Subgalaxia: Ch 14

Subgalaxia: Legend of the Bai Book 4 by Chapel Orahamm, man in gas mask with hand gun and rifle sitting in front of ring and storm

It was late in the afternoon.  Lunch had been simple and fast.  Sophia had made sure of that. Fane and Bern sat on the bed on either side of the white wolf.  Yeller sat in a chair facing them, worry creasing his expression. Ishan leaned up against the wall next to the door.  Sophia had finished running a ct scan on Fane and had sent him out of the medical ward while she set to calibrating his readings to a series of machines she said were essential for the jumps.  His signs, she had muttered, were more stable then they had been before Bern and Ishan had mucked around in his void. She seemed put off, but Fane was beginning to get the impression that was her set state of existence.

When they had left from Sophia, Bern had motioned him into the room the wolf was staying in.  He was plugged into a variety of machines that Fane could only guess at from the many times he had spent in the surgical wards.  The poor thing had been shaved down in large patches. Sutures and drainage tubes prickled from a variety of spots. A breathing mask had been modified into a cone shape and fitted over his muzzle and lolling tongue.  Fane glanced up at Bern who was studying the white wolf. He turned his attention to Yeller who was fixated on the creature. Bern drew in a deep breath and let out a sigh, making up his mind.

“Right, time ta turn inta an apprentice healer, Mr. Anson.  I’m goin’ ta teach ye a new trick. This is the realm a’ White Horses.  I’d think that Red Hares also helped with healin’ – else warri’r’s’d die pretty fast.  Why else’d the wolves call ye Shaman?” Bern cast a questioning glance at Yeller. Yeller nodded.  It must be Cashia who answered, Fane figured. “I’m goin’ ta show you how ta help connect two individuals together.  I ken from experience that I cannae take the load. The split a’ the two wolves ‘n Nat along with Yeller ‘n his wolf is too much for me.  My goal is ta help with communication. As ye’re already realizin’, some healin’ gotta be done in the void ‘n the memory ta help heal the body.  Ye’re gonna take the humans, ‘n I’m a’ take the wolves. Take ‘em inta yer camhainach.  Prince,” Bern beckoned the man over.

Ishan walked over to stand next to Fane.  “Ye’re goin’ in with him. That’s three at once. I realize that could be difficult.  Ye seem ta tolerate it a bit better than I can. ‘owe’er, as I’ve noticed,” Bern directed the next comment at Fane, “ye depend on him and I’m not about to take yer crutch away and tell ye to start runnin’.  Slow and easy is best practice,” Bern explained. “I ken how ta control my emotions at this point and tend ta be a neutral entity when I enter yer void.  Ye’re familiar with Ishan’s emotional structures ‘n show full capability of shoulderin’ the weight. Ye’re gonna become aware a’ both a’ their feelings,” Bern pointed at Yeller and the white wolf, “and that can be…” Bern looked up at the ceiling contemplating his choice of words.  He grew stumped and waived it away. “Anger, joy, fear, lust can be compounded when it’s a’ narrowly feedin’ through ye as the current. Just, donnae fall into them too deep. Ye may feel like yer floatin’, like yer too deep in yer drink. Ye should cut the connection if it gets too intense.”

“Mean, I can get high on other people’s emotions?” Fane’s voice was rough in the room.

“Wonder if that’s part of why you get drunk on music.” Ishan’s hand rubbed at the back of Fane’s neck in contemplation. Fane flicked a glance to his prince, an eyebrow raising before turning back to Bern.

Bern shrugged his shoulders. He wasn’t familiar with the term ‘high’. “Donnae be too surprised ‘bout some reactions ye might feel. First thing ta do is go pull Nat out a’ his camhainach.  Touch Sven with one hand.  Ishan, if ye’d rest yer hands at Fane’s shoulder where his skin’s exposed, that’ll leave his other hand free f’r Yeller,” Bern directed as he took Yeller’s other hand and the paw of the wolf.  Fane did as he was told. “Ye know how ye go into yer void. I think of it as fallin’ into deep water backwards. This time, ye’re gonna do that and bring Yeller and Ishan inta yer void. From there ye’re gonna find a…tether…of sorts.  Ye should sense it at the end a’ yer void long as ye donnae break contact with Nat.

“Go down it ‘til ye get ta him.  He’ll be asleep, they always are.  ‘owever, ye might have ta get through some memories that might get in yer way a’ pullin’ him through.  Get him back ta yer void where he’ll be able to talk ta Yeller. Brin’ him out when they’re done. With a bit a’ luck n’ hard work on our side we should be able ta pull this beast outa its coma.  Got all that?” Bern asked, knowing his directions sounds a bit vague.

“Take Yeller and Ishan into my void.  Find Nat’s void. Keep away from memories. Pull him into my void.  Sounds like a simple mission.” He cut his trepidation off.  He had a project.  

Bern nodded.  “Right, we start in three…two…”

Fane distinctly heard ‘one’ in a warped bubble of sound as he plunged into the void, pulling Ishan and Yeller in with him.  Ishan and Yeller landed in a set of plush seating. Raised step-seating spanned around the ring. Deep plum velvet absorbed light.  Fane’s void was getting better every time Ishan entered it. Though still dim, gold chandeliers and ornate wall sconces flickered, casting glints of light through the floating bubbles that bobbed about the space.  Ishan figured it would always be set up with the darkened perimeters, stage lighting directed to reflect the nature of the space.

Yeller looked about himself, startled to be transported into such a luxurious space.  Having spent the last half a year traveling from the west coast to Florgia by foot, living out of deserted trailer homes and bombed out underpasses, eating stale canned food and catching skinny prey, he had not expected to see such an environment.  His eyes lit on Fane who was standing down at the edge of the pool holding on to a golden rope that disappeared up into the ceiling.

Fane studied Yeller for a time.  He had noticed it before with Bern and Ishan, but was still surprised to see it happen with the new guy.  Bern had told them that it was natural for individuals in the void to assume their best, their most cherished memories, and that the void was a reflection of that time or concept of time.

