Written for the
Publications’ “Giving Thanks” promotion.
Character chosen by the winner: Fen + surprise character
It’s funny, Goyo thinks, how this Fen
Jacin is Hitsuke, but he’s not. How his face is sharp and
angular and beautiful, but the mouth is all wrong—hard and
set—and the cheekbones are too high and the eyes are an
unremarkable gray with only the thinnest ring of the indigo the
irises should be. Were once. Deep and dark like the ocean.
And that’s the funniest thing, Goyo
supposes, that the fathoms are still there in eyes that should
be foreign, but Goyo knows them, recognizes them, has
seen them in dreams he refused to remember up until… well. He
still refuses. There is no point now, like there was no point
then, because though Hitsuke recognizes him too, Goyo can see
Fen Jacin trying not to. Hitsuke’s wrong-but-right eyes stare at
Goyo from a face so set, a body so still it may as well be a
statue, a slab of marble carved into intense angles and thewed
arcs, and so aloof Goyo can’t even tell if Fen is breathing.
It’s a tearoom, like the last time Goyo
had seen Hitsuke, only the chatter isn’t subdued and wary as it
had been in Ada all those lifetimes ago. Fen had wanted neutral
ground, and Goyo had wanted… symmetry maybe, or perhaps it was
an unconscious prod toward reminder. Some kind of We shared
things once, and maybe even a daring We can still, if
Goyo hides a sigh behind his teabowl.
“Naro-yi tells me the Kurimo’s training goes—”
“His name is Morin.” It’s low and even,
but there’s a scrim of threat around it. Fen peers at Goyo
calmly across the table, gaze gold-flecked stormclouds set in a
blank face. He hasn’t touched his tea.
Goyo bows his head in apology, though he
can’t help the faint smile. Hitsuke’s eyes always did give him
away. What they’re giving away now is a little scary, but still.
“Morin. Of course.” Goyo holds out a hand,
palm up, in conciliation. “Naro-yi tells me Morin’s training is
“Naro-yi should perhaps maintain the
privacy of the households to which he’s permitted access.”
Goyo lifts his eyebrows. “Come now, you
must know there are no secrets among the gods and their
servants. And you must know the whole of Mitsu—likely the whole
of Tambalon—is waiting to see if Wolf’s Kurimo will grow into—”
“Wolf is satisfied with his Null, is he
not? And he’s set his hand upon the Kurimo.” It’s said
with a curl of the lip that Goyo finds strangely heartening. Fen
runs his fingertip along the rim of his teabowl. “There’s no
reason to believe Wolf makes his choices lightly.”
That bloody-minded loyalty, that faithful
blindness Hitsuke had never understood would one day end him
and, well. Goyo looks away, jaw tightening. He doesn’t know if
he was afraid of that, exactly, but close enough.
“Mm, so….” Goyo sets down his teabowl and
scrutinizes the grain of the table. He peers up at Fen with a
faint half-lashed smile. “What about his Incendiary?” he asks,
quiet, though it seems anyone who should know already does. It
isn’t as though any of Kamen’s party has anonymity here. Goyo
leans in. “Are you truly Wolf’s, then? Surely submission to
another god is not….” He trails off when Fen’s eyes narrow,
warning, but Goyo can’t not say the things that have been
weighing on him since he understood who Fen is. “You can’t be
serious.” Goyo sits back and shakes his head, wondering, teeth
clenched. “Bloody hell, and here I thought Kamen might actually
truly care for you, but he’s merely Wolf’s pup after all, isn’t
he? A pup, Fen, a child when it comes to the gods’
servants, he can’t possibly know what—” His hands fist. “I
know. I remember. I remember all too well when an
Incendiary was coveted by a god who—”
“Stop.” It’s ice-cold, thin-edged, and
then, lower, “You’ve no right.”
I bloody well do but Goyo doesn’t
say it. He makes himself breathe deeply and tries a different
angle: “You must know that none of this is set until you set it.
I’m told this Morin means a great deal to you.”
“I should hope.” Fen lifts his eyebrow.
“He is my brother.”
