A note on names, since that's a rather important subject in the story, and I think it's cool: I apologize for Whitesnake. I had Bowling for Soup's "1985" stuck in my head and it was that or Blondie… Sonrisa means "smile" in Spanish. I thought that was fitting. Kesuki doesn't really mean anything, but him and his mom's names put together (kyûketsuki) mean vampire in Japanese. Yeah, that was random, but I like the way the word sounds. And Toushuu, also Japanese, translates as "blade of autumn." Just if you wanted to know…

Zigger: Wow. Thank you! It means a lot to me that you think so much of my writing! Conveying emotion is probably my strongest ability when it comes to writing. Plot, on the other hand… not so much. But me and the bunnies are working on that…

I wasn't going to post this for a few days… but y'all are just awesome! I hope you enjoy this part as much as you have the previous ones. And I'll be back with more stories, hopefully soon.

just a note on the formatting: will not allow me to put a question mark followed by a colon. So, in the few places where mental speech ends in a question, there is no final colon. It shouldn't be too confusing, cause it's still in italics. Sorry about that!


After my first few stimulating days, life in the Vale settled into an easy routine. I had learned the Tayledras language, and with the words came the knowledge of many of the small rituals that filled the daily lives of the residents of my new "village." I felt more like I belonged here when I greeted the people I met in their own language, even though my dark hair and eyes gave me away as "foreign" the minute anyone laid eyes on me.

Starwind's friend Savil was a small comfort. She was also an outsiders, but was somewhat accepted having earned the title Wingsister. She herself was a refreshing, no nonsense kind of person, in a way very similar to Starwind, and was always entertaining to be around. Toward the beginning of my stay in the Vale I spent a great deal of time with her and her Companion Kellan. She was both comforting and not; her presence was more familiar than the Hawkbrothers and as a Herald she was someone to be trusted, yet her very realness forced me to realize that this was not a dream. That, and the fact that the sheer volume of things I was learning would have woken me up long ago if it was.

One especial benefit of learning the language, or so it seemed at the time, was that one day while I was working with Starwind, Elder Whitesnake came into the room. He must not have known that I had learned the Tayledras tongue, because he immediately accosted Starwind and accused him of allowing "the outlander" to consume all of his time and energy while his fellow mages were attempting to defend the Vale against all manner of intrusions. When Whitesnake first came into the room, I shrank back from him as he ranted about how useless I was and it was a waste to even try to teach me anything. But when Starwind let his eyes pass contemptuously over the elder and rest on me, an idea suddenly occurred to me.

"Excuse me Elder," I said, in my new perfect Tayledras, "but we were in the middle of something. Would you mind returning at a later time to continue your discussion?" The look on Whitesnake's face was priceless, and Starwind's approving gaze made me feel warm inside.

But the more I thought about it, the more Whitesnake's disapproval of my being there bothered me. What if he spoke for a majority of the Vale? No one else I met had said anything disapproving to me, but maybe they were all avoiding me and Whitesnake was the only one who could bear to even enter my presence. Starwind didn't talk much about the politics of the Vale, but I knew such things existed. Even my small village had not been able to avoid politics. What if my being here got him in trouble?

Well. That would be just wonderful. After all he'd done for me, to get him in trouble… I truly enjoyed being here with him in a way I had not thought possible. I still watched the world around me with wary eyes that searched for some escape, but Starwind had only had to stop me twice more in the almost two months I had been here. Both of those times it was almost uncanny how he had known that my mind was drifting in that direction; he had appeared out of nowhere at my side and gently took my hands in his, and when I released whatever implement I was holding he pulled me close and held me. Being in his presence made all thoughts of punishing myself fade away from my mind.

But it was still something that I knew I had to do. Even with all I was learning, that thought was always in the back of my mind. And I was learning a lot. I had to start with the basics, things that little children among the Tayledras took for granted, but Starwind was impressed with how quickly I picked it up. He told me I was a natural, and that soon no one would be able to tell that I hadn't been born to the Vale. I wondered what he meant by that. Just looking at me would tell it to anyone who cared to know.

I was thinking about this, a couple days after the episode with Whitesnake, in one of my favorite places in the Vale. Just around the corner from the flower porch where I had wakened after I had confessed my sin to Starwind, there was a small clearing in a patch of cherry trees where the grass grew especially soft and thick. I liked to lie on the grass and look up at the sky, the white blossoms of the trees all around me. That was where I was when Toushu found me.

