Betwixt and Between

Part One: Chapter Ten, Finale


Just that afternoon, for the first time in days, he had felt as awake and alert as if he had just woken from a long and restful sleep. Of course, he had also been nervous and uncertain, but he'd still been smiling; restless and lost, but still hopeful. He didn't feel any different-- he had entertained vague thoughts that perhaps he would immediately sense the correct stability, the knowledge that the world was real or false-- but he wasn't disappointed. Not yet.

Now, however, with the sun long set and well-wishers long departed for the evening, it was all he could do to keep his eyes open. It didn't help that Lament kept yawning, and even a dragon's toothy yawn was infectious when someone had been avoiding sleep for a week and a half.

What really mattered, beyond sleep or wakefulness, was that, as Hemlock had suggested, he had come to the Sanctuary of the Sun to bond-- and that afternoon, he had bonded. He'd been the last to do so, the last to be approached by a hatchling, from those gathered in the hatching hall. In fact, he'd been close to nodding off where he stood, he was so exhausted, but Lament's voice had woken him up, and kept him awake for several hours afterwards, if just because it was so strange and new that it held his attention.

Then the rest of the day had come, wearing down at that wakefulness with its business and its people, until now both of them felt ready to drop right on the spot. First there had been feeding, with Yula hovering over him and the crowd pressing close around him, other bonded pairs or not-bonded pairs all around trying to provide the hatchlings with their first meal, as well. Then there had been washing in an isolated garden fountain, with a peculiar discussion with a peculiar woman named Neniae, who had arrived to do the same for her own pale green hatchling.

"I think you're probably part desi'pvar," she had told him, to his surprise, when he mentioned to her he was a draclin. Thankfully, she also explained what a desi'pvar was: an ethereal being from a spiritual realm, that usually looked like a hybrid between a fox and a dragon, and which was, to use her words, "strange" and "random". Strange certainly suited, but not "random".

Neniae hadn't known what the dreams were, either, but she was certain that whatever they were, Lament would be the help Tavarez expected him to be.

"I'm sure you will find a way," she'd said firmly. "Absolutely certain."

::I hope so,:: Lament, concerned that he might not, had answered.

"You're very optimistic," Vagrant had commented with half a smile.

Her answer had come with a smile: "Well, what can you trust in within this life if not your friends? Especially one so close."

Then, before he'd really had a chance to think on that, Tavarez-- who had actually disappeared right as the hatching began-- had found them and swept him off for congratulations and dinner. Feeling a bit dazed, he ate, sharing bits with Lament, and Tavarez did most of the talking. Yula hadn't been there at first, but it had been impossible to turn her away when she arrived and heard that he had company. It had been full dark by the time both of them had left.

Finally had come the first few minutes he'd been alone with his new bond and, before either of them figured out just what they were going to do with each other, exhaustion hit them both like a heavy sack of dirt had fallen on their heads. He, after all, hadn't slept more than a few hours total in the past nine days, and Lament was just a newborn who had just lived through his first exhausting day. Or half a day, since he'd hatched after lunch.

Falling back on his past experiences, caring for Fleshshifter children on and off for three hundred years, he managed to get Lament ready for bed and tucked in, into his own bed. It was certainly large enough, filling most of the tiny room, for the both of them. Not that he intended to sleep, while Lament did. Even though sitting on the chair beside the bed, seeing the little dragon curled up on that bed, covers snug up over his shoulders and head on a pillow, woke another powerful surge of longing for sleep.

::Which one should I call you?:: Lament asked, interrupting his half-formed thoughts and turning his vague gaze away from the second pillow and onto the hatchling.


::Which name should I call you? They both used a different name-- which one is it?::

Though Lament's father could speak aloud, Lament hadn't started yet, in his first few hours. Possibly he actually had to learn it, like normal creatures did. He smiled sadly at the hatchling. "Neither, really... you can call me whatever you like."

::Don't you have a name?:: The beauty of speaking in the mind, he thought, was that yawning didn't interrupt it. After Lament yawned, he had to pause before answering to give a jaw-popping yawn of his own.

"Not that I can remember. Not that anyone has ever given me, except myself."

::I'm sorry... that's kinda s-s-s-sad....:: This time Lament's yawn even made his thoughts stutter. He smiled down at him.

"Go to sleep, Lament."

::You, too....::

Thankfully, Lament fell asleep a moment later, before he had to try to explain why he didn't want to, why he couldn't, not after the last time. Not after what happened when he fell asleep. He folded his arms on the mattress, pillowed his head on them. Just to rest for a few minutes, and watch over Lament while he slept. He would not sleep.

He shouldn't have been surprised, though, that sleep stole up on him, as well, no matter what he'd resolved. Too tired to resist any longer, his eyes fell shut.

And woke to music again, faint and distant, but still there. Always there. The smallest Other, the gentlest and youngest, lay curled in his arms, trembling and clinging to the fabric of his robes. For a minute he blinked, looking around, trying to remember what he was doing.

"Don't leave me," the Other whimpered, "they'll get me."

And he remembered, knowing that this Other had been frightened, presumably by one of the other Others, and said the right soothing words over and over, provided the right a reassuring embrace for as long as it took, and finally the trembling slowed and stopped. The littlest Other fell asleep, worn out by its fears and whatever had frightened it to that it came running to him, in his one moment of solitude.

He had no idea where the Others slept-- he'd never seen their rooms or their beds, or even the doors to their rooms and their beds-- and now he was burdened with one, fast asleep, who needed its bed. This one was just a child; it deserved kindness, even though he didn't know how to give it to it. Maybe, he thought tiredly, hearing the idle, distant music, the Lady Sphiridon would know what to do.

And then she was there, ready to answer his need, even though he'd been sure he'd left her far behind. "I'll take him," the old woman said, her brisk voice quiet, presumably out of respect for the child Other.

He handed it over without a word, and Shpiridon started to turn away with him. "Come back to my caves," she said imperiously, her back to him, "you've wandered far enough for the day."

"Yes, Lady," he answered quietly, his freedom for the time curtailed by a desire to be kind.

She paused at the place where room became tunnel, glancing over her shoulder at him. "And get some rest. You look like you've been through hell and back."

"Yes, Lady," he replied, rubbing at his eyes, and she strode away.

As he went to obey, realizing just how tired he really was and wondering how obvious it had looked in his face, and settled into his own bed, he listened to the protective song that never changed, never faded, flowing through all rooms that belonged to the Lady Sphiridon. He knew it was well as he knew his own name, as well as he knew her voice or the frustration of never being alone.

Tonight, though, it sounded oddly... different. Like there was another voice, an unfamiliar voice, an unearthly voice, added to the music. It should have been disturbing, a change to the usual song, probably meaning some change to the magic of the caves-- but it wasn't. It felt like someone had joined that song just for him, to look out for him and keep him company, not for Sphiridon or the Others, but for him. That should have made him angry, he who always wanted privacy and was tired of being special-- but it didn't.

Instead, as he fell asleep listening to the new voice, he smiled.


The Hatching



Song borrowed from Five for Fighting's "Two Frogs", on the Message for Albert album

Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight; the character Neniae is used with permission.