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Song of Forever

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Ruby eyes, one last glance, one last smile before the doors slammed closed.

Ruby eyes, one last smile, holding the staff before him to lead himself to his own death.

Ruby eyes, filled with tears upon hearing his name…

Yhen’a sighed and tossed the quill aside.  This wouldn’t make a song fit for anyone save himself, and honestly, it wasn’t a story he felt like sharing.  None of this was anything he felt like sharing, but since his heart had been forcibly torn from his chest and put on display for everyone, he had to at least answer a few questions… much as he truly didn’t want to.  He glanced irritably at the door to his suite, wondering if anyone was hovering outside and waiting for him to emerge.  So far as he knew the Exarch hadn’t woken yet, which meant none of them could return to the Source… though he, himself, wasn’t going back without having a long talk with G’raha Tia.

He rose from the desk and paced to the window, looking out over what he could see of Lakeland and smiling a little bit despite his sour mood.  It was a beautiful evening- the sunset turned the sky the most beautiful array of warm colors, and it was a sight that he might have once taken for granted… no longer, certainly.  He lifted a hand to his chest and bowed his head, then turned toward the door.  Nothing would get him to G’raha’s side faster than actually leaving his room, but it was such a daunting task- even for a bard, whose lifeblood was the entertainment of others.  He normally didn’t mind being the center of attention and, indeed, tended to thrive on it, but as the Warrior of Light- Darkness, now- he had no privacy, and this was something that required it.

An idea sprang to mind, then, and he tilted his head before going to his armoire and rummaging around inside.  He tended to have a fairly extensive wardrobe, finding that there were lots of various armors and such that he liked and that he wasn’t reliably able to settle on just one, and that was going to benefit him now, Thancred’s teasing be damned.  He wasn’t the only bard who liked being well-dressed, and with Yhen’a being one in both the literal and metaphorical sense, he was going to take advantage of it.  He eventually came up with a hooded cloak- simple, not too elaborate, something that wouldn’t catch too much attention… or so he hoped.  He flicked his ears and sighed, then swung the cloak over his shoulders and drew it up over his head.  G’raha had managed with his flattened for a century, Yhen’a could manage for the five minutes it would take him to get inside the Tower- and thus he walked back to the window and waited, with no small amount of impatience, for the sun to finish setting and for the stars to come out.

When he judged the hour late enough he walked away from the armoire and grabbed his small harp, then paused and pushed the hood back to press an ear to the door of the suite.  Upon hearing nothing he slowly pushed the door open and peeked out, and whether it was divine providence or simply the fact that it was late, there was nobody there.  He exhaled in relief and pulled the hood up, then closed the door firmly behind himself and headed into the hallway, jogged down the stairs, and slipped out of the Pendants without attracting any attention.

The Crystarium was by nature a busy place, and Yhen’a was well aware of that as he made his way to the Tower.  Luckily, dark as he was and with his hood up, he was able to blend in fairly easily- and he’d almost made it in when he saw two familiar figures walking down the steps leading to the Dossal Gate.  He sighed, resigned, and stopped at the bottom of the stairs- then pushed his hood back, flicking his ears vigorously as he did so.  He pushed unruly silver hair back from his face, and smiled a little when they both recognized him- Ryne smiled brightly and waved, and Thancred followed her at a more sedate pace as she raced down the stairs.

“Yhen’a!” she called happily.  “Your timing is good- the Exarch is awake!”

Yhen’a’s eyes widened, and he hurried up the stairs to meet them.  “Is he all right?” he asked, looking from her to Thancred and then back again.

“We… assume so.”  Ryne put her hands behind her back and bit her lip.  “He won’t let any of us in to see him, so we thought we’d fetch you and see if you might have more luck.”

