Ann Marie Olson
Story © 2000 Ann Marie Olson
Trapped! Mikal ducked under the branch. They're going to catch me. Leaves
crunched underfoot. His breath was loud, even to his own ears. Hiding behind an ancient, moss
covered willow, he tried to silence his pounding heart so he could hear. The soft, slimy give of mud oozed between his toes, stinging in the cuts he had taken. A centipede tracked across his arch, tickling.
Three riders, riding mangy animals with filthy tack trotted down the path. White foam
lathered the animals' flanks. Even over the stench of the swamp, Mikal could smell the unwashed
bodies of the riders and their mounts. The first stopped with a yank on the reins. Blood colored
the foam at the horse's mouth as it gaped in protest. He tensed, unwilling to let any helpless
creature be manhandled like this.
The rider turned towards him, as if tracking on Mikal's presence, and Mikal looked into
his own features.
A scream shattered the silence of the night. Vayer desperately tried to get himself
untangled from the blankets. "It's all right. You're safe." he murmured, taking Mikhail's face in
his hands. Blank, blue eyes stared through him to infinity. Crouching over him, Vayer tried to
catch his mind. The eyes went black with unseen terror. "Mikhail, Misha, come back to me." he
crooned, caressing the other man's jaw. The rough stubble beneath his fingers reminded him
again why Darya insisted he wear a beard.
Mikhail took a deep breath and Vayer dropped him back to unconsciousness before he
could scream again. With a sigh, Vayer augmented so he could catch Mikhail's body as it
slumped. Damn. Vayer swore, hating to have to take over another's mind without just
cause. *Otyet, I require your help* Vayer sent, hoping his father were still awake.
After almost long enough for Mikhail to return to a true sleep, and not the
unconsciousness Vayer had driven him to, his father, Arkay, answered. *It's the middle of the
shenned night.* his mental voice was as bright and strong as steel.
*Now, now, otyet, don't tell me you were sleeping.* Vayer sent, along
with Mikhail's actions. They were all keeping a close watch on the foreigner in their midst, but
for Vayer it had gone something beyond mere wariness to an almost tentative friendship. *I'm
*As you should be. We'll be there in a few.* Arkay let Vayer see what was going
on, which was he and Nashen up late playing chess, of all things.
No wonder he didn't hear my call at first when Vayer's father concentrated on
something, it was only disasters of his mother's proportions which would drag him out of it.
Mikhail shivered in his arms and Vayer hurriedly stripped the soaked bedding from him. Over a
month of hard work and riding had added quite a polish to the young Sharm Lord's body, giving
it a glow of good health only disputed by the man's horrible nightmares. Kicking aside the soggy
sheets, Vayer wrapped his own robe around Mikhail's trembling body. The heavy wool wouldn't
chill him if he broke into a sweat again.
He smoothed Mikhail's hair back from his forehead and kissed his temple. The smell of
fear sweat was rank beneath the cedar and pine smell of the chest the robe had been stored in all
day. At least Mikhail has no problem with regular bathing. Vayer snorted at the way the
other two runners had reacted to daily washing ... as if they would melt. The sound disturbed
Mikhail, and Vayer felt him return to awareness.
Mikal waited as he tried to let his memories catch up with him. A shiver ran through him
and he hugged his knees to his chest. A very warm body was wrapped around him from behind,
holding him. "I'm sorry." he whispered, ashamed at having disturbed the very sleep he was
supposed to defend. Then he saw the faint glow of firelight through canvas and stiffened. Now he
knew where he was. "Oh, shen." he put his face in his hands, wanting to weep for being so weak,
particularly as Vayer gasped in shock.
"No, no, Mikhail." the softening of his name still seemed strange to him, although he
supposed he would eventually get used to it, as no one here seemed able to pronounce his given
name. "That word," Vayer shivered, "'Shen', is a gross vulgarity. None of us would normally use
it unless we were very upset."
"Then what would you say?" he clutched at the conversation, trying to forget his
"If it were me, I would most likely say 'hell' or 'damn', but then all of us children of
Karola have a tendency to swear like renSimes." he chuckled softly, stroking Mikhail's back.
As his muscles relaxed, so did his tongue, "Then what would the proper way to swear
be?" he sighed, leaning back into the massage. Nothing could have ever prepared Mikhail for
how much these people touched each
other, and he still wasn't sure he liked it. Then Vayer dug his strong fingers and tentacles into the
snarled muscles of his neck and Mikhail changed his mind. Oh, this feels good.
Vayer murmured something in Russian he couldn't quite understand, but it certainly
sounded like agreement. "If I were my other father, Avilan, I would say 'By the three horned
consort of the queen of misrule', but then he has always gone in for elaborate curses." Vayer's
voice softened into a relaxed chuckle. "Avilan practices his curses so he won't sound uneducated.
Most of us simply settle for sounding ignorant when we are truly mad. Even though some
people, particularly the Veiled, can be quite sophisticated in their vitriol."
"How so?" he let his chin tip down towards his chest, letting the weight of his head
stretch out the muscles. Admittedly he was in better shape now than he had ever been in his life,
but the constant stress seemed to be taking a toll on his body as well as his mind. All the little
aches and sprains of the past month were catching up with him all at once.
"One of them accused me of, what were the words, oh yes ... 'You destroyed your first
born son. You destroyed your own father. You have sown dissent and discord all the days of
your life. You will not destroy our way of life with your and Fatima's diseased and sickly
maundering of alien infidels!'." Arkay's voice was low and soft, despite the hatred of the quote.
"The woman who accused me of such things was quite mad, I'm afraid."
"What horrible things to say to someone." Mikal shuddered. I think I prefer
"As do I, Mikhail." of course Nashen was also here. "Particularly considering the fact the
woman who accused my Alahin of such things was my sister."
"What happened to her?" Mikal couldn't think they had let someone get away with that.
"She was killed, for attacking a Sharm Lord." Vayer's tone made Mikal's stomach turn
over, or perhaps it was something else. Concentrating, he realized Vayer's hands had gone chill
for an instant.
"You knew the Sharm Lord?" he asked softly.
"Yes, it was Darya." Vayer sighed.
"Then I would think you were more than justified." he took Vayer's hand in his own.
"Darya was the one who killed her." Vayer squeezed his fingers briefly. "It was not a
good situation. She wanted me to take the throne."
"But I thought you were the ruler of Russia." Mikal was confused.
"It's a long story, but let us say she didn't get it the way she wanted it." Arkay sighed.
"We transfer power by the heir killing the current holder of a title. It is a remnant of crueler
times, but unfortunately it is not so easy to do away with."
"Why not?" Mikal shook his head. "Can't you simply step down, if a normal opening
As Nashen sat on the floor, he rested his chin on his intertwined hands, "It isn't so simple.
I killed to take Fatima, as did Nivanya to take Kirov."
"Why?" the pain in Nashen's voice was heartbreaking.
"Because in my case my mother was a danger to herself and the Demense. If I had not
killed her, she would have destroyed Fatima." Nashen's face showed the grief of the long ago
events. "Nivanya killed Valentine, quite by accident."
"Not strictly true, beloved." Arkay sighed, putting his arm around Nashen's shoulders.
"Val was insane. Even Kir couldn't control him anymore. Nivanya struck back in first transfer to
save her own life."
"I killed my grandfather for Sergei." Vayer rested his chin on Mikal's shoulder. "He was
old and ready to go. Even still, it hurt to send him on. We are certainly not perfect, Mikhail."
"No one is." he tried to think of any good reason for this. "Is there no better way?"
"I wish there were." Arkay said heavily. "Fatima would have ended up leaderless by now
if Nashen had not been Healed."
"Why couldn't you heal Valentine or Nashen's mother?"
"Because we can't cure everything, Mikhail!" Arkay's eyes blazed in the dim light. "I'm
sorry, you hit a nerve. Val was my son, in spirit if not in blood." he sighed heavily again, twining
a bit of cloth between his fingers. "Certain forms of insanity and other congenital disorders are
beyond our ability to cure. Most birth defects, we have weeded out, but unfortunately we tied the
abilities such as Nashen and Nivanya carry to a neural degeneration which often causes
dangerous insanity by the time the bearer is in their late forties, sometimes earlier. It was an
enormous mistake, and I am praying Nivanya is clear of it because her mother was not Rus, but
Tzer probably carries it."
"I hope not." Nashen's eyes closed.
"Does it track in all lines?" Mikal asked.
"Only those in which the Lord carries the power of the Demense. The Azov line died of
it, all but Alexandrya, and we are hoping to stabilize it again with her cross to the new Azov line
through Valtanir." Arkay's voice was as calm as if he were discussing horse breeding. The
surrealism of the situation did not escape Mikal one bit. "It would be fantastic to keep the animal
control aspects of Azov with the stability and health of the Gen lines."
"I'm sorry, Arkay. This is all very strange to me." Mikal felt so desperately alone, as if in
some odd way he were the only real person here and all else were figments of his imagination.
Although my creativity has never been this good. he looked at the finely woven wool
robe covering him, patterned with cream threads woven amongst the black.
"I understand, Mikal." the effort he made in pronunciation was obvious. "You are alone
amongst strangers who have such a wildly different way of life you must feel as if you were the
only real person in the world."
Mikal gasped, scared.
"Easy, Mikhail." Vayer whispered in his ear. "Arkay won't hurt you."
"But ..." he stuttered. "He echoed what I was thinking."
"Yes, I did. As could you if you knew how." Arkay held out his hand. "I know, through
Vayer, you have been having troubled dreams. Do you wish for help?" Mikal shivered, staring at
the proffered hand. It was a hand worn and scarred by many years of injuries and abuse. He could
clearly see the traces of where some kind of fire had etched itself bone deep. The pain he knew
Arkay must have suffered to bear such scars had to have been enormous. He raised his eyes to
Arkay's, asking him silently for help. "I must have your word, for it may not be pleasant."
The truth struck a chord deep within Mikal. "Yes, I would have your help." his hands
shook as he reached for Arkay's grasp. As if to a lifeline, Arkay clasped his wrists and Mikal
matched the gesture. The man's hold was amazingly strong, almost as strong as a Sime's. He
blinked in surprise.
"I know, Mikal." Vayer's voice was blurred, sounding as if there were more than one
person present. "There is. I, Arkay, can not zlin by myself. My son has offered to assist."
"No" he pulled back. I can't let Vayer see me like this.
"So be it." Now the echo came from Nashen. "I must have a Lord to back me, although
Nashen is no where near as suitable as Vayer."
Thank you. he felt his shame at his weakness overwhelm him again. Why can't
I do anything right? he thought, and then fell into a darkness as complete as the inside of his
favorite childhood refuge.
Vayer was stung to the core by Mikhail's rejection. I'm far to old to cry over
something like this. he grimaced.
*Hush, little one.* Arkay sent him a picture of himself as a babe in arms and
Vayer had to grin. It was a favorite tactic of his father to cheer him up, and to this day it didn't
fail. *Mikal, as he thinks of himself, is simply rejecting you out of fear for looking
*I could hear that myself.* he sighed, stroking Mikal's hair as slumped, senseless
in his arms again. *Why?*
"Because he is very, very young, my son." Arkay said out loud, then kissed Mikhail's
forehead. "This is his first time away from home and family. He's still an untried colt, not sure of
his own power or his mind. Give him time and room to grow. This Techton of his shackles its
follower's minds and hearts. He has never before had to choose his own path."
"I was hoping he would suit Tzer." Vayer sighed. "Now ..."
"Actually I think that would be very good for him. Give him another young man to run
with." Arkay stroked Mikhail's wrists. "He still doesn't even know the needs or wants of his own
"And you want him to practice on Tzer?" Nashen looked horrified. "What if he makes a
"They both will." Arkay's grin was rather off center. "As you two taught me, young men
have to learn to deal with their own mistakes while they are still small enough to clean up after.
Sort of like hounds."
"Sure, use my own words against me." Nashen sighed. "It's so damn hard to be objective
when they're your own children."
"Don't I know it." Arkay shook his head. "This one will make Sharm Lord Kir look like a
renGen when he comes into his own."
Vayer gasped, stunned. "I didn't know he carried such power. I mean, I knew he was
strong when we had transfer, but not that strong. Besides, selyn production isn't everything that
goes into being a Sharm Lord."
"No, it's not, as I well know." Arkay smiled. "I have no idea where his talents lie, but I
have a feeling we will be wanting every last one of them for Tzer. Darya should never have born
him. He's going to be able to flatten his fathers and I long before his mental maturity catches up
"I think perhaps some prayer might not be amiss in that case either." Nashen looked at the
young man Vayer held.
"It is never amiss to ask the blessings of Allah, my friend." Arkay said.
There were still times when it surprised Vayer how pious his father had become with his
conversion. Silently he asked Allah's blessing, not for himself, but for young man he held who
would most likely never have the chance to truly find his own way with the winds of fate
blowing him across the face of the globe.
Tzer turned to the south. He was still too young for formal prayers, but he figured any
help wouldn't hurt. "Please bring my fathers home safe and sound. I miss them dreadfully. I want
my otyet." Tzer had to hold back tears. "I love my mat', but I want my
otyet home for my growing up." he sniffled. "It isn't that she can't do the job, but I want
otyet Nashen to hold my hands, otyet Arkay to tell me I'm doing all right and
otyet Vayer to show me how to be a Lord." His lip quivered. "I know I'm going to be a
grown man soon, but since I'm still a child, please, Allah, I only want these things for You." He
felt like he was forgetting something. "Oh yes, and take care of my little sister and brother while
I'm learning to serve You as a grown up." he tacked on. "Thank you." Tzer was a good boy, and
rarely forgot to say please and thank you, except when he was very excited.
Like now, he bolted for the door, forgetting all about the kerchief in his pocket. He
sniffled again. Running down the hall he ran right into a brick wall. Or at least that's what it felt
like. "Woof." he fell back on his butt. Smack!
Stunned, he shook his head. "Dori!" he shouted, leaping up and hugging the old renSime
who had been a guard.
"Come on lad, the troops are right behind me. Your fathers sent me ahead to collect you,
your sibs and your mother." his long legs took him down the hall at an amazingly fast pace. The
guards at his parent's door stiffened, looking straight ahead.
Surprisingly, Tzer wasn't at all winded. Maybe I am growing up he looked down.
The floor didn't look any further away. He reached for the door knob. Dori slapped his
"Hey" Tzer protested. "What was that for?"
"Manners, my lad." Dori looked very stern when he wanted to, what with his silvered
black hair and darkened skin. Even his eyes and mouth had deep lines around them, as if
someone had drawn them in with heavy black ink. Dori raised his hand to knock and almost fell
into the room. Tzer giggled.
"I had a runner out looking for the banners, Dorityan." his mother strode through the
door, looking every bit as regal as a queen. "As soon as I collect Tzer ... oh, you found him." Her
dark eyes were focused on him in a way Tzer didn't usually much like. It often meant he was in
"You might say he ran into me." Dori's knowing chuckle made Tzer blush. Earlier this
summer, while his friends had tanned, the very earliest sign of his near maturity had struck; Tzer
had gotten his first sunburn. Now his skin was nearly as pale as his father's and he knew, just
knew, he was blushing like a ripe tomato. It was down right embarrasing on its own. He studied
his toes. One of his indoor boots was scuffed on the toe. nervously, he tried to cover it up with
his other foot. "I didn't mean to tease, lad." Dori put his hand on Tzer's shoulder. Much to his
surprise, he now looked the man straight in the eyes. Although he was much, much lighter, as
shown by his earlier adventures after having run into him.
"Tzer has been a bit skittish all summer." his mother smiled fondly. "Although if I didn't
know better, I would swear he's been saving up all his bad behavior for his fathers."
"Na, mat'. I wouldn't do anything like that." deliberately he added silently,
trying to look innocent.
"I know you wouldn't." she smiled, taking Dori's arm. "Come along." she called out to his
sibs, already dressed and ready to go. "Do you wish to change?" she looked at Tzer's rainbow
"None of it is clean." he blushed again at having been caught out.
"That, is your fault." she pointed out, quite unnecessarily. "You know where the laundry
room is. You know where to leave your dirty clothes. You know ..."
"Yes mat'." his blushes deepened. "I'm sorry."
"Not my problem." she shrugged. "You are the one in scruffy clothes to greet your
This only made it worse, with a whimper he ran back to his room.
The door opened with a creak of unoiled hinges. "Come on wit' ye now, m'lad." Dori's
voice was kind. "Ye'll not be fergivin' yerself iffen ye don't ge to met yer fathers."
"But I look a mess, Dori." he hit the rather sorry, flat, pillow with his fist. "How can I go
in front of the troops like this?"
"Easy. Come on." Dori offered him a broad, strong hand. "I'll be good a gettin' yer motley
te look as it should." Tzer took Dori's hand and let the man help him to his feet. "I've had many
o'years te practice lookin' m'best wit out te help o' te laundry." With his eyes firmly fixed on his
feet, Tzer stood. "Na then, tis not se bad." Dori took a rag and brushed the scuff marks off Tzer's
boots. Then he dampened it at the basin and scrubbed at the stains on his trousers and tunic. "Off
wit te tunic, lad." Tzer did as he was asked, not even thinking to protest. "Yer a good, strong
lookin' boy." Dori noted. "Now, turn yer shirt around, so te stains don't be showin'."
Other than a few damp spots, which were quickly drying, by the time Dori was done,
Tzer managed to feel he was at least vaguely presentable. Nervously, he brushed off an
imaginary piece of lint. "Now, we best be hurryin'."
"At your will." Tzer scurried after him.
"Na, na, lad. Yer still a child." Dori corrected him, and Tzer felt his face burn again. "Oh,
ye poor thing. It'll be all right. You'll see." He gave Tzer a quick hug.
"Thank you." Tzer hugged him back. Relieved at how Dori had turned disaster into at
"You're quite welcome, youngster." Dori patted him on the back. "Now we really gotta
They made it barely in time. With a gentle push, Dori sent him to stand with his mother,
next to his sibs. Aliana pinched his flank. Tzer yelped.
"Quiet." Darya snapped. Dimitri pinched him this time. Tzer yelped even louder. "Tzer."
his mother growled. "Hush."
"Sorry, mat'." he tried to ignore his sibs. This time they both pinched him at the
"If you can't behave, go home." she growled out of the corner of her mouth. His vision
blurred as he tried to hold back tears. I love them. I really do. Tzer reminded himself
forcibly. Aliana giggled.
"And what have you two been doing behind my back?" Darya turned, glaring at all three
"Nothing, mat'." they said in unison. Tzer shrugged.
"You look quite nice Tzer." she smiled and he grinned back, glad to at least have pleased
her in one way. "I hope you remembered to thank Chief Dorityan."
"Yes, mat'." That she even thought he might not have stung. His lip quivered
again and he forced it to behave. "Chief Dorityan was more than kind. I will be writing him a
note this evening."
"You know not to let the other renSimes hear of his being able to read." she whispered,
almost too silently to hear.
Tzer was even more embarrassed. He had forgotten Dorityan's reading was a secret until
his mother had reminded him. "Yes, mat'."
"Tzer sounds like a parrot." Dimitri teased.
"No he doesn't. He sounds like a mockingbird." Aliana chirped up.
"Children!" his mother barked. "Enough."
"I'll take Tzer with me, if you like, m'Lord Darya." Dorityan had gone and remounted.
The black Trakh mare he was riding was gorgeous.
"Is she from Kirov?" Tzer stared, taking in the beautiful lines of the mare.
"Tzer." his mother corrected him again.
"It's all right, m'Lord Darya. He's just curious." Dorityan smiled. "Yes, she's by Horin out
of Chyorna, Kirov stud. I call her G'ina."
"Chyorna was a gorgeous mare." Tzer breathed, wanting to get a closer look, he almost
ended up leaning over his mother's shoulder.
"Tzer, you're drooling on my shoulder." she stepped to the side and he almost fell on his
nose. Now that he had an unobstructed view, he could see G'ina had magnificent legs, perfect
"Come on, lad." Dori's hand suddenly obstructed his view. Startled, he jumped
backwards. His heels caught on the step. Hands flailing the air, Dori caught his hand in a grip
like steel before he could fall.
Tzer's heart pounded in his throat. "I've been so clumsy all summer." he blushed again.
"I'm not surprised, m'lad." Dori said softly, kicking his foot free of the near stirrup. With
a pull, he stepped up behind Dori.
"Why for?" he asked, heartily tired of it all.
"Because your body is growing faster than yer brain can keep up with." he chuckled.
"Don't worry about it lad. I'll bet ye two o' yer mum's funnel cakes yer father was the same way."
"You're on." Tzer said. "I know my father could never have been so clumsy."
"I kin taste 'em now, m'lad." Dori laughed.
Mikal gaped as he saw Dori cantering back to them, with a passenger behind him. The lad
riding behind the old renSime was almost as tall as he was, all long legs and arms. This was the
first time he had seen anyone not in some kind of uniform, and the mixture of colors all on one
boy's body was stunning. It looked like he had fallen into a Zaor dye factory.
"Tzer!" Nashen called out. Even before he could turn his horse, Arkay set his stallion into
a gallop. In an astonishing feat of horsemanship, the lad vaulted from Dori's mare to Arkay's
stallion as the older Sharm Lord galloped by the two of them on the way back.
"You thief." Dori called out, turning his mare loose. Neck and neck, the two animals
raced back. Arkay's stallion snapped at the much larger mare, and she slowed suddenly.
"I won." Arkay crowed, pulling up.
"You cheated." Vayer told him, laughing.
"I did no such thing." he snapped back.
"No, your horse did." Nashen grinned, grabbing the lads arm and smiling at him. "By
Allah it's good to see you again."
"And you, otyet." the youngster grinned. "I missed you all." his eyes wandered
over the large group of people, still in ranks, but looking every mile they had traveled.
"Tzer, I would like you to meet Sharm Lord Mikhail." Nashen gave him one of those
unreadable looks as they neared. "Mikhail, this is my son, Tzer."
"Pleased to meet you, Tzer." he held out his hand to the young man. At that moment, his
horse decided this was a good time to grab a snack. Of course he had forgotten to keep at least
one hand on the reins. Mikal almost slid down Yikara's neck as he made a grab for them. The
quick motion startled her. "Ow!" he clapped his hand to his face, trying to decide if his nose was
still in one piece. I felt flattened.
"Hush, Tzer." everyone said in unison. The poor young man blushed redder than the
Mikal grinned right back, and then laughed as Tzer did. "It was pretty silly, wasn't it."
"Sort of like my whole summer." Tzer grinned. "I've been slipping, tripping, sliding and
falling on my behind since spring."
"I remember doing that." Nashen laughed.
"Ye owe me funnel cakes, m'lad." Dori grinned.
"And I'll be glad te pay ye." Tzer looked relieved. "I though I was the only person who
ever turned clumsy with puberty."
"Not at all." Mikal smiled, offering him his hand, this time keeping his mare's nose out of
the long grass. "Although I had help."
"You did?" Tzer's eyes, which seemed strangely light, as if they were fading in the
sunlight, brightened even further.
"Yes, I have two older sisters." he winked. "They were bound and determined to show
just how clumsy a Gen could be."
"No." Tzer looked shocked and his eyes flickered to Arkay. "A Sharm Lord, clumsy?
"Well, we don't call them the same thing, but where I come from, Gens are supposed to
be clumsy." he struggled to fight down the memories of all the teasing he had suffered. "My
growth spurt came late, after I established, and I was always tripping over things or running into
things. All my Sime friends teased me."
*Not here, little one* Arkay's mental voice was almost becoming something he
thought he could deal with. *We'll show you just how graceful a Gen can be.* His grin
was wicked, as he popped his knuckles loudly.
"Didn't you get mad?" Tzer slid from Arkay's horse to Mikal's, startling everyone,
including Yikara. The mare snorted. "Easy, lass." Tzer's arms came around him and brushed the
reins. Immediately she settled back down.
"Maybe we should switch places." Mikal had done some riding before, but nothing like
these people who seemed to be half horse. "And yes, I did get mad. It got me in even more
trouble. Where I come from, Gens are not supposed to bother Simes with their emotions." he
played with the smooth cuff of his kador thoughtfully. If nothing else, the shielding clothes were
the best thing since transfer Mikal had ever found.
"We teach Simes not to zlin all the time." Arkay said softly. "It is far easier for them to
not walk around with an open invitation to the world, than it is for us to watch our emotions at all
hours of the day. The kadors are a compromise. They give Simes more freedom to zlin and us
more freedom to be ourselves."
"I would say that's a fair trade." the way these people would make compromises like that
gave Mikal hope.
"Where do you come from?" Tzer whispered in his ear.
"Very far to the west, across the great ocean." he turned to see Tzer looking at him
"Then how did you get here?" his eyes were fading, it wasn't the trick of the light. Even
as Mikal looked, they were going to grey from what looked like a dark brown, almost black.
"By boat." he grinned. "How else. Then by horse."
"You've been around my dad, Nashen, too much." he giggled, covering his mouth.
Worried a bit, Mikal turned around and caught Vayer's eyes. He nodded and looked at
Nashen. "Goodness, seems we got home just in time." he walked up to them. "If you would,
Tzer, could you look at me a moment?"
"Certainly, otyet." he dropped his eyes.
"Now, lad, I have to see your eyes." he said softly, gently tipping the lad's chin up to him.
Tzer looked up shyly. Mikal could feel the tension in Tzer's body as he had to force himself not
to turn away. "How long have you noticed this?"
"Noticed what?" he asked. Tzer did pull away and shiver. Mikal put his hand over Tzer's,
twining fingers with him. One of his nails had a snag and there was a smudge of dirt on his
"I think Tzer is going into change over." Nashen smiled softly. "No?"
"I think so, otyet." Tzer whispered against his back. "I wanted so much to wait for
you to get home."
"And you did, m'lad." Nashen look as proud as any father Mikal had ever seen, even his
"Congratulations, Tzer." he murmured, wrapping Tzer's arms around his waist loosely.
"Now I think it's time te get ye home."
"I think its long past time we all went home." Arkay said, looking around. "Can you
finish things up here, Dori?"
"Certainly, m'Lord." he grinned. "Do ye mind if I tell the troops why yer rushin' off?"
"Not at all." Nashen beamed. "Not at all."
Despite the warmth of the day, Tzer's shivers were almost violent long before they
reached the edge of the city. "Come on, lad, we're almost home." he turned in his saddle.
*We're still close to half an hour out.* Arkay looked grim. *He shouldn't have
talked Dori into bringing him to us.*
"Dori offered." Tzer's eyes opened. There was no pupil and they were now almost
completely silver. "I didn't force him."
"I know it lad, but now we have a problem." Nashen said softly, looking at Arkay.
"Even if I were high field, I couldn't do it, love." Arkay looked at his hands. Mikal turned
away from the affection between the two men. It still seemed somehow wrong to him.
"I think I'm going to be sick." Tzer said in a tiny voice.
"I'm not surprised, my young friend." Mikal patted his hands. A cool breeze had come up.
Now even he was shivering. "You should get down first." A dark shadow slid across them.
"Oh hell." Nashen looked up. So did everyone else. Thunder heads were gathering
"By all the angels and demons of the earth and heavens." Arkay gaped. Oblivious, Tzer
slid down and stumbled off the path. Mikal followed him. Then he realized what was wrong and
looked up again. Clouds like dark serpents twined higher and higher. Lightning flickered across
their bellies. All normal, but not the speed with which they appeared. As if to underscore the
situation, his ears popped and he heard the first low rumble of distant thunder.
Pay attention to the important things. he chided himself. Tzer had vanished
behind a tree, but the sounds of his being quite sick were painfully easy to follow. When they
didn't stop after his body had cleared itself, Mikal hurried to him. "Help me." his voice was
weak, and then he doubled over again.
"Poor little lad." he put his arms around him, holding him away from the forest floor.
Clammy sweat covered Tzer's body. This can't be doing him any good. in frustration
Mikal watched him heave again and again till he began spitting up blood. There is something
dreadfully wrong Quickly, he stripped off his robe and put it around Tzer's shoulders.
*Help!* he shouted with his mind, hoping not to disturb Tzer further.
Wind whipped between the trees, sending leaves and twigs flying through the air. Mikal
had to blink grit from his eyes. Grimly, he held onto Tzer, hoping at least some of his body heat
would help. Then the heavens opened up. Ice sheeted down, soaking them both instantly.
This is insane! Mikal looked around, now completely lost even while he knew he was
only a few feet from everyone else. Even a hurricane doesn't strike like this.
*Mikhail!* he heard Vayer's mind call. The howling of the wind drowned out his
*Here!* he shouted back, trying to think of where he was. Carefully, he gathered
Tzer into his arms, bundling him up as best he could in the wool robe. Even in the freezing rain,
the lad was sweating and hot. You don't want a chill Mikal held him close, making sure
his airway stayed clear. His body was still rebelling against change over, fighting the process.
"Don't fight, lad. Let your body change." he begged. "It will be all right." this he promised
Fire burned his entire body. Gasping, Tzer tried to put it out. Water he tried to
pour water on it. The fire burned hotter, trying to drive him from his body. He struggled.
Someone was holding him down. Gentle hands stroked his burning arms. Arguing with the
holder. He twisted, trying to get free.
