Seshar's first memory was of Rafarel, and he only dreamt about it when something was wrong.
He struggled to awaken, but his dream self was an exhausted, crying child, and rescue was at hand. Strong arms lifted him up, carrying him away from something he didn't even remember. He sobbed against a warm chest, and a strong, rumbling voice soothed him into sleep, more welcome and more comforting than any lullaby.
His eyes snapped open, and the dream vanished. In its place was darkness, hard dirt under his cheek, and the feel of rope around his wrists and ankles. Seshar struggled futilely for a moment, then lay still and tried to assess his situation better.
He was lying on a smooth dirt floor; though he could see nothing of the room about him, it felt small and rarely used. From somewhere outside he could hear the murmur of many voices.
The last thing he remembered was passing out in the escape pod, too weak with hunger to even stay conscious any longer. If only the blasted pod hadn't crash-landed in the ocean! At least on land they could've found food and water, found out where they were, made some sort of plans as to what to do next. But no, they had to land in the middle of a great, huge, useless span of water, with not a speck of land in sight. And the force of the landing had totally ruined the pod's steering mechanism; no Thyric-induced powers or Thyrician cursing would get it to work again.
They'd only been away for hunt training. Nothing was meant to go wrong. None of them had expected the craft ferrying them all home to suffer drive failure halfway there. He could only hope that the others on board had fared better than he and Rafarel.
Rafarel! his mind screamed, and he tried to roll over. He succeeded in getting on his back before he rolled against a large, warm, very familiar body. His hands were painfully crushed beneath him, but he smiled as Rafarel's breath warmed his cheek. He had adored Rafarel his entire life, both with childish hero worship and eventually a more adult love and lust; so long as he had his Rafarel, he could deal with anything.
There was a soft groan, and then an even softer sigh.
"Seshar.. where are we?" Rafarel still sounded only half-conscious, but he'd never been a quick waker.
"I have no idea, but it appears the natives aren't friendly."
There was a snort of laughter.
"Our weapons are gone, I take it?" Rafarel's voice was sleep-laden, but Seshar knew him well enough to know that even half-asleep he could focus on the task at hand.
Seshar flexed his right wrist enough to feel the little twinge of pain that told him his embedded blade was still where he'd left it.
"Yes, but they've obviously never dealt with Thyrics before."
Seshar ignored the question, and rolled onto his side again. He relaxed his body and let his spirit flow into his right arm. His skin shifted, melting and flowing with his thoughts, releasing the blade he'd hidden within it into his waiting hand. With that done, it was a simple matter to cut the bonds around his wrists.
He sat up and reached across Rafarel, letting his hands guide him in the darkness to the man's bound wrists. The rope parted easily under his blade, and both their ankle bindings soon followed suit.
That done, he set the blade on the ground in front of him and began rubbing the feeling back into his hands.
"Do you always keep a blade embedded?" Rafarel asked, wryly, and Seshar turned his head in the direction of Rafarel's voice, wishing for the night vision that only rarely gifted his kind. Rafarel had it, and he hated that Rafarel could see him when he couldn't see Rafarel.
"Don't you?" he responded, surprised.
"...only when I'm hunting."
"Oh." It seemed second nature to him to always have extra blades available, and he'd assumed Rafarel felt the same. "Where are we?"
"Looks like a storage room. Lots of boxes."
"And no windows," Seshar muttered, and Rafarel laughed.
"You've already proved yourself a hell of a lot more useful than I have, so no griping about being blind." Rafarel's strong hand gripped his upper arm, a familiar, welcome touch, and Seshar sighed.
A memory came to him, from his final moments of consciousness in the pod. As he'd drifted into blackness, he thought he'd heard Rafarel whisper "meet me in Hinter." A delirium, surely? Fentar was the noble warrior's afterworld, where most of the men he knew wished to go when they died, but Hinter was the afterworld of lovers - love shared, or love never known, if you loved strongly enough, you would be together in Hinter.
He shook off the thought. He must have imagined it. Rafarel had been with him all his life; they had never been apart that he could ever remember. But Rafarel had been like a father to him, and surely only saw him as errant son. He was too young. He would always be too young.
