First of all, to anyone of Hausa ancestry, or anyone who believes in their religion and mythology (a smaller population than the people I might offend by my Biblical stuff, I'm assuming): sincere apologies for any offense. It is not at all my intent to single out your beliefs for mockery. Something caught my imagination and I went with it; nothing personal about you, your gods, ancestors, mythological beings or worldview.

sigh And of course, the warnings: Contains male homosexuality, possibly swearing (too lazy to check right now), an annoyingly enigmatic main character, and my very bad attempts at romance. The last one is really the only one you need to watch out for.

Claimer/disclaimer: Again, words have as much right to free will as we do. However, all of these words originated inside my own head or in African mythology, and they love me more than they love you so don't try to steal them. ALSO: insofar and inasmuch as I do own these words, they are a gift to the very talented madder, who is an amazing writer and deserves lots more gifts. Hint hint, y'all. Go read her stuff.

And last but not least, comment please! Tell me I'm getting better! Tell me I'm getting worse! Point out my typos, inform me I'm going to hell, tell me to give up and let the voices drive me crazy, just tell me something! It's good for your karma, I promise...


Kamil first saw the man at the Dance, a solitary dark spot in a whirl of brightly coloured fabric and pale, avid tourists. It was tourist season and El-Aaiún was awash with them—loud, inquisitive, sometimes obnoxious but very, very lucrative. The natives waded through the throngs like salmon swimming upstream, dark skin and flashing white teeth drawing attention and for some reason leading the foreigners to believe that anyone possessed of those traits could answer any question posed to them. Up to and including the meaning of life, Kamil sometimes felt...although he tried to keep that opinion out of his face and voice, and usually suceeded. It was just that this year had been busier than usual, he'd foolishly volunteered to work overtime at the baker's, and on top of that things felt…well, odd. A sort of humming, thrumming underneath the usual bustle, that kept pulling his attention away from tasks that really needed his conecentration.

All in all, the man shouldn't have been what Kamil remembered about the event. The Dance—there were many dances throughout the three-day festival, but anyone who mattered knew the there was really only one that was important—had felt odd too, and he wasn't the only one who had thought so. Gathered around the tree in the centre of the square (and yes there were in fact trees in the desert, a fact that if Kamil heard uttered in amazement one more time he might scream) the dancers had all shifted uncertainly before the drums started, all affected by the same unease…the feeling that they were being watched.

Which was ridiculous, because everyone always watched the Dance.

And then the drums started, heavy pounding heartbeat with the breathy flutes joining a moment later along with the pipes, dancing like sparks along nerves, and everyone forgot about the odd feeling. All that mattered was the Dance: heart, soul, and most of all, body. All the dancers understood that; understood it in a way that never quite made it into the guidebooks.

Kamil had just frozen in place, crouched and his entire body humming with energy, when he saw the man. It was the eyes that he noticed first—such an odd, pale blue colour, almost grey but not quite, and dreamy, unfocused. He almost thought the man was blind, but those eyes were firmly fixed on the dancers, tracking their movements. Contrasting with the pale eyes, the man's skin was dark; unlike Kamil's own coffee-with-cream skin, the colour a blending of his Hausa mother and tourist father, the man's skin was a dusky grey-black colour that should have looked unnatural but only looked…right, somehow. His clothing, too, was odd; a dark grey cloth thrown over one shoulder and wrapped around from chest down to mid-calf, more like a Greek toga than anything Kamil had seen before. Then those eyes caught and held him again, so dreamy and yet he couldn't look away…and then the music was moving again and he had to look away…and the next time he glanced over, the man was gone.

---

"I enjoyed your dance."

Kamil barely restrained a yelp of surprise. It was quiet on the outskirts of the town, far from the areas that catered to the tourists, and he enjoyed the walk home because it gave him a chance to think in peace and solitude. Obviously not tonight it didn't, for on the path behind him stood the same man who had watched the Dance so avidly. Kamil nodded and murmured a quiet 'thank you'; polite, but not inviting more conversation. The man's eyes, still so dreamy, and his deep voice, dark and rich as his skin, made that same odd feeling return again in force, and Kamil dropped his eyes to his sandal-clad feet.

"I'm sure your gods are pleased."

Kamil's head snapped up at that, and he retorted indignantly without thinking "I do not dance for gods!"

