Tam bit his lip as the priest motioned him forward. The flowing white robes that he'd put on him that morning whispered softly as they slid along the ground. The red beaded belt at his waist kept them from slipping off completely, but allowed for the strips of fine cloth to part over his shoulders, exposing his chest.
The evening air was warm, but Tam felt a chill in spite of it.
Training his eyes forward as he'd been taught, Tam moved to the end of the rock ledge the priest had motioned him toward. The red cloth on his forehead held his waist length black hair back out of his face, but the ends whipped crazily around him. His chest itched from where the red paint was drying rapidly in the gusty winds.
On the banks of either side of the river, his people watched with appropriate solemnity. If he'd had parents, he imagined that they would have been standing there, hopefully proud of him for not breaking down and for stoically moving forward with the ceremony.
But sacrifices were born from no one and related to no one. He'd been raised solely for the purpose he was performing today.
Beaded red anklets jingled softly as he stepped out as far as he could and he curled his toes over the end of the ledge. The priest dictated the last rites and the ritualistic words given for these ceremonies, but Tam's mind was not on them. He barely heard the man over the chaos of his own thoughts.
Water roared below him as the river turned waterfall.
Tam had inspected the waters at the bottom long before this. They were shallow and coated liberally with jagged rocks and boulders.
No sacrifice survived the fall. It just wasn't possible.
He'd been raised to die. In dying, he could ensure the next ten turns of good crop season and please the gods into looking favorably upon his people. The sun broke through the cloudy day, hitting him directly with its warmth. He savored the feeling, knowing as he did so that he was savoring the idea of being alive. Of having his heart beat and breathing in the loamy smell of the river swiftly running underneath him.
It would be over quickly.
The priest's last words fell hauntingly on his ears, but he didn't dare turn to face the man. Sacrifices who backed out of their responsibilities died far worse deaths of torture and humiliation. If Tam was to die, he wanted it to be a noble death. So he raised his hands in the manner in which he'd been taught. Palms facing the sun, he gave up the imaginary offering of his soul to the gods, and then crouched slightly.
Jumping, he couldn't entirely quash the thought that all he really wanted was to live, even as he plummeted to his death.
Tam woke slowly, disoriented.
He wasn't in his own rooms since the cloths beneath him were furs and the warm sandstone he usually rested on was instead lumpy soil. Added to that, he had covers on top of him, thick coarse blankets and a huge fur from an animal that Tam was certain he never wanted to see the likes of in the wild.
To top it all off, there was a cold that permeated everything. It was a chill he could feel from the ground that surrounded him.
It would never be this cold in the lands his people lived.
So was this death? Seemed a strange sort of afterlife to have found himself in, and he tentatively sat up. Wishing he hadn't moved as he did so, Tam reached up to hold his aching head. Did the dead feel pain? His fingers met with more coarse cloth that seemed to be bandages of sorts over the worst of his injuries.
"Ah, you're awake, young Rin." Glancing up, Tam gave the old man who entered a quizzical look. "Those are quite the wounds you took on this time."
Tam moved his head gingerly, wincing as the movement made his neck hurt, as he tried to figure out who else was in the room with them. The old man couldn't possibly be talking to him. Everyone knew it was against the rules to talk to sacrifices.
People stared. They pointed and talked. But never were they to directly address him.
"Who?" he tried to croak only to realize that the head injury was the least of his problems, his throat felt as if it were on fire. Maybe the rules were waived once you reached spirithood? Although, if it took enduring this kind of pain constantly, Tam wasn't sure he wanted to enter the spirit world this way.
"Try not to talk much," the old man clucked. "You managed to do some real damage this time." Tam's eyes bugged out. People talked around him. They talked about him. They talked to nonexistent people if they needed to impart some information to him. They never, however, talked to him.
Why talk to someone who was going to willingly die? Why interact with someone who wasn't going to live past a certain age, who had no future? Besides that, a sacrifice needed to be pure. Free from ties to the needs and desires of the baser public. Free from relationships with those who were meant to live.
Maybe being a spirit meant something entirely different?
The old man puttered about, walking in front of Tam and snapping him out of his thoughts. His garb was strange and Tam didn't recognize it in the slightest. Thick furs covered his torso and leather trousers, his legs. His white hair was held back in a braid and his eyes wrinkled at the corners as he crouched down next to Tam. "The village'll be intervening this time. You won't be getting off as lucky as you did last time."
Last time? Were death spirits supposed to continually talk in riddles? "But," he tried only to end up coughing. Just because no one ever answered, didn't mean that he didn't try to talk to them. Actually, the priests had often gotten very angry in his presence for that.
"Haelil, is he awake?"
Tam's head snapped up at the new voice. He regretted the motion instantly, but it was easier to brush off now as he was slowly getting acclimated to the aches and pains.
A taller, much younger man came in through a flap of the tent. He wore much the same clothing as the old man, but there was a brightly colored beaded belt at his waist and a leather thong held back his black hair at the nape of his neck.
He couldn't be too much older than Tam.
"See for yourself. His throat's still too badly damaged for him to be speaking at this point, but I imagine he'll have to get over that quickly. The village elders have been spoiling for this moment for ages."
The young man nodded absently, not paying Tam the slightest bit of attention. "I'll inform them close enough to sunset that they'll put off the trials until the morrow."
"Think about what we discussed, Yasel," Haelil said suddenly, seriously, as the young man turned to leave, startling Tam slightly.
Yasel spared Tam a glance then, the contempt obvious in his eyes as he glared down at Tam. Confused and more than a little intimidated, Tam could only meet his eyes for a few moments before averting his gaze. He wasn't certain what he'd done to offend the spirit, but he knew that whatever it was, he never wanted to do it again.
By the time he looked back up, Yasel was gone. Haelil was puttering about the tent, and while Tam was curious, he lacked the energy to keep himself upright and awake. Slumping back onto the hard cold ground covered by the coarse cloths and big furs, he fell into a fitful sleep.
Tam stood painfully as a group of around fifty men, women and children glared at him. He had no idea what he'd done to make them angry, and he was sincerely wishing he did. He was used to being on the sidelines of all gatherings. But he'd not been a part of the crowd, and never standing at the center of attention of one, facing accusations.
Haelil had shoved a fur-lined tunic and a pair of leather leggings at him moments before dragging him out to this little gathering. Dressing, though, had been enough to assure him that his old life was nothing like his new life, starting with his body. Maybe spirits were given new bodies to slough off the ties to old lives? Still, it seemed strange that his new body was already in possession of so many injuries.
He didn't recognize the pale bruised limbs he pulled clothing over and he didn't recognize the stubby fingers on his hands or the scars on his wrists and thighs. His long glorious hair was now cropped close against his head and felt strange to Tam's fingers.