The he was free. Icy air burned his lungs as he screamed. Someone murmured sweet
words. He couldn't understand their meaning, but he felt their softness. Reaching for it, he was
rewarded with comfort. Silken fur wrapped his torn nerves. Sobbing, he rested in the fur draped
"I have him, Arkay." Mikal looked down at the young man sobbing against his chest. His
fever had broken and now he was almost limp, but for the hiccuping sobs. The changes Tzer was
going though would have scared the whey out of him if he had stopped to think about them. For
now, he concentrated on feelings of safety and security. The forester's hut smelled of earth and
resin. "Thank you for finding this place."
"It is part of Fatima." Nashen sighed, looking down at his son. "I wish I had moved
As Mikal hadn't seen him move at all, he raised an eyebrow. Tzer whimpered. He
returned his attention to the lad. Tzer's face looked as if the bones of his skull were trying to push
through the skin, he was so white and drawn. Then Mikal though he saw a blue flicker trace over
one of Tzer's high cheekbones.
"Not yet, my lad." Nashen's hands covered his. "Oh God, wait." naked fear shone in his
"Easy Nashen." Arkay murmured, pulling him away. "Relax and he will." The brilliant
sun of earlier today was only a memory, by now. A blinding flash of lighning shone through the
chinked walls, matched with a crash of thunder louder than any Mikal had ever heard before. "Go
on outside and try to keep this storm from leveling the city.", or at least that's what he thought
Arkay said. His ears still rang from the thunderclap. Still it made very little sense. Reluctantly,
Nashen headed for the door, looking back at his son.
"It will be a few hours yet, at least." Mikal guessed, completely unsure of how long
change over was going to take. With some Ferris' it could be extremely short. Both of his sisters
had taken their time about it. However, Nashen's nerves were not helping Tzer any. "Go take out
your upset on the storm." he had no idea what Nashen was going to do about something like the
weather, but figured following Arkay's lead would probably be a good idea. "Perhaps Vayer will
be back with Darya before he is done."
"I don't know what good that is going to do us." Nashen said darkly.
"Nashen, love." Arkay protested. "This isn't like you."
"I'm scared, Alahin." he admitted. "Take care of him, Mikhail. Call me if he responds
"I will." he said, stroking Tzer's pale face. The youngster nuzzled his hand. Mikal's heart
clenched at the gesture. I will take care of you. he promised silently. Focusing all his
trained attention on Tzer, Mikal traced the lines of his face with his thumbs. Tzer's eyes finally
opened with sense in them. They were almost completely silver now, like Nashen's. Stunned,
Mikal simply stared.
Tzer turned his face away. The only thing he had wanted was for his fathers to be there
for his change over, and now he had messed it all up. Shivering, he tried to pull the blankets
closer. Thick, coarse, fur tickled the palms of his hands. When they snapped open, away from the
contact, he jumped.
"Easy, little one." the stranger, Mikhail told him. Tzer looked back to see soft, kind, blue
eyes staring down at him. "You'll be all right."
"I'm not so little now." he tried to grin. The air was freezing cold for the middle of
summer. He shivered again, unable to stand touching the fur with his hands.
"No you're not. You're growing up." Mikal grinned back. There was a trace of sadness in
the man's eyes.
"Is there something wrong?" he reached out with his mind. The ache in his head turned
into a sheet of fire. Then it was gone as if never had been. Mikhail panted, leaning over him.
"Did I hurt you?" Then Mikhail looked into his eyes again. They were now pitch black.
"Oh shen." Arkay leaped for them.
Before he could reach them, a door opened in his mind. *Come inside.* Tzer
thought he heard. It sounded like Mikhail. Tzer reached for the warmth promised by the voice.
Tzer stood in the middle of the room, looking across a desk at Mikhail. But this was no
room he had ever been in before. The walls were plain, without more than one or two pictures of
landscapes and a framed piece of parchment. Even the oak desk was plain, with no inlay or
ornamentation. Was Mikhail so low ranked he didn't even have a decent office? Tzer
knew his fathers had called him a Sharm Lord.
"This is a good office." Mikhail smiled, pointing towards the window. "See, I have a view
of the entire valley."
Looking, Tzer shrank back. There were all kinds of metal boxes moving without horses
out there, and the sky was brown with filth. It reminded him of some of the pictures he had been
shown by his history tutor. Everything was dingy and greyed, as if someone had washed over the
outside with dark watercolors.
"What's wrong?" he asked, coming around the desk.
"It isn't pretty and green." Tzer said, looking up at him. "Where are the horses, the trees,
"There they are." Mikhail pointed beyond the rows of yellowed boxes on the hill. "See."
"But they aren't in the city itself." he looked away. "Is this where you live?"
"It was." Mikhail smiled again, looking more than a bit hurt though. "Don't you like it?"
"It is not what I am used to." he tried to cheer up the man. "Moskva is a very different
"I look forward to seeing it, with you." Mikhail rested his hand on Tzer's shoulder.
Timidly, he reached up and took it in his own.
The chill little room returned with Tzer's touch. Mikhail blinked away the vision. Arkay
was kneeling behind him, holding onto his wrists. He felt Arkay's lips leave a cool impression on
the back of his neck. "I'm sorry if I had to intrude." Arkay's voice was so very soft, he knew Tzer
couldn't hear it. "I'll get the fire on." The bedding shifted again as Arkay got up.
Then it hit him. "Arkay." he breathed, staring at the man.
Tzer turned to look as well and gasped. "Do you really look like that?"
"Yes, to both of you." Huge wings suddenly appeared at his back, reaching for the
ceiling. The sweet tang of apples filled the air. Mikhail sniffed and Arkay laughed. "You are
sensing my humor as scent. Different." he grinned and then turned to the hearth. It had been
banked for the warm summer day, but it was late enough to be needed at night, so it wasn't
"You mean to say I am zlinning." Mikhail was dreadfully confused. Storm clouds danced
around the winged figure, veiling it from his sight but for the eyes. Cinnamon and cloves
combined with the apples. He closed his eyes, concentrating. Blue-white traces of electricity
scurried across the backs of his own hands. Startled, he focused on them for a moment. Tzer
"You imp." he opened his eyes and touched Tzer on the tip of the nose. A big, fat, spark
of static electricity jumped at the contact.
"Ow" Tzer protested, rubbing his nose. "I suppose I should get used to that." he grinned.
"You don't have to, if Mikhail is willing to learn to work with you." Arkay cleaned off his
hands at the basin. "Nashen usually only bites me right after transfer, when it feels good." he
winked. Mikhail blushed furiously, knowing quite well how randy those two could be.
"I don't get it. How did you make him blush?" Tzer was sounding far more like a normal
kid in the first stages of change over.
"You'll find out." and faster than thought, a very strong wash of pure sensuality came
over him and was gone. Mikhail gasped, trying to figure out what was going on.
"I missed that." Tzer pouted.
"Good." Arkay teased him. "Now, let me see your arms, m'lad." he sat on the edge of the
bed and held out his hands. Together, their hands met at Arkay's and Mikhail giggled right along
with Tzer. Relief at having things return to a more normal progression was making Mikhail light
headed. *No, it's Tzer's hormones finally kicking in, thanks be to Allah.* Arkay told him
silently. *He's not safe yet, but with your timely ascension and bonding, all should be
"I would say no more than an hour or two, now." Arkay murmured thoughtfully. "Quick
for most of us, a bit long for Fatima."
A sensation like tiny insects crawling over Mikhail's hands made him look down. "What
happened to the time?" he asked, fascinated by the dancing blue lights creeping over Tzer's lower
arms and through his hands. They really were like insects, inspecting their territory. One bit even
crawled up as far as Mikhail's elbow before vanishing.
"You two were talking with each other for quite a while." Arkay said patiently. "Both
Nashen and Vayer are back, but I wanted you to experience your new senses with only Tzer and I
to focus on first."
"What I want to know is if I am imagining these or actually seeing them." he tried to
indicate the lights. But whenever his hands moved, the slithered away from his attention.
"Easy, Mikhail." A wash of rainbow light made them all vanish momentarily, like a wave
on a sandy beach. "See, they respond to fields."
"What are they?" he heard an echo from Tzer, as if the lad had asked the same question at
the same time.
"Technically, they are spillover from Tzer's talent, electricity." Arkay said calmly, as if
this were an everyday occurrence. Perhaps here it was. "Not really, the Fatima talent is only
found in direct line of the Demense and then not all the lords and sharm lords who are direct
descendants of Fatima manifest it. Now focus on Tzer and I'll have the others come in."
All the people, even though he knew he wanted them there, made Tzer squirm. He
slithered down under the covers. Mikhail's strength was like a warm rock on a cool autumn day.
As if he were a giant lizard, he slithered over and rested on it, belly down. Heat rose into him and
"This would be a good time for you to get comfortable, Mikhail." Nashen told the man
holding him in his regard. But when Mikhail moved, Tzer grabbed for him.
"Only a moment, my feet have fallen asleep." Mikhail touched him on the nose again, this
time without the jolt.
Tzer grinned at him. "If I run from you, we can't have you hobbled by numb feet."
"And why would you want to run from me?" Mikhail chuckled, although there was a
strange quiver behind the question as he stood up and slipped off his shirt. He looked almost as
big as his father Arkay.
A bit nervous, Tzer looked away. "Because you are a big, bad, scary Sharm Lord, of
course." he explained. "Everyone knows Sharm Lords are dangerous." He leaned back into
Mikhail's embrace as he sat down again. The Sharm Lord's long legs stretched out on either side
of him now.
"Quit teasing the man, Tzer." Vayer laughed, holding his mother. Everyone looked far
calmer about all of this now.
"Where I come from, people fear Simes." Mikhail smiled. "It is odd to have it reversed."
"How strange." his mother said. "Everyone knows Gens are far stronger and more
dangerous. Even a renGen can kill a Lord if they know how. I am a sorry excuse for a Sharm
Lord in the salle and even I have killed." she grimaced, leaning against his father, Vayer. "But
then I have these big, strong Lords to protect me with steel."
Something tickled the back of Tzer's mind. Tracking it down was like trying to catch a
minnow with his bare hands. He kept at it. Oh he caught the thread. It was from Mikhail.
"Only Fatima Lords bear swords. It is traditional."
"How can you stand to murder someone with a knife?"
"Better by sword than by kill." Vayer said softly, looking straight at Tzer. "Isn't that so,
"Yes, otyet." he looked at the raised skin on his forearms. They itched now, but he
knew better than to scratch at them. Something else was bugging him. Ow he squirmed
around, trying to get comfortable.
"Quit wiggling." Mikhail shifted his weight. The much heaver man had his arms wrapped
around Tzer from behind. He reached out an rested his hand on Mikhail's knee. The cloth of his
pants was cold and clammy. "Ow." he hissed, moving away.
"That's what I said." Tzer insisted.
Arkay chuckled. "You two. Mikhail, Tzer is reacting to your pants binding you."
"Oh" Mikhail said softly. "I can live with it."
"Quit being a renSime." Nashen pointed at the two of them. "It's only going to get worse
afterwards. Now it's quite warm enough in here to take a steam bath, so quit suffering."
"Please" Tzer asked, leaning forward.
"All right." nervously, Mikhail took off his pants. They fell to the floor with a wet smack.
Steam seemed to rise from them to mingle with the scents of wet wool and leather. He sniffed,
those weren't real odors. Looking around, he spied everyone staring at him.
"Otyet, what happened to him?" Tzer pointed.
This seemed like a good time to learn about prayer. Mikhail covered himself, not sure
what had set the lad off.
"Tzer, quit." Nashen snapped. "Don't make such comments until you know when is a
"But, otyet." he looked up at Mikhail, confusion clearly obvious.
"Lad." Mikhail knelt at his side. "What is it that has you so curious?"
"Your ... well, your penis is different." he blushed furiously. "This isn't the time to talk
"It's all right." he thought furiously, trying to figure out what Tzer had been looking at.
"Ah, I see. You look like your fathers, don't you?"
"Yes." Tzer said in a small voice, looking around.
"Not me, Mikhail. But then Tzer has not been paying attention. Right now he's looking at
everything." Arkay told him. "This is a good subject, if it doesn't make you too uncomfortable.
Physical things will keep both of you from rushing into breakout."
"Well, that is because they, Vayer and Nashen, have been circumcised when they were
little, like you were."
"I wasn't. I had it done as an adult." Vayer added. Mikhail was stunned.
"That must have hurt." he couldn't help but cringe.
"It did." he shrugged with a grin. "But I hadn't yet reached my fourth transfer, so I had it
done right after transfer. It healed very quickly. There are some advantages to being Sime."
Mikhail had to look down to make sure he was still all in one piece. Even before sexual
maturity, it must have been agonizing.
"We decorate our bodies a lot more than you do, it seems." he pointed out his earrings by
playing with them. They traced a line in gold and silver around the arch of his ear.
"It also seems you don't have quite as much of a problem with shedding blood." he slid in
behind Tzer again. Admittedly, he was far more physically comfortable this way. The lad's body
temperature was slowly rising to Sime normal. He could feel the beat of Tzer's heart against his
chest, and it was surprisingly pleasant. Even his one time with Vayer hadn't really prepared him
for how intimate these people were before transfer.
"No. We don't like it, but we don't shy away from it in a panic either." Vayer crossed his
ankle over his knee. "There are too many things we couldn't do if we refused to face life head
And that seemed to sum up the differences between their two peoples so very neatly. The
Techton danced around issues, trying to make everything perfect; the Rus played the cards they
had been dealt as best they could. Resting his chin on Tzer's shoulder, he watched as the
youngster's tentacle sheaths began thinning at the very openings with the pressure of the fluid
behind them. Tzer's shoulders tensed slightly and Mikhail hugged him a bit. With a sigh, Tzer
leaned back again. This was also the calmest change over Mikhail had attended, at least once the
intial problems had been faced.
"Yes, Tzer has been ready for us all summer. Haven't ye, m'lad." Arkay took off his shirt
as well, showing quite a thatch of silvered hair. There was absolutely no sign the young man
Mikhail held in his arms was effectively his grandson. Nashen took him in his arms possessively,
then he too took off his shirt.
"It is warm in here." he mopped at his face. "When the sun came back out after our little
demonstration of Tzer's power earlier, it must have made up for the interruption." Soon all four
of them were bare chested, even Darya.
She must have caught him giving her a look. It was a look of appreciation. "As you are
about to become family, I see no reason to swelter."
"I was simply wishing for the words to describe your beauty." he borrowed from
Dorityan's flowery language.
"I doubt, after nursing three children, you have all that much interest in my rather worn
body." she arched an eyebrow at him. Actually with her dark coloring and exotic features, he
thought she was absolutely stunning and hoped he wouldn't embarrass himself when he was post.
"Not at all true." he murmured in English, trying to think of a non-flirting way to tell her
she was gorgeous.
"How sweet." she blinked. Uh-oh Mikhail realized she knew English as well.
Tzer giggled. "You stay out of this." Mikhail whispered in his ear.
"Why?" Tzer asked.
"Because I already stuck my foot in my mouth and don't want any help chewing on it." he
tentatively let himself kiss Tzer's ear.
"That feels good." he leaned back, still resting his hands on his knees. "Do it some more."
Arkay nodded, and Mikhail felt his support fall away. For the first time in his life he actually saw
a Sime's need. A dark maelstrom waited for him. His whole body and mind sang with the need to
"Good." Arkay whispered, kneeling beside them. "You'll want him to turn before
breakout, but he's still relaxed enough as is."
Softly, he let his tongue trace the curve of Tzer's ear. With a crack, his voice dropped
from treble to low tenor as he hummed in response. Still there was none of the fear or tension he
had felt in so many change over victims.
"What an odd thing to call it." Arkay blinked. "Victims?"
"A revenant of our history." he sighed, letting his hands trace over Tzer's upper arms. "I
think a thing to discuss later." Still, Tzer's heart beat and breathing were fairly calm, if slowly
speeding up. Relaxing into the caress, he could feel the echo of Tzer's sensations. It felt as if his
own tentacles were resting calmly in their warm home, waiting for the time they could be free.
Even the furious itching was somehow familiar and welcomed.
"I think I would like to free them soon." Tzer's voice cracked dramatically between treble
and tenor. Mikhail gently nuzzled the back of his neck. Normally he did this with his hands, but
it seemed a much kinder thing to do it with a kiss. Tzer took a deep breath, as if stepping of a
cliff, and Mikhail could feel him dive hyperconcious. All the nerve complex at the nape of the
neck sang in response to his own field and Mikhail followed Tzer hyper.
"It is time." Arkay said softly, not wanting to startle either of them. Even though right
now Tzer probably couldn't hear a thing. Then Mikhail turned to him blindly and he realized
neither of them were in the real world. Stroking both of them with his field, as if shaping clay, he
turned Tzer to face Mikhail.
"Good." he whispered, backing out of the net of energy surrounding both of them. Safely
away, he watched in awe as a shimmering sphere of electrical fire surrounded the two. "By Allah
that is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen." he bowed his head in thanks
"I agree, my Alahin." Nashen's familiar touch was more than a bit shaky. "Do we look
like that?" he asked.
"No." Vayer said. "Mikhail has potentiated Tzer's abilities." A low hum broke the near
silence. Arkay could see through the blue glow, barely. He held his breath as Tzer's hands
snapped open. The hum rose, sounding as if someone had loosed a beehive in the room. Spots
grew before his eyes.
"Breath, both of you." Darya hissed, breathless herself.
Nashen gasped beside him. The two combined to remind him he would do no good if he
fainted. He could almost hear Mikhail murmuring encouragement to Tzer. A shout of triumph
shattered the drone. Arkay clasped Nashen's hand, thinking of the tiny little boy he had rested on
Darya's belly those years ago, thinking of how close he had come to letting Tzer die before birth
for his own stubbornness, thinking of simply how incredible it was to see his first grandchild
He swallowed back tears of joy as Tzer wrapped his new tentacles around Mikhail's arms.
The sphere had collapsed with breakout, and he could see Mikhail's incredible love for the young
Sime. "Yes!" he shouted as a blaze of lightning rose up again and cocooned the two of them in a
blinding flash of light and heat. It is all over too soon. Arkay smiled through his tears.
Tzer looked down. They really are mine. he grinned, trying to figure out how his
tentacles worked. Mikhail's arms felt so very good. He could feel every single hair beneath his
fingertips. Trying to chuckle, his voice cracked all over the place. "I feel so good I want to sing
and I can't." As soon as he stopped thinking about it, his tentacles retracted. "Ick, sticky."
"You'll probably be tired in a bit." Mikhail murmured, grinning from ear to ear. "But I
know what you mean. Thank you, Tzer, and congratulations." Fortunately, Arkay came to his
rescue with the sticky arms and began cleaning up some of the mess. It felt like a cat's tongue and
he giggled. Then he remembered something very important.
"Thank you, Mikhail and Arkay." he said and then his jaw popped in a huge yawn. "I
can't be tired. I've been in bed most of today." his eyelids tried to sag.
"It is always a good thing to thank your partner, m'lad." his father, Nashen's hand on his
bare knee felt normal now, not warm as it always had before. "Although aren't you forgetting to
thank someone else?"
"Oh" he bit at his lip. He turned his head. Where am I? he asked himself. The
world spread beneath his senses, as if he could see an entire map before his eyes. But it isn't a
map I can read. he wailed, trying to figure it out.
"South is that way." Nashen pointed.
"Thank you." he ducked his head and turned towards the door. "I thank you, Allah, most
merciful, most loving, most kind, for this great gift you have given to me. I will guard it and
cherish it for all of my life, as you Will." Then he yawned again, much to Tzer's embarrassment.
"Most youngsters nap for a bit after growing up." Mikhail whispered. "It's all right." his
attention and care was like a beacon to Tzer's spirit. "I'll be here with you."
Tzer crashed. Mikhail caught him as sleep overwhelmed the young man between one
huge yawn and the next. "Thank you for the wash cloth, Arkay." he grinned, trying to get some
of the worst of the sticky mess off his and Tzer's arms. The young man hardly twitched as he
inspected his tentacles. "Perfect." he noted, wondering if there were any sort of formal paper
work he had to fill out.
"Are you sure you aren't from hell." Nashen laughed, trading him a clean wash cloth for
the dirty one. "Only in hell do people live by paper work."
"Put that way, perhaps I do come from such a place." he grinned. Tzer's prayer had been
so sweet. Never before had Mikhail ever seen anyone do such a thing. To give thanks is a
good thing. he thought, musing on it. The Church of the Purity was nothing at all like what
Tzer had been thinking of. "Who is Allah?" he asked timidly.
"You have asked a difficult question." Nashen smiled. "And not a one to be answered
lightly. He is all things and all people and none of either." he sighed at Mikhail's look of utter
confusion. "Some would call him God."
Mikhail still didn't understand. "I'm afraid we have nothing like that where I come from."
Tzer's heavy sleep was making him muzzy. He wished fervidly he could simply curl up with
Tzer and take a nap. I'm almost twenty years old. I don't require naps. he told himself
firmly. "There they have two churches, both of them about Simes and Gens, with God only being
mentioned as a side note."
"The Way of Peace is older than the mutation my young friend." Nashen murmured. "If
you wish, you could accompany Tzer as he learns what he must know as an adult."
"I think I would like that." his eyes closed against his will. With a start, he forced himself
back awake. "I would like to know of something that happened before the mutation."
"We have held a great deal of knowledge of that time, Mikhail. Between us and the tribes,
our memories go back well over a thousand years, two for many things." Arkay's voice was soft
and hypnotic. "Rest now and there will be time for such things later. Rest."
Despite his momentary excitement at possibly being able to see something from before
the mutation, he couldn't resist Arkay's compulsion. The dark waters of sleep rolled him under
before he could get a word in edgewise.
"Easy lad." Arkay's roughened hand on his shoulder was now as familiar as the feel of
silk against his skin or the smell of horses, that is to say, not as much as Mikhail might wish, but
far better than nothing. A hard, rather bony, body snuggled up against his front and sniffled
slightly. The memory of yet another nightmare flitted through the darkness behind his eyes. They
had not been waking him, that he knew of, since he accepted Arkay's help, but he remembered
suffering them when he woke in the morning afterwards. "If I banish them completely, you
would go mad." Arkay whispered. "They show you things which must be dealt with if you are to
"Then I think I will learn what they have to teach." he sighed, trying not to feel horribly
"Work on one thing at a time, I think." Arkay murmured. The bedding sighed as he sat. "I
have given you that time to work through your immediate problems. The rest is in Allah's hands.
Perhaps He will free you from your shackles."
Talking philosophy and religion while barely awake was not Mikhail's strongest point.
"You'll know when you must." Arkay said. "As I said, you have to give it time. Now, for
things we can not be putting off."
Mikhail's eyes snapped open with a start. He must have jumped, since Tzer muttered
something rather irritated in his sleep. *Calm him again.* Arkay's voice came to him.
Easily, he thought of the relaxation he wished he could truly feel himself. Tzer settled back into
his interrupted slumber. When Arkay said nothing for a long while, Mikhail sighed and began
stroking his free hand along Tzer's side. He knew Vayer liked this, and hoped Tzer would as
well. The scent of fresh bread with sweet butter twined about him. Mikhail chuckled softly and
kissed the back of Tzer's neck. *There you go. You are quite good at that.*
"Thank you." he murmured as quietly as he could. It felt strange to be complemented for
something any Donor should be able to do.
"Now, for the things you have to be able to do that I haven't seen you do." Arkay went on.
"You have to be able to keep a fairly tight leash on Tzer and I don't know if you've ever worked
with a new lord."
"Probably not in any way you would recognize." he sighed, feeling so very alien and
alone. Aghast, he found he had to try to hold back tears. Stars spangled his vision, blurring the
fine, dark hair tickling his nose and turning the silver hairs amidst the black into a uniform grey.
"Oh, lad." Arkay's sympathy was painfully obvious through the contact. "It is all right to
have emotions. You're probably pretty post, correct?"
"Gens don't get post." he recited from memory, trying to hide from the waves of
heartache and loneliness. Tzer stirred again in his arms and he focused on being a support for the
"Like hell we don't." Arkay snorted, a particularly wry grin on his face. "Let me take the
lad for a moment and you can relax for a bit."
Mikhail wanted to say Tzer was his, but then stopped himself. Arkay is his
grandfather. he reminded himself. By this time though, Tzer had latched onto him with all
his newfound strength. "I'm afraid he's not going anywhere." Mikhail felt like a rock attacked by
an abalone. He sighed, stroking Tzer's soft hair.
"No, I don't think so." Arkay smiled softly. "Relax, Mikhail, let it out now and not in
But Mikhail couldn't. That was until Tzer took Mikhail's hand and placed it against the
side of his still smooth face. The barest hint of new whiskers tickled at his palm and Mikhail
sobbed in memory of his own youth. No one had held him at his establishment, they had only
sent him away to learn control.
"Oh God, Mikhail." Arkay's hand tightened on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry. My own
establishment was far kinder for all my problems. If you wish, I would tell you of it."
"Story time?" Vayer said kindly, as he came into the darkened room.
"Perhaps." Arkay tipped his head.
"I would like to hear it too." Tzer murmured in his arms.
"As would I." Nashen sat at Arkay's feet.
"Any one else?" he smiled, looking at them.
Darya paddled in, twining her hair back into a knot at the base of her neck. "I would."
"We are all suckers for stories, if you haven't noticed." Vayer said with a grin. Then he
slid into the bed Mikhail shared with Tzer. When Darya bracketed Nashen however, Mikhail
must have looked at them quizzically.
"You looked like you could use the company." she said simply.
"Yes, I would like to hear it." he told Arkay. It was definitely a bit on the warm side
between the two Simes, but they also warmed the cold, lonely place in Mikhail's heart.
Arkay began his story, and soon Mikhail was drawn into it ...
I ran down the stairs. It was less than a week until Year's Turning and I really wanted to
make my otyet proud of me. I had gotten to sing the part of the Firebird. Since she was
the symbol of my Demense, Sergei, I really had to do a great job. Besides, the music written by
Riyana Krasnaya was so perfect for my range. I didn't dare think she had written it for me, but
the reclusive Gen had simply left it on the lectern in time for rehearsals to start less than three
"You're late." The conductor glared at me. Sharm lord Marin was old, over fifty, and I
hadn't thought he liked me much.
"I'm sorry." I looked at the shiny, worn toes of my now grey boots. They had been white,
"You're also a mess." His well trained voice dropped even lower. "Get up there with
"Yes, m'lord." I scurried for my spot at the front of the choir. A quiver in my middle as I
slowed my breathing made me worry. I hadn't been hungry this morning, but I had choked down
a cup of tea and a sweet roll any ways. Now I wondered if I were coming down with something
as it sat like lead in my stomach. Tentatively, I hummed a few bars of the opening. I can't be
sick for Year's Turning, I can't. I vowed.
"If you are ready, treble Arkay." Marin clicked his baton on the podium.
"At your will." I responded, not thinking about it.
A choked gasp echoed in the hall. I blushed furiously, realizing my slip. "I meant, when
you are, sharm lord Marin." Now at least my rebellous stomach had good reason for its
He gave the beat. Two, three ... and over a hundred voices came in on four. It was
wonderful. The twelve part harmony lifted me up to the angels. Imagining I had wings, I took a
deep breath. My entrance was coming up. I opened my mouth to sing, the conductor gave his cue
... and nothing came out but a strangled squawk. The whole choir came to a literal crashing halt.
My gut twisted. I was almost seventeen, but still, One more week, I begged.
Shivering, I looked up again. "If you would, lord Halin?"
"Certainly." as the creaky old lord stepped out of the crowd, something wrenched at me.
Helplessly, I threw up, right there in front of everyone. It was awful. Everyone was chattering.
Tears in my eyes, I thought about running away. "Is all right, m'lad. Yer jus a bit sick with all the
changes in yer body." he murmured
softly, handing me a kerchief. "We'll get this cleaned up. Don' ye be worryin' about it." Then he
turned to Morin, "I'm afraid you'll have to get his understudy."
And Morin simply smiled softly and said, "Congratulations, Sharm Lord Arkay."
For not only had I established, my strength of will in trying to fit the role of the Firebird
had ascended me. Everyone there had seen my wings manifest, even the sharm lords. Halin put
his arms around me. "Come on, lad. I think ye should have some peace and quiet." He led me
from the room.
I was horribly sick through Year's Turning. All my powers as a Sharm Lord had twisted
my body until I couldn't really eat or drink anything for close to a week. Halin stayed by my side,
coaxing me to sip at some water occasionally and try to eat. I was a rake. I had never been heavy
as a child, and being ill only made it worse.
Finally he held out his hands to me. "I think you're as high as you're going to get without
being able to eat." I could see the tremor in his fingers before they came to rest on my arms. It
was like a key clicking
into a lock when his tentacles wrapped around my wrists.
"You're far, far higher than I ever will be, so take it easy on me." he smiled and then
tugged back. The gesture opened that lock and all the fire and light I had tangled up inside me
suddenly twined around both of us. "Easy, lad." he whispered, and leaned forward. I held my
breath, waiting for the contact.
At first the light simply dimmed, restful but little more, then I heard him in my mind,
*Now* and something snapped loose. It was like nothing else in the world. A great
rushing joy and wonder filled my heart as the sweetest pleasure rasped loose the fire which had
been burning me up. A cool sweetness beckoned, and I drank my fill, reveling in the taste of it,
like the freshest spring water.
