A rarity on two counts: a Violinist of Hamelin yaoi fic. No warnings apply, beyond the obvious. This is solely anime-based, and takes place close to the end of episode
eight, with spoilers up to that point.
The fic is dedicated to the players of 'Trent T. Codpiece": may your plastic plants thrive unburnt, your neighborhood associations remain passive and impotent; and your Christmas lights shine year round!
GATES OF HORN
Moon in the water; cold light in the streets/
Warm in your fingers; sweat in your sheets/
Laid out like an offering where two currents meet/
The river is dark, but the water is sweet.
- Bruce Cockburn, 'Bone in My Ear'
Walking in the rain. A classic plea for attention; a favorite toy of self-pity; and a categorizer of human intelligence: whether you were smart enough to come in from the rain or not. Or if you were Hamel, it was simply something you did because you were far too busy brooding to care about getting wet. Raiel certainly wished *he* didn't. As is, he drippily slopped along behind his friend, with overflowing gutters in both shirt sleeves and high tide in his boots, knowing full well that the only self-pitying idiot out on the streets of Sforzando that night was *him*.
/Shit... it's raining up!/ He wasn't exaggerating. The pounding droplets were smacking into the pavement hard enough to fly back up in a drenching spray, saturating the material of his pants and skirt of his coat from the waist down. His cap brim kept the worst of the storm out of his eyes, but as for any protection the rest of his gear offered him, Raiel could have just taken a bath in his clothes and achieved the same effect. Well, stupidity had gotten him a stroll through this flood- maybe it was time to see what some attention could bring.
His friend stopped, but didn't turn around. Raiel could have balanced a level along the defensive wall of shoulders Hamel presented to him. No doubt he wasn't thinking about Raiel's comfort or the weather at all, and was instead expecting accusations and badgering as to where they were going and what they were going to do next. Raiel hated to disappoint, but with the piano's straps of sodden leather knawing into his shoulders and a lake pooling in his underwear, shelter was a much higher priority.
"Ha-chan, we're getting soaked. Look- I saw an overhang in that alley back there. There's no need for us to keep stomping around in the rain all night. It's not like we're going anywhere."
No response. Hamel picked up walking again, hat brim tipped down so low as to make friends with his collar. Which is exactly what Raiel should have expected, given that attention to creature comforts usually sits badly with sulking.
"*Ha-chan.* The rain will be *really* bad for the instruments."
That seemed to work. "Shikata nai dai yo, " Hamel grunted.
/Huh. Knew he wouldn't endanger that oversized cricket of his.../ Raiel squelched back down the waterfall that had formerly been a street and led the other boy around a corner and down a short, wide alley where a covered stoop over a metal door formed a cul-de-sac at the end. The last few feet of stone tile under the overhang were dry, if a little chill, and the three sheltering side walls effectively held back the wind. There was no name on the door and no postbox; only a single unlit wall sconce that emitted little more than peaty smoke when Raiel tried to light it. Hamel sat down and promptly wedged himself into a corner, staring unseeing out at the downpour. Droplets rolled off the brim of his hat and spotted both of his cheeks, as if the weather was trying to provide him with the tears he refused to indulge in.
Memory stirred in her cobweb-quilted bed and fed Raiel an image. Little Ha-chan, sulking in the corner, his violin having been taken away by Pandora for using his magic music to compel Shiroineko to jump in a water trough. The crafty little sneak had dipped his fingers in rainwater pooled in a nearby windowsill and spattered his face with artificial tears of remorse, to show his kaasan how very, very *sorry* he was for making the cat swim. The memory warmed him a little, like a cup of okaasan's sweet tea- the special blend she had made for Hamel and him when they had trouble getting to sleep. Maybe it wasn't such a good thing that he had more memories of Hamel's house than his own, but...
He plopped down next to his friend, easing the piano over his head and off. Both elbows and shoulders thrust back at the same time cracked most of the strain out of his back, and he pried off his boots to wring out his socks. They were too disgusting to put back on, so he tucked his bare feet underneath him and sat on them to warm them. Hamel still hadn't moved. Of course.
"Ha-chan, you're all soggy. Here- " Raiel dug around in his coat pocket until he came up with the rag he used to polish his piano. The flannel was greyed and greasy to the touch, but it would have to do. It cleared most of the moisture from his hands and face, and Raiel threw it in Hamel's lap afterwards. "There. Ha-chan- dry yourself off a little? You're too cute to sit there and marinade."
