The Gray Mocker
Notes: An excerpt from this story has already been published Stories in the Skin. This is a continuation of the story started in Befriended by the Moon. The link to all the other Drifterverse stories is here. The title is from a poem by Carl Sandburg called "Under the Harvest Moon", quoted at the end.
The Andarchic are genetically unable to use Andron, the material that this culture has come to depend upon. Among the things that Andron is used for is the 'chips' that are implanted in each individual to help make their lives easier by allowing them to be tracked by the Powers That Be. Most Andarchic have been gathered up and live in collectives where they can be 'protected', due to their 'handicap', but some Andarchic have refused to be 'protected'; they live in their own communities or colonies in hiding, not wanting to be 'assimilated' or 'protected'. They are called Drifters because, without the implant, they can Drift in and out of the mainstream culture/society without being tracked. This makes them a threat to a culture that has come to value control over individuality.
Beta-ed by the ever-awesome Artisan herself; submitted for the February 2009 Challenge: One of the boys has to bleed. Special thanks to Kim and the rest of the WEC members for good, strong feedback.
Scalding pain, a heat so sharp that it was like ice, slicing open his head and digging into his brain. He couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't do anything but feel. There were voices, but he didn't know them, and there were words but he couldn't identify them.
Then there were hands, touching and probing and the pain was a fire ripping him apart. Bright, like the sun, and he thought he melted into it, into that agony.
"Vin?" The word was hazy, drifting through a well of water, vibrating around him, rolling over his flesh. "Wake up, mesuu."
The sound of it hurt, and he wanted to cover his ears, tried, but his hands were glued down, his arms caught in - something heavy and thick.
"Come on, I know you hear me." The words still rolled over him, a tickle except where they blew flame, scorching him.
But the voice . . .he knew that voice. That voice was safety, and rest, and pleasure, that voice was home.
"Wake up, amaalyi, I need to see those pretty eyes, need to know you're there." That voice was love.
But it hurt, that voice . . . that voice wasn't for him, not now, maybe not ever . . .
"Vin? Wake up for me, I need you." It wasn't the words, he wasn't quite tracking those.
But there was something in the voice, something - something he could never ever deny. Something he had promised never to cause.
"I need you now, Vin, wake up." Hurt and worry and - fear, true fear. He knew what it sounded like in this person, knew and - hated it. Chanu, the name whispered through his head, the most important person in all his worlds.
The fire was a wall that surrounded him, scorched him as he tried to go to Chanu, tried to stop that sound, that echo in his head.
Then a new awareness, of pressure and warmth - not burning, but comfort, grounding him, pulling him somewhere else, somewhere - safe.
"Come on, mesuu, come to me, come home to me."
He could never refuse, not Chanu, not his own need.
It hurt - but he went, forcing himself through the pain and the light and the heat. Because he had to. Because he would not be the reason that love failed. But it was too much, like fire and blood and ice and flesh being ripped from him and he felt himself falling
"Vin? You with us?"
He blinked, the gum of his eyelids sticking so that it was a struggle to get his eyes open again. In truth, he almost didn't try - the light was too bright, the images too confusing.
The pain - the pain was exploding in his head like a supernova, whiting out everything else.
He wanted it to stop, wanted to go back to the blackness, the silence, the peace -
"Vin? Look at me, open your eyes, mesuu, look at me."
No no no no no - then agony as he forced his lids open once more.
Too hot, sweat tickled as it slid down his face, catching in his eyelashes. He wanted to lift a hand and wipe it away, but his hands were heavy, like lead, and his body seemed far away and locked into place . . .
Someone blocked the light and a shadow fell over him - dark and cool and something glittered in the blackness -
"Vin?" Dark eyes stared down at him, full of worry. Then the shadow moved and settled on the bed beside him, still blocking the light but not as much. A hand extended, reaching for him -
He reacted without any thought, jerking away - then crying out as explosions of pain shook him. Everything whited out as he was caught in the vortex of hot and cold and raw and sharp and -
"Shhhh, mesuu, it's all right." The voice was closer now and he was being held loosely, familiarly.
Chanu. His brain finally released the name, the memories, but that - that couldn't be -
The panic came next, Chanu shouldn't be here, not with him, not in this place, this hell -
"You're safe, Vin, you're home, with me. Look around."
The voice - it was Chanu, rich and soft with hints of the tribal accent. The smell, too, the man Vin knew as well as he knew himself, mixed with the undertones of oil paints and thinners, wood chips and machine oil.
But past that, past the man who was home, he could smell the daylight of Phylla, the pungent layer of wet grass after a late-afternoon rain, the sweet hint of amidot. Between Chanu and the outside was the unique combination of scents that existed only in their house - clean linen dried in the sun and breeze, the faint spice of the tea that Chanu made daily by letting it steep for hours, the lingering tang of citrus and garlic, the unmistakable oil and turpentine of Chanu's favourite paints.
Chanu's fingers curled around his palm, their smooth calluses another confirmation.
He tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn't work, and just the attempt to move his jaw made his head throb with agony.
"Shhh," Chanu said, "you are safe, that's all that matters for now. We'll explain more when you're ready." He lifted Vin's hand to his lips, kissing the knuckles, but it was a whisper-soft touch. "I know you're hurting - they did a job on you, mesuu."
The tone was still even, but there was something deeper in it now, something he had heard before, in one of the fever dreams. Fear.
It wasn't a good sound, not from Chanu, and Vin's stomach roiled with bitter bile at the thought of causing it.
It was an effort but he forced his hand to feel, and the muscles to work. He squeezed - the effort of it requiring all his concentration and will. When his body responded, he knew it was a far cry from what it should have been, but it was enough. Chanu made a small noise, a muffled cry, maybe, then he wrapped himself around Vin's hand as though it were a treasure.
Vin wanted to do more, say something, but exhaustion pressed in on him, pulling him down into blackness.
He woke more slowly, awareness, consciousness, easing into his sleep and guiding him up. He hurt, his head pounding, muscles aching, and the left side of his face felt scalded and heavier than the rest of his body. Even the drift of air from the light breeze coming through the open windows seemed to rip layers of skin away.
As he grew accustomed to the pain, his other senses slowly came awake, his nose again registering the scents of home, his eyes, still closed, aware of the dull light from somewhere nearby. His body told him he was on a bed, his bed, the one he shared with Chanu, and that the light was probably the one from his bedside table.
His ears seemed to awaken last, or perhaps his mind's understanding of the noises he heard. He slowly adjusted to the soft sounds he knew as night, the whisper of the breeze in the grass and trees around the house, the movement of people in the house - not Chanu, the steps were too heavy, the noises too loud.
People. They didn't usually have people in the house, not unless there was a dinner or a planned event. Occasionally, a friend or two might spend the night, or they might have passing Drifters who needed a place to stay for a few days, but the sounds were of too many people, and there was a murmur of voices, excited and rough that spoke of a tension in the house that he didn't like.
There was a faint sound in the room, cloth rubbing against cloth as someone shifted. It came from nearby, somewhere close to him. His first hope was that it was Chanu, but as the sound repeated, he knew better; the rub of fabrics was wrong, the clothes too heavy for the light-weight garments his lover preferred.
Then he caught the faintest scent of tobacco mixed with the sweetness of engine grease. Chris. What the hell was Chris doing here?
It took him a while to get his eyes open, fighting first the reluctance of his muscles, then the burning pain as the skin of his face moved. By that time, the brightness of the light was muted by the tears in his eyes, and Chris was leaning over the bed, over him, speaking to him softly before he could even focus.
"Vin? Don't try to talk - hell, don't try to move. Hang on, I'll get you some water." He moved away and Vin blinked, trying to get himself under some sort of control. As the tears cleared, Chris was back, holding a cup with a straw. "Slow," he said, placing the straw against Vin's lips. "You don't want to be sick, too."
The first sips were wonderful, cool and wet and they made him aware of how thirsty he was. But as the liquid hit his stomach, he was thankful for Chris' caution. The nausea was instant but not acute, and he backed off.
He caught Chris' gaze and frowned - or started to; the movement of his lips pulled at his skin and he stopped everything, breathing, blinking, thinking . . .
After a few seconds, he was aware again of things outside his body, of Chris' voice once more drifting past his ears.
" . . . Buck told me where you were, that they had you - you're going to have to tell me what you were doing with the AFC. I think Chanu and Kojay want to know, too. I told them that I thought it might have been for me, to set up a meeting, but I don't think they believe me."
No, Vin thought, they wouldn't. But he was having a hard time recalling what had happened, why the AFC was part of this. They hadn't hurt him, he'd been hurt by -
"You don't remember, I suspect," Chris said, as if reading his mind. "I have to say, the whole thing is as confusing as hell to me, too. I knew about the factions - the Andarchic Freedom Collective, who you were meeting, the ones who want you guys to be able to live without the chips and not be victimized - the ones who are willing to fight. Jonah-eh refers to them as terrorists."
Vin glanced away, then back, then, very slowly, he moved his head to one side. The action sent a flare of pain through him, but it was only down the side of his face and head, not all-consuming. He was getting a handle on controlling it.
"Then there are the others, the ones following Falon, the Andarchic Patriotic Alliance. They're the ones in the media all the time. I met one of them once - an asshole. He seemed to think it was more important for the Andarchic to be protected by locking you guys away where the Council could watch over you." His voice dripped with disdain and even in the fog of pain and confusion, Vin felt the comfort of the bond between them, the understanding of each other and of the universe that they shared. "If what they did to you is common practice for them, I can see why you would meet with the AFC - if you were meeting with them."
