Chapter 94

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Teshin would later try to find words, to pin some descriptions on how it had felt. But nothing would come close. Nothing in the language he knew could ever explain.

When his mind was . . . gone, there was a sense of being far away, and yet, it wasn't so much a literal distance between himself and his physical body. More like the very essence of who he was became different. Fragmented, separated into countless pieces, then made whole again, in ways he couldn't understand.

It reminded him of a dream, though he was fully aware that it was something else entirely. The similarity with dreams was that when it was happening, everything made such perfect, beautiful sense. But once awake again, Teshin would be left with a profound sense of loss. Details and meanings lost.

Something ineffably precious, slipping away from his mind's comprehension.

Precious because there was something inherently good about this other state. Though he couldn't explain how he knew this, it was one of the few certitudes that lingered.

Later, he would ponder on this certitude. On this goodness. Was it the lack of suffering and fear? The strange feelings of wholeness and connection? Of limitlessness? The beauty of things so complex yet simple? He'd be left with this impression of fascinating contradictions. Everything yet nothing. Intricate yet obvious.

It made no sense whatsoever.

But right now . . .

Right now, Teshin's body was trying to wake up. The pieces that made up who he was snapped back into place, his mind re-adapted, struggling to assess what was going on.

It felt like being dredged from the depths of murky water. But the surface seemed so far off into the distance. His eyes wouldn't open. His chest felt heavy. Fear knifed him with hot-cold stabs of anguish.

I can't—

Teshin was telling his body to move, and it wouldn't obey. There was energy inside him, stirring, making him want to just move. But it felt so impossible, even painful. His neck strained when he tried to jerk his head to the side. Nothing would budge.

Even without opening his eyes – because they wouldn't – he became oddly aware of the room around him, though it was all shadowy and distorted. There were things lurking in the corners, dangerous things. Coming closer now, to hurt him.

This isn't . . . real.

But the fear was, and it paralyzed him. He'd never thought pure fear could be so painful.

When he heard Leithan's voice, calling his name, his motivation found new strength. Leithan was also holding his hand, Teshin realized, and that felt much more real than the lurking shadows, or anything else. Leithan's voice was low and gentle, but also firm, and determined, as he called his name and told him to wake up.

It felt as though Teshin could finally glimpse the surface of the water, and the glow of light on the other side. He told his body to move, to just sit up already, and finally, it worked.

Teshin came to with a gasp, shaking with the lingering, aching fear. Grasping at the blanket with one hand, clutching Leithan's hand with the other.

He stared with some panic into the shadowed corners of the room, but of course, there was nothing there.

"Tesh," Leithan said, and he sounded relieved. "It's okay."

The fear and pain faded away, evaporated, soon replaced by something else. Warm and consuming, it instilled in his heart a very different kind of ache. And when Teshin looked at Leithan, what he saw, etched across darkened gray-blue eyes, mirrored his own need.

Tesh flung himself into his arms and they held each other, hands clinging to one another, with long, close-eyed sighs.

"You're gonna be okay," Leithan whispered, and Tesh wasn't sure if the words were meant for him, or for Leith himself. It didn't matter, anyway.

He breathed in the clean scent of soap on Leithan's skin, and Elissi's evening wind in his hair. Smooth dark hair, like a raven's feathers in the dim room.

They pulled away, but held on to each other's arms.

"How long was it, this time?" Teshin asked, in a voice that sounded like he'd just smoked ten joints. He cleared his throat – which turned out to be quite painful. Swallowing was a laborious task.

Leithan's expression was full of concern. "Days," he admitted. "A lot's happened. But we can talk later. I promise I'll tell you everything. First I need to get you out of here, okay? Can you walk?"

Teshin nodded, his heart clutching tight. A lot's happened.

Leithan started to move away from the bed, but Teshin held him back, just for a moment. Then, Teshin pulled him close again and kissed him – soft, and yet fierce, it came from a place much deeper than word-shaped thoughts. A place Teshin trusted more than anything.

A small, sincere smile played over Leithan's lips as he drew back. A beautiful smile – then again, Tesh liked all of Leithan's smiles. He had many different ones, if you paid attention.

"Come on," Leithan said softly.

"I think I need some water," Teshin said as Leithan helped him to his feet.

"Yeah," Leithan said. "On my to-do list." 

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