana in a few seconds, and in those few seconds, Onyx had pulled Ilana onto the bed, into a lying position and straddled him.

Ilana drew up his knees, put up his hand and shouted, “Stop! Wait!”

Onyx looked at Ilana, shocked.

“What’s wrong?! Is it me? Is something wrong with me?”

“No, no of course not. You’re fine, you’re perfect. It’s just…”

Onyx stared at Ilana, bewildered.

Ilana took a deep breath and calmly continued, “We just need to talk before we take aruna.”

“Talk?!” Obviously Onyx was way past the point of wanting to talk about it.

“Yes!” Ilana stated emphatically. “Talk. We have to.”

Onyx slumped down on the bed, seemingly crushed by Ilana’s words.

With a patient tone to his voice, remembering that he was there to instruct as well as engage, Ilana said, “Were you told anything about your first aruna?”

“Yes, they told me I needed it to become complete as Wraeththu.”

“That’s true. Were you told about being soume and ouana?”

“Yeah, it’s the male and female stuff, right?”

“Right. So you know we have the capacity for both roles in aruna.”

“Yeah, I guess so. What do you mean?” Onyx sounded impatient.

“Well, you have to be soume, the receiving partner, for your first aruna. You have to receive my essence to complete your transformation. It’s very important.”

Onyx looked down at his own erect ouana-lim.

“Oh,” he said flatly. He gazed sadly at Ilana, looking disappointed.

Ilana looked back at him sympathetically. “After the first time, it’s up to you and your partner about soume and ouana roles. It’s just this first time that it has to occur in a particular order.” Ilana waited expectantly as Onyx considered his words.

Onyx nodded. “Okay. I see. I get it.”

Ilana was again exasperated as he thought about how little the hara were told before their first aruna.

“What happens now?” Onyx asked.

Ilana gave him a smoky stare and purred, “Lie down and I’ll show you.”

He complied and Ilana began to kiss and share breath with him as he ran his hands over Onyx’s eager body, finally touching his soume-lam. At first nothing happened, but as Ilana continued to stimulate his soume-lam, kissing and caressing him, Onyx began to respond. He started squirming and moaning and soon his ouana-lim withdrew as Ilana whispered in his ear, “Yes! Now you’re soume. That’s how it works.”

Ilana decided he shouldn’t waste any time, so he moved on top of Onyx and pushed inside him. Onyx uttered a low moan and looked lustfully into Ilana’s eyes as Ilana thrust deeply inside him, kissing him and breathing into his ear.

After a few moments he begged breathlessly, “Ilana…Ilana…so beautiful…so good…please…”

“Oh, yes I will,” answered Ilana, playfully.

As Ilana continued to move within him, he felt by his responses that Onyx was experiencing an intensity of pleasure he had probably never known. Onyx looked at Ilana with his delicate beauty and his intense, aggressive thrusting and it was obvious that the whole thing was too much for him. He climaxed with a force Ilana could tell he had most likely never before experienced. Ilana shuddered, reaching his release soon after and they collapsed together, panting and exhilarated.

When he had recovered enough to move, Onyx slowly traced Ilana’s lips with his fingers. “I’ve never felt like that before. You’re….you’re the most amazing, desirable, beautiful…”

Ilana interrupted, laughing, “The first time as har is always intense. You’re just at the beginning. I’m sure you’ll meet lots of hara you’ll find more exciting.”

“Oh, no, I can’t imagine that!”

“You will. You’ll see!”

Onyx buried his face contentedly in Ilana’s neck and hair. Not long after that he raised his head and regarded Ilana hopefully.

The corners of Ilana’s lips curved into a knowing smile. “Yes, now you can be ouana. I’ll be soume.”

Onyx grinned broadly, growled like a tiger and rolled on top of Ilana, kissing, caressing and exploring his inviting body.

Ilana enjoyed being with Onyx. He was all lust and nothing else; a soothing balm for Ilana’s injured heart. Ilana surrendered to the power and lure of that lust, immersing himself in a short, sweet respite from his heartache.

***

The next morning Ilana, rather worn out, said his goodbyes to Onyx and left to go home. As he made his way through town, his satisfaction after his night of aruna began to fade as images of Calanthe fluttered across his mind’s eye and the prospect of going to his empty home pressed into his thoughts.

As soon as he got home, he grabbed a bottle of liquor and headed for the tub. Onyx hadn’t let him get much sleep, so his plan for the day was to bathe, drink and sleep.

As he hung his shirt in the closet, he noticed several shirts there that had been Cal’s. He hadn’t thought to get them when he left. Ilana lifted the sleeve of one of them to his face, taking in the distinctive, still lingering scent of Cal. His eyes filled with tears. I know I’m pathetic, but I ache for him, he thought. He lovingly tucked the shirt back in with the others, sighed heavily, tears on his face, and went to run the bath water.

He had a long soak in the tub, drinking a good bit of liquor, remembering a particularly passionate night. On this memorable night he and Cal had started their lovemaking on the couch, but as they became more ardent and inventive, they’d decided to move to the bedroom. Ilana had gone in and lit some candles while Cal went to the kitchen. Ilana was sitting on the bed when Cal entered the room, holding a bottle of sweet liquor. Ilana gave him a smoldering stare that stopped him in his tracks.

He took in the beautiful sight of Cal’s perfect naked body, likening him to a sumptuous banquet table set before him, brimming with delicious wonders and delights waiting to be devoured. Ilana stared unabashedly at Cal, bathed in the soft glow of the candlelight, the flickering shadows heightening each beckoning expanse. He was breathtaking, standing there before him in all his glory, his ouana-lim a glistening spire.

As Ilana rose, moving slowly and fluidly toward him, Cal drank from the bottle, his gaze fixed on Ilana’s. He wordlessly offered the bottle to Ilana who drank deeply, licking his lips, then pressed them to Cal’s. He kissed Cal long and lustfully, the liquor still slick and sweet on their tongues.

Suddenly Ilana stopped his remembrance. He couldn’t stand to think about it any longer. The memories were still too vivid, too tangible, and too painful.

As he sat on his bed, drying his hair with a towel, he drank quite a bit more to blot out his yearning and sadness, and then lay down waiting for the desired oblivion.

Ch. 2

Ilana awakened to an orange glow bathing his bedroom, soon realizing that he had slept until late afternoon. He spent a few moments looking out his window at the remnants of a lovely mellow day. It wasn’t long before he noticed that he was hungry so he headed for his kitchen. After poking around, he decided there was nothing there that appealed to him, so he went into town to eat.

He headed for a tavern he liked and sat at one of the tables outside on the porch so he could relax and watch the passing hara.

He was absentmindedly looking at the shops close by when he noticed something different about one of them. It used to be plain in the front but now somehar had painted a realistic looking ivy vine snaking and twisting all around the large front window. It meandered over to a sign that said simply in beautiful calligraphy, “ARTWORKS” Ilana was intrigued by the look of the shop, so he finished his meal, paid the serving har and crossed the street to the shop. A nice painting might help cheer up my place, he thought hopefully, and lift my spirits.

As he entered, the breeze from the open door caused a wind chime to play its welcome and alert the shopkeeper. No one came out immediately so Ilana started looking around on his own. Before long he heard movement behind him and saw that the shopkeeper was hurrying in from the back, wiping his hands on a rag.

“I’m sorry. I was in the back, painting and…” He looked up from his hands into Ilana’s face and froze.

Ilana spoke first. “Xan?”

He was a har who had once been a client. He’d come to Ilana’s home to tell him how he felt; that after his first aruna experience he’d felt that he’d fallen in love with Ilana. Ilana also remembered how sorry for him he’d felt when he had to tell him he wanted to be with Cal and couldn’t return his feelings. He’d felt a bit guilty, too, even though, as a first aruna partner, Ilana certainly never meant for any client to become enamored of him.

Xan managed to reply, “Ilana, I…I’m surprised to see you.”

Regarding him kindly, once again impressed by Xan’s unique Asian-harish beauty, Ilana asked, “Well, how have you been?”

“Oh fine. I’ve kept busy here.”

“I had no idea this was the shop you spoke of. It’s very nice. The painted vine caught my eye and made me curious to see what was inside.”

“The vine…yes…I painted it there just recently. I hope other hara feel as you did. I need the business.” There was an awkward silence.

Xan quickly said, “I have something I want to give you.” He went into the back of the shop and came out with a small painting.

“Here. I did this quite a while ago.” Xan smiled tentatively as Ilana took the painting.

It was of him and Cal at an outdoor café holding hands across the table and gazing into each other’s eyes. Ilana was overcome. It was lovely. His eyes filled with tears.

Xan looked horrified. “Oh,no,no, it was supposed to make you happy. I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“No, it’s alright,” Ilana said with some difficulty. “I’m happy about the painting. It’s beautiful. It’s, it’s just that…”

Xan ran off into the back and returned with a cloth. He gave it to Ilana, who dabbed his face, collected himself and continued. “Cal’s gone.”

Xan looked sick. “I….I didn’t know.”

“It’s alright. I knew he couldn’t stay when I met him. He told me right away but we decided to be together anyway for as long as he could stay. It’s a long story….but I don’t regret a moment. I just…miss him…That’s all.” Ilana sniffled.

Xan looked at Ilana, who could tell that he felt sad for him, but his face also bore an expression Ilana couldn’t read. Ilana looked again at the painting, commenting wistfully. “I think I remember that day.”

“I painted it from here.” Xan pointed at the front window, which faced the café directly across the street. “I hope you don’t think that’s creepy.”

“Oh, no. Well, maybe a little.”

Xan held his breath for a moment and Ilana took pity on him, laughing to show it was a joke. Ilana looked around the shop, noticing it was fixed up nicely with paintings, drawings and watercolors artfully displayed.

“Did you do all these?”

“Yes. I even did some of them when I was still human.”

“Really?!”

“Yes. I was afraid I might lose my gift when I became har. I realize now that was irrational. That part of me didn’t change at all, except that I have a steadier hand now.”

“Well, they’re all wonderful. Do you run your shop alone?”

Xan nodded. “Unfortunately I’m not busy enough to need help.”

“Do you own it, then?”

“Oh, yes. It was nothing but a rat hole when I found it, but I’ve fixed it up myself, so I own it. I got the money helping some of the other shop owners fix up their places, and then I could afford to fix mine little by little.”

Ilana was impressed. “Well, you’ve done a marvelous job.”

Xan looked down a bit shyly. “Thank you.” He hesitated a moment, appearing to gather his courage to continue.

“Please take this in the right way….”

Ilana looked at him, puzzled, as Xan went on.

“Since you are alone again, if you ever need any help, you know, with your house or fixing anything, I would be glad to be of service…if you could use some help.”

Ilana smiled sweetly at him. “Thank you, Xan. That’s good to know.” He got up to leave. “I’d better be getting home. I wish you would let me buy this painting.”

“Oh, no. I painted it as a gift.”

Ilana sighed. “Alright, well, thank you, very much. Good luck with your shop. Bye, Xan.”

“Goodbye.” Xan sighed heavily.

As Ilana went up the street, he thought he sensed Xan watching him walk away, but when he looked back, he didn’t see him. Ilana wasn’t sure what to think or how he felt about Xan. He liked him and believed him to be a har with a lot of good qualities, but he figured Xan had gotten over his romantic notions about him. It appeared that perhaps he was wrong.

As Ilana walked home, he looked again at the picture and thought about Cal; he was buffeted around with such bittersweet feelings. He truly wouldn’t have missed a moment, but since Cal had gone Ilana found it difficult, if not impossible, to feel genuine happiness. Ilana’s mind and heart were still so full of Cal, but his home, his bed and his arms were empty.

When he got home, he put the painting away, knowing someday he would be able to look at it and feel happy, but now it made him sad. His broken heart had to heal. Deep down he knew it would but he also knew he had a long way to go yet.

Ch. 3

A few days passed and Ilana was not feeling any better. He had to go into town for a few things, so he set off down the road. It was a lovely spring day with trees and flowers full of buds ready to burst forth their fragrant array. Even that didn’t do much to cheer Ilana.

When he was almost to town, he saw two hara walking toward him, hand in hand. Well, I’m glad some hara are happy, he thought, feeling very sorry for himself.

As they got closer, he realized one of them looked very familiar.

Ilana thought, Oh my God! It can’t be! It is!!

The har apparently recognized Ilana, too and came running toward him, as Ilana did the same.

Ilana shouted, “Tamarind! It IS you! Oh my God!!”

“Ilana, Ilana !!” the other har yelled.

