Interpret Me the Savage Whirr

Seel discovered many illuminating self truths when he was seduced by Ashmael Aldebaran. He knew he was often pulled in conflicting directions at the same time; Cal had set that in motion, back in their Dark Ages, back in a time even before they'd become har. Seel had been drawn to Cal like the inexorable pull of gravity, and yet he'd been anxiety-ridden about it at the time. Now, an eternity later, Cal had proven himself still beautiful and also capable of the atrocious and diabolical. Seel's loyalty and love for this troubled, inescapable demon was crushed, the broken shards of it making new cuts even as he tried to move on. Determined to assist in that was a different blond who'd come swaggering into his life. Seel had wished, even from Ashmael's first advances at the Nayati, that he'd put up more of a resistance. Somehow he should have convinced his pride-injured spirit to turn Ashmael away— but, of course, he hadn't really wanted that at all. Seel knew that his flimsy barricades had been seen through by the Gelaming general and in sharing breath, Ashmael had wordlessly knocked them down. When they inevitably took aruna, not long afterwards, they'd exhausted each other in their ferocity.

"Seel? You are miles away. Who's taken over in your head?" Colt asked, raising his eyebrows and tapping at Seel's temple.

"Just the usual. Ghosts and demons."

Colt quirked his mouth to the side as the wind of the approaching thunderstorm played with his dark hair. "So you say. I think it's something less dark than that. In fact," he paused to take a swallow of wine, "I am pretty sure you're imagining someone particularly fair."

Irony having been an integral weft in the weave of Seel's life, a roiling cloud distinctly different from the ones naturally occurring appeared off to the outskirts of Saltrock. The churning skies and sudden appearance of a magnificent sedu made the scene complete. Ashmael simply had to arrive, just at the moment his name had teased Seel's tongue until he said it aloud.

"Who, Ashmael?" he asked by way of answer to Colt, even as the Gelaming and Zephyr thundered triumphantly to the ground. Colt gave Seel a quicksilver wink, though his expression didn't change. "That's who I believed was on your mind. No wonder they want you in Immanion so bad; all you have to do is think about this one and he simply drops out of the sky to see you."

"Coincidence," Seel muttered, but he found it a struggle to keep the smile from settling on his lips.

The guest from Immanion made quick work down the path to Seel's house and its porch. There the two Sarocks sat outside, watching the zigzagging lights in the sky and savoring the scent of rain on the air. Zephyr's hooves caused small, rust-colored clouds to form where he stepped. The heavens growled and thunder rolled; jagged platinum lightning forked the sky in an electric spectacle.

"There's a pretty wild storm coming," Seel said by way of greeting.

The feral lift to Ashmael's lips all but proclaimed: Yes, there is, and I don't mean the one nature's providing. "I saw that," he said. "Glad I got here before it started pouring. Colt," he said in acknowledgement, inclining his head.

"Nice to see you again, General," he replied as he stood up, tossing back the last of his wine. "I'd be happy to stable Zephyr, if that's your preference."

The wind of the billowing storm blew Ashmael's hair around as he dismounted. Seel fought to pull his own mane back into some scraps of fabric, admiring Ashmael's muscular grace.

"If you don't mind. Thank you, Colt," Ashmael replied, handing over the reins to the lean har and patting the sedu's neck affectionately. "Zephyr loves the attention you give him."

"He's a beautiful creature. I'll be by tomorrow, Seel. Council's at nine, don't forget."

"I won't," Seel reassured him, cursing his hair as the braids and ties whipped around his head. He was struck with the force of Ashmael's thoughts, a restrained crush of niceties, exhilaration from the Otherlanes, a horniness that verged on the pathological, and the multifaceted, deep indigo of his own self-interests. Seel's gifts in this realm had been a part of him even before his inception, and he'd always taken his insight and perception-folding intuitiveness for granted. Now that he knew of the Gelaming and their advances for Wraeththu as a race, he looked to them to train those skills. He also wanted to restrain the horrors he battled nightly in his dreams when he saw the murderous results of Cal's hands on Orien.

