A/N: This remains one of my favorite pieces. I love writing older Moondance.

Moondance stepped through the Gate, a supporting hand on Starwind's elbow. He lent a little of his own energy to his lifebonded, as it was Starwind who had made the Gate. As they appeared on the other side with several Tayledras guards, the wave of dizziness quickly passed. It was something one got used to, when one Gated so much.

Moondance glanced around the small town in which they had appeared. It was further out than the majority of places they visited, they very rarely went there. Most Pelagirs creatures simply didn't stray so far. Moondance had never been, and Starwind had only once.

Steadying Starwind as the older Adept pulled the Gate back into himself, Moondance continued to look around. Something was very familiar…

In a moment, he had it. It hit him with all the weight and pain of a stone to the head. He would not doubt that his jaw had dropped, and he was astounded he hadn't noticed it sooner. Then again… he had left that part of himself behind long ago.

Before him, the field he had often played in as a child. Further ahead, the pub his father had frequented. He could just see the small market, over the hill… his hand unconciously tightened on Starwind's arm.

:What is the matter, shay'kreth'ashke?: Starwind's gentle blue-green voice in his mind dispelled the thoughts.

:It is not important. Worry not.: Moondance answered. He could not lie through Mindspeech, but he could skirt the issue.

:A useless request.: Starwind said. He added no more, though Moondance could tell his lifebonded knew there was something very wrong. It was simply Starwind's way to leave Moondance be until he felt ready to speak.

Keshana, of course, shared his mind, and had a primitive understanding of what was wrong. She sent him support and love from her place on his shoulder.

Out loud, Starwind said, "Guards, with me. We shall attempt to hunt down the beasts that were here. Moondance, help any wounded in the village. If you have need of me, simply call."

Moondance nodded, forcing himself to smile. "Of course, ashke."

Starwind gave him a brief look, concern in the usually icy eyes. "Asheena will accompany you." He said decisively, flicking his wrist to launch the falcon.

Moondance caught the gyrfalcon almost reflexively, transferring him from his forearm to the shoulder not occupied by Keshana. Asheena shot a longing look back at his bondmate, but he obviously also felt Moondance's distress, and settled in to picking worridly at his braids.

"Asheena, please desist." Moondance said good-naturedly, gently pushing Asheena's beak away from his hair. :If it would make you feel better, Starwind, fine, I will take Asheena.: Moondance Mindspoke.

Clearly, Starwind did not see fit to dignify that with a worded reply, instead simply sending undiluted love and affections through their lifebond as he turned on his heel and walked away, beckoning the guards, his cloak swirling around his ankles.

Asheena had returned his attentions to picking at Moondance's braids, and the Tayledras waved him away again. "Not now, Asheena." Moondance startled himself with how shaky his voice sounded. He closed his eyes, taking a deep, cleansing breath to center himself.

The villagers were looking on, of course, in awe. They were too afraid to come close. Moondance renforced his shields – not only were they afraid of him, doubtless they had been terrified by the Pelagir beasts. The fear that rolled off of them in waves was overwhelming. Many of them were clutching shovels and pitchforks, or rough knives, as such crude weapons would have been their only defense.

Moondance bit back his memories and put on his most brilliant smile, stepping forwards. "People, do not fear me. I am a Healer. Please, show me your wounded. I am able to help."

A middle-aged man stepped cautiously forwards. A shovel was clutched in his hands. "S-sir," he began, before clearing his throat. His voice was slightly more confident when he spoke again. "No one was injured in the attack. We drove the beasts off."

:Starwind was right then, Keshana, when he thought the creatures were young. It can be so difficult to tell, sometimes. But if these people drove them off with farm implements…:

:agreement:

Moondance pulled out of conversation with his bondbird and addressed the man. "You were very fortunate, but I would still like to help if I can. Might anyone in your village need healing?"

The man with the shovel looked around at the other villagers, most of whom shrugged or shook their heads. A young woman, armed with a pitchfork, spoke up. "There is an old woman on the outskirts of the village. She is very sick, but perhaps you could ease her passing?" She said quietly.

"Of course." Moondance said, his hands clasped before him. "Would you be so kind as to take me there, miss? I would be happy to allieviate this woman's pain."

The woman hesitated. He dropped his shields enough to feel her, though he barely needed to do that to know she was intimidated by him. He smiled even more radiantly, and stepped closer, offering his elbow to her. She gave a shaky smile and took it cautiously, before turning and leading him through the small crowd of villagers, who parted easily.

"What ails this woman?" Moondance asked softly, walking with the young lady.

She shook her head. "Naught but old age, most likely. She's in a lot of pain, though… lives out on one of the old farms, still. Everyone's told her she should move into the town; she's had trouble even getting out of bed, you see, and her husband died years ago. Trampled to death by a rogue stallion." She sighed, averting her eyes. "It was very tragic, of course, but that was long ago. I was fourteen and not yet wed."