"Rin, you stand accused by your tribe of attempting to take your own life, what is your reply?" An austere man with a colorful robe over his clothes stood imperiously in front of Tam.
He blinked, not comprehending exactly what was happening. Okay, so if he was being accused of attempting to take his life, it kind of followed that he wasn't a spirit. But then again, if he wasn't a spirit, what was he?
"Your answer, Rin," the austere man demanded again, this time, pointing at him with the tip of his spear.
"W-what?" he managed to croak hoarsely. The frown on the man's face grew and Tam vainly tried to resist the urge to cower.
"The tribal elders have overlooked your crimes against the Mother for too long. It is forbidden to take the life of man, even if that life is your own. This is your last chance to plead to the elders and explain your actions."
So, he'd killed himself and now they wanted him to explain himself before they killed him again? That made no sense. His bewilderment must have shown on his face too, for the elder's expression darkened considerably.
"Sacrifice to the gods," he managed to croak, even though it burned raw at his throat. "Raised to. Ensure good crops."
"The women ensure the crops, you lying snake!" Another man darted forward out of the crowd, cuffing Tam hard upside the head. Dizzily trying to reorient himself, Tam figured that explained some of the injuries he'd come across on his body. "You are no son of mine! We didn't raise you to disgrace us this way." Another sharp blow landed on his already sore stomach and Tam slid to the ground.
"Enough," Yasel's voice carried over the din as he cam to stand beside Tam. "What is the elders' verdict on this boy?"
"We have not decided," the elder said sourly, regarding Yasel with narrowed eyes. "He can not be allowed another attempt. He'll bring shame and the Mother's anger down on our tribe."
"I will take him," Yasel announced, clearly and loudly. Tam's eyes widened as he looked up at the man. He may have said he'd take Tam, but he certainly didn't look happy about it.
"You can't just claim the boy as an apprentice. He's done nothing to warrant such a reward," the elder spat out nastily. The man who had landed the punches on Tam nodded emphatically in agreement.
"I'm not claiming him as an apprentice," Yasel said clearly, once more, his face stoically blank. "I'm claiming him as a man claims a wife." He looked directly into the elder's eyes as the elder backed away abruptly.
"You can't," the elder sputtered indignantly.
"He can," Haelil stood slowly from where he was sitting amongst the elders. "Men are allowed to claim women in such a situation, and since Yasel preferences lie with men, he is allowed to claim Rin in much the same manner."
"Only if Rin is so inclined," the elder in front of Tam sneered before glaring down at Tam.
"I-I am," Tam croaked. It hadn't mattered before all this. Sacrifices weren't allowed to be anything but pure, so even if he'd had an opportunity to act on such an inclination, it wouldn't have been permitted.
Yasel nodded abruptly, pulling Tam to his feet roughly. Staggering slightly, Tam tried to follow him as Yasel made his way straight through the center of the people gathered. Tam, however, only made it a few steps before the man who had attacked him earlier, struck out a foot, tripping him and forcing him to the ground with a discreet thump to his lower back.
He landed less than gracefully, sprawled out and in pain.
"You will not touch him again, Getnan," Yasel's whispered darkly, and Tam shivered at the hint of violence in Yasel's eyes as he glared at Getnan and hoisted Tam off the ground.
"He's an ugly little whelp. You can't tell me you're attracted to the likes of his worthless hide," Getnan snarled back.
Yasel tossed Tam over his shoulder as if Tam were nothing more than the carcass of a dead animal he'd hunted. "Do not come near him again, Getnan."
With that, Yasel took off, his strides long as he carried Tam to the far end of the village to a tent that was isolated from the rest. It was smaller too, than the rest, but still big enough to hold a few men comfortably. Opening the flap, Yasel set him down long enough for Tam to gain his bearings before pushing him inside.
A fire pit was in the center that corresponded with the small opening at the top of the tent where the timbers, that the leather skin coating of the tent stretched to cover, met. On one side, there were all sorts of crockery and skin bottles and pouches, and on the other was a slim pallet that had a couple coarse blankets and a multitude of furs on it.
Yasel ignored him in favor of tinkering with a few of the pouches, opening them and then throwing some of the contents into a pot over the fire. From the smell, Tam figured that he was making their meal. At least, he hoped it was theirs. He wouldn't be surprised if Yasel was making for simply for himself. It was nothing new to be ignored, but going without food would be tricky.
Tam stood until his legs began to tremble, and then he sat, inches from the tent flap, huddled over as he tried to stave off the cold. Yasel did not look once in his direction until Tam's stomach grumbled loudly at the smell of the stew being cooked.
"I'm doing this at Haelil's bequest," Yasel finally said, spearing Tam with an indecipherable look. "You and I have never gotten along very well, but I took you on at Haelil's insistence. He assures me it will be different this time. Do not make me regret this decision, Rin."
For a moment, all Tam could do was stare at him in frozen uncertainty. Did he talk and act like he was used to doing such, or did he pretend as if no one had said a words as his people had done his entire life? Which rules applied? "Tam," he finally croaked, figuring that the easiest way to make everything make sense was to at least establish that he wasn't this Rin character.
"Name's Tam." Gods, but the words were painful to get through his throat. "Not Rin."
Yasel's face darkened in anger, and Tam immediately regretted saying anything. "I don't know what game you're playing, Rin," Yasel grabbed the front of Tam's tunic pulling him up until they were almost touching noses. "But you will not play them with me."
Okay, now he knew. Don't say anything to anyone, and play along. He was shaking slightly though. Yasel had touched him more in the last two days than he'd been touched his entire childhood.
It was a bit disconcerting.
Yasel released Tam abruptly, pushing him towards the pallet. Tam scrambled onto it, ignoring the aches of bone and muscle. Pulling one of the furs up, he brought it about his shoulders, ignoring Yasel's strange look at the movements. He kept quiet and he kept to himself as Yasel finished the meal.
He accepted the bowl of stew from Yasel moments later and wolfed down its contents, his stomach settling for the first time since he'd woken up alone in Haelil's tent. When he was finished, Yasel snatched the bowl from his hands.
"Nothing personal," Yasel sighed, pulling out a small paring knife. "Lose the tunic, Rin."
"Tam," he managed hoarsely before nervously watching Yasel cross the tent towards him. Not the smartest move maybe. He probably should have stuck with the name Rin. However, this Rin seemed to have developed quite the bad reputation and inspired a rather sour mood in Yasel. The farther he could distance himself from this Rin, the better.
"Fine," Yasel sighed heavily. "Tamrin." Yasel reached out and grabbed Tam by the waist, pulling him over. Tam winced as he stepped wrong on an ankle that was already aching and landed somewhat lopsided at Yasel's feet. Yasel rolled his eyes before crouching down to Tam's level. "The tunic and the leggings are going to have to go." The knife slid under the ties of his tunic and Tam watched wide eyed as Yasel cut them in one slice.