They caught each other in a frenzied embrace, laughing. Tamarind said, “We were just coming out to see you!”

Ilana hugged him tightly, tears filling his eyes. They had been very close friends. When they let go of each other, Tamarind saw Ilana’s tears and said, “Oh, no! Don’t cry!”

“I’m just so glad to see you. I could so use a good friend right now,” Ilana replied happily through his tears.

Ilana suddenly became aware of the other har. Tamarind took the har’s hand and said, “This is Dak, my chesnari. And this,” he took Ilana’s hand, too, “is Ilana.”

Dak inclined his head. “Nice to meet you. You’re all I’ve heard about since we decided to come here”

Ilana returned the greeting. “I’m glad to meet you, too.”

Tamarind said, “We were on our way to your place, but I wasn’t completely sure you’d still be there. Although I know how you love that place!”

“I still do and I’m still there!”

“Do you still work for Fariv?”

“Oh, yes. I’m still there, too.”

They excitedly chattered on a few minutes while Dak looked on quietly but seemingly amused. “Since we’re almost in town, let’s have lunch somewhere,” Tamarind suggested. “How about the tavern we always used to go to?”

“Okay,” answered Ilana. “It’s still doing well. They’ve even expanded.” Tamarind put his arm around Ilana and they headed off.

Ilana noticed Tamarind looked the same except his hair was longer. He had hair the color of ginger and a peachy complexion. He wore his hair in thick bangs with the rest cascading to halfway down his back. When he looked over at Ilana with a smile, his green-gold eyes sparkled. Ilana laid his head on Tamarind’s shoulder for a moment, then smiled over at him and said, “Oh, Tam, I’m really SO glad you’re here.”

Ilana noticed Tam and Dak were dressed like city hara, not like the hara in Path’s Crossing. Tamarind wore a flowing light green outfit with a tan tunic length vest over it. Dak was dressed in lean black pants, black shirt, open to the waist, showing off an amulet with a purple gem in it, and a knee length black coat.

Tam had gone off to the city with another har several years ago. Ilana wondered what had made him return here. The city in question was Beththenia, and it was probably at least a week’s ride on horseback from Path’s Crossing. It was a gargantuan place, populated by humans as well as hara. They lived in a somewhat uneasy alliance, more symbiotic than harmonious. Beththenia had a rather dark reputation as many of the powerful hara there were of questionable repute. The humans there were either very rich and in league with the rich and powerful hara, or dirt poor trying to live through the next day. It was purportedly dangerous but also exciting to live there, with all the vices as well as the elegance that Beththenia had to offer its citizens.

Ilana knew that Tamarind had found Beththenia’s lure irresistible, and was not surprised when he left to find some adventure. Ilana would soon find out that Tamarind, for all his time in Beththenia, was still the same har who had left Path’s Crossing and that his and Ilana’s friendship would pick up right where it left off as though they’d never been apart; it was a reassuring sign of true, deep friendship.

Before long they got to the tavern and settled in at a table and ordered drinks. Tamarind, looking around, commented, “This does look different.”

“We’re sitting in the new part. They added it on just last year.”

They ordered their lunch and were sitting quietly when Tam regarded Ilana intently, saying, “Ilana, we’ve been apart for a while, but I think I still know you. What’s wrong?”

Ilana blinked. “Is it so obvious?”

“Maybe only to me, but yes.”

Ilana sighed. “I’ve just been through a…” His voice faltered. “A heartbreak, I guess you could say.” Tam put his hand on Ilana’s as he continued. “I really want to tell you everything, just not now.”

“Of course. But you know I want to hear all about it whenever you’re ready.” Ilana nodded gratefully.

Their food arrived and as they were eating, Ilana looked to Dak and then to Tamarind and asked, “How did you two meet?”

Tam smiled over at Dak. “We met through some mutual friends. We hit it off right away.” Tam leaned in and kissed Dak tenderly as Ilana regarded them warmly.

“I’m happy for you,” he said looking at Tam. He then turned to Dak and added, “Both of you.”

“Thanks,” said Dak. “I’m a lucky har.”

“Don’t you forget it!” teased Tamarind.

Dak looked at Ilana and shrugged helplessly. “You see how it is,” he joked.

Ilana laughed, even though truthfully, he got a strange vibe from Dak.

When they had finished their meal, which Dak had insisted on paying for, they left the tavern.

“Where are you staying?” Ilana inquired.

“At the Creekside,” Tam replied.

Ilana was relieved that it wasn’t where Cal had stayed. Every place they had been together made him sad. He was going to have to get over that. Path’s Crossing wasn’t that big.

Ilana suggested, “Why don’t you come out to my place?”

Tam looked at Dak who said, “Sure, why not?”

A har of few words, Ilana concluded.

When they were walking down Ilana’s lane, Dak suddenly stopped and said, “Why don’t you two go on. I know you want to talk. Tam told me there’s a lake near here, right?”

Ilana nodded and answered, “It’s down the road about twenty minutes. You’ll see a row of pines and a small footpath on your right. It ends at the lake.”

“I’ll go for a swim while you two get reacquainted.”

As he headed down the lane, he waved and shouted back without turning around, “Don’t worry, I’ll give you plenty of time.”

Tam and Ilana got to Ilana’s cottage and went in. Ilana got some wine and poured them each a glass. He also got a handkerchief.

“I’ll need plenty of both of these,” he said.

As they sat, the whole story of Calanthe came pouring out, with Ilana crying off and on as he related the details to his friend. Tamarind shed tears with Ilana, tears of genuine sympathy. By the time Ilana had finished, they had moved to his living room, sitting side by side on the couch, Ilana literally crying on Tam’s shoulder.

Ilana remembered Xan’s painting and went to get it and showed it to Tam.

“That’s Cal,” Ilana said tearfully. Tam took the painting and studied it a moment then looked back to Ilana.

“No wonder you’re inconsolable. He’s gorgeous.”

Ilana began crying again. Tam took him into a warm embrace, patting him on the back.

“Shhhh, I know it hurts terribly but you’ll be alright. I know it, really. I know it. I’ll make sure of it.”

Ilana clung to Tam tighter.

“I’m just so glad you’re here.”

“Me, too.”

It was just beginning to get dark when Dak arrived. Tamarind greeted him with a long kiss. Ilana could feel Dak’s glance linger on his swollen, red eyes when he asked, “Everything okay?”

Tamarind said, “Well, better, I hope.”

Ilana nodded in agreement. “I do feel better. Tamarind really helped me.” He took a deep breath and added, “I’m exhausted! You two can go now. Really, I’m okay.”

“Are you sure?” Tamarind asked anxiously.

“I’m sure.”

They were about to leave when Tam’s face suddenly brightened as he said, “I just had an idea! Let’s go out together tomorrow night.” Dak nodded his agreement to the spontaneous plan.

“Okay,” Ilana said, looking cheered up.

“I know!” Tam said. “We’ll go to that really trashy place, remember, Ilana? What’s it called?”

Ilana laughed, seemingly in pain. “Oh, no! You don’t mean Jetlag?!”

“Yeah, that’s it! Come on, it’ll be fun! Wear your trashiest outfit and meet us in front of the place right after dark.”

“Alright,” Ilana said laughing. “Why not?”

Tam hugged him goodbye, Dak gave him a nod and the pair left.

Just before he drifted off to sleep, Ilana sent a prayer of thanks for his friend’s timely arrival. He was beginning to believe his heart might heal some day after all.

Ch. 4

The next day found Ilana in slightly better spirits. Crying his heart out to his friend had truly done him a world of good. Weird though it might have been, he was actually looking forward to his night out. A night of drinking, dancing and forgetting might be exactly what he needed now.

Ilana spent the day relaxing and puttering around the house. After he’d eaten his evening meal, he decided to head into town early and kill some time shopping. He didn’t really have any truly “trashy” clothes, but he decided to wear something more festive than he had worn for a while.

He searched his closet and couldn’t resist looking at Cal’s shirts again although he really didn’t need them to recall Cal’s scent. All he had to do was close his eyes and concentrate and Calanthe’s unique scent would be there. As he chose something to wear, he consoled himself with the thought that Cal would have wanted him to go out and enjoy himself. He would never have wanted him to be morbid and depressed.

Ilana chose close fitting black pants and a gauzy deep purple shirt with bell sleeves. It had one silver button in the middle, showing off most of his chest and stomach. He also wore knee-length black boots. He brushed his hair, letting it down, completely loose and free, did his eyes with kohl and glossed his lips. As he looked at himself in the mirror, he felt a little self conscious about his choices, but then thought, “Well, I’m out for a good time so…whatever.”

The evening was cool and he was grateful to be able to put a coat over his chosen outfit. When he got to town, he realized he had quite a chunk of time to kill. It was staying light longer now so dusk was further off than he had anticipated. He decided to take his time looking around and shopping.

As he strolled through the market area, he passed Xan’s shop. A jeweler’s table caught his eye so he stopped to admire some necklaces. As he did so he thought he saw someone beside him out of the corner of his eye. He looked up and there, to his surprise, stood Xan.

Xan looked surprised, too and said, “Ilana. Nice to see you.”

Ilana gave him a friendly smile. “Hello Xan.”

“This one is lovely,” Xan offered, holding up an ornate silver pendant.

“Yes, it is.”

“It goes well with your purple shirt.”

Ilana turned his attention to the seller.

“How much?” Ilana was satisfied with the price so he turned to Xan.

“Should I get it?”

“I would if I were you.”

Ilana had decided, so turning to the seller again, he said, “I’ll take it.” He began to try to fasten it around his neck.

“Let me help you,” Xan offered.

He put it around Ilana’s neck and fastened it for him.

“Thank you,” Ilana said, feeling something in Xan’s touch, he didn’t quite know what. He started to walk away but turned back and asked Xan, “How’s business?”

Xan seemed surprised that Ilana hadn’t walked away. “Not bad. I wish it was better, though.” Ilana gave him an encouraging look, and Xan said, seemingly somewhat unsure, “You know, I was thinking, you said the trees were beginning to bloom at your place and I was wondering…” He hesitated. “Could I maybe come out and paint them some time? I think if I had some new spring landscapes it would help my business.”

Ilana paused. He didn’t remember mentioning the trees beginning to bloom. Then again, they were beginning to bloom everywhere, and Xan had been out to his house.

“I wouldn’t bother you,” Xan said hurriedly. “I’d just be painting outside.”

Ilana snapped out of it, looking back at Xan. “I guess so. Sure. The redbuds and magnolias should be in full bloom soon. Of course, you’re welcome to come out and paint whenever you want.”

Xan looked very happy, but then responded calmly, “Thanks, I appreciate it. If it’s okay with you, I’ll come out in a day or so and check it out so I can plan to be there at peak blooming time.”

“Okay. See you then.” Ilana happily walked away admiring his new necklace.

As Ilana headed for the club, he was thinking about this whole evening to come. The Jetlag was probably named for the way hara felt the next day after partying there. It was an old human term for a feeling not unlike being hung over. The drinks there were notorious. They were god-awful but extremely potent, made palatable by lots of sugar, fruit juices and such. They had names like A-bomb, Napalm, and Bonkers. Ilana shook his head, laughing at himself for actually looking forward to an evening there.

When he was halfway up the street, he could hear and feel the throbbing beat of the music coming from the club. They had bands there every night and it was always packed. Despite the sometimes-bad music and occasionally vile drinks, you were guaranteed to forget your troubles there—at least for one night.

Ilana sat on a bench across the street from the club. Suddenly someone covered his eyes from behind with his hands and said, “Guess who!”

Ilana turned, startled and laughing to see Tamarind’s lovely face, with Dak beside him.

“You look wonderful!” Tam enthused. “Let’s go!”

They crossed the street, paid the cover and entered the club. The music was deafening. They searched out a table and Dak motioned that he would go and get them some drinks.

Tam leaned closer to Ilana and shouted over the music, “We decided, Dak and I, that tonight is all about you having a good time!”

Ilana shouted back happily, “Okay by me!”

Ilana only truly then noticed Tamarind’s outfit. He was dressed in a mostly yellow, swirly patterned over blouse with a matching short slitted skirt, which was more like two flaps, over tight yellow leggings, again looking very much the city har.

Soon Dak returned with their drinks. Ilana took a sip of his and shivered. Dak laughed at him.

“This is pretty gross. What’s it called?” Ilana asked.

“A Spitfire. It’s guaranteed to get you there, the bar har told me.”

Ilana took a few more sips. “The taste is improving,” he said, starting to feel the buzz.

Dak watched him, looking very amused.