"Really." It was more a statement than a question, and the man's teeth flashed bright white in a sea of almost-black; he was amused. Kamil didn't care.

"Yes, really. Not that it's your business, stranger."

He got a full-fledged laugh for that, a low chuckle that seemed to make his bones buzz. He rubbed his arms in a vain attempt to dispel the feeling.

"Fair enough. Your name, pretty dancer?"

"Kamil." He answered without thinking, then scowled and tried to backtrack "If only to stop you coming up with any more ridiculous names."

The man didn't appear to have heard the last part, but his smile widened at receiving his answer. "Kamil." He purred, and Kamil had to suppress a shiver at the way he said it. "'Perfect'. Well named indeed." He looked at Kamil's scowl and laughed again, but sobered quickly. "But, I've a bit of a dilemma, pretty Kamil. I would like to tell you my name, so that we are no longer strangers, and you can tell me why your lovely dance was not meant for any gods. But can I trust you with something so precious?"

He was much closer than he had been, Kamil realized nervously, debating taking a step back or not. How had he gotten there? It must have happened gradually, but…his bubble was being invaded, damn it! Not good! Also, he was being loomed over rather alarmingly.

"Can I? What do you think?"

I think I want you to back off, get out of my personal space, and stop staring at me like that!

That was what Kamil was thinking, but somehow it mutated on the way out of his mouth and came out "I-I…don't know. Could you…take a step back?"

Of course, that just got him laughed at again. Somewhat to his surprise, the dark man obeyed, although he didn't exactly go far. Just stepped out of what Kamil thought of as his space, and regarded him with those odd eyes.

"I would like to tell you, pretty Kamil. But names…ah, names are funny things. They're stubborn, of course. They do not change when you do, do they? No, it takes a lot to get them to shift. And yet sometimes they're no more real than, say…a myth. A legend, stories to frighten children in the night." The corner of his mouth twitched in a smile that said nothing was actually funny. "And words, well, words are even more dangerous than names, don't you think? Words and places…it's the words that shape it all. So, beautiful, don't you think it's smart to be careful?"

Kamil was trying to think something almost the lines of 'what the fuck is he talking about' because that was what normal almost-college-graduates (he'd gotten through close to two years before quitting, at least. That was close to halfway. And if he wanted to call his failed attempt at Western education an 'almost', he damn well would) would be thinking right now. They wouldn't be standing there shivering because something in those words was making sense. The deep kind of sense that went straight to his blood and didn't consult with his brain on the way. And because that kind of thing scared him, Kamil shook himself and tried to make his voice as uncaring as possible as he stated flatly "So, you won't tell me your name, then."

"Not yet. So, are we still strangers, then? You cannot tell me who your dance is for, if not for gods?"

"Seems like it."

The stranger nodded at that, not seeming disappointed but just contemplative. "Until next time then, pretty dancer, perfect Kamil."

And he turned and walked away, back down the path towards the city. Kamil stared after him rather longer than his dignity would like to admit, then shook himself and continued on home.

He really should have expected it when the next night, coming home from a VERY long shift that he didn't even want to think about, the man was once again standing on the path. He didn't, however, and stared for a moment before greeting the stranger slightly warily. The man smiled at him, murmured "Greetings, pretty Kamil," ignored the smaller man's scowl at the adjective, and fell into step with him. Kamil had been complaining about his bad day inside his head already, and somehow he found himself complaining out loud to the stranger instead. The stranger listened and walked and nodded sympathetically, and by the time they were almost to Kamil's small hut he was finding himself significantly calmed down. However, he still wasn't sure he wanted the man to know where he lived…but even as that thought crossed his mind, the stranger stopped and turned to him.

"I fear I must leave you, pretty Kamil…are we still strangers?"

"Will you tell me your name?"

"Not yet. Until next time, then."

And he walked off.