Goyo’s mouth wants to pinch tight, wants
to blurt Mortal “brotherhood” means little to us—do you still
not understand you’re not this once-Untouchable Jacin-rei
creature whose mortal bonds can only destroy him like Raven
He doesn’t say that either. Instead, he
says, “Then you should perhaps not allow him to waste his young
life on what Wolf—on what Kamen wants.” He can’t help the
derisive curl. He looks away, and forces calm where there is an
abrupt, seething anger. “Perhaps,” he goes on slowly, “you
should, for once, do what you want.”
Fen’s tone is warning when he says, “It’s
what Morin wants.”
Goyo scoffs. “He’s a child. He has the
luxury of wanting such things. It’s all blood and glory to a
boy. He hasn’t seen what the gods—”
“He’s seen enough.”
“Has he?” The anger boils up into rage.
“Has he seen how the gods betray? How they watch and they wait
while their servant stumbles from one madness to another? All
for the crime of being what he was! Does he know his precious
Wolf left his brother to Raven’s retribution for
lifetimes?” Fen’s hands clench on the table and Goyo doesn’t
care. He’s livid now, breath coming too heavy, and he hadn’t
even realized how astonishingly furious he is. More so,
because it seems Fen isn’t. Goyo’s teeth set so tight it flares
a spike of pain through his temples. “Has he seen them jealous?
Angry? Vengeful? Because I have. I’ve seen it. I
watched it, Hi—” He catches himself too late.
Fen has stiffened up, spine set like an
iron rod, and if the stillness had been illusion before, it’s
“Think, Fen,” Goyo says, softer,
entreating. “All of Hitsuke’s lessons….” Fen’s jaw clenches at
the name, but that’s all. “Please. Don’t let Hitsuke’s pain—your
pain—have been for nothing.”
That gets something—a flash of something
dark and dangerous from Hitsuke’s restless ghost behind Fen’s
Goyo pulls back from it. “I mean no
offence.” It’s hastily said, but sincere. The last thing Goyo
wants is to turn Hitsu—Fen away from him. It would
probably destroy any hope there might be of… damn. Goyo doesn’t
even know what he wants out of this. Snake wants the Incendiary
oath-bound to him, or he wants the Incendiary dead. Goyo wants….
Goyo doesn’t know what he wants. Some kind
of hold on the memory of who Hitsuke had been? What he’d been to
Goyo? What Goyo had been to him?
…What had Goyo been to him?
Goyo shakes his head and reaches out to
keep Fen from snatching up his walking stick and hobbling away.
He falters when Fen looks down at Goyo’s
hand on his wrist and then back up at Goyo. It’s not exactly a
deadly look, but it’s certainly not friendly either. Goyo draws
his hand back.
“Fen, I….” He doesn’t know what to say. If
this really were Hitsuke, Goyo would have no problem at all.
Better—if this really were Hitsuke, given… not a second chance,
because there was nothing like a chance before, but given
something new, something without limits, something with every
possibility that hadn’t existed before, and without the
obstruction of Raven between them….
The could have been of it all just…
Maybe it shows on his face. Maybe what’s
left of Hitsuke recognizes Goyo, just as Goyo recognizes Hitsuke
behind that familiar-unfamiliar gaze. Maybe something still
calls to Hitsuke from deep within the well of Fen Jacin.
Fen stops looking like he means to just
get up and walk away and never look back. He looks down, sets
his fingers around his teabowl and pushes out a flat chuckle.
Strangely, it doesn’t shatter the illusion of still marble
without breath to stir stone.
“I’m not him.” It’s quiet but steady. Fen
looks at Goyo straight, his eyes a little sad now, softer. “I’m
not him. I’m….” He looks away, brow pinched, mouth tight. He
shrugs, almost helpless, before he looks back at Goyo. “I’m
not him.” He sets the teabowl down and takes up the walking
stick. “I’m just… this.” He stands, and though his words are
almost defiant, the tone in which he says them, the way his gaze
is on his hands, it almost seems like an apology. “I can’t be
what you’re looking for.”
