The first night John spent in their house was soft and indolent in a dark room, sweetly scented with an open window that let in the smell of the ocean.
He woke up to Rhea's round, kind eyes, her large, open smile, and her warm, red mouth saying, "Welcome to our home, John."
And John remembered being hungry and alone, so he'd trailed one hand down her lovely shoulder, and when she'd sighed into his touch, John had felt Jacen pick up his other hand, press a kiss to the center of his palm, and say, "We are glad you are here with us now."
The first day John was awake in their house, Rhea and Jacen walked him through their lush and overflowing gardens, took him to their large and cavernous libraries, introduced John to their gaggle of small children, who laughed like bells and pressed sweet, fruit-sticky kisses to his cheeks.
And that second night, when Jacen had pressed John into the cushions of their marriage bed, and kissed him on the inside of John's left knee, John had felt so loved his whole body had melted into this, and when he opened his yearning arms, Rhea had been there to fill him, like the moon, round and shining over him.
Rhea likes being crushed into the bed, held down by four arms and the weight of two bodies, to gasp for oxygen like it's killing her and she loves it so much she could die and John and Jacen are happy to oblige.
The third night, after Rhea and Jacen have turned out their household and poured sweet wines and golden honeys in celebration of John joining their family, and after the children have been tucked to sleep by their nursemaids, Rhea crushes her mouth to Jacen's, and they slide against one another in one of the elaborate stairways of the house.
And John is struck, just watching them, and then flushed red all over when he realizes he's interrupting a private moment and tries to turn away.
But Rhea's laughter like her children's rings like bells and she and Jacen tug him into their room, and then fall into the bed, laughing and stroking, hands curious and smooth on John's body, palming his arms and chest, stroking his hip, squeezing the inside of his thighs and when Jacen closes his mouth over John's Rhea slides her mouth down John's cock and the world buzzes out in a honey-colored haze.
Her mouth is hot and tight and he swears he can feel her cheeks hollow around him as she strokes her fingers teasingly between his legs, rolling his sac between her slim fingers. And John would moan and beg but Jacen is still kissing his mouth like a slow study, soft and exploratory and there's such a tenderness there that it undoes him when Jacen slides his hand across John's chest to thumb at his nipple, to touch his stomach.
John puts his hands on Rhea's hair, soft and murmuring when Jacen breaks their kiss, but she just smiles at him, red mouth sealed around his cock and hums around him, like she loves this, like she's never wanted anything other than to have John's dick halfway down her throat, her thumb stroking behind his balls, and Jacen just smiles approvingly and leans down over John's chest to bite at his nipples, which is when it's all over and John comes with a choked-off gasp and fists his hands in Rhea's hair.
He's still riding the high and shaking but it's suddenly really important that he pull Rhea up to him, to kiss her thick, luscious mouth and taste the two of them swirled together, and Jacen laughs and disappears for a moment, leaves Rhea straddling John's hips, her belly hot against his stomach, hands on his chest. John curves his hands around her breasts, the soft weight of them lovely and warm in his hands and he pulls away from her mouth so he can close his mouth around one of her nipples, flick his tongue over the pebbled, coral flesh of it and bite a little, which makes her laugh, a rolling rumble that runs through her body and makes John want to sigh in contentment.
Rhea's hands are in his hair, fingers tight and insistent as John licks a wet stripe between her breasts when he feels a slick finger stroke behind his cock, circle his entrance.
And he moans into it, because he remembers that it's been so long, so long since anybody's done this for him and it's still as scintillating and intimate and irresistible as it was then--so he lets his legs fall open like the best kinds of sluts, and Rhea rubs her round ass against his stirring erection in approval, raining kisses on his face, fingers busy on his chest as John feels a finger slip inside.
And with Rhea sitting on him, anchoring him, there's nothing John can do but feel, can't buck up into the contact, all he can do is moan and bury his face between her breasts, spread his seeking hands down her body, around her waist, and slide a hand between her pale white thighs, stroke that crinkling soft skin between her thigh and vulva, feeling the wiry curls there and listening to her gasp, muscles tightening over him.
