yet the earth revolves
DISCLAIMER: Dept. Heaven is the intellectual property of Sting and I seek to gain no profit from my temporary appropriation of its characters and setting.
(the cold only kills – "A person needs to be loved the most when he deserves to be loved the least." Anonymous.)
The events stand thus:
In the space of a single night, Gram Blaze has lost its home, its sponsor, and one of its founding members, and with those things it came dangerously close to losing everything that held it together.
Their only direction, come straight out of a fairy tale, was to seize Garlot's hidden heritage and brandish it in one last reckless charge at revolution.
In the process of breaking the seal on Garlot's blood, he lost his mother for the third time in his seventeen years (the second time in a week).
And now, heading back to Bronquia—fighting their way back through the border—their leader has finally hit his breaking point, stealing off white and shaking after the first battle in which he let his power loose. He is now missing, and has been so for the past four hours.
What Jenon knows is this:
He cannot quite bring himself to care.
Even in a world as unfair as this one, in Jenon's opinion seventeen was far too young for anyone to die. This went especially for Siskier; she had been bright and beautiful and held the sky in her eyes and had had such a brilliant future lying ahead of her. And beyond that, there were so many things that he'd been putting off saying to her out of vague boyish fears and shyness.
He'd realized, vaguely, that she never quite watched him the way that she watched Garlot, but Garlot was practically their younger brother (their son) in his estimation and so he'd never paid it that much mind. Only after the fact did it occur to him, dully, that perhaps that watching was the same kind of watching he'd always applied to her, like a halfhearted punch to a still-open wound.
It was too late for any of those things to matter, but they still hurt him terribly, seething in his heart as he mourned Siskier and all their dead might-have-beens.
In the end, Velleman had given them the choice, and if Siskier had not made it for them—
It was another kind of blow to Jenon to realize that he was the kind of man capable of making a decision like that—the knowledge that he would absolutely have taken up his sword and, given the time, gone to cut off his best friend's head to save a girl they both (each in his own way) loved. Siskier might have hated him for it, but better to have her hate him and to have innocent blood on his hands than this ugly reality.
Why the hell was the sun still rising without her here to greet it?
And so as Garlot struggled openly to stand and continued to fall, Jenon walked on quietly, locking the grief inside his heart and letting it fester.
Siskier had made that choice, not Garlot. In his mind, he knew and understood that truth. It couldn't stop him from resenting the fact that Garlot had been the one to survive.
Both of them had been important to him, but if he had to set their lives on a scale, Siskier was unquestionably worth more in his eyes. Robbed of her—with Velleman already dead and buried—Jenon only had two targets left for his resentment.
One was Garlot, of course. The other was himself.
It wasn't really right for him to blame Garlot, to hate him, and Jenon knew that. Doing so still gave him strength enough to wake up in the morning, and so he made no real concerted effort to change the way he felt.
Because the facts stand thus—only one of them could have survived, and the wrong one did.
That's not something that any amount of time will be able to change.
That morning, as they'd packed up in preparation for leaving Lost Aries and the fresh grave of Garlot's mother behind them—that morning, Garlot had walked up to him hesitantly, pale-faced, dark sleepless shadows under his eyes, his hair hanging unbound at his back.
"No," he'd said immediately, and shaken his head. "Not now." Not ever again.
He'd turned his back, not wanting to watch as Garlot stared at him all wounded and pitiful. When the sounds of shuddered breathing reached his ears, he feigned ignorance.
There was a gulf between them now, as vast and yawning as any canyon, and it would take so much more than a few tears to see it bridged.
It took at least an hour—the sun was already creeping down over the horizon and the fire was halfway built—before Nessiah suddenly reappeared on the edges of camp, leading their wayward captain by the hand. From the corner of his eye, Jenon saw that Garlot had the unmistakable jittery, pallid look of someone desperately sick; it was supported by the way his legs suddenly folded as he approached the fire and how his back bowed up to the sound of weak, dry retching.
Worried murmurs spilled throughout the camp like milk from an overturned pitcher. Eimi arrowed through the crowd, holding Garlot's face in both hands, speaking to him too lowly for Jenon to make out words; Nessiah called out orders for blankets and water and wet cloths and then sat down and started poring through his oversized book.
