Rise By Sin
(Theme #34 - Seven Deadly Sins)
"--nd if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have gotten thrown out!"
"It's not my fault! She was just sitting there, looking lonely! And bored! Like she needed company!"
"She was waiting for her husband! Who, by the way, was the innkeeper who let us have the room in the first place!"
"Well, I know that now!"
"AFTER WE GOT THROWN OUT! If you could have possibly used a little tact, we--"
"What do you care?! It's not like you were interested in any of them!"
"THAT'S NOT THE POINT!"
"JUST BECAUSE THEY WON'T LIKE YOU--!"
"THEY DON'T LIKE YOU EITHER!"
The shouting match came to an abrupt halt, leaving the two companions glaring at each other, each trying to catch their breath and rein in their tempers. That had been an unspoken line crossed, and they both knew it. They were angry for different reasons, both showing signs of stress from several less-than-simplistic heists recently. For Jing, it was frustrating to have Kir's flirtations result in the disruption of a peaceful evening. And regardless of their anonymity in that town, the thief found himself acutely embarrassed by having to haul his half-sloshed partner away from a group of chatting bar wenches.
For Kir's part, he couldn't have known that the proprietor's wife was sitting among said women. And even if he had known, to flirt with all the ladies except one would have just been tacky. Besides, when had Jing become so sour? Normally he laughed at the albatross' antics. Wherever this foul mood had come from, he didn't think he deserved to be the target of it. Besides, that innkeeper was just over-sensitive... right?
"You don't have to make things difficult everywhere we go," Jing said tightly, yet this time without raising his voice. "If you showed a little restraint--"
"If I showed a little restraint," Kir mocked. "Like you don't act the prude for both of us as it is. I can't wait for the day you finally grow up, Jing, so I can stop babysittin' you."
The cutting remark ended the exchange, and the thief's hands balled into fists. Not with the intention of striking out -- no matter how angry, he'd never raise a hand to his partner -- but as a physical effort to keep his mouth shut. "I'm going ahead to Blue Mountain," Jing said, with brittle coldness in his voice. "As long as we're still planning to take the DeRosier Crown."
"Whatever," Kir waved the information aside uncaringly. "We'll meet at that hotel with the funny roof. Seeya later, Jing."
And with that, he spread his wings and soared out of sight.
The walk to Blue Mountain was quiet, taking him along a narrow, two-wheel wagon path between fields. The wind had picked up, making the long grass rustle as it swayed, and the sound was reminiscent of feathered wings. Jing drove his hands deeper into the pockets of his orange coat and tried to ignore it.
The hotel with the funny roof, as Kir had put it, was one of the central features to Blue Mountain, a landmark of sorts. It was a three-tiered chalet, the sharp roof peak rising high above the other buildings, called the Cardinal Hotel. They'd read about it, although he couldn't remember where, and decided that if they ever were in the area they would make sure to spend at least one night there. When the DeRosier Crown had surfaced from the black market, Jing had decided to settle two accounts at once (he never used the phrasing of killing birds with stones) and Kir had agreed. Now the would-be pleasant diversion had become nothing more than a surly spot to reconvene and he felt disappointed by the ruined experience.
When it came into view, he scanned the area, but Kir was nowhere to be found. He sighed, his steps slowing as he approached the building. The walk had cooled his temper considerably, and he no longer felt angry. He was regretting what he'd said and without the adrenaline of the argument behind him, Kir's words stung bitterly. Did the albatross really consider Jing no more than a charge to be looked after? He knew Kir had never treated him like that, but words hurled in anger were sharp because they were often with truthful barbs.
"Why hello there!" A jovial voice drew him from his thoughts. Jing looked around until he saw a grey-bearded man in a white shirt, the sleeves rolled up and the collar unbuttoned. "Looking for a room, young man?"
Despite his very recent and unpleasant encounter with another innkeeper, Jing found this one to be much more welcoming. How he knew this man was the hotel's manager, he didn't know; it was just something he was certain of, and had always trusted such instinct. "I will be," he said, approaching the half-door where the man leaned in relaxed fashion. "I'm waiting for someone first."
"A lovely lady?" the man smiled, "Perhaps to share the Valentine suite?"
Jing turned a shade of red typically reserved for produce and the man laughed heartily. As if Kir isn't mad at me enough already, the thief thought, shaking his head in denial. "No... I'm afraid my friend doesn't find me quite his type."
"Ahh, of course. Well, no harm in asking, isn't that right? Ever been to Blue Mountain before?"
"No sir," Jing replied, leaning against the wall tiredly.
