Breath Like a Passing Shadow
© Carole Cummings
Written for the
Publications’ “Giving Thanks” promotion.
Character chosen by the winner: Fen + surprise character
He’s sitting bolt upright before he’s even awake. Driven from
sleep in a wash of cold fear, tearing at the cottony strands of
dreams, pulling him from one strange world and into another, and
he doesn’t understand this bewildering stretch of reality any
more than the one he just left. A cry, Malick’s sure of it
because his ears still ring with it; what felt like an explosion
right next to him, and one hand reaches towards it while the
other snaps to a knife that’s not there. He gropes at his bare
hip for a second before he registers the tremor beneath his
other hand; it’s landed on Fen’s shoulder, instinctively
hold-grip-grasping, and the shivers that wrack up through
Malick’s palm are what finally wipe the sleep from his mind,
snap him to full-awareness between one heartbeat and the next.
A flinch and a stuttered gasp. Fen slumps, the knobs of his
spine jutting into Malick’s palm. A shudder slides through him
and Malick can feel Fen trying to shrug off Malick’s hand, but
Malick doesn’t let go; he tugs instead, tries to turn Fen a
little, get a look at his face, but Fen almost cringes this
time, drops his head to his upthrust knees, balls in on himself,
so Malick lets go.
“You’re shivering,” Malick whispers, gathers the scratchy
blanket and bunches it around Fen’s shoulders, slides his arm
around him and ignores the bit of a pull against his cautious
hold. He rubs a hand, firm and swift, up and down Fen’s arm,
chafing, the other over his back through nubbly wool. “It’s all
right, it’s over now.” His voice is thick and a little scratchy,
so he clears his throat, tries to make it soft and unthreatening
as he moves in closer, wraps himself around Fen. He tells
himself he’s not really rocking Fen like a sentimental auntie if
he’s just moving with the sway of the boat. “Are you cold?”
Stupid question, and it’s just as well that Fen doesn’t answer
Malick peers at the open hatch and the shadows cast by moon and
stars, notes they haven’t moved very far across the decking of
their tiny berth; sleep is only less than an hour old, then. He
sighs a little, pulls Fen closer, and Fen burrows into Malick’s
chest now, shakes so hard that Malick thinks Fen’s bones might
start to rattle.
It’s warm enough, really, warmer than it will be in Tambalon
once they get there, and even this thin nothing of a blanket
should be entirely unnecessary. Still, Malick (hopefully)
unobtrusively bundles Fen into it every night, makes sure it’s
bunched and wadded into the nest Fen seems to prefer. It’s like
sleeping inside a furnace to Malick, more often than not
twisting and sweaty by the wee hours, but Fen never seems to be
warm enough; Malick doesn’t quite know what it’s about, but
there are so many things from which to choose, so he doesn’t
“Another dream?” No answer, but Malick didn’t really expect
one. He dips his head and whispers into Fen’s hair: “Tell me how
The shaking doesn’t slacken, but Malick can feel Fen trying to
calm it, trying to calm himself. Fen shakes his head after a
moment, answers, “Just a dream,” in a voice harsh and cracked
right down the middle, and he tries to laugh, but it’s like he’s
got broken glass sharding in his throat, blocking breath.
Malick’s just as glad that Fen chokes the brittle thing off
Malick tightens his hold. “Then tell me what.” Fen slumps into
him more heavily, turns his head until his face is buried in
Malick’s chest. Malick waits for a moment, before he prods,
“Sometimes saying a thing out loud takes away its power.”
Fen only shakes his head again, looses something that tries to
be another laugh but comes out an exhausted sob this time. “And
sometimes it gives them more.” Still jittering, still wound
tight as coiled wire.
Malick has seen this so many times now, but this seems
different—more intense than usual. More visceral.
Caidi, then. Has to be. Malick is not privy to all of Fen’s
nightmares, because Fen won’t talk about them, but he sometimes
can’t help what he says in his sleep, so Malick has some idea.
He doesn’t know how many times Fen has watched his little sister
die in his dreams, but once would be too much.
Malick turns a little so that he makes himself a shelter around
Fen. “Tell me what you need.”
Fen chokes this time, probably trying not to weep now, and the
shaking ramps up another few notches. A hard little knot blooms
in Malick’s gut and he swallows a thick, abrupt blockage in his
He was right, it’s different tonight, and why he can’t say, but
this isn’t how it usually goes. Fen wakes from a dream or Malick
does it for him, Malick does what comforting Fen will allow,
says his lines until Fen gruffly refuses him, or maybe seduces
him to shut him up, and then they settle back in, wake in the
morning and pretend neither of them remembers the night before.
