Log in

No account? Create an account
19 October 2012 @ 02:01 pm
A Warrior’s Desire part 2  

Title: A Warrior's Desire part 2
Author: tkeylasunset
Word Count: (this part) ~6500
Fandom: Hawaii Five-0
Rating: PG (may go up)
Characters/Pairings: pre-slash Steve & Danny
Warnings None that I know of
Summary: Steve and Danny begin their journey to find and retrieve Grace. They meet some unexpected residents and begin to discover some unexpected truths.
Written for:  H50 Harlequin.

part 1
part 2

part 3
Part 4

“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” the now familiar voice said to him. Steve struggled to open his eyes, the room barely illuminated by the faint glow of the sun.

“Please tell me they have coffee in this world,” Steve said, sitting up. Danny laughed, handing him a mug of what smelled distinctly like the coffee from home. It also tasted like it. “Thank the lord.”

“Coffee seems to be universal,” Danny said. “Or, I don’t know, a constant between universes.”

“Have you been to other universes?” Steve was almost afraid to ask but it seemed like the polite thing to do.

“You probably don’t want me answering that,” Danny said. “Come eat. Then we’ll be on our way.”

Steve climbed out of bed, putting down the coffee long enough to pull on his clothes. He sat down at the table with Danny, reaching for more of the bread.

“Would you let me put a spell on your hair?” Danny asked casually.

Steve sighed, eating more bread. “You erased my tattoos. Bleaching my hair seems irrelevant in comparison.”

“That’s the spirit,” Danny said. “I won’t worry too much about your body hair yet. We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”

“I don’t even want to know what that means,” Steve said, watching warily as Danny approached him. Danny touched the crown of his head before sitting back on his side. “That’s it?”

“You were expecting a choir of angels?” Danny asked.

“I felt you erasing my ink,” Steve pointed out.

“That’s a different charm,” Danny said as though it should be perfectly clear. “I got us two cer-urns for the first part of the trip. Help us make better time.”

“I hope they are something like horses,” Steve said. “Since there seems to be no mechanisms here.”

“That’s a conscious decision the Esri made,” Danny confirmed. “They recognize the benefits but also understand that industrialism brings unintended consequences. They watched as we Humans nearly destroyed ourselves.”

“So these cer-urns are like horses?” Steve asked.

“Almost exactly like horses,” Danny agreed.

“When did you get them? You went to sleep at the same time I did,” Steve said, reaching over for one of the white pods that Danny had been eating.

“That’s hardly important,” Danny said, waving his hand in dismissal. “We’ll ride the cer-urns to the T’rtile Plains. When we get close to the breeding ground of the mor-eri, we’ll send them back.”

“How long is all of this going to take?” Steve asked, rubbing the skin between his eyebrows. Yes, the headache was still there. And growing.

“We’ll reach the breeding ground in two days if we make good time. From there, we’ll enter the Forest of Nightmares. Providing we survive that, we’ll be in Faeryland in about four days.”

“Providing we survive that.”

“It’s called the Forest of Nightmares for a reason. What? You think the name’s just to attract the tourists and the spring breakers? No, my friend. It is called that for a reason,” Danny told him.

“But we may be able to go part way through the crystal caves,” Steve said hopefully.

“Mines, not caves. Important distinction. And yes, the entrance to the mines is in the middle of the forest. The miners are the only ones who can live in the Forest of Nightmares. Doesn’t affect them like it does most Esri.”

“How does it affect Humans? Or half Humans?” Steve asked reluctantly.

“I don’t know how full-blooded Humans handle it,” Danny admitted. “I know when I’m there it lives up to its name.”

“Swell,” Steve said, eating more of the strange food. At least the coffee seemed real. The rest of this experience had taken a decided turn to the surreal. “Do you wear shoes?”

“Yeah, as a rule,” Danny said with a laugh. “Not on the beach or in the house.”

“Right,” Steve said. “If I end up wearing one of those mmu-fum-omuu, I don’t think my boots are going to work.”

“I have Esri shoes for you. You can wear them now or you can wait.”

Steve nodded, not even bothering to be surprised.

“You done?” Danny asked when most of the food was eaten, their cups empty.

“Yes,” Steve said, going back into the house for his backpack. He checked to make sure his gun was still fully loaded, stopped by Danny before he could put it in the back of his pants.

“No use taking that,” Danny said, waving at his gun. “It doesn’t work here.”

“What? It’s a gun. Of course it works here,” Steve said.

“Try it. Shoot at that tree,” Danny said, pointing at one across the walkway.