They sat for a while drinking, when suddenly Tam grabbed Ilana’s hand and shouted, “Let’s dance!” before he pulled Ilana out to the dance floor. As they danced together, Ilana realized he was truly feeling tipsy and happy.

When the song was over they went back to their table and drank some more. Soon Dak asked Ilana to dance. He looked at Tam who nodded, winking at him so Ilana let Dak lead him out and they started dancing.

That song was soon over and a slow one started. Ilana started to head for the table when Dak pulled him back. He put his arms around Ilana and drew him close. Ilana felt weird about it and looked over to Tamarind who gestured for him to go ahead and dance with Dak. Ilana was drunk enough to just relax and do it.

As they swayed, Ilana studied Dak. He was handsome more than beautiful and seemed to favor his ouana side, although he had on a frilly brown shirt with his brown leather pants. He had piercing blue eyes, pale skin and jet-black hair, all one length to his collarbone. Ilana wondered if his hair was dyed or naturally black. Though very attractive, he made Ilana uncomfortable for some reason he couldn’t pin down. Oh well, Tam is a good judge of character, Ilana thought. So he must be okay.

They were still dancing when Ilana felt Tam join them. He embraced Ilana from behind and circled his arms around Dak, too. He laid his head on Ilana’s back and the three of them swayed together until the music stopped.

The band announced that they were taking a break so the three of them headed back to their table. Tam announced that he was going for a pee so Dak and Ilana were left alone.

Ilana felt Dak assessing him. He wondered what Dak was thinking and was careful to shield his own thoughts. He had no doubt that Dak would invade them if he had the chance.

Dak smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes, and asked Ilana point blank, “What do you think of me?”

Ilana was taken aback. Most hara wouldn’t ask a question like that. His reply was less inhibited by the effect of the strong liquor he’d been drinking

“I don’t know. I can’t get a line on you. Honestly, I really don’t know what to think of you.”

Dak laughed, smiling genuinely, to Ilana’s relief. “Fair enough,” he said as he clinked his glass to Ilana’s

Ilana felt more at ease and drank with him, thinking Dak was charming when he smiled honestly. He was beginning to see what Tamarind saw in him.

When Tam returned, he observed, “I’m glad you two are getting acquainted because I love you both!” He slurred his words a bit, but his sentiment was sincere.

They drank some more hideously named cocktails, talked, laughed and danced until they finally decided they’d had enough and got up to leave.

They were all drunk. Ilana, even in his own state, seemed to know he was the farthest gone, closely followed by Tam. Dak was a little better off, so they hung on to each other as he led them out and through town.

“Shouldn’t we be going to the inn?” asked Tam. “Ilana can stay with us. He’ll never make it out to his place alone.”

Dak gave Tamarind a meaningful look. “Remember? Tonight is about Ilana having fun?”

Tam giggled, totally blotto, “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot.” He pointed a finger drunkenly at Ilana’s face and patted his nose with it.

“Your night isn’t over yet. Oh, no! There’s more fun to come!” He slurred, laughing and falling on his ass. “Oww,” he moaned before bursting into laughter again.

Ilana had no idea what Tamarind was saying, but he and Dak helped him to his feet and they continued on out of town, the cool night air sobering them a bit.

When they got to Ilana’s they all three flopped down on the couch together, thankful to have made it. Ilana sat between Dak and Tamarind. They were sitting a few moments catching their breath when Tam leaned over and kissed Ilana. Ilana regarded him contentedly, still in a stupor. Then Tam turned Ilana’s face to his and REALLY kissed him.

“Tam!” Ilana exclaimed, laughing, looking a bit shocked. What are you doing?”

“I want to share breath with you.”

“You’re just drunk!”

“No! Well yes, but…”

“We both want to,” Dak interrupted, smoothing Ilana’s hair.

Ilana’s eyes widened as he looked at Dak, exclaiming, “You’re serious?!” He looked back to Tamarind. “We’re close, Tam, but we’ve never been roon friends.”

Tam said softly, looking into Ilana’s eyes, “Maybe it’s time that we were.”

Ilana decided he liked the sensual look in Tamarind’s eyes, so with an inviting smile, he parted his lips, leaning toward him. Tam leaned over and put his lips to Ilana’s as Ilana slipped his arm around Tam’s waist.

As they shared breath, Tam first showed Ilana images of their friendship and all the good times they had known. Ilana drank them in eagerly. Then Ilana tasted his pure essence. Tamarind was all oranges and yellows, peach and orange blossoms and row upon row of flowering trees in sunshine.

When they parted, Ilana felt Dak’s hand caressing his thigh. Dak turned Ilana’s face to his and before he could catch his breath, Dak’s lips were on his own, his tongue playing with Ilana’s. Ilana began to breathe heavier as he returned the kiss. Soon they were sharing breath.

Dak was a moonlit night with rolling clouds. He tasted dark and potent.

Tamarind gently swept the hair away from the nape of Ilana’s neck and kissed him there as he still shared breath with Dak. Ilana had never experienced anything like this! Threesomes were certainly not unusual for hara, but it was a new experience for Ilana.

Tam continued his kisses, smoothing and kneading his hands over Ilana’s body. Dak moved back from Ilana’s mouth, nibbling and licking his ear, his hand moving up Ilana’s thigh.

Ilana leaned back on the couch between them, hardly able to breathe. They both began kissing him on his lips and face as Dak unbuttoned Ilana’s shirt. He and Tamarind kissed their way down Ilana’s neck and chest until each took a nipple in his mouth. Ilana moaned, pulling them both closer.

Between his almost uncontrollable noises of pleasure, Ilana managed to ask breathlessly, “Wait…how does this work? Who’s soume? Who’s ouana?” He wasn’t even sure at this point if he cared, but there were logistics to be considered.

Ilana had confided to Tam that he particularly enjoyed being soume during aruna so Tamarind whispered tantalizingly, “Tonight is for you. You be soume, we’ll both be ouana, we’ll pleasure you.” Ilana was completely overtaken by erotic anticipation.

The three of them instinctively moved to Ilana’s bedroom. Dak and Tamarind shared breath and embraced each other for a few moments, Ilana between them. Next they both disrobed and moved back to Ilana, Dak in front, and Tamarind behind. Dak slipped Ilana’s shirt off him as Tam planted kisses over the back of his neck and shoulders. Dak shared breath with Ilana as Tam slid his pants off.

They moved to the bed and as they lay down, Dak kissed Ilana deeply on the mouth as Tam crawled down to kiss and caress Ilana’s inner thigh. As Tam moved to his soume-lam, Ilana groaned. He gave soft cries of pleasure as Tam used his tongue skillfully. Soon they switched: Dak moved down Ilana’s body and Tam moved up to kiss him on the face and lips. Ilana thought he would explode!

Finally, he opened his eyes and pleaded breathlessly, “One of you, please, NOW!”

Dak straddled him and slid inside him causing Ilana to emit a high-pitched groan. He moved slowly and deliberately as Tam kissed Ilana over his face, ear and neck. Ilana soon climaxed with images of shooting stars and spinning worlds behind his eyes. He shuddered; groaning and gasping repeatedly. Soon Ilana felt Dak peak and find his release as well. He dropped onto Ilana’s still heaving body and kissed him long on the mouth.

After a brief rest, Tam and Dak started another frenzied bout of aruna. This time it was Tamarind who penetrated Ilana. He wasn’t exactly sure what happened to Dak the second time around, but somehow afterwards they all lay in a mutually sated heap. Ilana was almost numb with the unbelievable intensity of the experience. It wasn’t long before they were all asleep, or more accurately, passed out.

When Ilana awoke the next day he was confused for a few seconds.

What happened? he thought. After waking up a bit more, he remembered and couldn’t help feeling like a harling who’d misbehaved and gotten away with it. He dozed happily for a while and when he woke again, decided to get up, thinking that the least he could do for Tam and Dak was to make them a fabulous breakfast. So he got up quietly to get started.

He soon realized he would have to call it brunch since it was probably at least noon. He also realized he would have to improvise to make something good because since Cal had left, he really hadn’t cared as much about food. He was able to find enough to make a large omelet and some French toast and coffee. He got things together and decided to wait until Dak and Tamarind woke up to start anything. Soon he heard them talking and laughing and assumed they’d be coming out to the kitchen, so he started their brunch.

When they came out the three of them looked at each other a moment, then broke into smiles, snickering. Oddly, Dak was the first to speak.

“So, Ilana, how did you sleep?”

Ilana gave a sort of snorty laugh and replied, “Great, and you?”

“Like some har who’d had a night of sweet aruna with two incredibly gorgeous entirely desirable hara.”

Tam elbowed him and shook his head. “Dak, you’re weird!” But they kissed lovingly.

Dak moved to the stove. “Is the coffee ready?” he asked Ilana.

“It’ll be a few more minutes.”

“Okay. I’ll go outside for a cigarette then”

After he left, Tam came over to Ilana and hugged him. “Do you feel better?”

“Yes, I do. Thank you for last night. I guess it was just what I needed. Oh, thank Dak, too.”

“Why don’t you?”

Ilana looked embarrassed.

“Why are you embarrassed? After last night you can certainly talk to him!”

Ilana covered his face with his hands. “I don’t know. It just all sort of happened. I really don’t know him.”

Tam said, laughing, “Oh, Ilana, I guess I forget you’re not a city har!” He hugged him again and added into his ear, “That’s part of your charm.” They snickered together just as Dak came in.

“What’s this, a private joke?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Tamarind.

Dak shrugged and helped himself to some coffee.

Ilana served the food and they all sat down to enjoy their meal. After a few minutes of observing Dak and Tamarind, curiosity prompted Ilana to ask, “What made you two decide to come here? I’m glad you did,” he quickly added, “but I have to wonder.”

Dak and Tam exchanged glances before Tam answered. “Life in the city, particularly a city like Beththenia, can be…complex. We needed a change so I immediately thought of Path’s Crossing. It’s slower paced, you know, more peaceful.”

“Are you staying permanently?”

Another look passed between the couple. “Well, we sublet our apartment,” Dak offered.. “But we told the har if we didn’t come back, he could keep it.”

Ilana was pretty sure he hadn’t gotten the whole truth, but he let it drop. If there was more to tell, he was sure Tamarind would be forthcoming when he was ready to be.

Ilana poured them all some more coffee and they had a pleasant friendly meal, after which they both helped Ilana clean up and then got ready to leave

As they were leaving, Tamarind said, “There’s something I want to try. I want to try to reach you by mind touch when we get to the inn. Dak and I do it a lot like you and I used to do, remember?

Ilana nodded. They used to have fun communicating that way, talking about hara they were right next to without them knowing. They had learned by practicing to shield their thoughts from other hara while communicating with each other. Because neither had any caste training, they were proud of the fact that they could do it. Most hara could mind touch in close proximity, but without training it could be difficult to do from a distance.

Tam gave Ilana a hug goodbye and said, “Open your mind to me and I’ll try to reach you, okay?”

Ilana nodded. “Okay.”

When they had gone, Ilana busied himself around the house and when he thought they were probably almost to the inn he decided to sit down and concentrate. At first there was nothing, but suddenly he felt something; a ripple, a tickle in his mind, like the touch of a feather. Soon the ripple became more defined, more distinct and Ilana heard Tam’s words forming in his mind.

Ilana, can you hear me? We’re in our room.

Tamarind, yes I hear you!

Ilana! We did it!

Yeah! We did. It’s great!

I’ll contact you tomorrow.

Okay!

The next day Ilana was out back in his garden when he heard in his mind,

Ilana, okay if we come out?

Sure.

We’ll bring lunch.

All right, see you soon.

Ilana was thinking about what an advantage this longer distance mind touch could be. To Ilana it was amazing and he was still tickled about being able to do it with Tam. Once they made the connection, the pattern for it was in their minds. It was probably enhanced by the fact that they had such a strong, close connection to each other. They could often sense each other’s thoughts without touching minds; the bond of close, loving friends.

When Dak and Tamarind arrived it was getting quite warm out, so they went into the coolest part of the house to eat. As they sat at the table, Ilana looked at them, thinking about how he and Tam were hara who wore their hearts on their sleeve. They were open and forthcoming about everything most of the time. Dak was not up front about anything private, at least not in front of Ilana. He concluded that Dak either didn’t want to reveal who he was or didn’t want to remember it himself.

As usual after a meal, Dak went out to have a cigarette, so Tam and Ilana were alone at the table. Burning with curiosity, Ilana asked, “How long have you two been chesna?”

