Title: Making Peace
Warnings: Big Deep Wizardry spoilers. This is set after the book ends.
Disclaimer: I didn't make the 'verse. I'm just playing in it for a while.
Notes: This was originally written for the Myriadwords Ficathon. The request was a Tom and Carl story involving Gilbert and Sullivan (which you'll find in Peach's lines), a science museum (I cheated- it's an aquarium), and a battered copy of LOTR. This is what came out of it. Enjoy!
Carl woke up with a headache and a sense of panic that he'd overslept- before he remembered it was Saturday. That left him with the headache, which wasn't surprising considering how badly he'd been sleeping.
He sat up, scrubbing his hands over his face and back through his hair. He could hear Tom talking to someone on the phone. The clock by the bed said it was barely nine, which was still early for weekend phone calls- unless they were wizardly- but Tom's voice didn't sound alarmed, so Carl assumed it wasn't an emergency.
Still, he got up, threw on shorts and a t-shirt, and made his way downstairs to see what was going on.
Tom had obviously been on one of his writing binges before the phone rang. Carl recognized the set of well-worn books his partner often paged through for inspiration- archetypal research, he called it- scattered about the living room floor. There were two versions of the Bible, a variety of C.S. Lewis novels, Lord of the Rings, and a few science fiction works Carl had never read.
Tom was in the kitchen. From where he stood talking, making coffee, and trying to shoo Peach, he looked up and smiled before returning his attention to his conversation. "That's a good idea… Yeah… When, do you think?"
Carl did him the favor of swatting Peach on the beak before pushing past. He opened one of the cabinets and grabbed the bottle of aspirin, ignoring the worried frown he knew Tom was directing at his back.
"That'll work for us," Tom said into the phone. "Okay… We'll see you there… Bye."
Carl popped two aspirin in his mouth, chased them with Coke, and regarded his partner curiously. "Are we going somewhere I'm not aware of?"
"'Ahoy! Ahoy!'" Peach squawked, flapping energetically. "'Over the bright blue sea!'"
Tom raised his hand warningly, then spoke into the ensuing silence, "Not quite the blue sea, but Kit and Nita are going to the aquarium to have a chat with the residents- at the request of the new cetacean Senior, I gather. That was Nita, asking us to join them."
"Really?" The thought of going out the way he was feeling almost made Carl's headache worse. "But what about your writing?" he asked lamely.
Tom shrugged, pouring his coffee and promptly adding milk and ice cubes. "As good as the coffee shop," he pronounced, taking a sip. "The novel will keep. I just needed something to do while you were getting the sleep you should've gotten while it was dark."
At that, Carl had the grace to look sheepish. He hadn't expected to hide how he was feeling from his partner- that was impossible- but he hadn't wanted him to worry either. And from the edge in Tom's voice, he was clearly worried.
He was also waiting for an explanation, which Carl didn't have. Something had just been… off. He'd chalked it up to worrying about Kit and Nita when they'd been preparing for the Song, but it had been sung, the Sea had calmed, and both young wizards were alive and home.
And he still felt as if something wasn't right.
Tom didn't press him. "I get the impression that the kids have some questions they still haven't asked," he said instead. "Not a surprise, really."
"'Things are seldom what they seem,'" Peach interrupted in a high-pitched sing-song.
"Your reference is off," Tom declared, "or that would sound ominous."
"Go ahead. Doubt me. You- auck!" Peach broke off, shaking her head dizzily, after receiving a blow to the beak.
Carl smirked at his partner. "It's your fault, you know. Those records you were playing when that last article was due."
"I can't help what the muse demands," Tom answered with mock melodrama. He gestured toward the bathroom. "Go shower. We've got a day's work to do."
The smell of ocean air still made Nita's heart twist. She kicked her feet against the curb at the corner of Stillwell and Surf, waiting.
Beside her, Kit let out an impatient sigh. "We should have told Tom and Carl about the alley down the block."
"They'd have still driven," Nita said. Older wizards, whose power levels had decreased with age, tended to use conventional means to do things if they could because it saved energy. She spotted Tom's station wagon in the flow of traffic, and waved. "There they are."
She got up and waited for the two men to walk over from the parking lot, grinning at the way they habitually fell into step with one another. And the way they seemed not to notice the women who looked twice at them as they passed, though she was sure she heard Kit mutter, "Lucky."
"Hey, you two," Tom said when they got close. "Sorry to be late. Traffic, you know."
"We weren't waiting long," Nita assured him. She glanced at Carl, around whom she'd been oddly shy since their conversation at the beach. He looked the way he sometimes did at the middle of a rough work week, which didn't make sense because it was the weekend, but then they were all walking towards the entrance and she didn't have anymore time to think on it.
"How are your parents?" Tom asked, smiling with just a hint of mischief.
Nita mirrored the look. "They're… acclimating. Mom wants you and Carl to come to dinner again."
"If she keeps feeding us, we're not going to complain," Carl said. He put his hand on hers as she reached for the money she'd brought to buy her aquarium ticket. "I'll get it- and yours, too, Kit."
"Hey, thanks!" Kit grinned and shoved a handful of dollar bills back into his pocket.
Nita was more hesitant. "Are you sure?"