Clothing was a part of that.  Bern had come into his void in traditional highland dress, a thickly woven white shirt and his kilt and leather boots, his torc gleaming with it’s own internal light.  Ishan always appeared in a long burgundy and gold embroidered kurta. Yeller though was not what Fane had expected in his space.  In the real world, he had come to them naked with shaggy hair and evidence of grown over ear piercings.  The commissary had spat out a respectable wardrobe, blue slacks and a plain fitted white t-shirt.

 The man who stood in front of him now though was a different kind of beast.  Fane smiled knowingly. Yeller’s tawny hair instead hung in a sheet of black a green. A set of thick noise-isolating headphones in acid green and black nestled around his neck, the cord disappearing into his pants pocket.  A black beanie slouched off his head precariously. A black t-shirt with a drum graphic and cut-off sleeves clung to him like a second skin, biceps giving away a different profession entirely. Frayed black boot-cut jeans fell to a pair of well worn combat boots. An acid green and black buffalo check flannel wrapped around his waist, a pair of drumsticks stuck in his back pocket.  A black leather strap wrapped around one of his wrists. A thick silver ring with an obsidian engraved stone clung to his right index finger, and a thinner black claddagh band hugged his left ring finger. A pair of gauged green piercings hung in his earlobes. Thick black eyeliner set off his eyes.  

Ishan looked more surprised than Fane felt.  “Yeller?” Ishan asked, looking the man up and down.  

Yeller looked down at himself and touched his shirt reverently.  A bright green guitar pick on a leather strap flashed. A smile played at his lips as he looked back up at Fane.

Then he looked at Ishan in a most confused way.  “That’s something to get used to,” Yeller’s voice was deeper than Ishan had expected.

“Whatcha play?” Fane asked, curious.

“Uh…alt and post-rock…Did anyway,” he muttered.

“Local scenes?” Fane asked as he pulled himself up onto his rope and spun out over the pool.

“We’d just sent in a demo and had gotten a contract back for playing opening for a small touring group that was hitting some of the remaining cities.” Yeller watched the man, his heart in his throat as he watched him work over the black pool.

“Take it your name’s not actually Yeller then.” Fane descended to run smoothly along the edge of the pool, picking up speed and launched himself up onto the rope once more, hooking his foot to float freely over the inky black.

“No, stage name,” Yeller admitted, glancing around the space.  Fane spotted what he was looking for as Yeller spoke.  

“Yours?” Yeller asked.  Fane looked down at him from his high perch.  “Had several at one point in my life. Parents blessed me with happiness as a birth name, though.” He pulled himself up to float more gently along the rope upright.

Ishan glanced up at him, his eyebrows wrinkling.  Fane chuckled at his confusion. “Zephyr was always telling me to go find happiness.  I have to wonder if he ever realized he was telling me to go find myself,” he said wistfully as he contorted into an inverted triangle.  “Fane means happy from the English or good-natured from the Welsh. Like your parents’ naming you for Lord Vishnu or your middle name means eagle in your father’s tongue.”

A blush ran across Ishan’s cheeks. “I didn’t realize that was important to you.”

“Things you learn on a ten hour flight. Anyway, any past-nasties I need to be careful of going in to your…friend?  Bern said something about memories trying to get in the way.” Fane glanced down at Yeller. 

Yeller rubbed at his shoulder uncertainty. He flattened his lips, not keen on divulging Nat’s secrets to a complete stranger.

Fane shrugged it off. He’d seen enough bad things that a few more bad memories would be a walk in the park. “Your connection to this guy Nat – Nathan, Nathaniel, Nate, Natan?” Fane passed the thread that hung from his banners. 

“Nathaniel. Nat’s…he’s…” Yeller stammered around the lump in his throat.

The drummer’s fear beat at him like butterfly wings, but the black thread was beginning to radiate a glow.  “So, what’s the name he knows you by.” Fane wasn’t looking at him as he asked what he figured was an intimate question, clearly fixated. Ishan and Yeller couldn’t see what he saw. Yeller shifted uncomfortably. “Ruben,” He finally answered as Fane reached and disappeared into the void.

Fane fell down an inky black tunnel for ages, the walls throbbing in a deep reverb rhythmically.  Light told him he was going to be tossed out. He tumbled into a dingy room with a chalkboard painted wall.  There was dusty camera gear and a desk with a few hefty monitors in the corner. It was dark, with moonlight twisting in through the window.  A tree cast grasping fingers on the carpet littered with ropes, duct tape, and zip ties.

He spotted a white-haired man sitting upright against the wall, his eyes glassy and unfocused.  Fane raised an eyebrow. The white-haired man wasn’t dressed, save for quite a bit of rope knotwork.  His arms were wrapped up from wrist to shoulder in a series of fine jute strand that created beautiful diamond patterns.  It twisted into another set of ropes that hugged his body with a large set of the shibari. His legs had a set of matched diamond-patterned jute to go with his arms.  The only other thing he wore was a gleaming brass claddagh ring that flashed on his left ring finger.

“You Nat?” Fane knelt down in front of the man.  A soft moan answered. He was staring out at nothing.  “I’m gonna just take that as a yes.” Fane reached down and hefted the man up.  The room throbbed around him, distorting the space. He pulled the man to him carefully. “Out we go.” He leaned back and fell through the darkness into his void.

Yeller caught them as they fell into the stands.  Fane extracted himself from the heap and stood up.  He brushed off his pants and looked down at Yeller and Nat.  Yeller curled himself around Nat, gently cradling him to his chest.  He whispered against Nat’s ear, “cuisle mo chroidhe.”  He brushed Nat’s hair back tenderly, kissing his forehead, tears falling.  

That throb Fane had felt from Nat blossomed in his chest again.  He pinned Yeller with a glare. “Everyone who’s come in here has been wearing something that actually meant a lot to them.  That doesn’t look bloody pleasant. This that Michael guy’s doing?” Fane pointed at the sickening green and yellow bruising, not the ropes.  A sharp dry heat rose in the space. The lighting shifted from its blues and greens to an eerie orange and red.