Funny how something so sturdily denied has become almost
routine. But this….
There have been no tears before, no fear so vivid and alive that
Malick can almost feel it seeping from Fen’s skin to his own.
This is different. More.
Maybe not Caidi, then. Maybe….
Malick’s mouth presses into a sour line before he can help it.
“Asai?” he asks evenly.
Fen goes still, like he’s stopped breathing, even, the shaking
still humming between them, but now there’s something else
there, too, and it suddenly feels to Malick as though he’s
thrown a gauntlet he hadn’t even known was in his hand.
Fen draws back slowly, looks at Malick for the first time, eyes
bright and almost fevered in the weak light, glittering deep and
dark with flecked-gold stars in strange constellations that make
Malick’s own eyes narrow because he sometimes doesn’t know the
shapes of these things that live in the fathoms of Fen’s eyes.
Malick’s heart has tripped up, beats an unsteady pulse in his
chest, behind his brow, and it seems to him somehow that the
rock of the boat and the resultant shift of moonlight in Fen’s
eyes keeps rhythm with it, and he doesn’t know why that should
be so unsettling, but it is.
“Asai?” Fen’s eyes have narrowed, suspicious.
Malick sighs, perturbed beyond reason that there is fear
suddenly lumping in his gut. He’d never once feared Asai while
he was alive, and the fact that his ghost seems to have the
power to not only haunt Fen but lash a knot in Malick’s chest is
annoying as hell. He wonders uneasily how he’s somehow gone from
trying to soothe and comfort to unreasonable defense of… of
nothing, actually, and really—what the hell? He’s fucking
Temshiel, for pity’s sake. What’s he got to be afraid of?
He sets his jaw, gives a helpless shrug he hadn’t intended.
“Maybe.…” He has to flick his eyes away, has to keep his hands
from fisting. He’s being absurd. “He deserved it, Fen,” he
finally says, turns his gaze back to Fen’s, makes himself keep
it there. “And he gave you no choice in the end, did he.” Not
really a question. His voice has gone flat, not at all the
comforting tones he’d meant. “It’s wasted guilt. He doesn’t
deserve it. He never did.” His teeth clench and he rakes a hand
through his hair. “What is it about him? Why can’t you
just… let him go? You can’t keep—”
It’s cut off abruptly, because Fen’s kissing him, shutting him
Malick’s mind blanks for a moment, the instant warm thrill
taking him as it always has, but his brain is still buzzing at
him, warning him, and his hands reach up to grasp at Fen’s arms;
he means to pull himself back, heed the alarm that’s drilling
through his head, but Fen pushes at him, forces Malick back,
down and down, until he’s sunk deep into the hard little bunk,
Fen stretching out atop him, and the shock of cool skin against
him, Fen’s hip pressing into his groin, makes all sense leave
Malick in a small needy groan. Fen has stoppered Malick’s mouth,
his mind, everything but his instincts, and those rise to the
surface now, guide his hands. He strengthens his hold on Fen’s
arms, pushes him back, tears his mouth away; Fen fights
him—actually fights him—pushing at him, even growling a
little as he drives down, hands grasping at Malick’s shoulders
hard enough to hurt, scrabbling for purchase.
There’s nothing for Malick to do but turn all of his strength on
Fen, push him and turn him, wind a leg around Fen’s thighs and
take firm hold of both wrists. Malick presses Fen down into the
bunk and lets weight and leverage do the rest. Fen bucks,
actually snarls this time, arching his back and twisting
his wrists. He tries to slide a leg out from under Malick’s, and
Malick has to really try now to keep him down, has to apply all
Fen doesn’t listen. Malick’s not even sure he can hear. He’s
never seen Fen this… wild, not when it didn’t involve
actual battle, the gleam from the moonlight in Fen’s eyes
turning his gaze into something halfway mad and nearly searing
through Malick’s chest with stymied wrath and almost—almost
hatred. He can see Fen’s fury seething, can see the look of
thwarted intent, and it unnerves him—unnerves him a lot—but he
can also see fear beneath it all, almost terror. It removes him
from the moment a little, allows him to understand that the
near-violence of it is really something else entirely.
“Fen,” he says steadily, lifting his voice to be heard over
Fen’s frustrated growling, but hopefully not loud enough to
catch anyone else’s attention. “Fen, you don’t have to do this.”
