Dren rested easily – no terrors haunting his dreams – and, watching him, Jisarr was struck by a thought. Hadn’t the man been unable to find any sleep, restful or otherwise, when he’d first come here? To be sure, he’d rested easily enough after some release from his spell-driven lust, but that had been when he was greatly short on it.

Now he could slip into a midday doze without issue, and stayed that way as Jisarr shifted around to tidy the place somewhat. Progress?

Dren wasn’t entirely still, but the movements he made were the gentle ones that anyone might while they slept. Certainly Jisarr had seen jerkier motions in his own consorts. Even if it was obvious within an hour that lust was colouring Dren’s dreams, it seemed to be a soft sort of desire, not the burning, pent-up need he’d had when Jisarr had first met him here.

Not wanting to spy on his charge’s fantasies, Jisarr busied himself over by the bath, then among the shelves, doing what he could to bring some order and tidiness to the place without making much noise. He only occasionally glanced over at Dren, to make sure the blue male was still comfortably resting; so he was caught slightly by surprise when one such glance revealed Dren to be in the process of sitting up.

Setting the figurine he’d been brushing off back on its shelf, Jisarr hurried over. The motion caught Dren’s attention, first one ear, then his whole head turning, his face lighting with palpable delight to see Jisarr still there. Propped up on one hand, he lifted the other, reaching out for Jisarr’s face, cupping against his cheek; a fond gesture of greeting that the dark male was glad to return.

Carrying on from his earlier ruminations, he noticed richness, a fullness, to Dren’s body language that had been lacking before. When he’d first been found in his cell – or even the first time Jisarr had seen him here – his reactions had been crude, reflexive, only responding on a base physical level. Now, while still unnaturally silent, he was more expressive; even such little things as looking up at the clock to see that he’d napped through a watch were details that just hadn’t been there in the beginning. He beckoned Jisarr over to the side table, where a pitcher of wine waited; Jisarr offered to get some fresh food, and with an affirmative flick of his ears, Dren bobbed his head eagerly.

It wasn’t enough for a discussion of abstract things, but it was getting quite close to an actual conversation. That gave Jisarr some hope. He recovered his clothing and went to fetch some food; and while his hand wasn’t nearly as practised at domestic chores as Tavi’s and the resulting presentation wasn’t nearly so fine, it was good, simple food that he brought back. Hard to do much wrong with that in any way but the presentation.

It wasn’t quite like the meals he’d shared with others over the past few days. Rather than sit opposite one another, Dren made a silent query with a hand on Jisarr’s thigh, and when Jisarr assented, Dren slid right up onto his lap, curling an arm around his shoulder. Jisarr was keenly aware of the thinness of the cloth separating them, and the scent of Dren’s arousal filled his nose as the green gleam of its designs danced in his eyes; but though there was a decidedly affectionate tone to it, it was first and foremost a… perhaps not a meal, but a snack, anyway. Food.

Only after the last bite was gone did Dren’s free hand start to roam about Jisarr’s body, and even then it didn’t rush anywhere; the man was just drinking in the feel of him. That was all right, even if his answering touch could not, without being distastefully plain about it, avoid brushing against Dren’s rigid shaft in the process.

And why avoid it? The man was beautiful – all over, now that he’d started to fill out properly and his fur was in good order, but the play of green over his fine blue flesh was certainly a part of it. And Jisarr enjoyed the feel of that, too, both at rest and when it came fully to life. So after one light stroke over Dren’s belly wherein the back of his hand encountered that firm heat, he curled his fingers right around it for some more direct attention, and Dren, shivering, sighed over his jaw.

Dren’s fingers moved with more direction from there, slipping under Jisarr’s wrap and curling, warm and tender, around his soft manhood; and Jisarr sighed in turn over Dren’s ears, closing his eyes. Despite the intervening hours, he had yet to recover from their earlier bouts; his flesh remained still and his heartbeat steady. But it was a pleasant sensation in its own way, and he didn’t need to be aroused to give Dren some release.

Except that after a minute or so, Dren tapped  his shoulder; he opened his eyes to find a query on the other man’s face.

“I’m sorry, Dren,” he murmured, leaning in to nuzzle at the man’s ears. “The Deep Ones know I’m willing in spirit, but the body can only manage so much.” At least withouta supernatural assist such as came along with Dren’s compulsions. “I can still…” But Dren laid a finger over his lips, silencing him, and then slid off his lap, out of his grasp, stretching onto his toes a pace away.

It wasn’t a deliberate pose, of that Jisarr was rather certain, but standing like that, Dren did present his arousal rather nicely. If only… He shivered, and swallowed. “Dren, I don’t need to reach my own peak to enjoy giving you yours…”

Dren’s look over his shoulder was wistful. He splayed his ears out to the sides somewhat and gave Jisarr a one-armed shrug, that hand turning outward, palm-up. Nevertheless.

“I suppose I can understand,” he said, rising as well, coming up togive Dren’s shoulder a squeeze as he went on, “if sometimes you want to enjoy someone else’s pleasure in turn, hmm?”

Dren’s ears flicked forward in assent; then his head turned slightly, gaze drifting toward one of the bookshelves. Well, if he was more interested in such quiet pursuits than in one-sided pleasure… “Shall I leave you to read?” Jisarr offered. “I might be better for some chance to move about, certainly.”

A hesitant affirmative; one last squeeze around Jisarr’s waist. The man didn’t want to chase him off, perhaps. Jisarr nuzzled at his ears once more. “It’s all right. If you want some time to yourself now and then, it’s only natural.” In fact, it was probably quite a good sign.

