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The Meadow in the Mountain

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***

The air in the cell is close and damp and smells of blood. It lingers on the back of the tongue like wine gone sour. 

Sun is doing pushups,  properly, balanced on her fists, the meta tarsals of the first two fingers connecting up to the bones of her arms in long,  clean lines. It is not good for her hands, for the thick and cracking scabs on each of her knuckles where she punched through callus to flesh and stone, but she can either work, or she can think, in spiraling, futile, circles, and so.

Ah-hop, dul, set, net, dahsut, yeosut, ilgup, yeodul, ah-hop, yul. yul, dul, set, net, dahsut, yeosut, ilgup, yeodul, ah-hop, yul. Count sixty seconds rest, then begin a new set. hana, dul, set, net, dahsut, yeosut, ilgup, yeodul, ah-hop, yul. Repeat until nothing is left but blood and bone and sweat and body, until she should be entirely physical, exhausted, unable to rise, barely able to roll onto her back, but is somehow still stubbornly, painfully, able to think.

Kala is staring down at her. Her night clothes are white, with delicate pink flowers, and she is wearing a pink robe.

“Could you not sleep either?”

Sun throws an arm across her face, and sighs.

***

The air on the rooftop is close and damp, even late into the night.The sounds of the city continue below, awash in sodium light, a pleasant reminder of life’s continuation. Kala had tried to sleep - she had! - but.

The roof has always been an excellent place to be alone with her thoughts. It is just that lately, there seems to be no such thing.

Nudging Sun with one slippered footstep has no effect, so Kala reaches down and grabs her hand, pulling her up. She feels strangely doubled for a moment, her limbs moving and not moving as Sun’s mind runs through the steps to throw an attacker.

“No, none of that now,” Kala says, alarmed. “We may as well be exhausted together. It is more companionable that way.”

The sensation passes. Sun lets herself be hauled up, and comes over to the railing, looking out over the lights. “Why am I here?” Sun asked.

“That is an excellent question,” Kala says. Her thoughts have been racing since she left the boat in Iceland, and haven’t stopped since, through her day and evening and into the night. “Why is any of this happening? How is it happening? What triggers a visitation? When do we visit, like now, and when do we share consciousness? What are the limits? Clearly, none of this works when we are asleep, which goes a long way to explain why I had never seen that man from the United States before today, but why have I only seen you once? Logically, we share far more time than most, but I didn’t see you half as much as -  ”

And here,  Kala pauses,  her heart in her throat.

“As him, yes. So why am I here?”

Sun stares at her, dark circles under her eyes even in the moonlight, and Kala remembers that as late as it is for her, it is later still for Sun.

“I - don’t know,” Kala admits. “Perhaps we both have had too little sleep, and too much to think about. And perhaps we could both use someone to talk to.”

***

For someone who claimed that Sun needed someone to talk to, Sun thought, Kala spent far more time speaking than one might expect.

"The source of all of this," Kala says, "these - connections - is supposed to be empathy, no? An empathy that extends beyond our suppositions and imaginings about how another person may feel and goes into genuine compassion - a suffering together." Kala talks with her hands, gesturing as if she herself could bring them all together.

Sun’s hands remain folded, resting on the rail. "I do not know that I would characterize it in that way." There had been suffering, yes, but - sometimes, she thinks that she has accomplished more in the last week than she had in five years at her father’s company. There is a familiar satisfaction in physical work. What is new is being needed.

Being wanted.

“I have more considered it,” Sun continues delicately, “an offering of possibilities.”

Kala wraps her robe around her more tightly, pulling in on herself as if to vanish, and stares out over the rooftops. “I suppose it’s just - I was there, tonight, when - Wolfgang killed someone, Well, lots of someones, but one was a family member. An uncle.” A wave of fear and revulsion and a faint, guilt-ridden excitement washes over Sun; it’s not hers. She is getting both better at identifying these feelings which are not hers - Capheus’ fear, Will’s determination, Riley’s calm, Kala’s curiosity - and worse at keeping them out.

“It was so alien a sensation,” Kala goes on. “It was like - it was an intrusive thought, like when you’re waiting at a street crossing and you think, ‘Step out into traffic!’ or when you’re cooking and you suddenly want to slice yourself with a knife, you know? A thought at once all-consuming and inimical and yet so - right. Even righteous! ‘I must kill him.’ I’ve never thought anything like that!” Kala says. “Have you?”

