He awoke before the sun, while the dew cooled sweet and damp on his skin and distant birds lifted their voices to greet the dawn. In the young hours, Harry stretched out sleep-heavy limbs across the pillowy moss, his joints giving a few satisfying pops before he sat up. Blinking to adjust his eyes to the dim surroundings, his vision slowly cleared and he made out the pile of barely-glowing coals that had been their fire, and a few feet to his right was the form of the slumbering king. Tom was wrapped tightly in his thin cloak and contradictory to his otherwise regal and impressive stature, his sleep-slack face and the pink tip of his nose made him look far younger than he had any right to look.

Rolling up onto his feet to crouch in front of the coals so that could vanish what remained of them, Harry didn't give much thought to casting a warming-charm on the sleeping man as he began to move about their camp. If anything, Tom continuing to sleep gave him all the time he needed to go about his business and get ready for the day in privacy. He might not be overly concerned with the man's opinion of him most of the time, but that didn't mean he was ready to sacrifice his dignity by relieving himself in front of the king.

It wasn't until almost an hour later when the sky had lightened considerably with the sun breaking free from the horizon somewhere beyond the cover of the trees, that Harry had finished removing all traces of the camp they had made—the remaining chopped wood and cooked rabbit meat getting magically preserved and placed in his expanded pouch for later—and nudged at Tom's calve with his boot to wake him. The king's face pinched as he was roused to consciousness insistently. He blinked up at his figure looming over him with barely-opened eyes as his lips pushed outward in what the older would certainly deny was a pout.


"Up you get." Harry urged, tugging lightly on his elbow when Tom sat up, trying to get him up on his feet with as little fuss as possible. "The sooner we reach the docks, the sooner we find a way off this island." Harry explained, though he's pretty sure anything he said would go right over Tom's head with the way he stumbled to his feet, more than half-asleep and looking at Harry like he'd just asked him to balance a chair on his head. Realizing the man wouldn't be coherent for at least another twenty minutes, Harry instead took it upon himself to cast a quick cleansing charm on the man—more for his own sake, should the day turn out to be just as sweltering as yesterday—as well as a disillusionment charm on Tom and himself, as they would be leaving the safety of the wards soon.

The other twitched and shivered at the feeling of the spells rolling over his body, but otherwise remained silent as Harry dismantled the wards with bated breath. When they were gone, he couldn't help but wait in tense silence for a minute to see if there were any signs of the Fae having been alerted to their location. After another minute of nothing, he released a tentative breath and pulled out his wand for a point-me spell to lead them in the direction of the docks they had entered the island from.

Setting off at a brisk but manageable pace, Harry weaved between the trees, occasionally touching the rough hide of the tree bark as he passed and careful to watch where he stepped. He was reminded of not too long ago when he'd been trekking through another forest. It had only been, what, two weeks since he was in his own world? But it felt like a lifetime ago.

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Tom rubbing at his eyes and shaking the fog from his head as he tried to keep up with him.

So much had changed since then.

With the sudden reminder of the sheer magnitude of what Harry had shared with the man the night before, he tore his gaze away and suddenly felt grateful that Tom was still half asleep. He'd showed Tom . . . everything. Circe! He'd hardly known the man a week and now he was spilling his darkest secrets?! As he grumbled mentally over just how reckless the other made him, he let that same part of his mind that had thought that bringing Tom in on some of his biggest secrets last night convince him that, even in the light of day, perhaps it hadn't been such a bad idea. It was nerve wracking, and left him with a weird feeling of gaping openness in his chest, but it also felt like an anchor, keeping him tethered to the ground.

The knowledge that Tom knew that he wasn't some otherworldly being, but rather just some lucky sod who'd been in the right place at the right time to avoid an unfortunate fate, it made his current reality just that much more digestible and tangible. And perhaps it'll get the man to stop looking at him like he'd hung the stars in the sky, because he'd be the first to admit that he was—at times—a weak man and his resolve could only take so much.

Though, that opinion did wane a bit when it seemed that Tom finally fully woke up about twenty minutes into walking and began to ask Harry questions about the things he'd been shown. It was about innocuous things, like cars and agriculture and political systems. Tom seemed mindful of the things that would bring back painful memories and stuck mostly to talking about muggle topics and impersonal things, though what little Harry could say with his own limited knowledge of the muggle world after spending the majority of a decade away from it, had Tom fascinated.