Those words hit him like a fist to the gut, and he frowned, looking up at the Tower.  It didn’t surprise him much that G’raha didn’t want visitors; he’d taken a grievous wound on Mt. Gulg- both physical and emotional- and then had been further injured and spent during his time with Emet-Selch.  Stubborn and prideful were two words that had described him well in his youth, which was a strange thing to think seeing as how it had only been a handful of years for Yhen’a… but the Exarch wasn’t G’raha Tia, not entirely.  He’d spent the better part of the day struggling to reconcile the two and largely failing, presuming that he wouldn’t be able to until he actually had a chance to speak with him alone.  Yhen’a still struggled to grasp the truth in its entirety, though he’d known all along who was behind the mask- at least in essence, if not in his own remembrance.

“Well,” he said, shrugging, “I’ll give it a try.  I’m stubborn enough to plant myself and not move.”

Thancred studied him for a moment, then looked at Ryne and nodded.  “Go on,” he said.  “I’ll catch up.”  The rogue looked back at him once Ryne had continued on down the stairs.  “You’ve got a better chance than the rest of us,” he said quietly.  “… but why didn’t you tell us who he is from the start?”

Yhen’a’s ears drooped and he rubbed at the back of his head.  “I didn’t know what he was playing at.  If he’d be willing to lie to me, of all people- and trust me, I asked him point blank- he must have had a good reason.”  He scowled faintly.  “Now that I know what that reason was, I wish I’d pushed him.”

“Don’t we all.”  Thancred sighed and raked a hand through his hair, then shrugged irritably.  “I didn’t have the chance to meet him before, even though he was one of the Students- Minfilia may have known him, for all the good that does us now.”  He paused, then gave Yhen’a a worried look.  “… are you up for this?”

Yhen’a flashed him a grin that showed a bit of fang.  “What am I if not always up for a challenge?” he replied.  Thancred’s lips quirked, but his eyes spoke of the worry that remained even so.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll figure it out, and I won’t leave until I’m satisfied.”

Thancred nodded slowly.  “All right,” he said.  “Don’t forget that you aren’t fully recovered yet, Yhen’a.  If he refuses to see you, don’t sleep on the floor.”

“I’ve slept on worse places than the floor of the Crystal Tower.”  Yhen’a smiled back and nodded.  “Thank you, Thancred.  I’ll send word once I have something of substance.”

“Very well.”  Thancred paused, then put a hand on his shoulder and headed past him, jogging down the stairs to catch up with Ryne.

Yhen’a watched him go, then exhaled and headed up the stairs.  He nodded to the gatekeeper, who smiled at him and nodded in response.  “So,” he said, “it sounds like I’ll have to cool my heels for a while…”

“I’m sorry, my lord,” the guard said sympathetically.  “The Exarch said that only you were permitted to enter, but nobody was to send for you or otherwise call your attention- not even the Scions.”

Yhen’a opened his mouth to reply, then blinked.  “Wait, what?” he asked dumbly.

“Shall I admit you?”  The man smiled knowingly, and when Yhen’a nodded in bemused silence, he pushed the doors open and sent him through.

Once inside the Tower, Yhen’a looked around and then sighed, putting a hand to his forehead in exasperation.  “G’raha,” he grumbled.  It was like him to make everything far more complicated than it really needed to be, wasn’t it- just like with the aethersand in the very beginning.  With that in mind, he sighed and headed up the stairs that would take him to the Ocular.  He was familiar with Syrcus Tower, more or less- he knew there was a whole lot more of it he hadn’t seen than what he had, and he noted that several branches going further in were blocked off.  He recalled hearing something about monsters and other strange things roaming the halls, as well as an aethereal disturbance of some sort- he’d deal with that later, after he dealt with the Tower’s caretaker.

Upward, then, and to the large door leading into the Ocular.  It had struck him as odd when he’d first seen it, seeing as how the rest of the Tower was so majestic… that a place such as this would have a simple wooden door seemed strange, but resting a hand on it now, Yhen’a sighed and smiled just a little.  He’d merged himself with the Tower so that he could live indefinitely… and this, perhaps, was a reminder of the simple life he’d led before.  He had no idea, truly, but it sounded good to his ears.  Either way, he knocked on the door and put his ear to it, then frowned when he heard nothing in response.