Steve took aim and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He checked the safety, checked that it hadn’t been damaged and tried again. Nothing.

“See. I told you it wouldn’t work. But would you believe me? No. Had to try it for yourself.”

“Fine,” Steve snapped, putting it on the table with more force than strictly necessary. “Fine.”

“I’m sure you can kill anyone we cross with a fine tooth comb and a paperclip,” Danny said.

“Are there paperclips here?” Steve asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Danny said which in no way enlightened Steve to the existence or lack thereof of paperclips in this new universe.

“Will my knife work?”

“Of course. No moving parts. A sharp edge. Why wouldn’t it work?”

“Why can’t I have black hair and tattoos?” Steve asked sharply.

“You need to move on about that. It’s only temporary. Once we swim back through the portal, you’ll look just like you always do, over there.”

Steve didn’t bother responding. He couldn’t imagine what he would say if he did try.

“You ready then?” Danny asked as he put on his shoes.

“I have the feeling it wouldn’t matter if I said no,” Steve admitted.

“That’s the spirit,” Danny agreed, going into his bedroom. He took what looked like a large piece of cloth from the cupboard, shaking it out. Steve watched as he swirled the cloth this way and that, tying a couple of knots until Danny was wearing pants. They were strange, loosely fitting pants but pants none-the-less. “What?” Danny asked when he looked up at the incredulous expression on Steve’s face. “I can’t ride the cer-urn in just a mmu-fum-omuu. The chaffing,” Danny said with a dramatic shudder.

Steve just shook his head and pulled on his backpack before going to the rope ladder to descend to the ground. When he got there, he found two animals that looked very much like regular horses except they were completely white, as though they had been dipped in bleach. The cer-urns studied him with round black eyes, the one on the right neighing in greeting. “Good to meet you too,” Steve said, stroking its muzzle and finding to be just like a horse’s would be.

“Glad he likes you,” Danny said from the bottom of the ladder. “They can be very choosy about who they let ride them.”

Steve shrugged. Of course the cer-urns had opinions about their potential riders. He wasn’t going to pretend to be surprised. He tugged gently on the white mane of the one that had greeted him, continuing to pet him as he went to where the bright white saddle waited. There were supplies strapped behind it, just like the pile of supplies behind the other saddle.

“Mount up,” Danny said, waving in Steve’s general direction. “Ale'tin has agreed to give you a ride.”

“Ale’tin. That’s his name?”

“It is. This one is Sul'ia. Strong family, both of them. They’ll do right by us,” Danny said as he easily mounted his cer-urn. Steve wasn’t quite sure how someone as short as Danny could hoist himself so effortlessly up onto the back of the tall cer-urn but he managed. When Steve was seated in the saddle, Danny nodded in approval. “Let’s go.”

Steve didn’t bother to acknowledge his words, knowing it wouldn’t make any difference whether he did or not. Instead, he silently followed Danny deeper into the forest, the huge trees blocking out most of the sunlight and casting an eerie orange gloom over the forest floor.

“It will lighten up once we get closer to the edge,” Danny said over his shoulder.

“I didn’t say that aloud,” Steve replied, frowning at Danny’s back.

“I could feel your reaction,” Danny said. “The main village is just over there.” He waved to his left, indicating an area where the trees didn’t grow as close together. Steve couldn’t see any apparent signs that there was civilization that way but he knew better than to question it.

“How long to the plain?” Steve asked.

“We’ll be at the border by sundown. We have to cross during the day. If we are lucky, we won’t have to spend the night in the plains.”

“Isn’t the Forest of Nightmares beyond the plains?” Steve asked.

“Yes,” Danny said, not elaborating further. They emerged from the thickest part of the undergrowth and started down a trail. It would be an exaggeration to call it a road but at least it was clear of the thorns and bushes that seemed to reach out and snag their clothes. “You comfortable picking up some speed?”

“I am if Ale'tin is,” Steve said, patting his cer-urn’s neck.

Danny nodded, giving Sul'ia his head, Steve doing the same. The ride was smooth and easy, different from a horse in ways Steve couldn’t quite articulate to himself.

They had been making good time, eating up the miles when Danny pulled up his cer-urn, slowing to a stop. Steve guided his mount next to Danny’s, looking over at the uncomfortable expression on Danny’s face. “What?” Steve whispered, trying to find the source of his unease.

“Do you hear that?” Danny asked, looking over to his right.

“No,” Steve said, calming his own breathing. All he heard were the cer-urns.