"Do you think they'll be mad when they find out we took off our bracelets?" he asked, and Rafarel laughed again.
"Spitting mad, I'd imagine. What say we see if we can get out of here before they find out?"
"Good idea. Where's the door?" Seshar picked up his blade and moved to re-embed it, but Rafarel stopped him with a touch.
"Don't. We may need it."
They appeared to be in a small village. Their prison was apparently out of the way, and few walked past it, but between the other haphazardly placed huts, people flowed past in uncountable numbers. Adults, teenagers, children, and all of them with the same strange nut-brown skin, the same dark eyes and dark hair, so incredibly different to the pallid colouring of Seshar and Rafarel. Something about the faces reminded him of Tintorites, but he'd never seen a Tintorite with colouring like these people.
Rafarel pointed, and Seshar followed the line of his gesture. It seemed their captors had made short work of their pod. The shell was visible from the doorway of their prison, but it was obvious that it had been stripped of all its parts.
"It was a hunk of junk anyway," Seshar muttered, and Rafarel snorted.
"Maybe, but it was our hunk of junk. I'd feel obliged to teach them a lesson about ownership if we weren't so glaringly outnumbered."
"And so obviously far from home. I think we're going to be a mite conspicuous trying to walk amongst this species. I hope they don't have any tricks up their sleeves."
"So long as they don't have blades up there, like you, we should be fine."
Seshar laughed softly. He stared at the ruined remains of their pod, and at the people that seemed so strange to him, and fear and excitement thrummed through him. He couldn't say for sure which had the greater hold on him, but he thought it might be excitement.
"Okay," he said, "what say we -"
Rafarel pulled him away from the door, and shut it carefully, plunging them back into darkness.
"What say we don't," he said softly, and Seshar frowned.
"You didn't even let me finish." Seshar closed his eyes. He couldn't see anyway.
"No," agreed Rafarel. "But I already have a plan."
"Oh?" Seshar pursed his lips.
"It's almost dark. When night falls, I'll scout the way out, take you to somewhere safe, then come back and scout for the homing beacon."
Seshar dropped his head, and hair fell in his face, tickling his nose and lips. He brushed it away in annoyance. His plan hadn't been all that different from Rafarel's - without the homing beacon, the rescue teams would never find them - but his plan hadn't involved him cowering in hiding like a child while Rafarel did all the work. His plan had both of them scouting, like equals.
"I don't like it," he said.
"I don't care if you don't like it. It's what we're doing."
Seshar heard Rafarel moving, and he tensed.
"Why do I have to be the one waiting while you do all the scouting?" he asked.
"Because I have night vision and you don't." Rafarel's voice came from his right now, and he followed the sound with his head. Rafarel sounded calm, steadfast... and also a little too smug, as far as Seshar was concerned.
"Lack of night vision doesn't stop me from being able to scout."
Seshar felt strong fingers in his hair, raking it back from his face. This was familiar from countless mornings, when he was still half-asleep, and from countless training expeditions when his hair was the one thing he forgot in his preparations. Rafarel's hands smoothed the knots in his hair, pulling it back into a neat ponytail, just as he'd always done.
But this time, the routine did not soothe him as it usually did. This time it only irritated him.
"If two of us scout, we can cover twice the ground and halve the search time," he said.
"The risk is too great." Rafarel looped a band around his hair.
"I can handle myself." Seshar pulled away from Rafarel's hands, and the man let him go.
"Now is not the time for misplaced heroics." Rafarel's voice was stone, as stubborn as he always was, and Seshar clenched his hands in his lap. Rafarel wasn't the only one who knew how to be stubborn.
"Do you have so little faith in all the training you've been giving me? How do you expect me to learn anything if you won't give me a chance to try?"
"Seshar -" Rafarel's tone held a warning now, but abruptly, he stopped speaking. Seshar waited, confused. Without warning, Rafarel grabbed the blade from him, then pushed him to one side, so that he fell face down against the dirt ground.
"Rafarel..!" he hissed, startled, wishing again that he could see.
