Title: The Snow Blues Years
Fandom: Poison Elves
Characters: Luse, Jace, et al.
Word Count: ~ 3170
A/N: R.I.P., Drew Hayes. Written for Cher who asked for something involving Luse's Christmas; thank you for a great prompt, love. Thank you, katilara and suyetsumu for your speedreading. - Set after the Wisp arc and thus pretty much at the beginning of the series...
Also, the fic that upped the total of Poison Elves stories ever written for Yuletide to a whopping... 2. Yes, two.
The Snow Blues Years
Uh. That hadn't gone down well.
"That" meaning Jace San Lanargaith's first attempt at bringing some Solstice cheer into what he imagined to be a rather dour existence, Luse being dead an' all. Not dead-dead, but as good as. Enforced retirement, so to speak.
One would have thought someone like that might be a little more appreciative of a friendly gestu-... of initiative taken at considerable cost and a certain amount of personal risk to one's current position within the Elven High Coun-...
"Luse." Still standing in front of the door, which had been unceremoniously slammed in his face, Jace was too stunned to say much, or even rub at the bits where he'd soon sport a nice case of woodburn. "Luse, man." He was almost grateful for losing that bit of ear earlier, or it would have been pulp now. "Come on, Luse. Let me in. It's freezing."
Judging from the sounds both animated and demented coming from the ramshackle cabin, his erstwhile friend was deep in conversation with someone who sounded a lot like... himself. Only crazier.
Yet the door remained shut, and with three or five of the nastier bargain-bin spells woven around the premises, Jace felt ambivalent about an act that, legally speaking, was called trespassing, but then... but then Luse was dead.
Jace slumped against the door, reconsidering.
"Uh, look," he called, cheek pressed against the slats, "I brought some.. some things... I'll just leave them here, okay? You can..." His gloved hand waved a feeble whatever. Jace blinked and bit his lip. Then he walked over to where he'd tied his horse. When he looked back over his shoulder, there was no door inching open, no curious Luse peeking from the dim interior, no hand snatching the basket.
Damn. Poetic justice or a better narrator would have arranged for the basket to be there, one year later, empty - as a mute thank you, if not an invitation, but of course... nothing. Not a sound either.
There was a lot of snow, though.
Hunching under the groaning eaves of a dead elf's house seemed a better option than heading back into what was quickly turning into a snow storm. Jace's teeth were chattering.
He hammered against the door - nothing. Not even a single half-hearted hex to protect Luse's stupid ass. Fuck him to the Steps and back, but that was just reckless.
If he was still alive. Jace's stomach dropped.
Then, squinting against the dusk, he thought he saw a shadow, something he hoped was vaguely Luse-shaped, his own troll-fighting edge not hotly on form these past years. "Luse?"
Huddled against Luse's door, he briefly considered following him... it... only to do the smarter thing and pry open the door latch. Unforgivable. No, an emergency. And he wouldn't even mention the time Luse left him to rot with Morlagan, no.
Rummaging through Luse's meager belongings - much of it looking like mementoes of Lynn's - Jace holed up for the night. The day after, the snows let up. As he was leaving, Jace scanned the area for footprints, but there weren't any.
As Solstice celebrations went, these had been a disappointment.
Their next Solstice got off to a spectacular start and was worthy of remembrance through its sheer lack of amity. An E'jja's gun pressed into one's temple was a hell of a way to say hello. Jace tried a semi-friendly, "Er. Luse?" before self-preservation kicked in.
Their scuffle was unpretty and spattered blood across the snow, but it did wonders to relieve the tension.
"You fucking shithead," Jace hissed, panting, propping himself upright against a tree. "What was that for?"
"Why don't you go back to the Steps, pretty boy," Lusiphur snarled between untidy bouts of vomit.
What?? Jace looked up, startled.
That couldn't be it. That was just a cheap shot.
"Lusiphur, listen." Oh, by the Holy, he didn't even need to continue. Luse wouldn't believe a thing he said, or could ever say. "Mogre-Ur is covering your sweet arse, man. You're officially dea-"
"Dead but wanted while you're climbing the ranks," Luse spat. "Passing mighty strange, no? Sweet invitation to any mouthbreather throwback out there to try and collect my head, don't you think?