“It’s … hmmm…” Danny said, turning his cer-urn to go the way he had been gazing. Steve naturally followed him, leaving the trail and going into the thickets under the trees. Ten feet off the trail, Danny stopped and dismounted, looping the reins on a nearby branch. Steve did the same, stepping close to Danny and listening intently. He still didn’t hear anything unusual. Although he had to qualify that statement inside his own head. This whole thing qualified as unusual. “Come,” Danny whispered, creeping forward, Steve staying right by his side. “Here,” Danny said, squatting down by a particularly thick patch of weeds and briars. When Steve was down next to him, he could hear a very faint sound that could have been the chirp of a baby bird.

“What is it?” Steve whispered, trying to find the source of the sound.

Danny held one finger to his lips, dropping his knees to the ground and reaching for the briars. With extraordinary care, he moved them aside, revealing a tiny figure on the ground, wings fluttering helplessly as she lay on her side, weeping. “It’s okay,” Danny whispered, slowly and carefully reaching out his hand. “We’ll help you.”

“Who is this?” Steve whispered, looking down at the tiny being. Her brown hair was held in a ponytail at the back of her head, her brown lace dress ending above her knees and clinched around her waist.

“She’s a faerychild,” Danny explained in the same hushed voice. “Did you fall from the tree?” he asked her gently.

“Nuh huh,” the faery said between sobs. “He…he… he to steal me….but…but….but I got away. Only…my wing….” Her voice broke off as her sobs grew louder.

“Did you break your wing?” Danny asked, leaning closer to see for himself.

“Uh huh,” the faery said, sniffing and rubbing her eyes.

“All right,” Danny said, putting his hand flat on the ground. “I’ll help you mend it.”

“You will?” she asked, looking up at him with red-rimmed brown eyes.

“Of course. And I’ll help you find your parents. We’re on our way to Faeryland as it happens.”

“Why? Why are you going there, Kir'rila?” she asked as she sat up.

“Kir’rila?” Steve said.

“It means Portal Keeper, if you must know,” Danny responded. “I am on a quest to Faeryland. This is my fellow questor.”

That seemed to satisfy her and she very slowly stood up. Looking over her shoulder at her fractured wing, she carefully limped up onto Danny’s waiting hand, sitting down, her legs not quite as long as his palm. “You have mending?”

“It’s been a while,” Danny said, standing up and keeping his hand balanced so he wouldn’t tip her off. “But I think I still have the knack.”

“How are you going to mend it?” Steve asked, studying her right wing which was hanging down instead of standing up over her head like the left one.

“You’re not Esri,” the faery said to Steve, staring up at him with eyes that were now mostly curious.

“I’m half Esri,” Steve said, surprised that it sounded so natural.

“Half-breed,” the faery said, considering it. “If you are with Kir’rila, you must be acceptable.”

“Thank you,” Steve said sincerely.

“What is your name?” Danny asked her as they went back to where the cer-urns waited patiently.

“Dl'elda,” she said. “House of Cr'tia'aez-Ardaut'o.”

“It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Dl’elda. This is Steve.”

“Steve,” she said with a tiny giggle. “That is a very strange name.”

“Not where he’s from,” Danny told her. “He’s never had to mend a wing before. Would you let him try on yours?”

“I won’t make it worse, will I?” Steve asked, looking down at Dl’elda who was gazing up at them in complete trust.

“The worst that will happen is that you don’t succeed,” Danny told him. “Are you willing to let him try?”

She nodded solemnly, waiting patiently in the palm of Danny’s hand.

“What must I do?” Steve asked, wondering why he wasn’t surprised that he was about to learn if he could mend a faery wing.

“Straighten it very gently. If you have the mending, it will be healed. If you don’t, I’ll do it,” Danny said, nodding at Dl’elda.

“All right,” Steve agreed, reaching out with a careful finger. He touched the gossamer wing, making his finger tingle not unlike his arm had when Danny erased….no hid his tattoos. He ran his index finger all the way up the bent wing until it was standing straight up like her left one. When he withdrew his finger, he was inordinately pleased to see that it remained standing up.

“Excellent work,” Danny said in approval. “Don’t try it yet.”

“I won’t,” she said. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” Steve said with a smile. “Will mending work on Esri?”

“I’m hoping we don’t find out,” Danny said. “Mount your cer-urn and I’ll hand her up.”

Steve did it, reaching down his hand so that Dl’elda could walk from Danny’s hand to Steve’s, laying down in his palm. His palm was warmer for her presence, making him smile.

“Whatever you do, don’t drop her,” Danny warned as he mounted his cer-urn.

“Give me a little bit of credit, Danny. Seriously.”