“Exarch?” he called, figuring he’d best not push his luck just yet.  “It’s Yhen’a-…” He trailed off, then let out an impatient huff and rested both palms on the wood.  “Where are you if not here?” he muttered.  His ears flicked, and he looked up, letting his hands slowly drop to his sides.  “Ah… you’re going to make me work for it, are you?”  He sighed, then trudged back toward the stairs.

When he reached the landing where he’d bid G’raha turn back so many years ago, he paused to rest and sighed to himself, leaning against the wall and looking upward.  The Tower was ridiculously huge, as Cid had observed back then- someone clearly thought bigger was better.  Given the size of the clones he’d fought, Yhen’a agreed with the engineer wholeheartedly- they’d been anywhere from twice to four times his size, and Yhen’a wasn’t that small.  G’raha was at least an ilm or two smaller than he was, which had given him no end of amused glee back then- he wasn’t used to being taller than anyone save his own mother and aunts.  Not for the first time he wished he’d known his birth parents- he wondered if his father was slightly built, too.

With one more glance, this time behind him, Yhen’a continued upward until he saw the stars.  The Tower’s hallways gave way to the majestic courtyard at the top of the spire, or at least, the top of one of the spires.  Water-aspected crystals sent waterfalls flowing down from this point, filling pools and leaving the water to fall to fill yet more below.  He’d fought Xande during the day and hadn’t returned to see the place at night, but looking at it now… the night sky was utterly breathtaking.  He smiled a little, full glad to see it instead of the broiling Light, then turned his gaze toward the center of the courtyard.  G’raha- the Exarch- stood facing Xande’s throne, no longer wearing his robes but instead an outfit that wrenched Yhen’a’s heart to see- nothing spectacular, just a soft pair of trousers and a sleeveless tunic.  He was genuinely surprised the fabric had lasted that long, or maybe G- the Exarch, he told himself sternly- had commissioned a new set.

Thinking of this man as G’raha Tia would get him nowhere, at least to begin with, much as he dearly wanted to.

Yhen’a took a breath and walked over to stand next to him, studying the throne as well.  It was huge, massively so, for a normal-sized person… and though a super-sized clone had sat on it before the Keeper had come with a challenge, he couldn’t help but wonder if a normal-sized person was meant to sit there beforehand.  Perhaps, he thought absently, the people of Allag weren’t all that much smaller than the Amaurotines… which would put the throne in perspective at least a little bit better.

“A hundred long years I waited,” the Exarch said quietly, his gaze still on the throne- but he didn’t seem to see it, instead looking into the past as his tail slowly swayed behind him.  “Day in and day out, searching for a way to bring you here and figuring out how I was going to care for the refugees who flocked to the safety of the Tower.  I was twenty-six summers old when I landed here.”

Yhen’a hummed quietly.  “Ser Aymeric wasn’t much older when he took command of the Temple Knights,” he pointed out.  “Four or five turns, mayhap.”

The Exarch smiled a little.  “Ser Aymeric the Blue,” he said softly.  “I know his story well- his, yours, everything which was detailed in the tome called Heavensward.  It’s certainly fair to say he faced far more adversity than I on his journey toward leadership… but whereas he rose through the ranks to attain it, I had it dropped on me by virtue of being the Tower’s guardian.”  He glanced at him, then, pinning his ears a little.  “Do not mistake my flippant words for a lack of gratitude.  I love the people of the Crystarium with all my heart, ill prepared as I was to lead them… as I still feel I am, some days.”

“You’ve done a remarkable job,” Yhen’a said sincerely.  “Your people adore you, ‘tis plain to see, and you adore them just as much.”

His smile widened a little, and the Exarch nodded before looking back toward the throne.  “I am the last living son of the Allagan empire,” he said softly, “the last descendant there ever shall be.  One day… when the Tower fully consumes me, ‘tis my hope that I may yet retain some of my humanity.”

Yhen’a raised an eyebrow.  “I assume it’s not too late to sire children, if that’s what you want,” he said.  “… assuming it still works.”  He left the rest alone, thinking that a topic for later- one he would come back to when the road was smoother.