“Oh, less than a year. I know it’s terrible of me but I really don’t remember the exact day. After we had known each other a few months, Dak said it was silly for us to pay for two apartments when we were together all the time anyway. I agreed, so we moved in together into his place because it was bigger. Not long after that he asked me to be chesna with him.”

Ilana raised his eyebrows.

“I know it seems out of character, but he did. We were sitting somewhere and he was staring at me. I caught him and said, ‘What?’ He just looked me in the eye and said, ‘Would you be my chesnari?’ I wasn’t sure I had heard him right. He repeated, ‘You heard me. Would you be my chesnari?’ So, of course, I said yes! Needless to say it was one of the most wonderful arunic nights we had!”

Dak came back into the house to find Tamarind and Ilana enjoying yet another tête-à-tête.

“Uh-oh, another private party. What’s the big secret this time?”

Tam rose from the table and moved slowly over to Dak. He slid his arms around Dak’s waist and leaned into him.

“We were just discussing when you and I became chesna.”

Tamarind kissed him in a most provocative way. Dak returned Tamarind’s sensual look as he said, “Why don’t we go to the lake and have a ‘real’ private party?”

“Mmmm…” purred Tamarind, “Why don’t we?”

“Care to join us, Ilana?” Dak asked. “You know we’d both love to have you.”

“No, you two go ahead.”

“Ilana, are you sure?” Tam asked, concerned.

“Yeah, I’m sure, really.”

They both looked disappointed.

Ilana sighed. “The lake just …it makes me sad, that’s all.”

Tam looked worried. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ilana. We don’t have to go there, we can…”

“No, no,” Ilana interrupted, “please don’t worry. Go on. I’ll feel bad if you don’t.”

Tam and Dak exchanged looks. Dak shrugged so Tam said, “Well, alright. We’ll be back later.”

Ilana managed a smile. “I’ll be here.”

Ilana went to the kitchen window and, sighing heavily, watched them go down the lane together.

He decided to go to his living room to read for a while, but soon after opening the book, the words blurred and his tears fell on the pages. He had been doing fairly well since Tamarind had come back, but when they talked of the lake, Ilana couldn’t handle it.

He remembered every moment with Cal, but some of the best times they’d had together had been at the lake. He remembered sitting together in the sun, laughing, lying together on the grass and the sweet fragrance of Cal’s skin as Ilana lay curled against him after a swim. He remembered all the times they had taken aruna there; on the shore and in the cool shade of the whispering trees.

Ilana finally broke down crying, lamenting out loud, “Cal, I don’t want to forget, but it hurts so much to remember. Oh, Cal,” he whispered, tears streaming down his pale cheeks until they ran off his chin.

Finally he regained his composure and went to splash some cold water on his face in the kitchen. After that he went straight to the cupboard for some liquor and sat at the table with it hoping to drown his pain for a while.

He was beginning to feel the welcome numbing when he heard a knock at his door. Tam and Dak wouldn’t knock, he thought to himself.

When he opened the door, he was surprised to find Xan standing there. As he met Ilana’s eyes with his own, Ilana found himself thinking about how lovely they were.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

”No, not at all.” Ilana was grateful for the distraction from his heartsick reverie.

“I wanted to look at the landscape I’m going to paint.”

“Oh, yes, of course. Come with me.”

Ilana led the way out past the garden to the area with the view of the soon to be flowering trees. Xan looked out at the vista approvingly.

“This is perfect. I see it won’t be long until everything is blooming.”

As Xan was sizing up the view, Ilana was sizing up Xan. He stared at him, noticing that his hair was longer. It reached his shoulders now, the dark silky strands blown by the breeze. He also noticed as the wind blew against Xan’s clothes that he had filled out some. He looked lean and well formed. He was no longer the too thin, lovesick inceptee he had been the first time he’d come to Ilana’s. Xan caught Ilana staring and seemed to be thrilled about it.

Ilana blinked and looked away, embarrassed that Xan had caught him staring, but managed to stammer, “Yes, yes, it should be only a day or so…until they bloom, I mean.”

“Well, I guess I’ll come back day after tomorrow, if that suits you.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

They started walking back to the house. Ilana was going to ask Xan in for a cold drink, when they saw Dak and Tamarind coming down the lane. They met in front of the house where Ilana introduced them and asked Xan to join them inside.

He seemed to become self-conscious and said, “I’d like to but I have to get back. But thank you,” he added.

Ilana, to his surprise, was disappointed. “Well, I’ll see you day after tomorrow then.”

Xan’s face lit up. “Yes, I’ll be back then.”

Xan said his goodbyes and walked away down Ilana’s lane.

As Dak, Tam and Ilana moved to the porch, Dak regarded Ilana, a teasing smirk forming on his lips. “So Ilana, what was your new friend’s name again?” He asked, his voice full of innuendo.

Ilana blushed. “It’s Xan.”

“Xan,” Dak teased. “How exotic!”

Ilana glared at him. “Shut up! He just wants to paint trees!” he said as he stormed through the doorway.

Dak was still smirking as Tam shoved him into the house. Ilana heard Dak stage whisper to Tamarind, “Paint trees. Is that what they call it around here?”

“Ilana’s right. Shut up!” Tamarind retorted.

Dak and Tam stayed the afternoon. They invited Ilana to dinner with them in town, but he politely declined, so they went on their way. As Ilana stood on the porch watching them leave, he was reminded of the day Cal had walked down his lane and out of his life forever.

“Time for more booze,” Ilana told himself, and yet again, he drank himself to sleep.

Ch. 5

The next day Ilana was awakened by the sound of thunder and looked out to see a very wet and stormy morning. Tamarind contacted Ilana by mind touch and said they’d come out, but Ilana told them he didn’t want them to go out in such nasty weather. Ilana knew they were trying not to leave him alone with his sorrow, but he didn’t want them to feel obligated all the time. After all, they had their own lives and somehow Ilana had to get on with his own. So he spent what seemed to him to be a long day alone. He was grateful when it came to an end and he could be unconscious once again.

The day following was bright and sunny and Ilana felt in better spirits. He decided to take his coffee to his outdoor table and enjoy the beauty of the morning. When he looked out toward the garden, he caught in his breath. To his surprise, it seemed that everything had burst into bloom. It was fragrant and colorful everywhere, made even more enchanting by the still clinging dew, sparkling and shimmering in the morning sun.

He quickly contacted Tam, asking him to go to Xan’s shop and tell him that it would be a good day to come out and paint. Later that morning when Ilana was reading outside, he sensed somehar coming. He was surprised to see that it was Xan. He came around the side of Ilana’s house carrying his painting stuff. Ilana got up to greet him.

“Hi, Xan. I didn’t think you could get here so early. I figured you couldn’t leave your shop.”

“I promised a friend a painting if he would watch the shop for me a few times.”

“Oh, good.”

Ilana walked with Xan out to where he was going to set up. He watched as he got everything ready, then decided he would probably make him nervous standing over his shoulder.

“Well, I’ll leave you alone to get started. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Okay, thanks.”

Ilana went back and busied himself inside. A few hours later he decided to bring Xan some iced tea. When he got closer, he could see him painting, completely immersed in his work. He didn’t seem to hear or sense Ilana’s approach, so he took advantage of it to watch him. Ilana looked on as Xan deftly made the images come alive. All hara could draw to a certain extent, but Xan had a real gift; a talent beyond that of an average har.

He then turned his attention to Xan himself, noticing that he had beautiful hands. They were long and somewhat delicate with slender tapering fingers. Ilana wondered if talent in art was mostly in the fingers or in the mind. Ilana continued to study him. He had tied his hair into a short ponytail revealing his slender neck. Several shorter strands had escaped the tie and were flying gracefully, fanned by the spring breeze.

Ilana suddenly felt like a voyeur, so he cleared his throat to announce his arrival. Xan looked up, obviously delighted to see him.

“I thought you could use a drink,” Ilana said.

“Thank you.” Xan rubbed the back of his neck. “I could use a break about now.”

“Why don’t you come back to the table? I can get us something to eat.”

“If you’re sure it’s no trouble.”

“Of course not, come on.”

Xan sat at the outdoor table, and soon Ilana came out with a tray of fruit and cheese and some more tea. “How long have you been painting and drawing?” Ilana asked.

“I really can’t remember not drawing. It’s always been something I’ve loved doing.”

“Well, you certainly have quite a gift.”

“Thank you,” he said, looking a bit embarrassed by Ilana’s compliment.

Ilana gazed at him for a short time, sensing Xan was preoccupied. Under Ilana’s scrutiny, Xan asked tentatively, “Ilana…how have you been feeling?”

Ilana sighed, looking down at the table. He remembered how upset he’d been that day in Xan’s shop when he’d told him about Cal’s leaving. “Oh, I don’t know. Some days better than others, I guess.”

“If there’s anything I can do…”

Ilana just shrugged, trying to smile.

Xan changed the subject, much to Ilana’s relief and they made small talk while they ate. When they’d finished, Xan said he should get back to painting while the light was right. As he went back to paint, Ilana went inside. He put things away in the kitchen, and then sat at the table, finishing his tea. He thought back to the day Xan, a skinny former client and newly incepted har, had come out to tell Ilana he felt he was in love with him.

He and Cal had been in the sitting room, when they heard a knock. Ilana remembered gasping in surprise when he’d opened the door and saw that it was Xan. He’d stood there until Xan said, “Ilana, I’m sorry to upset you. Please, may I speak with you?” Ilana remembered standing there stunned and speechless when Cal had said from behind him, “Come in. I was just going out back for a smoke.” He brushed past them both and gave Ilana an encouraging nod from behind Xan’s back. Ilana remembered stuttering out an invitation for Xan to come in.

He recalled Xan looking around his kitchen as he’d commented, “Your home is much like I pictured it. Ilana had motioned for Xan to sit as he sat across from him at the table. The whole conversation came back to him as he recollected.

Xan had said, “I’m sorry to come here, but I had to. I had to take the chance, even if your chesnari wants to punch me.”

“I’m…we’re…he won’t.”

“I’m not here to make trouble, but I can’t forget you. I think of you all the time. Something happened to me when we were together. Please believe me. I’m not usually like this. I’m not insane. I’m usually a very normal person, er, har, now. I don’t completely understand my feelings myself, but I felt the only way for me to have some peace was to talk to you.” Xan had then fallen silent, looking down at his folded hands on the table.

Ilana had been somewhat at a loss. “What… what can I say? I’m with Cal. He’s the only one I want…”

“I know, I know. I see you together.”

Ilana recalled how Xan had looked pleadingly into his eyes, saying, “I thought maybe you could, if your chesnari would consent, since we’re hara… be with me, you know, just now and then. It would be enough for me, I think.”

Ilana remembered the panic he’d felt until Xan had touched his mind and shown him that the intent behind his words was good, honest and sane. Ilana had been amazed that Xan could mind touch so soon after becoming har, and figured some hara just had a gift for it. He had felt calmed and relieved by the mind touch.

Ilana sighed, calling to mind the rest of the conversation and how sorry he’d felt for Xan. He had regarded Xan sympathetically, trying to relate the facts as kindly as possible. “I think I somewhat understand what you’re feeling, Xan…” Xan had interrupted, seemingly surprised and delighted that Ilana had remembered his name. He’d also remembered Xan telling him before that he’d had a very difficult althaia. He’d been almost twenty-four years old when he’d become har. His althaia had taken nearly five days as opposed to the usual three; enough to kill a weaker person.

Ilana had tried to continue as kindly as he could. “Sometimes a first aruna can be an overwhelming experience, especially after a particularly difficult althaia. What you’re feeling is what we sometimes call an ‘imprinting.’ I have been imprinted in your mind by the intense experience of it all. Do you understand?”

As Ilana waited for Xan’s answer, he’d looked into his eyes, noticing what a unique beauty he had, even though he was painfully thin, most likely a result of his harrowing althaia. He’d admired Xan’s dark almond eyes and pale golden skin, remembering he’d told him he was of Asian descent. Ilana could still see in his mind’s eye how Xan’s hair, then cut wispy to just below his ears, was so dark and shiny that it had shone blue in the sunlight glinting on it through his kitchen window.

Xan had answered, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but what I feel is more than an imprint. I feel love.”

Ilana recalled the sympathy he’d felt for Xan, and also that he hadn’t believed it was truly love Xan felt. He’d then told Xan, “I believe you just perceive it as love. But whatever you feel, I can’t return your feelings.”

Xan had quickly interjected, “You don’t have to.” He’d soon followed by asking, “Do you at least like me?”

Ilana had gently replied, “Of course I like you, but…”

Ilana recalled the sincerity in Xan’s eyes as he replied, “Then that’s enough for me.”