“Do I need to take her back?” Danny asked, moving closer to see her sound asleep in Steve’s cupped hand.

“No. She’s fine. My hands are bigger. I can keep her even safer,” Steve said, making Danny shake his head. “Is Grace like her?”

“No. Grace is half Human. She looks Human except when we’re here. Then her wings are apparent. On Earth they aren’t.”

“Surprisingly that makes sense,” Steve reluctantly admitted.

“A lot of things do that you’d never imagine,” Danny confirmed.

“Are we going to look for …whoever who took Dl’elda?”

“Not right now. We need to find Grace. That’s our priority,” Danny said. “Can you hold her if we speed up?”

“Sure,” Steve agreed, urging his cer-urn to follow Danny’s.

After they had been riding through woods that all looked pretty much the same to Steve, only brighter with the sun full over their heads, Danny suggested they stop to stretch their legs, Dl’elda to try her wing, and for them to have something to eat. Steve was agreeable to that, a little afraid he wasn’t going to be able to walk after being in the saddle for so long.

Once they were stopped, Danny dismounted first, carefully pulling Steve’s hand down to peer at Dl’elda. “You ready to try flying?”

“Okay,” she agreed, standing up and stretching out both her wings.

“How does it feel?” Danny asked.

“Good,” she said with a giggle. “You’ll catch me, right?”

“Of course,” Danny agreed, standing close with his hands cupped together. “Go ahead.”

She fluttered her wings, lifting up from Steve’s hand to hover above it before flying in circles around Danny’s head. “All better,” she announced happily.

“So I see,” Danny said, watching Steve dismount and trying to ignore the long limbs and miles of tanned skin. Now was not the time for that. “Bring that blue bag,” Danny instructed, pointing up at it. Steve untied it, bringing it with him as he joined Danny in a small clearing. The distinct sound of bubbling water was coming from their left.

“I’ll check the water,” Dl’elda said to Danny’s nods. She flew off toward it, Steve frowning.

“What? What’s with that face?” Danny demanded, looking up at Steve.

“What if something happens to her? What if the water isn’t safe?”

“First the water is less than 10 feet from here and we can still see her. Second, she won’t drink it if it’s not safe. We learn to tell the difference from the time we are able to crawl,” Danny informed him. “Not like there’s bottled water here. We have to know which water is safe to drink.”

“It’s good,” she announced as she flew back to them. “I’m good,” she told Steve as she landed on his shoulder. “You worry too much,” she told him, patting his face with her tiny hand.

“Sorry,” he said, turning to smile at her.

“It’s okay. You’ll get us some to drink?” she asked Danny with a charming smile.

“I will. I won’t be long,” Danny agreed as he dug in the blue bag for a canteen.

“You should tell him,” Dl’elda said to Steve when Danny was by the water. She was sitting on his shoulder holding tight to his collar, her tiny heels knocking against his shirt as she swung her legs.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steve said, glancing over at her, his face as neutral as he could make it.

“I may be young by Human standards but I’m old enough to recognize the way you look at him,” Dl’elda said.

“I don’t look at him in any way you could notice,” Steve said. “Anyway, he’s married.”

“Was,” Dl’elda corrected, standing up as Danny returned to them. “Do I need to find my own berries?”

“I have some I can cut up for you,” Danny told her, sitting on the grass and leaning back to look all the way up at Steve. “Stop looming.”

“I’m not looming. I’m standing,” Steve said, carefully sitting next to Danny. “May I have some water, please?”

“So polite,” Dl’elda said with a giggle, watching Steve drink from the water.

“Where is everybody?” Steve asked as he accepted the fruit and what looked like cheese from Danny.

“Everybody who?” Danny asked, giving Dl’elda a tiny piece of the berry he was eating.

“We’ve been riding for almost five hours and haven’t seen a single person, or Esri. Or - you know – anybody,” Steve said with a shrug.

“Ah,” Danny said, making a sweeping motion to the woods surrounding them. “They are there. They’ve been watching us, blended into the flora so you can’t see them.”

“They who? You see them?” Steve asked, studying the trees all around them.

“Of course,” Danny said. “Right over there are four Esri with their cer-urns. You can’t hear them?”

Steve tilted his head and listened with his full concentration. For all of his training, the beings supposedly watching them were invisible to him. “No. Do you see them?” he asked Dl’elda.

“Uh huh,” she agreed. “They are the beholders.”

“Beholders,” Steve repeated.

“They make sure we are not slogged,” Danny said.

“Because you are the Portal Keeper,” Steve said.