Finally, as all things must, it slowed and stopped. The room dimmed to a darkness I
realized had been there all along. Only now all I had were my eyes to see with. Halin's lips
softened in a gentle kiss. I was too young to understand the raging passion he must have felt after
such a transfer, but he kindly broke it off and then kissed me on the forehead. "Thank you,
Arkay." he gave me a hug.
Unthinkingly, I hugged him back as hard as I could. It had felt so good, I wished I could
have more. "That is for later, my friend, with someone your own age." he said, but didn't push
me away. I don't know how he did it, but he stayed up with me all night as I alternately cried for
missing Year's Turning and laughed with joy for the pleasure we had shared. I must have babbled
like an idiot, but he never gave a sign of boredom with my nonsense.
"Less than a year later Halin asked for his final peace." Arkay sighed. "He asked for me
specifically, not my father." His head tipped back and he looked at the ceiling. When he looked
down again, tears were running down his face. "We did it in his room, where he had taught me so
many things in that one short week.
"I still remember his kindness and love. He was the first man I had to kill, and to this day
I will never forget the joy he saw as I freed him from a body grown too feeble and pain ridden."
And with this, Arkay put his face in his hands and cried.
Mikhail cried as well. Cried as if his heart were breaking. He remembered his own
great-grandfather, wasting away in a hospital bed with Channels and Donors standing watch and
watch on him so his ragged breathing didn't have a chance to stop. He remembered his great,
great aunt tormented by years of bad transfers and increasingly painful 'treatments' to heal her,
when all that was wrong was simply age. He remembered seeing her turn to him, her eyes still so
very bright and alive, but her body strapped to the sterile, hospital bed, with a pleading look on
her face. She could no longer talk for the tubes they fed her through, and the oxygen mask
through which she breathed, but now he knew what she had asked for.
"What a sad, happy story." Tzer said stroking Mikhail's hands, but he couldn't manage to
bring himself out of his downward spiral.
"If you would go with Nashen for a bit, Tzer?" Vayer asked.
"Thank you, otyet," he slipped out of bed. "I knew he was hurting, but I didn't
know what to do about it." Tzer took Nashen's hand and they went outside.
Relieved of having to worry about any Sime but Vayer, Mikhail lost all control. Great
heaving sobs wracked his body and he clenched his knees to his chest. He bit at them. "No, no,
little one." Vayer gently pulled his head back. "Don't take it out on yourself."
"My, great grandfather ... his mother's sister ..." the words were wrenched out of him.
I can't let them see me like this. he struck out, blinded by pain and grief.
"Easy, Mikhail." Arkay's hands held his. "I know, I heard."
"I could have saved them. I should have saved them." his limbs were trapped in what felt
like ice and they wouldn't move. The sweet, salty taste of blood filled his mouth as he bit his own
Arkay's hands moved to the sides of his face. "It is past. Grieve, yes, but don't torment
yourself for what has gone before." His light blue eyes seemed to hold his own, even as he tried
to look away. "We all make decisions, some of them right, some of them wrong but we have to
"Halin showed me how to love, Mikhail. I gave him the greatest gift it is possible to give
another, a peaceful, painless death when life had become too painful." he tried to coax Mikhail
into accepting his helping his relatives.
"But I couldn't help them." he said and Arkay was thunderstruck. For a moment he lost
control over Mikhail's body and the young man's fingernails bit deep into his own hands.
"But could you have helped them?" he asked softly, not sure if he wanted to know the
"I could have." he wailed, but Arkay caught a chink in his whirling, chaotic thoughts.
"Did you know how to, Mikhail? How to give them peace without hurting them?" he
clasped Mikhail's face in his hands, trying to will the information through Mikhail's grief.
"No" he said and collapsed completely. No longer self destructive, he let Vayer cuddle
Leaning back, Arkay wiped some of the sweat off his brow. He was soaked. It was warm
enough in here, even though fall was already underway, but it was not physical heat which made
him sweat like a foundered horse. *I'm getting too old for this* he sent Darya. Then all in
mental speech, he sent to Vayer and Nashen as well, "I believe we should have a conference with
Diomid on this one."
"Agreed." the echo of the three of them came back, overlain by a strong scent of pine and
water from Nashen.
"We are investigating a nearby pond. This should keep Tzer occupied for a good long
while." Nashen sent an image of Tzer trying to zlin the fish in the water and almost falling in,
repeatedly. "Water and new Simes are a great combination."
"He's going to get wet." Arkay sent the feel of laugter with it. Nashen shrugged.
"I'll link up with Diomid. I think I probably know him best." Nashen did sound concerned
about Mikhail though.
There was a long pause, and then Diomid's presence joined the link. "And just what is
going on? First you steal the best Master Sargent Sergei has ever had, then you steal my troops,
then you drag me out of ... Oh, it's the middle of the morning, isn't it."
"Yes, love." Kirina sent them all a kiss and then backed out of the network.
"So, what has you so hot to contact me when you are barely a thirty minute ride away. It
wouldn't happen to have anything to do with our little surprise ice storm yesterday, would it?"
Diomid sent an image of Tzer embracing a question mark with his new tentacles.
"Actually yes and no, the problem is with the question mark." Arkay sent back a gestalt
of all he had learned about Mikhail from his contact with the young man.
The contact faltered as Diomid nearly dropped his end of the link. "Oh my little kittens
and puppies. You do have a problem." There was one of those long, pregnant pauses. "Could you
open up a link from him to me?"
"He is really, really post, probably for the first time in his life." Arkay sent,
"I could have guessed that, yes." Diomid sent an image of him smacking Arkay over the
head with a pillow. "Now, if you can do it, please do."
Instead, Vayer opened up the contact to Mikhail's mind. Arkay was blown out of the link
almost as fast as everyone else. Mikhail's eyes went dead black and he screamed. It was a
horrible, grating sound, as if all the lost souls in hell were trying to get loose. Covering his ears,
Arkay realized the sound rang on the nageric level as well as the physical. It went on and on until
he thought he was going to lose his mind.
Then there was silence except for the harsh sobbing breaths of both Vayer and Mikhail.
Tentatively, Arkay reached out for his son. "I'm all right" his sending was laced with pain, but
amazingly clear for all of it.
Then the multiple linkage was back. "I'm sorry I had to hurt him, and I'll apologize in
person, but I think you should get him to us as soon as you can. His ego has been crippled by
many years of neglect, but I think he'll be all right with time and a chance to grow up." Diomid
sounded worried though.
"Those were my thoughts as well." Arkay added. "Even though I think it would be best if
he spent some time talking with you." Diomid's assent was perfectly clear and he added a number
of constructs for Arkay to use to try to help the young man hold together long enough to heal.
"Thank you." Arkay sent, picking through them.
"How long is he going to be with us?" Diomid asked, sounding rather worn, but
"I hope at least until thaw. If we can, I think it would be best if we could keep him here as
an envoy for as long as humanly possible." Arkay sent some of the more amusing images of the
other Techton people they had met. Diomid snorted, the concept coming through the mental
linkage with more than a bit of the feel of wiping slime off one's hands. "He also seems to suit
Tzer fairly well."
"I couldn't agree more." Darya added. "I would not mind Mikhail for a son." This last had
more levels of meaning than Arkay wanted to think about at the moment. But he did look
askance at her, as did the other two Fatima Lords.
Nashen simply sent, "Ins'Allah."
"Yes, I think so." he was still staring at Darya as the link disintegrated completely.
Mikhail rubbed at his eyes. They were gummy with tears and sleep. "How are you
feeling?" Arkay asked, patiently darning a sock. He was still not used to seeing men being so
domestic, but since Darya also was patching a torn sleeve on a kador, he figured here it must be a
Gen thing. I hope they don't expect me to be able to sew.
"Much better, actually." his voice rasped. Startled, he clutched at his throat. "What
happened?" he remembered Arkay's sad, sad story, but after that, nothing.
"You got a bit upset." Vayer stroked his hand over Mikhail's flank. "It is nothing to worry
about." The touch felt wonderful and he leaned back into Vayer. A stirring deep in his groin
reminded him he really had to use the restroom, or perhaps it was something more, but that he
didn't want to think about at all. "Through the far door." Vayer pointed.
Shakily, Mikhail got to his feet and padded out of the room. The cool wood felt good
beneath his feet. The facilities were nothing more than two boards with a hole in them over a
very deep pit, and he wondered again at how primitive so many things seemed. Gingerly, he
prodded at his emotions as he waited for the pressure to subside a bit. It was as if someone had
packed cotton in all the sore places in his mind.
Finally he could relieve the other pressure and the release felt far better than it should.
Everything seemed in strange contrast, sharper and somehow more in focus. His thoughts slid
away from the dark empty place in his mind.
For some reason, he stood there, staring at the wall for almost a minute. What am I
doing? he found himself thinking of Darya's generous body. She is the mother of my
transfer partner. Mikhail reminded his wayward hand. Annoyed with himself, he quickly
washed up with the shockingly cold water. It at least solved one of his problems. Shivering
slightly, he draped the bit of toweling about his hips. Mikhail's embarrassment at Tzer's question
last night was still fresh in his mind.
At Vayer's insistence, Mikhail had been letting his hair grow out. It wasn't very long yet,
but still he thought it looked rather scruffy. He ran his fingers through it. It proceeded to
resemble a porcupine. This was no improvement at all. Scowling into the bit of metal someone
had tacked on the wall for a mirror, he slicked it back with some more water.
Wandering back out into the other room, "Does anyone have a razor?"
"Go ahead and use mine." Vayer laughed, leaning up against Darya. They were both a bit
flushed. Arkay was looking out the window.
Oops. he bolted back into the bathroom.
"Use mine." Arkay said. "It's next to the basin." He heard before closing the door.
While Mikhail had grown up in a rather close household, this was ridiculous. Long after
he had finished shaving, he wondered if it were safe to go back out there. His errant thoughts
kept returning to the bright gleam in Darya's eyes as she looked at Vayer. You have no
business looking at another man's wife. he told himself firmly.
The firm part he got, the rest was another matter entirely. With a sigh he tried reaching
out with those new senses of his. A whiff of musk and amber simply added to his confusion. He
was not at all sure what was coming from where. Telling his body to behave, he decided he could
simply get dressed and go find Tzer if Vayer was not yet done with his reunion with his wife.
He opened the door a crack. Peering out, he didn't see anything untoward. But then he
didn't see anyone, nor could he see the bed. Putting on his best, 'I'm a professional Donor and
nothing is going to startle me' face, he walked boldly into the other room.
And stopped dead in his tracks. And stared. And stared some more. I didn't know that
was anatomically possible. a small corner of his mind noted. His towel tried to fall off. Not
that anyone else in the room cared or even noticed. He wouldn't have but for the fact it simply
hung there like a coat on a rack. Arkay was gone, probably to find Tzer and Nashen.
Now what do I do? he thought about looking for his clothes. This would have
worked if he could have taken his eyes from the scene in front of him.
"Would you like to join us?" Darya asked, sounding as if she were asking if he wanted
some tea. He yelped. The towel managed to find its way to the floor. His hand reached for it and
missed; it grabbed something else instead. "Or would you simply like to watch?" she said and
Stop that he removed his hand and grabbed anything that looked like clothes.
Bolting for the door, he almost thought he could hear her laugh behind him, or perhaps it was
simply his imagination.
After only half a dozen strides on the rough ground, Mikhail had enough pine needles and
bits of bark dug into the soles of his feet he could almost forget the scene he left behind.
Gingerly, he examined his booty: one sock, possibly from the persons unknown from whom they
had borrowed the cabin, as it was extraordinarily shabby and looked like nothing more than a
rather ill-groomed, oversized caterpillar; one garment of indeterminate origin and function, most
likely Darya's; a paisley shirt, four sizes too small, probably Tzer's as it was blue, green and
purple; a handful of straps, probably a part of one of the harnesses for a knife from the scabbard
still attached; (he pulled out the knife and almost cut himself with it, the thing was so sharp) and,
a-hah! a pair of pants, black, much patched, but probably Arkay's. Sliding into them, he realized
silk against bare skin was probably not the best idea at the moment.
Looking around furtively, he realized he couldn't see or hear anyone. He slunk around the
bole of a tree. There was a split in it, barely big enough for his body. Wedging himself into it, he
managed to get himself fairly well hidden. Safe he breathed. After brushing the forest
floor off his feet, he leaned back into the tree's embrace. The sun had warmed the wood and the
heady scent reminded him of the fleeting days of summer. Relaxing, he found himself thinking
of Darya's invitation to dalliance again.
"Stop that" he told himself again, then looked around. Maybe not he gave into
Feeling much better, Mikhail sauntered back to the cabin. The cool breeze fluttered the
drapes at the window. Someone had embroidered bright red roses on the cotton, and he smiled at
how cheery it looked. Blue and green patterns had been painted on the white lintel. Whistling an
old song he had written as a child, he walked up to the door.
"Has anyone seen my corselet?" Darya's voice came from the open window.
"Is this it?" he asked sheepishly, holding up the unknown garment as he walked in.
"Yes, thank you, Mikhail." she said, holding out her hand. Not seeming at all abashed,
she wrapped it about her waist and turned around. "If you wouldn't mind." she pulled her hair to
"Um, I am not particularly familiar with women's garments." his fingers trembled as he
took the laces. It seemed fairly obvious, so he began threading the laces through the eyelets.
Every time his skin touched hers though, it seemed as though a shock ran through them. He was
panting as if he had run a race by the time he reached the top.
"Go ahead and snug it up some." she said, looking back over her shoulder. Mikhail could
see right down her cleavage. Not that he was intending to, simply that she leaned back. Or at
least that's what he told himself. His fingers slipped as he tried to tug on the silk cord. Darya
giggled. This was even more interesting. Sweating now, he tugged at the laces, evening them out
and finally tying the top. He was proud of himself, he had only managed to snarl them once.
"Now give me a kiss, since you decided not to give me anything else earlier." she turned in his
Her soft, warm arms wrapped around his neck. Mikhail thought he was going to faint. All
the blood had rushed from his head to parts south. His earlier exercise didn't seem to be doing
any good at that particular moment. She pressed against him, smelling of lavender and honey.
Unable to resist, he leaned down and tried to put a brotherly kiss on her cheek.
Darya was having none of this. Most emphatically she corrected his aim. Her tongue
parted his lips and touched the tip of his. The sweet taste of her overrode his normally excellent
manners. He grasped her hips and pulled her against him. She moaned, running her leg up the
back of his thighs. This is going way too far. he had no idea where Vayer was, and had
no idea what he would do if he found Mikhail manhandling his wife. Reluctantly, he broke off
the kiss. She sighed and kissed him lightly again, returning her foot to the ground. "Perhaps
later." she winked, turning and going to the rest of the pile of clothes.
Then he saw Vayer lounging on the bed. He looked as if he were a cat who had gotten
into a pint of cream. "I have no problems with it, Mikhail. Darya is her own person."
Mikhail was stunned speechless.
Tzer shivered. The breeze was awfully cold. "Like this, m'lad." Nashen put his hand on
Tzer's shoulder and he caught something on the edge of his thoughts. Warmth spread through his
body. "Yes." he grinned. "Now if you hadn't fallen into the water, you wouldn't be cold."
For some reason his father Nashen thought stating the obvious was funny. Tzer simply
gave his now soaking wet clothes a dirty look. Not that they required it, already being quite
filthy. Deciding to humor him, "Is there any way to dry these out?" They were almost back to the
others, and Tzer didn't want Mikhail to see him like this.
"The sun." the silver eyes looking at him were half lidded.
I know that. Tzer bit back his snapping reply, knowing it would only amuse
Nashen further. "Ow!" he shook his wrist. Something had stung one of his new tentacles. Tzer
looked at them. There was the faintest traces of lightning surrounding all his tentacle sheathes,
but from his own guess, no more than normal.
"You have to learn to control your temper, Tzer." Nashen's eyes were unwontedly
"And if I don't?" he simply wanted to know. "Arkay doesn't."
"Actually, I normally do." he gave Tzer a wry grin. "Only someone here gives me a
reputation for being hot tempered."
"You have always been hot tempered. But then you are not Fatima." Nashen looked at his
partner. Tzer had always liked Arkay. He felt safe and protected in his company, as if something
had brought them together before he had been born. "Trust me on this, Tzer, Fatima Lords can
not afford to lose their tempers."
"I do trust you, otyet, but I don't understand." Tzer knew he didn't want to miss
anything so important as to make his father Nashen serious.
"Perhaps you might wish to show him." Arkay stepped back. "We are still outside so if
your little demonstration gets out of control, you won't break anything or anyone." Even he
Tzer tried to step back as well. Nashen shook his head no. "All right. Watch and
zlin, Tzer." As Nashen had already showing him how to do that with the fish in the pond, Tzer
carefully balanced his way to be able to do both. An even colder wind wrapped around both of
them. The hairs on Tzer's arms tried to stand on end. His attention flickered downwards. Nashen
looked as if he had dipped his hands in light paint.
"Go ahead and touch." Nashen offered his glowing hand. "Only Fatima can touch this.
For anyone else it would be deadly." A quiver of fear made Tzer want to step back. "It is all
right, youngster. Would I ever ask you to do anything which would harm you?"
"No" he said and clasped his father's hand. It was like the time he had stood almost in the
river as a lightning bolt struck it, but good. Almost as good as transfer. Light teased at his body,
strumming his nerves like the vibration of a giant, soundless chime. He could hear himself hum
with the cool power tickling his senses. This feels so good he purred, wrapping himself in
By the time the call for help had ended, Vayer was alread outside. Mikhail was hot on his
heels. Darya barely made out the door. Even though it didn't matter. Vayer turned to him. "Damn
it, I can't do anything." Both Nashen and his son were wrapped in glowing blue lace. It was
beautiful, and quit obviously deadly.
Then there was a flicker of movement. Tzer turned to him, pleading. Mikhail stepped
forward. The crackle and hum of power seethed around him, at first rejecting him. Thinking of
the peace which let him enjoy transfer and not merely suffer it, the power slid around him, now
welcoming him into its embrace.
It almost felt as silken as Darya's touch and he let it fill him. A deep hissing sigh escaped
his throat. A thousand needles traced his skin, teasing him with promises of pleasures yet to be
fulfilled. Reaching into the heart of the storm, Mikhail put his hand across the contact between
Nashen and Tzer, breaking it.
Thunder smashed him to the ground, Tzer in his arms. He ducked his head, letting the fire
course down his back. It felt so very good, warming him and his heart to white hot. His spine
bowed backwards and he howled with the release of feelings he never knew he could even bear.
Thrown clear of the linkage, Nashen struggled to keep the darkness at bay. Panting, he
looked up at the sky. It was as clear and calm as he didn't feel. He slumped, relieved at the minor
reprieve. Then he heard Mikhail's howl and his heart stopped.
It sounded like a kill. Purely by force of will he tried to get to his feet. "Tzer is fine."
Arkay murmured in his ear, as his knees refused to support him. "How are you?" his familiar
touch was almost as welcome as his words.
"How is Mikhail?" he let his head fall. It felt like it would fall off, but he knew he
couldn't be so fortunate.
Arkay snorted, "Orgasmic."
"What?" that was not an adjective Nashen expected. He blinked his vision clear. Mikhail
was murmuring to and cuddling Tzer as if he were the last Lord on earth. "Looks like he has
overcome his reluctance to open his heart."
"But is he going to be able to open up anything else?" Arkay's field was snarled in knots.
"I think we should deal with the immediate problems first, Alahin." he sighed, not
wanting to think about anything else. "I can't control him."
"I noticed." Arkay snorted in that so elegant way he had. Again Nashen fell in love with
him all over again. Gazing into those ice blue eyes which so easily turned to the heat of summer
lightning, all thoughts of headaches and heartaches fled. "I love you, Arkay." he whispered,
resting his head against Arkay's broad chest. The slight lisp to his heartbeat was as familiar as his
own clear rhythm.
"As I love thee, my Alamir." he wrapped Nashen in his strong arms and healing attention.
Out of the corner of his attention, he felt a shift in the fields.
"Look" he whispered, pointing at Tzer and Mikhail.
"I see." Arkay simply said and bowed his head, hiding a chuckle Nashen could only feel,
despite their nearness. "Perhaps young men sometimes do learn from example."
"If I had never been one, I might be tempted to agree with you." he looked up into
Arkay's lowered face. "Although it does seem to be working. Want to give them more of an
"Any time, my beloved." Arkay let himself be pulled closer, tipping his head. The open
invitation made Nashen's pulse race as fast and furious as it had over a decade ago. Their lips
touched and he gave himself over completely to the kiss. Melting into Arkay's embrace, Nashen
tasted the so sweet tip of Arkay's tongue. Like the honey it resembled, the taste warmed the chill
of fear from his heart with a flare of heat unlike any other.
"I'm scared, Arkay." he admitted when they were done. "I don't want Tzer to have to die
because I couldn't keep him safe."
"You won't." Arkay promised, and for some reason Nashen believed him. "Perhaps we
will be able to learn things from Mikhail as well as him learning from us."
"As long as Tzer is safe." Nashen would do anything.
Mikhail was still shivering in aftermath of the feelings running through his body. He was
spent, emotionally, and he realized with a grimace of disgust, physically as well.
"I goofed." Tzer looked away. "I'm sorry, Mikhail."
"Ye did nothin' bad, m'lad." Mikhail locked his disquiet into a box within his mind and
threw away the key. It clattered in pile of them, some rusted and bent, other shiny with frantic
fondling. "Yer m'bright lad an' I'll not be hearin' ye run yerself down." he rubbed Tzer's nose
Tzer laughed, "You sound like Dori."
"I'll bet I do, since I but been learnin' m'Russian frem te renSimes." he laughed at the look
of utter dismay on Tzer's face. "At least you don't turn green."
"Only because I have better control." he winked. "I think you might want to work on
cleaning it up some."
"But why, I so like sounding like an ignorant farm boy." or at least that's what Mikhail
figured he sounded like. He wasn't really sure and it was hard for him to tell the difference
between his own Russian and everybody else's. Then he caught his hands stroking Tzer's arms
idly. They stopped. He placed them more appropriately on Tzer's hands.
Tzer sighed, looking down. "I'm ugly to you, aren't I? Too pale ... too something."
"No, Tzer." the heartbreak in the young man's voice was painfully obvious. Tentatively,
he let his fingertips return to Tzer's arms. "You are beautiful." and in this he didn't lie. Never
before had a Sime simply let Mikhail touch them so intimately, when transfer was not involved.
The skin was so very soft, he gasped at the feel of it.
"You've never done this before, have you?"
"Neither have you." he stroked one of the sheathed dorsals. He could feel it begin to
extend and the sensation tugged at some inner core of his being. Mikhail shifted his fingertip to
the orifice, and as Tzer's tentacle slid out his breath quickened.
"I'm not hurting you, am I?" he certainly hoped not as he did not want to stop.
"No" Tzer's voice shivered. "It feels gooooood." the last was drawn out in a long breathy
sigh. It sounded so very sexual Mikhail flinched. He did not want to corrupt Tzer's innocence.
"Please, don't stop." The pleading tone convinced him. As gently as he could, he wrapped his
entire hands around Tzer's wrists. All of his tentacles came out and twined with his fingers. The
warmth of Tzer's grasp was undeniable. Mikhail leaned forward and gently kissed his forehead.
Tzer's eyes rolled up in his head and for a moment Mikhail thought he had fainted.
Concerned, he tried to free his hands. They couldn't move an inch, Tzer had such a tight hold on
him. Then Tzer sighed and snuggled against his chest, holding Mikhail's arms again after a bit of
rearranging. Not thinking of a thing, Mikhail simply enjoyed Tzer's explorations. It felt so right,
not to have to push him away. "I like it when you touch me." Tzer murmured and Mikhail began
to stroke him back. At first simply tracing the twining lines of his tentacles and then, more
boldly, the faint lines of his tentacle sheathes. "Do that some more." Tzer purred, leaning his
head against Mikhail's chest.
Encouraged by Tzer's acceptance, Mikhail did what he had always wanted to do, and let
his fingertips brush the lateral sheathes. Tzer gasped, quivering. "Yes" he murmured, licking his
lips. As if it were something he did all the time, Mikhail stroked the warm glands above each of
them. They warmed even more beneath his touch, swelling slightly in response.
The very tips of Tzer's laterals peeked from their hiding places. They were so very
beautiful Mikhail wanted to weep. The scent of roniplin was suddenly heavy in the air. There
was no sense of a desire for transfer, simply pleasure in the contact of their fields and touch
intertwining. Mikhail felt as if he were making love with Tzer, only not sexually but nagerically.
Making very sure not to actually touch them, Mikhail brushed his hands over Tzer's exposed
Instead they reached out to touch him. Their hot wetness made him cry out. The very
faintest flicker of selyn stroked his nerves. Tzer's voice joined his, as high and sweet as a bird's.
Darya grinned up at Vayer. He tapped the tip of her nose with a tentacle. They had
occasionally made love nagerically, particularly when she was too heavy in pregnancy to enjoy
the other. To see her son do so was incredibly sweet. She was not too sure yet of Mikhail, but he
certainly got her going physically. He looked so very much like what she imagined Arkay
must have at his age.
"I noticed." Vayer laughed in her ear, then nibbled on it. Darya shivered as the sensation
caused her nipples to crinkle painfully in her loose bodice. "I am noticing something else, too."
his breath was warm and sweet on her neck. Vayer's hand slid up to cup her breast. "But is it me
you're thinking about?"
"Vayer!" she wasn't sure if it was his words or his gesture which made her face flame.
Admittedly she had seduced him earlier in hopes Mikhail would join them, but not in front of
"Oh-ho." he laughed delightedly, and she blushed even worse. "I had wondered why ye
were so enthusiastic te use the bed." For last night they had made do with the floor in the only
other room in the tiny cottage.
"I wanted ye te have a good welcome home." she lied, grinning at him again.
He knew it was a lie and laughed again. "I can well understand your wanting me so badly
after the months without, my beautiful dark lady, as I wanted you, but ye were a bit indiscreet."
"What about Mikhail?" she knew he had been sleeping with the young Sharm Lord.
"He, well, he turned me down." Vayer sighed. "I think it was because he was taught men
should not be physically intimate with other men."
"Poor lad." she didn't know if her pity was for Vayer or Mikhail. "Why not?"
"The place he comes from doesn't think a whole lot of people like him." Vayer sighed,
looking at the young men exploring each other's bodies. It looked like this was Mikhail's first
time. "It probably is, Darya."
"How horrible." she pulled Vayer closer, wanting to feel the heat and strength of his
"It gets even worse. From what I could get him to tell me, which wasn't much, they
treated him like a bio-generator. Pull 'em out when needed, otherwise shove 'em in a closet." He
shook his head and then tucked
a loose strand of hair behind his ear. "Not literally, but mentally and emotionally. Even his youth
was awful. When he established, they sent him away to school and he has hardly seen his family
since. He has two sisters,
and his two parents are still alive, but it has been years since they have all been together."
"They sent him away as a child." her lip quivered.
"Not quite. They gave him three days to pack and then expected him to be an adult." her
love sighed again. "I can't blame him for being a bit odd, with such a background, but I do wish
"None of that, lover mine." she kissed him firmly. "We'll take care of him."
"You and what army?" he looked so depressed about the whole thing. Vayer had never
been able to see anyone neglected or abused. His entire attitude was either punish them and get it
over with, or leave them alone. The sort of constant degradation he described Mikhail suffering
would have struck all those nerves which made him such a good leader of men, particularly as
Mikhail wasn't even a true adult yet. Certainly he would order a long term punishiment, like a
ban, if necessary, but only for the worst possible offenses short of killing or treason, such as rape
or child abuse.
"I think Arkay and I are a bit small for an army." she could count his ribs under her
fingers. "And the first thing this general is going to do is feed her staff."
"Didn't you forget a preposition in there?" he tweaked her nose.
"Vayer" she could still taste the faintest hint of his sweetness on her tongue. "I'm going to
bite you if you keep this up."
"Now that sentence is even more confused. But if it's a promise ..."
"Vayer!" She squawked. He began nibbling his way up her neck. Darya forgot entirely
what she was going to say. Clasping his head to her, she murmured, "You are post." Somewhere
this might have been an insult.
"As are you, my delightful, fragrant, tasty, lover." his voice sent chills of delight up her
spine. "I missed you so."
"I can tell." She rubbed against him, feeling very much like a cat in heat. "But we should
probably not be doing this in front of the children." Despite the fact I'm so wet I'm about to
soak through my
"I'm certainly not going to be able to ride in this state." his heavy lidded gaze was dark
and smokey with desire. "Feel." he grasped her hand and placed on the difficulty. The touch
undid her reserve. Leading him by this rather appropriate handle, she dragged him back into the
cabin and firmly slammed the door behind them.
Arkay's head whipped around at the sound of the door slamming. What? Then the
door shook as something large and rather heavy was slammed against it, at about waist height.
The squeal that followed made him laugh. The deep growl made Nashen laugh. Soon they were
propped against each other, both snickering at the rather varied and enthusiastic repetoir indulged
in by the lovers.
"You know something?" Arkay said, as soon as he caught his breath.
"Hmmm?" Nashen was still snickering.
"I get the feeling they think we can't hear them." He mimed cleaning out his ear. "They
were no where near as noisy last night."
"Noisy enough to get you going." Nashen poked him in the ribs. He looked towards the
young men. They were still so involved in each other, they hadn't even looked up. "Isn't that
"Very" he sighed. "What a relief."
