This is an amateur effort and not intended to infringe on the rights of Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon or any other copyright holder. No monetary profit is being made.
Thanks go to Lis for beta reading.
This story is set after the Mage Storms trilogy.
"We must have been out of their sight for a while already," Silverfox said, demonstratively looking back in the direction they had come from. "And I have not seen even as much as a feather of something that could have been a bondbird."
Firesong pointedly looked ahead, ignoring the statement. He knew where Silverfox was heading with this, and he didn't want to go there. Pretending that he didn't understand what his companion was saying had worked in the past, and he hoped that this would hold true once more. He had no wish to repeat the argument they were bound to have if they talked about this now. Arguing with Silverfox was far too frustrating; the kestra'chern had a way of smiling and agreeing with everything that left Firesong completely confused and arguing with himself most of the time.
"They did not seem very interested in where we are going, don't you think so?" Silverfox continued conversationally. "Travelers must be more common here. A welcome change, after all those long explanations. We must have been completely normal for them"
Shrugging, Firesong continued to stare straight ahead.
"Almost as if they are used to seeing sulking Adepts every day."
That almost got a rise out of him. He wanted to protest that he was not sulking, and that he was perfectly justified to think about the changes in his life and take as much time as he wanted to get them into a form that suited him. But he had been with Silverfox long enough by now to recognize the bait for what it was.
::You know that he is trying to help,:: Firesong's dyheli told him.
::I didn't ask for it,:: Firesong countered, a little more sharply than he had intended.
Brytha pinned his ears for a moment at hearing that response. ::You do not need to ask him.::
Firesong sighed. ::I know. And I am sorry for snapping at you. But I still do not need this.::
::Of course not. You are fine.:: Brytha didn't seem to expect an answer to that, and Firesong wasn't intending to give him one anyway. The dyheli stag had shown a disturbingly high level of insight lately, and Firesong didn't want to have yet another caretaker. Silverfox was quite enough already.
It was an unfair thought, and Firesong knew it. But it felt good sometimes to be annoyed, since it helped to get some of the anger out of his mind. The annoyance never lasted for long anyway; one of those particular looks from Silverfox and he would ruefully admit that he was being a fool.
Which was why he was staring straight ahead now and trying very hard not to even glance at his lover.
"I imagine that it will be very hard for anyone to see us soon," Silverfox was saying. "It looks as if it will be a foggy afternoon."
Fog and also rain, Firesong's nose told him. That special scent of earth and water lingered in the air, and he doubted it would take long until it would start to rain. Perhaps even a downpour; at this time of summer, it wouldn't be so unusual. That realization left him wishing that they had stayed with k'Leshya a little longer. They had been comfortable in the Vale, and there had been no reason to worry about the rain.
"We should find shelter," Firesong said.
"So you still can speak. I was beginning to wonder what horrible thing had happened to your tongue to keep you silent for so long." Silverfox' voice did not carry any reproach. His lover was merely teasing, and Firesong was grateful for that.
"There just was nothing to say, and you talked so nicely with yourself that I didn't want to interrupt." It wasn't as light-hearted a reply as Firesong had hoped to make, but Silverfox seemed content with it and didn't comment.
Shelter was not hard to find in these surroundings. They had been traveling over rocky territory for days now, and it was merely a matter of time until they passed one of those little caves that centuries of rain had washed out beneath large boulders. It wasn't large enough to shelter both humans and dyheli, but after a brief consultation with Brytha, it was agreed that Firesong and Silverfox should stay here while their mounts looked for another spot.
::We do not mind rain so much,:: Brytha told him cheerfully, and Firesong thought he could detect a hint of smugness in the stag's mind-voice.
::You do not have to worry about wet clothes,:: he said in reply, watching as Silverfox built a small fire. It was one of those small gestures Firesong appreciated immensely these days. Before the Mage Storms, he only had to snap his fingers and the flames would burn brightly. Now it was a painstaking process of finding suitably dry twigs, sheltering the fireplace from the wind, and feeding the little flame grass and dry leaves until the wood finally caught fire as well. For Firesong it was another reminder of how much he had lost, and he was glad every time Silverfox spared him those tasks which he could have so easily done with magic in the past.
