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Not If I Could Sing Like A Bird

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Even though he doesn’t dream anymore, he still hates the cold.

It’s not complaining if he only thinks it. Chopping wood is supposed to warm him up, but every time the axe hits the stump in front of him, a shock travels up his arms and settles in his shoulder joints, which feel like they’re about to fall out. So instead of being cold, I get to be cold and in pain.

Almost as soon as he thinks it, he looks around. As if ‘Fandes needs to be within eyesight to hear him. But she’s in the lean-to with Gala, pressed close for warmth, and he’s better at shielding these days. So instead of leaking my misery everywhere I bottle it up and drown in it. That’s healthy, Van.

At least you know it now, dearheart. He’ll probably never be used to people talking right into his head, but at least he’s gotten better at not jumping out of his skin when it happens. He raises the axe again, lets it fall again, and stops to rub his shoulder with an open palm. It’s not so long ago you’d be two thirds of the way dead before you even admitted it. Now stop pouting and come in here. It’s not so bad now that ‘Lendel’s got the fire built up.

He’s not pouting, he’s massaging his shoulder. Something which it is impossible to do petulantly. But rather than tell her so, he shoves that thought down with the others. She’s right. She’s usually right; he’s not sure if that comes from being a Companion, or just from being Yfandes. A month ago, or two, and they’d probably all have been in tears. The Companions too. Vanyel still barely has a handle on his own emotions, let alone what they do to the people around him.

But you’re stable enough now. Savil wouldn’t have let you go out on circuit if she didn’t think you were. She’d have had Jayson take Mardic and Donni and stayed with you herself. Now get in here.

That she’s wrong about. He doesn’t send back an answer in words, just the emotional equivalent of thumbing his nose -- and damn it, he’s not sulking! He’s just trying to warm up enough to stop thinking, and he’s not going to be able to. Not in there.

‘Fandes laughs at him. But he knows enough now to know she still loves him, even when she laughs at him, and there’s a sense of finality in the bell-like tones that says she’ll leave him be. So he doesn’t take it the way he might have, if he were still the shallow, suicidal husk he'd been two months ago.

He lifts and swings, lifts and swings, the rhythm lulling him to a place where he doesn’t notice the shock every time wedge meets wood. And eventually, he does warm up enough that he shucks off his outer layer of Tayledras furs. But the stump, their meager firewood supply for the night, isn’t the remnants of a particularly large tree. And at the end of a candlemark, he’s gotten as much wood as he’s going to. The rest is deep beneath the frozen ground, and unless he’s literally going to start rooting, this is their supply for the night. And the end of his excuse for avoiding the shack.

‘Lendel clears his throat and Van jumps almost a mile. Mindspeech or no, there’ll never be anything like sneaking up behind him to scare him pantsless. There’s no real way to cover, make it look like he wasn’t caught off guard, so he turns, arms crossed defensively over his chest. The blond herald -- not a trainee, anymore, a real herald -- keeps a careful distance between them. He hasn’t gotten within arms' length the whole time they’ve been on the road. Half the time, Vanyel appreciates having his space. The other half, he’s just angry. But that’s not new.

“You know, we don’t really need wood to build a fire.” ‘Lendel’s voice is careful, just the right amount of good-natured teasing balanced by concern. Not a hint of judgement. They’ve gotten so good at being careful with each other.

And he’s right, of course, they’ve got enough mage gift between them that they could probably get a damp pile of kindling going, if they needed to. Of course the point of circuit, of all their training, is to learn to manage without being dependent on their Gifts. Savil's certainly drilled that into them. But they're out from under her wing, now, and free to act as they see fit. Because they're adults, in theory. Van looks from ‘Lendel to his pile of kindling and snaps, “Well, we’ve got it.”

He hates being so transparent. He hates seeing ‘Lendel flinch before he covers it, hurt before he covers it. He hates knowing that he hate ‘Lendel, but that -- well, it’s not going to change. They can’t be free of each other. You can’t undo a lifebond.

“I can't carry all this myself, and there's not time for two trips before dark. Are you going to help?” Van says. It’s an olive branch. One likely to break if ‘Lendel rests more than a toe on it, but the best he has to offer. ‘Lendel grins at him, like it’s the sweetest thing he’s ever said, scooping up most of the wood into his arms and wandering back to camp. There’s nothing else for Vanyel to do but follow, and try not to think too much about ‘Lendel’s shoulders moving under the heavy, lined layers of his Whites.