"I agree." Nashen grinned. "Lets get the horses ready to go. If Darya can walk after Vayer
is done with her, I think it's time we went home."
Darya mounted her horse rather delicately. Mikhail looked at her closely. Nashen
snickered. Vayer turned bright red. "What's so funny?" asked Tzer.
"You'll find out in a few months." Arkay gave his partner an arch look. "Did you put
tacks on that saddle?" Darya was still fidgeting around, and soon her horse was as well.
"No, actually I gave her, your sheepskin cover." Nashen pointed it out. "I thought
she might be a bit tender."
"Nashen!" she blushed furiously. "Why ever would you think such a thing?"
"Well, the door is still standing." he gave Arkay a leg up. Mikhail was getting used to the
way these people touched each other all the time, and thought it was actually rather sweet the
way Nashen was so attentive to his partner. Then he turned to his horse.
Or at least he thought it was his horse. It was standing right next to him. "Uh-oh" he
investigated the forest of curves at the front of the saddle.
"Dori told me you were short a horse and gave me Kilan to bring with me, already tacked
up." Darya looked a bit taken aback.
"I wouldn't suppose this is for Tzer." his heart sank into his boots. So far he had managed
to talk everyone out of trying to get him onto one of those sidesaddles all the other Gens rode on,
but it looked like his luck had run out. They looked horribly unstable.
"He did look a bit put out, as if someone had been doing something he didn't approve of."
She added, quite unnecessarily.
"Dorityan did not much care for the fact I refused to risk my neck on one of those
things." he glared at the saddle.
"He is of the opinion, like many Simes, that since we are physically weaker we really
should not be riding astride." Arkay leaned on his knee. The bay gelding nudged at Mikhail's
elbow, as if to ask what the problem was. "Although I see he gave you the sweetest horse in the
stables. There are times I regret having gelded him."
"His legs aren't very good." Tzer said in a very disapproving voice.
"Legs aren't everything, m'lad." Arkay remonstrated him. "A good heart and mind can
make up for a multitude of other sins."
"Yes, otyet." Tzer lowered his eyes.
"The same can be said for people." Vayer added. "A good heart goes a lot further than
mere beauty or power."
"Beautifully said, m'Lord." Mikhail told him. The sentiment almost brought tears to his
"Out here, and among family, I am no one's Lord, Mikhail." the correction was given
with a smile. "Now that we have had our lessons for today, how about one final one."
"What would that be?" Tzer asked, almost bouncing in his eagerness. Then he turned to
Mikhail. "Oh, I think I see."
"And what do you see, Tzer?" Nashen asked, resting against Arkay's side. Arkay was
gently stroking the other man's hair. It was and it wasn't possessive, more like reassuring
themselves the other was still there.
"I see a problem." he bit at his lip. "Mikhail wasn't riding aside yesterday, was he?"
"No I wasn't." he couldn't keep the heat out of his voice, or his field from the way Tzer
backed away. As he tried to pull his field back, Nashen held up a hand and stopped him. Mikhail
"Tzer has to learn not to zlin all the time." he looked at his son. "You were, weren't you."
"Yes, otyet." he said sheepishly, coming back to Mikhail. "I wanted to find out
what the problem was."
"You will get further with your eyes and your ears than your laterals." Nashen said
firmly. It sounded like a proverb. "Mikhail, go ahead and let your field loose when we are
private. If Tzer gets thumped a few times, I think he'll live." This seemed incredibly harsh and
Mikhail started to protest.
"It doesn't really hurt, Mikhail." Tzer said. "More like," he paused, obviously thinking it
over, "more like when my tutors would correct my more sloppy mistakes by smacking the backs
of my hands. Not really painful, but memorable."
"I think I know what is causing your confusion Mikhail. Many channels in the west are
more like Rels than like, say Vayer, correct?" Arkay asked.
"Yes, but ..."
"I think we are a much tougher lot." he interrupted. "If you would, I would like to
"Certainly." Mikhail always felt better with a demonstration of some sort, rather than
simply taking someone's word for it. Arkay waved everyone away but Vayer.
"Now, open up your senses, Mikhail." Arkay told him. Taking a deep breath, Mikhail let
his awareness of the fields come back to him. It was so sharp and clear, he still wondered how he
had ever managed before. "On three, Vayer." and he counted down. When he hit "now" a
blinding flash of light and heat engulfed Vayer completely, the sound like a thunder crack in the
still air. Then he realized all the fireworks were purely nageric. Mikhail blinked, a bit confused.
Vayer was still standing there, smiling up at his father. "Is that the best you can do?" he
asked impishly, and another of those huge cracks shattered the ambient. This one caught Mikhail
even more by surprise, and he jumped. His horse gave him a snort, as if to ask what the problem
was. Then with a couple of clever tugs on the reins, almost managed to get a mouthful of grass.
"Ow, you hit hard." Arkay complained, rubbing the side of his head. Nashen came
running back and glared at Vayer.
"You just wanted to get Nashen to cosset you." Vayer grinned from ear to ear. "I know
There was brief spate of some other language that Mikhail had no idea what it was.
Although from the tone it sounded like pure mush. While they babbled, Mikhail thought over
what Arkay had just shown him.
"You will help me grow up big and strong like my fathers, won't you?" Tzer asked
timidly. At that moment he sounded very much like a child and not at all like an adult. Before
Mikhail could correct him though, he thought of the way some of the out-Territory Gens treated
their grown children and he bit back his hasty words.
What is the age of consent here, anyway? thinking back, he realized everyone had
been treating him like an adolescent as well. Huh? Putting his arm around Tzer's
shoulders, he told him, "Of course I will. As much as I can."
"Good." he grinned. "We'll have lots of fun in the mean time. Good thing you're not a
stuffy adult like some other Sharm Lord I could have gotten stuck with." Tzer sounded
frightfully young. But then maybe he was a bit put off by the display earlier.
"I'll also have to ask a lot of questions. Do you mind?" he asked, giving Tzer a squeeze.
"No, not at all." he chirped. "Go ahead."
"Well, first, because I am curious, how old is adult?" Mikhail really hoped this one would
get through the culture barrier.
"Well, it depends." he looked to Nashen for support. Nashen nodded, as if to say 'go
ahead'. "For someone like Dori, about sixteen or so."
Interesting, they go from natal age. Mikhail thought to himself, then Tzer dropped
"For someone like you, a Sharm Lord, about twenty-five." Then his world turned upside
down even more as another one of those shocks shattered the ambient.
"Pay attention, Tzer." Nashen growled. "You scared him. Now fix it."
"No, no, I'll be fine." he clutched at one of the protuberances on the saddle. It least it was
good for something. Twenty five! I've been an adult for almost six years! Dismay rocked
him on his foundations. Something in his head told him to relax and go with it. It was a voice he
had never heard before, but somehow he knew to trust it. Taking a deep breath, he found Tzer
stroking his hair back from his face. It didn't require it, but it felt good all the same.
"I've seen Nashen do this to Arkay." Tzer whispered. "I hope it feels good to you." he
tipped his chin forward, as if unsure of his reception.
"It does." he traced his fingers of the back of Tzer's hand. "Thank you."
"I like it when things feel good to you." Tzer grinned, and the gave him a kiss, right on
the lips. Mikhail was so startled he even forgot to pull back. Tzer's eyes got really big.
"No, you simply startled me. Another of those things about where I come from." he
leaned forward and gave Tzer a soft kiss back. The sense of Sime was so much stronger than that
of male, Mikhail found himself responding physically. This didn't happen with Vayer. he
thought, and then realized he was lying to himself. He hadn't wanted his body to respond to
Vayer's presence as a Sime, only as a male. "You see, I have a lot of things to learn."
"So do I." Tzer told him. "Shall we do it together?"
"Sounds good to me." Mikhail felt far more relaxed now, as if being given the chance to
return to childhood was not entirely a bad thing.
*It is not, Mikhail. Too many of us must grow old too fast. Take this chance with Tzer
in both hands and run with it.* Arkay sent him, with the scent of sweet, greening spring
breezes and the feel of cherry blossoms against his cheek.
I think I will and with that, Mikhail released the bindings on his heart. It fluttered
free, like a dove loosed from captivity. I will make mistakes and not be perfect, but perhaps,
this time, I can find my own way.
*Beautifully said, Mikhail.* Nashen sent. *You have the soul of a poet*
"Now," Mikhail spoke out loud again. "About this saddle."
"Yes?" Arkay's grin showed a great deal of fang.
He thought about the easy way Nashen had helped Arkay into place. "Am I correct in
guessing it is traditional for a Lord to help their partner into the saddle." There was no way he
was going to manage on his own.
"It is." Darya had returned, and was grinning down at him. "Arkay can do it, but I have to
use a mounting block or get a leg up."
"So, would someone here like to give Tzer and I our first lesson in etiquette, as I haven't
the foggiest how to get up there." he pointed to the seat of the saddle.
"Well, Kilan does know to kneel, but I think you have a great idea. If you would,
Nashen?" Arkay watched with great amusement written all over him.
"They're your children." Arkay pointed out.
"That isn't my fault." Nashen looked at Darya with a huge grin.
"You certainly helped." she laughed. "Come now, what's the worst that can happen."
Mikhail really wished she hadn't said that. All kinds of disasters ran through his mind.
"Ok, Kilan. Please take pity on me." Normally he liked horses well enough, and enjoyed riding,
but this was another matter entirely.
"He is a wonderful horse, Mikhail." Arkay said. "Kilan, stand." he said in Russian. The
horse froze as if he had turned into a statue. "Now, turn so you are facing the same direction as
"Who's giving this lesson?" Nashen asked. Arkay shut up. "First what I want you to do,
Tzer, is take Kilan's reins. He's not going to move, but with another horse you don't know that. If
he moves out from under Mikhail as he tries to mount, you have a problem." A problem seemed
such a minor way of putting it. Images of Mikhail flat on his back under the horse's belly went
through his mind. Vayer snickered. Mikhail stuck his tongue out at him. Darya laughed.
"Enough, all of you." Tzer was still looking quite attentive.
"Now, what you are going to do, is lift Mikhail up high enough he can swing his right leg
around and over the fixed head, the one that hooks over your right thigh, Mikhail." Nashen added
at Mikhail's look of utter confusion. Oh he re-examined the saddle. Arkay was kind
enough to lift the drape of his skirt-like garment to show how he had hooked his legs around the
"How do I manage to lift him?" Tzer looked at Mikhail quizzically, obviously measuring
him with his eyes. Mikhail grinned back and soon both of them were giggling.
"Boys!" Nashen barked. Kilan looked at him. No one else did. He and Tzer were still too
busy giggling together. "You augment, of course."
"I what?" Tzer blinked. Of course Mikhail knew it was done, but not how to do it.
"You have to be careful of your balance." Nashen closed his eyes. Mikhail could see his
lips move. It looked like prayer. "Let me show you."
"We've already had one demonstration." Mikhail pointed to Arkay. Actually it was the
fact that once he got on top, he had absolutely no clue how he was going to get back down off the
"Really, it's tricky enough as is, Mikhail." Nashen sighed. He leaned down, forming a cup
with his hands. "Put your knee in my hands. As I lift," he suited actions to words and Mikhail
found himself almost three feet in the air. He clutched at Nashen. "No, no, not like that." Mikhail
looked down over Nashen's head. He does have a cute back side. he noted with his new
found curiosity about everything. Arkay laughed so hard tears streamed down his face.
"Shut up, Arkay." Nashen muttered into something like the middle of Mikhail's torso.
"You were supposed to turn the other way, toward your mount."
Arkay howled with laughter.
"I meant, the horse." he managed to extricate himself from Mikhail's clutching hands and
set him back on the ground. "Shall we try this again?" even though now that Mikhail looked,
there was also a sense of devilment about Nashen as well with this whole procedure.
"Which the mounting or the lesson?" He quipped, and was rewarded with Darya joining
in on the laughter. Then he saw the look on Tzer's face. "Come here, Tzer." he held out his hand.
"We were simply playing."
"But I didn't get it." he said softly.
"Do you know how we made each other feel good earlier today?" Mikhail asked gently.
"Yes" Tzer gave him one of those incredibly bright grins.
"We were teasing each other about another way people can make each other feel good."
Mikhail explained. "Sometimes we use the euphemism 'mounting' to describe it."
"Oh, like a stallion mounts a mare and eleven months later we get a foal?" he gave
Nashen a purely inscrutable look.
"Exactly." Mikhail said, glad of the more rural upbringing of these people. Youngsters
who had no clue about sex were a very sad thing to see when they reached maturity all at once.
"Then when a stallion mounts another stallion, the result must be a thunderstorm." he
gave both Nashen and Arkay an arch look and everyone broke up laughing.
When everyone had settled back down, Tzer walked up to Mikhail boldly. "I think we can
figure this out." He winked, as if to dare Mikhail to go along with him. Carefully, he set his knee
in Tzer's cupped hands.
As smoothly as if he were on an elevator, Tzer lifted him up to the level of the saddle.
Mikhail reached for the fixed head. Nashen braced Tzer as he wobbled a bit with the shift in
weight. Sensing slow and steady was better than rushing, Mikhail paused.
Awkwardly, he hooked his knee over the head, almost smashing his own hand. Good
thing Tzer isn't Ferris Mikhail shook out his hand.
Tzer's support began to slide away. All would have ben well if Mikhail's butt had been on
the saddle. As it was, he slid, slowly, gradually, down Kilan's side. This wouldn't have been so
bad if his knee hadn't already been hooked on something.
A firm hand placed itself under his behind. However, leverage was not kind to the owner
of said hand. Mikhail's downward progress was only slowed and not stopped.
"Kilan, stand." Arkay snapped out.
Oh please be good, Kilan. Please Mikhail begged silently. Finally another hand
joined the first. It groped him in quite an intimate fashion. Mikhail yelped and pulled himself
upright. Amazing what encouragement will do for you he noted, panting now that he was
Tzer grinned like he had won the biggest prize at Arensti.
"Now, put his foot in the stirrup." Nashen's voice bubbled with amusement. Tzer placed
his free hand on Mikhail's right knee. "His other foot, the one you already have in your hand."
"Oh." Tzer bit his lip and blushed, but a grin peeked out any ways.
"Now this is your excuse to grope his leg under his habit." Nashen pointed out by
example, grinning all the while.
"Hmmmmm." Tzer's hand slid all the way up the back of Mikhail's leg. But it was not his
hand which managed to slid around a bit far. Mikhail gave Nashen a blown kiss. Nashen just
laughed and patted his thigh. All the cloth turned the gesture far more intimate than Mikhail
would have expected. He soon discovered the same advantage to riding aside as countless
generations of male Gens before him. Arkay winked.
"Um, yes." he said, and cleared his throat. "Thank you both, Tzer, Nashen." Even though
he figured Nashen had already collected his payment.
"My pleasure." Nashen said, only to be echoed a heartbeat later by Tzer. Now that is
absolutely undeniable. Mikhail thought, and Nashen winked at him.
"Now, as you should have the reins in you left hand," Nashen waited patiently for this to
be true, "present them to your Sharm Lord."
They had been quite neat in Tzer's hands. The instant Mikhail touched them they snarled
into a mass of straps going every which way.
"How many of these things are there?" Mikhail hadn't noticed there being a dozen reins.
Before he could even get started sorting them all out, all he was left holding were the very ends
of them. Kilan had decided this was the perfect time for a snack. Either that or he was expressing
his overwhelming boredom with the entire proceedings.
"Four." Arkay said calmly. "Now," his horse sidestepped neatly over to Mikhail's off
side. "Kilan, up." and Arkay proceeded to untangle the reins and show Mikhail how to deal with
them. He had known Arkay's horsemanship was far beyond anything Mikhail had ever seen
before in his life, but it seemed the man was also a natural teacher for it. Mikhail's entire
experience as a rider was kick means go, pull means slow down. Soon Arkay had him and Kilan
describing large patterns in a nearby meadow.
"I think you will manage." he said finally. Much to Mikhail's surprise, he found the odd
saddle to be incredibly secure.
"Thank you." he said.
"Take care of Tzer for us." he patted Mikhail's knee fondly. "You both deserve it."
And with that cryptic comment, they returned, as everyone else was mounted and well
ready to go home.
Tzer sighed, They are so beautiful. He looked around, No one is watching
the world dissolved into light and heat. The throbbing pulse of Mikhail's production thrilled
along his nerves. He could zlin Mikhail concentrating, turning his nager into a brilliant white
snowflake made of selyn surrounding a warm core.
A brush of blue light tickled at his awareness. He welcomed it into his world. It twined
towards the grey white swirling figure reaching towards the wash of sky. Content, Tzer zlinned
the fields interacting, although he noted the pure white one always seemed to face him in some
indescribable way. As if he were the center of its universe, rather than the other way around.
Coming back to the real world, Tzer wondered what it was going to be like after his
fourth transfer. The teasing and horseplay of his parents and Mikhail had made him curious.
Normally Tzer was not overly curious, that being a trait more likely found in Sergei, at least so
Tzer thought. Mikhail was now moving with his horse. They looked so very beautiful together.
The two strong animals working together rather than fighting each other.
"You could learn from that, Tzer." Nashen pointed out.
"But who is the rider and who is the horse?" he asked.
"Yes" Nashen chuckled. "It is a partnership."
"Do you have that kind of partnership with Arkay?"
"Usually." he ruffled Tzer's hair. Tzer usually didn't much care for the gesture, as it really
messed up his hair, but this time it felt good."Sometimes we get into arguments, but we work it
"Sounds like a lot of work." he sighed.
"It is, but it's worth it too." Nashen went back to looking at the two Sharm Lords. This
gave Tzer a great excuse to simply watch as well. "Neither Arkay nor I will ever be alone again."
"But what if something happens to either of you?" while the concept of never being alone
again sounded like a good idea, there did seem to be some down side to it as well.
"Then the other will follow him." he sounded sad. "The way Kir followed Valentine."
"I never did understand what happened to them." Tzer knew better than to ask.
"Perhaps it would be best if Nivanya told her story to you and Mikhail." his hand was
almost cold on Tzer's. "Val was a good friend of mine, and Arkay's son." Tzer already knew this,
but he also knew this was not a good time to remind his father of the fact.
"Why does it happen that way?" he asked.
"If you and Mikhail continue to deepen and strengthen your bond, I think you will also
know." Nashen's field wrapped around Tzer in a warm hug. "But for right now, I will simply say
that I can not take transfer from anyone else, at least a direct transfer. I could survive for a month
or so on shunts, but I wouldn't wish to."
"So it is purely physical?"
"Not at all." the hug tightened and Tzer leaned back into it. "I love Arkay more than I
could ever say and without being near him, my heart would break."
"Mushy stuff." Tzer was a bit uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had
taken and couldn't think of a polite way to get out of it.
"True enough, m'lad." Nashen chuckled. "You'll find out soon enough."
Tzer wasn't so sure of this, but kept silent.
Kilan's gaits were like silk. The other horse Mikhail had been riding had been nothing
like this. Carefully, he gathered all the reins into one hand and stroked Kilan's neck. It too had
the slick feel of polished silk. Surprised, he stroked it again. The animal's coat seemed to
shimmer in the rich sunlight, with hints of blue and green to the dark brown. "He almost feels
like a Sime."
"Don't they." Arkay smiled back. "I do believe that was one of the reasons my ancestors
The other horse Mikhail had been riding, had also felt more horselike, rough and jarring,
particularly near the end of the days march.
"Come on, lets canter." Arkay said and somehow both horses moved into the gait, Kilan
one step after Kika. It was like stepping up a riser and Mikhail whooped with glee. Now he knew
why some people liked riding horses so much. Kilan flattened his black ears back and bolted up
the slight rise. The sheer power of him was intoxicating.
"Wait up." Arkay shouted. Mikhail wasn't listening. The wind whistling in his ears and
rushing through his hair chased all sensible thoughts from his head. They came to the top of the
hill. Kilan's head and neck came up as he stopped suddenly. It was the most natural thing in the
world for Mikhail to lean forward into the motion.
As one, at the top of the hill, they stood upright and Mikhail caught his first glimpse of
Moskva. Stunned, he stared even as Kilan's forefeet returned to the ground. "It's beautiful." he
breathed, mouth agape.
The city looked nothing so much as if someone had strewn the contents of a jewelry box
into a basin lined with emerald green velvet. All colors of the rainbow, gilt and silvered glistened
in the sunlight. Silver-blue ribbons twined in and among the brightly painted buildings and
golden spires rose far above the city streets.
"Yes, it is." Tzer rested his hand on Mikhail's knee. He hadn't heard him come up and
was a bit surprised to find him so near. "Didn't mean to startle you."
"I know." for a moment he quavered, Nashen's admonition not to hold back warring with
his habit of control.
"Ick." Tzer stiffened.
Nashen's words finally won.
"Better." Tzer said.
"How so?" he wouldn't have thought letting a shock run through his field would be better
than dampening it.
"Before you were vibrating. When you relax it stings and then is over." he said, looking
down at his own hands. "Am I making any sense?"
"I think so." Mikhail said. "If I am to hurt you by accident, you would rather it were over
"Yes, that's it." he squeezed Mikhail's knee gently.
"But what if I don't hurt you at all?
"Then I was being an adult and not zlinning when I shouldn't have been." Tzer's grin was
infectious, but his words were more than a bit disturbing. Even after seeing Arkay and Vayer
take a few swings at each other, Mikhail still wasn't sure about all of this. It was so diametrically
opposed to everything he had ever been taught. "What's wrong?"
"Only that at home Gens were not supposed to disturb the Simes around them by
inappropriate displays of emotion in their nagers." he sighed.
"Who defined inappropriate?" Arkay asked.
"The Sime in question." he responded automatically.
"That doesn't seem fair." Tzer said, almost pouting. "Why do only the Simes decide?"
"Because Simes are the ones who can be tempted to kill." he looked at his own
defenseless arms, without tentacles.
"Oh-ho." Arkay smiled. It was not a smile of pure amusement, but had a darker look to it
as well. "I think I understand. Where you come from, Gens do not kill, do they?"
"Well, there are myths of it happening, but that was in the past." he thought of some of
the great Companions, including his many times great-grandfather Sergi. "Besides, only Simes
can ... oh, Gens can zlin too." he blushed, looking around at his surroundings with his new
senses. The very faintest glimmer of life surrounded even the grasses beneath their feet. The
other humans all glowed from within, showing their fields like a haze of light surrounding them.
"Here, Sharm Lords are the most feared men and women in the Demense because we can
kill, and have the right to kill any we choose to." Arkay looked rather sad. Tzer's hand shivered
on his own.
"You aren't afraid, are you?" Mikhail asked the young man.
"A little, now that Arkay mentioned it." his silver eyes were wide. "I hadn't thought about
"I'm sure you hadn't. You grew up around Sharm Lords. We don't seem so scary to you."
Arkay moved a bit closer.
"But why?" he didn't quite know what he was asking.
"Because it is a thing that must be." Arkay shrugged, as if that ended the discussion. This
was one of those things that often annoyed Mikhail no end.
"Just because something has always been done one way is no reason not to change." his
field must have lashed out, for Tzer flinched. This time he quenched it instantly and sent the
peace and calm to the young man as he had been trained to do.
"No, Mikhail." Tzer straightened, eyes blazing. "Don't take my strength from me."
The refusal was stunning. "You want this?"
"Yes." he tipped his chin up, looking amazingly stubborn. "As a Sime I may be
dependent on Gens for my life, but I don't wish to force that dependency down your throat."
"Tzer." he protested. "It isn't like that at all."
"If I can't stand on my own it is." a cool breeze twined around both of them, teasing at
Mikhail's hair. "Don't wrap me in cotton."
"I wasn't." he dropped his eyes. "I want you to feel good."
"Then let me grow up straight and strong, like my father." the faintest traces of light
tracked up Tzer's forearms. "I can't learn to control this," he raised his right hand towards the sky
and lightning escaped his grasp to strike the sky. It was a faint echo of the storm Tzer had
conjured at his changeover, but the similarity was obvious. "If I can't even stand on my own with
my Sharm Lord."
"Then I will do my best to learn how to stand with you."
"With me, not behind and not ahead." at Tzer's touch the residual static traced up
Mikhail's arms. It felt so wonderful he hissed through his teeth and felt his eyes widen
"With you." he promised, not letting go of Tzer's hand.
Arkay let the two young men go ahead. Nashen leaned over and whispered, "How are
"Well enough for one who has just changed over and one who has been used as a doormat
all his life." he could feel the tension make his voice harsh.
"How are you doing?" Nashen stroked Arkay's hand.
"Wishing I still had the resilience of youth." he sighed. "Did you see Tzer's little
"How could I miss it?" his fingers dug into the bones of Arkay's hand. They were often
stiff these days, particularly when the weather was being unstable.
"That feels good." he stretched his fingers out. Joints popped with Nashen's minstrations.
"Do you think we can hold him back long enough to get the rest of the grain harvested?"
"I sure hope so." he looked at the renSimes scurrying about trying to recover from
yesterday's near disaster. It looked like only a few of the outlying hectares of wheat and rye had
been flattened, and everyone was trying to gather it up before it began to rot. "It'll make decent
hay if we get it under cover soon enough." he looked up. "I think I can keep it clear for another
week, if I can get enough selyn to hold off the low pressure system coming in."
"Maryam really should pay her fair share to Fatima." he snorted in disgust at the
"She pays her cut to Kirov and he passes it on to Fatima." Nashen shrugged, as if it were
a matter of indifference. "Maybe I should take Tzer out and dump the storm before it gets here."
"That would be a good idea. Give him a chance to cut loose before he comes into his full
power." Arkay mused. "Teach Mikhail at the same time."
"After the way he shut down Tzer earlier today, I wouldn't dream of doing anything
different." he looked at his arms. "He almost had me, Arkay."
"I know it." Arkay put his arm around Nashen's shoulders and hugged him tight for a
moment. "He had me a bit scared."
"You never really have recovered entirely from my pounding you into the floor." Nashen
looked almost ashamed.
"It isn't a thing easily forgotten." Arkay grinned wryly. "Particularly not for one as proud
of themselves as I am." he tried to make it into a joke.
"Pshaw, Arkay." a single zing of electricity tickled his thumb. "I hurt you. I don't expect
you to ever forget something like that."
"I deserved it." he looked back at his son, talking brightly with his mate. "I couldn't see
what was in front of my face."
"Not when your blood was up." Nashen pointed out.
"I never could once I got going." he still felt remorse for how close he had come to
destroying the lives of all three of his housemates.
"I don't think Mikhail shares that flaw." Nashen said softly.
"No, not at all." Arkay shook his head. "In fact I think rather the opposite. He gets excited
or upset and then blames himself for it."
"Ties in far too neatly with the way his Techton tried to teach him he was responsible for
the reactions of Simes around him." Nashen pointed out with rather unexpected perspicacity.
"Tzer said that was unfair." Arkay told him.
Nashen snorted, "He would." His long, slender fingers twined about the reins of his horse
whitened a bit. "What are we going to do about that?"
"He'll learn soon enough the world isn't fair." he said. "Let him be on the issue for now. I
think he has enough sense to see what is worth fighting for. Besides, on the point of not wishing
for Gens to be doormats, I entirely agree with him."
"You would, no matter how much you might enjoy being on the bottom." Nashen's grin
"And you don't?" this was one of the few arguments they still had between them, and it
was far more for entertainment than any real heat.
"Actually I agree with you completely, no one should be another's doormat."
"Does that mean you are volunteering to be on top when we get home?" Arkay laughed,
hoping to have caught Nashen out for once. Nashen actually blushed, making Arkay crow with
delight. "I promise you I'll be good."
"You always are, my love." and his kiss was sweeter and headier than mead.
"GOOD MORNING!" Nashen yelled in his ear. Mikhail promptly fell out of bed. This
wasn't too bad, considering. Or at least it wasn't until someone turned on the lights. Frantically,
he waved around for the lamp. The light was knifing straight into his brain. He whimpered.
"Quit shouting." Tzer hissed, sounding like a train about to explode. Which was exactly
what his head was doing at the moment.
"Hush." he told both of them. Mikhail's head seemed to fall off with this and roll under
the bed. Although that probably would have been quite pleasant, except for the fact that then
perhaps the rest of the family of dead rodents would probably also take residence in his
mouth."Shen and shidoni."
"Please, Mikhail." Nashen's voice ripped through the stillness like thunder. "Such
vulgarity." He actually sounded outraged.
Good, revenge Mikhail thought very, very softly.
"I think I'm going to be sick." Tzer's voice was tinny, as if he were far away.
"Probably." Arkay shouted, "As you are greener than your grandfather's kador."
"Please stop shouting." Mikhail put his hands over his ears. Then he sat up. Or at least he
would have sat up if his horse hadn't been sitting on his chest.
A cool, damp, lead cloth was placed over his closed eyelids. Then someone, Bless
them, stuffed oil soaked cotton in his ears. "Better." and then someone put a rather well
shaped rock under his head. "I think I'll lie here for a moment."
"You do that." Nashen's voice came from far away and delightfully muffled.
Then he remembered, "How's Tzer?" the shenned horse was still on his chest.
"Lie still, Mikhail." the horse told him, sounding surprisingly like Arkay. "Tzer will be all
right, he's just a bit hung over."
