Super HUGE thanks to my friends who looked at the computer and sorted out the issues (at least for a temporary fix; a permanent will require a a system wipe and restore.) But a word of caution as to the cause. A virus.
It's not the sort of issue you would ever expect--or at least it wasn't one I did.
See, apparently it all started with the free trial version of the McAfee anti-virus software; software I never even used (I have a different anti-virus program, I happen to like better.)
But apparently, when I removed McAfee--or tried to--something in its programming code said "oh no you don't!" and it became this *thing* that could (and did) cause all kinds of problems, like freezing my system and even deleting files (there have been some missing files; I thought I was loosing my mind for a while, because I knew I'd saved!)
A little research has yielded the simple answer that: it's happened before, it will happen again, the company says we can suck it if we don't like it.
I have no advice on how to avoid the problem, since McAfee is installed as free trials on most computers, but I wanted to pass the word. As far as I'm concerned, that shit is toxic....
However, without further ado, the end of T&C (the last two chapters)
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you've enjoyed! I *will* be seeing about getting this available as a free ebook...but given the computer issues, bear with me a little. It might take a month!
Trellen closed his eyes. He wouldn’t fight. He’d given his word. He would submit to the darkness.
Please forgive me. Please take me back. I made a mistake. I thought I wanted to be free when all I really wanted was you. Please. I belong to you. Only you. Always you.
Strong tentacles encircled him, cradling his broken body. “Shhh, easy my sweet, I’ve got you.”
Trellen smiled into the darkness. “Master.”
He curled against the phantom body, the strength of a male that wasn’t there. Just in my imagination. My dreams. But even phantoms could be a comfort when the dream felt this real. “I’m sorry I left. Please say you’ll forgive me.”
“Shhh, there will be time enough for that later.”
Later. There wouldn’t be a later. Unless the dream continues after death. He smiled again and his heart swelled with joy. Perhaps death was merely a sleep from which he would never awaken. How marvelous it would be to stay like this forever, cradled in his embrace.
Contented—happy—Trellen let the darkness of sleep overtake him.
Light, soft and golden.
It pierced Trellen’s eyelids as surely as the spear had pierced his tail. He stirred. He didn’t want to wake up. But there was no pain, so surely he must still be asleep.
But if he was dead, would he be able to form thoughts?
So a dream then. And he always dreamed of his Master. Trellen called out for him.
He opened his eyes, surprised to find the light still there. He never dreamed of light, only darkness. The soft touch of a hand on his shoulder drew his attention and he turned his head. There, surrounded by dozens of golden glow orbs sat…. Master? But who else could it be?
The skin above his tentacles lightened from black to pale blue-gray. He had strong, broad shoulders, just like Trellen had always imagined, and long fine hair. It wasn’t black like his tentacles though, but rather the same red-orange color as the setting sun. And his face…Trellen’s chest surged with strange emotions. Master’s eyes were large and such dark a shade of blue, they looked nearly black. His nose was long and fine, his cheekbones delicate—beautiful—and his lips were full and soft. How could this incredible creature be the monster of his childhood nightmares?
“Trellen?” His voice—Master’s voice—was filled concern.
Trellen smiled. “Is this what death is for everyone?”
“No sweet. You’re not dead.”
“I must be. How else could I be here?” He knew the chamber. Even if he’d never seen it before, he knew where every shell was placed, where every trinket lay. He was home.
Master chuckled, a soft familiar rumble. He brushed a few strands of hair out of Trellen’s face. “It was close. You’ve lost a lot of blood. If I hadn’t found you….” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re safe. You’re here.”
Trellen nodded. But the heaviness was beginning to weigh in on him once more as darkness clouded his vision.
He wasn’t ready to leave, not yet. Not ever. But please not yet. He needed just a little longer. “I’m sorry,” he rasped. “I made a mistake. I just…I never should have left.” What if death was some strange transitory thing, like the open sea, ever changing? Perhaps the next time he woke it would be somewhere else and he would never see his Master again. “Please forgive me.”
Strong tentacles encircled him and Trellen stilled. “Shhh. Rest. We’ll speak of it later.”
“What if there is no later?”
