The Adepts of k'Treva were all in the heartstone, their magics thrumming in time with that of the Vale itself. Starwind's blue-green, Moondance's green-gold, Brightstar's rose-green, Firefall's gold-violet, Rainsong's silver-rose, and the many colors of a dozen others. Suddenly, there was a rending, breaking the peace of the magic. The Adepts all strained to keep themselves in the stone, the sudden shock nearly ripping the weaker of them out. The others hardly had time to realize it was Starwind who had gone missing before Moondance unceremoniously ended his connection as well, followed by Brightstar.

The sudden loss of the three most powerful Adepts was enough to make all of them fall out of the connection. Rainsong had been about to pull out anyways, as worry had washed over her at the loss of Starwind's connection.

Starwind would never abandon his rapport so suddenly.

And he would certainly never lose it accidentally.

Rainsong staggered as she snapped back into her own body, but she had been next to Moondance and immediately saw what was going on.

Starwind was prone, in a position that suggested his knees had buckled underneath him. Moondance had an arm under his back and was helping him upright, muttering softly under his breath. Moondance's expression was unreadable, his thick lashes obscuring his half-closed eyes. Starwind looked dazed, blinking and raising a shaky hand to rest on his bonded's shoulder. That worried Rainsong even more.

Starwind never looked dazed.

Moondance pressed a hand against his own son's chest, not allowing him to get close to Starwind. Rainsong grew yet more concerned when she noticed the harrowed twist to Moondance's lips. The other Adepts were starting to recover, and coming over to help. Rainsong bent down herself, placing a kind hand on Moondance's back. "Is he alright, alsh'el?"

"Aye, fine." Moondance said almost sharply, waving them away. "I fear my foolish bonded has gone and exhausted himself, haha!" The laugh was brittle, nervous and utterly fake.

Rainsong glance over the bonded pair to Brightstar, and they shared a worried look.

:Do you know what the matter is?: She asked in Mindspeech.

:Nay. Apparently I am allowed nowhere near my own na'el.:

Rainsong frowned, but stood, glancing up at a puzzled Firefall. :Rainsong, touch him.: Firefall Sent, his Mindvoice as aristocratic and haughty as his vocal one. :You have enough healing. Something is very wrong with dear Starwind.:

Rainsong agreed with this sentiment, and so slowly traced her hand from Moondance's back to Starwind's slender hand on his shoulder. She sent out a thin tendril, and had to withhold a gasp from what she Saw.

Moondance pulled Starwind up, arms tight around his waist. "I will just take Starwind back to Voorthayshen now. To rest. Aye." He gave them an awkward facsimile of one of his usual dazzling smiles.

Brightstar furrowed his brow, reaching out a hand. "Allow me to help, father..."

"Nay." Moondance said, far too quickly. "Nay, lasheenka'el. We will be fine. He is only tired."

Rainsong, Firefall, Brightstar and likely all the other Adepts in the clearing knew it was a lie. :Rainsong, what did you See?: Firefall asked, anxious.

After a moment's hesitation, Rainsong pulled Brightstar into the link as well. She still thought of him as a child, but he was better than sixty now. She glanced between the two men and their questioning blue eyes. She took a breath.

:Starwind is dying.:

Moondance kissed Starwind's brow. The pain radiating from his bonded was too much to bear. Red-rimmed, pain-misted eyes looked up at him, icy blue. Starwind's head was against his chest. Starwind had been in such agony for days now, but Moondance would heal him. The younger Adept was quite sure of that.

:Would you like to go outside awhile, ashke?: Moondance Mindspoke softly. :I believe I can keep the pain away for a few hours.: He pushed as much of his healing magic into Starwind as he could part with.

"Thank you, Moondance." Starwind said, his weak voice strengthening slightly.

Moondance had not simply made Starwind comfortable. He was desperately pumping his own energy into his bonded, had been since that first collapse, sure that if he kept filling in that terrible gaping void in Starwind it would soon stay filled.

Starwind gave him a reassuring, but rather shaky smile. "I believe I feel well enough to stand." He held tightly to Moondance's forearm, and drew himself up with relatively little trouble.

Moondance gave him a truly dazzling smile, holding him tightly. "Come now, let us go. A walk will do you good."

...

"Gods of my fathers, Featherfire!" Brightstar groaned, rubbing his temples. "You know it, I know it… the entire clan knows it! He certainly knows it! It is clear to see… and yet father is blind to it. I do not understand."