There was a question in the last part and Vin closed his eyes, trying to remember. But all he had were flashing images, of people he recognized, even though he couldn't put names to faces. Of men in uniforms, their faces covered with helmets and masks, their bodies in light armor so they could carry guns and bats.
Of screams and pain and voices yelling at him, demanding to know who he was and where he came from.
Chris' voice was a relief when it started again, drawing him back to this room and this time. "We don't know the details either, not how or why you were with the AFC when the APA bastards caught up with them. Buck didn't - couldn't - tell me which group his intel unit was covering, but I'd say it's more likely he was covering the APA cell - they're the unpredictable ones, or at least have been so far."
No, he thought vaguely, the memory surfacing. It was coming together - slowly, images and sound clips, most not matching and in a random sequence, but - coming, which was a relief. At least his memory was still there.
He remembered meeting with Cairn and Dulle and several others whose names he couldn't recall. They had talked about . . . that thought wouldn't come.
What did come was that gut-wrenching fear when the door had opened and they had been swarmed by uniform-wearing thugs with guns and bats, the instant when he had been knocked down, the first blow to his back and then to his head.
The dull anguish of waking to find himself strapped to a table, his neck and head locked as tightly as his arms and legs. The agony of that bastard Royal carving into his face with a knife, filling the slices with inks, marking him. The terror he had felt at being trapped, unable to move, barely able to breathe, while his face was cut open, mutilated. He'd seen the scars on others, members of the AFC - the Collective - who had been captured by the Council and turned over to Falon's army.
Chris shifted on the bed, drawing back to set the cup on the side table, and Vin realized that the man had been staring at his face. The memory of other faces, what had been done to them, flooded through is mind.
"You're a mess," Chris said quietly, but he wasn't looking at Vin now, his gaze toward the window and probably out it. In the low light, he looked tired and washed out, the lines of his face deeper than Vin had seen them before. He wondered how long he had been out of things.
Chris swallowed then turned back, wincing slightly as he once more focused on Vin. "Nathan and your healer seem to think that whatever dye they used has an acid base. You reacted to it. They've been trying to get it out of you, which is why you hurt so bad."
His hand moved without thought but clumsily, his body heavy and uncooperative. Chris caught it in one of his own hands and held it loosely. "You don't want to do that," he said quietly. "Every time someone touches it, you pass out. Nathan says it's the worst kind of chemical burn, and they're treating it as such. They've been trying to keep you as out of it as they can, but you gotta wake up sometime."
Oddly, that made him feel a little better, to know that his loss of awareness wasn't just because of what had been done to him. Or by whom.
That was when the panic caught him, as deep and hard as it had when he'd realized it was the APA who had him at their mercy. This was what he had been most scared of - not the pain, not imprisonment when he'd thought it was the Council who had them, not the idea of dying. It was the thought of losing Chanu, of being rejected by him because of who Vin had been caught with.
But it seemed he hadn't died in that hole. Chris had brought him home to Chanu - which meant something even worse: he'd have to face him, to face the clan, and explain what he had been doing with one of the factions the clan rejected. He'd have to explain to Chanu something Chanu would not understand, something he - and the clan, were ardently opposed to.
Chanu wasn't here now - he'd been here, Vin knew that, remembered his voice, his hands. But he wasn't here now. Had he already gone? Could he not even bear to look at Vin any more--
"Vin," Chris said, his voice sharp. "Breathe."
He did, pushing the panic down but not entirely away.
Chris squeezed his hand, his tone not as sharp but still commanding. "I said you're a mess. I didn't say it was permanent," he went on, misunderstanding Vin's worry. "They think they can keep the scarring to a minimum, but it might take a while. For now, we gotta get you back on your feet and figure out what the hell we can do to stop those bastards."
Before Vin could concentrate on the idea, the door to the bedroom opened slowly, quietly, and Chanu eased in. He closed the door carefully behind him before turning to look. Vin saw his eyes widen, then the flash of annoyance in them as he found Chris sitting on the bed.
"You're awake," Chanu said, and even though he smiled, and he looked relieved, Vin heard the tension in his voice. He was upset, and Vin wondered if he'd get the chance to explain - or if there was an explanation Chanu would accept.
Chanu moved up the bedside to stand beside where Chris sat. He looked unsure, but only for a few seconds. Then, without looking away from Vin, he said, "You were supposed to get me when he woke." He reached down, taking Vin's hand out of Larabee's, and Vin caught the amusement on Chris' face.
But Chris graciously took the hint and pushed himself off the bed with a pat to Vin's leg. "You'll be all right, Vin," he said. Then to Chanu, he continued, "He's all yours. And you better watch that hand - he's got some idea about touching it to see how bad it is."
Chris wandered away and out the door, but Vin hardly noticed. His attention was on his lover.
He'd never seen Chanu look like this - no, that wasn't right. They'd known each other all of Vin's life. He'd seen his lover in almost every state Chanu had ever experienced.
But the memory of seeing him this way was faint, and he couldn't place it. Chanu was - scared. Scared and anxious and desperate and under it was a layer of something else. Some hurt or pain. Something Vin didn't like and knew he'd caused.
He tried to pull Chanu's hand to him, hoping Chanu would come along as well, but Chanu pulled back and Vin didn't have the strength to force him. Instead, Chanu did the tugging, bringing Vin's knuckles to his lips and curling over them. His hair, his beautiful long curtain of black hair, was loose and it flowed around his face, hiding his features, but not his words or the warm wetness that flowed down the back of Vin's hand onto his wrist.
This was it, he thought, this was where Chanu told him how disappointed he was, how disappointed and angry they all were, and that Vin was to be cast out -
"I thought I'd lost you. I thought when they called that you were dead, that you had - that you had - " The words faded away, and Vin felt Chanu shaking.
His fear, his expectation, receded, leaving behind the will and the strength to pull at his own hand, and in the doing, to draw Chanu to him.
Chanu was upset, but he was aware enough to cant himself so that as he came close to Vin, he didn't brush against his head or chin. He didn't fight as Vin lifted his arm and folded it around Chanu's shoulders, pulling him down to hold him close.
Jahnaavi-ayuu shook his head, his dark eyes calm. "Bad poison."
"Yeah," Nathan agreed with a sigh.
They were both staring at Vin's face and it made him no little anxious to be the center of their concentration. It might have been worse, but he was distracted by the effort to control the nausea and the blackness that threatened to overwhelm him every time they touched his face.
"How bad?" he asked, or tried to. He hadn't thought the pain could be much worse, but he was wrong, which seemed to be the norm these days. Speaking was still something to do sparingly, if at all.
Nathan's eyes moved to meet his and Vin saw the worry there, a worry that wasn't in his tone as he answered with a forced cheerfulness. "You ain't gonna be as pretty as you were," he said, "but it's not going to be too bad, not after it heals. It's gonna take a while, though."
Vin's hands were clenched in the blanket that covered him, but it was only as Jahnaavi-ayuu 's blunt fingers touched his knuckles that he realized how tightly he was gripping the cloth.
"We can do more with the scar," the old man said, "but you will have to do as we say, young one. You will have to rest and be patient, very patient. But then, that was never as much a concern for you as it is for most of the others. You and Chanu, patient in your own ways."
Despite his best effort, Vin looked away from the clan's healer, searching for his lover. His lover who was absent again. Since the night Chanu had come to him, Vin hadn't seen him; he had vague memories of his presence, but the drugs they gave Vin were strong and he wasn't certain if it had really been Chanu with him or if those first days had been a dream.
"Patience," the old man said, rapping on Vin's fist with his own. "Now, you must sleep."
Vin was tired of sleeping, tired of being in this bed and this room. It'd been three days since he'd awakened alone with Chris, and while he slept more than he was awake, they still made him take the sleeping and pain drugs. Three days since he'd been aware of Chanu.
"I'm not tired," he started, but Jahnaavi-ayuu was shaking his head.
"You have never lied well, not to those of us who know you," he said. "You are tired, and you hurt. But you are worried about Chanu, and all of these strangers in your house, and the collision of the two worlds of your life."
Vin sighed, accustomed to the way Jahnaavi-ayuu saw through the slightest masquerade.
The healer nodded. "You cannot do anything from here, not now. Chanu is working - it is how he deals with his worry. It is what you do, as well, but now you must rest. Tomorrow, you can worry." He gestured toward Nathan who picked up a cup off the bedside table and held it out to Vin.
Vin sighed but took it, knowing also that Jahnaavi-ayuu's words were literal as well as figurative: tomorrow, he would have to answer to Kojay about why he had been with the AFC. Tomorrow - tomorrow could be the day he lost everything.
He downed the bitter content of the mug, hating it and what it would do to him, as Jahnaavi-ayuu climbed off the bed and headed for the door. He didn't turn back but went through it without another word, leaving Nathan shaking his head.
"Man can talk when he wants, but when he's done, he's done." He caught the cup as Vin drained it, setting it aside before he helped Vin settle back into the pillows. "He's right, though. You're going to need a lot of rest to flush this poison clear."
Vin shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. "Yeah, reckon so," he agreed. "How bad do you think it's going to be, Nathan?"
His hand rose but he curbed the instinct to touch his face. It still felt swollen and big, the throbbing a dull roar that had become the background to his life.