"This is no hang over, this is a nightmare." What in the world had I been
drinking? Mikhail tried to sort through his rather vague memories of last night. He
remembered meeting way too many people, all of whom seemed to be tall, blond and blue-eyed.
All except for those who were not. "What were we drinking?" he finally asked. "I've been hung
over before, but not like this."
"I haven't." Tzer whimpered. "I hurt."
The cry of pain did what his own could not. He shrugged off Arkay's weight and sat up.
The cloth slid down his nose. It seemed to snag on every singly pore of his skin, but finally
landed in a soggy mass on his lap. He turned to the bed. Nashen had set a basin on the nearby
table and was taking his son into his arms. By sheer force of will, Mikhail slithered onto the bed.
"I'll take him." he wrapped his arms around Tzer's trembling shoulders. "You'll be all right. I
promise." he murmured.
"No I won't." Tzer shivered. Mikhail wrapped a blanket around both of them. "I want to
die." he snuffled on Mikhail's shoulder.
"I had said you two should probably not have drunk so much Starka." A corner of
Nashen's mouth turned up. "And that you would regret it in the morning."
"But everyone else was." he hugged Tzer to his chest, cuddling him as he would have a
much younger child.
"Does that mean you should?" Arkay asked.
"I think I learned my lesson, otyet." Tzer sniffled again. "My head hurts." Mikhail
stroked his jaw along Tzer's crown, feeling better with the simple contact. Tzer squirmed a bit
until they were tied into a knot of arms and legs. His warmth was returning and the heat baked
the ache out of Mikhail's body like nothing else ever had.
"Was that a lesson?" Mikhail couldn't really get up the energy to be dismayed at how he
must have failed the test.
"It was and it wasn't." Nashen told them. "You get one free ride to learn your limits. The
next time we will not be so gentle by warning you beforehand and you will be expected to take
care of yourselves if you make the same mistake."
"Sounds fair." he said in unison with Tzer and Tzer looked up at him. He was grinning. It
was a pained grin and his eyes were bloodshot, but at least he seemed a bit more cheerful. "Going
"I think so." he swallowed tentatively. "I think I'm also hungry."
Mikhail took inventory, even the wild shiltpron party at the Rialite dorms had been
nothing like this. Most of his body parts still seemed to be present, and he said, "I know I'm
starving." For him that was part of the problem with being hungover, he woke up so hungry it
only made his headache worse.
"What would you like for breakfast?"
Facetiously, Mikhail quipped, "Steak, eggs, fried potatoes, coffee, toast, strawberry jam,
fried mushrooms, oh yes, and two tomatoes."
"And you, Tzer?" Nashen asked, not even batting an eyelash.
"Forgot something, m'lad." he tapped his son on the nose.
"Oh, yes. No jam and no steak." he seemed deep in thought for a bit. "Cheese on the
"Sounds good to me too." Nashen rubbed the side of his nose with a tentacle. "How 'bout
we just send for the kitchen."
"Sure." Arkay said without blinking. "How do you like your steak done? Still mooing or
"I was kidding." Mikhail did blink.
"I wasn't." Arkay shrugged. "Just because these guys are herbivores," he gripped Nashen
on the shoulder, "doesn't mean we are."
"Doesn't it offend them?"
"Only when it wiggles." Nashen grinned. "Seriously, Mikhail. Eat what you like. If
something doesn't agree with you, let us know. We probably eat a lot of things you are unfamiliar
with and prepare things differently. I know to stay near the down-draft on the ventilation system
when Arkay is eating or smoking something particularly vile and it isn't a problem."
"Is that why you and Vayer always sit together at dinner?" Tzer looked up curiously.
Mikhail followed his glance and only saw what looked like white painted tiles interspersed with
a pattern of dark ones.
"There are a couple of places in each of these rooms where the air currents are designed
to isolate odors and chemicals." Nashen grinned wickedly. "I'll show you the physical plant and
plans some time if you swear not to pass them on to your Techton."
"Why not?" and then he quickly added, "I mean, what can more or better knowledge
Both Arkay's and Nashen's fields darkened, locking together with a click. "When I feel
you know the answer to that question, only then will I show you certain of our tecniques." It was
as if they slammed a door in his face. The look on Nashen's face was warning enough, however.
This was not a topic to be trifled with.
"When I think I know, I'll come ask." Mikhail said softly.
"When you know, you won't have to ask." Arkay said.
"In that case." Mikhail took a deep breath and regrouped himself, "I would like my eggs,
two of them, fried over hard and the steak cooked, but barely."
Arkay headed for the door. Mikhail added, "Oh yes, easy on the seasonings."
"Must not be feeling well yet." Nashen pontificated. Actually it was simply that Mikhail
was not used to the combinations and quantity of spices sometimes found in the food and was not
up for it first thing in the morning. "And you?" he asked Tzer.
"Lots of garlic and onions, 'specially on the potatoes."
Nashen chuckled, "Got you. Lots of food on the food."
"Huh?" Mikhail asked as Arkay asked the guards outside to fetch breakfast. Having
servants was handy, but Mikhail still wasn't really comfortable with it and tried not to think
about it too hard.
"A running joke." he sat, lacing his hands over his knee. "Onions, cabbage, garlic, beets,
bread and potatoes; otherwise known as 'food'. The largest part of our diet is based on those
"I like all of them." Tzer said.
"Good thing, or you'd starve." Nashen tapped him gently on the nose. "You're hearing
"As soon as I eat I'll be fine." Mikhail said, trying not to listen to the growling of his
"Just don't look in a mirror." Arkay told him.
"I have to shave."
Arkay shook his head no, "Look at your hands, Mikhail." He looked down. They were
shaking even against Tzer's body. "I think I'll help."
"Good idea. I don't want to cut myself and send Tzer through the roof." he stroked Tzer's
back. It felt so good to simply have the close physical contact, Mikhail wondered how he had
lived without it.
"I don't think I would like that either, this morning. Although will you teach me how to
shave when you feel better?" he asked against Mikhail's shoulder.
"You don't want to grow a beard?" Nashen teased.
"No, not yet." Tzer sniffed. "It would probably look rather ratty at first."
"Smart decision, Tzer." Arkay said. "I tried it once and almost ended up scratching my
"You know something?" Mikhail asked rhetorically. "I've never tried it."
"You should." Nashen insisted. "All men, at least once in their life, should give it a try.
Once Vayer tried it, he decided he liked it so much he kept it."
"No one back there wears a beard." the idea was growing on him.
"Actually it was that Darya liked it so much he never got a chance to shave it off."
Arkay pointed out.
"I think I'll try it." he said. Attracting Darya's attention was sounding better and better.
Nothing in his life could have prepared Mikhail for this. Last week out learning with Tzer
to herd storm clouds around the sky had been fun, this physical was a downright nightmare.
"Now, on the scale." the sharm lord pointed to a flat box on the floor. He didn't even ask but
went over to look at it. His behind hung out of the drafty cover and he quickly tried to close it.
Some things never change. he cursed the garment.
"Well, don't just stand there, stand on it." his persecutor pointed towards the box. It
looked like the sort of box a shirt would come in, barely big enough for both of his feet. Gingerly
he stepped onto it. It made a high pitched sound like stepped on cat. Mikhail yelped and danced
"I hurt it." he looked at it closely, closing his eyes slightly to use his other senses better. It
almost wasn't alive, but there were the very faintest traces that maybe it once had been. Did I
murder it? Mikhail eyed the thing suspiciously.
"I thought you said you had worked in an infirmary?" the Gen tapped his stylus on the
wax covered tablet he carried. For some reason there seemed to be absolutely no paper anywhere.
Parchment and the wax tablets yes, but no paper. Even though when he had pointed this out,
Nashen had given him one of those looks of 'when you know, then I'll tell you.' Sometimes being
thought a youth was a pain.
"Not one like this." he stared around again.
"I can not deal with this!" sharm lord Gregori glared at him in disgust, turned away and
stalked out the door. The slam was punctuated with an annoyed kick.
Mikhail looked at the door. I think I messed up. he thought, all the while knowing
he had. He touched the box with his toe. It was silent. Ever so slowly he put more and more of
his weight on it. It made another of those noises. Mikhail danced backwards. He skittered right
into something warm. The something hadn't been there before. It would have felt human if it
didn't feel more like a warm brick wall.
Fear and something a great deal warmer and wetter leaked from him at the wholly
unexpected contact. He spun around and landed in the fighting crouch Arkay had been trying to
beat into him for the last month and a half.
Sheepishly, he finally realized he was face to face with someone he really knew he should
have recognized. He dug through his brain trying to remember the Gen's name. Finally his thighs
began to tremble. Huh? ... Oh Mikhail finally straightened up.
He found himself towering almost half a foot over the other person. His shoulders
"Stand up straight, silly." the stranger's light blue eyes laughed at him, not unkindly
Rather self consciously he did so, trying to smooth out the ridiculous gown. "I see you are
ready for the urine sample." A pale, silvered eyebrow rose towards the man's high forehead. "I
am not completely surprised you don't remember me. You were rather well lubricated the last
time we met." He handed Mikhail a cup. "You were playing draughts with Avilan if I remember
Mikhail blushed furiously, trying to figure out what exactly it was he was supposed to do
with the implement this person had handed him. "Probably. I don't remember much of my first
"I'm not surprised at all. Avilan has the constitution and capacity of an ox." he laughed.
"My name is Diomid, Sharm Lord Sergei if we are being formal." And with that he caught
Mikhail in a big hug belying his lack of stature completely. The man was massive under his
"Being formal would be rather ridiculous with my behind hanging out of this silly
garment." he looked over he shoulder, trying to figure out if the draft was because he was
uncovered or simply the nature of the beast.
"Well, first things first, I would like the sample please." he pointed toward the curtained
Uh-oh. Mikhail looked at the urinal. Now he knew what was up. This was so
primitive. Don't they just have a channel who can zlin? he wondered.
"We like to know more than selyn production rates and capacity." Diomid leaned against
the doorframe, as if waiting.
Mikhail reached for the curtain. Diomid shook his head no. I can't he looked
down. His bladder was near to bursting, but have a near stranger watch him was not allowing
Mikhail to relax to the point where he could do anything about it. "Easy, lad." Diomid's hand on
his shoulder made him tense even more. Slowly, Diomid's large hand massaged Mikhail's entire
neck and the base of his skull. Finally he sighed, giving in to the caress.
"See, that wasn't so bad." Diomid eyed the result critically. "You really should be
drinking more." he sniffed and gave him another of those glances. "Now, what was the problem?
You sent my lieutenant out of here muttering something about the scale."
"Ummm, it doesn't look anything like what I know of as a scale." he eyed the box
suspiciously. "And it made a noise."
"It measures your weight, nothing more." Diomid waved him toward the device.
"The ones I am accustomed to have counter weights and are about so high." he held out
"Ah, but those only measure mass. This one also sense body fat. For modern humans the
latter is far more critical." Diomid slipped off his kador, hanged it with Mikhail's on the back of
the door, and took off his shoes. Fearlessly, he stepped on the box. After another of those noises,
he looked down. "One thirty two and eight percent. Decent.
"Now your turn." he stepped back and waved Mikhail to the device. After the example,
he could hardly refuse. Gingerly he stepped onto it.
"One oh two and, oh dear, two percent." He jotted down some more notes on one of those
ubiquitous wax covered tablets. "You, my young friend, are going to be eating through the rest of
this exam." He handed Mikhail an apple. "The greatest health risk to Sharm Lords is starvation,
leading to heart, liver and kidney damage. Eventually resulting in early death, if ignored."
Mikhail stared at him, aghast. "Eat!" Diomid commanded.
"Yes, m'Lord." he bit into the fruit. Its winy tang was wonderful. As soon as it was gone,
Diomid handed him a chunk of bread. Mikhail had wondered about the baskets of bread and fruit
maintained in many of the rooms shared by the Fatima household, and know he knew what they
"It's a start." Diomid said archly. "I want you to eat something every time you get a
chance to sit down. If you aren't up to four percent in a month, I'll tell Arkay to feed you up."
"I have been eating." Actually he had been eating everything in sight. It had been rather
embarrassing, eating six meals a day and feeling like he had been starving to death.
"Unusual." Diomid tapped on the tablet with his stylus. "Strip please." Mikhail didn't
even hesitate. Soon he was standing in front of a large black screen. Diomid looked him over
thoroughly, seeming to count every single one of Mikhail's ribs. Then his eyes unfocused as if he
were going hyperconcious. Mikhail tried to follow him with his own senses.
"Stop that." Diomid waved at him irritably. Mikhail thought he heard himself being
compared rather unfavorably with Arkay. "Hmmm ... I don't see anything." his brows knitted. "If
you would bend over the table please?"
This did not sound promising. Feeling horribly exposed and afraid, Mikhail clutched at
the warm, padded table. At least it isn't cold and steel Mikhail gave thanks for small
favors. He shivered all over as Diomid rested his hand on Mikhail's lower back. "Your last
transfer was less then two weeks ago, correct?"
"Yes" he answered timidly. The leather was slick beneath his cheek and chest.
"Good." Diomid said. "Now, just relax." his voice softened. "How old are you?"
Mikhail tried to focus on the questioning and not on Diomid's other hand. "Five, um,
nineteen natal." he gulped.
"You are a virgin?" he asked, sounding a bit surprised.
"No, well, um, maybe, I suppose." his voice shook. Actually his whole body was shaking.
"Relax, Mikhail." Diomid said. "I'm not going to hurt you. I had meant for recieving."
"Then yes." he felt his blush travel from the roots of his hair all the way to his feet.
"I'm not going to force you, little one, but I would like to be able to examine you."
Diomid's delicate touch was teasing at something Mikhail really didn't want to think about. I
have to he forced his body to relax, trying not to let his fear rule him.
"This shouldn't hurt." he said, and a another quiver ran through Mikhail's body. The
problem wasn't pain, it was that it felt too good. It was as if Diomid's touch were tied directly to
his groin, bypassing his mind entirely. He was as hard as a rock and couldn't do a thing about it.
No matter how he tried, it only made him stiffen more.
On the verge of tears for his lack of control, Mikhail slid further onto the table, trying to
hide his embarrassing display. This was not a good idea. "Almost done." Diomid stroked his
back. Mikhail cried out, arching up against Diomid's hand and shuddering in release. "You're
fine. It's all right." Diomid told him. "You haven't done anything wrong."
Ashamed of his carnal reaction to a mere physical examination, Mikhail bit at his hand,
stifling his tears. "No, no, lad. Don't hurt yourself." Diomid pulled his hand away. "Let me get
cleaned up and we'll talk about it." And then there was the sound of running water. I didn't
want it to stop, either. he cried beneath the cover of white noise. Very slowly, he slid his legs
up onto the table. Finally he managed to curl up into a little ball, hugging his knees to his chest.
The water stopped. A warm blanket slid over him. "Would you like to get cleaned up
some, or would you like to talk first?" Diomid asked, sitting down so Mikhail could look him
straight in the face.
The tears and look of utter confusion on Mikhail's face were heart breaking. Diomid
stroked his fine, thistledown soft hair. His eyes were the perfect blue of a summer's sky and were
huge with his distress. A shiver ran through his body, causing yet another tear to trickle down the
side of his face. "What I did was to examine a gland and cluster of nerves related to your
sexuality. I thought you might be repressing that part of yourself, and by stimulating those
nerves, I could tell if they were functioning correctly."
"Are they?" he whispered, slowly beginning to come out of his trembling.
"Yes, physically, you are a normal, healthy, adolescent male. The nerve complex is well
formed and responsive." he continued to stroke Mikhail's hair. "If you had not responded the way
you did, I would be concerned." Diomid was not going to mention the horrible congestion and
conflict he found. Those things were being cleared by the changes occuring in Mikhail's body
even as they spoke.
"Then it was not wrong for it to feel good." His fair skin showed bright red. "I mean, I
didn't mean to assume you, well, I didn't think you were molesting me."
"But it probably felt a bit like it, didn't it?" he asked gently. "I am sorry, but by the time I
realized you were troubled by it, I thought it better to get it over with than string it out."
"Thank you." his eyes closed and he sighed. "And it did and it didn't. If I had known what
it would feel like I probably would not have reacted the way I did." Diomid heard his unspoken
continuance, 'and now I will want to feel that again.'
"Do you read High Simelan as well as you speak it?" he asked, thinking of something.
"Yes. Actually I don't read Russian at all." which was something Diomid would have
guessed, from the heavy renSime accent he still carried.
"Then I have something I think you should look at." he let a smile reach his face. "Wait
here a moment. If you like, feel free to clean up and get dressed or not, your choice. I think it
would be best if you rested instead."
Mikhail watched Diomid throw on his kador and hurry from the room. He knew he
should get cleaned up and dressed. Remnants of the exam still clung to his skin, sending odd
sensations through a part of his body he normally tried to ignore. There was an ache deep in his
But when he tried to rise, his body seemed to rebel, collapsing on itself in a limp heap. He
yawned, feeling his eyes roll up in his head. For some reason he had been on the verge of sleep
almost every afternoon since he got here. The only thing normally keeping him going was trying
to keep up with Tzer's boundless energy. In the warm silence of the empty room, sleep finally
ambushed him, dragging him down into its depths despite Mikhail's protests.
Much better Diomid settled Mikhail on the couch in his private office. He had
hoped even the mechanical release he had given the young man would be enough to drive him
into sleep for a bit, and was well rewarded when he came back to the examining room by a
blissfully snoring young man. He looks so young long, golden eyelashes trailed over high
cheekbones dusted with freckles only a shade darker than his light tan.
*I'll be unavailable for the rest of the day.* he sent his wife, Kirina. *Send
them to Gregori or Tamira if they require anything urgent you can't deal with.*
*What's up?* her mind voice was as curious as any other Sergei. She walked into
the room on the tail end of her sending.
He put his finger to his lips, asking for silence. "Remember the young Sharm Lord at
Fatima's return." he sent as easily as he spoke. For Diomid the two were so interchangeable he
often forgot whether or not he was speaking out loud.
Kirina replied the same way, "The one with Tzer?"
"Yes" he pointed to the couch. "He's not too well wrapped and Arkay asked if I would
help him out."
"If Arkay is asking you for an assist, it must be serious." she knelt awkwardly next to the
couch. Grumbling out loud, she tugged at the hem of her tunic.
"Easy, my love." he put his arm around her shoulders. Kirina had only barely begun to
show, but even still her balance had already been distorted. "Yes and no." he sighed. "I still think
he is simply young for his age, even for a Sharm Lord. Arkay says the people who raised him
tried to cripple him. I want to do a complete mental examination as well as physical. The results
of some of the physical exam have me concerned."
She tipped her head in question.
"First off, he's eating everything in sight and running two percent. Second, when I did a
forced seminal emission, he reacted as if he hadn't been with a sexual partner of any type in
years. Third, he is a virgin with men."
Kirina snorted. "And we both know when Tzer hits his forth, he's going to be all over
Mikhail like an octopus on a clam."
"And if he can't get in nicely, Tzer is likely to try to force the clam open. Exactly,
beloved." he kissed her brow. "We can't have that. It would be traumatic to both of them.
Particularly as it seems they are quite close already."
"Well." she nibbled on the end of one tentacle. "My fist evaluation would be
overproduction, caused by insufficient expression of post reaction."
Diomid shuddered. "What a cold way of putting it."
"I'm sorry." she rubbed her face against the top of his head.
"But I think you're right." he sighed. "I had thought to show him one of Chernoye's early
Kirina giggled wickedly, then covered her mouth. "Oh, my." she breathed, shifting her
weight from side to side. "The one about Sasha and Domi?"
He blushed furiously. Diomid had met Mikhail Chernoye briefly when he had been much
younger and the book in question was about Diomid and his first male lover. "Yes"
"I think he will enjoy it." she kissed him on the cheek. "I know I did."
"Let me do the mental exam, and then I'll let him wake and he and I'll go through it
together." he gave her a gentle pat on the behind.
"Save some for me when you get done." she winked.
"I will." he returned his attention to Mikhail after watching her sway towards the door.
Kirina always looked so much more feminine when she was pregnant. Even though it was still
too early for them to talk about it. They had gone through so much to be blessed with Miran, he
wondered at her strength to try again. This was their sixth attempt in the past two years and
Diomid was about to call it quits if this one didn't work out.
With a sigh, he began his work. First he stroked away the surface knots of fear and
indecision. They were fairly minor, but might well fester into something darker later. Gingerly,
he worked his way in deeper. Layer after layer of scar tissue buried an ego almost shattered past
After verifying the depth of Mikhail's slumber, he continued his work. He found a
conscience hypertrophied to the point where it was choking off the rest of the mind and normal,
healthy, instincts starved to near extinction. With the delicate skill of a surgeon, Diomid began
placing mental constructs and channels throughout Mikhail's mind.
The first building blocks were there. Mikhail had had a good, strong, healthy childhood.
Diomid gave a huge sigh of relief. Without a good childhood, there was often little even he could
do to recover a damaged soul.
Deftly, Diomid interwove images of Mikhail's idolized ancestor, which he had picked
from the young man's mind, with Mikhail's own incredible heart and courage. Oddly enough the
man's name was Sergi. Diomid grinned slightly at the coincidence. Then he set up drainage for
the worst of the poisons of self-depreciation and fear of inadequacy. And last, but not least, he
tried to instill the sense that no matter what he did or did not do, Mikhail Tegue was a
worthwhile human being.
Mikhail was stunned. His mouth fell open. He couldn't believe this. Blinking he tried to
tear his eyes away from the drawing in the book on his lap. When he had woken up, he had found
himself in a pleasant, wood paneled room as far from the coldly sterile examination room as it
was possible to get. With a wrench, he looked up to see Diomid's heavy golden oak desk. The
leaves and acorns carved into the legs twined in his vision with the images in his head.
He looked back down. There were two men, a Sime and a Gen, intertwined. This
wouldn't have been so stunning but for the caption. "The beginning" They were both completely
nude, and the younger, heavier Gen looked as if he were trying to get away, but his face showed
the barest hint of a smile.
Then Diomid turned the page. There was very little text, but the pictures were stunning.
"The capture" showed a scene straight out of nightmare. The Sime had pinned the Gen against
the bedpost. The muscle tension in the Gen's body was so skillfully depicted Mikhail could
almost feel the terror rising from him.
"Look closer." Diomid instructed. Then Mikhail could see it. The very tip of the Gen's
tongue was showing at the corner of his mouth, and his lips shone. It was as if he had just licked
them. Mikhail's heartbeat sped up. The gesture was as symbolic of the Gen desire for transfer as
swollen roniplin glands were for Simes.
Then he turned to the next page. "The escape" This image showed the Sime backing
away, looking towards the reader. Green eyes managed to portray the longing the poor little Sime
must have been feeling. The Gen was crawling across the bed, the lines of the drawing showing
the resemblance he must have shown to a cat. Mikhail licked his lips, drawn into the story. He
could feel the cool need of the Sime trying to get away from him.
Next was "The temptation" Now the Sime was backed up against the wall. Dark hair
covered the young man's face, but Mikhail could feel the heat of his gaze on his own back as the
Gen lowered his face to the Sime's arms.
"The touch" whoever had drawn the images had been a master. As a pink tongue reached
out to brush an equally pink lateral, Mikhail gasped. He had thought of doing such a thing, but
was too afraid he might injure someone.
"You have roniplin in your saliva, Mikhail." Diomid told him gently. "As long as you are
very careful with your teeth and make sure your lips are wet, it can feel very good."
"For the Sime or for both of us?" he asked, tracing the lines with his fingertip.
"Both of you." Diomid said. Then he turned the page again. "The transfer" Both figures
were wrapped about each other in an impossible knot. Mikhail could see the Sime's tentacles
spread all across the Gen's shoulders. Each man had his mouth on the other's shoulder. The Gen
glanced up out of the picture, as if to invite the viewer into the scene. At that, Mikhail could feel
the hot tightness of Sime pressed against his chest, striking straight to his heart, making it pound
like thunder. He had never dreamed of being so close to his partner in transfer. Mikhail could
almost feel the all over touch of skin on skin.
Diomid turned the page. "There's more?" Mikhail tried to calm his heartbeat.
"Certainly." he voice was soft. "You don't think transfer ends with selyn?"
Actually he had, at least for Gens. Then he saw the picture. "The kiss" The Sime's laterals
had retracted, but Mikhail could feel the strength in those steely tentacles as it looked as if he
were trying to devour the Gen with his mouth, crushing their bodies together. Not only had
Mikhail never been with another man, but he had never dared indulge his imagined desires with a
He thought about the few experimental attempts he had made with the other young
women at school. They were all as timid and shy about it as he was. Since Gens didn't get post, it
wasn't really considered a good idea for them to be fooling around after hours. Someone might
have gotten pregnant. Even after schooling, Mikhail had been too shy and busy to try to
overcome his ignorance. Now the pictures Diomid was showing him were those of the most
forbidden desire imaginable.
"The nip" showed the Sime's teeth, partially concealed by his dark hair, about to lightly
bite at the incredibly sensitive nerve juncture of the Gen's wrist. A single, plain, silver bracelet
turned the image from interesting to exquisitely erotic. The book shifted. Annoyed by the
distraction, Mikhail removed the disturbance. Not thinking at all about what he was doing, he
held it there. The page turned.
"The gasp" this was a larger view of the earlier scene. The Gen's head was thrown back,
his mouth wide open as if he were unable to hold it upright. Now Mikhail could see the back
ground for the earlier picture, it was the Gen's shaft standing straight upright from his lap, with a
handful of dark hairs draped over it. Mikhail's own vision blurred as he felt the silken strands
tease at him.
Then the page turned again. This time the Sime was not addressing the Gen's wrist, but
rather the head of his shaft. "Another kiss." Mikhail could feel the warm breath caressing his
own, now fully rampant, desires. He had, inadvertently, seen Vayer addressing Darya in such a
fashion, and had wondered at the time if there were anything similar for men. The only thing
truly visible was the faintest glimmer of tongue and a single dot of light from a reflection in
liquid through the veil of the Sime's hair, but Mikhail's imagination filled in the rest. There was
no mistaking the Gen's fingers entwined in his lover's hair or the expression of absolute,
enraptured desire. Even the Sime's fingers and tentacles holding his lover's slender hips gave the
impression of unbridled passion.
"The caress" this picture was so blatant, it brought a shocked gasp to Mikhail's lips. Two
of the Sime's ventrals had buried themselves almost to the wrist in the dark, hidden cleft of that
most vulnerable of places. His hand was spread across the back of the Gen's pelvis, as if bracing.
The Gen's head was thrown back again, his shoulders flushed almost crimson against the tracing
of his fair hair. A burning, longing for those velvet tentacles within himself made Mikhail
squirm, trying to burrow himself deeper into the cushions. His hips rocked slowly, trying to find
some kind of answering pressure. A single bottle of gleaming yellow oil twinkled in sharp relief
in the foreground.
"I'm afraid I can't." Mikhail's breath was coming faster and faster. He held Diomid's hand.
"I just ... earlier ... I can't be ... again." he gulped, trying to still the raging throbbing running
through his entire body. His eyes escaped the pull of the book. They closed again. That very
same bottle stood on the shelf behind Diomid's desk. "I mean ... I don't know what I mean."
"Then shall we stop?" he asked, his voice deep and rumbling. "Some young men feel
better for banking their desires two or sometimes three times a day."
"No ... I want." his panted for a moment, getting himself under control. I can't believe
what he just said Mikhail thought to himself. This is normal? the obvious answer to
that question was more of a relief to him than anything else could have been. "I want to find out
what happens next." He returned his gaze to the pages avidly.
Diomid gave a soft chuckle. "Yes lad, you are healthy. If you were not aroused by the
images, or were aroused between turnover and transfer, then I would worry. If it is any
consolation, I also am stirred." He turned the page before Mikhail could respond to this
"The acceptance" was just that. The artist had so skillfully drawn the two figures, there
was nothing truly obscene about it. But the upward arch of the Sime's back so perfectly mirrored
the complex sway to his partner's, Mikhail could feel the presence smoothly sliding into his own
depths. Sweat trickled through the short growth of hair on his jaw. "Come here, my lad." Diomid
set the book aside carefully. Mikhail didn't require a second invitation.
"You knew this might happen." he breathed, trying to take in all the sensations
bombarding him. The smell, the strength, the obvious longing in his eyes all threatened to
"I had thought it might." His voice was a deep chuckle. "Now hush." and with incredibly
skillful hands, Diomid showed him even more than the book, how two men could please each
Tzer pulled down the hem of his tunic self-consciously. His next transfer, his fourth,
would be barely a week before Year's Turning. This was his last chance for his formal acceptance
by the Fatima court. As it was, Tzer knew he was taking a big risk in facing the large mixed
crowd. It was only eight days before Year's Turning.
His cheek still burned where Mikhail had kissed him and he touched the spot, as if to
reassure himself of his friend's concern. Mikhail had gone ahead with the Fatima household, his
status as special foreign envoy and Sharm Lord having protected him from such a presentation.
Odd feelings had begun coursing through his body since his last transfer and sometimes
he would lay awake at night simply listening to Mikhail's heart beating. It hadn't even been quite
three months, but Tzer couldn't imagine life without Mikhail's warm, loving strength beside him.
He ran his hand, already beginning to show the heavy callouses of his sword training,
through his short, silver hair. Dori had cut it so short after his testing transfer there was
absolutely no black to it at all.
