We'll let this one spiral out of control, starting with no plot and a hazy gathering of feelings and sight and smells and let it go where it wants to go.

LEGALITIES Drizzt Do'Urden appears without written permission of TSR and RA Salvatore no copyright infringements intended as appearance is not exploited for personal gain. Yao is mine, all mine. Meheheheh.

I never meant to cause you trouble,
I never meant to do you wrong...
I wonder if I ever caused you trouble,
Oh, no I never meant to do you harm...
--Coldplay, Trouble

******

Of certain things he could be sure, when he woke up in the morning and there was his hand next to his head that he moved gingerly, seeing first of all if it still belonged to him or not. Things like the grass sleeping in a drift of green and brown, somewhere near, or always somewhere the off-tune music a stream made bubbling to itself in the cold close to dawn. When he rolled over and poked his head up, his sharp nose rose ahead of him, white hair fell down into his eyes, and he would look around him and it all would still be there in the cut of the rocks or the ripple of the grass or the walls of the cave, and he could be sure.

There were more solid and less general things near him, but he could not rely on them any more. He had learned that things like people and swords and even his own self would not stay the same over the years and the decades turning past fast.

Opposite the fire from him the boy was fast asleep, the ferret curled up in a ball underneath the same rugs. In the mouth of the cave there was a shadow over the fresh snowfall, and he remembered then that it was winter and they were close to the tundra. Thinking about that brought back the memories.

Don't think, he thought. We are fine the way we are now.

He didn't think, and that brought his hand to his scimitar as the shadow came closer over the front of the cave, until it fell over Yao's sleeping body and then he rolled with one hand reaching for the scimitar hidden in his blankets and in a swirl of heavy fabric rose, all of him flowing, and the scimitar slid glass-smooth and water-easy out of the scabbard to follow his arm as he brought it up and saw, at the end of the metal, a face startled to see him, that he was startled to see.

"Drow," the elf who had come into the cave said. "You're the drow ranger. Do'Urden."

"Good morning to you, too," Drizzt said. He had put the scimitar back into its scabbard when the elf did not make any attempt to kill him. Most elves whom he did not know usually tried to kill him on sight, and most men, and most everybody. He felt relieved at this difference, and then worried. Looking at Yao and the ferret underneath the pile of rugs in a dream of warmer days and knowing, not what would happen, but that it would not be good.

He saw the other elf look at Yao and saw the sadness in the elf's face, a face thin and wood-brown with the bones high and long in the chin and across the cheeks.

"Come outside and talk," he said.

It was not too cold and Drizzt knew a place in the rocks where he had meant to teach Yao how to fall properly, when the boy woke up. Falling properly was important because you were bound to fall some time. What was important was that you got up fast enough. There were large trees empty of leaves with their heads sorrowful grasping at the sky as though there was something there that could fill them, but there was nothing because the sky was something cold and grey and slipped through the reaching fingers of their branches and twigs thinner than smoke. Drizzt saw the way the elf looked at the trees that were dusted with the white snowfall that had come in the night, the narrow eyes shifting back to some other place he might have called home.

"How did you find me?"

"I was not looking for you."

It was dark inside the mouth of the cave, and both of them looked at it, a mouth craggy with uneven teeth made from stalactices of ice like fangs dripping frozen from the roof. The snoring that Yao made, very very soft and faint and polite, and the tick-tick noises of the ferret in its sleep, were sounds you could not hear, out here.

"What do you know about him?" the elf asked.

"He was in trouble. I helped him, and then he helped me, and now he follows me because he is good."

"Good at what?"

"He likes animals."

"He has always liked animals," the elf said, and they watched the mouth of the cave a while more, without seeing anything in it beyond the small golden warmth of the fire.

"Even when he was young?" Drizzt asked.

"Always."

"You knew him, then?"

"Why do you think I am here?"

"I don't know why you are here," Drizzt said. "I don't know who you are. I can guess why you want him. But I would not like to see anything happen to him. I have become used to his company."