"The commoners elect your kings?" He asked with bold-faced curiosity as they carefully crossed a shallow stream by stepping across a scatted path of large rocks cutting through the surface.

"The majority of the world isn't ruled by monarchies anymore, but yes, many countries let the public vote for who's in charge, and there are usually laws preventing one person from being in charge for more than a few years. There are just too many people. If the public isn't given some sort of say in who leads them—or at least the illusion of it—then the government would always run the risk of being overthrown." Harry tried to explain, knowing he wasn't doing the best job of it as his attention was seriously divided.

Just as he thought that, his foot slipped on slick stretch of rock and he started to lose his balance when he heard a sharp curse and two large hands wrapped firmly around his biceps to steady him. Even through his thick cloak, laden with cooling charms to keep him comfortable, he could feel the sudden press of heat against his shoulders where Tom's firm chest pressed against him in the limited space on the rock that they both stood on. Everything about him felt strong and unwavering as he supported part of Harry's weight as he got his feet under him once more and something about that, how easily he held Harry up, sent a bolt of something unnamed and heated through his core.

Pulse fluttering high in his throat, Harry started to turn his head around to maybe thank Tom, but then he felt the tickling brush of breath against his cheek and he snapped his head back around to look straight ahead.

"Thank you." It came out slightly tremulous and breathy, but he cleared his throat and carefully stepped out of the man's hold and onto the next rock with surer feet.

"Of course."

Harry didn't dare look back and see if he was really hearing the amused smirk in that rich voice, or if he just imagined it. He wouldn't know what to do with whichever answer he found and he really didn't need Tom seeing the burning heat he could feel creeping up his neck to pool hot in his cheeks. It's just the hormones, surely. He'd probably blush if an ogre looked at him for too long! He silently berated himself. Tom was undoubtedly attractive, objectively, but Harry had met plenty of attractive people in his life. He wasn't the type to swoon. . . Right?

"How exactly do you plan on getting us off this island?" Harry dead-panned, walking in the shadow of the taller brunet through the crowded streets, both so he wouldn't lose Tom, and also so he didn't run the risk of bumping into the throngs of strangers. If Tom's height and ridiculous broad shoulders were good for anything, it was for cutting right through crowds. They were still under charms to keep anyone from looking at them for too long or remembering their faces, but it was best not to linger anywhere for too long.

"Well, I'm sure the ship I'd arranged to take back has already set sail and if they do happen to still be in the port, the only reason would be that they're working with the Fae and it's a trap. So, we're going to need another ship." He spoke as if it was a simple matter. It wasn't a simple matter.

"And what are the chances of there being a ship ready to go to the capital this morning that's willing to take us?" Harry asked, though he already had a pretty good idea of what the answer would be.

"We may have only just established official trading between us, but there is enough unofficial traffic between our lands that we're bound to find something. Have a little faith, Harry." He caught the shift in Tom's cheek from over his shoulder and he didn't know whether to be impressed by the man's confidence, or exasperated. "We just need to find a Port Hand. They know every vessel that will come and go from this island and what's on it. A few silvers in the right pocket and we'll be on a deck by noon." He was leaning more towards exasperated the more cocksure the king sounded. Nothing was ever that easy, not when it came to Harry, at least.

An hour, and a few steaming meat and vegetable-filled buns Harry swiped from a food-stall later, they finally tracked down what Tom referred to as a 'port hand.' Which turned out to be a bulky, towering scaled man who looked more lizard than person with his murky green scales, slitted yellow eyes, and a thick tail that swayed behind him. Pucker pink scar flesh cut through the scales across his face from a badly healed gash that disfigured half his face and made his scowl all the more lethal for anyone who wandered too closer to where he stood, surveying the docks with keen eyes.

"Pardon, you're a port hand, are you not?" Tom's voice was low and while the words were inherently polite, his tone was stele and severe. Harry hung back slightly, staying in Tom's shadow but keeping a sharp ear to the interaction before him while also scanning his gaze behind them in case the port hand tried to call for back up or any Fae were patrolling the docks. They hadn't spotted any on their way through the city, but that didn't mean they weren't there. After all, they could make themselves look convincingly human, who's to say they couldn't look like anyone?

"What business have you?" The reptilian man spat out in a gravely, hostile voice. He sounded moments away from decking Tom just for having the audacity to speak to him, but Tom didn't waver.