Finally the single door opened again.
Dark need sang on his nerves, turning the clamor of the crowd into a screaming tumult.
My will shall prevail he forced his feet to bring him smoothly into the hall.
"Don't do this, Tzer." His mother had pleaded with him.
Mikhail's hand had landed on his shoulder. The sweet feel of his attention had held need
at bay, despite Darya's stridency. "I'm sure Tzer has thought this through. I trust him."
Tzer fixed his eyes on the dias. Mikhail stood to one side of the Fatima household, his
blazing field a kaleidoscope of reflections. As lightly as a leaf, Tzer knelt at his father's feet.
There was not even a tremble as he extended his tentacles and bowed his head.
A gasp rose from the crowd. Tzer felt Mikhail's attention wrap him in a shimmering
rainbow for a brief instant, and then was gone. Ins'Allah he prayed, putting his trust and
faith in God to allow himself to remain at peace, despite the nageric turbulence. Calmness
descended, wrapping his soul in quiet.
Nashen raised him to his feet. As if watching his own body, he saw himself turn to face
the court. "I give you my son, lord Tzer Fatimovich Fatima." Their cheers were tinny and distant
in his ears. As he twined fingers and tentacles with his father over their heads, a hollow roaring
chased the peace from his mind. Blackness descended, crushing Tzer beneath its heavy heel.
As everyone else was watching the corona of lightning arcing across the ceiling, Mikhail
was the only one who saw Tzer crumple in his father's grasp. Mikhail bolted forward to catch
him before his head hit the black marble tiles of the floor. *Get him out of here!* Arkay's
voice screamed in his mind. As if they had practiced it, Mikhail caught Tzer's limp body and ran
for the door behind the dias. Vayer passed them through it then it slammed shut behind them.
In the peace of the corridor, Mikhail examined Tzer closely. "He needs the shenned
transfer right now." fear for the young man made his heart pound even faster. Now carefully
making sure he didn't disorient Tzer, Mikhail carried him to their rooms.
Even with the extraordinary heating system of the Fatima townhouse, it was nearly
freezing, literally, in their rooms. Tzer's hands had gone cold with shock, while his were burning
up with the need to give. Ruthlessly, he stripped off both their clothes and then burrowed them
under the covers, holding Tzer in his arms.
Finally he warmed in Mikhail's grasp. "Mikhail?" Tzer's voice trembled.
"I'm here." he promised, still rubbing his hands on Tzer's arms.
"I don't know if I'll be able to stop ... afterwards." his need darkened and spread like cold
ink in the warmth between them.
"I won't want you to." his hands slid down to caress Tzer's flank and hip. "I've been
waiting for you since I met you." His own heat strained to warm the darkness questing for him.
Tzer's only answer was a low, rumbling growl like distant thunder. He turned in Mikhail's
arms. Mikhail gasped and felt his entire being open up as he saw the blue glow ghost through
Tzer's sightless eyes. "I want you." Tzer's voice cupped his nager in tendrils of light.
"Then take me." Mikhail rolled over onto his chest.
The only thing that save Mikhail's life was the fact he did not put his hands behind his
Tzer's tentacles grabbed Mikhail's shoulder's with bruising force. Mikhail screamed in
sudden pain and shock. Teeth bit into the nape of his neck. Howling, Mikhail writhed beneath his
tormentor. Life was ripped from him without warning. At the very last instant, he relaxed,
Another growl ripped the night. Tzer shuddered and moaned against him. Mikhail felt
him stiffen. No his fingers clawed at the sheets. Not like this he begged silently.
Soft, gentle licks finally began calling him out of his fear and pain.
Then sheeting fire ripped him in two. Mikhail struggled to get lose, only driving the acid
spike of his impalement deeper. He screamed again, a harsh, desperate sound born of his utter
Arkay's head whipped around towards the back door. Tzer Nashen's heart froze in
his chest. "It has been a long and exciting evening. We shall see you all again at Year's Turning."
he grasped Arkay's ice cold hand and led him from the hall. When Mikhail had taken Tzer from
the hall, he had hoped everything would be all right.
"We'll close court." Vayer told him in passing.
"Thank you." The ducked through the back door. Arkay immediately took off running.
"Where?" he asked, then heard the horrible scream. With a thought he was at Tzer's door.
He opened it. A scene out of nightmare assaulted him.
Nashen waved up the lights in defense. Under them it seemed less real. Tzer was reared
up over Mikhail, blood stained shaft still erect before him. He turned to both of them and then
howled with the most heartrending sound Nashen had ever heard. Allah, most merciful, what
do you test us this way? he prayed as he moved forward. Mikhail was dreadfully still, but
alive even as blood and selyn drained from his shattered body.
Arkay was right on Nashen's heels. He reached for Mikhail. "Let me try to help him."
Arkay begged as Tzer took his broken lover in his arms.
"I killed him. I tortured him and killed him." Tzer crooned mindlessly over and over
again. Then "I love him and I killed him." and he sobbed over Mikhail's form.
"Please Tzer." Nashen begged, "Let us help."
"You can't bring him back." Tzer howled again, rasing the hairs on Nashen's neck it was
so much like the death shriek of someone who had been killed.
"He's not dead, Tzer." Arkay pleaded. "I have to touch him to help him."
Nashen could zlin life retreating from Mikhail's limbs. "Hurry Tzer."
The young man dropped his resistance. Instantly Arkay joing the fray. Nashen offered his
senses, but instead Arkay rode Tzer's
Tzer's head came up, his face contorted with regret and remorse. Then, slowly, he
crumpled, still holding onto Mikhail.
On the shortest day of the year, Tzer leaned down to kiss Mikhail one last time. It had
been decided to return him to his home, to try to recover from the brutal rape he had suffered.
Tears stung Tzer's eyes. "Cry for him, little one." Diomid told him. "You will never cry again."
The platinum ring of his punishment glittered in the wan sunlight. With it in place, Tzer
knew he was condemned to never feel his emotions again once these two weeks were up. Never
to feel the untrammeled rush of selyn into his systems or glory in life freely given, as Tzer had
taken without permission.
Mikhail's skin was soft beneath his lips and salty with Tzer's tears. "I love you, my
Alahin." he said, voice breaking on the last word. "Be well, my beloved." and with those words
he slipped the bracelet onto Mikhail's wrist he would have given the man for their bonding.
"Tzer" Mikhail's voice cracked. "Don't go."
"I must." he said, turning away.
"Tzer!" Mikhail shouted. Tzer simply shook his head. He couldn't face another trial. He
had failed the one person he should have never failed. There was a faint wash of power and Tzer
could sense Mikhail slipping back into unconsciousness at Diomid's hand.
The plane left, returning its broken passenger to a place where he could be healed by
family and friends, taking Tzer's heart with it.
Mikal looked up from the letter he was writing to his sister, begging her to give him
something else to do. "Get out!" he shouted. His heart pounded in his throat. A tall, silver haired
man stood just inside the door. It snicked shut behind him. He knew the man, despite the dark
lines around his mouth and eyes, too dark for someone barely sixteen.
"I am no hazard to you, Mikhail." the voice came ripping out of his past with all the force
of a sledgehammer to Mikhail's heart. He held out one arm, tipping it so Mikhail could see the
outer lateral sheath. There was a slender silver ring through the lip of the orifice.
By all the holy names of God. Mikhail slumped in his chair, unable to take his
eyes from the nearly incidental looking torture device. With the small piece of metal in place,
any selyn flow through that lateral would be horribly distorted, destroying any chance for a
"Indeed." Tzer's silver eyes held a distance Mikhail couldn't remember. It was as if a
machine were looking through those eyes which had once held such love.
"What in hell are you doing here?" with all his heart he wished he could simply cross the
distance between them and take the man in his arms.
"It was decided I should assist in the efforts to dissuade the Techton from destroying our
culture." those glorious silver eyes hardly even blinked.
"Who decided? What happened to you?" he moved out from around his desk, wanting to
at least be near the man. Mikal had been sick and lost for nearly three months after returning
from Russia. Not due to the accident that night, but the shattering of the bond between him and
Tzer. "Why did you send me away?" he finally screamed into the silence.
"Because it was decided my death should be a reminder to others of the error of forcing
my need on another." the muscles in his jaw clenched. Still he looked straight ahead, as if
looking out the window, but Mikhail could feel the heat of Tzer's attention.
"I had a hand in it too, Tzer." he said, holding his anger at what had been done to the
young man in the most tenuous bounds imaginable. "It was my fault as well as yours."
"Fault or blame has nothing to do with justice." he turned towards the door. "Thank you
for taking the time with me. I will see to it that my presence does not disturb you further."
"Damn it Tzer, look at me." Mikhail raged, lunging for him.
Tzer looked back over his shoulder, his presence turned to ice. Mikhail shivered under the
cold stare. "You still fear. I broke you that night."
"No you didn't, Tzer." Mikal stepped towards him. "It was all a horrible accident." What
he couldn't forgive was being sent away without even the chance to try to make up for it, and
now, after so long, he knew Tzer had not been to blame for that.
"Our justice recognizes neither intent nor coincidence." the rigid posture made Mikhail
want scream again.
"Justice must see both or it is mere tyranny." the hammer blow of his will shattered
against Tzer's armor. "Look at me." he pleaded, holding out his hands. "What in heaven's name
have I done to deserve this?"
"I will not harm you again, Mikhail." Tzer said softly and Mikhail realized exactly what
he was seeing, a revenant.
Tzer railed in his mind at the steel bonds on his heart. The pain in Mikhail's eyes as he
looked up had been the cruelest blow yet. Anger and hatred he could have dealt with, but not
sympathy. "It has been nearly two years since I have felt my own emotions, Mikhail." His words
fell like stones into a still pond, sending waves of selyn dancing in the ambient. "Without the
release of post reaction, I can not be what you want." Not that I ever could not after
having harmed Mikhail so badly.
Mikhail snorted, a bitter, dark sound as out of place from him as the artificial looking
garments or the short cropped hair. "As if I didn't know what it was like."
"What?" he turned, stunned and finally zlinned him. Dark shadows of denial and self
loathing twisted through Mikhail's field beneath its artificial calm. A behemoth beneath the
waters, waiting to reach up and torment him with its hatred. "What have they done to you?" a
crack traced Tzer's imposed calm and he turned to face Mikhail fully.
"They decided, as I was too badly damaged, to never put me on the transfer rolls again."
His knuckles whitened as his hands writhed within each others grasp.
"I destroyed you." the long deadened desire for human contact ripped at Tzer's mind. "I
should have killed you."
"You should have." Mikhail said softly, turning away. "Now go."
Tzer left, but as he passed through the door, he thought he heard Mikhail say, "At least
then we would have been together."
For almost an hour, Mikhail sat and shook. The nearness of Tzer, his feel, his scent, the
heat of his attention had roused long deadened feeling within him. Before he had gone to Russia,
his life had lain in front of him, a straight path. Afterwards, it had turned to shards of
impossibility. He looked at the watch he still carried. It was long past time for prayer, but still he
washed and bowed to the east. Peace did not come this time, though. Only a sense of emptyness
Then the unique scents of amber and dragon's blood returned and he looked up. Only
Tzer carried those scents, in the folds of cloth he wore and even in his skin, at least to Mikhail.
'Alahin and Alamir are one in the blessing of the One. And as the One, they are not two. Bessed
be to Allah for his blessing on this one who was once two.' The Arabic prayer which would have
been spoken the morning after his first consummated transfer with Tzer rang in his mind over
"Never again." Mikhail swore. "Fate and man may have separated us once, but never
again." Now his prayers brought sweet peace to soothe his ragged nerves, if only for a moment.
"Mikal, there are visitors waiting for you." the intercom squawked. Why did she use
the damn override? Mikal swore at the interruption. Normally it was silenced.
He jammed his thumb down on the return button. "And what makes you think this is an
emergency?" he snarled into the device before he could get a grip on his ire.
"I said it was." Vayer's voice coming through the electronics was still recognizable. "Do
not fault your servant for my actions."
"As you blamed Tzer for mine." he snapped back. "At your will, Lord and Ruler Vayer."
Mikhail hit the disconnect, not wanting to be dragged back into the twisted maneuvering of the
Russian court, but finding no way out. Not if he ever wanted to see Tzer again. He grabbed the
heavy, floor length, cape he had Zaor artisans make for him. It was a dull mottled grey and had
very little to recommend it other than its ability to shield him.
The only place they could have installed a large group of foreigners was the west wing of
the old Kaon householding, and Mikal strode through the streets, intent on getting to the bottom
of this entire mess. When he had been in the east, the Rus had told him they only wished to be
left alone. Now they were here and he had no idea why. It certainly could not have been simply
to bring Tzer to him. From the looks of it, Tzer was being punished even more by being brought
A horn blared, startling him out of his reverie. He glared at the driver. Any other time he
might have noted the young Gen was actually quite pretty, but not today.
"So sorry, sosectu." she nodded her head.
"Only Mikal." he corrected, waving her on. Her eyes got wide and she sped off, as fast as
traffic would allow. Even the young ones know of my disgrace. he pulled up his hood.
Now people jostled him in the streets, but at least they didn't stop and stare.
Vayer paced the room. He was not happy. The stench and filth of this city, Lavean, was
grotesque, and it was far, far smaller than many he had seen on the flight over. He couldn't even
imagine what a city the size of Moskva or Kiro would be like here. Kiro was filthy, but at least
the yearly floods kept the worst of the detritus to a minimum.
And there were people everywhere, spawning and sprawling without a thought for the
land or the water. That was not to mention the sky dark with soot and fumes from the heavy
industry spewing its waste into the air. All of this so people could get from one place to another
faster or so they could talk to each other over the kilometers without having to get out of their
"Vayer, calm yourself." Darya said, her head bent over her child. The youngster was
nursing again, as if to hide from all the changes in the familiar comfort of his mother.
The image was enough to bring a smile to his lips. She was so very beautiful, her long
black hair falling loose around her in dark waves like night come to day. Darya refused to tie or
braid her hair back like the other Sharm Lords and Vayer was silently thankful.
At that moment Mikhail knocked on the door. The man we have come for. Vayer
had one last hope they could salvage the Rus from being swallowed up by the Techton, and
unfortunately the only chance they had was to try to appeal to a man who one of their own had
savaged so viciously.
"Come in." she said, looking up.
Mikhail stepped through the doorway. A toddler was nursing at Darya's breast. A blond
haired, blue eyes youngster with none of the look of Vayer about him at all. His heart stopped. It
recognized the lad.
"Papa!" the lad cried out, squirming to get out of his mother's arms.
"Ins'Allah." Mikhail breathed, kneeling to catch the youngster as he raced for him.
"His name is Shanir. Shasha is what he insists on." Darya told him, but he had only eyes
for the small warm body snuggled in his arms. He wuffled Shasha's hair and the lad crowed,
"His hair is short." he tugged at Mikhail's crop, trying to stand on his knee.
"Easy lad." he held the youngster up.
"Fly!" he said, waiving his arms. For the first time in far too long, Mikhail laughed. He
tossed the lad in the air and then caught him up with a swoop. "Papa. My papa!" he shouted, as
Mikhail did it again.
"Yes, your papa." he snuggled him for a bit. Tears of pure joy turned Shasha's hair into a
riot of gold.
"You're crying." a tiny hand reached up and brushed his face.
"Because I'm happy to see you." he said, smiling through his tears.
Mikhail watched his son run off with Kirin, the young son of Diomid and Kirina, to play.
The small courtyard of the west wing was blocked off with straw bales, making it safe for the
children to play without fear they would wander off. Or at least so Kirina told him. He still kept a
close eye on Shasha.
"How did ... I mean where did Shasha come from?" he asked, still a bit stunned.
"You don't know where babies come from, Mikhail?" Darya asked with one of her
"I do, but it was only once and well, I didn't think you, I thought you were taking care of
things." he sputtered on lamely, still watching the children.
"She did." Vayer laughed, resting his arm around her shoulders. "This was your last,
"I think so." she sighed. "I love them dearly, but they are also a lot of work."
"Good, I am getting a bit old to deal with you presenting me with yet another cookoo." he
tapped at her nose, grinning, not looking at all put out about the situation. Any other man Mikal
had ever known would have been furious.
"Pshaw, you're not the one getting old." she kissed his finger. "Besides, you can always
go plant a few of your own."
"Not with you in my bed, beloved." he cuddled her close. She looked thoughtful for a
moment, and then another grin crossed her face. It was truly a wicked grin and Mikhail knew
exactly what she was thinking.
A pair of hot, Sime hands suddenly blocked his vision. "Guess who?" his sister, Riana
asked. He had to go along with the game, lest he give away the abilities he had acquired in
"Ethel? Betsi? Suzi?" with each wild guess her laughter grew, then it stopped suddenly.
He could sense her freeze. "Mikal!" she barked, "What have you done?"
"Riana." he pulled her hands down. Her tentacles were twined about her fingers in
distress. Unthinkingly, he kissed at them, stroking their length with his field until they retracted.
The two boys had stopped their attempt to scale the straw bales and were staring at the adults.
"Papa!" Shasha came running full tilt across the yard. No hiding this he caught the
lad. He used the momentum to swing him around and around. Finally they came to a halt, Shasha
laughing again. "That was fun papa, do it again." instead Mikhail wuffled his stomach. "I'm to
big for playing like that." he said, looking towards Darya.
"I'm not." Mikhail did it again. Shasha crowed with laughter.
"Who's that?" he pointed over Mikhail's shoulder.
"That's my sister." he turned, still holding Shasha against his hip. "Shanir Fatimovich
Fatima, I would like you to meet my sister, Hajene Riana Tegue ambrav Kaon. Riana, my son,
Shanir, Shasha for short."
Riana had always known her baby brother had a reckless streak, as evidenced by his
outlandish behaviour both in going half way around the world on a whim and his actions after
having been returned to them, but this was beyond the pale. "How could you?" she gasped,
knowing full well Vayer not only was some sort of sectuib for his people, but married to the
mother of this child.
"Well," he looked down at the young man he still held in his arms. "I was post and ..."
"Gens don't get post." she scoffed. The ambient shattered into chaos. Stars appeared
behind her eyes, merging with the blackness trying to drag her down. Finally she clawed her way
back to hypoconciousness. Her idiot brother was looking embarrassed. As he well should
be she thought.
"I beg to differ with you, Riana." Vayer's wife, Darya, Riana remembered, was smiling at
Mikal. "He had a bit of help."
"I would say so." he grinned at Vayer. "You pushed me into her arms."
"I did no such thing." Vayer winked. "I only did what any reasonable mate would do, and
gave Darya a gift."
"Yes, me." Mikal laughed. "All post and ready to bed a sheep. Not that Darya in any way
resembles anything but the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life." He added quickly.
Riana had never her seen her brother like this. Ever since his establishment he had been moody
and uncommunicative. Now his field shown with vibrant good humor.
"I'm an old married woman." Darya held out her arm.
The long line of bracelets on the Donor's arm sent a shiver of atavistic fear up Riana's
"Congratulations." Mikal said. "You finally managed to drag him to the altar?"
"She did." Vayer laughed, holding back his hair. Riana cringed. Mikal had come back
with a gold ring in his ear. On Vayer's, there was a complex piece of jewelry, an abstract of
twining lines inset with gems all colors of the rainbow. The problem was it went through
his ear in at least six places. "It was originally Gartiry's, the last Fatima Ruler." His grin though
showed no discomfort with the piece of metal. "It seems Nashen rifled through the Fatima vaults
to find a the remaining jewelry left of that time."
"How long ago was that?" Riana asked, curiosity overcoming revulsion. The beauty of
the piece was actually stunning, if she ignored the pain it must have caused to be able to put it in
"Four, five hundred years ago?" his voice held a question.
"Almost five." Darya said firmly. "We had to reset some of the gemstones."
"They are both magnificent." Mikal said, leaning forward to look more closely. "Do we
have any of the fancy work of Sergi's? I think they might like to see them."
"Nothing like ... that." she pointed to Vayer's ear. "But I think we might have some of the
rings and arm bands he created. I think we also have one of the ... Wait a minute." Riana thought
long and hard. "Yes" she pulled out the starred cross she had been given at her changeover. "This
was made by him." she held the charm in her hand, taking some peace from the familiar weight
Arkay leaned forward to examine the piece of jewelry. His entire body ached, with
age he lied to himself. Nashen had never been the same since Tzer's crippling and it showed.
It was worn almost smooth with the many bearers it had had, but the carving was still there and
exquisite. The symbology also brought a small smile to his lips. Many of the Romany carried
such jewelry, but few in Russia would know such trivia.
Darya gave him a wink, letting him know she spotted it as well. "Beautiful work." she
said, tracing the metal and gems with her field. It winked against the velvet night of her field and
Riana's jittered again. It was tiring dealing with these Westerners, he sighed and leaned back into
"Are you all right, my Alahin?" he murmured in Arabic.
"As well as may be, Alamir." Arkay replied in the same language. "I am simply weary
and in pain." Mikhail's head whipped around towards them.
"Then you should rest, otyet." the young man's Russian was obviously rusty, but
comprehendible. His sister's field flared in shock. Arkay sighed, fighting back the tears of
exhaustion at dealing with her stress.
"Please, Riana. Let us be for a while. Members of the delegation are tired and should be
allowed to rest." he said, blocking off Riana's reactions from the rest of them.
"You know the sectuib must be told of Shanir." she said, her eyes going cold and flat.
"I know. I'll tell her." he said, bowing his head to authority. "Although he will stay with
"Let sectuib decide that." Riana showed all the stubbornness of a child left to their own
devices for far too long. Arkay tried to struggle out of the weariness engulfing him.
"No Riana. Shanir is Darya's child. Darya is married to Vayer. He is part of their family
and not ours." determination blazed from the young man with stunning force. "Now leave us,
"You aren't even a Donor anymore, Mikal." she glared up at him. Pain made Arkay's
vision grey as he stood. He couldn't let this little lord bully anyone like this. Who does she
think she is?
"But I am the Chief of Operations for Kaon Incorporated. This is purely a business deal."
The cold anger in Mikal's voice was stunning. "After seeing the jewelry they wear, do you wish
for another Household to get the trade rights."
"You're right." she snarled. "But if you weren't so shenned good at what you do, you'd be
on the dole along with thousands of other donors." She spat. The casual obscenity was
disgusting, but the words were worse.
"I wouldn't know what I was missing, since the damned Techton won't have me as a
Donor anymore." Mikal glared at her. "I haven't had a personal transfer in nearly two years,
Riana, and nothing else they can do to me could be any worse."
Arkay sat again, clenching Nashen's hand. Two years? he wanted to cry for the
pain in Mikhail's voice. Two years without a post reaction was enough to drive most people mad.
The only thing holding Tzer together was Diomid's skill as a mind healer.
"It isn't like you'll suffer coital deprivation." the flick of her tentacles was obscene.
"Go fuck your current toy and leave us alone." Mikhail's head bowed, caressing his son
with his face. The sorrow at his sister's selfish words would have been obvious to a stone.
She stalked off, taking what little dignity she could with her. Shasha reached up and
patted his father's cheek, as if to cheer him up. "It's all right, little one. I sent the bad woman
"Sister." Shasha said, looking up at him.
"We get into fights sometimes. Just like you probably do with Kirin, right?" he grinned,
looking far more aged than he should.
"Right." Shasha laughed. "We hit each other 'till mat' decides we're too dirty.
Then we get to play in the river."
He looked at Nashen, concerned. "It's all right. There's a small, shallow pond away from
the docks where we take the children to learn to swim."
"Yeah. And there's tadpoles, and frogs, and big puffy weeds, and long legged birds, and
..." Shasha told his father all about the wonders of the pond just as generations of children had
told their fathers. The sight made Arkay smile.
Kirina turned as Diomid came out into the courtyard. She started to smile until she could
zlin the remorse in his field. *A bad one?*
*Very* he sent back. Tzer was right behind him, looking like a puppet with half
its strings frayed and cut. The sight made her laterals clench in their sheathes. Diomid was doing
his best to keep Tzer going and sometimes she wondered if it was worth it. When even the
Veiled wouldn't take the young man, the only option they had left was to cripple him, and Kirina
hated it. Even though they had offered him death, as was only fitting for a son of Fatima, he had
refused it. Now it was too late, as he was no longer competent to chose.
Mikhail looked up from his son to see no sign of recognition in Tzer's eyes. "Run along
and play. I have to talk with a friend." he said, again wondering in the immediate trust the child
had shown him.
"Da, otyet." he chirped. Mikhail set him on his feet and he went back to exploring
the yard with his friend. Now they were playing hide and seek with the pieces of outdoor
furniture strewn about the area.
"I see you've found your son." Tzer's voice was hollow and echoing. "Congratulations."
"Thank you." an unexpected flush of warmth made his heart contract. "He's a wonderful
child, as his parents have raised him to be."
"Or at least the parents who could be with him." Tzer's words stung far more than his
sister's, and Mikhail rubbed at his forearms, making his bracelets jangle. Since he couldn't give
direct transfer anymore, Mikal had seen no use in taking them off.
"If I had known ..." he trailed off, knowing he could have done nothing. The heavy
platinum and jet band Tzer had given him at the last seemed to burn with scorn. His heart
skipped another beat, making Mikhail's breath catch.
"Your field is running out of control." Tzer turned those lambent silver eyes on him. "I
can feel it burning you up."
"It is nothing." Mikal looked into those once warm eyes and saw nothing but ice. "I'm
used to it. I'll get a channel to take me into dormancy again. It is a process I have become quite
"If you like, I could strip you hard enough to send you post." Nashen offered, holding out
his hand. "It wouldn't be a true transfer, but better than a living death."
"No" he shook his head. It was beginning to throb with his faultering heart making his
blood pressure fluctuate. "I would rather it be Tzer."
"He is under ban." Vayer stated.
"As am I." Mikhail's jaw stiffened. "What difference does it make?"
"If I strip you then I'll only want more." Tzer said, taking half a step forward. Longing
cracking through his imposed reserve.
"Isn't it my choice?" no matter how bad the mistake, Mikal knew there should be a
"No" Vayer said, coming between them. "Tzer is a rapist. We do not treat such as he
"It was I who was injured." Mikhail reached towards him. "I never accused him of
"It makes no difference." Vayer's anger blazed, creating a flaming wall between Mikhail
and Tzer. "He did wrong and shall be punished to the end of his days."
A corona of electrical fire breached the wall, reaching for Mikhail. He grasped it, pulling
it towards him.
"NO!" Vayer shouted, driving his wedge through the contact. "You shall not, Tzer. If
you do, you will die at my hand." he turned, drawing his sword. The blade came to rest against
Tzer's throat. Mikhail could see his beloved's pulse cause the blade to draw a trickle of blood.
"I will not cause his death." Mikhail fell to his knees. "I beg of you, Lord and Ruler
Vayer, do not kill my Alamir."
"Then you shall not touch him." Vayer said with an implacability as ancient as the stones
beneath their feet.
Nashen smoothed Mikhail's hair. It was spiky and unkempt. After Vayer's ultimatum,
Mikhail had consented to being stripped and now he was crying helplessly into a rather soggy
pillow. "Won't you let me hold you?" he asked for what felt like the hundredth time.
"I want Tzer." he wailed, clutching the pillow to his chest. "I love him."
"I know you do, little one." he stroked Mikhail's heaving shoulders. "But I am here and
he is not."
With a cry, Mikhail let Nashen hold him. Gently, he caressed the young man's back. "Isn't
this better than the pillow?" he bit back his own tears. The contact only made the Sharm Lord's
grief and pain horribly immediate. On top of his own it was shattering. But at least now it was
shared. Nashen had not agreed to Tzer's punishment. It was too harsh for an accident, but even
Arkay had overruled him.
"I love him too, Mikhail." he stroked the young man's arms. "He is my son, my only son."
he shifted into the Arabic he knew Mikhail found so beautiful.
"Why did he send me away?" Mikhail cried with deafening volume, both physically and
nagerically. "Why did no one let me speak for myself?"
"We sent you back to your family to heal." he shivered at the magnitude of that error
from the damage compounded by the heartless system Mikhail was trapped in. "And your
injuries spoke for themselves. You were torn and bleeding so badly we had to give you almost a
liter of blood by the time we were done."
"I had asked Tzer to take me, it was just too fast, I didn't ... I wasn't ready." he shivered,
with no fear, only regret. "He couldn't hear me."
"I know. When I found him he was deaf and blind to anything but his own madness."
Nashen sighed, not wishing to relive that scene yet unable to forget it either. "He couldn't even
"I know." Mikhail sniffled. "If he had been able to zlin, he would have stopped before
Nashen snorted. "He might have hurt you, but not badly, I agree."
"Is there anything we can do to reverse Vayer's decision?" he asked with a sigh. "I would
have him as my Alamir though hell bar the way."
"In a way it does." Arkay's weight on the bed made the stupid, hard, thing creak. Nashen
was not overly enamored of the facilities in this place. Even in Jaffa or Kiro the Fatima quarters
at least had featherbeds and were clean. Here, nothing was clean, with a film of grime all over
everything. Of course not having true servants might have had something to do with it. Hired
people were never as industrious as those for whom their work was their home.
"How so?" Mikhail raised his head from Nashen's shoulder. "I would do anything."