The first time I saw one of the hertasi was on one of those first crazy days, and my reaction was not particularly flattering but, so I'd heard, rather common. My attitude toward the shy, lizard-like people had taken a sharp turn to the opposite side of the spectrum since then. Toushu was a particular friend; many times he would find me lying in the grass in some remote part of the Vale thinking. Talking with him was… easy. He was an amazing listener, and since he wasn't human I felt I could tell him the things that I couldn't even talk to Starwind about. Like the way I felt about Starwind.

It was from Toushu that I learned that the Tayledras had no real prohibition against a relationship between two men. They even had a word for it; I discovered it in the back of the language I had learned- shay'a'chern. It was like learning my name. And having my entire world turned upside-down at the same time. Or it would have, if I hadn't already been so turned every which way. Toushu indicated that he didn't think Starwind would be entirely averse to any advances I made. The idea of myself making… advances to Starwind was so strange that it fit right into the world that had been reconstructed around me after mine had come crashing down.

Today, when he found me under the cherry trees, I told Toushu about my worries concerning Whitesnake. "I don't want to make trouble. I just… I told Starwind I would learn from him, but he knows that I can't stay here for too long. I have to… pay." My voice trailed off. I didn't want to. Gods, I didn't. I wanted to stay here. But I… I killed Alik. It was unforgivable. What I wanted didn't matter. I couldn't just live my life like there was nothing wrong, like I had never struck him down in my fit of jealous anger. Like I had never smelled his burned flesh…

"Believe me," Toushu hissed softly, interrupting my thoughts. "If you were trouble to Starwind, he would let you know. He does not suffer fools." I nodded to that; I had felt the harsher side of his tongue several times during our training. "I understand that you feel you have a debt you cannot pay in any way but with your life," Toushu continued, speaking slowly as if he was working through something in his mind as he was speaking, "but, is there not some way you can pay it and remain alive?" I shook my head in violent denial almost before he was done. He continued, his voice still thoughtful. "You are not the same person you were when you came here. It is not fair to ask you to pay such a price." His strange face was unreadable. "It is your constant thinking on this subject that keeps you from truly becoming Tayledras."

I laughed harshly. "Can anyone truly forget that I am not of the Tayledras? They have but to look at me to know the truth."

Toushu turned curious eyes on me. "They do? Have you not seen it then?"

I was confused. "Seen what?"

He shook his head and reached a clawed hand out to pull strands of my hair in front of my eyes. My hair had grown a bit in the almost two months that had passed since I had first come to the Vale. It fell past my shoulders now, but I rarely ever looked at it since all it served to do was remind me of how different I looked from those around me. The lock of hair Toushu pressed into my fingers did not resemble mine in the slightest. For one thing, I knew I did not have white hair, but this hair was almost as white as it was brown. I stared at it and then tugged at it to make sure it was indeed connected to my head, Toushu smirking at my antics. My breath caught in my throat as I reached behind me and pulled all of the hair I could reach into my line of vision. Not quite half of it was white; more like a third.

"Your eyes are the same way," Toushu commented casually. "The magic does that."

I almost didn't hear his last comment. As soon as he mentioned my eyes I ran inside looking for a mirror. It didn't take me long to find one; he was right, my once brown eyes were now a mixed light brown and grey-blue.

I remembered to keep breathing. This was… fantastic. I wasn't quite sure why this was happening… Toushu had mentioned the magic?… but soon, I would look just like all of the others, no longer the easily identifiable outsider.

Starwind found me there, staring at myself in the mirror as if I had never seen such a contraption before. "Tallo?" he said softly, worried, not doubt, by the expression on my face.

I hadn't heard him approach and I jumped slightly at my name. "I hadn't noticed," I said, trying to explain my actions. "I didn't see…." I held up a handful of my hair with its piebald coloring.

He seemed to understand. "Yes," he smiled. "The magic does it, bleaches out our hair and eyes. It happens to mages the fastest, but to all of our people eventually from living in the presence of the Heartstone."

"I…" I stammered, unable to speak yet needing to say something.

He knew what it was I wanted to say.