Fen’s still fighting him, but his movements are going weak and
jerky, his chest rising and falling too quickly in what Malick
thinks are truncated sobs, but Fen’s eyes are dry, blazing.
“Fen, you don’t have to tell me just because I ask, all right?
And you don’t have to fuck me just to shut me up—just tell me
not to ask and I won’t.”
The fight goes out of Fen all at once, his whole body sinking
into the bunk, breath frail as a passing shadow, but there’s
still tension running through him, Malick can feel it, the
steady hum vibrating up his own spine. Fen closes his eyes,
turns his face away and he shakes his head a little. He doesn’t
look wild anymore—he looks… defeated.
“You will,” Fen says, voice nothing more than a harsh whisper,
but the accusation in it is still clear. “You….” He shakes his
head again, his wrists twitching a little in Malick’s grasp, but
it isn’t even a half-hearted attempt this time. “You have
to, it’s… it’s who you are.”
Malick stares for a moment, long enough to watch Fen’s
expression change once again, from a soft sort of resentment to
realization and then waver between guilt and defiance. It annoys
Malick to see that there, that self-reproach; annoys him even
more to know there is no question he put that look there,
because Fen’s right: Malick will ask because he has to, he can’t
not ask, even when he thinks he doesn’t really want to know.
Thing is, Malick’s got a job to do here, he’s not done yet—in
truth, he’s pretty sure he’ll never be done with Fen, job or
no—and he can’t know if he can take that next step unless he
knows if Fen’s ready to take it with him. And he won’t know
unless he keeps asking.
Malick dips his head, rests it lightly to Fen’s shoulder, tries
to sigh away the odd sort of rage that’s crowding his chest.
“I’m sorry.” He doesn’t think he knew that was coming, he’s not
even sure he means it, but he’s going on instinct now, so he
doesn’t try to take it back.
Fen soughs out a wobbly laugh, small and ironic, but at least
halfway real this time. “No.” He turns his head and lays a long,
tender kiss to Malick’s temple. “You’re not.”
Malick squeezes his eyes shut tighter, deliberately relaxes his
grip on Fen’s wrists.
All right, true enough, but… in another way, it’s not true at
He pulls himself up to his elbows, hands only loosely resting on
Fen’s forearms now, but not entirely relaxed, not yet. He opens
his eyes, peers down cautiously to find Fen looking back, calm
now and resigned, but still closed, still wary.
“You’re right.” Malick’s voice isn’t as steady as he’d like it
to be. “Because I can’t… I mean you can’t… you always….”
Fuck it. He doesn’t know what he should say, so he just opens
his mouth and spills what’s churning in his chest: “Sometimes
you need me to ask you.” The words come a little less haltingly
now. “Sometimes you want to tell, and maybe you won’t ever want
to tell me… tell me this….” Fen looks away, and Malick
falters a bit, but he sets his jaw, says, “But I can’t risk
missing the chance to… to—”
“To save me?” A horrible, breathless little laugh, and Fen
shakes his head; he still won’t look at Malick. “You don’t know
how. And you wouldn’t if you did.”
Fen’s voice is cold, clearer than it’s been since he woke, and
Malick has to grit his teeth, has to really concentrate to keep
himself from being as deeply offended as he wants to be at the
near-cruelty of it. He resists the urge to jerk back at the
phantom stinging slap of it, resists the urge to bite back just
as viciously, because it’s a distraction and he knows it. Fen’s
pushing, pushing away, and he knows all the right places
to jab, doesn’t he; Malick can either let him or fight him, and
there’s no real question which he’ll choose, but the methods of
confrontation have changed since Malick caught on.
“Yeah,” he answers, and it comes out a little angrier in tone
than he’d like, but he supposes there’s no real help for that.
“Yeah, I know a little too well what your idea of ‘saving’ is,
and you’re right—I wouldn’t.” His voice is growing rough with…
some reactionary emotion he can’t quite name. “I will keep
asking, I have to, but you don’t have to—”
“Fuck, please, can we….” Fen turns his head finally,
peers up at Malick, weary and sad. “I don’t….” His eyes are
glistening again and he squeezes them shut for a long moment
before meeting Malick’s gaze again. “Just not… now.” His
eyes turn pleading. “Please. Not now.” Something like
desperation leaks into his tone, and he whispers, “All right?”
in a voice that makes Malick feel like a ruthless bully.