Yeller looked up at him, his eyes haunted.  He could only manage a partial shrug and a nod. “The bruises yes, most of them that is. The one around his neck…Michael’s men. Sven took over Nat’s consciousness and stalled his heart when they strangled him to make them stop.  They left him hogtied in a garage thinking they had killed him. Sven kept him from dying, but it broke Nat’s spirit. Cashia and I…” His gaze settled on the mirror black pool as his senses fought to scatter. He drew in a ragged breath, fighting down a slick mix of emotions that even Fane could not completely quantify.  Anger, heat, lust, despair, desire, it all mixed together in a slurry that heated the space another degree. “Nat keeps both Sylvi’s mate, Sven and Cashia’s mate Tereza within him.  He carried part of Sylvi for a time as we waited for Hana to lose her wings and take her wolf on in full.

“It was a few weeks after Nat was attacked.  Syvli, Sibor, Anastasia, and Tereza went into heat in February.  That was when Sylvi was finally able to transfer all the way over to Hana.  It was going all right at that point. Nat was doing okay.

“Nat can change to Sven, and he now has his own form due to his Bai blood.  He can’t, however, physically change to Tereza.” Yeller looked up at Fane with raw emotion etched across his face.  “Some problems are just that simple. She was still in heat, and Dietrik went and put his foot in his mouth. At that point, we didn’t know that Nat would have really bad PTSD from Michael.  He tried. He really made an effort to give Cashia everything for Tereza.” Yeller felt like he would cry all over again remembering that morning. Fane was filling in blanks. “Cashia…well, he’s…  How should I put this?” He glanced back down at Nat and brushed a finger along his cheek gingerly. “Cashia’s a good man, he is, and he didn’t mean no harm. He and Tereza share an S/M relationship, though, and she has more difficulty coming out because she is a female trapped in a male body.  Nat tried his best and understood. He gave them what he could.” Yeller shrugged, trying to get comfortable with the topic.

“Anyway, things didn’t go smoothly, and Nat ended up having a bad flashback before Tereza’s heat was settled.  He let Sven take over his shift for a month. None of us saw him until late March when we got into Dallas. I didn’t know what was going on or what he was thinking.  He ended up in a pretty dark place for a long time, and I was living with Cashia in a bubble of self-loathing and regret.

“In Dallas, he suddenly came out, not in front of everyone.  Sven dragged Cashia out to a hardware store where Nat went and got some…equipment if you must.  We made our way back to a townhouse in the same complex the group was camped in. There he told me that he wanted the memories from Michael and his men ‘scrubbed from his skin.’

“He wanted us to break him, break all the memories that had set badly from being molested by Michael’s men.” Yeller leaned his head back against the chair’s headrest.  He closed his eyes, remembering that terrifying moment of being asked. “Cashia and I said yes, and I swear to you that was the most painful thing I have ever willingly done, and I was the one who found him when the kids in school tried to kill him because they thought he was gay.  I had to live with the fact that I wasn’t the one to keep him safe from Michael, that all I could do was comfort him when Dietrik and Heinrich brought Sven back to the cave. He got caught when we were out trying to get food. He set Cashia out to keep the group from getting ambushed. I had to watch as he waited as bait at that gas station for Michael so the others could take them out.  He left me telling me he loved me and that he never wanted to see me hurt. He wanted me to take care of our children. I watched that bastard dropping him over the sandbar, and I was fucking helpless. He didn’t want me hurt, but I’m hurting.” He rubbed at tears streaming down his cheeks.

Yeller looked up at Fane with a bitter rage that added to Fane’s.  Then his eyes slid away. “The ropes…those were Cashia and my doing.  The men had choked him, and he…he had us help him with that memory explicitly.  So no, Fane. I don’t know if that particular one is Michael or my doing. The others I know for a fact are Michael and his men.” He couldn’t bring his focus back to Fane.  The tips of his ears went bright red and hot.

Fane had seen his own body covered in enough bruises and cuts and burns to be able to read the handprints that smeared across the porcelain skin.  He knelt down next to them. Yeller rocked Nat to himself gently.  

Fane took Nat’s arm and pressed his index and middle finger to his heartbeat and counted, reassuring himself the man he had just pulled into his void was alive.  He noticed the scars on his inner arms. “Suicide?” Fane asked Yeller quietly. Yeller shook his head vehemently. “Kids in high school pinned him down and slashed his wrists in the locker room.  I was the one who found him. His folks and the rest of us thought he had tried to do himself in for the longest time.

“His brother died falling into a frozen pond a little bit before the incident.  We all thought it had to do with that. We only found out a couple months ago about what really happened.” Yeller rested his head on Nat’s.  He looked out on the pool, his mind wandering through his own memories.

The most pressing bruise was the latent print around the man’s throat.  Fane gently touched it, a flash of sympathy and burning across his fingers.  He had his fill of people trying to murder him too. The bruise dissolved into particles that floated up into the space.

  “-ben?” A soft tenor broke the silence with a rough cough and wheeze.  Yeller looked down to a pair of deep green eyes that had finally come into focus. Nat reached up to wipe a tear away.  “What’s wrong? You’re opening tonight? Nervous? Shmancy digs,” Nat asked, confused, as his eyes traveled around the void, lighting on the plush chairs and the gold chandeliers.  Yeller sniffed, shaking his head. “But you’re dressed,” Nat protested before looking down at himself, his eyes going round. “It wasn’t a dream.” A tremble ran through his body. He looked up and noticed a man in lush Indian garb and a male stripper standing around them.  “Who are you?” He backed into Yeller’s embrace. Yeller pulled the green buffalo check shirt from around his waist and helped Nat into it.  The shirt swamped him, covering quite a bit of the shibari knotwork. “Thanks,” Nat mumbled as he tried hard to stop the heat that washed across his face.

“You’re okay.” Yeller rubbed his hands up and down Nat’s arms to warm his skin.

Ishan nodded deferentially.  “My name is Ishan Orlov.  This is my bodyguard, Fane Anson.” He held out a hand to Fane who took it readily. “Your mind is currently inside a wolf called Sven in a hospital ward with Corbin Ziphle, Hana’s godfather, I think.

“You haven’t emerged from coma for the last couple of days.  A man named Bern is helping us communicate with your wolves right now.  We are here to help bring you out,” Ishan spoke softly, sensing a similar pain in Nat to Fane’s.