He’s not fragile and frail, the way Van sees him in his nightmares. He’s changed, the last few years. Grown into his limbs and put on some muscle. They both have, although Van less. He’s still very much in that phase of teenage awkwardness. If he were less self-conscious about it, Van might even call it lucky. There isn’t room for two grown men in the haphazard lean-to they’re calling a shelter for the night, not with two Companions stretched out nose to tail. But after Van drops his firewood, there’s just enough room for him to fold himself up between ‘Fandes’s nose and Gala’s tail. And nothing to do but sit with his thoughts and no distraction.

Talk to him, ‘Fandes says, which is not something that's going to happen.

But then ‘Lendel says, “Van--” and Vanyel has to guess he’s getting the same speech from Gala.

“We don’t have to,” Van interrupts. “We can just sit here quietly until we fall asleep.” He can almost convince himself it’s not that bad in the shelter. The Companions make decent back rests, at least (although if he were willing to sit towards ‘Lendel, with his feet toward the middle of the shack, it would undoubtedly be better.) And they’re blessedly warm, especially with the extra wood from the stump to stoke the fire. It’s almost enough to make Vanyel forget that they’re frozen inside a three-sided shelter for the foreseeable future. Until a gust of wind hits the wall, shaking the thin wooden planks. Vanyel takes the blast along his unprotected side, turned away from the Companions and the fire, and even through his whites he feels it. He’d shiver, if it wouldn’t give ‘Lendel the satisfaction.

But ‘Lendel looks anything but satisfied as he watches Vanyel hunch over his knees. “I wish it would snow.” He’s got the open side of the shelter on his left, but at least the wind doesn’t seem to be coming in that way. ‘Lendel looks out at the worn grass as he speaks. “It would have to warm up to snow, I think. That’d be an improvement.” When Van doesn’t answer, ‘Lendel reaches out, resting one hand on his shoulder. "Did you stretch out? It's cold, you'll cramp up if you don't let yourself cool down properly. Come here, I'll rub your shoulders." Van doesn't move. He stares into the corner, so that he doesn’t have to see the earnest concern in 'Lendel's eyes. "Tell me. Is it the ice dream again?"

Van hunches up his shoulders higher. “I haven’t had the ice dream in years. Not since---”

Since he’d pulled ‘Lendel’s mage gift through their bond, calling down lightning on Krebain and ripping his own channels open. ‘Lendel knows that.

Tylendel moves closer, but hesitates before reaching for Van, like he isn’t sure Van will welcome his touch. And since Van isn’t sure whether he will or not, he allows himself a minute to feel grateful for ‘Lendel’s hesitance. He’d spent a full year clawing for ‘Lendel’s attention after Staven, gotten rebuffed at every turn. And then another year, when ‘Lendel had left him in the Vale and gone off with Savil on his circuit. Left Vanyel to handle Krebain alone. They both knew how that had turned out.

He doesn’t realize he’s hunched further around himself until he feels the soft velvet nose of a companion at his shoulder. Not Yfandes, but Gala, nearly doubled around him. And ‘Lendel is watching him with such raw pain that Van can’t help it. He hunches tighter, drawing his knees up to his chest like he’s still fifteen and if he can make himself small enough then Jervis, Father, everyone, they’ll leave him alone.

Vanyel, ‘Fandes says.

“You’ve got to get a lid on it, Van.” ‘Lendel barely manages a hoarse whisper. “I know you don’t mean to, but you’re leaking everywhere.”

And neither of them can have that. Van's just barely put himself back together after Krebain. And 'Lendel, for all he's the more stable of them both, Van knows he knows what it's like. To fall down that hole and lose any hope of clawing back out. He takes a minute to screw up his eyes, stopping the tears that threaten to well up. Crying will only make him colder. And he breathes out a long, steady stream of air through his teeth, like he was taught. It helps. The crushing sadness in the shack lifts a little, to something more manageable, and both Companions relax a little.

“See, that’s better,” ‘Lendel says. He laughs softly, scooting along the dirt floor until he’s seated next to Vanyel. The sadness isn’t gone, really. But at least it’s back inside him now, contained where it won’t hurt anyone else. “Van.” ‘Lendel’s fingers tip his chin up, gentle. Van realizes, staring up into honey eyes, just how hard he’s worked at avoiding looking at ‘Lendel. How excellent he’s gotten at speaking to the air above the herald’s right shoulder.

