Bonds of Friendship

by Tenshi

author's note: "Bonds of Friendship" is the name of a room in the Limestone Quarry.

you come out at night
that's when the energy comes
and the dark side's light
and the vampires roam
you strut your rasta wear
and your suicide poem
and a cross from a faith
that died before Jesus came
--sarah mclachlan

The nights are getting colder.

Not long, you muse, turning a page, not long until heavy frosts, until the snowfalls come. Cup your fingers to your mouth, blowing to warm them, but to little avail. Aren't you young, still, and hale? You have no right to be so chilled. But nights like this, reading by candlelight beside this little fireplace, your fingers grow numb for no good reason, hands feeling brittle and old.

Cold. Like his.

Don't think of him, no, don't think about his hands. Scoot your chair a little closer to the fire-- there, feel the heat prickling along the backs of your arms. Feel the weight of the book, heavy in your lap, watch the firelight cast uneven shadows on the words before your eyes. Now close your eyes and imagine sunshine, and the smell of summertime, and a smile that comes more easily to the surface. It will not always be winter for you.

Not so for him. He has willingly surrendered the turning of the seasons; his shoulders pivot and stretch but he cannot turn his face to the sun.

Curses. Any path of thought winds round on itself, till he stands once again in the forefront of your mind. But you cannot help but think it: thoughts of tenderness unasked for, of warmth unexpected. You are human, after all, blood and flesh and bone, and that alone might be a comfort to him.

But you will not offer it, of course, and he will never ask.

When the night has deepened he may rise, and join you at your reading, or he may sleep through till morning. You are not sure. He has had little enough of rest these days, and you will not disturb him. Not even to ask the questions that leave their scalding brands across the backs of your eyelids. You shelter his solitude, you jealously guard his peace.

It is all you can do.

There is a soft rustling noise behind you. Without moving you know the sound as his footsteps on the carpet, the unmistakable cadence of his motion. Ah. He has awakened, after all.

You rise and offer him the fire-warm chair without a word. It earns a smile from him, at least, as he rests his fair head against the high leather back, long fingers spread carefully over the arms.

"Good evening, Hardin," he is the first to break the familiar silence. "Reading?"

Mutely you tilt the book-- still open in your hands-- so that he may see the title, before you manage to find your voice. "I thought you would sleep until dawn." You sound rough to your own ears, untempered. But that much is truth; you did think thus. You are not in the habit of putting words to the things you hope. Still, his look is sharp, attentive. Listening to things unspoken. Hastily you add, "Such a long day it has been, Sydney. Two prophecies, and..." Your voice falters, you end uselessly. "...You must be exhausted."

His icepale gaze is lowered then; he considers his fingertips. "Seldom do I sleep the night through, any more." He interrupts the wordless sympathy you are about to offer, as if to brush aside your understanding. "I admit, however, I hoped I might find you waking."

Perhaps you too would sell away your soul, if it meant such freedom to speak of the things you wish for.

He lifts a hand, idly, watching the firelight glance along the length of one deadly fingertip. The shadows are dancing over his face, now, making his eyes unreadable. "The nights have gotten colder," he says, not quite lightly. "And these rooms are more hospitable, with two."

Of course. In his eyes, all that you are, stripped and simplified: you keep back the cold, you keep him company. But you cannot make yourself rue the comparison. You will give him warmth and companionship.

What is there for you to do, but offer what you can?

"Shall I read with you, Sydney?"

With narrowed eyes, he nods, his smile as cold a curve as his ersatz fingers, sharper still. "If that would please you?" Almost a tease, the way he turns the question around. He must know you will not refuse, as surely as he knows you will stay with him, though neither of you may mention it.

For answer, you simply draw another chair beside his, and put the book-- an older one, this evening, of early Kildean origins-- between you. This is far from the first time the candles have burned low while you read, heads close together.

You know the rhythm of his reading, when to turn the page. Sometimes he asks you, his voice thin and unused in that stillness; sometimes he lifts one long finger to signal your attention. More often you anticipate his hand, shoulders leaning back imperceptibly, waiting for your motion, for the flick of the turning page-- so eager for the faded runic words you uncover for him.

Your fingers are gentle as they can be, on those ancient parchment pages, afraid of tearing. Afraid of leaving a fingerprint stain on their yellowed skins.

Afraid to touch the translucent paleness at your side.

But he seems lost in the book, sitting straight as their old cracked bindings, so careful beside you. He is imperturbable, and if he knows your thoughts he does not speak them.

It startles you when, after only an hour, he rests a hand delicately across the open pages, and sighs.

"My eyes are weary, Hardin," he murmurs. His head does seem heavy, resting against the back of the chair, his eyes half-lidded. You wonder if he notices you watching him intently, though he does not meet your gaze.

"Enough reading for one night? ...Or did you wish me to read to you?" Your ancient Kildean pronunciation is probably laughable, but you cannot quite manage to hope he will decline. Too soon, it seems, too soon to abandon the night. You know he needs his rest, though, so you wait for his answer and prompt him no further.

"I am weary," he says, almost as though he had not heard you.

Sigh, quietly so he might not hear. "Then you should sleep," you say, hoping your voice leaves no room for argument, though perhaps your heart is not in your words.

"You are right," he breathes, a sound like surrender. He stands, the pale-milk crescent of his collarbone rising before you. As he turns his head, wincing at the motion as though the very air were burning him, his eyes are hidden by a sweep of his cornsilk hair, and you cannot guess what he is thinking.

Not that you ever can.

He must be truly spent, his eyes are nearly closed, he is wavering on his feet. Reach out a hand unconsciously, to help steady him--

And for only that brief moment of his unsteadiness, he rests against your shoulder, like a miracle: his skin marble-cool and his breath bright and chill like winter sunlight.

For a fevered instant you imagine him an angel walking only at night, and yourself the only madman who can see him. A touch from him a benediction, grace sheltered in the hollow of your arms. If only you could, you would erase the bloodsin scarred on his back with your fingers, you would remove the stain from his skin and the taint from his soul...

And he straightens, and comes to himself again. No longer touching you.

A nod of head, cursatory, dismissive. "Good night, Hardin. You will know if I need you."

Your voice uneven, you manage, "Whenever you should call--"

Tiniest lift of lips, like a snow-blossoming flower, unexpected. He half-closes his eyes, platinum blue sleepy and unfocused. "Yes. Thank you."

...A dismissal, simple as that.

He leaves swiftly, with no further words, and no touch save a gentle breath of fabric brushing against your arms.

Stare into the dying fire until your eyes water. Damn you for a fool, Hardin, damn you for wanting him.

Worse than watching his red heart's blood trickle away, worse than hearing a song wrung out of him, with nothing left to give-- that moment of truth, the forbidden touch of him, and the truth hidden in his eyes.

Fold your arms across your chest, shiver. How cold the night has become.

It is hard, being the warm one. You could hold him shivering; you could give him what heat you have to share. You could give him a dreamless night, small comfort.

And he would always wake again, not thinking of you.


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