Nat glanced away from Ishan’s steady gaze to the deep black pool centred in the space.  It was definitely different from his own space that he shared with the wolves. That shared space was a black-on-black never ending plane.  This was detailed and extravagant. It was nothing like the stages he had watched Yeller’s band open on in the past. He glanced around. There was no seeing out, seeing the real world from here.  He blinked, confused. His glance drifted around the room. His eyes snapped back to a rope that the man in the shoulder crop top and leather pants was holding onto.

Another throb burned through Fane with that look.  He turned his head to Ishan, curious if he had felt it. The sensation oozed through his limbs and dripped from his finger tips.

“You don’t look much like a bodyguard,” Nat pointed out, his brow cocked.  A shiver ran down his spine when Fane’s eyes turned cold silver in black momentarily at the comment as they snapped around to settle on the white-haired man’s large green eyes.  Fane’s clothing shifted to his black kurta standards before falling away once more.  For that sinister minute holding Nat’s gaze, he stood in his black compression top, black t-shirt, olive green cargoes and black combat boots. Dog tags floated around his neck, flashing silver under the lights as the void swamped with the smell of hot metal, burning diesel, c4, gunpowder, and blood.  The walls shifted behind him. The tapestries fell away to the upstairs armoury in Ishan’s palace. A massive conference table was spread with a multitude of armaments in varying states of repair and cleaning. A blue plastic tarp sat at a door with a few heaps of bloody clothing, guns, knives, and a pair of soaked combat boots on it. A comforter slipped off the side of long couch pressed up against a wall next to a micro-kitchen. A skylight spanned overhead. The blood red of a rising sun burned the clouds through the glass.

Fane’s scars flashed as his clothing wrapped around him, his hair shorn into his crisp undercut. Knives, brass knuckles, garot, multiple guns, sheathes and harnesses, and ammo floated above the various locations he tended to keep them on his person. Fane’s predatory smile crept up to show sharp incisors when he threatened, “wanna talk about what I used to do or what I do now? ‘Cause they both end with lots of blood and about as much death.” His teeth gleamed under the lights as red ice formed along the armrests of the chairs.

Nat shook his head vigorously, knowing by now the way the wolves worked that the human in front of him was not someone he wanted to have at his throat.  Fane blinked, his eyes changing from the cold silver in black to their cerulean blue. He eased his smile, softening the look as he brushed a hand across his chest, dismissing the clothing back to his shoulder crop, leather pants and spatterdashes.  The room fell away, along with the smell in shards of broken glass that dissolved into the black pool, leaving behind the auditorium with the rope rig and the luxurious details. Fane pulled his hair back from his shoulders and let the heavy weight of it fall to swing gently at his lower back.  

“As you can guess, bodyguard and soldier wasn’t my first job,” he smiled up at Ishan, “but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world now.”  The room warmed again and the lighting shifted into softer blues and greens. “Initial snap judgment from seeing your void and what you’re wearing, I’d say you do porn for a living, but I’m making a guess that place isn’t where you live, but somewhere that was a good place for you.” Fane played turn of face.

Yeller glared at Fane angrily and Nat shifted uncomfortably. “Wild guess here kid, but Michael did something to you and your…boyfriend?” Fane raised an eyebrow at Yeller.  Yeller nodded at the term. “Right, you and your boyfriend were trying to overwrite some bad memories from the bastard. This in some way shifted your void into that place. You probably have a different, let’s call it happy place, then that townhouse room.  Like my armoury and my stage. Yeller helped you get just a bit better with yourself, which now has your preset set to some rather professional-level knotwork and serious lack of much else. You still have some bad, lingering memories, though, and that’s why the bruises are still there.” Fane glanced at Nat before looking Yeller up and down.

Yeller returned Fane’s look with subtle detest.  “Cashia helped with those. I don’t know a hitch from a bowline.” He pulled Nat closer to him protectively.  Fane nodded again in a non-judgmental fashion and shrugged. Nat softened in Yeller’s grip for a second.

“If I’m not in Sven’s mind currently, then where are we?” Nat asked, shifting out of Yeller’s lap to sit next to him on the seats. Yeller kept a firm grip on his hand, afraid to let him go.

“Up here,” Fane tapped his skull.  Nat looked at him, perplexed.

“Cashia?” Nat turned to Yeller.

“Bern’s got the wolves for now,” Yeller added.

“So my mind is my own right now…sort of?” Nat tilted his head.

“I haven’t been able to access him since coming in here.  Tereza and Sven?” Yeller asked. Nat thought for a time and shook his head.  “I can’t reach them.” Relief washed across his shoulders. “So we can finally talk without them butting in?” Nat looked up at him.  Yeller smiled back, sagging back against the seat. His thumb brushed Nat’s hand gently.

An idea blossomed in Fane’s mind.  The throbbing, just the softest brush of butterfly wings was becoming a hollow heavy reverberation in his chest.  His skin was hot and tight. It was originating from Yeller and Nat. There was a twist to the beat that he could place as Ishan’s own emotions.  He could not shake the singing pain that ran up his left side, a pain he recognized from his first encounter with Ishan.  

Fane’s eyes lit on Yeller’s guitar pick that peeked out at the neckline of his shirt.  Fane bowed, drawing their attention. “If you don’t mind me delving for a minute.” He reached for Yeller’s forehead.  A thought occurred to him, wrapping itself around his idea. Yeller sat back, startled at the sudden intrusion on personal space.  Yeller gritted his teeth at the feeling of Fane rummaging around in his brain. It only took a moment before Fane came back to himself.  Yeller hissed at the headache, but it abated quickly enough. Fane looked at his hand for another moment, thinking.

“What’d you do?” Ishan asked.  Fane pursed his lips, still thinking.  He nodded to himself after a moment, accepting a thought.  He now had a much better concept of who Yeller and Nat were to each other too.  That hadn’t been his immediate intention in going into Yeller’s void, but it did help solidify his idea.

“I’m gonna remix your stuff and give you all some privacy up here,” Fane mentioned to Yeller over his shoulder as he led Ishan down a few flights of the seating to the front row.

“What are you doing?” Ishan asked, turning Fane’s hand into his chest, drawing the man into him.  He could see that mischievous grin flicking across Fane’s face again.