The Exarch hadn’t been expecting those words, and he let out an undignified snort before glancing at Yhen’a with a faint grin- ah, there was the mischievous young Seeker he’d known.  “Well,” he said, “I admit I haven’t done much- any- research into the matter, but… that said, nay- I’m far too old to raise kits of my own, Azeyma preserve me- the very thought is exhausting.”  He shook his head and gestured to the sky.  “I’ll leave that to the young man slumbering on the Source, though I imagine he’ll be as reluctant as I am now.”

Ah, yes.  Yhen’a crossed his arms, gazing upward and letting his mind wander.  “Will he keep sleeping, now that everything is all right?”

“I don’t know.”  The Exarch looked at him again, this time with a faint smile.  “We are no longer the same person.”

Yhen’a nodded slightly.  He knew that, and it hurt- but he’d sworn back then that if there was a way to see him again, no matter what, he would take what came.  “Why wouldn’t you let the others in?” he asked softly.  “They’re worried about you, you know… they care about you.”

The question made him flinch a little, and the Exarch bowed his head before looking up and taking a few steps forward.  “It has pained me more than you, any of you, know to have been dishonest with you- even though I do not regret it.  There is nothing I would not do to save your life, Yhen’a.”  He paused, then turned back.  “’tis true that the years have made me into a different person than I was when first we met, but not for one second did I forget you.  When I woke and discovered the ruined future that took the place of what I’d hoped for…” His hands curled into fists and he turned his face away.  “I cannot tell you how that felt,” he breathed.  “My heart shattered into pieces, and it wasn’t until I saw your eyes looking back at me in Lakeland that I found the last piece of myself.”  He smiled sadly.  “This world’s future, the Source’s future, all hinged on you.  That the Scions were willing to help, even after I managed to pull them here with nary a ‘by your leave’, is more of a kindness than I expected.  As I told you, Alisaie in particular blistered my ears for taking her from your side- and she was the only one who spoke up to oppose me on Mt. Gulg, at least until Y’shtola revealed the truth of my plans.  I… do not yet know how to face them.”

So much of that day is blurred in his memory- Yhen’a still found himself struggling to get a clear picture of what had happened.  He remembered fighting Vauthry, remembered the Light… remembered the spell, crying G’raha’s name as the wind blew his cowl back.  How cruel, he’d thought distantly- all that, for this?  “You’re a bad actor,” was all he said, glancing at him with a faint smile.  “Alisaie doesn’t take chances, however.”

“Not when it comes to you, no… and nor do I.”  The Exarch sighed and slumped a little, looking painfully weary, and Yhen’a hurried to him and gently put his hands on his shoulders.  He looked up and smiled sadly.  “I’m all right… thank you.”

Yhen’a let his breath out, then slowly wound his arms around the smaller man- and when he stiffened in surprise he nearly let go… but after just a few breaths the Exarch melted against him.  With a faint smile, Yhen’a held him tighter, feeling his heart beginning to mend itself a long last.  “And now?” he murmured, smiling a little at the way his ear flicked against his nose.

“Much better.”  The response came soft and muffled, and the Exarch tightened his grip briefly before slowly drawing back to peer up at him.  “In the end, I couldn’t let you go,” he said, his voice shaking a little.  “You were all I could think of when I woke.  Gods- I couldn’t even mourn you properly, there was no memorial that I could reach.  I holed myself up in the Ocular for bells after I learned the truth of what happened… I could barely breathe.  When I learned then that this was possible, that I could rewrite the flow of history and save your life at the cost of my own, I didn’t hesitate, not for a single second.”  He smiled sadly once more.  “That I am alive now is something which still baffles me, and I know I likely do not deserve such grace… but… selfishly, I…”

Feeling his heart lighten further, Yhen’a smiled softly and lifted a hand to gently press one of his ears back, making him sigh softly and tip his head into the touch.  His fur was still so soft- it was too easy to give in to temptation and run his fingers over it a second time.  “When I asked you about G’raha Tia, you told me you’d not found anyone by that name in the Tower.”  The Exarch flinched a little, ears immediately pinning, and Yhen’a laughed quietly and smoothed his hand over them again.  “Stop that, it’s distracting.  … well, then- as for me… I’m convinced he’s still here, and all I have to do is find him.”  He smiled whimsically.  “Perhaps you’d be so good as to search with me?”