"You're listening too much to that Imp of yours," Jace sniffed, wiping his nose on a glove. Luse was not necessarily betraying any more signs of paranoia than usual; he still looked pretty damn insane though. Even if one discounted the ferret and rat skulls in his braid (high fashion in the part of the world where they'd met), there was no way to deny that Luse was a shambles. Probably hadn't washed in weeks (months?). Smelled like the gutter of a Port Sarnwog back alley, too.
"So. You going to invite me in or what?"
"Oh, all of a sudden it's Miss Manners after he's ruined my door." Waving the E'jja's gun, Luse hmmphed and pointedly looked the other way. "Got any booze?"
"Nyeh." Lusiphur snorted a blob of blood in the snow. "Fine. Warm up a bit. Then piss off."
Jace watched him slink off like a hyaena and followed, limping.
He didn't know what to do, the year after. He could stay in the Steps, nurse his grudge or wounded pride or something. Go to the Winter Balls and politely decline the offers of girls that could be his daughters. In the end, Mogre had decided for him.
Something along the lines of "Carry this message to Our wayward son or earn Our severest displeasure," only with more cussing. For a High Elf, Mogre-Ur could be appallingly direct.
Jace's "Sir." had come automatically. You could take an elf out of the army, but not the army out of the elf.
Luse had sat waiting, Cinlach draped across his knees. For some indiscernible reason, he seemed better groomed than last time: hair still a rat's nest, but at least he didn't reek. "Surprise me, blondie," he'd said, drily.
Jace thought he could hear the Imp cackling, leering stage center-left. "The sword, Lusiphur."
"Gerroffme," was all Luse said, a good two two hours later. Apparently Jace had drooled on him, and Lusiphur had looked content for all of one second, greatly elated by the (incorrect) assumption of having broken Jace's nose before they'd both passed out.
"Some Solstice," Jace growled, crawling aside.
"Like I asked you over for tea and cookies." Luse spat a tooth. "And tell his Highness if he wants Cinlach he damn better reconsider my legal status. I won Her fair and square; I could always sell Her Ladyship for scrap metal. Give 'er to the trolls, perhaps."
It took Jace some effort not to roll his eyes. As if. "Fine. Write down your demands. I'll make sure he gets them."
"Like I've got paper when I'm wiping my ass on leaves. Moron."
Yet despite all that, riding back to the Steps, Jace San Lanargaith's face sported a twist or twinge that could have been called a smile. Perhaps it was just a rictus from where Lusiphur's fist had hit him hard.
When, next year, Jace was two days late, Lusiphur threw a fit. Parintachin, Jace thought. Not that he'd ever seen him; not really. But he knew when Luse got that glazed somewhere over the rainbow-look in his eyes, a facial expression most commonly observed in closed wards all over Mandratha. It rarely prefigured one of Luse's healthier episodes.
Lusiphur's voice went from a growl to a warbling shriek, "the fucking fuck" and "what were you thinking" among the few recognizable syllables that made it through. These preliminaries taken care of, he socked Jace in the mouth, then summarily proceeded to sulk.
"Inconsiderate, 's what you are," he mumbled, throwing himself onto a rough-hewn bench in front of the hut.
Oh? Unperturbed, Jace unlatched the saddle bags. When he glanced back across his shoulder, he saw Luse picking splinters off the edge of the bench.
"Mogre says no," he said, carrying two arms full of straw-wrapped bottles into the shack. When he came out again, Luse just looked at him, a little too dead-eyed for Jace's taste. "He's very sorry." Jace cleared his throat. "He might re-evaluate if you were prepared to yield the sword."
"Fine. Never then." Luse shrunk into a fur bundle. "Like he doesn't know the rules. Like bonding with the stupid thing, ra ra ra, and much good has it done me. Piece of junk won't even chop wood."
Letting out a breath, Jace said, "Of course not." He was suprised by how gentle that sounded.
"And by the way," Lusiphur added insouciantly, glancing up, "you look like shit. Step life doesn't become you."
One foot already back inside, the other tarrying on the threshold, Jace smiled. "Come on. I need a drink."
Another turn of the Wheel, another sun cycle completed, they'd at least progressed as far as sitting at a table. "Made that last fall," Luse had commented, idly scratching himself. "Thought you might stop by. " The place had improved a lot, which, translated from Lusiphurian into plain Amrahl'ynnian Elvish, simply meant he'd taken out the trash. Of Lynn, there remained a single battered picture pinned to a wall. Of Cassy, none. Jace knew better than to mention either.
"What is that?" he chewed.