"Even give him to the Veiled?" he asked, his field grey and dense as stone. Only when he
was hiding something did Arkay get this way. Nashen began to suspect he had a plan. "I was one
of the ones who called for Tzer's death." he said.
Mikhail gasped. "If he takes the Veil, then I will never see him again, correct?"
"Yes, it would be as if he had died." Arkay said, still maintaining the blank wall.
"Even still, I would rather him alive and healthy than half dead." he bit at his lip. "At least
then he could be at peace."
"I will see if I can influence my heard headed son." Arkay smiled, his pleasure rising
through the greyness like the morning sun.
"You should know about his being difficult, you put it there." Nashen smiled for the first
time since the disaster and Arkay beamed. "Please, save my son for his Alahin."
"It will have to be their doing." he said. "I know Vayer and I know he would not give in
before the tides, but he will for love."
"I tried." Mikhail slumped, twining his hands together. "I want Tzer so badly I ache all
over for him every time he moves, every time he stumbles I want to catch him."
"Then do so." Arkay said. "I will keep Vayer from killing him."
But Vayer was adamant. "Tzer raped him. There is no redemption for him." his nostrils
flared. "Mikhail is infatuated. He has been retarded in his growth. You saw him with his sister."
"Yes, I saw him stand up to her as well." Arkay growled, feeling better than he had in
years. His conceding to Nashen had patched the rift between them and their bond was stronger
than it ever had been.
"Of course he would stand up to her for his son." Vayer's tentacles lashed the air.
"Not someone who has been trained their whole life to defer to any Sime." he pounded
his fist on the crude table. It rocked beneath the blow, threatening to topple. Arkay gave it a
Vayer snorted in dark amusement. "Look at this place." he waved his hand to the ceiling.
"It's held together with bird spit and weeds."
As Arkay had seen the lines of nests beneath the eaves, he had to agree. "But that doesn't
mean they can't make someone's life a living hell. We sure have." He let the image of Tzer
crumpled in yet another seizure come to the front of his mind.
"Tzer deserves it." Vayer sent him the image of Mikhail in surgery for repair of the
rupture caused by Tzer's forced entry.
"It was an accident." Arkay sighed. "Mikhail asked Tzer to take him and then turned his
back to him. You know as well as I do what that gesture means to a half trained lord."
"Yes, it means to kill." Vayer finally rubbed at his temples with his tentacles. "I don't
know, otyet. I can't just let him off."
"He's had two years of living hell on top of his remorse." Arkay reached for his son's
hand. "He's grieved for his loss every day of that hell. Revenge is not justice."
Vayer's tentacles stroked the back of Arkay's scarred hand. "What is justice?" he looked
up. "I didn't want to damn him to hell for a mistake, but I couldn't let him do it again, either.
Would it be justice if I freed him and he did kill Mikhail this time? Or worse, someone else?"
"But would it be justice to continue to torture both of them for the sake of what might
be?" he asked, clenching at Vayer's tentacles. "Give it time. Mikhail won't be able to give Tzer
transfer for another month. By that time we will know if their bonding is true enough to
withstand their past."
"Strike off the ban." Vayer said and sent to all the Rus with them. All but Tzer.
Mikhail was quivering he was so excited. Vayer had relented. They were being given a
chance. He knocked at Tzer's door.
Tzer stared at the dark ceiling. His mind imagined cobwebs with great, big spiders ready
to fall on his unprotected body. The lack of bed curtains made him feel horribly exposed on this
tiny, flat, hard pallet. There was not gentle breeze of fresh air, only the musty scents of rooms
closed to a world only slightly more fresh. Even the sheets were scentless, harsh against his
Snarling, he tried to get comfortable. Every night he tried to get at least a couple of hours
of sleep and usually ended up tossing and turning till dawn. On the rock hard excuse for a bed, he
always fell out at least once and couldn't even manage a single short nap. A knock like thunder
disturbed his squirming. Of course, again, he fell out of the damned bed. With a curse, he pulled
all the bedding off onto the floor, not that there was much of it, and went to the door.
He rubbed at his eyes, not wanting to zlin who it was. Even in this cheerless place there
was at least some amusement to be garnered in the small joys of surprising the housekeepers with
his nude body. He opened it and Mikhail rushed into his arms. The other man was bubbling with
such infectious joy, Tzer's heart lightened despite his concern. "Oh you feel so good." Mikhail
murmured in his ear, kissing and nipping at his neck. "My sweet, beautiful Tzer."
Stunned, all he could do was clasp Mikhail to his chest, basking the in the light and heat
flashing about both of them. "You shouldn't be here." his voice broke as it had so often when
they had been together. "Vayer will kill you if he knows you've touched me." The threat against
his own life was nothing. "Please, I can't risk your life."
Then he watched as Mikhail led him to the pile of bedding. Mikhail looked down and
grinned. "You know everyone else has migrated to the floor but Arkay and Nashen. And I think
they took half the unused ones and strapped them together to make one large bed." His chattering
was so normal, as if he hadn't heard Tzer's concern. Then his fingers caressed Tzer's lateral
sheath, the one with the ban on it.
His breath whined in his throat as his head fell back. Forbidden pleasure knifed through
the darkness like magnesium fire. "You can't." he felt Mikhail's fingers touch the ring.
"Vayer has lifted the ban." Mikhail said, opening the ring, catching the ball before it
could get lost. The metal sliding through skin made Tzer's heart pound. Then it was out. The
clatter as Mikhail placed the hated things on the bedside table was louder than thunder. Tzer was
high field, but he had to do it. He extended all of his tentacles to their limits.
Mikhail's breath was cool on the tormented lateral, and then he kissed it so very softly
Tzer shivered in the ultimate pleasure freedom could bring. "I love thee, Tzer." he said, looking
up. "For all time and all ways. I know thee will never harm me again." The complete trust
showing in Mikhail's field stilled Tzer's final reservations.
"As I love thee and will not live without thee again." he clasped Mikhail's face in his
hands and tentacles, laterals stroking the soft hair of his beard and sending shivers of delight
through their now balanced response.
"Avilan taught me a small trick." Mikhail's voice was soft. "Would you like me to
balance your fields? It wouldn't make you truly post, but you would no longer feel as if you were
"I would probably want your body then." he looked into Mikhail's glorious blue eyes.
"Do you trust me so far? I have not wanted either a man or a woman since I was put under ban."
Actually he hadn't even wanted transfer, only Diomid's skills had kept him from rejecting all life
"As I want yours." those eyes turned dark with a desire Tzer never thought to see.
"Then do as you wish." he said, tracing his hands down to Mikhail's arms. "I would like
to know you." he put his longing to know his beloved carnally into both his field and his words.
Avilan had given Mikhail some rather particular instructions. He had blushed furiously at
some of the man's very explicit directions, but as everyone bowed to his knowledge of such arts,
Mikhail did not think to try to go against them. His sapphire blue eyes still held all the brightness
of youth, and even Arkay bowed to Avilan's skill at both transfer and sensuality.
Thinking back on it, he also seemed entirely unable to blush at anything. His
demonstrations had left nothing to the imagination. "Then let us begin." he said, taking a deep
"If you're afraid." Tzer looked down at his hands.
"No, I was thinking of Avilan's instructions." he licked at his lips. "I have to get you
"Sounds like Avilan." Tzer's almost silent chuckle stirred at feelings long buried and
thought lost. "He is truly the master of the bower."
"Karola is a lucky woman." Mikhail twitched the bedding into a reasonable nest after
pulling the mattress off onto the floor. It would make at least one somewhat softer spot, or if
nothing else an oversized head rest.
"Why do you think she ended up with nine children?" Tzer stroked Mikhail's back
tentatively. The soft touch made his breath catch.
"Indeed." he fumbled the small bottle of sweet almond oil out of his pocket. "Now, lie
down." he waved with his field. First oil yourself some Avilan's voice came to him out of
memory. He did so, feeling more than a bit self conscious, but fortunately Tzer wasn't looking
too closely at him.
"At your will." Tzer's bow held the faintest hint of his returning good humor and he lay
down on his chest.
Slowly, gently, Mikhail began working the knots and tension out of Tzer's back. He had
no idea why Avilan insisted on a massage, all over, with explicit pointers on how not to miss
anything, but Mikhail was not going to question him.
Soon Tzer was moaning under his hands, stretching out the heavy muscles built by
physical labor rather than augmentation. It felt so wonderful to have his smooth skin warm
beneath his hands, Mikhail simply worked over every inch of his back until all the muscles were
as soft as warmed putty. Even though when he reached that most hidden part of his lover, Tzer
had simply opened to him, completely relaxed.
Smiling a bit at Avilan's duplicity, Mikhail concentrated on his caresses. He could feel
the heat rising in Tzer's body as it responded to his touch. Then after one final stroke, he
convinced him to roll over. Tzer moaned, his arm thrown across his eyes.
The beauty of him made Mikhail stop and stare. Broad, heavy shoulders traced to slender
hips and long, fine boned legs. The Fatima Lords were slightly modified by their talents, but
often it wasn't as obvious as the figure before him. To Mikhail he was magnificent, the long
slender lines of bone beneath pale skin.
Then he worked his way up Tzer's body, giving particular care to those parts begging for
his attention. Finally he ran his hands over Tzer's lower arms, stroking and caressing the tentacle
sheathes as the tentacles themselves twined about his arms in lazy patterns.
"Now for me." he said softly, still stroking Tzer's arms. Avilan had said Tzer was to start
on his front, and Mikhail grinned slightly. He knew how this was going to finish and this time
was not going to turn out like the last.
Tzer blinked heavily, coming slightly out of his sensual daze. "I would love to get my
hands on your body." he purred, looking at Mikhail through heavy lidded eyes. Then they looked
downward and Mikhail caught that same flash of actinic blue. His whole body shivered as he
reacted to the gesture. Tzer gasped, and then smiled. "Yes, I would like my turn." light traced
over his tentacle sheathes, teasing at Mikhail with the fiery touch.
For a moment Tzer's heart tried to stop with fear, then Mikhail's eyes opened and they
were dark with longing, his field a ruddy amber of desire. "Yes, I would like my turn." the words
sliding like silk between them.
"Please." Mikhail lay down, arms stretched over his head. His back arched and heavy
chest damp with the sweet smell of him. Tzer's hands shook as he spread oil on them. Carefully,
he knelt over Mikhail's chest and reached forward to rub at his forearms. Lightning trickled over
his fingertips, tracing the muscles beneath Mikhail's skin. "Yes" Mikhail breathed.
Tzer shivered as the breath tickled at his flanks. Schooling himself to patience, he slowly
worked his way to Mikhail's shoulders. Muscles twitched beneath his touch and then smoothed
into relaxation as his fingers followed the blue fire.
He had to move down to be able to work on Mikhail's neck and chest. Not thinking about
it much, he simply slid backwards. Going back to his massage, his hips rocked slowly with the
rhythm. Mikhail's hands slid down and began tracing over his thighs and hips. Light shown
bright and clear as he kneaded his hands into the muscles of Mikhail's chest.
A pressure began building inside him. Tzer's eyes closed and he felt his body respond.
For a moment, he lay down, resting against Mikhail's chest. He could hear his heart pounding
madly and Tzer's tripped over a beat. An ache thrilled up and down his spine.
Reacting to the sweet burning, he pressed backwards, trying to rub at it. It was a
maddening itch, rising up and clenching at his heart. It was so very much like when Mikhail had
stroked him with his fingers, but now it was stronger, demanding. The perfect object presented
itself. Arching his back, Tzer began to drive himself back in ernest. Easily, smoothly, he felt
Mikhail almost enter and begin to ease the desperate need.
"Oh, God, Tzer." Mikhail clutched him to his chest. His hips twitched, teasing at the very
edges of the itch.
Slick with sweat and oil, Tzer could do nothing more than rock on the very edge of
insanity. He was hard as on that night, and the tension between their bodies stroked him, trying
to force him to open even further. He wanted to howl with frustration. Finally he cried out,
shivering with desperation. Mikhail's hold loosened.
With a shout of triumph, Tzer slid onto him. He felt his whole being opened to his
beloved, and howled for how very good it felt. "Yes" his eyes rolled up in his head, and he
screamed into the night, driving himself till he felt Mikhail all the way inside him.
"Tzer, beloved." Mikhail held his head to his chest. "Easy."
All he could do was writhe, caught again in Mikhail's grasp. Soon he stilled again, feeling
the delicious feeling of being filled and wanted spreading through the warmth of desire.
Mikhail's hands slid down his body, running over his shoulders and eventually catching at his
buttocks. His strong fingers parted them even more, driving himself in deeper. Tzer groaned and
shivered with the renewed wash of pleasure.
"I can't go on too much longer." he murmured, clutching at him with fingers of steel.
"Then don't." Tzer reared up and then looked down at him. With a slow, lazy, satisfied
grin, he began rocking his hips against his impalement. Every movement teased at him, driving
him further and further into ecstacy. Then Mikhail's fingers loosened and Tzer began sliding up
and down, every stroke making him burn hotter. Light began to weave between them as his
"Yes" Mikhail hissed, arching upwards. Tzer's hands pressed against Mikhail's chest and
lightning flared through the night as he felt Mikhail throb inside him. Now frantic, he rode the
fire rising inside him. With a final blazing crash, Tzer found release, giving in to the too long
pent desires of his body.
"Do we really have to do this?" Arkay asked him archly as yet another spectacular cry
pierced the silence.
"I'm afraid so." he sighed. "It's been too long in coming for both of them and I don't want
Tzer to get any bad habits after what happened earlier. Neither Vayer nor the Techton would be
amused if he went rogue because we didn't do something so simple."
"But they are so noisy." Arkay looked out the window again. Another flash of heat
lightning traced the sky overhead. It was definitely the wrong season for it and Nashen grinned.
"What are you grinning about?" Arkay asked with a huff.
"Only wondering how many people are going to wonder what is causing the light show
tonight." he chuckled.
"You mean this isn't natural?" Arkay blinked. "How do you know what's normal for this
area? Oh, stupid question that last, never mind." Another light flickered across the sky.
"Good stamina for a pair of young men." Nashen noted clinically, deliberately deviling
"How do you know they aren't done yet?" he asked, refusing to rise to the bait.
"I'll know, as will probably everyone else in the complex." Nashen gave his parner a
smug look. "If the light show is any indication, it'll probably knock half the bird's nests loose on
"Riana is going to have kittens." Arkay snickered. "You know she didn't want Mikhail to
find a mate."
"No, I don't think so. I think she is just concerned about her family." Nashen corrected.
Then the finale arrived, a deafening crack of lightning and thunder hit the rooftree, causing dust
to shimmer down from the rafters overhead. "Good thing they had a lightning rod." he stripped
off his clothes. Arkay did the same, laughing.
"Are young Fatima lords usually so noisy?" he asked.
"Usually." Nashen shrugged. "Why do you think the townhouse is so well grounded?"
"I thought it was for temper tantrums of the grown ones." he opened the door and looked
out. "No one here."
"What a pain." Nashen grimaced. "Besides, I don't have temper tantrums, I'm simply
practicing ... you indulge in temper tantrums." A sharp pain in his left flank greeted this rebuttal
as Arkay pinched him, hard. Nashen yelped and batted at his hand. "Neither of us is truly
presentable, but I suppose that is for the best." he sighed. "Here's to luck."
"I'm right at your back." Arkay said and then Nashen opened the door and hoped it wasn't
Traditionally this was a Lord's job, but Arkay didn't want Nashen going in there without
backup. The only one who could really ever control Tzer in full cry was Mikhail, and there was
not likely to be a whole lot of help there tonight. Much to his surprise, he found Tzer having
accepted Mikhail. I would have sworn it would have been the other way around from
what he knew of the personalities of the two.
"Hello, otyet." Tzer said in a perfectly calm, rational, if dreamy, tone. Then he
purred and slumped completely bonelessly atop his lover. Mikhail just sighed and stroked his
"We were wondering if you two were all right." Nashen said calmly, his hand on the back
of a nearby chair.
"Sure." Mikhail sighed. "We're wonderful." It sounded like he had just smoked a pipeful
of the world's best hashish. Arkay snickered softly. After all of Nashen's warnings, this was a
*I heard that pun* Nashen bopped him with his field.
Arkay mimed great injury. Tzer snickered and slowly, as if he had been sharing that pipe,
slid off Mikhail to land with a rather lazy thud next to him. "Are you sure you're a Sime."
Arkay had to laugh it was so silly.
"Nope" Tzer giggled. "I do know I'm a boy though." he snuggled next to Mikhail,
clutching at his arm. Mikhail turned to him, stroking Tzer's hair.
*Here goes* Nashen sent him and then crouched next to the two men and reached
out his hand. "Do you mind?" he asked Tzer.
"Go ahead." he said, still not at all responding as either of them would have expected.
As Nashen's hand stroked Mikhail's arm, he shivered all over, obviously still orgasmic,
but neither of the youngsters flared fear or possessiveness. "Would you like?" Mikhail looked
back over his shoulder with the most come hither look Arkay had ever seen in his life.
"Would you?" Tzer tipped his head back. "I'm afraid I'm done for a while at least. That
felt so good!"
"No, thank you." Nashen said and Arkay could sense his complete bafflement through
"Awwww, I would like to watch." Tzer's field spiraled in a beautiful display of pure sated
Nashen laughed and sat down on his butt, still stroking Mikhail's arm. "Come on, Arkay."
he waved him over.
Arkay shook his head, smiling, and set next to his Alamir.
"We were afraid you might be a bit possessive." Nashen stated bluntly.
"Oh" Tzer still had the dreamy look on his face. "No"
"I can see that." Nashen laughed some more. "Some Simes get a little upset about another
Sime touching their mate."
Tzer's eyes unfocused completely. For a moment, Arkay thought he was going to faint he
was so unfocused, then he grinned from ear to ear. "I know Mikhail won't do anything like that."
Then he snuggled up to Mikhail and slipped into a deep, deep sleep.
The next thing they knew, Mikhail had gathered Tzer's sleeping body into his arms and
also passed out. Arkay smelled the distinctive note of almond oil above the scents of musk and
sweat. "Avilan did good." he whispered, standing and helping Nashen to his feet.
Nashen covered the two young men with a light blanket. "He is a good man."
"One of the best, just like you." Arkay put his arm around Nashen's waist. "Lets go."
"Want to see if we can put on a show too?" he grinned.
"You're on." he steered Nashen for the door. Then he turned and blew the youngsters a
kiss. "Good luck, you two."
"Indeed, I know another very good man." Nashen cuddled up to him. "Lets get back to
our room without scaring the whey out of some night wandering stranger."
"Why not?" Arkay laughed.
"Because I want to do lewd things to your body without someone hammering on the door
asking for our hides." he said, closing the door behind them.
"Sounds good to me."
Diomid was the first to see the two young men come down the stairs, arm in arm. Both of
them had such silly looks on their faces it would have been obvious to an ancient they had
consummated their relationship last night. Avilan looked as proud as a new father. Although in a
certain way he was, having just gained yet another grandson. "Thank you for the oil." he leaned
over and whispered.
"Oh" Diomid cracked up laughing. Neither Tzer or Mikhail seemed to notice. Even from
here Diomid could sense their fields locked so tightly together they resembled one person. He
had wondered why Avilan, of all people, would have wanted such a thing, but after having a few
of his own delicate questions answered by the man, he didn't even ask. The cooked grain mixture
they served for breakfast here was edible, barely, and only with sufficient sweetening. And even
there the honey they had was bland, tasteless stuff. The bread was inedible.
Neither Tzer or Mikhail seemed to notice a single thing other than each other, even
though they were both eating the gruel as if they had never tasted anything better. Tzer even took
a slice of the foam-like bread and ate it. Diomid shuddered at the very thought of letting the vile,
tasteless, packing material past his lips.
Frustrated and starving, Diomid put down his spoon. They had brought some food, but
basics, like bread, no one had thought to pack and it didn't last more than a day or two anyways.
"What is it, love." Kirina stroked his arm.
"I'm hungry." he growled, for her ears alone, or so he thought.
"Me too." Avilan sighed, putting down his spoon and glaring at the so called food.
Mikhail suddenly looked at his bowl. "I hate oatmeal." he said as if it weren't his
second bowl. Then he looked thoughtful until Tzer stroked his arm. "Yes, love." he bowed his
"I would like some real food, too." a corner of Tzer's mouth twitched upwards. "At least
some bread." then he looked at the slice he held in his hand and made the most disgusted face.
"Was I eating this?"
"Yes, you were, Tzer." Diomid laughed.
Then Mikhail got up and went somewhere. Soon he came back with a rather dubious
looking character wearing a white cape and slightly faded black trousers and shirt. Diomid
blinked. The stranger was wearing a rather wicked knife against the small of his back. "Danyel, I
would like you to meet some friends of mine. This is Tzer, Diomid, Kirina, Vayer, Darya,
Avilan, Karola, Nivanya, Ilyan, Nashen and Arkay." he pointed them out in turn. "The little ones
are Kirin and Shasha."
"Nice to meet you." his field flickered through a number of uncanny states. "Just so you
know, as you look like strangers, I am Ferris." Nashen cringed.
"Really, we aren't all that bad." the man laughed. "Only wanted te warn ye in case
somethin happened. We have a reputation to maintain fer being difficult." he winked.
"You are as different from Rels Ferris as is imaginable." Arkay's field spiraled in delight.
"I would certainly hope so." his field actually managed to turn the exact color of someone
who was seasick and Diomid laughed delightedly. "Now what's the problem the young man here
is wanting help with?"
"Food." Diomid jangled his bracelets against his wrists in disgust. Danyel jumped half a
meter into the air and landed behind Mikhail. Then he peeked around the side of the much larger
Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, he stepped back out into the open. "You gave me a bit of
a shock, m'friend." he eyed the jewelry nervously.
"I'm sorry." he muted them against his body. "We all have a habit of using them for
"Not the Simes surely." he raised a dark eyebrow towards his heavy thatch of black hair.
"No, only our partners." Nashen pointed out Arkay's almost forty.
"How do you get yer tentacles in there?" he peered at them curiously.
"Carefully." Nashen grinned. "Very carefully."
"I can see that, yes." he leaned back again. There were lines around the young man's
mouth and eyes, as if he had not always seen the best side of life. "Now, ye all were wanting
food, I believe it was." Danyel looked at the dishes on the table with disbelief.
"Bread?" Shasha tugged at Danyel's pant leg. "Please."
Diomid could see Danyel's heart melt at the plaintive tone. "Now what kind of bread
would you like?" he knelt down in front of the little boy.
"Tasty bread." Shasha said with a stomp of his foot. "Not bread that tastes like air."
"I think I know what you are all looking for." he looked them over carefully. "You are not
from Gulf or Nivet are you."
"No, we come from Russia." Mikhail said.
"I know you were born here, Mikal." Danyel gave him a scathing look.
"My name is Mikhail Tegue Fatima, Sharm Lord Mikhail." he told the man in utter
"I see." Danyel's smile was far more knowing than his years. "Then I would guess you
would appreciate anything from Europe or the Middle East?"
"Middle East, what we call the South, would be wonderful." Mikhail's eyes lit with relief.
"I would absolutely adore a cup of coffee."
"We did bring that." Arkay said, holding up his cup. "We just didn't and couldn't bring
"Bless you, Arkay." Mikhail said. "Now, lets us all go get breakfast."
And en masse, they descended on one very startled shop keeper and bought out almost all
of his wares, including another bottle of almond oil which Mikhail presented to Avilan over his
arm, as if it were a sword.
Avilan handed it to Diomid and he raised it in salute to the brave young man, who was
now truly one of them. Mikhail smiled back and twined his fingers with Tzer's tentacles. "Thank
you" he mouthed over the chaos of getting everything back to where they were staying.
"You are quite welcome, my young friend."
Riana was furious. Her brother, her baby brother no less, was getting way too above
himself. Fuming, she flung the door open. The sudden smell of roasted meat made her gag. He
had called her here, saying it was vital to the future of Kaon. Now where is he?
"What is going on here?" she bellowed, cursing her lack of height yet again. Her calves
threatened to cramp as she tried to peer over the bodies lined up in front of her.
This is a down right hazard although Riana couldn't zlin any Gens other than the
Russians. One of the hooded figures turned at her pounding on his back. He was veiled. Only
then did she realize the figure was Gen.
The dark eyes blinked in shock and he babbled something. Suddenly a path cut through
the crowd. They all turned away from her, hiding even their eyes.
"Ah, Hajene Riana." A bearded, strangely garbed man raised his cup to her as he sat on a
cushion on the ground. "Come, take bread and salt with us."
"Do what he says, big sister." Mikhail's voice whispered in her ear as he took her by the
elbow and steered her towards the stranger.
Stunned by the certainty in his voice, she went with him. "And if I don't?"
"Then Kaon will miss out on some of the finest Sime luxury goods since prime kills."
only his gentle squeeze let reassured her he was jesting about the analogy.
The strange dark man was sitting between the two silver haired Russians. The young one
sprinkled salt on a piece of odd, flat bread and held it out to her as she knelt on a cushion.
Coming from a long line of traders, Riana could smell a deal, and this one smelled really good.
She ate the morsel and saw the other Russian do the same for the bearded man.
"My name is Amir ben Ismel. We are brothers. Come eat with us and we shall talk of
business to trade the infidel out of his robes." he waved to the seat beside him. "Run along with
you to your Alahin, Tzer. I'm sure he grows lonely for your company."
"Only as long as yours has not corrupted his virtue." the young man rose and bowed her
to take his seat.
"Ah, my Alahin has many ways of ..." he trailed off into that other tongue. Tzer blushed
so red Riana thought he was going to burst a blood vessel and the heat of his nager was stunning.
Everyone else laughed uproariously and from the fields, many of the suggestions they then gave
him were highly suggestive. My little brother ... and Tzer?! Then she watched Tzer
making a bee line for a large robed figure before she turned her entire attention to Amir with a
sigh of relief.
"I think you will like these." The remaining Russian handed her an odd, brown, wrinkled,
and she found, much to her dismay, sticky, thing. She caught his eye as she licked it tentatively.
Riana shuddered with a rush of pleasure at the sweet, indescribably wonderful taste. Even after
turnover and no Donor in zlinning range, she greedily at it and looked for more. He held out
another, this time making her take it from his tentacles with her mouth. "My people sometimes
call these 'Sime fruit' for the effect they have on us." His silver eyes were kind, but she could zlin
the shrewd trader hiding behind their brilliant facade. "They are otherwise known as dates."
"Would you like another?" Amir asked, waving at the tray. "They are but one of many
things my people have to trade."
"I think we might be able to find some room in our currently bulging warehouses." she
gave a depreciating wash to her field. The man smiled knowingly.
"I know what it is to make a great harvest and have no buyers. But right now I'm afraid
we only have a very few things to sell as the harvests have not been so good of late." his dark
eyes and slick field disclosed nothing of truth or falsehood in his words.
Then she saw the Russian shake his head no, so very slightly. Immediately she
suppressed her bubble of laughter, but not before his silver eyes reflected it. And so the trading
When I catch up to that brother of mine, he's going to have to answer a few
questions. her gaze flickered across the courtyard. Finally she spotted Tzer again, now
entwined in the arms of the robed figure and feeding him olives with his fingers beneath the veil.
The scene was stunningly intimate. Then she noted the eyes above the veil. They were the same
blue as her brother's.
It was nearly midnight by the time everyone else went back home. The mild sun of
afternoon had given way to a bitter chill later in the eveing, but no one seemed to want the
festivities to end. Mikhail pulled Tzer's hands into the sleeves of his robes. They were as warm as
a furnace and felt far better as they traced the muscles of his arms.
"You can kiss me now." Tzer said huskily, crawling into his lap.
"Thanks be to Allah." he dropped his veil with a sigh. Their lips met and Tzer's hands slid
around his shoulders. With a groan, he pulled his Alamir tightly against his chest.
"What do you think you are doing?" Riana snarled.
Mikhail didn't even pause tasting the sweetness of Tzer's mouth, plundering it.
"You are past turnover Tzer." she pointed out, quite unecessarily.
Their spirits twined in promise for their long delayed transfer. Finally, as even all good
things must, they broke off their kiss.
Tzer's gaze was heavy lidded and Mikhail could feel the faint traces of electrical heat
trace his nerves. "Soon Alamir." he promised, holding Tzer's heart in his hands.
"Soon, my Alahin." he came to light in Mikhail's web.
"Now, you had something you wished to speak with me about?" Mikhail was exhausted
and only wanted to got to bed, with Tzer. It had been a rough three weeks of negotiations to get
everything lined up for the party and only then had he found out no one had invited Riana, the
head buyer for Kaon. "Although I would like to thank you for being able to make it with no
"I had to cancel three other appointments." then her field sang with glee. "But we're going
to make millions."
"Is that only with this tribe?" he asked softly, tucking Tzer's now dozing head under his
She glanced at Tzer curiously and answered with another question, "There are others?"
"At least half a dozen major ones, like this one and" Tzer yawned, "dozens of minors.
That isn't counting us, the mystics, the silk men or the sea people." Mikhail had to translate, for
in his tiredness, Tzer had forgotten to speak Simelan.
"Silk? Real silk?" her eyes shone with excitement. "Not the fake Zaor stuff?"