Featherfire placed a hand kindly on her twin brother's, which was resting on the rail of the balcony. "Love is blind, sh'el. Moondance does not want to believe, so he refuses to."

Brightstar sighed, allowing his eyes to fall closed. "Aye, I understand that much. What I do not understand is why na'el will not just tell father…"

"He does not want to hurt him."

Brightstar didn't reply. He didn't open his eyes, either.

Featherfire smiled grimly, patting his hand before returning hers to her own section of railing. "But you knew that already. You are only frustrated." She lowered her voice a few octaves. "And frightened."

Brightstar's head snapped up. "I am not frightened." His eyebrows were raised, making him look very much like Starwind for a moment.

"But you are," her smile turned knowing. "You love your parents. And you know that this means you will lose not one… but both." The smile faded. It really was nothing to smile about.

Brightstar nodded slowly. "Aye. Father cannot survive without na'el."

They were standing on the balcony of Voorthayshen, looking out over the vale. At that moment, Starwind and Moondance walked by on the path below them. Really, it was Moondance doing most of the walking, he had an arm wrapped tightly around Starwind's waist, quite obviously holding him up.

Brightstar closed his eyes and clenched his jaw, unable to watch. Featherfire touched his shoulder gently. "… I know this is painful, but there is no doubt this is even more difficult for Starwind."

"Is it your intention to make me feel selfish?" Brightstar said with a heavy sigh, running a hand through his hair.

"Nay, sh'el. Not at all." Featherfire said with a slight laugh.

"You succeeded regardless." Brightstar closed his eyes a moment, rubbing his temples. "It is very difficult to watch, that is all… na'el's strength fails him, he can hardly function."

It was Featherfire's turn to sigh. "You must be strong."

Brightstar turned away from the railing and leaned against it. "I just wish father would stop healing him. It makes everything that much worse."

Moondance no longer had any idea what to do.

He had tried everything, again and again, yet Starwind would still not stay whole. He had poured energy from the heartstone directly into him, but that had only increased the pain. Something had gone inside him, and was slowly taking the rest of him away. Moondance pushed that thought out of his mind. He would heal Starwind. He would.

He was braiding his lifebonded's hair – not in the complicated way typical of a Tayledras Adept, but pulled back simply for sleeping.

It was only just past midday.

Starwind sagged against him. Moondance had the disturbing and insistant feeling that if he stopped touching his lover for more than a few moments, if he was not always there to give energy when it was needed – which was almost constantly as of late – something would snap, and even he would not be able to fix it. Starwind turned slightly to look up at him, and even that small movement seemed difficult. He was as weak as a day-old chick. Still, other than the dark circles under his eyes and the sallow tinge to his golden skin, he was as beautiful as ever.

Love swelled inside of Moondance to the point of pain. He shook with it as he cupped his hand to Starwind's cheek, lowered his head to kiss him gently on the lips. It was an exceedingly soft kiss, but there was passion in it still.

Starwind did not kiss him back. Tears came to Moondance's eyes when he realized it was because he couldn't.

-

Moondance had started turning everyone away, not allowing a single soul to enter his and Starwind's bedroom in Voorthayshen. Starwind had not so much as spoken a word aloud in three days, and even Mindspeech was sporadic and seemed to require more than he had. Moondance was holding him close, trying to calm the shivering of the fever that had broken out last night. There was not a stitch of clothing between them. Moondance kept up a nearly constant stream of healing magic. He stopped short of tying them togething in a permanently open channel, Starwind had drilled into his mind when he was young that he should never even consider doing that.

The usually blindingly bright light of Starwind's magical aura was so dim it was almost not there at all. Moondance would give anything in his power to feel the healthy thrum of Starwind's Gifts again, as opposed to the ever-weakening echo back of his own.

Keshana had finally given up trying to show him anything, and was now on her perch beside the bed. Asheena had long since given up doing anything at all. He simply watched over Starwind, as if standing vigil. Keshana had been hunting for both of them.

Suddenly the pain spiked in Starwind, arched in him, and Moondance felt something splinter. He pushed back with his magic, healing, pulling most of the pain he could not take away into his own body. It felt as though he were coming apart, like every bone in his body would simultaneously snap at any second. It had never been this bad, not yet. He couldn't bear any more, yet as much pain as he could take from Starwind, more came. The older Adept cried out, a broken and almost frightened sound. He had never made a sound of discomfort throughout the ordeal – not until now.

Tears started to fall down Moondance's cheeks, and he held Starwind tighter and more desperately than ever. He pushed more and more magic through him, anything to take the pain away.

