Notes: This original fantasy (almost romance) story has been in the works for a LONG time and I’m happy that I can finally share it with you all! The gorgeous art pieces in this post are all parts of a commission that I got from my awesome friend Vi (who also did lovely concept art of my two boys) who is super sweet and talented!
Asra has spent much of his life alone, traveling across Anatea in search of the home he never had. On an unplanned return trip to the capital city’s God Quarter, Asra finds himself taking shelter from the rain in a seemingly abandoned temple. When Asra meets the god whose temple sits gathering dust in a lonely part of the God Quarter, he isn’t expecting much beyond a swift kick in the rear. He certainly isn’t expecting that he might finally find the home he’s always wanted to have.
Asra doesn’t expect the temple gates to be unlocked when he tests them.
The hidden-away temple of Tal Katan is an old one and barely used. During the day when the God Quarter is at its busiest, the Tal’s small temple looks as if no one comes by it anymore, not even the Tal himself. At night, when Asra slips out of the alley that he’s been hiding in all day, the temple looks deserted.
Despite all his misgivings, Asra tries the gates, pushing at the heavy silverstone with all of his strength. He’s expecting the gate to stand firm and for it to stay shut, not for the damn thing to swing inward without so much as a creaking hinge.
Asra tumbles into the narrow courtyard, falling flat on his face as the gates close behind him. The thud of the silverstone echoes through the night, the sound loud enough that Asra finds himself worrying that the guards will hear and come searching. He stays on the ground, stomach pressed tight to a stone path that is still faintly warm from the sun’s rays, as he tries to listen out for the sounds of any approaching guards or gods.
A minute passes, then two, then five.
When Asra doesn’t hear anything else aside from the distant noise of celebration coming from one of the night-loving gods that see the darkness as a cause for partying, he gets to his feet. He clutches his pack to his chest once he’s standing, the worn leather feeling slippery underneath his fingertips, and glances at the temple doors.
Up close, the big black doors are intimidating.
He really shouldn’t be doing this.
Breaking into another demon’s house or squatting in an abandoned home are completely different things from breaking into a Tal’s temple. The worst another demon will do is call the guards, maybe break one of his arms if they can catch him eating their food.
The Tal on the other hand –
If Tal Katan is home and he’s really angry about having Asra burst in on him in the dark of night, then Asra won’t be living long enough to actually regret his choices.
The rain that starts a few minutes later makes up Asra’s mind for him.
The loud rumbling of thunder rolls through the night and the first, fat drops of rain start to fall on the ground around Asra’s feet. He’s soaked within seconds, his threadbare coat and floppy hat hardly standing up as any real protection against the elements as the rain turns into a storm and the sky opens up overhead, slicking the close-cropped curls of his dark green hair slick down against his scalp.
“At least I’ll be dry for a while,” Asra says, muttering to himself as he curls his fingers around the ornate carved handles that jut out from the front door. The handles feel cool and smooth underneath his fingers, the carvings worn down by scores of people that had come to ask favors of the god of wanderers. “The Tal could kill me right now, but at least I’d be out of the rain.”
With that morose thought in his head, Asra pushes open the temple doors.
The temple is bigger than it looks from the outside and the sense of disuse and abandonment only strengthens as Asra glances around the cavernous main room.
The lanterns set around the wall burn with weak flames that aren’t even enough to cast Asra’s shadow on the farthest wall and when he reaches out to touch one of the small altars scattered around the cavernous room, his hand comes away with a thin layer of gray dust covering his dark brown skin.
“Hello?” Asra calls out, not really expecting an answer.
Asra steps further into the temple anyway, moving past the circle of statues in the entryway and continues peering around the darkened room. He goes deeper into the temple, past the statues and into another, sloping hallway that leads underground. That narrow hallway splits into two and Asra frowns, hesitating between them.
He hears a noise from the one on the right, a low rumbling that makes his hearts beat double time in his chest as the hair at the back of his neck stand straight up. The sound is continuous, seemingly coming closer and closer with every moment that Asra stands between the two hallways until finally Asra has to move, has to do something because he really doesn’t want to know what sorts of things that Tal Katan keeps in his temple.
Asra heads down the hallway on the left rather than staying around to find out the source of that strange noise. He doesn’t regret it.
The left hallway leads to another unlocked door behind which is – of all things – a bedroom with a massive fire roaring away in one corner. Asra shuts the door behind him and then, without even bothering to think about the why behind the fire and the comfortable-looking bed, starts walking towards the fireplace.
“Oh,” Asra breathes, looking at the flickering flames without really registering anything else around him.
Asra strips out of his wet coat and hat in a flash, barely hesitating as he slings them across the back of a low couch on his way to the fireplace. He continues stripping as he walks and by the time that he makes it to the fireplace and that warm spot in front of it, he’s naked except for where patches of dark green scales gleam against his skin.