Luse burped. "Wild pig an' chestnuts."
Alas, culinary discourse proved not to be their forte, Luse being of the shut up and eat-school, and Jace's personal tastes running toward the modest when not attending Council dinners, so that well soon ran dry. And reminiscing, they both seemed to feel, was dangerous territory best left untrodden until alcohol levels ran high enough to miss one's target with either gun or sword. They were content to lapse into silence instead, heads buzzing with a sort of numbness that could have been called companionable.
In the powdery light of the morning, Jace imagined that Luse looked a little sorry to see him go, white knuckles clutching the doorframe like that, but then he was probably just hung over and reeling.
First Step was gearing up for the Solstice with the usual giddy anticipation, its markets bustling, shopkeepers hiring entire populations of tiny, translucent-winged fairies to fly about their premises, raining minuscule sparkles from baskets the poor things could barely lift (but would, no matter what their Unions said).
Council had gone into recess two days ago, scattering the ermined and velveted back into the land, with only a few of the Elect and their Shadows remaining in town. Tenth, for one, too decrepit and in too much pain to move; Morachi, because for anyone involved in drugs, gambling, and the human slave trade, Solstice was high business season. ("Isn't it amusing," he'd once confided, sub-rosa and over brandy and cigars, "my humans insist they have a similar tradition. They call it Black Friday.") Mogre had retired to his mansion, leaving the park gates open to all, as was his custom.
Jace looked around. Had he packed everything? Standing in the kitchen, he felt lost all of a sudden, the big house too big, the quiet too quiet. These past years, he'd sent his staff home early, disinclining his ear to cook's protestations, vowing he'd be fine, why surely, and have yourself a merry little Solstice, too.
The snows had come prematurely this year, never letting up but freezing over, and Jace foresaw a miserable passage.
And then something knocked out the lower quarter of the stained glass kitchen window.
"Oops. Sorry." Luse?
"That's some shoddy work there if a snowball can bust it." Luse all right. Stunned, Jace looked at the missile just called a 'snowball' and found a cobblestone, covered in spit-polished ice. When the best burglar-assassin in Amrahl'ynn threw a rock through your window, that was like making an official appointment, Jace guessed. "Fuck's sake!" he growled, yanking the door open.
Cinlach strapped to his back, Lusiphur crouched in the servants' entrance. He appeared a bit feral, though not particularly murderous, and Jace stepped back to let him in.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Shit. That had come out wrong.
Lusiphur looked small, standing there. Every bit the misbegotten runt from when they first met... only more tired now. Jace looked for traces of Par', for some Imp whispering (was that where 'impulsive' and 'impossible' came from?) in Luse's ear to go ahead and be suicidal, walk into a Step in broad daylight, fucking First Step, too, but Lusiphur's eyes were calm and clear.
"Yeah. Nice to see you too, Jace." Shrugging off Cinlach, Luse sat, the chill wafting from his clothes.
"You..." He didn't know what to say. But you're dead. You can't come here.
"Can I have a coffee? Somethin' warm before I toddle off again? Then I won't darken your doorstep for very much longer."
Wait wait wait. Quickly, Jace swung the kettle over the fire. "I was just on my way to you," he said.
"And I thought I'd save you the trip." Lusiphur tilted his head. "Too many trolls out there this winter. Dark trolls. Don't know whether you've heard."
Now Jace needed to sit. As Solstice greetings went, that and and its follow-up of 'Bring me to Mogre' were sorry examples, not even good one-liners. Yet, Lusiphur had just managed to provoke Jace into a paroxysm of, well... Not joy, exactly.
Clearly, living out there had affected Luse's brain. What few parts were still in working order after Parintachin had taken up residence, anyhow.
Jace nibbled on a hangnail and studied Lusiphur, who in turn was studying him. "Mogre," he mumbled around a finger. "You want to go see Mogre and tell him about Dark trolls-" (he wasn't thinking about Morlagan, no, he wasn't) "-and then what, have your head separated from your shoulders? Be hanged until you're dead?"
"Seeing as I'm officially dead already-"
"But still wanted!" Jace yelled.
"I don't see the difference," Luse said.
Jace started sucking blood from a spot where he'd torn skin. He took a deep breath, but found he couldn't steady his voice. "Can that..." Glancing at some spot behind Luse's head, he tried again. "Can that wait until tomorrow?"