“Then I forgive you.” And he leaned in and pressed a soft, sweet kiss to Trellen’s mouth.
Trellen opened for him and let sleep come.
He woke again, drowning in pain. The chamber about him was bathed in soft golden light, as it had been in the dream….
But that was impossible. Despair bubbled up to replace physical pain with something far more acute as then the memory of the last two weeks came rushing back. His pathetic little island. His decision to return.
My tail. Kaia, no, please.
Trellen struggled to sit up because he needed to see how bad it was, but he found he could barely move. The harder he tried, the more it hurt.
He started at the sound of a familiar voice. Master.
“How?” He craned his neck, unable to believe…. But there he was, and just as beautiful as in the dream, all but for the lines of worry etched deeply across his forehead. “You’re not a monster,” Trellen blurted out.
Master laughed, but the sound lacked its usual warmth. “How very kind of you to say.”
“But…?” Why did you hide your face from me if you’re not a monster?
Master ignored the half voiced question moved to sit on the edge of the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“I can’t move my tail.” And that terrified him more than waking up blind and in the dark in that tiny cell Master had first put him in. He tried to sit up again, but it was useless. “Please—”
“Shhh. Be still,” Master repeated, stroking his cheek with a cool hand “You’re all right. You’re safe.”
“How did you find me?”
Master gave a wan smile. “The scent of your blood in the water. I’d been nearly ready to give up ever finding you.” His tone was thick with emotion. Pain? Grief? Trellen had no idea, but it hurt his heart to hear it. He reached up and Master took his hand. He caressed Trellen’s fingers. “I truly thought…but it doesn’t matter. You should eat.” He used a tentacle to bring a large shell piled high with muscles and shrimp to within Trellen’s reach.
Trellen shook his head. He was hungry, but, “My tail. Please. The spear went straight through it and—” And he could feel pain but nothing else.
“It will heal, I promise, but you must lie still or you’ll damage yourself further.”
Trellen looked up at him. If this was a trick, another trap…. “Please.” Please don’t lie to me. “I need to see it. I….” I need to know it’s still there. He’d heard before of “ghost pain,” of someone losing an arm but still feeling its presence. “Please?”
“I’ll help you sit.”
Trellen braced himself—but his tail was still there. He let out the breath he was barely aware he’d been holding and sagged against Master’s incredible strength. He hadn’t been able to move because his tail was bound up with strange leaves. “What…what are those?”
“We call the plant mysonara. It grows on the island I took you to before.”
“Land plants? How…?”
“They will help you heal. That is all that matters.”
Trellen gave a shaky nod, but couldn’t make himself believe it would really be all right. “Why did you come for me?”
“Because I…. Because I treasure you above all other things, my sweet. Here.” He handed Trellen a piece of meat from the shell. “This is toola. You liked it.”
Without thinking, Trellen leaned in and took the morsel into his mouth. It was the sweet, tender muscle Master had brought him many times, but that he’d never had before coming here. “What is it?”
“A tuberous creature that lives far below even this depth.”
He nodded and ate another piece, this time picking it up for himself. Then he ate some sea urchin, and then a couple of sagren leaves. Trellen hadn’t even realized how hungry he was until now, but before he knew it, the shell was empty and his body began to feel heavy again, weary.
Master took the shell and flashed a knowing smile. He brushed his hand over Trellen’s hair. “You should sleep.”
“You…you said you forgave me…?” He turned it into a question because he couldn’t be sure Master had forgiven him in reality or if it had only been part of a dream.
Master smiled—but it didn’t reach his eyes and that made knives dig into Trellen’s gut. “And I have, my sweet.” Why did he seem so sad?
“Then will you lie with me? Please?”
His smile warmed. “If you wish me to.”
“More than anything.”
Some of the sadness faded from his gaze and he eased himself into the bed next to Trellen. When Master rolled onto his side and gathered Trellen into his arms, encircling his tail gently with his tentacles, Trellen smiled. He snuggled in close. At last, he was safe.
He was home.
Master stroked his hair. “I truly thought I had lost you,” he confided softly. “And I do forgive you, but will you tell me why you left?”