Moondance nodded his understanding. "Does anyone look after her now? It does not sound as though there are any children to care for her."

The young lady shook her head. "There are none. There was a son… once. But that was before I was even born, and… no one talks about him much. We in the village tried to help her… several ladies offered to help cook and clean, I know that, I was one of them. She just kept refusing, so I suppose she just wants to die. We bring her food, but sometimes she won't even take it."

A cold feeling of dread settled in Moondance's stomach. It was aided, not eased by the fact that the road was becoming increasingly familiar. It could not be. His luck was simply not that poor. "The son perished in another tragic accident?" He asked, in a practised tone that conveyed none of his inner turmoil, only sympathy.

She shrugged. "I'd suppose so. As I said, no one ever talks about him. I've only heard anything at all when men at the pub get very drunk indeed… and I tend to stay away s'much as possible when they get that way, only go out to serve their drinks."

"It must have been very tragic indeed, to elicit such a reaction." Moondance replied, though by now his throat had tightened, he had to work even harder to keep the emotion from his speech. Asheena began tugging at his braids again, and Keshana was radiating calm for her bondmate's sake.

It helped very little.

They reached the farm before long, and by this point, Moondance was not even slightly surprised when his childhood home came into view, though he'd hoped against hope it would not.

It would be a lie to say the farm was just as he remembered it – now it was far from the unkempt state that one saw in nearly all farmhouses, it was extremely overgrown, the shutters hanging half-off their hinges, the roof rotting. Somehow, this made Moondance's memories all the more haunting and nightmarish. As he rested his hand on the rusty doorhandle, the emotions flooded through him all at once. The old anger of so many arguments. The fear. That final feeling of abandonment…

A shudder ran through him. The young lady, who had by now removed her hand from his arm, was gazing at the house with pity, and barely disguised disgust. "I don't really want to go inside." She admitted.

Moondance managed a smile, though he was not sure how. "I understand completely. I do not mind if you return to the village."

She returned the smile, before beginning the walk back. Moondance turned back to face the door, feeling suddenly terrified, and very alone. He was so rarely without Starwind, and yet now, when he needed his lifebonded most, Moondance knew this really was something he had to do on his own. He brought up a hand to stroke Asheena, letting out a breath that shook as much as his hand did. He transferred the falcon to his forearm, and kissed him on the brow. "I am very glad to have you with me, Asheena, but I must do this by myself. Please wait for me here." He flicked his wrist, and Asheena flew to alight on a nearby tree.

"That applies to you as well, my lady." Moondance said sadly, running his fingers over Keshana's feathers.

:sorrow:

"I know." He sighed.

:protect: :Moondance:

"In this situation, you simply cannot."

She sent him an image of a falcon with half of its feathers pulled off, looking frightened and vulnerable. He understood the meaning – she wanted him to face this as Moondance k'Treva, nothing less.

"Ah… but I am always less without Starwind by my side. I must do this on my own, Keshana." He continued to stroke her, and when he removed his hand, she flew to join Asheena.

:luck:

Moondance gave a weak smile, before knocking on the door to the farmhouse.

"Come…" a hacking cough. "Come in!"

Obviously, she thought Moondance was one of the people that came down from the village occasionally to bring her food. He pushed open the door. A horrid, rotting smell hit his nose, and he nearly retched. The place was in indescribable squalor. He put a hand to his mouth. No one could have possibly cleaned in years. Nature, he was definetely used to. In k'Treva, he all but lived in the forest. This was not nature, not soil and leaves. He never hesitated to lay down on the ground in the vale; in fact, he and Starwind had many a tryst on the forest floor. However, Moondance wasn't sure he'd be able to salvage his boots after entering this old house.

He picked his way through what was once the kitchen and dining area, and that he now didn't want to look too closely at. He passed the door to his old room with a pang of sorrow and shame. At the end of the short hallway, the door to his parent's room was open. No, not open… it no longer existed. He could hear the coughing again.

A wave of panic washed over him. Would his mother recognize him? No, of course not. He looked nothing the same. And not only that… he held himself in a completely different way. He was not the frightened, angry, confused boy named Tallo. He was Moondance, powerful Healer-Adept, lifebonded of Starwind k'Treva… at peace. That was the biggest difference. Now, he was at peace.

Or, at least, nearly.

"Hello?" He said serenely, drifting into the room and trying not to wrinkle his nose at the overwhelming, cloying stench which only increased.

There was a gasp from the… bed? An old woman, wrinkled, her hair almost gone, her skin sallow and taut across the bones of her face and hands, was staring at him in awe, eyes wide in sunken sockets.