"You read me like a book," Ashmael rumbled in his ear, and Seel was lost. "Better, even. You could hone your skills… I'm no broken record, though. You'll come to Immanion when you're good and ready, or when Thiede drags you by that crazy hair of yours."

"As long as I'm not dragged by the balls," Seel said flippantly.

"No, I'd hope not." Ashmael latched the front door, which had been banging against its lintels in the wind. The fire in his voice consumed the oxygen in the kitchen; Seel was starved for air and looked to Ash to give it to him in abundance.

"I like them," Ashmael went on, throaty, husky; his aura pulsed copper and a greeny, malachite sensuality. "Your ouana side is powerful tonight, as unpredictable as that storm."

"You're talking too much," Seel said, sauntering up the stairs to his room, tugging an unopened wine bottle out of the rack as he did. "I know you can put that tongue to better use."

"Are you finally unleashing your inner tiger?" Ashmael taunted. A low groan escaped his lips seconds later when Seel roughly palmed the bulge trapped against Ashmael's black leather-covered groin.

"If I am, you'd best hope my claws don't tear too deep."

Ashmael was the hottest flame, the blue center of an inferno. "You can bandy about words if you wish," he sighed, his pelvis arching into Seel's cupped palm. "I prefer action. I've done well that way."

"You've done me well."

Seel was shocked at his body's reaction to Ashmael's aggressiveness. Seel was a tidal force when soume, a battering ocean that had shipwrecked several hara before they'd known better. Now, however, his energies throbbed and coursed into his ouana-lim. Driven and insistent, he pressed his answering hardness against Ashmael's caged organ and smirked at the hunger he saw in the Gelaming's eyes. Ashmael's full lips were on Seel's with crushing force; Seel shoved his hands up under Ashmael's jacket and tunic so he could rub his palms against the muscular, smooth skin. His hands landed on Ashmael's rounded backside while a torrent of deliciously obscene visions were breathed into him. Everything about Ashmael exuded power and confidence— and unlike the hara Seel had held close to his heart, or with whom he'd shared a long-term companionship, Ashmael was upfront, uncomplicated. He didn't feign superiority: he was a superior and magnificent har. Seel greedily drank of the passion Ashmael offered until he drew back, Ashmael's face flushed and his eyes dilated.

"You're sublime," he gasped, rutting against Seel's hip, steely and commanding and causing Seel's mouth to water. "I'm going to feast on you, and then you're going to take that gorgeous ouana-lim of yours and ride me until the storm is over. Or we break the bed. Whichever comes first."

Seel made a strangled moan. Ashmael's arunic energies were like stinging nettles scattered across his skin, salved only by Ashmael's touch and tongue and teeth. Seel tore at his clothes, at Ashmael's leathers. The first plinking sounds of rain began an innocent enough march on the tin roof of the house, but soon it segued into relentless, percussive waves of rain crashing against the shingles. Candles had been lit; Seel knew he hadn't done so.

"What— caste—?" he panted as Ashmael dropped gracefully to his knees. His fingers were grappling hooks embedded in Seel's thighs; Ashmael's tongue flicked out, circled the petaled crown of his ouana-lim, then licked his lips.

"Me? Or you?" Ashmael drawled, an almost bored expression on his face as Seel's sensitive flesh danced across Ashmael's jaw.

"Nevermind. Fuck," Seel incanted, the word both prayer and aspiration.

Ashmael masterfully teased him to heights Seel hadn't believed existed. He let the Gelaming's deeper thoughts and raw emotions filter into him, like grains brought anew to the shore with each lapping wave. This was nothing so disastrous as love, or even fealty pledged in lust: Ashmael respected Seel, found in him a kindred spirit, and also someone who wouldn't balk at perceived roles, expectations and limited imagination. The greedy anticipation in Ashmael's eyes was electric; Seel wanted to crawl all over him, to bury himself in that body which held so much aching need and yet held itself with autonomy. Seel was determined to ask him about that more rational part of himself, but only after they'd created a new universe, or at least put the mattress through its paces.

