Saturday, February 14, 2015

Koreshi Chronicles – Chapter VIII: Birthday Wishes

25 Autumn, 1927

The moon was bright overhead as they walked across the desert sands. Lyta could barely hear the sounds of the Askar camp anymore, the boastful talk on the eve of combat. It was good to be back among Koreshi, and even better to have Jonas with her again. She wondered if Ti knew how special he was for the Sand Riders to have accepted him at their fire, to have shared their food with him.

They had laughed easily while they sat side by side amongst the Koreshi warriors, Lyta translating when the conversation slipped into the secret language that Ti had not been taught. But as they walked further from the camp, the banter faded. Despite their enthusiastic reunion earlier in the afternoon, Lyta found herself falling into old patterns of awkward silence. She glanced over at the man she had thought was dead, that she had begged God and the Prophet to bring back to her, to give her one more chance to tell him how she felt, and she said nothing.

Ti cleared his throat. “So… How’ve you been?”

Lyta nearly laughed. How could she possibly begin to sum up the last cycle and a half, with everything from the soul-destroying fear of the diamond mines to the joys of running the rooftops of Oxford to the anguish of leaving her brother? It didn’t really matter, she supposed. Ti was just making small talk. There would be time for all of the tiny details later. Hopefully.

She shrugged. “Ups and downs, I guess.” She allowed herself a small smile. “Now’s kind of an up.”

Ti looked like he was about to say something, and then his face contorted. “Prophet give me strength, why is this so hard? You’d kinda expect after thinking about seeing you for a cycle, I could've rehearsed something to say.”

Lyta looked up at him shyly. She always seemed to have this effect on him. She couldn’t help it. “We could go back to the kissing part instead,” she suggested.

The moon was bright enough that Lyta could see Ti blush as he looked down. “I want to. You can’t imagine. Well, maybe you can, but…” He trailed off, trying to collect his thoughts. He sighed. “I’m struggling to make sense of things I want to tell you, need to tell you, but I can’t--”

Lyta raised herself onto tip-toes and kissed him lightly on the lips.

She could tell it was the wrong move the second she did it. Ti pulled away, and Lyta looked down, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

“No,” said Ti. “No, it’s not that you shouldn’t have. I want to. I want to, but I need explain myself, the reasons why I didn’t let this go anywhere before.”

Lyta let out a slow breath. It was hard to speak. For so long, all she’d wanted was some sort of fairy-tale ending where they would fall into each other’s arms and madly profess their love to each other. But Ti wasn’t that sort of person, and for that matter, neither was she. “Look, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want this. But I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days. I know why you didn’t let anything happen before. And if you still don’t… well, it’s okay. I get it. Whatever you decide, I’ll be okay with it. I’m just happy you’re alive.” She looked back and smiled at him.

Ti regarded her with his serious expression, the one he saved for the deep talks they always seemed to have when they were alone. “Did you mean what you said about coming back for my mission, not me?”

Lyta looked down at the ground. Would he be mad at her If she admitted it? She supposed it didn’t matter – she had to tell him the truth. She owed him that much. “Yeah,” she said. “For a while, I wasn’t sure I would be able to see you at all. The timing of the next HIRA op meant that I’d miss my window to come back to Port Arthur. And, well, I can’t say I was happy about it, but I’d accepted it.

“But then Fennec told me about the hard drive and what was on it. She couldn't get it to you by herself. Prophet's sake, she probably couldn't have even gotten it for you in the first place by herself. The house was buttoned up tighter than some military facilities. But she had to get it back to you. There were more lives on the line than just the ones HIRA was using to blackmail us.”

She could feel Ti’s eyes on her even as she refused to meet them. His voice was carefully neutral, refusing to guide her into an answer. “‪So you helped her. In spite of HIRA, in spite of Lukas.”

The cold night air played over her skin. “‪Yeah.”

“‪That must have been rough.‬”

Lyta ran her fingers over the seams of her jacket. “‪It was rougher when Lukas found out we'd done it.‬ I thought we'd be able to keep it from him, but it didn't work out that way.” She had been a fool to think she could keep it quiet. It had been as good an op as they could plan with just two people and a few hours’ notice, which was to say it had been sloppy and rushed. And she had never been good at keeping secrets from her brother. She just wished the fallout hadn’t been so catastrophic.