Sinking down to the ground in front of the fire makes Asra rattle out a quiet hissing noise through his throat. He feels warm for the first time in a long time, like his blood is finally thawing out in his veins and he can relax. The carpet is warm underneath Asra’s skin and scales, heat seeping into Asra’s bones until he finds himself melting into the soft carpet, eyelids sliding shut.
He’s so tired.
Maybe he’ll just close his eyes for a little while.
A little rest can’t hurt him.
Asra wakes up to darkness cloaking the room around him and the unshakeable feeling that he’s no longer alone.
In front of him, the fireplace’s coals burn low enough that he has to widen his eyes to soak in the dim light. Even then, Asra still can’t really see. He rolls over onto his back first and then his left side, basking in the cooling warmth of the carpet before he pushes himself up into a less-than-smooth crouch.
“Hello,” Asra says, hating the way that his voice warbles with anxiety. “Who’s there?”
A deep voice cuts into the silence. It’s the kind of rumbling voice and sharp tone that makes the skin and scales on the back of Asra’s neck tingle.
“I believe that I should be the only one asking questions here. After all, this is my temple.”
There’s only one person it could belong to, one Tal.
Despite himself, Asra can’t stop his cheeks from warming with a flush.
Tal Katan emerges from the shadows, menacing in a way that all the Tals manage to be even when they aren’t trying. With long white hair that moves around him like a curtain, strong features, and smooth golden brown skin stretched over lean but powerful muscle, Tal Katan looks striking.
Or he looks as if he’s about to strike.
Honestly, Asra can’t tell the two apart sometimes.
Asra squeaks, the sound most unbecoming for a demon of his age, and then flops over onto his backside.
As the Tal walks closer, Asra’s eyes open wider and wider until they feel as if they’re about to pop right out of his head. He’s alone with a Tal – on the god’s own territory at that – when he’s not supposed to be here in the first place.
“I’m Asra and I’m sorry,” Asra says into the tense silence, the words falling from his mouth before he even stops to think about how well the Tals usually take apologies. “I didn’t mean to break in, but it was raining and the doors were unlocked so I just – eep.”
When Asra blinks both sets of his eyelids, Tal Katan is just there in front of him, inches away and staring at Asra with the luminous green of his eyes so very close.
Tal Katan’s lips tighten with a frown. He reaches for Asra, strong fingers pressing into the flesh of Asra’s upper arms until it almost hurts. “Did you say that doors were unlocked?”
Asra is quick to nod.
“And the gates too,” he confesses. “I didn’t want to break in but I was so cold.” Asra pauses to bite at his bottom lip, glancing down so that he doesn’t have to see the naked loathing in Tal Katan’s eyes that’s probably there. “I just tested the gates and they –”
“Hush,” Tal Katan says. His voice softens by a fraction; as does the grip he has on Asra’s arms. The Tal moves back and then stands up, towering over Asra for a moment before reaching down to haul him to his feet. “If the temple opened to you, then it must be fate. Perhaps you belong here – at least for the night.”
Tal Katan nods once; the gesture coming off slightly brusque despite how otherwise ambivalent he seems towards Asra’s presence in his temple
“The guardian spirit in my temple is sentient,” Tal Katan says in a low voice. “If xe opened to you, then xe feels as if you are needed within.” The Tal’s green eyes narrow further and he sweeps a surprisingly scalding look down the length of Asra’s still-nude body. “Perhaps xe thought I was in need of a companion.”
“I don’t – I’m not –”
Asra can’t speak at first, he can only stare up at the Tal in front of him and try to remember that breathing is a good thing.
Eventually though, Asra manages to both talk and breathe —
“I’m sorry if it means you’re going to send me away into the rain, but um… I can’t be your companion?”
Asra doesn’t mean to make it a question but well – Tal Katan is lucky that Asra has even managed to find breath with which to speak.
Tal Katan tilts his head to one side, sending all of that gorgeous hair swinging in a slow arc. He doesn’t give Asra’s nude body another onceover, but he does peer at Asra’s face as if trying to see through him.
“I never said that I wanted one,” Tal Katan says after a moment. “But you are alone, adrift. Perhaps you could spend the night. When the morning comes, you may leave.” He pauses, a faint smile on his full hat shouldn’t make Asra feel like crooning at him. “If you still want to.”
Asra didn’t hatch yesterday. Maybe he’s not as smart as the other members of his clutch or as clever, but he knows when someone is being suspicious. And Tal Katan with his mercurial moods and that one little smile is more suspicious than most.
“I’m not sleeping with you,” Asra announces.
“I didn’t ask you to,” Tal Katan replies.
