Running, how long had he been running, it felt like forever. Every stride was its own eternity, each might or might not be the final one when his exhausted body betrayed him. It would take too much concentration to remember what he was running from, to remember why he had to keep running, there was room only for the absolute certainty that he must not stop. But whatever was behind him had the taste of metal chain and cold cement and a scornful voice... He stumbled, tried to catch himself, made it another couple of steps before his legs simply gave out. He collapsed where he was, and looked up in terror at the two shadows looming over him, one of them smiling a smile that he cringed from, shaking uncontrollably...
“Hush, Topaz.” The drowsy voice was familiar, the hand stroking his back gentle and reassuring. “It's only a dream. It's all right.”
That isn't my name! a small voice screamed, in utter grief.
He didn't wake, but the dream shifted.
Looking down at his arms in shock, unable to wrap his mind around the fact that the sleek white fur covering them, covering all of him, was actually a part of him. That couldn't be, he didn't have fur, just bare skin. And then he'd found the rather feline tail growing from the base of his spine, and the disorientation had increased. It was undeniably his, touching it sent sensation-messages to him, and after a moment he figured out how to control it, but it was a long time before he could stop shivering. Whoever that was in the mirror, it wasn't him, wasn't Jax. He bowed his head, felt tears gather in eyes that were a soft warm yellow, the colour of the stone in his collar. No, it wasn't Jax in the mirror, it was Topaz, and there was no more Jax. Maybe it was intended as a kindness that Lord Andreas had given him another day or two in which to rest, but that meant that his mind was clearer and he'd begun to rebuild his world only to have it crumble again.
No certainty at all, nothing was constant, not even his own body. Except Lord Andreas, his master was the one thing that was rock-solid in a world that bewildered and frightened him, a world in which he had a terrifying lack of control. Lord Andreas needed him, Lord Andreas would take care of him...
But there won't be anything at all left except his pet, that small voice wept. I survived for five years after Mom died, just me and Lila, we did what we had to and we survived, and this is what I did it all for?
He jolted awake, in the darkness, and felt tears on his cheeks. Despite Lord Andreas' body warm beside him, the thick soft blankets over them, and his heavy brindled fur, he felt cold and alone and so sad it hurt.
Once morning came, and he was up and active, it wouldn't hurt so bad. The distraction would let him push the sense of loss somewhere far away into the back of his mind. Somewhere that it faded slowly, along with the memories that now came to him mostly in dreams.
He sighed, and snuggled against Lord Andreas, desperate for contact; not really awake, his mage tucked an arm over him.
He closed his eyes and tried to will himself back to sleep, praying that the morning would come quickly.
* * *
Topaz lay coiled on his pillow next to his master's chair, listening to Lord Andreas and Lady Phyllida talking. It was only about a couple of family members and what they were doing, nothing Topaz really needed to know or found interesting, but it was something to do while he waited.
Lord Andreas paused, and Topaz glanced up, not as far as his master's eyes, but enough to get some sense of what was going on.
“It's a bright, warm day,” Lord Andreas mused. “And I know you've been restless, with all the rain lately. Why don't you go play in the yard? Phyllida's here, I won't need you anytime soon. Is Zephyr busy with anything, Phyllida?”
She chuckled. “No, not particularly. You may as well go get him, I suppose, and the two of you can do as you please outside for a couple of hours.”
Topaz sat up immediately, the silvery-green of his scales shimmering. “Thank you, my Lord, my Lady.” He didn't even try to hide his delight in the idea, as he bounced to his feet and scooted upstairs in search of Zephyr.
The other sensitive was dusting—not that the immaculately clean apartment needed it, but it was one of those things to do to keep from going crazy with boredom. Currently, he had the blue and white and black feathers of a blue jay.
“Lord Andreas and Lady Phyllida say we can go outside for a while, since they're talking and don't need us. It looks really nice out. Coming?”
Zephyr brightened instantly, and nodded. He replaced his cleaning stuff in the broom closet in the kitchen, on the way by, and they went downstairs and outside. This far out in the country, no one would see them.
They simply wandered for a bit, looking at the colourful leaves, the birds, the flock of geese that flew over. On a higher, drier bit of grassy ground, they stopped to play, Topaz being careful not to bend any feathers the wrong way, grateful at the moment for his own sleek scales. At least day-to-day life kept either mage from doing anything really extreme: without hands and mobility, Topaz lost his primary usefulness, and Lord Andreas preferred him male and able to speak—most of the time, in both cases. Zephyr needed to be able to move around the kitchen and cook, and Lady Phyllida mostly liked him male. So, generally, they could count on a few basics staying the same.
Snuggled together, they relaxed in the sun, watching the robins hopping around.
“Lila would like this,” Topaz sighed. “I miss her.”
Zephyr nodded sympathetically, and made a gesture towards himself.
“Yeah, and you miss Veritas. I think Lord Andreas does, too. He got mad at me yesterday because I screwed up. He said Veritas would've known what he meant. Of course he would, he was here for as long as I've been alive! He had time to learn it!”
Zephyr hugged him tighter, pressed a kiss to his forehead.
“He was really mad, too. He made me sleep in the living room.” He felt Zephyr wince. “And then, this morning, it's like nothing ever happened and he never yelled at me. I want so badly to make him happy, I just wish he wouldn't get so upset when I can't. Although I don't know why I want to so much. I mean, it makes sense to try to, but I need to, sometimes it's the only thing that matters. Even when he yells. And that doesn't make sense.”
Zephyr touched his own chest, Topaz's, and made a broad, all-inclusive sweep of the arm not holding Topaz.
“All sensitives are like that?” Zephyr nodded. “Great, we're all crazy.” That made Zephyr smile ruefully and nod again. “They treat us like they do, and we still want more than anything to make them happy.”
Zephyr traced a heart in the centre of Topaz's chest.
“Love? Oh... we want them to love us?” Nod. “Yeah, like that's going to happen.”
Zephyr nodded, gestured in the direction of the house, traced the heart shape again, then laid his hand over his eyes.
“They can't see... that we want them to?” Zephyr shook his head. “That they do?” Nod. “Oh, come on. No they don't.” Zephyr nodded again, insistently. “Well, I guess you've been around longer than I have, you'd know,” Topaz conceded, doubtfully. “But it doesn't feel like it most of the time.”
Zephyr sighed, softly, and pressed a kiss just in front of Topaz's ear. “They aren't taught to express feelings,” he whispered. “Not even to themselves. They don't understand. He misses Veritas still, I think, and never even knew that he loved him. Mages hate being unable to control what's around them, and Veritas died two rooms away from him.” He shrugged. “He should take it out less on you, but he doesn't know any better.”
For Zephyr, that was a very long speech. Topaz thought about it seriously.
“When he yells at me, it's partly because he's mad at himself that he couldn't keep Veritas safe,” he said slowly.
“That helps. Thanks.”
Zephyr shrugged. “Compared to many, we're lucky. You weren't always happy when you were free, either.”
“No, I guess not.” He chuckled. “I sure eat better now.” He didn't bother to bring up the nightmare he'd had, night before last; Zephyr had told him ages ago how common they were.
Silence, for a time, just enjoying the company and the warmth of the sun.
Then Zephyr gently untangled himself, and gestured towards the house, touching mouth and stomach briefly with the other hand.
“Gotta go make supper? Yeah, we have been out here for a while, haven't we? And they'll be happier if they don't have to call us back.”
Zephyr nodded, and they went back to the house, Zephyr upstairs to start supper, Topaz to see whether his master needed him yet.
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