Torshael and Tayne's Story: Between Missions

Chapter Twenty-Three

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


Things could have been better at the Valar household, but really, they could have been a lot worse, too. Tekas was trying his hardest to get along with Fluniarlii, despite his discomfort around her, and Lii was trying her best to keep her teasing, coarseness, and even volume toned down around him. It only made her worse when he wasn't around, of course, especially when Tayne took her with him to the Sentinels' practice yard. He still hadn't gone in to talk to them about joining the Order-- he intended to do that after a trip back to the City to show Lii around and have her meet the family-- but that didn't stop him from meeting with friends to exercise and chat. Where Lii hadn't hit it off with Tekas, she got along amazingly well with many of Tayne's other friends, for all they kept being surprised by how much she caught on to. Well, so was Tayne, sometimes.

At least nothing at all seemed to faze Irithin. He went about his business in the house as if neither Tayne nor Lii were there, or at least as if neither of them bothered him one bit. Lii rather quickly gave up on trying to shock him, and almost as quickly gave up on trying to joke with him, and claimed that he was really no fun at all.

Neither he nor Tekas saw quite as much of each other as they had that first week, which they'd spent almost entirely in each other's company. Tekas did less of his work at home, and Tayne left him now and then to enjoy a quiet house without Lii's presence to bother him. He wasn't sure whether this was a good or bad thing, but at least the times spent together without the kitten didn't seem much changed.... Lii had admitted once-- in a sleepy, bedtime moment when she wasn't as concerned as usual with being tough and careful by turns-- that she wished she could come cuddle with the two of them now and then, when they were just cuddling with a book or dozing by the fireplace. But that would probably be a long ways off, if ever, and she said she understood that. Tayne had just given her a kiss on the forehead and an apology before he tucked her in and went back to Tekas, and he never mentioned the sentiment to the infernal.

Still, Lii did do her best not to interfere with Tayne and Tekas-- even encouraged them to spend time alone together, often with an affected matronly air that didn't go well with her wicked grin whenever she came up with some thinly veiled euphemism or pointed verbal prod. It had been her idea, given to Tayne privately, that they go out to lunch together. ::I'll just scrounge up something here,:: she promised. ::Go oooooon, you know you want to!::

So he did, and Tekas seemed happy with the invitation. They found a middle-of-the-road restaurant-- Tayne didn't have much left in the way of funds, and he didn't want to make Tekas pay too much-- that they'd eaten at once or twice before and knew they enjoyed, and settled in for a nice meal. Tekas, like he always did whenever Lii wasn't around, had an air of relief around him, and Tayne made a concerted effort not to let it drag down his own mood, especially since Tekas was making a concerted effort, himself, to enjoy himself while they were out.

About halfway through the outing, right about when their food arrived at their table, Tayne realized that there was more to what was bothering him than just wishing Tekas could be this relaxed with his bond being around. He felt... watched. And it wasn't just the lingering nervousness from the Destiny and knowledge that Israfil could have found them out, because he hadn't felt like that in days. But... it felt very, very similar. He tried looking around without being obvious about it, and caught sight of a man sitting at a table by himself, across the room and against the wall, who didn't fit. His short hair and beard was stark white, matching his pale skin, which admittedly wasn't too unusual, given the odd color combinations of some of the species on Kynn. However, it was rare to see a human with coloring like that, who wasn't obviously old, and it made him guess that whoever he was, he wasn't as human as he looked. His clothes were a contrasting black, and didn't look Kynnese at all. And sure enough, he was unabashedly staring at them.

No... no, he was staring at Tekasynos. With decided interest. Just what that interest amounted to, Tayne didn't know. It made him want to glare and bristle, but he wasn't sure whether that was the pesky possessiveness or true warning. He tried to eat without making it obvious that their watcher was being watched. "Um, Tekas," he asked quietly after a few bites. "I don't suppose you know anybody who looks like this, do you?" He relayed the image of the white-haired not-man.

Tekas's brow went up in confusion, and his answer was as quiet as the question. "No...."

"He's watching you," Tayne explained, a little confused and a little annoyed, though not with Tekas. "And I'm not sure whether to follow through with the impulse to bite his head off and make him go away."

" ... if it's disturbing you, maybe that's not such a bad idea," Tekas said hesitantly. "I mean, I hadn't noticed, I can't see him from this angle."