Hamel's head snapped around whiplash-fast and his eyes widened for an instant, but he took the cloth and began on his face, taking off his hat to dry his forehead. In the alley's dim his horn gleamed with what seemed like it's own internal light, it's pearlescent lustre unlike any animal's Raiel had ever seen. It seemed utterly ridiculous that that stubby little cone could be a sign of anything dangerous... unhuman... /Wonder what it feels like.../ Could Hamel sense anything in his horn? Was it just a lump of dead keratin like a deer's horns- or was it living bone, like a cow's? Or...something else...?
Hamel handed him back the rag and replaced his headgear; Raiel returned the flannel to his kit bag of emergency piano goodies for on-the-road maintenance and repairs. He threw a longing look at Hamel's cloak, whose water-repelling woolen nap looked enticingly warm. /Puppy-dog eyes up to max... gotcha!/ After a second, Hamel proffered the edge of his cloak and Raiel dived under it, snuggling up against his side. /Works every time./ He slipped a friendly arm around Hamel's waist and laid his head on his friend's shoulder, sighing in momentary contentment. His pawing was permitted, as he knew it would be. In their days of toddlerdom the two of them had always flopped around on each other, like a pile of puppies in a basket.
"Say, Ha-chan, it's really coming down, ne? Do you remember that flood when we were six? When that mazoku rat came into the house looking for shelter and okaasan hit it with the flyswatter? And it jumped on the table and you tried to trap it with your hat?"
Hamel's expression pinched unreadibly, as if he were trying to decide whether he smelled something bad or not. "No."
"Sure you do. The school closed and there was a wall of sandbags stacked at the end of the street that we tried to climb but ojiisan wouldn't let us. He turned you upside down and smacked your butt and you hated him for it for a month. You even convinced me to sneak over to his garden one night and *pee* on his flowerbed. He was furious when his fiorelles didn't come up that year and blamed Dulcimer-san's dog! You remember that ugly thing- she was always letting it run loose and eat everyone's trash... and we used to tease it by tying ribbons to its tail and okaasan would- Ha-chan?! Are you okay?"
Hamel was resting his forehead on a clenched fist, and his breath came and went in peculiar quavery gasps, but the glance he turned to Raiel was slit-eyed with hostility. "Stop. Talking. About my mother. *My* mother." The possessive ring to his words prickled menacingly, like barbed wire set atop a fence. "I don't remember and... I ...don't... **care**."
"Nan da yo?!!" /Well- *fine*./ "Ma, ma- so you *don't* remember! Maybe if you did, you'd remember whether you burned Anthem and killed *my* parents or not!"
It was the nastiest of cheap shots, and Raiel regretted it almost the instant it flew out of his mouth. But not enough to apologize- not yet. He flung himself away from Hamel and turned to his piano, ignoring the other simultaneously pulling away from him. Raiel forsook his childhood shin' yuu for an even older and dearer friend; his fingers instinctively finding the keys and beginning to play. They were hard and cool under his fingertips; the rhythms of motion as natural as breathing. His mind gratefully diverted to the ever-delightful problem of what to play, but despite years of classical training, what came out was a thin, simple folk song. Only dimly remembered, it grew in strength as he threaded in subtle variations of his own to embellish the melody. In his mind, a female whispered in soft accompaniment:
'Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
To cast me off discourteously,
For I have loved you, oh so long-
Delighting in your company.'
Raiel almost faltered for a moment when he realized just what the song was about, and remembered that it was okaasan who had sung it to them. But...if it made Hamel cry or simply aggravated him further, Raiel made up his mind not to care. Though it still couldn't be helped that the song also reminded him almost unbearably of Hamel. Through the years, in those most sacred and private chambers of his heart, Raiel had come to consider it *their* song. When he was young and inexpert with mourning, it had been a vehicle for grief over the loss of his family and disappearance of his friend. In the days on the road that followed, the song had taken on a more positive aspect; an idyll of home and safety to drive him forward and keep him warm. Finally, as he had grown older, his newly empowered hormones had begun to reflect with wistful romanticism upon it as a homage to the loss of his first love. But today it was a lament- not for the loss of that love, but for his transmutation into the chill stranger who sat beside him.
'Thou couldst desire no earthly thing,
But still thou hadst it readily-
Thy music still to play and sing
And yet thou wouldst not love me.'
Still, he found the music lacking. It must have originally been meant as a solo piece for some foolish boy to serenade his sweetheart , but the rendition Pandora had taught him was far more rich, meant to be played with violin, piano and voice harmonizing together. Perhaps the polyphony had evoked some minor magic she had neglected to tell him about, or perhaps he was simply used to it as a group arrangement... but there was an odd lack of savor to it, like food boiled without spices. The music needed Hamel and Pandora just as surely as he had felt he needed them. There was little comfort in the knowing: one was dead, way beyond his reach- the other...