"Stop!" he smacked Yasel's hands away, but the tunic was already off. His chest was a motley array of blue and purple.
"Look, Tamrin, we have to do this for appearances, so quit bitching." Yasel less than gently slit the leather at the sides of the leggings he was wearing at his hips. Seeing as how the legging were made for a much bigger man, they slid off fairly easily as Yasel grabbed them at the ankles and gave one hard tug.
It was freezing in the tent. The fire was lit, but not a damn bit of the warmth was hitting Tam. Finding the body he was in naked as the day it was born, he was bitterly cold. And slowly growing angry.
"Why?" His throat ached.
"I told you," Yasel eyes were hard, but he was looking everywhere but at Tam's naked form. "Appearances." With that, he bent down to Tam's level and pulled a white blanket over. On the inside of his bicep, Yasel slit himself open with a tiny cut and then brought the blanket up to blot the blood. Once there was a decent sized spot there in the center, he turned to Tam.
"Scream for what you're worth," Yasel said softly, undoing the ties of his own leggings. Tam looked at him uncertainly.
"Look, just do it," Yasel pointed the knife at him. Tam stared straight at the point before glancing up into Yasel's earnest eyes. Tam shivered, but he didn't open his mouth and he didn't scream.
So Yasel came at him, the knife against his throat, and his arm curled around Tam's waist, pulling him up hard against Yasel's chest. Tam squirmed uncomfortably, but didn't scream as the knife dug in just a little deeper at the base of his throat. Then Yasel's hand snaked down over Tam's ribs and abdomen until it grasped at Tam's limp cock.
That, unlike the knife and the threat of bodily harm, made Tam yelp. And as Yasel lazily curled his fingers around it, coaxed it to life and gave it a healthy grope; Tam squirmed, yelled and then finally screamed as Yasel's two finger probed at his backside.
The moment the desired noise was out of his mouth though, Yasel dropped him as if he were diseased. Tam tried to curl up, hiding his body from view. Even if it didn't look like his body, it was still the body he was in, and since he'd never been touched in that manner or touched at all for that matter, he was shaken at what Yasel had managed to excite out of him.
"Come on," Yasel extended a hand.
Tam glared at it. He had no desire to follow the man anywhere.
Yasel merely shrugged his shoulders, grabbed the blooded white blanket and then advanced on Tam. Tam tried to scramble away, but in moving he twisted hard on his injured ankle, making it easy for Yasel to grab a hold of him. A quick maneuver, and Tam was half wrapped in the bloody blanket and thrown over Yasel's shoulder like a fresh kill once more as Yasel strode confidently out of the tent.
The entire village was surrounding the tent. And Tam felt his face heat up in shame and humiliation. His whole life, his only purpose had been to be a sacrifice. He'd been raised to be pure and to be an object of reverence. To face the prying eyes of so many who obviously thought more had occurred within the tent walls was a disgrace he wasn't up to enduring.
He hid his face on Yasel's shoulder blade.
"As you can see, the deed is done."
"There was no need to be so cruel about it, boy," Haelil's familiar voice sighed. "You could have been gentle."
"I did what had to be done, old man." Yasel turned back towards the tent.
"I know that this wasn't what you'd intended to have with Rin when you'd had that vision so many years ago," Haelil broached quietly. Tam peeked to see that most of the village gawkers were dispersing. "But I can't imagine that this was what the gods meant you to have."
"I don't know if you've noticed, but the gods care not for me," Yasel laughed self-depreciatingly. "He will not want for food, and he won't have Getnan beating on him at every turn. For that, Rin here will have to accept the terms of his lot and bear with it just as I have."
With that, Yasel turned back into the tent, toting Tam with him. Once the flap closed, Tam found himself dumped unceremoniously on the pallet. He was shivering now, almost uncontrollably. Did this infernal place never get warm? He turned towards the edge facing out against the wall of the tent. He pulled first a blanket and then a fur over himself and huddled in, trying to get warm.
What Yasel wanted to do, Yasel could do.
Tam's entire body hurt, and the events of the day were catching up with him too quickly. Maybe the gods didn't care for him either and had left him in this situation with Yasel as a punishment for his last minute prayers for life when he should have been nobly accepting his death.
He felt, more than saw, Yasel crawl onto the pallet beside him.
Holding himself stiff, Tam tried not to shiver in spite of the cold and in spite of his sore muscles.
When Yasel's light snores could finally be heard, Tam relaxed enough to inch closer towards him. Not necessarily because he wanted to be closer to Yasel, but because Yasel was warm. He went in small increments until his nose was mere inches from Yasel's chest, and then he gave into the small shivers that had been building up all night.
In spite of everything, he was almost asleep when he felt Yasel's arm curl around him. And he blinked blearily in the dim light as the man pulled him up tight against his chest.
Exhaustion won out over pride, however, and Tam decided it would be best to save his distaste and disdain over his weaknesses for morning. Relaxing into the warm embrace, Tam allowed himself to fall asleep.
Waking slowly, Tam noticed two things. One, Yasel wasn't near. Two, he was freezing. Again. Shivering, he pulled back the covers to find that the fire in the center of the tent had gone out which explained why it had gone from merely cold to mind numbingly chilly.
There was clothing sitting in a folded pile at the end of the pallet, and Tam quickly scrambled into them. Ignoring the twinges from his ankle, he hobbled out of the tent. Brisk cold air slapped him in the face, and he was glad for the warm fur-lined clothing. In fact, it was nicer than what he'd worn the day before and the leggings fit much better.
There was a light coat of white on the ground, and Tam shot it a bewildered look before glancing up to see the white stuff falling from the skies in thick clumps.
Reaching out with a hand, he let a couple of the white specs land and then melt into water on his hands.
Smiling for the first time since he'd waken up in this body, Tam scrambled out farther until he was standing in the middle of an ankle deep patch of the fluffy frozen water. He scooped up a pile of it in his hands, marveling at the way it felt and how cold it was as it melted slowly between his fingers.
"Rin!" Startled, Tam jerked and then looked up to find a furious Yasel standing above him. "What are you doing outside without boots on?"
"B-boots?" He was relieved to find that his throat hurt less today than it had yesterday.
"Inside," Yasel barked, grabbing Tam by the back of his tunic and hauling him back into the tent. Once inside, Tam stumbled yet again, but Yasel only paused long enough to toss Tam a couple of shoes that had tall sides. Turning them over in his hands, Tam shot Yasel an uncertain look. "Put them on."
"Why?" He seemed to be asking that a lot. However, it wasn't his fault that nothing made sense. He was having a hard enough time not stumbling stupidly over his words as Yasel pinned him with a gaze and spoke directly to him.
