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a glass poured to air

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There comes a day months afterwards, almost enough to begin counting in years, when Locke Lamora stops in front of a mirror and says, "Lamor Acanthus."

Then he uncorks a flask of wine and drinks from it, deeply, with no sign of pleasure.

Jean looks at Sabetha; Sabetha looks at Jean.

*

Their first of many whispered conferences takes place outside the closed door, twenty minutes afterwards. "Do you think," she begins, and Jean cuts her off, harsh and abrupt.

"He believes it."

Sabetha looks up at him, her expression eminently readable, and Jean curses himself for an idiot and a fool. "I'm sorry," he says. "I know you… I know, both of us…"

Sabetha rolls her eyes at his ineloquence and holds out both hands, an offering in response; Jean clasps them, and Sabetha nods. After a moment, Jean opens the door a crack and peers in. "Half of the damn thing gone," he reports. Ordinarily Locke would have stepped out already, demanded to know what scheme they were planning and offered a half-dozen amendments, and Sabetha would have wanted dearly to strangle him and they'd have had a fight and hashed out a new, better, crazier plan, but although Locke must have heard the door open, he doesn't even turn. Jean says, "Do we stop…"

Sabetha considers. "No," she says after a moment. "Let him drink all he wants and throw up all he wants. We can begin again after that."

"Purgative," Jean says. "Well, I can guess who'll be holding back his hair."

Sabetha smiles wryly. "We'll take turns."

*

They agree, privately, that from this point on, they'll call him Locke: not, as was always the privilege they claimed as friends, siblings, lovers, Locke Lamora you blithering thrice-damned cock-faced idiot.

"He can be just Locke, the blithering, thrice-damned…"

"Cock-faced idiot." Sabetha gives Jean another one of those wry smiles.

*

"Gods, Locke," Sabetha says in the middle of the following afternoon, with Locke white-faced and half-slipping out of Jean's arms, "anyone would think you had something on your mind."

Locke merely glares at her. "Why do you two never let me die in peace?"

"Therein lies the nub of it." Jean sighs dramatically. "Sabetha, any ideas?"

Sabetha sits on the edge of the bed as Jean drops Locke unceremoniously onto it. "He's useful to have around," she suggests after a while. "For… what is it we do again? Ah, yes, stealing from people."

Jean inclines his head. "He's kind of scrawny. What you want is a man with proper muscle." He makes an appropriate gesture. "See?"

"He's right," Sabetha says. "Locke, Jean's right. We have no use for you. We can leave you to die now if you like."

Her only answer is a heartfelt groan. She gives him a quick kiss and helps Jean clean up.

*

The day after that, Locke is quite sober, they have a lot less wine than they had before, and outside the window the Sea of Brass laps, gentle as a kiss, on a long low shore. They're staying at a small inn in some nondescript coastal town, but the small-scale sounds of a city are a comfort. "Hey, Sabetha," Jean is saying, lightly, "do you remember that time Chains gave us each a day's holiday and carte blanche to spend whatever we lifted?"

Sabetha grins. "What did you do with yours? Wait… was that the time you came home with your arms full of flowers singing, O holy stars of something Camorr, something something else, all folk songs sound the same to me."

Jean shrugs and laughs. "It wasn't a rhetorical question, I really can't remember. What did you do with yours?"

Sabetha gives him a confidential smile. "Don’t tell anyone, but…" She taps her fingernails. "Alchemical lacquers. So pretty, so impractical for a thief. Locke never saw them, he nearly wound up being press-ganged and put on a ship to Talisham… Locke?"

Behind them, very quietly, Locke is crying.

*

"Okay," Sabetha says. "We've had the drinking, we've had the hysterics. Out with it, Locke."

Locke sits up and tips his head. "I wouldn't call myself hysterical."

Jean asks, very gently, "What would you call yourself?"

There's a very tense silence, and then Sabetha gets up and starts pouring yet more wine for all of three of them. She laid in another bottle earlier in the evening, calling it a premonition.

Finally, Locke says, taking the glass from her hand, "I can't remember anything of my life before Shades Hill. And – Sabetha, you knew me then, I don't know how old I was exactly, but…"

Sabetha nods. "I would have guessed at the time you were four, five, maybe six. I mean, it's not impossible that you wouldn't have remembered, but…"

"But nothing?" Locke asks. "Why do I remember nothing at all? Jean – you remember your parents, don't you? Sabetha?"

They both nod, slowly.

"There could be a thousand explanations," Locke says. "For why I can't remember, for why I survived the plague, for why I was convinced my name was Locke Lamora, and believe me, I've tried to list them all. And I have tried and tried not to believe it."