He almost says something, but ‘Lendel interrupts him with a quiet shushing sound that quashes anything he was going to say. ‘Lendel’s always known his moods, even without empathy, without Vanyel projecting a mess around him. That hasn’t changed in the last two years. ‘Lendel’s always been warm, and when he tugs Van in against his chest it feels like it did that first night, melting away the ice from the inside out. Van sags into him, barely stirring when ‘Lendel snags a blanket from the discarded bedrolls and tucks it over his shoulders. His hands rest over the layers, rubbing down Van's arms in slow, deep strokes. He is tensing up, he realizes -- from the exertion, and the cold, and from sheer misery. 'Lendel's right that he'll feel worse in a few hours, at least physically. “You’re practically an ice block already. You’re my first trainee,” 'Lendel says as he works the knots from Van's shoulders. “Can you imagine your aunt’s reaction if I killed my first trainee, what, three days out from Haven?”

It takes everything in him to talk like this is normal, but somehow his voice comes out almost even. “She’d kill you. If I were alive I’d sell tickets and watch.”

“You wouldn’t be alive, though,” ‘Lendel says. Van can feel his hands moving over the blanket, up his spine and down. The wind blasts the plank wood walls of the shed again, but with ‘Lendel between him and the wall, his back to the fire, he’s finally warm. “You’d be a perfect frozen statue.”

“A monument to my beauty. People would travel from all over the countryside to ask my spirit for guidance. They’d lay flowers at my feet.”

“Girls would cry. Boys would cry.”

Van laughs, along with ‘Lendel, but after a moment the howls of the wind overtake last few chortles, drowning them out. For a long time Vanyel is silent, his cheek against the buttery leathers of ‘Lendel’s whites.

That ‘Lendel is quiet is more surprising, and it doesn’t last. Eventually he breaks the moment. Vanyel can tell he’s getting ready when he draws in a breath, as if he has to prepare himself to speak. “Van, listen. I’m sorry. I know it wasn’t your choice to go out on circuit with me.”

Just like that, the peaceful mood is gone. Van feels himself sinking back into his brood as he parrots back, “It’s okay. We’re lifebonded, and we both know that’s not going to change. We have to learn to work together, even if we’re not --”

There’s a grim silence, even though he hasn’t said anything they don’t both know. Then ‘Lendel says, “Even if we’re not, I’d like to be friends.” More quietly, he adds, “I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” Vanyel says. There’s a sharpness to his tone he can hear, and ‘Lendel must too, because the muscles beneath Van’s cheek grow tense and wary. “I missed you when Savil took you to the Talydras and left me behind in Haven, where everyone hated me. They wanted you back, but I couldn’t give that to them. I couldn’t even tell them where you were because I didn’t know. I was alone, the only person I had was ‘Fandes -- you don’t think I missed you then? When I followed you around the Vale, trying to be something. ‘He needs you,’ Moondance said, you wouldn’t even look at me. It wasn’t any better than Haven. You weren’t even you, you were just this -- shell. I missed you every day I spent with Krebain. I didn’t even have ‘Fandes, but he couldn’t block you out. Every single day you didn’t come, I waited for you, and I missed you, and you just left me there. He told me you didn’t love me enough to come for me, and he was right. But I still missed you. So don’t -- don’t --”

He thrashes, trying to throw ‘Lendel off him. But ‘Lendel’s always been bigger, and even though the words must cut into him, he doesn’t let go. If anything, he holds on tighter, making soft, shushing noises into Vanyel’s hair.

“If that’s what you’re sorry for --”

“I’m sorry for all of it.” ‘Lendel cuts him off. “Hell, Van, you know I am. I’d go back and change everything if I could. I’d save Stav, and I’d save you. I’d even save the Lesharas. But after, I had to make it right with Gala. I had to make things right with myself. I didn’t even know how to start making them right with you, and I thought -- you had ‘Fandes. Even when I had no one I had Gala, and that was enough, so I thought --”

Instantly, the guilt rushes through him. Of course ‘Fandes is enough, and he never meant to say that she wasn’t. But she reassures him with a gentle shove of her nose, pushing Van further into ‘Lendel’s arms. “It’s over now anyway,” he says.