The innkeeper regarded the young man for a moment, and then offered, "There's a bench just around the corner there, if you want to sit until your friend arrives. Or you can rent the room and meet him inside?"
"He'll be here soon," Jing responded. "But I think I'll sit anyway."
"Good show," the man said. "Name's Anẽjo. Just let me know if you need anything, friend."
"Sure," Jing said, dropping onto the wooden bench and setting his knapsack beside him. "Thanks."
He'll be here soon, the young man affirmed to himself, and settled in to wait.
Anẽjo wiped his brow with the back of his hand and gave a satisfied stretch. As the owner of Cardinal Hotel, he liked to oversee the dinner menu offered to the guests. On rare nights when his chef called in sick, he was more than happy to oblige the pastime of his younger years and do the cooking himself. Opening the half-door that led to the side street, he leaned out to enjoy the brisk evening air. It was only then that he noticed the orange-coated figure still sitting on the bench.
"You still out here, friend?" he asked rhetorically, mentally counting the hours since he'd first seen the lad. The black-haired youth raised his head slightly, as though he had forgotten he was sitting in a public place, and gave Anẽjo a smile that seemed a little forced.
"Looks that way," he agreed. "Just running a bit behind schedule, that's all."
"Well," Anẽjo said dubiously. "You missed dinner call, but there's plenty left over. I can fix you a plate if you'd like."
He could have sworn he heard the youth's stomach rumble at the offer of food, but he shook his head and answered politely, "Thanks, but I'll hold off on supper until my partner arrives. It wouldn't make sense to trouble you after hours twice."
"You sure, kid?"
The lad gave a another smile, but this one seemed less contrived and more nostalgic. "I'm sure. He'd wait for me, so I'm doing the same."
Must be a pretty good friend, Anẽjo thought, and went to clean up the dishes.
When Anẽjo came outside to light the lamps around the entranceway around nine o'clock, he was dismayed to find the young man sitting on the bench, having apparently not moved since his arrival mid-afternoon. He was turning a strange green jewel over and over in his hands, and the innkeeper nearly whistled in awe. That was a pretty expensive looking bauble for such a kid to be carrying around, especially when the rest of him looked like a penniless wanderer. Harmless and friendly, but not well off.
"Hey kid--" he said, setting down the lamp oil can.
The elder raised an eyebrow, but continued his observation. "--maybe your friend found a different hotel? It doesn't look like he's going to be showing up, you know?"
"He said he'd be here," Jing said resolutely.
"Yeah, sure," Anẽjo replied dubiously, "but you're not going to sit out here because he might show up, are you? Come inside and I'll give you half-rate for a nice room. It's going to turn cold tonight."
The grey-eyed youth smiled in the lamplight; the expression looked somehow empty, but maybe it was just the twilight because the rest of the lamps hadn't been lit. "I'll be all right," he answered, putting the green jewel back into his pocket. "He'd be disappointed if I didn't keep up my end of the bargain and wait."
Anẽjo made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat and picked up the oil again. "If you say so." He finished tending his lights and headed back inside, shaking his head. "Can't tell these young kids nothing anymore."
Late that night, Anẽjo woke to darkness. The clock in the lobby was chiming three in the morning, and the room was cold. Yawning and grumbling about how the chill made his joints ache, the innkeeper dragged himself from the comfort of his bed and stoked the fire in the hearth. Turning to go back to bed, he paused by the window, looking down through the frosty patterns detailed on the glass.
He was still there, the orange coat drawn snuggly around him, but still (Anẽjo assumed) awake... unless he had the ability to sleep sitting up. Yet given the lad's determined attitude during the day, he doubted that was the case.
"Crazy kid," he muttered, but he found he had no derision to put behind the words.
Morning in Blue Mountain dawned chilled and frosty, and not a breath of wind. It made flying the perfect exercise for keeping warm, and Kir winged his way towards the chalet in good spirits. It turned out that while the proprietor of their former lodgings had been of short temper, a few of the wenches hadn't minded the attention. He'd spent the rest of the night entertaining them with stories and (mostly) mock proposals of marriage before dozing off, lulled by tavern song and good ale.
Now, argument long since forgotten, feeling refreshed and in high spirits, Kir angled downward towards the three-peaked hotel, wondering which of the many windows could belong to Jing's rented room. One of them with an open window, because Jing always left the window open for him when he didn't know what time he was returning. Yet all the windows on the front side of the hotel appeared shut against the cold, and he was about to check the side when he spotted the familiar orange cloth.
"Oi," he called energetically, causing Jing to start and turn his face upwards, shielding his eyes from the early sun. "You're up early!"
