It was cold and the wind was howling, and his knees and knuckles were stiff, and the headstone was rough against his cheek and the grass was sharp against his neck.
And Raine was dead, and had died waiting for him.
And Sukaru was dead, and had died calling his name.
It was cold.
The air was dry and freezing and had stabbed into him with every sob, and nothing could warm it. Tears had turned to ice. Grief had turned to lead, and it was dense and awful in his stomach. He was worn out, worn thin, and the wind was singing a lullaby to close his eyes. It would be so easy just to sleep. To slip into that cool darkness and let it consume him, to believe that it had all been a dream--that the bruises on his shoulder did not pain, that he had never really been here or never really left. So easy.
He stood on legs that cramped and shot with a muted hurt. The grass whimpered in its soft rustle, begging his return.
He had always been returning.
Back to the fog-coked town, back to the old dusty bar, back to the bed and the dress in the window and the darkness that followed his words. There was nowhere to look but back. Nowhere to go. Nothing he could do.
He stared at the grave and it stared back, bloodspots in the frost like despairing eyes. They were watching, shivering in the chill. The grass was crackling. The wind was blowing. Someone was laughing.
...someone was laughing.
He turned, sick with betrayal, and looked over the frozen fog that gilded the hilltops silver. Familiar forms and familiar faces--perfect, just as he remembered, not the slight air of offness he had seen in--
(No. I'm not gonna believe anything, any more.) Because Raine was dead, and had died calling his name. Had she died hating him? No one in this town is willing to forgive you...
Someone was calling his name.
Ellone (his daughter, not a real daughter, but wasn't it close enough? Sukaru was not your son--) was coming down the hill toward him, smiling and waving as if everything was all right. Didn't she remember Raine? Didn't she remember how he had--
It's all right, his mind whispered, and it was Sukaru's voice. It'll be all right.
(I condemned him to die.)
Wherever he put his hand down, there had been the gun.
Ellone slowed as she approached. She didn't see the corpse. She didn't see the frost. She was looking up, and a shadow was passing over her.
He looked up as well. The great sky bulk of Garden was groaning above them, ring scattering false light as it turned. Did they have graveyards in that bastion of war? Where did they bury the ones who died--and they did die, marching out to fight for causes that had never been their own, pushed by some invisible hand, some desperate man, some blank command issued without expertise or knowledge. Where did they bury those abandoned to their fate?
He was kneeling by the gravestone. Sukaru was lying beside him. There was a look of betrayal in his blown-in face.
I love you, Raine had said. I just couldn't bear to leave without saying--
"I love you," he told the Garden and the ghosts that followed it. It moaned a mechanical moan and left him. "I love you," he told Sukaru without looking at him. I loved you.
This is the hill, all covered with fog
That buried the girl with the golden dog...
The old nursery rhyme. The nursery had been lost long ago.
That chased the cat with the scruffy mane
That caught the rat as he ate the grain
That was stored in the room with the jaunty tilt--
"--that sat in the cottage Jack once built."
You're chasing shadows, Laguna. Shadows and memories that all lead him back here, to the town that would never forgive him, to the bar that would never forget him. I have killed too many, including buchubuchus and bunbuns that Commander Ellone oh-so-hates.
He reached deliberately to the grass beside him, and felt the firearm from bole to butt. It was still hot with the heat of execution.
(I left him, I sent him away, I killed him. I killed him.)
Garden was passing before his eyes.
Ellone didn't see the blood on his hands or the gun they held. Ellone didn't see the grave. And as he knelt, back turned toward her, she didn't see him smiling.
It'll be all right.
"Raine," he whispered.
There was the faint scent of flowers on the breeze.