“Yes,” Danny agreed without elaboration. Danny put three fingers to his lips, emitting a loud whistle. As Steve watched three beings seemed to emerge out of the tree trunks. They were at least seven feet tall with white hair barely visible under the hoods they wore. Their clothes were form-fitting, the same colors as the trees and undergrowth on all sides of them.

“You require us, Kir’rila?” one asked as he (or possibly she) stepped forward.

“I do not,” Danny said, looking up at him (or her.) “My companion is new to Esri and has not yet met a beholder.”

The beholder nodded, focusing on Steve. “You would have been one of us had you lived among our kind.”

“Thank you,” Steve said.

The beholder nodded again, backing up. The two others also backed up, disappearing as though they had never been there at all.

“Well,” Steve said, staring where they had been.

“We’ll meet some of the residents when we get to the edge of the plains. Most Esri live by the ocean,” Danny said, giving more fruit to Dl’elda.

“That makes sense. Like in Hawaii,” Steve said.

“You’re from there?” Danny asked as he sipped the water.

“I am,” Steve agreed.

“Hmm…” Danny said, studying him. “You look the type.”

“The type?” Steve repeated.

“Yeah,” Danny said, not adding anything more to it.

“Are you still a policeman when you aren’t here?” Steve asked him, the silence too oppressive to allow it to remain unbroken.

“Private investigator,” Danny said. “More flexibility that way. It’s easier to come to Esri when I don’t have to ask for the time off or explain my sudden disappearance to my precinct.”

“What’s a policeman?” Dl’elda asked, looking up at Danny from where she sat on Steve’s leg.

“Someone who keeps order. A little like a beholder,” he said.

She considered his statement before nodding. “Are you a policeman?” she asked Steve.

“No. Until recently I was a SEAL,” Steve told her.

“You aren’t a seal,” Dl’elda giggled. “You don’t have flippers. You have feet. And hands.”

“Not that kind of seal,” Steve told her with a smile. “I was like a very special kind of beholder.”

She nodded at his words, not really all that interested in what it meant. She was more interested in eating the fruit Danny was giving her and working her way through the tiny piece of cheese. “You’ll find my mom and dad, won’t you, Kir’rila?”

“We’ll do everything we can,” Danny promised.

“Why were you taken?” Steve asked.

“He wanted my magic. I tried telling him it didn’t work like that but he didn’t listen.”

“I’m just glad you are okay,” Steve told her sincerely.

“Thank you,” she said, sipping some water out of a shell Danny had peeled away from one of the nuts they had been eating.

“How are we going to make sure Dl’elda doesn’t fall from the horse?” Steve asked Danny.

“Horse?” Dl’elda said, looking up at Steve with her head tilted to one side. “What’s that?”

“It’s the human word for cer-urn,” Danny explained.

“Oh,” Dl’elda said, no longer interested in the conversation. Instead she turned her attention to eating another tiny piece of cheese Steve had cut up for her.

“I have a handkerchief in the pack. I’m going to make her a hammock,” Danny said.

“Where are you putting it?”

“I can wear it around on my neck. Or you can. If that’s what you want,” Danny said.

“I’ll carry her,” Steve agreed, smiling down at her where she was sitting on his thigh.

“It’s not a good idea to get attached to her,” Danny whispered firmly.

Steve nodded, looking away from her with a far-away expression on his face.

“Hey. Come back,” Danny said, a light hand on Steve’s arm. “We’ll get her back to her parents and she’ll be fine. And if you ever swim over again, you can find her.”

Steve nodded slowly, looking into the blue eyes that seemed to see everything. “What about you?” he asked softly.

“What about me?” Danny asked in the same tone. They glanced down at Dl’elda who was watching them both, her eyes knowing and wise beyond her years.

“Will I see you again after we swim back through?” Steve asked, wishing he could keep his thoughts to himself. He’d never had trouble before. Was it some Esri magic that was making him say things he was barely aware of thinking?

“I don’t think that’s entirely up to me,” Danny said.

“What do you want?” Steve asked.

“This is a conversation that should wait until we find Grace,” Danny said in clear reluctance. “There is too much at stake to allow either of us to be distracted.”

Steve had to nod at that, chancing a look down at Dl’elda who was smiling softly at him. The smile seemed to be knowing and sympathetic. “How old are you, really?”

She laughed and shook her head, standing up as Danny stood. “I’ll ride with you.”

“Thank you,” Steve said, following Danny back to the cer-urns, Dl’elda flying over his head. “I need to… uhm… you know,” Steve said, waving at the trees.

“Water the flora?” Danny laughed.