His eyes pierced through me to my soul, reading the desires of my heart. "Many often take new names when they come into their powers," he said, his voice smooth and nonchalant, but with the undercurrent of energy I had come to associate with Starwind at his most intent. "To show that they have become… a new person, of a sort." I met his eyes. Somewhere in there I stopped breathing. A new person. I wasn't the same person anymore. Starwind's eyes shone brightly with the strength of his emotion and I could tell that he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure how I would take it. I wanted him to say it; I think I was thinking the same thing. He had a short battle with patience and propriety and, for the first time that I had seen, lost.

"The magic has made you a new person." The words poured from him with intensity and he moved closer to me, touching my arm lightly. I put my hand over his and suddenly four hands were holding each other. "You are not Tallo any longer. Crimes he has committed are not yours."

I nodded, but shook my head. "Too easy…" I mumbled, dizzy with an ecstasy that wasn't quite mine just yet.

He nodded, ready for my protest. "Then we must try Tallo for his actions. You will be his judge; none will be harsher I think." His hands were warm as they held mine and my fingers gripped his fiercely. "What is your name?" he asked me, smiling softly.

I shook my head. I didn't know, but already the idea was working in my mind. I was not Tallo any longer. I was a new person. "I'll think about it…" I murmured, completely at a loss.

"It will be something that describes you," he guided me softly, "and the way you dance in the energy that is the magic." One hand freed itself from our clasped ones as he spoke, and his fingers brushed against my cheek, lingering for a moment. I met his eyes; they were full of desire shadowed with a question. I remembered Toushu's words. I raised one trembling hand and let my fingers trace their way down the side of his face. Cupping his chin, I tilted my head to the side and bent forward.

He met me halfway.

His lips were strong, like the rest of him, but strangely tentative. My hand slid from his chin to his hair and the other one joined it on the other side, holding his face between them. He touched me, his hand on my leg, sliding up across my waist and around and up my back, his other hand covering mine then following my arm back and ghosting over my shoulder to the back of my head. His strength washed around me, over me and through me, and I kissed him back fiercely.

We broke apart after a moment and looked at each other. He was smiling. So was I, I realized.


It seemed that things happened very quickly after that.

Starwind set up the ceremony. No one protested, not even Whitesnake, when he explained what was happening to the council. I figured they were just glad to be getting their Healing Adept, they didn't care much about the details. I was proved rather hideously wrong in that respect, and by Whitesnake himself no less.

I didn't see much of Whitesnake; I stayed out of his way as much as I could, since I was supremely aware of how little he liked me. Despite my intentions, I ran into him one day, quite literally. On my way to my room, I turned the last corner in the hallway and plowed right into Whitesnake. The small owl on his shoulder hooted at me in alarm as he almost lost his perch. I apologized profusely, but he barely seemed to hear me. He didn't appear to recognize me at first either, but as soon as he did he seized me by the arm before I could get away.

"Ah, you," he identified me absently. "I've been meaning to speak with you."

"Me?" I couldn't believe it.

"Yes." He glanced around, but the corridor was empty; the hour was late and most of the Tayledras preferred to be up in the trees. "I have been informed," he said, jumping right into his intended message, "that you have taken the wrong way some of the remarks you overheard me say to Starwind." I stared at him uncomprehendingly. "It is no secret that Starwind and I… do not particularly get along," he said with a sigh, though the information was news to me. "He is…" he seemed ready to launch into an extensive list of Starwind's faults, but instead he smiled sardonically and left it at, "supremely irritating, indeed I would go so far as to say purposefully annoying. Anyway, that is not what I came here to discuss. I have, since last seeing you, chanced into his company again and have been duly informed that, well… don't take anything I said to him personally, boy. That man gets under my skin like no one else, and I'll say just about anything to anger him." He released his grip on my arm, but I could only star at him in wonder. "Are we all right then?" he said, patting me on the shoulder in a non-committally friendly manner, and walking away before I could form a response.

That strange encounter was still on my mind the next day when I ran into Savil. She had left not long after she had brought me, and returned shortly after that. However, now she was getting ready to truly depart the Vale and return to her job as a Herald, but she had agreed to stay for the ceremony. Or rather, she had said that if we attempted to have it without her she would have to hunt us down and beat us within an inch of our lives. I told her about what Whitesnake had said, and found that she was not at all surprised.

"That codger is always trying to give Starwind a hard time. So you caught the edge of some of that, eh? Should have told me sooner ke'chara, I'd have set you straight." She was carefully combing through Kellan's mane, and I took up a brush and started on the Companion's tail; Kellan turned her head to look at me and winked one large, liquid eye, also sending me a mental note of thanks as I smoothly brushed through the silky strands.