Ilana had told him emphatically, “No. It’s not enough. It shouldn’t be. You deserve more – anyhar does. It wouldn’t be fair.” He’d tried to explain to him. “Also I want and need to be with Cal – only Cal. I don’t want to go into details; you just must accept what I say. I’m sorry. I want to help you, but…”

Ilana remembered Xan looking down, the picture of disappointment. He’d simply said quietly, “Yes, I understand. Thank you for speaking with me.”

Ilana had felt awful, like he’d handled it all wrong, when Xan touched his mind again. Don’t feel bad. I accept what you say. I understand and have found some peace. He’d hesitated, and then added, Maybe someday… He’d then turned, said, “Thank you,” and left.

Ilana had watched him go down his lane, trying to gather his thoughts, feeling a little bewildered and confused about what had just happened. He’d then gone outside to relate the story to Cal. At the time, Ilana was convinced that Xan was imagining his love for him. Also, his mind was so full of Cal, he hadn’t pondered what Xan had meant by ‘maybe someday.’

Ilana went to his hall window to look out to where Xan was painting, thinking that he wasn’t sure if Xan still had those feelings for him or not. Sometimes he thought he felt something in Xan’s voice or smile, or saw something in his eyes, but Ilana had to wonder if maybe now it was he who was doing the imagining. He sighed and went to read for a while.

As the afternoon wore on, Ilana made a couple of trips out to Xan with a cold drink. The painting was really shaping up. He had painted the view looking out across a tree-lined field, dotted with small spring flowers of varying shades. There were different types of trees along the sides of the field, including red-violet redbuds, pink and white dogwoods, and white magnolias, with the yellow green of the rolling hills behind.

“It’s beautiful!” Ilana exclaimed. “I love the colors. I can’t believe you’ve almost finished it already.”

Xan laughed. “Oh, it’s nowhere near finished. I have a lot of additions and adjustments to make yet.”

Ilana couldn’t believe it. It looked fine to him. “I guess it takes an artist’s eye to tell. Well I’ll leave you to it, see you later.” Ilana waved and went back to the house.

As he walked away, he sensed Xan’s eyes on him, but he thought perhaps he was just imagining it and didn’t look back.

Later on, Dak and Tamarind arrived. They sat at Ilana’s kitchen table talking when Xan stuck his head in the door.

“Okay if I leave this stuff here?”

“Oh, sure,” said Ilana as he got up. “You can put it here, right inside the door. Would you like to stay for dinner?” he asked, the question spontaneous.

Xan hesitating a moment answered, “Sure. I’d love to.”

Ilana was pleasantly surprised that he’d said yes.

They had a very congenial dinner, drinking a good bit of sheh, having a good time and discussing all sorts of subjects. Ilana noticed Xan was so much less inhibited with them all together than he was with Ilana alone. This made him wonder because it was just the opposite of what he would have expected.

And to Ilana’s utter amazement, Xan and Dak really seemed to have hit it off. What was that about! Ilana thought. He had thought Xan to be the “anti-Dak.”

Dak offered Xan a cigarette and they both went out front and sat on the porch smoking and talking. Ilana spied out the window and saw that they were talking animatedly about something. Ilana heard their voices with interspersed bouts of laughter, but he couldn’t make out their exact words.

Ilana thought to himself, Have I entered some weird alternate universe?

He shook his head. Tam seemed to perceive Ilana’s bewilderment. He put his arm around Ilana’s neck and said, “You know Dak isn’t what he sometimes seems to be.”

Ilana shook his head again. “Whatever you say, Tam.” He added, “I guess there’s more to Xan than there seemed to be, too.”

The two of them were snickering when Dak and Xan came back inside.

Dak said to Xan, “This is how it is. They always have some ‘secret.’”

Xan grinned broadly as Dak slapped him on the back. Ilana regarded Xan fondly, if somewhat perplexed, as he returned the look – at least the fond part of the look.

They sat at the table drinking more sheh, when Tam yawned. Dak kissed him on the cheek and said, “I guess we’d better go.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Xan added in an obviously reluctant tone.

As they got up to leave, Xan turned to Ilana. “Thank you for dinner. I really had fun.”

“Me, too,’ said Ilana. “And you’re welcome.”

Dak, Tamarind and Xan said their goodbyes to Ilana and left together.

Ilana sat at his table mulling over the day’s events. He still wondered why Xan was so much more comfortable in the group than alone with him. He guessed that maybe it was because Xan was embarrassed about before, when he’d said he was in love with him.

Oh, I’m sure he’s over that by now, Ilana thought, sighing. He wasn’t sure what to think about it all but he knew he felt better than he had the night before. I’ll take it, he thought and went off to bed.

Over the next few days, Xan came out to paint at different times of the day according to when his friend could watch his shop for him. Dak and Tamarind came out, too.

One day Xan was painting and Ilana and Tamarind were outside at the table, when Ilana decided to go in to change into some cooler clothes. As Ilana walked down the hall to his room, Dak was standing there looking out the hall window to where Xan had just headed out past the garden.

Dak looked at Ilana and blurted, “When are you going to give that har a break?”

Ilana looked at him, bewildered. “What?”

“That har,” he nodded toward the window, “Xan. Are you blind? HE’S IN LOVE WITH YOU!” he said slowly and pointedly as if Ilana was an idiot.

Ilana glared at him. How dare he! Who does he think he is? Without thinking and regretting the words as soon as they left his lips, Ilana ranted, “No he isn’t! That was months ago. He just thought he was in love with me. He was a client who…” Ilana stopped short, fuming, realizing Dak had gotten him to spill it. Ilana hadn’t even told Tamarind everything about Xan.

Dak smirked at Ilana with his infuriating, one sided, mocking smile. Ilana wanted to slap it off his face. Dak looked at the floor, still smirking but when he looked back at Ilana, his face had taken on a softer expression. Ilana crossed his arms and moved over to the window, his back turned, still angry.

“Why don’t you give him a chance?” Dak suggested.

“It’s none of your fucking business,” Ilana snarled. “I don’t love him.”

“You don’t really know him. Love doesn’t always happen at first sight, you know, and there’s something to be said for being worshipped and admired,” he quipped. “Maybe you should try to really get acquainted. He seems nice… like you. He’s beautiful. What have you got to lose?”

Ilana closed his eyes. My loneliness, my sorrow, my broken heart. Maybe Dak was right. Ilana took a deep breath, turned on his heel, and went outside to where Tam was sitting, almost lying, in a chair, taking in the sun.

He had on a ridiculous pair of old human sunglasses. Ilana laughed at him. “Tam, what are you wearing? Hara don’t need sunglasses.”

Tam lifted them up squinting at Ilana and said, “I know. I just think they give me a look of mystery.”

Ilana just shook his head. He moved a chair over beside Tam and sat down.

“Dak thinks Xan’s in love with me.”

“Yeah, he told me.”

“What do you think?”

He looked over at Ilana. “I don’t know, but if he is, I’d be happy about it if I were you.”

“Why?”

“He’s lovely. And he seems like a nice har. Did I mention he was lovely? That Asian harish beauty, those bewitching eyes, his perfect pale gold skin, his sleek dark hair.” Tam sighed. “If you don’t want him, I’ll be glad to take him.”

“Tam!” They chuckled together.

Ilana sighed. “I know what you’re doing and thanks. I’ll think about it.”

Ilana had to admit Tamarind was right. Xan was uniquely beautiful and desirable in many ways, and Ilana would be lying if he said he didn’t like or have a fondness for Xan. But Ilana couldn’t think of loving any har until his broken heart could heal. Xan had the same shortcoming any har had in Ilana’s mind. He wasn’t Calanthe.

Ch. 6

Xan continued to come out to Ilana’s to paint. He didn’t come every day, but Ilana knew he was focused on painting as quickly as possible while things were still in bloom.

One of those times when Ilana brought him out a drink, as had become his custom, he saw that Xan had set his first landscape aside. Ilana didn’t know if he considered it finished yet, but he’d begun work on a new creation. This one featured a close up of a branch with white, pink tinged magnolia blossoms, a dew covered spider web behind it.
His renderings were realistic, but his unique style gave them a twist and just a touch of the fantastic. It was an alluring combination Ilana found himself drawn to.

“Is the landscape finished?” Ilana asked, turning his head to the side to admire it.

Xan laughed saying, “I think so, but I’m never sure. I may add some touches to it. I always feel there’s more to add. The trick of a good painting, in my opinion, is knowing when to quit and consider it finished. That’s the hard part for me, at least.”

“Well, I like it already.” Ilana looked at Xan, thinking about how impressed he was with his skill. The fact that he could create and capture such beauty was attractive to Ilana.

Their eyes met for a few moments and Ilana found himself not wanting to look away. He grew embarrassed, however, and said, “I… I’d better get back to the house,” as he turned and walked away.

He could feel Xan’s eyes on him as he walked away, so he looked back over his shoulder and gave him a wave and an inviting smile, which was blissfully returned by Xan.

Is he feeling a little more comfortable with me? I hope so, Ilana thought as he headed back.

The next day Dak and Tamarind came out for lunch. They’d finished eating and were sitting at the outside table, enjoying each other’s company, when Ilana eyed the pair intently. He hesitated, but just thought the time was right to ask. “Why did you really leave the city?”

Dak and Tamarind exchanged looks. Tam’s look said that he wanted to tell Ilana the truth. Dak smiled in acquiescence and looking back to Ilana, he began.

“We left there because I had some,” he paused, “trouble. For years I’d been into some things that were bad. Unethical you could say, I guess. The most lucrative of these was the sale of mind-altering drugs, almost exclusively to humans. It’s understandable that those who couldn’t or chose not to become har would need them. Humans in Beththenia were basically a conquered race.”

Tam interjected, his hand on Dak’s. “He got on the wrong track as a boy. He didn’t have a family.”

“Tam’s making excuses for me. It’s true, I didn’t know my parents. I didn’t have a family but I did have choices. I just made the wrong ones. As a kid I pretty much ran the streets with a gang of boys.”

“As soon as we could, we became har. There was this abandoned old building where boys could go to get incepted. You met with some hara there, they’d take ten dollars from you or a watch or a ring or something, and incept you.”

“It was a lousy three days in that dank place, but when we emerged, we were truly reborn, strong and feeling immortal. We were newly incepted, cocky; you know, ready to kick the world’s ass.”

Ilana really didn’t know, but he nodded, as Dak went on.

“We weren’t tribal at all—it was more like gangs. My gang of hara wanted to hang out in a certain place, their hara wanted the same place, and God forbid we hang out together, so we fought over it. We had to make a stand, prove a point, you know, ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ leftover human macho bullshit.

“Eventually when we were approached to move drugs for a rich har, we jumped at the chance. We could have real money and that meant apartments, nice clothes, good food, we had it made, we thought. We all made out very well and didn’t look or live like the hoodlums we really were. Well, after a while things got ugly. The two rival big shot hara each decided he wanted all the profits. Each was determined to wipe the other and any hara who worked for him, out of existence.

“In the midst of it all, I met this enchanting creature,” Dak said lovingly as he looked to Tamarind, “and everything changed. I thought about how we could have a long life together, maybe even a harling or two. I’d never wanted those things before. So I realized I had to stop taking chances and change the way I lived. I was lucky enough to be tipped off about what might happen, so we got out. I’m finished with all that – for good.” Tam and Dak kissed and Tam rested his head on Dak’s shoulder happily.

Ilana looked fondly at Tamarind, thinking, He’s lovely, fun, intelligent, witty and sensual. No wonder Dak fell hard enough to give up his life of crime.

Ilana’s face brightened. “Does that mean you’re staying in Path’s Crossing?”

Dak and Tam exchanged meaningful glances yet again as Tam answered, “We’ve been talking about it, and we think so.”

Ilana got up and ran around the table to them. He put his arms around both of them, kissing them on the cheek excitedly in turn. “Nothing could make me happier!”

Ilana spent several happy days on a high due to his friends’ decision to stay. Xan didn’t return for several days, and Ilana started to miss having him around. He’d stayed for dinner on more than a few occasions, and Ilana enjoyed watching him work.

One rainy day he spent the day alone and the old yearning and sadness for Cal returned with a vengeance. He moped the entire day, unable to think about much else but missing him.

What am I going to do? I can’t expect to be with somehar all the time. Why am I having so much trouble getting over him? He wondered to himself.

As he pictured Calanthe in his mind and thought about all their time together, the answer was painfully obvious. Ilana drank the day away to quell his emotional turmoil, and welcomed yet again the drunken oblivion he had come to call sleep.