Nathan caught his hand, though, holding it away and down. "I won't lie to you," he said quietly. "If it were me alone, on the Clarion, you'd be lucky to be out of this alive. I could fight the reaction you had to the ink they used, but I couldn't draw it out of you, not the way Jahnaavi can. I know a few tricks for taking care of the damage to the tissue, but nothing on the scale of what he's been doing. If he says he can do more, I believe him."
It wasn't an answer Vin doubted - Jahnaavi-ayuu had a skill for healing unrivaled among the clans. He should be feeling lucky to have been brought here. But Nathan was still talking and Vin didn't want to hear the words.
"You're gonna have some scarring, though, I don't see anyway around that. I'm sorry, Vin."
Scarring. He'd suspected as much but hadn't really given it a lot of thought. Now, though, it carried another weight: scarring, in that location, would be just as much a sign of his status as Andarchic as the tattoo itself would have been. It would mark him, so that his role in the clan would be jeopardized, even if they did forgive him for meeting with the AFC.
And it would forever remind Chanu of his betrayal.
He drifted off to sleep, but it was restless and mired in the nightmares that had to be memories, but which he couldn't recall when he was awake. The drugs held him captive in them, making it almost impossible for him to pull himself free of the things done to him, the pain of the scalpels and the dye and the voices that taunted and threatened.
When he did drag himself into awareness, the room was dark and it took him a while to decide that he was truly awake, not trapped in another, different nightmare.
It was the moonlight that did it, pale but stark as it flooded through the window into the room. Phylla had three moons, and each one gave off its own sort of light. Ovid was bright and yellow, a mini-sun that circled about every 35 days, while Chiu gave off a gentle light that they saw only on the darkest nights, when it was the only moon in the sky.
But Leda, Vin's favorite, was farthest away, its rotation about once every sixty days. When it was alone in the sky, it gave off the purest light, reflecting the sun at such an angle that it was clean and white. Chanu called it an artist's moon. It cast everything in high relief, and on nights like this, when Leda was in the sky, they often stayed up all night, Chanu working and Vin watching him.
He struggled out of bed, taking his time to get his balance. He knew where he was going, knew he had hours to get there. Leda was over the meadow outside the window, in the middle of her trek.
It took longer than he expected to get to the bedroom door, and he was already tired by the time he arrived, making it hard to get the door open quietly.
He stood for a time, leaning on the door jam and staring down the dark hallway, listening to the sounds of the house. His head hurt, the constant burn throbbing in time to the beat of his heart, which was faster now with exertion.
When he could hear past his own body, he was aware first of the pumping of the air circulation unit. That was unusual; neither of them were fond of running the pumps after dark, when the breeze blew over the ground and cooled things down nicely. Either they were in a heat wave, or - there were too many other people in the house.
With that realization, Vin noticed other noises, ones that were unfamiliar, almost alien. Someone was snoring in the next room, the 'guest bedroom' as they termed it even though they rarely had guests. The room was mostly used for storing Chanu's extra supplies and his unfinished projects, as well as blankets and seasonal clothing, Vin's traveling gear and other things that Chanu didn't like to see. Vin wondered how much cleaning someone had had to do to make the room usable as a bedroom, but he didn't give it a lot of thought. Instead, he listened to the steady snores, their sound teasing at a memory.
By the time he had gained enough strength to step into the hallway, he had identified the sleeper: Josiah. The thought of Josiah sleeping in his house, in his and Chanu's house, made his stomach flutter. There were only a few reasons he could think of for why the man was here, most of them having to do with security. The idea that he had compromised the clan this much made him dizzy.
The fact that it was Josiah, someone Vin had slept with, made him uncomfortable in a different way. Just another mark against him with Chanu, on a list that was growing. It was no wonder Chanu was hiding away, avoiding him.
Vin moved slowly down the hallway, the bare wood of the floor cool under his feet. There was a light coming from the kitchen/dining area at the end of the hall, giving him enough guidance to make his way. But he stopped before he reached the other end, his hand pressed against the closed door that led through a small foyer and into the room that had once been their bedroom, before Chanu had taken it as his studio.
Through the closed door, probably through two of them, Vin could hear the crackle as Chanu's welding torch cut into metal, forcing it to his will.
Nausea ripped through him, the image of the torch, the flame, reaching deep into his psyche and touching the wound on his face from the inside. Pain coiled from his head to his stomach, and he closed his eyes, his knees giving way slightly. He managed to stay upright, one hand on the door and the other pressed against his hip, until the pain ebbed enough to let him draw a breath.
It took a while, but in that time nothing in the house changed. The circulation unit still blew air through the house, Josiah still snored, and he could still hear the arc of the welding torch through the door.
His hands shook as he pulled the door open and entered the foyer. He was clumsy when he closed the door behind him and it made an audible 'thunk' as it settled into the frame, but the sounds of the house continued in their rhythm, undisturbed.
The door to the studio was closed, but the noise of the welding torch was louder here, more clear.
He stared at the door, knowing Chanu was on the other side. He could picture what his lover looked like, his long black hair tied back in a bandana, probably in several places, or braided and looped to keep it clear of danger. He was wearing his welding coverall, the dark blue one that was heavy-weight and streaked with black slag and soot and splotchy with burn marks. He had dark smears of soot on his cheeks and fingers, and his deep brown eyes were bright and alive, as fiery as the large torch he used.
Those deep brown eyes that Vin knew better than he knew his own or anyone else's, the eyes that would tell him everything before Chanu ever said a word.
It was those eyes that had told him how angry Chanu was, how hurt. And how horrified. Vin had seen that look, too, the one that came when Chanu looked at his face - not at his eyes, but at the damage that had been done to his face, the reminder of where Vin had been and with who.
The door was heavy, made of the thick wood of the local Banaya tree. Vin had cut it himself, cut it and dried it, then stained it to the color Chanu wanted, a deep reddish-brown that caught any light and reflected it back, giving the effect of a burnished sheen. The door had been for Chanu, a finishing touch to the haven they had created together, a place that was Chanu's sanctuary.
Until now, Vin had felt welcome there, as much a part of the room, of the house, as his lover. Chanu had always welcomed him here, had never seemed anything other than pleased to have him close.
Until now, Chanu had never hidden from him.
His mouth was dry and it was hard to gather up enough spit to swallow. He reached out to the door, his hand settling on it gently. The pads of his fingers drifting over the surface as gently as they had when he'd smoothed and sanded it.
It opened so quickly that Vin almost fell forward, catching himself only on the wall beside it - and on the hand that caught at his.
Those eyes he knew so well, the ones that spoke more eloquently and more honestly than Chanu's lips, they were full of worry and surprise. At first. But as they identified Vin, he saw the shift to anger and hurt, two things he knew he had put there.
"What are you doing here?" Chanu demanded. "What time - " He looked past Vin to the clock on the wall, his face tightening in a frown. "Dammit, it's the middle of the night - what are you - "
"Need you." He hadn't intended to say those words - certainly hadn't meant for them to be so thin and whiny. He'd meant to ask how mad Chanu was, if there was anything he could do to put it right, if he could even try to explain -
Chanu caught him at the waist, slipping an arm easily around him and drawing him close. He was careful, though, to keep the injured side of Vin's head away from any contact, even as he guided Vin's head to his shoulder. "You should be sleeping," he said, but his tone was no longer harsh, carrying the sound of affection and concern that Vin had known for as long as he could remember.
This was where he was supposed to be, in Chanu's arms. He was tired, so tired, the effort to remain upright slipping away from him.
"Come, mesuu," Chanu murmured, "let's get you back to bed."
Vin was aware of being guided along, Chanu's arms around him, his body warm and solid. He could feel the beat of his heart, a strong, steady sound that he knew not just in his head, but in the depth of his own body. This was what he needed, not the pain pills, not the teas and herbs, but Chanu's strength.
They settled into bed, Chanu still careful with Vin but not breaking the contact between them. He let Vin pull him into the bed and he relaxed as Vin held him close, returning the embrace and the comfort. Vin tried to stay awake, to enjoy what he had, but the exhaustion drew him down too quickly.
When he woke the next morning, the sun had replaced Leda's light through the windows and he was alone, Chanu's side of the bed cold and barely mussed.
"Why were you there?" Kojay's voice was soft, his words even, but his eyes showed nothing. They sat at the dining room table which had been cleared and even polished. Josiah, Vin thought, Chanu wouldn't have thought of it.
He kept his eyes on Kojay, ignoring Jonah-eh's scowl and the way Chanu wouldn't look at him. "Dulle said he wanted to talk," he said, honestly. "He needed help with some thing."
"Dulle," Jonah-eh snorted. "You know that he's with the Collective now -"
Kojay didn't say anything, merely holding up one hand. Jonah-eh fell silent, his thin lips stretched into a slash across his face.
"What did he want help with?" Kojay asked, watching Vin.
Vin drew a breath. He could plead ignorance, probably should, but he'd never lied to Kojay, didn't have the heart for it, now. "They were investigating sources for weapons."
The room was silent for several seconds, until Jonah-eh slammed his fist against the table, rattling the dishware.
"Weapons!" he said. "Are you trying to get us involved in a war - trying to get us killed?"
Beside him, Chanu huffed out a breath, his body tightening. But he didn't draw away from Vin, which was a relief of a sort.
Kojay stared then nodded, once. "You knew this before you met with them." It was a statement, not a question.
Kojay stared a little longer before lifting a hand and making one waving motion, dismissing everyone else in the room. It took a while, Jonah-eh's anger slowing him down as he tried to vent it first at Vin then at Chanu. Vin tried to catch Chanu's attention, but even though he hid it well, Vin knew his lover was as upset as Jonah-eh was angry, and Vin knew that if there hadn't been a rift between them before, there was now.