:Moondance...: Even Starwind's Mindvoice sounded strained, but Moondance truly did not care. For Starwind to speak at all was gift enough, now.

"Aye?" Moondance said aloud, trying to calm himself, furious that his voice cracked anyways. He had to be strong, now more than ever, when Starwind was not able to be.

:Moondance, please... you must let me go...:With a twist at his heart, Moondance saw that pain-tears were starting to fall from his lover's eyes. He wiped them away hurridly with a thumb. Only then did he consider what he'd just been Sent.

His mouth fell slightly open. "Starwind, you cannot know what you are saying! I can heal you, I know that I can. I know you are in agony, but I can-"

:I cannot be healed, ashke.: Starwind looked at him with red-rimmed icy eyes, eyes that were still so striking. :In your heart...: he faltered, and a tiny, surpressed whimper escaped him. :In your heart you know this.:

Moondance began to cry in earnest, sobs shaking his shoulders. He clung to Starwind, tightly but still somehow reverently, the older Adept as limp as a cloth doll in his arms. He pressed his face against Starwind's hair, feeling for the first time in so many years like he was Tallo again.

"I need you." He said. His voice sounded tiny and pathetic even to became thicker with his tears as he spoke. "I need you, I cannot be without you... you are my strength. Without you I am nothing, I am a frightened little boy..." he choked.

:Nay. You are one of the strongest men I have ever met. You only tell yourself you need me.: Starwind's cheeks were damp, his jaw set hard against the unbearble pain. :I... I cannot bear this any longer. You must stop healing me...:

Moondance shook his head frantically, tearfully. "No. No, I cannot. You do not have to die! I will not let you die!"

:You must. Please, I beg of you to let me go, ashke. The magic consumes me. The goddess is calling.: Moondance felt Starwind pushing back against him, weakly, trying to shut himself off against the healing magic. He could not do it. He had nowhere near the strength.

Moondance was unable to bite back a terrified sob. "She does not need you now... she cannot be so cruel as to take you away from me..."

:The goddess calls and I must answer. My time is now, shay'kreth'ashke.: Starwind managed to raise his head slightly, locking eyes with Moondance.

Moondance looked into them, and saw the pain and the love, and above all the pleading. Suddenly he realized what he had been doing, and it was like being stabbed in the chest. He shook with his sobs. He wanted to tell Starwind he was sorry, that he'd never meant to hurt him. He knew it was unnecessary. Starwind knew, and forgave him.

:Ashke. I want you to swear to me you will not harm yourself because I am gone.:

Moondance had gone numb. It would take everything he had and more not to try and join Starwind. However, he nodded, and he knew his conviction showed in his eyes. He held Starwind close, as close as he could and still look into his eyes. With one shaking hand he stroked his lover's sweat-dampened hair back from his face, and brushed the tears from his cheeks. Then he took Starwind's limp hand in his, and swallowed hard.

For some reason he could no longer cry.

He pushed all the love he had through his link with Starwind. He did not say it, that was not necessary either. The older Adept pushed back, his own feelings strong though he himself was weak.

Moondance stopped healing.

One moment the bond was there, strong as the day it was made, Starwind's pulse fluttering against his wrist, his eyes alive with agony and overwhelming emotion.

Then Starwind's eyes were dull and lifeless. The weak flutter disappeared.

The bond was utterly gone.

Moondance sat up. He still could not cry, that reaction didn't even occur to him. He pressed a kiss to Starwind's still warm lips. It was a kiss full of finality. He brushed his free hand over his lover's eyes, closing them. Long silver eyelashes traced across his palm. It occured to Moondance that it was so odd how such a soft sensation could register to him when he was so numb.

He could not bring himself to let go of Starwind's hand.

But he did.

He turned and left, watching his feet as he walked. His hair had fallen half-loose, it was all in his face. He didn't care. He heard running footsteps as he left Voorthayshen. Any other person would have told themselves it was Starwind, that he was really alright.

Not Moondance. Half of him had receeded to a horrible emptiness, the lifebond was broken. He knew Starwind was gone, completely and irrevocably in the hands of the goddess.

Moondance looked up, and saw the worried faces of many of the Adepts. Rainsong, and Firefall, and... Brightstar.

Brightstar.

Rainsong moved to embrace him. Firefall was not even pretending not to cry. Brightstar just looked lost. He sat down on the rock nearest and stared at the ground between his feet.

Moondance hardly knew or cared what they had seen when he emerged, though only the older among them could put a name to it.

A frightened young man named Tallo.