There’d be no difficulty on his part this time; Jisarr’s heart was pounding before he reached Dren’s door, an uncomfortable tightness growing in his clothing by the time Dren hesitantly opened it in answer to his knock. There was a deep yearning in the smaller man’s eyes now, a need grown almost painful; and though he felt a pang of guilt for leaving Dren alone while that need built up, anticipation of the forceful climax that it heralded made him tremble.

Once the door was shut behind him, he gathered Dren in close, feeling the man arch under his roaming hands, feeling the heat of Dren’s arousal against his thigh. Part of him lamented that he was enjoying this too much, that it might be taking unfair advantage of the other man’s supercharged desire – but enjoy it he did, from the first moment of contact to the moment Dren’s questing fingers found his own arousal, and beyond.

They stumbled over to Dren’s bed, trailing bits of Jisarr’s clothing on the way. Dren more or less fell onto it, shimmying away from the edge; Jisarr clambered on after him, facing the other way. He wanted, ached, to taste the other man – but when Dren had been put off by his lack of arousal earlier, it seemed unfair to deny that arousal to him in turn.

Fortunately, the solution to that was simple.

Once he was settled on all fours over the supine male, he brought his head down, brushing his lips against Dren’s length, lapping and kissing along it. Dren was not so hesitant; the wet warmth of his muzzle engulfed Jisarr’s length straight off, his tongue going right to work, his hands roaming over black fur.

Jisarr felt his pleasure building with a swiftness that might have been embarrassing, except that even as he felt himself teetering on the brink, Dren careened right over it – bucked under him, gasped around his flesh, and sent one torrential gout of seed after another over his tongue. Jisarr struggled to drink it down, even as he himself was gasping for breath – even as a shudder raced through him, a hoarse groan working its way free, his own essence given up in turn.

His climax was intense, if a bit brief – or maybe it just felt brief next to his partner’s. He started, finished, and was settling into trembling afterglow while Dren was still pumping into his muzzle. Unsteady as he was, he couldn’t quite keep up; some of the stuff matted the fur on his chin by the time the flood ebbed.

By the soft sigh on his thigh, Dren didn’t particularly seem to mind.

Dren’s climax had plainly taken a great deal out of him; while he stirred himself to drink some wine when Jisarr brought it over, even sitting up seemed to make him unsteady. Jisarr helped him with a cursory grooming, then let him lie still; his slow, steady breaths suggested that he was asleep by the time Jisarr pulled the covers over him.

Jisarr cleaned up his muzzle, dressed, and stepped into the hall to return to his own quarters, only to almost bump into Tavi.

Distinctly aware of the strong smell of sex clinging to him, he flushed, ears furling back; but all Tavi asked was, “How is he doing?”

Sleeping comfortably, now.” The other details didn’t really seem to need saying. And while he’d intended to wash some of the smell of his deeds off of him before seeking out what came next, well, it was a bit too late for that. “I was hoping to do the same myself, and…”

Very good. Have you eaten already? I’d prefer to give you something milder, rather than risk you coming to depend on the potent drug, but what I have in mind should be taken with food.”

Actually, some refreshment would be welcome,” he admitted.

If not for the smell of sex upon him, he’d have been glad to get the food himself; it felt ungrateful to have Tavi bearing his meals like a servant. But at the moment, her company felt awkward enough already. She promised to bring him a tray after she checked a few things – that was strangely reassuring, that she wasn’t abandoning what she’d come down this hall to do – and he slipped into his own room to do some further reading. Or, at least, to stare at the page and try to make some sense of the characters upon it; he hadn’t quite mustered the focus to actually read the thing by the time Tavi returned.

Had he gone too far tonight? He was supposed to be doing this for Dren’s sake, not his own. This last bout, though – he’d gone in there anticipating his own pleasure, and he’d got it in plenty. Was he getting too used to this?

Still… even if he’d attained his climax, so had Dren. And then some. Too, Dren had wanted him to be a part of the experience, not just a source of stimulation. Even if Jisarr couldn’t in all ways be the lover Dren deserved, he could at least give the man his all. Holding himself aloof wouldn’t have been better.