The next morning, he ate breakfast alone. He stood at the sink washing the dishes, when he slowly looked up and stared out the window, wistfully remembering a certain unforgettable day. He closed his eyes, bringing back the memories. He’d been there at the sink one morning when Cal had come up and embraced him from behind, slipping his hands around Ilana’s waist, running his hands under his shirt and caressing him skin to skin. He remembered his touch, the only touch he’d ever so truly craved.

Cal had kissed and nuzzled his neck, murmuring in his ear, “Come back to bed with me. I want to spend the day there with you.”

He remembered turning to face Cal and seeing the promise of deep delights to come in the liquid violet of Calanthe’s inviting eyes. He remembered smoothing his hands over Cal’s lean body and his warm breath on his neck as he kissed Ilana there. He could feel the thrill going through him as they’d kissed, slow and sensual, and he could almost feel and taste the enticing play of their tongues. He remembered Cal had run his hands to Ilana’s buttocks and hoisted him up, and with his legs wrapped around Cal’s hips, he’d carried him to bed.

They’d spent a glorious day in his bedroom, enraptured, entwined, and enthralled, wanting nothing more than each other. They only left the room for food and drink, which they shared there in bed, feeding each other bits of fruit, drinking wine from the same bottle, making it all part of their lovemaking. Ilana remembered the sweet fragrance and sunny essence that was Calanthe.

Suddenly Ilana felt something slip away. Was it Cal? He heard a crash that brought him back to reality as he realized he had dropped a glass. He looked down and stared at it lying there shattered on the floor.

Shattered, like my heart and soul.

He broke down, crumpling to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably. “Oh, Cal, I thought I could handle it but I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” he cried, his entire being rent with sorrow and yearning. He cried until he thought he was going to be sick. Then slowly and determinedly he tried to get control of himself, taking deep breaths and trying to calm down.

As he swept up the shards, his breath still coming in post-sobbing spasms, he took stock of his condition and admitted to himself that he wasn’t getting any better. In fact, sometimes it seemed to him that he was in a downward spiral to true and utter despair. He could distract himself with his clients, his friends, and taking aruna with them, but it was only a temporary respite and distraction. At his core, he was sick and broken and the only cure was unattainable and unavailable – Calanthe. What on earth was he going to do?

Ilana once again turned to the only cure that was available. Taking a bottle to his outdoor table, he sat drinking, clinging to the hope that if he couldn’t feel better, he could at least feel numb.

That was how Dak and Tamarind found him several hours later. Ilana watched them as they came around the house toward the table, when Tam stopped short, his concern for Ilana reflected in his glance to Dak. Dak instinctively went back around to the front porch, leaving Tam to go to Ilana alone.

Tam sat down across from Ilana, his face a mirror of his worry. Ilana regarded him blandly, numbed by a fair amount of sheh.

“Ilana,” Tam said, “you know you’re my closest friend and I can see and feel how badly you’re hurting. I can’t stand seeing you this way.”

Ilana continued staring, his face expressionless. “What can I do, Tam? I just can’t get over him. I try, but I can’t.” He was so numb he couldn’t even cry anymore. He could only sit there holding the bottle of sheh, staring dejectedly at it.

Tam put his hand on Ilana’s. “There is a way. There is something that can help you.”

Ilana slowly turned and focused his eyes on Tamarind.

Tam continued, “Dak can help you.”

Ilana blinked, unbelieving.

“Really Ilana, he can help you. He knows arunic healing.”

“What?” Ilana couldn’t help laughing. “Dak?”

“Yes, we’ve been talking about it. I’d hoped you’d get better naturally, on your own, but obviously that’s not the way it is.”

“Obviously,” Ilana said, taking another swig from his bottle.

“Just promise you’ll think about it.”

Ilana shrugged. “Okay. I’ll think about it.”

“Here. Give me some of that.” Tamarind took the bottle and drank as the two of them sat looking out at the beauty of the flowering of spring.

As Ilana sat there with Tam, he thought about how beautiful everything looked and how spring was a time of rebirth. Ilana loved the spring, but he just didn’t feel in tune with all its budding beauty and promise of tomorrow. Maybe the time had come for desperate measures, and Ilana figured arunic healing from Dak was most certainly in that category. That trepidation aside, he decided that he did need help, and now.

“Tam?”

Tam looked at Ilana expectantly.

“I’ll do it. Tell Dak I’ll do it. I do need help, and I’m willing to try it.”

Tamarind rose and embraced him. “You won’t be sorry, Ilana. I promise.”

Ilana hugged him tightly and asked, “When can we do it?”

“Anytime you say, right now if you want.”

Ilana took a deep breath, hesitating slightly. “Okay, tell him now.”

Tamarind had walked a few steps toward the house when Ilana called to him. “Wait!” Tam turned at Ilana’s sudden shout. “Can you be with us?”

“No, that wouldn’t really work. You have to focus on what’s happening. One on one is the only way.” He smiled reassuringly, walking back to Ilana. “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. You don’t need me there.”

Ilana looked unconvinced. He looked pleadingly into Tamarind’s eyes. “I won’t forget Cal, will I?”

Tamarind gently stroked Ilana’s arm. “Of course not. It’s a healing. It won’t erase your memories; it will just heal the hurt and sorrow.”

As Tam went to tell Dak, Ilana sighed deeply, trying to relax, still feeling a bit uncertain about his decision. He’d never taken aruna with Dak alone. Whenever they’d been involved, it had been the three of them. He was also still afraid that he’d forget Cal, forget his precious memories and how he’d felt for Cal. Ilana very much wanted to always have those memories. Dak still made Ilana a bit nervous, even though he’d really come to like him. And he’d heard rumors that healing aruna was different, but he didn’t know in what way. There were so many fears and unknowns in the equation that it made Ilana anxious.

Several minutes later, Tamarind came back outside to Ilana, who was standing near the table looking out to the distant hills. He came over and put his arm around Ilana. “Dak’s in your room making things ready. Now don’t worry, he’s good. He can help you heal.”

Ilana turned into Tamarind’s arms, as he held Ilana close, kissing him on the forehead. “Go to him,” Tam said softly. “He’ll help you, I promise. You know I love you. Trust me. Trust him. I do.”

Ilana instinctively knew Tam was right and certainly knew he had his best interest at heart. Still, Ilana had reservations.

Tam walked him into the house and to the bedroom where Dak was waiting. They walked in, Tam’s arm around Ilana. Dak was sitting, cross-legged, in the middle of the bed, his eyes closed. When he seemed to hear them come in, he took a deep breath, opened his eyes and eased off the bed to approach them. Tam and Dak kissed tenderly and as they stepped apart, Dak turned his attention to Ilana. He held out his hands and took Ilana’s in his own, as Tam quietly backed away. Ilana let Dak take both his hands as he heard Tam leave, closing the door quietly behind him.

Dak looked intently into Ilana’s eyes, which made him want to cover his face with his hands, but as Dak had hold of both of them, he couldn’t. Dak smiled as warmly as Ilana had ever seen, so he was able to loosen up a little, seeing Dak’s elusive softer side.

Dak pulled Ilana to him, just embracing him without any expectations or demands. Ilana relaxed into him, receiving the peace being given to him. It felt good.

Dak whispered, “Don’t be afraid. You need what I can give. I promise you won’t be sorry.” He loosed his hold and looked into Ilana’s eyes. “Do you trust me?” Ilana still was unsure, and was afraid it showed on his face. “You can, you know. I only want to help you. Do you believe that?”

“Yes.” In spite of everything, he truly did believe that.

“Then that’s enough,” Dak said reassuringly

Dak led Ilana to the bed and bade him to sit, while he lit some candles and incense. Ilana heard him mumbling, and he realized Dak was saying prayers and incantations. He regarded him as he prayed; really studying him for the first time since he’d entered the room. Dak was stripped to the waist, barefoot, his black hair loose as usual. Ilana still wondered where Dak the ex-drug pusher had acquired knowledge of arunic healing.

Ilana took slow calming breaths, saying his own prayers, when he felt Dak sit on the bed next to him. Wordlessly Dak smoothed Ilana’s hair and kissed his cheek as Ilana sighed, trying to relax and receive what Dak was willing to give. He turned Ilana’s face to his and kissed him – just a kiss, sweet and sensual. Ilana kissed him back. When they parted, Dak gently removed Ilana’s shirt. He then kissed him on the neck and face, whispering into Ilana’s ear, “I’m going to give you healing images; receive them into your mind.”

Ilana looked into Dak’s eyes for a moment, and then closed his eyes, becoming a willing receptacle of what was to come. Dak shared breath with Ilana, caressing him gently. Ilana saw images that were indescribable but filled him with peace and euphoria. Tears filled his eyes, it was so exquisitely beautiful.

He reached for Dak, more grateful than lustful, but he wanted him; wanted more. It felt so good. Dak returned Ilana’s embrace, ready to give him all he could, and as Ilana took in the peaceful healing images, he became excited. He knew this was all part of the healing, but he drew back a bit, uncomfortable with his own yearning. He hadn’t felt discomfort when Tamarind was with them, but he was having some difficulty being with Dak alone.

Dak appeared to sense Ilana’s reticence and eased away, saying softly, “Don’t fight it, it’s alright. It’s all part of the process. Don’t think, just let go, just be with me.”

Ilana complied; emptying his mind of all but Dak’s healing presence. Dak caressed Ilana again, breathing soothing images across his face, as he removed the rest of Ilana’s clothing, and then removed his own. Afterwards they moved into a closer embrace, unencumbered by outer trappings.

They lay together on the bed as Dak explored Ilana’s body, continuing the healing images as they shared breath. Ilana just let himself be open and available, instinctively becoming soume; the recipient, the vessel. Dak was the giver, the one to fill Ilana’s brokenness with his healing essence.

After a time, Ilana was beside himself, trembling with desire. Dak continued to play Ilana’s body like a fine musical instrument, bringing him to the brink of completion several times, until Ilana couldn’t stand it any longer.

Moaning and writhing, his chest heaving, he finally opened his eyes, grabbed Dak’s shoulders and said, barely able to form the words, “My God, please, now, please!” His words trailed off into a desperate moan.

Dak moved on top of him, his eyes transfixed on Ilana’s, his gaze ethereal. As he penetrated Ilana, he put his lips to his and sent myriad euphoric healing images into Ilana’s mind. The mental images and the gentle thrusting sent waterfalls of pleasant sensation cascading through Ilana’s mind and body. As Dak’s thrusting became more deliberate, Ilana felt like he was riding the crest of an intangible, glorious wave of air and water. When the wave crashed on the shore of Ilana’s mind and body, he climaxed with an intensity of sensation that was thundering, cleansing, and unlike any he had ever experienced. There was only one word, one image in his mind at that moment—rebirth.
Ilana almost felt like he had died.

When he opened his eyes, what seemed to be ages later, he half expected to find himself in another realm. Instead he found himself in his own bed with Dak beside him, propped up in his bed, reading one of Ilana’s books.

When Ilana stirred, Dak looked over kindly at him. Ilana stared, not quite with it yet. “How long was I…” His voice trailed off; he didn’t know the correct word for where he’d been. “Out?” he finally said.

“Oh, about three hours.”

Ilana’s eyes widened.

“How do you feel?”

“A bit disoriented.”

Dak put down the book. “From all the signs, I think the healing worked.”

Ilana stared into space, trying to take stock of his inner self. He did feel different. He felt a peace he hadn’t known since Cal left. Could healing aruna really help his broken heart? Ilana was definitely starting to believe that it could.

Soon after, Tamarind came into Ilana’s bedroom with a tray of tea and biscuits. Ilana assumed Dak had sent him a message via mind touch. Ilana was very happy to see Tamarind and he knew his face reflected his feelings. Tam set the tray on the bedside table, looking fondly at Dak and Ilana. He sat on the bed, kissed Dak on the lips, then looked to Ilana and asked, stroking his cheek, “How do you feel?”

Ilana touched Tam’s hand and answered, with a contented smile, “Better, really better.”

Tamarind gathered them both into a warm embrace. After they let go of each other, Ilana turned to Dak.

“Thank you,” he said as he kissed Dak on the lips with sincere gratitude. Dak nodded, clasping Ilana’s hand. Tam’s eyes filled with grateful tears as he regarded them both affectionately.

Ilana then looked at the tray. “I’m famished!” he exclaimed.

They shared the refreshments in a quiet, congenial way and when they finished, Tam took the tray to the kitchen as Dak and Ilana got dressed. When they came out, Ilana felt calm and resolved. He stated quietly, “I want to go to the lake.”