The corners of Jing's mouth crinkled in a tired grin, and Kir wondered fleetingly if he hadn't slept well in a strange place. But he dismissed it and landed next to the thief, practically bubbling over with cheer. "Jing, you missed those ladies! Caleigh and Erin... and Grendel the redhead... ah, what a great night! You would've really liked--" He paused, noting that Jing seemed less than enthusiastic about his recount. "What? What's wrong?"
"It's... nothing," Jing said with a reluctant shake of his head before asking hopefully, "Should we rent the room?"
"Eh? What for?" Kir seemed genuinely perplexed. "You only wanted to stay for one night, right? Ain't we gonna get the DeRosier Crown now?"
Jing looked at him blankly for a few seconds, before a watery smile appeared and he ducked his head. "Y-yeah. That's right. Well, let's get going then."
"Sure thing!" Kir crowed, only to be cut off as something hard walloped him in the back of the head. "WHAT THE HELL!?" he screeched, whirling midair to glare at Jing, when he realized the thief had not been the behind the blow. Instead, a bearded old man stood there, brandishing a soup ladle.
"What is wrong with you?!" Anẽjo exclaimed while Jing stood there, dumbfounded. "He waited all night for you to show up! Sat right there on that bench and didn't move, swore up and down you were going to be here any minute, and you're off sleeping around and getting drunk!? Hell, I tried to give him a room and he wouldn't take it! Stayed awake all night! Now you're acting like nothing happened?"
Jing's expression had changed to one of mortification, as though the prior's days events had been something to be kept a secret between them. He'd opened his mouth to protest but Anẽjo hadn't given him a word edgewise. Kir, however, was now the one that looked utterly at a loss. "Jing?" he managed, noticing for the first time that the thief's stance was tired, unrested, and spoke of disappointment. "That ain't true, is it? You didn't... you didn't really stay out here all night waitin' for me... right?"
The sad, uncertain smile was back, and the thief's shoulders lifted in a shrug.
"Because you said you'd be here."
All the good cheer went out of Kir in an instant. If it had been anyone else, he'd have challenged it; dismissed it as a dramatic gesture designed to prove a point. But for Jing, it was just normal... to trust someone at their word, even if it proved that a promise wasn't going to be kept. Anẽjo crossed his arms, deeming the soup ladle no longer needed now that Kir had realized his mistake. The albatross glanced between them, painfully aware of the faux pas he now knew he'd committed.
"I-I'm... sorry, Jing," he mumbled. "I wasn't thinking an'... I should've done what I said I would... and..."
"It's okay," the thief said quietly, picking up his knapsack and slinging it over his shoulder. "I don't mind... we have a train to catch, don't we? We should get going..."
"But this old guy said you ain't even slept yet!" Kir protested, earning a glower from Anẽjo. "We can get the train tomorrow, can't we?" He looked ashamed as he added, "'Sides, we... wanted to stay here, right? No point in missing out... just 'cause I was stupid... hey, old man, you got a room we can rent?"
Anẽjo heaved a sigh. "Of course. Wouldn't be in business very long if I didn't."
Another smile, this one more genuine and much less sad, brightened Jing's features. "Okay," he said, and Kir knew that one word spoke more than just agreement for the room. "I guess you talked me into it."
"'Bout damn time," Anẽjo muttered.
"Sorry," Kir said again, quieter and sincere as he landed on Jing's shoulder. "For all those things I said before, too."
"I know. I am too. Don't worry about it, partner."
Kir watched his companion sleep dreamlessly, feeling the steady rise and fall of Jing's breathing against the bed. Having slumbered the night before, the albatross wasn't tired and that left his thoughts open to wandering. It wasn't the first time he'd done something thoughtless, an error in judgment that had seemed so significant until he'd realized he'd accidentally hurt his partner by it. It wasn't the first time he'd realized Jing would act accepting of the situation on the outside and be crushed on the inside. It had started early; their first months together had been filled with such instances.
He'd thought he was getting better. After eight years, he really had no excuse anymore.
I can't keep messing up, he thought, using the tip of one wing to brush a few stray pieces of hair away from the youth's face. At the touch of feathers, Jing smiled in his sleep but didn't stir. Ain't right for him to keep getting hurt because of me. Although Jing never failed to forgive him, somehow that made things worse, as though Kir were shamefully counting on that to balance out his mistakes.
"I'm gonna try harder," he promised quietly. "So keep puttin' up with me until I get it right, got it?"
"Mmhm," Jing murmured; still peacefully asleep, not even knowing what question he'd answered, but Kir felt better.
Notes & References:
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall - William Shakespeare