Meal done and medicine taken, he arranged the service neatly on the platter, with the flask from the medicine on it as well. On his way to the bed, he capped the light, bringing darkness upon the room. It had been a while since he’d just burrowed into something soft and enjoyed the darkness; perhaps that, as much as the draught, would help him sleep comfortably. It wasn’t as though he needed the light to get around the room – even if his own scent didn’t lead him right to the bed, even if the bronze in the bed’s frame hadn’t been a clear shimmer in his stone-sense, he knew this place well enough by now that he could practically find his way around by memory alone.

He tugged the covers up so only his snout was showing, and, in lieu of company to hold, clutched his tail to his chest. It wasn’t the same, and it was a bit childish, but it brought some measure of comfort. That was enough.

He woke without the stiff ache he’d had the prior day, lying on his stomach, with a reassuring scent in his nose. Tavi, strong and fresh enough that she had to be in reach. Mumbling her name, he pushed his snout out from under the covers, flicking his ears upright when they’d pushed free as well.

There you are.” Though she didn’t actually laugh, there was good humour in her voice. She was at the foot of his bed, a stone around her neck casting the room’s sole light, barely enough to pick out her outline and the edges of the furniture nearby. “I was only checking if anything needed tidying; I’d not meant to stir you from your nest.”

Curled up under the covers in the dark; not the most dignified way to sleep. He ducked his head, ears folding back. “It must seem so silly…”

Whyever so? It’s how most of us wish we could rest, down in the core of our being. In truth, seeing you seek such a natural comfort is promising.”

At this, he blinked in the gloom. “Truly?”

Truly.” Leaning over, she gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “You’ve been through some rough times. A rise in our deepest instincts may suggest that your mind is trying to come to terms with it. Certainly, so long as your conscious self doesn’t regress to childhood or instinct, it’s not a bad thing.” Standing straight, she added, “But I shouldn’t be interrupting your rest.”

No, no,” he demurred. “I feel fine. I only caught your scent as I woke.”

Oh?” Her head tilted slightly. “It’s barely been two watches since I left you, but if you’ve rested soundly… Something to eat, perhaps?”

A mild sting from the night before came back to him. “Healer… do you always attend so thoroughly to your patients?”

Always. It’s a part of my expected duties. I can understand your desire to be productive, but for most of my patients, a chance to rest and not worry about such needs helps them recover. My speciality is not dire and immediate trauma to the body, but in things which need longer care.”

Oh. “At any rate, please don’t hurry on my account,” he said. “I’ve more of an urge for some proper grooming than I do for food, so far.”

Nothing keeps you from having both,” Tavi responded, ears splaying. “But yes, I might be a bit; I wasn’t yet of a mind to seek even my own meal.” On that note, she departed.

Jisarr slid out from the covers, tucked them in neatly, and wandered through the darkness. Truth be told, at least to himself, he was somewhat reluctant to wash Dren’s scent out of his fur; he wanted to be neat and not dirty, but those smells carried pleasing memories, and he had no wish to purge them just yet.

He fumbled a few moments to get the water flowing pleasantly warm, and then he sat on the tile, one hand dangling over the basin’s edge, waiting for the water to come up to his fingertips. He scarcely needed bother; water was almost as present as stone to his senses, in its peculiar, blurry way.

Oh, well. If he was going to wash away those memories, he could at least enjoy them one more time while they were fresh. Maybe they’d linger a little better for the review.

Shutting the valve, he shifted to sit at the basin’s edge, easing his legs into the warm water – warm enough to steam slightly, to put the faintest of sparkling hazes in the air around him. At the start of this little sojourn through his memories, it seemed apt to begin with a beginning – Dren arched and tense under his hands, the shorter male’s fingers encountering Jisarr’s stiff flesh, curling around it.