"My companion and I have business in Nandera urgently. I would be very grateful if you pointed us to the fastest ship heading that way." Harry heard the soft clink of a pouch of coins switching hands, followed by a long, scrutinizing pause. Harry continued to scan the docks around them shrewdly, but he paused while waiting for the port hands' answer.

"Only ship going that way is Fredrick's, that one with the blue sails down that way. Ain't another going that way for a few days. Mean 'ol lot that one, but if you got any more of that silver on ya, you might just be able to get yourselves passage." The scaled man turned his head away, square jaw clenching, a sign that he'd said all he was willing to say to them.

No matter, they found the ship easily enough. A painted haul that might have once been ivory, chipped and stained paint that fell like old scales shed on the rippling waters. Sun-bleached navy-blue sails crumpled close to the mast like crushed wings, unable to catch the eager wind. Even from afar, the vessel seamed to creak and groan more than the other ships. Half rotted and one good storm away from sending her adrift to the seafloor, it was their best bet of getting off the island before Fae swarmed the docks and hunted them down.

"How do you think we should convince them to take us with them? I don't have much silver left on me." Tom said sullenly, steps faltering as the weathered ship with the blue sails came fully into view. Harry didn't think twice before grabbing the man's wrist and pulling him along quickly, not wanting to risk missing the ship as it looked like they were already raising anchor and getting ready to set sail.

"We don't need to convince them." The words rang with a little more confidence than he truly felt, but the spells were already soaring through his mind in silent casting. Tom barely had time to make a confused sound out of the back of his throat when heavy disillusionment charms draped over them like silk brocade and all of their movements were silenced. Harry's grip on Tom's wrist tightened, not wanting to risk losing him in the throngs moving about the docks as they hurriedly chased the ship.

Sails dropped and snapped taut in the insistent gales of island wind, dragging the massive vessel away from the cradle of the docks. Cursing under his breath that when unheard under his layers of spells, Harry set his sights on the glimmer of deck he could see from his vantage point. With what must have been a bruising grip on his wrist, Harry pivoted to the side and the pair snapped away in a muffled crack of magic.

In less than a half second, their boots made quiet but jarring contact with the ship deck. He felt the other stumble from the sudden apparition, but the moment Tom had his feet under him again, Harry was pulling him past the busy crew—that looked far less friendly and less clean than the crew that had brought them to the island—and to the open hatch that would bring them below deck. He had to let go of Tom to climb down the stairs, but he hoped that the slight tug he gave his arm would broadcast his intentions clearly enough.

The first level below deck was the general quarters of the crew, with their dingy hammock beds for the rough sway of the seas. Harry paused on this level long enough to glance around to make sure there was no one down there before swatting away the silencing charm from them both.

"Let's go down one more." He whispered up to the ladder above him, hoping that Tom was currently stood on it. Thankfully, he received a quiet hum in affirmative. Harry continued down the ladder once more into the lower-most section of the ship that they could access, where they stored food reserves, supplies, emergency repair materials, and so on. It was musty, a little leaky, and the air was certainly stale, but they could stow away unnoticed by the crew until they reached Nandera.

Once his feet were on the ground, Harry quickly stepped out of the way of the ladder so as not to be accidentally stepped on and waited as he heard the faint creaks and tap of Tom's boots on the rungs until they hit the floor. Reaching out blindly, his fingers latched onto the first bit of fabric they touched and he pulled Tom through the large crates and swollen barrels. The very back of the area was so far from the hatch they'd come through that not a speck of daylight could reach them. Lumos. A dim glowing orb fluttered up from the tips of his fingers and the disillusionment soughed off of them both.

It was then that he realized that he had not simply grabbed the material of Tom's cloak to pull him along. No, instead, his devious fingers had betrayed him by latching onto the front of the man's shirt in such a way preordained to pull him in on sharp move and capture such a sumptuous mouth. Harry swallowed and breathed out around the fluttering in his chest, the craving carved deeply into his tongue and he quickly wrested his eyes up to meet Tom's burrowing gaze.

Like so many times before, they hit the unseen webs of tension and stilled, caught in the silken strings. And just as he had before, he retreated gently before they could snap.