When Jacen strokes back in it's with two slick fingers, so wet with oil John can feel his skin slide around his hand, and it feels slutty and wonderful and he loves the way how when he slicks his thumb down Rhea, she gasps and shivers, makes a high-pitched moan in the back of her throat, and how she's so slick that she feels like John does, wet and sultry and aching so he smiles up at her flushed, beaming expression and slides two fingers into her, thumbing the smooth skin just beneath her clit and listens to her moan into the touch, drive herself down on his hand.
And Rhea throws her head back, dark curls flying, exposing the long column of her neck, her breasts pale and pink in the candlelight, rising and falling with her gasping breaths and John feels himself fight to breathe when Jacen's two fingers become three and it becomes a delicious stretch, burning hot and intense, and the tips of his large, long fingers find that spot inside of him that makes John's vision butterfly at the edges and his whole body jerk, jerking his fingers into Rhea harder, this thumb slip, rub bruisingly over her clit, which makes her jump and shake and make sobbing noises.
Jacen smiles and it's a beautiful and devilish look on a beautiful person, and John can't help but smile in appreciation when Jacen reaches round his wife, cups one of her heavy breasts in his palm and thumbs the nipple, lowers his head to bite at her shoulder, sucking hot, bruising kisses into the juncture of her neck and John can imagine the bruises tomorrow--the fingernail marks on his own arms from Rhea, the way he'll ache when--oh yes, and John wants it--when Jacen slides into him, fucks him into the mattress, boneless and blind.
And John can't help but break the moment by laughing when Rhea glares down at John in frustration, shifting her hips and furious as he slides his fingers wetly around her folds, teasing, and she pouts, slapping his hands away--even as she moans at the loss of his fingers as they fall out of her, gleaming and wet and leaving a trail on her arm.
"You're a terrible tease," she says, out of breath, "How terrible. Now I have two of them."
John tries to smirk at her but the expression looses some power as his whole face goes slack in pleasure at Jacen's hand, four fingers deep and John feels like he's going to come apart any minute now--that he wants more and more.
Rhea smiles at the look on John's face and reaches behind her, tightens her hand around the base of John's dick, making him hiss, before she balances herself over him, and places the tip of him inside her slick folds and leans over him to suck a dark, roseate kiss into his collarbone as she pushes down, pushes back, and takes all of him in one long, long, luxurious stroke.
Jacen hums appreciatively, and John breaks out of his haze, trying desperately not to come, as Jacen pulls his fingers out.
"No," John moans, but Rhea shushes him reassuringly, pressing their mouths together, her tongue stroking over his own apologetically: it's only a moment. He'll be back very soon, don't worry, and, we love you, we love the way you feel.
It's all he can do not to buck his hips up into her, so he closes his palms around her waist, palms the soft flesh of her hips, strokes the skin on her rounded belly and slides his hands up and down her white back, feels the ridges of her spine just as he feels Jacen leaning over both of them, pressing a kiss to Rhea's shoulder and murmuring soothing noises.
Then John feels something hot and blunt at his entrance and he moans desperately into Rhea's mouth, thrusting once, twice into her, and swallowing her gasps, listening to Jacen's hot, under-the-breath curse, voice breathy and broken as he says, "Still--still, I don't want to hurt you," and it's all John can do not to beg "Now" and "in me" and "please, please please."
When Jacen finally pushes in, John has to pull away from Rhea's mouth, turn his head to gasp for air, and when he forces his eyes open, bleary and blurred because he can't see, he can't see anymore or talk anymore and all he can do is feel Jacen splitting him, cleaved like a peach, and John has never felt so syrupy before, his whole body humming on the painful edge of an orgasm and so dense with pleasure and weighted by the sensual that he flails one hand out until Jacen catches it, presses it into the matress beneath them, their fingers intertwined in a reassurance.