Yet… she was undoubtedly his mother.

A part of him wanted to cling to her like a child, just cling and cry… but another part of him, the stronger part, said there was no reason to do so, she was no longer a part of his life. "I am a healer." He said warmly, smiling somehow. "I was sent here to help you."

"You're a Hawkbrother…" she rasped, trying to shrink away from him. Even this small movement seemed beyond her.

He nodded. "My people came to ward off an attack by several Pelagir creatures that escaped our control. There were no wounded in the village, so I was brought to you. Do not fear me, I wish only to help you."

"Help?" She laughed bitterly. "I don't want any help. Can't even move 'nymore. Husband's dead, son's…" she trailed off. "Be kinder just to kill me. Can hardly live with this pain anymore." She coughed again, expelling blood from her mouth.

Moondance kindly took her hand, forcing back his emotions and memories, breathing deeply, slipping into a near-meditative state to calm himself, as Starwind had taught him long ago. "If you truly want to pass on, I can help you. But I can simply alleviate your pain, if you wish that."

"I don't want anything from you." She grunted.

It took all of his resolve to do it, but Moondance reached out and dipped into her mind. It told him what he'd already known. She didn't want magic used on her. She disliked magic, she thought it was unnatural. She thought he was unnatural.

All these years, and nothing had changed.

The thought made his eyes prickle with tears, but he forced them back. He hated to cry, and he would certainly not do it in front of this… woman… who was his mother. "I can make you drop off to sleep," he continued, keeping his voice low and soothing. "I could bring you a painless death, if you so desire…" he had done a quick examination of his mother's body as he checked her mind, and she was riddled with tumors, now far beyond his help. It really would be more merciful to give her a quiet, painless end.

"No!" She snapped, glaring at him. "I'll go out of this world as I came into it… the way I was meant to!"

Moondance nodded. "If you wish. You do not even wish for me to lessen your pain?"

She shook her head, coughing again and laughing humorlessly. "You're just like my damn son was. You want to use your magic. If you had any decency you'd at least pretend to be like everyone else."

Moondance felt fifteen again, trapped and frightened in his own home. He swallowed his fear once more. "Magic is very common among the Tayledras, milady."

She laughed again, harshly. She didn't seem quite… sane. Though it wasn't surprising, she must be very old indeed. "Then keep your unnaturalness to yourselves. No doubt you're fey, too, just look at yourself."

It took everything Moondance had not to hang his head in shame. His mother had never used to be like this… she had never been so rude and abrasive, just narrow-minded in a quiet, thin-lipped way.

"I do not see how my preferences concern you." He said softly.

She burst into hysterical laughter, now quite clearly not sane at all. "Just like my son, then!" All of a sudden she quieted, her eyes fixed on a spot on the ceiling. She was smiling, and when she spoke again her voice was almost sweet. "I believe he learned his lesson, when they chased him out of town. That demon my husband caught him with corrupted him, I've always been sure of that. And now…" her smile become delusional, dreamlike. "Now, I know he's somewhere with a wife… children… a good honest farmer carrying on our family name…"

Moondance knew this was his chance to tell her. He had to speak now, tell her he was his son, try to make her understand…

Even in that moment, he knew he could not. This pathetic old woman, unable to even leave her bed, had so little to be happy about, and he had so much. He could not shatter her last happy thought, he wouldn't even consider it. He thought about lying for only a moment more. He could reveal that he had been Tallo, and tell her he did indeed have a wife and children. The idea of it made his heart ache. He couldn't betray Starwind like that… and not only that, but by the time he had become Moondance, he was very tired of lying. He had lied nearly all of his young life, and he refused to do so any more.

So, he would get no kind of forgiveness from his mother. Not now… and by the shape she was in, not ever. His eyes sparkled with unshed tears, and his voice finally wavered. "I am sure that wherever your son is, he is very happy… and wants nothing more than to make you proud." Without waiting for a reply, not sure he wanted one, he released the old lady's hand, turned on his heel, and strode from the filthy house, his eyes hurting from his efforts not to shed tears. They overflowed slightly, catching in his eyelashes and blurring his vision, causing him to trip on the stoop. He pulled himself up and continued walking, back to the village.

Both bondbirds flew quickly to his side, Keshana sending him love and comfort, Asheena picking incessantly at his braids. Finally, he gave up, falling to his knees and sobbing, hands over his face. The falcons tried to calm him, to no avail. He reached out with his mind, looking for the presence that calmed him like no other.

He found it.

:Starwind… I need you.:

Moondance felt Starwind's deep concern at the pain he'd already felt through their bond. :I thought you may,: It was not a condescending statement, but a warm one. :You call, shay'kreth'ashke, and I do not only come, I am already nearly to you.:

Trembling, sobbing, Moondance fell into Starwind's arms.