"I was used to his company, once." And the elf turned his head to Drizzt, and there was a hardness now on his face that made the soft and delicate features turn to a substance as cold as the snow around them, that was still pure and white and dazzling but bit into your skin with a cruel touch. A memory of something bad, always carried around. "You forget what he is. Human. A lifetime so short."

"And he has done something to wrong you, in the span of such a short time..."

"Not him... He was born to human parents, a human father, a late child in a late human marriage, a boy who was still a child when his parents died. When his father died."

"His father?"

"Age. It comes early for humans. I understood that. She did not. My daughter."

"His wife?" Yao had never seemed anything but human.

"Not his wife. His wife was human. My daughter, my princess, did not understand. She did not realise how fast humans go away. You have no children, Do'Urden. I don't know if you are lucky, or not. You don't know how much they hurt you in the things they do and how much more they hurt you when you see them crying and you know the reason why. You don't understand this, and I don't expect you to."

"Maybe," Drizzt said. "But the man is dead, and his wife is, also dead... And you will do anything for your children."

The elf was very quiet. It was as though the business that had brought him here was embarrassing him. Carefully, he said, "She thinks the boy looks and walks and talks almost exactly like his father."

"But he is not."

"I wish I would not trouble you with this," the elf said. "But the boy must come with me."

"The heck I will," Yao said. He stood at the mouth of the cave where they had not been looking, voices carrying easy over the still air and the coldness drifting into the cave. The ferret was not in his arms, and for this reason he made Drizzt tense with a hand on the handle of one scimitar, because without the ferret Yao was free to use his hands, and Yao's hands were not that good yet.

The elf who had come so suddenly forgot about Drizzt and started to move towards Yao, slowly, a thousand words poised on the edge of his mouth to cut the boy's conscience into a thousand pieces. Drizzt didn't wait to give him a chance. The handle of the scimitar moved with the same kind of precision that it had moved with in the cave when Drizzt first woke up and it hit the elf behind the ear so that he went down and hit the snow making chunks and spatters of white cold freezing shrapnel that went to pieces when it hit you flew heavily around and Yao looked up into Drizzt's face which he could not read, even though he was used to the darkness of the skin over it and the sudden surprise of the white hair dropping over the high forehead.

"I don't know him," Yao said.

"I know."

"He's nothing to do with that trouble you saved me from. Or any of the troubles before that."

"He was to do with your father, I think. His daughter and your father. It takes time for elves to understand that humans cannot live as long."

And Yao, through his own confusion and the sharpness of the relief that came from when Drizzt bopped the elf on the head meaning he was all right, thought he heard something of understanding, if not with the elf, then with the elf's daughter, that inability to understand how fast humans go away. A memory of something bad... Not bad. Good. A memory of something good, always carried around, but it hurt Drizzt because it had been so good but also so short and now it was no longer here.

Drizzt bent down and tried to lift the elf. Yao helped him. They carried the elf into the cave and Yao put more wood into the fire to keep it going until the elf woke up. Drizzt said they could spare a rug for him.

"He will go back," he said, "because when he wakes up, we will not be here, and he will no longer know where we are. And we will not be easy to find."

"I didn't mean any trouble," Yao said. He was unhappy and he fiddled with the edge of his heavy jacket while the ferret snuggled in his shirt front and tried to eat a button. He was still growing out of childhood and sometimes he was sullen and quiet through not understanding things that he had simply not seen when he was small.

Drizzt picked up the roll of blankets, heavy with supplies in the middle, and put it on Yao's shoulder.

"I know," he said. "But sometimes we don't mean to, and it happens anyway."

He picked up his own roll and slung the strap that fastened it around him so that the weight pulled down both shoulders and did not swing in the way of his scimitar handles that he could reach for quickly at either side of his hips. In the clearing that he had meant to teach Yao fighting in they left footprints in the packed snow that were headed in such a way that you knew they going away over the rocks, and over the rocks you leave no footprints. The elf would wake up with a small headache and he would be alone and then he would go back to his home.

"Lesson tonight?" Yao asked. He had one hand clencing and unclenching as he walked. It was as if he did not notice it.

"If you like."

*****

They spun a web for me,
they spun a web...
--Coldplay, Trouble