“I did more than just ropes.” Fane pulled himself free from Ishan’s hand and ducked under brass railings that surrounded his pool. 

“You did mention something.” Ishan blinked. Those were new. Fane approached the pool and looked down into it for a time. He bit his lip, stilling a shake that ran up his spine.  He stepped out onto it, his feet only sinking into a scant breadth of water. He nodded, pleased. He walked out to the middle of the pool, sending ripples across the surface.  Ishan held his breath, terrified. He couldn’t shake the fear of the monster coming out of the pool.

Fane bent and reached deep into the centre of the pool and pulled up, a pole emerging from the depths.  Ishan frowned, not sure what his bodyguard was doing. He glanced back to the two men several seat rows back.  They were staring down, also slightly confused. Fane adjusted the flange at the bottom of the pole before walking out of the dark water and coming back to sit next to Ishan.  He unstrapped the legging spatterdashes and peeled them off.

“Pole dancing?” Ishan asked, curious.

“Ever seen it done?” Fane raised an eyebrow at his prince.

“Not really, well yeah.  I mean, sort of. I haven’t seen men do it.  Frat boys dragged me out to more than a couple bars during my college years, and I saw women do it,” Ishan shrugged his shoulders.  He could appreciate the dedication and hard work it took to master the craft, but he hadn’t found it of great interest. That had more to do with who he was interested in, though, he figured.

Fane swept his hand across his crop top, the fabric changing to a smaller shoulder cover and multiple black straps that ran under his other arm.  His fingernails blackened with a matt polish. Fane nodded and shrugged. “It’s a more popular profession with women over men. I ended up learning it with the straps, ropes, and silks.  

“It mixes well with ballet and gymnastics.  It’s a different beast, but fun unto itself.  There can be quite a bit more floor work, depending on the style you’re trained in.  Chinese pole was my beginning, and it was great for technique and good form, but it sort of…drifted out of necessity into a kind of fusion Sensual.  You don’t quite get the freedom of flying, but,” Fane stood up and brushed back the fall of his hair, braids taking up the sides of his head that pulled up into a ponytail.  Acid green tassels curled into the mass of brassy red hair. “First time I’ll actually get to do it for someone I want to do it for. Seems like they won’t mind so much either,” he moved his glance down to Ishan’s fixated gaze, amused.  Ishan’s cheeks were turning a slight pink.  

He could feel that throb still permeating his senses, but it now was mixing with Ishan’s lower bass.  He wanted to mess with it, drown in it. He wanted that feeling to be his undoing. He knew exactly what it was and he wanted to share it with Ishan.  He knew Bern had cautioned him against it, but there had not been enough time for the two at the back of his theater to see each other. Clearly they wanted some time away from the wolves.  He could hear their every word as if it was crystal clear, but he was also aware that he had ways of drowning out the noise now.

Fane brushed at his pants, the fabric changing to a more skin-tight fit and matt finish then the slick leather.  A thin band of acid green mesh ran up the sides from ankle to waistband and the inside seam to just skim along his crotch line.  Ishan cocked an eyebrow at him, impressed. Fane tapped his neck, a thin black choker collar circled his throat. “I don’t do heels,” he stated flatly as he checked the seams at his ankles, leaving his feet bare.

“So, what did you need from Yeller?” Ishan asked, curious, as Fane ducked back under the railing and went out to the floor. Ishan’s heart was pounding hard, and a breath of heat whispered at his neck as he watched Fane’s fluid movements.

Fane looked up to Ishan from his spot at the pole and smeared a hand across his face, dark kohl and red eyeshadow highlighting silver eyes.  He tossed his hand up in the air, and white specks of paint settled across his skin like galaxies. “This,” Fane snapped his finger with a malicious smile, and the house lights dimmed, and the temperature plummeted for a split second as the pool froze over.  The colours of the tapestries shifted to a muted acid green and black. His spotlights changed to purples and blues with blacklights intermixed. The golden bubbles that had been floating around the pool shifted into a series of beating geometric glowing lines. The sconces and chandeliers switched to raw dim edison bulbs and green laser lights.  Fog rolled up from the pool gently, just at the edges, disbursing the laser lights.  

A sub-bass dropped to match the throb Fane was feeling. It reverberated in the chamber as he pirouetted around the pole for a sixteen bar of the song.  He bent into a one-hand bridge that shifted to a supported one-arm handstand and out to a modified pointer. A sweep feathered over the track to disappear under a mallet-like staccato as he continued to bend and sway under the beat. He drew in his legs for a series of one-hand supported cartwheels.  A synthed lead in the song followed to wrap in the crash of symbols. He came up into an arms-only climb straddle that twisted into a flag back roll and contortion that set his feet back onto the ground. The song’s lyrics slithered across the track, looping back on its refrain to harmonize.  

He stepped out, one hand dragged along the edge of the pole, opening up the line of his chest in a reverse spin into a climb.  With a second hand he pulled himself up into a Russian Layback. The techno music beat out under a rock ballad. Fane felt the forms, allowing the rise of the music to wash through him.  He pulled out to a crescent moon as the pole turned. He twisted around to a Chinese flag, dropping his feet smoothly into a floor split.

Ishan watched, very aware of the rising heat that thawed the icy pool and the burning numbness pressing at his gut.  The arrangement drove at his senses, the lighting hypnotizing. He couldn’t drag his gaze away. An air shoulder mount off the ground brought Fane back in contact with the pole at another bar change.  He shifted from batman to bird to a bridge outside leg hang in rapid succession. Ishan dry swallowed. He couldn’t fight the electricity that crackled across his skin. His chest felt tight. He could swear he felt fingers dancing across his skin.

Yeller and Nat watched just as closely, flames licking at their skin.  “This is one of your songs, isn’t it, Ruben?” Nat asked, his thumb brushing against Yeller’s hand with the structured rhythm.  The lyrics brought a smile to his lips, now that he had a better idea of what it was really about. The formulaic beat of the music reset at the bar with a thickened supersaw lead.  The lighter eighth-note piano pluck shuffled through an envelope and filter around them as their heartrates quickened in time, anticipating the next drop as the sidechain replicated the whoosh of blood in the ears.  It fell with a 4-to-the-floor they could feel in their chest and extremities as they watched the man on the pole.

