Monday, December 31, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: One Swallow Does Not Make a Summer

The vast expanse of the Westridge Range was at their left as they snaked northwards, towards Lance Point. The city wasn't visible, not yet, but Bev had assured them they were barely a day away from their destination. They'd picked up more sedatives, for Baakov and for Katchelli, and there was even enough that Lyta had managed a few hours of blissfully dreamless sleep.

She was alone in her room. Todd had gone off to do... something, she hadn't asked. Maybe just to sit somewhere else while he read his books. She still hadn't made it more than ten pages into the one he'd given her, and the letters dancing around the page suggested that she wouldn't get any further today.

Her data-pad buzzed.

She picked it up, tentatively, wondering if Lukas was changing plans at the last minute. "Please," she whispered to herself, "just take the bitch away. Don't make me keep her."

It wasn't Lukas. The display in the middle of the screen read: "Anonymous client requesting video display. Y/N."

She hesitated, considered throwing the whole thing in a drawer and ignoring it. Then she sighed and turned it on, voice-only. A male voice came through the speakers: "Kes, it is Alain, please do not hang up."

The second she heard him, her hand had moved to the disconnect button, and it was only his immediate insistence that stopped her from pressing it. It hovered a fraction of a centimetre above the button. "Alain?"

The relief was audible. "I know you probably do not wish to speak to me, but I needed to know that you were all right."

Lyta sagged back against the bed. A few hours of dreamless sleep was not enough to deal with the Southern assassin. She let her head rest against the wall. She wished she hadn't answered his call. "Yeah. I'm fine," she said.

There was a pause at the other end, as though Vulpei was coming to a decision within himself. "I know I have no right, and I am very pleased you took my call, but may I see you as well? Or would that be too forward?"

Lyta bit her tongue to keep herself from snapping at him. There was no way he was going to see her. "I'm not in Port Arthur anymore."

Vulpei was quick to appease. "No, no, I know this," he said. "I mean, will you allow a visual call?"

Lyta thumped her head against the wall, annoyed with her own stupidity. "Oh," she said. She paused, trying to decide whether to let the Southerner see her. It was, more than anything else, the knowledge that she'd already answered the call and let him hear her voice that made the decision for her. She thumbed on the video.

Vulpei looked much as he did when they'd picked him up in Port Arthur: sharply dressed and well groomed. The background behind him was a nondescript wall; he might have been anywhere. He looked pleased for a moment, happy that she'd accepted his request, and then his eyes widened slightly. "Thank you Kes, but it is as I feared."

Lyta nearly threw the data-pad across the room. "As you feared?!" Fucking pompous Southerner, she thought. What right did he have to judge-- She bit her tongue before the words left her mouth.

"You do not look well," he said, sounding genuinely concerned. "You look as you sounded. Tired and... um, I cannot find the word. 'Worn out,' I believe you might say?"

Lyta stared at the data-pad screen, wondering yet again how Alain managed to have such an emotional effect on her. She deflated and let her head fall back against the wall. "Yeah. I guess both of those."

Alain leaned forward. "When I could not find trace of you in Port Arthur after our last encounter, I began to despair. I know the way I departed and the things I said were unfair and... Well, I needed to know that you were all right." He paused, allowing Lyta to interject, but she didn't and he continued. "I feel I owe you an apology. So there it is. I'm sorry. I should not have said what I did, not then, not like that."

Lyta shook her head, rolling it back and forth against the wall. He was always so forward, so direct, so... unlike Ti. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, forcing herself back to the conversation and out of her memories. "Yeah," she said, mostly because she needed to say something. "It's okay. It's... It's fine." She barely remembered the details of the conversation, two weeks and several lifetimes ago.

Alain was not about to be mollified. "That is kind, but it was not 'okay'. I know what it is like to be told someone loves you and not be able to respond. The feeling of impotence of being left short. It was unfair of me."

Lyta shrugged. She wished he would talk about something else. She didn't want to remember the conversation, and she didn't want to remember the circumstances around it. She decided to change the topic herself, and brought up the first thing she could thing of. "I... Dirk was doing some research into... stuff... after you left. He found an article. Some reporting about the Olympics in 1912. I mean, I was following the Olympics really close back then, but only the gymnastics routines. And I was only 10. I don't think I would have remembered any of the other names anyway, but... Yeah. I guess what I want to say is I was really pissed at you for talking about the Olympics the way you did, but I didn't realize..." She trailed off, the torrent of words finally at an end. She hadn't meant to say so much. She wondered if maybe it would be easier to be like Billy Croyden and barely talk at all.