As sweat beaded on Seel's forehead, Ashmael drew back from his prize, his lips swollen from his attentions to Seel's fully flowered ouana-lim. He stood, towering over Seel by several inches, his gaze devouring him with a passion Seel could never tire of witnessing.

"Yes, I do want you, and I'm glad Thiede wants you in Immanion. Mostly I'm glad we're here naked, and you're about to ravage me like a beast," Ashmael purred. "I'll show you what we're capable of," he said, sucking hard on Seel's neck and then blowing across the bruise, a whisper of false peace.

"What aren't we capable of?"

Heavy-lidded, Ashmael arranged himself on hands and knees on the bed, obviously soume. Yet his own ouana-lim pulsed gently near his abdomen, curling to the left and seemingly desperate to flower. Seel was stunned; he swallowed the dusty, rustic grit on his tongue. He knee-walked behind Ashmael, caressing his hips with the calculated hold of a connoisseur who knows the value of what rests against his palm.

"You'll explain how you can do this," Seel choked out, spearing his ouana-lim into the welcoming folds of Ashmael's soume-lam. He cried aloud when Ashmael brought Seel's hand to stroke along the unfurling petals of Ashmael's organ.

"Later, I'll tell you," Ashmael vowed, rearing back for a moment on his strong legs, leaning against Seel's chest before dropping back down onto his hands.

Back arched, deep within himself Ashmael's muscles massaged Seel's ouana-lim while Seel dug deeply into his body. He sensed sulfur and sparkling cordite; Ashmael scorched him and wildfires burned as their release danced around them like acolytes worshipping at a bonfire. Seel thrust again and again into the velvet heat of his soume-lam while Ashmael orchestrated their combined desires. Even without sharing breath, Ashmael was able to draw Seel into his realm of ecstasy, teasing out rivulets of Seel's soume aspects to hint at what Ashmael himself was experiencing. Seel felt he was on top of a crashing wave, trembling with the urge to fling himself into the churning waters, to break through the surface and be submerged in Ashmael's depths. Ashmael held them there on the brink until Seel couldn't hold back. He howled; his inner tongue blazed, a whip crack to strike at Ashmael's sapphire pleasure. With the voice of the winds roaring outside, Ashmael cried out. The aftershocks of their completion buffeted them along until Seel found himself collapsed against Ashmael's back, a seemingly spindly arm draped over his lover's ribcage.

Their breath evened; the wind still caroused angrily outside. With careful movements, Seel uncoupled them, and Ashmael turned to face him. He oozed satisfaction and wore an expression much like a jungle cat after a kill.

"That was memorable," he said, his voice rough and yet silken, a tone of well-aged brandy.

"I'll say."

Seel glanced down at the shining fluid that seeped from the crown of his heavy but softening ouana-lim. The drops were a shimmering verdigris, which all at once struck him as terribly novel. Ashmael's eyes were still glowing with physical and aural bliss— a flicker of playfulness caused a frisson of need to shoot down Seel's spine, despite the intensity of their recent aruna.

"Don't you know how you taste?" Ashmael asked, his eyes full of daring.

Squirming slightly, Seel shook his head, then jutted out his jaw. "I did. Before."

"Yes, but you're different now."

With surprising delicacy, Ashmael slid his fingers through the fluid and brought it to Seel's lips. Ash's energies continued to pulse with an erotic hypnotism; Seel darted out his tongue to lick the opalescent drops. "It's like honeyed ginger," Ashmael said, his voice sultry and strangely awed. "Tart and sweet. Quite succulent. Where are your cigarettes?" he asked, the drawl to his words easing the jolt from intimate conversation to their usual post-arunic rituals.

"Should be some on the dresser. Bring me one."

They smoked, using a tarnished silver paten as an ashtray. Through the windows, the thunderstorm flashed and danced in its untamed symphony of rain and wind. Seel sat against the pillows, one leg outstretched and the other brought up to form a triangle. Ashmael ground out his cigarette and sprawled on his stomach, exposing the expanse of his back, muscle defining his shoulders and setting off the tattoo that danced across his shoulder blade. Seel traced it with a finger, intrigued when Ash flinched at the touch.

