“Héan?” Reid whispered into the darkness. “Héan, are you there?”
“I am always here, Reid.” Hèan’s voice came from somewhere nearby. Reid’s ears could pinpoint the source. It seemed to be next to him, somehow coming from both his left and his right, but behind him, as well.
“Oh. Good,” Reid said. He stared up at the high stone ceiling, so different from the low wooden roof of his home. Shadow hid the details from him, but the weak strips of Senia’s light streaming through the windows allow him to see the general form.
“Did you wish to talk, Reid?” Hèan asked.
“Yeah,” Reid said quietly. He doubted anyone could hear him through the castle’s thick walls, but still, the inclination to be quiet in a dark place ran strong in him. Years of living in a small house with six other people had made him wary of being loud at night.
Reid couldn’t see Héan — not physically, not right now. Queen Lora said that, in time, Héan would become capable of taking a physical form. In a way, though, Reid could still perceive him. It was like watching someone out of the corner of his eye while he had his attention focused elsewhere. He had an impression of Héan and what the elemental was doing, and he knew what Héan looked like: a delicate stag, woven out of vines, with flowers blooming along his back and antlers of strong, dark wood.
Héan watched Reid with eyes of summer-yellow light. “What do you wish to talk about?”
“I don’t know,” Reid admitted. “I’m having trouble sleeping.”
“Ah,” Héan said. “I am glad I do not have to sleep.”
“What do you do, while I’m sleeping?” Reid asked.
“I watch you,” Héan said. He seemed to shrug. “There is little else to do.”
“Oh,” Reid said, feeling uncomfortable. “Isn’t that boring?”
“I don’t mind,” Héan said. “I am content to do it. You are beautiful.”
Reid blushed. He didn’t think of himself as such. For one thing, he was overly tall. The tallest among his brothers, and in fact, among the Guardians. Zain and Tynus made jokes about his height. Friendly jokes — Tynus made fun of his own height, too, as the shortest among the Guardians — but still, any joke made Reid conscious of his difference.
Then there was his hair, a brilliant copper-red that was common farther north but rarely seen here in Minasora. There, he had felt average. Plain, even. Here, he felt out of place.
“There’s no need to be embarrassed, Reid,” Héan said.
“I’m not,” Reid said. “You just surprised me.”
“We share a soul,” Héan said. “How could I not find you beautiful?”
Reid shrugged. “I suppose I find you beautiful, too, Héan.”
Reid blushed again. “No, I mean, it’s just a turn of phrase. You are beautiful, I just…”
Héan laughed. “It’s alright, Reid. We are still learning each other, after all.”
“Yeah.” Reid turned his head. The arched windows of his room gave him a good view of the night sky. From his bed, he couldn’t see the ground. It gave the impression that the castle floated through the air. “Queen Lora said that talking will help strengthen our bond.”
“Yes, that makes sense,” Héan said. “We must trust her to know what is best. She knows far more about this than I do.”
“She knows more than everyone,” Reid said. “She’s supposed to know everything.”
Héan hesitated. “It’s hard to conceive, isn’t it? Knowing everything?”
Reid frowned. “Do you doubt that she does?”
“Not at all,” Héan said quickly. “Lokyah must trust in her, else you and I would not be together. I mean only what I said. It’s hard to imagine knowing what’s going to happen, or even what’s happening now, in Isurine or the Quetal Isles. We barely know what’s happening with us, after all.”
“True,” Reid said. He didn’t put much thought into that aspect of Queen Lora. Thinking about her knowledge strained his ability to conceive. From what he had seen, she truly did know everything that was happening, at least around her. She turned to look at people before they started speaking. She never tripped or stumbled. She reached for objects out of her view without any need to look at them. “Do you think she knows, ah, nonphysical things? Like what we’re thinking?”
“Hmm.” Héan shifted. “Perhaps. It’s hard to say. We could ask her for a demonstration.”
“No,” Reid said. “That would be odd. Improper, maybe. I don’t think I want to know, anyway.”
“Do you have thoughts you would rather not share with others?” Héan asked.
Reid laughed, a soft, light sound that was barely more than air escaping his lips. “Yeah. I think everyone does.”
“Would you share them with me?” Héan asked. From a human, the question would have seemed prying. Héan made it sound naive and innocent.
“I don’t know, Héan,” Reid said. “There are things I’ve never shared with anyone.”
“We are one, Reid,” Héan said. He sounded hurt. “What could there be that you wouldn’t want to share with a part of yourself?”
The question hit him hard. There were things about himself he had avoided thinking about for years, things that, in a way, he had indeed hidden from himself. Being here had brought one of those things to the surface, along with a renewed fear that someone would discover it. The Queen, or Amèlia. “Aren’t there things you think, or feel, that you don’t want other people to know?”
“No,” Héan said simply. “But perhaps I am too new.”
“Too new?” Reid asked, puzzled.