The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Each time he appeared once Kamil had left the city, and disappeared before they got to the hut. He mostly listened in silence, his dreamy eyes fixed on Kamil and somehow leading him to talk of all sorts of things that he didn't intend to share with a stranger. He spoke of his parents, gone or dead he didn't know, who had only met long enough to make one mistake. He spoke of his grandfather: laughing as he remembered his tart, caustic observations on anything and everything (probably the reason why the old man had lived so far outside of town in a little hut), then sobering again as he recalled how even in a culture that didn't forgive the circumstances of his birth, his grandfather had still told him the stories of his Hausa ancestors, making sure he knew his heritage and that he was entitled to claim it. He spoke of his decision to go to a college in America, how his grandfather had laughed and laughed…but paid his tuition. How after two years of intense confusion, he'd come back home just in time to say goodbye and give the last rites to the man who had raised him, and been too sad and lost to leave again. How sometimes he felt trapped, by the city and the people and the customs but also by his solitude, his seeming inability to draw anyone near.

Sometimes the stranger did speak, often to comment or tease or offer advice, but equally often to ask questions—odd questions, about the sky and the earth and gods and music, or ordinary questions about Kamil's life. It bothered Kamil sometimes, that in all the talking they did, he was really the only one giving out information. And that's why, every time the man turned to leave and asked "Are we still strangers?" Kamil never said anything other than "Will you tell me your name?"

And the answer was always "Not yet. Until next time, then." Always next time. And as the months wore on, and Kamil began to look forwards to the walk home for more than just peace and quiet, he found himself wishing next time would just become this time already.

Perhaps that was why, one evening as the man turned to leave, Kamil caught hold of his sleeve and asked slightly awkwardly "Would…would you like to come inside for a bit?" The stranger looked surprised—his air of easy confidence dispelled for a brief moment—then smiled brilliantly, white teeth flashing. "Yes."

No one else had been in his hut since his grandfather had died. It wasn't a complete mess, because Kamil didn't see the point in leaving things for himself to trip over, but he certainly hadn't expected anyone to be visiting any time soon. The cone-shaped, thatched roof was a bit tattered and contained a few thin spots that Kamil refused to call holes, and once they got inside there were dirty dishes on the table and clothes waiting to be washed and hung to dry. All in all, it was nothing to write home about…but the stranger stared around as though fascinated.

Then again, if he was one of the wealthy oligarchy, or perhaps a foreigner, he would probably never have seen a house like this before. The days of widespread poverty were fading, and only those who were still desperately poor—which Kamil wasn't, thank you very much. He got by—or trapped in the past still lived in the dwellings of their ancestors. The rest lived in the towns, with things like electricity, and running water that worked without being coaxed and pleaded with first. But his grandfather had loved this house, and why should Kamil spend money on a place in town when he didn't have to?

The man did not return his attention to Kamil until he had examined everything the hut had to offer—the mud walls, the wood furniture, and especially the sink and faucet, which only worked two times out of three but seemed to hold an intense fascination for him. Finally, however, he turned back to Kamil and asked, with the teasing smile that over the weeks Kamil had become less and less annoyed by, "A lovely cage for a lovely bird, hm?" "I'm no bird!" Kamil asserted, half in amusement and half exasperation with the myriad nicknames the stranger came up with.

The stranger ignored the protest as usual, instead finishing his prowling inspection of the house by stopping in front of Kamil, a little closer than he was fully comfortable with. Usually the other remembered Kamil's need for personal space, but every once in a while he forgot…and Kamil, to his own dismay, was less and less willing to remind him. "So, if I am here, does that mean we are no longer strangers?"

Kamil stared into pale, dreamy eyes, mesmerized, and could barely find the voice to whisper once more "Tell me your name." The stranger bent over, and with his mouth next to Kamil's ear he whispered one word, very softly.

"Yours, to do with as you will." he told Kamil as he straightened up again, and his usual calm confidence was replaced by uncertainty, disquiet and perhaps even some fear, which seemed wrong on his face. Without thinking, Kamil did the only thing he could think of to erase that wrongness: he reached up and tugged the other man back down again until their lips met.

Dizzying, that was the only way to describe it. Kamil had always known that men held more interest for him than women, and in his two years at American university had even found the courage to experiment once or twice. It had been nothing like this; one kiss and his head was spinning, and if it hadn't been too disgustingly cliché to even consider, Kamil might have admitted that his knees were about to buckle. Maybe it was just that it had been so long…America was one thing, but here…with a gasp, Kamil jerked back, his eyes widening.

"Can't…can't do this!" The dark man frowned slightly in confusion.

"I thought you…?"

"I did, I do! But…" Kamil tried to get his breath back and explain at the same time. "This…I mean…fifty years ago, this was punishable by the death penalty! Twenty years ago it was still illegal!"