"If you're going to ask about it, you'd best open that wine," he said, his eyes heavy with a lifetime Seel had felt wasn't his place to ask about.

"I'll do that, then. I'm curious."

"Most are. Not that there are that many hara who've seen it. I'm choosy that way," Ashmael said benignly, lighting another thin, black cigarette. He sat up, arranging his limbs into a cross-legged position against the pillows, as always at ease within his own body. "Don't want you think that I'm off taking aruna with just anyhar who comes along. I mean, it'd be okay if I did; I want to keep my arunic energies at full strength, but I'd prefer to do that with you," he said softly, letting his fingers linger in their touch against Seel's as he handed Ash the wineglass.

"Are you about to tell me something sentimental and unexpected?" Seel asked, the sarcasm skipping on his tongue.

"Probably. Add in the word maudlin and I'll suggest that you come to Immanion to be our poet. I'd rather have you as an engineer, though. You and I have a realistic outlook on things; it's partly why I'm so attracted to you. I am. You know that's not an act; you'd feel it in that perceptive sixth sense of yours."

Seel nodded guiltily. "You've always been upfront. The tattoo?" he asked, burning with curiosity.

Ashmael looked deeply into Seel's eyes, seeming to make sure that this sharing of himself wouldn't be mocked. Seel tried to convey that he knew this was a unique moment, and one he would hold with reverence.

"I loved someone, once. Back in Megalithica. He… he died in my arms. Anyway," he said, clearing his throat, "there was this splendid har we'd incepted the year before, Parallax. He's high-ranking in my army now, thank God. A hellion and loyal and smart and I'd be lost without him. Back then he suggested I challenge my chesnari to get a tattoo. Lots of us had them back then. You seem to have decided to have a bit of a freak-out with your hair."

Seel twisted his mouth to the side. "Never liked needles."

Nodding, Ashmael continued. "So I had a clanshar do this for me. I don't regret it, never. It has some of his essence in it, from his hair."

"What's it supposed to be?"

"Pegasus. A flying horse, like a mythical ancestor to the sedu. He loved horses," Ashmael murmured, the wistful longing causing Seel's eyes to tear up, but he blinked it back. This exposé was intimacy far beyond anything he'd expected, and he felt like the proverbial bull surrounded by china; one wrong move or word and it would all go crashing around him.

"I'll come to Immanion, and I won't wait forever," he said softly, skimming his fingers over the tattoo and relishing the lift to his spirit when he thought of returning to Immanion on his own terms.

"It will be a brighter place with you in it."

"You flatter me."

Seel lit his cigarette off of the end of Ashmael's, still aware of the roaring winds ripping through Saltrock.

"I might," Ashmael acknowledged, stroking along his instep with his thumb. "But you know where I stand with you. Right?"

Seel inhaled deeply on his cigarette, and then blew a series of circular rings into his bedroom.


* * * * *

After gaping at Pell in his aqueous cocoon, and the debacle of Seel being totally seen through by Thiede about his intentions to kill the to-be Tigron, Thiede brokered no more stalling on Seel's part. He was to begin in Thaine, overseeing a new Wraeththu settlement. Seel had been to Immanion but not far outside of her realms, and wasn't displeased when he found he would serve as the primary engineer over the entire project. Ashmael, unexpectedly, had returned to Saltrock when the news had reached the existing Hegemony. Seel wasn't a member of that governing body in name, but he knew he was a presence behind the scenes. What disturbed him greatly was Pell's role in things. Ashmael had wanted him to kill Pellaz, and he'd been unable to do so. Despite that, Seel had every belief that Ashmael still respected him, and remained close to him after Seel's failed attempt at murder. Just days before he was to go to Almagabra, in a rare state of bewilderment and extreme agitation, Seel had walked to the Nayati before turning his back on it. It was no harbor for him any more, no sanctuary. Though he served as the leader of Saltrock — or had, until now — he was tormented by the presence of those absent. Grieving, his soul bleached with the unforgiving light of memory, he wandered back to his house. Spirits of everyone from his past seemed to clamor in the heavy air; he found he'd cupped his left hand against his left ear to shut out their voices. Seel let the door slam behind him with a satisfying, ricocheted crack as he wandered around the kitchen.