Goyo shakes his head, frowning, and makes
himself not reach out again, though he desperately,
desperately wants to. “Fen, no, I wasn’t—”
“I’m sorry you miss him,” Fen cuts in,
soft but firm, final, like the drop of a gallows floor. He bows
his head politely and limps away, that damned walking stick with
Wolf’s blank-eyed grinning face tap-tap-tapping out his
Goyo shuts his eyes tight, shakes his
head, before he calls out, “Fen. Wait.”
The tapping stops and Goyo looks up, says,
“I….” He has to clear his throat, but he grits his teeth and
forces out, “I’m sorry y—” No. Anything started like that will
only come out sounding like I’m sorry you’re not him, and
that’s not what he means. Mostly. “I’m sorry I miss him too,” is
what he ends up saying, and Goyo’s not even sure what he means
by that, but it doesn’t really matter. Fen doesn’t turn around,
just sets his shoulders even tighter and hobbles away.
Goyo sighs out a long breath and watches
him go, lets go, and thinks it’s probably just as well.
Kamen would kill him anyway.
Well. He’d try.
Morin blocks with the bo staff, juts the
lower tip up, as hard and fast as he can, and sets his
teeth when Jacin merely blocks with his left hand and snakes his
right in to snatch-twist-yank. The staff is flying across
the courtyard before Morin realizes it’s out of his hands. He
doesn’t get a chance to yelp or even blink before Jacin’s got
him in a headlock that’s way too brief, and then Morin’s feet
are kicked out from under him. Before his body even registers
the vertigo, Morin is down in the grass, blinking up at Jacin’s
lean frame silhouetted by the late-morning suns.
And Jacin isn’t even armed. Morin
keeps the growl inside his head.
“Fen.” Samin sighs, edging on
exasperation. They’ve been at this a while. “You’re supposed to
be showing him the proper stances, not—”
“If he thinks he’s good enough to mount an
offense,” Jacin cuts in, raspy voice low and too even—for pity’s
sake, does Jacin even breathe?—“he needs to be good
enough to back it up.”
“Bloody hell, Fen.” Malick’s tone is… not
really amused, but giving it a good go, like when he’s
deliberately trying to lighten Jacin’s mood without Jacin
catching on. “Try not to break the boy’s legs before he learns
to hold the thing properly, yeah?”
Morin can’t really see Jacin’s face, what
with it backlit above him, but he’s pretty sure the look Jacin
shoots Malick is fairly deadly. Malick, immune as usual, only
Jacin ignores it all and looks down at
Morin. “You learn the rules first. You learn the proper
positions. Until your body moves without you even knowing it.
Then you figure out which rules you can break.”
Morin grimaces. It’s annoying, because he
wants to be good at this, all of it, and he wants to be good at
it right now, damn it, doesn’t Jacin understand that time
actually moves, and Morin has things to do? People
are dying while Morin lies here in the grass, panting and
squinting into the suns, trying to learn how to be what he’s
going to need to be before it’s too late to save anyone at all,
He peers up at Jacin, looking down at him
calmly, like he knows, and it makes Morin flush and look
away, because of course Jacin does.
Jacin holds a hand down to Morin and waits
until Morin is on his feet with the staff back in his hands
before he says, “Again.”
Chastened, Morin snaps the staff out
crosswise—the proper stance and form—and pays attention this
time when Jacin says, “Diagonal, diagonal, stab. Watch my
Morin does. It’s hard, though. Jacin is
fast, and though he’s trying to slow down his moves to suit
Morin’s capabilities—current capabilities, Morin thinks
stubbornly, because he will be awesome at this, damn
it—they’re still almost a blur as Jacin blocks each move Morin
makes, no matter how quick Morin tries to be.
“Much better,” Samin calls. “That’s it,
follow through with the down-end, just like—good.”
It’s almost hypnotic, the repetition of
the movements, the utter predictability of Jacin’s defenses, and
the equally predictable failure on Morin’s part to get past
them. He knows where Jacin’s hands are going to be, he
knows how Jacin turns his body to block, he knows in
which positions Jacin will plant his feet in the grass when
Morin swings the bo staff in just so.