Alain's brow furrowed as the topic of conversation shifted, but then he relaxed into it, his face returning to its natural state of mild interest. "Yes, well, that is true. It was my one and only time at the Olympics. It is a shame; I believe I had a chance for more golds. I was quite young then. As for being 'pissed' at me, I believe you had just cause, in fact. More than one. I am usually more delicate when I wish to be, Kes, but my skills elude me where you are concerned."

Lyta listened, both shocked and surprised at the casual way he talked about gold medals. But, she considered, if things had turned out differently, if she'd been able to keep training and the war hadn't come, wouldn't she have been the same way? She'd wanted gold, she'd expected gold. Maybe he really was just that damn good. And she didn't want to talk about the rest of what he'd said anyway. "It's okay," she said, closing her eyes.

Alain's voice came through the speakers, insistent. "Is it? Is it really?"

She realized he wasn't going to let up. Damn persistent Southerner. He was going to keep asking until she told him something real, something beyond polite conversation. She let her head drop, wondering what in Prophet's name was wrong with her. "I'm really tired," she said finally, allowing herself to admit it. "I'm not... I'm not saying things right. Not that I was ever really good at that anyway. That's why Quinn does all the talking." She still hadn't opened her eyes.

Alain's voice came gently through the speakers. "You are grieved, and it isn't because of me. I am vain, but I am not a fool. I can read you quite well, Kes."

Her professional alias sounded hollow in her ears. She realized, unexpectedly, that she wanted someone to call her by her real name, and not in anger or as a threat or as a way of dangling power over her, just someone talking to her and not lying. She breathed out slowly. "It's Lyta. You might as well call me by my real name. Everyone else knows it." She opened her eyes a crack to look at the screen.

Alain smiled bashfully, and emotions crossed his face. She wondered whether he felt he had just won a victory, and she decided she would rather not know. His face settled, after a moment, back to concern. "I can tell you about the Olympics if you... if you would like to be distracted, but..."

Lyta shook her head. She didn't want to talk about his fencing matches, and she didn't want to be distracted. "No, it's okay. I had people telling me about them when I was a kid, and now... Well, it's not gonna happen now. Doesn't matter." She hesitated. "Maybe one day."

Alain nodded. "I know that feeling. But it isn't everything, even though we give it everything." He shifted in his seat and leaned forward slightly. "Lyta, I can hear a great deal in your voice. I can see more in your face, and if I were by your side I think you would not even need to say a word. But if you want to talk about whatever it is that troubles you, I believe I can understand."

He paused, waiting to see if she would reply, but she had sunk back against the wall. He continued, "Earlier, what I said about having someone say I love you and not being able to reply... You shrugged, but your face said a great deal more. You are grieving, and it has nothing to do with me. Though it pains me to realize it." He smiled, a small self-indulgent smile at his realization that he was not the centre of her universe.

Lyta rolled her head against the wall. Tears formed at the corners of her eyes, and she squeezed them shut. "Please don't," she whispered. "Please don't talk about love. It's been... it's been a really shitty half-season."

Alain's voice came disembodied from her data-pad as her eyes saw nothing but the blackness behind her own lids. "I'm not talking about it, your expression is. Your face and soul cry out about it, and now your eyes cannot hide it inside. I will not talk of my love anymore, but I know that the problem is that you are not talking about yours. It is eating you inside. I am not your brothers, I am not anyone to you, so you can talk to me without fear of judgement or confrontation. I just want you to be able to get this sorrow out of your heart."

Lyta struggled, the words trapped. She didn't want to talk to Alain; she didn't want to talk to anyone. She swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, her head still pressed against the wall.

Vulpei's voice was soft and gentle. "Lyta? Why don't you start by saying his name?"

Her eyes fluttered open in surprise. She realize she had never mentioned him, not to Alain, not to anyone in Port Arthur. She took a shuddering breath, surprised at her own willingness to listen to the Southerner. "Ti," she whispered. "Titan Corovan." There was a pause, and she sought words to fill it. "He trained at the same gym with me when we were kids. And then he helped us get out during the war, and then... I guess we worked together for a while last cycle."

Alain smiled and nodded for her to continue. "When did you first know? First know you were in love with him?"

Lyta pressed her hand against her neck. "I don't..." She breathed out and tried again, her words coming slowly and hesitantly. "It happened really slowly. I didn't want it to... And even when I did, Ti said we couldn't. He's... he was all about his mission. He wouldn't let anything-- anyone get in the way of that." She took a shuddering breath, remembering the conversation with Chambers and the resolution she'd come to after it. "I was going to... I don't know, I was gonna do something. And then the shit hit the fan and then he was dead and I never got to..." The tears streamed down her cheeks as she remembered: Nazarene and the message that had come through after, her shock and surprise, and knowledge that now it was final and she would never get to act on--

Alain's voice cut through her tears, sharper than she would have expected. "Lyta, stop. Do not think. Feel it. Remember a moment when you knew, a moment when the tearing inside resolved into knowing and happiness. There must have a moment like this before everything else, yes?"