Eyes closed, Sun turned her face up to the moonlight, thinking carefully, teasing out what to say. At last, she spoke.

“My father and my brother virtually denied my existence for most of my life. When my brother stole 30 billion won from my father’s company, he begged me to take responsibility for his actions. I did so, because it was the only way to save my family’s reputation.” Sun keeps looking at the moon, avoiding Kala’s - pitying? horrified? stunned? - gaze. “When my father’s conscience would no longer allow this to stand, my brother murdered my father out of fear of prison. I have no proof, I have no resources, and very soon, I will be on trial, without any support. But my brother will be there as well. I will have one chance to avenge my father.”

Sun finally turns to look at Kala, in the cold, dank, bloody cell. The iron-caged bulb that illuminates the space day and night buzzes quietly overhead. “So, yes. I suppose I have thought, ‘I must kill him.’”

Kala is quiet for a while, taking in the cell, the heavy iron door, the small slot for meals. Sun can’t get anything from her other than consideration of the facts.

Sun doesn’t like to think about what Kala might be getting from her.

Finally, Kala opens her mouth to speak.

“I -” She closes her mouth again, then hugs Sun fiercely under the Mumbai moon and -

***

It really is compassion, Sun thinks, or maybe Kala, because Sun doesn’t know that she has ever felt this way, full of agony at the way things are and the way they should not be, and anger at the smallness of her world until now, that such things were so far outside her comprehension. It is wrong to kill a brother, but it is wrong to kill a father, and it is wrong to bury a daughter alive to preserve your selfish pride. No one should betray his family in this way, a betrayal that starts with the father and flows to the son and returns to rebound on the whole family,

And Kala watches her father, formal in his mourning suit, look through Sun to see Joong-ki,

vengence

And Sun sees her father see her, really see her, as Kala offers her own damnation and her brother’s salvation in one breath in a sparkling office high above Seoul that is always just too cold for a woman in a smart shift dress,

And her heart breaks like a dam, and she lets herself cry, really cry, for her father and for what was and for what might have been and for all of what she now must do.

***

“You don’t have to, you know,” Kala says, stroking Sun’s back gently. “We can find a way to get justice, not vengeance. It is quite difficult to murder someone without getting caught, and your brother is, frankly, not all that bright.” She runs through a mental list of the major categories of drugs that would be appropriate to knock out an elderly man, and the appropriate toxicology protocols to recommend. Nomi seemed like she might know how to deliver an anonymous tip to the police; she will get a hold of her later today, before Nomi goes to bed. And money! Someone had to have money for lawyers. Were lawyers very expensive in Seoul? They could find out.

The dawn is beginning to break around them, the sky lightening dimly at the horizon. Sun steps back, her hands sliding down to hold Kala’s loosely between them, and gives a small, slightly watery smile. “And if justice is not possible?”

Kala smiles back. “Let us try justice first, then go on from there.”

“Kala?” A voice rises from the stairs. “Who are you talking to up there?” Her father’s head pokes up from the trap door, followed by the rest of him, hauled up with some indignity. Kala turns to him, laughing.

“No one, Papa. Just myself.” Her father walks over to the rail and stands beside her, watching the city come to life. Sun watches in fascination as Kala leans into her father’s side, as she always does, and her father rests his head on hers, as he always does. “May I ask you a silly question?” Kala says.

“Always,” her father says, not moving his head.

“Have you ever wanted a son? Instead of me, or Daya?”

Her father pauses, considering. “You know, I have been asked that very question so many times. When you were born, and when Daya was born, and every so often again, particularly when I have to go to a new supplier for the restaurant. And do you know what I have said, every time?”

Kala chuckles. “What?”

“Not a chance,” her father says, punctuating every word with a squeeze at her side. “I have the two finest, hardest-working, most intelligent, and loveliest daughters in India. What need have I of sons?” He pulls her in to hug her properly, and Kala - shoves, in a way, and tugs, in another, and then she is watching from the rail as her father hugs Sun, whose eyes are wide in shock.

“I am so pleased and proud to have you as a daughter.” Kala leans back, and watches as Sun slowly relaxes, letting warmth and love wash over her.

Some nights are worth staying up for.