Tha,” Yeller’s voice rasped.  Pressed, he wouldn’t deny the techno remix of his songs were good, if only he could have had it down in the physical world.  He pulled Nat’s hand into his lap. Nat was distinctly aware of what rested under his palm. He glanced up at Yeller, noting the flush of his cheeks.  Nat smirked, slowly rubbing at the length hiding beneath black jeans. Yeller shifted lower into the seat and flipped up the armrest that was separating them. He pulled Nat in under his arm.  Nat curled into his warmth, continuing to tease Yeller to the heady high of the music.

“I’ve missed you.” Yeller nuzzled Nat’s ear, still watching the dance.

“What happened to me?  All I remember is looking over a map with Hana, and Zola showing us a box,” he asked, facing down a blank slate from where he should have had memories after the gas station.  He could remember them going in and raiding the shelves and being excited about finding a large map and a box of chocolates, but after that, it all turned grey and fuzzy.

“Michael jumped you.  He took off and dropped you into the ocean over a rock outcropping.  You got him a couple good times in the gut and he ended up in the bay.  You had a lot of internal injuries from your fall and got knocked unconscious.  I let Cashia loose. Cashia and I tore his throat out. Heinrich and Dietrik helped me get you off the sandbar.  When I was running after you, I could smell that weird scent you let off when you’re on level with Sven and Tereza and brought you here.  Guy down there, Fane, he’s Red Hare Bai like you, but more powerful. I think he’s probably got more blood in the game. I didn’t know if you were going to make it” Yeller tumbled at the retelling, his heart prickling.

“Is Sven keeping me under?  Is that why I haven’t woken up?” Nat asked, his hand trailing under Yeller’s shirt.  

Yeller shifted again.  Nat pressed himself more fully against Yeller.  Neither he nor Yeller could grasp the high they were beginning to float on.  Yeller gasped, his eyelids closing momentarily, as Nat’s other hand joined in with the chaos, “ah…let up just a bit. It’s been a while, and you’re not wearing enough for me to keep my mind at an R rating.”  He eased his hand along Nat’s back, keenly aware of the contrast between rope and skin under his shirt. He brushed a light kiss along Nat’s temple.

“Bern’s finding that out now.  He has the wolves-” Yeller looked up as a hard hand settled on his shoulder.

“’n he wants ta know why ye all have’nae come out yet,” rumbled the white-haired man, disturbing them.  Nat flinched. He glanced around to find a quiet crowd all fixated on the stage below them.  

The wolves were there.  Sven paced around Sylvi, rubbing against her happily.  Dietrik and Sibor sat patiently a few steps above the group.  Heinrich and Anastasia sat just a step below. Cashia was more than thrilled to lay down with Tereza, her forepaws and chin on his back. 

Deck, clothed in an old Jenton Huskies jersey, worn-out blue jeans, and a pair of mud-covered tennis shoes held onto a bunny-eared, blue-haired cyber goth in a super short skirt and black hoody with different coloured contact eyes and heavy black makeup – Sun Hee.  Benj’s jet-black hair was slicked back in a pompadour. He had his wire-rimmed glasses back. A tight white t-shirt barely covered his midsection above a pair of skinny jeans and black combat boots. Next to him stood Zola, a short girl with long kinky hair that stood up away from her head, a polka dot bandana keeping it out of her face.  Her anime convention shirt was tucked into a pair of high-waisted white short shorts. Kitty printed leggings over thick thighs met a pair of high top day glow yellow converse. Hana stood up and to the back of the seating in shadow, dressed in a simple yellow sundress and large brimmed sunhat.  Corbin and Sophia had also joined them, Corbin in a refined suit and Sophia in her lab coat.

Bern’s stolid glance fell on the floor below them.  His lips flattened in frustration. “Damn it, I told him ta nae fall,” Bern hissed, ready to make his way down the step.  Dietrik bit down on his hand, not enough to draw blood, but enough to stall him. 

“Leave the Shaman be, Healer,” Sibor rubbed up against Dietrik, her soft voice stunningly melodious in the space.  The wolves could smell the cloying scent of honey and brood blossoming in the room heavily. It was warm and yet cold, stirring a fire that the music only stoked.

The wolf shifted slowly at her comment into an elegant older woman in her mid-forties.  She had a sharp jawline and a refined hooked nose. Deep chocolate brown eyes and dark curly hair accentuated her lean form.  She wore a simple floor-length black satin dress and blood-red pumps. A soft white stoat fur wrapped around her shoulders, barely hiding an art deco era diamond necklace.  Brilliant red lips and tailored makeup spoke of immodest sums of money.

Dietrik followed his wife’s lead and allowed himself to retake his human form for once in too many years.  He was thickly proportioned with callused hands and solid arms that blended into heavy shoulders and neck.  He was dressed in a simple peasant’s tunic of light brown, tights of a brutish shade of red, grey wool breeches, and dark leather shoe wraps.  A heavy red wool cape lined with golden fur draped down his shoulders. A simple sword and sheath sat at his hip. A heavy necklace with bear claws and a large finely engraved amber stone sat on his chest.  “My lady?” he offered a hand with a courtly bow. She set her delicate hand in his. He kissed it gently before standing to his full height, a couple inches shorter than her. He took Sibor’s hand and led her into the far rows.

The white wolf took his cue from his leader and allowed the wolf shift to fall away from him.  He stood tall and lean in his late twenties. Sven’s hair was a remarkable shade of platinum blonde, lighter than Ishan’s, that fell to his shoulders in a sleek curtain.  Green eyes glowed against equally pale skin. A soft stubble scattered across his chin. A black fur mantle hugged his shoulders over a yellow rus-style coat and a soft grey wool tunic.  A leather belt cinches the waist, and the coat tails fell away over a pair of ballooned black wool breeches tucked into leg wraps and leather boots.  