"And now?" Sabetha asks, gently.

Locke shakes his head, helplessly. "I failed."

*

Sabetha gets in under the covers with Locke that night, and Jean curls up at the foot of the bed by unspoken mutual consent. Locke shifts and then lets them both in. He seems distracted, half-asleep, half-elsewhere, and Sabetha lets him be for the moment.

"Did you ever?" she asks, very softly. "You and Locke… while I was…" She makes a gesture, indicates the clean white sheets and fluffy pillows. They're in funds right now, allegedly between jobs; if Locke wanted to have a major identity crisis, he couldn't have chosen a better time for it. Perhaps he did; the little shit wouldn't be the erstwhile Thorn of Camorr if he didn't have a finely honed sense of timing.

Jean, bless him, doesn't ask her what she means or otherwise play dumb. "When we were teenagers, a little," he says after a moment. "Later, when we were drunk and restless. I guess… it wasn't…" He waves a hand. "It didn't add much."

Sabetha wants to say, clearly you haven't been having sex with the right people, but that might be a little crass considering Jean's history, and besides, she knows what he means. That Jean Tannen loves Locke is just one of those things, like the water on the shore, irreducible. She nods and listens to the waves outside the window. She's lived in this place before.

*

Jean wakes up to Locke saying, "Crooked Warden, Nameless Thirteenth" – and then falling silent, his breathing harsh and rapid.

"You see," he adds, meeting Jean's newly-opened eyes, "I don't know, any more. I mean. Am I still sworn to holy service?"

"I was there when you swore it," Sabetha murmurs. She rolls over and looks across at them both.

"But," Locke says, "did I, really? If I am Lamor Acanthus" – and he's learnt to say that without hesitation, Jean notes - "then who swore to it? Was it me, myself in mind? Has anything I've ever done, really..."

"Locke," Jean says, urgently, feeling that they must provide some answer to this, and Sabetha gets out of bed.

"I, Sabetha Belacoros," she says, in a clear, high voice, familiar and sweet as the sunrise, "in my sound mind and body, am just about to punch you in the fucking mouth."

The noise her fist makes is quite satisfying, though the pillows absorb most of the blow.

"Fuck! What the hell was that for?" Locke glares as he stares upwards. Jean is mildly shaken, but calm. This, he remembers.

Sabetha's not done. "Do you love me, Locke?"

"Yes! Gods, that hurt." Locke waves a fretful hand, then brings it to his mouth. "Sabetha, why…"

"Do you love Jean?"

"Yes!"

"Why?" she asks, and from his expression, Locke gets it. There's a pause, before she adds, "Are you Lamor Acanthus?"

Silence.

"Shit," Locke's saying, "fuck it, shit, shit, he did… it means, I did something, I did something terrible…"

"You're a thief!" Sabetha yells back at him. "We all are!"

"I don't commit murders!" Locke shouts. "I don't hurt old women, I don't kill children!"

Sabetha's voice drops. "You killed your first when you were five years old."

"What the love of your life is trying to tell you," Jean puts in quickly, before this turns into a Locke-and-Sabetha biannual special, "is that you're still you, Locke. All your sins and everything you've paid for them."

"Shit," Locke says again. "Sabetha, I didn't mean to imply that you and me, that we're not…"

"I loathe you and I hope a shark sucks your cock," she informs him, pushes her hands through his hair and kisses him, deep as drowning.

*

They end up sitting by the water, on the warm sand of the beach, the neap tide fluttering against their feet. Locke spreads a picnic blanket and sets out four glasses, then retrieves another bottle of wine from Sabetha. He pours for Jean and Sabetha first, then himself, then faces the bottle with some semblance of equanimity. "A glass poured to air for a presence that sits with us unseen," he says, at last. "Unseen, unknown, but accepted."

He sips from both glasses, then pours one out into the sand.

"Well done," Jean says, quietly, and Locke grimaces.

"Sorry," he says, quickly, "I'd meant to do the traditional blessing as well, but…"

"One thing at a time," Sabetha says. On the way down to the shore, she was thinking about some small memory of childhood, of herself, Jean and Locke cooking dinner, the three of them talking, laughing, teasing, as they chopped vegetables and threaded skewers. She understands that she and Jean, too, will have to take some time over nearly everything they've known, cast a half-stranger in their internal lives, but still. Still. "One thing at a time."

"Yeah." Locke breathes out. "I'm grateful to you both."

"Damn right," Sabetha says. Locke's head is on her shoulder; Jean has his arm around both of them. When the sun sets, Jean and Sabetha are each still holding one of Locke's hands, as if to say, quiet as the coming night, you are here.