“‪You know,” Ti’s voice cut into her ruminations, “I often wondered if things would have been easier for us if Lukas wasn't, well, Lukas.‬”

Lyta smiled in spite of herself. “I think a lot of things would be easier if Lukas wasn't Lukas.‬”

“I need to apologize about that. It was unfair of me to put him between us.‬ I never really gave us a chance. But things are different now.”

The memory of the afternoon’s kiss was still fresh in her mind. Lyta looked up from the sandy ground. “‪Yeah.‬”

“‪You're different,” Ti pointed out.

Had it been anyone else, Lyta would have rolled her eyes. In fact, she remembered several conversations where she had done just that. But Ti was different. “‪Am I? People keep saying that.‬”

Ti nodded emphatically. “‪Well, people are right. Every one of my Kin has been through an ordeal that bonded us. A trial that they had to endure and overcome. They had to face the thing they feared most and overcome it. I've been there a couple of times myself.‬ It’s why I trust them implicitly. It’s what makes our bonds so strong.”

Lyta looked at him carefully, trying to figure out what he was getting at. His earnest expression hadn’t changed, the intensity of his eyes that had always drawn her to him. Lyta hesitated. “I don't want to be your Kin, Ti. Your friend, absolutely. Maybe your girlfriend. But I don't want to be part of your system.”

Ti shook his head. “‪This isn't about that. It's about trust. I guess that's where I always got hung up. It’s the way I've built my life.‬”

It was a conversation they had had many times before. It had been the crux of nearly every private conversation they’d had, as Lyta thought about it. And every time, it was where things had broken down. She forced the disappointment out of her voice. Maybe this time would be different. “So... what can I do so that you'll trust me?”

Ti stopped walking and put his hands on her shoulders. “‪What do you fear most, Lyta?‬”

She wanted not to answer, to block him out and avoid the question. She had faced fear enough for several lifetimes in the last few cycles. She wanted nothing more to do with it. But this was Ti. He was alive, and she’d prayed through long days and longer nights to have one more chance with him. If this was what it took, then so be it. She swallowed hard. “Losing people,” she said at last. “The people I care about.‬ It's happened too many times already.”

“‪And when you thought you lost me, did you shut down?‬” His voice was insistent.

Lyta shook her head in desperation. Had she? She had wanted to, that much was certain. She thought back over the seasons after Nazarene, the time they’d spent in Port Arthur and Khayr ad-Din. She closed her eyes. “I don't know. I mean, we had to keep moving forward with what we were doing. We'd just gotten the job to get Katchelli out of the mines. But after that...” Memories of the caravan trip came back to her, the fear and madness and bitter loss. She pushed it back. This wasn’t the time for self pity. She looked back up at Ti, her blue eyes locking on his intense brown ones. “It was hard. Really hard.‬”

“‪But look at you now.‬”

“You'd be amazed how many people it took to get me back from that.” The Doc. Ellen. Miss Julie. Alain. Lukas. All of them trying to tell her the same thing: that she could choose to be all right again. That she could move forward.

Ti was practically beaming. “But you did. You helped Fennec, probably saved her life. You care for the Koreshi. And after everything that happened, you’re still willing to risk loving me?‬”

Lyta nodded. She felt a pang of fear, and she pushed it away. “If you're willing to risk it back. I've got a giant target on my chest right now. I may not have that much longer before HIRA comes after me.‬”

“‪Screw HIRA,” said Ti, his voice finding an edge Lyta had rarely heard in it. “You’ve faced a far harder trial as far as I’m concerned.‬ You’re capable of love and compassion, and the fear of pain and loss no longer holds you back. You had my love; you've always had it. Now you have my trust.”

It was what she had been waiting to hear for cycles. Once, she would have given anything for it. But now that she actually heard the words coming out of his mouth, she had no idea what to do or what it meant. “So…” She gave a tentative smile.

Ti’s hands gripped tighter around her shoulders. He leaned in and kissed her. For a moment, she let herself go entirely. It was so much better than kissing Solitaire, a small part of herself managed to think. It was better because she meant it, all the way down to her core. It went on for a long time.

She smiled. “I thought about doing that a lot over the last cycle,” she admitted.

For a moment he was quiet. He released her shoulders with a soft smile. “I have something for you. In case you thought I forgot. Happy birthday.” In his hand he held a small data recorder and held it out to her.

Lyta took it was a curious expression. “What’s this?” She pressed the playback button.