And yet Morin can’t get past a single one
of Jacin’s defensive moves.
It’s a little embarrassing, actually.
Morin’s sweating. His arms are on fire. His back hurts from
hitting the ground every time he messes up and Jacin catches him
at it—which is every bloody time. His breathing is heavy
and wet and getting painful.
Jacin doesn’t seem to be breathing at all.
Every move he makes has this frustrating efficiency to it, no
extra twirls or wasted flourishes to give an opponent a
convenient opening. He’s not flushed with exertion. He’s not
even bloody sweating.
The anger wells up in Morin—not at Jacin,
really, more at himself, because he needs to be good at
this. He needs to be good at so much more than this. And he’s
not, not yet, but not yet is going to become too late
if he doesn’t start excelling like he should, like Jacin does,
and he thinks, not for the first time, that they’re wrong—Wolf’s
wrong, they’re all wrong—he can’t be this, he’s just a
boy, like Malick said, and who are any of them to set a war to
save the Jin around his neck like a chain so thick and tight he
sometimes can’t bloody breathe.
And fuck, he wants it, somehow he
wants it all. He wants to be that general everyone’s waiting for
him to become. He wants to be that machine Jacin turns into when
he’s got a knife in his hand. He wants to cut swathes through
the injustice his people have suffered for generations. He wants
to show them how to be something other than the slaves they’ve
been taught to be. And he wants to throttle and cut off the
heads of the snakes who would stand in the way of righteousness.
He wants to not fail.
And the fact that he is failing,
every time Jacin successfully blocks a swipe or feints away from
a jab… it makes Morin want to scream.
He’s thinking it one second and doing it
the next, a deep guttural cry crawling up from his chest and
rumbling out his mouth. He grips the bo staff and shoves it out
crosswise again, another cry roaring up when Jacin blocks and
deflects, and again with a sideswipe that Jacin evades like a
slippery mink then repels with a head-on chop that vibrates the
staff almost out of Morin’s hands.
It doesn’t do anything but piss Morin off
more. He’s a flurry of swipes and strikes and jabs, pressing in
as hard as he can, forgetting for now that he’s attacking his
brother, and he’s pretty sure he means to hurt, to inflict some
damage, because he doesn’t think anything else will slake the
thirst of want, the demand inside him right now for
things his body won’t be able to do for probably bloody years,
and the fury just keeps spiking every time the staff doesn’t hit
where Morin is aiming, every time Jacin averts and redirects
with that blank look on his face like he’s not even trying.
Damn it, just getting Jacin out of breath
would be a victory right now, but Jacin just doesn’t cooperate.
He allows Morin his embarrassing little tantrum for uncounted
minutes, then he does that same snatch-twist-yank move
Morin should bloody well know how to counter by now, and Morin’s
in another headlock with his arm twisted up behind his back
before the staff even hits the grass.
He doesn’t flail and curse and hiss like a
little boy. He’s humiliated himself enough today, thanks. He
stills, as much as he can, his heart pounding in his ears, his
chest heaving, lungs sucking in great gulps of air. Sweat
dribbles down his forehead and stings his eyes, so he shuts them
tight and tries to calm down.
Jacin’s hold isn’t the punishing sort
Morin would get from an enemy. It’s almost comforting, the way
Jacin holds him up, the hard lines of his body like a cliff
against which it’s safe for Morin to dash himself. Jacin’s grip
on Morin’s wrist is only just firm enough to keep Morin’s arm
behind him, locked between Morin’s back and Jacin’s chest, and
Jacin even loosens his hold a little when Morin gives an
experimental tug. He doesn’t let go, though.
“Do you want it, Morin?”
It’s so quiet, so flat and windless,
spoken right against Morin’s ear, but with no heat of breath to
tell him it’s been spoken by his flesh and bone brother. Jacin
might as well be the Ghost he used to be, for all the warmth and
mortality held in that toneless question.