Ruby eyes widened, then the Exarch turned the same shade of scarlet and pressed his face into Yhen’a’s shoulder as the bard laughed and held him tight.  “Yhen’a,” he groaned, but he was laughing a little as well- and he drew back to peer at him.  “… you’re still entirely insufferable, I see.”

“Entirely?”  Yhen’a grinned.  “Says the man who crossed time and space to save my life- it sounds as though you’d have been better off finding someone else for the job.  Ah, don’t give me that look!”  He laughed and kissed him on the nose, feeling lighter than he had in years.  “… even though it’s cute.”

The Exarch smiled at him even as he wrinkled his nose a little in reaction to the ticklish sensation.  “I’ve changed, Yhen’a… I know that.”  His smile faded a little.  “When you called me by my name… that was the first time in over a century that I’d heard it spoken out loud, and I- for a brief moment, I felt just like that young historian all over again.  If… even if it were to take time to find him, if it were not entirely possible to do so in its entirety…”

Yhen’a smiled gently.  “I know you aren’t the brat I knew back then anymore,” he said, grinning a bit as the Exarch swatted his leg with his tail and made a face at him.  “Or maybe you are!  … but, in all seriousness- back then, I’d like to say all I wanted was just one more night with you, but I didn’t.  I wanted all of my nights with you.”  The Exarch’s eyes filled with tears, and Yhen’a didn’t tease him, this time- he was close to it too, and instead just brushed his lips against the corners of his eyes.  “That hasn’t changed… Raha.  You aren’t the only one who’s selfish.”

His breath caught, and the Exarch closed his eyes tightly and bowed his head for a few seconds.  When he looked back up again, the tears spilled over.  “Yhen’a, I…”

“Say you want the same,” Yhen’a whispered, drawing him a little closer.  “Say you want nothing more- tell me that nothing, nothing like that will part us again.”  He touched their noses together.  “I love you, G’raha Tia- Exarch.  Who you were then, who you are now, all the same.”  With that, the Exarch promptly burst into tears, and Yhen’a held him tightly as he clung to him, smiling helplessly.  “Is that a yes?”

“Yes,” the Exarch managed, laughing and crying at the same time, “yes, you insufferable Keeper- if you want me with you, if you want me to stay… who am I to refuse you?”  He drew back just enough to wipe at his eyes, then smiled tearfully at him.  “I love you beyond reason, beyond sanity- the only place I want to be is by your side, even… even if, at times, it’s impossible.”

As much as he wanted to, Yhen’a wanted to tell him it would never be impossible- but he knew better.  He had to return to the Source, even though it was the very last thing he wanted.  All this time spent on the First, fighting for its people, fighting for him- it was no secret for whom the Warrior of Darkness fought, he’d never tried to make it one.  “Well, then,” he said, “you’d better make room for me here… although at a glance, you don’t seem to be lacking.”

Something about that caught him off-guard, and the Exarch’s lips parted slightly in surprise.  “You… want to stay here, with me?”

Yhen’a tilted his head and flicked one of his ears.  “… where else?” he finally asked, wondering if he’d missed something.  “Do you want to stay with me in the Pendants, then?”

“I… I, ah…” The Exarch blushed and cleared his throat.

Ahh.  Yhen’a smiled knowingly and kissed him on the forehead.  “It’s all right.  I’ll settle with coming to visit now and again.”  They weren’t just Yhen’a and G’raha anymore, as they’d been back in Mor Dhona- and even then, he’d had the specter of the Warrior of Light hanging over his shoulders.