The door swung open, pouring bright light directly onto him, and he froze, his wish granted in a way he hadn't expected. There was a soft noise of surprise, quickly muffled.
Seshar turned to see Rafarel, seemingly huge from this angle, looming over the petite figure of a brown-skinned child. One hand covered the child's mouth, the other held the blade threateningly against his ribs. Seshar had time to glimpse how wide the child's eyes seemed before Rafarel kicked the door shut behind them, plunging the room into darkness once more.
"Do you understand my words?" Rafarel's voice growled across the room in the harsh Common tongue. There was a moment of silence, in which the child must have nodded, for Rafarel spoke again.
"For now, I only wish to speak to you. I will uncover your mouth. If you scream or do anything to alert anyone, I will hurt you. I will make sure you hurt for a very long time. Do you understand that?" Rafarel's voice was wintry cold.
There was more silence, and then the sound of another's heavy breathing; their captive, apparently.
"I - I'm sorry. I just.. wanted to see.. the pale-skins." The boy's voice was high-pitched, quavering on the edge of tears, and Seshar relaxed a little. His kind trained their children from a young age to be fighters, but perhaps these people were a less aggressive sort.
"Where are we?" Rafarel demanded.
"K - K - Kern."
"So we're in Tintor then," Rafarel mused, and Seshar drew a deep breath, waiting for the boy's answer.
"Y - Yes."
Seshar let the breath out in a rush. There were few worse places they could've picked to land. Both he and Rafarel had the classic Thyric look about them, and if there was one thing a Tintorite hated, it was 'those low-life shape-shifting Thyric scum'. Privately, Seshar thought they were just jealous that they couldn't meld skin like his kind, but the reasons mattered not. The border treaty between Tintor and Thyric had only been in effect for a few years, and he doubted it held water beyond the border. And judging by the unfamiliar look of the people outside their hut, Kern was a long way from the border.
It was only then that he thought to wonder how Rafarel had known instantly where Kern was.
"What did you do to our pod?" Rafarel growled, his voice harsh again, and there was a sound of surprise from the boy.
"It... they.. they took the pieces. For trade."
"Where did they take them?"
"I... I..." The boy seemed at a loss.
"Where? Tell me."
Seshar heard the threat in Rafarel's voice, and he smirked to himself. He knew Rafarel was probably not really enjoying this little show, but he was. He didn't get to see - or rather, hear - this side of Rafarel very often.
"I..." The sound of the boy swallowing was very loud. "They.. they're at the docks, ready to trade..."
"Mmm." Rafarel fell silent, and Seshar waited, listening to the sounds of them breathing in the darkness; Rafarel's, slow and languid and familiar; the boy's, fast and ragged and nervous; his own, somewhere in between.
"Seshar -" Rafarel began, then stopped. Seshar waited. He heard movement - the sound of struggling, the sound of cloth tearing, and then a surprised grunt from Rafarel.
Seshar froze, every nerve in him screaming to rush to Rafarel's aid. But in the darkness, he was useless. He could do more harm then good. He heard more struggling, the thud of bodies hitting the dirt floor, and then a squeak from the boy, and something went 'snap', loudly and clearly.
There was silence, broken only by his pounding heart, and the sound of ragged breathing, a strained sound with an odd whistling edge to it. Seshar dug his fingers into the dirt ground beneath him. He couldn't tell if the breathing was Rafarel's or not. He waited, but nobody spoke.
"Rafarel..?" he dared to breathe aloud.
"Seshar.." Rafarel's voice was shaky, but he was alive. Seshar slumped to the ground, his fingers loosening their grip on the dirt.
"Come - here."
Seshar didn't need to be asked twice. He scrambled towards the sound of Rafarel's voice, stopping only when his seeking fingers found an arm; a limp arm far too small to be Rafarel's. He froze.
"Come," Rafarel grated, but Seshar ignored him for a moment. He ran his fingers up the arm, following the curve of the shoulder until he found what he expected to find - the boy's neck was broken, his head lolling at an unnatural angle.