Samin and Malick are just watching it all,
Samin with a frown and Malick with narrowed eyes and a measuring
stare. Samin is looking at Morin, but Malick’s eyes are on
Jacin, like always, watchful, like Jacin’s the one he’s worrying
about when it’s Morin who’s pretty much helpless in the grip of
someone who’s been known to tear hearts out of chests and stomp
Morin shakes his head and tries to squirm
a little. Jacin doesn’t let him.
“What the hell, Jacin? Do I want what? Do
I want you to let me go? Yeah, I do.”
Jacin still doesn’t. He firms his grip on
Morin’s wrist when Morin tries again to pull it away; his arm
around Morin’s neck tightens. Still not too hard, still nothing
dangerous, but Morin’s not getting loose unless Jacin lets go.
“Do you want it?”
Morin hears it this time. The
everything inside it. The Is this really what you want?
The I can make it all stop for you. The Just say you
don’t want it and I won’t want it for you.
He hears it all, and he stills completely,
his own breath hung on the sharp edges of it, caught in his
chest in a tangle of want and ambition and guilt and fear.
He’s thought about it. How could he not?
It’s a lot to take in, and a lot to expect of himself, let alone
what everyone else is expecting. The fates of tens of thousands,
set in his incapable hands, and who is he to think he can save
anyone, let alone an entire people? Who are they to presume he
should? Who is Wolf to lay this at Morin’s feet like a divine
command and just expect him to become and do and
eventually win through? It all seems so far away sometimes, like
it’s something someone else will do one day, and other times
it’s right there, right in front of him, looming up too
soon, and how will he ever be ready? How could anyone
ever be ready?
And Jacin can make it all stop. All Morin
has to do is say “I don’t want it” and Jacin—Incendiary—will
stop wanting it for him.
Funny how this brittle moment is when
Morin remembers that boy in their father’s dooryard, screaming
insanity into the dirt and then cutting it away with a swipe of
a cheap little knife, trading one kind of pain for another. This
is when he remembers the boy he tormented and mocked, and who
cried when he accidentally broke his little brother’s arm and
who still, to this day, accepts the guilt like it’s a stone he
deserves to carry on his back for all time. This is when he
remembers that boy making himself into a man who could weep for
a father who didn’t love him, who could kill his mentor, his
first love, who could fight Temshiel and maijin—and
win—for the sake of a mother who would never even know what
he’d become for her, who might weep if she did. And now he is a
man who will want things for an incompetent boy—things that
terrify him, Morin knows—just because Morin asks it.
“Yes,” Morin says, breath still a thick
knot in his chest, but he pushes the affirmation out, “yes,
I want it,” and not for the Jin or for justice or for Wolf or
for the good of the world. Those motivations will come in time,
and they’ll be real and everything Morin needs them to be.
For now, though, it’s for the boy who
cried. For now, it’s for the boy who learned. For now, it’s for
the boy who killed for the first time, knowing what it would
bring and what it would make him.
And in the end, at the very stanchions of
its still-nascent foundation, it will always be for the brother
who throws him down then picks him up and says, “Again,” because
Jacin will beat the shit out of Morin, will push him, will test
him, will teach him and will make sure Morin cannot fail,
because Jacin cannot lose another thing he loves.
“I want it,” Morin says again, softer,
almost an apology, and he lets his body go pliant in Jacin’s
Jacin doesn’t relax. He doesn’t sigh in
relief. It seems like he doesn’t even breathe. He’s still for a
long, long moment before his forehead touches Morin’s crown,
briefly, then he lets go, backs off and waits for Morin to turn.
When Morin does, Jacin merely retrieves
the bo staff, holds it out to Morin and says, “Again.”
Malick catches up to Fen just as Fen is
clearing the gate and heading down the path toward… somewhere.
The depths of the city, looks like, where Fen can scale the
sides of buildings and trip along the roofs, lose himself far
and above anyone who might want to find him. It’s serious, if
the house’s roof won’t do. Then again, Joori knows he can find
Fen there, and by the sideways glare Malick’s getting right now,
it looks like Fen would rather not be found. By anyone.
Too bad he’s not as good at disappearing
from Malick’s sight as he is from everyone else’s. Then again,
Malick had been watching for it.