"…then we should be glad it is now and not twenty years ago, no?"

"Well, yes, but…people still…it's not supposed to happen."

He was being laughed at again, softly. It was strangely calming, by this point; the man never laughed derisively, and there was always a tinge of affection to it, the sense that he cherished everything Kamil said and wasn't dismissing it with his amusement. "Out here, who will object, do you think? The sky? The earth? Your house, perhaps?" Kamil had to concede that that was a good point.

"But, in the town…"

"I have no desire to go there, if you do not wish it."

Kamil was swiftly running out of objections, and the other knew it, drawing him back into the circle of his arms and kissing him again, softy. "Still, you should not make such a decision so quickly. I will leave you now," a protest was cut of by another kiss, "and return tomorrow, when you will tell me what you decide. Goodnight, perfect Kamil." And he slid out the door silently, leaving Kamil slightly dazed, and already fairly sure of his answer.

---

The next few months passed much more quickly. If anyone noticed that Kamil's temper suddenly improved, his eyes brighter and his smile quicker, they smiled knowingly behind their hands and didn't comment. For his part, Kamil couldn't remember having been this happy since before his grandfather had died. His lover met him outside of town on the road and they walked together to his house…and although the dark man always slipped away before morning, Kamil never doubted that he would be there at nightfall to greet him. His questions and concerns about his lover's past were stilled for now—they were happy, what more did he need?

And then one day, Kamil received news that the shaman had arrived in town. Part mystic teacher, part tourist trap, the shaman had been a friend of Kamil's grandfather years ago (though his grandfather, caustic as ever, had once told Kamil the man was nothing more than a power-hungry charlatan). Kamil was about to leave for work when the shaman arrived at his hut—much older now, bent and wrinkled, but his voice was the same as he called out a greeting, and Kamil would never forget the long, grey-streaked hair and the feathers sewn all over the man's clothes. Kamil ushered him inside and had the sad task of explaining why his grandfather was not also there to greet him…but he was barely finished with the tale when the shaman suddenly stiffened, his eyes narrowing.

"There is something…what have you been up to, young Kamil? An odd feeling has been plaguing me since I stepped inside your house. Has some dark spirit been here? Have you not kept up the proper rites?"

As Kamil frowningly assured the older man that he had preformed all the rites he knew (no lie, as his grandfather had refused to teach him a single one, loudly proclaiming them to be superstitious nonsense), the shaman prowled around his hut like a hunter stalking his prey.

"Bori!"

"Wh-what?" Kamil stammered, surprised both at the sudden exclamation and at the odd light in the man's eyes—a sudden energy that seemed almost hungry.

"Don't play dumb with me, boy! You idiot, you've called a bori to you, haven't you? And now you can't control it. Foolish, foolish boy…leave supernatural matters to those who understand them!"

"I…what? I don't…I don't even understand what you're saying!"

The shaman whirled on him violently, and suddenly a very confused Kamil was backed up against a wall, with the old man peering intently into his face. The manic energy was still there, but veiled now, as the shaman looked contemplative…and when he spoke next, his voice was soft and persuasive.

"The townsfolk all praise your dancing in the festivals, Kamil. You're the best of the bunch, or so I've heard. But you don't dance for the tourists, do you?" Something in Kamil's face or eyes must have shifted, because the man nodded in satisfaction. "No, nor for the young ladies…not even for the gods, I'd wager. Who do you dance for, hmm?"

Kamil hadn't intended to answer—his grandfather's old friend was scaring him by now, the odd questions and the even odder manner like nothing he'd ever exhibited before—but he couldn't seem to stop the words coming out. "G-grandfather said that our people only ever danced for the spirits…yes, all right, the bori. He said that the dances made them happy, made them inclined to help instead of hurt. That if the dance came from the heart, the bori would bless us. I don't…it was just old stories! Calm down!"

"Old stories? You imbecile!" Kamil tried to lean away from the man's fury, to no avail. Right now he wished his lover were here, with the calm he always seemed to carry around him, his easy confidence and strength. "And that doddering old fool…he didn't listen to a word I said!"

"Hey!" Now Kamil's temper sparked, and he shoved the shaman away from him angrily. "My grandfather didn't need your advice, and if you were truly his friend you wouldn't disgrace his memory like that!"