"Because it's snowing and you'll need them unless you want frostbite."
"S-snowing? Is that what that's called?" Tam dumped the boots to the side to go take another look at the snowing. Yasel stopped him just short of the tent flap though. Tam's face turned red as a hand landed on his shoulder and steered him back to the boots.
"I'm not in the mood for games, Rin."
"Tam," he insisted stubbornly, turning back to face Yasel. "R-rin is gone."
Yasel regarded him with a small frown for a moment before kneeling down beside him and pulling Tam's head towards him with warm hands. He pulled gently at Tam's eyelids, checked his ears and opened his mouth to inspect inside. Finally, he ran a thumb gently over the bruised skin of Tam's throat and sighed heavily. Tam held himself stiffly, trying not to move too much at the light touches and willing himself to not watch Yasel's face as the man inspected his.
"Looks like your attempt to strangle yourself did more damage than Haelil realized."
"I did not try to strangle myself," Tam retorted indignantly. Maybe this Rin might have, but it was time to break the illusion that Rin was here or that he was coming back. The gods had done something else with Rin's soul. Tam was what was left behind and the sooner Yasel could accept that, the better. "I carried my part out as a sacrifice and the gods have seen fit to put me here."
"Stop talking nonsense and put on your boots." Yasel rubbed his forehead wearily. "Some of the children in the village are falling sick and I need help pacifying them."
Tam gave the boots a disdainful glare. The most he'd ever worn was sandals, and that only on the coldest of days. Unfortunately, the coldest of days in his old life were like heat waves compared to the chill of life here. Still, he really didn't want to stick his feet in the ugly looking footwear. His toes needed room to wiggle and it didn't seem right to walk the earth without being able to feel it against his soles of his bare feet.
"Stop staring at them like you've never seen them before and put them on, Rin!" Yasel snapped, gathering up a large bag that he swung over his shoulder.
"Tam," he muttered sullenly before slipping them on. Surprisingly, they weren't as bad as Tam thought they were going to be. In fact, the fur felt wonderfully nice against his toes and they were warmer than Tam had guessed they might be.
"Fine. Tamrin." Yasel grabbed another, slightly smaller, bag and held it out to Tam. Accepting it gingerly, Tam copied Yasel and threw the strap over his shoulder. "Let's go."
Tam limped after Yasel, following closely the deeper into the tent village they went. Few people were giving him forgiving looks, and most looked like they'd rather feed Tam to a poisonous snake than leave him to his own devices. Finally, Yasel stopped up short, pulling Tam roughly by the tunic into a tent much larger than theirs.
The smell of sickness was horrible to Tam, and it was the first thing he noticed.
There was a group of five children huddled under a set of furs by the fire, their miserable faces indicating just how unwell they felt. Gulping back the urge to retch at the smell, Tam followed the unaffected Yasel to their sides and copied him by dropping his bag gently to the floor. Yasel took them both, opened their flaps and started rummaging around in their contents. "Distract them," he quietly ordered Tam.
And Tam was suddenly faced with five wretched, but expectant, faces.
"Tell them a story," Yasel finally snapped after Tam's mouth opened and closed a couple of times without a sound coming out.
A story? Fine, he could tell a story. He thought for a second before assuming the correct storytelling position in front of the children with his back to the fire. They all looked at him wide eyed, and Tam wondered for a second if maybe this wasn't how stories were told among these people. He quickly decided it didn't matter though.
"This is a story that I was told as a child and had been told to all the children for as long as the Mother's good will shown on my people since she created us." The children were baffled by the customary introduction, but as long as they were paying attention, Tam supposed it didn't matter. "This is how the alligator came to be," he paused to draw in a breath.
"Whas' tha?" one of the children asked, thumb firmly in his mouth as he did so. Blinking, Tam tried to wrap his mind around the idea that these children had not only seemed to have never heard this story, but that they didn't know the beast in question.
Rattling off a quick explanation was not enough to satisfy their curiosity either. After a couple dozen questions, Tam had finally conveyed the idea of what an alligator was exactly and then he could begin the story on how it came to be. The children were enthralled, and Yasel moved between them, inspecting their skin, peaking into their eyes, ears, and mouths without getting a word of complaint from them as he did so.
By the end of the tale, Yasel had finished up with the last child and was looking at Tam with thoughtful eyes.
"Are you'th comin' back?" One of the youngsters demanded, tugging on Tam's tunic. Tam slid a glance over at Yasel who nodded slightly.
"I might be. For now, you work on feeling better." The little boy nodded and Tam favored him with a small smile.
"Let's go, Tamrin," he said gruffly, pulling both bags over his shoulder. Tam tried to figure out why they'd brought them along in the first place until he saw Yasel handing an old crone at the door a small pouch. "Mix it with hot water and make sure they drink a cup each. It should bring down their fevers."
The old crone accepted them solemnly before turning rheumy eyes on Tam. "Best keep a watchful eye on that one. Tamrin, is it? A good choice I'd say. New name for a new life."
"It's the same old Rin, just a new game." Yasel rolled his eyes before propelling Tam out the door.
"Good luck, Tamrin," she cackled and Tam felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise in response.
"Who was that?"
"Feira, and stop getting smart, Rin. The woman practically raised you." Shrugging his shoulders, Tam limped after him back to their tent at the edge of the tent village. So Feira had raised Rin? It made sense that she knew then that Tam wasn't Rin. Pity Yasel seemed to be having a harder time with the concept.
Tam copied Yasel in taking off the boots and leaving them just inside the edge of the tent. Yasel ignored him completely, and uncertainly, Tam plopped down in front of the dead fire. Taking a flint and some tinder, he had the blaze going in no time, but none of it seemed to gain Yasel's attention.
Glancing over, Tam caught sight of Yasel pulling out a couple long, rolled up lengths of tanned leather. Tam couldn't help himself. Curious, he slid over, making sure not to touch Yasel as he peered in at the tanned hide in Yasel's hands. There were all kinds of drawings, symbols that curved around in a circle until they reached the center of the hide.
There was one symbol that grabbed Tam's attention though, and he reached out to touch it. Yasel grabbed his wrist at the last second and held it firmly.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm just curious about that symbol." Surprisingly, it was getting easier to talk to him when he asked a direct question. Or maybe it was just the shock of Yasel willingly touch him all the time that had him spouting off the thoughts in his head.
"The man inside the man," Tam tried to pull his hand back, but Yasel refused to give it back.
"It's the symbol for the first healer that the gods gave the tribes. See, if you count symbols backwards, you'll see that it occurred over two hundred winters ago. Each symbol records a winter so that we can keep a record of what has occurred over the years we've been a banded people," Yasel drawled out lazily.