"So, they don't resent me?" I asked softly, feeling, and probably sounding, very young as I said it.

"Goddess no! They're excited to have you," came her swift reply. "I could just beat Whitesnake for making you think that." Her brows drew together, as if she was actually contemplating such an act.

"No! Please, don't worry about it," I assured her hastily. "Though," I wondered aloud, the memory suddenly jumping to the forefront of my mind, "he did say that Starwind had told him that I felt that way. I… hadn't thought that Starwind knew." Or, I amended, I would rather Starwind had told me about the animosity between him and Whitesnake himself. That he hadn't… stung a little.

"I told him." Toushu's sibilant voice surprised all of us. He chuckled at our faces and Kellan snorted at him.

"You did?" I asked, dumbfounded for a moment.

"Yes." His eyes met mine. "Do not worry. That is all I told him." I breathed. "Of all that you confided to me, that seemed… something you had trouble with that could not be aided by remaining silent." And Toushu, ever knowing, answered the question I hadn't dared ask aloud. "In all likelihood, Starwind did not approach you directly on the subject because you had not first confided it to him. He may have felt that you did not wish to speak with him on the topic."

So he hadn't talked to me about it because of… me? Not because he didn't want to. Well. For some unexplainable reason, I started smiling as I worked the brush through Kellan's tail.

About to fade back into the brush from which he had come, Toushu pointed a clawed finger in my direction. "I see that," he said, then smiled himself and vanished.

Savil raised an eyebrow at me.

"What?" I asked, innocently.

She went back to combing Kellan's mane without any further comment, but she was smiling too.


And yet for all that time seemed to fly, it dragged as well, and it seemed both only and instant and yet an eternity before it was the night of the ceremony. Tonight I would take my place as a member of the k'Treva clan. A full member, not just a Wingsib. I stood outside the chamber, watching the night sky for a last moment before I went in for the ceremony.

"The moon is in the west."

I made no response to Toushu's comment, made in his distinctive hiss. He continued.

"It is nearly done." He had come up to stand beside me, and I glanced at him at this point. "It is nearly done in its nightly journey," he clarified. "The moon. It rises in the east each night, just as the sun does during the day. But its course is somewhat less… conventional."

I laughed softly. "Starwind said it was a name I should choose for myself. However, it seems you and he have taken the task out of my hands."

"Merely a suggestion." A forked tongue flicked out, and his mouth creased in an approximation of a human smile.

"Thank you. I… must confess I had no idea what I should choose."

We stood in companionable silence for a while. I was the one who broke it.

"I still feel like I'm cheating somehow," I confessed to Toushu.

"You wish to be sure that the one who committed such a crime is truly punished."

"Yes." That was it, exactly.

He breathed deeply. "Tallo…" He paused. "What he did is indeed worthy of punishment," he continued. "But it cannot be forgotten that he did it because he was a child. He was a child, angry and frightened. This does not excuse him, but I believe it may count toward… rehabilitation."

I pondered that. "One who has committed such an act can be a child no longer."

"Perhaps. One who has murdered is no longer innocent, but he can still be selfish like a child."

"Selfish." I closed my eyes. "What is not selfish?"

"Living, or dying, for other people. Not for yourself."

My eyes flew open. "But I…" I stopped.

"Yes, it's all about you isn't it?" He laughed softly in good humor. "See what I mean? Selfish."

I was silent.

"But it is not always bad to be a little selfish," Toushu continued, as if talking to someone else who wasn't there. "For if Tallo wasn't selfish at all, he would never have given in to Starwind's request that he stay."

I raised an eyebrow. "That was selfish?"

Toushu's smile was knowing. "Mmm," was all he said to that, and I flushed slightly.

Well, so what if it had been? I turned away, my chin coming up in a stubborn tilt, my eyes returning to the sky. Toushu's dry laughter echoed in my ears as he turned to go into the chamber.

"Toushu," I called softly.

He paused. "I know," he said. He returned, placing an arm on my shoulder. "Go. Do what you must to get what it is you want." He turned and left.

I took a deep breath. What it is you want… I turned and followed Toushu inside.