“It’s not over.” ‘Lendel lets up on clutching him a little, maybe convinced that Vanyel won’t try to break away again. “You’re right about that, Van. We can’t erase what’s between us, any of it. I want to make it right. I don’t know if I can, or if you’ll let me, but at the very least, I’d like to be your friend.”

Friend. He’s gone from hating ‘Lendel to loving him back to hating him again, and hating himself for it. He’s not sure what friendship would be for either of them. “I don’t know how to do that,” he admits.

“Neither do I.” ‘Lendel’s hands resume their lazy track up Vanyel’s back, more cautiously this time. “We’ll have to figure it out together. But I want to.”

He’s too tired, too bone-cold, to admit he wants it too. His body falls closer into ‘Lendel, and he lets that be his answer.

This time, the silence is far less comfortable. ‘Lendel is the one to break it -- he usually is. He’s never been good with quiet. “I can’t tell what you’re feeling right now,” he says softly. “Which, don’t get me wrong, is what we’re going for, but...”

It’s a weak joke, but Van’s lips quirk up. The truth is he doesn’t think he can put a name to the emotions. They’re too many, and they’re changing to fast. The only thing he has to go on are the simple, hard truths. He and Tylendel are lifebonded; there’s no escaping that. For as long as ‘Lendel is alive, there will be a place in his heart that ‘Fandes, Savil, even Lissa can’t fill. The place that starts to freeze first. And right now, even angry and hurt, he’s so warm.

He lets it leak out, just a little, beyond his shields. That’s easier than talking, and ‘Lendel has enough empathy to pick it up. Not that ‘Lendel needs empathy, with Van’s habit of shoving his emotions down the throat of anyone close enough for him to reach. But ‘Lendel reaches back to him, not through his empathy or even mindspeech, but through the lifebond. Van feels him, just as lost, but solid and real. He closes his eyes and sinks into the feeling, only opening them when he feels Yfandes climb gracefully to her feet behind him.

You’re exhausted, and we’re here for the night, love. You might as well sleep.

What about you? ‘Lendel’s absent look tells Van he’s having the same conversation with Gala, more or less, as the two Companions move out into the wind and fade into the darkness beyond.

We can’t hear anything over this damn wind. We’ll keep watch.

But the cold--

Won’t hurt for one night. Yfandes’s voice rings with amusement in his mind. Go ahead and rest, you wore yourself out chopping wood.

She shuts the door between them -- not hard, but definitively enough that Vanyel doesn’t need to press to take the message. He recedes, leaving her as alone as they can ever be from each other. “‘Fandes says they’ll keep watch,” he offers ‘Lendel quietly. ‘Lendel gives a half-aborted laugh.

“‘Fandes has more tact in a single hair from her mane than Gala has in her entire wretched body,” he says. It takes Van a moment to work it out, but once he gets it, he blushes, his nose and ears staining pink. His complexion is one of the things he’s rather proud of, but he’d trade it now for swarthier coloring, like ‘Lendel’s. Even if he can feel his lifebonded’s embarrassment, it’s not written all over his face. ‘Lendel catches him, his eyes flick from the flush determinedly away as he notes it, and he adds, “I’m not planning on -- I mean, I understand if you don’t want -- we can go slowly.”

It’s charming, watching him stutter. Van steels himself, then looks up at ‘Lendel through his lashes. It’s been a long time since he’s tried seductive on anybody, but -- “Can we, though? Slowly? You’re the sentimental, romantic one; with the storm and me panicking, I’m sure this must remind you of our very first night together. But I’m not exactly a frightened, sixteen-year-old virgin anymore.”

He feels ‘Lendel smile as much as sees it. “That was summer, it’s not actually storming out there, and the way I remember it, you weren’t much of a virgin to begin with. Wasn’t that part of your grand seduction, convincing me you knew what you wanted?”

“I can’t remember,” Vanyel lies outright. ‘Lendel laughs, chest shaking against him, and Van feels it through his whole body. He closes his eyes to savor it, so he doesn’t see ‘Lendel coming when he leans down to press a kiss against Van’s lips.