"My kingdom for someone who understands this fucking mess," he said bitterly, pulling open drawers until he found one where there was a case of slim cigarettes. He lit one, his eyes darting around for a bottle of wine, when they suddenly caught sight of a pair of gleaming black leather boots that had appeared in the doorway.

"Do I count?" Ashmael asked, his voice sincere.

Seel wanted to throw himself at the Gelaming general, to grind against him, to yell and slither into those tight leather trousers and beg him to make him one of Ash's elite. Instead, in a show of restraint which lasted just about the length of four heartbeats, he raised his eyebrow. Then he stormed across the room, throwing caution and his own inner protections to the wind. He dropped every guard, exposing his readiness and desire in a blazing, full-tilt announcement to Ashmael, who devoured it all.

"Of course you count," Seel said desperately, pacing in front of Ash while he looked on, concern etched in his features. "I just don't want to make an ass out of myself. Can you make sure I don't do that?"

The back of Ashmael's hand drew a slow path down the side of Seel's cheek to his jaw. His blue eyes held nothing but companionship and a lusty hopefulness. "Of course. But you seem awfully out of sorts. Can I do something for you? To let you relax?"

Again, the vibrant erotic energies poured off of Ashmael, and Seel felt he was a leaf whisked away in the current of Ashmael's desires.

"I suspect you know all sorts of somethings," Seel said throatily.

"I do, and for months now, you're the har I've wanted to share them with the most."

"Own me," Seel said without thinking, noticing only the excited gleam in Ashmael's face when he said the words aloud. He was more than ready to be carried away; he was on the cusp of a great number of changes, but in the moment, he wanted only to be ravaged by Ashmael. It was disconcerting, realizing that the General was the person in Immanion with whom he was most familiar; Seel had no idea what Pellaz would be like once his disturbing re-animation was complete.

"Make it last," Seel pleaded, a low drumbeat beginning to pulse heavily between his legs. "I know I'm expected soon, but right now the only thing I want on my agenda is you. You doing unspeakable things to me," he said with a gasp as Ashmael wheeled him around, his back shoved against the wall.

"Unspeakable?" he parroted, his eyes full of dark mischief. He ran a hand through Seel's hair, not exactly tidy but combed out for once. Ashmael unbuttoned the top of Seel's shirt, questing his fingers to one of Seel's nipples. Jaw slack, Seel watched Ash's expression as he teased first one and the other nub to hardness as Seel's legs threatened to give out.

"So sensitive, to every touch." Ashmael's voice was heavy velvet, or a heated, wide tongue of a lion on his skin. "I'm going to wear you out so you'll be sore for days."

"Promises, promises," Seel gasped as one nipple was pinched and Ashmael breathed hotly into his ear.

"I never go back on my word. We've taken some memorable aruna together, but I'll push your boundaries of pleasure farther than you've ever believed possible."

Seel grabbed at Ashmael's jaw, pulling him down to kiss him feverishly. His whole body sighed when it transformed into a sharing of breath; Ashmael's taste was unexpectedly reticent for a har so bold: fire-warmed stone and twilight filled Seel's veins. What made the whole months-long foray into these arunic romps even more compelling was that there was still no speech about love or permanence. Seel was willingly swept up in Ashmael's pursuits of him; they'd both weathered their own storms, though Ash had somehow managed to accumulate an arsenal of erotic knowledge far superior to Seel's. And yet, it wasn't lorded over him, only willingly shared.

Aruna with Ashmael tore away the veils of naïveté Seel had fashioned. Ash was intuitively generous in ways Cal hadn't been, and when in full ouana mode, as he was this evening, he was a throbbing heartbeat, a sword of passion. He was neon, hard and blazing, the petals of his ouana-lim unfurling just so to whisper past points of pleasure in Seel's soume-lam. Ashmael delivered his promise as he dropped tiny plashes of wax on Seel's torso that burst into darts of pleasurepain. Seel could sense the crimson shadows of arunic energy; Ashmael had stoked the fires within himself and wordlessly asked Seel to blow on them, keeping the embers hot.