Lyta pulled her knees up to her chest, the data-pad tipping as it nearly fell over. "I don't know," she whispered.

Alain was insistent, unwilling to let the matter drop. "Then you should search out that moment," he said. "It was the second when you realized how happy you could be. Before reality and events took the purity of that moment, of that potential and threw it away." He paused a moment, and when he started again, his voice was less sharp and more understanding. "The path to healing, to releasing your grief, your anger and disappointment is knowing that at the beginning, at the first instant of love, it was wonderful. Then you can start to believe it will be like that again. All things pass, Lyta. All grief fades with time. But you must start the process by embracing that love is sacred, no mater the consequences. It is the first step down the road to happiness."

Lyta stared at the data-pad, not really seeing it, thinking about Ti. So many of the times they spent together were tinged with sadness or stress: the conversations in the desert or looking out over the Prince Gable trench, the times they'd kept watch over a wounded Todd or planned yet another dangerous mission. She thought for a long time, and one thought bubbled to the surface above the others. She licked her lips. "I guess... I dunno if it was the first, but it was maybe the happiest." She paused. "This is gonna sound stupid."

Alain nodded encouragingly. "I doubt it. Go on..."

Her eyes fluttered, remembered back a half-cycle. "We were in Khayr ad-Din," she started. "We'd all met up there together. And Ti, he was so sure that we weren't supposed to be dating, but... Well, we sorta did. We spent a day out in the trash heaps." She laughed at herself and batted away the tears  on her cheeks. It had been so ridiculous, their first 'this isn't really a date' date. "The stupid, smelly, collapsing trash heaps of Khayr ad-Din. It was super-romantic." She laughed again, trying to think of a less romantic backdrop. "He rescued me from a barnaby carcass. I mean, we had a real date later, a better one where he took me out to dinner and stuff, but..." Her voice trailed off, thinking back over it: the half-eaten barnaby that had dropped from somewhere up in the high heaps, how she'd jumped out of the way and nearly landed on top of him, both of them tumbling down in a tangle of arms and legs. "My brave hero, rescuing me from the stupid barnaby carcass."

Alain smiled. "That's it. Before everything else, there was boundless hope and potential. Joy so great you thought it would burst open you chest. That is the last moment you should hold on to, not the rest. I am not saying forget, for I know you cannot. But when your mind thinks on him, make sure that it ends there, at the beginning."

Hearing the Southerner talk about Ti felt like being splashed with ice water, and Lyta suddenly felt tongue-tied. "I..." she shook her head and put it back against the wall.

Alain leaned forward, his voice serious and insistent. "Lyta, listen to me. Do not question this. I know you have no reason to trust me, but trust what you just experienced. A moment ago, I saw you smile. I saw you beam even through your tears. When did you last feel like that, can you even remember?"

Lyta hung her head, trying to remember and realizing she couldn't. "No," she whispered.

Alain was still talking. "How can you deny that happiness is better than sorrow? How can you feel that when you remember Ti you should hurt rather than be happy?"

Lyta glared at the screen. "I don't... I don't get to choose!" she shouted. "That's not how it works!"

Alain's voice was level, not rising to Lyta's accusatory tone. "I know about grief and disappointment, and as Southerner I feel it all the more acutely. Lyta, ma chère, fill your heart with the best. There is place enough in your mind for doubts. But you are wrong, you do choose. You just did. When you remember the sadness, force yourself to cling to the happy moments instead."

Lyta blinked. It sounded so simple when he said it. Just... choose. And yet, for all the simplicity, she realized she never had. She had never chosen her emotions, just ridden the wave as they threatened to drag her under, tried to cope and deal with the pain and the sorrow...

"You know you can, I have shown you." Alain's voice was soft and even. "It is not easy, but you must recognize that it is better, non?"

Lyta licked her lips. She realized her knees were still pulled up against her chest, and she readjusted herself, settling herself to sit cross-legged on the bed. She took up the data-pad from its lopsided perch against her knee and set it up against the foot of the bed, so that she had a better view. Alain looked back at her, waiting.

She smoothed her hair and brushed back the last of her tears. She took a deep breath and leaned forward. "All right," she said at last. "Tell me about the Olympics."

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