He let out a breath, shivering slightly. When he opened his eyes, sight wasn’t as futile as it had been, a faint red glow casting highlights on his pelt and a soft shimmer over the water rippling between his legs. He brushed his fingers over his swelling length, then curled them under it, lifting it free of his pelt, feeling it rest fuller, harder, atop them. Clear red light gleamed a little brighter.

Maybe he should suggest this to Dren sometime. Have them be providing the only light around all by themselves, red and green…

But he didn’t want to get distracted by might-be musings right now. Not when there was so much to savour from the night before. The sight of Dren tumbling over the edge of the bed, flesh bobbing as he shifted more fully onto it. The rich scent of his arousal, the taste of it under Jisarr’s tongue, the heat of his muzzle around the black’s own length… Shivering, Jisarr slid into the water, his hands sliding out along the tub’s edge until he was dangling slightly under them, the water lapping at his chin. His own red glow lit the rippling surface from beneath, and here and there, bright surfaces in the room winked red back at him.

Again he closed his eyes. He relished in the feel of Dren’s shaft in his muzzle, when first he’d drawn it in amid his own cresting pleasure. And, soon after, the first salty squirt over his tongue. And then another, and another. So much… if he’d been at rest, maybe he could have kept up with that torrent, but not then. Not when he was breathing so hard himself, riding the surge of his own orgasm – and a powerful orgasm it had been, too.

He blinked back to the present, panting. He longed to touch himself, to squeeze a few fresh pulses of seed into the water, but he’d already had trouble keeping up with Dren. No, best to save himself, to let his need subside until he could pay the other male a visit. He closed his eyes again, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Let there be stillness and warmth.

A tap at the door drifted in from the main room.

Rot the timing – how long had it been that he’d drifted there, lost in his memories? Well, it wasn’t as though Tavi didn’t know what he’d been up to – and, in general terms, would be again. Besides, it wouldn’t take her long to deliver a bit of food. Once she was gone, then he could finish grooming and eat. “Come in,” he called. Less embarrassing than making her wait while his body calmed, and much less so than scurrying over to the door to let her in personally, dripping and aroused.

The latch clicked; the door creaked very softly on its hinges. Footsteps. He took another steady breath. “Many thanks,” he called. “I’d have been properly hungry soon enough.”

He belatedly realized that he hadn’t heard a tray get set down, just as someone who was most certainly not Tavi observed, from rather closer by than he’d have expected, “I seem to have developed a knack for entering at awkward moments.”

His eyes flew open. There was still plenty of red light in the water; opposite him, pale blue light shone from a small lightstone on the tray, gleaming on the brass of the tray itself, on the deep red fur of the one holding it, on her light blue wrappings, on the topaz-in-brass circlet on her brow. Deeps. She wasn’t looking directly his way – leaning against one side of the doorframe and apparently studying the other side – but there was no doubt about what she’d seen.

His tail tucked in between his legs, and he clutched it to his chest, snuffing out that portion of the light. “Oh, deeps, I’m sorry…”

You don’t need to apologize on my account,” she replied wryly. “Far from it – though I think I owe such to you. Again. Tavi had said you were expecting food and that you might be enjoying the darkness, but not that you might be bathing.” Her ears tilted back. “I’ve no excuse for the rest. It’s not as though I couldn’t have guessed, with that sort of light… but I was curious.”

Jisarr blinked. “Curious?”

The willworker didn’t turn to look at him at all, but the visible side of her mouth twisted into a smirk. “I liked well enough what I’d seen last time. I suppose I was greedy for more. For taking it without announcing myself and seeking permission, I am sorry.”

He glanced around the bath chamber, trying to remember where everything was tucked away. Light would have been damnably useful right now; stone-sense couldn’t tell him what was in the cabinets and such.

A towel would do for now, and those he could find. “If I’d known I’d be having company, I’d not have… let my thoughts stray.” Even if she’d said she didn’t expect an apology, that much at least seemed warranted. He nudged the drain open; then, as he pulled himself out of the sinking water, he asked, “What brings you here so early?”

News,” she replied. “Though darker news trod my tail on the way in, which is what Tavi hurried off to answer.”