Trellen opened his eyes once more and met his Master’s gaze. “I….Before, you asked me what I was afraid of but I wouldn’t tell you.” He swallowed past a lump in his throat and ignored the tightening of his gut. “I feared never being able to swim in the Blue waters again. I was afraid to tell you because…because I was afraid you would use it against me. I didn’t want you to have that kind of advantage over me.”
“Do you truly mistrust me so much?”
“Not anymore.” He laid his head against his Master’s chest and listened to the soft, steady beating of his heart. “I kept telling myself you were a monster and you kept proving me wrong, but I didn’t know how to accept the truth that was right in front of me. I do need the Blue. I need the sun. Only I need this, too.” And he didn’t know how to make that work.
Not that it matters. By coming back, by begging his forgiveness, I’m accepting the role of slave once more. He would do whatever his Master told him to do and pray that when Master said he forgave Trellen, he really meant it. Pray he won’t use my escape against me.
Master was quiet for a long while, stroking Trellen’s hair while he held him close. Finally, he spoke. “If I promised that you could go to the Blue anytime you desired, that you could see the sun whenever you wanted, would you promise not to leave me again?”
Trellen looked up, startled. “Why would you trust me after I left you the way I did?”
“Because you have never lied to me, my sweet.”
“You promised only to submit to my will. My pleasures. You kept that promise admirably. Honorably. So if you promise me now that you will never leave me like that again, I will believe you and happily let you go to the Blue any time you wish.”
Trellen bit his lip. “Would…would you come to the Blue with me?” he asked. Master had said the sea called to his soul, too. Is it too much to hope that I can have both him and the Blue? “Nothing made me happier than when you took me to that island. I’d like to swim with you. Sit in the sun with you.”
Master slid his tentacles around Trellen’s body slowly, sensually, almost as if he was trying to re-acquaint himself with every curve and muscle, with every inch of skin. When he spoke again, his voice was barely a whisper. “Anything you need, whatever you want, all you ever have to do is tell me, and if it is within my power, I will give it to you, Trellen. If you are able to believe my word, you have it.”
There was something foreboding in his tone, something sad, but with sleep weighing heavily on him, Trellen had a hard time wrapping his mind around what it could be. Did…Master couldn’t fear he would ask for his freedom—could he? Trellen shook his head. It didn’t matter. He would never ask for that. “I believe you. You haven’t lied to me either. Except for this,” he added with a little smile.
Master frowned. “This?”
“You said I would not see your face until I told you what I feared. You lied.”
A ghost of a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “I hope you will forgive me if I thought that under the circumstances, light might be welcome.”
“It is.” But before he could sleep, there was still something he needed to know. I only hope I don’t regret asking. “What will happen to me when you’ve tired of me?”
Master’s smile vanished and deep lines creased his brow once more. “Tired of you?”
“The…the games we play can only entertain you for so long. When I become boring, will you cast me out into the Blue to find another Master?” Because he knew he needed this. He needed to be owned, cared for. Treasured. He needed both the pleasure and the pain his Master gave him.
“What makes you think I will tire of you?”
“No. And the thought of you with another burns my heart, Trellen. My sweet Pretty.” He pressed a fervid kiss to Trellen’s lips and Trellen opened to him at once. The familiar invasion was welcome—relished. Master broke the kiss all too soon. He cupped Trellen’s face in both hands and held him so they were looking one another squarely in the eye. “You said before that you were mine. Only mine. Always mine. If that is still true, then I promise you, I will never cast you aside or let you go.” His tone held a fierceness that Trellen had never heard before. It made his heart swell up so much, he thought it might explode right out of his chest.
He cupped his hands over top of his Master’s. “I’m yours. Only yours. Always yours.”
“Good. Now sleep.” And he wrapped his arms snugly around Trellen’s shoulders and held him tight.
Trellen closed his eyes, but he found there was still one more question burning in his mind. “Will you tell me your name?” he asked softly without looking up. “Your real name?”
He chuckled; it was a soft, sweet rumble in Trellen’s ear. “Of course, my sweet. It is Nghara.”
It was a good name.
He pressed a kiss to Nghara’s chest, and was content at last to allow slumber to claim him, secure in the knowledge that when he woke up, he would be right where he belonged: Home.