Swift finished his second glass of wine in a contemplative silence, waiting for his chesnari to
return to their tent. It was ridiculous for them to be staying, in some ways, since their home
wasn't that far away, especially by sedu. He didn't trust the Otherlanes right
now, however. Plus, his beloved son was here. Cal had saved him. He'd rescued Azriel from
Ponclast's filthy clutches
He felt Seel's presence and straightened up, hearing successively the outside and then the inside flaps of their tent thrown aside. Seel clomped in, his maelstrom of emotions so obvious Swift imagined he could see the conflict swirling around him. His hair was wildly messy, almost moving of its own accord as Aleeme's hostling's did.
"That walk doesn't seem to have helped much," Swift noted as Seel continued to pace.
"Too many hara," Seel complained bitterly. "I want to get out of here."
"You mean Cal's around, and you wish he'd never reappeared."
"Would you stop being so fucking insightful?" Seel said explosively before clawing at his scalp. "And it's not just him. There's Lianvis, who's scary and creepy at the same time, and the Gelaming contingency— I'd forgotten how fucking superior they act."
"I thought you were glad to see Ashmael."
Swift pushed himself up and out of the chair and retrieved a brush, determined to take care of Seel's hair. It was something that usually soothed him, but given what all had gone on in recent days, Swift realized it might well take a potent sedative to get Seel to simmer down.
"Yeah, I am," Seel admitted grudgingly, scowling at Swift when he approached, hairbrush in hand.
At another point Swift might well have told Seel that he was acting like a harling and he could pout and sulk all he wanted, but he'd be doing it alone. But since Azriel and Aleeme had been rescued, and he knew they were alive and whole and healing — though the healers were being frustratingly vague — Swift was more magnanimous than usual.
"It's good to see Ash again," Seel said, half to himself as he brushed out the tangles. "Out of all of them, he's he most down to earth. When he talks, he makes sense."
"Weren't you two roon buddies?" Swift asked as he shed his tunic and put on a linen robe.
Seel made an affirmative noise as he pulled his hair in front of his shoulder, studying it with a frown.
"He has a special place in my heart for helping you birth Azriel's pearl," Swift said, his feelings of well being rising again to the surface. "But Seel, Cal's our family's savior. He found Azriel and Aleeme, and managed to rescue them from Ponclast. Thank Ag he's back."
Seel's handsome face grew stormy again. "Could you stop saying his name? You'll conjure him. That's how he works. I really don't want him anywhere near me."
Swift rolled his eyes as he pulled on a nightshirt and went to sit on their makeshift bed. "The past is the past, Seel. How can you continue to hold a grudge against him? He saved our son. And his chesnari."
Seel closed his eyes as though in pain, and Swift knew he was seeing images from his past. Yes, Cal was unpredictable and had done some terrible things, but Swift believed that at his core, while troubled, he was redeemed. From Seel's immediate vitriolic response any time Cal was mentioned, however, it was as though Seel truly felt Cal was evil incarnate.
"You're acting like Cal is worse than Ponclast," Swift muttered, beginning to lose patience with his chesnari.
Seel's eyes flew open, wide and dangerous.
"Cal creates his own special hells."
Swift realized he was gaping. It was like seeing Seel's soul peeled away. There, exposed, was the raw pith of a young har who'd refused to tend to the wound of being abandoned by his first love. He'd let it fester, purposefully, beyond all reason and time. All at once Swift was assaulted by the remembered stench of dark magic, the euphoric pain of Grissecon, and the ghoulish nightmare of seeing what Ponclast had been doing in his fortressed city.
"Not like Ponclast. You were there, at Fulminir," Swift said tersely. "You can't begin to compare Cal to that monster."
"I was at Saltrock first."
Seel's voice was acid.
Swift regarded his lover, the har to whom he was blood bound, and felt for a few moments that he was looking at an utter stranger.
"I'm going to the healer's tents," he said with a low voice. "Don't follow me."
He found a dressing gown and put it on, glaring at Seel. Seel's gaze was steely and unforgiving; for a fleeting moment Swift felt a temporary urge to punch him in the jaw. He tightened the sash, found shoes to slip on, and went out into the night, leaving his irrational, beautiful, stubborn chesnari in their tent. Swift knew the layout of the temporary establishment and made his way toward the healing pavilion. He had to consciously tune out some of the sounds and smells as he approached. He wanted nothing to do with the Teraghasts. It was Azriel he so desperately needed to see, and to hold in his arms, if allowed. He'd started wandering among the cots when a very attractive har came up to him, giving him a quick going-over before placing a hand on his arm.
"Tiahaar. Are you looking for somehar in particular?"