"Oh," Tam managed to squeak out. He squirmed slightly, but in doing so, Yasel only brought him closer. "What are you doing with the hides?" Hopefully the answer would be enough to distract him from the fact that Yasel was touching him.
"Looking to see if there were any previous illnesses that have the symptoms the children are displaying. If I know what year to look at, I might be able to find a cure that older, more wizened healers have come across before."
"What are their symptoms?" Tam squirmed again, bumping knees with Yasel who calmly let go of his wrist to lay a hand on Tam's leg. And Tam felt his face coloring as he thought of what had happened when the hand had been farther up on his body. He tried to shove the hand off, but all he got for his efforts was a peculiar grin out of Yasel.
"They're developing rashes first. And then, given Tagel who's been sick the longest, the rash evolves into festering spots." Frowning, Yasel finally let go of Tam all together who scrambled away slowly. He tried to act nonchalant about it, but from Yasel's look of contempt, it wasn't successful. "Why don't you do something useful, like make dinner?"
Tam wished briefly, that he'd not moved away so quickly if this was going to be the mood that it left Yasel in.
It wasn't that Yasel disgusted him. Much the opposite, in fact. But for a sacrifice to touch another was frowned upon. For them to respond to illicit touches was just short of blasphemy. For them to indulge in the act itself was an atrocity against the gods, and surely a reason for the gods to bring their wrath down upon the villages. Tam had seen other sacrifice candidates beaten severely simply for touching themselves in what was deemed inappropriate ways.
He supposed he wasn't necessarily a sacrifice anymore. Maybe he had displeased the gods into giving him this life instead of the death that he'd been raised to endure. But he couldn't quite shake off the rules that had been indoctrinated in him since his birth.
No matter how attractive Yasel might be, no matter how much Tam's eyes wanted to follow him around the tent and watch his muscles as he worked, it was against the gods' will for him to bring to life those fantasies. So he quashed the itchy unease in his gut and moved back to the fire.
Sighing, he went about putting together the same kind of stew that Yasel had made the night before.
Yasel slid under the furs beside Tam long after the sun had set. There was the warm orange glow from the fire, but as usual, it wasn't giving off much warmth that Tam could feel.
Yasel on the other hand, was practically radiating heat.
It was hard to hold himself back from simply rolling to Yasel's side. He'd taken advantage of Yasel's sleepy state the night before, and he'd allowed himself the weakness of giving into the contact.
It hadn't hurt, either, that he'd been angry with Yasel at the time. He hadn't been thinking the wrong thoughts because he'd been tired, he'd been in pain, and because he would have rather smacked Yasel than indulged in any of the brief fantasies that had gone through his mind.
Tonight was a little different.
"Rin?" Yasel's voice was thick with sleep, in spite of the fact that he'd just crawled in beside Tam.
"Hmm?" He rolled over to face Yasel, making sure to keep a certain amount of distance between them. In a way, he really didn't blame Yasel for not understanding that he wasn't Rin. He was a bit confused on it himself. Sacrifices weren't allowed to live.
So what exactly was he doing here? To what purpose was he running around in this body? Was there even a point to it all?
For a brief moment, he was homesick for his old life and his old role in it. "Rin, c'mere."
"T-tam," he stuttered slightly as he watched Yasel's hand reach over and brush some of his short hair out of his face.
"Tamrin, then. C'mere," Yasel ordered again.
Tam shook his head. The man hadn't said a word to him all night. Granted, that actually put Tam more at ease than upset him, but that didn't change the fact that Tam didn't think Yasel was too terribly happy with him. Plus, the touching would bring back thoughts of all the other times they'd touched and well…
…well, quite frankly, the whole thing scared him. His body was supposed to obey him, not the other way around. Sacrifices weren't meant to have impure thoughts. They weren't meant to have impure desires, and they most certainly were not supposed to act on them.
"No thanks," he whispered back politely, pointedly ignoring Yasel's disgruntled expression.
"Look, I promise not to do anything. It's cold, and you're still recovering," Yasel tried again. "Tamrin, be sensible."
"I-I," Tam stuttered as Yasel slid closer. "Okay," he finally said in a small voice, allowing Yasel to grasp his waist and pull his back up against Yasel's front. Tam had abandoned his tunic before sliding under the covers, mainly because the ties cut into muscle aches that were still healing, but it was obvious from the way his skin connected with skin that Yasel had decided to forgo wearing his as well.
Squirming at first, Tam was uncertain as to where to place his hands or what to do with his legs. Finally, Yasel covered his feet with one leg and grabbed his wrists with the other and pulled them in close against Tam's body at his waist. "Go to sleep, Tamrin." The words were breathed on his neck and Tam squirmed some more as they had an effect on other parts of his body.
"Why do you hate me so much?" It wasn't the best of subjects to be bringing up while the man was half sleeping on him, he was sure. But he couldn't just stay quiet and hope vainly for sleep. He had to do something to get his mind off they way his body was reacting.
Yasel was quiet for a very long time, letting the question hang unanswered between them. It was long enough for Tam to assume that he'd gone to sleep, so he'd let himself relax in increments and he tried to keep his restless squirming to a minimum.
"I had a vision of you, when I was younger," Yasel said softly against his ear, scaring a startled yelp out of Tam. "I went on my first solo hunt in the dead of winter, and on the longest coldest night, I meditated outside an empty cave. At first, all I could concentrate on was how cold it was or how angry my father would be if I came back emptied handed or how upset my mother would be if it took a full turn of the moon for me to become a man.
"But after a while, the cold just numbed me and I didn't think of anything. Then, shortly before I got ready to turn in, I saw a flicker of white robes out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to see it, I found myself back in the village. I walked back through the center, not stopping at my parents' tent and not heading towards the elders' lodge. Instead, I headed back for Old Degnat's tent. I wasn't injured, so I couldn't figure out why I'd go to the healer's tent straight back from my first solo hunt, but I couldn't seem to stop myself.
"When I got to the tent, I opened the flap, and there you were. Sitting perfectly happy as if you belonged there and smiling up at me as if I was the one person you had always wished to see." Yasel sighed against the nape of Tam's neck.
"You were older than I knew you to be, but you calmly got up, coming towards me and greeting me with a kiss before linking hands and pulling me all the way inside.
"When I came back into myself, I was still sitting in front of a cold cave in the dark and I knew that what I'd seen would not come to pass for a long time."
"Y-yasel?" Tam asked uncertainly as the man let go of his wrists and slid his hand across Tam's stomach. Even in the warm cocoon of the blankets, Yasel's skin felt hot against his.
"I came back successfully from my hunt, and I told my father that I'd found my purpose and that I was meant to train with the healer. He hadn't liked it, but accepted it because nothing would sway me from the path. And then I sought you out." Fingers brushed over Tam's bangs before he felt the palm of Yasel's other hand come to rest on his forehead.