"Yes" Mikhail grinned at her enthusiasm. "In trade for cotton, indigo, chocolate, sugar
and rubber, particularly. If Kaon can get an exclusive on just chocolate and sugar, it'll be a
financial powerhouse to take you back to the stars. Now that there is a universal currency in the
form of selyn, it'll be easy for one power to take the lead." He sighed, stroking Tzer's silken hair.
"All we, Rodina and the tribes ask, is to be left in peace."
"Without the Techton." her nostrils flared in sudden distaste.
"Without the Techton." he confirmed. "We don't kill or lure others to the kill. The Rus
and the tribes will never tolerate the Distecht." Mikhail kissed Tzer's temple and he snuggled
closer in his sleep.
"I can't make a decision for the World Controller." her eyes narrowed.
Mikhail snorted in disgust, then soothed Tzer back into his nap before continuing. "There
is no such thing, Riana. If the Techton tried to take the Rus or the Faithful it would be a
bloodbath of hideous proportions."
"Like Warsaw?" she asked.
"Worse. Far worse." he sighed and looked her straight in the eyes. "Warsaw was a
mistake. The Techton displaced too many people too quickly and that idiot Rels lit a match
beneath a powder keg.
"If the Techton tries to take Moskva by force we will burn it to the ground rather than
submit." He knew it was the absolute truth and that the truth of it rang in his field.
"What of the tribes?" she asked in a small voice, looking around the courtyard, obviously
a bit cowed at Mikhail's strong words.
"They will never submit to following an infidel again. They remember being hounded
and slaughtered before the mutation. They will fight to the last child to stay free this time." He
could see her look of disbelief returning.
"Imagine the speed and viciousness of Freeband raiders with the cunning and firepower
of the Genrunners." Mikhail thought of the fantasia some of the tribesmen had demonstrated in
the horse seller's market in Moskva. "They are not to be trifled with." he warned.
"I can zlin that. How is it you managed to convince them to trade with Kaon?" her
tentacles begant to loosen from their fear tightened nervousness.
"Because I am one of the Faithful." He bowed his head, thinking of the great gift Allah
had given him in his Alamir. "and a member of an ally, Russia."
"You are ambrav Kaon." her voice was harsh with surprise.
"Not with the acceptance of Tzer as my Alamir, you would say, my orhuen partner." he
shook his head sadly, wishing it could be otherwise, but he could not serve so many masters, no
matter how kindly.
"We'll see what sectuib says about that." she turned and walked away, her boot heels
clicking on the paving stones, a staccato echo of her own unsettled field.
I only hope she remembers what Risa Tegue used to say about making changes by
trade pacts and not death. Stiffly, Mikhail dragged himself to his feet. It had been a very long
day. One step at a time
Finally he elbowed the door open and slid inside. Someone had opened the window a
crack and set a lit brazier in the room, with dragon's blood on it no less. Bless you, a
hundred times, bless you. he had no idea who had done this, but the sweet scent of the
incense and fresh air with the heat from the brazier was wonderful.
He kicked off his shoes. Then he looked down. Someone, it must have been after the
party, had replaced the awful bed with a huge nest of pillows. He set Tzer in the middle of it as
soon as Mikhail got him undressed. He burrowed into the bedding like a fish disappearing into
deep water. It was absolutely adorable.
Still smiling, Mikhail stripped off his own clothes and was soon curled up around his
mate, purring his own contentment as he finally made it to sleep.
There was a bit of a chill in the air as Tzer stuck his nose out of the blankets. The brazier
he'd had set up last night had gone out, but it had done its job. The weather here felt like early
fall, but Tzer still liked to be warm when he slept. Soft was definitely pleasant as well. As soon
as he had spotted the huge pillows made for the party, Tzer had made plans to make off with
them afterwards. Same with the braziers.
Mikhail's expanse of soft skin tempted him back to nap. Then his stomach growled. It felt
so good to be hungry again, he waited until he was afraid it would wake Mikhail. Yawning, he
dragged himself out of the nest. Then he spied the large basket of fruit and bread on the table.
Quickly, before his skin picked up the chill, he grabbed it and carried his loot back to the
blankets. Investigating more closely, he found apples, figs, cheese, dark rolls and bless
you even dates and a carafe of still hot coffee with two cups.
Mikhail sniffed and stirred as Tzer poured a cup, so he filled the other as well. Finally his
mate broached the covers. Well knowing Mikhail's proclivities, Tzer handed him the cup of
"Bless you" he said, sipping at it. "What a way to wake up."
"You are quite welcome." Tzer said, smiling at Mikhail's blissful look. Tzer sipped at his
own. It had a richness he had never tasted before, far more robust than he was accustomed to. He
sighed in absolute bliss.
"Like?" Mikhail's field stroked his own, sending quivers of additional pleasure through
"Oh my, yes." he breathed, sending ripples across the surface of the black liquid.
"I found half a ton of these, green, for trade with a firm in New Washington." Mikhail
sipped and then reached for an apple. "They were going for thirty a hundred weight."
"That's robbery." Tzer snorted, taking one of the dates. He loved the things, just like
almost every other Sime he had ever met.
"That's what I thought, so I bought 'em at thirty five and found the supplier. Fatima will
be getting the entire crop for twenty five and I figure we can sell for at least eighty." he munched
thoughtfully on his apple. "Even with shipping at ten, that's a fair profit."
Tzer laughed, "Ah ye are a man after my own heart. Trade and coffee for breakfast. By
the way, where do these come from and why won't the farmers come beat us up for stealing
"Because right now the only buyer they have is Kaon at twelve and most of their crop
goes to waste. They come from an odd island off the coast, where they have some truly odd
beliefs about horses and spirits of the dead. Most people aren't willing to trade with them."
Mikhail shrugged it off as if it were no matter.
"Should we be dealing with them?" Infidels were one thing, sorcerers and witches were
"Oh, I assure you I made sure. I won't deal with killers." his look was unfathomable.
"Besides it being a stain on our souls, it's a challenge to the Techton which could bring it down
on our heads."
"I am so glad to hear you say that, my Alahin." he snuggled closer.
"Besides, if anyone's hands are to be red with blood money, I want it to be the Techton."
his grin showed a great deal of fang. "That way we can point fingers at their brutality."
Tzer whooped with glee, almost spilling his coffee. "You are a delightfully Fatima Sharm
Lord, my Alahin."
"As you delight my heart with your lightning, my Alamir."
Sectuib Vanesa's appearance could not have come at a worse time. Two hours short of
seclusion, Mikhail could think of no valid way to get out of talking with her until afterwards.
She's your sister, silly. She won't hurt you Yet the need clenching his gut wouldn't loosen
its claws for mere logic.
"I'll be all right." Tzer straightened his tunic yet again.
"I don't know if I will be." his voice trembled. Mikhail had already thrown up once this
morning with need and nerves. He prayed with all his heart he wouldn't have to again in front of
his sister. "Are you sure you want to be with me for this?"
"For now and for always." his lips touched Mikhail's in a gentle kiss. A faint trace of fire
lit the contact with a promise of things to come. "But just in case, I made sure I would be ready
for anything." He pointed to the bottle of oil on the table.
"By Allah I love thee, Tzer." With that one bit of foresight, Mikhail knew he was safe, no
matter what. Even if he ended up taken over his sister's desk, at least it would feel good. He
hugged Tzer with all his remaining strength.
"As I love thee and will not hurt thee for the world and all the bright and wonderful
things in it." Tzer's eyes were darkening with the first stages of desire, sending a thrill of longing
up Mikhail's spine.
"Then lets get this over with so we can hole up and love each other properly." he checked
on the food set out for their two whole days of seclusion. Nothing was going to cheat him of the
entire forty eight hours.
Sectuib Vanesa stood to better zlin the miscreants before her desk. "Get Hajene, Tzer, is
it?, to a deferment suite immediately." She could zlin the junct signature crackling through his
nager, threatening her brother so clearly she was shocked he was walking around like this.
The man should be in a Last Year House
"Cancel that." Mikal snarled, leaping to his feet. "You lay one dorsal on any of the
Russians and you'll have to answer to Lord and Ruler Vayer personally." he towered over her,
field beating at her wildly.
"Control yourself sosectu Mikal." she hissed, forcing herself to withstand his momentary
lack of discipline. But he didn't, continuing to hammer at her with his unrestrained ire until she
withdrew, sweating and hypoconcious to return to her seat. A tiny smile played over Tzer's lips,
as if he had been immune to the thundering ambient.
"Cancel the order for Hajene Tzer's confinement." she breathed into the microphone, still
eyeing her brother warily.
"Order canceled, sectuib." her ever faithful secretary answered.
"Thank you." Mikhail said and sat down calmly, as if he had not just threatened her.
"Now," Vanesa nibbled on the end of a tentacle in thought. Both Mikal and Tzer gave
each other identical grins and then turned their attention back to her. What was that all
about? she wondered. Returning to her earlier train of thought, "What is this I hear about
your leaving Kaon?"
"I will be returning with Tzer to Moskva when our time here is done. We are a bonded
pair and will not be separated." his chin jutted out, as if he expected her to fight him. After the
little display earlier, Vanesa was certain the Techton would never let him work as a Donor again.
"But then why do you wish to leave Kaon?" she asked blandly, enjoying the look of utter
shock on her brother's face.
"I don't, sectuib." he said and Tzer clenched at his hand. They spoke for a bit in some
other language, although it sounded like reassurance, despite the roughness of the sounds. "But I
will stay with my mate."
"I don't see why you can't do both." Vanesa could clearly see the stress of this situation
tearing him apart. "Kaon's virtue is freedom. I'm not going to bar you from that freedom." He let
out a huge sigh of relief.
"However, as the Tegue line must remain with Kaon, and both Riana and I are unlikely to
ever have children, I must insist on Shanir remaining behind."
Vanesa never saw Mikal's body come flying over the desk. Her head cracked into the
floor. Before she could orient herself, she was face down. "Mikhail, NO!"
He hesitated. Strong Sime hands wrenched at his shoulders. "Not my son!" he snarled,
lunging for the threat. It rolled out from under him.
"Mikal, Mikhail, it's me, Vanesa, your sister." finally her words made it through his fury.
He turned and threw himself into Tzer's arms. "Take him, Tzer. The Techton won't have him ever
again after he attacked a channel to kill." Her fear sang on his taut nerves, making them itch to
force himself on her. "Kaon won't take Shanir away from you. I know now how much you love
the child, only, please, Mikhail, take care of him and yourself. If there is no Tegue heir for Kaon,
please don't abandon us."
At last, Mikhail could understand her fear. "There will be an heir for Kaon. Neither you
nor our sister are incapable. Talk to our people. Diomid is a better healer than anyone else in the
"I will take your advice, Mikhail, and, always remember we are family." Her voice was
soft and gentle. "Now, get out of here, both of you." Vanesa paused for breath. "I have to
reorganize my desk."
Mikhail managed a dry chuckle at her long standing excuse to be alone and think as Tzer
led him back to their room.
To say Tzer was a bit nervous would have been like saying Year's Turning was often a bit
chill. He paced the room again. For some daft reason, Mikhail had one last errand to run. Tock,
tock, tock his boot heels clicked on the floor. Not even the proper click of stone he
looked down at the faded wood floor and snorted. There were gaps between the joists. Not large
ones, but still large enough to be seen.
"I'm back." Mikhail informed him, quite unnecessarily as his field twined through the
room. "I thought you might like some music beforehand." his field brightened with a bit of a
"Another of Avilan's suggestions?" He asked, coming to rest on one of the chairs, sitting
backwards on it. It wobbled slightly and Tzer sighed.
"No, actually, Arkay." he said and placed a quite ungainly object on the table.
"I saw something like that from the siege of Warsaw." he looked at the collection of
wood, strings and of all things, tines, closely. "What is it?"
"A musical instrument of course." Mikhail's field twisted in question and humor.
"What kind of musical instrument?" sometimes Tzer wasn't entirely sure who was born to
Fatima, Mikhail could be so much like Tzer's father Nashen.
"A shiltpron." now he simply felt curious.
"I have no idea what that is." Tzer said, stroking a finger along the wood inlay.
"A musical instrument, I told you." the damn humor was back. Tzer sighed and decided
to indulge his lover's bad behavior. This is probably why Nashen has gotten so bad about it.
Arkay indulges him.
"What kind of shiltpron is it?" he asked, hoping to duck around yet another stupid
"Mine." he said simply, field throwing off rainbows across the walls with laughter. Tzer
thought of strangling him, but then he would never get his questions answered.
"Why don't you show me how it works." he hoped this might get things going forward.
"Because I would like to get mostly undressed first." he said, unlacing his tunic.
"Why didn't you do so earlier?" Tzer gave him a hand, not incidentally touching him as
much as humanly possible.
"Because I was telling you about my shiltpron." and with this, Tzer had had it. He
pinched Mikhail on the flank. Mikhail yelped, startled. Tzer hummed, licking his lips. That
felt good he let his eyes narrow as if he were going to hunt Mikhail. "Perhaps later." His field
shifted to the ambers and gold of desire for a brief instant then cooled again, taking Tzer with it.
"I would like that." Tzer said, smiling lazily, remembering.
"What has you smiling so happily?" Mikhail sat and took the odd instrument into his lap.
"Remembering all the times I caught glimpses of my parents playing while in seclusion."
he finally pulled off his boots, and leaned back. The images were as fresh today as they were as a
young child. Of course most of them also included being startled silly.
"I thought couples in seclusion stayed in their rooms?" he bent over the shiltpron and did
arcane things to it.
"No, not at all." Tzer chuckled. "Particularly not long standing couples. The adult version
of hide and seek is wild, from what little of it I saw."
"Oh?" he looked up, eyes wide. "Sime hunts Gen?"
"I've seen Arkay and Nashen do it the other way around." a shudder crawled up his spine.
"I think it will be a while before I'm that bold. Even though finding one's parents in the heating
ducts, snow fortresses, even, one time, the bottom of a pond, does give a child the idea that
maturity is not the end of fun."
"Who was hiding on the bottom of a pond?" Mikhail laughed, looking a bit startled.
"I found Darya there, she was burrowed down into the mud with a long straw to the
surface. I saw Vayer go flashing by at full speed and by that age I knew what was going on, so I
climbed a tree to watch." He shook his head at the memory. "He missed her completely. In
absolute silence, she came up out of the water and slid back into the trees. I'd never seen
someone move that quietly in the forest and was amazed. She didn't make a single sound. Then
she climbed a tree like she was my age at the time, about ten or eleven.
"It was only then I noticed she wasn't wearing anything and neither had Vayer been. I
decided I probably didn't want to be around when she got caught and I took off for home." he
chuckled at his own naivete. "I do know they had been at it since morning and it was almost dusk
by the time I got home."
"Does anyone get hurt?" Mikhail asked, seeming both curious and wary at the same time.
"Oh, sometimes someone gets dinged up, things like skinned knees or hands during the
summer when they play in the forest. One time Vayer broke a finger when trying to grab Darya
and she dove through a covered stone culvert" He shrugged. "Usually I get more bruises and cuts
in the salle. I think there have been a few cases of renSimes getting run into in the winter."
"I can see that." Mikhail looked absolutely aghast at the idea, even though his field
showed curiosity. "Are there any rules?"
"Yes." he said, thinking of the lectures they had all been given on as children about sex
and transfer. "No innocent bystanders, meaning you can't use anyone else as a deliberate shield.
Incidental yes, but you can't touch or manipulate by field or talent anyone who is not playing. If
you catch in public, try to at least pull your partner someplace a bit secluded; in other words,
don't scare the children and renSimes with public transfer or sex. And last, never, ever, take from
behind." he grinned wryly and more than a bit sadly at Mikhail's shocked look. "It's too
dangerous. When a Sime goes for an actual kill they strike from behind at the nape of the neck
and pull the arms back to pinch the nerves.
"I didn't know." he said softly, looking down at his hands. "Here, the tradition is to grab
from the front."
"Let me show you something." Tzer smiled back, and watched Mikhail get to his feet. "If
I grab you like this, I am vulnerable from a number of directions." he wrapped his tentacles
around Mikhail's wrists loosely.
"I know that, Tzer." he leaned forward and kissed Tzer softly. It was all Tzer could do not
to let his hold tighten and take, but the very softness of it made him relax a fraction.
"Also, you can push me away, as well as murder or kill me."
"That is not a great revelation."
"But I think this will be." he took a deep breath and turned Mikhail so there was nothing
in the way. Then he flared his field all the way into the visible. Mikhail stepped back, right into
Tzer's hooking foot. He started to go down. Tzer pulled his arm. With all the leverage, Mikhail
fell exactly as planned, face down. Tzer caught his other arm and held his hands together.
After putting one hand behind his back, he leaned down and gently kissed the back of
Mikhail's neck. "See." he gave a small tug on the captured hands, turning his thoughts away from
the flash of pain before it could capture him.
"Yes, I see." Mikhail quivered between his knees, fear rising from him, a dark, seductive
"How many hands do I have on you?" Tzer's breath hissed between his teeth at the
"One" Mikhail slumped, now laughing at his fear. "Oh God, Tzer." He sighed, nager
dancing with his so wonderful kaleidoscope of colors. "You scared me."
"I'm sure I did." he let go. I scared me too. He could still feel Mikhail's fear in his
memory, a demon teasing at his very soul. Tzer had had so many nightmares about exactly that
Mikhail rolled over slowly, thinking of the risk Tzer had taken. He was shivering, dead
white even for his normal pale skin. "Oh, poor love." he held out his arms. "Come to me."
With a tug, Tzer pulled his other hand out from under his belt.
"Aren't you the clever one." he took the hand and kissed it, feeling the chill of shock.
"Here" he held out his arms and his heart. "No one was hurt." he nuzzled Tzer's fine hair.
"Only my pride." Tzer sighed.
"How so?" he lipped Tzer's ear, feeling the light begin to twine between them.
"I couldn't control myself." he leaned into the caress.
"You did." Mikhail chuckled, making Tzer quiver.
"But I scared myself."
"Yes and you scared me, and we both are now resting here talking about it calmly." he
played with the single gold ring he had give Tzer after first transfer. "You feel good." Mikhail let
himself sink into the realm of light, sensing Tzer's attention.
"I can't argue with you when you say such things." his light traced Mikhail's face, a
glowing net of contact.
"I know." he sighed, stroking Tzer's face with his fingertips. "You are so very beautiful."
"You are only saying that while you can't see." amusement made his field dance and sing.
"I can see your heart." he murmured, licking at Tzer's ear.
"Because you hold it in your hands." he sighed, stroking Mikhail's wrists with tentacles
and fingers alike.
"You know, I've never done this before." he admitted.
"Then how did you do it?" Tzer's astonishment was like a cool draft on a warm summer
day. "I know you went into seclusion with me."
"But I knew you were too young to consummate it." and Mikhail had been relieved. They
had also been much shorter, only twelve hours and not fourty eight.
"What are transfers like in the Techton?" Tzer's question also sent questing tendrils
through Mikhail's memory. When he didn't shy from the dark places, embracing them and
soothing them, Mikhail spoke.
"The first thing I would do, after receiving a transfer assignment, was look up the records
on the channel, if I didn't know them already. Find out their likes and dislikes. If they wanted tea
"You didn't meet them first?"
"No, not usually. Often I was sent to them." he twined his fingers with Tzer's. "You see it
was decided that since it was the channels who served the renSimes in transfer and took
donations, they shouldn't have to go somewhere just to put up with a fussy Donor." He could see
his own field dim with bitterness, a taste like bitter leaf mold on the back of his tongue. "Besides,
the Techton thinks if a Donor and a channel share transfer too often they will end up with a
"And this is a bad thing?" Tzer nipped at his shoulder lightly, cheering him greatly.
"According to them." he pointed out. "They don't like it when people are tied to family or
transfer partners. It makes it much harder to fill in holes in the scedule if channels and Donors are
treated like people and not chess pieces." Then he sighed, "To be honest though, like so many
things, they do have an altruistic motive. If something happened to you, I wouldn't want to go on
and would follow you."
"As I think it should be, for me at least as well." he licked Mikhail's shoulder. "What does
that have to do with an altruistic motive?"
"Because it prevents a death." Mikhail snorted in absolute disgust.
"How awful." Tzer shuddered, clutching at him.
"I think so now, not then." he caressed Tzer's shoulders, drawing him closer. "Remember,
I had never seen or sensed anything different. It can be so hard for some people to accept death as
a part of life and try to keep it at bay at any cost."
"I will miss my father horribly and know he could have lived longer if he hadn't bonded
to Arkay, but the extra years would not have been worth the cost." Tzer curled up, lying
completely on top of Mikhail now.
"Exactly so. It is a choice." he stroked his hands over the length of him.
"To go on. After finding out about their likes and dislikes and then traveling to wherever
they were, I would then try to keep them out of trouble." he chuckled softly. "Often it was a
simple as keeping them from getting smacked by nervous donors and making sure they ate.
Sometimes it was more exciting, like when a change over, ahem, 'victim', arrived."
Tzer snickered and Mikhail joined in his amusement. "The first time Arkay pointed out
that little linguistic nuance I never used it again." he chuckled. "Children go through change over
to become adults, they do not suffer change over like victim of a disease. That's like saying a
"That's awful Mikhail." Tzer's whole body shook with supressed laughter. "And don't you
ever let Karola hear you say that. Mostly because she would tease both Arkay and Avilan
mercilessly with it for months."
"Maybe I should." he lied, enjoying the laughter between them.
"Arkay will swat you one." Tzer warned.
"Better Arkay than ... Oh, you're right, never mind." What was I thinking of? an
image of himself flying across the salle to land on his chin was one of Arkay's less enthusiastic
lessons. Of course it hadn't been helped by Mikhail rushing him in frustration at not being able to
lay a finger on him. "So, after baby-sitting my channel for anywhere from three weeks to not at
all, we come to transfer."
"You mean you sometimes went straight into seclusion?" Tzer was so stunned his field
froze for an instant.
"I'm getting there, hold on." he gave him a hug. "So, the first thing I would do was set out
things for tea. I wasn't allowed to put on the water, a Sime had to do that. Gens are clumsy don't
Tzer howled with laughter at this sally. "Since when? Even Darya, who wouldn't remove
her nose from a book if she never had to, puts most Simes in the shade on the dance floor, if not
in the salle."
"Have you seen a single person here do anything like dance or fight?" Mikhail pointed
out. "I was very clumsy when I first went to Russia. Remember me trying to get onto the side
saddle for the first time?"
"Yes" Tzer shook his head. "I just thought it was because you were so, um, worn out."
"No." he told him. "And that was after over a month of having Arkay working on me. I'm
still way behind everyone but Darya. And the morning runs ... you should have seen me the first
morning Arkay invited me out for a little exercise."
"I do remember the first time we all went stair running." Tzer snickered.
Mikhail swatted his butt. "Just because Arkay had to carry me back up out of the sharm."
"Hey, you were so sore the next morning you made my hair ache." he squirmed.
"Well, to get back to our little adventure in the life of a Techton Donor ..."
"Why are all the Simes here, so, well, skinny." Tzer interrupted.
"Because they don't exercise either, sweet." he sighed. "They think augmentation is the be
all and end all for Simes. Since they don't work the actual muscles, they don't ever build up."
"They must go through a lot of selyn." Tzer noted.
"No, mostly they sit on their behinds a lot." Mikhail dug his fingers into the smooth,
strong muscles of Tzer's back. True there was no fat at all to him, but the compact flesh was alive
with good health. "The only reason most Donors are at all fit is because they tend to run after
their channels a lot."
"Good thing you never went back on the rolls." Tzer rolled his shoulders under the caress.
"I can't see you bothering to baby sit a grown Sime any more." he began to melt under the
massage. "Particularly not after the way you stood up to your sister."
"You have a point." Mikhail was enjoying this discussion so much. To just lie here and
talk was like a bit of heaven.
"Very true, my beloved." Tzer answered the unspoken words. "So, the tea is ready to go.
Speaking of which?"
"Sure." Mikhail extricated himself from Tzer's caress. Tzer simply lay there, watching
him with lazy, relaxed eyes as Mikhail put the water on the hot plate they had borrowed for their
seclusion. It was so incredible to be trusted with such a small thing. "So, we have tea." he sat
back down, bringing two cups of the black, heavily sweetened tea. "Not like this though."
"Oh, like the awful stuff they served us when we first got here?" Tzer shook his head and
sipped at the drink. "They didn't even let it steep, much less settle." The practice of making tea
early, letting it simmer down and then thinning it with hot water was a purely Russian practice,
Mikhail had noted.
"So, tea." he took a sip of his own, letting the strong bitterness burn through his need
deadened tastebuds. "At this point the channel comes into the room. They might acknowledge
my presence, they might not. They would almost always check the tea though and zlin me." He
"It made you feel like a piece of furniture, didn't it?" Tzer asked.
"It did." he looked down at his tea. "So, then they would wave me to the couch, as I only
rarely worked as a Donor therapist."
"One of those awful transfer lounges?" Tzer's face twisted into a look of utter disgust.
"You should have seen the look on Arkay's face when our tour guide explained how it made
collections so easy since the person on the couch couldn't resist. At the time it hurt when Arkay
said, 'How convenient, shackles for a rapist'." he looked into his cup of tea.
"Hey" Mikhail turned Tzer's face to him and looked into his eyes. "It's past."
"I'll never forget, Mikhail." His silver eyes were greyed with remorse.
"Neither will I, but I do forgive you." he said, putting his faith and his love into his
"Thank you." he smiled softly.
"You are quite welcome." Mikhail said, most truthfully. "Now, I'm on one of those
couches. The channel would take my arms in his tentacles and lean forward ..."
"Is that it?"
"Pretty much. The channel would let me make the fifth contact when I was ready and
then I was to relax completely." He shrugged. "Afterwards I usually got to hear all about their
latest heartbreaks and struggles, while handing them tissues and making sympathetic noises. Not
"Sounds like rape to me." Tzer's anger threatened to burn though his control. "How could
anyone treat another human being like that?" It was too close to home. Mikhail limp and
unresisting beneath his own hands.
"Easy Tzer." Mikhail's wonderful blue eyes were calm, as if it were nothing. "Easy." he
took the tea from Tzer's nerveless fingers and began caressing his hands, still looking him in the
eyes. "I never knew anything else, beloved. Sometimes I would get post enough to be interested
in finding another young woman to share it with, but rarely. It wasn't painful, simply bland, sort
of like oatmeal." His wry grin tugged at Tzer's heart. It wasn't a grimace of pain, merely good
humor at having been so very innocent.
"Thank you for telling me of this." He echoed the grin. While neither of them would ever
have such innocence again, to have shared it was truly a special thing. "Why don't you show me
how to play that collection of strings and things you brought up here?"
"I would love to." Mikhail said and then kissed Tzer gently. "Thank you for listening to
"What are friends for?" he stroked Mikhail's face. "But to listen."
"And to share." Mikhail echoed the gesture.
Late into the night, they sang and talked and laughed together, sharing their hopes for the
future and fears from their pasts. Early the next morning, with the sun still low on the horizon,
they shared their lives, pledging their hearts to each other for all time. Still in their living
embrace, their bodies joined, fulfilling all the promises broken by their untimely separation.
Afterward: One Month Later
Mikhail's breath steamed in the frozen air. Tzer had said it was positively balmy out. As
ice cracked and fell from the shivering branch down the back of Mikhail's shirt; he had to
disagree. Rough bark beneath his fingers scraped at the dirt embedded in his palms. He hid
behind a nearly bare willow, trying not to breathe and give away his position.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he slid towards the ground. A branch broke, in the distance to the
south. He slid beneath the tangle if withies, careful not to disturb them or the newly softening
ground beneath his feet. As silently as he could, Mikhail slithered around behind an outcropping.
Listening again, he smiled as someone fell into the trap. The snap of a breaking rope and a yelp
as his hunter fell into the pit Mikhail had dug last week, made it safe for him to run full out
Dodging through the trees, he finally made it to the small creek he had once called a
river. Mikhail danced nimbly across the ice, leaping over the unstable section in the middle.
Looking back, he saw he had left a footprint and swore viciously under his breath. Then he
Running half a klick upstream, he recrossed and ducked into a sandstone cave. This time
he left no betraying prints. After pulling down a screen of dead roots and old leaves tangled in
them, he backed further into the cave. Soon he had to shift to seeing by his own field. It was as
bright as a new star with his excitement and being high field.
A truck rumbled by overhead, sending a trickle of sand down to mingle with the melt on
his back. Mikhail knew exactly where this cave ended out, or at least where it had three days ago.
Sliding by the old opening into the Kaon basement, he smiled gleefully. Slinking through the
total physical darkness, a rat skittered over his foot and he yelped.
"Gotcha!" Selyn flared as bright as the sun and burning hot tentacles lashed around his
wrists. Mikhail screamed in shock. Lips touched his own. Fire burned through his nerves,
sending him into an ecstacy he had never known. Still shuddering in release, hands slammed him
backwards over a padded porstan barrel. With brutal force, those same hands stripped his pants
off with a snarl of shredding cloth.
"Yes" Mikhail hissed.
"You want this don't you?" the velvet voice out of the darkness made him quiver all over.
With every syllable Mikhail felt himself open up.
"Take me." he turned.
"Only if you beg." the wicked chuckle was a silk glove stroking his very nerves. "Beg for
me, my Mikhail."
Trapped in exactly the position he wanted to be in, Mikhail leaned forward, "Take me,
This time there was no pain, only the coming together of two meant for each other, no
matter the distance between them.