Ti’s voice came through the speakers. “New log, 20 spring 1926. Ti Corovan’s personal journal. Day 4 of my passive observation and with little other distractions, I can’t stop thinking about her...”

Ti’s hand slid over hers and stopped the recording. “Not now. Later.”

Lyta looked at the small device a moment longer, then slipped it into her pocket. “Okay.”

“It’s my journal,” Ti explained, “the one I kept in my tomb. Sorry, my hide. Didn’t mean to get maudlin – it’s just a nickname I came up for it.‬ Anyway, it’s mostly about you, and I guess for you. I thought you should know.” He paused. “‪I'm laid completely bare in that. Sometimes it isn't pretty to hear, but it’s the truth. It’s pretty much a transcript of my soul.‬”

Lyta ran her fingers over the buttons, suddenly uncomfortable. “‪You sure you want to give this to me?‬”

Ti started walking again. Lyta got the sense that if they were anywhere but a vast desert landscape, he would have been pacing. He took a deep breath. “When I was in my tomb, I started to have some dark thoughts, and I entered a spiral of self pity that I’m pretty ashamed of now. I thought to myself how sad it was that I'd only ever loved one woman and it never had a chance. Every reason I'd ever had for not feeling special attachments and staying focused on my mission came back to taunt me, and I told myself that if I'd just listened to myself, I wouldn't be feeling those wretched feelings of loss and disappointment. It was one of the darker periods of my life.”

He paused a moment in his story, some private thought passing through his mind. Lyta was quiet. She’d had enough hard conversations that it was only fair she let Ti continue until he’d gotten his thoughts out.

“Those feelings of despair and self pity almost did me in. But then I had another thought: What if I were to live and ended up with the only woman I'd ever loved? Could anything be better or more romantic? It was like a story out of one of Todd's romances.” He smiled for a moment before his face once more took on a serious cast. “‪And if it had ended there then I'd say I'm a wise man, but I'm not. When I was feeling physically stronger again I thought those romantic and idealist dreams were just a survival mechanism, things I'd told myself to keep myself going, to keep myself sane and alive long enough to get back to the mission.”

He looked down at her, his face a mix of emotions, guilt and pain playing across his features. “That's why I didn't tell you I was ok, why I told Tom to lie to you. The fact is I was afraid. Do you know what it is to have one thing to hold onto to keep you going? When I faced a slow, lonesome death the only thing that kept me going was thinking of you. How could I risk that dream? What if you had moved on? Was it fair of me to keep breaking your heart? What if you had to choose between me and Lukas and you chose him? Lots of what ifs and it all made me scared.” He took a shuddering breath, the stream of words finally coming to an end.

Lyta took his hand, his skin rough against hers. “I'm sorry you had to go through all that,” she said softly.

“I'm not,” Ti replied. His voice had regained some of its conviction. “Because in the end I realized what I was afraid of was that loving you for real would mean losing my dream and taking away the part of me that is most important.‬ And I've learned to face fear and doubt.” He looked down at her, his expression softening along with his voice. “All I’ve ever wanted for you was for you to be happy. I’ve loved you all my life. I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with you, but I did and now I realize that if you’re the reason I fight and want to live then there’s no point in living without you.”

Lyta smiled up at him. “I love you too,” she said simply and kissed him again. She realized that for all her conversations after Nazarene, for all the soul-searching she had pushed herself through in the last cycle and a half, she had never told Ti her feelings face-to-face. Her hands tingled. “I'm glad I got the chance to say that you to you for real.”

Ti gave an exaggerated sigh. “‪This is the way it's going to be, isn't it?‬”

Lyta regarded him curiously. “‪How’s that?‬”

“‪I'm in love with a taciturn woman and you're in love with a blabbermouth.‬ I'm going to say a thousand words while you say just one.”

It was just like him to be melodramatic about the whole thing, Lyta thought. She shrugged. “That's probably true.‬”

Ti smiled. “I guess we balance each other out‬.”

Lyta looked up at him with a mischievous grin. “I may not say much, but I’m really flexible.”

Ti’s mouth hung open. “Wait, what?”

Lyta let her hand slide up his arm towards his neck.

“You mean figuratively?” Ti said, a quaver in his voice. “Like you adapt?”

Lyta cupped the back of his neck with her hand and pulled his face down to his. “Nope.” She kissed him again. “Not even a little bit.”

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