"I do get paid for one of my jobs," Carl reminded her. "And, besides, I think you two have earned it."
Kit caught her eye, and she knew he felt the same way she did about the praise. It took some getting used to, the regard that adult wizards had for them; sometimes, she still expected one or the other of the two Seniors to ruffle her hair and call her "kiddo" or something.
Ed had been like that- or the shark equivalent of like that- until the end, when he'd come to understand the power she'd been given. Then he'd thought of her like an equal.
"Earth to Nita!" Kit called, snapping his fingers in her face and jolting her back to reality.
"Huh? Oh." She was sure she was blushing, embarrassed. "I was just… The sharks. We should go see them first." Without waiting for a reply, she started walking. There were walruses, and seals, and penguins- and at any other time she would have paused to watch them, and appreciate their cuteness, but in her mind were black, impassive eyes-
Eyes like the ones she came face to face with when she approached the tank. There weren't many other people around- and she was glad of that as, one by one, the sharks passed by the glass, flicking their tail fins deferentially.
"They know," Nita gasped, brushing her fingertips against the glass. That meant they knew what Ed had done for her- to save her. No. What he did for Life's sake…
"They do hear the Sea," Tom said quietly.
Nita felt like crying, but she didn't- because one didn't show distress around sharks. Instead, she turned around to face Tom and realized he was the only one who had followed her over to the tank.
"I got the feeling Kit had some things on his own mind," he said as an explanation. "And since Carl's gotten good at dispensing advice these past few days, I thought I'd leave it to him."
He was smiling, but Nita felt a nagging guilt. "Tom, he's not mad at me, is he? For calling for you instead of him? He doesn't think I-"
"If anything," Tom cut her off. "He's proud of you for taking what he had to say and making your decision accordingly."
Kit peered through the crisscrossing crowds of people to catch a glimpse of Nita. She was still standing with her hand on the shark tank, but she had that spacey look on her face so she probably didn't even notice.
"She's doing all right," he remarked to Carl, who nodded. "But I think she needed this, so it's good that- Hey-" he blinked as a realization hit him. "I think that's why S'reee asked us to come here."
"Why else?" Carl said, looking a little amused.
Kit shook his head, knowing he should've figured it out sooner. "She's more clever than I gave her credit for."
"She didn't become a Senior without reason," Carl answered.
Kit heard the reproof in his own Senior's voice. "Yeah. I should've thought about that." He waved at a curious young penguin who waddled to the edge of its pen to look at him. "It was awkward for a while, after the Song. I think Neets and I were both a little angry at her."
Carl also gave the penguin a wave. "Not uncommon after that kind of trauma. As long as you both realize it was misdirected anger."
Kit nodded. "Sure, yeah, now we do. We had to talk a lot…" He paused, figuring Carl would know a thing or two about this. "You and Tom, you've been working together for a long time, right?"
"Longer than I'd normally care to admit," was the wry answer.
Kit grinned, then grew serious again. "So you two, you must've talked about, y'know, what you'd do if one of you…"
"Died?" Carl finished, sighing heavily. "Yes, we did." His dark eyes went unfocused, distant, for a moment- then he blinked. "We were a bit older than you and Nita were, though, the first time we had to talk about it."
"The first time?" Kit repeated. He couldn't imagine having to have that discussion over and over again. It had been hard enough once.
"Entropy is everywhere," Carl reminded him. "Even non-wizards have to come to terms with dying eventually. For us, it just tends to happen sooner." He crossed his arms over his chest as he spoke. "You have to know that you and Nita will face other situations that might mean the death of one of you- or both."
"Both wouldn't be so bad," Kit admitted. "Together…"
Carl nodded, his eyes getting that far-away look again. "I know. But the Lone Power knows that, too- and It likes to inflict pain on us whenever possible... Keep talking about the choices you'll want each other to make- it's an important part of your partnership if you're going to keep it."
Tom leaned back against the side of his car and bumped Carl's shoulder as they watched Kit and Nita head down the sidewalk together. "Well, that was fun," he remarked.
Carl yawned and rolled his shoulders. "It was good for them. Good thinking on the whale Senior's part."
Tom nodded. "Nita made her peace with the sharks without swimming with them, which I doubt she's up for just yet."
"Probably not," Carl agreed. "We're lucky we had a better option."
"You seem to have figured out a few things, too," Tom added, taking note of Carl's relaxed stance and thoughtful expression.
Carl nodded. "Kit was telling me how it felt, thinking he was going to lose his partner."
"Of course." Tom felt like smacking himself on the forehead. He'd focused so much on Nita and her fate- and the fate of the Song- that he'd forgotten that Kit had watched her go to what, at the time, was supposed to be her death.
"He told me they talked about it," Carl remarked. "But we didn't."
They hadn't, Tom realized, and they should have. They should have talked about how familiar Kit's situation was to both of them, discussed how they would cope when one of their wizards actually did die, reminded each other what they wanted when the end came...
Carl must have heard him thinking, because he chuckled ruefully. "We were always told, being Seniors, we'd be putting others first everyday. More so than usual, that is."
"I'd say it's about time for us today." Tom's voice was firm.
Carl nodded. "Good."