The Kiss of Sea and Sky
Author's disclaimer: This is not for profit, but for love. All things Sentinel belong to Pet Fly et al. Faery Tales belong to us all.
Senad mentioned the whole "Blair cutting his hair" thing.
2.) Ulv is Danish for Wolf, Vid is Danish for Soul and Elfenben is Danish for Ivory. I thought they worked quite nicely.
Faery Tale Number Three:
The Kiss of Sea and Sky
Stories have a way of twisting and turning over time, of passing from hand to mouth and shifting to suit the teller. Years pass, and a dark-haired boy becomes a fair-haired girl, an Enchantress becomes a witch, and the hero grows stronger and nobler with each passing century, when it wasn't ever really a story about heroes at all. Time lends a patina of the ideal to stories that has little do with the real. But the real, ahh, that's where the meat is, that's where the heart is.
That's where a truth lies, if you want such things.
Rapunzel is one such story, spun wildly out of control by years and popular conventions and those who prefer the ideal to the real. But the real of it, the real of Rapunzel is as sweet-sharp as spiced wine in winter, and good for the soul, and it begins as all good stories do, with these words:
Once upon a time...
Once upon a time there was a boy called Ulvid. He was a bright boy with bright eyes and a bright mind and a heart as bright as the stars themselves. He lived in a small stone hut with his mother, a comely woman who always had a faraway look to her eye. It wasn't that she didn't love the boy, it wasn't that he wasn't bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, but she had a soul made for wandering, a heart made for moving. The little stone hut was a little stone cell for a one such as she. Sometimes she wandered and took the boy with her, but the far journeys, the far lands were beyond her reach with such a precious burden as her son.
At long last the village wise woman came, recommended him to the Enchantress in the Tower Elfenben, who offered him tutelage, offered to instruct him in her arts and ways, to show him the secret texts of the long ago. His mother hesitated, was afraid, for he was yet a stripling boy, barely bearded, and though the faraway was a fire in her belly, he was the flower of her heart, and there would be pain in the parting.
"Do you wish this?" she asked at last, holding his unlined, unwritten face in her hands, gazing down into the guileless blue of his eyes. "For the Tower, it holds you, son, it keeps you and binds you and it's not something you can ever give up, not without bleeding, not without suffering. I do not wish for you to bleed tomorrow, to save me trouble today."
He touched her face, simple-sweet and gentle, and laughed a little. "Mother. You have your journeys, and I have mine. There is no path without stones, no choice that does not bleed us, just a little. And I want this, I truly, truly do."
She held his face a moment longer, kissed his brow, his nose, the curve of his mouth, each touch a benediction. With quick fingers she braided a simple charm, a small magick, into his long hair. "Keep this," she whispered, "and let it keep you safe."
Together they packed up what mattered in the small stone house, leaving behind what they did not need for the world to claim. She walked him to the Tower, handed him to the dark-robed acolytes. She wept a little as he turned away, bled a little as she birthed her son a second time, and then turned her eyes to the open road, searched out the distances that called her traveler's heart.
The dyspeptic old man at the front of the room held up his hand, silencing the already tomb-like room where only the dust-motes gleamed, and pointedly watched as the young man walked down the theater steps to the few remaining desks. "Good afternoon, sir. Did we start too early for you today? Should we delay until nine a.m. in future, so that you might be able to fit us into your schedule?" he drawled, his preparatory school voice honed to the point where it could wither a freshman at thirty paces. "Or perhaps you're in the wrong room? The university daycare is in the Student Union Building."
The impossibly young man stood stock still in the middle of the staircase, and met the snapping eyes of his professor. The latecomer was barely five-foot-five, with too much hair and too little body fat and an assortment of clothes that made him look like he'd watched 'Pretty in Pink' one too many times. But his gaze was bright and interested, and genuinely apologetic. "Sorry about this, Professor Hartwell. Y'see, there's this tribal ritual called "hazing". In the dorms, right? It's a rite of passage, and in order to be assimilated into the culture, you've got to, like, go through with the ritual. This morning was my turn. They stole all my clothes, man, right down to my tighty-whities, and I didn't think campus security would appreciate my showing up naked, no matter how much of a 'liberal' arts university this is." He shrugged, and slipped into a nearby seat.
