They were not friends. Not to speak of.
They weren't enemies. They had enough of those to begin with.
Their paths rarely crossed for being something close to brothers. Siblings tend to lose contact once they're out of the house.
But, for all this, they sat together again after not-too-long and not-too-short had passed and in the not-quite-light of a not-quite-moon in the could-have-been-darker night.
Side by side, of course.
It was not as though they had planned the rendezvous, arranged to meet after discovering the wonderful coincidence that they were both passing through the same town.He just wanted to sketch the view from the bridge and he just wanted to watch the ladies in tight evening gowns on the party boats passing lazily down the river.
Tiedoll sat cross-legged on the bridge rail, perched like an old, glassy-eyed owl that had just survived a more-than-gale-less-than-hurricane by the looks of his tattered overcoat feathers.
Cross was draped elegantly across the rail, balancing a half-empty, half-full glass in long peacock claws, his well preened gold and navy plumage blending in perfectly to the firefly evening.
They looked completely out of company with their companion. But anything is possible when it's painted a few shades darker and if you were to squint they were identical gray forms with a star hovering over their left shoulder.
"You know," half-full became a little half-emptier, "it would be really funny if you fell." Any other human being confronted with that almost-smile almost-sneer and silky tone that, rubbed the wrong way, felt a lot like burlap, would have been offended.
"Ha ha! So it would!" Tiedoll was not any other human being. The thick charcoal strokes ate way at slightly textured paper and stained stubborn fingers. "It would be even funnier if I grabbed your arm on my way down and took you with me," old eyes flicked up to snapshot the scene below him and any other human being would have missed the lightening fast detour towards Cross and would have let their smile falter at the hidden burr in the cotton soft words.
Cross was not any other human being.
His grin stretched,
"Boom." The mass of floating lights serenely ducked beneath their perch. "This is the best view," Cross was referring to the optimal down-the-dress perspective presented by the party boat slipping beneath them.
"It really is," Tiedoll was referring to the full scape of the vast star freckled sky swimming in the river. The gravelly tone of paper consumption filled the silence between them but was dwarfed by the sounds of nightlife. Alcohol-drenched laughter wafted up to them. Waves of salt-spiked air washed over the river and whipped at scarlet and tawny feathers. Tiedoll sneezed.
"Thanks," he pressed a tattered sleeve to his almost-large-enough-to-whisper-about-behind-his-back nose as Cross swirled the used-to-be-red-but-comes-off-as-pink-when-spread-across-a-small-distance liquid remaining in his glass.
"Good health… I should start saying that instead."
"What, is 'bless you' too stuffy?"
"No," he took the last sip of rosy blood, "too religious."
"For someone who's going to hell." The peacock claws dangled the empty wine glass idly over the river and a single scarlet bead rushed to the cup's edge.
"Hell? Why are you worrying about that?"
"That's just it: I'm not worrying," the grin returned. "I'll drink and spend and flirt my way there and enjoy every moment of it."
"So why the shift in phraseology?"
Cross made a not-quite-shrug-semi-position-shift in thought.
A black forearm rose at the arch of a considering wrist and then removed itself entirely from the sketch.
The final ruby dewdrop slipped off the rim of the glass. The dark ate it instantly.
"Aren't you afraid sometimes?"
"I'm afraid often, actually." The hand swooped down again and began to skritch in a fury with the desperation of trying to cling to scraps of escaping air.
"About falling, disappointing God and all that,"
"I don't think about God that often, really…" For the first time during the sketching process, Tiedoll frowned.
Ever so slightly.
"What do you fight for then? How do you justify your existence? The war?"
"War? What war? Oh, this one, you mean," quite-large-enough-to-make-fun-about eyebrows furrowed over the almost-large-enough-to-whisper-about-behind-his-back nose.
The corners of Cross's mouth twitched.
"Mm… It's no good."
The river froze. The stars stopped twinkling. Every chirping cricket, every lapping wave, every ringing laugh stopped.
The sound of paper ripping was the only noise.
For the first time in the course of conversing Cross made the twelfth of an inch turn to look at Tiedoll.
And Tiedoll looked back.
"I take it you have a light."
Two seconds and a thousand intricate flexes and laxes of muscle produced a lighter from a clearly-not-silk-but-could-have-been-based-on-texture pocket.
Tiedoll extended his arm, white riddled with black swaying in the wind that teased his sleeve.
Cross held the lighter at arm's length, oil container on the side catching the every single star on land and sky in a glow that revealed it was half empty. Or maybe half full.
The spark jumped and caught the paper, pulling itself upward in a struggle to reach the top, mixing white and black into gray and red and then- Nothing.
The hands returned to their respective bodies and time returned to the scene below.
The boat passed but another was coming.
The breeze relaxed slightly and scarlet and tawny feathers were able to settle down again, unmoved by the wind.
"Don't you usually save your mess ups?"
"Ha ha! How did you know that about me?" Tiedoll held his feet and leaned back slightly.
"Something about wanting to be able to look back on your mistakes, right?"
"Hm. I keep my mistakes too. They're all right here," he patted a pocket stuffed to the seams with debt notices, "but what's so special about that one? Why burn it?"
"To make a point. Flawed things can still fly upward."
"Do you think it went to heaven?"
"It's hard to say…" the owl swayed slightly with the lukewarm music. "It's getting colder."
Cross lit a what-had-been-a-cigarette-one-month-ago and shook the ash before replying, "It has to or we can't appreciate it when it gets warm again." A flurry of orange-red came and went without sticking. Peacock claws picked up the abandoned wine glass and held it over the hungry darkness and then suddenly disappeared.
Nothing held it aloft. Nothing would stop it from appeasing the night's appetite.
Tiedoll watched the falling star blink once in it's descent before blackening as night smeared across it's surface, invisible.
Cross took a drag,
The night shattered and then stitched itself together again as though nothing had happened.
"Do you think it went to hell?" The flurries returned accompanied by peeling white flakes of cloud that could no longer hold the snow.
"Nope… I think it broke into a hundred pieces and in one month some kid down stream will bring one to his mom and call it sea glass." Another drag. Cross turned fully to his peer.
The owl was smiling.
Then, in a flurry of beige feathers, it swooped down to land. Tiedoll straightened his glasses and looked up at Cross.
They shook hands.
"Say, that reminds me… You asked what I fight for,"
The peacock straightened at last, arching it's back to stretch,
"I fight for my children. And every piece of sea glass."
Whole-smile. Cross tipped his hat, Tiedoll nodded. The owl was off on the hunt and the peacock strolled away to find a nest. They wouldn't meet again for over a year. Cross was never fond of headquarters.
But three months later on Tiedoll's next too-old-for-anyone-to-bother-remembering birthday he received a letter with no words.
Just a sketch.
It was a bridge he'd once stood on where the stars lay on the air and land and lanterns held together by boats and spirits made the river dance and sometimes owls and peacocks met. On the drawing, scribbled in the sky, was a message:
"I almost fell in."
In case there was any confusion: the snow imagery refers to the ash of Cross's cigarette. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask! This was more metaphoric than I intended! XD