Everyone—everyone other than Medoute, who was on watch, and Jenon himself—gathered around them. Between the lot of them, they got Garlot bundled up and then situated themselves around him and the fire as he was lulled to sleep collapsed over Nessiah's lap. The warmth of that scene was far more palpable than that of the nearby flames.
Jenon turned away, aimlessly running his hands over his pack and bedroll. He didn't want to watch Garlot receive that kind of comfort; there was no way that Garlot deserved the others rushing to his aid like this.
From where she sat on a nearby boulder, Medoute glanced at him, then jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Aren't you going over there?"
He shrugged, feeling foolish and resenting himself for it. "No, I'm going to sleep."
And even though he felt her thoughtful gaze following him, he lay down on his roll and closed his eyes, stubbornly waiting for sleep to reach him.
Whatever Garlot's illness had been, it had abated enough by the morning for them to travel, and so they did.
Part of the way to Ishnad, Garlot's charger pulled up lame, and he dismounted to support the horse and not stress its injury any further as they walked. Most of the other mounted men joined him on foot—even Leon followed suit, letting the children share his saddle instead.
From the army's left flank, Jenon watched as everyone took their turn to sidle up to their captain and exchange a few words with him, or rest a hand supportively along the slope of his shoulder or the small of his back. Once everyone (aside from Jenon himself, and from Medoute, who was still watching him) had made their rounds, Nessiah fell into step beside him. Through gaps in the ranks, Jenon watched as Nessiah's hand found Garlot's, as their fingers wove together.
Storm clouds gathered inside his chest, and he looked away.
That night as they set up camp—complete with tents this time—Jenon was outside washing clothes for the sake of something to do with his hands, and had just happened to look up when he saw Garlot wandering aimlessly down the lanes of the little canvas village that had sprung up over the past half hour. He stopped in front of one tent that did not seem to be his, looked down, looked up, down again, and then sighed and pulled up the flap, letting himself in.
The realization that this was Nessiah's tent did not surprise him by this time. It only made the black thing at the base of his ribcage grow.
The two of them wove themselves together at the side, and thereafter were rarely ever spotted apart. Whenever Jenon turned around, they were there: Nessiah remarking on how the straps of Garlot's armor were in disrepair and he really ought to get a new suit forged when they passed through Ish; Garlot standing with his face buried in Nessiah's shoulder while the latter smiled not altogether pleasantly; the both of them kneeling before a map, heads bent low and close together; Nessiah patiently correcting Garlot's grammar over and over.
Garlot walking out from under Nessiah's tent flap at dawn one day when Jenon had the redeye watch, half-dressed, hair disheveled.
Siskier's memory deserves more than this, Jenon wanted to shout, and what gives you the right, but he kept those angry words locked tight between his ribs.
(after all, they each deserve the right to do what they can to get by. to get by)
They reached Ish after a week's worth of travel, and together hit the town's inns like an early-winter hailstorm. Jenon took advantage of the water and basins to shower off the road grit and exhaustion that had layered itself over him like a second skin, and retreated into his room, dispassionately staring out the window. Leon and Elena passed by once, with Zilva and the twins trailing after them; Garlot and Nessiah walked by rather later, carrying Garlot's armor, spear, and the fragile-looking scythe they'd found at the altar in Lost Aries. The pair of them returned about twenty minutes afterward, so Jenon figured that they'd probably been down at the blacksmith's.
He was watching Eater drag Mizer and Byff out to do who knows what when a sudden sound from the other side of the wall behind him grabbed at his attention.
Jenon had just gotten to his feet and begun to cast about warily for his sword when he heard the sound again, much louder—a tenor voice he'd always despised raised in a gasp.
He turned and seized the corners of the bedside table with great violence, his arms straining as he fought to keep himself from turning it over. Prizing his hands away, he instead flung himself down upon the bed, covering his head with his pillow so that he would not have to hear them.
She came to him that night, waking him as she opened his door without so much as a single word and closing it behind her so that the only light to identify her was the starlight filtering through the window. He blinked hazily at her silhouette, and only when she came close enough to take his face in her hands did he realize what she wanted from him.