“And you need to make another fire,” Asra demands.
Tal Katan rolls his eyes. “Will you also be wanting breakfast in the morning?”
Asra almost claps his hands together with excitement before he registers the sarcasm in Tal Katan’s deep voice and hunches in on himself, scowling.
“That would’ve been nice,” Asra mutters, his voice hushed. “But I’ll settle for a blanket and a nice warm place to rest.”
Tal Katan sketches a quick bow, managing to make what’s supposed to be a respectful gesture look mocking. When he stands back up to his full, towering height, there’s a smile on his face that makes Asra feel warm all the way down to his toes. No fire necessary.
“As you wish, little one.”
Instead of leaving Asra alone when he hands him the blankets, Tal Katan drops down in one of the chairs set up across from the fireplace. He watches Asra work on folding some of the blankets and spreading others out in order to make a makeshift nest in front of the fire.
No longer nude, Asra is wearing an old under-robe that must have belonged to one of the old priests that used to live here. It’s one of the only things that Asra can fit into without tripping all over the hem.
“How long ago did you leave your family?” Tal Katan asks once Asra looks close to finishing his task. He doesn’t ask the question in a mean way, but it still manages to sting.
Asra stills, blinking rapidly. “I don’t – I didn’t –”
Tal Katan frowns. “Hm?”
“It’s been years and they left me,” Asra says quietly. “They brought me here from the Outlands right after my scales came in and then they left me.” Asra shrugs and starts fussing with one of the blankets on top just so that he doesn’t have to look up at Tal Katan’s face. “I never bothered to go looking for them after I had my first molt. I just figured that if they didn’t want me, I had years to find people that did. .”
“You’ve been alone for that long?”
Tal Katan sounds angry, at least – the growling note to his voice can’t possibly be a sign of anything good.
“No,” Asra says, quick to clarify. “I lived at the temple-orphanage for a while until the Matron there made me leave after my first molt and then I stayed with friends until they left the city for Cretia.”
Asra senses something in the air and glances up just in time to catch a scowl tear across Tal Katan’s handsome face.
“It’s not that I did anything bad at the temple-orphanage,” Asra says in a rush, “It’s just – I’m small and I’m slow. I’m not strong enough to work in the mining camps or attractive enough to fetch a high marriage-price. I’m just – me.”
Out of the reactions that Asra is expecting of Tal Katan in response to his words, anger is certainly not one. But that’s what Asra gets, a low rumble of magical power that shakes the ceiling alongside a flash of light emanating from the Tal’s vivid green eyes. He gets Tal Katan’s anger at its loudest and at its worst and yet –
Somehow Asra doesn’t feel fear. He pulls the blankets up around his waist and then watches, eyes wide as he waits for the Tal’s anger to subside. When Tal Katan’s anger and the pressure of his terrible, beautiful magic recede, Asra dares to speak up.
“Are you – are you alright?”
Tal Katan purses his lips in a frown. “You’ve just told me how you were mistreated and cast out by your family along with the Matron of the temple-orphanage and now you want to know if I’m alright?”
Asra’s tongue flicks out to moisten his lips. “Y-yes?”
Tal Katan rolls his eyes at Asra, the look on his face softer than what Asra expects to see.
“Go to sleep, snakeling,” Tal Katan says, “You’re giving me a headache.”
And despite the fact that he’s pretty sure that divinities like Tal Katan can’t get headaches, Asra is nowhere near foolish enough to disobey. He dives underneath the blankets, tucking them around his body until only his face sticks out from his covering and faces the fire. He’s so warm, warmer than he’s been in months, that he can already feel himself drifting off to sleep with every second that passes.
“Goodnight, Tal Katan,” Asra murmurs, his voice heavy with sleep.
As he drifts off, he swears that he hears the Tal responding in kind.
Asra is warm.
He’s willing to stay like this all year if he could.
“Mm,” Asra murmurs, stretching until his toes curl and he feels the scales along his spine shift. Without opening his eyes, he reaches for a blanket. Instead of finding one however, his fingers land on skin.
Smooth, scale-free skin that definitely isn’t his.
Asra’s eyes fly open and then, when he realizes that the broad chest that his face is half-mashed against can only belong to Tal Katan, he flails. Falling off the bed with a thud that Asra feels in his bones doesn’t help matters much. He stares up at the big bed and then turns to glance at the fireplace on the far side of the room.
His blanket nest is in shambles with a trail of blankets leading clear across the room only to stop right at the foot of the bed.
Tal Katan’s bed.
“Oh goddess,” Asra moans, covering his face with his hands. He doesn’t dare get up or look up just in case Tal Katan is awake. At least Asra is still dressed. That’s practically the only positive thing about waking up with his face pressed into a god’s chest as if they’re far more familiar with each other than they really are.