His chin dripping with the juices from Seel's soume-lam, Ashmael gazed up at him, spread out and bound to the bed like a wayward har. "There's a creature, a chambered nautilus," Ashmael said from between Seel's legs. He wiped up some of the potent fluid and licked it off of his fingers, a cat content with cream. "The further in you go, the more hidden secrets you see there are for the discovering. You're like that, all that flamboyance and wild exoticism, but there's much more to you, isn't there?"

A long, blunt finger stroked past a slicked wall of Seel's inner muscles and he groaned, piteously. At this rate he wasn't going to have to worry about seeming like a bumpkin in Immanion, because Ashmael was going to feast on him and leave nothing behind but a sated puddle of harish goo. Thiede would have to find someone else; Seel would have been rendered an incompetent due to overdosing on potent aruna.

Before dawn, in that mystical, liminal time of half-dreams and shadowshifters, Seel felt his hand being drawn to caress across Ashmael's closed eyes. His hand was dragged sweetly across his lips and wide chest, and then down and down to the springy curls at Ashmael's groin, and then yet further still to the warm, lush delta of his awakened soume-lam.

"I can't survive this," Seel moaned, his ouana aspect springing to life with the speed of a wildfire raging out of control.

"Oh, you can and will," Ashmael said with a voice roughened with what little sleep they'd had. "I've shown you just a hint of what you're capable of. I'm not often like this, but I'm craving to be soume. You can tell."

Seel gurgled, the sound conveying his feelings of inadequacy. "Of course I can tell. I just can't believe you want more after all you did for me…" His voice trailed off, and he recognized what Ashmael was intimating.

"You have reserves of strength in you," Ashmael breathed, pushing Seel's fingers further up into his grasping muscles. "One thing that's so amazing about being har is that in the realm of aruna, you never have to feel passive. Give back to me, Seel. Breathe the sunrise of your spirit into me. It's your time to claim me."

"But," Seel choked out. His body had followed its own desires and was grinding into the beckoning space between Ashmael's legs. "We're equals."

"Exactly," Ashmael growled, raising his feet to run the heels up the back of Seel's thighs. "As once before, I'm the wave. Ride me."

Seel had performed Grissecon once before, with Cal. He damned Cal to every circle of hell for showing up in his thoughts while with such a different har, one as giving and powerful as Cal had been crafty and willfully oblivious. Despite the unfortunate comparisons, as the energies built up and around them, Seel was reminded of how stirring the feeling of Grissecon had been. He felt Ashmael steer the pounding pressure of their completion, wanting to draw it out, and not just to show Seel what could be experienced. Ashmael didn't intend for this to be academic, it was pure physical seduction. Seel churned in Ashmael's depths; unvocalized choruses and violet heat rose around them in fevered ripples. Ashmael thrashed and egged Seel on until the crescendoed pitch roared through them. Seel was flying, tumbling around in an ocean of pleasure until he was forced back into himself. He was panting, his fingers grasping the shambles of bed coverings, still buried in Ashmael's body. As Ashmael gifted him with a knowing, sated smile, Seel realized that they really were equals. Whether intense, like now, or a more lighthearted tryst, he'd been brought up to par with this luminous, arresting creature, and he'd been freed from all sorts of bonds from his past.

A dark thought flitted through Seel's mind, even as the vibrant air continued to pulse around them like a quiet heartbeat and they shifted to lay side by side. "You're acting on your own volition, right?" he asked and Ashmael raised a lazy eyebrow.

"Yes, as far as I know. One can never be too sure with Thiede," he said, a resigned timbre in his voice. "But I've been directly manipulated by him before, and I've not felt his presence or any other unexpected nudgings. You're strikingly beautiful and you have integrity— that's enough to keep me interested for some time."