Hartwell's face twitched. "I see. And yet you are here, and you are dressed. How do you explain that?"
The latecomer grinned at that. "Well, y'see, I streaked across the compound to the girl's dorm, and they all took pity on me and loaned me clothes. I'm short enough and skinny enough, a lot of them had stuff that fit." He dug into his left pocket, and fished out a handful of papers. "I also got eight class schedules and five dates. Apparently I displayed better than the guys expected me to." His grin widened, threatened to split his face.
For the first time in remembered history, Professor Richard Hartwell of the Anthropology/Sociology Department laughed in front of his pupils. It was a dry, disused sound, but it was, indeed, a laugh. "So I see. What is your name, sir?" he demanded, moving up the steps to where the young man was sitting.
The young man stuffed the papers back in his borrowed pockets, and reached out to shake Hartwell's hand. Making history a second time in one morning, the professor accepted it and shook it heartily. "Blair Sandburg, sir."
Hartwell looked down at him, and patted his shoulder briefly, the gesture almost avuncular. "Well, Mr. Sandburg. Something tells me you'll be setting that tribal hierarchy on its ear in no time. I will not, however, allow you to do that in my class. You will be on time tomorrow, even if you have to wear a fig leaf. Understood?"
Blair Sandburg nodded, pulling out his binder and the assigned text. "Understood, sir," he agreed.
Hartwell nodded back, still with a hint of a smile, and returned to his podium, where he continued to explain to the class the fundamental issues and concerns embraced in the study of anthropology.
The Enchantress was well pleased with her student; he promised to be one of the greatest the Tower had trained. He had worn the dark robes of the novice for only three years, then had moved through the coloured robes at a year each. His rise was unprecedented. It was with great pride that she held him up before them all, teachers and charges alike, and dropped the ivory-white robes over his head, the ones with the rainbow-banded sleeves, the last level before his own robes were as pure and plain as her own.
It was only natural that when the Hunter came to them, half-mad with a Trickster's blessing, that she gave him over to Ulvid, to her rising star. He was a master in the ways of Trickster's gifts; he understood both the blessing and the curse, and he was gentle enough, kind enough, to give the Hunter back his life. She was glad to give her protg this opportunity to prove himself, to win his unmarked robes.
But when she brought him to the Healer's room, when she saw the sky blue of the Hunter's gaze meet the sea blue of Ulvid's eyes, suddenly there was an endless horizon between them, a joining that defied all else she knew. The Enchantress withdrew from the room, left them together, but her heart was sorely troubled.
Sometimes, she would see them together, as Ulvid led the Hunter through the Tower, its gardens, the woods beyond. And always it was between them, the kiss of sea and sky, and when Ulvid touched the Hunter's face to bring him clarity, it was a lover's touch. When the Hunter touched the blessings braided into Ulvid's hair, it was a gesture so full of longing that the Enchantress felt the sting of it in her own belly, in the emptiness of her bed.
And she feared greatly for Ulvid, because the Hunter belonged to the World outside, and Ulvid belonged to the Tower, and while their worlds might intersect for a time, they were separate, and they would drift apart again. In her heart, she knew that it would destroy them both, and yet she had no answer to it, none at all.
There was no sound save for the water and the wind, and the two men folded themselves into the silence, let it bind them together as they stood knee-deep in the gently rushing creek. Suddenly the taller of the two let out a grunt, and his rod and reel gave a jerk in his hands. A minute later the shorter man was at his side, maneuvering the net under the fish that had been caught. "Jesus, James. This sucker's huge!" he exclaimed when the fish was at last landed.
Jim Ellison grinned down at his Guide. "And all yours to clean and cook, my little Guppy," he gloated sedately. "That was our bet, right? Last one to catch has to clean and cook?"
Blair glanced up, regarded his Sentinel steadily, contemplatively. "You shit," he said at last, calmly, almost admiringly. "You goddamned shit." He shook his head at the older man. "You were using your senses to spot the fish, weren't you?"
Jim quirked his head to the side, a slight smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "So? That wasn't against the rules or anything, Sandburg. What's your point?" He thumbed his fishing hat back, scratched at his hairline, and watched in amusement as Blair started to get worked up.