If Asra had stripped in the middle of the night –
At least Asra only has to imagine the horror, rather than live it. Asra lets out his breath in a relieved sigh and then freezes when he hears movement from the bed beside him. He turns slowly, unsure of what he’ll see or how Tal Katan will react.
“Why are you on the floor, Asra?” Tal Katan asks, propping himself up onto an elbow in order to peer down at Asra over the side of the bed. Even with a drowsy note to his deep voice and his white hair a sleep-rumpled mess around his face, the Tal still manages to be so very attractive and appealing.
Asra shakes his head. “Why was I in your bed?”
“When the fire died, you just crawled into bed with me,” Tal Katan says with a smirk. “For such a small demon, you certainly are forceful. Even when I tried to wake you, you simply burrowed closer.” Tal Katan rolls over onto the bed, craning his neck n order to get a better look, and then laughs when he catches sight of Asra on the floor surrounded by blankets. “You didn’t have to get out of bed, you realize.”
Asra scowls, to annoyed to care if Tal Katan is bothered by his facial expression. Crossing his arms over his chest, Asra takes the time to pout.
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Asra points out with a sharpness in his voice that he doesn’t bother to modulate. “You’re divine, a Tal! I didn’t want you to wake up and be mad at me for whatever this is.”
It isn’t that Asra is particularly brave.
Back home in the Outlands, he’d been known for how fast he could scurry away and hide in the nearest, smallest space. He’s smaller than all of the other hatchlings that survived his clutch, and that doesn’t always lend to bravery except in the most inconvenient of times. Asra scowls even harder at Tal Katan and then slowly gets to his feet.
“Besides,” Asra says, “I wouldn’t have had to crawl into your bed if your fires didn’t go out all the time!”
By the time that Asra finishes talking, his voice is raised high enough that it echoes in the otherwise silent room. He realizes this a little late though, right around the time that the Tal Katan sits up on the bed and fixes him with an indecipherable look.
Asra hates that he utters that damned squeaking noise when startled, but he doesn’t know how to stop making it. He takes a quick step backwards, nearly tripping over the blankets behind him in his haste to get out of arms’ reach of the too-tall Tal.
Tal Katan continues to exceed Asra’s expectations because instead of scowling or shouting, he responds by smiling and then swinging his legs over to the side of the bed.
“Asra,” Tal Katan says as he watches Asra inch backwards. “I didn’t say that I minded any of this.”
“You – you don’t?” Asra asks.
Tal Katan shakes his head. “I don’t know why, but you amuse me,” he admits. “Perhaps my temple was right in bringing us together.”
Asra doesn’t believe in fate or destiny or any of those words that seers use to con you into giving them your last shiny bits. He’s the only one in charge of what happens next, the only being that can make things happen in his own life. He doesn’t care what some silly temple thinks; he’s not made to be a Tal’s companion.
Shaking his head, Asra tries to make Tal Katan understand.
“I don’t think so,” he says quickly. “I think your temple spirit — xe – made a mistake. I’m the runt of my clutch and I don’t even spit poison or shift shape to make up for it. How can I be perfect for anyone, much less a Tal like you?”
Asra pauses to take in a great big gulp of air, prepared to tell Tal Katan in great detail exactly what makes him so unsuitable to be near him, but then, before he can truly get started, Tal Katan holds up one big hand to silence him.
“Enough,” Tal Katan says in a voice that rumbles with anger. He gets off of the bed, towering over Asra without trying. “If you won’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe xer.”
Without waiting for Asra to respond, or even make sure that he’s following him, Tal Katan sweeps off in the direction of the door.
Asra risks one last, longing look at the bed with its warm and rumpled sheets before scurrying after the annoyed god. Maybe it’s something about how the Tals were raised or how they come into their power, but Asra is starting to wonder if they’re all as impatient as Tal Katan.
Out in the hallway, Asra stops when he realizes where Tal Katan is heading. He’s not going to the main parts of the temple, but instead, he’s turning down the hallway that Asra had avoided from the night before. The one with the scary noises.
“Are you coming?” Tal Katan calls out, impatience clear in his voice.
Asra glances about, hoping in vain for some magical miracle to come and whisk him away. When none of that happens and Tal Katan calls for him again, Asra sighs and trots down the hallway as fast as possible.
“What’s in here?” Asra asks when he reaches Tal Katan’s side at the doorway. He looks up at Katan, practically craning his neck due to the difference between their heights. It isn’t just that he’s small for his age but that this Tal is so tall as to be inconvenient. “I heard all sorts of weird noises when I was here last night.”
Tal Katan frowns. “Noises?”