He falls into it. It’s been a long time, maybe not as long as it’s been for ‘Lendel, but --- even if he doesn’t count Krebain (which he doesn’t,) his last kiss was a final, disastrous attempt to prove to himself he was capable of moving on. With that poor Bardic student; the boy had turned up sometime after everything, while ‘Lendel was on his circuit, and he hadn’t had a clue what he was walking into. It hadn't been grand or cathartic, just messy, more than anything else. With ‘Lendel it’s easy, even though they’ve barely looked at each other, let alone touched, for more than two years. They’re already sitting close. Within moments, Van is trying to push himself closer still, making soft noises of want under his breath. That’s when ‘Lendel pulls away, opting for softer kisses at the corners of Van’s lips.

“How am I the sentimental one, when you wanted to go into Bardic?” he asks.

Van closes his eyes and braces himself with a breath before he answers. Of course ‘Lendel chooses that moment to move from his cheeks to his neck, chaste pecks growing wetter and harder on Van’s skin, so the effort is more or less wasted. “Obviously I misjudged my affinity for living comfortably in drafty, ramshackle lean-tos. That was a stupid decision. I’ve moved past it.”

‘Lendel laughs again, and this time Van feels each puff of air on his jaw, under his ear. “Maybe you have grown.” His legs spread out, to either side of Van, and there’s a slight push on his hips. After a moment, Van realizes ‘Lendel wants him to lean back, into the open space the Companions abandoned. He goes, willingly, lying on top of the blanket. The ground is still warm -- warmer than it should be, given how long ago the girls left the hut.

“Tylendel Frelennye, are you using your mage gift to block the wind?” Van props himself up on one elbow, staring down his body at ‘Lendel. Or, rather, at the mop of golden curls circling out from the cowlick on the top of ‘Lendel’s head, since ‘Lendel himself is busy nosing under the hem of Van’s tunic to continue his trail of kisses. He pauses long enough to look back at Van, an eyebrow arched.

“Are you actually complaining?”

Not in the slightest. Van falls back again, his hand coming to thread through those curls as he stares into the knotted wood planks of the ceiling. “You’re supposed to be teaching me how to survive as a Herald Mage alone on assignment. I don’t think exhausting our Gifts on minor comforts is what my aunt had in mind.”

“If you promise not to mention Savil again, I can think of at least three more very interesting ways to use my Gift of which she would also not approve.”

This time Van laughs, his fingers tightening as ‘Lendel’s tongue sweeps into his belly button. “I promise to be good,” he says. He guides ‘Lendel up his body, or ‘Lendel leads him. In the end, he isn’t sure. ‘Lendel places another kiss soft on his lips while his hands do their work, building a jumbled pile of white leathers and furs between them and the darkness outside.

“Keep your eyes open,” ‘Lendel says. Unnecessary request; Van hasn’t looked away. He’s as hungry for ‘Lendel as ‘Lendel his for him. Two years of repressed want and raw love spills out, flooding over the barriers between them. Van lets golden curls slip between his fingers and grabs his shoulder blades instead, the muscles bunching and shifting as the older boy moves above him. Van lets his legs fall open, to either side of ‘Lendel’s hips, welcoming the full length of their bodies together. ‘Lendel’s weight chases any lingering sense of cold away. He moves like waves, the motion gathering low and rolling up through them both. His fingers dig in.

“Van.” ‘Lendel’s voice breaks on the word, his lips dry against Van’s. Van interrupts him with another kiss, swallowing anything else he might say.

Don’t. He reaches out with mindspeech. At first, just a tentative brush, mind to mind, relying as much on his empathy as the actual words. He isn't ready for the response, an outpouring of joy and love. Van leaves crescent etchings under his fingers, trying to pull himself closer.

'Lendel helps, his arms working under Van to support him and lift him higher. The length of their bodies drag together. Van buries his groans in the skin he can reach, falling into the warmth, the love that reverberates through their bond.

They hadn't had this when they were together before. The summer before Staven's murder, Vanyel hadn't even been a heraldic trainee -- let alone a Herald Mage. His channels were closed, and even with the lifebond, he hadn't been able to feel --

'Lendel. Warm around him, not just physically. He can't tell anymore what's projected, empathic, and what comes through the lifebond. There's a certainty, bone deep and more secure than anything Van's known in his life, so permeated with a sense of his lifebonded that it could be physical. It carries a scent of pine, a taste, gold light and warmth. And it's inside him, now, in his mind. Even before the presence he recognizes as Yfandes is 'Lendel, so close he's become inescapable.