He held out his hand to the black wolf next to him.  She rose up out of her form to place her ice-shaded hand in his.  A fall of raven wing-colored hair dropped almost to her ankles in a thick glossy fall.  A black wool hood was thrown back under the weight. A dark grey wool long-sleeve tunic was protected with a sleeveless leather overshirt. It was wrapped tightly under her bust with a leather corset-like bustier that was held on with tight dark leather straps.  She wore a pair of close-fitting leather trousers that were wrapped down tight at the calf with black leather wraps under a pair of finely tailored but worn boots.  Bracers with plenty of battle wear cinched her tunic down at her wrists. Thick kohl lined her almost white-blue eyes.

The two smiled at each other knowingly.  Sven escorted his bride into a different set of chairs.  Bern watched them go sit down. He had not been expecting the wolves to change to a human form.  He had thought the wolves were just that, sentient wolves. That was all they had been when he had allowed Cashia and Sven into his void.

 “What’s wrong?” Corbin asked, getting comfortable with Sophia next to him in the seating.  Bern leveled a look at Corbin and swept it to the other humans. This wasn’t going to end well.  This many people in a void couldn’t be possible without the host self-destructing. That many emotions couldn’t be handled by a White Horse at once.  More than two people on his beach felt too crowded. His eyes swiveled in the space, noting how the group distributed themselves in the seating. He looked up and down to the ring, straining to swallow.  There was enough seating to handle a crowd of a hundred or more. Could a Red Hare really handle that many emotions at once?

Heinrich was the next wolf to shift in the space.  He turned into a tall, thin pale man with jet-black hair swept up into a thick plait braid.  He was about the same age as the college kids they were occupying, at least by looks. He wore little more than a soft white button-up shirt cut like a twenties tailor and a pair of worn black trousers over bare feet.  A pair of red suspenders sagged at his pants. The only other decoration was a Roman general’s ring on his finger.  

Anastasia followed his lead to join him.  She was shorter than him, and much rounder in proportion.  She had strawberry blonde hair pulled up in a Gibson bun, decorated with bird feathers.

Her soft blue dress was high-necked and tight fitting across an ample bosom that nipped in tightly to flare out into hoop skirts.  “You look ravishing as always, love,” Heinrich kissed her neck before shifting her to a different set of seats away from his parents.

Bern’s eyes returned to the man in black bending his body to the pole.  His awareness finally tuned itself to the tone of the music slithering through his senses and under his skin.  A crawling heat ran across his spine as he watched hair and feet flip droplets of dark water up into the air, red and blue light throbbed and glistened on the black orbs.  “He’s seducin’ him,” Bern blistered.

Fuar fadhb leis[1]?” Yeller growled unhappily, pinning Bern with fire in his eyes.  

Cashia’s throat rumbled low in conjunction with his host.  Dietrik and Sven glared up at the commotion, baring their fangs at Bern.  Cashia shifted with very little hesitation into a ruggedly handsome older man in his late thirties with wheat-colored hair braided at the sides of his head to keep the length out of his face and a squared-off jaw shadowed with a short beard.  He was built like a blacksmith with roped and knotted tattoos spreading up his arms and across his shoulders. A leather apron covered a sleeveless tunic and leather breeches and boots. His hands were calloused and blackened from soot. In one hand he held a massive hammer, blackened with use and age.  

Tereza followed him out of her form to take on her human appearance.  Flaming orange hair was cut close up around her chin and freckles scattered across her skin.  Her eyes were a warm mahogany set above a button nose. She wore a simple brown wool kirtle over a thin cotton chemise.  Around her hips was a leather belt and pouch with shears and drop spindles. She wrapped her hand in Cashia’s and regarded Bern with barely hidden disgust.

Am fear a dh’ itheas an t-ìm togadh e ‘n tota [2],” he muttered under his breath.  His eyes took in the other humans new clothing and demeanour.  Bern cast an accusing glance Yeller’s way. He noted Yeller’s clothing change. The matched rings drew an interested rise of his eyebrow before his glance settled fully on the white-haired man sharing his seat.  The green and black buffalo check barely covered his upper thighs where jute rope knots began weaving down his skin to his feet. “Not if you don’t mind coming into the real world in the midst of an orgy.  Each gael eile[3]?” he shot.  

Yeller raised an eyebrow at the question.  He shook his head. “A dathanna.  Bhi fionn[4].” He pointed a thumb in Sven’s direction.  Bern looked back at the white wolf’s human form.  He contemplated the others in his space, beginning to notice the subtle changes in hair and skin colour that the mind portrayed versus the body in the real world.  The humans had taken on traits of the wolves. He nodded an understanding. “Capall ban[5]?” Yeller asked quietly.

“White Horses a’ the Fyskar work as connection points between people.  Primary role is the connection between a clan chief and clan lady. They direct emotions through a physical channel, and can amplify or mute those emotions as needed within a limit.  White Horses can fall deep inta their connection’s emotions if there are too many, usually more ‘n two. Currently, he’s connected…was connected to ye and Nat and Ishan. He’s a Red Hare, nae a White Horse…so who kins what this’ll do ta ye.  Should have known I should have just come in here myself, but no, you all had to see Nat again…” he grumbled. “With this many connections – “ he twisted his head sideways, figuring he didn’t need to spell it out. “Ifrinn! Why’d he start doin’ this if ye were here?” Bern hissed quietly at Yeller and Nat.  The music was beginning to eat into his senses, the lights drawing his focus. It had been too damn long.

Is ceann de’s na h-oinseacha diabhail thu. Chun mo magairlí a shú.  Cad a cheappan tu[6]? Wanted to give us some privacy to talk,” Yeller shrugged.

Bern flicked an eyebrow at Yeller’s provocative tone.  Nat stuck his tongue out in a vulgar manner to pair with Yeller’s comment.

Tha e a’bruidhinn gaidhlig[7]?” Bern asked, startled.  Yeller had been an anomaly to him, knowing a dialect of Gaeilge versus his Gaidhlig.  The fact another of the group could also communicate stunned him.

Ta Gaeilge beag agam[8].” Nat laid his head on Yeller’s chest and continued watching the show.

“Ye’r leannan needs ta nae be doin’ any a’ this right now.  We just got his internal injuries stable,” bit out Bern in English for the benefit of the rest of those in the audience.  Yeller swallowed hard, glancing down at the top of Nat’s head. Nat shrugged, determined to ignore the man.