“No,” he blurted, and the blush darkened as his ears quivered.  “That isn’t what I meant.  I am… full used to my solitude after all these years, and I fear you may get tired of me at times- I won’t want to be away from you often.  I don’t- the rest, I mean…”  He huffed and shook his head, and Yhen’a grinned.

“That the Warrior of Darkness and the Crystal Exarch sharing a bed being common knowledge doesn’t bother you?” he supplied, and laughed when he buried his face in his hands.  “Raha, do you think there aren’t already rumors?”

“Oh, I know there are,” the Exarch said faintly, shaking his head.  “Thank the gods that the people here are very respectful of my privacy- if there were to be rumors, they wouldn’t likely reach my ears directly.”

“Good,” Yhen’a said with a grin.  “I’m afraid you’d give yourself away, red as you are.”  He reached out and tapped him on the nose, then smoothed his hand over his ears again.  “The people here love you… I think they’ll be happy to see you happy.  In fact, I know they are, because I’ve been told so directly.”  His grin softened to a reassuring smile.  “… and even when people have gotten extremely drunk, nobody has tried to pry into your affairs with any of us.  I think that’s telling.”

The Exarch let his breath out and then laughed helplessly, shaking his head and looking up at Yhen’a with shining eyes.  “Well,” he said, “that is comforting, I promise you.  To walk hand in hand with you is something I have long dreamed of, even though I told myself it wasn’t ever like to happen… to be with you, near you, just as we were then- ah, the very thought fills my heart to overflowing.”

Yhen’a took his hands and gave them both a gentle squeeze- one flesh and blood, the other living crystal, the embodiment of the lengths to which he’d gone for his sake.  “You aren’t alone anymore,” he said, looking him straight in the eye.  “You don’t have to face everything by yourself.  I’ll help you, we’ll all help you.”

He looked like he might say something in return, but his lips only curved in a sweet smile for a few breaths.  “Thank you,” he breathed.  When Yhen’a drew him close again he went willingly, and when their lips met it felt like the entirety of the universe stopped in its tracks to suit them.  The kiss was gentle and chaste, and when it broke he could feel heat in his own cheeks and thanked the Goddess for his dusky complexion- though the Exarch saw it anyway and grinned, lifting a hand to lightly trail across his cheeks.  “Ah,” he murmured, “this is a look I will most certainly save for myself.”

Yhen’a couldn’t resist- he kissed him again, then once more.  He was very careful, making certain not to go too fast, and though he would have gladly had him underneath the stars right then, he knew that it was likely far too soon for his now-shy partner.  “Do,” he replied with a warm smile, and the Exarch blushed to match him.

A few moments later, he sighed as his ears drooped a little.  “It’s late,” he said, looking at Yhen’a worriedly.  “You must be exhausted.  Come- I’ll… I’ll show you to our chambers.”  His blush darkened, and Yhen’a couldn’t help but grin as a rush of giddy excitement shot through him.  “Don’t say it,” the Exarch warned, cheeks tinted pink all over again.

“Say what?” Yhen’a asked innocently, flicking his ears and smiling.  “I’m happy, Raha- more than I can tell you.”  He paused, then grinned.  “… and, you do look cute right now.”  The Exarch buried his face in his hands again, but his ears wiggled- he was happy, and that was all Yhen’a wanted.

After a few seconds, the Exarch dropped his hands and smiled helplessly up at him, then took his hand and gently tugged on it.  He led him back down the staircase toward the Ocular, but instead of going all the way down, he turned off to the side and went down one of the many hallways that spiraled further into the Tower.  “The Ocular is an excellent place to meet and speak of various and sundry,” he said, “but I wanted something all to myself- thus, I created my own set of chambers shortly after arriving.  I was… still somewhat shaken and often needed to retreat for a bit at a time, and these served my purpose well.”

“You had a tent by yourself in Mor Dhona, too,” Yhen’a mused, then glanced at him and grinned.  “… at least until I barged in and made myself at home.  This is becoming a habit.”