"But you wouldn't have anything to do with me. You wouldn't have anything to do with anyone. You just looked at everything with dead, uncaring eyes. I waited for you to acknowledge what I'd known I'd seen. I waited for you to smile at me or show me some sign that I meant anything. That anything meant something to you."
The hand at Tam's waist brushed lower, dipping inside Tam's leggings. He was pretty sure he squeaked, but it only made Yasel hold him closer. "You came back from your solo hunt empty handed and empty eyed. Getnan beat you so badly, you spent a month in Degnat's tent, and not once did you give me any flicker of anything. All my attempts to draw you out, to get to know you were met with dull eyes and disinterest.
"So I quit trying," Yasel whispered into his ear as he grasped Tam's cock, curled warm fingers around it. Squirming, Tam bit his lip hard enough to draw blood.
"I helped you heal, time and again. But you spurned my gifts every time. I had to watch you try, again and again, to kill yourself." Yasel's hand stroked him, and Tam whimpered as the action shot a bolt of heat through him. "And with each time you tried, you'd get better at hurting yourself and you'd bring yourself just that much closer."
Yasel pulled his head back gently, until Tam was resting it solidly against his shoulder while his fingers dug lightly into Tam's scalp. The hand on his cock increased in rhythm and Tam couldn't stop himself from mumbling something incoherent as Yasel's thumb slid insistently over the slit.
"It hurt to watch you take everything I tried to give you and throw it away."
Tam panted. His whole body felt as if it were on fire. Yasel shifted, inserting a knee between Tam's and maneuvering until Tam was half draped across him, chest exposed to the cool air. He could feel Yasel's heart beating against his back, and he whimpered as Yasel pumped his cock to meet the speed.
For an impossibly long moment, he felt like he was on the edge of a precipice. His skin alternated from hot to cold, and he couldn't stop himself from whimpering as Yasel's thumb continued to slide teasingly over him again and again.
"I wanted to love you, but you'd have nothing at all to do with me. So I gave up. I don't hate you, but I'm done being hurt by you," Yasel said in his ear before gently biting down on the lobe.
With a quiet scream, Tam came, spurting over Yasel's hand and his own stomach.
Panting, he could barely comprehend what had just happened when Yasel abruptly pushed him to the side, throwing back the blankets and grabbing a tunic before heading out of the tent.
Not once did he look back at Tam in spite of the fact that all Tam could do was stare at him, wide eyed.
Never in his life had he felt so dirty, Tam decided, as the tent flap closed behind Yasel.
By the time Tam thought to try and look for Yasel the next morning, he'd already scrubbed his bruised skin raw in the frigid waters of the creek at the edge of the village. Ice had formed over the majority of it, but in the places where the water ran fast, Tam had found enough to bathe himself.
His skin hurt, his muscles burned, and he still felt disgusting.
It was time to go find Yasel then, he decided, because he couldn't stand his own company anymore. Trekking through the village, he gave Getnan wide berth, avoiding the man's thoroughly thunderous expression, as he headed for the sick tent he'd been yesterday with Yasel. It was as safe a bet as he could make that Yasel was there.
Making his way into the tent, Tam couldn't believe that it could possibly smell worse than it had the day before, but it did. The children who had been sitting up and at least somewhat energetic, were now lying on the floor, red cheeked and in fever induced sleep. There were ten more children in addition to yesterday's five as well, and Yasel was in the far corner of the tent checking their eyes and ears as they squirmed.
"Do they all have the same illness?" he asked softly.
"Yes." Tam jumped in shock as Feira came to him from the shadows. "It's starting to sweep through the whole village. There are some old ones sick, but they've decided to stay in their own tents and leave this one to the young."
"And Yasel knows what it is?" he asked softly, feeling oddly comfortable around the woman in spite of the fact that she looked as if her skin had been peeled off and then put back on wrong.
"See for yourself," she grinned, before reaching up and grabbing Tam's chin, giving it a shake before releasing it. "He's a closed mouth sonofabitch. He won't tell me a thing."
Giving her an uncertain glance, Tam walked around her to talk to Yasel. Although, once he came to a stop at Yasel's side, he wasn't sure what to say or how to say it. Never touch me again? Touch me every night? Leave me alone? Don't leave me alone? I'm sorry I hurt you? I'm sorry I let you hurt me? It all jammed in his mouth as he started to talk and came out, "Nrgh?" instead.
"Go back to our tent, Tamrin," Yasel spared him a tired glare before picking up a little girl who couldn't be more than three or four summers and laying her down next to the first five children.
"Let me help," he countered uncertainly, noticing as he looked at those original five that the spots Yasel had mentioned could clearly be seen. On Tagel, the one who had been the first to catch the illness, they were festering wounds.
Wounds that Tam recognized. This plague had been through the villages surrounding the temple he lived in when he'd been a boy. He himself had barely lived through what had killed half the children his age. Yasel slid his sleeves up before he tucked a fur tightly around the girl. Tam's eyes honed in on the redness of Yasel's wrists though, and before he could stop and analyze what he was doing, he'd squatted down next to Yasel to get a closer look.
Yasel, however, didn't seem at all happy with Tam or Tam's continued presence here. "Look, Tamrin, there's unfinished business between us, but now is not the time. I have things that I have to do, or these kids are going to die," he hissed blackly. But in grabbing Tam's tunic, Yasel gave him a better opportunity to look, and sure enough, on Yasel's wrists was the beginning of the telltale rash.
"You've gotten it." Tam looked up into Yasel's brown eyes, serious. "You're going to look just like them in a couple of days."
His entire face turned red with anger and Tam instantly regretted having said a word. Yanking hard, Yasel dragged him outside the tent, poking hard at his chest as he shoved Tam away. "You may not care if those kids are sick. You might even envy them for all I know, but you will not stop me and you will not get in the way, do you understand?"
Tam looked at him blankly for a moment before he got angry in return. "Not everything is about you, okay? Of course I don't want them to die. I don't want to die either, for that matter," he blurted out, realizing that it was true even as he did so. He'd never wanted to die. Tricking himself into believing that it was right, that it was for the greater good, that it would be something that might make someone actually talk to him and treat him like a human being hadn't worked. He'd failed at the one thing he'd been born to accomplish, and he was paying for it now in someone else's body. "I can help," he said quietly, subdued. "I've seen this sickness before."
"You've seen this sickness in spite of the fact that I went through fifty winters worth of hides and found no mention of it anywhere amongst our people or the peoples that neighbor us? Liar," Yasel snarled, pushing him hard and sending him reeling to his knees in the snow. "Go back to the tent, Tamrin." Yasel sneered before turning abruptly and marching back into the sickness tent.