She did?” An emergency of some kind? That much explained why she hadn’t brought in his meal and announced his guest – though she’d just told him she didn’t generally deal with emergencies. Odd… “What happened?”

Rima grimaced. “There was… an incident last night. Tunnel collapse. Four miners were caught in it. Three didn’t survive. The fourth… only just regained consciousness, and while he’s physically not badly off, his psyche was shattered. Tavi is apparently well-known for her expertise with broken minds.”

Buried in rock, his fellows dying around him… Jisarr shuddered. Solid rock was a familiar friend to the Crandil, often a thing of comfort, but always there was the fear that it could come tumbling down. “May the Deep Ones grant him some peace of mind, and that soon,” he prayed.

So let it be,” she intoned, just as sincerely.

Jisarr swallowed, tucking the towel around him. “I’m almost afraid to ask, now, but what news do you bring? Out in the main room, perhaps – we can sit…”

Rightly taking that as a sign that he was covered, she looked his way, offering a small smile; then she turned, stepping out of the doorway so he could pass through. “Happily, I bear no tidings nearly so ill. Word of and from your… consorts, actually.” Her hesitation about the word didn’t seem to bear any condemnation, just a touch of uncertainty.

Indeed?” As he sat, he noticed that the tray was laden with far more than a light breakfast for one; prepared for company, yes. “Semarr you’ve told me is well. The others…?”

Luka and Freia are undergoing training,” Rima explained. “Given their… status, they’ve had little education in how to actually apply their gifts, which they are remedying now. Luka said she hoped to come visit when she’s not being poured into a bed each night…”

That sounded like an exact quote, in fact.

Freia had more energy to spare – her gift is milder, her training less intensive. She was afraid you had been shoved into a cell and forgotten. I assured her that you were being kept in comfort, but for a number of reasons I was hesitant to give more detail.”

Thank you for that much, at least,” he said earnestly. “And Semarr…”

The bulk of her training is deferred until she gives birth. She’s had quarters in the city arranged for her – comfortable, but she misses the company of her fellows. And yours.”

Good that they’re all well, at least,” he sighed. And, presumably, the developing kit – or kits – that Semarr bore. “My thanks, again.” He reached for the wine. “They all three spoke of me?”

All fondly, independently, and without any prompting on my part,” confirmed Rima.

That was reassuring.

He swallowed a mouthful of wine. “Is there anything else…?”

From beyond, not that couldn’t wait for a better teller than myself. That one colleague of Tavi’s – I didn’t quite catch his name…”

Arrin?” It was the only such colleague whose name he’d heard.

That may well have been it. This colleague, at any rate, said just before I came here that Dren is deeply asleep still, and likely to sleep for half the watch yet.”

Ah. I suppose he was…” Jisarr’s mind managed to catch up before his mouth gave voice to any further details, but not soon enough to avoid embarrassment. “Oh, fire and iron…”

Rather tired, was he?” The sardonic tone he’d been half-expecting wasn’t there; the willworker’s voice was still quite gentle. “Jisarr, I’m aware that his is an unusual case. More than that, I suspect that beyond allaying the symptoms, a lover’s touch might be just the thing to break through the walls he’s put around himself, to convince him not to maintain the compulsions he’s put into that collar and let the sad thing break.”

At this Jisarr lurched back in his seat. He’d not heard anything of that sort before. “You think so?”

A chuckle. “Trite as the notion of healing by sex may be… it’s not without its precedents. My colleagues suspect that on some level, Dren continues to not think of himself as a full person. The details aren’t mine to speculate on beyond that, but a lover just might be able to break through to him. How much of a past with him you have, I don’t know…”

Jisarr bit his tongue to keep it still, ears flicking back in further embarrassment, and managed not to attract her attention thereby.

…But a friend of his from before his incarceration is the best sort of person to reach through to him. Someone who can be both a past friend and a current lover is as close to ideal as we can hope to find.”

Jisarr sighed. “It feels wrong, though,” he admitted. “I’ve… had it made abundantly clear that his response is not only physical, but I’m the one who sent him down there and got that cursed collar put on him in the first place.”