Tamarind looked puzzled for a moment. He looked to Dak who only shrugged. “Umm, okay,” Tam said, “We can do that.”

“No, I mean I need to go alone.”

Tamarind sighed with a knowing smile, nodding. “Yes, go on, Ilana. We’ll wait here.”

Ilana walked out his front door and down his lane, thinking that if he could go to the lake, it would prove that he was truly healed because the lake held some of his most precious memories of Cal. As he neared the footpath, he became nervous, but he pressed on, feeling in his heart that he needed to do this. He came to the end of the path and was faced with the familiar view of the lake. He went to the edge of the water and sat on the grass. He took a deep breath and remembered.

Ilana looked at the wooden dock out in the lake recalling when he and Cal had raced out to it, splashing and laughing. He could see Cal’s wet, smiling face as he declared himself the winner. He remembered how beautiful Calanthe was as he’d smoothed the wet hair from his face. Even when wet, it was golden and luminous in the sun, his eyes made more intensely violet by the reflection of sky and water.

In his mind’s eye he could see Cal silhouetted above him as they took aruna by the lake, his hair blown by the breeze, haloed by the sun. He could envision the sweet look of ecstasy on his face and the total bliss Ilana felt as he gave himself completely to Cal.

Ilana soon realized he was remembering but not despairing. Before, he’d had to try to push the memories away so he wouldn’t fall apart. Now he could remember and he wanted to remember, for they were no longer painful thoughts but sweet memories. He still missed Cal, of course, but now he could enjoy his precious recollections without becoming despondent. He had Dak, and Tamarind as well, to thank for the gift of his healing.

Ilana sat for quite some time, ensconced in his remembrances. At last he got up and turned to go home, finally at peace. As he walked back to his house, Ilana knew the time had come, not to leave Cal behind, but to let him go. He would always be in Ilana’s heart, and he would never forget him, but Cal had known when his time to move on had come, and Ilana knew that now it was his turn to follow his own path.

When he got to his house, Dak and Tam were waiting outside at the table. As Ilana approached them, he could see by their faces that they knew he’d finally found peace and truly been healed of his deep sorrow. He joined them at the table, feeling serene and knowing he reflected it in his features. Words seemed unnecessary as he took Dak’s hand and Tamarind’s hand in his own, thanking them both by mind touch. They sat together peacefully enjoying the fading of day to evening.

Ch. 7

Over the next few days, Dak and Tamarind came out to visit Ilana as usual and also to make sure he was all right. As they sat after dinner, Ilana mentioned that Xan hadn’t been out in a while. He glanced over at his painting things still sitting inside the front door and said, “I wonder what happened. Xan only just started the second painting.”

“Maybe he’s busy at his shop, or maybe his friend couldn’t take over for him,” Dak suggested.

As Ilana was thinking, Tamarind nudged his shoulder. “Why don’t you go see him?”

Ilana regarded Tam thoughtfully. “Yeah, maybe I will.”

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, for the next day Xan showed up in the afternoon. Ilana heard a knock on the door, and when he opened it, Xan smiled into Ilana’s eyes, seemingly to Ilana for the first time. He then said something about painting as he picked up his stuff and Ilana found himself going out with him to his usual vantage point. He set up his things and through it all, Ilana had a whole different feeling he couldn’t explain.

Xan started working on his second creation, which prompted Ilana to ask, “Is the first one finished then?”

“Yes, I decided to consider it finished. You helped me,” he added.

Ilana looked at him incredulously. “Me?”

“Sure. You seemed to think it was fine the way it was, so I decided to consider it finished.”

Ilana was about to protest, saying he knew nothing about art, but Xan seemed so content with his decision that Ilana kept quiet.

He started to go back to the house, when Xan said, “You don’t have to leave unless you want to. You don’t make me nervous, quite the contrary. You’re kind of my muse.” He smiled intently into Ilana’s eyes.

Ilana was in awe of Xan’s intuitiveness, but then remembered how he’d learned how to engage in mind touch after only being har a short time. Ilana came back to Xan and sat on the grass beside him. He sat watching Xan work, stroke by stroke, creating beauty with his hands and mind. Ilana couldn’t help thinking about what it would be like to have those hands and that mind focused on him. He quickly shielded his thoughts, embarrassed, but he smiled to himself and continued observing, a warm sensation filling him.

The next time Xan took a break, he sat on the grass next to Ilana. They conversed for a while until Xan gave Ilana a studious look. “You know it’s strange, but you know all about my inception.” He hesitated, a slightly embarrassed smile playing on his lips. “I know nothing about yours.”

Ilana grinned at Xan’s hopeful expression. “There’s not a lot to tell, really. Well, as a boy I lived in a small town with my parents. I didn’t have any siblings. We’d heard of warlike Wraeththu, but the ones who came to our area were peaceful. There were only a few of them at first and I don’t remember much about it because, at the time, I was a child. By the time I was aware of them, they made up a good part of our town’s population.”

“My friends and I talked about becoming har, but didn’t really think we ever would. But then one day my parents sat me down and told me they thought I should consider it. They told me humans were soon going to be a thing of the past and that Wraeththu were the future. Then they told me only boys my age and slightly older had the chance to become har, and that they only wanted the best for me. They knew humans were becoming infertile and their reign would soon be over.

“My father told me he would become har if it was possible for him, and my mother even said she would, too. She said she knew becoming har would ensure me a future. I knew they wanted me to have a full, happy life.

“Well, I thought about it and talked it over with my friends. I decided to do it and so did four of my friends. We were all about fifteen years old then. We had the fast and the ceremony and all. My parents had some harish friends, and one of them, whose name was Jorn, incepted me. We all had the usual unpleasant three days or so and when it was all over, Jorn took aruna with me.”

“Did you choose your name yourself?”

Ilana chuckled. “No, my mother chose it. Alana was her middle name, so she told me she changed it to Ilana for me, telling me it was the ‘masculine’ form of the name.” Ilana shook his head, smiling. “I guess she couldn’t quite grasp the concept of being both male and female and what it really meant to be Wraeththu. I wasn’t crazy about it at first. My friends chose names like Slick and Gunner. But I loved my mother, of course, and couldn’t refuse her request, so I did it to make her happy and to honor her. I also knew that as har, the day would come when I would leave my family and never see them again. It didn’t take long for the name to grow on me. I like it now.”

“So do I. It suits you.”

“The strange thing about my inception was that afterwards my friends and I went back to living with our parents. There was no camp or group of hara all together. They just lived among the humans in pairs or small groups or alone. We just didn’t think about it. We didn’t know anything else to do. We gravitated to the other hara, naturally, for lovers and close friends, but still kept our human relationships.

“Eventually, I fell for a har who wasn’t staying permanently in our town and I left with him. We traveled around a bit and finally settled here. Later we sort of grew apart. We were never chesna.”

“Is he the blond har you drew?”

“No, he came later. We weren’t chesna, either,” Ilana said with a sigh.

Xan looked intently into Ilana’s eyes. “If you were my chesnari, I’d never let you go.”

Ilana was touched by Xan’s words. He answered quietly, his eyes cast down, “Well, thank you. You’re very kind to say that.”

Xan appeared unable to stop himself as he replied, “I really mean it.”

Ilana looked up into Xan’s expressive eyes, and for the first time, he actually felt close to him. There was something about Xan that he’d been curious about since they’d first met, and now seemed like an appropriate time to ask. “I’ve always wondered, why did you wait so long to be incepted?”

Xan took a deep breath. Ilana felt a little apprehensive and added, “I hope you don’t mind my asking.”

Xan smiled warmly. “No, of course not, it’s just kind of a long story.”

“I’ve got time,” Ilana said softly.

“Well, I guess I’ll start with my family. We lived outside a city on a farm, more of a commune, really. A lot of the humans found it safer and easier to live together. The hara we’d come into contact with weren’t the peaceful creatures you described. If you didn’t cross them they’d leave you alone, but they had no interest in living with humans. They pretty much took over the city and towns. They did so without bloodshed, but we were still essentially forced out, so we moved far away from them. We raised sheep, grew vegetables, herbs, anything we could to survive. I lived with my parents, my older sister, and my grandparents, my mother’s parents. They were very old and conditions weren’t the greatest, so after being there only a few years, their health steadily declined and they died within a year of each other, when I was a young boy.

“By the time I was a teenager, my father had died in a farming accident. So then it was just my mother, my sister and me for some years.” Xan sighed as he continued. “My mother had a disease of the blood, something that only affected some of the females in her family. She’d get very ill and weak, and then recover her strength for a time.” Xan swallowed. “She died when I was seventeen. Two years later, my sister got sick with it as well. Things had gotten worse for us. She was not as strong so she didn’t do as well and succumbed to it after only two years. With no access to any medications or treatments, it was really just a matter of time for them.”

Ilana regarded Xan with both shock and sympathy. He had no idea how hard life had been for him.

Xan continued, “I know it sounds incredibly tragic, but actually I was luckier than a lot of the humans there. At least I had my family while I was growing up. Many children were orphaned very young, usually taken in by other families.

“Anyway, I didn’t like farming and sheep raising, and there was nothing to keep me there, so I left. This was the first decent place I came to. The hara here didn’t hate humans, so I decided to stay. I had some painting supplies I’d brought with me, so I set up my things on the grass in the market area. After a few sales, I got a large table and a tarp. I set up to sell and paint during the day and slept under the table at night. A kind- hearted har named Luthe saw how I was living and offered to help me. He said he and his chesnari, Aram, needed help at their place, so if I would help them fix up their house, he would ask a friend to sell my paintings in his shop. They had a small building on their property they let me live in. I couldn’t believe my luck. I said yes right away.

“After a while, he asked me why I never went into town looking for other hara. I laughed and told him I was human. He’d thought I was har. Well, we got to talking and he asked me my age. When I told him, he looked concerned. He said I could become har, but I didn’t have much time. I’d never thought about it before.”

Ilana interrupted, “Why didn’t you?”

“In my family and my culture, we accepted growing old as part of life. We revered and honored our elders. I just didn’t think about it. Before I really considered the facts, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. Until I came here, a lot of the hara I saw weren’t something I wanted to be. But after Luthe spoke to me about what being har was in actuality, and about really becoming har, I began to think about it a lot and decided to do it. I’d heard about Inception, Inc. so I checked it out. It seemed okay so I signed up. Luthe and Aram helped me with the money and I paid them back later. Even though they wouldn’t let me pay them all the money I owed them.

“Then I remember the day I went to choose my first aruna partner.” Xan smiled, blushing slightly. “I saw quite a few beautiful hara, but the only one I really saw was you.” Xan appeared to want to elaborate, but he stopped there and said simply, “You know the rest.”

Ilana regarded Xan with new appreciation, respect and fondness, still trying to process all he’d related. He’d been through more than Ilana could have ever imagined, yet he seemed so accepting of it all.

Their eyes met for a moment, and then they each looked away shyly. Xan quickly stood, saying, “Well I…I’d better get back to my work.

Ilana decided to stay and watch. As day wore on to evening, Xan seemed to get tired. He stood, stretching and rubbing his neck and shoulder, and said, “I think I’m done for today.”

Without overanalyzing what he was doing, Ilana hurried to Xan’s side and rubbed at his shoulders. “Maybe this will help,” he said, feeling confidence as Xan relaxed into his hands, closing his eyes. He continued his massage until Xan turned his head and looked into Ilana’s face. As their eyes met for a moment, Ilana, feeling a little self-conscious, asked, “Is that better?”

Xan gave him a languid stare. “Yes,” he murmured, “much better.”

Ilana wasn’t sure what to do. Part of him wanted to kiss Xan, but he removed his hands wordlessly, looking at the ground. Xan turned away. Ilana cursed himself, Stupid har! Another part of him took over and he found himself asking, rather impulsively, “Would you have dinner with me?”

Xan appeared encouraged and very happy. “I’d love to.”

Ilana helped him carry his things back to the house. Once inside, he bade Xan to sit at the table as he got them some sheh. As they sat a few moments drinking, Ilana tried to think of something to make for dinner. He decided he could make an edible dish out of some leftover chicken and some mushrooms. Ilana began to get things together, as Xan looked on, seemingly interested. Ilana found himself moving more sensuously than necessary for cooking. At one point, he chided himself, wondering what was really on his internal agenda.

When the meal was complete, he served it with bread, more sheh and some greens from his garden. They ate and talked, more comfortable with each other than ever before. As Ilana talked with Xan, he realized he was feeling extremely attracted to him. The thought of being with him filled his mind.