Passingly, he wondered if he'd walk out of this room in a little while to find that he'd been moved into the smaller room. His stomach flipped, unsettled, but Kojay was the first order of business.
Vin sighed. "I ain't going against you or the clan," he said quietly. "But it ain't as easy out there as y'all want to believe." He lifted his hand, fluttering his fingers toward his face. "You think this sort of thing is new, that the Falonites are just now starting this kind of thing, but you're wrong. They've done things, Kojay, things y'all don't want to know about or think about. What they did to me - well, I ain't the first and it ain't new. And the thing y'all don't seem to understand is that it ain't them on their own. Not only is the Council backing them up, but the Council is letting them do whatever the hell they want. To us, to their own kind!"
Kojay didn't give any outward sign, but Vin had lived with the man long enough to know that he was not pleased with the answer. "So instead of talking to us, you decided to do things on your own."
Despite himself, Vin flinched then gasped as the movement caused a jolt of pain through his head. "No," he muttered, trying not to move his jaw, "I didn't do anything, not like you think. I ain't that stupid."
"But you still met with them, knowing, as you point out yourself, how dangerous it is." The clan-leader's voice was hard and he'd lost his neutrality.
Vin stared back at him, finding his own anger. "It's dangerous just being out there without a damned chip. The Falonites are going after anybody they even suspect - don't matter if I was with Dulle and his people or not. Why don't you ask me what you really want to know? Hell, how about I just tell you: I wasn't there to do anything with weapons, to buy, sell, or even tell them where some were. I ain't ready for a war, covert or otherwise. But I do think they might have some ideas, and they sure as hell have some damned good intel, and that's what you're sending me out there for, ain't it? To get information?"
Kojay stiffened, his long-fingered hands curling into fists on the table. His glare was hard, but only for a few seconds. Then he relaxed and closed his eyes, frowning with concentration. When he spoke, his words were slower, considered. "Information is what we gather, yes, Vin. And you do better than most that we send off-world. Perhaps now I see why." He forced his hands open, palms on the table and fingers stretching out. "You should have told us you felt a need to approach the Collective." When he looked up, his eyes were like ice. "We could have given you better contacts than an angry young man who has trouble seeing beyond the nose on his own face."
Vin let out a breath mind racing, previously disconnected pieces slotting into place. Of course Kojay and the elders had their own contacts. Of course they knew the situation. He'd been a fool. He was tired now, and his head ached. "Might've done it different if I'd known," he said softly, then met Kojay's stern expression with an effort. "You should've talked to me, Kojay, I ain't a kid any more."
"No. You're not," Kojay sighed, eyes sweeping Vin's scarred face, with some emotion Vin couldn't place. Was that regret? "But if the Falonites find out who you are, the clan will be implicated by your presence. It will take them a while, as they are limited in their means of discovery, but if they find out, Vin, we will be compromised."
"I did a damned good job covering myself, Kojay, you think I'm a fool?" Vin countered. "I wasn't even using a synth chip. They won't be able to trace me beyond where they are themselves, sure as hell won't be able to trace me here. You think the Falonites got more skills in finding us than the government? If the Council can't get to us, then Falon's army can't either."
Kojay made a sound that might have been a laugh, but when he looked back at Vin his expression was sober. "You know better than that, Vin. Of all people, you should understand that this sort of intelligence, this knowledge, is something they can barter easily to each other - they have a common goal, at least for the present. One of them will not have the means, no, but both of them together, the government with its all-seeing machinery and the Falonites with their access to our way of thinking, of moving - yes, they will make connections."
Vin sighed, ignoring the stir of unease. They'd lived with the inevitability of having to move for as long as he'd been alive - had done, more than once -- this wasn't something to fear. But the idea that he might have messed up somewhere and that his capture would be the cause of it wasn't something he'd expected - or wanted.
"Jonah-eh and Asara are monitoring everything we can find, all the government channels. There has been a lot of curiosity, but so far, no confirmation. The fact that you are not genetically linked to the clan is probably our best advantage." He leaned forward and stretched one arm across the table, catching one of Vin's wrists in a tight grip. "I am not unaware of the things that are happening out there, Vin. And I am not unaware of your own need to act. But I am not ready to commit the people I care for to a battle we cannot win, not now. Are you willing to put Chanu at risk? Would you lose him for the sake of a political point that is, at this time, not one that most people know about, much less care about?"
Kojay knew the answer to that so Vin didn't bother to give it. Instead, he moved on, his voice low and even. "The elders have seen this day coming for many years. We have worked hard to put people in place that we can trust, people in both the Freedom Collective and the Patriotic Alliance. We know what goes on in each - enough to know that Dulle and Cairn, for all their good intentions, are hot-headed young fools who were headed down this path from the start. It's a wonder they haven't been caught up before." He squeezed Vin's wrist, his old fingers surprisingly strong. "They think that violence is the answer, that if they kill enough of the Council or Falon himself that they will force a change. But they are wrong. That is not the way, not for our people or to make a change in the way people think. You know that."
Vin drew a deep breath, his head pounding. "I wasn't there to deal any weapons or to sanction what they planned - yes, I know that violence ain't the way. Not the way they want to do it, anyway."
Kojay frowned. "Making martyrs for a cause is never the way. And that is all we would do - even if we didn't intend to hurt anyone, any attack would be used by the media to make us look worse - and to validate the nonsense the Council has been selling, that we have no right to interact with the non-Andarchic equally."
Vin knew he spoke the truth, not just because he was Vin's leader, his sworn clan leader, but because he, too, shared this philosophy of power.
"There's another thing you may need to think about," Kojay went on, his voice softer. "If they find out who you are, your father will also be looking for you. Are you ready for that?"
That he hadn't expected, hadn't thought of. At all. He'd blocked the man from his mind so long ago that, in truth, he never thought of him.
Kojay nodded, as if knowing his thoughts. "There is a reason your mother ran from him. She knows what he can and will do, given any possibility of finding you. He is a dangerous man. You don't have to think of him as your kin, but you must never forget that he is an enemy to us."
Vin searched his memories, sparse and confused as they were, for any recollection of Royal mentioning a genetic association - there'd be one, of course, but it must have come through after Chris had gotten him out of there.
Which meant his father would find out he was alive. Fuck.
Kojay waited a few seconds then went on. "For now, you are not able to leave the planet anyway, not until you have healed and we can see how clearly you are marked. Jahnaavi-ayuu seems to think he can leave you with only a small scar, but even that could be enough to make you recognizable." He shrugged, his hold on Vin lessening to a more comfortable clutch. "If so, then this conversation is moot - you won't be able to work as you have before."
Vin swallowed. He'd been aware of that as well, but it hadn't been as high on his worry list as other things. But then, if Chanu was really upset with him . . .
"I speak to you as the leader of this clan, Vin: don't do this again. It's not just yourself at risk out there, it's every one of us." He sighed, squeezing Vin's wrist again before adding, "And now, I speak to you as someone who cares about you and about my son - far worse could have happened to you. Had it not been for Larabee and his crew, you might not have come home. That is preying on us all."
Vin looked away. "I know." It was a truth that was coming more clearly as each day passed and his memories returned. It had always been a risk, a very real one, that he might get caught and not return for a very long time - but this had been more than imprisonment and the pain of an interrogation. This had been deliberately cruel torture.
And it had not been at the hands of the government, but at the hands of their own kind. Maybe that was where he had gone wrong; for so long, all of his life, he had guarded against the government as their enemy, and not looked for danger close to home. But now, things were more complex. His own kind, the Andarchic, were so fragmented that he could no longer trust in their support - or at the very least, their silence. Now, there were enemies among his own kind, and that, that was where he had been careless.
Events had gotten ahead of him - to the point where he had endangered the people he held most dear. It made him feel sick, sicker than any of the pain he had suffered from any of this. The idea of Chanu suffering what he had, his perfect skin marred by the knife and ink . . .
"Did you discover anything from Dulle and his people before you were captured?"
"No," Vin sighed. "We'd barely gotten past the hellos before they were on us. I thought they were Council."
"Would have been better in some ways if they had been," Kojay agreed. He was looking at Vin's face, at the damage. "It's hard to reconcile that it is our own kind who would do us the worst harm." He let go of Vin's wrist and shook his head one more time, the long braid of his hair dragging along the cloth of his shirt with a soft rasp. "Rest and heal. We will speak again when we know more."
He rose, but before he turned away, he leaned across the table, his face coming close to Vin's. Instinctively, Vin pulled back and away, wary of the contact, but Kojay looked him in the eyes, searching. "Did they see the tattoos?" he asked his voice flat.
Vin held the gaze, registering the real question: had he given away the codes to someone else.
"I didn't strip down for Dulle and his people, not for showing the codes, not for having sex, not for nothing. They're the only ones would have known the codes if they'd seen the tattoos. Far as I can remember, the APA didn't pay them no mind. They didn't seem too interested in nothing but carving their symbol into me."
Kojay nodded and touched Vin's hand once before leaving the room.
Vin sat, too tired to move. He knew what waited for him outside - Jonah-eh, angry and, once Kojay was gone, snide and bitter, blaming Vin for everything that could possibly go wrong then blaming that on the fact that Vin wasn't clan, no matter how much Kojay wanted it to be true.
Worse, though, would be Chanu. He knew his lover, knew that even now, Chanu was out there, defending Vin to Jonah-eh even though he, too, was angry. And hurt, Vin knew that, had felt it in the way Chanu had drawn away from him.