And finally Jacen stops moving, leaving John stretched and tenuous and--oh God, so slick and tight and perfect--hovering, for a moment until John whines, low in his throat and shifts his hips. It makes Rhea let out a high-pitched wail and drive herself down on John's cock hard just as Jacen curses furiously and falls forward, body collapsing as he drives into John so hard his hips are being lifted off of the mattress and oh fuck into Rhea, who's so hot and wet, and who's breasts are now crushed to John's chest, her face tight with pleasure as Jacen shoves them both down into the cushions beneath, biting kisses onto the back of Rhea's neck.
And then it's a blur of hands and cocks and mouths and John feels Jacen's hands on his hips, bruising and tight and his cock opening John up, tight and huge and thick between his legs, the exquisite, bruising pace of it making John's cock jump, the slap of Rhea's now-slick thighs against John's body as she was pushed down and forward and back by Jacen's momentum and John's hands, digging blunt nails into her hip, scratching down Jacen's back and a chorus of desperate pleading over the sounds of wet, sliding flesh.
John feels Jacen come first, with three desperate punishing thrusts before his cock jerks deep inside John and that pushes him over the edge, too, makes him drive his hips up into Rhea as Jacen collapses on her back, makes John slide one of his hands down her sweat-slick body and press his thumb into her clit and gasp, "Come on, come on," into her mouth and she does, body seizing around him as John empties himself into her in one, two, three four desperate, ragged thrusts.
When he comes to a few minutes later, Jacen's pulled out, leaving John feeling empty and cold, but Rhea is still curled on top of his chest, and Jacen is raggedly saying, "Good night," as he pulls a blanket over the three of them, huddled together in the bed, damp with sweat and too tired to care, and John falls asleep with the orgasm still clouding his head.
Rhea is in a flight all day, running from the kitchens to the guest quarters to the gardens and fluttering guiltily around the children, who haven't missed her anywhere near as much as she has missed them. Finally, Jacen rolls his eyes and steers her toward their quarters, saying, "Lir'e, will you--" just as Lir'e laughs and says, "Yes, Jacen," and goes to put the children to bed.*
Lir'e does his best to know as little of the business of the council as possible, but it's been hard not to overhear the tense, worried voices, the escalating shouts. For the last two nights, Jacen has eaten and slept in his cavernous library and Rhea has sent Lir'e to look after him, bring him teas and rub his shoulders, his knotted back, to kiss his temple and stroke his hair.
"You're well-named," Jacen had said the night before, pulling Lir'e to his chest and smoothing his hands up and down Lir'e's thighs absently. "Rhea is too wise."
Lir'e was John, once upon a time, but it's been months and months since John said, "Someone will come. They have to," and Rhea had asked, very softly, "Who? Can we help you find them?" But John was a blank and eventually, Rhea had smiled at him and said, "Be Lir'e, then. It means 'dear,' in a very old tongue of my people."
Lir'e had smiled, mischievous. "Maybe you should give her back her seat on the council."
Jacen had growled a little and shoved Lir'e down among the books and scattered papers, smoothed his hands up Lir'e's shirt and muttered empty threats into the skin of Lir'e's throat, rubbed them together until the concerns of the day were just a memory. Lir'e had run his fingers through Jacen's hair absently afterward, watching the sky go pink outside the window.
When Lir'e walks past all the scuttling servers, wearing the same worried expressions, he frowns and rounds the corner to hear shouting in the hall, and only Rhea's hand stops him from taking the few steps forward.
"Don't," she tells him softly. "They're hostile."
Lir'e frowns. "We haven't done anything," he argues. "Aria is peaceful."
"They're not angry with us, specifically," Rhea murmurs to him, and draws him toward the smaller guest hall, where there are lavish cushions and tapestries, dozens and dozens of candles, glowing golden and washing the walls pink and orange. "They'll be in for the meal any minute, Lir'e--go prepare."
Lir'e pouts. "I don't--"
"Yes," Rhea says smiling, and palms his face, stretching up on the points of her toes to press a kiss to the bow of his mouth and adding, "You are fair enough without it--but in situations like these, we stand on ceremony."