Judging by Dren’s easier affirmative, he was at least on the right track and hadn’t misread the man entirely. As he let himself out, Dren had selected a book and was settling into the divan.

For a moment Jisarr paused on the threshold. He wanted to assure Dren that if he wanted to tend to himself, he’d not suffer for it any longer; he needn’t wait on Jisarr to come and tend to him, not when need started to trouble him. But how could he say that without making it seem as though he was unwilling to help? He remembered how Dren had flinched, back when he’d first recoiled from the man’s touch. No; never again.

Without another word spoken, he eased the door shut between them.

His quest for something to do brought him to Tavi, and as she set him to chores, she queried him about the state of things. Karo’s cryptic audience gave way to Dren’s health, and she was pleased by his description of the man’s state, confirming that both his casual nap and his richer body language were promising signs.

“He turned down an offer of sex?” she asked when he’d managed an awkward description of that particular encounter. “Do you still doubt that he has a specific desire for you?”

“Not that…”

“But you doubt it would be nearly as strong if not for the compulsions upon him.”

Jisarr sighed. “That.”

“The only way to know that,” the healer observed, “is to know how he acts and feels when those are removed. So… what then? When this goal to which you’ve committed yourself is resolved, one way or another, what will you do?”

“I don’t know,” he protested. “I never have.”

“I’ve never once heard you speculate on what you might do for yourself,” Tavi noted. “So go farther. Imagine all debts paid. Just bide with me,” she added when he started to protest. “All accounts settled, nothing owed anyone. What would you do?”

“I…” He faltered under her gaze, and cast about for some answer, any answer. “Visit my old consorts, I suppose. Learn how they fare, now.”

“A start, but what about for longer? What do you see yourself doing with your life?”

“I don’t know,” Jisarr insisted. “I don’t have the faintest idea what I can do. All that’s been valued of me is that I could follow instructions and look pretty, and there are others far better at both.”

“Maybe not so much as you think,” was her cryptic response, but before he could ask what she meant, she went on, “This Karo seemed to have a task in mind for you. Nor is he the only one grumbling about the human occupation, not by far – merely the most outspoken.”

“Statecraft? But I haven’t the slightest idea how to actually run the state!”

“So listen to your advisers until you can learn. The steward at the Deep now, Davar, is by all accounts fair and competent; he could probably rise to the tasks of a grand vizier, yet he’s old enough to have little interest in gathering power for himself.”

And so might serve the position honestly, she meant. “I… I don’t know. What would the point be in claiming authority when all the important decisions must still be made by another?”

“There is value in traditions.”

“What, even now? With everything changing?”

Especially now. With so much upheaval, any steady thing is a treasure.”

In the midst of an earthquake, any still ground was precious, he supposed. “I think I can see that. But even assuming this all happens, even if I do turn out to be competent… the decisions I’ve already made haunt me. I don’t know that I could bear a lifetime of it.”

“Even being free to decide with your own conscience?”

To that, he had no answer.

“At any rate. If statecraft is not for you, what else? Wizardry? I can understand the Dukes not encouraging you to hone your gift, but…”

“What gift?” So far has he was aware, someone had to be born with the spark for magic in them; it wasn’t something that could be learned by study, however earnest, without that spark.

She cocked her head, her expression turning quizzical. “You mean you don’t know?”

“Know…” He cut himself off before the word “what” escaped him. He certainly hoped he wasn’t that much of an idiot. “Healer, are you saying that I…

“You’ve some minor talent in that area, yes. It’s been tamed, though I think it was never the sort that brings chaos out of nothing for lack of control. By its very stillness, I thought you had been trained to keep it at rest.”

“Not… consciously.” Maybe some of the talk he’d been given about steadying his mind and calming his spirit hadn’t been entirely honest…

“So there you are.” She smiled. “An alternate course to investigate. Even if it’s not enough to ever rise to a court wizard’s post, there’s always more uses for magic than there are wizards to provide it.”

An image came to his mind; his muzzle quirked in a smile. “A little stall in the marketplace, peddling charms? …I suppose there are worse fates.”

“So, you see, there are options ahead of you.”

“I suppose…”

“Once you’re of healthy mind to pursue them,” she added.

Ah. And thus it came back to her assessment of an intangible thing he couldn’t begin to perceive. Not that he’d question her word as such, but lacking a goal to work toward was frustrating.

She reached over to cup a hand against his cheek. “Don’t fret so,” she murmured. “You have, I think, made progress toward a better picture of yourself. Once you know your own mind, then you can better work to mend it, and I or any of my colleagues will be glad to help you.”

Know your own mind… Rima had said something like that, hadn’t she? Which obliquely reminded him… “Healer, do you think it might be possible to… to send word to my former consorts? Semarr’s health I’ve heard of, but the others – and I should still try…”

“Speak less of what you should,” Tavi gently admonished, “and more of what you would. But the notion is good. I will make some enquiries, and at least try to bring back assurance of your health.”

“Thank you.” He leaned back in his seat, feeling as though a weight he hadn’t even known he bore had been lifted from him. If they who’d been closest to him were well…

Into the silence, Tavi said, “I daresay you’ve done work enough for one day; certainly you’re looking weary. Do you wish another draught?”

“Not just yet,” he demurred. “I should check in on Dren, see how he fares…” And see if his own body was willing to perform again, at that.

“Not unwise.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze. “And Jisarr… he deserves someone who deserves him. Wouldn’t you say?”

He blinked. “Of course.” Which was a large part of his misgivings where Dren was concerned, but why would she bring it up now?

She gave no explanation; just smiled, promised to speak to some contacts for him, and went on her way.