The first of two unrelated ficlets to deal with the impact of what is actually said...

Rows in the Garden

There's a silence beyond silence.

Regular silence is the sort of noiselessness that allows the dropped pin to be heard. This is tolerable, even desirable, in small, planned doses. During a hangover, for example. But the current crop of silence is, according to a layman's understanding of science, an utter absence of audibility, as though sound has never been. A twitch of muscle might splinter the universe.

He's got time to evaluate the variations of silence because she's staring sound out of existence.

Probably shouldn't have said that.

The first curse of man is this; tact is the small gift that the inner child overlooks in favor of the big, shiny box which holds a fleeting joy. Lifelong benefits do not make enticing presents, like getting a savings bond from grandpa. Thank God the gratuitous uncle brought the fire truck with real working lights and siren.

Speaking of alarming noises, he'd slaughter McSacrifice for one right now.

They invent new methods of distraction daily. It requires barely a thought, hardly an effort, except now when he needs one desperately. Snippy sarcasm, intended to remind the other that they are not as intimately connected as rumor portrays, works sufficiently to cultivate distance. One they don't maintain particularly well. Their garden is teeming with landmines and barbed wire, devoid of pruning and only blooming in the dark.

Planting innuendo is a hobby. Reaping discord is the harvest.

And so he says whatever it is that he says and she becomes the autumn tree, bursting with sudden color and dropping her leaves. It's a pretty blush, an abrupt and scorned thing, and it's all she'll give him for the friction he sows. Just doing his part to keep them in line, because said line gets so much sand kicked over it during their disputes that it becomes nearly impossible to locate. Which makes it easy to cross. Accidentally or otherwise.

Her tongue can be just as sharp. This is the consolation that he'll use to soothe any guilt on his part, making amends by way of making it her fault. It's a special skill which clearly arrived in a humongous, glittering box to catch his attention. One could argue that all of his gifts are suspect.

What was actually said, he has no recollection.

But it was enough to infuriate the woman now sucking the oxygen from the room. Suffocating, this glare of hers. And it's so damned quiet. Just as well not to know which part of his scathing rant had triggered the response; too tempting to employ it repeatedly whenever they smother that line beneath the weight of want.

He does want.

But she's that glorious present under the tree with someone else's name attached. Not for him. Eyes feast while the gift waits across the room and just in front of him and on another continent and at his side. So nearly there and yet always in a different dimension, his hands going through her into hollow air.

And when the pin drops, he realizes that it's his heart falling to the floor. Residing on both sides of the hastily redrawn line.

It's her fault. She started it. And this is the story he'll drag through the day, a burden on a rope trailing behind him that etches burns into white-knuckled fingers. Because she'd given him That Look. The one that foretells how close she will stand, how much she wants. Valor is the better part of stupidity and he casts her down until she's forced back to her side of the line. For their own good, he tells himself. But even he doesn't believe his own gallant logic.

But that line is, upon inspection, just another row in their garden. One of many they trip over. And for all that he's tired of falling, there's something to be said for the momentary thrill of tumbling. It's the landing he never gets right.

Preservation, the second curse of man.