"You and Jacen never stand on ceremony," Lir'e says, and he knows he's whining.
Rhea laughs and it sounds like bells as she gives him a gentle shove toward his own quarters, saying, "Maybe your beauty will sooth the savage beast."
"I feel used," Lir'e complains but goes, and when he reaches his rooms, where there is never dust because the servants are thorough but feels foreign because he makes his bed elsewhere--warm between Rhea and Jacen--he searches around for the beautiful things he received when they'd given him a new name.
Before Aria there were slavers and bitter medicine they forced into his mouth every day. John remembers being told he was lucky, too beautiful to be sold into petty prostitution, too smart and strong to be bought as an ornament for a rich pervert, too old to be broken. So he'd been drugged every day until he started losing entire pieces and had been panicked at the loss, knowing there was an enormous absence, until the slavers had reached Aria, and her lushly green markets, and Rhea and fallen to her knees before him, stroked his hair away from his face, rubbed at his dirty cheeks with the cloth of her skirt and said, "Oh, Jacen--oh Jacen."
They'd taken John home, let him soak in a hot bath until all the water had gone cold and put him into a quiet, clean room, wrapped in warm blankets, and let him stay for days, bringing him food and water and not bothering him. The children had burst in later, first Norea and then Erron, tow-headed and sweet.
And after, after John had gone away--Lir'e was happy on Aria, where he was dear, he'd stopped thinking about the huge whiteness in his memory, put away the memories of the slavers, and slipped seamlessly into the spaces of Rhea and Jacen's family.*
Lir'e rubs kohl darkly around his eyes, and sheens his skin with gold powder, changes into loose pants and a dark tunic, closes multicolored bracelets around his wrists and ankles. And when he looks into a mirror, the man blinking back at him is terribly foreign: Rhea and Jacen's Lir'e is golden from playing in the sun with the children, from helping in the garden, has ink stains on his fingers from working on the household accounts and has terribly contrary hair. Lir'e has seen others, like him, who wear fine filigree and gold, who float around dressed for show all the time, but they are rarely happy, and Rhea and Jacen don't need attractive furniture, they wanted someone else to share--someone to share with them.
"You're lovely," Rhea tells him when he reappears in the dining hall, sinking to his knees at her side. She's just as beautiful, with a darkly red mouth and beautiful, pink robes too long for her ordinarily practical tastes. She leans over to kiss him, slowly and indulgently, and when she pulls away she laughs as Lir'e rubs the rouge from his mouth.
"I look stupid," he murmurs under his breath as Jacen leads the offwold delegation into the room. Lir'e watches them take their seats awkwardly, settling uncomfortably onto the cushions before the low table, in front of the silver and gold plates and bowls.
"Hush, now," Rhea says firmly, her mouth twitching with a smile, and Jacen takes his seat on Rhea's other side, a far grimmer expression on his face as he says to their somber visitors, "Discussion is all well and good--but first a meal. It's our way."
Lir'e swallows his sigh and rises to his feet, reaching for a beautiful gold pitcher and closing his fingers around it. He makes his way quietly around the tables, and when he reaches the leader's goblet, the wine he means to pour into her cup splashes rich and sweet across the table when she grabs his wrist, her eyes enormous in horror.
"I didn't mean--" he says, flustered.
"John," she gasps.
"Oh my God," the man beside her chokes, and scrambling over, pulls Lir'e close to him by the shoulder, fingers bruising and Lir'e think he'll have marks the color of the man's blue, sad eyes the next morning. "Oh my God, John--Colonel--Colonel Sheppard--we've been--"
Lir'e's chest goes tight in memory, because Lir'e is dear but John was discarded and all he remembers is rough hands and putrid medicine; he's about to shove them both away, pull away from the woman's hand and the man's gaze when Jacen does it for him, pushing Lir'e behind him, and he looks incandescent with fury.