"I just don't like feeling watched...." He didn't like feeling so possessive, either, but that wasn't going to go away any sooner than not liking being watched. He gave up on pretense and watched their watcher openly, and with a just as openly displeased expression. After a minute, he looked right back at him, calmly and quite as if he had every right to be staring at Tayne's lunch partner, and Tayne lifted his brows pointedly in mildly annoyed askance.

And after another minute of exchanging looks, bland on one end and increasingly annoyed on the other, the white-haired fellow got up, leaning over to pick up his bag as he did so. Tayne settled back, feeling a brief moment of triumph that he'd managed to get rid of the guy-- which rapidly turned into alarm as he started, not towards the door, but towards their table. He sat up straighter, setting down his fork, and giving Tekas a glance of warning that they were about to have company.

Whoever he was, he stopped at-- well, a somewhat-polite distance from the table. He was almost too close for comfort... but not quite. "Terribly sorry if I offended you, sir," he said, and his accent was odd, yet another proof that he wasn't a native. Worse, though, Tayne felt oddly like he ought to recognize the cant of the words. "I meant no harm."

"Not offend so much as disturb, really," Tayne said carefully. "You were really pretty obvious in your staring."

"Still, it was inappropriate of me." Tayne refrained from saying "damn right it was," out of politeness, and the fellow turned to Tekas. "I was wondering if you might humor me and answer a question I've had on my mind?"

Tekas's raised brow was wary. Tayne didn't blame him. "Depends on the question whether you get an answer."

"I was curious," the stranger began slowly, "is that the natural color of your eyes?"

Tekas promptly froze, and Tayne tensed, fear warring with protectiveness. "Perhaps you might want to explain why you're asking," he suggested, more warningly. "And who you are." Though he had a guess-- a guess that he didn't like the thought of....

"I meant exactly what I asked," white-hair said with a friendly smile, apparently not at all offended, threatened, or even surprised. "I've never seen one of his kin with blue eyes before. I figured there was no harm in asking."

The reference to his species made Tekas hiss under his breath, and when he answered it was nearly a growl: "No. It's not."

"Ah," the stranger said, looking unaccountably disappointed. "Pity, then. I'd have liked to have seen that. Sorry for bothering you both."

And without another word-- or explaining himself-- he took a step back, half-turning towards the door. Tayne reached out to snag a wrist before he could turn the rest of the way, and he stopped obligingly. "You didn't answer our question," he said coolly. "Who are you, and why the interest in eye color?" If this was another infernal, there would have to be measures taken-- if he was a supernal... well, that didn't bear thinking about, but he still wanted to be warned in case all hell-- heaven?-- was going to break loose.

"As I said, I was just curious. It's a pity that it's not natural; it would go well with his aura. As for who I am, I'm no one of particular importance. Just a traveler. My name is Senas."

White hair, purple eyes, either an infernal or supernal-- with the name Senas? Suddenly it felt like he couldn't breathe, and he dropped the "traveler's" wrist instantly. "Senas? Senas Tano-- Tan-- whatever your last name is?" He never could remember all the syllables in that name.

"Tanolozosael," Senas corrected gently, smiling. "To whom might I be speaking?"

"Tayne," he said, swallowing uncomfortably. "Peregrin. My older sister took a class with you before you went inactive and left the City. Torshael was so upset when you disappeared before we got to school." He swallowed again, this time to keep back the rambling. "Um, this is Tekasynos. He's-- a friend." And depending on how long he'd been watching them, Senas could very well call him on what kind of "friends" they were, if he knew anything about what to look for. He could very well be in very deep trouble now-- though the fact that he hadn't said anything yet was a good sign. He hoped.

"Ah, one of the young Peregrins." Senas smiled pleasantly. "What a delightful surprise, to meet one of Valariel's brothers. Very nice to meet you in person at last. And very nice to meet you as well, Tekasynos," Senas added, smiling at Tekas, too, though Tekas just froze under his gaze, shaking a little uncontrollably. "Apologies again for putting you on the spot, lad. I just couldn't help it." A good natured chuckle and Senas will turn his attention briefly back to Tayne, patting him on the back very lightly. Tayne was just glad he didn't wind up flinching away at the unexpected touch from someone he'd grown up hearing stories about.