Ever helpful, Asra tries to mimic the noises that he’d heard only the night before. A sharp look from Tal Katan quickly quells his attempts at helping and Asra subsides with only a quiet hiss and a pointed ruffling of his scales to show his displeasure.
Of course, Tal Katan doesn’t even seem to register the fact that Asra even made any noises. He takes a step forward into a room that Asra now realizes is the true extension of the temple and then, when Asra doesn’t immediately follow, he reaches back and tugs Asra in after him.
The door to that massive room slams shut with a thud so deep that Asra’s fangs rattle about in his head. He flinches at the sound, pressing close to Tal Katan’s side before he catches himself and tries to move away.
This, Tal Katan notices. Notices and then attempts to fix by reaching for Asra and tucking him close underneath one strong arm despite his attempts at wriggling away.
Asra hisses again, louder this time. He opens his mouth to let Tal Katan know exactly how he feels about being manhandled by strange gods, but before more than another one of those infuriating squeaks can come free, a faint figure starts to solidify in the center of the room.
“Is that –”
“Lelain, spirit of my temple,” Tal Katan says, easily filling in the blanks of Asra’s unfinished sentence as the temple spirit shifts from a glittering whirlwind of energy to a tall being that could look like any demon in Anatea if not for the fact that xer see-through, silver features blink in and out as Asra stares. “You should feel lucky, little one. Xe doesn’t often show xerself to guests.” The arm Katan has around Asra’s shoulders tightens, drawing him in closer. “You must be special.”
Honestly, Asra doesn’t feel all that special.
He feels anxious and confused and worst of all, he feels a chill despite Tal Katan’s persistent warmth.
Asra squeezes his eyes closed and then holds his breath the way that he did when he was a fresh hatchling and wanted his parents or older siblings not to notice him at all.
Unfortunately, the trick works just as well on Tal Katan and Lelain as it did on Asra’s parents –
It doesn’t seem to faze them in the slightest.
“I told you that you should’ve done this last night,” Lelain says, scolding Tal Katan as xe moves towards them. “The poor snakeling practically reeks of fear. What did you even tell him about me?”
Asra flinches on instinct, shrinking back from Lelain’s touch when the spirit reaches from him. He’d pull away from Tal Katan as well, but the god won’t budge.
“What would you have had me do?” Tal Katan asks, biting the words out in a clipped tone, “Bring Asra to you while he was half asleep and still shivering from the cold? No matter what, this would have been the end result. Better to have it now than last night and keep him awake all night, eh?”
Lelain scowls. “And just what are you trying to imply by that, Katan?”
To drop the prefix is so very rude and Asra finds himself startled out of his fear by how sharply Lelain speaks to Tal Katan. He’s been all around the God Quarter and traveled across Anatea for years upon years but this is the first time that he’s seen a sentient temple spirit or anyone talk to a Tal in any way that didn’t denote great respect.
This can’t end well.
Tal Katan shakes his head. “You can be a little… off-putting, Lelain. You do have a tendency to float into rooms and completely ignore personal space. I didn’t want Asra frightened away before we even knew what you wanted.”
Asra glances up at what he can see of Tal Katan’s face.
This isn’t at all what Asra has been expecting. Being able to stay nice and warm for the first time in days? Escaping before he got caught? That’s about the extent of what Asra had hoped for. But this: a temple spirit looking out for him and a Tal himself holding Asra close?
He’s not sure what’s going on.
Asra opens his mouth to say something, anything, but before he can find the words, his stomach rumbles loudly, the obnoxious gurgle cutting through the tension. Asra shrinks back against Tal Katan’s side, feeling his skin warm with a blush that most certainly is visible to the two beings standing in front of him.
“You’re hungry?” Lelain asks, surprise visible on that very pleasant and semi-transparent face.
Asra’s stomach grumbles again, louder this time. He squeezes his eyes shut as if that’ll help and then flattens his hand to his stomach just in time for another gnawing pang of hunger to hit him. That one Asra can feel from the outside and he bites at his bottom lip so hard that his fangs threaten to cut through his flesh.
“I – I could eat,” Asra confesses.
Lelain shoots Tal Katan a smug smile and then gently plucks Asra from the god’s arms. “Come along, snakeling,” Lelain croons as xe leads Asra away from Tal Katan. “Let’s get you some food and some clothes that actually fit you.”
By the time that Lelain is finished with him, Asra can barely remember his life before stealing into the temple. He’s fully dressed in clothes that fit him for a change and is so full that he feels lethargic and faintly bloated around his middle. Yawning as he walks behind Lelain, all Asra wants to do is curl up in front of the fireplace in Tal Katan’s room and sleep until he’s digested his dinner.
Instead though, Asra winds up the focus of Lelain’s impromptu interrogation.