"Yes. My son, Azriel."
The healing har gazed into his face, and Swift wondered what all was going on in his head. He seemed young, but among Wraeththu, that was relative.
"Both Azriel and Aleeme are in my care," the healer said confidently. "Neither of them is really up for braving visitors, even their parents. It's—"
Swift saw him pausing, trying to choose his words with great caution, and ice seemed to fill his veins. "They're both alive, and whole. I was told that," Swift insisted.
"They are, tiahaar, but their conditions are still tenuous. My name is Yazdyar," the healer said, bowing slightly. "I'm originally from Ferelithia, but I was needed here. Those two in particular are under my jurisdiction, and I take their healing process very seriously. Are you Swift or Seel? I've been trying to learn as much as I could about both hara's fathers and hostlings but at times it gets a bit fuzzy."
"I'm Swift," Swift found himself saying, radiating authority. "And I insist that I be taken to my son."
Yazdyar slowly nodded, though he didn't fully disguise his disapproval at Swift's tone. "All right. Follow me."
Swift was led away from the main healing pavilion to a smaller tent. The healing har paused in front of the entrance, presumably to gain entry. He pulled open the flap to allow Swift to enter. It didn't smell of medicine, for which Swift was grateful. There was a lone bed with a soft light on a nearby table, illuminating Azriel's face. He was asleep or drugged to be in that state. Swift didn't care; it meant he was at peace. Swift let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding, and found he was searching for the healer's hand, which he clasped in his own.
"I don't want to wake him," Swift whispered, and Yazdyar made an affirming noise. "But "
He let go of Yazdyar's fingers and walked softly across the grassy floor to his son's side. For a time he just gazed at him, at his face, far thinner, than it had been when he'd last seen him at Forever, but unscarred and seemingly untroubled in sleep. He sensed the healer coming near him, and turned to see what he had to say.
"He was catatonic when Calanthe brought him," Yazdyar murmured, and a deep shudder wracked Swift's body. "Unresponsive. But he's begun to focus on me. His eyes actually follow me when I bring him his meals. It's a start."
Swift let his fingers drift down to his son's face, gently caressing his cheekbone, his jaw.
There was a motion at the door to the tent and Yazdyar looked up, startled. He hurried over to the flap to let in a tousled, haggard looking Cal. Calanthe patted the healer on the upper arm and then walked over to Swift, who gave him a questioning look.
"Couldn't sleep," Cal said, his voice hushed.
"I needed to see him," Swift said, continuing to keep his voice low. "That, and Seel was being a nightmare." He looked intently at Cal's face, his violet eyes troubled in a way Swift had never seen, not even when Cal had been actively under assault by his hostling, Cobweb. He knew it had to do with Pellaz, but Swift was only too aware that their relationship was nefariously complex, and not something he would ask about. But he could bring up Seel's illogical, knee-jerk reactions.
"Why does he hate you so much?" Swift asked.
Cal gave him a rueful smile. Myriad expressions danced on his face, tired as it was.
"Wouldn't you?" he asked.
"In his shoes, maybe. But there is something called forgiveness."
"I never broke your heart. I didn't murder anyone during my stay at Terzian's. Two stays," he amended.
Swift regarded him, this har out of legend whose life was inexorably intertwined with his own, who looked beaten and exhausted. Swift remembered how Cal had looked when he'd been found half-dead and brought to Forever that second time. There was a defeat in him that echoed through time in his eyes.
"You saved my son. And his chesnari."
Cal glanced over at Azriel, still held in the throes of sleep. "With Moon's help. I didn't do it alone."
Cal seemed suddenly aware of the healer, hanging back in the shadows but with an attentive eye on his patient. Yazdyar came up to them, clasping Cal's hands in his.
"You did a tremendous thing, tiahaar."
Cal shrugged. "I did what needed to be done. How is Aleeme?"
Swift saw the pained expression in Yazdyar's eyes and his heart panged in sympathy.
"He's quarantined. His injuries were very serious. Not just physically," the healer added somewhat unnecessarily, given where the two hara had been. "That he's alive at all is a true miracle. We'll do everything we can, I promise you that."
Swift thought of Flick and Ulaume, and wondered how — or when — he should convey to them what had happened to their beloved son. Then again, he was very much in the dark. Once this Yazdyar gave him more details, he would let them know.
"Seel," Swift said, returning to thoughts of his agitated lover, so utterly undone when in Cal's presence.
Cal let out a huff of air.
"Yes. Seel. You're bound to him. He's moody, he's sexy as hell, and he loves to play the martyr."
"He won't let you go."
Cal looked keenly at him.
"Very perceptive. But that's his problem. If he doesn't appreciate having you, he's an ungrateful idiot."