Then Senas's next words made him freeze as much as Tekas had: "You've found yourself quite a 'friend'." The slight emphasis, the wink at Tayne, his apparent obliviousness to his stunned expression all made it horribly clear just how long he'd been sitting there, and how much he'd known to look for. "But, I should stop bothering the both of you, I imagine. Enjoy the rest of your lunch, and perhaps I'll see you again."

"Yeah," Tayne managed, somehow managing not to choke on his own breath and sound halfway amiable. "Yeah, maybe. Thanks."

Senas sauntered off with a friendly wave, whistling to himself. He stopped a waitress on his way out, exchanging a few words with her, then continued on. Still whistling. Tayne watched him, frozen in his seat, until he disappeared into the light, lunchtime crowd. When he finally looked back at Tekas, the infernal actually looked a little faint. Tayne wished he had something he could say to reassure him. He wished he had something he could say to reassure himself.

"That was-- that was a Favored," he said hoarsely, just letting the facts roll off his tongue while his mind felt stuck on that one word he'd said-- "friend"-- and every shade of meaning he knew Senas had attached to it. "An-- an ancient Favored. He went permanently inactive, into a kind of retirement, a year before Torshael and I started school. I've been hearing stories about him since I was a hatchling. He's the only Favored-- High One, maybe the only supernal-- with purple eyes, and his Purity is supposed to be more powerful than all but the oldest teachers...."

And... and he knew.

Tekas just whimpered softly, and Tayne made an effort to shake out of his fear to reach over for his hand and offer what reassurance he could. "He didn't say anything... I don't know what that means. Whether he's going to keep quiet, or-- or not. He hasn't been in the City, or in contact with anyone, for over eight years now. He might not tell anyone." Thinking of it, he'd acted... awfully odd, for someone who ought to have disapproved-- or scolded. Not been unscrupulously polite and congratulated him on his... er, choice. No supernal Tayne knew would play with someone like that. But that made no sense. He couldn't possibly approve-- not the most highly blessed Favored he'd ever heard of.

Tekas just looked upset-- not afraid, like he had expected. Just... upset, and guilty. "I don't want you to get in trouble, Tayne...."

Tayne brought his hand up to his mouth, kissing the fingers before tucking it under his chin. The first worry on Tekas's mind was whether or not he'd get in trouble.... He felt both touched and a bit exasperated, that he wasn't first worried about himself. "The worst that can happen to me is my family disowns me. They could try to forbid me from seeing you, or maybe to punish me with service or confinement or something. But if the High One won't enforce it-- and if he hasn't so far, I don't know that he's going to-- there isn't much else they can do, except... except keep me out of the City." Admittedly, the thought made him ache unpleasantly, but it was hardly life-threatening. "I'm more worried that someone will-- will want to hurt you, if they found out...." He could just see one of the great-uncles assuming he'd been confused, seduced, somehow beguiled... when, if anything, he had been the one doing the seducing. High One, if he could see the expression on their faces if he told them that....

Tekas fitted his fingers through his own silently, and Tayne smiled a bit at him. "I'm not gonna let anybody hurt you," he promised. "They'd have to find us first, anyway. And for all we know," he added, fear subsiding now that he'd thought it all out and finally leaving room for more confusion, "Senas isn't going to tell anyone and our secret's safe." Confusing though that was, he couldn't see someone, a supernal no less, complimenting him in his taste in men and then going to the authorities to turn them in for it.

The waitress showed up before either of them could mull it over more, a plate with a very appetizing-looking desert in either hand. Neither of them had ordered a dessert-- they had only gotten halfway through their lunch! "The white-haired gentleman insisted on paying your bill before he left," she told them cheerfully, to Tayne's great surprise. "And he included dessert. Enjoy!"

"Uh, thanks." Tayne stared at the plates-- it looked like some kind of chocolate confection-- and let Tekas take his hand back she she could set the desserts down beside the remains of lunch. As she headed off again, leaving them to their meal and treat, Tekas looked just as wrong-footed as Tayne felt. "Wish we'd had a chance to thank him," he commented as lightly as he could manage. "And ask him what the hell he's trying to pull, here. If he springs any more surprises on me today, I might just have a heart attack or something."

Tekas smirked at him, looking rather like he was suppressing a laugh. "Glad you find that funny," Tayne told him wryly, mostly since if Tekas was finding anything funny he was relaxing again. "Well, at least after his scaring us half to death, I will feel no guilt at all by eating away Senas's money. This looks expensive-- and good." He forewent the rest of his lunch, at least long enough to taste his free dessert. Tekas smiled at him a moment before joining him in the feast.