"Come," Rafarel said again, and Seshar's fingers leapt free of the boy, rubbing against each other. He swallowed, and slid away from the body, moving towards Rafarel's voice again, trying not to think about how young the boy had been.
He reached out, nervously, and his searching fingers found Rafarel's outstretched leg this time. He followed the leg up until he found Rafarel's body, and then his fingers stopped as they touched something warm and sticky.
"Rafarel.." he said, half-warning, half-fearful.
"I know." Rafarel's fingers covered his, lifting them away from the blood, holding them. He could not even check to see how bad the wound was.
"Did he.. pierce your heart?" he asked, almost afraid of the answer.
"No," said Rafarel at once, and Seshar silently let the relief overwhelm him. Thyrics could heal anything, given time, except for wounds to the heart. Rafarel took a deep breath, and there was that whistling hiss again. "But he pierced a lung."
"Oh, Rafarel..." Seshar closed his eyes.
"I know." Rafarel's voice was gruff. Seshar didn't need to see his expression to know that he was angry with himself. "It doesn't matter. We'll go along with the plan."
Seshar's eyes popped open.
"Now wait just a minute!"
"We don't have time to wait, Seshar." There was the sound of movement, and Seshar reached out quickly, fumbling in the darkness until he had ahold of Rafarel's shoulders.
"Stop," he said. Rafarel was stronger than him, he knew that, but the man was also injured.
"You need to heal. At least the worst of it. You need to zone yourself and heal, and you can't do that if you're running around scouting."
"We don't have the time for me to do that. Someone could come looking for this kid at any moment."
"Fifteen, twenty minutes, tops. Just long enough to close that hole and stop you whistling like a midship. I can scout in the meantime. It won't even be wasted time."
"No. I don't want you out there."
"But you said it yourself - we don't have time. So let me scout while you heal."
"No, Seshar. You don't have night vision. And you don't have enough experience. It's too dangerous. It has to be me."
Rafarel pushed against his restricting hands, trying to get up again, and Seshar gritted his teeth. There was no way he was letting Rafarel outside of this hut, not in the condition he was in, and talking was getting him nowhere.
There was only one thing to be done.
He moved his hands up until he found the man's face. Then he cupped it firmly between both hands and kissed Rafarel full on the lips.
Rafarel tensed beneath him, and tried to pull away, his hands reaching up to push at Seshar. But Seshar clung to him, refusing to let go. He closed his eyes and breathed in Rafarel's taste, Rafarel's power, Rafarel's being, concentrating his thoughts on Rafarel's eyes.
Beneath him, Rafarel seemed to loosen, finally, and the hands that had tried to push him away gripped his shoulders. For a moment, Seshar wished he could concentrate on the kiss itself, but he needed to stop the flow of power.
He sat back, letting go of Rafarel, and breathed deeply, feeling the tingle of Rafarel's essence tracing its way throughout his body.
He could hear Rafarel panting softly beneath him. Then the man took a sudden, sharp breath, his torn lung whistling loudly.
"I can't see..!" One grasping arm smacked Seshar painfully in the hip.
Seshar opened his eyes, and looked down at Rafarel.
"No, but I can."
Rafarel's flailing arms paused midair. With night vision, the room was as bright as day, and Rafarel was the colour he should be, everything about him as clear as it was in bright sunlight; the white hair, the pale orange eyes, and the stunned expression on his face. And Seshar could see it all. He breathed deeply again, wishing he could make this gift his permanently.
Rafarel stared vacantly in his direction, and then the man lowered his arms slowly to his chest. A wry smile twisted his lips.
"And when did you learn that you could do that trick?"
"A... while ago." Seshar was glad Rafarel could no longer see him, for he could feel how red his cheeks were. He had only learnt he could do this by accident; he'd discovered the ability in a heated moment with another Thyric, and the young man, after his initial shock, had been as curious as Seshar about it, and happy to let him experiment. It was the only time he'd put aside his adoration of Rafarel long enough to do anything more than look at another man, and the memory of it made him feel obscurely guilty now. He wasn't about to explain it in detail to Rafarel.