“You’re an Outlander, aren’t you?” Lelain asks over xer shoulder as xe leads Asra down another winding hallway in the underground parts of the temple. At Asra’s taken-aback look, Lelain smiles. “You still have the accent, I think. And the last time I saw one of your kind, they had the same scale pattern.”
Asra blinks, some of the lethargy from his hunger leaving him.
“I was born in the Outlands,” Asra admits, “but I was raised here. My parents left me at the temple-orphanage when my scales started coming in. I – I told Tal Katan about it last night but –”
Asra blinks rapidly at Lelain’s interruption, both sets of his eyelids fluttering. “Excuse me?”
“You should call him Katan,” Lelain says. “You like him. He’s starting to like you. You should call him by his given name; show him that you’re not afraid of him.” Xe hangs back so that Asra can catch up with xer and then slings one see-through, silver arm around Asra’s shoulders, pulling him in to a one-sided embrace that leaves him chilled from xer closeness. “I’ve never seen him spend so much time around one demon before.”
Asra doesn’t understand and he says as much as he looks up at Lelain’s lovely, largely transparent face.
“But that doesn’t mean anything,” Asra insists. “He had to spend time with me. I was in his room after all.”
Lelain beams. “Ah, but Katan isn’t that nice usually. He let you stay in his room and then in his bed when you came to him,” xe says, voice raising at the end so that Asra can hear xer above the nervous rattling of Asra’s scales. “I just knew that you’d be perfect for him!”
“No, I’m not. I’m not,” Asra says at his very first opportunity, voice rising with every word until the sound of his voice rings off the walls around them. “And I’d thank you to stop saying that. I know who I am and that’s not the kind of being that a Tal would want!”
Silence stretches between them.
Lelain frowns, xer thin lipped mouth pursing with disapproval just long enough for Asra to notice. “And how are you so sure that you know what a Tal would want?”
Asra huffs, annoyed enough that he looks up into Lelain’s ink-black eyes instead of avoiding xer searching gaze the way that he wants to. “I know that he doesn’t want me.”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Asra says in as sharp a tone as he can manage. “I want to lie down now.” Asra crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. “And then – if you’re just going to keep trying to make me into this, this companion for Tal Katan – I’d like to leave.”
Lelain’s face solidifies just long enough for Asra to watch a frown appear. “But Asra –”
Asra doesn’t waver, not even when Lelain reaches for him again. He simply steps out of reach and scowls harder. “Take me back to Tal Katan’s rooms please.”
Unfortunately, Asra doesn’t return to an empty room.
Tal Katan is there, of course, sitting in one of those comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace. Reading a book that’s almost as big as Asra’s head, the Tal doesn’t look up until Asra drops down onto the floor in beside him.
“I don’t think I like Lelain very much right now,” Asra announces. He knows that he sounds childish, like a newly hatched demon, but he can’t bring himself to care.
Tal Katan closes his book and then glances down at Asra’s face. Whatever he sees there makes him frown.
“Not that I am particularly surprised,” Tal Katan says, speaking slowly. “But why? You liked xer well enough when xe was feeding you.”
Asra shrugs and then burrows underneath the blankets until only his head peeks out.
“Lelain is pushy,” Asra mutters. “Xe wants me to call you Katan without the honorific and no matter how many times I tell xer that xe is wrong about you ever wanting me, xe won’t let it quit!”
Asra subsides after that, pushing up onto his elbows so that he can look at Tal Katan’s face instead of his knees.
“Xe’s right,” Tal Katan says.
For a moment, Asra actually stops breathing.
Both of his hearts skip a beat.
“You can use my name without the honorific, Asra,” Tal – no, Katan – says gently. “Even if you don’t stay here for very long, I would prefer that you feel comfortable enough to speak to me in a casual way.”
Asra goggles up at Katan, his mouth and eyes wide. “You do?”
“I expect that if you spend another night in my temple, that you’ll wind up in my bed again,” Katan points out, a teasing smile brightening his handsome face. “Wouldn’t it be better if you weren’t using my title?”
Asra… can’t actually answer that. Because, Asra isn’t sure that anything could be better. At the end of the day, he’s still happier now than he’s ever been in his life. And that’s even with the fact that Katan’s temple spirit is pushy and nosy to boot.
“I – I told Lelain that I would like to leave,” Asra mumbles.
“Hm?” Confusion settles on Katan’s face and in the depths of his vivid green eyes. “You’re leaving? Why?”
Asra shrugs, the gesture halfhearted.
“Neither of you know me,” Asra says. “I’m not perfect for anyone. I don’t know –” Asra lets his breath out in a hiss and flips the top of the blankets up over his head, covering his face so that he can’t see anything but the flickering shadows of the fire through the blanket covering him.