The door opened and Vin looked up, mentally preparing himself. But it was Josiah who came into the room, graceful despite his size.
"Sounded like things got a little tense in here," he said amiably. "Thought you might need a hand getting back to bed."
It was innocent, meant only as an offer of physical help. But he had been in bed with Josiah for several months now - sex and friendship only, nothing even close to what he had with Chanu - but he didn't know whether Josiah understood that. To have him in the house, talking about taking Vin to bed -
Vin held up a hand and Josiah stopped on the other side of the table. He looked worried, and Vin wondered how many other things he could screw up. "Don't take this the wrong way," he said, "but why are you here?"
Josiah frowned, his grey eyes worried. "Chris thought it'd be a good idea for you to have somebody around who knew how to use a gun, just in case the ones who did this to you get a handle on where you are, where your clan is. He had to take the Clarion to the Lyran system, and even though it's not that far, he wanted someone within range to help out if anything happens."
Protection. In case he brought the APA to his own people.
And why the hell not, he thought, unable to avoid the irony, even if it wasn't funny: for the first time in their lives together, he had brought not one, but two of his off-world lovers into the house he shared with Chanu.
"You're pale," Josiah said. "Let's get you back to - "
"I can manage." He pushed himself up, trying to ignore the way his head swam.
Fortunately, Josiah had a long reach; he caught Vin by the elbow and shoulder as he swayed and his knees buckled. By the time Vin was aware again, Josiah had lifted him and was walking down the hall toward the bedroom, Chanu close behind.
The first day he ate dinner at the table, and not in their bed, it was just him and Chanu. They'd never put much stock in the ceremony of eating together, unless they were with company or dining out, but after the way things had gone with Kojay and Jonah-eh the day before, tonight seemed special. He'd managed to stay up most of the day, napping for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but still up by the time evening rolled around and the first moon was out.
Chanu cooked, a pasta and vegetable dish that was one of Vin's favorites. He set the table with their favorite pottery, stuff that they had chosen for themselves, some for each other. He brought out candles, and a jar of expensive wine - which Vin wasn't supposed to drink but which they both silently decided to ignore.
Because they needed to talk.
Vin sat at the table as Chanu finished the preparations, their talk light and superficial- Chanu, mostly, talking about things in the clan, what was going on around them, what was happening with Claire and the pregnancy, with his own work.
But Vin could feel the tension, and he knew it wasn't just his own guilt. Chanu wasn't looking at him - or, rather, he wasn't meeting his eyes.
After a time, they ran out of small talk. Chanu played with his food, pretending to eat even though Vin knew he wasn't. As the silence grew louder than his fear, Vin said, "I wasn't doing anything against the clan, Chan. I'd never do anything to hurt you or the others."
Chanu was silent, looking down at his plate. He put his sticks aside, his hands on either side of his plate, fingers clenched into white-knuckled fists. When he spoke, his voice was low and flat, a sign that he was very upset, even though Vin couldn't tell if it was anger or hurt.
"You met with Dulle and Cairn - you know who they are and what they do. How can you sit there and say to me that you wouldn't hurt me or the clan? That is what they will do - it is what they have done, just being with them has hurt you, and that hurts me, Vin, more than you seem to understand."
Vin put his own hands down, wishing that he hadn't already had this argument with Kojay - and lost. "I won't go against the clan," he said quietly. "But we need to hear other ideas, other options. What we've been doing isn't working - maybe not because of the Council, but because of the others and what they've done. We're not going to be left alone, Chanu, things are only going to get worse." He sighed, lifting one hand to rub at his head and just barely catching himself before it was too late.
"It's not your decision to make," Chanu snapped. "If you thought it should be done, you should have said something to Jonah-eh, let him bring it up to the tribal elders - "
"I did," Vin said flatly, his own temper winding up. "More times than I can remember. Jonah-eh don't listen to me, not about things he don't agree with."
Chanu's head shot up, his glare fierce. He didn't anger often or easily, but when he did, it was loud and passionate and something Vin hated to have directed at him. "This is not going to be another argument about Jonah-eh," he hissed. "It's going to be an argument about how I almost lost you because you're too sure of yourself to realize how stupid you can be!"
Vin stared at him, his words whirling in the space between them. His mind settled on the last part and he drew a breath. "How stupid can I be?" he asked, trying to keep his voice even.
Chanu glared at him, but he drew a deep breath and his fingers stretched out beside his plate. "You can be stupid enough to think that you're immortal," he said. "Stupid enough to think that you can do everything on your own. And when you are out there, removed from us, stupid enough to forget what you have to come home to."
"I am removed from you," he agreed softly. "How often do you hear from me? How often can you hear from me? Not at all, Chan, because it's the only way to keep the rest of you safe. We all agreed to that - what, generations ago? No contact with the clan when off-world. So you tell me - how stupid is it for me to think I'm alone out there?"
Chanu looked away, down at his plate. "You're not too alone," he said, his voice still low. "You think I don't know about the men who brought you back?"
Vin took a breath. It was a relief to have it out in the open, finally, not to have to worry about when it would become an issue. "Do I need to explain them?" he asked, sitting back in his chair.
Chanu looked back up, meeting his gaze. After a few seconds, he sighed and sat back, too. "No," he answered, "but you're not as alone as you believe. These men brought you back - at least one of them knew where to bring you, Vin."
Vin nodded. "Chris. He wanted to come here, to meet with Kojay and learn more about Drifters. His son was one of us, Andarchic." Chanu tilted his head, curious despite himself, so Vin went on. "His wife and kid were killed," he said, "and he wants to know why. I can't say that I blame him." He tilted his head. "He's the reason I went in the first place, remember? Jonah-eh sent me to meet with him, to find out if he was someone we could . . . use." He used the word intentionally, and as he'd expected, Chanu winced.
After a few seconds Chanu picked his chopsticks back up and toyed with his food, more for something to do than to eat. "Do you make friends like him every time you go out?" he asked.
Vin smiled, hearing the real question. "I don't make close friends like Chris - and Josiah - every time I go out, no. This is the first time I've met people I trusted as quick as I did these two - and as you pointed out, it's probably a good thing I did." He leaned forward and reached across the table to touch Chanu's wrist. "They're close friends, but that's it, Chanu. They ain't you."
Chanu studied him for a few seconds then nodded and Vin saw the way his shoulders relaxed. There was no reason for Chanu to be jealous; they both had lovers when they were apart, and Chanu had taken a clan wife. But it was reassuring, in a way, to know that his lover did worry about that, too.
"You're right," Chanu said quietly, turning his hand so that he could take Vin's. "I've always known how things are for you out there. I just - I try not to think about how dangerous it is, how easy it would be to lose you. This," he gestured, the movement taking in everything that had happened, "it made it real."
"I ain't scared of dying," Vin said softly. "But when I woke up here, all I could think of was that I might have done something to hurt you, or the clan. Y'all can call me dumb all you want - and maybe I am. But I'd die before I let them get to you, Chan."
Chanu swallowed and Vin saw the way his eyes glittered. When he spoke, his voice was rough with emotion. "I know that, now more than ever. And that scares me more than anything. That you would die out there, and I'd - I'd never know."
He'd know, Vin was certain; he believed that they shared something deep and intangible, something that made no scientific sense, but that Chanu would know when he died. But now wasn't the time for this, not with Chanu on edge. Vin rose, ignoring the dizziness and moved the few steps to kneel beside his lover. Chanu's hands tugged at him, trying to stop him, but Vin caught them and held them, kissing his fingers as he made it to the floor.
"I'm all right," he said softly, staring into Chanu's eyes. "We're all right."
Chanu's hands finally clutched at his shoulders, holding him tight. "For how long? How long until you go out there again and decide that you need to talk to someone that we don't know about? How long before you get caught by the Council or - by one of our own idiot radical groups? How long before your father finds you?" He lifted a hand, his fingers slowly, carefully coming toward Vin to gently touch him beside his eye, near the place where he was burned. "The gods help me, Vin, but I wake up in the middle of the night, hoping that you're so scarred here that you can't ever leave this planet - can't ever leave our home."
It was horrible - and wonderful, warming Vin in ways he'd never have believed possible. He'd never doubted Chanu's love for him, but sometimes he'd questioned the depth of it. To be told in such stark terms that Chanu would rather have him trapped underfoot, yet safe, was more of a commitment than Chanu had ever verbalized.
But then, to be told in such stark terms that Chanu would rather have him trapped - scarred, but safe -- was hard to hear, even while he knew that it represented true feeling, of a depth Chanu rarely put into words.
He reached up and caught Chanu's hand, drawing it down so that he could kiss the trembling fingers. "You may get your wish," he whispered, still wavering between the fear of the idea and the depth of Chanu's love. "For now, though, I'd rather you just loved me."
Chanu's hand jerked, and Vin looked up to meet his gaze. "Too soon," Chanu said, but his eyes held a desperation that Vin knew. It wasn't for sex - his lover certainly liked it enough, -- it was for the closeness, the contact, the reassurance that Vin was all right.
Vin smiled, pushing himself up and managing not to sway. "Need you," he said softly, pulling on Chanu's hand. "Need you to love me, Chan."
"I do, you damned fool," Chanu shot back, but he rose, letting Vin pull him along until Vin stumbled. Then he caught him around the waist and held him as they walked slowly down the hall.
"You're not ready," Chanu murmured as they moved into the bedroom. But Vin turned into his lover's arms, taking Chanu's face in his hands.