Are you?” There was a strange, quizzical sharpness to those words. “I rather thought that was the Dukes’ decree.”

He shrugged. “I’m still the one who gave the order.”

Under duress. In constant fear for your life, as I understand it now.”

That he couldn’t refute; he just shrugged again. “Still…”

Jisarr…” There was a tense pause. “I don’t think Tavi would want me to bring this up now – she thought it indelicate to ask. But one of my training can help to weaken the self-destructive habits of a damaged mind. Your insistence on blaming yourself is such a thing if ever I’ve seen one.”

If Tavi thought it unwise…”

No, she thought the matter might be a tender point for you,” Rima stated. “With so many of your concerns surrounding willworkers in one form or another. Though she didn’t say so outright, my impression is that she’s hoped to bring in one of my people for some time now, but thought asking you would be like prodding a bruise.”

He puzzled over that for a few moments.

Curse it. Somewhere, they were stumbling on semantics. Time to rephrase, then. “All right.” He took a breath. “Please answer as straightforwardly as you honestly can.”

She cocked her head, intrigued – perhaps even pleased? – by how he’d phrased that. “Yes…?”

Did Tavi suggest to you that a willworker could help fix whatever’s wrong in here?” He tapped his brow.

She said – it would probably be some help, and there is a favourable chance that it would be a great help.”

But she thought it unwise to broach the subject with me.”

Just so.”

He blinked at her. “But you thought otherwise?”

Her ears flicked forward in assent. “First, you’re plainly frustrated with your own lack of progress – though I do wish to note, I think you have made progress; it’s only that neither that progress nor the problem itself are clearly visible without some emotional distance from yourself. Second, when I… inadvertently reminded you that your consorts’ training had been scant, your response was, so far as I could tell, simply happiness that this was being remedied.”

I could envy them, actually,” he sighed, leaning back in his seat. Her reasoning seemed sound enough…

If you’re not comfortable with me,” Rima went on after a moment, “I could name five others in Aynithral whom I’d trust to do such work, or I’m sure Tavi would be able to find someone…”

You’re here, aren’t you? You already know me, and much of this whole mess.”

She gave him a wistful look. “And you still flinch when you become aware of my presence.”

Jisarr… flinched. That one he couldn’t deny either. “There’s an unhelpful reaction for you,” he sighed.

And one that I’d… be hesitant to address. Bad enough that it concerns me, but I’ve a personal interest involved.”

He blinked at her barely-illuminated face. “You do?”

A grin lurked at the corners of her mouth. “Jisarr. I can’t be any plainer about finding you appealing without propositioning you.”

Oh. Right.

Of course,” she purred, “if you’re willing to try moving past that initial wariness – perhaps Dren isn’t the only one who could use an object lesson in his own appeal, hm? From someone without any outside influence, perhaps.”

He flushed. “I’m sure I couldn’t say…”

It was a joke,” she soothed. “If not without truth. But moving back to more serious matters – if you wish to try a willworker’s touch, I have the time, and with Dren likely still sleeping, you might as well. I could at least try assessing the matter.”

For a moment he quailed. Would Tavi really think this a suitable course? If she’d been hesitant to bring it up… But now it had been brought up, and he wasn’t flinching from it. It offered, if not an easy escape, at least some way to help get his miserable head working properly, and without him needing to guess on what was and wasn’t the right way to proceed.

The costs would have to be quite steep indeed to offset that, and the only cost he could see offhand was sharing his thoughts with someone. And if that someone was willing to be burdened with that mess… well, that was her lot, wasn’t it?

And despite the hostility of their first few encounters, Rima had been nothing but pleasant to him for the last couple. She, by her own word, could steer her own thoughts away from nonsensical pitfalls.

Right at the moment, that perspective seemed valuable indeed. If she and Tavi alike were convinced that her initial dislike of him hadn’t been sensible, perhaps she could find out what was nonsense in his head and help him understand why they were so convinced.

Yes. That seems best so far as I can gauge such things,” he said.