"You're the one who disgraces his memory—consorting with a creature of darkness! Your dance would have called it to you, I know it did…stop denying it!"

"My dance didn't call anything to me!"

And then realization hit Kamil like a shock of cold water. His dark lover, the mysterious stranger with the dreamy eyes who didn't speak of himself and who guarded his name fiercely…who spoke so oddly, who seemed fascinated by the most mundane human things, who appeared and disappeared without warning…who had first appeared on the day of the dance.

No.

But his face must have changed, because the shaman crowed in triumph. "I knew it! Call it, call it I know you can!"

"No!" Kamil was near tears by now, and he wanted to call his lover, to have him comfort him and assure him that it wasn't true, that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all…although he didn't know what that could be.

The shaman shook his head impatiently. "No need to fear, boy! It won't harm you while I'm here…I can rid you of its spell, its influence! Surely you'd like that."

No, no he wouldn't! But…spell? Kamil couldn't help a small, crawling doubt from wriggling into his mind. Surely his feelings were more real than just a spell, a spirit's trick. But…all the facts seemed to point to his lover as the spirit the shaman sensed. And somehow, Kamil was sure the old man wasn't just pretending, trying to scare him with talk of the supernatural. No, his eyes were too intent for that. There was definitely something odd going on here…and he wanted it resolved, so it couldn't threaten him anymore. And, really, the past months had all seemed to be too good to be true…

The first tears running down his cheeks, Kamil very softly murmured the name his lover had trusted him with, had warned him never to use unless the need was dire. And he was there—the dark shape appeared in front of him, and the form almost seemed to writhe for a moment before settling into the one he had thought he knew so well, so intimately.

"Love, what…?" Those pale, far-away eyes widened at the sight of Kamil's tears and the triumphant shaman, and dark lips parted in an almost silent "No…" before everything exploded into sound and movement. Kamil froze, surprised and uncomprehending: he registered a flash of light, the shaman crying out "You will no longer harm this helpless child!" and then some words in an odd language he didn't know…and last a pained cry that seemed to be trying to tear his heart out.

When the confusion settled again the shaman was standing triumphant over the dark form on the floor, who was moaning in pain. Looking closer, Kamil saw chains (where had they come from?) binding the bori's hands together—iron, he realized as the shaman wound more chains around his legs and he hissed in pain at their touch. So it really was true. No wholesome creature was burned by the touch of iron. Kamil's eyes were flowing freely now, and as the shaman stepped back and began fishing around in his robes for something else, he met his lover's pale eyes through a haze of tears. The warmth and confidence was gone, replaced by what looked like desperation…but of course it looked like that. Bori were shapeshifters, masters of mimicry. It had played him so easily. He couldn't say anything…what was there to say? It had all been a lie, just a game for a bored spirit to pass the time playing with a stupid mortal…he turned away, disgusted.

"No, no. Kamil, Kamil…perfect, beautiful, look at me! I would never hurt you…" Of course he said that now. More pretty names, more lies…and just his luck that Kamil had started, stupidly, to believe them. "Believe me, love, please! Don't let him…aah!"

Kamil whirled back around at the pained yell, to see the shaman gesturing with wide, sweeping movements over the form on the floor with a long feather in his hand. "What are you…?"

"Don't worry, child! I'm taking away its power, making sure it can never harm you again!"

Another sweeping gesture, another scream from the bori. Good, Kamil thought viciously, even though he was crying again. Let it hurt like it was making him hurt. And yet…and yet something felt wrong about the whole thing. It had all spun out of control so swiftly, from the moment he summoned the bori to him…the shaman had moved so fast, seemed so sure of the next step! But…next step to what? The dark shape on the floor was still fully human, still screaming with pain and gasping for air. Shouldn't it be turning back to whatever hideous form it truly was, by now? And the shaman…that odd light in his eyes was back again, and his teeth were bared in a feral grimace that made Kamil back away even father. Indeed, it seemed like instead of the bori becoming less human as his power faded, it was instead the shaman who was…

"Kamil, please! I never meant for this to…I never would have…I told you my name!"

Kamil stood stock still for a moment, staring as his thoughts whirled in confusion…and then all of a sudden with an almost painful clarity, they all solidified into one old, cracked, echoing voice, the one voice he trusted more than anything else. "Your instincts are your best guide, in almost any situation. All that stuff and noise out there? Just block it out. You have everything you need inside your head, or at least you will if you listen to me."