"Ahhh." Rafarel's voice was neutral. Seshar bit his lip and hurried to change the topic.
"Now do you believe that I can scout while you heal?"
Rafarel's eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth to speak. Then he paused, taking a deep breath, his lung whistling softly.
"Seshar..." He sighed, and closed his eyes. "Alright. But don't take any risks." His eyes opened again, searching vainly to pierce the darkness. Seshar was glad again that Rafarel could no longer see; he hated being on the receiving end of one of Rafarel's glares.
"I won't." Seshar tried to keep the glee out of his voice, but by the look on Rafarel's face, he'd failed.
"Fifteen minutes. That's it. Look for a way out of the village first. Only look for the beacon if you've got time. And if it takes too long, just give up and come back."
"Okay." Seshar stood up. "I'll go right away."
"Take your blade. And the boy's."
Seshar paused at that, staring down at Rafarel.
"What about you?" He didn't like the idea of leaving Rafarel unarmed.
"You're more likely to need them than I am."
"And if they come looking for you?"
"I'll deal. Take them." Rafarel's voice was stone again, stubborn and unrelenting.
"Rafarel.." Seshar knew he was wasting precious time, but he couldn't just leave Rafarel alone in the dark, without his night vision or a weapon to protect him.
"I'm not unarmed, Seshar." Rafarel smiled grimly.
"But you said..." Seshar paused, unsure.
"What did I say? What exactly did I say?"
"You said... you only carry blades when you're hunting." It clicked, then. Before they'd crash-landed and spent a small eternity in that hellish pod, they'd been hunting. "Oh!"
"Because I bury mine a lot deeper than yours. I'm liable to injure myself getting them out. So I only get them out if I absolutely have to."
Seshar thought about that for awhile.
"Why so deep?" he asked, finally. He couldn't see how it could help, to purposely injure yourself right before a battle.
"Because most Tintorites expect our kind to bury them, and they check for it." Rafarel's grim tone warned Seshar not to ask more, even as it set his curiosity afire. Rafarel never spoke much about his past, and it was never in a happy tone of voice. And Seshar wanted to know it all, every little detail that had made Rafarel the man he was now.
But he couldn't dare ask, not while Rafarel still saw him as a child. And certainly not right now.
"I'll be quick," was all he said.
Seshar quickly discovered that the biggest problem with night vision as good as this was how difficult it was to tell when he was in shadow. Everything looked so clear and bright to him; it only seemed a little dimmer in the shadows than it did in the lighted areas.
He clung to the side of the hut Rafarel waited in, and took in the scene around him. The crowds had thinned dramatically from before, and those that did walk about kept close to the lighted areas. He felt sure that even should they look in his direction, their eyes would be dazzled by the light and they wouldn't see him. But his heart still raced uncomfortably fast in his chest.
He looked up at the sky. Both moons floated behind scuttling, fast-moving clouds; their light would be unlikely to give him away. The smaller moon, Celet, winked at him before disappearing behind a large cloudbank, and he took that as a good sign. Celet was the god of victory.
Confident that he couldn't be seen, Seshar inched along the front of the building and peered around it. Four haphazard rows of huts were all that stood between him and a line of towering trees that marked the edge of a forest. Four dark rows of huts - not a single one was lit from within, though many of them had the windows that their own hut lacked.
Seshar considered going back for Rafarel and trying to move him to safety now. But no - Rafarel would be halfway to the zone by now, and interrupting him would only prolong his healing time. And the whistling sound of his lungs was loud enough to give them away.
Besides, Seshar liked being in control for a change. He didn't want to give it up just yet. He turned his head back towards the village. If he was lucky, maybe he could find the beacon and be back before Rafarel had even finished healing.
He put into action everything he'd ever learnt about scouting, and skirted around the outside edge of the village, followed the scent of the ocean breeze towards the docks. He moved quickly and quietly, avoiding those still wandering around the village, and by the time he found the beach with its long dock reaching into the ocean, he was surging with confidence in himself.