“Something like that,” Steve agreed. He rounded the cer-urns and went right behind one of the trees, quickly taking care of his needs. Dl’elda was sitting on Danny’s shoulder as he tied intricate knots in a light blue bandana.

“Here,” Danny said, standing on his toes to loop it over Steve’s neck. He fussed with it momentarily before patting it in place, the warmth of his hand lingering after he removed it. “Okay, sweets. Try it out.”

Dl’elda flew off Danny’s shoulder to stand inside the hammock. “Good,” she said, settling in it and peeking over to see Danny. “I feel safe.”

“That’s the most important thing,” Danny agreed, looking up at Steve. “Is it bothering you?”

“Not at all,” Steve said, looking down at it and testing it to make sure it wouldn’t move too much and throw her out. “Looks like it’s going to work perfectly.”

“Let’s go then. We need to get the edge of the plain before dark. That way we’ll make it across the plains tomorrow before nightfall.”

“Lead on,” Steve said as they mounted. He checked with Dl’elda to make sure she was settled.

“I’m ready,” Dl’elda assured him with a smile up at him.

“Let’s go then,” Danny said, coaxing his cer-urn forward and giving it free rein to run along the path.

Now that Steve knew about the beholders, he periodically spotted them as they paralleled their journey. He didn’t try to tell Danny he’d seen them, the speed of the cer-urns making conversation impossible. He did keep a careful eye on Dl’elda who seemed to be enjoying the ride if her happy expression was any indication.

The sky was darkening from red to orange when Danny pulled up his cer-urn, Steve following his example. With the trees sparsely placed, the beholders were more apparent having fewer places for them to hide. Steve rode up next to Danny, both animals breathing heavily from the long run.

“We’re almost to Tr’kelel where we’ll spend the night,” Danny explained.

“Tr’kelel is a…town?” Steve guessed.

“It is. We’ll cross the plain tomorrow. If we make good time, we’ll be to the breeding ground by mid-afternoon.”

“You are going to the breeding ground?” Dl’elda asked, shrinking down into her hammock.

“Yes. And you don’t need to worry. I’ll charm them. And Steve will protect you,” Danny assured him.

“But….” she said, looking wide-eyed up at Danny.

“Does she have reason to worry?” Steve asked Danny quietly.

“Are you planning on allowing one of the mor-eri to eat her?” Danny asked him with an expression that made it plain he knew the answer.

“Of course not,” Steve said, a hand over Dl’elda as though he needed to protect her at the  moment.

“There are you then,” Danny said, setting his cer-urn into a walk down the path.

“Are the beholders coming across the plain with us?” Steve asked, looking around at all of them in the open now that there were almost no trees to disguise their presence.

“They can’t go through the plains,” Dl’elda said, looking up at Steve. “They have to stay in the forest.”

“I see,” Steve said even though he had no idea what that really meant. He decided it just wasn’t of any importance. The beholders had fulfilled their responsibility in assuring that they rode through the forest unmolested.

“This is Tr’kelel,” Danny said, pointing at the collection of colorful buildings on both sides of the road. They were all painted in reds and blues, greens and yellows, a festive collection of houses and possibly some shops. It was difficult for Steve to tell what purpose any of the structures really served.

“Who are they?” Steve asked, nodding toward the two dozen or so Esri who were lining the path that was becoming wider and showing signs of being more heavily traveled. The older Esri were all close to seven feet tall with white hair of varying lengths. With them wearing colorful mmu-fum-omuus, it was hard to tell if those watching them were men or women. They all had the same looks of wonder on their faces, most of the younger ones waving and smiling.

“The Esri who live here,” Danny explained, waving at them with a huge smile on his face and his eyes twinkling. Steve stopped when Danny did, dismounting to stand next to Danny.

“Why are they here?” Steve asked, looking down to check on Dl’elda to make sure she was safe.

“Because Kir’rila came,” Dl’elda told Steve with a smile up at him. “They want to meet him.”

“Oh,” Steve said, watching as the Esri came closer, the younger ones approaching Danny and hugging him around the waist. Danny hugged them back, kissing their heads one after another, waiting patiently as the parade continued and they each spoke to him. The adults watched their children, not out of fear but with an almost envious expression. Steve considered that, looking from Danny to the Esri and back to Danny. “Will he talk to the adults?” he asked Dl’elda quietly.

“He will,” she confirmed. “He’ll stay with the scions to talk to all of them. Then he’ll spend as much time as their parents want from him.”

“Hello,” one of the young ones said when he had wandered up to where Steve and Dl’elda were standing. The child was looking up at Steve with wide, dark eyes. “Who are you?”