The Exarch looked up at him in surprise, then fairly beamed.  “It is,” he agreed, and Yhen’a found himself briefly dazzled by that smile- he’d seen it maybe once or twice all those years ago, and only directed at him when he’d presented him with a basket of La Noscean oranges.  He makes a mental note to fetch some back from the Source as a surprise.  “So,” he continued, “that being said, the portal is right here.  Hold out your hand a moment.”

Yhen’a obeyed, then blinked when the portal glowed.  “What did you do?” he asked curiously.

“Well,” the Exarch said, suddenly sounding a bit shy, “I, ah… gave you a key, as it were.”  Before Yhen’a could tease him- and he was about to, already grinning ear to ear- the Seeker grabbed his hand and yanked him through the portal.  “Here we are,” he said, coloring just a little and flicking his ear once they were well inside.  “I admit I’ve not tidied up in a bit.”

“No?”  Yhen’a looked around in vague awe- the chamber was downright cozy, which he hadn’t expected the Tower to be capable of.  From where he was standing in the entryway, the room in front of him had piles of plush cushions and a large, overstuffed chair, a hearth of all things, and books stacked nearly floor to ceiling in crystal shelves that seemed carved from the walls themselves.  He walked to the hearth and knelt, then tipped his head and peered upward.  “This is impressive, Raha,” he said, leaning back and looking at him in vague awe.  “You made all of this?”

The Exarch put his hands behind his back and smiled, nodding.  “I did,” he said, “but- with magic and my own willpower.  Come, there’s more.”

Somehow that didn’t surprise him, and Yhen’a rose and followed him into the room beyond- a bedchamber with another hearth and another overstuffed chair, as well as a very inviting-looking bed.  Yhen’a slowly walked in and looked around, then walked to the far wall and peered out.  The crystal was see-through here, and he gasped a bit when he realized how high up they were.  “Menphina- what happens in high winds?” he asked, taking a few steps back.

“Are you afraid of heights?”  The Exarch was behind him in a flash, putting gentle, steadying hands on his shoulders.  “And to answer your question, nothing- the Tower is immoveable.  … as far as I know.”

Yhen’a shot him a glance over his shoulder.  “That’s comforting,” he said sarcastically.

The Exarch grinned at him.  “Good.  Ah, one more thing… this, I presume, will be your favorite.”  He smiled and took Yhen’a’s hand, then led him through a doorway into the bathroom- and when Yhen’a gasped faintly, he grinned and put a hand on his hip.  “As you’ll recall, I love the water,” he said fondly, looking at the Water-aspected crystals that kept a steady stream of water flowing into one large tub- easily big enough for ten people- and a smaller one as well.  “One for washing, one for soaking.  I admit, I indulge fairly frequently.”  He colored a little and cleared his throat.  “It’s easy for me to gather my thoughts here.”

Slowly, Yhen’a walked around the tubs, then looked at him with a warm smile.  “This is wonderful,” he said.  He paused, glancing back toward the bedroom, then looked at the Exarch as he began feeling just a little nervous.  “You’re really all right with this?”

With a small smile, the Exarch nodded.  “When I ascended the Tower alone, that day… I wept- I couldn’t help myself.  I knew I’d broken your heart, and I’d broken my own as well, even knowing I’d done the right thing.  For a little while, I hated my heritage with a ferocity I didn’t realize I had within me- all I wanted was you.  Yhen’a- if you want to be here, I would have you nowhere else.”

Yhen’a closed his eyes briefly, then smiled at him and nodded.  “I’ll bring the rest of my things gradually, then,” he said.  He followed the Exarch back into the bedroom and unhooked the small harp from his back, then his bow and quiver, setting them carefully to the side.  He was tired, now that he thought on it, but there was more he wanted to ask before he gave way and fell asleep- but, that could be done just as easily in bed.  He hesitated, then sighed and shrugged before stripping down to his smallclothes- he’d obviously not figured on staying, having been uncertain if he’d even be allowed inside, and thus hadn’t brought anything but what he was wearing and his harp to entertain himself with.  He heard a soft intake of breath and looked at the Exarch curiously, then grimaced a little at his horrified stare.  “Oh.  … I’m, um… not quite as pretty as I was then.”