"You'll not treat ours with such disrespect," he snarls. "Our good will extends only so far. You come bearing threats and innuendo and now this."
Lir'e's shaking, he knows it, and Rhea is taking his hand, touching his face and murmuring reassurances.
"Councilman, I don't know what's happened and--" the woman starts, hands fisted in her lap, and she can't seem to tear her eyes away from Lir'e, from where Rhea is all but shielding him and the house guards have crowded protectively around them, frowning.
"Get the fuck away from him!" the blue-eyed man shouts, and he's on his feet but only makes it two steps forward before there's a spearpoint at his throat. Lir'e closes his eyes and Rhea wraps her arms around him, helps him to his feet, says:
"We're going." She glares. "Have whatever words you will--but you'll keep your distance."
"For fuck's sake--"
"Rodney! I don't think he remembers--"
And these are the last things Lir'e hears before Rhea leads him from the room, down their hallways, up the vast marble steps and into her bed. She calls a handmaid to bring hot water and a cloth, and she rubs the kohl from Lir'e's face, a frown creasing her mouth as she does, and takes away all the jangling bracelets--all the artifice, until it's just Lir'e again, curled up small in the huge bed, face in the sheets.
"Lir'e," she murmurs, and runs her hands worriedly over his brow. "Lir'e, it's all right."
There's shouting from downstairs--voices rising like steam.
"Am I theirs?" he croaks. He doesn't remember. He doesn't know. He doesn't know them. They called him John. "They've come to take me back."
Rhea's fingers lace into his, and she says, like a promise against the back of his neck:
"We'll never let them take you from us."
And Lir'e can only breath outward in gratitude.
Lir'e gathers up the children in the afternoons once they've finished their lessons and they sit in the solarium off of Rhea and Jacen's rooms. He watches them paint, smearing every color of the rainbow onto sheets of vellum. They babble about their lessons from the day before and paint stars in Lir'e's palms, red hearts, blue flowers.*
"They're for you," Erron had said, the first day he'd burst into Lir'e's quarters after he'd been brought to the house. "There aren't any flowers in the garden yet," she'd clarified, and painted another riotously orange bloom near his wrist, "but this is nearly as good. I'll draw you another when this washes away."
And so Lir'e always has flowers painted in his palms. Rhea and Jacen think it's sweet and the neighbors dismiss it as one of the eccentricities the chief council members indulge. Lir'e likes to close his hands together and feel the paint on his skin like a sweet, sweet secret.
"Lir'e," Norea asks, his voice much softer than his sister's. "Will you leave us?"
Lir'e can still hear the negotiations--ghostly traces of voices rising--and puts a smile on his face at the memory of Rhea's promise, palming Norea's head and saying, "I'm not going anywhere."
It would be easier if once he saw Dr. Weir and Dr. McKay (those are their names) Lir'e would suddenly remember, would feel his past rushing inward like a wave. There is still a frustrating, terrifying blankness there, and though he knows Dr. McKay and Dr. Weir are campaigning to see Lir'e in private, to remind him of being John, Lir'e is also grateful to know that Jacen has absolutely forbidden it, and that Rhea has gathered the backing of the other high council members. Lir'e is part of their family, dear to them--named so, Rhea has tried to explain. Whatever service he once provided to the Lanteans could surely be fulfilled by someone else.
Dr. McKay says, "You don't understand," and he sounds hoarse.
"He's very important to us, Councilwoman," Dr. Weir pleads.
"He was not so important you didn't sell him to the slavers," Rhea snaps, and pushes to her feet, frustrated on this third day of deliberations.
"We've already explained--!" Dr. Weir exclaims, and her voice breaks.
"I'll not let him go back to anybody with the heart to turn him to those savage beasts," Rhea interrupts. "It's late--we'll continue in the morning."