Why would he want to be with me? I turned him down. He sighed.

“What’s wrong?” Xan asked.

Ilana looked at him, grateful and surprised. Thank goodness he’s not that intuitive! He thought. “Nothing,” he said aloud.

They finished their meal and Ilana cleaned up, Xan offering his help. Afterwards, Ilana suggested they go to his living room, so he brought along an after-dinner liqueur and they settled themselves on the couch, sipping the sweet beverage.

Xan commented, “Your home is lovely. I didn’t really get to see this room the first time when I…” he stopped, appearing embarrassed.

Only then did Ilana realize though Xan had been there quite a few times, he’d never really shown him his home. “Don’t feel badly about before. Everything is different now.”

Their eyes met and neither turned away. Ilana moved over closer to Xan, still holding his gaze. Xan’s eyes moved to Ilana’s lips and they leaned into a kiss. As their lips met, Ilana felt the thrill, a fluttering, and pangs of desire in his secret recesses, the thrill of first touch. Yes, they had taken aruna together as client and guide, but not as lovers, at least not in Ilana’s mind. To Ilana, this was their first kiss.

When they parted, Ilana gazed deeply into Xan’s eyes. They were two smoky embers of desire reflecting his deep need; a smoldering want, ready to burst into flame at Ilana’s touch. Ilana sensed his touch was the only one Xan had ever wanted so badly. Ilana was drawn to this aching desire and to Xan’s essence and beauty; a beauty at once ancient and new, a timeless, rare beauty. Ilana was swept into the promise in Xan’s dark, sensual eyes. He couldn’t, wouldn’t resist. He wanted Xan in all senses of wanting; deeply, truly, purely and urgently. Ilana had no words for the way he felt, but then with Xan, he didn’t need any.

As they kissed on the couch, Ilana drew Xan closer, draping his legs over his lap. Xan took Ilana into a closer embrace, moving his hand up Ilana’s thigh. As their lips parted, Ilana sighed and Xan kissed him passionately on the neck.

Xan spoke intimately to Ilana in mind touch. Ilana, I’ve wanted you for so long.

I know, and now, I want you, too.

The only sound in Ilana’s living room was their breathing, but in their minds they spoke words of love.

Finally Ilana stood up, pulling Xan up with him. “Let’s go to my bed,” he whispered into Xan’s ear.

They went to Ilana’s room managing to kiss passionately while also helping each other undress. As they shared breath, suddenly Xan broke away. Ilana looked shocked until Xan gave him a smile of amazement. “I…I saw in your soul a vision of the home of my ancestors.” He looked deeply into Ilana’s eyes, taking his face in both his hands, sharing breath again.

Ilana saw images of snow covered mountains, pink blossomed trees and trickling streams, all under a deep blue star-filled sky. In his mind he also heard intimate words of love and desire. He tried to answer, but in the throes of passion, found it hard to concentrate and just gave himself over to Xan, becoming soume.

As they lay together entwined, kissing, caressing, sharing breath and exploring each other as lovers for the first time, Ilana tasted a sense of ecstatic happiness, of belonging and peace, in spite of their frenzied desires. When it became obvious that Ilana couldn’t wait any longer, Xan moved on top of him and sank into him, emitting a low guttural moan as Ilana caressed him with his soume-lam. Xan pressed his lips to Ilana’s and as they moved together, the noises of their mutual pleasure filled the room. Soon Xan began to tremble and reached his climax repeating Ilana’s name. Ilana found release soon after, melting under Xan’s body in utter completion.

Ilana stayed there a while, not wanting to separate himself from Xan, but finally Xan pulled away and lay next to Ilana. Ilana cuddled next to him, his face by Xan’s shoulder. He immediately turned, gathering Ilana in his arms, burying his face in his neck, kissing him, whispering his name. After they’d rested together, close and satisfied for quite some time, Xan looked into Ilana’s eyes, Ilana, being an intuitive har, sensed the yearning in Xan’s unspoken words.

“Yes, yes please stay. Stay with me,” he murmured, stroking Xan’s face.

The next morning, Xan reluctantly left Ilana’s bed. He had to go back to town to his shop. Ilana walked with him to the door. They embraced, clutching each other tightly as Xan whispered, “I’ll come back this evening.” Ilana whispered back, “I can’t wait.”

Xan tore himself away from Ilana’s arms and stepped out the door. He suddenly turned and came back to hold and kiss Ilana one more time, then taking a deep breath, he determinedly went out the door. Ilana leaned against the door after it closed behind Xan and sighed contentedly.

When Xan came back that evening, Ilana had sheh and snacks ready, suggesting they go to the outside table. They kissed, then sat at the table, drinking. They sat for a few moments, drinking sheh, but more so drinking in each other, their hands clasped across the table. Soon all thought of food and drink left Ilana’s mind and Xan’s too, it appeared. Ilana was too hungry for Xan to think about food.

They regarded each other for a moment, then even the distance across the table became unbearable. Xan took Ilana in his arms, kissing and caressing him ardently. Ilana sighed, melting into Xan’s arms. After a few moments, Ilana murmured, “Let’s go inside.”

They hurried to Ilana’s room, disrobed and devoured each other with their eyes. Ilana thought about how he had waited all day for this, wanting to melt into Xan’s body. Ilana instinctively gravitated toward becoming soume, when Xan said, “Wait. He held Ilana closer, nuzzling his ear as he caressed Ilana’s ouana-lim, saying in a whisper, “Will you be ouana?”

Ilana gazed at Xan, stroking his hair and whispered, “Yes, yes.”

They shared breath, Ilana seeing visions all pink and silver. After a short time, Xan slid to his knees, taking Ilana’s ouana-lim in both his hands. With a skilled mouth he kissed him and teased him with his tongue. Ilana moaned, closing his eyes and grasping Xan’s hair in his hands. To Ilana, it seemed Xan’s only thoughts were to give him pleasure—and he did.

When Ilana could hardly stand it any more, he gently coaxed Xan to his feet, grabbing him into an impassioned embrace, kissing him, and guiding him to the bed where they lay, totally lost in the exploration of each other. Ilana loved the feel of Xan’s eager lips on his own, the softness of his hair as he ran his fingers through it, the pale glow and smoothness of his perfect skin and his exotic, sweet-spicy scent. He gave Ilana such beautiful images as they shared breath. Ilana knew that Xan gave himself completely to him; body, mind and soul were all offered without reserve. And Ilana fervently surrendered to his every touch, kiss and breath with complete abandonment and desire. He could already feel himself falling in love.

Xan finally said in mind touch Now, please, please…

Ilana stretched across Xan’s torso, rushing to claim his lips with his own. Relishing the moment, he speared tenderly into him with a moan. Xan gave a cry of pleasure at the same moment. As they moved together, their soft cries and breathing built to a fevered pitch until completion took them both.

Ilana lay on Xan’s body until the pleasurable spasms subsided, and they were gradually forced back to reality. Ilana pulled away and lay, sated, beside Xan. They looked languidly into each other’s eyes and kissed slowly and deeply. When they parted, Xan laid his head on Ilana’s chest, burying his face in his neck. He murmured, “Ilana, you’re all I could ever want.”

Tears came to Ilana’s eyes and he found himself saying simply, “I love you.”

Xan raised his head to look into Ilana’s eyes. “Do you mean it, really, truly?”

Ilana whispered, “Yes, I do.”

Xan buried his face in Ilana’s hair, hugging him close. “ Ilana, I’ve loved you since I first saw you. I love you, I love you…” his voice trailed off as Ilana covered Xan’s lips with his own. They lay in each other’s arms all night and when morning came, they were still there, contentedly clasping each other. Ilana sensed in his soul that this was for real, maybe even forever. He woke first; he lay there awhile just enjoying the feel of Xan’s skin next to his own, breathing in his scent, relishing their closeness.

Ilana thought about how quickly he’d fallen in love again. He’d been so quick to give his heart away to Cal, and here he was doing the same thing with Xan. But he felt peaceful about it this time. After all, the situation was completely different. Xan didn’t have a chesnari and he seemed here to stay – emotionally and literally. Destiny seemed to be tapping him on the shoulder, whispering in his ear that Xan was the one. Xan really had been in love with Ilana and had stayed in love with him, waiting all this time. Why hadn’t Ilana seen it? He guessed on one level he had, but before his healing, he couldn’t accept such a gift. He had to be healed and to let Calanthe go before he could be free with his heart again. Now there was no reason for Xan or Ilana to wait any longer.

He thought back again to the day Xan had come to his home, a lovesick client. Ilana had thought Xan had imagined his love for him, so when he’d said , “Maybe someday,” it hadn’t made any sense to Ilana. He sighed.

Xan awoke and looked sleepily into Ilana’s eyes. Ilana cuddled as close as he could get to Xan, resting his head on his chest, playing with a strand of his silky hair. Xan sighed, too, trying to draw Ilana even closer. Ilana felt such peace, contentment and love, he hoped he wasn’t dreaming.

Xan said in mind touch, It isn’t a dream, but it is a dream come true.

They stayed in bed for a long time, but finally Ilana suggested they get up and have something to eat. Xan heartily agreed. As Ilana filled the coffeepot at the sink, he looked out to see Dak and Tamarind coming down the lane. He greeted them warmly at the door, still in a robe. As they entered, Dak said, “I guess Tam should have sent you a mind touch. Looks like you just woke up.”

Ilana gave him a sly smile and replied, “No. I was just getting up and fixing breakfast…”

He stopped as all eyes turned to see Xan coming into the kitchen wearing only his trousers. He stopped short, looking surprised, but then his face broke into a smile, as Ilana felt himself blush slightly. Tam and Dak exchanged pleasantly surprised glances.

“Well, finally!” Tam said. “I was wondering how long it would take you two to get together!”

Xan came over and took Ilana into his arms and kissed him as Dak and Tamarind looked on fondly, still amused. Then they all had a very happy and intimate meal together.

After breakfast, Dak and Tam made their excuses, saying they had to leave but would come back soon. Ilana was sure they’d done that to give him and Xan time alone.

After they cleaned up, Xan and Ilana dressed and went outside to the table in the backyard. They stood together, passively looking out toward the hills, when Xan said, “Ilana, I have a confession to make.”

Ilana gave him a puzzled look.

“I made up that you mentioned the trees flowering. I just wanted an excuse to get close to you.”

Ilana gave Xan a sweet, understanding smile.

“And that evening you bought the necklace, remember?” Ilana nodded. “I saw you go by and pretended to run into you by accident. And the day you came to my shop the first time, when you left I watched you…”

Ilana laughed gently and put his fingers on Xan’s lips. “Shh…” Tenderly he let his finger drift down Xan’s jaw before leaning in to kiss him.

When they moved apart, Xan said, “I guess it’s okay then?”

“More than okay,” Ilana said as they kissed again.

As he looked out to the vista beyond, Xan said, “You know, Ilana, I was thinking, maybe you should build a greenhouse out there. You could grow things all year round if you wanted.”

Ilana chuckled as Xan regarded him quizzically. “What?”

Ilana shook his head. “Someone else made that same suggestion a while ago.”

Xan, being perceptive, smiled knowingly and said simply, “Cal.”

Ilana nodded. “I’ll ask you the same question I asked him. Do you know anything about building?”

Xan looked at Ilana, unsure. “Yes, some things.”

Ilana smiled widely, embracing him. “Well, building skills isn’t what attracted me to Cal or you, but since you know some things…”

Xan laughed and pulled Ilana close, kissing him. “I’m sure Cal would have helped you if he could, and so will I.” They smiled serenely as they stood, embracing, looking out to the flowering hills.

***

It wasn’t long before Xan moved in with Ilana and they became chesna. Tamarind joined Ilana in the ranks at Inception, Inc. as a first aruna guide and partner. Dak became an accomplished healer, studying as well as honing his own skills.

One day in the future, Ilana was amazed and delighted to learn of Calanthe’s true destiny as Tigron, and that the chesnari he spoke of so lovingly was none other than Pellaz har Aralis!

Dak and Tamarind blood bonded; as Xan and Ilana did as well, not too long after.

The next spring on a gorgeous warm starry night at the lake under a flowering willow tree, Xan and Ilana took aruna. With hope in their hearts, they opened Ilana’s seal and a seed was planted, a new life on the horizon: a pearl, a dawning.

The End

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2 Comments

  1. Gillian Crossan said,

    July 9, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Beautiful,I loved it!

  2. hdheidisofttail22 said,

    January 24, 2009 at 3:15 am

    This is a wondrous, heart-healing lovestory. I had tears in my eyes; it had the greatest happy ending!


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