Seel nodded, reassured, feeling the furrow between his brows ease.

"You'll do great things, Seel, with or without Thiede's hand in it," Ashmael continued on a short while later.

"Probably with," Seel sighed. "He seems determined to move me around on his board."

"Well, you're not alone." Ashmael leaned over to kiss him meaningfully on the lips. "The playing field is full of pieces."

* * * * *

As the private reception for the newly crowned Tigron lumbered elegantly on, Seel made his way over to Ash. As before, Seel had felt his attentions pulled apart. He was stretched on a grassy web with Thiede wandering by, scythe in hand, just waiting for the right moment to delicately slice through one of the taut lines. Seel could smell the wine on Ashmael; he had an impressive tolerance, even for a har. Seel didn't mind, though; there were a very few hara that he did wish to judge, and Ashmael, his confidante and paramour, wasn't one of them. Perhaps emboldened by sensing a lowering in Ashmael's reserves, Seel brought up the topic of Vaysh, since he was there as well. Seel had been shocked to realize that the har who had inspired Ashmael's tattoo was the haughty, acerbic creature now so close to Pell. Ashmael had been placed in an untenable position; Seel was beginning to believe that nearly everyone in the Hegemony was being martyred by Thiede one way or another. It wasn't right, and yet, he still prodded Ashmael with morbid persistence until he let out a low, bruising sigh, describing how his former chesnari had been.

"I'm bored. Fancy a frolic?" Ashmael asked after draining his glass of wine, effectively changing the topic of conversation.

Seel made sure Pellaz didn't need him, but he was thoroughly ensconced in adoring admirers. There was no need for Seel to stay. "Sounds good. Let's go."

Seel admired Ashmael's reserve. He was passionate, an unexpected geyser of powerful, elemental and erotic forces. But he wasn't all that emotive. All of those depths of feeling were in him, but Seel didn't feel it was his place or calling to go diving for Ash's most hidden thoughts. It was only when they were down to Immanion's street level and Ashmael had made uncharacteristically endearing comments about Seel's multicolored hair that Seel asked, "Will Phylax be there?"

"Him? No, he's off somewhere, with friends," Ashmael drawled vaguely. "Holiday, you know." He insinuated his fingers under the waistband of Seel's trousers to grasp at his hip.

"Is he your house-hara or what?"

"Phylax?" Ashmael appeared to ponder the question before sliding his gaze back over to Seel, a wicked gleam in his vibrant eyes. "I don't know. But he's not you."

"I'm glad I am who I am," Seel stated, one hand buried in Ashmael's back pocket. The well-oiled leather caressed Seel's fingers even as Ashmael's muscles shifted invitingly underneath with each step.

"Of course you are. You and I understand each other."

Hours later, after aruna had exhausted them and the morning had brought a sensual lounge in Ashmael's large bathtub, Seel climbed a tree in the General's yard. He nimbly got up onto a branch and sat there, looking out into the neighborhood, imagining he had the viewing abilities and perception of a lynx. He breathed deeply of the scented vines and budding trees, internalizing into his memory's safekeeping the sandalwood scent of Ashmael's skin.

Months later, across the Girdle of Tiamat in Imbrilium, he sat with his feet on a desk, his chair tipped onto its back legs.

"The General is here," one of Seel's serving-hara said, and Seel indicated to let him in.

"Thank you. It's late; you can retire for the night," Seel offered and the har gave him warm thanks before leaving the room. "Oh! Xoan, if you would, bring another bottle of wine and a glass. Thanks so much."

Xoan smirked more than smiled, but he quickly did as requested.

"He's easy on the eyes," Ashmael said as he strode in, glancing over his shoulder.

"Also insightful, clever and discreet. Much like the har standing in front of me," Seel said with a weary smile. "Are you looking for companionship?"

Ashmael merely raised his eyebrows. He walked to the table and swirled the contents of Seel's wineglass before drinking it. "You've provided me more than companionship," he said dryly, giving Xoan a slow, smoldering smile as the har placed the wine bottle and glass near him. Seel knew the har fairly well and wasn't surprised when he gave Ash a similarly provocative stare before leaving for good.