When she rounds the corner into the private rooms, Lir'e takes her hand and she murmurs yet another reassurance into his ear, and just for a moment, before the curtain falls, Lir'e sees the blue eyes of the man from the delegation again. They're huge and luminous and begging, and for a moment Lir'e wants to be able to remember--if only to remember why Dr. McKay looks like that.*
On the fourth day, Lir'e is tending the flowers in the garden when he hears someone mumbling, confused. There's a labyrinthine network of stairways and steps going throughout the old house--the exterior walls of it curling around Jacen's herb garden, around Norea's flowers, and people are always lost until they find that stone and brick fall away to utter, shocking green.
When Lir'e goes to find whoever is trapped, he finds Dr. McKay instead. He's sitting on the bottom step of a long staircase and he's rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes. His shoulders are shaking and his hair is a mess, and for maybe the first time, Lir'e thinks that he might believe their story--that they have been looking for him, that they've missed him.
It's Rhea's rule that the Lanteans aren't allowed to speak with Lir'e without supervision, and so far Lir'e has declined to talk to them, but he's been watching Dr. McKay's sad eyes since the very first day.
He's so scared he can feel a tremble rolling up his spine; it's taken him a very long time to find a balance, and he feels himself teetering precariously here.
"Are you lost?" he asks, and it comes out hoarse.
Dr. McKay jerks up, his whole body moving into his surprise and then his eyes go dark and surprised and hollow and his hands reach out. "Oh, God, John--"
Lir'e takes a big step backward and curses himself because he should have known better than to--
"Wait!" Dr. McKay says, and his voice breaks at the end of the word. "I'm--I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to scare you. Oh, Jesus. Jesus, John--"
"Lir'e," Lir'e says, harsh and sudden and protective, wrapping the word around himself.
Dr. McKay stares at him. "I--what?"
"My name," Lir'e grinds out, feeling like he's going to throw up any minute. "It's--it means 'dear,' in Rhea's language."
Lir'e watches all sorts of things flash across Dr. McKay's face, and all of them are as sad and tired as his eyes have been all these times Lir'e has watched them, looking for something familiar.
"Dear," Dr. McKay whispers. "Yes. Yes. It's a--do you like that name?"
Dr. McKay looks like he's been crying, like he hasn't slept in days or maybe weeks, and he's got a ragged edge to him, like he's lost a lot of weight. Lir'e has seen the slaves at the market, starved with skin hanging off of their bones, and Dr. McKay looks too much like that: desperate and hungry and who don't even have the words to say what they want. Dr. McKay's hands are shaking and Lir'e wants to reach out to them, smooth them over with his own.
"I like it fine," Lir'e says, and frowns. "Were we--I mean, were we friends? Before?"
Dr. McKay makes a noise in the back of his throat before he says, "Yes. I mean. You were very important. To me, to all of--" Dr. McKay rubs his hands over his face "--to all of us."
And before Lir'e can say anything else, Dr. McKay is looking at him, wild-eyed and panicked, words tripping over one another as he says, low and feverish, "We've been looking for you. For months and months, we've been following every lead and we've tracked you from planet to planet through the Stargate. God, Jo--Lir'e--you don't know how much we've--"
Lir'e can't help but fist his hands and snarl "Then why did you--" before he stops himself.
He remembers the last cobwebs of memory, before they changed the dose on the foul drugs and it all went white, how he remembers remembering and waiting for somebody to come because he'd believed, more than anything that somebody would come. Until they hadn't and John had landed on Aria and with Rhea and Jacen, who told him if it hurt to remember then to forget and let them fill in all the spaces.
So he shakes his head and says, "Never mind. Never mind. It's not important."
But Dr. McKay's already talking over him, launching himself to his feet and saying:
"We didn't. I've been--we've been trying to tell them. I've said it over and over--it was an accident--it wasn't supposed to happen that way."
Lir'e digs his nails into his palms. "How do you accidentally sell somebody?" he snaps.
There's a moment of sheer recognition in Dr. McKay's eyes, and it's a little terrifying to see that well of hope burst into his face like he thinks something is happening, like he feels the roll of wheels beneath his feet when all Lir'e feels is tired and raw.