“Yes, Reid,” Héan said. “My existence began when we became one. At least, I have no memory of myself existing before that time.”
“I guess I didn’t realize that.” He hadn’t thought to ask. He felt like a fool for that, as if he had made a great oversight. As though he had missed an important detail about a dear friend. “You just seem so… mature.”
“I was brought into the world with more faculties than a human child, if that’s what you mean,” Héan said. “I speak and reason like an adult, for the most part. I can see how you were mislead. Yet there are still things I do not understand. Like, for example, wanting to hide parts of yourself.”
Reid’s heart sped. He had never considered sharing the detail about himself that now hovered at the forefront of his mind, pushing to fly out of his mouth. He thought about Tynus again. About what he would say. About how he would react, if he knew. Reid held back. Mostly. Something related sprang from his mouth instead, transforming into a question. “Why am I the only Guardian whose companion matches my gender?”
“I can’t answer that, in fullness,” Héan said. “I know little more than you do. I only know what Queen Lora has said to all of us.”
“Right.” The lack of an answer weighed on him. He hadn’t really expected one from Héan, of course, but he had hoped. He suspected he knew the answer. He considered asking the Queen. Surely, she knew the answer, and about what he was hiding. Asking her should have been easy, if he could find the strength to talk to her at all. Her very presence intimidated him into silence.
“I’m sorry, Reid,” Héan said. “I wish I could give you a better answer.”
“It’s not your fault, Héan.” If Reid did know the answer to his question, if his guess was right, it meant something about Tynus, too. And the others, of course, but Tynus occupied Reid’s thoughts: the fullness of his hair, a light brown the color of stained wood; his beard, which he kept trimmed and neat, which grew thick upon his face; his eyes, such a pale green that, when the light struck them at the proper angle, they looked almost white…
Reid turned over, forcing his face into his pillow. What would Tynus think, if he knew about the images drifting through Reid’s mind? Reid covered his face in his hands. He couldn’t hide from his thoughts, though, nor could he turn away from Héan.
“What is wrong, Reid?” Héan asked. “I didn’t wish to upset you.”
Reid rolled out of the bed. The plush rug spread beneath his bed cushioned his feet. He strode across the room, to where his feet met cold marble instead. “It’s fine, Héand. I’m not upset.”
“Reid, I can see that you are.” Héan followed, his nonexistent steps delicate and soundless.
“Queen Lora said that I should practice drawing on your power, too, so that we can both become stronger.”
“Well, yes,” Héan said. He cocked his head. “But…”
Between each window stood a pedestal topped by a pot of flowers. Reid approached one with purpose, as though it had been his focus all along. “Let’s practice, Héan.”
“I really feel like we should finish our conversation.”
The pain in Héan’s voice cut into Reid. He ignored it. He placed his fingertips gently upon one of the plants, a type of flower he didn’t recognize. It grow along the ground, producing large, many-petaled blooms. In the night, they were closed. The flowers slept. He reached out, feeling himself care for the flowers. He gave to them. Héan’s power flowing through him and into the plant. The dirt in the pot stirred beneath it. Shoots burst up, pushing the dirt aside in their haste to grow. Little beds of leaves formed, and in their centers, plump, unbloomed blossoms. The flower spread around the edge of the pot, practically overflowing, giving the pot’s previously cultivated appearance a wild cast.
Reid pulled his hand away, breathing a bit harder than he had been. He felt little fatigue, though, which was a vast improvement from the first time he had channeled Hèan’s power.
“You can affect more than just plants, you know.” Hèan’s voice sounded quietly around him. “You can heal, as well.”
Reid wondered if he could heal himself. No. What a stupid thought. He shifted so that he could look out of the window. Far below, Lake Minas lapped at the base of the cliff. Reid was not hurt, or broken. Tears formed at the edges of his eyes, because he knew he was about to say something he had never even allowed himself to think to himself in complete words. He wiped them away.
“Please don’t cry, Reid,” Héan said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Reid laughed. He found himself wishing he could hug Héan. Well… He reached out, eyes closed, pulling Héan toward him. It felt different from the way he used Héan’s power, but similar, too. His arms wrapped around something solid. The sweet scent of flowers, married with the aroma of warm grass, filled his nose.
Reid opened his eyes. His arms held Héan around his neck. The stag moved his head to rest on Reid’s shoulder. Past his neck, Héan’s body faded into nothingness, though he still stood as though supported by his limbs. This was more of him than Reid had yet been able to form.
“Oh, Reid,” Héan said, and Reid heard him in a new way, speaking from just behind him.
The words flooded out of him before he could form them more coherently. “I like men, Héan. I can’t… I don’t… I like women, but not… I like men. I want to love a man.”
“Okay, Reid,” Héan said. Héan rubbed his cheek against Reid’s. “It’s okay. I love you. You can love me, too. You can love anyone you wish. Love is meant to be shared.”