Bloody hell, this is exactly what Malick hadn’t wanted to
do—turn this into another round of cornering Fen until he thinks
he has no choice but to retreat. All he’d wanted was to stop all
of the saying-things-without-saying-them guessing games, remind
Fen that he’s not a ghost and he doesn’t deserve to be haunted
by those who are.
It’s all gone wrong somehow, and Malick wishes he knew how,
wishes he knew what to do about it, but all that’s left
for him now is to wait. Malick hates waiting, but it’s
all too clear that Fen isn’t ready; pushing him now—pushing him
about anything, let alone even mentioning the word
“Incendiary”—would be a cruelty.
“All right,” Malick says, voice soft and smooth, and he ducks
down, lays a quick, chaste kiss to Fen’s mouth before pulling
away completely. He rolls to his back, keeps one hand extended,
only barely resting against Fen’s hip—patient invitation, as
opposed to demand—and closes his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Fen says, and that tremor is back in his voice
And it’s strange, because Malick has seen Fen afraid before, but
until only recently, he doesn’t think he’s ever heard this
voice, all quiet and timid and wobbly-cadenced; there’s
something about it that’s just so wrong. If Malick had
one wish in the world right now, he thinks he would wish that he
never again had to hear Fen’s voice with that timid smallness
beneath it. It doesn’t belong there, it’s just not
“Don’t.” Malick extends his fingers and runs a soft touch over
the jut of Fen’s hipbone. “Don’t be sorry. It’s yours to tell or
not tell, I won’t question that or demand otherwise, so long as
you know you can, if you want to.”
There. Too small for the enormity of it all, he thinks, but more
will just drive the wedge deeper between them. It’s as plain as
he can make it without making it everything, and it will just
have to do.
“And what if….” Fen turns a little—in, not away. “What if I
never want to?”
Except Malick hears, And what if I never can? and he only
just keeps his fingers from tightening.
“Then that’s yours, as well.” He means to leave it at that, but
he’s been trusting his instincts thus far, and perhaps they’re
not as honed as they used to be, but they’ve not actually failed
him yet. He turns in just a little, just enough to give the
illusion of moving closer without actually crowding. “You’re
right, I can’t stop asking, because I think sometimes you need
to be reminded that there are people who care about you, people
who want to be there for you, and that you don’t always have to
do everything alone.” He finds his throat tightening, so he
swallows. “I can’t stop being one of those people.”
Fen stares at Malick, a soft frown twisting his brow. Malick
cards back over what he’s just said, wonders if he’s somehow
sunk home a blade he hadn’t known he was wielding; it’s so hard
to avoid the wrong things anymore—there are so damned many
of them. But then Fen merely turns fully onto his side, shrugs
down into the pillow and closes his eyes. His hand slides slowly
over Malick’s bicep, settles there, and Malick supposes that’s
close enough to acceptance and trust for now.
Fen’s hand is cold, despite the warm weather and the blanket and
the humid contact of skin-on-skin; Malick once again silently
rages at the unfairness of it all. He wants to fold in too,
wants to just wrap himself around Fen and hold on, but he’s
learned how to be careful, learned to stay close but not stifle,
to push but not shove, so he only closes his eyes,
pretends at sleep. He thinks it’s likely to be something at
which he’ll become fairly practised; someone has to stand the
night-watch, after all.
“It’s the silence,” Fen says—whispers it, really.
Malick thinks it should have startled him, coming out of the
dark like a ghost as it did.
Fen’s hand tightens a little on Malick’s arm. “It’s always so
cold and so… so empty.”
This is a different voice, one that’s like Fen’s and not at the
same time, soft and cadenced, like he’s reciting a poem or
telling a story, but raw with things hidden inside it, things
Malick can almost define, can almost touch, almost familiar,
but near-defiantly obscured beneath the hoarse rasp of what was
once a voice smooth and deep. This voice, Malick thinks, belongs
to Jacin. Malick ignores the little part of his mind that wants
to paw and tease at this one thing until he unravels it
completely. He keeps his eyes shut, unwilling to break the
spell, and simply listens.
“It’s empty but it’s not,” Fen goes on. “There are… there are
ghosts in there.”
A small shudder; Malick almost tells him, Stop, you don’t
have to do this, not for me, and he thinks Fen really is
doing it for him, some kind of arse-backwards apology Malick
didn’t ask for and doesn’t need, but he’s pretty sure Fen knows
that; he’s also pretty sure Fen needs this, even if he doesn’t
know it and won’t admit it—Malick wouldn’t have pushed, else—and
if he needs to think he’s doing it for Malick, why should Malick
say different? He keeps quiet.