Blair stood, letting the fish fall to the bank of the creek. "My point is that you," he jabbed Jim in the chest with two fingers, "are a shit. Not against the rules my ass. When cleaning fish is on the bill, you better believe that that's against the rules." He shook his head. "Total shit."
Jim laughed at him. "Christ, Sandburg. One day you're telling me to integrate my senses into every day activities so I have better control, next you're having a hissy when I do! What's your problem?"
Blair picked up the fish again, and stalked off towards the campsite, muttering imprecations against the Sentinel that might have worried Jim for a minute or two if he thought the kid was at all serious. But since half of them were anatomically dubious at best, he assumed Sandburg was just blowing off steam.
Later, over the fish that Jim had cleaned and Blair had cooked, Jim took a risk, and opened up a subject they'd been avoiding the last few days. "Listen, Sandburg. About the trip to Mexico -- it's just three months. Maybe you'd better take it, y'know? I know for a fact that you've been walking the edge of academic probation for weeks, and that your prof's just trying to pull you back into the fold. You're friend, Miriam, made a point of telling me that when I met you at the Student Union Pub last week."
Blair made a face. "Remind me to thank her," he said drily. "Listen, Jim. I'm not going, and that's that. You've got five, count 'em five, open cases. You've been having spikes, and then headaches so bad you're practically comatose with 'em!" He held up his hands to forestall Jim's protests. "Don't give me that crap about it not being that bad, man. You spent two hours puking in the toilet Thursday, and were so out it I had to hose you down and toss you into my bed. There's no way in hell I'm leaving now. Got that, kemosabe?"
Jim closed his mouth with an almost audible snap, and just studied the unusually truculent face of his Guide. No, Sandburg had definitely made up his mind on this. Part of him was doing a happy dance, while another part felt obscenely guilty. He knew, Miriam had made it clear, just what this loyalty was costing Blair, but god help him, he couldn't turn it away. He needed Blair, needed the younger man at some visceral level that he barely even understood. He turned his gaze to the small, glowing fire, poked at it with a sharp stick to stir the embers. "So, you hear the Lone Ranger shot Tonto?" Jim asked suddenly, seemingly inconsequentially.
"Nooooooo," Blair admitted warily. "I hadn't heard that. Why?"
Jim kept his head down, but he couldn't stop the smile that twitched his lips. "Finally found out that kemosabe meant 'asshole'."
Blair's mouth began to twitch in sympathy. "Very un-P.C., Jim. And the translation is wrong." The odd tone of Blair's voice brought Jim's head up, made him look closely at his partner. A broad grin broke out over Blair's face. "It actually means 'beloved asshole'."
Jim felt an answering grin on his face, and strangely, the hot, scalded feeling of unshed tears. "Brilliant, Sandburg. Just brilliant." He leaned over, poured out the last of his canteen over the fire. "I suggest we pack up and head back into town. Simon said we only had today, and if we're gonna be on the job tomorrow, we need a good night's sleep. You get the fishing gear, I'll put out the fire and clean up our trash, okay?"
"Sure thing, Jim." Blair stood, started to move over to the gear, but Jim's hand around his wrist stopped him. A moment later the big man stood up, hovered over him, and lightly tapped his cheek.
"In case I forget later, thanks. Kemosabe." Jim turned away after that, started gathering their plates and cups to rinse off in the creek. Blair just watched for a moment, touching his face where the warmth of Jim's fingers lingered.
"You're welcome. Love you, too, man," he whispered at last, but not so quietly that Sentinel ears could miss it.
Time passed, and the Hunter grew sure and strong in his Trickster's gift. It should have heralded a drifting between him and Ulvid, the beginning of a separation as the need grew less. Instead, every day it strengthened, deepened, and it became the despair of the Enchantress as she witnessed it, because she knew that it would mean pain and loss, and if she could have spared Ulvid that, she would have.
She was sad, but not surprised when Ulvid came to her chamber. "I have to leave," he said quietly, certainly, and she realized suddenly that the boy was long since gone, that a man stood in the child's place.
"You cannot leave here, and keep this," she replied, gesturing to his robes, so close, so close to her own. "You will have to leave behind your books, your teachings and your rites, and learn new ways and new rites. It will be a hard thing, Ulvid." She watched him, watched the ocean of his eyes, and saw, even now, that it was reaching for the sky.