This, right now? This felt wrong…so wrong it was making him almost physically ill. And Kamil was completely certain that nothing had ever felt as right as being with his lover—his bori.

"Stop…" his voice came out a croak, and Kamil had to swallow and try again. "Stop it! Stop, right now, it's wrong, you're not…" The way the dark man on the floor looked up in surprise and sudden hope was all the confirmation Kamil needed that he was doing the right thing. But the shaman was ignoring him, and the feeling of wrongness was building, and…

"STOP! This is MY HOUSE and MY LAND and I DO NOT PERMIT THIS!"

In the aftermath of his scream the room seemed eerily silent and frozen. The shaman stared at him, and his throat worked but no sound came out. Kamil, too, was in shock for a moment at the sheer power he had felt underneath those words; his grandfather had always sworn that there was real power in ownership, that on his own territory any man had the right to set the rules…but he'd never before believed it. Then again, he'd never really believed in the bori, either. Now the only sound in the room was the harsh, laboured breathing of the figure on the floor.

"What are you doing?" The shaman sounded furious, but he made no move to continue that strange, eerie ritual. In fact, he seemed almost frozen in place, caught by the command Kamil had shouted.

"I don't…I…you were doing something weird, and it was wrong. You were hurting him." He sounded like a child. Kamil cleared his throat and tried to recover some of his equanimity. "That wasn't what I wanted. I just wanted to know. I didn't tell you you were allowed to chain him up, or do…whatever it was you were doing."

"It's an it, not a him!" The old man was obviously attempting to rein in his temper, without much success. "Kamil. Don't let yourself fall back under the spell…I know it is difficult, but you must see this creature as it truly is, not as it seems. It's a creature of darkness, only a little lower than some of the shaitans, and I know their power can be terrifying and attractive. But you must remember that it is all illusion. What empty promises did it make to you? Fame? Money? Your grandfather back from the dead, perhaps? No, none of that? What, then?" Kamil was shaking his head, his eyes fixed on the dark form who gazed back steadily.

"He didn't…promise me anything."

"Nothing? Then why…" The shaman frowned at the two figures whose gazes were locked together, looking from one to the other in confusion…and then realization dawned, and his eyes widened in shock before his face twisted with revulsion. "No. Kamil, you were always such a good boy. Don't tell me you let this creature pull you so far from the right path…into such abomination! What would your grandfather say?"

"Leave him out of this!" He wanted to cry again—this time with frustration and anger—as he whirled to face the shaman and the man stepped back several paces, looking as though just meeting Kamil's eyes was too disgusting to face. That wasn't fair! "You have no right to come here and say things like that. You were my grandfather's friend but you're not mine; leave. You're not welcome here anymore."

"Kamil, no. Let me take away it's power, and you'll see…your mind will clear. You'll realize how wrong, how disgusting this is."

A cough from the floor drew their attention back to the subject of the discussion. "Let you take my power and do what with it, I wonder? Use it to fuel your own spells, your own ambition? It isn't evil anymore if you need it, isn't that right?" The shaman threw out a hand furiously and spoke another word in that odd language, and the bori's voice broke off in another groan of pain.

"Hey, stop it! I told you to stop!" Kamil grabbed the shaman's arm…and the man shrank away in revulsion, hissing something about 'unclean'. That was the last straw. "Get OUT of my HOUSE!" Kamil yanked the door open, practically threw the shaman out of it, and slammed it shut again so hard that the roof of the hut shook. And finally the feeling of wrongness was gone.

Kamil stood shaking and staring sightlessly at the wall for a moment longer…but a low moan from the floor brought him back to his senses and he collapsed to his knees beside the chained form.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry please be all right…"

"Shhh, love, I am all right. Thank you. Thank you." Familiar hands reached for him, then drew back in pain as the iron rubbed. Kamil scrambled to remove the chains and throw them as far away as he could, and then he was being held tightly, as if the other was afraid he would disappear. "I am so sorry, love…I didn't know it would lead to this. But you called, and I came…it is how it works. How it has always worked."

"No…spells, or anything?"

That even got the briefest glimmer of a smile. "I would not know how. Our power is not that type, beautiful."

"I believe you."