“What happened?”  The Exarch asked, slowly walking over to him and tracing the horrific scar that ran from his shoulder to his hip on the right side of his body.  “Didn’t anyone heal you?”

“They tried.”  Yhen’a smiled wanly.  “Didn’t the book talk about my battle with Nidhogg?  I suppose Count Edmont left out the bit where I nearly got myself clawed in half.”

There was no response for a few breaths, hooded Allagan eyes gazing at the scar before slowly looking back at his own.  “He did,” the Exarch said softly.  “It is… hard to see you like this.”

Yhen’a turned toward him and lifted a hand to cup his cheek.  “Being what I am isn’t all the tales make it out to be,” he said softly, “but, Raha- if I weren’t, I wouldn’t have met you.  Don’t worry!”  He smiled and winked.  “Every scar is a step on the road I took to reach you here and now.”

“And thus does he begin his newest soliloquy,” the Exarch replied cheekily, but he still looked disturbed.  He hesitated, then leaned up and kissed him lightly.  “I will worry about you until my last breath,” he said, “and seeing as how that is likely to be a very long time from now, there’s no use struggling against it.  You’ll have to forgive me for it.”

“I’ll not stop you from getting a better look,” Yhen’a said with a mischievous grin, which earned himself a shove onto the bed- he yelped as he landed on the mattress, then groaned faintly and stretched.  “Oh, by the Twelve, I may never get up again,” he mumbled.  “What is in this mattress, cotton bolls?”

The Exarch chuckled.  “No,” he said, “at least, not to my knowledge.  When I adopted Lyna, she of course had her own rooms- and still does, should she choose to use them.”  He flopped down next to Yhen’a and smiled at the ceiling.  “I realized that trying to wedge myself into a crib with a wailing toddler was ill-advised despite being small enough to fit with relative ease- I feared I’d never be able to straighten my back again.  Thus, I had this commissioned, seeing as how she was old enough to roll away from any pillows or blankets that might cover her face while she slept, and when she had bad dreams we would inevitably wind up here.”

Yhen’a smiled warmly.  “That’s truly sweet,” he murmured, yawning a little.  “I’d wondered about that… and I want to hear the story, when I’m able to stay awake through all of it.”  He looked at him curiously.  “… do you sleep?”

“Yes and no.”  The Exarch smiled at him, red hair fanned out on the pillow.  “I don’t have to, certainly, but I like to.  It… makes me feel more human, though I know it is somewhat of a delusion on my part.  Otherwise, I do have to be still awhile and meditate to put my thoughts in order- and sleeping is far more pleasant.”

“Raha.”  Yhen’a rolled onto his side and took the Exarch’s left hand, then settled it on his chest, covering it with his own.  “… you feel your heartbeat?”  When he nodded, the Keeper smiled at him.  “That’s proof enough that you’re as human, as alive, as the rest of us.”  He yawned again, then wrapped his arm around him and nestled himself close to his side.  He’d not really realized how exhausted he was.  “I’m glad to be here with you,” he murmured.

The Exarch turned toward him and drew the blankets up, then put the lights out with a quick gesture.  “I’m glad you’re here,” he said softly, “more than I can say.  I’ll make certain you aren’t bothered until you’re ready to face the world again.”

Yhen’a chuckled wearily.  “That may be awhile,” he said, yawning again.  “Mm…”  He honestly had no idea how long it had been since he was this comfortable, but he had a sneaking suspicion that it had been the few bells he’d spent with G’raha in his arms the last day he’d seen him… and he smiled sleepily as he held on tighter.  “G’night,” he murmured.

“Rest easy, Yhen’a.”  The Exarch held him close and hummed a soft, soothing melody under his breath- and with a soft sigh, the Keeper felt himself drift off to sleep… and prayed, briefly, that he would have no nightmares to interrupt this perfect peace he’d found.