Van doesn't want to escape. He allows himself to sink into the golden aura, the emotional sensation coupled with the physical press of 'Lendel within him. Each burst begins at his skin, the movement of fingers inside him, and cascades through each of their connections. His own want is amplified a million times through the bond, and as it strikes him, Van is helpless. He couldn't escape the echos if he wanted to. There's no shield to close this out. There was a wall between them, the wall Vanyel had built high and strong to defend himself against exactly this. The loss of control, wave after wave of passion and need. That wall is gone now. It's nothing more than sand, easily brushed away by 'Lendel above and around and inside him.

"Good, Van." The words hit his ears, rough. 'Lendel feels it too. That's not a guess, or supposition. Everything they feel, both of them, it's there for Vanyel to touch and know. There's a sense of both of them, of everything they're feeling. His own presence is darker and colder. Van would hide from himself if he could. The moment he feels it, it's there for 'Lendel, and Van knows it's been shared. Just a hint of his own darkness dampens the golden light he associates with 'Lendel. "No, Van, you're beautiful." The light bathes him in waves, each time 'Lendel gathers his hips and surges forward. Good, Van. His lips mouth the words, too, sucking bruises into the column of Vanyel's throat. I've got you. Promise. I promise you're worth it.

He's been Chosen, and heard those words before from 'Fandes. From Savil. From Moondance. He has heard them, and never believed them until 'Lendel whispers them into his skin and inside his mind. Vanyel breaks apart beneath the touches,with each press and thrust. But, for the first time, he doesn't try to rebuild the wall. He lets himself break, lets 'Lendel feel it crashing over him.

It echoes back through the bond, of course. Vanyel can't hide anything now no matter how badly he wants to; there's no rewrapping the truths between them, no hiding them away. But it floods back less terrible. 'Lendel is shattered, too, as his whispers fade to pants against Vanyel's throat. The words repeat in his mind, 'Lendel's voice, It's fine. You're fine. You're good. Vanyel opens his eyes, lashes sticky against his cheek, and kisses 'Lendel's cheek.

It's messy. He can't quite reach ends up just north of 'Lendel's ear, his nose half buried in golden curls. It makes him laugh. For a long time, Vanyel holds on to him, afraid of what will happen when he lets go. It's reflected back at him, still, a mixture of love and security and reassurance, and the same fear. Slowly, as he returns to himself, he realizes that 'Lendel's fingers are just as tight in his hair, around his arm.

How, exactly, he shifts from soaking in the comfort and warmth of 'Lendel to being the one comforting him, Van can't say. But somehow, he rolls their bodies to the side, until they're lying so tangled together that Van loses the physical sensation of where he ends and his lover begins. Legs thrown over hips and knees tucked together, bellies and chests and lips and foreheads pressed flush. Van moves in shallow thrusts, sheathing him with every shift. When he can feel 'Lendel is too far gone even to kiss him anymore, Van takes his 'Lendel's between his own palms and simply holds him, breathing for him as they shudder to a halt.

Awareness returns slowly, in pieces. It's still warm in the hut, tucked tight around a taller body, with his fingers petting through golden curls. He can hear their breathing, uneven and shallow, reflected back in the close confines. The lingering sense of security begins to dissipate, familiar fear and doubt rushing back in. It takes Van a moment to place the shaking as 'Lendel laughing, softly and half swallowed, against his temple.

Vanyel-ashke, I love you. But I need a few hours to sleep before you seize up on me again.

He sends back a feeling, not words, a push of sourness. 'Lendel laughs again. But he is sleepy, reluctantly drifting as 'Lendel's hands move up and down his spine again. A few hours before he has to dissect this, tear it apart again. A few hours of peace.

As if 'Lendel can sense what he's thinking -- which, of course, he can, the channels running wide open between them -- he hauls Vanyel closer. His own sleepy peace floods over them both, Vanyel hears again, in his mind, I love you. You are so good. It doesn't matter, for just that moment, if he deserves it or not. He allows the words to drown his doubts, allows himself to drift.

Sometime in the night he's awoken by movement. Not 'Lendel, who is still wrapped so tightly around him that he's beginning to loose feeling down his left side, but the Companions, daintily picking their way back into the shelter. They bracket them both, their powerful bodies providing a buffer from the wind that still shakes the shack. One of the bedrolls has been pulled over them, more haphazardly than anything else. But even without 'Lendel to warm the shelter, Vanyel feels a velvet nose, gently shoving him against the chest in front of him. For the first time in two years, he's warm when he falls asleep.