He crouched in the shadows of a nearby building, staring at the small hut huddled next to the dock, at the oddly shaped assortment of crates, buckets, and pallets surrounding it, and at the flat, featureless expanse of beach that separated him from it; a broad, pale strip of sand with not a thing to hide his passage. Then he moved forward, before he could stop and think about it.
Crossing the beach to the dock was more nerve-wracking than his entire travail through the village. He felt sure he could feel eyes on him from every angle as he scuttled across the sand, and when he reached the safety of the dock and crouched behind a large crate, he waited for the shouts of alarm to follow him.
But the village remained quiet. He took a deep breath, silently congratulating himself, and turned his attention to the contents of the barrels.
The fourth barrel yielded enough bits of familiar looking wire and metal that he was sure it came from their pod. Even with Rafarel's night vision, it was a tangled mess and would take forever to sort through. Frustration overcame him, and he tipped it over, scattering broken shulneos and mazafides across the sand. Shards flew everywhere, and something small and hard rolled up against his feet.
He leaned down and picked it up. It was the homing beacon. Now he knew he was lucky. Another few minutes, and he'd be back at Rafarel's side, and the man would surely have to acknowledge his capability.
He smiled to himself as he slipped the beacon into his pocket. Who said crash landing was such a bad thing, anyway?
Seshar was halfway across the beach when the wind brought a sound to his ears - the sound of metal striking metal.
He froze, caught in a half crouch, desperately listening. Above him, clouds parted, and Celet peeked out, thin moonbeams filtering down across the beach. Seshar looked down at his suddenly brightly glowing arms, but he didn't move yet; he listened. Faintly he heard another 'clang', and it was unmistakeable. Blade on blade. His mind screamed Rafarel! and then he was running.
Instinctively, his limbs shifted, his arms lengthening and thickening, his legs shortening and changing in shape, until he could drop on all fours. He put on a burst of speed, dashing through the heart of the village, no longer caring about who saw him. All he could think was that he should've taken Rafarel into the safety of the trees before trying to find the homing beacon.
It was easy to find the storehouse; half a dozen men had crowded around its open door. Seshar ran straight for it. He could see Rafarel, standing in the doorway, his hair a wild mess around his head, his eyes wide and dangerous. There was a body at his feet already, and he held a small, wickedly curved Thyric blade in each hand, both of them coated with blood.
Two of the men attacked him at once, long blades upraised. Rafarel dodged out of reach of one, his blades upraised to block the other, but he staggered under the weight of the man's blow. The man pushed the advantage, pressing Rafarel up against the wall of the hut, his blade inching closer and closer towards Rafarel's chest. Two other men closed in, and Seshar forgot all else as panic seared through him.
Then he was rushing at them, all thought, all feeling, intent on only one thing - saving Rafarel. He barely heard the keening cry fall from his lips, but the men crowding Rafarel looked up, and they backed away from Rafarel as he barrelled towards them. Only one man paid him no attention, his blade now almost pressed against Rafarel's skin.
Seshar collided with him, and for a moment the world was nothing but struggling limbs and the scent of blood and fear. Then it receded, and he was crouched over the man's limp body, his knife in his hand, wet with the man's blood.
Seshar looked up, and his eyes met Rafarel's. They were wide, stunned, but then they narrowed, and Rafarel smirked at him, a quick, devious smirk. It was a smirk that said 'we're in this together'. It was a smirk that said 'we understand each other'.
Rafarel's gaze jumped past him, and Seshar turned at once, his knife gripped tight in his hand, ready to take on the entire village if necessary, for that smirk that told him he was Rafarel's equal.
A blade swept towards him, and he met it with his own, knocking it back. He snarled, and his opponent took a step back. The scent of fear was overwhelming, and Seshar took a step towards the man, enjoying the smell.
"Seshar!" Rafarel's voice, sharp and insistent from behind him. He stopped, daring a quick glance over his shoulder. Rafarel stood, tall and imposing, his blades held at the ready.
"We can't fight them all," Rafarel said, in Thyric, and Seshar froze. His opponent kept his distance, his stance wary, and Seshar took the opportunity to look around him. There were four dead bodies now, but still at least half a dozen surrounded them, and he saw more approaching them from further away in the village, alerted by the sounds of battle, or perhaps by his mad dash through the centre of the village.