And that was the last thing Tam was willing to take from him. Getting up stiffly, Tam scowled as he brushed the snow off his leggings. So Yasel didn't want his help? Well, too damn bad. He was going to get it anyway. Limping his way back to their tent, Tam got on his knees and pulled out every pouch, pot and jar he could find that contained medicines looking for the stuff that had saved him as a child.
Yasel didn't like it? It wasn't Tam's problem. He was done feeling bad about something he had no control over.
By the time Tam had found what he was looking for and mixed it up properly, the sun had set. For the first time in ages, he was actually appreciative of the fact that in his old life no one had gone out of their way to notice him. It had allowed him many freedoms. One of which being that he could shadow anyone as long as he didn't impede their work. After falling sick, he'd spent a good couple seasons silently following his own people's healers around like a pale ghost.
He'd been afraid for a moment that the medicines his healers had come to work with after their blow with the illness could not be found in this frigid country and that Yasel wouldn't have any. But in a corked oilskin in the far corner of the tent, he'd found the first herb, and quickly after that, he'd stumbled on the next three hidden away under bigger pouches and behind bigger pots.
Granted, there wasn't a lot of any of it, but it didn't take large doses to be effective. Plus, he's stumbled upon a salve he remembered being useful for the wounds, which would greatly reduce the need for larger quantities of the medicine.
Gingerly moving his sore body out of his tent, he quickly and quietly made his way to the sickness tent. The whole village was eerily still, and Tam suspected it had a lot to do with the illness. It spread like wildfire, and Tam would not be surprised if half the village was already coming down with it.
"Tamrin." The name was half growled as Tam entered the tent, but he could see that Yasel was in little position to put more force behind the words. The rash on his wrists had obviously developed into more, and his cheeks were red with fever even as Tam could see the red spots that had formed on his neck and likely the rest of his body. Feira was laid out beside the children as well, and Tam suddenly realized that with fifteen children, this had the opportunity to become a rather daunting task.
"Put that on," he ordered as he dumped the bag that held the jars of salve at Yasel's feet. Glaring at him distrustfully, Yasel sniffed the first jar before wrinkling his brow and tentatively peeling off his tunic to apply it. Tam ignored him as he moved to the original five children. They, of all the kids, were the worst off. He had to rouse each one to the point where they were awake enough to take a sip from the oilskin. It was not an easy task as they were all unbearably hot from the fever and sluggish. By the time he'd helped Feira take a sip, he was not looking forward to the dosing of the rest of the children.
But, by the time he'd dosed them, Yasel had finished with the salve.
"Drink some of that, but be careful not to drink too much. It's very potent." He shoved the oilskin at Yasel and pulled his own tunic off as Yasel tentatively took a sip.
"Did you make this?"
Tam shot him a disgusted look. Who else in this village did Yasel think would have? The question didn't merit an answer.
"I deserve that," Yasel said quietly, and Tam hazarded a small glance in his direction. "I'll dose the rest of the children if you start rubbing salve on the original five."
Well, Tam wasn't going to protest that. He picked up a couple jars and went to the five children. It was relatively easy to get the salve on them as they weren't squirming around much and had very little energy to do so even if they'd been so inclined. He'd tried to put some on Feira, but she'd protested weakly that she could do so herself, and out of deference to her age, Tam let her. By the time he turned his attention back to Yasel, the rest of the children had been dosed.
All they had to do now was rub ten squirming, complaining and cranky children down with sticky putrid smelling salve.
Tam knew it was not going to be an easy task. From the look on his face, Yasel was of a similar opinion. Smiling grimly, Tam gamely grabbed some more jars and advanced on the closest child—who immediately tried to scramble out of reach.
"You're going to have to distract them while we do this," Yasel said softly as he too grabbed a jar.
Tam resolutely ignored him. Having been ignored most of his life, he figured he was bound to do a pretty decent job of it.
"Tell them a story, Tamrin. Please?"
The combination of the please and the fact that it was actually not an entirely bad suggestion made Tam relent. Distracting them had worked last time. It was just that he hadn't wanted to be ordered to do it. "This is a story that I was told as a child and had been told to all the children for as long as the Mother's good will shown on my people since she created us," he started before realizing that he didn't know which story to tell.
The kids were all looking at him expectantly though, so he plowed on. "But as all children come to realize, any story must start off somewhere and some child must be the first to hear it. And you children will be the first to hear this one.
"In a land, much farther south than the lands that your parents and your parents' parents have lived on, there was a people who lived off of the rich crop lands that the Mother had gifted them. Unlike here, the snow never fell and it never grew cold enough for things like boots or furs. The rains fell regularly, and the ground provided everything the people needed.
"But as is the case with everything the Mother gives, a payment must be given back for such wealth. So every ten turns of the seasons, the people would gather, taking one of their own and offering that child's soul up, they would sacrifice the body as a gesture of good will to the Mother to show her that her sacrifices for the people had not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by them.
"And one year, there was born a sacrificial baby that the priests named Tam," he let the story flow quietly as he rubbed salve over one child and then another and then another until he and Yasel had managed to coat each and every child.
By the time that they'd gotten all the children tucked into small pallets with their eyelids drooping closed in sleep, Tam had managed to tell his story up to the point where he'd awaken as Rin here in this village. He let his last sentence trail off before he moved to retrieve his tunic on the floor. He knew that there were more infected people in the village. At the very least, they all needed doses from the oilskin and there were still several jars of the salve left over for them to use.
"How does the story end," Yasel asked quietly, scaring ten years off of Tam's already over-extended lease on life.
"I don't know," he snapped back irritably, pulling the sleeves of the tunic down. His wrists itched, but he was determined to ignore it. "I haven't very well lived it yet, now have I?"
Yasel watched him with indecipherable eyes. "Where are you going?"
"The rest of the village needs this medicine. They might not like me much at the moment, but they probably need it just as badly as these children did."
"I'm coming with."
"You need to stay here. You're still feverish. I can handle this just fine. Go watch them," Tam retorted, shoving and watching with some satisfaction as Yasel stumbled to his knees much like Tam had stumbled earlier when Yasel had pushed him.
Brushing past him, Tam resolutely set off to visit every tent within the village.
Tam took a sip of the oilskin himself somewhere in the middle of checking the other tents of the villages. The rash on his wrist alternately burned and itched, so he knew he'd taken the medicine too late to have staved off the worst of the symptoms. He knew he was becoming feverish and he was sure it wouldn't be too long until he himself was sporting red spots and opened wounds. It was just that with the medicine, he wasn't likely to die from it.
Just be really, really uncomfortable for a couple of days.