Cal raked his fingers through his unkempt hair, causing it to spike at odd, disheveled angles.
Yazdyar's quiet voice punctuated the dim intimacy of the room. "I mean no disrespect, but Azriel is in my immediate care, and he needs his rest. He may be unintentionally picking up on your emotions, or other energies you're communicating," he went on, holding his hands in front of his waist. "There's food in the adjoining tent. Tea and coffee, too," he added.
Swift bowed his head briefly.
"Thank you, Yazdyar, for all that you're doing. I'll be back tomorrow." He turned to follow Cal out of the tent. "Would you like to eat something?"
Cal shook his head. "No. I may go in search of a bottle of wine. A couple of glasses and maybe then I'll be able to sleep."
"Good idea. I should head back to Seel. Hopefully he's cooled off by now. I can let him know Azriel's in highly competent hands." He paused to glance at Cal, and decided to ask about Azriel's chesnari. "They've been so vague about Aleeme "
Cal took a deep breath. "Do you want the truth?"
"Of course!" Swift exclaimed, his gut clenching if Cal was being reticent about the topic.
"He was barely alive. There was the barest flicker of life left in him. Moon and I had to channel a tremendous amount of energy into him. To be honest, at the time I wasn't sure it would be enough. Ponclast had forced him to carry his pearls."
Swift gasped, feeling bile rise in his throat.
"Yes. Pelki. Not much of a surprise, I'm sure." Cal rubbed a hand over his eyes. "One harling survived. I don't know where it is. Aleeme was nearly dead from the one he'd birthed in bed, in squalor, alone. That pearl had rotted. I'm so sorry."
Swift thought he was going to vomit. His mind raced from visions he simply couldn't dwell on to Azriel, who would want to kill Ponclast with his bare hands, slowly and with as much pain as possible, and then to Aleeme's father and hostling. He swallowed and took some deep breaths, steadying himself by looking into Cal's eyes.
"I'm going to keep that level of detail to myself for now," he said quietly. "You are so strong."
"Swift, I did what had to be done. Don't glorify me or my actions, you know me better than that." Cal gazed at him, his weariness etched on his face, beautiful even in the aftermath of what he'd seen. "As you said, they're both in good hands. I wouldn't expect a fast recovery, especially for Aleeme. Just be patient."
"I want to get them back to Forever. Once things get sorted out, we could let them recover in familiar surroundings."
Cal put a hand on Swift's shoulder, his eyes full of sympathy. "Don't rush it," he suggested. "But once they're both more stable, I suspect you'll be able to take them home.
He drew Swift into an embrace. "I am glad to see you. Seel, too, even though he looked like he'd be happier chewing glass than having a conversation with me."
Swift impulsively ran his fingers through Cal's hair and nuzzled his neck. It wasn't an erotic act, it was symbolic of his affection, which ran ever more deeply now that he knew just how much those rescue efforts had cost him.
"I hope you're able to sleep," he said, and Cal made an affirmative noise. Swift leaned back and kissed him firmly but chastely on the mouth. "Please stay in touch," he entreated as he stepped away. Cal quirked his lips to one side.
"I'm no good at promises. But if you'll keep me posted on how Azriel and Aleeme are doing, I'd appreciate it. I'll be returning to Immanion tomorrow."
Cal let out a short bark of laughter. "Now you know I can't even begin to say I'll do that!"
Even Swift had to laugh, albeit ruefully. Cal made a brief salute, and then turned and walked away into the night. Swift watched him until he vanished between two pavilions, then with a low sigh, began the walk back to his own tent. He steeled himself for whatever mood Seel might be in, but found to his relief that his chesnari was sitting at a small table nursing a mostly-drained glass of wine and playing a solitary card game. He'd even plaited a few braids in his hair, and he seemed pleased at Swift's return.
"Were you able to see him?"
Swift nodded, taking off the dressing gown and draping it over a chair. He went over to Seel and stood behind him, clasping his hands together above Seel's chest. After leaning down to kiss the top of his head, he said, "He's in the care of a Ferelithian healer. He was asleep, or drugged, don't know. But Azriel was peaceful."
He paused, thinking of the atrocities and torture that had been inflicted on Aleeme, and said simply, "Aleeme's still quarantined."
Seel rested his head back against Swift's torso, put down his cards and laid his hands on Swift's.
"Sometimes I wonder if we're no better than the humans we used to be. Some of us used to be," he clarified, and Swift turned his hands to squeeze his fingers in reassurance. He knew Seel well enough to know that this was a peace offering, and he sent a quick thought of thanks to the dehara who looked out for him and graced him with quiet moments like these.
"We can be."