Lusiphur shrugged. "Mogre ripping out my spleen? Sure. Dark trolls on the move... perhaps not so much."
Their eyes met until Jace broke the contact. "I'm grabbing my cloak," he said quietly. "You'll be taking the roofs, I assume."
Luse nodded, and then was gone.
Compared to similar establishments all over Amrahl'ynn, Elven prisons were better than most - a distinction the majority of inmates stubbornly failed to appreciate. Jace could sympathize with them, though. Just thinking about the Solstice he already felt a spell of gastric unease. He tried to console himself by repeating, mantra-like, that things could have turned out worse.
Of course. There was a myriad of ways this could have played out worse. And alive, but imprisoned had a better ring to it than dead, but wanted. Didn't mean he would ever forget Lusiphur's face as Mogre's guard pushed him to the ground, five swords poking his nape. There'd been blood and the sound of bone (soggy wood going snap) while Luse hadn't even resisted... that much. Going by Luse's personal standards for applied violence, he'd been meek as a lamb.
Perhaps that image haunted Jace more than the Third Troll War, which had ended this past month: once Luse had stopped spewing invective, he'd attained a kind of serenity not even Mr. Moto had been able to drum into him.
And so it came to pass that, on the day of the Solstice, Jace San Lanargaith got up and dressed soberly, sporting just enough military insignia to make it through the prison gates unchecked. Things might be easier, he reflected, if this were Sarnwog or Mandratha, any human-run jail in fact. Couldn't be helped now... Fine, so the humans had more warrants against Luse than cockroaches in their holding cells, but then the Council didn't extradite. Ever.
"Malaché, Lusiphur A.?" The elf at the gate house cocked an eyebrow. "My my, isn't he popular today."
"I'm not sure I know what you mean, officer." Oozing disapproval, Jace threw him a look.
"Nothing, Sir. Your pardon." Ah. Finally caught a glimpse of those medals, had he. Good. "This way, Sir."
Luse looked thin and bored, but at least he was in one piece, and Jace almost regretted fretting when he noticed how smoothly Luse kicked a porn mag under his cot.
"Whoooo, blondie. Smart figure you're cutting." Rubbing his shoulder against the bars, Lusiphur leered at Jace's coat. "General, or what? Lieutenant?"
"Colonel," Jace said. "I wanted to wish you a happy holiday."
"Why, thank you, Colonel. Ahhh, back in the fold. Your dad must be so proud of you."
"Shut up, dipshit." He growled, leaning closer, and if anyone was under the impression that a number of small, pointy objects had just changed hands, not for the first time today, well, they were grossly mistaken.
"What now, leaving already, General? I thought we were just getting cozy!" Luse yelled after him.
Jace snorted, trampling past cells, out the gate, and back into the maze of quickly emptying streets. Everybody longed to be home for the Solstice. Jace bit his lip. Whenever he thought of their last Solstice, he invariably thought of Mogre-Ur, too: Mogre in his dressing gown of pale green spider silk, rubbing his temples as if he were coming down with the mother of all migraines. 'Now this.' The mage pointed a slippered foot at Luse, currently passed out on a rug, 'is what I call awkward. Illuminate me, Master Lanargaith. Which paragraph of his banishment did he not understand?'
Jace lowered his eyes. 'Sir. With all due respect. Would surrendering Cinlach not count in his favour?'
Mogre rose to adjust his robes. 'Who knows. Wouldn't be unheard of. Stay around, will you? I'm convening the Council.'
'Because of Malaché?'
'Because I want the troops to deploy tomorrow, you idiot.'
The truly sickening thing was that Lusiphur beat him home. Shouldering his way into the kitchen, Jace found Luse stuffing his face, waving a breaded drum stick in his general direction. "Happy Ffolftiff," he chewed energetically. "Come, come, sit. Tell me how you've been. Trolls and all that."
Straddling the bench, Jace placed a jug on the table. Seriously, what was he supposed to say? Not that begrudged Luse the prison meals or that well-thumbed stash of porn, but the war hadn't been pretty. Elven lore tended to gloss over such things. Propping his chin in his hands, he said, "How much time have we got?"
"No idea how long Mogre can keep my escape a secret. Few hours before I need to get lost?"
"I suppose that's something." Jace smiled wearily.
Putting down the drum stick, Luse suddenly looked bashful. "Yeah. Has to tide us over for a while."
"Well then. Happy Solstice, Luse."