By: Kitty Ryan, 2004.

Rating: PG
For Daphne Apollo (skyflyer), as part of the Dancing Dove's Spring Fanfiction Exchange.

Spider-webs in ceiling corners, thick with grey dust and hanging low enough to sway gently in the hot, wet air seeping in through a half open window. A desk, making an island in a sea of foxed parchment and mottled leather covers; dull gold leaf glinting fitfully by candlelight. Wax dripping; dripping until rusted holders can no longer be seen, hitting floor and desk- space and a hand with black-ringed nails.

Standing in the doorway, Lindhall watched the wax fall onto the hand, while another turned frail, ancient pages. He felt, standing in the doorway to that tiny room, that there were only hands. That he was at the gate to another world, where everything was dark and fey and completely insane.

"Arram, can you hear me?"

A break in the silence. Lindhall's words seemed to be absorbed by the paper and strangeness of the room, but they helped him find some logic. He watched as the hands stilled, seeing the way they were connected to bony wrists and thin arms, then to a pale, bent neck and a head. The words made everything just a little bit more real.

But then the hands started turning pages, again.


Nothing. His voice fell into dead air.

Lindhall closed his eyes, his own hands pulling at fistfuls of white-blonde hair.

"Arram, put the cursed book down!"

A breathless shout. The teacher felt his voice crack before they reached the volume he wanted, and a burning, furious sort of helplessness come over him, as his student only started to read faster; lips moving, body starting to shake.


Even the most disciplined can lose control, sometimes. A fog-grey ball of energy streaked into the room, with surprising force considering Lindhall was no war-mage, hitting the book so that it flew out of Arram's hands and landed against a wall. By the time it fell to the floor, it was slowly starting to disintegrate.

Arram stood, staring, eyes panicky. When he spoke, his voice creaked from disuse. "You...you destroyed a book."

Lindhall was looking equally horrified, but there was no guilt in his face. "Yes," he said.

Slowly. Arram bent down to touch the book's cover, watching forlornly as it crumbled to dust under his fingertips. "I might have needed this."

"You need to eat, more."

"I've got..." Arram looked up again, swallowing. "Why did you do that? It was stupid, and wrong, and..." another swallow: "the examination--"

"--Won't be any good to you if you're dead, which is what you seem to be trying very hard to be!" Lindhall crossed the floor to the pale youth, face flushed. "I never thought I'd say this," he murmured, poking sadly at the dying literary fragments with his foot, "but you're working too hard."

Arram laughed, sitting on his heels, digging closed-fists into his eyes. "Ozorne's right," he said. "My mind was addled when I decided to do this. I'll just fail..."

Lindhall shuddered, slowly going down on his knees so that he could join Arram on the floor. "When you're more yourself, you'll remember that you look far too good in black for you to think of failing."

The man was entirely deadpan. Arram had to look at him, giving the ghost of a smile. "Am I really that shallow?"

"Oh, yes."

The smile faded, Arram being just a touch too overwrought to have much of a sense of humour. "Shakith! I don't think I can do this..."

"Just be quiet, Arram." Lindhall put his arms around his friend, looking angry. His grip was firm. "You're being maudlin."

Arram stiffened; then slowly relaxed, letting his head fall into the crook of the older man's neck, eyes shut tight, lips against the rough fabric of the collar of his banded robe.

Lindhall held him for a very long time, and didn't let go. He didn't seem to breathe very much, either.

"Lindhall?" Arram's voice was muffled.


"Do you think the world's ready for a shallow Black Mage?"

"Oh, yes." Lindhall looked sadly at his student's head for a moment, then kissed it. Very softly, not expecting the answering press of lips against his shoulder.