"Harder still, to leave him," Ulvid replied at last. "It is what I must do. It is where I belong, and I would be lying to myself if I pretended otherwise."
The Enchantress stood, walked around her candlelit, book-lined room. "You will renounce all that you have learned? All that you have been taught?" she asked at last, her voice for once harsh and dry with the years she carried.
Ulvid shook his head. "No, how can I? You've made them a part of me; they are always who I will be. But so is he, and I can no more deny him than I can deny this. I leave only the Tower, Lady, not all that you have given me." He reached out, touched her face, tried to make her see it as he saw it.
She captured his hand, pressed it tight against the powdered skin of her cheek. "Very well, then." She turned, took a knife from her table, the one she used to cut the Worlds apart. With a slow, deliberate motion, she cut the robe from his body, leaving him naked save for the cloth that girded his loins. "There is no place for this in the World outside," she said softly, sadly, as the robes puddled at his feet. A moment later, she reached out to his hair, to the long, scholar's strands, to the blessings woven there. "Nor is there a place for these magicks, not in the Hunter's World. Can you put these aside, just as easily?" Her long fingers tugged each charm separately, including the first charm, the one his mother had plaited in fourteen years ago.
"I have a different magick now," he answered, and though his eyes were wet, his mouth smiled. "I have a new protector."
The Enchantress nodded, and gathered his hair up in a single, thick hank, and sliced through it with the sharp knife. It was only hair, there should have been no pain, but it was like the cutting of the natal string between them, the loss of a second mother, and they both felt the pang of it.
For a long time he stood before her, shorn and swaddled, and she too, was motionless, holding his lost innocence in her hands. She turned at last, put his hair in a dark wood box, but plucked out a single, small braid, handed it to him before closing the chest. "This still has the power your mother blessed it with, Ulvid. Take it, braid it about his wrist, to keep him safe, if he means that much to you." She shook her head at him. "Are you sure you want this? For the World, it swallows you, son, it keeps you and binds you and it's not something you can ever give up, not without bleeding, not without suffering. I do not wish for you to bleed needlessly."
He touched her face, simple-sweet and gentle, and laughed a little. "Lady. You have your Tower, and I have him. There is no path without stones, no choice that does not bleed us, just a little. And I want this, I truly, truly do." He kneeled at her feet, and waited for her blessing.
She touched the crown of his head, his newly naked neck. "Go forth in peace, in love, in safety."
Jim heard Blair's car pull up, and considered going down to help his partner with the groceries, but decided against it. He still needed his cane as often as not, and Sandburg would probably ream his ass out if he tried to go down there. Instead, he just settled for opening the door for his partner.
As soon as the elevator opened, Jim's cane went clattering to the floor, and he leaned heavily into the door, dizzy with shock. "Jesusfuck, Chief. What the hell happened to your hair?"
Blair passed him, turned into the kitchen to set down the eight cloth bags he'd managed to haul up. "I got it cut," he replied drily, passing a hand over his short, curly locks. Without the weight of his hair to soften them, his cheeks and jaw stood out in sharper relief, his eyes looked bigger and deeper. He looked...younger. Vulnerable.
"But why?" Jim demanded, hobbling after Blair, cane ignored on the floor. "Why?" he demanded again, reaching out and touching the crown of Blair's head, the tip of his ear, the tender hollow at the back where head and neck joined. It was an intimate touch, one of many that had sprung up between them of late.
Blair shrugged off Jim's hand, started putting away groceries. "I go to the academy next week. There's a regulation about hair length. If I want to fit in, I can't go fighting the regs right off. Stop freaking, all right? It's just hair. It'll grow back." His back was turned, but Jim could read the lie of it in the set of his shoulders, the wired tension of his jaw. He reached out again, stroked the naked nape of Blair's neck.
"Bullshit," the Sentinel said. "You're lying, Blair. I thought we'd agreed not to do that anymore." He leaned back against the counter, crossed his arms across his chest, and waited.
"Asshole," Blair said thickly, and Jim could smell the salt of unshed tears.
"That's beloved asshole to you," Jim corrected quietly. "Why'd you do it, Blair?"