"Well, don't yell at me!" Dr. McKay snaps back. "If it had been up to me I would have never let you get away with such a stupid, poorly thought-out plan but you don't really listen to me."
Lir'e glares. "Somebody's plan was to trade me into slavery?"
"You traded yourself," Dr. McKay says finally, his voice breaking. "You traded yourself in for a group of Athosian children who'd been--and you promised you'd get out. We were going to meet them at the next city but the slavers changed their trade paths and it's taken us this long to--"
Lir'e blinks. "I traded myself--for children?" he says softly.
In a distant, detached way, he's glad. He knows what the traders did to children: they were small and fragile and couldn't defend themselves, and Lir'e is grateful he spared someone, anyone what he saw in the caravans.
Dr. McKay's face softens. "Yeah. You have--had a tendency to do stupid heroic stuff like that."
And before Lir'e can ask Dr. McKay why there is always such an expression of yearning on his face, he hears Rhea call for him, from the observatory of the house, and he leaves, saying to Dr. McKay as he goes, "Wait here. I'll send someone after you."*
On the fifth day, Lir'e requests an audience with Dr. Weir, who smiles shakily at him when he steps into the room cautiously, and sits opposite her at a large, round table. There are guards posted at all the entrances to the room, and Rhea and Jacen are in talks with the high council in the garden, taking tea and sharing their headaches--trading gossip about the Lanteans.
"Hello, Lir'e-sayh," she says, and Lir'e blinks in surprise at the honorific.
"I'm a diplomat by study," she explains with a smile. "I make it a point to learn the customs and culture of every society we visit." She looks around the room. "Aria is amazing."
Lir'e can't help but smile at her. "True," he muses, feeling his shoulder loosen.
After he'd taken his new name, Rhea had gone on a diplomatic trip to the southern tip of the continent, and from along the way, Lir'e had seen Aria from a beautiful ship, down along its long waterways and rivers, its lacks and canals, and loved it.
Dr. Weir hesitates, but asks, "Do you remember…?"
Lir'e raises his eyebrows. This used to hurt, this absence. But it was such a huge space, unsupported, it had collapsed with time, simply caved in with all the new memories Lir'e was building around it, overflowing now with Norea's flowers and Erron's music and Rhea and Jacen's smiles--Aria's flowing waters.
"I used to try to," he confides. "But there's--I remember blue. And green. And sun and things that are so big and meaningless it started hurting more to remember than it took to forget." He looks away.
"I did tell them, though. That somebody was coming for me." There is a long silence before Lir'e murmurs, "Maybe if you'd come sooner."
"I see," Dr. Weir says, and her voice sounds like it's breaking. "You must know, Lir'e-sayh, we tried our--"
"I know," he tells her, and smiles kindly. "I do, I promise."
"All right," she says in compromise, and when she turns her eyes back to him, they're a little red and over-bright. "They tell me you hold a position of honor," she finally says, and it's almost a question.
Lir'e's smile grows crooked. "Well, it's meant to be," he explains. "But as you might have seen in the markets and cities--not everybody lives up to that standard."
"You seem very happy, though," she says thoughtfully.
"Rhea and Jacen and Norea and Erron are my family," he explains to her, because the Lanteans don't really seem to grasp it, that he's theirs, as much as they are his own. "They're very important to me."
"Okay," Dr. Weir says, and she sounds so tired now. "Okay."*
On the sixth day the Lanteans leave. Lir'e watches them go from the roof garden and sees Dr. Weir and Dr. McKay take their leave, and how they seem to buckle under the weight of what they have found.
Lir'e wishes he could ease their suffering the way Rhea and Jacen eased his own, but all he does is hold up a hand goodbye as he watches them disappear into narrow canal escort, the boat tipping dangerously for a moment before gliding away into the distance.
He wants to say to Dr. McKay, "I'm sorry I'm not who you want, anymore," and he wants to tell Dr. Weir, "I believed you would come for me. I really did," but he wants to tell them most of all, "Don't worry. It's fine. I'm happy here--and I hope you are happy wherever you go."