Ah, Greensleeves, now farewell, adieu,
To God I pray to prosper thee,
For I am still thy lover true,
Come once again and love me.'
Raiel stilled his hands and gently pulled the cover down over the keys, setting the golden piano aside. No- it simply wasn't worth the effort.
"Don't do that for my sake." Hamel's sudden break into speech made him jump. Raiel had fully expected his friend not to speak to him for the rest of the day. He was all set to snarl back 'Don't worry, I *wasn't*' but it died stillborn, smothered by shame. He'd already wasted breath on the kind of ugliness that never gets any argument anywhere, in response to Hamel's perfectly understandable pain.
"It's not that- it's...well... it was your mother's song. And, um- it's sort of like it was our song- all three of us together, and it doesn't sound right without you and okaa- Pandora. And well... I did think it might bother you to hear something that she used to sing- that is, if you *remember* her singing it!- uh..."
Raiel shut up before his tongue managed to trip over itself again. Still, his fumbling little chickendance seemed to have accomplished something. Hamel was sitting up straighter, and instead of glowering out at the rain he was picking at a loose thread on his cloak.
"Raiel...forget what I said. If ... I... was the one who was responsible for killing your family, then it's downright laughable for me... to be getting possessive of my own."
"Ha-chan... you weren't the one. You didn't." Raiel spoke hastily, firmly- as much to reassure Hamel as to flatten the snickering doubts that still polluted trust in his friend. /It...doesn't matter... it wasn't *him*.../ "You're Hamel with the *one* horn. Not three. Just*one*. *Everyone* who saw it said that the mazoku who did it had *three*. There's just no way..."
/Unless.../ Raiel wasn't sure what suicidal impulse possessed him in the next moment. His hand moved independently of his body to snatch Hamel's hat up and off his head and expose what was hidden beneath. But Hamel struck back just as swiftly, his fist snapping around Raiel's wrist, mashing skin and tendon against bone. Pain spiraled in red and black flashes back up his arm, but their eyes met and Raiel tightened his grip on the brim. Hamel's eyes were stubborn with warning, but there was no overt threat on display- he was just making it clear that whatever Raiel discovered, Hamel wasn't going to let himself be held responsible for it.
He took his hand away. Raiel brought his closer.
/Ohh... *hell*,/ The tip of the horn was sharper than it looked, the surface smoother. A little of its luminescence seemed to come off on Raiel's fingers for a moment, then fade away. The surface was hard like he expected, but warm rather than cool to the touch, more like living flesh than anything else. An odd euphoria bubbled in his gut and an unwilling flush stripped his cheeks as he realized where his train of thought was headed. He had never been allowed to touch Hamel's horn before, but had quite often wrapped his sticky little fingers around other bits of his friend's anatomy back in their schoolyard days. Come to think of it, Hamel had always been far more reluctant to share what was under his hat than what was in his pants. Maybe he had been afraid someone would...
/No way. Absolutely no *way*./ Yet the idea seized him and shook him like a dog slamming around a dead rabbit. If he were to push his fingers down into Hamel's thick bob... what would he find beneath that hair? How many horns *did* his friend have? Hamel didn't move as Raiel slid his hand down off the horn and onto the springy gold below. Guts clenched and cold, he felt the wet strands beginning to part in thick clumps beneath the gentle pressure he put on them. Hamel's eyes were narrow and challenging, daring him to go on, and yet tenderly contemptuous of his fear-
"And what will you do if you find what you're looking for, Rai-chan?"
Rai-chan. /"Rai-chan, lookit this frog! Rai-chan, list'n to meeee!"/ His chest hurt. /"Rai-chan, Haha says you can stay over tonight!" "Rai-chan, you're my bestest friend in the whole world- ain't cha?"/ Raiel put his hand away for the second time that evening, and banished his singed curiosity without regret. Hamel, whoever he was and whatever he had done, was his friend- and the comfort of knowing where they stood simply wasn't worth the pain of finding out. His fears might nibble at him subconsciously breath by breath, but it would kill him to know they were true.
After a moment, Hamel tucked the offending spike back under his headgear and turned to Raiel with 'Now what?' written on his face.
"Couldn't you- maybe... get Flute to try and heal it?" Alright, so it was a stupid question; and Hamel made the appropriate scornful noise.
