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And in All Things, Balance

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And in All Things, Balance


Dar has gotten in the habit of watching Tao—not in the thick of danger, where Tao trips so often, but on quiet nights such as this when the nocturnal insects are waking up in the lakes and leaves and burrowed dirt. It’s something new. A game, almost. (He doesn’t dare ask Tao the rules because Tao would tell the truth, and sometimes Dar has to discover the truth for himself because it’s worth more.) Before, he’d dismissed Tao as irrelevant and harmless enough that he hadn’t needed study. Dar has since then changed his mind. Harmless, yes, Tao may always be this in his bumbling fashion and chattering ways, but to call Tao irrelevant would be a source of shame to the Dar of today. Tao is a friend, just as Ruh is, just as Podo and Kodo. But he is… not quite the same, either.

Dar studies Tao because Dar, too, has changed somewhere along this path. He wishes to know the difference.

“But you see, there is no defining technique we can use to—Podo, put that down, it’s not for eating—Dar, tell Podo that’s not for eating!”

Dar only smiles. He does, though he will not mention it to Tao, relay a brief chiding to Podo, who has heard it many times before and will give little heed. Podo and Kodo take well to Tao. They’re with him now, fur coats glowing a soft orange from the fire as they nip gently at his ankles and curl about his hip and arm, squirming their way into his supplies because nothing delights them more than listening to Tao lecture them about whichever strange, new thing they’ve dragged out of his pack tonight. He’s explaining the importance of weather prediction to them right now; however, they’ve long lost interest and instead find amusement in nuzzling into his herb containers and the warm cradle of his body. The hide-parchment draped over his lap has been rumpled by their paws. Tomorrow, Dar’s going to have to wash them of ink again, he just knows it. Their pink pads will be as stained as Tao’s fingers if they’re not careful.

They probably should have spent the day gathering fruit and supplies, but today has been a lazy day. Even Ruh is sprawled out around their fire, breath rumbling in and out and in again. Dar used to hate days like this. They had felt of stalling, of an irregular and hollow stasis. But he’s perhaps getting to like them, just so—with the night noises of the jungle and the sweet juice of mango, and Tao, mouth perpetually moving, to grin at Dar for no reason in particular if not to speak.

That is partly why Dar started watching in the first place—to make sure Tao inhaled between words. Sometimes he doesn’t. But then Dar realized how much more Tao spoke, too, with his body. His expression. The green glass of his eyes. There is too much to listen to, and so evenings like this, Dar sits back and stays silent and tries to let the sensory information wash over him (and it comes, in bright colors and bold sweeps of grace, all of that confidence Tao never finds in walking put through the ease of his smile and laughter). It is like speaking to the animals and yet it is an entirely new form of language.

Right now, Tao is growing tired. His eyes shut every so often, as though resting the lids, and his chuckles run together into a steady murmur of happiness. This is what Dar sees when he watches Tao (tucked up against the roots of a very old tree, instruments of change spread across his lap, but he is perfectly at home in Dar’s world, as though he belongs here, has claimed here). What he hears, however, is, “—course, naturally we’ll never be able to… Well, it’s nature. That’s certainly not mankind’s domain.” A vague wave, a content sigh. “But oh, I would love knowing when I was about to be wet and miserable and cold.”

“Would it make a difference?” Dar asks, stirring. He can’t help but be overcome with incredulous affection.

Tao’s eyes crinkle when he smiles that widely. “Of course! I would have much better complaints ready.”

Ruh grumbles. He says that Tao complains enough, and Dar agrees, but he’s not going to say so because Tao’s head is drooping to his chest.

He should shove him off to the bedding. But instead, Dar watches.

And it’s a little strange, and harder than before, to be this person that protects more than the beasts and innocent strangers. (The fawn spilling over his own legs, eager to please and in awe of the world, that look in Tao’s eyes—take me where you will, open my gaze, let me be the touch that soothes you—and there is so much Dar can’t understand, but so much he can hold onto despite that, a simple sense of wonder alight like a fire that doesn’t burn.) He has no way of defining the changes. But so often Dar hears about the balance that must be found in all things, and here, between the jungle embracing him and the slow lull of Tao’s hum, he thinks he’s found it.

When he watches Tao, it’s as though every doubt and clamor and split in the world is suddenly silenced—perhaps taken aback, perhaps breathtaken.