Sighing, he made his way to the last tent. He was about to call out, when someone from inside came out to meet him. Since the moon was almost full, and the light was bouncing off the snow on the ground, it wasn't hard for Tam to see who he was faced with in the night air.
"What are you here for?" Getnan spat, obviously not happy to see Tam standing in front of him.
"There's an illness going around the village. I'm just here to dispense the medicine," he told the man dully, not really wanting to get into anything. He was tired and cold and dammit, he just wanted to curl into a ball and wake up in a warmer climate.
"And you came here last, you sniveling little brat? After all that I've done for you?"
Tam looked up at Getnan, unimpressed. "I went to the tents that were in the most need. No one that I talked to mentioned that you or yours were too terribly bad off, so yes. I came here last."
Those obviously weren't the right words, because Getnan boxed his ears in response, making them ring more than the fever had managed beforehand. "It's that healer you're with now. He's what's given you such an attitude and uppity airs. Well, we can't exactly have that, now can we, Rin. You and I, we had an agreement."
"I'm not Rin. And we don't have an agreement. I don't even really know you and I don't care to," Tam told him stiffly, handing him the oilskin. The man could just have it. There were more herbs back at the tent. Not a lot, granted, but it wasn't worth letting Getnan beat on him. Turning, he went to walk away, when Getnan's foot shot out, tripping his bad ankle.
Falling to the ground with a heavy thud, Tam was only able to roll just slightly away before Getnan was on top of him, fists pounding on already tender flesh. "When you killed your mother, I kept you in spite of the fact that the entire village was sure that leaving you for the wolves would be better. I did good by you, and this is how you repay me?!" A blow glanced off his head and Tam shook himself slightly, trying to keep the world from losing focus.
He had no mother, and he had no reason to feel guilty or indebted, so whatever blackmail Getnan might have used in addition to his fists wasn't going to work this time. Balling up a fist, Tam hit back, managing to get a blow to Getnan's chin.
It wasn't a very strong one or an effective one. But it was enough to shock Getnan into stopping, if just for a short second. Tam tried to scramble away, but his body simply wasn't moving fast enough. Too much abuse in too short of a time had taken its toll.
The fists came back, hard and heavy and Tam found himself helpless to do much but curl into a ball and try to protect himself from the worst.
It took him a good long minute before he realized that they'd stopped, and it took more to realize that the reason they'd done so was because Yasel had Getnan laid out flat on the ground, paring knife drawing blood as it rested against Getnan's throat. "You will stay away from Tamrin," Yasel snarled, surprising Tam with his intensity.
"What do you care? The little brat's yours to fuck, what's the harm if I put him in his place every once in a while? I'm his father."
Tam sat up painfully, holding his stomach just in time to see Yasel flick the paring knife into the ground by Getnan's face before plowing a fist into Getnan's face. Hauling the man up by the tunic, Yasel tossed him back into his tent. "Tamrin, as of this moment, is no longer any relation of yours. As soon as the elders are healed, I will petition to have him officially removed from your lineage, but know this. You. Will. Not. Touch. Him. Again."
Even Tam shivered at the lethal intent in Yasel's voice. "But he's a worthless little snot nosed brat," Getnan sniveled, having not learned his lesson the first time.
"Touch him, and you'll wish you were dead," Yasel promised. Delivering the words with another particularly vicious punch, Getnan flew back into the tent and stayed there this time, unmoving. Yasel shook his hand a couple of times, trying to get the sting out, before he turned to Tam.
Knowing he had to look an absolute mess, Tam sighed and looked away. He could taste the blood in his mouth, and given the way it was dribbling he knew he had a bloody nose, not to mention a fresh new array of bruises.
Hands touched lightly on his chin, and reluctantly, Tam turned his head to look at Yasel given the gentle insistence. While Yasel still didn't look to exactly be in the peak of health, he still had to look better than Tam did. "That bastard." Yasel's face darkened and Tam pushed his hands away. Yasel didn't care about him. He'd made that clear, hadn't he? Rin had already messed that up. There was a window of opportunity, and it had closed before Tam had even entered into the picture.
He struggled painfully to get up, but Yasel halted the movement, gingerly picking Tam up and hauling him like a slightly fragile dead animal carcass back to their tent. By the time Yasel had set him down on their rather familiar looking pallet, Tam was exhausted. He'd had enough of this and this life. He'd spent his whole life up to this point only mattering in death. He wanted to matter to someone in life. And if Yasel didn't want him, Tam wasn't going to stick around.
When he healed, he'd move on. Maybe move south.
"Tam?" A hand on his shoulder gently turned him around, and Tam looked up at Yasel blankly. "Tamrin?"
"Who's with the children?"
"Haelil stopped by shortly after you'd left his tent. He mentioned that eventually you'd find yourself at Getnan's. I should have come for you faster," Yasel told him, his hands resting on Tam's cheeks and then threading through his hair. His brown eyes were full of regret, and for that reason, Tam didn't snap at him. Instead he just gently, detangled Yasel's hands from his person and lay back down.
Yasel watched him for a moment, and then turned around to put the mess Tam had made on the other side of the tent back to rights. For some reason, that hurt more than anything else that had happened that night. Although, he had no idea why. This was for the best, wasn't it? This was the way it was supposed to be. It wasn't as if this was where Tam was meant to be, or even who he was meant to be, really. Maybe he'd finish what Rin had started.
What did he know about living? Especially when they only thing he'd been ready to do was die?
He was still lost in thought when Yasel crawled under the furs behind him a couple hours later. It wasn't until Yasel's hand tentatively worked its way under Tam's tunic that he stiffly tried to move away. "Shh, you're just going to hurt yourself if you move too much. Your body needs to rest." Yasel's hand played in his hair, and bit his lip as he tried to assure himself that it didn't mean anything. Yasel was just trying to prove another point to the nonexistent Rin.
"I understand, okay," Tam said painfully. "I get it all right."
"No, I think it was me who didn't understand," Yasel massaged his scalp lightly. "The story you told those children tonight was true, wasn't it. You're the Tam from the tale."
"Tamrin, now," Tamrin clenched a fist in the covers.
"Tamrin," Yasel agreed easily, tugging gently until Tamrin was turned towards him, hiding his face in Yasel's chest. "I'm sorry I was so slow to realize the difference. I was scared to move forward. Rin had made it quite clear on many occasions that he didn't care for me or my feelings."
"I'm sorry, too," Tamrin whispered softly. "I was scared to move forward too, and I didn't know how to explain it."
Silence lapped over them, and Tamrin didn't protest as Yasel gathered him up in an embrace.
"So, you think that maybe we could start over? Do things the right way this time?" Yasel's voice muffled in Tamrin's hair.
"We could try," Tamrin finally agreed before looking up at Yasel.
Ducking in, Yasel sealed the agreement with a kiss that Tamrin earnestly returned.