“Lelain,” Katan growls. The temple walls shake in response.
Lelain’s voice echoes through the air. “Yes, Katan?”
“I’d like to see you in my room. Now.”
Asra doesn’t look out from his blanket nest, but he can tell when the temple spirit appears in the room. Something about the air changes and when Asra inhales, he can smell something sharp in the air like lightning.
“Yes, Katan?” There’s a sullen note to the spirit’s voice that makes Asra feel like laughing. “What did I do now?”
“I need you to respect Asra’s wishes,” Katan says, his voice a low murmur. “If you keep pushing him and acting as though he has to stay here, he’s going to leave. Do you really want that?”
“No,” Lelain grumbles.
“Then please,” Katan says, a heavy sigh weighing down his words, “Leave our new friend alone.”
As Lelain whines at Katan and the Tal responds with deep murmurs that Asra can’t quite discern, Asra drifts off to sleep, lulled into a light doze due to the fullness of his belly and the warmth of the fire.
Hours later, when Asra wakes up with his face pressed into Katan’s chest, he’s not very surprised. Not until he opens his eyes properly and realizes that they’re both on the floor in front of the still-lit fireplace and that Katan isn’t quite asleep. The Tal’s eyes might be most of the way closed, but Asra can still see a thin slice of bright green peeking out at him.
Asra sits up so fast that he nearly hurts himself.
“Katan,” he murmurs, fingers flexing in the blanket draped over their bodies. “Are you –”
Katan shakes his head and then stretches out next to Asra with all of his white hair spilling across the floor around them. “Go back to sleep,” he says in a tone of voice that makes Asra’s cheeks feel hot.
“But I’m not –” Not tired is how Asra wants to finish his sentence, but Katan doesn’t give him the chance to lie.
Instead, Katan tugs Asra back down against him, using his not inconsiderable size and strength to move Asra about until they’re curled up together in Asra’s nest of blankets. Katan might be gentle about it, but he’s rather pushy about getting Asra where he wants him, pressing his right hand against the small of Asra’s back and holding him close.
Even if he’d wanted to, Asra can’t even wriggle away.
Katan is just too close and he smells so good —
Asra licks his lips. “Katan?”
“Why are you on the floor with me?” Asra asks, his voice small and uncertain.
There’s a long stretch of awkward silence where Katan doesn’t answer Asra’s muffled question, but then, just as Asra is prepared to try and forget about it, Katan deigns to speak.
“You looked comfortable,” Katan says, speaking slowly as if he’s trying to find the right words to say. The hand that he has on Asra’s back starts moving back and forth, a slow caress across the sensitive scales Asra usually keeps hidden under heavy clothing.
Asra squirms, not quite pulling away from Katan’s distractingly gentle touches or the warmth of his body, and then frowns.
“Comfortable enough for you to join me on the floor?”
Instead of answering Asra’s question, Katan pulls Asra tighter to his body, holding him close in the warm cocoon of the blankets. He doesn’t stop petting Asra and Asra can’t bring himself to mind the lack of an answer or the careful, caring touches that make him feel like dozing some more.
“Go back to sleep,” Katan orders as he scratches his nails over the scales that run the length of Asra’s spine.
Caught between Katan’s addictive warmth and the muted pleasure of those light touches, Asra dozes off.
Asra could get used to life like this.
He wakes up in Katan’s bed alone, still wound up in the sheets and blankets from their nap in front of the fireplace. When he stretches, he imagines that he can still feel Katan’s warmth around him and then reaches down to scratch his nails across the tender skin of his belly just above the waistband of his pants.
Before Asra can roll over and go back to sleep, the sound of a polite cough jolts him from his lazy doze. He sits up, expecting to see Katan standing by the side of the bed. Instead, Asra’s eyes widen when he notices Lelain’s semi-translucent figure at the foot of the bed and he startles, fingers twisting into the slick material of Katan’s sheets.
“You’re a heavy sleeper,” Lelain says, brow wrinkling as xe takes in the sight of Asra laying all sprawled out across Katan’s comfortable bed in the same clothes that he’s been wearing since earlier in the day. “Katan moved you to the bed hours ago.”
Asra frowns, feeling his brow wrinkle. “I slept through that?”
“You slept through many things,” Lelain says with an enigmatic smile on xer face. “Katan is waiting for you upstairs.”
“Upstairs?” Asra repeats. “What’s he doing up there?”
Upstairs is the main temple, the dusty and unused main room that Asra had crept through only the night before. The temple doesn’t look as if anyone has been through there in ages and from the tone in Lelain’s voice, the fact that Katan is doing something – anything – with the temple is a miracle.
The dark smudges of Lelain’s eyebrows draw together as the spirit glances down at Asra.