Seshar backed up, placing himself next to Rafarel.
"Did you find the quickest way out of here?" Rafarel asked.
"Directly behind this building and into the forest," he replied.
"Then let's make a run for it, before we're even more outnumbered."
"After you," he said, and Rafarel laughed softly.
The men had formed a loose half-circle around them, but they seemed hesitant to attack, and they all shifted uncomfortably at Rafarel's laugh.
"I meld, we run," Rafarel muttered. "It'll be enough to distract them."
Seshar nodded, shifting the grip on his blade so that he could run without cutting himself. The scene brightened, and he glanced upwards. The clouds were parting again; Kasar, the bigger moon, was now visible as well. He hoped it was a good sign that the god of battle was coming to join the god of victory in watching over them. He muttered a quick prayer to them both.
Next to him, Rafarel grunted softly, and then he heard the very singular sound of skin melding; it sounded a little bit like wind whispering through the trees, and a little bit like rain pattering on soft dirt ground, and a little bit like the sea caressing the shore, and yet not really like any of them.
There were startled gasps and mutters from the men gathered around them, and the half-circle widened slightly. These were Tintorites who'd obviously never come across Thyrics. And no small wonder; treaty or no treaty, no border Tintorites would let a Thyric get very far into their country, normally.
"Now," growled Rafarel, and they ran.
The half-circle parted for Rafarel. One man tried to get in Seshar's way, and he jumped at him, bowling the man over, and kept running. Seshar dodged around huts, keeping Rafarel in his line of sight at all times. Behind him, he heard yells and shrieks and the pounding of footsteps.
They hit the line of the trees and kept running. Dirt gave way to grass under Seshar's hands and feet, and despite the situation, he smiled to himself; Thyric was too cold and ice-laden to see much grass.
Ahead of him Rafarel stumbled, and Seshar hurried his pace, overtaking the man.
"Follow me," he said, aiming for the easiest path through the trees. Moonlight filtered down between the high-reaching branches, making a patchwork pattern on the forest floor, but it wasn't enough for Rafarel to make out the best way to go, not while Seshar was in possession of his night vision.
To him, the forest was bright and inviting, and he led Rafarel deeper and deeper, always looking for the safest path, one ear tuned to the sound of Rafarel chasing after him, and to the sound of their pursuers. But the sounds of their captors soon faded, and deeper still into the trees they ran.
Ahead of him, he heard the sound of running water; something he never heard in Thyric. Delighted, he picked up the pace, and all too soon he was splashing through a shallow stream. Behind him, he heard Rafarel's splashing footsteps. Their pursuers had long since been lost in the darkness, and the feel of the water against his skin was invigorating; laughter bubbled up inside him, and he let it forth.
He leapt onto the far bank of the stream, and Rafarel pounced on him from behind, and then they were rolling in the grass, tumbling over and over, and Seshar laughed again, light-headed with relief.
They rolled to a stop under a huge tree, side by side, their limbs tangled together. Rafarel was panting, and Seshar realised that he was, too. Rafarel smirked at him.
"The look on those men's faces, when you came barrelling towards them like a hellion made real..."
Seshar tried to temper his smile, but he couldn't stop himself from grinning like a fool. He was proud of himself, proud of what he'd done for Rafarel.
"I hardly even noticed."
"Mind you, it wasn't the best way to be coming to my rescue, galloping straight through the middle of town, noisy as a herd of lellafors...."
Seshar tensed, his grin fading; he knew he hadn't done it quite right, but he'd done it. Wasn't that what counted? Then Rafarel's hand stroked his back, gently.
"But it was very effective."
"You're still alive, and that's what counts, right?" Seshar retorted, still not entirely mollified.
"It most definitely is. For a moment, I thought -" Rafarel stopped, and shook his head slightly. He closed his eyes, his brow furrowing, and then his arms and legs began to flow back into their normal shape. Seshar held still, delighting in the feel of Rafarel's skin melding against him.
