THE QUIET MEN
Chapter 26: Justin's POV
Something gave way in me. Some final barrier of control got bypassed and now I'm crying like a girl into Brian's coat. I can't take this anymore. I realize the worst that could happen is truly possible. Brian could die. He could even choose to die, if it meant saving Gus. And he would. I know he would. But what he doesn't realize is that if he chooses death, he will be killing me too, because Brian is my life. I have no reason to keep going without him. Without our dreams, our future, our child. I'm in this emotional spiral and I can tell it's worrying him, the extent of this meltdown. I'm not the weepy type and neither is he, so we don't know what to do if one of us gets emotional. It's usually me, frankly.
"Baby, it's going to be fine," he lies, willing to say anything to shut me up. He never calls me "baby" unless he's being sarcastic or unless he's feeling desperate. That desperation gets through and I sniff and choke and have to smile. I look up at his worried face and grasp his lapels in both fists as I seethe,
"If you think you can escape me and go back on your promise about the baby by dying, think again, Kinney. I won't give you up, not to fairies, not to rebels, not to anyone. And if you died, I'd follow you down that rabbit hole, too. There's no escape from me."
He smiles tensely. "Stalker. Listen to me, don't ever say you'd do something to yourself if I died. You have your own life, independent of mine. You have family and people who love you, and a business to run. With or without me. You're young and beautiful and you'd eventually find someone else."
I reach up and grab his face in my gloved hands, squeezing tightly. "Just shut the fuck up, Brian. You're talking bullshit. You know this is it for me, just as this is it, for you. Our hearts beat as one rhythm. One stops, so does the other. Why would I want to live on for decades in an empty shell without a soul? I wouldn't. And neither would you."
"Quit being such a drama queen and let's get out of this fucking sleet. My feet are numb and my fingers are going next. I want warmth before my dick turns to ice and falls off."
The way he keeps his arm tightly around my waist as we walk quickly back to the Inn tells me he knows how stressed I truly am. I'm not being a drama queen. I mean it. Without Brian, I'm toast. If he left me for another, I'd stick around until I won him back. Because I know I could. But if he left me in death, I have no reason to go on.
"What if we had that child?" He suddenly asks.
"What do you mean?"
"If we had that baby and I got hit by a bus, would you just leave her all alone?"
I have to think about that. How selfish would that be? "I guess I'd stick around and make sure she had a good start in life."
"But we don't have that baby, Brian, and if you do something stupid, we never will."
"Look, I don't necessarily believe this guy knows what he's talking about. He's a fanatic. I never trust fanatics. I..."
Suddenly a small creature steps out of the alley between us and our hotel and stares at us with uncommonly large eyes in an uncommonly ugly face. "I'm a Dinnshencha," he says in an odd, high-pitched, creaky voice. "I serve the goddess, Aine. She sends you this warning," he ceremoniously unrolls a scroll and reads, "Trust not the rebels. They lead you from the light and into eternal doom for you and your bairn. Listen to your heart and heed your power." He rolls it back up and his claw like fingers reach out to Brian, but a noise distracts him and suddenly we find ourselves facing a tall, scrawny man, who speaks in the same voice. He sees our confusion and shrugs. "Dinnshenchas are shapeshifters," he explains. "Here, take this, I must return to the Goddess."
Brian accepts a velvet pouch tied with gossamer silver silk and the Dinnshencha shapeshifts into a scrawny alley cat and disappears into the shadows. We look at each other and say nothing. We're no longer capable of being surprised. Our room in the Inn is small, with a big fireplace to dispel the chill. We sit on the braided rug before it as he opens the velvet bag. Inside is a small quartz crystal orb, no bigger than a ping pong ball and rubbed smooth. Brian stares at it as I smile. "A crystal ball? Can you see the future in it?"
"Only if the future is really small," he quips, but when he picks it up, his expression changes and he rapidly puts it down again. "Pick it up," he tells me and I do so. It feels a little warm, but otherwise unremarkable. I turn it over and over in my hand. Nothing. I look at him, questioning. He sighs and takes it from me, closing his long, bony fingers around it. His eyes are half-closed. Obviously the sphere has some special magic for him.
"What does it do?" I ask. He shrugs, puts it down.
"Do? Nothing, really. But when I hold it, I feel a little strange."
"How can you tell?" I make a weak joke which causes him to wince.
"Shut up. It's a little like a Xanax, maybe. I hold it in my hand and I feel calm. Kicked back, but also more alert. More attuned, maybe."
"Attuned to what?"
"I'm not sure," he looks perplexed so I back off, not wanting to add to his stress. I put the orb back in the velvet pouch, then take his hand and lead him over to the bed.