"Shhhh," he whispered just before their lips touched. The kiss was soft and easy, Chanu letting Vin guide it. And it felt good, like water after a long, hot thirst. When he opened his mouth, accepting Chanu's curious tongue, he felt the first tug of pain, a dull ache that he knew could burst quickly into a flare of agony. But he didn't draw away; he needed this, needed the pain, needed Chanu to claim him.
When the kiss broke, Chanu tried once more to resist, but his words were vague and his tone distracted as Vin's fingers moved familiarly over the ties and catches of his clothes. When Vin touched warm, smooth skin, he stopped, suddenly acutely aware of how close he had come to never being able to do this again.
"Vin?" Chanu's voice was low and close, his breath stirring the fine loose curls of Vin's hair.
Vin slipped his hands around Chanu, pulling him in tight. "Shhh," he whispered again, letting the good side of his face rub against Chanu's cheek, letting himself feel the beat of Chanu's heart against his own.
They made love slowly and as gently as Chanu could, more gently than Vin wanted. He was flat on his back, the pillows away from his head, one of them folded under his hips. Chanu was languid, working Vin with a patience and devotion that was more frustrating than pleasurable. But Vin let him, knowing that Chanu needed to touch and hold and love as much as he did. For himself, he needed more, needed the contrast to the softness and heat of Chanu's love. Without much thought, he turned his face toward the sheets, letting the fabric tug at the skin close to the injury. Not true pain, not the blinding spike that would shatter every awareness, but a little flare of discomfort, sharp enough to burn through his mind and down into his balls.
His body was sluggish, though, his erection more so, despite Chanu's attentions. He wanted Chanu up with him, where he could see his eyes, his lips, see the signs of passion and the struggle for control. But Chanu wouldn't seek his own pleasure until Vin was as sexually involved as he was, so Vin allowed the warm mouth and teasing tongue to draw him to desire, aiding it with his own form of encouragement. The feel of Chanu's hair on his thighs and belly was as erotic as the things he was doing with his tongue, and Vin found himself slipping into the rhythm Chanu set, complementing it with slight brushes of his face along the linens. When Chanu's finger found its way back, Vin welcomed it; the sensations it wrought were more distracting than anything else, and he heard his own moans and whimpers, begging for more.
Chanu gave it, adding first one then another finger, stretching him. It burned, but it was a good burn, one that made him groan with the want of it, one that was better than the burning of his face. His balls tingled, and he knew he didn't have the will power to hold off release if it came.
"Chanu," he rasped, reaching down to cup his lover's face and draw him up. "Now, please."
Chanu resisted until he met Vin's gaze. As he drew off, his lips wet, he asked, "Are you sure?"
Vin smiled, stroking over one sharp cheekbone with his thumb. "This hurts enough - the way I need you. Please."
Chanu licked at his lips, tasting Vin. He rose to his knees, leaning forward to rest his hands on either side of Vin's head. "I want you," he whispered, his hair falling around them like a curtain. "But I don't want to hurt you - not in the wrong ways."
Vin blinked, hearing the thing that had been unspoken between them. Chanu held his gaze, a sadness in his eyes that made Vin ache. "It's not like that 'tween us," he said softly, still cupping Chanu's face with his hands. "I ain't asking that of you."
"But it's what you get from them," Chanu answered. "It's what they give you that I can't."
Ice formed in his belly, freezing the fire as Chanu's words, and their implications, brought him up short.
"It's what you want now, isn't it?" Chanu asked, his voice low and hard. "You want to hurt, to feel the rush of it, the pain and endorphins and thrill of being on the line between them. It's where I fail you."
Vin swallowed, not wanting this conversation, not now. "I love you, and you love me. It's more than enough. It's all I could ask for from you."
He had meant the words as an explanation, but Chanu frowned. He leaned closer and his hair accidentally drifted over the wound. It didn't hurt, not the way that most contact did, but it was uncomfortable, disturbing in the way that was just at the verge of pain - or pleasure.
Chanu's answer distracted him. "I'm not a fool," he murmured. "I know what you want, Vin - how long have we been together? How long - how long have I loved you?"
The memory was sweet, one of the few constants in his life. "Always," he whispered. He slid his hand around Chanu's neck, drawing him down into a kiss. It wasn't deep or long, but it gave him time to hook his ankles around Chanu's back, offering.
Chanu grunted, frowning, but he shifted, reaching for the recess near the bed where they kept the lubricant.
He tried to be patient; Vin could see the strain of it in the lines of his face and the tension in his shoulders. But Vin didn't want patience or worry - he wanted to be taken away from all of this, the anguish, the fear, all the things that were pressing in against them.
Then Chanu was pressing into him and the burn of it was like a fire, but cleansing and bright, drawing all his thoughts and feelings to one place. He arched, trying to push back, to force the joining, but Chanu was as stubborn in this as he had been in everything else so far. He held Vin's hips, his grip tight enough to bruise, and he ignored Vin's attempts to force him to more. Instead, he bent down, his tongue tracing a wet trail up Vin's chest until he caught one nipple between his sharp teeth and bit down. Hard.
Pain and pleasure flared bright, made all the stronger because of the shock of it - Chanu, the man he loved most, was giving him the one thing that Vin could never ask. The sense of completion, of perfect joining, overrode all other sensations and he lost all sense of himself as Chanu pressed in slow and steady against the white-heat of his teeth against sensitive flesh.
An eternity later, Chanu's hips finally settled against Vin's ass and he drew back, gasping, his breath hot against Vin's chest. "Mine," he murmured, the word flat.
"Yeah," Vin agreed, catching his breath. His body hummed with the twining of pain and pleasure, of Chanu's love and need and, under it, fear and anger. He knew his lover was still holding back, but he could sense the strength of will Chanu was using. It had never been quite this sharp between them, quite this demanding.
"No," Chanu said, his voice guttural and hard. He drew back, tossing his head so that his hair fell back over his shoulder in a long arc like black satin, and he stared down into Vin's eyes. "You are mine, and I won't lose you, not like that." His hips pulled back but his gaze didn't waver.
Vin blinked, surprised by the tone and the force behind it. Several thoughts ran through his head, thinking to light on his tongue, but before he could ask anything, Chanu thrust forward, hard and fast. The raze of pain was sharp but mixed generously with the thrill of it, and he moaned, reaching out to catch at Chanu's upper arms.
Chanu drew back again, still staring down at Vin. "You're mine. If I have to, I will tie you to this bed and never let you leave this room." He snapped his hips back then again forward, in a more regular rhythm, but the words, the words sent spirals of anticipation from Vin's balls upwards, coiling through his body, and around his desire.
This was a side of his lover he rarely saw - maybe only twice before in the long years they had been together. It wasn't natural to Chanu to be this sort of lover, this sort of man, and even as the secret fantasy he'd harbored seemed to be playing out, he knew this wasn't natural - real, yes, Chanu was angry and possessive and scared.
As wonderful as the fantasy was, as often as he'd played it out in his head when he was alone and lonely for his beloved, having it now wasn't what he wanted, or needed.
"Don't," he whispered, "I need you, Chanu, not - not someone else."
Chanu stared down at him, his tone hard as he said, "I'm not someone else. I'm the other half of you, Vin, the man who loves you. Whatever it is that you need, you can get it from me."
The words warmed Vin, settling him. "You are," he agreed, pulling Chanu down to him. His acquiescence seemed to settle something in Chanu, too; while Chanu made love with the same force and intensity he had earlier, he was softer now, the anger and fear giving way to pleasure and affection.
Chanu came first, his body locking above Vin's, his back arched and head thrown back so that his hair hung around him like a veil. He was beautiful, his sharp features stark in the soft lights of the room and the moons shining through the window, his dark skin almost glowing. It was that image that carried Vin into his own release, and one that stayed with him through the gentle aftershocks as his body gave up what little it had.
Chanu eased down beside him, careful of his wounded face. His arm was warm and heavy as it lay across Vin's chest, holding them as close together as they could manage. For a while, they drowsed, content and sated, until Chanu rose and made his way to the small bath they shared. Vin worried, then, that Chanu would drift out, as he had before, and that the peace they had worked so hard to renew would drift away with him.
But Chanu came back with a wet cloth which he used to clean Vin. Then, still naked, he pulled up the sheets and blanket from the foot of the bed and settled them around the two of them as he pulled Vin back to him.
"I wasn't kidding about never letting you go," he said quietly into Vin's ear. "I don't ever want to go through this again."
Vin turned slightly to kiss him. "That your solution to it all? Trap me here?"
Chanu nuzzled at his neck. "Would it be a trap?"
Vin settled against him, holding on to his hand. "I don't know," he answered honestly. "If it's what comes of this, that I can't do what I've been doing, then I'll find something else. But I can't stop being what I am, anymore than you can."
"I know," Chanu sighed. "But it doesn't mean I have to like it."
Vin swallowed, knowing that if he was ever going to ask the question, now was the time. "Would you rather I move on? That way you won't have to know - "
"Did you hear nothing I said tonight?" Chanu growled. "I love you. I don't want to think of losing you - it doesn't matter by what means." He griped Vin tighter, his hand digging into the space between Vin's ribs. "I don't like the idea that I could lose you - but I will suffer with this if it is meant to be."
Vin let out the breath he had been holding. "I'll be more careful," he promised. "I swear it."
He didn't make promises lightly, swearing even less. Chanu sighed again, but he relaxed the hold he had on Vin.