"Heal it?! Why would I want to do that? So I could be normal? Marry a miller's ham-faced daughter and have ten kids by the time I'm thirty? It's a *part* of me, for good or ill." There was a brief icky silence, mercifully broken by a horse-snort of laughter from Hamel, the first Raiel had heard him make since they were reunited. "You always did like playing 'doctor', didn't you, Rai-chan?"
Raiel grinned involuntarily at the memories that invoked. Cool mud on bare skin in the springhouse... warm afternoon sun glowing through the windows of Hamel's loft... two little boys finding all sorts of fascinating things to do with mouths and fingers and pricks, and all kinds of out-of-sight places where they could put them. It had been their favorite game, outside of making music together- and the only one they never played with anyone else, no matter how feverish their curiosity about what differences the little girls hid under their clothes. Hamel had as yet given him no sign that he would like to continue that exploration with their newly adult bodies... yet every overactive neuron in Raiel's hormone fried brain urged him to lean over and kiss his friend and share the memory...
Desire sank like a lead weight, drowning under the wave of fury that submerged him. He was on his feet before he knew it, cold tiles icy under his bare skin, teeth locked painfully into each other in rage. "You *do* remember. You've been LYING to me that you don't!! If you can recall doing *that*, then you can't pull this shit and tell me that you can't remember!!! And I think you damn well *do* care!"
"Alright, sooo I can remember!!" Hamel threw himself up out of the corner to glare at his tormentor. "That doesn't mean I *want* to remember! That doesn't mean I *have* to remember! And **you** have no fucking right to force me to, dammit!"
Outburst spent, he swung away again to face the wall, making a big production out of not looking in Raiel's direction. The obvious question, thrown down like a gauntlet between them, was why he didn't want to remember, but Raiel knew better than to ask it. The words themselves might have looked like a plea to pursue them, but the tone screamed 'I don't have to take this shit!'. And he didn't, really- Raiel had tagged along at Oboe's insistence; but with Hamel's reluctance following them the entire way. It had been more than half their lifetimes since they had last seen each other... ludicrous, really, to think that those ties would have lasted beyond the firestorms of adolescence. How ironic that it was their reunion that might sever them forever. But still... but still...
"Hamel... Ha-chan... please. I won't go asking you to remember if you don't want to. But... well... you were my friend back then and I just thought that you might like to have a friend again now that all this is happening. That's all." /No, it's not.../ his groin and his heart pleaded together- and were ignored. Hamel didn't turn around. "I loved you then- what's wrong with accepting a little love now? It's a freebie. Really."
"And what happens if I *am* mazoku?"
/His lungs crisped and ashy from smoke inhalation... the knees of his pants scraped off from crawling through the twisty maze of rubble. A spindly black shape like a shadow-puppet covering the sky, twisted as a crone's finger, its horns stabbing the rolling smoke like lightning in a storm cloud./
/Victims' families, debt collectors, shameless gawkers and grubbers coming to pick over the ruins. Accusations like so many hungry maggots biting over and over into the question of why only *he* had survived as they looted the bones of the lost. One old woman with golden teeth had left wearing his mother's prized jasper necklace. When he had protested, she told him that children should be seen and not heard./
/But I cried longer for Hamel than I did for mama../
Someday he would have to choose, but for now he could simply pick a direction and keep walking. Hamel jumped as Raiel slipped his arms around him, nuzzling aside the heavy drape of his hair to rest cheek against cheek. The flood of sweetness that welled up within him spilled over, bathing his distrust with affection. Whoever or whatever Hamel was, he had seen to it that Raiel made it through the massacre of Anthem unhurt; and Raiel would do no less than see him through what lay before them equally intact.
"You'll regret this, Rai-chan." Hamel broke the embrace by standing, rising defensively at the sight of an oddly dog-like creature passing in front of the mouth of the alley. Raiel could just make out the indefinable shape between slices of rain, the hairs on the back of his neck crinkling as it approached.
"I know," he answered back, and before Hamel could forget, Raiel grabbed his friend and spun him around, their lips finding each other for one sweet, wild moment. He didn't care who was approaching or who was going to see them, and his arms flew up to cling to his friend for as long as he could get away with it. But it was Hamel who initiated a second kiss, a little tormenting flash of ecstasy before they *had* to break away and face what was coming out of the storm towards them.
"I know," he whispered to himself one more time as he shouldered the burden of piano and slid into a defensive crouch to mirror his friend's. /But I'll burn that bridge... when I come to it./
Author's Note: In classical mythology, there are said to be two sets of gates at the entrance to Dream, through which all dreams must pass. The first set is of Ivory, and through them pass dreams which are falsehoods. The other set is of Horn, and through them pass dreams which are true. Or so they say.