"Let's forget this shit for now and get a good night's sleep, Brian. I'm tired and so are you. Who knows what bullshit we're in for tomorrow?"
He agrees and we undress quietly, aware of each other, but not using it as a prelude to anything. The double bed has a featherbed over the mattress and a down-filled duvet. It's like slipping inside a warm marshmallow, it's so soft and enveloping. The only light is from the ebbing fire in the hearth. He reaches for me, but I can tell that his need is for closeness, not sex. I snuggle into his long, strong arms and exhale, feeling safe at last.
"Don't ever leave me, Brian," I plead.
"Where would I go?" he grumbles into my hair.
"I mean it."
"So do I."
I move so that my cheek rests against his chest. I can hear the steady strum of his heartbeat. Like a newborn, it comforts me. "Don't let them hurt you."
"Justin, unless we have a suicide pact, one of us has to go before the other. Given my age, the best bet is that I will be the lucky winner of that race. Whenever it happens, you'll have to cope and move on, or our whole relationship is a mockery. This is all about how good life can be, and those memories will still be there for you even when I'm not."
"Thanks, but I prefer your flesh to the memories, Brian."
"I prefer your flesh, too, but let's not be total drama queens over this issue. We survived before we knew each other, we can each survive on our own, if we have to."
"Do you feel that way about losing me?" I absently trace a circle around his firm brown nipple, feel him shudder.
He sighs. "We're not talking about my losing you."
"Tell me anyway."
Silence. I look up at him. He's staring hard at the ceiling. Finally, he speaks. "I wouldn't fall on my sword. I'd be a miserable bastard, but it would be wrong, an insult to the memory of what we shared if I just gave up on life. Besides, I have a son to think about. I suspect I'd live out my time in a kind of melancholy haze. I'd never fall in love again, that's for sure."
"Yes, you would. They wouldn't leave you alone. Even older, you have this power."
He chuckles. "I'm not saying I'd be celibate. I'm saying I'd never let anyone else in, not the way you got in."
"Because it could never come close to what we share. It would just be a farce."
I tighten my hug on him and close my eyes. Nothing can happen to either of us, that's the answer. We just have to hang on to each other forever. It won't work any other way, not for either of us. Eventually, he falls asleep. I can tell by the way his breathing changes, by the slight snuffle of his deviated septum. As tired as I am, sleep doesn't come easily to me. My mind reels with thoughts of the conversation on the boat, the creature who gave Brian the crystal orb, the mention of the Goddess Aine, wondering if she's someone we've seen during this journey.
Just as I feel like I'm going to drift into a doze, I see a flicker of light at the window, and then another, and another. I turn my head to see several tiny pixies fluttering at the glass like moths at a porch light. They disappear and then suddenly they swoop into the room from the hearth, entering by flying down the chimney, unbothered by the smoke and the heat. There are probably six of them. They buzz around the velvet pouch containing the orb, leaving behind a residue of their gold pollen, and then come over to the bed and perch on the duvet. They grow still, staring at me as I stare at them. It's the first time they've ever been static long enough for me to get a good look.
They are tiny, but perfectly formed human shapes, both male and female. All are dressed in gauzy clothing. The females have long, wispy hair and the men share their delicate beauty. They have the Spock ears and slanted, feline eyes of other fairies, along with large diaphanous wings that are as sheer as chiffon. They even wear tiny little shoes that curve up at the toes, and bits of gleaming jewelry. That high-pitched buzz they make is apparently their method of communicating, but it's so far beyond human pitch, I can't make out a word. They are incredibly beautiful. One of the females glides up to hover just over my face, staring down at me. She alights on Brian's hair, not even causing him to twitch, she's so ethereal. She sprinkles hands' full of golden pollen that she removes from a tiny bag she carries, letting it float down to his hair. The others do the same, powdering his chest, his arm, his cheek with the stuff until he fairly glows in the darkness. Then she flies straight up to me and touches her tiny lips to my nose. It feels like an eyelash brushing your cheek. Off they go, leaving the way they came, only this time flying up the chimney, instead of down.
I lean over and press my fingertip to a dusting of gold on Brian's arm. As soon as I take my hand off of him, the gold turns to ash on my fingertip. I'm seized with a need to get it off of him, finding it threatening, somehow. I brush it out of his hair with my fingers, and dust it off of his skin. He grabs my wrist.
"What the fuck are you doing?" he asks in a surprised, but sleepy, voice.
"Getting this fucking fairy dust off of you!"
"Leave it," he says, turning on his side, his back to me. "It's defensive."
Huh? How does he know that? I clap the ash off my palms, and stare at his sleeping form until finally, my exhaustion spirals me into a black and dreamless slumber.
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July 25, 2004