"I don't exactly know," Blair admitted at last, his voice still thick. "I mean, yeah, it is about the regs, but...I don't know if I can explain this, except to say it's a rite of passage, y'know? The long hair, I started that right before I went off to university. It's like it belongs to another life, you know? And cutting it off, that's letting it go, mourning it and getting over it. Very Jewish, really. Grandfather'd be so proud." He drew a deep, shuddering breath, turned to face Jim, whose face was dark with misery. "Oh, shit, Jim, don't look like that!" he begged. "It's not about punishing you, it's about moving on, giving up one thing for another! I needed to mark it on the outside, to put that part aside so I could start over new, start over fresh!"
Jim only shook his head, confused, his face still hot with shame. He just couldn't see what Blair was saying; in his eyes, the lost hair was the stigmata of Jim Ellison in Blair Sandburg's life, the outward marking of loss. He remembered the wild hair, the wild beads and vests and jungle music, and missed them with sudden, passionate intensity. He felt as though he didn't know this person in front of him, barely recognized him. "I just want -- my old Blair back," he said finally, gruffly. He shifted away from the younger man, then bit back a soft noise as his wounded leg protested.
Blair moved over to him quickly, fussed at him until he got him back to the couch. He didn't answer Jim until he had the leg up and propped on a pillow. For the longest time, only the sound of rain and the whir of the exhaust fan in the kitchen stirred the silence. Finally, Blair took both Jim's hands, used them to cup his face. "I am Blair Sandburg, three years later. Whether I went with you, stayed at Rainier, traveled to Borneo or ditched it all for a something else entirely, I would have shifted and changed; life shapes us all. But at the heart of it, I'm still me. I'm who I've always been, you know? Open up your senses, Jim. All of 'em. Tune in here. You'll know I'm telling you the truth." He turned his face slightly, rubbed his cheek against Jim's palm.
Almost unwillingly, Jim did as Blair asked, zeroed in on the familiar pattern of his heart, the textures and smells he's unconsciously assimilated, integrated into himself over the years. There was comfort there, a soothing to nerves that had been frayed and straining far too long. He let himself sink into his Guide, ground out in the safety that his Guide's presence provided. After a long while, he heard the soft murmur of his Guide's voice, and he let it pull him back up into the outside world.
He opened his eyes, and saw past the short hair, the lines that time had added. "You're still Blair Sandburg," he said simply, joyfully.
A familiar grin split his partner's face. "That's what I've been freaking telling you, man!" he laughed, taking Jim's face in his hands, pulling them together so that their foreheads touched. "And Blair Sandburg belongs with Jim Ellison. More than anywhere else. And it's hard leaving things behind, but man, this is worth it. You're worth it. We're worth it. Got that, kemosabe?"
Jim Ellison laughed at that, at the shared history the words evoked. "Got it. But Chief," he said, pulling his head back to really, really look at the younger man. "I hope to god your hair grows quickly, 'cause I gotta tell you, you kinda look like a plucked chicken."
"Fuck-you very much," Blair replied fondly. He pulled back as well, and started fidgeting slightly. "Ah, listen, man, I had the hairdresser save some of the hair, y'know? And I gave it to a friend of mine while I was shopping, then picked it up after I was done. I kind've wanted you to have it," he muttered, digging into his pocket, pulling out something thin and dark and beaded, and dropping it in Jim's lap. Even before it landed, he was up and in the kitchen, taking care of the rest of the groceries.
Jim picked it up, and realized that it was a thin plait of Blair's hair, with a few blue beads interspersed throughout the strands. The ends were tied off and knotted into beads, so that it wouldn't fray or fall apart. "It's technically a bracelet, and I know you don't usually go in for that sort of stuff, but I figured, hell, you might like it, something for you to mark all this with." The words were rushed, nervous, and Jim could hear the unsteady thud of Blair's pulse as he waited for a reaction.
"Come and put this thing on me," Jim said at last, and Blair set down the canned ham and sat down beside Jim on the couch and wrapped himself around Jim's wrist, bound himself to his Sentinel with shaky fingers. A moment later he looked up, and their eyes met, sea and sky, and Jim, for the first time since that moment by the fountain, dove into the water, dove into his Guide, and his mouth was warm and sweet, and by god, the water was so much more than just fine.
There is a magic in the distance, where the sea-line meets the sky.
End The Kiss of Sea and Sky.