"We should be safe down here. I'll set up some wards just in case. It won't be the most comfortable, but I can cover us if we need to leave for anything above." His fingertips slipped from the shirtfront in a lingering whisper and he cast his eyes down and away as he put up some cursory wards around their little refuge in the bowels of the ship. There wasn't much space behind the large crates for them to wander around. All they could do once the wards were in place, was take a seat on the dusty floorboards and lean back against the walls of the ship, listening to the deep droning voices of the ocean.

In the midst of the hazy transient fog, Harry slowly garnered his awareness with about as much ease as someone would have trying to draw water from a stone. Between this moment and the next, his consciousness congealed and solidified just enough for him to become half-aware of his current non-reality. He was dreaming. Aware in an abstract sense, that he was standing on the empty, damp deck of the ship he had stowed away on. It was night, the sky above an empty star-less void, but somehow the deck was just light enough for him to see it. And it was silent, eerily so. No waves or wind, nothing but the occasional brittle creaking of the vessel under his bare feet.

Sluggish mind caught on the absence of waves crashing in his ears, Harry was drawn to the side of the ship on slow feet.

Unbidden, relief washed over him when he saw the calm glassy surface of the waters. He didn't know why the thought gave him comfort, but the thought of looking over the edge and seeing more nothingness terrified him for some reason. Even if the sea was unnaturally still and its depths bore a fertile cradle to the unknown, something about them were inexplicably soothing.

The flickering—blinking—of a pale light in his peripheral drew his gaze upwards and he found the familiar celestial body of the moon looking down at him, full and pulsing with light that rippled from its edges in haloed ripples and rang light a distant continuous bell in his ears, faint and melodious. In the strange ethereal plane where dreams were born, Harry didn't even think to question when the opalescent light of the full moon began to drip, trickle, and pour down the empty sky and into the sea. It sent ripples and slithering tendrils of light reflecting over its surface.

"Estranged child of earth, one who has traveled to planes not even I could reach, I ask that you might find asylum in this world: my garden." Before he could turn to see who had spoken behind him, gentle arms pulsing with pale light wrapped around in an encompassing embrace. The words were barely a whisper in his ear, and though he'd never heard a voice so soft or of such a uniquely harmonious tone, he knew the voice as surely as he knew his own. He slumped into the embrace and the willowy limbs supported him with ease, cradling him close to her bosom like one would a child. Though, Harry supposed that in the arms of an immortal deity, he would be considered a child.

He wanted to speak up and ask her. Why? What was all of this 'disciple' nonsense and was it just a coincidence, or was he really what Amode claimed him to be? Did she really have anything to do with the impossible conception of his child?

"Your thoughts are busy even in your hour of rest. If I can ease your mind with answers I will try, sweet boy." They had sunk to the deck by now, Harry still held close to the goddess. He felt the gentle tap of her silken cheek against his temple before her cook fingers were carding through his hair and twisting affectionately around his curls. With no other preamble, she spoke and Harry leaned into her words like leaves to the sun.

"I had no part in the creation of your precious one. I cannot see the happenings of worlds beyond the ones I have created. Your home world is watched over by a far more ambivalent creature than I. I didn't know of your existence until you walked through my door. I did not create you, but I love you, as I love all of my children. All the same, the fact that you are a life-bringer against the odds of your world and mine, means that your connection to me will be far stronger than my other children." He could hear the smile in her words and the arm still wrapped around him briefly dipped just low enough to brush fondly over the slightest swell of his child beneath his skin. Still, Harry could not will the words on the tip of his tongue out, but his need to speak faded as her lips pressed a soft kiss to the corner of his eye.

"In this short time, you have garnered my affections and earned my favor, beautiful child. I give you my blessings in bounty, and the mark of my love will endear you to all of my creatures. Shed your woes at my door and start anew a life of love and contentment. Do not rend your heart for the sake of departure. Worlds meet at a lovers' kiss. . ."

Harry awoke with slight jolt, whispered words ringing in his ears, permanent in a way that dreams often weren't. Of course, he would be susceptible to strange visits from a certain deity he was supposed to be the disciple of while he's asleep. Harry didn't know whether to take it as just a weird vivid hormone-driven dream of nonsense, or if he had actually been bundled up in the arms of this world's precious Great Mother and told he was now mummy's favorite.

What was his life coming to?!

"Ah, good, you're awake. We're pulling into the harbor at the moment according to all the shouting going on up top." Tom's voice echoed gently in the crowded space as he stepped back around the crate separating them from the ladder leading up. It took a minute to push his own thoughts past the words of the goddess still pinging around his brain so that he could reorient himself as Tom shuffled around him to pack up the last few items around them into his pack as he prepared to leave.