Both of them were feeling much better by the time they finished eating-- not to mention less nervous about the whole thing, since no angry summons had interrupted them and, really, Senas hadn't seemed like he was going to tattle, anyway. On the walk back to the house, Tayne was doing his best not to dread the damper Fluniarlii's presence would put on Tekas's mood. He let Tekas unlock the front door, teasing that one of these days he'd have to get his own key, then followed him in.

Lii wasn't waiting for them, as he'd half-expected. In fact, glancing around-- and casting his mind around for the sense of their bond-- he really didn't know where she was.

"Something wrong?" Tekas asked, looking at him quizzically.

"I just expected Lii to be waiting for us," Tayne frowned. "She didn't say a word during lunch, though she can't have missed what I was feeling when Senas showed up, no matter how hard she was trying to ignore it. I thought she'd be right here wanting an explanation, or at least threatening to beat up whoever scared me like that." ::Lii?:: he sent.

::Downstairs,:: came the answer.

"Huh, apparently she's in your painting room, Tekas." She'd explored there briefly once, and thankfully shown no interest at all in the paint itself and only brief interest in the paintings, besides calling them "really good", so he had no idea what she was doing down there now.

Tekas's brow went up. "Ah." And he immediately made a beeline for the stairs. Tayne sighed and trailed after him.

"I'm sure she didn't hurt anything, Tekas," he commented.

"That's not what I'm concerned about," Tekas murmured, and trotted about halfway down the stairs before stopping short. Tayne peered in from the top, bending down so he could see most of the room. He didn't see Fluniarlii, not at first, though nothing seemed out of place. A few of the paintings had been shifted a little, suggesting Lii had looked through them as a more leisurely pace than she had while Tekas had been looking anxiously over her shoulder. He made it a few steps down before he caught sight of her, in the far corner, in front of the painting that had always been kept covered, that Tayne had been too polite to ask about but hadn't specifically told Lii not to touch.

It was uncovered now, the cloth that had kept it hidden on the floor beside the easel, and Lii was sitting in front of it, looking up. She looked over her shoulder at the two of them as they came in. "Hey," she said by way of greeting.

Tayne didn't answer, looking in surprise at the painting. It was of a supernal silhouetted on lightning-laced storm clouds, with colors and patterning that bore a rather striking resemblance to Tekasynos himself, when he was shifted. It was darker than much of his work, but perfectly-- even lovingly-- executed. And it really did look a lot like Tekas....

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?!" Tekas demanded. His hand gripping the railing was white.

"I figured I could get to know you better through your paintings," Lii said with a blink. "I don't really understand this one, though," she added, looking back up at it. ::What did I do?:: she asked Tayne privately. ::He looks all-- scared and upset.::

::That painting was private, I think,:: Tayne answered distractedly, still looking at it while the wheels of his mind slowly started to work.

"That was covered for a reason!" Tekas cried. "It's not for you to see!"

:: ... oops.::

"Tekas, she didn't know that," Tayne interjected, hopefully before he could really work himself up. Or at least in the hopes of getting the anger he expected was building redirected off of Lii.

"I just figured it wasn't done yet!" Lii added, a little tartly. "No one ever said anything about it being private."

"Get out," Tekas growled, stalking the rest of the way down the stairs. "Now. You are never to come down here again!"

Lii skittered out of his path, finally looking a little guilty, but looking more confused. "But I didn't know," she protested.

"I said get out!" he yelled, and Lii wasted no time in fleeing up the stairs, darting past Tayne without even looking at him. Torn for a moment, Tayne looked between Tekas below and Lii's retreating tail above, making good time for her room. He heard the door slamming behind her as she kicked it shut, echoing around the corner and down the hall.

::I'll be okay,:: Lii sent back to him in the midst of his divided desires, her mind-voice carefully devoid of any emotion. ::You deal with Tekas. I didn't mean to make a mess of things....::

::Maybe if you'd told that to Tekas, you wouldn't have.::

He got a sullen but unhappy silence, at that, and he turned his attention back down to the infernal and his painting. He took a cautious step down towards him, half-expecting to get told to leave, himself. Tekas was shaking, his back to him and eyes probably on the painting.

"Tayne... I'd like to be alone for a little while... if you don't mind."