“I suppose it’s only fair I should be haunted,” Fen continues on
in that same strange, wondering voice.
Caidi? His father? Asai? Malick doesn’t know, it could be
any one of them, or maybe even someone else altogether he hasn’t
even heard about yet. He doesn’t ask.
“I don’t want to hear them.” The thick silence of breath held
too long, growing weight and clotting too solid. “I don’t want
to… to be… this.”
Malick frowns. “And just what is it that you think you are?”
Fen falls into silence, now, heavy and expectant, like he’s just
lying there waiting for Malick to turn away. Malick opens his
eyes, turns his head, meets Fen’s resigned stare with calm
intent, tips toward him and lays a soft kiss to his mouth. He
doesn’t linger, doesn’t allow the action to imply request or
intent; he merely pulls back, reaches out and draws Fen to him,
tucks him beneath his arm, and gently guides the dark head to
his shoulder. Fen is a little stiff, perhaps still wary, but he
complies, slides a tentative arm across Malick’s ribs in
something closer to habit than any real acceptance, Malick
thinks, but small victories are called such for a reason.
“We’re all haunted,” Malick says, and he’s not sure if he’s
somehow answering to what Fen’s just said, encouraging him to
say more, or simply stating a given.
Cold fingertips brush lightly over Malick’s breastbone, and only
the fact that he can feel the tremors vibrating through them
prevents Malick from flinching away. He’s glad, because he
thinks that would kill something very important before he’d even
given it a chance to birth itself. Every single thing between
them in this fragile moment is vulnerable, breakable, and he
thinks it might take every bit of caution he can scrape together
to keep himself from blundering and shattering it all into a
million little pieces of thwarted trust.
“I can’t stop it,” Fen goes on, and his voice—calm and low and
distant—makes Malick frown harder. “Sometimes I can’t even
breathe through it, and I keep waiting to… to….” He doesn’t say
it, but Malick hears it anyway; it makes Malick tense up and
slit his eyes. If Fen notices, he doesn’t react, only goes on in
that same small tone, “I can’t fucking breathe.”
Malick strokes firmly up and down Fen’s arm, over the knobs of
his spine, until he feels some of the tension runnel out through
his fingertips. “You know you can always—”
“Don’t fucking pretend like you know,” Fen snarls, abrupt
fury. “Don’t pretend like you know what it’s like to try, to
stop holding your breath for just a minute, just to see what
it’s like, and it’s all sunshine and clear skies, and it’s so
cruel, a dream that’s really just another nightmare in disguise,
because you start to think maybe it’s all done with you, you
can go back again, maybe it’s not really all so bad, and you
look around you, and everyone you love is there, and they laugh
and… and you laugh, too, because you’re so bloody relieved
you almost weep, but you can’t….” An actual sob now, soft and
half-choked, throttled, and his fingers dig into Malick’s chest
hard enough to hurt. “…you can’t make them see you, they
look right through you, and then you realise you’re invisible,
you really are a ghost, and you think maybe if you can just make
someone hear you, you’ll… maybe you can just… but then
you call out, and you can’t hear your own voice, so you start
screaming, at least you think you do, and then the ghosts
are there, waiting—just waiting, patient as fucking
Fate—and you know that at least they… someone—something,
at least—will answer… acknowledge, but—”
He breaks off, and Malick’s just as glad, because he’s not sure
he’s breathed since Fen’s wandering, stygian-sombre monologue
began, and he doesn’t know if he can just lie hear and listen
to this anymore, yet retreating and regrouping is not a
consideration, and he has no idea what he can possibly say.
It’ll be all right, I’ll make it all right, and it’s an old
mantra, has almost become a talisman, but it sounds weak now,
and close to absurd, because will it really? Will it ever really
be all right again?
he thinks stubbornly, squeezes Fen a little tighter against him,
but I’ll make damned sure it’s at least close.
“Sorry,” Fen whispers, bleak and broken, and Malick’s not sure,
but he thinks that tone is what bothers him the most out of
everything that’s happened since he woke up with his heart in
his throat. A wet, messy sniffle and Fen rubs at his face like
he’s embarrassed, like he’s trying to wipe away all traces of
his accidental sorrow. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know
“Next time,” Malick says, pitches his voice to cut
through Fen’s almost desperate mumbled apologies, and he
tightens his grip in case Fen seizes on flight as an alternative
to facing this most uncharacteristic of self-exposures. “Next
time,” he repeats, a little more softly, “call for me.”