They just sat in silence for a while, breathing, letting the fear drain away. Eventually they got up off the floor, and carefully skirting the iron chains, sat down on the bed instead…where his bori finally told Kamil everything.

The dances called the bori, as his grandfather had said…and when called, the bori always came, even to these strange modern times where they were almost never called anymore. So he had answered, and found instead of the rituals an odd, unfamiliar dance, with the right feel but the wrong movements, the wrong thoughts and intentions. And so, because there was no prayer to answer or request to grant, he had stayed, and watched, and been intrigued…by this world, by the people in it and especially by Kamil. And time had passed—an odd feeling, because time for the bori was not at all the same—and he had never felt trapped here, never been harmed by taking a form for so long which is what he had been told would happen.

"Can you…do magic? Change forms, or something like that?"

"When I am not so weary and drained? Of course. I shall show you, love; tomorrow perhaps. But I like this form…in our own realms, we have no forms, and I confess that this one suits me so well that by now it feels natural. This was not just some cover calculated to interest you, love. This is me."

Kamil grinned at that, mostly in relief…but whatever he might have replied with was cut off by a sudden noise outside. "What…?" They were both on their feet, but Kamil was stopped from moving towards the door by a hand on his arm. "Smoke…he's set the house on fire. If he can't have the power, he wants us both dead." Kamil hardly had time to register the words, much less their impact, before the other man was grabbing the sheet from the bed and piling everything he could reach onto it. "Take whatever is important to you, or irreplaceable." Kamil obeyed, at first numbly and clumsily but more quickly as he too began to smell the smoke and realized that this was actually happening.

When burning bits of grass were beginning to drift down from the roof and smoke was pouring through the walls, his lover finally bundled everything up, then pulled Kamil into his arms. "Hold on very, very tightly, love…and remember, you're safe. I won't let anything harm you."

Then the house and the flames and everything was all spinning away, replaced by cold and black and shadows all around. They were moving, or it was moving around them, and Kamil thought he could see indistinguishable shapes whirling past and feel fingers grasping at him, catching in his hair and clothes…there was a howling in his ears, like wind but different, and even the cold of the place seemed to be alive, eating inside of him and gnawing at his bones…and then with another spinning twist they were out, back in the sunlit world.

"What…what was that?"

"That, love, is why I don't regret leaving my home for yours. Not a very pleasant place, is it?"

"That was where you're from?"

"I admit that it is rather unfriendly when one has a physical form."

Kamil silently digested that for a moment, before he thought at last to ask "Where are we now?" They both looked around at the place they had found themselves; a small, grassy hill that sloped down towards a forest, the sun just setting over the tops of the trees. The heat of Kamil's homeland was gone, but not replaced by the chill of night either; a cool breeze with more moisture in it than he was accustomed to blew softly through the grass. The other man shrugged.

"That mode of travel is not exactly precise, love. I wanted to be somewhere safe; we're somewhere safe. At least it's probably the same year and month, if not the exact day or hour."

"Probably?"

Kamil didn't realize how much he had missed that soft laughter until he heard it again. "Yes, probably. This is somewhere safe, love; somewhere to start anew." Abruptly, the bori sobered again. "Not that you have much choice. Your house…"

Kamil pressed closer, blinking back tears as he thought of his grandfather's beloved hut now just a pile of ash. He had saved much…but he had also lost many things he had treasured, and would probably never even see that place again. But, his grandfather would have been the first to say that there was no use in dwelling on it, and to deal with the practical concerns first. "It'll be okay. Eventually. Let's find something approaching civilization so that we can sleep?"

"That would be welcome." Guiltily Kamil realized that his lover must be exhausted, after the shaman's efforts and then hauling them through that odd shadow-land. "There are people—humans—in that direction." A flick of the dark head indicated where he meant.

"Good, let's find out where we are…ah, no, wait!" Kamil caught at the other man's sleeve, preventing him from walking and receiving a raised eyebrow in return. "You need a name, first."

"My name belongs to you and you only, love." Kamil couldn't help the grin that that commented elicited.

"Thank you. But what if I give you another name? Something for other people to call you…that won't have the same power, will it?"

"No…but still, choose carefully. Words are important." Kamil did think carefully, biting his lip thoughtfully before finally looking up again.

"Samanya."

"Stranger?" Samanya threw back his head and laughed. "I love it."