It wasn't angry-- rather, it was painfully strained, like he was trying to keep his emotions in check through sheer will alone-- but it was a request to leave, nonetheless. "If... that's what you want," Tayne said quietly, backing up the stairs again, one careful step at a time.

" ... please."

So Tayne fled, too, albeit a little more slowly. Fluniarlii refused to open her door when he knocked, and wouldn't talk to him through the door, so he wound up sitting at the kitchen table, staring at his hands, waiting for one of them to come out and thinking. It was Tekas who emerged first, maybe a quarter-hour later, coming slowly up the stairs and closing the basement door behind him. Tayne heard the click and looked up to see him coming into the kitchen, eyes red even through the contacts and even a little puffy. If he had to guess, he thought he'd been crying.

He paused when he noticed Tayne. " ... sorry," was the first thing out of his mouth.

"You remind me of Torshael, sometimes," Tayne answered. "Apologizing for everything. C'mere." He held out a hand.

Tekas came. "I shouldn't have snapped at her."

Tayne took his hand and pulled him lightly up next to his chair, getting his other arm around his hips and resting his head against his stomach. "There's always a should have or shouldn't have. She should have apologized, and I should have warned her to leave that painting alone."

" ... shouldn't have had to happen that way...."

"No," Tayne sighed. "Shouldn't have. But it did." He paused, then asked quietly, "Tekas, why would you paint yourself as a supernal? And then hide it?"

There was only a brief pause before Tekas answered, "Does it matter? It was foolish, anyway."

Tayne lifted his head to look up at him. "It mattered enough for you to be furious at Lii because she found it. And afraid."

"Well, it hardly matters anymore," Tekas muttered. "I already took care of it."

Tayne blinked up at him. "Tekas, what did you do?"

"I got rid of it."

His tone was bland, as devoid of emotion as Lii's mental voice had been earlier. Tayne stared at him. "Why?"

"I told you. Because it was foolish."

"That's not a reason to get rid of something," Tayne told him. "Especially something you obviously worked hard on. Tekas, will you please tell me what's going on here?"

Tekas frowned at him. "I just told you. I don't know any other answer you could expect me to give."

Frustrated, Tayne let him go and pushed his chair back to stand up. "You're being evasive, Tekas. I don't know why you were hiding that painting down there, or why it made you so angry, or why you felt you had to 'get rid of it' when we found it, but I don't think it's as unimportant as you say it is. If you just don't want to explain yourself, fine, just say so. But don't dance around whatever it is you're hiding and pretend you're not."

All he got from Tekas was a continued frown, and then a good view of his back as he turned and left the room. "That's right," Tayne growled to himself, running a hand through his hair angrily. "Just leave. Better than actually dealing with something, right?" The worst part was, he'd probably let him get away with it, too. Someday they'd have another shouting match like they did when Irithin was causing trouble, but today, he expected, as not going to be it. 

He resisted the urge to kick the chair, but mostly because it was technically Tekas's chair and he didn't want to damage it. Then he waited long enough for the urge to kick something-- or claw something, despite his current lack of claws-- to subside, carefully counting his breaths until he thought he had his temper back under control. Only then did he follow Tekas, climbing the stairs a few minutes after him, guessing he was aimed for the bedroom. He found him on the bed, curled up under a blanket, buried so completely that even his head wasn't visible.

Sighing a little at the sight, Tayne came in, kicked off his shoes, and settled on the other side of the bed, laying down and curling himself around the blanket-wrapped infernal. He was shaking under the blanket, and Tayne felt the rest of his anger sliding off and away. How could he possibly be angry with someone quaking like a child, hiding under a blanket as if he wanted to make the world go away? "Hey," he murmured soothingly, snaking an arm warmly around him and his blanket, "hey, it's okay...."

" ... sorry..." Tekas whimpered again, muffled by cloth.

"It's okay," Tayne repeated gently, trying to hold him close and comfortingly, though he wasn't entirely sure just where and what he was hugging. "Don't worry about it." Other than another whimper, Tekas didn't answer, and Tayne didn't try to make him. Since he didn't really know what else to do, he just lay curled up against the blanket and held him, stroking what he thought was a shoulder or a head, occasionally murmuring reassurances and endearments until he realized Tekas had dozed off. He carefully folded back the blanket so the infernal wouldn't suffocate-- or wake up blind and disoriented-- and brushed back his hair for a minute, watching him sleep, before slipping off the bed and heading barefoot back downstairs. 


Chapter Twenty-Four

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