“He’s preparing to open the temple again,” Lelain says eventually. “We talked about it while you were asleep. I think – he wants to take up his duties once more but as you may have noticed, the temple isn’t in any shape for that. He’s decided to do much of the work on his own.”
“But what – what can I do?”
Lelain shrugs. “I don’t know,” xe admits, “But Katan wants you.” At the narrow-eyed glare that Asra shoots xer way, Lelain holds up xer hands and tries to explain. “He wants to talk with you about the temple. That’s all.”
Asra subsides, slumping back against the sheets as he bites at his bottom lip. He doesn’t know why he suddenly feels disappointed, but what else could explain the sudden pang in his chest. Asra rubs at his wrists, trying to force back that uncomfortable feeling.
“Should I go to him–?”
“How should I know?” Lelain asks, a faint amused tone in xer voice. Xe turns neatly on xer heel and starts walking towards the door. “Besides, Katan told me to stop giving you advice.”
Honestly, if Asra had enough hair to lose, he’d pull some out over Lelain. The spirit’s attitude – slightly cooler to him now than it had been earlier in the day – makes Asra feel like hissing and hiding underneath the blankets until Katan comes to drag him into the sunlight.
But Asra is trying.
He’s trying to be mature and responsible, nothing at all like the little runt of the litter that’d spend most of the time hiding instead of fighting.
Asra scrambles across the bed and then moves over to the door where Lelain stands, one hand flat against the door. He doesn’t bother straightening out his clothes or worrying about the wrinkles in his borrowed outfit. Instead, Asra smiles widely up at Lelain.
“Thank you,” he says.
Lelain frowns down at him. “For what?”
Asra shrugs again, unsure how to phrase what he wants to say. “For letting me in the temple, I guess.”
Asra isn’t a hatchling anymore.
His scales are all in and he’s gone through three separate molts since leaving the temple-orphanage.
Despite his nervous mind and flight-over-fight responses, Asra is an adult of his kind and in his travels across Anatea, he’s seen many things that have been astounding. None, however, even come close to matching the strangeness of seeing a Tal like Katan cleaning their own temple.
Asra hesitates, wide eyes lingering on Katan’s body as if he can’t possibly dream of looking away. All of Katan’s long white hair has been pulled back into a braid that swings from side to side whenever he moves his head. Asra can’t help but stare at Katan, at the way that the muscles in Katan’s forearm flex as he uses a broom to sweep away what must be decades of dust from in front of his main altar.
When Katan turns a moment later, he pauses, lips parted when he catches Asra standing just inside the main part of the temple’s massive receiving room. And then, he smiles. Brighter and happier than a Tal has any right to look when they’re looking at Asra.
“Ah, Asra,” Katan says as he crosses the dusty floor in a matter of seconds to stand in front of Asra. “Did Lelain wake you?”
Shaking his head, Asra offers up a smile of his own that feels pasted on.
“Xe was there when I woke up, but that’s all.” Asra pauses and then glances around at the temple walls where brushes and pieces of cloth move about, fueled by Katan’s magic and set to cleaning years of dust and grit from the statues and carvings. “Lelain said that you were opening the temple again. Why – ”
“I realized that I missed having supplicants,” Katan confesses with his smile softening to something sheepish. He steps back from Asra, just enough that Asra can look up at his face and not his chest. “I missed taking care of the wanderers and you – you’ve reminded me of that.”
“I – I have?” Asra asks, nonplussed. “But I’m just –”
Katan shakes his head, mouth twisting with a faint frown. “An imp that found their way into the heart of my temple and my home? A very amusing demon that makes me remember my task?” Katan pauses briefly. “Regardless of how we both feel about Lelain’s meddling, you can’t deny that there is… something.”
“Something?” Asra squeaks out the question as he stares up at Katan’s bright green eyes. “Something like what?”
Showing frustration for the first time since they started speaking, Katan shakes his head.
“I don’t know,” Katan says, voice sharp with a note of frustration that Asra immediately recognizes. “All I know is that you make me feel like doing more. Perhaps we aren’t to be bound up in one another in a romantic sense, I don’t know. I do know that when you said that you were leaving, I found myself worrying – worrying and wishing that you would stay.”
Asra bites at his bottom lip just until it starts to hurt.
“You don’t want me to leave?” Asra asks in a small voice.
Katan shakes his head. “I don’t,” he says in a murmur that’s just as quiet. “But if you have to – if you want to – then I want you to have a place to return to. Even if it’s just for you to steal my blankets and sleep in front of the fire whenever you come to the god quarter.”
Asra feels his face flush.
“You don’t even know me or anything about me,” he points out.
Katan, however, doesn’t flinch. “No,” he admits. “But I would like to.”