I stood, facing Starwind across the circle. He watched me with an intensity I had never seen in him before. I brought the knife up and toward myself, holding it in a ready position, the blade facing away from me. I had refused to plan what I was going to do in advance, but still I knew that when it was done it would be done correctly. There would be no going back. Raising my head I met his eyes, and I knew that already there was no going back. So, I did the only thing I could do.

I went forward.

"Tallo." My voice was strong. My head was held high. No one could see how I trembled. No one but Starwind. "For the sins you have committed, you stand accused. You used gifts for which you had not received training. You used these gifts to deliberately cause fear in the heart of another for self gain. In doing so, these gifts escaped your control and caused the death of an innocent. Have you anything to say?"

Silence was my answer.

"Very well. The only acceptable punishment for these crimes is death. Step forward and accept your punishment." The knife in my hands seemed to move of its own volition, turning itself so that it was horizontal with the floor at the level of my neck. It flipped over, so that the blade edge was toward me and I brought it steadily closer until I could feel its cool touch against my skin.

My eyes were half closed as I stood there, and I held the knife ready in one hand. My fingers tightened around it and I could feel the bite of it at my throat. Blood trickled down my neck; Starwind almost stepped toward me, but stopped himself in time. His eyes were worried; I hadn't told him what I was going to do. Hell, I didn't even know what I was doing. But… it felt right. I held out my other hand and suddenly I couldn't see my audience any longer as a barrier sprang up between us.

It was strange, because there was no way I could have seen or heard him, but Starwind's apprehension was palpable to me as I stood there, alone in my own world, separated from everything else. From this world Tallo would never depart, but a new creation would step forth. Well, that was the plan. A part of me knew that there would always be that frightened little boy in a corner of my heart. And… perhaps that was it. That was my atonement to Alik. I would never forget. Those around me had forgiven me, but I felt it would be quite some time before I truly forgave myself. Even then, I could never forget.

"Alik," I murmured, "Tallo will join you."

The knife fell from my hands as my body relaxed and my eyes out, I touched the Heartstone where the power that fed the Vale collected. With tentative mental fingers I touched it, and then, firmly took hold of the power that radiated from it. It filled me, coursing through me, burning through my veins, fighting me slightly before it submitted to my touch, whirling around me, forming another barrier between myself and the world. With barely a thought the cut on my neck healed. I closed my eyes as a satisfied smile spread across my face.

My eyes snapped open and the barrier around me fell away, all the power flowing back into the streams I had borrowed it from. Starwind's eyes met mine and he could not stop himself from coming toward me now. He touched my arm and I tilted my head up so that I could see him better. "Hello," I said.

"Hello," he breathed, his eyes searching my face. He licked dry lips. "And who might you be?"

I smiled mischievously. "Moondance."

He smiled. "Moondance," he repeated, and, softly, "ashke."

I froze. He'd said it. He'd actually said it. He was waiting for me to respond, suddenly tentative, perhaps wondering if he should not have been so forward.

But it was all right. Actually, looking back, I admire the strength of will it must have taken for him to wait as long as he did. He knew what was going on, what we had. I had no idea why I felt drawn to him; why he was always in the back of my mind. I was too busy trying to figure out my own problems to worry about his. But he did wait, for me to figure it out, for me to become a whole person again.

I looked at him. "Shay'kreth'ashke," I murmured absentmindedly, naming him as I myself had been named. Beloved of my soul… Reaching up, I threw my arms around his neck, pulled him close and kissed him. For the first time it didn't matter that people, hell everyone, were watching. I loved him. The knowledge, that admission, warmed me. Or that could have been his lips, or even his hands as he held me close to him as if he would never let me go.


No excuse for a party should ever be overlooked. Not that it ever was among the Tayledras. They welcomed me exuberantly, all of them. Toushu and the other hertasi slipped in and out of the shadows, bringing food and drink to any who wanted it, never happier than when they were helping out others. Unless they were gossiping about them, which my confidant only now revealed to me was a favorite pastime among his people. Well I felt properly chagrined about that, though Toushu enjoyed it immensely.

"I would not betray your confidence to anyone who was concerned," he told me later in the evening, in all seriousness. "That you would choose to confide in me honored me greatly. If I told something of what you said to me to my kin, well the whispering of lizards does not bother the ears of men, does it?" I had to confess that he was right; the reason I had spoken to him in the first place was because I thought that my pitiful human troubles would mean little to him. I was both right and wrong- the did mean a lot to him in all the ways that mattered, but in the ways that didn't… I figured I couldn't mind him gossiping about me, not when, in perspective with everything else, it meant nothing and was never malicious in intent. And, I decided, I had better get used to it if I was going to be living here.