“I’m Steve,” he responded, squatting down enough to be eye level with the child. “What is your name?”

“I’m Y'iaold. I live in that house over there. The yellow one,” he said, pointing over at the first house in the row. “Those are my parents.” He pointed at the two Esri talking quietly with Danny before looking back at Steve. “You aren’t Esri.”

“I’m half Esri,” he told him. “But I didn’t know it until recently.”

He nodded at that, looking at Steve thoughtfully before focusing on Dl’elda. “Who’s that?”

“I’m Dl’elda,” she said for herself. “Kir’rila and Steve are helping me get home.”

“Can you fly?” Y’iaold asked with a smile. Dl’elda answered his question by leaving her hammock and circling Steve and Y’iaold before landing back on Steve’s shoulder. Y’iaold laughed in delight, clapping for her. “I wish I could fly.”

Dl’elda laughed, flying over to land on Y’iaold’s shoulder. “Steve can carry you. It’s a lot like flying.”

“Why are you here?” Y’iaold asked Steve.

“It’s complicated,” Steve responded with a smile. “Mostly I’m here because Kir’rila needs my help.”

Y’iaold nodded at that, turning to watch as Danny approached. “Kir’rila,” he said with a tiny bow.

“We have rooms for the night,” Danny said to Steve, putting a hand on Y’iaold’s shoulder. “Y’iaold’s parents have asked that we stay with them.”

“Father is an excellent cook,” Y’iaold said to them all.

“Is there a place for the cer-urns?” Steve asked.

“We have a huge stable,” Y’iaold assured him.

“Can we pay you?” Steve offered.

“It is our privilege,” the adults who had just joined them said, smiling radiantly at them. “To have Kir’rila beneath our roof is payment enough.”

“Thank you,” Danny said. He detached himself from the small group to go over to where the beholders were watching, their posture easy rather than on alert as they had been through the forest. Steve followed him, remaining outside of the semi-circle they had formed in front of Danny. “Return safely,” Danny said, touching each one where Steve assumed their hearts were, if they were located in the same place as a human heart. “Your help will not be forgotten.”

“You will alert us when you plan to return,” the tallest said, gazing down at Danny.

“I will. I hope it will be in less than five days. Word will be sent.”

The beholders all nodded, mounting their cer-urns and riding away, very soon disappearing back into the forest.

Danny turned to look up at Steve, a laugh caught on his face. “It was lovely of you to offer to pay to stay the night.”

“It seemed like the thing to do,” Steve said, watching the sparkle in Danny’s eyes. Not watching as much as mesmerized by it.

“We don’t have any money,” Danny said.

“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that,” Steve admitted. “Well, I could trade for it. Chop wood or something.”

Danny shook his head, going over to gather the reins and follow the family.

Steve and Danny led their cer-urns the short distance to the bright yellow house, the family waiting for them at the edge of what Steve supposed was their yard. Dl’elda was still sitting on Y’iaold and flew over to land on Steve’s shoulder as they approached. A child who Y’iaold said was his brother Ya'taidyn took the cer-urns on to the stable as Steve and Danny went inside with Y’iaold and his parents.

“Sit, sit,” Y’iaold’s mother Dyn'en said, indicating the table that was set for dinner. There were 10 places prepared for the meal. Steve followed Danny’s lead and sat in one of the chairs that was almost too tall for him. Danny managed to sit on it without making it look too awkward. Dl’elda remained on Steve’s shoulder, holding tight to his collar.

“You okay?” he whispered to her, studying her as well as he could at such close range.

“Just tired,” she said, yawning as though in proof. “And hungry.”

He nodded at that, watching the rest of the family come into the house, taking their place at the table. When all but one of the chairs was occupied, the food was placed at the center. Everyone waited as Danny served himself before passing each bowl to Steve who also served himself. He was careful not to take too much, not wanting to leave the others without. He also took enough to make sure it was apparent that he appreciated their hospitality.

The Esri tentatively talked to Danny, becoming more comfortable with his presence the more he chatted with them. He managed to put them all at ease, making it look effortless. Steve admired Danny’s ability to accept all of their admiration without making it appear that he knew they were awed by him. He could have been having dinner with human friends, his demeanor open and casual.

“Your food was delicious,” Danny said to Ton'kaly when all the plates were empty.

“Thank you, Kir’rila,” Ton’kaly said with a pleased nod. “Do you wish for something more to eat? Or to drink?” he offered.

“Not for me,” Danny said, looking over at Steve. “Did you want more?”