Sleep was a long time coming, but they lay together in a comfortable and welcome silence, holding on to each other. And when Vin woke the next morning, Chanu was still with him.
"Fool." The word was short and hard and so familiar that Vin didn't even flinch. Which was good, as he would have dropped the board he was struggling to hold in place with one arm while he tried to nail it into place with the other.
"Are you deaf or do you think you know better than everyone else?" Jonah-eh asked flatly as he picked up the end of the board, taking the weight of it off Vin and giving him the freedom to nail it into place.
"Thanks for the help," he said, ignoring the other comments. "Chanu's in his studio."
He hammered in two more nails, refusing to give into the tiredness that was catching up with him . But as he finished and stepped away from the fence, he wiped at his forehead and barely caught the grunt of pain as he touched the healing skin.
"He know you're out here?" Jonah-eh asked, reaching out a hand to catch Vin's elbow.
Vin was just unsteady enough not to pull away at first, but once he caught his breath, he moved out of Jonah-eh's reach. "Yeah," he said, because he had told Chanu that he was tired of sitting on his ass doing nothing.
"Yeah," Jonah-eh said, his tone laced with sarcasm. He turned to walk away but stopped and turned back to look at Vin. "You know what pisses me off the most?" he asked casually.
Vin looked at him, curious despite himself.
Jonah-eh lifted his head. "That you would do something that stupid without thinking of what it would do to him." He tilted his head to one side, indicating the house and Chanu. "He loves you, the damned fool."
He watched Jonah-eh walk away, almost smiling. Jonah-eh had never understood the bond between Chanu and Vin, but he cared about his younger brother. Vin envied them both, because he knew Chanu felt the same for Jonah-eh.
He continued working for a while, slower than he liked and growing more and more tired with each nail, but eventually he managed to repair the fence and it was strong enough to support his weight as he leaned on it.
After a while, Vin heard them, their voices low and easy. They were around the corner, at the kitchen door, Jonah-eh probably leaving. Vin didn't go around, not wanting to break the peace between them or the comfort he took from their companionship. He had always reassured himself with the fact that if anything did ever happen to him, Chanu wouldn't be alone. Jonah-eh would be there to take care of him, to keep him from getting too lost in his work.
Now, that reassurance took on a whole different perspective.
He was still leaning there when Jonah-eh came around, his hands in his pockets, his gaze distant. At first, he didn't seem to notice Vin, and Vin stood still, not drawing attention to himself. They didn't fight every time they saw each other, certainly not when they were dealing professionally, but this wasn't professional.
Jonah-eh walked past him and took several long steps away before slowing to a stop and turning to look back over his shoulder. His dark eyes were thoughtful as he looked at Vin, and Vin took a deep breath, waiting.
"What did you learn from them?" Jonah-eh asked finally, his voice not carrying its standard edge. "In the past, I mean, the other times you met with them."
Vin stared at him, thinking about the question and about how to answer it. But it was too late now to play games with this - the worst they could do was not send him, and in truth, they really couldn't stop him from going if he wanted to. Seemed like they hadn't been sharing everything with him, anyway.
He took a deep breath then answered, "That this ain't a little thing no more. That the Council has decided to make us scapegoats for everything bad going on, whether we really are or not. The Collective might be more political than you want to deal with, but I think they're right about one thing: the Falonites are allied real tight with the Council- too tight. I reckon the Council might even be funding them, Andarchic or no, and they're probably using them to get into every clan they can." He pressed his lips together for a second, then added: "Now why don't you tell me what you know?"
Jonah-eh's thin lips tightened and Vin saw the flash of anger he knew well. But he was surprised by the words that followed. "I had guessed as much. Bastards." He looked away, his hands tightening into fists.
Vin looked away, into the open pastureland that surrounded the house. They had talked about keeping animals, but Chanu didn't have the temperament to watch out for them when Vin was away, so they'd fenced off the area around the house and left the rest open for their neighbors to use. Now, in the far distance, Vin could see the herds grazing in the late afternoon sun, the clouds high and swirling in the blue sky. He missed this when he was in space, the beauty of being planet-side - this planet, anyway.
"I ain't one of 'em," Vin said softly, not looking at the other man, believing the words needed to be said.
Jonah-eh laughed, a low, flat sound, before saying, "I never thought you were." He moved, his footsteps light but audible on the worn path. "If I thought for a minute that you had it in you to be a spy against us, you would've been dead before you came of age."
Vin nodded, understanding and appreciating Jonah-eh's honesty - and his protectiveness of the clan. Vin would have been the same way if the situation were reversed. "Don't think they'd know who I am," he said quietly. "But if there's even a hint of trouble - "
"We'll all be gone," Jonah-eh finished the thought. He stepped up to the fence, leaning on it near Vin but not too close. "No matter what the outcome of your healing, you can't leave for a while. Not until we know we're safe. I've got the clan on lock-down - no one in or out until we can verify who's safe."
Vin nodded, knowing it was the right thing to do but feeling responsible. "I ain't sorry for what I did," he said. "But I am sorry that it's causing everybody else trouble."
He braced himself, waiting for Jonah-eh to make some smart-ass comment that would let him regret voicing his feelings about it all.
Jonah-eh walked over to where he as standing, coming in close enough to lean on the fence and almost touch Vin. "I've told the Elders for while now that we need to tell the people we're sending out what we know, how real the dangers are. How much you need to be ready to deal with. The things that the Falonites do, what they did to you - " He stopped short, his breath catching in his throat.
It took Vin a few seconds to remember that once, long ago, Jonah-eh had been an off-worlder, too, sent out to collect information just as Vin was now. It was one of the things that made him different from the Elders who ran the tribe - he'd had experience in the dangers of being away from the Clan, away from the safety of being hidden.
"We have people who will tell us what the factions do - what their own cells do. That's part of what you don't see, Vin, that it's not just the Falonites against us and against the Collective, it's that each unit, each cell on both sides has its own ideas. The Collective is more dangerous in some ways, because it's not unified. What Dulle and Cairn are thinking of doing may not be accepted by the Collective majority - but there's little way to stop them. The Falonites are more organized - but even they have their own personal internal problems." He paused, swallowed, then turned to look at Vin. The side of Vin's face that had been injured was the side toward Jonah-eh, and Vin could almost feel those dark eyes on him, tracing the lines that were healing but still visible. "Royal wants you," he said quietly. "He's a collector of a sort - he likes his tattoos, thinks of them as works of art. You're 'unfinished', as I understand it, and he's making it a priority to track you down. Especially since your father's put one hell of a price on your head - for capture, not killing. He wants you bad."
Vin tried not to shiver at the name or the idea; the nightmares were coming on strong now that he had cut back on the pain medication, and Royal played a prominent role in them. As did the man whose genes he carried. "Reckon I should leave, then," he said, nauseous at the very idea of Royal getting anywhere near Chanu. The Clarion was still in the area, and would be for a while; he could get Chris to take him somewhere, maybe lead Royal away from this area entirely -
"One would think that you would understand the way of the clan by now," Jonah-eh sighed. "And one would think that you would know the hearts of your own family. I don't understand why you distrust me, but you are a brother to me, Vin. Family. I won't let you go out there now, not just for Chanu, but for me."
The words were not as much a surprise as he wanted to pretend. He knew Jonah-eh cared for him - as he cared for Jonah-eh. He also knew that part of Jonah-eh's anger with him stemmed from the fear of something happening to him, not just for what it would do to Chanu but because Jonah-eh did care for him.
Before he could say anything, Jonah-eh went on. "Kojay and the Elders believe that we have to keep information - and informants - separate, not just for the safety of the clan but for the informants, too. If Royal had managed to break you, he would have found out everything you know. It would have endangered not only the clan but also our other informants and what they can find out. It's harsh, but it's true. We can't share everything we know with you and the others or between you and the others."
Vin sighed, but he understood. Perhaps he always had, but it had taken this thing, this attack on him, personally, and the fear of it happening to the people he cared about, to make him realize that this was as serious as - well, it was.
And to understand that Kojay and the Elders - and Jonah-eh - knew far more than he had realized.
"Guess I forgot that I ain't the only one out there," he said.
Jonah-eh nodded, looking out over the field before them. "It's easy to do when you're out there alone. I know that. I know what it's like to be out there, with no one else that you can trust, few that you know." His tone was softer now, and Vin thought he might be lost in a few of his own memories. "I always worried about forgetting where home was, not being able to get back - or getting back and finding out that everyone had moved on. It was funny - we're Drifters, we have no tie to one place, but I'm tied to my family - to Kojay and Chanu and you and everyone else I care about." He shook his head, the long braid he wore dragging across the thick fabric of his shirt. "It's what we have to do, Vin, to protect all of us."
He fell silent for a while, giving Vin time to consider his words - to consider their sincerity.
"I know," he said eventually. "I just . . .things here, in the clan, I guess because it seems so . . . well, safe. So stable. I guess it's easy for me to think that everything here is . . ."
"Protected and simple and sheltered?" Jonah-eh finished for him. "I know. But it's not. And that's what you forgot. We all come and go - leave when we want, drift as we want. We can do it at a moment's notice - it's drilled into us from the time we're born. It was in you, too, whether you remember it or not. Your mother came here with you inside her, and she lived our life with you."
The shift in the conversation unsettled Vin; Jonah-eh had been old enough to know his mother, to remember her in ways Vin didn't. "I know all that," he said, shifting away from Jonah-eh. "I know all the back-up plans and routines, where to look if I come back and y'all ain't here. It's just easy sometimes to not think on that, that we might have to do that."