Savil was very proud of me, of all that I had overcome in even the short time it had been since she had brought me to the Vale. There was much I had yet to learn, but… I was ready now. I could go on with my life without my mind lingering incessantly in the past. Savil didn't mind telling everyone who would listen just how very proud she was. She would be leaving soon, but she promised that she would come back and see us as soon, and as often, as she could. There was some trouble brewing to the south of her country, and for the past couple days worry lines had etched her face. But that didn't stop her from enjoying herself at the celebration. "You old rogue," she said, punching Starwind's shoulder lightly. "That's the last time I bring defenseless young men to you for help!" She winked at me. "In the future, I'll have to bring them to Moondance instead." We all enjoyed a laugh.

Other occupants of the Vale, both those I knew and those I didn't came to bid me welcome. Especially important was a certain someone that I had not yet met, who, even though I didn't know her, brought me the most wonderful welcoming gift of all. Starwind introduced us.

"This is Kyut," he said, stroking her feathered breast as she perched delicately on his wrist. The falcon chirruped softly at him, but her eyes were on me. "She… has someone she would like you to meet." He was grinning wildly, but I could only stare at him dumbly. "Hold out your arm," he instructed me. Thinking that he wanted me to catch Sonrisa as she came in to land, I complied.

The bird that landed on my arm was not Sonrisa.

If the relatively awkward landing, compared to the elegant Sonrisa, and wild swirl of feathers as he tried to balance on my arm didn't give that away, I knew the moment my eyes met his that he was different. I looked into those eyes and fell into them. Swirling amber-gold fire reached up to me and pulled me in, seizing me.

:Keh, you new Moondance one? came his young, rough voice, echoing comfortably in my head. I assured him that I was. He clacked his beak together. :Good. My name Kesuki. My Kyut, mother, say good things about you. She watch you, with friend Sonrisa.: He cocked his head to one side. :Kyut say you need bird, live with Hawkbrothers. Have me?

I couldn't speak, or even form the words in my mind. I just stared at the beautiful creature perched on my arm. Starwind's fingers, ghosting across my cheek, brought me back to the present. He wiped the stray tear from my face. Not again, I thought, but now it was different and he seemed to know. I looked into his eyes and I knew that he knew that these were not the same tears that Tallo had cried so often. No more tears of pain, only of joy.

:Kesuki, I would be honored to have you. If you will have me? One who was not born among the Tayledras?

:Keh.: Kesuki made a sound like he was coughing up a pellet, eloquently expressing his opinion of my attempt at self-deprecation.

That was one of the last such attempts I ever made.


Late that night, Sonrisa and Kesuki perched together on the ledge above Starwind's window. Sonrisa was explaining something to the youngster with soft chirps and clicks that stood out slightly louder than the other sounds of tired creatures that filled the Vale. I leaned out the window, looking down toward the ground invisible in the darkness. I leaned out and over the emptiness, but my hands gripped the window's edge firmly. The blackness there no longer knew my name. I smiled to myself, and turned back to the room behind me. It was warm and lit softly, and Starwind lay across the bed watching me.

He did not appear concerned about my antics at the window, and a rush of love filled my heart. He trusted me, even though I had done so little to earn it. I smiled as I sat down on the bed beside him. I touched a finger to his temple and traced the line of his face before leaning forward and kissing him. He moved under me, leaning into my touch, and it sent thrills running down my spine. My fingers explored further, venturing out from the familiar planes of the face that I must have memorized a thousand times over, watching him as he taught me and explained things to me. They trailed lightly down his neck to his chest and the open neck of his robe, and then moved over, brushing along his shoulder almost contemptuously pushing aside the robe that covered him. He was smiling; his own fingers were not inattentive. They flew lightly over my skin, across my chest and down my abdomen.

I divest him of the upper portion of the robe he was wearing, then paused a moment to observe my handiwork. I lay myself down alongside of him carefully, my head against his chest, his heart under my ear. He wrapped his arms around me and I could feel his breathing against the top of my head as he kissed my hair.

Warm, safe, complete… I slept deeply. The dawn found us there, tangled up in each other.