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"You're starting to understand, aren’t you." Hessionite rested his hand on Alabaster's shoulder, a gesture that was slightly more than companionable. That, as much as the conversation, made 'Baster's pulse race just a little faster.

"We shouldn't be rusting talking about this," he hissed. But it was nerves. He wanted to know. No – he wanted to be told he wasn't crazy, that there was something else, beyond the orogeny he'd been taught. He knew it was true – the things he could feel, sense, if he tried…

"Don't be scared." Hessionite smiled, gentle, trying to be reassuring. It sounded like something a Guardian might say, though, so it didn't work. "Come with me."

Alabaster could sess some of what Hessionite was doing – feeling out where people were, mostly. He knew there was more that was possible. He could concentrate and hear voices travelling through stone. It was getting easier to know who they belonged to, and catch all the words. When Hessionite started guiding him through the gardens, towards the library, he let himself be led, presumably to a safe spot.

The librarian looked at Hessionite, looked at Alabaster and his nervous smile, and made a disgusted face. She turned her head as they walked past. His heart beat all the quicker. A ten-ringer could do just about anything he wanted, it seemed.

There was an alcove on the seventh floor, in the section of old histories and debunked lore, and even Alabaster could tell there was no one else around. There was a chair tucked out of the way that made a good spot for reading when no one knew what to do with you or you wanted to be alone. Or as alone as the Fulcrum ever allowed. Alabaster knew it well, but today it offered new promises. Hessionite sat, his legs slightly splayed. When he beckoned, Alabaster came and sat in his lap.

"Won't they hear us?" He whispered, not sure if the conversation or his own anticipation was the greater strain on his nerves. Hessionite seemed calm, but Hessionite was something of an enigma. Alabaster couldn't quite figure out what the other man saw in him. He was too dark, his hair was too wild, to be considered handsome. Unlike Alabaster, Hessionite hadn't been named ironically. He had classic Sanzed looks, his skin a particularly rich shade of red-brown. And he was tall – Alabaster was not. Sitting in Hessionite's lap made him feel like he was enveloped, and it was much nicer than he had ever imagined.

"They'll hear what they want to hear," he said, wrapping an arm around Alabaster. "But they should hear it. Is that all right?"

He nodded, leaning forward to press his lips against Hessionite's. It felt good, warm, a dizzy feeling that travelled from the pit of his stomach to his groin. Their hands met, stone rings clinking quietly together, almost lost in the rustle of fabric and Hessionite's quiet moan. Alabaster had known he'd wanted this too, but not that Hessionite's desire was as desperate as his own. That made him feel better, but he pulled back.

"I want this," he said. "But I want to know more, too."

"It's all the same, isn't it? So few of us make it this far… We’re too dangerous. But they need us, they have to take the risk, even if they don't understand us, can't be sure they control us. It can be lonely."

It was true. His precociousness had always set him apart, as had the clear interest in his progress from the Fulcrum's upper echelons, but the more lies he uncovered, the less safe he felt. He nodded, because even if it was dangerous, he wanted it anyway. "I don't want to be alone…"

Hessionite reached up, brushing a thumb along Alabaster's cheek, down across his lips. "I don't think we're meant to be. Alone, I mean. Why do you think they work so hard to keep us apart? We're always rivals, never friends here. We roggas don't even trust each other. We have so much in common, and we're brought up not to like each other much…." He shook his head. "It doesn’t have to be that way – it's just one more lie they put in our heads."

"I like you just fine," he found himself saying, leaning into the touch. But Hessionite was different. He saw things how they were, not just what they were taught to look for in their training at the Fulcrum. He saw things the Fulcrum never wanted them to see.

"Your eyes are opening, Alabaster. And it's so beautiful. I hope you'll see yourself how I do."

Hessionite leaned forward again for another kiss, and his hand slid down around Alabaster's neck, fingertips trailing along the base of his skull. And then, along with the arousing feel of lips on his, tongue pressing into his mouth, Alabaster felt something else – warm silver threads spreading like a pulse through him, through Hessionite, through everything, tying them together. He gasped, and Hessionite stroked his hair, never relinquishing the kiss, holding him close while everything fell into place.

It was like scales falling away from his eyes, or a shape seen at a distance finally coming into focus. A caul being cleared away from a newborn's face. The silver threads were still there – he could sess them, even when Hessionite moved his hand. He could feel them, pull on them with his orogeny, if he dared. They'd always been there; on some level, he'd been aware of them for some time. He just hadn't quite known how to find what he was looking for.

Hessionite was watching him expectantly. Hopefully.

"What is that?" Alabaster imagined he could do anything. Some part of him knew it wouldn't be that easy, but he was too excited to listen to even his own reason.

Hessionite shook his head, stroking Alabaster's face again. "I don't know. But that's why they're afraid. It's what they don't want us to see. You can't ever let on what you know, or they'll kill you."

"But you said – there was no reason to be afraid…"

"I said 'don't be scared.' They'll know if you are. They'll watch more closely…. They'll catch you."

There was no point in clarifying who 'they' were: the Guardians. Ostensibly, they protected the orogenes, even from themselves. Alabaster wasn't sure what their true charge was, only that they couldn't be taken at face value. The one assigned to him claimed that she loved him. He believed her. He also believed she'd kill him in an instant if she knew about any of this. Even now, despite this new revelation, he was sure she could.

"Fear serves no purpose," Hessionite continued. "It can't change how things are, only keep us bound."

Alabaster wasn’t sure what to say to that. He could sense and change any minor shift in the earth for miles around, sure, but he couldn't just change how he felt. If he could, maybe he'd have more sense to be sitting where he was. Maybe no one cared who ten ringers, or even eight ringers, fucked, but maybe they did. "It makes us pay more attention," he managed, not sure how much sense he was making either.

Hessionite smiled again. "I play plenty of attention. But I have other motivations…"

The kissed again, this time with no ulterior motives. Let them hear what they want to hear, Alabaster thought, reaching for the hardening bulge beneath him, smiling against Hessionite's needy moan. Maybe this was all he really wanted – not to be alone. To have someone who understood the same things, who wanted something better and more honest than could be found at the Fulcrum.

Maybe between the two of them they could figure it out.