"Yes, but our time of bone-melting aruna seems it must come to its Thiede-mandated end," Seel said ruefully. He eased the chair down to the floor and stood, pouring Ashmael his own glass of the rich red wine. "I really fucking hate it," he said, enunciating each syllable. Ashmael looked on, impassive as he usually was, but Seel knew he was giving him his full attention. "I can't hate the poor Varr, he's as close to an innocent in all of this as there can be. But he's so young. And fuck only knows how much his own feelings are being manipulated."

Ashmael stood close by, then gestured to Seel's simple couch. "May we?"

Seel nodded and they both sat, though Seel's thoughts were restless and he couldn't relax. He sat leaning forward, his elbows digging into the flesh behind his knees, glass cradled in his hands. "What if I'd wanted to live in Thaine, or near you? Be your neighbor?"

"Do you want to be near me?" Ashmael's voice was cautious. "I know we've spent a lot of memorable time together, but one of the things I so appreciate about you is that you're an idealist, but not really a romantic."

Seel tried to figure out what caused the worry in Ashmael's voice and then gave him a reassuring smile. "No, Ash. I didn't mean I wanted to live nearby and moon over you because you don't see me as chesna material."

"I've never said that!" Ashmael said, genuinely affronted. "It's that I don't think you or I would ever look for that in each other. I know it's a moot point, because Thiede will have what he wants. At least Swift the Varr is attractive, and definitely spirited."

"He spent months with Cal," Seel growled, his anger flaring to life.

"Ah, yes. Cal's your prisoner. I mean, he's our prisoner." He took a long draught, sitting back against the couch, stretching out his legs and crossing them at the ankles. "Shall I help you think of an appropriate torment?"

"No, but thanks all the same. Just fetch my cigarettes, would you?" Seel asked, all compliance. "You're a puppet of Thiede's, I'm a puppet of Thiede's, and this poor youngling Varr is a puppet of Thiede's. He's so relentless, so barbaric. Savage. He has his own agenda, and we can't help but dance to his tune, because he's the only one conducting."

Ashmael moved around Seel's tent with the grace of a puma, finding the cigarettes and an ashtray and bringing the new bottle of wine with him when he rejoined Seel on the couch. There were so many layers to Ashmael, and Seel knew he wouldn't be privy to most of them. Regardless, he was grateful beyond measure to have him there as his confidante and true friend. Ash lit two cigarettes, handing one to Seel who drew in deeply from it.

"Not to beat your analogy into the ground, but wouldn't you say that Calanthe manages to heed only his own drummer?" Ashmael parried.

A hot tongue of smoke traipsed into Seel's lungs before he exhaled, willing out some of the vitriol that festered low in his belly. Since he'd set eyes on Cal a couple of days prior, dirty, in the flesh and infinitely breakable, Seel had been discombobulated and taken himself to task for it. Cal had murdered Orien over perceived misinformation and love. In that instant, Seel knew what he needed to do to Cal, but he also knew that he should let the deviant har, former lover and abomination stew in his own juices for a few more days.

Seel gave Ashmael a searching look before lowering his guard. Of all hara, Ashmael understood Seel for who he was, and what he could never seem to escape.

"I hold Cal's drumsticks," Seel said in a menacing voice. "But for now, maybe for the last, I want you to play your tune on me."

Ashmael took a drag off of his cigarette and blew the smoke out of the side of his mouth with a conspiratorial smile.

"I'll roon you 'til you drop," he promised, taking Seel's hand and drawing one of the fingers into his mouth. His tongue played with the tip, a dragon's tease.

"For now, I'm yours," Seel sighed, hexing away the ghosts and wraiths which clamored for his attentions. "Use me up."

"I'm the one who usually gives commands."

Seel felt his body twisting, uncertain which role it wanted to play, a facet to being Ashmael's paramour that he knew he would miss. "But you'll take this one," Seel goaded.

A familiar, lusty smoke filled Ashmael's eyes.

"This one, I will."

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