Fen stills now, freezes almost, like Malick’s suddenly hanging
on to so much breathing stone. Or fissured glass, his
mind whispers at him, so he stills, too, afraid to move and
shatter whatever fragile hold Fen’s grasping for, afraid to
breathe, even. He waits, stares unseeing at the shadows slinging
silver and indigo over the low, planked ceiling, until he feels
Fen’s hand move, flatten out over Malick’s breastbone by
painfully small increments, and perhaps it’s Malick’s
imagination, but he thinks the tremors have subsided. A long,
deep breath pushes Fen’s chest into Malick’s ribs, and Malick
takes a breath himself now, notices the tension that’s wound
into his shoulders and arms and forcibly relaxes it.
“Have you ever done?” he asks Fen, at once relieved that his
voice is still so steady, and shaken anew because it only now
occurs to him that perhaps Fen has called to him in
dreams, and he doesn’t know if that phantasm in Fen’s head can
be trusted to answer.
“Ever done… what?” Fen wants to know.
Malick dares to reach up, slide a hand into Fen’s hair, stroke
softly and let it run through his fingers like a dark, silky
waterfall. “Have you ever tried to call for me,” Malick answers.
“In your dreams.”
A pause and Fen rubs his face again, shifts a little, but he
doesn’t shift away. “No,” he answers after a moment,
slides a tentative hand to curl against Malick’s ribs. “No, I
don’t think… don’t think I….” A sigh this time, and he
slumps a little, lets himself rest more heavily against Malick.
“Anyway, I can’t really remember.”
Malick can’t always tell when Fen’s telling the truth anymore,
so he’s not sure if he should believe that one, but he supposes
he doesn’t have much of a choice.
“Then you can’t really know,” he reasons. “Do it next time—call
for me, and I’ll hear you.” He slides down on the pillows, turns
a little, meets Fen’s tired, saturnine gaze with blunt honesty
in his own. “I will always hear you. I will always see you, even
when you try to hide. Haven’t I always done?” As if in reluctant
answer, Fen closes his eyes, dips his head and hides his face.
“And I’ll come,” Malick goes on, undaunted. “You don’t even have
to tell me why.” He dips down, drops a lingering kiss to the
crown of Fen’s head. “All right?”
Malick’s not really expecting an answer, but Fen shrugs, snakes
his arm slowly across Malick’s torso and curls his fingers
against his side. Fen relaxes against him by degrees,
spring-tight muscles slowly unwinding beneath Malick’s hands,
loosening and almost melting beneath kneading fingers. His
breaths are even now, steady; Malick gives it several long, wary
moments, lies still but for the steady movement of his hands up
and down Fen’s spine. He doesn’t know how much time passes
before he lets himself consider that maybe Fen has drifted back
off to sleep—moments are slurring by so strangely tonight, like
they’re both caught inside a dream and don’t even know it—but
the shadows on the decking have slowed to an undulating crawl;
Fen is loose and heavy against him, as near to peace as Malick
thinks he gets anymore.
Malick stretches a little, consciously lets the remaining
tension drain from his limbs, draws a long, careful breath and
decides he doesn’t need to sleep more tonight; he can always kip
tomorrow if he has to.
“Malick?” Fen whispers, soft but not shaky this time.
Malick’s more than a little impressed with himself that he
doesn’t jump. “Hm?” he answers, a low hum meant to be soothing,
and he strokes softly down Fen’s back.
Fen gives a little shiver as Malick’s fingertips travel lightly
down his backbone, says, “Nothing, just….” Fen drags a leg up
and curls it over Malick’s knees, adjusts his head more
comfortably in the hollow of Malick’s shoulder. “Just… nothing,
never mind.” Fen takes a long deep breath, like it’s the first
one he’s had in ages, then blows it out slowly and… settles.
Malick turns that one over in his head, because he doesn’t think
it’s nothing, and he’s fairly certain he knows what Fen didn’t
He thinks yes, that seems to fit a little too nicely, and he
wonders if maybe he should voice some sort of assurance, some
sort of promise. He says nothing, only strokes more firmly over
Fen’s back, and lays another kiss to the top of his head. He
pays very close attention as Fen’s breaths even and slow again,
as his body grows heavy against Malick’s, almost sinking right
into him, as Fen finally drifts into a deep, much-needed sleep.
Malick keeps staring at the ceiling, gently takes up Fen’s hand
and folds his own around it, replaces the chill of Fen’s skin
with the warmth of his own.
He tightens his grip.
Right, then. Night-watch.
He can sleep tomorrow.