Right. They were still stowed away on the ship to Nandera. They'd been hiding in the bottom of the ship for a little over two days now, only leaving twice a day under heavy spell work to get some fresh air and take care of necessities. During their secret trips to the upper deck, Tom discovered that they were set-course for Cadel, a large city in the southern-most part of Nandera. Which is why their voyage was significantly shorter than the one they'd taken to the island.

While Harry's sensitive stomach was glad that they'd finally be off the turbulent seas and back on solid ground, this would mean that Tom would be traveling back to the capital by land. Which would take at least two whole weeks on horseback according to Tom. Apparently, Nandera is a vast kingdom with sprawling arid deserts, rolling mountains, and endless fields and forests. Again, Harry is reminded that although Nandera is considered a weaker country by other nations because of their significant lack in physical and magical power, they are still in the lead for highest food production and natural resources because of their vast fertile lands and large population.

And he's going to be crossing all of that distance on his own, unprotected. . .

The thought niggled at his brain as he packed his own belongings up into his bottomless pouch, a frown forming between his brows.

The past two days he's been essentially stuck in the hold of the ship with the man, Harry has been thinking about their inevitable departure. Tom hap promised to return Harry to Nandera, where they would go their separate ways. Tom would return to his palace and prepare for a possible conflict with the Fae Empire over the attempt on his life, and Harry would go looking for a quiet place to settle and raise his kid. It wasn't like he'd enjoyed all of the wild and dangerous encounters he'd had over the last week or so. So why? Why was he so damn reluctant to part?

Startlingly clear memories of the goddesses parting words prodded at his thoughts as if they held all the answers. 'Do not rend your heart for the sake of departure. . .' Leaving Tom wouldn't 'rend his heart' that's ridiculous. They weren't some star-crossed lovers that would die without the other, he just . . . the thought of Tom riding away, never to been seen again, scraped uncomfortably at his insides. He couldn't say he was in love with Tom exactly—he wasn't even really sure what that kind of love felt like or what it meant—but . . .

The gentle touch against the small of his back was both grounding and exhilarating, setting his skin alight when his thumb absently rubbed over the dip of his spine.

"You ready?" Tom asked, something unsure in his tone as he gazed down at Harry like he would never see his face again. Which . . . okay, yeah, that-

"Uh, yeah, all set." He said quickly, flushing slightly in embarrassment upon realizing just how spacy he was being today. Tom's eyes lingered over his features a moment too long before a brief, placid smile crossed his face. He stepped away to stand at the bottom of the ladder so he could listen to what was happening up above. Harry already missed that fleeting touch.

He had no reason to feel so bloody conflicted! This is what he'd been waiting for since the first moment he'd been dragged in cuffs unto that ship; his freedom. He knew that following Tom would bring about more risk, more exposure, as well as the chance of Tom discovering their child and cast Harry aside because of it. Harry was just trying to protect himself, so why did it feel like he'd only hurt himself more by trying to leave Tom's side?

'Worlds meet at lovers' kiss. . .'

Unconsciously, his fingers brushed over his lips, barely able to remember the last time he had felt the other's lips on his during their nocturnal visits. If the goddess really had nothing to do with those dreams or the creation of their child, then what on earth had allowed for their convergence between worlds? The unanswered questions sparked a fire in his mind that was conveniently distracting from his less-sure feelings towards the king.

Harry had come this far to return Tom to his kingdom, yet a long journey to the palace stood ahead of Tom. Unable to contact his royal guards or the rest of his court for fear that it would be intercepted by more spies, or that the more cunning folks of his court would use his absence and the attempt on his life to their advantage, Tom would be riding all the way back to the capital unprotected and unaccompanied. It would be safer for them now that they're back in Nandera, so the journey itself shouldn't be all that more dangerous than it will be for Harry to travel on his own in search of a place to settle. Who knows, maybe he'll find a place he likes on the way?

Harry joined Tom at the bottom of the ladder to listen to the shouts of the crew working to dock the ship. He knew that he was just making excuses and trying to justify it to himself, but it was easier than admitting that he just couldn't let Tom go.

He'd be joining him back to the capital. And in the next two weeks, if he somehow found a more tangible reason to stay, one that he could accept, then . . . so be it.