“Brought your smokes,” Malick says,
holding out the flat little tin.
Fen merely sets his jaw and walks faster,
his limp more pronounced than usual after the workout he just
gave Morin and with the speed with which he’s trying to
not-so-subtly outdistance Malick. He doesn’t take the smokes. He
doesn’t even give them a sideways longing look.
Malick holds back a sigh and starts
girding himself. This one might get ugly.
“He’s improving,” Malick says as they pass
the tearoom where Malick knows Fen met with Goyo this morning.
Not that Fen told Malick as much. And not because Fen was trying
to hide it. It just doesn’t cross Fen’s mind to inform others of
his doings. It doesn’t cross his mind that others might care.
Fen snorts, dark and scornful. He doesn’t
answer. He doesn’t slow his pace, either, and he really should
be panting and puffing with the strain, because he hasn’t even
brought his walking stick. He isn’t.
Malick would kind of like to deck him.
Knock some sense into his thick skull. It wouldn’t work, though.
Coming at Fen with a physical fight will maybe exhaust him and
force him to let go of some of that string-tight tension that’s
got him so wound up he’s almost not breathing, but it will only
shut down further what’s driving it all. Sink it deeper.
The foot traffic is getting thicker the
farther they get in toward the city’s center. It’s just after
the midday meal and the suns are high. People chatter as they
wander from the tearooms and the poppy dens and the fish shops
that sell this morning’s catches rolled up neatly inside a flat
spool of sticky rice. Malick’s stomach grumbles. He thinks about
trying to talk Fen into a bowl of noodles with some of that
spicy shrimp sauce he likes. Wishful thinking right now, but
still. Anyway, it’ll only delay the inevitable.
A fortune teller tries to coax Fen inside
her ragged-fringed tent with the promise of “Let me show you
your fate, pretty” and Fen couldn’t look more savage if he’d
actually hissed at her. The death-glare he gives her as he
passes is enough, though—she blinks and jolts back then seems to
find a very important matter she must attend… elsewhere.
Malick stifles the laugh, because it would
be rude to the woman and Fen will probably really
disappear on him if he doesn’t. He flicks a koin onto one side
of the scales the woman has set up at the tent’s frontis,
though. He’s just that kind of guy.
They’re nearing the piers now, the bells
of the fishing boats out on the bay chiming their catches to the
skinners and gutters waiting on the docks. Fen sometimes likes
to come out here and find a spot in the sand down on the shore,
watch the water, or climb up on top of one of the boathouses and
peer across the bay where Tougei sits in the distance like a
smudge of remembrance.
Not when he’s in this kind of mood,
though. This Fen is looking for something else, something that
doesn’t remind him of what he was, what he is, what his brother
will be. This Fen wants the spikes that shoot up his leg with
every step he takes, the wrench of not enough air in his lungs,
because nothing blocks out pain like more pain, and he won’t
take a knife to himself anymore. Not if he doesn’t want to have
to deal with Joori because of it.
This Fen has lost the fine balance he
walks between Jacin and Hitsuke, has already yielded too much
ground astride the crevasse of others’ expectations of both.
Malick waits until they’ve almost reached
the warehouses, right before the cool fragrance of briny silt
gives way to the dirty pong of fish guts and sweaty labor. He
doesn’t give Fen a warning, because you can’t give Fen a
warning if you don’t want your own guts added to the reek.
Quick and clean, Malick snatches at Fen’s
arm and the collar of his shirt, trips him sideways then heaves
him into the closest alley. Instinct makes Fen fight back, one
hand going to a knife at his thigh and the other going for
Malick’s throat. Malick doesn’t twitch, doesn’t move, only keeps
his hold firm on Fen as Fen’s knife comes up and… lowers. Almost
immediately. Malick’s kind of proud of him. Not even a nick this
Slowly, Malick lets go of Fen’s arm and
guides the knife back into its sheathe. Fen lets him, just
stares up at Malick, still as stone, breath held tight in his
chest and eyes taking on a different kind of fire now.