He was far too bewildered to take any direction even if he'd had any experience at all; as it was, he just lay back dizzily and let her run her hard callused hands over his body, under his clothes. She made little sound; in the dim light her eyes were intense and her lips held the barest hint of a smile. Hesitantly, his hands ventured to find holds in her long hair—something to brace himself with as she took him firmly. She had the body of a war goddess, and he lost himself inside her with the speed of a flash flood.
It ended very quickly, of course, and in his exhaustion and disorientation he felt shame; to whatever indistinct thing he murmured, she just smiled and told him it was all right.
A few moments later, he was asleep again.
Jenon woke that morning near certain that he'd just had an extremely strange dream (because what were the odds, especially at a time like this?), but the clothes he'd worn straight to bed seemed to be absent without leave, and as he glanced around the room to find them in a pile on the floor, the door opened and Medoute let herself in.
She was half-dressed in a pair of long pants he hadn't known she had and the thinnest black band of cloth to pass itself as a bra, and she was pinning her hair up as casually as you please. One might have thought that they'd done this every day for months.
He tried to say something, but just wound up sort of gaping at her; Medoute smiled wryly and shoved the door closed with her hip, then came to sit on the edge of the bed to look at him.
At last, he found his voice. "Why—"
"Because I've been watching you," she said evenly, "and you're miserable even if you've been trying to hide it. This isn't something that you can get through all by yourself at your age."
He hated that at your age, but then Medoute had been almost entirely unfazed by Siskier's passing after all, and she probably meant age in life experience rather than years.
"Why me and not Garlot, then?"
"Because he let it show when he needed help, and so he got it. You've been avoiding the others, and so they haven't realized. But Garlot's not the only person who was hurt by all of this. You're suffering too. You don't deserve to go through this by yourself."
And she reached out to rest her hand on his head, fingers splayed across his hair. Despite the roughness of her touch, it came off as a tender gesture rather than a patronizing one.
"You don't deserve any worse than he does," Medoute told him, and Jenon looked down.
"I don't know about that."
"The things you're feeling right now are normal. And I'll be here to help you get through them. As long as this wall is standing between the two of you… you need somebody with you on your side."
His eyes stung, and he closed them, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyelids.
"I don't know what to do anymore—about myself, about anything." All he knew was that he didn't like the way that things were—his hatred and his guilt over that hatred, and all this hopelessness.
"That's fine. I'll be with you while you figure it out."
And she clapped his shoulder. The release of pressure from the mattress said that she had already stood up; because he did not know what to say, he didn't try to stop her as she left the room.
After he had dressed and left the room, he promptly ran into Garlot doing the same.
Garlot stared at him, and Jenon stared back, and the two of them just stood transfixed. This was the closest they had been to each other since Jenon had rejected his pleas almost a whole week ago.
(it felt like a lifetime)
"Garlot," Jenon said awkwardly, and Garlot flinched, something in his tawny eyes going very hard.
"That isn't my name," he replied quietly, gravely, and the deepness of his voice startled Jenon a little—when had that happened? It had only been a week since they'd last spoken to each other, and Garlot's voice had gone through this much of a change—
That wasn't all. There was something—harsh, something stern and desperate about the upright way Garlot carried himself now, a not-quite-hostile challenge in his exacting stare.
It was like this was the first time he'd looked at his friend at all, really looked. And Jenon realized that he had no way of really telling what was different and what was the same. He'd taken Garlot for granted for so very many years, and now the boy across from him was mid-metamorphosis into an unknown adult after losing so very many things so suddenly.
It occurred to Jenon that perhaps he didn't really know Garlot at all anymore, and simultaneously occurred to him that he had better say something.
"…Gulcasa," he offered at last, awkwardly, the syllables harsh and foreign to his tongue.
Garlot nodded once, cautiously, still staring warily.
"We should—go on downstairs and meet up with the others, shouldn't we?" he asked.
Not saying anything, Garlot simply nodded once more, then turned and walked away.
He couldn't really expect anything else. A few awkward words wouldn't bridge the gap between them any more than Garlot's tears could, but—something in Jenon was urging him that he still had to try, although he didn't yet understand why.
It would take time, but that gap would close on its own eventually.
He needed to move forward—to keep living. Siskier was gone, but that didn't mean that their country was in any less need of their help. And this was probably the best way to really remember her.
Jenon lifted his foot and leaned forward in a slow step.