Rafarel opened his eyes again.
"Your turn," he said. Seshar sighed. He'd been hoping Rafarel would finish his sentence. He wanted to know what Rafarel had been thinking, in that moment when the man's blade had come too close to him.
But he knew better than to ask. He closed his eyes, focusing his power, and let his arms shorten, let his legs lengthen, getting back into the skin he was most comfortable in.
His legs were still entwined with Rafarel's, and the man's arms were wrapped firmly about his shoulders, with no apparent intention of letting go.
"Now if only you could give me back at least a little of my night vision," Rafarel mused, and Seshar looked up. Rafarel must know as well as he did that his gift only worked one way. But did Rafarel know that he didn't actually need to kiss in order to use his gift? Surely he must. Still, that didn't mean he knew that Seshar knew it. A crazy idea struck him, and there in the darkness, holding onto the memory of Rafarel's smirk that told him they were equals, he voiced it.
"I could try." He tried to sound casual, but his voice trembled on the final word.
Rafarel's face went still. His pale eyes sought Seshar's, and Seshar wondered how much of him Rafarel could really see in the filtered moonlight. He didn't think there was enough light to show his expression properly, but he tried to keep it as unconcerned as he could. He kept silent, waiting, but his heart pounded so loudly that he felt sure it was betraying him.
"Well, why not," Rafarel said lightly, his flat expression belying his tone.
Seshar took a deep breath, and another. He was trembling. He tried to calm his body, but it would not be still. He gave up, and leaned in towards Rafarel's waiting lips, touching them gently with his own.
Rafarel sighed softly against his lips. The feel of his breath was warm, reassuring, and exciting. Seshar gave up on being gentle and kissed him, hard. He did not even think about sharing power; all he could think about was the salty taste of Rafarel's lips, the silkiness of them pressed against his own, and the gentle, almost shy way in which Rafarel's tongue slipped out to lick his lips before retreating again. He chased the tongue with his own, claiming Rafarel's mouth completely, unable to get enough of Rafarel's taste.
It seemed like all his life had been waiting for this moment to come. His arms latched on to Rafarel of their own accord, clinging to him, even as his body pressed up tight against Rafarel's. He felt warm and tingly all over, and the feelings centred sharply in his groin, making him gasp, and with that the kiss was broken.
They were panting in unison again. The world came swimming back to him, and Seshar wanted only to leave it behind and drown himself in Rafarel again, drown himself and never surface.
"I guess you can't give my night vision back," Rafarel said, and Seshar started laughing. He laughed so hard he began to hiccup, and Rafarel had to pat him on the back to calm him down.
"I guess not, but I can always keep trying," he said, feeling silly and light-headed. Rafarel grinned, and his strong fingers smoothed errant hairs away from Seshar's face.
"You can try for the rest of your life, if you like..." Rafarel said softly, and Seshar forgot to breathe. He stared at Rafarel's face, so close to him, gentle and vulnerable in a way he'd never seen it before.
"Did you really say 'meet me in Hinter'?" he blurted out, and Rafarel's eyes skittered down and to one side. Seshar stared; he didn't think it possible, but Rafarel looked like he was blushing.
"...I thought you were unconscious..." Rafarel muttered.
"...I thought I was delirious..." he said, faintly. "All my life, Rafarel..."
Rafarel pressed a finger against his lips, quieting him.
"Did you find the beacon?" he asked, and Seshar blinked, perturbed by this unexpected change in topic.
"Where is it?" Rafarel held out his hand. Seshar fumbled in the pocket of his tunic, finding the small metal ball, and placed it in Rafarel's waiting hand.
"Good. Now..." Rafarel turned, and lobbed the small ball into the darkness of the forest. Seshar heard it thunk somewhere; it sounded like it was a long way away. He stared at Rafarel, disbelieving, as the man turned back to face him.
"I guess we're going to have to cross Tintor all by ourselves. It's going to take us weeks, maybe months. All by ourselves."
Seshar stared at him some more. A slow grin began to creep its way across his lips. It was mad. It was insane. It was dangerous as hell. And it was perfect.