Once the fire was burning, they settled side by side. For a while they stayed quiet, the silence more comfortable now than it had been during the ride. But there still was tension in the air, and Firesong knew that Silverfox was not going to give up so easily this time.
It didn't take long until he was proven right.
"We are alone, it is almost night, and it is pouring outside," his lover said. "I think it is highly unlikely that anyone would come now and see us. Especially since this little shelter isn't easy to see from the road if one is traveling without having the benefit of a bondbird's sharp eyes."
Firesong didn't reply, mostly out of principle. He wasn't going to give in so easily.
"It is a pity that the first drops of rain caught us," Silverfox continued, as if he weren't expecting any kind of response from his partner. "But clothes and hair dry quickly. I wonder about your mask, though."
Closing his eyes for a moment, Firesong willed himself to remain still. They had been playing this game for days now, ever since they had left k'Leshya Vale. And he was quickly growing tired of it, because he knew that if this continued for much longer, he wouldn't have the resolve to resist.
"The feathers seem a bit ruffled. Perhaps if you take it off..."
"It will dry better if you put it closer to the fire. You can hardly keep it on and hold your face there."
"It will dry here too."
Silverfox sighed. "Take off the mask," he said quietly, lightly resting his hand on Firesong's. "I understood that you wanted to wear it while we stayed at the Vale, and when we met the scouts. But there is nobody here now who could see."
"I don't care about that."
"Are you Tayledras all so stubborn, or is it a trait reserved for the Adepts? No, that can't be. I didn't see Darkwind sulk nearly as much. No, it must be one of your unique talents."
That was as close as Silverfox would get to arguing, and Firesong found himself wishing that his lover could forget his kestra'chern teachings for once and not try to be friendly and comforting. He wanted a fight, and he wasn't getting it.
Silverfox' voice softened again. "Take it off," he tried again.
"I told you that I won't."
That earned him a quick, unreadable glance, and suddenly Silverfox was reaching for the mask. Firesong almost shied away from his lover, but then remained where he was. Perhaps if he let this happen, Silverfox would get over it quickly and he would get his mask back.
Firesong had to force himself not to flinch when Silverfox studied his face. He still wasn't comfortable with letting anyone see what had happened to him, and he yearned for the protection the mask offered. But Silverfox was still holding it, and Firesong knew he would not let it go so easily.
"Does it still hurt?" his lover asked quietly.
"A little," Firesong admitted. The burns had healed months ago, but the scars stretched his skin and made it tender to touch.
"Cheeks," he said after a moment's hesitation. The mask had chafed a little against his cheekbones, and it felt uncomfortable enough now to make him wish for one of Silverfox' soothing salves.
Silverfox gave him a sad smile, then rummaged in his pack and quickly drew out one of the small boxes he used for his healing supplies. It was the little silver one Firesong recognized easily, since he saw it almost every day. A familiar scent of witch hazel rose from it when Silverfox opened the lid.
"Hold still," Silverfox told him, carefully covering his hurting cheeks with the salve. It stung a little at first, but Firesong was used to that by now and didn't even flinch anymore. Compared to what his face had felt like for weeks after the Storms, this was hardly worth mentioning.
"Thank you," he said softly when Silverfox set the little box aside again. His anger at his lover had vanished already. When Silverfox was helping him like this, it was impossible to continue sulking, because Firesong knew it hurt his lover. And Silverfox didn't deserve pain in return for his gentleness.
Silverfox settled at his side again. "You should give it some days to heal," he said quietly. "Without the mask irritating it further, it will stop hurting soon."
Firesong shook his head. "No."
He heard Silverfox sigh once more, and watched as his lover carefully put the mask down on top of their packs. "Why are you wearing it? I am the only one to see you here, aside from the dyheli. And they could not care less about what you look like."
Silverfox had attempted to speak about this issue several times these past days, and until now Firesong hadn't let him get any further than this. He was not comfortable with the topic, and it irritated him to have to speak about something he did not want to even think of.
But his resolve had lessened with each of Silverfox' attempts, and Firesong found it more and more difficult to ignore the knowledge that his lover was doing this for his benefit and not out of curiosity or malevolence.