“Oh, for the love! Sit down and shut up, Bern.  Watch the show. Other than you and probably that Prince of his, no one’s tried to go down there and pounce the man.  Leave the two love birds alone. It’s called entertainment. He hasn’t thrown us out. He’s used to having all eyes on him.  He admitted to as much out in the warehouse just this morning,” Corbin demanded in hushed tones, pointing the man to a seat. Bern glared at the scientist and shifted down a couple rows.  He eased into one of the plush chairs. The music bounced around his head and burrowed into his chest as it swelled and modulated.  

He wrinkled his nose at a flitting thought.  The man on the pole was deadly with a gun and a variety of other armements.  When he first met him, Fane was barely leashed and liable to murder anyone who even looked wrong at the Prince.  He despised talking to others if he could help it. He hated tight spaces.  

Bern watched the man in question in the middle of the ring.  This ability to perform so suggestively in front of others without the feeling of embarrassment – he had buried it deep enough to forget it because of torture and hatred.  Only in the last few days of healing was he coming back to his original self. Where would this leave the man, deadly as ever, or maybe a little less trigger-happy?

Fane was lost to the high that was emotional connection.  He could hear every whispered love and suggestion by the glendwellers and their humans and it only heightened his high. He was falling into a meditative trance as his body moved to the sensations around him.  Norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin burst through the groups senses, pulling them in. He was no longer fully aware of the addition of the audience to his void. They only added to the music, to the impressions he found himself eliciting in his contortions.  His body moved along the pole with smooth ease. His skin felt hot, every nerve ending firing. The glide of metal was cool and slick against it. The tempo shifted, as did Fane’s pace. He was controlling it all, the lighting, the throbbing beat, the atmosphere of the room, or was it controlling him?  Those that sat around and watched couldn’t fight the feel of fingers on their skin. The sweeping, kneading, prodding massage was setting everyone on edge. The sweet perfume of honey, a thick undertone of brood, lured and inflamed. Fane could only fall farther and farther under the momentum. It was a floating high that he never wanted to come down from.  

A pole split melted into a fan kick.  Every footstep, every droplet splashing back into the black water let off green and red ripples that throbbed with the beat, the pool turning into a massive circular equalizer.  A back spin turned into floorwork that set Ishan’s teeth on edge and his gut burning. Fane pressed his chest into the ground, the ripples pulsing out from his body. His hips came up and he twisted, turning over into a bridge pose, the pole between his legs, his skin glistening wetly.  Ishan could feel the material of Fane’s leggings just under the tips of his fingers. Hot breath feathered across his neck. He throbbed to the bass.

The void vanished, depositing everyone back into the hospital room.  The glendweller wolves returned to their hosts. Fane blinked, drawing in a muffled gasp, his neck and shoulders stiff from sitting for so long.

The room had already darkened from the setting sun.  Sven was awake. Sophia quickly worked to pull the cone off his face and the hose out of his throat to let him breathe on his own.  

Hands ranged across Bern and Fane’s skin.  Everyone looked around, confused to be back where they were.  Ishan hid his head in Fane’s shoulder, red and blonde hair creating a curtain to block of Ishan’s face from the other people.  Fane looked up, a question on his face. “Kumarā. Huna[9]!” he hissed in New Punjabi in Fane’s ear at an almost inaudible whisper, teeth nipping at his earlobe.  Fane blinked for a second before his face turned scarlet.

Tabhair dom ar ais mo bhuachaill, madra[10]!” Yeller demanded more loudly, covering Ishan’s demand and distracting the group to the wolf in the bed.  “I wasn’t done talking to my wife, wolf!” Cashia pressed his frustration after Yeller.

“Yeah, right, pup.  I shift and the sutures burst,” the wolf rolled his eyes as Ishan brushed hands off of Fane and tried to pull him from the room. 

“Oye, oye! Cashia, let go! Talk to her after I’m not dying,” Sven protested as Cashia reached for the wolf.

“Shaman!” Cashia turned to Fane in protest.  Ishan groaned. He wasn’t going to get his boyfriend to himself after all that was he? 

“Shaman!” Dietrik and Heinrich also joined in the cacophony. The girls were holding on to their boyfriends with what Fane could have sworn was an irate deathgrip.  Fane looked up at Bern in confusion.

“You started this,” Bern waived at the group.  Fane eased back next to Sven ever so slightly, taking in the chaos that was a pack of horny humans and wolfmen.  He swallowed nervously.

“I was so fucking not finished with that,” Sophia growled. Corbin turned a raised eyebrow at her, surprised at her language.

She turned a royal shade of red from the tips of her ears to the end of her fingernails for a second.

“Can you do that in real life?” Hana asked curiously.

“Do what?” Fane turned to the quiet woman who had stood off in the background.

“Actually pole dance like that?” she blushed.

“The movement yes, but definitely not in water – I’d have no grip.” He laid his hand over Ishan’s nervous kneaded at his shoulder, blocking the movement from view.

Easy, Beithe, you’ll worry a hole in my shirt.  He tried to reassure Ishan.

I’d really rather be worrying a different hole at the moment.  Ishan growled back.  Fane’s eyes went just a touch round at that admission.  Ishan was pushing heat and desire at him at such a wavelength that Fane was finding it difficult to remain sitting dignantly in front of the group that was making demands of their own for his time.  He turned a questioning glance at Bern, cocking his eyebrow in question.

“This is phenomenal!” Sophia exclaimed over her tablet.  Fane leveled a glare her way as some of the others turned to her outburst.  He really hated that phrase. It meant she was looking at his brain again. This wasn’t going to be good.  He gritted his teeth, waiting for whatever sick request she was going to come up with this time.

[1] Got a problem with it?

[2] He that’s to eat the butter, let him build the walls.

[3] Another white horse?

[4] His colors. Was blond.

[5] White horse?

[6] You’re one of the devils. To lick my balls. What do you think?

[7] He speaks Gaelic?

[8] I speak a little Gaelic.

[9] Room. Now!

[10] Give me back my boy, dog.

Fane pole dancing in Subgalaxia by Chapel Orahamm. Redhead man pole dancing.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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