"Yes," Jonah-eh agreed, "it is. But don't. We are the same people that we were when your mother came here, Vin. She found shelter here, a place to hide from your father, a place to keep you safe." He pushed away from the fence and turned so that he was facing Vin. "Just because you lost her doesn't mean that you're going to lose the rest of us. You've got to get past that fear, or you'll make more mistakes - and we can't afford those."
Vin stiffened, annoyed at the words, at the tone, but more at the fact that he knew Jonah-eh was right. "Ain't none of your business," he said sharply, pushing away from the fence.
Jonah-eh reached out and caught him by the shoulder, stopping him. "It is my business, Vin - you're my business. You're part of this clan and part of my family, and you're also one of my best information gatherers. But you cannot forget that you are part of us, too, that anything that happens to you affects us all." His fingers were tight on Vin's shoulder and they got tighter as he forced Vin to turn to face him. He stared straight into Vin's eyes as he asked, "What do you think Chanu would have done when he heard you had been taken - and he would have, Vin, you know it and I know it. Word would have come back to us." He paused and his face tightened as he added slowly, "It already had. I received word of your capture and had told Kojay. We were trying to figure out what plan to put into play when we got the Clarion's message - broadcast on our frequency."
Vin grinned despite himself. "He didn't get that from me," he said.
Jonah-eh nodded, loosening his grip on Vin's shoulder but not letting go. "We know - he was honest in his answers when we challenged him, said he'd been collecting transponder codes for the different clans for years. It's not hard to figure out the frequencies once you have several codes and know where they reach." He shook his head and Vin knew he was considering how to overhaul the whole Drifter system. Chris' accumulated knowledge - well, his and Josiah's together - had gone a long way to breaking the layers of security. If they could do it, it was a wonder that the Council hadn't. Or the Falonites.
That thought brought him back to the conversation at the same time that Jonah-eh went on. "Don't forget that Chanu is a Drifter. He knows how to leave this planet - and he does leave, when he wants to. I admit that I don't consider his trips for his art to be on the same level of danger that your trips are, but he does know how to come and go at will. He would go after you, Vin - we all know it. You know it."
He did. Even as his stomach lurched and his brain froze, the truth of it clamored at him from the back of his mind and the base of his spine. He'd had nightmares of Royal coming here and getting his hands on Chanu. The idea of Chanu going to him, falling into his hands while trying to get Vin out -
"No." The word came out as a croak, the fear clogging his throat. The ground under him seemed to shift, tilting a little, then Jonah-eh's hands caught at his elbows and he was pulled against the other man.
"Hey! What the hell - " The voice was distant but angry, and Vin tried to draw back. But Jonah-eh's arms were strong and he was tired and Jonah-eh answered, his words so close that they hurt.
"It's all right, Chan, he's just working too hard, too soon. You know how he is." The arms around him tightened just a little and he felt the broad width of Jonah-eh's chest, larger than Chanu's. Wider. As were his shoulders, Vin thought. Wide enough to carry the clan.
That was the thought that stayed with him as he got his feet back under him, pushing away from Jonah-eh only to find Chanu at his side. "Yeah," Chanu said, one arm slipping easily around Vin's waist and drawing him in close. "Stubborn and foolish. You did too much, didn't you."
Vin looked at Jonah-eh and saw the affection in his eyes - for Chanu, but for Vin, too. "Thanks," he said.
Jonah-eh nodded his understanding of all that was left unsaid between them. "Get some rest." He nodded to his brother and walked away, his stride easy and graceful, leonine.
"You gonna make me jealous, hanging on him and now staring," Chanu murmured. But he kissed Vin's shoulder, careful to avoid touching his face. "Let's get you inside."
They made love slow and easy, at Vin's instigation and with him on top. When Chanu was deep inside him and he was staring down at the strong lines of his beautiful face pulled tight in a rictus of pleasure, his mind flashed on the image he'd seen in the mirror, the ugly discolored lines on his own face, twisted and magnified and made even more hideous by his own fertile imagination
"Vin!" Chanu called, groaning, his hips thrusting upward. "What's wrong?"
The movement brought him back to himself, and his body took over, ignoring the random neural firings in his head. Afterwards, as he lay sprawled on his back, catching his breath, and Chanu was flush against him, he said, "I'll always come back to you. Always."
Chanu didn't answer for awhile, not until his breathing slowed and the sweat was drying on his chest where it pressed against Vin's ribs. "I know you will," he said softly, pushing up onto his elbow so he could look into Vin's eyes. "But I want you to come home alive, mesuu. Not in an urn."
Vin smiled at him, but the quiver in his belly was back and he was glad he wasn't standing up; he was already weak enough from the sex, and his legs felt the way they had earlier, with Jonah-eh. "You know I'd come back to you - as long as I know where to find you. You'd wait for me, wouldn't you?"
Chanu held his stare, and even though he smiled, there was nothing amused in his words or his tone of voice as e said them. "I'll come for you, Vin. I'll always come for you."
For the first time, Vin hoped the scar was deep and hideous, making the decision for him.
"That's as good as it's going to get." Vin swallowed but watched Chanu's face, his eyes, as he studied the scar. They were in Chanu's workroom, the morning sun streaming in through the sun roof Vin had installed for his lover. Chanu had wanted to go with him this morning to see Jahnaavi-ayuu, but Vin had insisted on going alone. As per their compromise on the issue, Vin had come straight back home to Chanu before talking to anyone else.
Chanu frowned and leaned in close, so close that Vin couldn't see his eyes. But he could see the corner of his mouth, the little wrinkles as his lips tightened. "It is permanent?"
Vin took a deep breath before answering. "Jahnaavi-ayuu says there is little else he can do. It is barely noticeable at a distance, and he thinks I can use some things to blend into the skin so that it will look more like a birthmark."
Which meant he could travel off world if he wanted - he could Drift. It might be more difficult for him, but it could be done. If he wanted to.
Chanu eased back but his hands caught Vin's arms, holding on to him. "So you will leave," he said softly and his gaze caught Vin's.
Vin didn't look away. He'd thought about this for too long, now, since that first morning, when he'd awakened with enough awareness to be able to think. That first morning when he'd found someone other than Chanu in their bedroom. "I will do what we decide," he said softly. "Both of us." Because there was no way he'd put Chanu at risk - and Jonah-eh was, damn him, right: Chanu would come for him.
In the days since he'd talked to Jonah-eh and Chanu, he'd gone through several stages of anger - at the stupidity of the very idea that Chanu would do this, then at the idea that the two brothers were blackmailing him, in a way - but he had now arrived at the acceptance of it. It was still hard for him to wrap his head around the idea that Chanu loved him that much, but he didn't doubt his lover or his lover's brother.
Chanu smiled, soft and warm, and he leaned forward once more, this time to press his lips against Vin's. When he drew back, he said, "Your friends are back. They came while you were with Jahnaavi-ayuu and Kojay."
That meant Chris and Josiah. His stomach fluttered with a touch of anxiety but before it could settle, Chanu tilted his head to one said and said, "I like them. They care for you. Perhaps it is best if you stay with them when you feel the need to Drift."
Vin searched the other man's face, looking for doubt or hesitancy. But Chanu smiled, reaching out to run the tips of his fingers lightly over the scar. It was still sensitive to touch, and always would be, according to Jahnaavi-ayuu. But there was no pain, just a mild discomfort that set off that tingling in his groin that he tried to ignore. "You will come back to me, though," Chanu went on and this time, Vin knew he wasn't talking about what had happened with Royal or any of the situations like that.
"I always have," he said. "Reckon I always will."
"Even if it's your father?" Chanu asked, and Vin felt the fear in him.
He should have expected it; Chanu knew better than anyone how much he missed his mother, how hard it was for him to accept the love of his clan-family. But of all of them, Chanu was also the one he loved best and trusted most. Far more than he ever would the man who had driven his mother away. "My father is here, my whole family is here," he answered. "That man is not a part of me. You are. This is home, Chan, you are. I'll come back to you."
Chanu nodded. "Just as I will always come for you, no matter what."
There was a knock at the studio door and Chanu took a step back. But his fingers lingered on Vin's face as he called, "Come in."
"Bad time?" Chris asked, but he walked in anyway, not waiting for an answer. Vin suspected it wouldn't have mattered. "We brought back some information about Royal and his cell, thought you'd like to be along when we talk to Jonah-eh and Kojay."
Vin jerked back, more in surprise than with intent. Chanu's hand fell away but Vin reached out and caught it, holding his lover's fingers. "You going after them?"
Chris shrugged. "Depends on what Kojay and Jonah-eh want to do. That's what we're here to talk about." He looked at Vin's face, his eyes sharp. "You all right to travel?"
Vin hesitated, looking at Chanu before answering. "Depends on the situation."
Before Chris could question, Chanu cut in, "It will not be easy for him. I would ask, Captain Larabee, that when he goes off-world, as he will, that he travel with you, or at least with your knowledge."
Chris glanced at Chanu, then back at Vin. "Vin's his own man," he said tightly. "But if you're asking me to watch his back, then you got no need to. I wouldn't have it any other way." He nodded once then turned and strode to the door, his boots loud on the hardwood floor of the room. But when he reached it, he turned back. "You two coming?"
Vin grinned and caught Chanu doing the same. "Reckon so," he answered, but as Larabee left, he tugged Chanu back to him, holding him close. Holding on to home.
Under the Harvest Moon
by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
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