"I do not want you to see either," he said softly.
Silverfox met his eyes. "Why not?" he asked, reaching to brush a strand of hair out of Firesong's face. "I know what you look like."
"Yes, but..." Firesong trailed off, not finding the words to express the thoughts in his mind. He knew that Silverfox had often seen his face; the kestra'chern probably knew it better than anyone else, since he had been the one to treat the injuries. But seeing his own reflection made Firesong flinch every time, and it had to be worse for others. He couldn't force Silverfox to have to look at this. What if his lover couldn't take it anymore? What if Silverfox decided that he had enough and didn't want to see it again?
"Talk to me, ashke. I cannot help if you do not tell me what is wrong."
Firesong looked down at his boots. "Nothing is wrong," he tried, wondering whether it was still possible to end this talk now.
"Firesong." Silverfox sounded stern now. "I may not be a particularly strong mind-speaker, but you are forgetting that I can tell if you feel bad. And right now it would be impossible to miss it."
"I do not want to tell you." Firesong looked at him. "I thought you kestra'cherns were supposed to comply with your client's wishes," he said, attempting to tease a little and lighten the atmosphere. Anything to distract his lover at least for a moment.
"First, you are my lover and not my client. And second, we do not give our clients what they want. We give them what they need, even if they do not wish for it." Silverfox reached for his hand. "And you need to talk about this before you let it fester even longer. This is not healthy anymore, ashke. You will hurt yourself if you continue this."
"I know what I am doing," Firesong protested.
"Then explain it to me. Let me understand, then I will stop asking."
Firesong bit back the comment that he doubted this. "It is silly," he said, glancing at Silverfox.
His lover merely nodded patiently.
"I just... I do not want you to have to see my face. I know it is not a pleasant sight."
Silverfox seemed to consider this for a moment. "And that is all?" he asked eventually, and Firesong found it impossible to remain silent about the rest any longer.
"What is it, ashke?"
"I am afraid that one day you won't be able to look at me anymore." Firesong drew up his knees and hugged them. "I am afraid that you will leave," he said softly, almost in a whisper.
Silverfox didn't say anything for a while, and Firesong was growing nervous. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to speak of this; what if Silverfox now thought him too weak to deal with it and decided to leave him at the next Vale? His lover had been against traveling again so soon, and maybe this would only confirm his thoughts that it had been a mistake. Firesong rested his chin on his knees, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see the expression on Silverfox' face.
"You silly bird," his lover said unexpectedly, and Firesong suddenly found himself caught in a loose embrace. He leaned into it gratefully. "How can you think like this?"
"There is nothing that would keep you with me," he said, not speaking the word that was at the front of his mind.
Silverfox heard it nevertheless. "Can you still not believe that it does not take a lifebond for people to truly be in love?" he asked, a hint of sadness in his voice.
Firesong felt a pang of guilt at this. He hadn't wanted to bring the issue up once again, but somehow it seemed impossible to avoid. He had long gotten over his conviction that a lifebond was something he had to find at all costs, but he still found himself wishing for it sometimes. Not so much for the romanticism now, but for the security it offered. Life bonded did not part, and that was what Firesong longed for.
"I know you love me," he said softly. "And I love you too."
"But you still think I will leave you." Silverfox tightened his embrace, and for a while they simply sat there, thinking and sharing each other's company.
The fire was beginning to burn down, and Firesong reached out to add some more wood, enough to keep it burning for a while. He felt strangely comfortable now that he had voiced his fears, even though they still had not disappeared from his mind. But at least Silverfox knew. The silence had been hurting both of them, something Firesong hadn't realized until now.
"I will not leave you," Silverfox said into the silence. "But there is nothing I can do to convince you of that, except for telling you and staying at your side every day." His lover leaned close and placed an almost hesitant kiss on his cheek. "Will that be enough to make you believe me, ashke?"
Firesong looked at him, and he could see the sincerity behind these words. Strange that he had never looked for it before, when it was so plain to see...
"It is more than enough," he said softly, and when he kissed Silverfox he felt more certain of his lover than he had ever imagined possible.