It’s like he doesn’t want to lift his head
a little when Malick sets a hand around his throat, but he does
anyway. His eyes don’t leave Malick’s and he doesn’t move, but
Malick can feel everything about him vibrating, fight-or-flight
duking it out somewhere behind that ringed gray gaze, and any
shame Fen might have once felt over needing things like this
long-since buried beneath the practicality of staying sane.
Malick can see it all fighting for space
in Fen’s head—Incendiary and Kurimo and whatever Goyo said to
him this morning that took his breath and made him look at Morin
as though Morin already had a sword through his throat and Fen
was the one who let it find its mark. Malick tightens his hand,
crowds in at Fen’s body and crowds out all of the things
whirling around in Fen’s head, squeezes until Hitsuke’s ghost
stops prowling behind Jacin’s eyes. Throttles it all down
beneath his hand into the single primal need to draw breath.
Fen does. Finally. A long, thin wheeze of
it past the constriction, and then another, deeper, and his
shoulders loosen just a touch, his eyes close. Reprieve.
And there he is. The stiff stillness of
Fen slides off rounded shoulders and leaves only Jacin. Not Fen.
Not Untouchable. Not Incendiary. Just a man whose wants get
tangled with and then buried beneath everyone else’s, getting so
knotted in his chest he can’t breathe past it until the interior
shifts to the exterior and into something he knows how to fight.
“He’s learning,” Malick says, voice soft,
fingers of his free hand gentling over the slender braid at
Fen’s temple. “Samin will teach him. I’ll teach him. You’ll
teach him. And he’ll learn. Because he wants it, Jacin.”
It’s like the name, spoken sure and firm,
is somehow what Fen has been needing to hear. His chest heaves
with a deep, full breath, and he slumps back into the brick of
“I won’t let him die.” Malick says it with
all the confidence of knowledge, because he won’t. He’ll make
any sacrifice necessary to keep Morin and Joori alive, because
he knows damned well what’ll happen to Fen if he doesn’t.
What’ll happen to Jacin. “Maybe he won’t be a great general.
Maybe he won’t end up saving the Jin. Maybe this is all just too
much for a boy not even out of his teens and Wolf will just have
to choose another to suit his ends. Maybe he won’t win, Jacin,
but he won’t die. I promise.” He pauses, licks his lips, because
it’s still a hard thing for him to say, but he does it—“On my
Fen shuts his eyes again, leans forward
until his forehead is touching Malick’s. His hand comes up and
settles around Malick’s wrist, but he doesn’t try to remove
Malick’s grip from around his throat. He just stands there and
breathes for a while, his pulse still pounding against Malick’s
fingers but slowing now, no longer the erratic flutter of a
He swallows—once, twice—then he blows out
one more deep breath. Says, “All right,” then, “all right,”
again, and he nods.
It takes a while, long minutes of just
standing there and breathing, settling, calming, before Malick
feels the last of the rigidity bleed out of Fen, feels muscles
loosen and tension tremors go still. Composed now, Fen pulls
back to look at Malick, eyes narrowed, but not in the scary way.
More in that promising I know exactly what you’re thinking,
you pervert way. Which, all right, fair enough.
With the barest touch of a smirk, Fen
shifts his leg so his thigh brushes Malick’s groin. Malick only
shrugs with a little grin, because of course he’s hard.
Fen just does things to him.
“Like you’re surprised,” Malick says and
reaches down to cup his hand over the promising bulge in Fen’s
Fen snorts and shakes his head, his hand
still holding onto Malick’s wrist and Malick’s hand still around
Fen’s throat. “It’s always alleys with you, isn’t it?”
Malick’s leer is blatantly insouciant.
“Call it nostalgia.”
“I’m not going to let you fuck me in an
alley,” Fen says, one eyebrow cocked up high, one of those tiny
Fen-smiles twisting his mouth and just barely dimpling his
“Oh?” Malick tightens his grip and shoves
Fen into the wall. “Will you let me blow you in an alley?”
Fen stares, both eyebrows up now. Then he
blinks. He looks left. Speculative. He looks right. Sly.
He shunts out a breath that would be a
robust laugh from anyone else, and looks back at Malick.