“Gracious no,” Steve said warmly. “It was the best I’ve ever had.”

Ton’kaly looked even more pleased by that, gathering the dishes.

“May we assist?” Steve asked, standing with the intent to help clean up.

The Esri all stopped, turning to look at him in astonishment.

“Oh,” Steve said, looking down at Danny. “That was inappropriate.”

“Not entirely,” Danny laughed. “Sit. They will honor us by taking care of it.”

Steve nodded as he sat back by Danny, waiting as the Esri family cleared the table, the youngest children remaining to chat with Danny who answered all of their questions. Dl’elda had curled up on Steve’s shoulder, his collar a convenient blanket to cover her as she slept.

Steve could feel his eyelids drooping as the night grew deeper. He tried hard not to fall asleep at the table but it was warm and comfortable in the cozy house. The next thing he knew, Danny’s hand was warming his arm, his voice sounding in his ears.

“We need to go upstairs,” Danny was saying as Steve managed to rouse himself. He blinked up at Danny who was smiling down at him. Dl’elda lay in Danny’s palm still fast asleep.

“Upstairs?” Steve repeated, rubbing his eyes in an effort to focus on Danny.

“Bed. Upstairs,” Danny said, taking Steve’s hand and pulling him to his feet. The Esri were watching with warm, indulgent smiles as Danny practically hauled Steve up the wooden steps to the loft where a huge bed piled high with blankets waited for them. Steve sat on the edge of it as Danny took Dl’elda to a bookshelf where a miniature house sat on the top shelf.

“What’s that?” Steve asked, his words slurred from sleep.

“Cer'hon’s dollhouse,” Danny said, putting Dl’elda on the doll bed with its fluffy mattress and pulling the tiny quilt over her. “Perfect.”

“Thank you,” Dl’elda whispered, closing her eyes and falling back to sleep.

Danny turned his intense focus to Steve, waving at him. “Take off your boots,” Danny said, unknotting his pants and watching Steve sitting still in a stupor. “Here,” Danny finally said, kneeling before him to unlace his boots. “Pants,” he directed when Steve’s boots were set to one side. Steve slowly stood, watching with unfocused eyes as Danny unfastened his pants and slid them down. “Step out.”

Steve did it, frowning down at Danny’s head. “Are you like a god here?” he asked in a soft voice.

“Not exactly, no. Get in bed and I’ll try to explain,” Danny said, pulling back the pile of covers. Steve climbed in, apparently unable to do anything except what Danny told him to do. More Esri magic? Did it matter? “Take off your shirt,” Danny directed, holding out a hand for it. Rather than engage in an argument he knew he’d already lost, Steve pulled it up over his head, giving it to Danny. He remained sitting up as Danny put their clothes in a tidy pile, watching as he climbed into the bed with him.

“So?” Steve said, looking over at him with unfocused eyes.

“The Portal Keeper is… revered here. Not as a god but as a… hero? That’s not exactly right but it’s hard to put into words,” Danny said, laying down and turning on his side to face Steve.

“You’ve not been short of words up to now,” Steve said, laying on his side to see Danny.

“True,” Danny said with a smile. “I’m kind of like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Only… you know… real.”

“I don’t understand,” Steve admitted, his eyes drifting closed of their own accord.

“I know,” Danny said, reaching out to try and smooth Steve’s hair. White tufts were sticking up making him look young and vulnerable. “It really isn’t that important.”

“Okay,” Steve said, his eyes closing for the last time. He thought he felt the press of warm lips to his forehead but decided he’d only dreamed it as he drifted off.

Lizet Elaine: Wee!simplyn2deep on October 19th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
Dl’elda sounds absolutely adorable

I like how a lot of things Steve takes at face value and how Danny doesn't mind explaining things to Steve when necessary

In reading this, it's like a cross between the Percy Jackson books and maybe The Chronicles of Narnia...in my opinion. It's the magical world you're taken to while reading and I love it.

Can't wait for more!
gyrigyri on October 19th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
Eee! I am enjoying this so much!
Abbeyrd: S3 03abbeyrd62561 on October 20th, 2012 04:44 am (UTC)
another wonderful chapter. I so enjoyed all the different things you had Danny explain to Steve, the beholders and all. The magic that Steve is now starting to see in himself and taking everything at face value. I love the fairy, she is brilliant, so cute. The way the Esri welcomed Danny and was honored to have them stay. You are weaving a wonderful story that I am really enjoying, thanks can't wait for more.
From a little spark may burst a mighty flamedante_s_hell on October 20th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
Wow, just wow! The world building is amazing!